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April 27, 2007

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Sounds like Hitchens will be in good form in this one. I will check it out albeit with a certain wariness. When I read pat dismissals of religion that do not acknowledge positive contributions made in the name of religion, I feel the subject hasn't been given its due. Much more interesting would be an exploration of what religion's benefits would if people didn't believe their religions literally. That seems, to me, to be where things start to get weird. Religions could then be judged on the value of their mythology and practices, for what they contribute to the life of human beings (if anything - we could debate that), and so on. That would be far more interesting and humane than this highbrow amusement of assuming Christians are idiots and Muslims are terrorists. (And vice-versa.)

It does sound like a good read. I think I'll have to pick this one up.

I'll be looking up Hitchen's book, thanks. Another interesting story for the coming month is the imminent opening of the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Take a look: http://paralleldivergence.com/2007/04/28/creation-museum-madness/

I agree with Hitchens, religion is bad. Holocaust, human sacrifice, suicide bombing... what's common to all of these? They are, to varying degrees, caused by religion. I had a few others in my head, but I forgot them... >.>

Beware the danger of mistaking rhetoric for a syllogism! Above, Corey asks what is the common denominator between the Holocaust, human sacrifice, and suicide bombing. Corey's answer is religion, but this is biased rhetoric, not logic. The common denominator is, simply, murder. There are lots of justifications for murder. Hitler's Final Solution was posited as a political program, and legitimate scriptural support for suicide bombing in the Islamic liturgy is dubious.

Algernon.

How do you suppose that anti-semitisim arose if not from the christian religion?

Are you aware that Hitler justified his persecution of the Jews in Mein Kampf as doing god's work?

Human sacrifice was carried out primarily, almost exclusively, in the name of religion.

Suicide bombing may not be described in the Koran, but the people selling it to the bombers do so through religion.

The common denominator is religion.

Thanks for the reply, Jimmy.

Indeed, I am aware that Hitler claimed some religious justification as well as political expediency in exterminating the Jewish population. My question for you AND Corey is this: at what point did Hitler become recognized as a legitimate spokesman for Christianity?

Terrorists may wrap their actions up in the clothing of religion. It is sheer opportunism to seize on them as spokespeople for the religion; indeed, it dignifies their claims for the sake of trashing the religion, exploiting terrorism to make a weak point in a debate.

The common denominator to Corey's examples remains MURDER. "Religion" is a justification for murder. So is "self-defense." "National security." "Justice." All justifications. The subject they describe is MURDER.

Algernon.

You missed the point and so your question is irrelevant, no-one said Hitler was a spokeman for christianity.

However, he used religion to justify his actions. More importantly though the anti-semitism that bred, fuelled and fed his actions arose specifically from christianity. Without christianity there almost certainly would not have been a Holocaust because the conditions of hatred for Jews would not have existed and would not have been so easily acceptable to so many.

Again, I did not seize on terrorists as spokespeople for their religion, I said that terrorists use religion as an excuse, as a means to an end. Tell me, do you think that there would be suicide bombers without religion? Do you think there would be a secterian divide in Northern Ireland without religion? How many atheist suicide bombers do you know of?

I notice you now drop human sacrifice from your conversation as well, why is that? Could it be you were wrong?

Religion is still very much the common denominator because without religion, these people could not use it to justify their murders.

Algernon.

You missed the point and so your question is irrelevant, no-one said Hitler was a spokeman for christianity.

One of the big problems I see with religion: How do you separate the "real" spokespeople for religion from the people who merely claim to be so?

To some degree, I agree with Algernon. Religion didn't cause the Holocaust, at least, not alone. Nor is religion even the sole cause for suicide bombings and terrorism.

However, religion does play a role, in that it acts as a catch-all justification which is convincing to a large contingent of people. Furthermore, it discourages independent, critical thought and encourages blind obedience and strong ingroup identification (and consequently, outgroup persecution). It encourages one to think of certain people as superior and others as inferior. In all those ways, religion helps break down the barriers that would prevent normal people from becoming fanatical murderers, and helps give them a framework in which murder and subjugation become acceptable.

Religion doesn't make people into murderers. Religion just whittles away at the safeguards that would prevent that transformation.

Hang on - Algernon does have a valid point. Although there may have been religious motivations partly causing the Holocaust, the motivation was fascism - specifically, Nazism.
The common cause behind all man-made tragedies in history, I'd say, is dogma/fanaticism. We'll never be able to get rid of this - just like we'll probably never be able to eradicate all disease - but there is one particular strain of virus which we may be able to inoculate ourselves against - religion.

Jimmy: Where did I miss the point? Yes, Hitler used religion as partial motivation for his program. My question, hardly irrelevant and not easy to answer, is: who counts as a legitimate spokesman for the religion. Throughout history wars have been justified in religious terms in order to win popular support; in such examples, religion is being used as a shield. Yet you would blame the religion. This is like blaming hostages for the actions of their kidnapper.

In other cases, as Rowan points out in his comment, it is dogma or fanaticism that latches onto aspects of a religious doctrine to articulate its own bloody vision. One can be dogmatic about other concepts: fascism, communism, and even democracy. For instance, invading a country for the sole purpose of installing democracy there would be considered by some a very destructive thing to do in the name of democracy. Would you, then, blame democracy for that war? It's the same logic you are using with respect to religion.

Human sacrifice - I didn't drop it. Most of the human sacrifice we imagine is connected to some kind of magical rite, and the image was evoked in order to help demonize religion. What about capital punishment? Since it has no demonstrable deterrent value, and obvious does not serve to rehabilitate anybody, and has had no pacifying effect on society, why do you suppose we continue to do it? Is it not a human sacrifice to an ideal of justice? It's not an anthropomorphic god figure that receives the sacrifice, but it is about as substantial. What about the use of human shields in combat? Ordering soldiers to charge at the German trenches in WW I? It might not have been thought of as "human sacrifice" but what else was it?

Addressing Tom, I return to Rowan's focus on dogmatism, which extends to religious concepts as easily as political concepts. If you deal with religion even-handedly, at some point you have to acknowledge that they speak of human fellowship and love; some religions are explicitly pacifistic, yet in present company they would be lumped in with the religions that inspire suicide bombers. In other words, no distinction is made between a militant Christian who bombs abortion clinics, and a Jain monk who brushes the path in front of him to reduce the risk of stepping on an ant. No distinction. Religion is a category containing a wide variety of teachings, beliefs, and practices. Tom worries about religions helping people transform into murderers; yet I know from basic college-level studies that many religions, east and west, include practices and scriptural passages that promote the very safeguards against antisocial behavior that Tom worries about: empathy, mercy, fellowship, and love.

I do not deny the contradictory and confusing messages around religion, the conflicting interpretations, and so forth. I am not in denial of the negative aspects; yet I do acknowledge the positive aspects and resist the arrogant, summary dismissal of its values that I often see among alleged "critical thinkers."

I think we're all expressing the same concern about dogma and fanaticism - whether it is attached to Christian salvation, socialism, or national purity, or anything else humans hold dearly. Sadly, it is a popular sport to reject religion uncritically, without examining it, and to blame religion when it is wrongly invoked.

To me, that is either ignorant of the subject or, worse, it is exploiting horrific events in order to score hollow rhetorical points against religion.

Addressing Tom, I return to Rowan's focus on dogmatism, which extends to religious concepts as easily as political concepts. If you deal with religion even-handedly, at some point you have to acknowledge that they speak of human fellowship and love;
Human fellowship and love can be quite easily spoken of without magical thinking. The positive philosophies of religion are not what I object to, the reinforced willing suspension of rational thought is.
some religions are explicitly pacifistic, yet in present company they would be lumped in with the religions that inspire suicide bombers.
Where? Stuff a little more straw into your target, there.
In other words, no distinction is made between a militant Christian who bombs abortion clinics, and a Jain monk who brushes the path in front of him to reduce the risk of stepping on an ant.
Mainly because in this case we're not talking about Jainists. Although I'll absolutely stand by my point; even the religions which preach a message of pacifism and acceptance can be used to subjugate and justify atrocities. Christianity and Islam both preach such things, and we need not look to where they've been used in such a way. The Dalai Lama presides over pacifistic Tibetan Buddhism, but the Lama's reign in Tibet was characterized by gross inequality and terrible miscarriages of justice. Hell, he has in the past (and may still) overseen the training of guerrillas against the Chinese government. Even pacifistic religions can be used to promote violence and atrocity.
No distinction. Religion is a category containing a wide variety of teachings, beliefs, and practices. Tom worries about religions helping people transform into murderers; yet I know from basic college-level studies that many religions, east and west, include practices and scriptural passages that promote the very safeguards against antisocial behavior that Tom worries about: empathy, mercy, fellowship, and love.
And what are some of the religions that promote empathy, mercy, fellowship, and love? The Protestantism of the Soldiers of God? The Islam of al-Qaeda? The Catholicism of the Irish Republican Army? The Buddhism of the Dalai Lama?

The problem is not with the positive philosophies promoted by religions, nor are such philosophies reliant on religion. The problem is that all religions, through the promotion of magical thinking, provide a mechanism for its members to suspend all those positive philosophies in the name of ingroup solidarity. The safeguards against fanatacism are not "love and mercy," the safeguards are rational thought, independence, and the critical examination of claims. Religions universally ask their members to willingly suspend precisely those qualities in favor of faith and ingroup fellowship and uncritical trust in a specific leader, doctrine, or philosophy. They ask you to, for at least this one area of your life, completely ignore all the reason and logic and methods of evaluating information that you use in every other thing you do, and just believe in these magical things unquestioningly. Once that door is open, it's not hard to force the suspension of rational faculties in other areas of life.

Naturally, I'm not saying that all magical thinking leads to ruin. But it does remove the important guardrail of consistently-applied rational thought. And that's an easily exploited and wholly unnecessary fault.

And the removal of rational thought isn't entirely specific to religion; nationalism uses many of the same methods to achieve many of the same effects--ingroup solidarity, outgroup persecution, blind obedience to dogma or leaders, etc. But philosophies and political movements like nationalism, socialism, fascism, and the like are not nearly as effective in this. Religions set up higher authorities and greater rewards for obedience, operate with the blessing of society, begin indoctrination at birth, and have a huge support structure to continually reinforce the teachings of the group. Religions have the resources and the experience that secular groups recruiting fanatics can only rarely achieve.

There's a reason that nationalist, fascist, racist, and other splinter groups normally co-opt religions to promote their causes. It's one thing to say "whites/Aryans/Americans are the chosen people." But when you say "whites/Aryans/Americans are the chosen people because God says so," you've not only set up the highest authority, but you've tapped directly into that part of a religionist's life which is cordoned off from critical, rational thought.

No one here has any problem with religions promoting peace and doing good works. We're not talking about it here because that's not what the thread is about. However, I know I'm not alone in saying that those positive aspects of religion don't need to be tied to the dangerous doctrines of magical thinking. It's not the good things about religion that we oppose, it's the strings they're attached to.

Algernon:

Where did I miss the point?

Well, right here:

Indeed, I am aware that Hitler claimed some religious justification as well as political expediency in exterminating the Jewish population.

I am saying that the conditions for anti-semitisim would not have existed without the existence of christian religion. Let me say that again because I guess I am not being clear enough.

Without christianity, there would be no anti-semitism. Early christian writings are the root cause of anti-semitism because of its promotion of the idea of the Jews as christ killers.

Without anti-semitism, there would have been no Holocaust.

I did not say religion was the sole cause of the Holocaust. Yes of course it also took the National Socialism movement. I did not say that Hitler was the spokesman for all of christianity, I did not even say that Hitler was right in terms of christian doctrine when he claimed to be doing the work of god by attempting to wipe out European Jews. I did not say that there has been no good to come from christianity. I did not say that no religions have anything good going for them.

However, you took my specific point and either mistakenly or deliberately conflated it so you could attack a position I don't hold. You missed the point.

Throughout history wars have been justified in religious terms in order to win popular support; in such examples, religion is being used as a shield.

I couldn't disagree more. You are applying a standard now that was not present then. Religion really has been a cause for war throughout human history, however we look back on it now from our basically secular world and seek to find other reasons for war because we don't understand how pervasive it was and how devoted to it people were.

The list is long, any war involving early Islamic conquest, the Crusades, The Thirty Years war (not religiously motivated but the sides divided almost exclusively along sectarian lines), the conflict in Northern Ireland has been along secterian lines (there are neighbourhoods in Belfast for Catholics and some for Protestants), the Gunpowder Plot in England was motivated by religion, the attempt by Phillip II of Spain to conquer England was religiously motivated and given Papal approval, and the more recent conflicts in the former Yugoslavia are just a few I can think of. Hell even the English civil wars of 1642 -1649 have religious roots. Louis XIV of France ended his reign by trying to punish Protestants as much as he could in order to make amends with god so he could go to heaven when he died. Masses of Huguenots emigrated to England in the late 16th early 17th centuries (before Louis XIV) because of the persecution they endured in France. England then tried in 1618-21 to invade France to help, you guessed it, French Huguenots.

Saying that religion was nothing more than a shield for wars is hopelessly niave and demonstrably false. But, even where a state or leader uses religion for his own ends, the people who then follow them do so for religious reasons, however badly misplaced they are. Without devotion to religion, most would not follow.

If religion were not a powerful motivating force behind the particpants, they would not flock so readily to the banner of those using religion for their own ends.

This is like blaming hostages for the actions of their kidnapper.

No, its like pointing out that kidnap victims are prone to Stockholm Syndrome.

Now if you want me to admit that religion does good, fine. Of course it does, only an idiot would deny this. Oxfam and Cathod have done immeasurable good in Africa. Dr Barnados in the UK has done great things for children, but even this charity refused to help Catholic children.

I do not deny that religion has also been a force for good in the world throughout history.

Most of the human sacrifice we imagine is connected to some kind of magical rite, and the image was evoked in order to help demonize religion.

Bollocks. Do you deny that many ancient religions used human sacrifice solely for religious purposes? Using a euphemism like 'magical rite' does not take away from the fact that the acts were almost solely religious in nature.

Is it not a human sacrifice to an ideal of justice? It's not an anthropomorphic god figure that receives the sacrifice, but it is about as substantial

If you choose to express it in the way you did to suit your argument, yeah. I happen to disagree. Incidentally, I think the death penalty is wrong too.

What about the use of human shields in combat? Ordering soldiers to charge at the German trenches in WW I? It might not have been thought of as "human sacrifice" but what else was it?

Not even close. It was gross stupidity, and lots of humans were sacrificed to achieve a material goal, but it was most certainly not the sort of human sacrifice we were referring to. It does not equate to killing a human for your gods. That doesn't mean it isn't just as wrong and just as stupid.

Sadly, it is a popular sport to reject religion uncritically, without examining it, and to blame religion when it is wrongly invoked.

What is worse is people who attempt to silence criticism of religion by making the same mistakes they assign to people they mock as 'critical thinkers'. The worst kind being the proponents of the 'It wasn't religion, it was just used by nasty materialists.' When it is demonstrably false given even a casual glance at the facts.

Rowan:
The common cause behind all man-made tragedies in history, I'd say, is dogma/fanaticism.

And where do we most commonly, if not exclusively almost, find dogma and fanaticism?

Answers on a postcard folks.

Again though, I am not and have not said religion was the sole cause of the Holocaust. If I have, I was wrong and mistakenly typed something I do not believe is supported by the facts. If you can cite where I did, that would certainly clear up any objections to Algernon's mistaken reading of my argument.

I would like to reiterate one question:
How many atheist suicide bombers have there been?

I think the main role of religion in pogroms and other outrages is the way it circumvents rationalism.

If Hitler had used the argument "We must kill all the Jews because they wear funny hats and beards, and I personally don't like them," would anyone have paid much heed?

I doubt it. Such rhetoric doesn't short-circuit common sense anywhere near as well as the stupefying anodyne of religion.

Tom:

This is the first point at the debate where anyone besides myself as acknowledged a positive function of any religion - so thank you for that. I am in full agreement with you that magical thinking is not required to promote those values. I am in full agreement with you that suspension of rational thought is not a positive thing - I would add that it is not a quid pro quo of participation in every religion.

Indeed, in my original comment on this topic, I referred to literal belief in religion. The people I know who have the most positive relationship with their religion, in my personal experience, are people who do not put their minds to sleep, who do not press themselves to believe anything literally, who use the mythology as a structure to enquire deeply into the process of human life.

The assumption that anyone participating in their religion has disavowed logic and science and left their brains in the locker room of some cult enterprise is false and loaded with prejudice. It also indicates a lack of knowledge or interest in the category itself.

You accuse me of attacking straw men, but in fact I am pointing out the very premises of the comments in this thread: the assailed target is religion. That category includes the Buddhism of the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh; it includes the humanitarian work of Martun Luther King, Jr. and Mother Theresa; it includes the Jains; and yes, it includes the Southern Baptist Convention and the Catholic Church as well. There is certainly nothing wrong with me introducing the Jains or any other religion, as long as we're rejecting the category of "religion" itself.

This statement by you is false: "Religions universally ask their members to willingly suspend precisely those qualities in favor of faith and ingroup fellowship and uncritical trust in a specific leader, doctrine, or philosophy."

The problem with the statement is that you assert it is universally true. I've been to synagogues, churches, Taoist centers, Buddhist temples, and more. It is not universally the case. It was not even the case in the majority of places I observed. Indeed, in the Jewish places I have encountered, critical thought and debate were demanded of conscientious Jews.

It is also not true that all religions depend on magical thinking. The assumption and the conclusions that follow it indicate a willing prejudice on the subject of religion, using its worst examples to define the category universally. This is a deep injustice to the topic.


Now you, Jimmy:

I didn't conflate anything: I went off of what you gave me in your initial comment. All you gave me was, "Hitler justified his persecution of the Jews in Mein Kampf as doing god's work." Thank you expanding on your view. Only when challenged did you admit that this also had a political drive and only now are you willing to acknowledge grudgingly that maybe religions aren't all negative and no positive.

As I sit here in my bathrobe with a cup of coffee, I am excited by the prospect of engaging in a historical discussion with you. Where to begin? Knowing me, it would probably be the way Florence partnered with the Vatican at times for military and political expediency. History presents us with kings and emperors and presidents who took a Machiavellian view of religion, and considered those who believed literally and superstitiously in their mythologies useful idiots. It's beyond the scope of this blog entry and its comments, and I can't do this and get to work on time this morning; but it's a very interesting topic we might go into sometime.

Have to say, though, you seem to take it as a personal attack when somebody questions you about your pat statements. I never denied that human sacrifice was used in some ancient religions for religious rites - I explicitly acknowledged it, in fact, because it is true.

Big Al and others:

What we keep returning to is the danger of fanaticism and suspension of rational, critical thought. I am not in dispute with anybody about this, nor am I denying the way religion is used to implement that scourge.

I am suggesting that there is a dangerously uncritical undercurrent to blaming religion for all its misuses. I have taken the lonely position of speaking up beautiful and instructive mythologies, practices to cultivate a healthy relationship with self and other, for community - in short, for the positive and useful aspects of religion that were left out of this debate before I protested.

This is the first point at the debate where anyone besides myself as acknowledged a positive function of any religion - so thank you for that.
Just as not every statement at a feminist rally should be qualified with "but there are lots of men who are working against the patriarchy too," not every comment thread in every post on a blog frequented by atheists is going to say "oh, but what about all the good stuff religions do?" Particularly a thread about a new book by outspoken anti-theist Christopher Hitchens about what's wrong with religions. I happen to think that Christopher Hitchens is a world-class asshole who is demonstrably wrong about a number of different subjects, but I'm not using my comment space to admonish others with "but what about all the stupid stuff Hitchens has said?" That's not what the thread's about. This thread is about the problems with religion and the problems religion causes; of course it's not talking about all the good things religions do. The only person here saying anything like 'religions have never ever done anything good for society and are universally evil' is you, in your strawman accusations of the rest of the posters here.

No, we haven't been talking about all the good things that religions do; there are other places for that. It doesn't mean we reject them outright. We're not posting about the nutritional value of kumquats here either, but it doesn't mean we reject that. It means that that's not the point of the damn discussion.

I am in full agreement with you that suspension of rational thought is not a positive thing - I would add that it is not a quid pro quo of participation in every religion.
Show me a religion that doesn't require you to believe in some supernatural phenomenon for which there is no proof. I'm not aware of any, primarily because that type of belief seems to me to be part of the definition of "religion." Every religion which extols the value of faith, of belief without or in spite of proof, is asking its practitioners to suppress rational thought in some facet of their lives. Even when they say "question everything," they mean "except this bit here, just accept that and move on."
Indeed, in my original comment on this topic, I referred to literal belief in religion. The people I know who have the most positive relationship with their religion, in my personal experience, are people who do not put their minds to sleep, who do not press themselves to believe anything literally, who use the mythology as a structure to enquire deeply into the process of human life.
And I've had the same experience. The religionists I most respect are the ones who have thoroughly questioned and tested the objects of their faith, and who don't seek to validate them in the real world; people who recognize that faith is something separate from reality, the fideists and the like, who recognize that they believe for emotional reasons.

But even these people have taken one subject in all of their lives, and have said "unlike anything else, I will believe this without evidence." And while I know that my fideist friends are rigorous enough and intelligent enough to keep irrationality confined to that tiny space, that one question, most people aren't quite so otherwise consistent.

The assumption that anyone participating in their religion has disavowed logic and science and left their brains in the locker room of some cult enterprise is false and loaded with prejudice. It also indicates a lack of knowledge or interest in the category itself.
I agree. Who made such a claim?
You accuse me of attacking straw men, but in fact I am pointing out the very premises of the comments in this thread: the assailed target is religion. That category includes the Buddhism of the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh; it includes the humanitarian work of Martun Luther King, Jr. and Mother Theresa; it includes the Jains; and yes, it includes the Southern Baptist Convention and the Catholic Church as well. There is certainly nothing wrong with me introducing the Jains or any other religion, as long as we're rejecting the category of "religion" itself.
No, the subject is "what's wrong with religion." And it's funny that you should bring up Mother Teresa, Hitchens has quite a lot to say about her.

I agree, there's nothing theoretically wrong with you introducing the Jainists, except that it's more or less a red herring to the point of the discussion. When we're talking about "what's wrong with religion," saying "but what about Jainists? They don't even hurt little tiny ants!" is the same as shouting at the Million Man March "hey, but what about Jimmy Carter? He's a good honky, right?"

That being said, as it was said before, I absolutely stand by my point about the main problem with religion, for the Jainists or anyone else. Jainism still requires magical thinking (belief in souls, reincarnation, an eternal and unchanging universe) and blind adherence to authority (enforced vegetarianism, adherence to scripture). Pacifist or not, like all other religions it tells its followers that there are things they should believe without reason or evidence, and I maintain that such belief is a flaw, is detrimental, is hypocritical, and is potentially dangerous.

The problem with the statement is that you assert it is universally true. I've been to synagogues, churches, Taoist centers, Buddhist temples, and more. It is not universally the case. It was not even the case in the majority of places I observed. Indeed, in the Jewish places I have encountered, critical thought and debate were demanded of conscientious Jews.
I'm not sure where you're missing the point here. Let me spell it out for you in big bold letters: 1. All religions require magical thinking, usually in the form of beliefs for which there is no proof. For instance, there is no proof for any gods, an afterlife, a soul, reincarnation, etc. 2. All religions provide an in-group and an out-group. There may be extreme mobility between these groups, there may be little group definition, but in this way all religions divide people into "believers" and "non-believers" in some fashion. Fellowship and security are promoted among members of the in-group, and they form a support structure for each other's beliefs. In most religions, there is an implicit or explicit hierarchy involved, where the in-group is presumed to be superior to various out-groups. For instance, Jews are God's "chosen people," Christians are following the "only way" to God, non-Muslims are infidels, Buddhists are often intolerant of other religious traditions, etc. 3. All religions have some doctrine, philosophy, or authority to which its believers are asked to adhere. Such adherence is to a large degree meant to be uncritical, unreasoned, and accepted as given. This ties back to the first point about magical thinking, as the doctrines tend to be the provided support for such thought. while certain issues within the faith or belief system may be reasoned (through some form of theology), all must first posit the authority of the doctrine or the truth of the religion's claims, and most of these arguments boil down to tautologies or arguments from authority. There is no answer for "why this doctrine over others" which does not require an uncritical assumption or a tautology.

As far as I've ever been able to tell, in all the religions I've looked at, those facts are true universally. Of course, I'd be willing to amend them given evidence to the contrary, but a religion without the supernatural, without a group of followers, or without a specific doctrine, doesn't sound to me like anything we'd call a "religion."

It is also not true that all religions depend on magical thinking. The assumption and the conclusions that follow it indicate a willing prejudice on the subject of religion, using its worst examples to define the category universally. This is a deep injustice to the topic.
I'm not using the worst examples of religion to define the category, I'm using bad examples of religion to elucidate what's wrong with religion. Nowhere have I, nor anyone else, condemned all religions universally. I do oppose magical thinking, and I do think that magical thinking is a dangerous first step to take, but the only person who has said anything about religions being universally bad is you.

That being said, provide an example of a religion that does not require magical thinking. I really want to see that, and I'd love to see how far you have to stretch the term "religion" to accomplish that.

Only when challenged did you admit that this also had a political drive and only now are you willing to acknowledge grudgingly that maybe religions aren't all negative and no positive.
Really? Because I don't see anywhere that Jimmy actually made such a claim.

But his initial point stands. I'll quibble with Jimmy about what conditions would be necessary for anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, but in his initial examples, the common factors were in fact religion and humans. Since religion is a human enterprise, the latter is no surprise. Certainly there were more factors to the Holocaust than just Christianity. There were abundant ethnic, political, and economic factors, as well as Hitler's own insecurities. Certainly there are more factors to Muslim terrorism than just Islam. Besides political and economic factors, there is a large nationalist streak and a problem with occupation and oppression, both real and imagined. But when you look at the three examples together--Mayan human sacrifice included--the political and economic and ethnic factors stop applying. The only justification for Mayan human sacrifice was because religion demanded it to please the gods, to make for a good harvest, to bring the rain, what have you. The common factor is indeed religion.

You can complain that the comparison is unfair or inapt, but the conclusion is inevitable.

History presents us with kings and emperors and presidents who took a Machiavellian view of religion, and considered those who believed literally and superstitiously in their mythologies useful idiots. It's beyond the scope of this blog entry and its comments, and I can't do this and get to work on time this morning; but it's a very interesting topic we might go into sometime.
And what of the Holy Roman Emperors, the god-Kings, and the Popes who took the same view? Religion as means of control is not something that comes exclusively from outside the religious traditions.
I never denied that human sacrifice was used in some ancient religions for religious rites - I explicitly acknowledged it, in fact, because it is true.
And then you equivocated it with other sorts of sacrifice, while glossing over and refusing to address the point, that human sacrifice (unlike the Holocaust and suicide bombings) was motivated entirely by religion.
I am suggesting that there is a dangerously uncritical undercurrent to blaming religion for all its misuses. I have taken the lonely position of speaking up beautiful and instructive mythologies, practices to cultivate a healthy relationship with self and other, for community - in short, for the positive and useful aspects of religion that were left out of this debate before I protested.
And the reason they were left out of the debate is that they are wholly tangential to it. We're all quite aware of the parables and poetry of religion. What I'm arguing is that the good aspects of religion are tied to the dangerous aspects of blind faith, in-group solidarity, and uncritical acceptance of doctrine. We can have pretty mythology and moral codes without setting off some ideas that we refuse to question or to subject to conventional standards of evidence.

And while it would indeed be uncritical to blame religion for all its misuses (which I don't see anyone here doing, except the poor abused strawman), it's equally uncritical, as you seem to be doing, to refuse to blame religions and the mindsets they encourage for their misuses. Hitler wasn't a "spokesman" for Christianity, Machiavellian kings and emperors twisted religion to control its followers, etc.

Why is it that Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa are adequate spokespersons for Christianity, but Hitler, Pope Pius XII, and various members of the Southern Baptist Convention aren't? I know, I know, they weren't "true" Scotsmen Christians.

Then again, maybe that's not what you're saying. But you may want to make that a little clearer, since you seem to be arguing toward the infallibility of religion.

Jimmy,

How do you suppose that anti-semitisim arose if not from the christian religion?

It existed before Christianity, actually. The Romans were pretty anti-semitic. European anti-semitism has it's roots in pagan anti-semitism.

That's a hoot, Chris.

The Romans weren't anti-semitic as such, they just wanted the Jews to stop rebelling and pay their taxes like a good little subjugated state. By your reasoning, the Romans were also anti-German, anti-French, anti-British, etc.

No, for real deep ingrained anti-semitism, you really have to go to Christianity. And Islam, of course.

Tom wrote, "Just as not every statement at a feminist rally should be qualified with 'but there are lots of men who are working against the patriarchy too,' not every comment thread in every post on a blog frequented by atheists is going to say 'oh, but what about all the good stuff religions do?'

I was responding to a universal declaration about the negative nature of religion. If I made a universal statement about Christopher Hitchens' writing that reflected an unreasoned bias, I am sure you would be there to show me the other side and point out my bias. Or, to take up your fanciful example of the Million Man march, if someone from that event went on Larry King and said, "White men do nothing to help black people," you're damn skippy I'd be calling in to challenge his sweeping statement. (I would have to do it because I doubt Larry King would.)

I responded to a comment that took a bit of rhetoric and treated it as if it was a syllogism. I merely pointed out that it wasn't a syllogism - it was rhetoric. The case was not proven. The common denominator wasn't religion - it was murder. It is a rhetorical trick, and not reason.

I am not trying talk anyone out of their atheism. I am not trying to persuade people to like religion if they don't like it. I would suggest - and this impression is bolstered by the combative responses - that there is something going on here besides logic, an emotional reaction to religion or at least an intense dislike.

One mistake many religious activists make is they take something they don't like, and try to universalize an argument about why "this thing I don't like" is inherently bad. These arguments inevitably annoy critical thinkers because they are defended on the basis of ideology and personal taste. And they just won't see that, no matter what you say to them. They can't parse out the difference between "this is bad" (objectively) and "I don't like this" (a subjective feeling).

I am getting the same vibe from some of the overdetermined responses to my rather tepid defense of religion in this thread.

You ask for a single example of a religion that does not require magical thinking. Okay. Zen Buddhism, in which community magical thinking is openly mocked. That's just the first one to come up off of my head.

You're being condescending, but I'll ignore it and respond to your bullet points.

1. Simply false. (A single example suggested above.)

2. True in many cases; possibly true in most cases. Your statement that Buddhists are "intolerant" of other religions is a stunner. I'm curious what your experience has been talking to Buddhists about other religions, or what you've read, that prompts you to say that.

3. Probably true in most cases, and I have met and befriended (as I said before) a number of mature, intelligent people who do not believe their religions literally, but treat them as useful and inspiring mythologies. Religion can be used as a mental yoke, it often is, and maybe it is most of the time; and I have seen it treated in other ways as well.

The tone you are adopting is every bit as unreasoning and absolutist as the dogmatic religionists who arouse such hostility.

You say I refuse "to blame religions and the mindsets they encourage for their misuses," which is false. I have acknowledged this and other misuses of religion more readily than you have admitted anything positive about them.

I neither equivocated nor refused to address the point about human sacrifice. I wasn't at first even inclined to contest the point. Sheesh.

"Why is it that Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa are adequate spokespersons for Christianity, but Hitler, Pope Pius XII, and various members of the Southern Baptist Convention aren't?" I have some left-over straw, and you seem to need it.

The idea that I am arguing toward the infallibility of religion is so ludicrous I want to suggest you read my posts at least twice before getting all excited and responding. I am, in reality, very wary and critical of religions. All of them. (Even Buddhism, of which I spoke positively above.)

Well, it looks like everyone else is doing well enough in this debate, so I'll just add this: I was thinking of the Aztecs specifically when I referred to human sacrifice.

What is the common denominator between the Holocaust, human sacrifice, and suicide bombing? It is not religion, it is US.

Science shows us that gods or God does not exist. Since God does not exist, then God or gods cannot be the cause for the existence of religion. Human beings created religion. Human beings use ideologies, such as religion, to justify their actions.


I recently took a class in sociology and came upon something interesting.

If Hitler asked you to execute a stranger, would you? If you said no, the Milgram Experiment says otherwise.

Imagine that you are taking a course with Dr. Stanley Milgram. You arrive at the laboratory to participate in a study on punishment and learning. You and a second student draw lots for the roles of "teacher" and "learner." You are to be a teacher. When you see that the learner's chair has protruding electrodes, you are glad that you are the teacher. Dr. Milgram shows you the machine you will run. You see that one side of the control panel is marked "Mild Shock, 15 volts," while the center says "Intense Shock, 350 volts," and the far right side reads "DANGER: SEVERE SHOCK."

"As the teacher, you will read aloud a pair of words," explains Dr. Milgram. "Then you will repeat the first word, and the learner will reply with the second word. If the learner can't remember the word, you press this lever on the shock generator. The shock will serve as punishment, and we can then determine if punishment improves memory."

"Every time the learner makes an error, increase the punishment by 15 volts," instructs Dr. Milgram. Then, seeing the look on your face, he adds, "The shocks can be extremely painful, but they won't cause any permanent tissue damage."

The experiment begins. You hope for the learner's sake that he is bright, but unfortunately, he turns out to be rather dull. He gets some answers right, but you have to keep turning up the dial. Each turn makes you more and more uncomfortable. You find yourself hoping that the learner won't miss another answer. But he does. When he recieved the first shocks, he let out some moans and groans, but now he is screaming in agony. He even protests that he suffers from a heart condition.

How far do you turn that dial?

There was no actual electricity attached to the electrodes that the "learner" was a stooge who only pretended to fell pain. The purpose of the experiment was to find out at what point people refuse to participate.

Milgram wanted to answer because millions of ordinary people did nothing to stop the Nazi slaughter of Jews, gypsies, Slavs, homosexuals, people with disabilities, and others whom the Nazis designated as "inferior." That seeming compliance in the face on all of these deaths seemed bizarre, and Milgram wanted to see how ordinary, intelligent Americans might react in an analogous situation.

Interesting what he found. Many "teachers" broke into a sweat and protested to the experimenter that this was inhuman and should be stopped. But when the experimenter clamly replied that the experiment must go on, this assurance from an "authority" ("scientist, white coat, university laboratory") was enough for most "teachers" to continue, even the "learner" screamed in agony. Even "teachers" who were "reduced to twitching, stuttering wrecks" continued to follow orders.

Algernon:

I didn't conflate anything: I went off of what you gave me in your initial comment. All you gave me was, "Hitler justified his persecution of the Jews in Mein Kampf as doing god's work."

First, you asked this question:
My question for you AND Corey is this: at what point did Hitler become recognized as a legitimate spokesman for Christianity?

Since I did not say he was, and the question implies that I believe that. You conflate my simple statement of fact to an opinion I did not hold and proceed to attack that position. If you based everything you said or assumed about my position on that one sentence, you conflated my argument to something it wasn't.

Only when challenged did you admit that this also had a political drive and only now are you willing to acknowledge grudgingly that maybe religions aren't all negative and no positive.

Oh your right, where would I be without you to challenge my thoughts? Of course, I have said many times before that religion was not the sole cause of the Holocaust, in particular on one post on this blog about Hitler's alleged atheism. I'd provide a link but the arrogance imbedded in your statement disinclines me to make it easy for you to find the truth in my words. Sorry to steal your thunder but you can come down off your saintly pedestal now.

Of course, as pointed out, this thread is about what is wrong with religion, not about the totality of causes for the Holocaust.

However, let me re-iterate Tom's point. Where exactly do I claim in this thread that religions were all negative and no positive. If you cannot find a citation for this claim from me, then you are attacking a strawman and you are conflating my position, and you will have to admit that you jumped on your high horse based on an unwarranted assumption.

Algernon, please cite where I make that claim or apologise for misrepresenting me and withdraw the statement.

Where to begin?

Almost certainly I am sure with the periods of history you have studied the most. My particular areas were 14th century England (the three Edwards), 17th century Stuart and Cromwellian England, the British Empire, Ancien Regime Europe and early to mid twentieth century international history, but I have a basic understanding of most other periods of history except, Asian history, pre-Columbian American and a limited knowledge of Islamic. I'm also a little rusty on Mediterranean and African history. I do learn quickly though.

History presents us with kings and emperors and presidents who took a Machiavellian view of religion, and considered those who believed literally and superstitiously in their mythologies useful idiots.

No, really? I can see this history discussion will be very informative. Of course, I already said that. I didn't use as many big words though I guess. So, to take a page from your book, doesn't this make me responsible for your revelation?

I believe though that my point was that even where the leaders misuse religion, the followers follow primarily because they believe. Without the religion, they could not follow for religious reasons. No doubt another excuse would be found, but that does not subtract any from the point.

Have to say, though, you seem to take it as a personal attack when somebody questions you about your pat statements.

On the contrary, I just get ticked when people put words in my mouth, act like a pompous git over that, and then try to take credit for me saying something that I have said many times before they even came along.

Don't worry though, I will be very gracious once you apologise for misrepresenting me.

I never denied that human sacrifice was used in some ancient religions for religious rites - I explicitly acknowledged it, in fact, because it is true.

Actually what you said was:
Most of the human sacrifice we imagine is connected to some kind of magical rite, and the image was evoked in order to help demonize religion.

So, you use a euphemism to try and hide the religious purpose, then claim that human sacrifice is only ever brought up to demonize religion, the implication being that it's not entirely true to say human sacrifice and religion are connected. And you call that an explicit acknowledgement? Sounds like political spin that Karl Rove would be proud of to me.

Chris Bradley:
The Romans were pretty anti-semitic.

The Romans were reacting to the Jews exactly as they did every other people who refused to accept Roman overlordship. They did not target the Jews simply because they were Jews, although I am open to any proof to the contrary.

European anti-semitism has it's roots in pagan anti-semitism.

Many early christian writings are very specific about the Jews, their role in Jesus' death and are very anti-semitic. Anti-semitism in the form we know it today comes almost exclusively from christianity. Note I said almost, there are other reasons, mostly economic, some political. If this were a thread about economics or politics, we could discuss those.

Moreover, the anti-semitism that Hitler exploited does come exclusively from christianity.

What is your source for pagan anti-semitism? My source is primarily Ehrman's 'Misquoting Jesus' and his comments on anti-semitic early christian writings.

Algernon again:

I merely pointed out that it wasn't a syllogism - it was rhetoric. The case was not proven. The common denominator wasn't religion - it was murder. It is a rhetorical trick, and not reason.

I'm just curious Algernon. What would you call your repeated and unproven assertions that 'it wasn't religion, it was murder.' if not rhetoric? Your case is not proven, and yet you keep re-asserting it.

I would suggest - and this impression is bolstered by the combative responses - that there is something going on here besides logic, an emotional reaction to religion or at least an intense dislike.

Oh yes, skeptics are so mean, therefore their arguments aren't valid and it must be something else that motivates them. Heard it before and it is still not true. I'm passionate about the subject, sue me. However, my passion for the subject does not mean I have not given my arguments a lot of thought. So much thought I overcame 14 years of religious conditioning in fact.

Gasp. You mean Algernon is not right to assume I know nothing about religion and haven't examined it critically and still base his entire argument on that premise. The horror. Who would have thought? He says things with such certainty.

I am getting the same vibe from some of the overdetermined responses to my rather tepid defense of religion in this thread.

Yes of course, it couldn't be that there are many and varied reasons why these posters might post what they do, it must be the reasons Algernon assigns to them on their behalf.

You're being condescending

And you're not? You even determined motives for us without meeting us and claim we can't be reacting rationally or critically on this matter whilst appearing to claim you are the only one who has reacted rationally and critically.

The tone you are adopting is every bit as unreasoning and absolutist as the dogmatic religionists who arouse such hostility.

Yes, you're absolutely right. I say religion does bad things. I say religion does good things. Exactly like an unreasoning and absolutist dogmatic religionist. Because they freely admit that religion does wrong. Oh, wait...

I neither equivocated nor refused to address the point about human sacrifice. I wasn't at first even inclined to contest the point. Sheesh.

You tried to disguise it as magical rites and implied it is unfairly used to demonize religion. That is equivocation.

Kevin

Milgram's experiment has nothing to do with the situation in Nazi Germany. It was looking at how people reacted to authority.

People didn't resist the Nazis not because they were authority figures, but because they were afraid. If you refused the Nazis not only would you be punished, but your family and friends as well.

Fear was the factor missing from Milgram's experiment. His experiment tells us very little about the Holocaust, but plenty about why we shouldn't obey authority unquestioningly.

I was responding to a universal declaration about the negative nature of religion.
No, you weren't. No one said "religions never do anything good." Hitchens' book is about what's wrong with religion, Corey's comment was that religions are bad, but neither made a universal blanket statement of "religions can do nothing but harm."
If I made a universal statement about Christopher Hitchens' writing that reflected an unreasoned bias, I am sure you would be there to show me the other side and point out my bias.
Not if the entire conversation was set up around the negative aspects of Hitchens' writing. That's not the point of the conversation. If everyone's saying "this is what I don't like about Hitchens, these are the things I think he's wrong about," what have you added to the conversation by saying "yeah, but he says that the Earth is round and the sky is blue, so he can't be totally wrong"?
Or, to take up your fanciful
FSM damn, I hate that word.
example of the Million Man march, if someone from that event went on Larry King and said, "White men do nothing to help black people," you're damn skippy I'd be calling in to challenge his sweeping statement. (I would have to do it because I doubt Larry King would.)
But that's not what we have here at all. What we have here is the equivalent of a black speaker standing at the podium on the Washington Mall in front of a million black men and women, saying "white superiority is bad, for the following reasons," while one lone guy off to the side says "but what about all the good things that white people do?"
I responded to a comment that took a bit of rhetoric and treated it as if it was a syllogism. I merely pointed out that it wasn't a syllogism - it was rhetoric. The case was not proven. The common denominator wasn't religion - it was murder. It is a rhetorical trick, and not reason.
I agree that it was a rhetorical trick, but religion was absolutely a common denominator in all those situations. You can argue that the point is unfair and that it proves nothing, and I'll agree, but the conclusion is not in doubt.
I am not trying talk anyone out of their atheism. I am not trying to persuade people to like religion if they don't like it. I would suggest - and this impression is bolstered by the combative responses - that there is something going on here besides logic, an emotional reaction to religion or at least an intense dislike.
No, the combative responses are due to your airs of superiority, your continued reliance on strawmen, and your vaguely concern-troll-ish behavior. The fact that you seem to be intentionally missing valid points isn't helping endear you to anyone. It's not that people here have a problem with religion, it's that people here have a problem with you.
One mistake many religious activists make is they take something they don't like, and try to universalize an argument about why "this thing I don't like" is inherently bad. These arguments inevitably annoy critical thinkers because they are defended on the basis of ideology and personal taste. And they just won't see that, no matter what you say to them. They can't parse out the difference between "this is bad" (objectively) and "I don't like this" (a subjective feeling).
No one here has made any such argument except the strawman that you keep stuffing. We are all quite aware that religions are capable of doing good things for society, but we don't feel the need to mention it every time we talk about religion. And further, I think we all have our reasons, beyond simple dislike, against religion. Some have already been presented to you in this thread, but you either shrug them off or mischaracterize them.
I am getting the same vibe from some of the overdetermined responses to my rather tepid defense of religion in this thread.
It wasn't a tepid defense, it was an unnecessary defense, a fact you continue to ignore.
You ask for a single example of a religion that does not require magical thinking. Okay. Zen Buddhism, in which community magical thinking is openly mocked. That's just the first one to come up off of my head.
Bzzt! Wrongo, Algy, try again. Zen Buddhism entails belief in spiritual rebirth (reincarnation), karma, a mythical state of enlightenment, the power of meditation, and a variety of other magic. And it hits on the other two as well, despite de-emphasizing scripture. Dharma transmission, closeness to enlightenment, and the importance of lineages set up a nice little hierarchy even in the Buddhist world.

Now, I could have gone after this and claimed that Zen Buddhism is more philosophy than religion, but I think that first case is stronger. Unless you can show me some empirical evidence or rational justification for reincarnation, then I'm afraid your claim that Zen is magic-free is utter bunk.

But hey, you said this was easy and that Zen Buddhism was just the first one on top of your head. Coming up with another example shouldn't be too hard then.

You're being condescending, but I'll ignore it and respond to your bullet points.
You've been condescending for most of this thread, so I felt that one good turn deserved another.
1. Simply false. (A single example suggested above.)
Gonna have to do better than a single fundamentally-flawed example.
2. True in many cases; possibly true in most cases. Your statement that Buddhists are "intolerant" of other religions is a stunner. I'm curious what your experience has been talking to Buddhists about other religions, or what you've read, that prompts you to say that.
Actually, it was a variety of sources. There was a Sri Lankan news story about Buddhist fundamentalists, there's the simple history of Tibet, and there were several scholarly articles on JSTOR that discussed Buddhist intolerance. And that's just of other religious groups (or in Tibet's case, other political groups); various tenets of Buddhism require homosexuals to be shunned, and there was a big brouhaha a few months back when one Buddhist leader discussed the religion's wonderfully backward stance on rape.

I notice you didn't manage to find an example where this isn't true.

3. Probably true in most cases, and I have met and befriended (as I said before) a number of mature, intelligent people who do not believe their religions literally, but treat them as useful and inspiring mythologies. Religion can be used as a mental yoke, it often is, and maybe it is most of the time; and I have seen it treated in other ways as well.
As have I; but even when it isn't used as a yoke, it's used as a partition, to set aside a group of ideas that are beyond conventional critical examination.
The tone you are adopting is every bit as unreasoning and absolutist as the dogmatic religionists who arouse such hostility.
Yeah, I'm so absolutist, what with my "As far as I've ever been able to tell" and "I'd be willing to amend them given evidence to the contrary." So unreasoning, that.

I notice you've decided to engage in some well-poisoning, with a hint of ad hominem. I guess you'd know "unreasoning" then. If my arguments are absolutist and unreasoned, you should be able to demonstrate that. So far, you've given one lame example in contrast to one of my points, and have been forced to mostly-concede the other two. If my argument is so unreasoned, why can't you rebut it?

I invite intelligent criticism; I've laid out three traits of religions that in my experience are true of all religious traditions, and in my opinion are ultimately negative for individuals and for society. I've given examples of these traits in action and I've given the reasons why I think these traits are detrimental. I've said throughout that there are many religionists for whom these traits never amount to any sort of peril, but I stick to my claim that they fundamentally undermine consistent rational thought and critical examination. If you can demonstrate this claim to be false, by all means, do so. And I will absolutely re-examine my argument in light of that rebuttal. But so far you have said nothing that I haven't already covered.

You say I refuse "to blame religions and the mindsets they encourage for their misuses," which is false. I have acknowledged this and other misuses of religion more readily than you have admitted anything positive about them.
And yet in each case you divert the blame or equivocate. Human sacrifice isn't a religious concept because we do it for "justice" or some national ideal. Religion shares no blame for the Holocaust because Hitler wasn't a legitimate spokesman for Christianity. Machiavellian kings and emperors have twisted religion, but you say nothing of the religious officials who do the same. Terrorists use religion as a shield, not as a motivation. You haven't readily admitted a single fault attributable to religion.
I neither equivocated nor refused to address the point about human sacrifice. I wasn't at first even inclined to contest the point. Sheesh.
Really? So the "human sacrifice to gods = death penalty for 'justice'" isn't equivocation? I guess I need to get a new dictionary, because mine says that that's just about the definition of equivocation.
"Why is it that Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa are adequate spokespersons for Christianity, but Hitler, Pope Pius XII, and various members of the Southern Baptist Convention aren't?" I have some left-over straw, and you seem to need it.
Save it, and answer the question. You're the one who brought up the idea that Hitler wasn't a "legitimate spokesman" for Christianity, and you're the one who proposed that the idea of legitimate spokespeople was central to this debate (I believe it was "My question, hardly irrelevant and not easy to answer, is: who counts as a legitimate spokesman for the religion. Throughout history wars have been justified in religious terms in order to win popular support; in such examples, religion is being used as a shield. Yet you would blame the religion. This is like blaming hostages for the actions of their kidnapper"). If you didn't want to involve the Scotsmen in this conversation, you shouldn't have invited them. Who are legitimate spokespeople for Christianity? You brought up Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa; what about Pope Pius XII, who tacitly supported the Holocaust? Was he "using religion as a shield"? When Jerry Falwell blames the gays and feminists for natural and unnatural disasters, is he just using "religious terms in order to win popular support"? Who are legitimate spokesmen for a religion, and by what criteria do we judge them?
The idea that I am arguing toward the infallibility of religion is so ludicrous I want to suggest you read my posts at least twice before getting all excited and responding. I am, in reality, very wary and critical of religions. All of them. (Even Buddhism, of which I spoke positively above.)
I've read through your posts multiple times. I haven't seen you exercise critical thought regarding religion in any of them. I've seen oodles of condescension, though, and plenty of strawmen, and just a couple of true Scotsmen. You're really good with those fallacies, maybe you should try some real logic.

Now, before you get very excited and respond, I want you to go back and see if you can actually figure out what my point is, without misrepresenting it. Go ahead, I thought I made it pretty easy, but I guess I overestimated you. In case you need a refresher, it's that magical thinking + in-group solidarity + obedience to authority is not a mix that encourages consistent critical examination, logical thought, and openness.

Corey: I apologize; I attributed your first post to Jimmy_Blue by mistake.

Kevin:

Interesting what he found. Many "teachers" broke into a sweat and protested to the experimenter that this was inhuman and should be stopped. But when the experimenter clamly replied that the experiment must go on, this assurance from an "authority" ("scientist, white coat, university laboratory") was enough for most "teachers" to continue, even the "learner" screamed in agony. Even "teachers" who were "reduced to twitching, stuttering wrecks" continued to follow orders.

Gosh, it's almost like what I've been saying here, that uncritical obedience to authority is a bad thing, is supported by evidence!

Gosh, I'd hate to see a study which showed that the creation of hierarchical ingroups and outgroups, even when the groups are chosen randomly, has a negative outcome. Why, it'd almost be like I was basing my reasons for denouncing those traits on some sort of evidence.

But that simply wouldn't be possible; it would undercut my authoritarianism and unreasonableness.

Tom Foss said: "The problem is that all religions, through the promotion of magical thinking, provide a mechanism for its members to suspend all those positive philosophies in the name of ingroup solidarity."

Indeed. I have been observing this behavior in the pagan community in the city where I live. They are trying to decide who the "true pagans" are -- self-identification is no longer sufficient. For what reason I don't know, other than to deny the "not-really-pagans" access to their community resources. And yet these same people complain about how they have been marginalized by a Christian mainstream all these years. Apparently there isn't any community out there that isn't willing to marginalize some other group even further. All in the name of religion, of course.

I didn't much care for "Godspell" (though I love "Jesus Christ Superstar"), but there's an apt line in it that my dad's fond of: "You must never be distressed / Someone's got to be oppressed!"

I have been observing this behavior in the pagan community in the city where I live. They are trying to decide who the "true pagans" are -- self-identification is no longer sufficient. For what reason I don't know, other than to deny the "not-really-pagans" access to their community resources. And yet these same people complain about how they have been marginalized by a Christian mainstream all these years. I think that is only true of US paganism - maybe it's something to do with the fact that Pagan groups there can claim tax-exempt status as religions. Here in the UK, pagans don't put up with that kind of behaviour - we just laugh at the self-proclaimed third-generation Traditional Witch Queens.

Jimmy you said that "Milgram's experiment has nothing to do with the situation in Nazi Germany. It was looking at how people reacted to authority." Were the Nazis not the authority from 34 to 45? But that is not my point.

As Tom stated, "that uncritical obedience to authority is a bad thing," be it religion or any form of ideology is the point I wish to make. Just think back to the 1950's with McCarthyism here in the United States. Or all the propaganda from the United States government towards the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

It is an interesting topic and Tom and Jimmy make many very good points in spite of the evident frustration at a different point of view. Our positions really aren't that far off, but rhetoric is being confused with logic and emotions are running high, my arguments have been misrepresented and I am accused of misrepresenting others' arguments. In a cooler forum, I would truly be interested in continuing a dialogue on the subject; but this has become a fight rather than a conversation with unnecessary hostility taking precdence over dispassionate examination of the comments. I am not interested in refuting distorted versions of my comments any more.

Just think back to the 1950's with McCarthyism here in the United States. Or all the propaganda from the United States government towards the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Yeah, ultimately the Holocaust spread quite a lot like the literal witch-hunts of Salem and the Inquisition, and the more figurative ones of McCarthyism. The Jews (and gypsies and homosexuals, etc.) were painted as a scapegoat for all of Germany's myriad problems, and the rest proceeded as any other hysteria does. Of course, this one had the added component of fascism and military might, which made it quite a bit more widespread and dangerous.

Ernest:

in spite of the evident frustration at a different point of view

Congratulations. You fail at reading.

Our frustration, as you keep failing to note, despite having it repeatedly pointed out, stems from your mischaracterizations of our arguments, points, and positions. If you aren't doing this intentionally, then you are one of the densest people I have ever been in an argument with, and if you are doing it intentionally, then you should understand that no one's falling for it.

But I suspect the truth is somewhere in-between. You came into this thread--as the first comment, no less--responding to a position that no one had taken. "That would be far more interesting and humane than this highbrow amusement of assuming Christians are idiots and Muslims are terrorists," you said, failing to recognize that no one--not even Christopher Hitchens, for all his specious arguments--had taken such a position. And throughout this thread you have been arguing against that same point, trying your damndest to stuff Jimmy and I into that preconceived position, even though neither of us have said anything even remotely like it. You didn't come here for a discussion, you came here to beat your strawman in public.

my arguments have been misrepresented and I am accused of misrepresenting others' arguments.
Where have your arguments been misrepresented?
In a cooler forum, I would truly be interested in continuing a dialogue on the subject;
"You're mean! I'm taking my ball and going home!"
but this has become a fight rather than a conversation with unnecessary hostility taking precdence over dispassionate examination of the comments. I am not interested in refuting distorted versions of my comments any more.
Nor am I. I guess if you can't take comment distortion, you ought not to do it.

Though I hardly see where your comments have been distorted at all. We haven't needed to distort them, they're fallacious all on their own.

Still waiting for that non-magical religion, Algy. Bunburyism doesn't count.

In a cooler forum, I would truly be interested in continuing a dialogue on the subject; but this has become a fight rather than a conversation with unnecessary hostility taking precdence over dispassionate examination of the comments. I am not interested in refuting distorted versions of my comments any more.

There we have it folks! The official "take a shit on the table and leave"!

As an outside observer to the debate, Algernon, it does appear as if you were attacking a strawman for quite a while. The polite thing to do is to apologize, not ignore points and keep an air of superiority.

What, we're not supposed to get angry and demand apologies when you lie about us, Algernon?

Oh, right, us uppity atheists should just be quiet and never let anyone know anything about what we actually believe, so that people like you won't have your prejudices challenged.

Hey, BD, how about a "What about all the good things [woo] has done?" Doggerel? It's kind of the opposite of "what did [woo] ever do to you," I think.

I'm always fascinated when people justify religion on the basis of the good done in its name, as if that somehow mitigates all the despicable inhumanity perpetrated in its name. I somehow think those same people wouldn't be quite so pathetically lenient when the same argument is applied, say, to Adolph Hitler and his National Socialist Party. Because the Nazi party did actually do a fair bit of good for Germany before they went completely berserk and the inmates were put in charge of the asylum!

Well pv makes a vaild point. Of course, following this logic, why not include the United States of America. Just look at the "despicable inhumanity perpetrated in its name". Just look at the invading Iraq, tortuing innocence people suspected to be terrorists, staging political coups. The United States has committed some big mistakes throughout its history. But I could be wrong, I'm not a historian.

And yet, if our discussion were "look at all the terrible things that the U.S. is doing right now, like warrantless wiretapping and torture and supporting theocratic dictatorships and trying to unite church and state," I wouldn't be adding anything to the conversation by saying "yeah, but they also helped win World War II and have helped foster democracy all over the world."

The point is that no government, no institution, no human endeavor is entirely good or evil, and no one (at least, no one who I typically encounter here) would be foolish enough to believe that. We all recognize that there is good and bad in all things, and you have to determine, through logic or personal preference or whatever, which is more characteristic of the endeavor, whether the bad outweighs the good or vice versa.

And so if I'm saying "dictatorships are bad," you're adding nothing by saying "but Mussolini kept the trains running on time." I'm already aware of that, I've taken it into account, and I don't think punctuality outweighs all the negative aspects.

Kevin:
Jimmy ... Were the Nazis not the authority from 34 to 45? But that is not my point.

It was 1933 to 1945.

However, my point was that Milgram's experiments do not recreate the conditions of Nazi Germany or Nazi occupied Europe, so they tell us very little about the real reasons people did not resist the Nazis. The experiment does not take into account fear, prior prejudice and the threat of violence and death.

Your original statement:
If Hitler asked you to execute a stranger, would you? If you said no, the Milgram Experiment says otherwise.

Is nonsense. It does not take into account the consequences of saying 'No' in Nazi Germany. It also fails to recognise the very simple fact that people did say no. The lucky ones were executed for doing so. How many people died in Milgram's experiments? Where was his secret police? Where was his industrial genocide? Who threatened his subject's families? Who had his subjects so scared of being ratted out by their neighbours that they invented stuff to rat out their neighbours first?

Read a history book before daring to make such an absurd and grossly inaccurate assertion. The Milgram experiment tells us at most that people can be made to follow immoral orders (not a newsflash), and that as Tom said unreasoning and blind obedience is always a recipe for disaster.

As a means to understanding the lack of resistance to the Nazis I believe it is worthless. Like trying to sample the Earth's atmosphere by going to Mars. Hey it's a planet close by isn't it? Looks the same from a distance, but up close it's nothing like.

Algernon wrote:
It is an interesting topic and Tom and Jimmy make many very good points in spite of the evident frustration at a different point of view. Our positions really aren't that far off, but rhetoric is being confused with logic and emotions are running high, my arguments have been misrepresented and I am accused of misrepresenting others' arguments. In a cooler forum, I would truly be interested in continuing a dialogue on the subject; but this has become a fight rather than a conversation with unnecessary hostility taking precdence over dispassionate examination of the comments. I am not interested in refuting distorted versions of my comments any more.

I fed this through my wooterpreter and it came up:

I looked back through the thread in a desperate search for proof of all the things I claimed you said and found I was wrong, but rather than step up like a mature adult and apologise I am going to continue lying and pretending I'm the wronged party.
PS. You are all nasty mean frustrated atheists who refuse to be pigeonholed by my stereotypes of you and your arguments, and that is also your fault and proof of how mean and nasty you are. How dare you not bow to my smug sense of superiority and air of condescension. I am taking my ball and going home and I won't play with you again.

Look, even when you have been called on misrepresenting people, and been given proof of how you did, and an opportunity to clear the slate and start again, you then post about how you have been misrepresented and misrepresent us again.

My frustration is most certainly not because you have a differing point of view. It is because, as I have already stated, you keep misrepresenting my position. And you are still doing it. Guess what, claiming I am frustrated with you because you don't agree with me is yet another misrepresentation because I already told you what the problem was.

Our positions really aren't that far off

Absolute crap, as can be clearly seen by anyone who has read the thread.

but rhetoric is being confused with logic

Where? You keep re-asserting this but have not proven it and have indeed been guilty of rhetoric yourself, as pointed out and still remaining unanswered and unacknowledged.

my arguments have been misrepresented

Where, when and by whom?

and I am accused of misrepresenting others' arguments

And you have been given ample proof that you have, and you have failed to answer or acknowledge this.

In a cooler forum, I would truly be interested in continuing a dialogue on the subject

Oh please, snide comments and a childish tantrum are your answer to actually being asked to justify your arguments or withdraw them?

but this has become a fight rather than a conversation with unnecessary hostility taking precdence over dispassionate examination of the comments.

And do you have any proof that no matter how heatedly or passionately stated they are, any of our arguments are wrong? No, which is why you slink away now. Because we had the temerity to point out you were wrong.

I am not interested in refuting distorted versions of my comments any more.

See, you do understand why I am frustrated after all.

Kevin again:
The United States has committed some big mistakes throughout its history. But I could be wrong, I'm not a historian.

Hardly news. Every nation has done bad. And every nation has done good. That was the point of this debate over religion in the end. As to you not being an historian, we'd gathered this. And just as I refrain from making claims about quantam physics because I am not a quantam physicist, perhaps you should do the same, or at least do some fact checking.

People mouthing off about the Nazis when they don't know much about the period really piss me off. So whilst not taking anything I said back, I apologise at least for the tone.

And, as usual, what Tom said.

I apologise if I have offended or mislead you Jimmy. This was not my intention. I am merely trying to understand your belief or view on this matter. As Tom said earlier

The point is that no government, no institution, no human endeavor is entirely good or evil, and no one (at least, no one who I typically encounter here) would be foolish enough to believe that. We all recognize that there is good and bad in all things, and you have to determine, through logic or personal preference or whatever, which is more characteristic of the endeavor, whether the bad outweighs the good or vice versa.

Before I go on, I should make something clear. I have attention deficit disorder, which often hinders my logic and does not allow me to express myself as clearly as I want or as others care capable of doing. Again I apologise for not making this clearer earlier in this discussion.

Now if I am understanding this discussion, which I may or may not, you see that religion is the cause of more harm than good. I have heard this argument before. Also I have been told that we, as a people and a species, should abandon religion because it is cause for more harm than good.
What I am lacking in understanding is how you cannot apply this logic or perspective to governments, ldeologies such as captailism, Marxism, or socialism?

Look at how much damage this nation has caused in the pass five years. Does this mean that the planet should be rid of this country? If I am wrong then please correct my mistakes.

Skeptico replies to Kevin

Re: Now if I am understanding this discussion, which I may or may not, you see that religion is the cause of more harm than good. I have heard this argument before. Also I have been told that we, as a people and a species, should abandon religion because it is cause for more harm than good.
What I am lacking in understanding is how you cannot apply this logic or perspective to governments, ldeologies such as captailism, Marxism, or socialism?

You can apply it to those things too. But religion is different. The reason religion is different is that (in most cases) religion tells you this is the way God says it should be. And clearly there is no arguing with God. But the people from a different religion, with different beliefs, will have a different set of things God is telling them is the way things should be. The problems with this should be obvious. You and I can disagree on all sorts of things, and can agree to disagree. But if God is telling us the other person is wrong, then ultimately we can’t peacefully disagree. That’s the core reason why religion has caused so much strife. Other ideologies cannot compare.

Now, I agree that we need to replace religion with critical thinking, not with some other quasi-religious idea such as Marxism. But we have to abandon religion first.

Look. Humanitarian efforts and good works would exist without religion. Misanthropic, violent actions would exist without religion. Religion CAN be used as an excuse either way, and is used to sway people to your side. It's an effective tool for demagogues. But THAT'S where the danger lies. Religion is a problem, simply because it poisons the mind against independent, critical thinking, which deprives us all from accessing the tools to counter demagoguery. ALL religions REQUIRE magical thinking. To you Xians: what is prayer, if not magic? Believing what sounds good to you (we'll all live happily ever after in paradise...) is a way to keep from dealing with reality. Religious people would argue that everyone would be in despair, if not for religion. For me, that's basically ADMITTING you have faith in something that doesn't exist BECAUSE it's easier for you not to deal with reality. Religion is a cop-out from thinking. Period. And as such, you can justify anything in its name. Which is why people discuss good works to argue for religion - good works need no justification, so religion in that case is irrelevant. I would argue that people who help out would be helping out regardless of religion, because generosity comes from within, not from some fake spirit in the sky.
madaha

Wow, interesting discussion. I kind of skimmed it after the first 20 posts or so, since it seemed that things got kind of bogged down at that point.

I have to say that I agree with points on both sides, but mostly feel that there seems to have been a certain tendency for Algernon to have been treated a little harshly; I think he made a valid point in favor of not being too all-inclusive in our labels and criticisms of religion, and that's it -- an ideal point of view for a skeptic, I think. But once the pushing started, it just got worse from both sides.

However, one tiny item from Algernon I will dispute: "What about capital punishment? Since it has no demonstrable deterrent value...."

I'd say it has a whopping BIG deterrent value with respect to the person who gets executed. It's pretty demonstrable, too.


~David D.G.

Now if I am understanding this discussion, which I may or may not, you see that religion is the cause of more harm than good. I have heard this argument before. Also I have been told that we, as a people and a species, should abandon religion because it is cause for more harm than good. What I am lacking in understanding is how you cannot apply this logic or perspective to governments, ldeologies such as captailism, Marxism, or socialism?

Look at how much damage this nation has caused in the pass five years. Does this mean that the planet should be rid of this country? If I am wrong then please correct my mistakes.


Yes, you can absolutely apply this logic to other ideologies. You could apply it to things, too, but that runs into some greater difficulties about the ability and rightness of destroying objects and institutions.

But certainly you could look at Marxism or capitalism or fascism or what have you, any ideology at all, and judge them on the things they have done for good or ill. You can argue one side or another, weigh the positives and the negatives, and cast judgment.

But, for my own part, I think the real judgment lies not with the actions of the followers of a given ideology, but with the tenets and precepts of said ideology. Condemning Marxism for the actions of Stalin, for instance, would be somewhat unfair, as Stalin's regime was demonstrably a perversion of the precepts and tenets of Marxist thought (which is why we have a separate term for it--Stalinism--after all).

But condemning Marxism (for instance) for inciting revolution, for demonizing the upper class, for basing its precepts on a flawed ideal of equality, that is entirely fair. It's one thing to point to the actions of people who profess belief in an ideology or who adhere to a mode of thought, it's quite another to point to the actual tenets of the ideology and the actual requirements of the mode of thought.

Which is precisely what I've been doing here with religion, outlining the general requirements of religious thought, and making the argument that those requirements are ultimately detrimental. They are not inherently dangerous (not every religionist becomes a fanatic, after all), but they are inherently problematic. And while great things have been accomplished in the name of religion, those great things do not rely on or require these modes of religious thought.

All three of the tenets I've described--magical thinking, ingroup solidarity, blind acceptance of authority--are parts of other philosophies as well. Objectivists, for instance, deny the first but are heavy into the second; newage folks have the first and some of the second, but sometimes lack the third; ingroups are common to nearly every human endeavor and institution, and we create them out of whole cloth when they aren't around. The problem with religion is not necessarily any single one of these traits (though I think they are all sources of unnecessary problems, in nearly all cases), the problem is that religion promotes all three universally and simultaneously, claiming the ultimate authority, and doing so with the approval and acceptance of society at large.

Kevin.

I don't think you misled or offended me so you have absolutely no need to apologise for that. Your argument annoyed me for the reasons I highlighted, but that's what different ideas are all about.

What I am lacking in understanding is how you cannot apply this logic or perspective to governments, ldeologies such as captailism, Marxism, or socialism?

I do not believe this though and I haven't said you couldn't apply that logic to politics. I believe you can and should apply the logic I apply to religion to those things you highlight, and I do. Don't make the mistake that Algernon did of arguing against something you think I said or wanted me to have said. That is guaranteed to piss off anyone that it happens to.

David D.G:
I have to say that I agree with points on both sides, but mostly feel that there seems to have been a certain tendency for Algernon to have been treated a little harshly;

Maybe that's because you didn't read the thread completely. He lied about what we said and continued to lie when this was pointed out to him. Why shouldn't he have been treated harshly?

Response to Skeptico-

You said:
Now, I agree that we need to replace religion with critical thinking, not with some other quasi-religious idea such as Marxism. But we have to abandon religion first.

I am still unclear as to what exactlly abandoning religion achieves. By unclear I mean seeking clarification. Does it mean that with religion gone, there will be no opposing force to prevent us from only using critical thinking and obective reasoning? I am not trying to put words in your mouth or speak for you or the others. As I said, I am merely seeking clarification.

Response to Tom-

Could you please clarify what you mean by
magical thinking and blind obedience? I could have misinterpreted what you wrote and come to a different understanding or conclusion. As I wrote earlier, I just want to make sure that I am on the page as you are.

Response to Jimmy-

You said:
Don't make the mistake that Algernon did of arguing against something you think I said or wanted me to have said. That is guaranteed to piss off anyone that it happens to.

Again this was not my intention and I apologize. I will try not to repeat Algernon's mistake.

Re: I am still unclear as to what exactlly abandoning religion achieves.

As I wrote above, religion tells you that its rules are the way God says things have to be. You and I can disagree on all sorts of things, but if God is telling us the other person is wrong, ultimately we can’t peacefully disagree. Removing religion would remove this reason for the complete inability to accept someone else’s differing views.

It would also probably remove the rationale for suicide bombings: no afterlife, no benefit to killing yourself for your belief.

I just want to add something to what Skeptico said as well, because I think Kevin is also interested in this direction. Forgive me if I'm putting words in your mouth though.

No-one here would argue that with religion gone everything would be fluffy bunnies, singing birds, crisp clean air and peace. No-one is saying that without religion we would only think rationally, critically, skeptically and intelligently. Hell even Sam Harris appears to believe in some woo nonsense.

The fact remains that humans are as a group, well, a bit shit. They'll find anything to argue and fight about, and they'll invent some other wierd stuff to believe.

If you don't believe me, gather the largest group of your friends together that you can and have a night of drinking and talking (you could probably even drop the drinking if you wanted). There will be arguments. Some of them will believe stuff that is way out there, and that will be from just a small sample. Hell, there may even be physical fights.

Religion certainly should not be left out in explaining atrocities to mankind, but Nietzsche made some pretty bold racist statements and the will to power.
If morality is subjective, because of "God's opinion" for example then it seems that it is also subjective as a human construct.
If morality actually exists except as a subjective set of conflicting constructs, then those who believe in it should prove which morality should be used.

Removing religion would remove this reason for the complete inability to accept someone else’s differing views.

It would also probably remove the rationale for suicide bombings: no afterlife, no benefit to killing yourself for your belief.
I don't know what rationale the Tamil Tiger suicide bombers follow (I'd be interested to know), but it's not religious.

Could you please clarify what you mean by magical thinking and blind obedience? I could have misinterpreted what you wrote and come to a different understanding or conclusion. As I wrote earlier, I just want to make sure that I am on the page as you are.
Magical thinking, in my estimation, covers the broad gamut of things believed on faith, without or in spite of the evidence. More specifically, it's accepting as true things for which there is no evidence (souls/spirits, gods, afterlife) and for which there is evidence to the contrary (resurrection, telekinesis, remote viewing, prayer, various alternative healing practices, etc.). It's also refusing to evaluate these beliefs critically in light of evidence and prior experience (for example, saying "X didn't have enough faith" or "God works in mysterious ways" when confronted with the ineffectiveness of prayer), and accepting a lower standard of evidence in support of these beliefs than in support of other beliefs (for instance, you would not trust a car mechanic who can only give you vague notions of how he plans to fix your automobil and who made his diagnosis by laying hands on the hood and proclaiming the problems, but these are commonly accepted standards of "proof" for psychic healers). Magical thinking is the suspension of critical thinking, the suspension of the mental faculties which we use to evaluate claims in everyday life, in favor of unsupported belief. It is, quite simply, the opposite of the skepticism which we all find necessary to govern our lives.

And because that skepticism is so vital to life (imagine if you believed on faith every claim that anyone made to you!) magical thinking requires compartmentalization; it takes matters of religion and origins and health (and other things, and not always all those things) and pushes them off into a corner marked "things which are not to be evaluated skeptically," while all other claims are. This is incredibly apparent in the arguments of Creationists--they'll take a very skeptical view of radiocarbon dating methods, for instance, pointing out (supposed) flaws in the process and the fallibility of the science, but then will promote the Bible as absolute truth, without ever turning that skeptical lens on it.

Which, naturally, brings up another consequence of magical thinking: false certainty. The scientific process has been shown repeatedly to be the best way of collecting information and refining our understanding so that it very closely approximates reality. Faith circumvents this process of observation, corroboration, and repeated testing, and arrives at claims to absolute certainty which are not validated by evidence. And since the only thing justifying these claims is unwavering belief, it becomes difficult to get the believer to reconsider them in light of the evidence. Since evidence-gathering was not a component of accepting the belief, they refuse to accept it as a means of evaluating that belief.

Which brings us more or less to the acceptance of authority. Humans are hard-wired from an evolutionary perspective to uncritically believe the claims of authority figures--after all, compared to other animals we have a very long period before we are self-sufficient, so children who listen to their parents' commands without question are more likely to survive and reproduce than children who do not listen. But eventually, we are supposed to grow out of this to some degree, and to learn to make decisions on our own.

But learning to question authority, and learning how and when to do so, are difficult processes, and inspire quite a bit of fear and uncertainty in people. People would much rather have parts of their lives decided for them, so they don't have to make difficult decisions themselves. And so they seek out authorities to govern their lives the easy way. These authorities may be organizations or individuals or doctrines, and in the case of religion, all three.

Religion sets up an ultimate authority, who can govern all aspects of one's life with simple rules and platitudes, and encourages unthinking acceptance of that authority. The Bible is "infallible," God is "omniscient" and has a "plan" and "works in mysterious ways," you must take a path to "perfect enlightenment" as defined in the precepts of Buddhism, etc. All these doctrines implicitly or explicitly tell you not to ask difficult questions or even to think very hard about what the authority commands. but to accept them outright. Such doubts are seen as weak faith, and may lead to ostracization or threats of punishment. Again, believers are asked to circumvent their rational faculties and believe for emotional reasons, and refuse to question for emotional reasons.

I could give more examples, if you want, but I think I've gotten the idea across.

Re: Tom Foss

Magically thinking, in my estimation, covers every attempt by the human brain to even try to explain reality. It also includes (woo-)belief in a "sceptical lens" through which one clearly sees the Truth.

You humans make me laugh.

Magically thinking, in my estimation, covers every attempt by the human brain to even try to explain reality. It also includes (woo-)belief in a "sceptical lens" through which one clearly sees the Truth.
Then your definition of "magical thinking" (or "magically thinking" apparently) doesn't conform to any definition of the term ever used before. Ever. I'd also question your definition of "woo."

And who said anything about "the Truth," let alone "clearly seeing it" through a "sceptical lens"? The truth is asymptotic, I just want to get as close as possible.

So, if not a "sceptical lens," then, what do you propose? How should we try to find "the Truth"? Or should we just accept all claims as true and call it a night?

You humans make me laugh.
You fools make me shake my head in disbelief.

Hi Tom,

This is what you said:

"The scientific process has been shown repeatedly to be the best way of collecting information and refining our understanding so that it very closely approximates reality."

This is the point where you start drifting into woo-land in my opinion. According to your own standards, wouldn't you need to prove that your (our) way of collecting information does indeed refine our understanding to closely approximate reality? How do you know that you are not approximating your own little pet model of reality? If you can't prove that you are in fact discribing reality with your collected information, than you are no better than a religious person, who claims the bibel (or whatever book) contains the truth.

This is the point where you start drifting into woo-land in my opinion.
Oh, I can't wait to see this.
According to your own standards, wouldn't you need to prove that your (our) way of collecting information does indeed refine our understanding to closely approximate reality? How do you know that you are not approximating your own little pet model of reality?
Because I have independent corroboration, which is central to the scientific method. Science requires corroboration and repeatability before it will make any claims about reality.

Furthermore, science demonstrably works, reliably and consistently. This adds to the evidence for its validity.

If you can't prove that you are in fact discribing reality with your collected information, than you are no better than a religious person, who claims the bibel (or whatever book) contains the truth.
Wow, that's a flawed analogy. Even if I couldn't prove that my information describes reality, it would still be better information than religious texts; my information will have come directly from the study of reality, not from magical assumptions about invisible sky-men.

But, as I said, it's not difficult to prove that science is good at approximating reality. There's the simple fact that science starts with observations of the real world, observations on which every observer can agree. It moves then to hypotheses based on those observations, and then experimentation and information collecting to test those hypotheses. If the information gathered contradicts the hypothesis, it is refined or discarded. If the information supports the hypothesis, more information is collected. Eventually, when there is enough information collected by independent observers through different experimental setups and different related observations, the hypothesis may be accepted. Through more testing and through examining large amounts of other information, theories are constructed which explain observed phenomena and make predictions for future tests. These hypotheses and conclusions and theories are accepted, until new information causes us to reject or refine them.

So, through observation, independent corroboration, repeated experimentation, and self-correction, I can reasonably say that science is the best method we have for describing reality. Our descriptions certainly aren't perfect or complete, but they represent the absolute best information we have about nature at any given time, and they are all held tentatively with the recognition that other observations in the future may change our descriptions.

But I think I see what you're getting at, and I could be wrong, but I see in your comments the beginning of the path of Cartesian reductionism down the rabbit hole of solipsism. And sure, any one of our senses may be flawed and easily fooled, but that's why we seek corroboration from our other senses, and from other people and their senses. It's entirely possible that we're all wrong, or that the entire universe as I know it is the result of my senses being totally fooled, but I have no way of knowing that. All I know is what I can gather from the physical world. If it's all an illusion, then it's a very consistent one.

But until I see some evidence that it is an illusion, I'm going to assume the null hypothesis.

So, Marty, why don't you enlighten us all with your definition of "woo," and with your better method for evaluating claims and the physical world than science?

Tom, in addition to his other doubtfully literate offerings Martin wrote "You humans make me laugh."

Troll alert!!!

Tom, in addition to his other doubtfully literate offerings Martin wrote "You humans make me laugh."

Troll alert!!!


I know, I know. I'm waiting for the IP address to come back as "[email protected]"

Going to have to borrow this one from the library, I think.

Hitchens' views on economics make me feel queasy, and I don't want him to profit from me reading his books.

But it sounds like a good read.


Religion has become an opium of masses.
In a sting operation in India, CNN Exposes why religion and blind beliefs are harmful to the society.

"Spiritual gurus, babas, Godmen – they are known by many names and have become forces to reckon with when it comes to faith, specially in India where the lines between superstition and religion have blurred significantly.

But the faith has been maligned and many who claim to be Godmen, promising to rid lives of evil in the name of God have been proven close to evil themselves."

What in the name of God is wrong with India's faith?
CNN-IBN
Posted Monday , May 07, 2007 at 02:34

http://www.ibnlive.com/news/india/05_2007/what-in-the-name-of-god-is-wrong-with-indias-faith-39881.html

"...where the lines between superstition and religion have blurred significantly."

I'm sorry? There are lines between them? It's about as sensible as saying there's a difference between courgettes and zucchini, and that it would be dangerous blur the distinction.

Or someone with halitosis complaining about the stink of someone else's sweaty feet!

Left this for a few days, came back, and I am posting only to deny that I lied. Even if you can point out a mistake in WHAT I ACTUALLY WROTE, there was no effort on my part to deceive. I have shared my perspective on the topic in good faith. Several of you have rejected my point of view, and I feel completely at peace with that. What is disappointing is the accusatory nature of the rebuttals, as if I had tried to sell you Amway or something, when in fact I did nothing more than attempt to participate in a conversation. I doubt I will bother to do so again.

Is that the aim? Driving away people who see things differently? Congratulations.

Algernon, despite repeated corrections and efforts to point out that you were describing a straw man, you continued to spout the same misrepresentation. That is what convinced me you were into deliberate deception.

Now apologize for heating up the argument.

Left this for a few days, came back, and I am posting only to deny that I lied. Even if you can point out a mistake in WHAT I ACTUALLY WROTE, there was no effort on my part to deceive.
Yeah, I guess when you say something that isn't true, have it repeatedly pointed out to you that it isn't true, and continue to say it, that's not lying at all.
What is disappointing is the accusatory nature of the rebuttals, as if I had tried to sell you Amway or something, when in fact I did nothing more than attempt to participate in a conversation. I doubt I will bother to do so again.
Again, you seem to be missing a point. In the very first post you brought up a position that no one had taken, and proceeded with each successive post to try to fit that position onto everyone who disagreed with you, regardless of whether or not that position represented their argument. And yet, you still fail to see that you haven't actually argued with anyone here, you've argued with a strawman that you brought with you into the thread, and then you call us mean and "accusatory" for pointing that out to you.
Is that the aim? Driving away people who see things differently? Congratulations.
No, the aim is to drive away people who mischaracterize the arguments and points of others. If you can't handle arguing with real people and real positions, then there's no point in debate. You can rail against your strawman in private. If you're going to try to discuss things with people, then you're going to have to throw out your preconceptions and your misconceptions and actually listen to what they have to say.

Straw man for the layman. You know, if you don't get it.

Algernon:

When apprentice soldiers in the past learned to fight, they used straw dummies, obviously since they didn't move and were easy to take down.

That's what you were doing: fighting (debating) a straw man (position no one espoused and therefore would not defend).

It really can be convincing rhetoric to an observer not trained in the ways of fallacious thinking, but you'll honestly need to do better here.

Algernon.

You conflated my argument and then said you didn't. That seems like a textbook example of a lie to me.

Then you had it pointed out to you, and then did it again.

Is that the aim? Driving away people who see things differently? Congratulations.

And there you go again. Is it really necessary once again to point out that not one person here has attempted to drive you away because your opinion differs to theirs?

However, you keep repeating that the problem we have with you is that your opinion differs to ours. Even though we've pointed out this isn't the case and the problem is with the fact that you have failed to understand what our position actually is, not what you think it is.

So again, you're lying.

In fact, let's test your simple assertion that we seem to want to drive away anyone with a different opinion than ours.

Tom, when you said that you would quibble with me over the origins of anti-semitism, did I try to drive you away? Did I react in a hostile manner to you? Did I respond in an accusatory tone? Did I call you names?

Or how about when Chris Bradley disagreed with me over the origins of anti-semitism. Did I react in a hostile manner, or did I politely disagree and say I was open to his evidence?

Now ask yourself, what was the difference?

I suggested that someone proposed a syllogism that wasn't necessarily a syllogism. (It was, in my analysis, a rhetorical leap in the guise of a syllogism - a clever rhetorical device.)

That statement could be wrong, and if you feel you have proven my opinion wrong, great. I won't contest it any further. It was, however, a statement of my belief.

A couple of you, however, are not content to call me wrong. Instead, you call me a liar, and that ad hominem accusation has no basis except the personal acrimony that has been aroused by an opposing point of view.

Much has been assumed - I should say, imagined - about me. These projections, these overdetermined personal reactions, are worth investigating.

I was also accused of conflating someone's argument. I did not do so deliberately; and I do not agree that I did conflate it. Again, if you feel I am wrong about that, I am at peace with the disagreement.

It has not served the discourse one iota, nor has it address anything truthful about this discussion, to hurl nasty unpleasant accusations at participants. It is worth asking what you seek to achieve by diverting from the topic of discussion and trying to attack participants personally.

A couple of you, however, are not content to call me wrong. Instead, you call me a liar, and that ad hominem accusation has no basis except the personal acrimony that has been aroused by an opposing point of view.

Are you illiterate, or somehow unaware of your own actions? It has been explicitly stated why we suspect you of deliberate, malicious behavior: It's how you behaved when we pointed out your mistake.

Stop blaming us for your abusive behavior. Stop being so hypocritical. Stop denouncing behavior you've been caught performing. Stop pretending that you have a say in what another person's opinion is.

Face facts: You got caught telling something untrue about our point of view. When you got caught, you didn't apologize: You tried to say we didn't have the opinions we have, and it's our fault for not adopting the opinion you prejudicially thought we had. Such spin is a sign of intentional deception.

Take responsibility for your own actions: You chose to build a malicious straw man so that we would get angry when you attributed that position to us. The most parsimonious explanation for this behavior is that you did it deliberately to heat up the thread, as if being lied about was something not to get angry about.

You chose to stifle discussion, and now you're trying to claim we're responsible for the consequences.

We can't get a discussion started if you won't debate a real person. You're just like Wo is MI except you make an effort to maintain the appearance of coherence and civility.

Now apologize for your malicious straw man.

Jimmy:

Tom, when you said that you would quibble with me over the origins of anti-semitism, did I try to drive you away? Did I react in a hostile manner to you? Did I respond in an accusatory tone? Did I call you names?

Well, only in those long and vulgar e-mails, but that's what the restraining order is for. :)

Algy:

I suggested that someone proposed a syllogism that wasn't necessarily a syllogism. (It was, in my analysis, a rhetorical leap in the guise of a syllogism - a clever rhetorical device.)

That statement could be wrong, and if you feel you have proven my opinion wrong, great. I won't contest it any further. It was, however, a statement of my belief.


Oh, dear FSM. Your ability to miss the clearly-stated apparently knows no bounds.

Our problem isn't with your syllogism/rhetorical device quibbling. Our problem is with comments like this:

That would be far more interesting and humane than this highbrow amusement of assuming Christians are idiots and Muslims are terrorists. (And vice-versa.)

(...)

yet in present company they would be lumped in with the religions that inspire suicide bombers. In other words, no distinction is made between a militant Christian who bombs abortion clinics, and a Jain monk who brushes the path in front of him to reduce the risk of stepping on an ant. No distinction.

(...)

One mistake many religious activists make is they take something they don't like, and try to universalize an argument about why "this thing I don't like" is inherently bad. These arguments inevitably annoy critical thinkers because they are defended on the basis of ideology and personal taste. And they just won't see that, no matter what you say to them. They can't parse out the difference between "this is bad" (objectively) and "I don't like this" (a subjective feeling).

I am getting the same vibe from some of the overdetermined responses to my rather tepid defense of religion in this thread.

And so on. You repeatedly make claims like the ones above which do not represent arguments that anyone has made. That is what we are (rightly) accusing you of: arguing against points that no one has made and continuing to do so even after this has been pointed out to you. No one cares about your "syllogism" ridiculousness, what we care about is that you came into this conversation with a "religion is all bad" strawman, and have proceeded to rail against that strawman ever since, pretending it represented points made by me, Jimmy, and others.

A couple of you, however, are not content to call me wrong. Instead, you call me a liar, and that ad hominem accusation has no basis except the personal acrimony that has been aroused by an opposing point of view.

You know, I'm not sure what the word for "someone who continues to say something untrue even after he or she has been repeatedly told that said thing is untrue, but has no intention to deceive." Is there a "lie by density"?

Much has been assumed - I should say, imagined - about me. These projections, these overdetermined personal reactions, are worth investigating.
You can take your psychobabble and stuff it. Honestly, you start the comments disagreeing with nobody's point that "all Christians are stupid and all Muslims are terrorists," and you accuse us of assumptions and projections? You're a real piece of work.
I was also accused of conflating someone's argument. I did not do so deliberately; and I do not agree that I did conflate it. Again, if you feel I am wrong about that, I am at peace with the disagreement.
Here's a hint: when Person A says something, and you say "this is what Person A said," and then Person A says "that's neither what I said nor what I meant, and I have the quotations from above to prove it," and you continue to say "no, this is what Person A said," chances are you're wrong. You might disagree with that. But in general, you're probably demonstrably wrong in that situation.
It has not served the discourse one iota, nor has it address anything truthful about this discussion, to hurl nasty unpleasant accusations at participants. It is worth asking what you seek to achieve by diverting from the topic of discussion and trying to attack participants personally.
Again, "you're mean!" What purpose has it served to continually refuse to take responsibility and ownership of the things you've said, and to play armchair psychologist for the rest of us?

It certainly hasn't answered my questions, questions you scoffed at for being too easy. I'd pose them again, but they're right up there, and I know you're just going to go through half a dozen more posts about how mean we are and how we're driving you away (and doing a piss-poor job of it, I must add).

At this point, I'd be happy with you taking ownership of the things you've said, and noticing that your strawman, "I dogmatically think all religions are incapable of good things because I don't personally like them" bears no resemblance to my point, "magical thinking + in-group solidarity + obedience to authority = dangerous mix that discourages consistent critical examination, logical thought, and openness."

I guess, Algernon, that I just want you to learn the importance of being earnest.

Bronze Dog: hear hear.

Troll, thy name is Algernon.

Here's some sound advice. When you are in a hole, stop digging.

A couple of you, however, are not content to call me wrong. Instead, you call me a liar, and that ad hominem accusation has no basis except the personal acrimony that has been aroused by an opposing point of view.

Actually, I've cited the evidence that you are a liar, and I only had a brief look at what you said so I am sure there is more. It is there for everyone to read without my citation and therefore free of my growing personal acrimony toward you. And yet you continue to deny it or accept it. Did you ever consider a career in the Republican party?

But, and I am going to type this really slow so you can keep up, and I'll even put it in bold and capitals so it resembles something written in crayon for you.

WE DO NOT HAVE A PROBLEM WITH YOU HAVING A DIFFERENT OPINION. I HAVE EVEN CITED SPECIFIC AND VERIFIABLE POINTS WHERE I HAVE HAD NO PROBLEM WITH SOMEONE WHO HAS A DIFFERING OPINION TO MINE. YOU PROVIDED NO COUNTER EVIDENCE. WE HAVE A PROBLEM WITH YOU LYING ABOUT OUR POSITION, REFUSING TO ADMIT THAT YOU LIED ABOUT OUR POSITION DESPITE THE INDEPENDENTLY VERIFIABLE EVIDENCE, AND CONTINUING TO PRETEND THAT YOU HAVE NOT LIED. WE POINTED OUT WHEN YOU LIED. YOU OFFERED NO COUNTER EVIDENCE.

It's only an ad hominem when it has no basis in fact. The facts however speak for themselves, which is why you have not bothered to address them in any of your subsequent martrydom posts.

I was also accused of conflating someone's argument. I did not do so deliberately; and I do not agree that I did conflate it. Again, if you feel I am wrong about that, I am at peace with the disagreement.

You did, I provided the evidence, you did not address it, you denied it in the face of the evidence, and you are still denying it now. But what is hilarious is the fact that you bare facedly admit that you are happy ignoring the evidence. Really, very little further comment is needed.

You have admitted that you have no problem ignoring the facts in a debate, and are happy to do so. At least you're honest on that point anyway.

It has not served the discourse one iota, nor has it address anything truthful about this discussion, to hurl nasty unpleasant accusations at participants.

I agree. Your distortion of everyone's position and failure to accept you have done this has done little for the discourse. Of course, calling accusations nasty and unpleasant says nothing about their truth does it?

It is worth asking what you seek to achieve by diverting from the topic of discussion and trying to attack participants personally.

Of course, the irony of you saying this probably escapes you entirely. If lying about my position, or if I am kind, at the very least maintaining that I said something I didn't, is not diverting from the topic of discussion then what is?

So Algernon, what were you trying to achieve by doing so?

Tom

I understand the restraining order but come on, was macing me there really necessary?

My personal opinion is every religion is teaching peace and how to show care and help each other,up to my knowledge no religion preaches violence...If we are fighting and killing each other in the name of religion then why should we keep them in practice,why can't we throw religion tag away and let us tag ourself as a men and women...

Spam link edited out by Skeptico.

Sakthi:
My personal opinion is every religion is teaching peace and how to show care and help each other,up to my knowledge no religion preaches violence

Then you need to improve your knowledge and re-think your personal opinion.

Of course, if your post was anything more than spam intended to advertise some online insurance sales I'd bother providing evidence of how wrong you are.

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