William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions by David Berlinski

There are, as everybody knows, a recent number of books seeking to either demonstrate, scientifically, that God does not exist, or to show that the love of religion is the root of all evil. Some familiar names: Daniel Dennet, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Weinberg, Victor Stenger, Christopher Hitchens, and even John Allen Paulos. All proclaim that the weight of scientific evidence is either completely or heavily on the side of the non existence of God.

The question is, of course: Has the authority of eminent scientists enabled them to prove their case? Berlinski says, “Not even close.” Not only have they not come close, Berlinski goes further and shows how easily they are persuaded by weak or demonstrably false arguments, and the extraordinary lengths that some scientists will go, in the sense of believing bizarre theories, to avoid ceding any ground to the “religionists.” Their distaste of religion has also lead them to say some rather stupid things. For example, Berlinski quotes the eminent biologist Emile Zuckerkandl as saying that if God exists, He would represent “something like a pathology of the state of being.” An enjoyable, sputtering rant by that author published in the peer-reviewed journal Gene is summarized later in the book.

Incidentally, before we get too far, it is worth mentioning that like most (all?) books in this genre, Berlinski does not attempt a definition of who or what God is—and neither do those on the other side. I haven’t one to offer, either. This curiosity can very well mean that everybody is talking at cross purposes. But since nobody delineates or bounds God, I can’t say much more than this, except that it should be borne in mind when reading any of these books.

A non-Enlightened disease

Berlinski puts the claim that religion is bad for you in perspective. Some anti-religion authors won’t settle for anything less than damning religion in all its stripes, disallowing, even, the crumb of comfort given to people when their loved ones die. Even Carl Sagan, in his Demon-Haunted World allowed this kind of solace, without recognizing that since, I must point out, everybody dies, this is an enormous amount of comfort to go around that would be denied mankind if religion were absent. But you never hear of our authors breaking open Mill to assist in calculating the utility of comforts versus torments of religion.

Many scientists feel that religion, while still a cancerous growth, is benign and only mostly harmful, and not immediately deadly. Sort of like smoking, which the more Enlightened among us would like to ban. Presumably, those who would prohibit smoking are same people who would support legalizing assisted suicide. Which happened in Holland in 1984 (and where a partial smoking ban does exist). Since then, about three percent of all deaths in that country are assisted, of which the government admits that about one-fourth are “involuntary.” We call that involuntary method of exiting “murder” here in the States, but Europeans are often considered more Enlightened, so they might be one step ahead of us in legal definitions.

Arguments for assisted suicide are usually intentionally religion-free. Thus, the point of the Holland example, of course, is that the world would not necessarily become a more moral, or safer place, if religion were to disappear. More proof is given by Berlinski in the form of a table, ordered by number of “excess”, or untimely, twentieth-century deaths due to non- or even anti-religious behavior. Leading the pack are of course the two World Wars, but not far behind in the body count are mankind’s experiments with various communist utopias. Since one of the top arguments used by those who would wish to bar religion is that the religious can be cruel and have killed, the evidence that the non-religious can be cruel and have killed in equal or larger number only proves that there will always be a class of people who adore pain, misery, and bloodshed, irrespective of creed.

The disease religion is also seen as congenital, in the sense that people have religion on the brain, literally. Somehow, we are assured, the brain has genetically encoded religion into itself, and that if we’d just grow up and recognize this, we would become Enlightened (or brightened, these days). This is one of the sillier arguments put forth by scientists. If religion is genetically encoded, then it cannot be overcome, unless some of us, the superior ones naturally, have somehow managed to escape expressing those particular genes that activate, say, the praying response. Look for one of those fMRI studies that “proves” this, soon.

Berlinski shows that because some scientists cannot countenance religious arguments of any kind, they refuse to accept any evidence that is any way tainted by religion. This leads to the fallacy that one should not listen to arguments against, say, stem cell research or abortion because they are religious. You will surely certainly recognize this ploy when you meet it.

Scientific ontology

Everybody already knows that physics, and its offshoots, has done brilliantly at explaining more and more of the universe. But it cannot keep doing so forever. At some point, meta-physics must enter into the discussion. This is because, no matter what physical laws we have identified, we will never have explained through observation why these particular laws and not some other are in force, nor can we answer what the laws mean. It is obvious that it is here that God can slip in and offer the needed explanations. Some scientists are therefore anxious to fill in these gap with…something, anything but God. Or, if that cannot be accomplished, then to prove that God does not exist.

Dawkins, in his The God Delusion offers a particularly weak argument. His first premise is that the universe is improbable. And we can stop right there, because that is a nonsensical statement, so his argument fails. Any thing or statement cannot be improbable. A thing can only be improbable with respect to something else. Further, a thing can be improbable with respect to one set of evidence and entirely probable with respect to other evidence. So, in Dawkin’s case, the universe is improbable with respect to what?

Weak Anthropic evidence is sometimes offered, in the guise of certain physical constants having particular values, in the sense that if these constants did not have these values, then human life would be impossible (which is not the same as saying the universe is impossible, but let that pass). Now the burden is on those who tout this evidence to show that this is the best evidence with which to measure the improbability of the universe. And there are many hints that it is not the best evidence. It is, after all, by its very name, suspiciously self indulgent and human centered evidence. Why would the universe care if humans, or other sentient beings, evolved enough to notice that they might not have evolved had the universe been arranged differently anyway? Besides, to say that things might have been different and humans might not have evolved is just a tautology, and therefore of no interest.

Still, accept it if you like, so that we can move to Dawkins’s second premise, which is that God Himself is improbable. Again, the statement is nonsensical: improbable with respect to what? Dawkins suggests that God must be more improbable than the universe, which again makes no sense. Anyway, improbable is not impossible, as Dawkins often argues with respect to evolution by natural selection, arguments he has apparently forgotten. Still, Dawkins moves to his conclusion that God is so improbable that He doesn’t exist, and advises people to accept some recent conjectures in cosmology that seem to do away with the need to explain why the universe, or universes, are the way they are.

These are the Landscape and multiverse hypotheses, put forward by various authors to help them cope with the insolubilities of quantum mechanics and cosmology. These are attempts to shift the questions of “Why?” one step back. That they do not answer them, I would have thought obvious. Even pushing the grand questions a little deeper down is enough to please some people. Berlinski, a mathematical physicist, covers these speculations well, without any math, and gives pointers to books where we might learn more. See especially his very clever “Catechism of Quantum Cosmology.” Briefly, however, the solutions offered posit an uncountable number of alternate universes that are coming into and out of creation always. There are no mechanisms to observe these other universes directly or indirectly. Even if we could, these theories might answer some questions of quantum mechanics and gravity, but they never answer why it is infinities of universes instead of just one. The theories are also mind-boggling complex, and by no means are they consistent with one another. Nobody even knows what the full scope of these ideas are.

Berlinski quotes Dawkins, who is nevertheless satisfied, as saying, “The key difference between the radically extravagant God hypothesis and the apparently extravagant multiverse hypothesis, is one of statistical improbability.” Presumably, he means that God is more improbable. He never says how much more. Infinities, of universes or anything else, are a dangerous thing. More foolishness has been generated by jumping to infinity than by any other reason (see chapter 15 of Jaynes’s remarkable Probability Theory for appropriate words of admonition).

Argument from design

It has long been convincing to many that the wonderful biological complexity that is everywhere in evidence must have had a designer. How else, Darwin himself wondered, can one explain the human eye? This argument is less convincing than it once was, because of the success of modern biology and genetics, and the seeming success of evolution by natural selection.

(It is just as well to point out here that I accept that evolution accounts for some or most of the observed biological variation on Earth, and that the mechanism driving it is natural selection, or something like it.)

Wait a minute. Did he just say seeming success? He did. Which brings us back to Dawkins, the best-known anti-religion author. Was there ever a man who published so much nonsense that was taken so seriously by the scientific community? Nobody else even comes close. Just mentioning the word memes proves my point. Is not believing in God a meme? Berlinski doesn’t discuss memes, but does offer some well known criticisms of “selfish” genes—incidentally, the best are due to the philosopher’s Mary Midgley (Evolution as a Religion) and David Stove (Darwinian Fairytales; if you haven’t read either of these books, please do so, especially Stove’s, before you comment).

Not all biologists are satisfied with present-day theory. Berlinski writes

[Darwinian] theory is what is always was: It is unpersuasive. Among evolutionary biologists, these matters are well known. In the privacy of the Susan B. Anthony faculty lounge, they often tell one another with relief that it is a very good thing the public has no idea what the research literature really suggest.

“Darwin?” a Nobel laureate in biology once remarked to me over his bifocals. “That’s just the party line.”

There are still gaps in the evolutionary record. Nobody knows how life original arose, and nobody knows how species originate. Some fill these gaps with God. Scientists argue that the gaps will be filled in eventually. Berlinski says that this assumption is “both intellectually primitive and morally abhorrent—primitive because it reflects a phlegmatic absence of curiosity, and abhorrent because it assigns to intellectual future a degree of authority alien to human experience” because filling gaps “has created [new] gaps all over again.”

The answer

The best summation on the side of (non-apoplectic) scientists is probably from Richard Feynman, who said, “Today we cannot see whether Schrödinger’s equation [which describes the time evolution of physical systems] contains frogs, musical composers, or morality. We cannot say whether something beyond it like God is needed , or not. And so we can all hold strong opinions either way.”

To say whether or not God exists is the hardest question in the world; yet it is the one people find easiest to answer, and everybody seems delighted to meet an argument, however weak, that agrees with their desires. This leads very smart people to say exceptionally stupid things.

My own surmise is that any proof—for or against—is impossible. And so any belief you have is based entirely on faith.

88 Comments

  1. If I could talk myself into believing in God or gods, I would. But I can’t convince myself, so when I pray it is to a fantasy being greater than myself, in whom I do not actually believe. Nothing close to a biblical God or mythical gods. Just a convenient fiction for my own ad hoc purposes.

  2. I don’t believe in God. But, I agree with you, the existence or nonexistence of God is unprovable. Why people attempt either is beyond me.

    I grew up Roman Catholic. There is something called Faith. You believe without proof.

  3. Alan D. McIntire

    April 14, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Like Lucia, I was raised Christian but am no longer a believer. Not only is attacking religious beliefs futile, but I agree with Eugen F. Ware that to do so would be
    downright vicious:

    http://www.kancoll.org/khq/1959/59_3_malin.htm

    THE WASHERWOMAN’S SONG

    In a very humble cot,
    In a rather quiet spot,
    In the suds and in the soap,
    Worked a woman full of hope;
    Working, singing, all alone,
    In a sort of under tone:
    “With a Savior for a friend,
    He will keep me to the end.”

    Sometimes happening along,
    I had heard the semi-song,
    And I often used to smile,
    More in sympathy than guile;
    But I never said a word
    In regard to what I heard,
    As she sang about her friend
    Who would keep her to the end.

    Not in sorrow nor in glee
    Working all day long was she,
    As her children, three or four;
    Played around her on the floor;
    But in monotones the song
    She was humming all day long:
    “With a Savior for a friend,
    He will keep me to the end.”

    It’s a song I do not sing,
    For I scarce believe a thing
    Of the stories that are told
    Of the miracles of old;
    But I know that her belief
    Is the anodyne of grief,
    And will always be a friend
    That will keep her to the end.

    Just a trifle lonesome she,
    Just as poor as poor could be;
    But her spirits always rose,
    Like the bubbles in the clothes,
    And, though widowed and alone,
    Cheered her with the monotone,
    Of a Savior and a friend
    Who would keep her to the end.

    I have seen her rub and rub, [1]
    On the washboard in the tub,
    While the baby, sopped in suds,
    Rolled and tumbled in the duds;
    Or was paddling in the pools,
    With old scissors stuck in spools;
    She still humming of her friend
    Who would keep her to the end.

    Human hopes and human creeds
    Have their roots in human needs;
    And I should not wish to strip
    From that washerwoman’s lip
    Any song that she can sing,
    Any hope that songs can bring;
    For the woman has a friend
    That will keep her to the end.

  4. If a belief in a god gives some people a more fullfilling life then all the power to them. The real issue is the human tendency to try to validate their own beliefs by pushing them on others – a problem that exists even if religion is removed from the picture.

  5. Interesting essay. It’s quite distant from uncertainty in climate models, though (im)probability does play a role. I was happy (since I find that I agree with you much of the time) to see you arrive at agnosticism at the end. It seems to me that this is the only philosophically defensible position to take.

    I hadn’t heard of Stove before, but doing some cursory research on him has piqued my interest. Anyone who takes it upon himself to loudly criticize Popper, Lakatos, Kuhn, and Feyerabend can’t be all bad.

  6. Another excellent post on what is becoming the best blog in the Blogosphere!

    Don’t forget E.O. Wilson on your non-believers list. Charles Darwin was apparently right about natural selection, judgments of success or failure aside. I think Darwin posited a largely non-interventionist God, but retained his faith. Whether the Anthony loungers have such, I don’t know. More Berlinsky nonsense, most likely.

    I, too, was raised RC, but as I matured into a skeptical, questioning scientist my faith faded. Now, though, after years of careful observation, (and as I drift into impending dotage), I find myself closer to the believers’ camp again. There have been too many “improbable” coincidences in my life. Reality is reality, and I’m in touch with it. But there is something else going on, some deeper game behind the Illusion. Stuff appears to happen for a reason, and the reason, or motive, or modus operandi, seems to be Good versus Evil.

    I lack proof and can only speak anecdotally. But I strongly suspect there is absolute Good, and absolute Evil, and find myself drawn to the one and repelled by the other.

  7. I’d like to just mention that most of the scientists I know, including myself, are atheists or agnostic. However, I know a few excellent scientists with deep and sincere religious beliefs – the two are in no way incompatible. Almost all scientists I know agree with the basic point that the existence of God is probably unknowable either way. So, we have no problem with religion, except insofar as people believe it to the exclusion of rigorous science (e.g. 6000 year old Earth). Personally, I greatly dislike Dawkins and his ilk for giving the rest of us a bad name.

    I’d also like to make a quick point about the bizarre cosmological theories you discussed. As an astrophysicist who works in areas involving cosmology, I’d like to reiterate the point that these theories of multiple universes and higher dimensions and whatnot currently have not a shred of evidence either for or against them. In fact, most currently make absolutely zero testable predictions. Some my hold out hope that these theories will be refined and give us a deeper understanding of our universe – and possibly even explain why our universe exists in the first place. But we’re nowhere near that point, and believing that these will somehow solve the God problem seems a bit like an act of desperate faith to me.

  8. I’m a bit like Al Fin, in that I find it impossible to believe in any sort of higher power(s) and yet I will still invoke said power(s) in a time of need.

    I guess it is a similar to sending out a message in a bottle in the hope that someone picks it up but in a metaphysical way rather than physical!

    I also think that people should just let people be as the thing that annoys me the most about both sides of the religious debate is their incessant need to persuade you to have utter faith in their view. It is a little bit tiresome really!

  9. Those who say that religion is just a way to get through a cold, meaningless life, maybe should reflect on what it means to be human. Who do we need, and can we supply it ourselves? We are a paradox: finite thiings who demand to be eternal. We are the animals who do not fit into that circlle of life celebrated by the likes of Elton John.

  10. I have a friend; a skeptic of long-standing. He also teaches statistics & calculus to Econ Majors (always quick to aver that he is not an economist). He says he has run the numbers several different ways, and always gets the same answer: The chances of Life arising spontaneously are, FAPP, nill.

    My contribution to the discussion was to point out that while one may be forced to accept the existence of a Prime Mover, that is a very long way from a God who gives a shit. We completely agree that anti-religious zealots of the Dawkins variety are not skeptics, they are dogmatic materialists.

  11. Having been brought up ‘in the church’ almost literally, as my dear old dad was a professional God-botherer, I made the transit via agnosticism to atheism in the last few years. I thought it disingenuous to remain seated on the fence for too long.

    Although theism and atheism may seem inseparable to an agnostic, both being faith-based, belief in a ‘higher’ being is more infantile and allows greater latitude for extreme personal behaviour. I would assert that much more harm has been done in the name of ‘God’ than of atheism. After all, atheists have to bear the responsibility for their own actions.

    I wouldn’t give the Pope very good odds versus Dawkins over 15 rounds even with His Holiness’ Hitler Youth history.

  12. For those of you who like Berlinski — and I used to be among his most fervent admirers — you might try his “On Systems Analysis,” an unmitigated attack on the Jay Forrester, and his kind, school of prognostication. It is the funniest book written about system of difference/differential equations, albeit that may be damnation by faint praise.

  13. As a follow to Tim James, I would argue that much more harm has been done in the mantra “Believe as I do” than belief in God.

    Whether it’s belief in Allah, the Christian God, Communism, Climate Change, etc…. is immaterial. It’s that people exist who feel that if you do not believe as they, then you should be forced to comply, be sullied, muted, or even killed.

    This behavior is where freedoms go to die and seems to be cropping up a lot in the Climate Change arena.

  14. Tim’s comment deserves an “unsporting behavior” call.

    This is always interesting question, one that I have not fully resolved and certainly have not thought about from a probability perspective, Voltaire notwithstanding.

    Scientifically, religious belief is certainly a “phenomena” that is sufficiently pervasive across time and cultures to warrant careful thought as to its origins.

    I grew up reading Teilhard de Chardin who seemed to have integrated a fairly traditional interpretation of Roman Catholicism with Evolution (See Aczel’s The Jesuit and the Skull for a quick and entertaining introduction.) As a result I have generally settled on the notion that some sense of greater purpose is needed by most human beings and Darwin’s standard survival mechanisms hardly suffice.

    The washerwoman song is moving and intriguing especially if you try to juxtapose it to poems that encapsulate the obverse – ones of despair, anomie and alienation. It reminds me of the current phenomena surrounding Randy Pausch’s inspiring and transcending Last Lecture….

    OK, Matt, now I get it: “Too many people are far to certain about too many things.”

  15. “I would assert that much more harm has been done in the name of ?God? than of atheism.”

    A strange comment considering the history ofthe twentieth century and movements like communism and nazism.

    “After all, atheists have to bear the responsibility for their own actions.”

    This is strange in two respects. Firstly, I’m not sure how atheists morally ‘bear’ responsibility for their actions. Secondly, what makes anyone think a religious believer is not called to account and thus to morally bear responsibilty for their actions. Forgiveness or grace, despite what Luther may have believed, does not releases the individual from morally bearing responsibility for their actions.

    Speaking as an atheist, it is smug comments like those of Tim that have made me rather critical of atheists recently. It reminds me of the smugness of some religious believers.

  16. In such a learned company, I hardly dare open my mouth. But speaking purely as an ignorant hillbilly, I can’t but help think that most scientist fail to understand the basic limitations of reason. It is understandable that a group of people who use reason to such great effect would have blind spots as to its limitations, but I think that those blind spots help lead people like Dawkins into their errors.

    An example of what I am talking about would be the attempts of physical theorists to come up with a grand unified theory. The people who are working on this are so smart they can practically bend spoons at a distance with their mind power alone. But they all seem to ignore G?del’s incompleteness theorems.

    This is curious, because the whole idea behind the attempts to create a grand unified theory is that math can provide us with a deeper understanding of reality. In that context, G?del’s incompleteness theorems would seem pretty relevant.

    Now I could be all washed up and G?del’s incompleteness theorems could have no bearing at all on a grand unified theory. But I suspect they do and I suspect the reason that scientists are so reluctant to consider the implications of G?del’s incompleteness theorems when they are constructing their grand theories says a lot about their reluctance to consider the limits of reason.

    If anyone has the patience for a somewhat more involved argument along those lines you can read an essay I wrote on the subject here.

  17. “You cannot prove the nonexistance of god; you just have to base it on faith” –woody allen.

    I avoid faith because i don’t trust myself just yet. It takes a lot of school, seminary or otherwise, to do so I imagine.

  18. William McIlhagga

    April 16, 2008 at 5:56 am

    I believe in AGW. No proof, just faith.

    Hmmm, that sounds a bit dodgy on this blog, doesn’t it. Funny how that faith thing only works on God.

    You can personally believe in God on faith alone. No problem with that – what goes on inside your head is yours and yours alone. Asking anyone else to believe in God on the basis of your faith is rather more dodgy. To convince others you need evidence. That’s what’s missing. That’s why we no longer believe in Odin, Thor, Zeus, or whatever.

  19. Briggs

    April 16, 2008 at 6:40 am

    McIlhagga’s comment reminded me of something Chesterton said.

    Blasphemy is an artistic effect, because blasphemy depends upon a philosophical conviction. Blasphemy depends upon belief, and is fading with it. If any one doubts this, let him sit down seriously and try to think blasphemous thoughts about Thor. I think his family will find him at the end of the day in a state of some exhaustion.

  20. I received my Masters about 10 years ago from the University of Washington in Comparative Religion, Religion and Culture ; this was an academic study of religion, not a curriculum centered around theology. It irks me to no end to hear very smart scientists talk about things they are not specialists in –like religion and theology — and profess such ignorance.
    I saw David Berlinski last night at a book signing in Seattle and I found his message compelling: don’t hide behind science for advancing your own personal proclivities. He even stated that he was not advancing Intelligent Design (in response to an audience question); he was merely stating that it is an argument worth engaging and not dismissing because of its incongruities with certain portions of the Darwinian tradition (these last words are my addition). His overall position is one of humiliy: admit that which you do not know.

  21. mbabbitt: There are some specialties that are worth the cost of training, such as neurosurgery. Neurosurgeons have to perform at peak skill levels every day.

    Specialists in ethnic studies, comparative religion, gender studies, and basket weaving are not required to exhibit any particular skills at all, as a matter of daily life performance. They just express opinions based upon their “special expertise.”

    Their opinion plus $3.50 will buy you a latte at Starbucks.

  22. I received my Masters about 10 years ago from the University of Washington in Comparative Religion, Religion and Culture ; this was an academic study of religion, not a curriculum centered around theology. It irks me to no end to hear very smart scientists talk about things they are not specialists in –like religion and theology — and profess such ignorance.
    I saw David Berlinski last night at a book signing in Seattle and I found his message compelling: don’t hide behind science for advancing your own personal proclivities. He even stated that he was not advancing Intelligent Design (in response to an audience question); he was merely stating that it is an argument worth engaging and not dismissing because of its incongruities with certain portions of the Darwinian tradition (these last words are my addition). His overall position is one of humility: admit that which you do not know.

  23. Al Fin,

    Your theory goes to ANY person. The “Appeal to Authority” is used all of the time, but in all reality, has no bearing on any argument.

    If a PhD in Math says 1+1 =3, it doesn’t make it any more correct than if a 2nd grader said it.

    If having some credential is the basis for allowing one’s opinion, then we would never have seen the Faradays, Ramanajans, etc… of the world.

    It’s the science, not the scientist.

  24. AL Fin: Your ignorance and overgeneralizations say it all — besides the ad hominem attack. I am sorry you hold such such a superficial understanding of Comparative Religion and what if offers to the understanding of the human condition. Is there silliness today in the Humanites? Yes. But does that negate the value of all study? No.

  25. Right, Wade, I agree. I would make the further point that in some fields, everyday competence is critical. When a lot of people’s lives and livelihood depends upon their most routine decisions and opinions, their authority is implicit. They have no need to go around repeating all the degrees and credentials they have, or otherwise impress everyone with their “authority.”

    If they make a mistake, people die or go broke or lose something very dear to them. They are pillars for communities both local and international. They are not pompous popinjays because they deliver on promises every minute of every day.

  26. Al Fin, the problem with “I would make the further point that in some fields, everyday competence is critical.” is that mbabbitt is making another point, namely, that some scientists are making comments in fields where they have neither the education nor the ‘everyday competence.’

    I always find it amusing when scientists venture into philosophy in the same way that they would find it amusing if I ventured into science. Competence in one field does not necessarily follow into any other.

  27. Competence in one field does not necessarily follow into any other.

    While that is certainly true, DB, what it overlooks is that in many fields, competence simply no longer exists.

    Credentials do not make someone competent. In many fields, competence-testing occurs every day. A person knows if they made the right decision because the patient lived, the plane landed safely, the squad returned to base intact, the potential riot was defused peacefully, the industrial machinery breakdown was repaired promptly with no significant downtime, the project came in on time and under budget etc. etc.

    In other fields–much of academics, government bureaucracies, and other areas you can probably think of–competence testing is not a part of the average day, month, or year.

    Using the very word “competence” in the context of many academic fields is ironic.

  28. Another Great Post Matt! You been reading The Pompous Git? 🙂

    There seem to be three sorts of people in the world:

    1. Those who are all for religion
    2. Those who are all against religion
    3. Those who want to understand it

    and back to recovering all the maths I’ve forgotten over the last 40 years

  29. Jonathon,

    I believe there’s a fourth kind:

    4. Those who don’t give a sh**!

  30. Well, AL, other academics generally judge your competence in a field. You don’t last very long as a philosopher, historian or physicist if you display a degree of ignorance of the field in which you claim a speciality. And this compounds with time. Dead philosophers who still receive signification attention, or who receive a greater degree of attention once dead, usually do so because they were extremely competent philosophers and not merely of passing interest.

  31. Matt:
    I assume you must be a Father Brown fan as well? Now that I think about it, perhaps Father Brown was more than a way for GKC to make a few bucks. GKC used him as a model of a rational man of faith? I will have to dig out my copies and check that one out. It must be 40 years since I read those stories. Better still is there a biography of GKC you would suggest?

  32. Interesting how discussing religion brings out the less gentle side of many.

  33. Well, AL, other academics generally judge your competence in a field.

    Too true, DB, which is why so much of academia is viewed by those who are competent in the real world as inbred and irrelevant to any real world concerns. Think of these departments as welfare programs for academics who would otherwise be unemployable. 😉

    Being able to impress a fellow inbred incompetent enough for him to assert your competence is no substitute for genuine competence testing.

  34. I’m not sure of the point of this article. It claims that Berlinski doesn?t define God, just like most or all of the ?extreme atheists? (for want of a better expression and in no way meant to be derogatory). Of course, it is not for the atheists to define God. It is for those who claim to believe in him/her/it/them. I have only one example of the extreme atheist genre to hand (Dawkins? ?The God Delusion?). He spends some time (most notably in Chapter 2) examining different definitions of God, presented by various creeds and to my mind Dawkins shows them all to be lacking in anything even approaching convincing evidence for their beliefs. Dawkins (and others) freely admit that they cannot prove that God does not exist. But so what?

    Later in the article:
    ?Dawkins, in his The God Delusion offers a particularly weak argument …(to fill in the gaps of knowledge within Science…). His first premise is that the universe is improbable. And we can stop right there, because that is a nonsensical statement, so his argument fails. Any thing or statement cannot be improbable. A thing can only be improbable with respect to something else. Further, a thing can be improbable with respect to one set of evidence and entirely probable with respect to other evidence. So, in Dawkin?s case, the universe is improbable with respect to what??

    I am not aware of Dawkins ever having made the claim that Science currently or will ever be able to explain everything. Also, he certainly does not use the argument that the Universe is improbable with relation to this claim. Therefore, the above is nothing more than a straw man.

    I couldn?t be bothered to read the rest. I suspect the author of being at least agnostic with regards to (probably) Christianity, which is a disappointment to me. As a British atheist libertarian, sceptical of AGW (not a rare concurrence amongst people in the UK) I have often thought it surprising that such a combination is so very rarely held in North America.

  35. Briggs

    April 17, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    Cookie,

    In fact, I am of no religion.

    You are wrong when you say my argument against Dawkins’s premise is a straw man. We do agree, however, that it is unknown whether we humans will be able to explain everything. I tend to think we will not. However, Dawkins does in fact say that the “universe is improbable”, regardless whether we can know everything or not, and which is a nonsensical statement on its face. It must be improbable to some thing. The burden is on Dawkins to say what that thing is.

    The only empirical evidence we have is that, obviously, the universe exists. So given that we see a universe, it must be at least possible. The trick is deducing whether it necessarily exists, or it is contingent. Nobody, to my knowledge, knows how to do this.

    Too bad you couldn’t read the rest of the post. Maybe you’ll find some more free time later.

    Briggs

  36. Briggs

    April 17, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    Bernie,

    I read all the Father Browns many years ago and thought they were fair. I am sure there are many biographies of Chesterton, but I haven’t read any, so can’t recommend one.

    I do recommend two of his books: Heretics (from which the quote above comes) and Orthodoxy. Should be able to find them used cheap.

    You’re also right about talking about religion bringing out the worst in people. This has always be true, so it is rational to believe it always will be true. However, I think we can do better if people step back a moment and say to themselves, “I might be wrong, so I better think about what I’m going to say.”

    Briggs

  37. “Being able to impress a fellow inbred incompetent enough for him to assert your competence is no substitute for genuine competence testing.”

    How is s/he a fellow inbred? Academics are constantly competing with their fellows nationally and internationally, for research grants, for publications, for students, etc. Academics are notoriously nasty in a polite manner. I recently read a review article of the legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin in an academic journal that was so scathing it curled my toes (I similarly have very little regard for Dworkin).

    How do you competence test a philosopher? What are the appropriate critieria? What makes you think Jane Citizen is competent in assessing an academic philosopher performing his or her research/ teaching duties? As I said earlier time is usually the best assessor of academic competence.

    How many house-bred incompetents do we find in the real world, running restaurants, preparing legal correspondence, making motor repairs, managing corporations, etc.? Lots. Courts are filled with the complaints that follow their failure to perform their duties. Incompetent, prospective philosophers, historians, physicists very rarely make it through undergraduate/ postgraduate education.

    I really think you’re boxing at shadows. If your argument was against academic subjects that are only barely, if at all, academic disciplines, I would agree with you. But at the moment your argument would even class Briggs as an in-bred statistician whose competence is more or less confirmed by the respect he is accorded by his academic colleagues.

  38. This is post is completely wrong. I?m gonna debunk it right now:

    ?Even Carl Sagan, in his Demon-Haunted World allowed this kind of solace, without recognizing that since, I must point out, everybody dies, this is an enormous amount of comfort to go around that would be denied mankind if religion were absent.?

    The brilliant coward-defense of religion! It must be good because it?s such a comfort in the end of the peoples? lives! Well, it fails to mention that it is not quite SO, as many people in the end of their lives also have anxiety problems considering if they are going to hell or to heaven! Or, worse of all, if all these things are all just a bunch of lies and there?s nothing after death! What a terrible thought! We must stop all the people that reaches these sad old people to tell them that there isn?t any God, the horror!

    Problem is, that the only comfort that comes out of this religious ?comforting? is perhaps the notion that the final judgement finally comes out to jury and decides for itself! A complete lifetime of anxiety over ?hell?, and obsession on sins and guilty lives, comes finally to an end. Yes, I can see the comfort in that! Of course, the obvious is absent from this reasoning: if X is false, it doesn?t really matter at all if it ?comforts?. It’s like telling a cancer patient that he will live through it, when he will not. And I still have to be proven if it really comforts people. I?ve known many atheists quite ready to die without any problems at all. This notion that without God, people will just freak out when dying is false, a complete hoax, perpetuated only by those who cling on to religion, because “look at the oldies!”. I am amazed to realise that it’s always for the others, ain’t it? It’s not because it’s good for us, but look, it’s good for others, so it must not be that wrong?

    Well, in some countries people are killed because they try to think by themselves. Women are cut off of their intimate parts because of religious traditions. But, you know, it gives them comfort you see? It must be a good thing.

    It’s preposterous. And a false argument for religion.

    And I’m not exhagerating here. It was former president George H W Bush that considered atheists “non-american” because America is a nation “under God”. This is extremely dangerous stuff!

    ?Presumably, those who would prohibit smoking are same people who would support legalizing assisted suicide. Which happened in Holland in 1984?.?

    Ahh, the menace of the Dutch! Yes, that crazy people that smokes marijuana and have prostitutes legalized in some neighborhoods! Those are DEVILISH people, for sure! By the way, I don?t know how this points to the discussion of God or not, rather than being a lame attempt at an ad hominem attack, as in dutch are behaving like atheists (nevermind if the stats show otherwise), they are doing bad stuff (nevermind any rational discussion about what?s bad or not in that stuff), therefore DAWKINS is WRONG and ATHEISTS are BAD PEOPLE! BAD PEOPLE! (let’s punch them in the face already!) QED!

    It?s simply painful to watch you write this stuff.

    ?Leading the pack are of course the two World Wars, but not far behind in the body count are mankinds experiments with various communist utopias.?

    Ahhh, the communist freak attack! Nevermind if this was debunked several times… by Dawkins and co. in those same books you mention. It seems as you like to read rebukes of the books you criticize, rather than reading for yourself.

    Yes, because it was an atheist movement, right? How ignorant. Communism is not an exotic thing of the ancient past that is somehow unclear to us. It happened in the 20th century and its movement was clear from the start: it was not an atheist movement, but a religion by itself that tried to substitute all other religions in the task of creating Heaven on Earth!. It should be obvious to everyone, but people simply don?t think about it. It had all the characteristics of religions: dogma, worshipping rituals, propaganda, totalitarianism, oppression, equalitarianism, division (non-ecumenism). Many communist leaders often claimed that their movement was even more christian than christianity itself! This is true. Check Alvaro Cunhal, impressive Communist European leader talking about it.

    ?But it cannot keep doing so forever.?

    Who says so? You? Ah! We have a prophet, gentlemen! And may I ask you when this peak stagnation event will occur? After or before Peak Bacon? Or is it related to Peak Chicken? Seems more like Peak Arrogance.

    ?This is because, no matter what physical laws we have identified, we will never have explained through observation why these particular laws and not some other are in force, nor can we answer what the laws mean.?

    The prophet continues. How on earth you can blissfully say such rubbish is beyond me. Science evolves and does explain things that once were considered unexplainable. One thing that we all learned is that to try to predict science ?discoveries? is a total waste of time, therefore, we cannot say what science won’t discover, for that implied that you knew beforehand what all the future discoveries were! Where do I buy your Encyclopedia Galactica? Are you pretending to be God?

    All is on the table. It only takes a non-scientist to defend such a false claim. And the notion that because we cannot answer what the laws mean, that we should believe or even take seriously the notion of the existence of an imaginary friend that somehow built all this is ludicrous. Just because you don?t know why it rains, it doesn?t necessarily mean we should take anyone seriously when claiming that it is the Rain God?s ?Divine Plan?.

    ?And we can stop right there, because that is a nonsensical statement, so his argument fails. Any thing or statement cannot be improbable. A thing can only be improbable with respect to something else. ?

    Yes, with respect of non-existence. And yes, it seems to be improbable, but you are confusing here intuition with science. You can have your gut feelings, but you deny others of having theirs and defend them? So what?s your point? Let?s see?

    ?And there are many hints that it is not the best evidence. It is, after all, by its very name, suspiciously self indulgent and human centered evidence.?

    ,which is PRECISELY Dawkin?s and many other scientist?s point: the universe has those constants precisely because we are in it. It seems confusing and ?self centered?, when it is precisely the contrary: it?s like life on Earth: the earth is perfect for life not because of a God, but because there are trillions of planets, and we sit on just one of them which happens to harbor the correct ingredients for it.
    Multiverse is the expansion of this theory to universes. Of course, they aren?t even theories, only hypothesis. Atheists don’t “believe in them”, only claim that those are quite possible things, as Quantum’s Theory seems to suggest their existence. But there are ways to check them. And if it becomes possible to check if there are multiverses and the answer is yes, I?d love to see you comment on it. Until we do so, scientists are “agnostic” on it.

    ?God Himself is improbable. Again, the statement is nonsensical: improbable with respect to what??

    To his non-existence. Are you even for real?!? I mean, English is not even my first language?

    ?Wait a minute. Did he just say seeming success? He did. Which brings us back to Dawkins, the best-known anti-religion author. Was there ever a man who published so much nonsense that was taken so seriously by the scientific community? Nobody else even comes close. Just mentioning the word memes proves my point. Is not believing in God a meme??

    The only thing you prove is your arrogance. But, alas, you are not even taken seriously in the ?community?, forget about ?science? community!

    ?Darwin? – a Nobel laureate in biology once remarked to me over his bifocals. – That’s just the party line.?

    WOW! So WHAT? You’re not trying to make a call to authority fallacy, now are you? All theories are subject to skepticism and work. That?s how science evolves. I think you are deeply confusing science with religious dogma. Of course the theory isn?t perfect. To claim that humans could produce perfect things would mean that we humans would be perfect!! Only religious nuts who believe that man was created in the likes of God?s image can think of that, not scientists! But alas, it is the BEST theory we have, even if some few scientists don’t believe in it. Einstein refused to accept Quantum’s Theory, despite the fact that it is by far the best work that Physics ever gave mankind. And you know what? Both work!, much for the dismay of creationists and ID?s cronies who can?t even peer-review any of their flawed regurgitations.

    ?To say whether or not God exists is the hardest question in the world; yet it is the one people find easiest to answer, and everybody seems delighted to meet an argument, however weak, that agrees with their desires. This leads very smart people to say exceptionally stupid things.?

    You are definitely projecting here. Just because an answer is difficult we should not coward ourselves to agnosticism forever and ever without even thinking about it, and researching it deeper. By doing so, one discovers that Religions in the world contain such stupid silogisms and “factoids”, easily converting arbitrary historical misnamings and bad translations as “mystical mysteries of the Lord”, that even a theist that is rational has to denounce the sheer irrationality and falsehood of much of the Church’s claims, and Bhudist claims, and Islam claims, etc. At worse, one is left with a faint sense of pantheism. After that, it only takes the small impetus of a finger to make people jump the fence and just dust it off completely.

    Worse, if it were for Religion, we would never discover anything about the real universe around us, for we had the Bible, and what more should we ambition than having the very words of god himself?

    To respect this notion, to say that this attitude should be tolerable in the public space, is to commit ourselves to say that irrationality equals rationality, that we should respect the sun as much as the cookie monster. It is to deny responsibility of our paths and our futures, just because it was ?god?s wish, what can I do??. Somehow a part of Divine’s Plan. But if all is a part of Divine’s Plan, why should I do anything about it? Why should I move a finger? It’s inherently an ideology of defeat. No wonder it was (is!) so widely used around the earth to calm down the tax payers and war cannon fodders.

    Religion is bad. And these are only a few of many, many reasons.

  39. Briggs

    April 18, 2008 at 7:04 am

    Luis,

    You say several things that are false, and you misconstrue other points; however, you make at least one valid argument by recalling for us African female clitorectomies, performed under religious guidance. No doubt these operations are awful and an example of a religion causing harm—but on the other hand, as we are all good Multiculturalists now, who are we to complain about this?

    By the comfort of the dying, I meant not just the one dying, but his family members as well. Here is David Stove in his essay “D’Holbach’s Dream” (as essay which I wish I could reproduce entirely):

    But the Enlightenment’s tale of misery caused by religion is not only trivial in retrospect: it was always absurdly exaggerated even at the time. Take, for example, the belief in eternal torments after death. Of course, it ought to have been a source of enormous suffering, and in some case it undoubtedly was. But the fear of hell was never as vivid or constant or widespread as, according to the religious theory, it should have been: a fact which we know partly from the incessant complaints of the priests to that very effect. Stupidity, the occupations of common life, and the natural belief that hell is intended only for other people, were always enough to prevent most Christians from being made as unhappy by their belief in hell as they should have been…The fact is, the Enlightened took religious beliefs far too literally and logically: a piece of folly which religious people, for their part, were hardly ever guilty of.

    The fact that the major communist governments were a- and even anti-religious, and actively persecuted or at least strongly discouraged religion, has never been “debunked.” Mao, Stalin, and so on, never claimed be good Christians or Buddhists; in fact, they claimed the opposite. In any case, pointing out communist bloodlust and the murderous Dutch assisted suicide physicians is to show that people will do evil in the absence of religion, just as they will do it in the name of religion. Removing religion does not miraculously make people less dangerous, and there is some evidence that removing religion premptorily makes them more dangerous.

    Much of the science done up to and even into the twentieth century was done by men who were religious, usually Christians. This includes, of course, Newton and even Darwin. It is even true that some scientists today are religious. Thus, religion seems to be no great bar to the progress of science.

    It is almost true that by quoting a eminent biologist as saying “Darwin’s just the party line” is an argument from authority. But I ask you, how are you defending it? Almost certainly, unless you are a biologist yourself, you are relying on authority. Now, I admit that this section is the weakest in my review, just as it was the weakest point of Berlinski’s book. I will try and do a better job of this when I review Stove’s book Darwinian Fairytales.

    You have not satisfactorily answered my critique of Dawkins’s “proof” of the non-existence of God. I ask you to read a comment I made (#35). Dawkins’s statement is meaningless. This has absolutely nothing to do with intuition, this has to do with the fact that statements cannot be improbable, they can only be improbable with respect to some evidence. Dawkins never provides this evidence explicitly, so his argument not only fails, but is nonsense.

    I was not prophesying when I said that, no matter what laws we have identified, we will not have answered why it is these laws and not some other. This, too, is a matter of philosophical fact. And I think my main conclusion that to know whether or not God exists is a matter of something you cannot prove, and therefore you have to take on faith, is eminently defensible. This is certainly not the first time an argument like this has been given.

    Your post seems angry to the point of apoplexy, and I am not sure why. I certainly am not prostelyzing for any particular religion, nor am I claiming that some one who is now a-religious would be better off religious. I’ll leave off with again quoting Stove (from the same essay), where he was discussing Hume’s (certainly a better man than you or I) virulent attacks on religion. A man named James Beattie responded to Hume:

    [People] should remember that “in the solitary scenes of life, there is man an honest and tender heart pining with incurable anguish, pierced with the sharpest sting of disappointment, bereft of friends, chilled with poverty, racked with disease, scourged by the oppressor; whom nothing but trust in Providence, and the hope of a future retribution, could preserve from the agonies of despair. And do they (the Enlightened), with sacreligious hands, attempt to violate this last refuge of the miserable, and to rob them of the only comfort that had survived the ravages of misfortunate, malice, and tyranny!”

    Even when every deduction has been made for the over-eloquence of this passage, I do not see, much as I admire and love Hume, what satisfactory reply he could have made to it.

    Neither do I.

  40. Briggs and Lucia you may like Alvin Plantinga.
    I had the pleasure once of meeting him, studied his work on rational theology. I provide links if you cannot find him. Interesting

  41. I quite agree that Briggs is not to be classed with the inbred circle of incompetents that staffs so many faculty desks at universities. Statisticians, mathematicians, scientists, engineers, computer scientists–these fields contain their own competence testing. Briggs is tested every day, just as a neurosurgeon or a helicopter pilot is tested every day. The competence-testing for those fields is built into the job.

    Perhaps you have never heard of the book “Fashionable Nonsense” by Al Sokal and Jean Bricmont? It reveals a side of modern (post-modern) academia that most members of the public would rather not think about. Another interesting look is “Higher Superstition” by Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt.

    In many fields of academia outside the sciences and engineering disciplines, outside the professional fields like medicine and business–competence testing has been jettisoned and competence along with it.

    Read the books, if you have not already.

    Any parent who is contemplating sending her child to a university without checking the intellectual rigour beforehand, is apt to receive a sad surprise at the end of the experimental period of education. A very expensive, sad surprise.

  42. Matt:
    Luis clearly is taking exception to your “I am not sure” position. Logically therefore he is saying God does not exist, i.e., he is an atheist. Presumably he has a proof that God does not exist. Of course, there is the other position: Luis can simply behave as if God does not exist – eliminating the need for a proof of some kind. This seems an OK position but is different from the one Luis seems to be articulating. Just as someone who is proseltyzing for a religion needs to have a proof that God exists, someone who proseltyzes atheism needs to have a proof that God does not exist.

    In the mean time I am still waiting for La Guita (joke!?). Did you find any.

    Luis:
    What is your proof that God does not exist?

  43. Briggs

    April 18, 2008 at 9:40 am

    Bernie,

    No, no joke. No joy so far with La Guita. A gentleman at Beekman Liquors (near Grand Central) says he hasn’t seen it for sale in over 10 years. He recommended as a close substitute La Guitana, which I have bought but not yet drank.

    Al,

    Sokal’s book is a good reference. His hoax should be known by everybody. The book only suffers from his and his co-author’s repeated and somewhat plaintive insistences that “We are of the Left so don’t hold it against us.” If Sokal was truly of the Left, he never would have submitted his “hermeneutical quantum mechanics” article in the first place.

    Gross and Levitt’s book is also reasonable, but suffers from some of the same turgid, post-modernistic prose found in the books they criticize.

  44. Mr Briggs:

    Thanks for the repply. It has good points, and very bad ones. I’ll try to repply to them.

    My post seems only angry, though surely not to the state of apoplexy, but thumbs up for rethorics, because I hate misunderstandings and misinterpretations being passed on as truth. Your post does not considers Dawkins’ point of view well, creates strawmans and denies arguments just because you want to. But worse than that, it is in your post that you’ll find the seeds of my anger, for when you just dismiss science works of biology out of hand as silly and then try on to disrupt evolution itself, it becomes clear where your ideologies come from, even if you are completely unaware of it.

    “but on the other hand, as we are all good Multiculturalists now, who are we to complain about this?”

    I was talking about Straw Mans, and there you go. Continuing your point, there would be no problem for nazis to be tolerated. Or the KKK. Things should be forbidden. Of course, banning religion is not my goal, any barrier to freedom of thought is tiranical, and thats why I don’t restrain myself from saying what I think, because I believe that education is the best weapon against Religion.

    “But the fear of hell was never as vivid or constant or widespread as, according to the religious theory, it should have been: a fact which we know partly from the incessant complaints of the priests to that very effect. (…)

    (…)The fact is, the Enlightened took religious beliefs far too literally and logically”

    Well, let’s not talk about religion’s stance on “literal” or “logic”, ok? That people never took religion that seriously is not evidence of the lack of evilness on the people. I’ll give you a basic example: The nazis. It didn’t take a whole lot of germans to be nazis so Hitler could rise to power, only germans that somehow were slightly favorable to it. Add to that, if you show me that religion isn’t bad because people don’t really follow it, it’s the most stupid argument you can make for the most obvious of reasons! Perhaps, if people don’t follow it, it’s because it isn’t that good afterall, which bellies entirely your point about comfort, but I’ll get down to that later.

    “The fact that the major communist governments were a- and even anti-religious, and actively persecuted or at least strongly discouraged religion, has never been ?debunked.? Mao, Stalin, and so on, never claimed be good Christians or Buddhists; in fact, they claimed the opposite.”

    Nor was their atheist stance their problem. They were also against freedom of thought, freedom of religion, persecuted people for ideological reasons, killed millions for only one reason: power. It wasn’t debunked either that they caught on many of religious traits: the worshipping of their leader images as if they were gods, dogmas, police of thought, behavior-control, a sense of total serfdom embebbed in the people.

    They were, in a sense, the utopia dreams of the same kind of people that drove the Inquisition.

    “In any case, pointing out communist bloodlust and the murderous Dutch assisted suicide physicians”

    This is too much. You sir are an excellent teacher of statistics, and yet still dare to come up with this lame rethorical approach to link communist blood with euthanasia? The fallacies on that sentence are so many I can’t even start. Let’s try:

    a) Where is the evidence of such crimes? Holland is a free country, I can’t see any revolt over this. Do you know different?

    b) Where is the evidence that the Dutch are atheists?

    c) Where is the evidence that there was evilness involved in euthanasia mistakes?

    d) Are you confusing an atheist country with a non-theist government led country? Do you propose that countries should be theocracies?

    “Removing religion does not miraculously make people less dangerous”

    This can be attested. Strangely though, you will find to be wrong. You’ll find much less atheists in jail than you’ll find in society in general. Curiously though, whenever I see a man wearing a big cross in his chest, I walk to the other side of the street. I wonder if that’s because these people are just great and I’ve just got a lot of prejudices.

    “Much of the science done up to and even into the twentieth century was done by men who were religious, usually Christians.”

    This is hard to attest, since, you know, the Church used to have a lot of power, and scientists had to be faithful in order to not be damned by their society. Newton’s faith is a perfect example of this. Here is a man that even declined to have a priest in his dying bed.

    But now that we are “free”, I dare you to take a look at the landscape. Only 4 Nobel Prize winners believe in a form of God, out of the hundreds. If anything, not believing in God is a sign of intelligence.

    “It is almost true that by quoting a eminent biologist as saying ?Darwin?s just the party line? is an argument from authority. But I ask you, how are you defending it? Almost certainly, unless you are a biologist yourself, you are relying on authority.”

    You are discrediting yourself. Unless you are willing to accept that the science method is bogus, you will have to agree with me that evolution is the best theory of biology ever invented. It’s not “just” a theory, the evidence comes out of plenty of sides, from geneticism, mutations, fossils, computer evolution-based AIs, and so many others I simply don’t know because, as you said, I’m no biologist.

    “You have not satisfactorily answered my critique of Dawkins?s ?proof? of the non-existence of God.”

    That’s because there isn’t any. Dawkins never claimed that he proved God’s non existance. These kinds of strawmans are the ones who lead me to the inevitable conclusion you have not read “God’s Delusion” at all, so you are just taking a luck shot at other people’s talking points.

    You may have a shot by saying that he doesn’t give a full-proof statistician job on God’s existence. Nor do I care that he didn’t.

    “I was not prophesying when I said that, no matter what laws we have identified, we will not have answered why it is these laws and not some other. This, too, is a matter of philosophical fact.”

    No it isn’t, it’s Platonic. This notion that “thought” is able to foretell what can and what cannot be told by science on nature’s “nature” is not even on the scientific debate anymore. One has only to think about all the incredible stuff that Quantum Mechanics brings to our understanding to simply lure such philosophical diatribes to the corner of Socrates: “I only know that I know nothing”. I’m not advocating one occurrence or the other. I’m just saying this: whatever happens in the nature’s world is science subject, and the laws and perhaps the whys of the laws are part of such nature.

    You don’t know otherwise, so to claim that is arrogance.

    “Even when every deduction has been made for the over-eloquence of this passage, I do not see, much as I admire and love Hume, what satisfactory reply he could have made to it.”

    The kittens!! Look at the poor kittens!! Mr Briggs, this is getting ridiculous. If you were completely in despair and your only salvation was a belief in the Cookie Monster, I wouldn’t call you on it, I would only pity you. To say though that a religion based on the Cookie Monster is good because this invented narrative out-of-the-magics-hat tells us that it is the only source of hope this man can ever cling on… reminds me of the worst kind of advertizing schemes.

    “Neither do I.”

    You have to work on that imagination. Clearly at fault there.

    @Bernie:

    What is your proof that the Cookie Monster does not exist? The simple truth is that despite the fact that I can not (and until today that is a fact) prove whether “God” exists or not, I deeply question your rationale that the burden of proof is on me. For extraordinary claims, one has to have extraordinary evidence, and historically speaking, whenever science evolved, miracles decreased in number and in testimony. If God does act in Nature, it should be easy to find him, scientifically. If God does not want to mess up with the world, then we are left with the pantheist God, who is useless at all.

    Furthermore, I can have good proof that the Bible’s God didn’t exist. Nor Thor, nor Athens, nor Mars, nor the Cookie Monster. Starting with, they cannot all exist. Ending with, they are all self-contradictory in their history.

  45. Correction: when I said “That people never took religion that seriously is not evidence of the lack of evilness on the people.”, it should be read:

    That people never took religion that seriously is not evidence of the lack of evilness of the religion itself.

    Sorry about that.

  46. Luis:
    I think you miss my point. Since I am agnostic and not trying to convince anyone to be agnostic about the existence of the Cookie Monster, I have no need and you should not expect me to come up with an argument to support my position.
    If, however, I was to take a defined position and try to persuade you to accept my position then it becomes incumbent upon me to state an argument that you might possibly find persuasive.
    If you merely want to assert that God does not exist, then fine …but you can’t assume that anyone is going to agree with you. If you decide to make an argument — as you do above, namely, God = miracles; science = no miracles; given science, therefore God = 0 — then you, Dawkins, Dennet, Hitchens, etc have to accept that others may find fault with your arguments. Matt’s essay simply points out that he agrees with Berlinski that most if not all of Dawkins et al arguments are flawed. It really isn’t that big of a deal – though I am sure that Dawkins is sending Berlinski any Christmas cards!!
    I will be interested in what others think about this.

  47. It really isn?t that big of a deal – though I am sure that Dawkins is sending Berlinski any Christmas cards!!
    Should read
    It really isn?t that big of a deal – though I am sure that Dawkins is NOT sending Berlinski any Christmas cards!!

  48. @steven mosher

    Thanks for that link. It is freaking hillarious. What a comedy!!

  49. Bernie:

    The problem with your statement is this:

    Suppose we live in a world where most people believe in Santa. But you don’t, or are agnostic about it. That’s fine by me. But if I go around and start telling everyone that there is no santa, wake up, I would go very mad if people tried to teach me a theology lesson on why “spirit is different than matter”, and that “you cannot prove that santa doesn’t exist” and therefore I should just shut up about it.

    In the 16th century, the Church also permitted any “hypothesis” that the earth was orbiting the earth, but forbid any attempt to “prove it”. Evidently, it was proven, but that was easy.

    Now the burden of evidence is only pegged unto atheists because there is this notion that christians are the “standard” correct “state” of mankind. It’s bollocks! Wake up!

  50. Luis,

    Why the correction? Rejection of religion IS very often evidence of Evil.

    Let us not quibble with definitions. Communism, Nazism, Islamo-fascism, and atheism can all be classed as religions. The RCC is not the only group that qualifies (poor RCC, still being punished for the Inquisition of 500+ years ago). Yet to reject these or other philosophies is not somehow inherently Good. Rejection, skepticism, cynicism, and denial are negative space; they leave a vacuum. Ultimately they lead to paralysis.

    We must act because life is an active phenomenon. We must make choices. We must interact with each other. No man is an island. Etc.

    Something then must guide our actions. We are not chaotic actors, randomly banging into each other and reacting spontaneously and anew to every situation. Whether logical positivism or illogical negativism, we act with some philosophic underpinning and preconceived, even organized, patterns.

    I maintain we are each of us imbued at birth with some knowledge and awareness of Good and Evil. Maybe it comes from Darwinian selection and is hardwired into our genes. Or maybe it comes from the nurturing strokes of our mothers or the punishing strokes of our fathers. But whatever the source of that intelligence, we know Good from Evil.

    We wouldn’t be having this conversation if we didn’t, each of us, care about Good and Evil, and even more telling, choose Good. Right? Why try to convince Briggs, or me, or anyone of anything philosophic if not to further some deep drive within you? If you didn’t care, it wouldn’t matter to you what anyone else thinks.

    So I think we can all agree, MUST all agree, that Good and Evil exist, and are not the same things, and that we choose the one over the other. Else why bother with the discourse?

    So then we must ask, what is the nature of Good, and of Evil, and how do we know them when we see them, and where do they come from? And I submit, that is the same thing as asking, what is the nature of God?

  51. Luis:
    It is difficult to follow your arguments – primarily because you jump around and seem to focus on points that I and others have not made or do not contest.

    Why on earth would you get mad as opposed to unpersuaded. Why would you be mad that people would simply reject your assertion that there was no Santa. If you are unpersuaded…well, you are unpersuaded.

    Your comments on the Church and a heliocentric universe are, you have to admit, a bit of a non-sequitur and, I guess, reflect an incomplete thought. My recollection was that the Church said Galileo could not publicize what he thought he had proven. This was a bit short sighted of the Church – but then they had only just come to terms with the fact that they lived on a sphere, yet somehow had not fallen off!! From our vantage point they look silly, corrupt and vicious. I am a little more forgiving and think that many of the pretty smart guys were in total shock and disbelief at what they were hearing. It was the equivalent of how I might react if tomorrow a sentient alien life form were to show up or it was shown that ants have a sufficiently complex language and that we could meaningfully carry on this very conversation with the aliens, the ants or both!

    Look, Matt says explicitly and I say explicitly that all proseltyzers should be held to the same standards for that which they proseltyze. Atheists, theists and agnostics all bear the same burden. It just so happens that Berlinski’s book was about atheists attempting to use science to prove something that many of us see as being beyond the power of science to prove. Science can’t prove lots of things, its OK. It is no big deal.

    By the way I do not believe in Santa but I had no trouble proving he existed until my kids were 8 or 9 years old, after that they became progressively more difficult to persuade. My expectation is that they in turn will have no difficulty persuading their children that the universe includes a certain benignitity that is worth anthropomorphizing once a year.

    I have to do some work now.

  52. Thanks for the reply, ‘Briggs’.

    You believe I am mistaken in saying that you are making a ‘straw man’ argument. You may be right.

    The paragraph underneath the sub-heading ‘Scientific Ontology’ has the final sentence ‘ Some scientists are therefore anxious to fill in these gap with?something, anything but God. Or, if that cannot be accomplished, then to prove that God does not exist.’ On a second reading, I now assume that in the following paragraph you are arguing not that Dawkins is one of these anxious scientists, rather that he is trying to prove that God does not exist. Ho hum. That leaves me with the minor quibble that I am not sure Dawkins is trying to prove that God doesn’t exist, only that his existence is unlikely (both attempts being equally specious in your opinion, I guess). Whatever the case, I am not sure that Dawkins makes both premise 1 and premise 2 in the manner that you describe. Perhaps taking a direct quote or two and analysing those might help?

    Anyways, your last statement: ‘My own surmise is that any proof?for or against?is impossible. And so any belief you have is based entirely on faith.’
    As i said in my original comment, it is for the believers in whatever god or gods to do the proving. Atheists may indulge in a little believer-baiting from time to time, but they know they cannot prove a negative. As I said, they don’t have to …

  53. @Mike D.

    “Evil”

    I don’t like to name “Evil” as if it had somehow an abstract persona, as in “Devil”, as if people where somehow possessed with this trait “Evil” and that explains it all. It’s simplistic and one of the many reasons why so much wrong was made by the church, for it followed if “Evil” was a distinct “Thing”, and if it could be “Removed”, then all we had left was “Goodness”. Utterly dumb. Let’s not have that.

    “Why the correction? Rejection of religion IS very often evidence of Evil.

    Let us not quibble with definitions. Communism, Nazism, Islamo-fascism, and atheism can all be classed as religions. “

    Rejection of the freedom of religion is bad, I agree with all that. Rejection of religion on a philosophical debate, rejection of religious motivations on political decisions, why on earth is that bad is completely beyond me.

    But to say that Atheism is a religion is proof of your ignorance. This is crutial. You are but attempting to categorize me and other atheists inside your bag of religion only to imply that we are all “the same”. We are not. Atheism is exactly the ABSENCE of belief, ABSENCE of religion. And it doesn’t follow that atheists should have any authority, any “theology”, any worshipping, any ritual whatsoever.

    That atheist communists chose to create their own religion, communism, is their own problem to solve. It’s, of course, without solution, it’s a state of hypocrisy.

    “Something then must guide our actions.”

    Agreed. But we disagree on the “what”.

    “I maintain we are each of us imbued at birth with some knowledge and awareness of Good and Evil.”

    Just as Mr. Briggs likes to say, maintain by what? What does maintain your rationale? I may object and out of thin air I can come up with lots of different scenarios: like, for instance, that we are imbued at birth the awareness of pain, and therefore learn to avoy anything that causes it. You may say this is a quible of no interest. Mere words. I say it makes the whole difference.

    “We wouldn?t be having this conversation if we didn?t, each of us, care about Good and Evil, and even more telling, choose Good. Right?”

    Following what I said, I probably just care about not getting hurt, or try to be loved. If I do a lot of bad things, I might not reach said objectives.

    “Why try to convince Briggs, or me, or anyone of anything philosophic if not to further some deep drive within you? If you didn?t care, it wouldn?t matter to you what anyone else thinks.”

    You talk about the deep drive as if it were about some mysterious stuff. It isn’t. Get off that pedestal. Life is Life. It grows. It expands. It evolves. It learns. It loves. It thinks!

    And if by that you mean “God”, then ultimately, there is no need of any existing religion on Earth, for that is plainly obvious without bowing to red cape popes.

    Or like a great writer once said: Why believe in fairies? Isn’t enough to say that the garden is beautiful?

    “So I think we can all agree, MUST all agree, that Good and Evil exist, and are not the same things, and that we choose the one over the other. Else why bother with the discourse?”

    Why should I agree on the existence of claimed “abstractions” as entities by themselves, with some “mystical” existence, rather than mere words that account for human cognitive categorizations of what’s best policy of action and worse policy of action?

    @Bernie:

    “Your comments on the Church and a heliocentric universe are, you have to admit, a bit of a non-sequitur and, I guess, reflect an incomplete thought.”

    Yes, I didn’t explain myself to the core. I wasn’t digging out Galileu’s story to hit points, but to point out that back in those days, when someone wanted to “prove” something out of dogma, they could not. Likewise, today we are somehow barried to the same logic in what it comes to prove God, or disprove.

    Galileu’s story is even deeper than what you posted, full of human mistakes, greed, arrogance, and on both parties. I also don’t have a simplistic (but common) view on that.

    ” It just so happens that Berlinski?s book was about atheists attempting to use science to prove something that many of us see as being beyond the power of science to prove.”

    It just so happens that he didn’t want to prove anything, for it was a nonsense statement from the start: how can you disprove the Cookie Monster? You can’t! So it was a STRAW MAN. Deal with it.

    “My expectation is that they in turn will have no difficulty persuading their children that the universe includes a certain benignitity that is worth anthropomorphizing once a year.”

    I was more hoping you said something in the lines of:

    My expectation is that they in turn will have progressively more difficulty to persuade their children that the universe includes a Santa-Claus-like figure that is worth anthropomorphizing once a year.

  54. Briggs

    April 18, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    Luis,

    Actually, I think if you read my original post you will not find me denying evolution at all. Darwinian theory of natural selection applied to humans in particular is a shambles, however. I will justify this statement in another post. I ask that you be patient.

    The statement about us “all being Multiculturalists” was a joke. Though now that you bring it up, I do recall some pathetic hand-wringing about clitorectomies on NPR, “Oh, but it’s their way of knowing” or some such drivel.

    So it’s nice to see we agree about Multiculturalism being one of the leading asinine social theories. Subscribing to it does indeed imply one should welcome the KKK, Nazis, militant Islamists, etc. etc. just as you say. Since this is obviously ridiculous, and since we agree on this, it must mean that there is some base of true morality. Strangely enough, this is just the sort of argument the major religions of the world use.

    Dawkins did try to prove God’s non-existence. He failed for the reasons I have mentioned. I understand you do not care, and that you further believe that God does not exist. As Bernie asked you, could you give us that proof?

    The evidence of the Dutch murder/suicides was quoted from Berlinski’s book. He got it from official Dutch government reports. I was not claiming that all Dutch are atheists, merely that the arguments used to advocate for assisted suicide were religion free.

    Your statements about Platonism are false. Statements about why a thing is are not Platonic, they are metaphysical. You might look up these two terms to be sure I am not trying to fool you.

    I am not at all clear where you are going with the Cookie Monster, but he obviously is of some importance to you.

    Cookie, maybe he meant you.

    Briggs

  55. Sorry for the italics, it seems as I didn’t write correctly a .

  56. Luis:
    Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens wrote books for goodness sake. They are aching to prove something. If their books are open to logical criticism, they are open to logical criticism. You don’t have to tell me to “deal with it”, tell Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens. They could have saved some trees.

    As to the last point – did you admit “benignitity” deliberately or was it a Freudian slip? I think we are back with the washer woman’s mantra!!

  57. Only my better half calls me that name, Briggs, and only then on special occasions 🙂

    I will take issue with you, again with your comment in 55 above: ‘Dawkins did try to prove God?s non-existence. He failed for the reasons I have mentioned. I understand you do not care, and that you further believe that God does not exist. As Bernie asked you, could you give us that proof?’

    He doesn’t try to prove God’s non-existence. Whether he is right or wrong he is certainly smart enough to know that that isn’t possible. He tries to show that it is unlikely that God exists.

    Anyways, enough from me on this issue. Love your blog, but not your thoughts on religion 🙂

  58. Briggs

    April 18, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    Cookie,

    Thanks! I’m working on it.

    Dawkins might have claimed to be casting for the probability of God (he failed at that, for the reasons I gave), but to even attempt this requires that God be contingent, because only things that are contingent can be probable. Contingent on what? Again, in order to perform this maneuver, Dawkins has to say contingent on what. He did not.

    Anyway, Dawkins clearly believes that God does not exist, and is convinced of that by, at least in part, his “improbability” argument. He has convinced himself based on a fallacious argument, one so weak that he should have been able to identify its flaws, if only he didn’t want to believe its conclusions so badly.

    Faith, brother.

  59. “Since this is obviously ridiculous, and since we agree on this, it must mean that there is some base of true morality. Strangely enough, this is just the sort of argument the major religions of the world use.”

    Well, I agree on the fact that multiculturalism is wrong, when it is wrong. Sounds stupid, but it’s like it is. There is nothing wrong in trying to understand something foreign to our own culture, and we should try to understand it even if such things appear terrible at first sight. And if there are good things in there, why not copying it? To know other people and other cultures isn’t an alien concept for me. But, there is something wrong in not doing anything concerning things we truly believe that are wrong, and against the definition of Humanity, its core values and Human Rights as described in the universal declaration in 1948.

    For instance, I can easily accept many of Christianity stuff. I just don’t take the majority of it. And denounce the sheer irrationality of the entire building and why their beliefs signify nothing in the world I live on. I can’t stand when such beliefs are a basis for any political move or drive, or worse, to enforce bigotry on minorities.

    Now to claim that the majority of religions claim what we claim is a fallacy as well, for I don’t claim to have authority on morality, and they not only do that, they claim themselves to be infallible at it. That’s outrageous and completely unnacceptable. And stupid, for it is obvious for everyone that the last thing they are is infallible!

    “Dawkins did try to prove God?s non-existence. He failed for the reasons I have mentioned.”

    His reasoning is as follows: he constitutes God to be immensely complex, for the creation he made is complex, and in his career as biologist he never saw the creation of something complex out of something simple, without the intervention of time and evolution. Of course, he is simply not taking seriously the possibility of God having created the simple Universe for it to evolve to more complex stuff. He’s going for the Creationists. Now for God to be complex, he had to be created by something else, or else have evolved, which leads to infinite questions.

    I also don’t like his explanation very well, but it’s very different to say that God is “Unlikely”, which is what Dawkins said, than saying that God is “disproved”, which is what you are trying to glue him to have done, and then flame him by trying to do so. It’s not serious. His reasoning is not to peer review, it is at a basic level, so any attempt to place his reasoning in very precise and strict terms is a strawman as well, for for one to do so, one would have to consider it as a serious question, something that I don’t think Dawkins has really done.

    Or, to cite many religious nuts, Dawkins doesn’t “understand” that God is outside of the material world, inside of the “spiritual” world, and because “God is a necessary being”, according to “classical theology”, the likelihood of his existence is exactly “1.0”, for Dawkins has “failed” to prove that this “materialistic” world is voyd of any companion spiritual world.

    Translation: because God is a fairy-tale outside our REAL world, his existence is proven, as much as Harry Potter, for he did’t prove that the Kingdom of Mordor doesn’t only exist in words.

    Now if you think that Dawkins has flaws, try to debate THAT!

    Fundamentally, it is a stupid question to ask: who created the cosmos? For it implies the certainty of a “who”, and such certainty only came into being by the naivette of ancient philosophers. And by answering such question with such a vague concept as “God”, which signifies everything and nothing and anything you ultimately and intimately WANT him to be, you just withdrew yourself from any real responsibility of the task of finding it out. But you gained more than that: you’ve just created a religion, a monopoly on the connection to the core of the cosmos and an immense power over your equals.

    “Your statements about Platonism are false. Statements about why a thing is are not Platonic, they are metaphysical. You might look up these two terms to be sure I am not trying to fool you.”

    Of course they are metaphysical. The whys of Physics are Metaphysical questions. It’s the notion that you can infer what will physics discover or not, and that it’s frontier with metaphysics will always be clear and the maginot line never passed through that is platonic, for you are commiting the mistake of predicting what will science discover or not! To persist in your error of thought will not help you. If anything, it’s physics that is driving the philosophy and metaphysical debate, not the other way around, with the discoveries of such queerness that makes us rethink again of the paradigms of thought.

    “I am not at all clear where you are going with the Cookie Monster, but he obviously is of some importance to you.”

    Do not spake His name in vain! Or ELSE, you are damned into the hell of eating VEGETABLES for the entire ETERNITY!!

    @Bernie:

    They are aching to prove something. If their books are open to logical criticism, they are open to logical criticism.

    Of course they are. Interestingly enough, only Religion itself places itself out of that open field of “logical criticism”, for every book that challenges the hell out of them is dismissed as “illogical” and “fallacious”. Funny huh? You can say that virgins are mothers, that there are “spirits” around, “miracles” all over the place, a “God” that helps the “Chosen People”, and yet it is the book that challenges the irrationaly of these idiotic claims that is considered “illogical”. The irony!

    And he NEVER tried to prove a non-existence. That is freaking impossible to do. It’s like proving that there is no Thor. But the key thing is, it is not required for us to do so, it is only required to denounce the stupidity of it. Period.

  60. Luis

    As you rightly note, we atheists don’t have anything to prove. So why get so angry? Argue as rationally as you are able. If the arguments put forward to you seem irrational, then try again. if they still don’t get it then move on or give up. Accept the fact that you are not going to change everyone’s mind.

  61. Cookie:
    Nobody has to prove anything. However, if you want to persuade someone to change their mind you have to present a logical and compelling argument or beat them with a stick. I assume you are not in favor of the latter though other atheiists, professors of non-violence and large numbers of “religiously inspired” people certainly have.
    Clearly, Dawkins et al have written their books to persuade someone about something. Given that, it is reasonable to ask whether they have constructed sufficiently powerful arguments. For Berlinski and Matt, they have not because apparently they have engaged in false reasoning.
    Perhaps Dawkins et al would have been better off simply demonstrating that the arguments that God does exist are fallacious and leave it at that. This position is probably as close as one can come to proving the negative. But then I think that was Matt’s point!

  62. re 49. Yes, you are funny.

    I like this one

    http://www.leaderu.com/truth/3truth02.html

    because it perplexes people and makes them say stupid things.
    We will test that. Go ahead.

  63. Bernie,
    Dawkins couldn’t leave off at simply showing the arguments that god exists are fallacious. Dawkins is an ordinary, garden variety atheist. He’s an evangelical atheist.

  64. Luis,

    I hope you are not in pain or unloved! But you prove by your own argument that your motivations are far more subtle and selfless than mere pain avoidance or loneliness.

    All animals avoid pain by instinct, and so do we. Many animals can learn behaviors through reward and punishment, and so do we.

    But only people can contemplate Good and Evil. Ethics and morality are higher forms of consciousness that animals cannot attain. As much as I love my dog, and she loves me, she is incapable of making abstract ethical choices.

    But you are, and you do. Shall I quote: “there is something wrong in not doing anything concerning things we truly believe that are wrong, and against the definition of Humanity, its core values and Human Rights as described in the universal declaration in 1948.”

    Core values, fighting against wrong, universal declarations? Sounds like a theological statement to me. From whence do you derive core values? Pain avoidance? No, something deeper is at play.

    So I doubt your certainty that there is no God. That is, I don’t think you are really all that certain about it, despite your vehement contentions otherwise. You doth protest too much. I think you really are a believer, and not all that comfortable about admitting it to yourself.

  65. Steve @ # 63

    Ok, here’s something stupid 🙂

    Freud’s argument is that we should not believe in God because we have a deep pysychological need for Him/Her [delete wichever is inapplicable]. Then I realised that I had a deep psychological need for my parents, so I stopped believing in them.

  66. Mike, oh my god you’re so right! I’ve been blinded all my life!

    Well….. no.

    You see, the difference between you and me is that you mystify evertything and make it appear as if any abstract thought lives by itself and is “spiritual”, has “persona”, drives all the Universe, etc. I think that is completely wrong.

    For me, any morality, any “Core Value”, any ethics, are simply and plainly a vision of long-term pragmatism and sustainable behaviors for any society that wants to evolve that you disguise with mystical coat. It’s all about Pragmatism: What will get us to be loved? What will lead us to prosperity, rather than poverty? And it is this duality, and not the one you are trying to imprint on me, that simplistic “Good” or “Evil”, which so much harm has made in this world, that rules all things.

    Evidence of this is the ever changing culture with its ever changing core values of what’s good or bad. If those core values were always the same, we would be having a lot of trouble explaining historical condonation of racism, genocide, murder, etc. in its historical context. One does not need to look further than the bible itself to have a clear view that these values were not condemned, despite their being actions according to God’s own command!

    “Freud?s argument is that we should not believe in God because we have a deep pysychological need for Him/Her “

    That’s funny, Pompous Girl, for it is precisely the contrary to that that is being forwarded as the ultimate evidence that God exists!

  67. PS: Of course, the only reason any society wanting to evolve is again, a darwinian reason: the societies that didn’t want to evolve didn’t evolve and disappeared long ago, or else still live in small numbers hiding in the forests.

    There is simply no need of God.

    And about my “protests”, I just like to talk about these things :D. It helps me with the english.

  68. 40. steven mosher | April 18th, 2008 at 8:43 am

    I Wiki’d Plantinga & read the article, and am interested enough to get one of his books, but there are many. Could you recommend a few?

    I’m a little embarrassed – lived near Grand Rapids, MI for 6 years, knew several people who attended Calvin College, but never heard of him.

  69. re 69. god and other minds and the two books on Warrent.

    his online articles are interesting as well. Essentially, he argues that the belief in god is basic and warrented.

    I’m agnostic, but he makes interesting arguements, so I enjoyed reading him

  70. Quite right, Bernie. Strictly speaking, nobody *has* to prove anything. But if, as you rightly note, one wants to persuade someone to change their mind … well then, you better have some good evidence.

    You then note: ‘Clearly, Dawkins et al have written their books to persuade someone about something.’ Yes they have – to show that those who believe in gods have no good evidence.

    And then: ‘Perhaps Dawkins et al would have been better off simply demonstrating that the arguments that God does exist are fallacious and leave it at that.’

    Dawkins demonstrates to my satisfaction that the arguments for god(s) are fallacious. Perhaps they don’t leave it at that because they wish to hammer home the point that the fact that the existence of any of the infinite number of possible gods (depending upon your definition of god) cannot be proven does not mean that their existence or non-existence are all equally probable. Who knows! Certainly the evidence supporting any of those gods on earth who have so far bothered to reveal themselves to their own particular faithful is so weak that I don’t believe that religions should be entitled to special dispensation within Law above and beyond those enjoyed by non-religious groups e.g. exemptions from anti-discrimination laws (as per the UK where churches recently argued that they should be exempt from new legislation intended to oppose discrimination against gays).

  71. Cookie:
    SInce I have not read this Dawkin”s book I cannot say anything about how convincing he is. However, even if his arguments are not convincing I still agree that relgious institutions should not be treated differently from other private organizations, though private organizations should be afforded significant leeway wrt laws governing who you must and must not accomodate.

  72. Bernie

    I am not really sure what you mean with regard to leeway towards private organisations. I think you are saying that private organisations should be able to do what they wish, as long as what they do is lawful – if so, I totally agree 🙂

  73. No, I am saying laws should not be made that excessively interfere with our rights to associate with whom we feel we share common values – assuming the objective of that association is not de facto criminal. The situation with the Boy Scouts is a good example.
    One can decide who one wants to rent to if you are renting space in your own dwelling. This seems perfectly reasonable – as opposed to laws governing public rental arrangements.

  74. Understood, Bernie.

    It’s an interesting and difficult point (difficult for me, at least). I agree with you, but the difficulty is defining what is criminal. However, my point is that the holding of a particular religion in and of itself is not sufficient grounds for exemption from the law above and beyond any other criteria chosen for private citizens or organisations.

  75. The hate that spews from atheists would be laughable if they did not hold such a powerful position in today’s society.

  76. “The hate that spews from atheists would be laughable if they did not hold such a powerful position in today?s society.”

    If you substitute “atheists” for “theists” I’ll completely agree with you.

  77. deadwood and Luis:
    Where does all this hostility come from?

  78. Ah pragmatism. More evil has been done in the name of pragmatism than any other philosophy there is. Marx, of course, was the ultimate pragmatist. So was Hitler. Final Solutions are always pragmatic.

    Call me mystical if you like; I prefer the term empirical. I enjoy witnessing the Mystery and am profoundly impractical. Else why would I partake in this discussion?

  79. PS – Darwin theorized about biology, not sociology. Social Darwinists got the message completely wrong, and great deal of evil has been done under that misconception.

  80. “Ah pragmatism. More evil has been done in the name of pragmatism than any other philosophy there is. Marx, of course, was the ultimate pragmatist.”

    You’re being an ass there, Mike. You’re using Godwin’s Law “Marx” variant, as I could also affirm that Hitler was the ultimate “mystical” guy. Always dreaming about the perfect men, the perfect battle, and swastikas and the like. And I would have also proved nothing.

    Empirical, by the way is precisely what you do not seem to be, as in “empirical”, one tests reality as it is, and makes judgement out of it. “Empirical” is “Pragmatism”. Scientific method. Hypothesis, Tests, Theory, tests, tests, tests, conclusions, error analysis, corrections, tests, tests, etc.

    In this I mean that pragmatism leads me to conclude that for instance, capitalism has excellent good points, but also bad ones, and if well ruled, it really creates good wealth. How can you call a communist a “pragmatist”, when they continuously denied the method that made the rest of the world much much richer than their own?

    Empirical is definitely not one who persists in the error of continuing pointless discussions if one judges them to be so. :p

    Stubborn, that’s the word.

  81. I never understood these discussions.

    Science being what it is does not, will not, and can never have anything to say on the subject of the supernatural. The underlying philosophy of Science is Methodological Naturalism. A premise of naturalism is that the supernatural does not exist.

  82. Marvin Jay Greenberg

    May 3, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    Anybody who is educated in precise thinking will recognize that debate about the existence of “God” is useless.

    What is interesting to me is the sociological fact that a spate of anti-religion pro-atheism books have been published recently and have garnered much attention. What does that indicate – that a major cultural change toward secularism is unfolding?

    Secularism is generally promoted by people who are politically left wing. The only outspoken advocates of secularism on the political right that I know of are the disciples of Ayn Rand, the most intelligent of which – by far – is the writer Robert Tracinski, whose TIA Daily to which i subscribe brightens my every weekday.

  83. Luis, you come across so sure of yourself. Yet clearly you have little understanding of the roots of science.

    Nobody has yet mentioned here that Bacon, generally credited with inventing the scientific method, did so because in his view God gave us two books with which to know him? The book of his word (Bible) and the book of his works (nature). The fight between science and faith is rather more recent. (That whole Galileo thing was just an issue of poor communication– he insulted the pope. AFAIK, the church approved of and even provided funding for Kepler’s work, after all!)

    To me, this whole thing comes down to perspective on the source of “Truth” — i.e, what is our basis for knowing what is true, at a deep level. Rites or lack thereof is all frosting and flamebait.

    At the level of Truth, Atheism is just as much a “religious” faith-system as any other. Some say we all can find Truth internally (through scientific or other investigation). Others say person X has Truth. Or Truth is everywhere, or nowhere. And yes, there are belief systems that say Truth is found in God, and we can know Truth by knowing God.

    [I first heard this exposition from a great writer — Vishal Mangalwadi — known sometimes as the De Toqueville of India. You can read an excerpt at archive.org from his book on The Quest for Freedom and Dignity]

    Leave off the frosting and the cake is not all that complicated.

  84. John Bickley

    May 9, 2008 at 6:06 am

    Why do many people (whose genetic make-up is very similar to markedly unintelligent creatures) think if such an entity as a God existed that entitty would in the slightest be interested in, or require being prayed to by some form of relatively intelligent biological matter existing on a speck of dust floating in the Universe?
    To create the Universe the entity would have to so complex that to to believe it requires our recognition or reverence is adsurd.
    By all means let people have faith in whatever they want as long as (i) they don’t try and impose it on others without evidence & (ii) expect society to place them on a privileged pedestal

  85. This is a far dated thread, so I don’t think it will be read, but nevertheless I want to answer to Mr. Pete with a single rationale.

    Atheism is nothing more than the conclusion of the premisse of the scientific method.

    By this I do not mean that God is proven false. No. I am talking about the underlying mechanism of thought, of philosophy. That is, if we consider the scientific method, then we see that the core of it consists of skepticism. It consists of postulating hypothesis, making experiments on them, making rational judgements with the elements you possess (and not elements that you have in prejudice), beating down such hypothesis and making a theory out of it.

    This is the inherent philosophy of science. Test. Theorize. Imagine. Experiment. Cut down debunked hypothesis. Occam’s Razor, etc. I can’t imagine better word to describe such philosophy as in Freedom.

    Religion, otoh, has in its core, the belief despite lack of evidence, that is, faith. Suspension of disbelief. It is equivalent to the “hypothesis” state of the scientific method but without any validation whatsoever, and made eternal because asserted (zillions of times). It always involves every bit of life, just as science does but with different outcomes. I can’t imagine better word to describe such philosophy as in mental totalitarianism.

    This is why science was always considered by the religious authorities as an “enemy”. This path of confrontation wasn’t chosen by the “scientific rebels”, but by the church itself, because it was the church which defined what could be asserted on how the world works or not, and many scientific views challenged that innumerous times. It was humiliating. The confrontation between religious dogma and scientific doubt is completely unavoidable, and if it *seems* otherwise its just because people in their *camps* rather won’t talk about it (they don’t want war).

  86. Didn’t finish my rationale.

    The reason why Atheism is not a belief, it is because it is exactly equal to the scientific method, that is, it is a lack of belief, until evidence amounts to otherwise. Of Course, Atheism is but the lack of belief in God, and as such it is only a conclusion. What does matter is how you reached that disbelief. What matters is the skepticism that founded atheism.

    If you are with the tools of scientific enquiry, curiosity, skepticism, logic and value freedom most of all, then you are always “bulletproof” against Communism, Christianity, Bhuddism, Totalitarianism, Radical-Capitalism, etc. Of course, no one is perfect, and many intelligent rational people fell for many of those and others.

    It is when one finds things can be different that our mind evolves. And we have learned too much in history to make the same mistakes again. Or at least, we should have learned.

  87. I like your blog greatly. But your understanding of evolution seems a little sloppy.

    For example:

    “I accept that evolution accounts for some or most of the observed biological variation on Earth”.

    Evolution simply means change over time. By biological variation you either mean ‘change over time’ or variation between species, variations and individuals. So do you think that some of the difference between snails and bacteria are due to ‘change over time’ and that god came in to add some specialist bit – the shell perhaps?

    My advice would be to consider the evidence before bursting into print and don’t confuse evolution with one of the mechanisms by which it has been comprehensively proven to happen. No doubt you would offer comparable advice to budding statisticians.

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