One Stop Shop

47


Discussion by: brayton.l
I wonder if anyone has given any thought to developing a course to educate people to the world of realism and atheism.

What I am thinking of would be a step by step “course”, designed as if it were a college class.
Introduction to Atheism/Realism
Intermediate Atheism/Realism
Advanced Atheism/Realism

Now,
I understand that there are countless sites and books on this subject,
but my thinking is that someone/someones  familiar with the subject and
knowledgeable about the countless sites, books, videos, etc, could build a site/sites that start out with the basic argument, and build from there. A site dedicated solely to education, no community/forum, etc.

I
have been asked several times; “What books would you suggest?”, “What
site would you suggest?” It can be overwhelming to people, especially
when they are just beginning. It would also help those of us who have
been atheists for years to share their knowledge and experience. “Lay
Professors” for lack of a better definition.

One site, dedicated
to walking someone through the idea of Atheism/Secular Humanism from
conception to putting thought to action in daily life I think, would
help people who are overwhelmed by the abundance of subject matter. Many
churches offer “new member” classes on bible study, etc to new converts. I guess I am thinking that the newly enlightened would benefit greatly from a resource such as this.
Unbelievers are the fastest growing group.
Education is key to gaining momentum.

It
is, of course, possible that I have completely missed the boat. If this
site already exists and I have made a fool of myself, please point me
to it so I can feel the full force of my shame and embarrassment!

47 COMMENTS

  1. The challenge here is acknowledging that people have come to non-belief through a variety of paths. All religious paths can eventually lead to No God. Some people were raised in a secular home. Good luck at rounding up the cats.

    Instead of formal courses, I could see a resource that would offer a menu with a variety of interests, topics, listings, etc.  Imagine a website that offers courses on basic science at a leisurely pace. There could be a set time that you could join in online and watch a live lecture via internet. (I wish this was done here. I’ve mentioned before that I feel that I am the least scientifically literate person here. I did not come to non-belief through science.)

    There could also be a section on links to local organizations. Another link could be message boards and private groups dealing with religious abuse. Another section could be about political issues. Another section about spirituality and atheism. Another section for kids only. Another section on philosophy, etc.

    In essence, you could create a master website that links in all the other atheist websites along with news topics, self help resources, and groups. Or, you could try to create all this in one place.

    If you were to have a course, maybe it would be non-belief and skepticism throughout the ages. Good luck

  2. There was a draft set of syllabus originated from http://www.skeptic.com

    The focus is on science vs pseudoscience, not religion or anti-religion as such. Originally targeting the scientific pretensions of ‘creation theory’ and its evolutionary adapted version ‘intelligent design’, and associated attempts to include in public schools in the USA.

    I haven’t been on their web site for a very long time. But there was once a publication they supplied called ‘The Baloney Detection Kit’. Which was a concise summary of recommended books, topics for lectures and draft syllabus for various college courses, etc.

    Skeptics Society doesn’t seem to openly address established religions. Though they will occasionally get media coverage for things like a piece of toast that miraculously appears with an image of the virgin. Though less frequently now that you can buy actual novelty toasters designed to do this. They wouldn’t be able to afford to defend themselves from litigation by taking on powerful churches like scientology etc.

    Plus they are remarkably blind to other prevailing irrational beliefs to the extent they are politically entrenched in the USA, as in nutrition and economics. The main issue with resources is that simply not believing in irrational nonsense isn’t really a subject area.

    Atheism is a description of a consequence rather than a thing of itself. And the concept only means anything in the context of widely prevalent irrational beliefs in gods. But all irrational beliefs have various psychological contribution factors. Studying pseudoscience compared to science is a great place to start because there’s something more tangible to focus on than weasel words that dissolve when anyone tries to get hold of them.

  3. I think that Secularism, Humanism, Rationality and the Scientific Method are all good subjects to introduce people to and encourage them to study.

    However, I’m not sure that Atheism is a subject at all. It’s just a non-belief in someone else’s proposed supernatural entity. That’s it. I don’t understand how someone would progress on to “intermediate” and “advanced” atheism. Of course, having a more advanced understanding of rationality or the scientific method may very likely lead one more strongly to an atheist viewpoint, but I think it would be wrong to imply that they necessarily go hand-in-hand.

  4. Two great books ‘The god delusion’ and ‘god is not great’  should be enough, both brilliantly written and successful in explaining the madness of religions, and both perfect for helping people get it. And of course there is this site.

  5. I love Christopher and Richard but they both,
    at times, use the sledgehammer.

    For me Carl Sagan’s white gloves seem more successful
    at helping someone to be skeptical and convincing us to always ask for
    evidence, reason and logic:

    “Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.”

  6. I’m not sure what you mean by “realism”?

    I am inclined to agree with Jumped Up Chimpanzee atheism is simply non-belief, it is the product of other things, philosophy, rationalism, scepticism, perhaps the ideal syllabus for producing atheists, would be biblical studies?

    So we have to be a little wary of presenting atheism as if it were an ideological system that could be formalised and studied,  it has however,  certain unique attributes, and measurable consequences, which could be legitimately explored.

    As a non-belief, it might be useful to define atheism and compare it say to agnosticism and theism, it also
    has a history so you might also place it in historical context, also there might be something to say about the social and political implications of atheism and how that might relate to humanism and secularism.

    So if I was to suggest a course of study it may look like this:

    1). Atheism, agnosticism and theism, a comparative study.

    2). Contextual history of atheism.

    3). Contemporary atheism, humanism and secularism.

    4). Apologetics, philosophical objections and atheism.

    So briefly the course would define what it is, put it in an historical context, indicate the social and
    political consequences and review the philosophical arguments.

  7. I think QuestioningKat has it bang on (Comment 1).

    The idea of a course on Atheism suggests two things:

     - That atheism is an ism (a doctrine, a system, or a theory)

     - That people want to study Atheism

    As far as the first point goes, I just don’t see it.

    As far as studying alternative points of view to any form of religion – the question assumes that there is one path which as QuestioningKat points out is simply not the case.

    I will go further, and say:

     - Atheism is not a theory – it is simply the negation of a theory or theories that are out there based on the fact that they are not based on fact.

     - There is therefore nothing to study.  That may seem a little disingenuous, so I’ll add that, of course, there is secular politics, humanist morality and the peace of mind of philosophy and science.  But none of these things require atheism.

    Because we all start down different roads from different starting points to different decisions QuestioningKat seems to have a far better idea.

    Peace.

  8. Brayton, I would have to agree with QuestioningKat and others. Atheism is a position, but it’s an outcome, a conclusion at the end of some path of thought. To a lesser degree, secularism is the same: if you arrive at the conclusion that there are no gods, then separation of religion and state is going to strike you as reasonable. And once you accept that we are responsible for our own future and for getting along with each other, then you are on the threshold of humanism.

    So I would tend to focus on rationalism as the thing that needs promoting and teaching, and atheism, secularism and humanism as where it leads.

    The challenge seems to be to make it worthwhile enough in most peoples’ minds to think about these things and to question their beliefs, and to make what we know and suspect about reality to be easy enough to grasp and compelling enough to take the place of religion. Most of us arriving at this site have that predilection, but I think we’re in the minority. I would ideally build it into the core curriculum in as fun a way as I can find, from an early stage, as well as offer it as a later attempt at correction. Thinking straight and what we call the scientific method apply pretty much to every subject at school and walk of life (except perhaps post-modernist studies). 

    In that spirit, it’s the practical consequences we would need to focus on, at least as much as the drier theory. Unless we’re interested only in the truth, and not in changing behaviour…….

  9. Isn’t atheism already covered as part of RE in most schools? For what its worth I’m not sure how you can teach about not believing in something without first mentioning what it is you don’t believe in. The God Delusion actually contains a hell of a lot about religion, belief and belief systems and what is in holy books, then shreds them. The point is though that atheism has to be linked to learning about religion, until there is no religion that will remain the case.

    Plus atheism and secularism and realism are different things. Atheism is a lack of belief in God and secularism is neutrality about God or Gods. The law and the state are secular not atheist. All education outside of RE is by its very nature already secular as well in that it does not refer to God but does not refer to lack of God either, because there is no reason to do so in subjects like history, languages, geography, science, DT, PE etc. So I suppose you could say that even the devoutly religious can be secular when dealing with things that bear no relevance to their beliefs – which is nearly everything.  

    As for using science – you can’t actually because it is secular not atheistic or religious or anti religious in nature. There are perfectly good scientists who believe, eg Ken Miller, and others who don’t believe, eg Richard Dawkins, but the science they are looking at and their conclusions about it are the same. It does not deal with supernatural entities like gods at all yet, it deals with the natural world. Though it may make gods unnecessary or change their nature it does not prove or disprove them – even RD would say that.

    My girlfriend is incredibly clever and brilliant at science –  aiming for Cambridge - yet she believes there is a God. No science has yet disproved that for her because as she points out whenever I try to use science – science is secular it says nothing about God so neither atheists nor believers can use it without stretching it beyond what it can tell us. It is just science.

    She also points out there is a difference between atheism and anti theism and a difference between belief and lunatic fundamentalism.  She points out that many atheists are not against religion per se, and the things they are against - such as creationism, female oppression, homophobia - many believers like herself are also against. In that respect she feels there should be cooperation between sane believers and atheists.

  10. Atheism is not a theory. Atheism simply means that there is no God because you cannot detect God by means of 5 senses. Period. If there is no evidence of God’s existence, there is no need to kill people for refusing to believe in god. The truth is on the atheist side. It’s religions that are theories. If there is no evidence of God’s existence, then any idea that suggests the existence of god, gods, supernatural or paranormal is nothing but a theory or speculation, which you don’t even need to worry about. That explains why religious people can never agree on one and the same thing, even within the same church. One person says one thing, the one right next to them says something completely different on one and the same made-believe phenomenon. At least people, who adhere to the atheist world outlook all agree that there is no god, which is pretty much enough to know when it comes to atheism. You don’t even need to elaborate on it any further. You simply become free knowing just that.

  11. I agree with many of the sentiments above. ‘Atheism’ is not a belief system any more than bald is a hairstyle (to quote a good friend of mine whom I was recently discussing this with); that being said, atheists do possess belief systems when it comes to ethics and morality. How you treat others defines this, and you don’t have to call it a belief system or a religion or anything else. So teach people to question, and doubt; teach people to look at something someone else has said and ask, ‘why?’. Critical thinking is the key here, and that is what leads people to shed dogma or blind faith in *anything*, whether it’s an ages old religion or a scientific paradigm (remember when it was ‘impossible to break the sound barrier’?)

    Almost just as importantly, fill the void with something else. When religions attempt to explain something scientifically, they fail spectacularly (though some do so gracefully, I must cite the Archbishop of Canterbury on that point); however, science alone fails to provide meaning and value to life and its challenges. A rigorous course in ethics and philosophy would help instill a questioning spirit in people who find that religion no longer forms a solid foundation for their morals, and help them find something better.

    Lastly, it should be noted that dogmatic belief and rigid, uncompromising paradigm bias is the reason for so much evil stemming from those who espouse it (and not just religious organizations, I’m afraid; plenty of genocide occurred due to other ideals). Rather than try to teach people, “God does not exist!” we should be teaching children to look for evidence and draw their own conclusions. Whether an Immovable Mover set the universe spinning or the universe simply spins because it does shouldn’t impact an open mind or ethically scrupulous individual.

  12. Hi Kearth:  “It’s religions that are theories. If there is no evidence of God’s existence, then any idea that suggests the existence of god, gods, supernatural or paranormal is a theory.”

    Scientific Theories are testable & falsifiable explanations based on a number of related facts, so religions are definitely not theories, and in your example ‘any idea’ is not even a hypothesis.  Using theory in the layman sense, of being just a guess or speculation, isn’t the same thing at all, and we don’t use the word in that way here.

    And, welcome to RDFRS …. 8-)

  13. Gospelofjudas we already have a subject that teaches ethics and philosophy - alongside theology. RE. Discuss anything in our RE classes and you have to back up your belief or lack of it and your reasons for thinking something is wrong or right. Well once you get to year 10 and above, before that it is more being told what various people believe and which festivals are which.

    The general concensus in class as far as I can see, has been that both believers and atheists and agnostics all had pretty much the same sets of morals – basically whatever harms someone else is wrong, my rights end where someone elses begin and morals are very complex changeable things.

    If someone points out how something we think is fine can harm others than our views have to change. Maybe older religious folk have different morals but I guess so do older atheists. They are after all creatures of their own times.

    Most religious people I know do not attempt to explain things scientifically at all. They recognise that science deals only with the natural world. Relgious people that try are usually pretty stupid and not all religious people are stupid.

    I’m glad somebody finally recognises that genocides and human rights abuses are not just the preserve of the religious. Just because I don’t believe in anything it doesn’t make me any better than someone that does I still have to think about what I do.

    I agree with you that atheism does not replace all religion does either. For example someone I knew self harmed for two years because she was a bit overweight, till she started going to church. She hasn’t actually stopped because she now believes in God because I’m not sure how strong that is, she’s stopped because she says the people there value her as a person.They don’t ignore her because she doesn’t fit a mould and in the process she has become more confident. I’m an atheist but I probably did contribute to her lack of self esteem – we now have long discussions about that- which makes me feel a bit guilty. 

    Atheists do seem to be just as set in their ways and their eras as religious people. Just as likely to think their ways right

  14. Great. Such courses must be there. Can we start such a course on coursera, maybe from Oxford University? For this, we’ll have to get help from someone like Mr. Dawkins. People don’t understand atheism and always criticizing a straw man version of it. The course can have lectures like ”the probablity of God”, ”Why we believe in Gods: explanation from evolutionary psychology”, ”the philosophical arguments for God and their refutation”, ”the scientific stance, and the inevitability of atheism”, ”the stupidity of scriptures” etc.

  15. Dear, do visit coursera.com and take free courses on many intersting topics like ‘how to reason and argue’ and ‘evolution and genetics’. I’m taking these courses and this understanding is aiding immensely to my knowledge that I often use to devastate the unreasonable religious people who try to start a god proving discussion with me.

  16. Agreed, my friend. The ‘Golden Rule’ has been found in many cultures and belief systems (whether or not it’s adhered to is another story), and I don’t think that there could be a better foundation for ethics than not doing anything to others that you don’t want them to do to you.

  17. CdnMacAtheist:
    /Scientific Theories are testable & falsifiable explanations based on a number of related facts, so religions are definitely not theories, and in your example ‘any idea’ is not even a hypothesis.  Using theory in the layman sense, of being just a guess or speculation, isn’t the same thing at all, and we don’t use the word in that way here…/

    Based on how you use the word, I highly recommend you stop using it!

  18. Hi Mark 123,

    Is it true that science has nothing to say about a god, or gods?

    Scientists do not set out to prove or disprove gods because they always start with verifiable evidence from the natural World.  That’s what science is – discovering the truth about the natural World.  As there is no verifiable evidence for gods in nature, no scientist has shown an interest in studying the science of gods – because there is nothing to study.  In this sense scientists do indeed have nothing to say about gods.

    On the other hand, pseudo-scientists (pseuds) make claims to know things for which there is no evidence.  In such cases scientists are forced to address this hypothesis, and point out that there is no evidence (or conflicting evidence) that undermines the pseuds’ hypothesis.

    Believers in gods are like pseuds, because true believers claim that their gods intervene in nature (miracles, historical events, designing the Universe, etc.).  But science would be undermined if such claims went unchallenged – because science that did not explain such phenomena would mean it is useless, false, science.

    In this way – without any intervention from scientists – god hypotheses fall under the purview of science.  Science starts out as a secular activity, but is drawn into the arguments over the validity of religions … by the religious.

    Scientists must therefore divert considerable energy and time away from science in order to point out that these god hypotheses are false (i.e. there is no verifiable evidence supporting them).  In this case scientists prove that gods do not exist – and therefore cannot intervene in – the natural World.  That seems to be scientists saying quite a lot about gods.

    Your Girlfriend is 100% right, there is a difference between belief (an acceptance that something exists or is true) and fundamentalism (belief in the strict, literal, interpretation of scripture).  Belief is subject to change, fundamentalism is not.

    Your Girlfriend is also 100% wrong: We are all atheists, because we all find the description of some god or religion to be false.  For example; if you call yourself a Christian, you must reject Islam and Hinduism because the scriptures of these religions are incompatible with Christianity.  You would be an atheist as far as Islam and Hinduism are concerned.  People who call themselves atheist simply go one god further. So next time your girlfriend claims not to be an atheist you’ll know she’s wrong (though I’ll leave it to you to decide whether pointing that out is a good idea!).

    In a World where we see that we are all more atheists than believers and, in that same World, we see that all stories of gods are merely supernatural fiction … how can people believe in gods.  The answer, as we all know, is faith (pretending to know things we don’t know).

    While your Girlfriend is also 100% right that atheism and anti-theism are different, notice that we do not need to use this argument to show that science has something to say – indeed, is forced to say something – about gods.

    Anti-theism is a compelling reason to question the existence of gods, and begins with the premise that all the evidence we have is that religions add more to the sum of human suffering than they do to the sum of human happiness.  While I note that the anti-theism argument is not considered scientific (unless we count social science) it is very close – it begins with evidence from the natural World and our collective human existence.

    I do not know whether your Girlfriend is as clever as you claim.  I would like to ask her one question:

    Why, as a scientist, do you believe it is important that you pretend to know things we don’t know?Peace.

  19. Stephen, scientists also have theories from which they work, and which they try to prove; if a scientist comes to the conclusion that X works because of Y, s/he must then prove it, and failure to do so shows that their belief is incorrect. Scientists down through the ages have assigned a personal God as the basis for some rule or law, and as science has advanced and our understanding has grown, the idea of a personal God has become unreasonable. Deism is perhaps a more thorny issue, as there is little enough evidence either way (though deism also makes itself largely irrelevant, except as a mental exercise), and ‘pantheism’ is much more appealing but also comes with zero dogma or demand for worship.

    The question of ethics lies in an area difficult for science to grapple with because it relies on value systems, which are extremely subjective (more so than science, certainly, which still relies on personal perception but is at least more easily verified by others). You simply cannot prove to someone by reason alone that you should or should not love this or that, or like this or that; no lecture ever made people into better individuals if they were not already self-correcting. This is why it’s important that ethics and philosophy be taught along with science, because people who are curious or questioning will have an easier time if they are exposed to more material, and religion does have that going for it; stories of our origin and the physical world can easily be disproved, but how do we live our lives, day to day? Science has no answer for that, so we must have other counter-arguments. (Indeed, some ‘religions’ that operate more like philosophies, such as Buddhism, have the decency to refrain from commentary on the physical world and in many cases deem it the province of scientists, and if you’ll pardon the pun, immaterial to the matters which they seek to address.) You can very easily believe that it’s right or wrong to insult someone or hate someone or love someone without ever finding sufficient ‘evidence’.

    Intuition complements reason by assigning value and promoting the leaps in awareness that might spark a revolutionary theory. Would a scientist ever have bothered looking into the ‘why’ of something if they were not passionately curious? Once we know ‘that’ something works in a certain way, it can be exploited for commercial use, and we would otherwise stop there. Being open-minded and accepting that other people are entitled to theories isn’t bad, it’s accepting those theories AFTER they have been thoroughly debunked by rigorous testing is what constitutes ‘faith’.

  20. Hi ‘Judas,

    If we had no senses, no sight, no hearing, no touch, no smell, no taste, no magnetic sense, etc., would we form hypotheses?  René Descartes would surely insist that we would.

    On what basis would we form hypotheses?

    We would begin, without doubt, by considering – as Descartes did – what we can know.  But in setting out to explore our limited World, would we be forming any immediate hypotheses.  Of course not, we would simply be exploring.  It is actually quite difficult to imagine such a life, so let’s assume some kindly Scientist, realising our predicament, implants a chip in our heads.  Now we can communicate by radio, and see.

    Again, we would not begin by forming hypotheses – but by exploring.  We would look at whatever we could see, and talk to others to verify that what we see is what they see.  We would exchange notes with other viewers, to satisfy ourselves that our observations are objective and that we describe those things we see in the same way (a.k.a. determining accuracy).  Still no hypothesis.

    Clearly understanding the what and when is possible, even desirable, compared to attempting theories of nothing.

    It is only when we have learned facts (by exploring) that we move to forming theories about those facts (what and when) – and extrapolate to why, which and whether.

    Observations come first, then theories.  Once a theory is in place it does, of course, require that we try to falsify it – that we test it for its truth value.  We may, as a consequence, construct experiments to better understand our questions, and to test our theories.  But it is important to remember that experiments are designed for only one purpose: to observe more (usually, but not always, in more specific detail).

    Science is, first and foremost, the observation of facts.  Theories are based on facts, and without them could not exist.  If a later observation shows a theory to be lacking, or possibly false, then two things must be explored:
     - The nature of all observations used to support the theory
     - The theory

    Now that we live in a World replete with scientific theories that have been tested many times, observations may seem secondary.  They are not.  A scientific theory is the real power of science because a theory that is true will predict.  Predictable aspects of the natural World is what gives us technology – many different ways to harness that predictability.

    But do not be fooled; theories remain true only until an observation (which can be repeated in detail, and therefore verified) falsifies it.  Then, either a modified theory or a new theory is required.

    With that in mind, let’s look at your first statement:

    ” … scientists also have theories from which they work, and which they try
    to prove; if a scientist comes to the conclusion that X works because of
    Y, s/he must then prove it, and failure to do so shows that their
    belief is incorrect.”

    This is clearly not how a good scientist works.  It may be true that there are people out there who start with a theory and decide that they need to prove it – but if they call themselves scientists they are charlatans.  To begin with an idea, and then attempt to prove the idea is true, is a possible way to proceed but there are obvious weaknesses in this approach.

    How would such a person know that their idea is based on reality?  If we are allowed to simply start with a theory – then any LSD-fuelled vision is equal to any ten-year-old’s dream is equal to any
    schizophrenic psycho-neurotic sociopath’s idea of a good night out.

    If we start with an idea and we find something that seems to supports that idea – does that really make the idea a good one? It might, if it can be verified (i.e. shown to be objective), but what if our next observation seems not to support the theory?  If we’re allowed to start with an idea, then attempt to prove it, we can also simply say that facts that don’t support the idea do not falsify it.  What’s next on the agenda; perhaps the drug addict, schizo-psycho-sociopath and ten year-old convene a conference to discuss this?

    To give a real-life example:  This is why creationism isn’t taken seriously by scientists.  Creationists start with a theory ‘Designergod’.  Then they look at whatever data they can find and talk loudly about how it supports the theory.  Creationism is not based on fact.

    If someone concludes that “X works because of Y”, then we are entitled to ask: How so?  If I conclude that my new aeroplane will fly because I have discovered a new form of air will you be at the front of the queue to buy a ticket before I have proved that a new form of air exists.

    To begin with “X works because of Y” is obviously wrong.  All aeronautical engineers first begin by studying observations of air, before they design new aeroplanes.  They also study observations of materials known to be suitable for aircraft, and the theories that have been derived from all these observations.

    You claim that:
    “The question of ethics lies in an area difficult for science to grapple
    with because it relies on value systems, which are extremely subjective”
     … which got me thinking.  Is that really true?

    It’s certainly true of the Israelites, pre-Moses.  Before God issued the 10 commandments, they thought it was a-okay to steal, murder, and lie in court.

    Just kidding.

    I don’t know anyone who thinks that these things are okay.  There you go, three moral rules that we can all agree on – and which are therefore objectively moral.  All in the time it takes to draw two breaths.  If I really put my mind to it I bet I could come up with a whole host of objective moral rules without science … or religion … I did apply humanism, my ability to put myself in another’s place, and I did think about consequences.  Skills and innate abilities that all sane adult human beings possess.

    You do realise that when you said:
    ” … science … relies on personal perception but is at least more easily verified by others”
     … that this was an oxymoron, right?

    When you asked:
    ” … how do we live our lives, day to day? Science has no answer for that.”
     … I found myself asking; why would science have an answer, why would a scientist give a toss?  Okay, I understand that the choices we make are interesting from the psychological and social science perspectives – but why would you think you need someone to tell you how to live your life?  However you want to live your life is fine by me ‘Judas – so long as it doesn’t get in my way or harm anyone then break a leg mate.

    When you said:
    “You can very easily believe that it’s right or wrong to insult someone
    or hate someone or love someone without ever finding sufficient
    ‘evidence’.”
     .. I again found myself asking a question: What are you trying to say?

    You next claim:
    “Intuition complements reason by assigning value and promoting the leaps in awareness that might spark a revolutionary theory.”

    We may be working with different definitions of intuition as I am, again, confused.  My definition of intuition would be: A sub-concious understanding or instinctive reaction, without the need for conscious reasoning.  On that basis intuition is nothing more than learned response.  Useful for things like driving a fast moving vehicle, sport and avoiding being eaten by tigers – but pretty hopeless for considered, structured, thought based on facts.  You know, the sort of thinking that’s needed to work out right and wrong.

    Perhaps, in your definition, intuition is linked to creativity (the use of the imagination and original ideas)?  Pretty cool for thinking about scientific theories, but I don’t understand what that has to do with assigning value?

    Finally, you wrap with:
    “Being open-minded and accepting that other people are entitled to
    theories isn’t bad, it’s accepting those theories AFTER they have been
    thoroughly debunked by rigorous testing is what constitutes ‘faith’.”

    Being open-minded is one thing, accepting that other people are entitled to
    theories that are not based on facts is quite another.

    Show me the evidence, then tell me how your theory evolved from it and what it predicts.  I’m all ears.

    Tell me you have a theory, and that your in the process of validating it.  You don’t deserve any more of my time than the guy who works down the Chip Shop – thinks he’s Elvis.

    People continue to accept theories after they have been
    thoroughly debunked, this is an everyday observation.  Millions of people pretend to know things they don’t know.  When it is pointed out to them that they cannot know because what they are pretending to know is not based on objective fact, they continue to say that they know.  Yes, ‘Judas, you’re right – that is what constitutes faith.

    Your point would be?

    Peace.

  21. You cite lying in court, stealing, and murder, yet these are not ‘objective morals’, as I can easily point out cases where individuals or whole societies have not deemed these things wrong. Imperialism was rampant throughout the Western world and was justified through ‘Manifest Destiny’ or some similar foolishness. Murder accompanied the rape of peoples and lands, and in other societies besides, the value of human life was considerably lessened. I find your example of the Ten Commandments very interesting, because the laws of Leviticus could have you stoned to death for wearing a poly-cotton blend. I suppose it wasn’t ‘murder’ back then, but come now, the standards are extremely different.

    As for value, you seem to speak as though it is intrinsic. If I may quote Ludwig von Mises, I believe he said it best: “Value is not intrinsic, it is not in things. It is within us; it is the way in which man reacts to the conditions of his environment. Neither is value in words and doctrines, it is reflected in human conduct. It is not what a man or groups of men say about value that counts, but how they act.”

    I agree that scientists shouldn’t give a toss, if their field involves exploration of quantifiable facts, which is what I was trying to say. Teaching different means of arriving at ethics and morals is just as critical as teaching people to think critically of science. Why should one be objective and not the other? Surely you’re not suggesting that we should ever seek to be curious about and skeptical of theories regarding the physical world, but not human interaction. For all the wisdom attributed to America’s Founding Fathers, why did it take so long for blacks, women, or Native Americans to be able to vote? Why are these groups still fighting to earn respect? Values must be constantly analyzed and updated.

    As for the X and Y analogy, I didn’t mean to propose that theories arise in a vacuum. A scientist would observe phenomena, and ask him/herself, “Why does it do that?” and begin testing. But testing to what end? Would they not make some sort of theory, based on just a few facts, and research towards proving or disproving that? I am certain that countless scientists labor in obscurity, driving their own theories into the ground. Even successful ones may do this; Einstein was notoriously adamant that Heisenberg and Bohr’s quantum models were flawed (prompting the quote ‘God does not play dice’), yet many physicists today use a quantum/relativistic model. A great example of this is quark symmetry; no sub-atomic physicist has *ever* observed a quark, yet every single sub-atomic particle tested behaves as if they’re made up of quarks. Quarks were the brainchild of Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig (independently), men who proposed the model and began testing for it. They did not see quarks, they observed sub-atomic particles and constructed a theory about them, which holds up to testing. And while we’re discussing physicists, you do realize that many believe that consciousness is part of the experiment, right? And that some believe that we see patterns in some things because the human mind is wired to find patterns? The ONLY scientific knowledge we have has come from human observation and human analysis of what humans can perceive. If you can point out an ‘objective’ human I’d be interested in what s/he had to say. Instead, we must chalk up to ‘objective’ only that which can be reached by popular consensus. If 99.5% of humans observe something in one particular way, that’s close enough, sure, but it’s still all built through human perception, right? Surely you are not suggesting that there is an objective agent somewhere that rewards us for stumbling across secrets of the universe with knowledge that they are absolute truths, as though this were a cosmic Easter Egg hunt. This is also why I don’t believe that a consciousness could even be called such if it had absolutely zero interaction with anything, through any senses. What would it form hypotheses about? What context could it possibly possess? None. If something could hypothetically be so far removed from the universe that it absolutely had no impact whatsoever on anything, through collection of light, gravitational pull or whatever else, it would effectively not exist. Consciousness could not exist without stimulus. It would have no frame of reference, and nothing with which it could construct *anything*.

  22. Hi stephen of wimbledon

    Re your questions:

    I do not know whether your Girlfriend is as clever as you claim.  I would like to ask her one question:
    Why, as a scientist, do you believe it is important that you pretend to know things we don’t know?Peace.”

    My answer to your first question is yes she is.
    Here are her answers to yours. She apologises for the fact there seems to be more than one.

    Firstly she says she is only a wannabee scientist at the moment, doing A levels, and the short answer to your question is she doesn’t pretend ot know things we don’t – the more she learns the more she realises she still has to learn. At this moment she is learning what we do currently know from science. She assumes that will remain the case well into her degree if she gets to university.

    Secondly if she does become a scientist than she says her job will actually be looking for things we don’t know not pretending she already knows them. That is the nature of science, pretending would mean she was out of a job. So she says she doesn’t understand your question or sees possible flaws in it due to you making unfounded assumptions about her.

    She guesses you question her intelligence/rationality  because she is a believer in something that you see as irrational. She agrees it is irrational but says you’re ignoring the fact that we have only been rational apes for a relatively short period of time, and only relatively intelligent primates for slightly longer. So if you’re defining us solely by rationality you are ignoring billions of years of evolution where we relied on the more primitive emotional parts of the brain.

    That is irrational in that it ignores great swathes of the evolution of the brain and us and ignores aspects of behaviour that have been crucial to survival for billions of years. For example if walking home alone at night thinking she might be followed she doesn’t weigh up the liklihood of it being woman or man, nor does she weigh up the statistical liklihood that it is a rapist (low) against the liklihood they are harmless (high). She feels scared and moves faster. An irrational strategy that helped us survive in the past.

    She also says we all do irrational things or hold irrational beliefs, even atheists, eg falling in love, talking to our pets, phobia. As we are prone to things like falling in love we open ourselves up to negative emotions like being dumped. In respect of dealing with things like that the notion of a god seems rational.

    Thirdly she points out that we evolved largely to survive by understanding the concrete world around us. Which is why we find some of the newer concepts thrown up by physics counterintuitive and hard to understand. Therefore the only rational point of view re what we don’t know is agnosticism.

    She agrees she has made a choice to veer to one side of the agnostic fence but points out that so have you. It is easy to balance the probablities for things like the tooth fairy harder for the more nebulous things like deities. Shes chosen to ignore the statistics for irrational reasons. She also says that the whole idea of faith is that it has to exist in the absence of evidence otherwise we don’t have free choice.

  23. Hi Mark,

    My question was based on your report:
    “My girlfriend is brilliant at science … yet she believes there is a God. No science has yet
    disproved that for her because  … science … says nothing about God so neither
    atheists nor believers can use it without stretching it beyond what it
    can tell us.”

    As a scientist (even as someone with ambitions to be a scientist) I would have expected your Girlfriend to look for verifiable evidence of a god or gods – before saying that she believes in one.

    Knowing that there is no such evidence, I assumed that she must therefore believe in a god through faith (a.k.a. pretending to know things we don’t know).  So yes, I did make one assumption without asking.  Sorry.

    Perhaps I was wrong, perhaps your Girlfriend has evidence?

    I do not question your Girlfriends intelligence, and I’m sorry if I came across that way.  I do have a slightly old-fashioned manner.  When I said that I don’t know if your claim about your Girlfriend is true – I simply meant that I do not know her, and I am therefore trying to keep my assumptions to the minimum, and work with the information you provided.  I’m just trying to understand.

    I think I see where your Girlfriend is coming from.  Some intuitions are indeed hard wired into us as they have proved beneficial to the survival of our ancestors.  However, intuitions are also often misleading.  For one thing, they tend to fire on false positives.  Your Girlfriend’s example of the dangers of being out alone is perfect.

    Aware that we are more likely to be in danger when alone at night our senses are heightened, and it is obviously safer to assume that someone approaching us from behind is a danger than to be blasé because if we are wrong no harm will come to us and we reduce the risk of being attacked by using defensive measures.  But that does not alter the fact that we are usually wrong – that our intuitions misled us – that our intuitions did not lead to truth, but to falsehood.  Also, the cost in this case of a false positive was low – but that isn’t always true of false positives.

    Billions of people, quite literally, will find themselves alone in the dark, in a public place, tonight.  Many will be frightened by something that is no threat whatsoever.  A tiny percentage will suffer from some accident, criminal act, or other mishap.  Those who are unhurt may be ready for the next time, but that didn’t make their intuitions right.

    As someone who has fallen in love, I also understand that we all have emotional, irrational, reactions at moments in our lives, I just don’t see what that has to do with my question.

    This is, as your Girlfriend appears to hint in her response, why science is important.  We survive best by
    understanding the real World – by discovering what is true.  In order to do that we must suspend judgement until we have looked at the evidence – and be prepared to set aside our intuitions because, as above, they are an unreliable route to truth.

    Your Girlfriend, you report, also claims that the only rational point of view regarding what we don’t
    know is agnosticism.  I took this to mean that she believes that where nothing is known, or can be known, of subject A we should regard subject A with a sceptical and non-committal attitude.

    I agree that we should treat subject A with scepticism, but that does not extend to claims made about the subject.  If it did, no science would be done.

    To illustrate: If I say that I have a new treatment for cancer I would expect your Girlfriend to be sceptical, but otherwise non-committal.  If, on the other hand, I made the claim that it is a cure for cancer … I would expect her to be both sceptical and searching and, if I did not immediately supply evidence for my claim, I would expect her scepticism to border on opposition to my claim.  I would also expect her scepticism to be increasingly replaced by opposition, developing into open hostility, as time without evidence passes.

    Scepticism (a questioning attitude) and evidence (facts and observations) – which are objective (i.e. verifiable) – are the first principles of science.  We can have no theories for how the real World works without them.

    Your Girlfriend is correct, I set up my tent in the agnostic camp when the subject turns to gods.  But, just as in my above cancer cure example, I look at history.  We have been waiting a very long time indeed for objective evidence that leads us to a supportable hypothesis of any god or gods.  So, on the basis of science, I am note merely a sceptical agnostic – I am openly hostile to the idea that there are gods (hostile to the idea, not the people who hold to them).  I cannot have evidence to prove a negative, but I can ask: How likely is this theory?

    You say that your Girlfriend’s take on this is:
    “It is easy to balance the probablities for things like the tooth fairy harder for the more nebulous things like deities.”

    The idea that a deity is harder to disprove because it is an idea of something very big is logically incoherent.  In science we know that quarks exist, and that the cosmos exists.  The difference in size is … astronomic.  But the method we used to find and define both is the same, and in both cases we did it by simply following the evidence.

    The evidence for the tooth fairy has exactly the validity as evidence for Vishnu or YHWH.  They are therefore in exactly the same class of probability – and just as unlikely.  Note that the Tooth Fairy gets more then a leg up from the older generation.  I wonder if that’s true of all fairy stories?

    Sadly I didn’t understand the bit about statistics.

    Finally, your Girlfriend, you say, ” … says that the whole idea of faith is that it has to exist in
    the absence of evidence otherwise we don’t have free choice.”

    Well of course.  What else would you expect the Priest, Vicar, Imam, Rabbi, or Witch Doctor to say in the absence of evidence.  I would expect them to say: “You must pretend to believe things you don’t know – you must have faith”  Of course the Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Jew, or Voodoo believer must pretend to believe the things that they are told to believe – we can’t have Rastas believing in Mictlantecuhtli, now can we.

    Faith is the device of the charlatan who wants to put one over on you, it really is that simple.

    Faith is therefore the worst possible way to claim that we ‘know’ something.  It is simply not a path to truth.

    I didn’t really understand how having evidence reduces our ability to have free choice, while faith increases our ability to have free choice – as your Girlfriend appears to claim.  If I believe something on faith, then I have closed so many doors and left open the door to nightmarish out-of-control nonsense.  It’s not even my nightmare vision – it’s someone else’s!

    If, on the other hand, I ask first: What is real?  Then, based on the answers, I can make an informed choice about the real World.  I may not like the options, but at least I won’t be wasting my precious life on living a lie.

    That your Girlfriend said the above would appear to point to my one and only assumption about her probably being true: That she believes in a god through faith?

    Another time, we should explore the problem of Evil.

    Thank you for responding in detail, Mark, and please thank your Girlfriend for taking the time to respond too, it was interesting.

    Peace.

  24. Stephen of wimbledon this is hard because yet again I’m going through something second hand and she’s not here. So I’ll try her reply.

    Science is rational but also (apart from a sense of awe at it) emotionally neutral. Your experience of it is objective whether you like it or not gravity is always gravity and evolution to human being is the same for everyone no matter.

    But liking a book or piece of music or liking or disliking someone are less rational.  Two people standing in the same room cannot  get different values for gravity or experience it differently, but they can give different scores out of ten to the same book in the same place and have different experiences of it. The same film can make her cry and me fall asleep for example. Yes if there was a way of testing for god she’d take it, at the moment there isn’t. There is no evidence for but none against either. Faith comes more into that category and she approaches it differently to science for those reasons. She would never approach any science in the same way. Her attempt at explanation as to why she isn’t totally sceptical is below

    Most of the science we have thus far is easier to grasp than some of the newer stuff because it deals with the concrete realities we come into contact with like evolution or redox reactions or whatever. It has just been discovering things that are close by. That also makes things like the tooth fairy or miracles easier to disprove as they claim to impact on our known world. She is not a great believer in miracles – her dad died and that finished that for her.

    Some things like quarks or the Higgs Bosun are harder to grasp because the lie outside of the concrete realities around us so physicists often have to show great leaps of imagination to get from mathematics to ideas and sometimes we just have the maths but no real clue how to proceed – yet eg dark matter. Then they often have to wait inordinate amounts of time to have their ideas proved. Along the way we make mistakes. Apparently somebody (name given but forgotten) said physics was finished 100 years – probably very rational given what was known.

     Just because something isn’t known doesn’t mean it isn’t there. We could not have conceived of, or proved, the Higgs Bosun 100 years ago, or the the electron 400 years ago. It didn’t mean they didn’t exist. She says if god exists than it has to exist outside of time and our universe/multiverse/ strings or whatever. Therefore at this present time unknowable. She has chosen to believe you haven’t. She has chosen to believe because that way she can still feel her dad is looking out for her and she can speak to him even tho she knows he can’t speak to her.

    She also says you are still accusing her of pretending to know – she doesn’t pretend to know she has chosen to believe. She is not openly hostile to the notion of god. As for lots of gods, she looks for the similiarities and says hers is just her version shes grown up with.

  25. Hi ’Judas,

    There’s a lot to consider in your last post, so I’ll have to break it down in order to respond.

    “You cite lying in court, stealing, and murder, yet these are not ‘objective morals’, as I can easily point out cases where individuals or whole societies have not deemed these things wrong.”

    Go for it.

    “Imperialism was rampant throughout the Western world and was justified through ‘Manifest Destiny’ or some similar foolishness.  Murder accompanied the rape of peoples and lands, and in other societies besides, the value of human life was considerably lessened.”

    Yep, people seeing other people as less than human – thus enabling slavery, abuse and killing.  Murder, in these psychotic states, of course being defined to a Christian killing a Christian (or Muslim killing a Muslim, or Roman killing a Roman, etc etc.).  No Conquistador set sail without his Priest.  Think of it as the Spanish Inquisition’s Outreach Programme – a 16th Century version of inter-faith dialogue: Convert, or watch your family being tortured until you and they die.

    But, whatever the excuse (usually racism, profiteering and religion – as above) and however murder was defined for each imperialist state it was a fact that murder was still, objectively, viewed as immoral.  The same motivations and excuses being used for stealing, coveting, lying, etc., and the same objective view as these actions being immoral when applied to ’real’ Christian people (their interpretation not mine).

    “ … the laws of Leviticus could have you stoned to death for wearing a poly-cotton blend.  I suppose it wasn’t ‘murder’ back then, but come now, the standards are extremely different.”

    Exactly my point.  Historically humans have always known the difference between right and wrong.  But when it came to coveting their neighbours Ox, Wife, or field any way de-humanise them, and make them into mere chattel, was acceptable.  They knew what they were doing.  They knew that morally they were obliged to treat everyone the same.  So they made up excuses to label them (e.g. ‘they’ wear mixed threads) other than human and, bingo!  Now it’s okay to enslave, kill, steal, etc..

    But, the good man says: ‘I still have this nagging feeling that it isn’t quite right to kill my neighbour and take his Ox and rape his Wife’.  Never fear, here comes his religion riding to the rescue with a new definition of what it means to be human, a new way of thinking about ’them’ and ’us’ – where ’we’ are special ’they’ are not and ’we’ have a God-given right and ’they’ have a God-given burden to serve ’us’.  The Old Testament speaks of almost nothing else.

    Morals, as defined by religion, are at the heart of all imperialism – which is why Communism is often classified as a religion; just ask the Poles, Lithuanians, Slovaks, Slovenes, Fins, Hungarians, Czechs, Croatians, Chechens, Latvians and Tibetans.

    “Without religion a good man may do good things, and a bad man may do evil things.  But for a good man to do evil things you need religion.” R. Dawkins.

    “As for value, you seem to speak as though it is intrinsic … ‘Value is not intrinsic, it is not in things.  It is within us … ’ ”

    It seems to me that von Mises, as an ecomomist, would have appreciated the modern version: The price of anything is only what someone is prepared to pay for it.  That, of course, means that value is intrinsic – in us.

    I can see what you mean ’Judas, about value being naturally and essentially a part of each of us.  We all, of course, change continuously as we age.  Like the view in the mirror, this change is often subtle and undetectable on a day-to-day basis.  Thus; what we value changes with experience.

    I still don’t understand what that has to do with your comment that:
    “Intuition [sub-conscious understanding or instinctive reaction] complements reason by assigning value and promoting the leaps in awareness that might spark a revolutionary theory.”
     … ?

    Moral value may indeed be reflected in human conduct, as you claim – not forgetting that charlatans and other crooks rely on this social norm.  But what has that to do with a need for a non-scientific approach to morality?  In what way is intuition a path to truth, or to defining objective morality?

    “Teaching different means of arriving at ethics and morals is … critical as teaching people to think critically of science.  Why should one be objective and not the other?”

    It isn’t a question of what they should or shouldn’t be, it’s a question of what they are.  Religions (as above) are far more immoral than moral, while personal values are too changeable (and constantly changing, as above) and too specific to the individual (as above) to be the basis of moral convention.  Intuition, meanwhile, is too ephemeral and inconsequential – and very often results in false positives.  This, surely, makes using intuition a very silly and mistaken way to come to moral conclusions.

    As our intrinsic values change so too society.  To that extent, it is clear to me that there is a moral zeitgeist in society at large.  Society’s moral code is a reflection of the changing values in us all.  Today we abhor the imperialists’ view of humanity classified according to beliefs.  We recognise, for example, the humanity in gay people and we strike down laws that criminalise their very nature.  As religions immorality has been side-lined we see our moral rules changing on marriage, divorce, birth control, crime and punishment and many other things besides.  We are becoming more human and, thereby, more humane.

    As we, the human race, have grown up we have left intuition (so easily misdirected by religions), dogma and fixed, ‘absolute’, moral ’values’ behind and replaced them with political dialogue and a philosophical approach.  We have asked: What is objectively moral to us?  Our collective answer has slowly emerged as: All actions are permissible, providing we do not hurt or hinder anyone else.  All ’lifestyles’ are therefore valid, and all desires are subject only to their potential to harm, and we can each be guided by the simple rule: Do to others only what you would be happy for them to do to you.

    In the political dialogue of the 21st Century it is often suggested that we are creating a World in which this simple moral approach requires greater scrutiny.  Discussions on stem cell research being an obvious example.  Scepticism is a good thing, and we should never pass up the opportunity to do better.  But it seems to me we can safely set aside any suggestion that subjective starting points like intuition, instinct, or our media-overly-flexed disgust add anything to moral discussions.  Such suggestions are so transparently valueless, they barely merit our attention.

    Opposed to this view, we have philosophers asking if it is possible to expand the political-philosophical model we have for morality today (as above) and add a scientific-philosophical aspect that helps us to better understand how we live and work together as a society.  This is based, initially, on the philosophy of utilitarianism: Does the widespread ownership of guns add to the sum of human happiness, or to the sum of human misery?

    My first example seems pretty obvious, but many questions are not so simple.  What, for example, should we do about single older citizens still living in large houses that they no longer require – their families having grown up and left?  Can we, morally, add to the sum of human happiness by forcing them to sell their property for the benefit of the homeless?  What does objectivity mean in these scenarios – should we include our much improved, scientific, understanding of neurobiology and psychology of the parties involved?  What role does science have in helping us to understand our management of limited resources like housing?  Intuition, instinct and religious dogma are clearly inadequate here – they have no place in the modern World of ethics.

    “Surely you’re not suggesting that we should ever seek to be curious about and skeptical of theories regarding the physical world, but not human interaction.”
    -    No, as above.

    “For all the wisdom attributed to America’s Founding Fathers, why did it take so long for blacks, women, or Native Americans to be able to vote? Why are these groups still fighting to earn respect?  Values must be constantly analyzed and updated.”
    -    Agreed.

    “A scientist would observe phenomena, and ask him/herself, “Why does it do that?” and begin testing. But testing to what end?  Would they not make some sort of theory, based on just a few facts, and research towards proving or disproving that?”
    -    Yes.

    “ … you do realize that many believe that consciousness is part of the experiment, right?”
    -    Yep.

    “The ONLY scientific knowledge we have has come from human observation and human analysis of what humans can perceive.”
    -    True.

    “If you can point out an ‘objective’ human I’d be interested in what s/he had to say.”

    Tut, ’Judas, we should not judge others by our own shortcomings.  While it is true that all scientists must bring their social, personal and cultural baggage with them into the lab., that doesn’t mean they cannot set those aside when considering the evidence.  It is, of course, a matter of record that many scientists fail to do so.  However, science is not dependent on individuals – as the story of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace confirms.  Science is objective because they check each other’s work, and each other’s evidence.

    “Instead, we must chalk up to ‘objective’ only that which can be reached by popular consensus.”

    Oh … a step too far.  Science proceeds to truth via:
    -    Evidence (facts)
    -    Hypothesis
    -    Prediction (if hypothesis X is true, then we should see Y)
    -    Attempted falsification (with feedback loop)
    -    Checking hypothesis preduiction(s) -  (with feedback loop)
    -    Additional evidence (facts)
    -    Publication -  (with feedback loop)
    -    Objectification (other scientists check that the facts are facts,  fail to falsify the hypothesis, add more facts and add-to/tune the hypothesis/hypotheses) -  (with feedback loop)
    and …
    -    Scientific consensus (not popular consensus) -  (with feedback loop)

    Thus, we can say that science (the project, not the people) is objective because it is based on fact(s), is independently verifiable, makes accurate predictions, and is agreed by people who are trained in the necessary disciplines to describe the real World, QED.

    “If 99.5% of humans observe something in one particular way, that’s close enough, sure, but it’s still all built through human perception, right?

    Ah, ’Judas, if human sense observation were the whole story that would be a good argument.  But clearly it isn’t even most of the story.  Because we can use the scientific method to create instruments (e.g. a radio telescope) that operate outside the human senses and which provide us with observations, accurately predicted by our theories, that come from beyond our personal and cultural experience we can say that science is truly objective beyond our personal and cultural agenda, and human shortcomings.

    “I don’t believe that a consciousness could even be called such if it had absolutely zero interaction with anything, through any senses.”

    My first reaction was: Wow, what a great argument against the existence of a supernatural mind.  We don’t perceive it,so it cannot exist.  Extrapolating: Therefore any moral rules attributed to it are just as worthless.

    Looking at this from another angle, have you tried it?  Sensory deprivation is frankly a pretty boring thing to do, but it does go a long way to demonstrating that we have consciousness without sensory input.

    “What would it form hypotheses about?”

    I don’t know, ’Judas, I was using an analogy.  Perhaps it wasn’t a very good analogy, but it was the best I could come up with off the top of my head.

    “Consciousness could not exist without stimulus.”

    Given that we can prove that to ourselves, I will disagree – but I don’t think we’re adding anything to our discussion by going over this.

    Have a great Xmas.

    Peace.

  26. Thank you my friend, for the thorough reply. I’ll attempt to address all of your points but I apologize if I miss some.

    Working backwards, the consciousness question is an interesting one, and believe it or not I prefer the Buddhist interpretation. We do not have immutable ‘souls’ or ‘selves’ even; we are the product of our experiences, and will continue to be. Rather than have a soul, a Buddhist is more likely to refer to it as something akin to a ‘heap’. A crass (and possibly very Zen as a result) analogy would be comparing us to a pile of socks; you can take a sock out, or add a sock, and we are still a pile (socks being experiences). What happens when you remove all of the socks? Is there still a ‘pile’, or the idea of one, or the potential? A sensory deprivation chamber is taking someone who already has had experiences to reference. That person may stimulate his or herself. In a situation more akin to Plato’s Cave, without *any* stimulus, ever, I don’t believe that a consciousness would form at all (which does neatly stamp out the idea of a Supreme Consciousness predating known existence, I agree). So yes, we can (and should) remove the idea of a supreme consciousness from our discussion of morality.

    The discussion of the objectivity of science might degrade into a quibbling about semantics over the meaning of the word ‘objective’. So, in the interests of keeping the discussion on track, I will concede that within the human frame of reference (the only one to which we’re privy), science does have objective foundations. Even if I had the background to debate the Standard Model of Physics, others vastly more qualified than I have failed these past few decades. That we’re still discovering new things about life, consciousness, and physics themselves fascinates me, and I eagerly read some of the novels that great minds were kind enough to present in a fashion digestible by a layperson like me (Stephen Hawking, or Professor Dawkins, for instance). That being said, we cannot take this objectivity into the realm of morality; Aristotle’s Law of Identity may have been sufficiently proven for the handful of quarks that have so far been proven to be the underpinnings of all existence, but we still have a limited understanding of what we can extrapolate from that. Consciousness is still being explored, and fields like psychology and sociology are referred to as ‘soft’ sciences because we have a difficult time finding empirical data and most importantly, making predictions. If we cannot make predictions based on these models of science, how can we use science as a justification for social engineering with any claim to morality? We can’t. Philosophy and ethics are important fields of study because human interaction is a fact of life that very nearly every single person must contend with, and quite frankly, religion has long been the prominent dispenser of moral values in this gray area, which needs to change.

    Regarding intuition, I suppose we should clarify our respective definitions. I don’t propose that it is some sort of a priori knowledge; rather, I’m enamored of the idea that our subconscious does a great deal of ‘behind the scenes’ processing, making snap decisions and judgments on our behalf while processing tremendous amounts of data that we don’t consciously take in. (Malcolm Gladwell wrote an excellent book on this subject called ‘Blink’; I highly recommend it). That being said, the subconscious can be trained and honed, but how many people do so? When a prominent scientist has spent hours working in a lab, and then has a flash of insight while at lunch later, that is intuition. Their minds have been trained to analyze scientific data to such an extent that while they may be consciously frustrated over the puzzle pieces of data, their subconscious puts those pieces into place.

    Training the subconscious, and the awareness that facilitates it, is an exercise that few people engage in. This is also critical to cultivating a greater appreciation for life and for other people. The focus of many Eastern religions, as well as the ‘mystical’ traditions of the monotheistic faiths, is cultivating this awareness and expanding our subconscious evaluation of others and the world around us. (Yes, I understand that any religious organization easily descends into corruption and is mired in superficial trappings that ensnare many; on the face of it, Jesus was a ‘mystic’, who preached peace and love and questioning authority, and his legacy is most ironic.) That is why ‘wisdom’ and a greater sense of objective morality cannot be taught, it must be cultivated. People must arrive at this place on their own, through work and effort, and how many do that? Dr. Fritjof Capra summed this up well in his book ‘The Tao of Physics’, when he said that knowledge can be passed on through the ages, and so we know much more than the ancient Greeks, but wisdom cannot, as we are no wiser now 2,500 years later. (paraphrased)

    The point of all of my babbling is this: Atheism is not a ‘belief system’, it is simply a title for those who reject theism. We cannot teach ‘atheism’ without the context of theism, we can only teach skepticism, which is healthy and proper. In teaching skepticism, we can also teach that people need to work on themselves, and develop themselves to live more moral and fulfilling lives, for the sake of their own happiness. As Lao Tzu said, “the evolved human has their own conscience as pure law”. I don’t believe that teaching science alone will help people arrive at this place.

    This goes along with my answer to societal values being objective; I think that the examples we have both provided show that the way humans value others (whether they be neighbors, other humans, different ethnicities/religions, animals, whatever) is subjective from society to society, though they all have a justification for it.

    It has been a pleasure discussing this with you, brother. I apologize if at any point in any of my posts I have come across as acerbic, as that was certainly not my intention. May you and your loved ones have a Merry Christmas as well.

  27.  Hi Mark,

    You claim that:
    “Science is rational but … emotionally neutral.”

    That is true only of the project of science.  Individual scientists are free to respond emotionally to their discoveries however they like – including while they’re at work.  As you so rightly point out Mark: The Cosmos is just awesome!

    “Your experience of [nature] is objective whether you like it or not gravity is always gravity and evolution to human being is the same for everyone no matter.”

    I see a problem here Mark, and I think it has to do with our definitions of objective.  I would say that objective means this: Not allowing oneself to be influenced by personal feelings or opinions when considering and representing facts.

    I hope you won’t mind if I simply cut & paste a previous post to respond to this:
    While it is true that all scientists must bring their social, personal and cultural baggage with them into the lab., that doesn’t mean they cannot set those aside when considering the evidence.  It is, of course, a matter of record that many scientists fail to do so.  However, science is not dependent on individuals – as the story of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace confirms.  Science is objective because they check each other’s work, and each other’s evidence.  Because science is based on the facts, theories suggest themselves independently of human experience.

    Thus, we can say that science (the project, not the people) is objective because it is based on facts, is independently verifiable, makes accurate predictions, and is agreed by people who are trained in the necessary disciplines to describe the real World.

    This often leads to the charge that science – even the over-arching project of science – fails to take the ‘human’ out of human science.

    But human sense observation and communication are not the whole story, they’re not even most of the story.  Because we can use the scientific method to create instruments (e.g. a radio telescope) that operate outside the human senses and which provide us with observations, accurately predicted by our theories, that come from beyond our personal and cultural experience we can say that science is truly objective beyond our personal and cultural agenda, and human shortcomings.

    “ … liking a book or piece of music or liking or disliking someone are less rational.”

    I assume, Mark, that you meant less rational than when compared to a scientific study?  As above, an individual study may be hostage to the likes and dislikes of the scientist conducting it – but the science project will reject, or side-line, a study that fails be sufficiently objective.

    “Two people standing in the same room cannot get different values for gravity or experience it differently, but they can give different scores out of ten to the same book in the same place and have different experiences of it.”
    -    True.  They can also use subjective language to describe their otherwise identical experience of gravity – giving different results.

    “ … if there was a way of testing for god she’d take it, at the moment there isn’t.”
    -    That’s true, but it misses my point: We have no reason to believe in a god or gods, therefore we have no reason to test for a god or gods and no reason to believe in them.

    “There is no evidence for but none against either.”
    -    So if I say I met a leprechaun yesterday, your Girlfriend would simply believe me?  Actually, I met the god Thor, but let’s try to keep this simple.

    Your next bit, Mark, goes at a bit of a gallop so I hope you won’t mind me unpacking it a bit.

    “Her attempt at explanation as to why she isn’t totally sceptical is … ”

    “Most of the science we have thus far is easier to grasp than some of the newer stuff because it deals with the concrete realities we come into contact with like evolution or redox reactions or whatever.”
    -    Yeah.  The sub-text here appears to be that you / your Girlfriend believe that modern science isn’t based on concrete realities.  The computer I’m using right now is based on a micro-processor that harnesses quantum effects.  That reality is hard for almost everyone to grasp, but because we predicted it from scientific theories, and because those theories were in turn based on objective observations we know it is true – at least to the extent that it is a very accurate approximation – so accurate that we can build machines that work, work consistently, work with astonishing reliability and add significant value to our lives.
    -    Truth, Mark, is not dependent on our agreement with it, or our understanding of it.

    “Some things like quarks or the Higgs Bosun are harder to grasp because they lie outside of the concrete realities around us … “
    -    Oops, I refer you to the answer I just gave, above.

    “ … so physicists often have to show great leaps of imagination to get from mathematics to ideas and sometimes we just have the maths but no real clue how to proceed – yet eg dark matter.”
    -    Imagination is an indispensable tool for scientists when they form their hypotheses.  But then they have to demonstrate that they fit the facts, that they cannot be falsified, that they can predict new facts (observations) and they have to be checked by other scientists for objectivity, accuracy, coherence and so on.

    “Just because something isn’t known doesn’t mean it isn’t there.”

    The library of things we don’t know may be far larger than the libraries we have built so far, but that doesn’t mean we can write fiction and say; because you can’t prove that it’s fact it must be treated as fact and put in the library alongside fact.  That isn’t how we manage our libraries for good reasons, and all I’m saying is that we should be clear that any stories about religion should be labelled fiction, and put in our libraries on shelves that are separate from fact.

    “We could not have conceived of, or proved, the Higgs Bosun 100 years ago, or the the electron 400 years ago.  It didn’t mean they didn’t exist.  [My Girlfriend] says if god exists than it has to exist outside of time and our universe/multiverse/ strings or whatever.”

    That would depend on what kind of god we’re talking about.  What about a god that existed, but no longer exists? How about a god that doesn’t exist, but which will come into being?  Where would a god that exists today, but has no interest in human beings, live?  If they have no interest in us, why do we even care where they live?

    “[Gods are] Therefore at this present time unknowable.”

    Ah, Mark, if they are un-knowable that’s too easy.  If they are un-knowable then whether they exist or not makes no difference to us.  We can simply reject them as an irrelevant concept – even if true.

    “[My Girlfriend] has chosen to believe you haven’t.  She has chosen to believe because that way she can still feel her dad is looking out for her and she can speak to him even tho’ she knows he can’t speak to her.”

    I’m sure your Girlfriend’s love for her deceased Father is sincere, and her story is very touching.  Of course, with the best will in the World, we still can’t say that proves anything, can we.

    “She also says you are still accusing her of pretending to know – she doesn’t pretend to know she has chosen to believe.”

    Your Girlfriend has chosen to believe without evidence – on the basis of faith – and that means she has chosen to believe in something by pretending to know things she doesn’t know.  She may not like to hear that, but that is the truth whether she likes it or not.

    That is the nature of truth Mark; sometimes it seems to us ugly, unsatisfactory, inconvenient, impersonal, even uncomfortable.  But truth is just impersonal and independent of us.  We may not like the fact that truth therefore falls outside our zone of control – too bad.  Your Girlfriend is perfectly free to pretend to know things, I have been guilty of it myself from time to time.  Because we want things to be just-so that doesn’t make them so.

    At this Site we say: Your Girlfriend is free, in her own time and in her own place in the World, to live a life built on falsehood.  That is all we ask people to understand.  We then ask that they not use their false World when considering anything that affects the rest of us.  Here we value living a true life, an adult life where we shoulder and share responsibilities and needs – like our need for love and shared thoughts – and that we understand that the truth will set us free, free of corruption, delusion and false hope.

    “[My girlfriend] is not openly hostile to the notion of god.  As for lots of gods, she looks for the similarities and says hers is just her version shes grown up with.”

    When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became an adult, I put away childish things.
    1 Corinthians ch.13 v.11

    Mark, I wish you and your Girlfriend a very happy Xmas.

    Peace.

  28. Hi ’Judas,

    I was interested in your hypothesis:
    “ … tak[e] someone who already … had experiences to reference … In a situation more akin to Plato’s Cave, without *any* stimulus, ever, I don’t believe that a consciousness would form at all … ”

    I don’t see an easy way to accomplish anything from discussing that.  Clearly, the only way to test your idea would be to find someone who was born without any senses, but found a way to communicate later.

    I introduced the idea of the conscious – disconnected, without stimuli – mind exploring first, then forming hypotheses only in order to demonstrate that we must explore and gather facts before we can hypothesise.  When thinking about how to quickly demonstrate that, I remembered Helen Keller and used her as my model.

    I wasn’t trying to achieve any more than that, and it has been many years since I read Keller’s story so I’m hazy on the details.  I do remember the basic story of how her teacher began teaching the child Keller a form of touch-language – beginning with nouns.  Or, to put that another way, they began by forming a common language of exploration.

    Keller went on to become an arts graduate and to be an outspoken moralist – particularly on war.

    You can argue, as you know doubt would ’Judas, that even Keller didn’t grow from a babe entirely without stimuli – but her life seems to me instructive nevertheless.

    “ … we’re still discovering new things about life, consciousness, and physics … That being said, we cannot take this objectivity into the realm of morality … ”

    Why not?  What makes morality uniquely and universally subjective?  Surely we have already covered this – morality is demonstrably objective in our agreed definition.  Even if it is only remotely and narrowly applicable, applying an objective framework (scientific and non-scientific) to our moral dilemmas is preferable to groping about in the dark for a solution.

    “Aristotle’s Law of Identity may have been sufficiently proven for the handful of quarks … ”

    There are many things and many sets containing things with reflexive relations.  Why limit yourself to quarks?  Why start with quarks at all – aren’t they rather remote from morals?  Indeed, why start with science at all?  There are approaches to morality that can start with philosophy, and include science as an addition.  This was what I was driving at with my example of the moral dilemmas thrown up by considering over-population, increased life expectancy, managing limited resources and rationalising our conflicting desires to be individually free and providing all with basic humanitarian needs.

    The fact that we are still discovering seems to me to be the reason we should be considering, now, how to integrate our objective knowledge into our polity.  The fact that our understanding, on any specific issue, is limited does not mean we stop.  If we believe our species could be working towards a greater future we embrace the progressive.

    “Consciousness is still being explored, and fields like psychology and sociology are referred to as ‘soft’ sciences because we have a difficult time finding empirical data and most importantly, making predictions.”

    Sociology is waiting for its Newton or Darwin, that’s true.  In the meantime we have statistical economics, and an increasingly scientific psychology.  This seems to be a repeat of your previous argument: We’re not quite there yet.  As above, I don’t accept that as an argument for doing nothing – for not applying objectivity to moral dilemmas.  In addition; if we have scientific psychology (and we do), and verifiable economics (and we do), we have the basis for an objective sociology that can, and does, make predictions.

    To save time I will concede right now that sociology, including economics, is a political minefield where dogmatic opponents routinely undermine objective studies.  Sociology, as a ‘discipline’, is so intellectually corrupt that it appears to need re-inventing, root-and-branch.  Politicians are also typically craven and in love with their own voices (dogmatisms).  Finding a group of politicians willing to embrace the applicability of psychology to decision making will be hard until more of the brain is revealed.

    Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

    “Philosophy and ethics are important fields of study because human interaction is a fact of life that very nearly every single person must contend with, and quite frankly, religion has long been the prominent dispenser of moral values in this grey area, which needs to change.”
    -    Agreed.

    To cut a long story short, ’Judas, you appear to have equated intuition with the whole of the subconscious in your last post?  That closes the argument on intuition.  I agree with you, if we train our minds in critical thinking the subconscious seems to benefit, and the likely match between problems and good solutions is likely to be greatly improved.

    “ … we can … teach skepticism … we can also teach that people need to work on themselves, and develop themselves to live more moral and fulfilling lives, for the sake of their own happiness.”

    I don’t know about Lao Tzu, but Christopher Hitchens was always clear that our frontal lobes are under-developed.  As a species, we have a lot of growing and developing still to do.  

    “I don’t believe that teaching science alone will help people arrive at this place.”

    Neither do I, but it is essential.  Classes specific to critical thinking are in urgent need.  Classes in humanism would get my vote.  Classes in political activism – perfectly justifiable if we believe in dynamic democracy – would be good too, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

    “I think that the examples we have both provided show that the way humans value others (whether they be neighbors, other humans, different ethnicities/religions, animals, whatever) is subjective from society to society, though they all have a justification for it.”

    Yes.  This is the reason I am so keen to promote a new objectivity in social discourse.  Relativism has been responsible for more human misery and reactionary and regressive policies than almost any other human idea – with the obvious exception of religion.  I have never understood how it even gained political traction; ‘We must treat all cultures equally, they all have equal validity’.  So, Aztec human sacrifice is equal to my country’s laws on racial discrimination …

    When we place human cultural practices on the continuum of highly subjective to highly objective (their effectiveness measured by the sum of human happiness created and preserved versus the sum of human misery created and preserved) we clearly see objective policies routinely trumping the subjective.

    No need to apologise ’Judas, all text communication tends to seem more beligerent than it really is (tabloid newspapers have been treating this as a positive for centuries).  Intonation is missing, so we add it back in as we read and we usually get it wrong.  That’s particularly true in discussions – they all tend to look like nose-to-nose arguments.  In addition, the Net mixes people together with little in common so it’s easy to misunderstand, and we can post with such speed that we often don’t give enough thought as to how it looks to the Reader.  There are also a lot of people on-line with incredibly thin skins.  I often wonder how on Earth they manage in everyday life.

    That said, a little civility goes a long way – so thank you for your consideration.

    Peace.

  29. Stephen of Wimbledon
    “”We then ask that they not use their false World when considering anything that affects the rest of us.”

    What exactly makes you think she does or would?

    “Your Girlfriend has chosen to believe without evidence – on the basis of faith – and that means she has chosen to believe in something by pretending to know things she doesn’t know.  She may not like to hear that, but that is the truth whether she likes it or not.”

    Hmm, she found that interesting but has asked for me to ask you two questions.

    Her religion does not impact in any way on anything she does it doesn’t make her different to anyone else, it is not brought to other people and it is not discussed unless someone asks. It doesn’t change her view of science which is as she is taught it, or other people. She is not some kind of weird stereotyped American hating christian – so why do you think it will affect anything she does at all?

    Secondly and this is more contentious but is a genuine question from her and unrelated to gods or beliefs and unrelated to either of our feelings about Richard Dawkins which are basically a lot of what he does is fantastic (she doesn’t like fundamentalism either) some things neutral to us (possibly more pertinent to the US) and like all human beings some things crap or ill conceived. So HER (not mine I disagree with her) question, as a ‘christian’ is:

    Why, (if this is a website for questioning and discussion and moving atheism forward through new ideas in a way rather than a fan club), does everything Richard Dawkins does or says seem to be uncritically accepted as right and never questioned? She challenges you to prove her wrong on that one because some dissent should be a healthy part of any organistion not relying on blind faith and no individual is perfect.

  30. I think I misunderstood what you meant by objective social mores. If you’re proposing that we assemble a framework of morality within which we can make decisions on specific cases and treatments, and that we do so from a secular or humanist perspective to find a loose framework that can be objectively regarded as moral (grounded in empathy and reciprocity), than on that we can agree. A more tightly defined lifestyle, the differences between leaning towards capitalism or socialism, etc. are trickier and often come down to individual taste. Because our personalities are different, I would never seek to impress a lifestyle on anyone; however, I agree, we can come up with a foundation on which to grow. In essence, codifying the ‘social contract’ as Hobbes intended it (and not, as so many pundits today seem to think, as a means of redistributing wealth), is something well within the grasp of reason and objectivity.

    It seems that in most other regards we are close to agreement; people should be taught sciences, humanism/philosophy, skepticism and that they must self-develop (or should, or that there are benefits to doing so; as the Navajo say, you can’t wake a man who’s pretending to be asleep). I appreciate your responses my friend, and look forward to other discussions on this site going forward.

  31. I think one of the key issues with educating the public about the ideology of atheists is the lack of people capable of explaining questions of existentialism. ‘How could the universe exist without god?’ ‘How can something come from nothing?’ These questions are in my mind the single most important questions that atheists need to learn the answers to in order to educate the public. Whilst I know Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist, what I am essentially saying is ‘More physics’. I find that a large portion of theists I find myself engaging in conversation with don’t necessarily have an ‘iron fisted faith’ per say, but don’t realize the realm of theoretical physics has various potential answers to questions of space, time and their origins. I think it would be advisable for any ‘atheist education website’ to have various theories of origin. Whilst I have admittedly not gone and read up on Lawrence Krauss’ theory of how something can come from nothing, I think it would be a great idea to teach people about Igor Soklov’s vacuum equation and Stephen Hawkings explanation as to why god could not have caused the big bang.

  32.  Hi Mark,

    I needed to unpack some of your comments and questions again in order to respond.  Sorry for being such a dunce.

    “What exactly makes you think she does or would [use their false World to affect the rest of us]?”

    I can see how my comment might look as if it was aimed at your Girlfriend.  It wasn’t.  With the benefit of hindsight it was also a little arrogant – claiming to speak for all RDFRS members.  Mea culpa.

     “[My Girlfriend’s] religion does not impact in any way on anything she does … ”

    Fair enough, I’m willing to take your word for that – with the caveat that it is extremely unusual for the faithful.

    “[My Girlfriend’s religion] … doesn’t make her different to anyone else, it is not brought to other people and it is not discussed unless someone asks.”

    Whether, or not, your Girlfriend’s faith makes her different is what we are discussing.  If I thought she was no different to me I would quickly lose interest in this conversation.  It is because I see a difference that I’m still here – still listening.  For the record: I started out in life with a very similar mind-set to your Girlfriend’s, my Mother is a retired priest.

    “[My Girlfriend’s religion] … doesn’t change her view of science which is as she is taught it, or other people … so why do you think it will affect anything she does at all?”

    For one thing, as above, I’ve been there and I’ve lived with people with all sorts of beliefs and I’m not convinced.

    For another angle, take this example: One of my newest friends is Mo (not his real name).  Mo is an Ahmadi and his Father is a leading member of a local Ahmadiyya Mosque.  Mo was interested in science and chose to study it at Uni..  He decided against a path to the biological sciences as he foresaw a problem with the Ahmadi belief in theistic evolution.  He completed his MSc a few years ago in Computer Science with a dissertation on the relative benefits of different artificial intelligence technologies.

    My point is that our beliefs guide our lives in subtle ways that, for the most part, we fail to notice.

    If our beliefs are based on truth, we can at least console ourselves that we could probably not have made better use of the chances that life hands us.  But if we base our beliefs on faith … ?

    Mo’s decision meant he entered a field that was over-populated with new graduates, and he has not been able to find a better job than Desktop Support for three years.  He has a better understanding of how the micro-technology in computers works – and the science – than the vast majority of ICT graduates.  Yet he spends most of his working days under people’s desks, loading discs and tapes and typing repetitive commands.

    But it’s worse than that.  The bio-technology revolution is crying out for biology graduates.  Mo’s missed opportunity is not only Mo’s – we all lost.

    I just don’t want to see anyone make Mo’s mistake (and my mistake), if it can be avoided.

    “Why, (if this is a website for questioning and discussion and moving atheism forward through new ideas in a way rather than a fan club), does everything Richard Dawkins does or says seem to be uncritically accepted as right and never questioned?”

    That’s an interesting question.  To his credit Richard Dawkins has said that he’s not infallible, and by extension he admits he can make mistakes.  He has also admitted that he is ignorant of some subjects, and has counted himself out of some discussions on that basis.  If you go to the Old RDFRS Site you’ll see that I have posted criticisms of Richard Dawkins in the past.  But, broadly speaking, your Girlfriend is correct – Richard Dawkins does tend to get a free pass nearly all of the time.

    I wish I could think of a short answer.  I can think of a simple, long, answer – and it goes like this.

    Speculating; I guess there are seven broad reasons for the uncritical nature of posts at this Site:

    -    The first, and most obvious, reason is that there are not enough people like you Mark.  We need more like you to request that their questions are posted on this site’s Comment section.

    -    Richard Dawkins in particular is an honest man who refuses to get into debates on subjects he knows too little about, and he is generally very good in debates because he has had so many that he has now reached the stage where his arguments and positions are well honed.  That tends to leave the rest of us without much to say, except: “Well done”.  In addition, most of the people that have become leaders of the RDFRS have done so through contact with Richard Dawkins.  He would admit, I’m sure, that he is not a perfect judge of character (the evidence is out there) but on the whole he seems to have done very well indeed.  Sceptics will usually admit when they are wrong, and when they don’t know.  This tends to greatly shorten arguments compared to arguments between people of faith.  Two people who have faith arguing a point will tend to continue because both are pretending to know things they don’t know – and can therefore find it difficult to back down.  This is possibly the main reason your Girlfriend, as a person of faith, is surprised at the low level of dissent at this Site.

    -    This Site is quite good at side-stepping internal discussion (of the Atheist, Agnostic, no-religion, etc. movement) that might be divisive.  I suspect that this is a deliberate policy.  The RDFRS main objective is to get atheists to realise that by not organising they are being side-lined in the halls of power by organised religions. They cannot perform that role by getting involved in every little spat – in fact, it’s important that this Site rises above that noise.  For an example of a discussion that was studiously ignored by RDFRS point your favourite search engine at Atheism Plus, and visit three or more results.

    -    Many people who visit RDFRS are fans.  The Foundation is hardly going to dissuade people visiting here from hearing the central – get political – message.  The upshot is that, although this Site is not, ostensibly, a fan site many posters form an uncritical mass (so to speak).  Most of us are also fans of other leading atheists, and they also appear to sometimes get the hero-worship treatment.  It is important not to confuse this with uncritical worship – like that given to gods and prophets of the supernatural.  I am a huge fan of the late Christopher Hitchens – but only for the work of his later life, and if we’d ever met I suspect we would have found plenty of subjects to argue over at length.  If the RDFRS is to succeed, some leaders must emerge from our community for us all to focus on.  It’s difficult to do that while tearing them down.

    -    Because of the above point, that RDFRS is about political activism, the stories that are posted tend to be aimed at raising the consciousness of a large group of people who have – until now – had essentially no voice, not even a basic political identity and profile.  Thus, when we put together the newly interested with news about how religions are being very naughty, how like-minded people are being oppressed, how religions get special treatment from politicians while we appear to have to fight tooth-and-nail to get politicians to accept evidenced, objective, truths and, and, and, … the obvious result tends to be that people are supportive of each other – and that includes the leaders.  But do not make the mistake of equating that with a loss of scepticism.  If you scan the posts under stories carefully you’ll soon find people who are questioning, who openly admit they are ignorant of the subject and request information and who question approaches where they see – or foresee – problems.  Quite recently I myself was caught up in a long discussion where I was schooled in the politics of education in Eire.  If you, or your Girlfriend, see a story here that you don’t agree with – or a Poster who seems too easily convinced – speak up.  I for one would welcome more scepticism.

    -    There is an over-arching reason why the atheists tend to be uncritical of their leaders.  For most of human history we haven’t had any leaders – because if we had they would have been targets for bigoted, power-hungry, ’priesthoods’ who had the whip hand over the politicians.  We’re therefore inclined to celebrate the fact that we actually have an emerging political voice.  Also, we haven’t had the chance to be disappointed yet.  That will come.  Like all new political movements new atheism will eventually grow too large to contain the many disparate voices within it, and we will see schism.

    -    This may seem the same as points above, but I believe it to be fundamentally different.  Organising atheists and agnostics is often likened to herding cats.  We’re not sheep, we have minds of our own – and we’re not afraid to use them.  But New Atheism is bringing us together at last.  The title New Atheism doesn’t mean there are any new theological responses to the positions of the religious.  As many people have pointed out; there is no need for new ways to reject religions, reason was sufficient for centuries and remains ample for their dismissal.

    What has changed is that we have recognised that we are a group that was split by our opposition in order to rob us of our political voice and to empower organised religions in return.  Thus, humanists are bringing fully developed non-religious morality and renewing our commitment to love, secularists are bringing a new political emphasis to democracy and retelling its legitimacy – that we need not be at loggerheads with religions so long as we can have a level playing field, agnostics are reminding us that we do not need to fight the psychological ghosts of religion, atheist artists are demonstrating spirituality without the supernatural, philosophers bring us consolation and science – daily – opens up vast new vistas of exciting exploration and truth.  These great accomplishments of humanity inter-connect, rarely overlap and even more scarcely contravene.

    The sceptic in us all is not forgotten.  It’s just that there is little enough time to embrace this great coming together and rejoicing.

    “[My Girlfriend] … challenges you to prove her wrong on that one because some dissent should be a healthy part of any organisation … ”

    I cannot prove your Girlfriend wrong on that point, it is true.  Please, join us.

    Peace.

  33. Hi Stephen, unfortunately shes not around to answer the religious questions at the moment, she’s trying to get ready for her theory test so is more interested in traffic lights and safely getting on to dual carriageways. Though I think she is really enjoying the discussion she likes a good argument/debate.

    “.  The Foundation is hardly going to dissuade people visiting here from hearing the central – get political – message.”

    I don’t think it is the central message thats the issue. The dissent in religion for example is never about the central parts which are the God and Jesus or Allah and Mohammed existing issues. They tend to be about other parts such as being homophobic or not or having women priests. Or how to read parts of the bible.

    I would be very surprised if any atheist criticised RD for not believing in God but have to agree with my girlfriend that it is odd that there is little dissent on anything he says or does even when it is factually inaccurate, deliberately anagonising to possible supporters for no obvious reason or sometimes when prejudice against religion to muddy clear analysis of issues. 

    “But do not make the mistake of equating that with a loss of scepticism.  If you scan the posts under stories carefully you’ll soon find people who are questioning,”

    “If you, or your Girlfriend, see a story here that you don’t agree with – or a Poster who seems too easily convinced – speak up.  I for one would welcome more scepticism.”

    I haven’t found any questioning of anything that RD has done or said if I’m honest. Whatever he does is lauded even when those outside of this site can see massive criticisms of them. I’m the only one of my friends on this site as a contributor so I’m tending to have to be a spokesperson for lots of them, mainly the fellow atheists but a couple of non atheist ones as well. The problem is they are fans but not uncritical ones and also not as informed as the bulk of the people here – and that makes it difficult to criticise and seem a bit rude.

    One criticism from my girlfriend and some of her atheist girl friends for example was that on his fundraising thread he’d talked about setting up separate sites for women, LGBT etc. Everyone rushed to donate and said how good he was but she found that a bit patronising and a bit like the catholic church (they have separate womenly bit, nuns, which they pretend are equal but aren’t they’re just a sop).

    Her words were along the lines of will the womens site be a special pink one where the clever men tell us there is no god but give us some fluffy kittens instead? She pointed to the fact that instead of doing that and being separatist which is just like Islam and the RCC, RD should be taking a leaf from physics and engineering which realised women were underepresented and went out to find out why. Then tried to redress the balance by setting up talks in schools by women engineers and trying to encourage more women to see it as attractive. They didn’t change the engineering profession by introducing separate sections they changed/updated the attitudes of men to women engineers and women to engineering. The girls couldn’t understand why those criticisms weren’t raised and why no atheist women had pointed it out. They wouldn’t want to be part of a special womens area they wanted to be judged on what they say not what they are on the main area!

    The other criticisms were of rightly seeing the bad things in religion but then failing to recognise that sometimes they were products of their time and culture as much as religion. For example RD has rightly gone on about the RCC and child abuse, but failed then to recognise that the RCC was actually partly mirroring attitudes of those times – and that institutionalised abuse also went on in care homes or at the BBC. You rightly can’t excuse what the RCC did but you also can’t then fail to acknowledge it wasn’t the only institution engaged in cover ups etc and that attitudes to children and figure of authority also played a part. The main criticism singling out the RCC now should be that it didn’t react like the BBC not that it was somehow worse abuse because it was religious. It was all bad.

    Likewise RD rightly criticises treatment of women under Islam but yet again fails to place it in cultural context. For example abuse of women occurs under Islam in Pakistan, but you can’t divorce that culturally from the fact that non Islamic far less religious India is rapidly becoming known as a leading centre for vicious gang rapes of newly independent and working women. Which is also being largely ignored by their tardy legal system and equally appalling attitude to women. 

    If you acknowledge that you have to acknowledge the cultural treatment of women as well as religious aspects. Then you have to examine whether women are badly treated by Islam in different cultures like the UK and conclude that in many respects they aren’t (with tragic exceptions of course) and that makes a less good anti religious story. That doesn’t seem to have been a criticism anywhere.

    “Richard Dawkins in particular is an honest man who refuses to get into debates on subjects he knows too little about,”

    He is and I’m a fan. He also has many fans who are believers which is never acknowledged. He complains about atheists who say I’m an atheist but – I know loads of christians and muslims who say I’m no fan of RD but and then go on to list a whole host of things they agree with like creationism being crap.

    My girlfriends wouldn’t come here because she said the first thing that would happen would be she’d be accused of being a creationist, anti abortion, homophobic moron all of which she’d find really offensive because she isn’t. Lots of religious people are none of the above and lots have a lot of time for a lot of what RD says.

    Some things he’s said or implied are wrong. We’ve just watched the faith school menace and some things were very factually inaccurate – you can’t actually bribe your way into any school by being nice to the priest for example.

    ” There is an over-arching reason why the atheists tend to be uncritical of their leaders.  For most of human history we haven’t had any leaders “

    Yes but doesn’t that in itself lead to problems. Infallible Popes for example? Or unquestioning acceptance of a political line?

    “Also, we haven’t had the chance to be disappointed yet.  That will come.”

    Hopefully not. He does a lot of brilliant things and is a very clever man but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t listen to criticisms or that he shouldn’t be criticsed or that he shouldn’t admit when he’s wrong.

    “In addition, most of the people that have become leaders of the RDFRS have done so through contact with Richard Dawkins.  He would admit, I’m sure, that he is not a perfect judge of character (the evidence is out there) but on the whole he seems to have done very well indeed.”

    Perhaps it would be better to advertise and get people in who are atheists and broadly agree with the aims but are more diverse in nature regarding other things? Who haven’t all come throught the same pathways.

    Anyway thanks for the interesting debates. Girlfriend has enjoyed having someone intelligent to challenge her and you have made her think a lot about what she believes and whether it is valid. Which is a first for her!

  34. Mark, I agree with some of your sentiments, and I agree, too, that inflexible thinking is dangerous. In fact, if I’m interpreting Professor Dawkin’s books correctly, he (and many who share his views) are more concerned with dogmatic thought and refusing to see reason than anything else. Inflexible thought is what leads to atrocities in the world, and we can see that in Communist or the Nazi regimes just as easily as any other genocide that claims to champion a religion. As it stands however, religion (or more to the point, religious organizations) have for some time now, especially in the West, claimed some sort of exemption from scrutiny. “The God Delusion” did a fine job of exposing religion to the same scrutiny that any scientist worth their salt would apply to a scientific theory, but the reason I enjoyed this book was because Professor Dawkins was not championing atheism for its own sake, but rather was saying, “this is the conclusion I’ve come to based on available evidence.” There are plenty of murky areas in science (physics, our consciousness, etc) that warrant further explanation, and *may* never deliver an Ultimate Truth to us. The contention of many atheists however is that we shouldn’t stop looking, and definitely shouldn’t ‘fill in the gaps’.

    That being said, I agree wholeheartedly that there are many who profess to atheism but are as rigid and uncompromising as the very worst fundamentalist. One fellow I was arguing with recently condemned me for citing Dr. Capra’s “The Tao of Physics”, and hadn’t even read the book! He was so convinced that it was a bunch of mysticism and hooey that he not only REFUSED to read it, but tried to invalidate the rest of my argument for having the temerity to cite this source. (Dr. Capra has a Ph.D in Theoretical Physics and has done work with particle and theoretical physics, making him far more qualified than anyone I know personally to discuss either, in my opinion.) Whether or not the information within was accurate isn’t the point; the fact that someone wouldn’t even examine the material himself seemed entirely unreasonable to me. I have seen some other discussions on here that I wish were regarded with a little more curiosity, such as some of the ones regarding Eastern medicine, and I really enjoy watching or engaging in discussions regarding theism vs. deism vs. pantheism when someone is open to at least hearing the other side.

    Frankly, as long as a person is willing to look towards humanist and secular principles when it comes to interactions between us, and is willing, too, to regard religious texts with a great deal of skepticism and critical thinking, I don’t think it matters one bit what they believe kickstarted the universe. Whether we’re a progression of physics phenomena capable of self-reflection (or any reflection, really), or whether the universe was following a course to produce us all along doesn’t (and shouldn’t) dictate whether we can be decent human beings, which is really the most important thing in my mind. 

  35. I’ve thought about this one.
    I think the teaching of Atheism is an area which should be treated carefully.
    One has to be sure one doesn’t become an indoctrinating parent (this is after all where we can take the moral high ground)
    I would never dream of telling my child there is no God. Atheism should be a conclusion that one comes to after reviewing evidence.
    As far as I know there isn’t any course or lesson to take because there is nothing to teach (other than tools for debate)
    School is for learning the facts, we as parents are responsible for teaching logic and reason, I think so long as these 2 are done properly (in the absence of motive) then Atheism is the only logical outcome for the children.

  36.  Hi Mark,

    Sorry for the slow response.  Holiday season and all that.

    “[My Girlfriend] is really enjoying the discussion she likes a good argument/debate.”

    Me too.

    “The dissent in religion for example is never about the central parts which are the God and Jesus or Allah and Mohammed existing issues.”

    Sorry to be dim Mark, but I wasn’t sure if you were talking there about discussions within religions or discussions of religions.

    Dissent, and therefore discussions, within religions is a constant.  They tend to be about doctrine (what constitutes the Group’s beliefs and principles – homophobia, racism, sexism (e.g. women priests)).  If you’re not a member of the religion they’re usually pretty silly – How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? – for example.

    Discussions about religion tend to be conducted in two ways:

    -    One religion discusses another.  To the best of my knowledge, no religion has ever discussed another and concluded; wow, those guys are really on to something, we’d better drop what we’re doing and follow them.  It’s pretty clear that these discussions are usually about who’s in charge here on Earth, and about earthly political power, which is curious, don’t you think?

    -    People with no religion discuss religions.  The religious often focus on the discussions where people of no religion talk about whether gods or prophets are as they’re reported by the religious – including whether they even exist(ed).  If you stick around here at RDFRS you’ll see that isn’t the case.  We spend most of the time talking about the political influence of religions, and how corrupting it is.  New atheism has also tended to focus more on the spiritual aspects of our lives than traditional atheism – and why we don’t need religions to celebrate our finer feelings.

    “ … but [I] have to agree with my girlfriend that it is odd that there is little dissent on anything  [Richard Dawkins] says or does even when it is factually inaccurate, deliberately antagonising to possible supporters for no obvious reason or sometimes when prejudice against religion to muddy clear analysis of issues.”

    Whoa there Tiger!  I’m sure Richard Dawkins would be mortified to hear he is routinely factually inaccurate.  Could you please point to some examples?  I feel certain that Richard Dawkins would both apologise, and be happy to put the record straight.

    Also, you appear to say that Richard Dawkins is deliberately antagonistic to his potential supporters?  That seems highly unlikely.  For one thing, how on earth would he get away with it?  If that were true it seems to me that there would be a cottage industry here, on the Net, letting people know.  An obvious example of how this happens on the Net is the way people analyse Fox News.  Alienating, annoying and provoking potential supporters is the exact opposite of what this Site is attempting to achieve – RDFRS would be mad to do that.

    As to whether RDFRS supplies less than clear analysis … I have no complaints.  I am not such a big fan of this Site that I will tolerate poor reporting or spin.  I am a huge fan of the Net because I can call up an alternative view in seconds.  When I weigh views in the balance I find the reporting here to be better by most measures, most of the time, than any newspaper or TV station.  Any analysis – by Site personnel – of a viewpoint, news item, or report will typically be fair, factual and impartial.

    If, on the other hand, you were to say to me that some comments posted by members below Site stories are less than friendly to those who belong to the milder end of the religious spectrum, I would agree.

    Several things are going on here:

    The first is that people often reach a stage in their lives where they used to be religious, but no longer have a religion.  These people are often angry.  They’re angry in the same way as the retiring person who signed away their life-savings to Bernie Madoff has just discovered that their money has disappeared.  They can’t relive their life and save that money again.  It isn’t just about the money, it’s about discovering that they lost a significant part of their lives that they will never get back and that the dreams they built were built on lies.  They’re also angry in the same way that a robbery victim is angry.  They feel helpless and guilty because they lost control over who they were – even if only for a few minutes.  Religions, even the mild-mannered ones, manipulate the minds of the faithful in order to give priests, imams, rabbis, etc. the power to say that our deeds, even our very thoughts, are evil.  Catholics, for example, frequently report feelings of guilt over innocuous activities – even years after leaving then Church.

    In other words; they’re very angry, and grateful for a place to let off steam.

    The second thing that’s going on is that – until now – religions have been getting a free pass on their political activities (i.e. most of what they do).  For most of society in the West, the scales are falling from our eyes.  Any group being malicious, lying, manipulative and scheming would be bad enough.  But to claim that you’re simultaneously a source of morality is a bit hard to stomach.

    These things make it hard for some people to be conciliatory.  More people are losing their religion every day, and that means we will always have someone here who feels the need to be antagonistic.  It’s a real need.

    “I haven’t found any questioning of anything that RD has done or said if I’m honest. Whatever he does is lauded even when those outside of this site can see massive criticisms of them.”

    I repeat:  Bring it here.  If there are ’massive criticisms’ I’m sure I speak for every visitor here, post them here, let’s hear them and discuss them.

    “I’m the only one of my friends on this site as a contributor so I’m tending to have to be a spokesperson for lots of them, mainly the fellow atheists but a couple of non-atheist ones as well.”

    There is no limit on membership, it’s free and you can use an alias.  If you have friends who think there is something wrong here then they are free to say so.  If they lack the courage of their convictions … well, that’s their problem isn’t it.

    “The problem is they are … not as informed as the bulk of the people here – and that makes it difficult to criticise and seem a bit rude.”

    That sounds like a poor excuse to me.  It takes time to be informed, to be sure, but why would you not want to be informed on a subject you felt was important?

    “One criticism from my girlfriend and some of her atheist girl friends for example was that on his fundraising thread [Richard Dawkins] talked about setting up separate sites for women, LGBT etc. Everyone rushed to donate … ”

    Did they?

    “ … and said how good he was but she found that a bit patronising and a bit like the catholic church (they have separate womenly bit, nuns, which they pretend are equal but aren’t they’re just a sop).”

    The RDFRS is simply responding to the problem that the new atheist movement is short of women.  There is no reason to believe there are less atheist women than there are atheist men, yet women often make up less than a quarter of the numbers at any meeting.  Also, as you noted Mark, organised religions tend to treat women very badly.  How does your Girlfriend feel about that, by the way?

    There is every reason to believe that reaching out to women will therefore pay dividends.  If I were an atheist Woman, I think that I too would find a special effort to talk to me a bit patronising.  That is exactly the kind of feedback we need on this Site!  Please tell those women to register and comment here.

    Women often complain that in informal face-to-face settings they struggle to be heard because men are good at taking the floor and putting their view.  But on-line discussions are not like that.  Twenty people can talk simultaneously and, because it appears in print, all points are read equally.  Also, sites aimed at specific sub-groups of women are often runaway successes.  Why is it, then, that women post here so rarely?  Perhaps your Girlfriend, and her pals, could shed some light?

    “[My Girlfriend’s] words were along the lines of[:] will the women’s site be a special pink one where the clever men tell us there is no god but give us some fluffy kittens instead?”

    Nice one :-)

    Seriously though: Hopefully not.

    “[My Girlfriend] pointed to the fact that instead of doing that and being separatist which is just like Islam and the RCC, RD should be taking a leaf from physics and engineering which realised women were under-represented and went out to find out why.”

    I think you’re trying to push the RDFRS too fast.  It seems to me that what they are trying to do is exactly what your Girlfriend is suggesting.  The thing is they want to do it properly so they’re asking people, first, to make sure that it is based on some properly funded research.

    “[Try] … setting up talks in schools by women [atheists] and trying to encourage more women to see it as attractive.

    I can see that working.

    “They didn’t change the engineering profession by introducing separate sections they changed/updated the attitudes of men to women engineers and women to engineering.  The girls couldn’t understand why those criticisms weren’t raised and why no atheist women had pointed it out.”

    Er, because they’re sitting next to each other and telling each other (and you) how bad it is, instead of getting on-line and saying what’s wrong publicly … ?

    “They wouldn’t want to be part of a special women’s area they wanted to be judged on what they say not what they are on the main area!”

    Then why aren’t they commenting right now – why are they leaving this important conversation about them and their information needs, debate needs and political needs to a couple of mere men?

    “The other criticisms were of rightly seeing the bad things in religion but then failing to recognise that sometimes they were products of their time and culture as much as religion.”

    I’m not sure I understood that correctly, and assumed that you meant; sometimes bad things are products of culture (and we should therefore view them in the context of today).

    Morality (an agreed sense of what is right and what is wrong) changes.  It changes because people change.  We change our moral outlook because the evidence changes.  Once we realised that gay people are not harmful, we could see there’s nothing to be afraid of.  Thus; views on the rights and wrongs of how people with a perfectly natural, and different, view of sexuality had to change – because being fair is right.

    Religions don’t change easily.  They can change – sometimes they change for the worse and sometimes for the better.  But in religions changes are not usually based on evidence, or the elimination of fear – because that disenfranchises the ’priesthood’.

    “For example RD has rightly gone on about the RCC and child abuse, but failed then to recognise that the RCC was actually partly mirroring attitudes of those times – and that institutionalised abuse also went on in care homes or at the BBC.”

    But Social Services Departments and the BBC do not claim to be a SOURCE of morality – they do not produce dogmas.  Nor do Social Services Departments and the BBC claim to be ULTIMATE POLICE FORCES of morality, able to judge right from wrong on any matter.  Nor do Social Services Departments and the BBC claim to be ARBITERS of morality – in touch with ultimate authority, and in daily communication with that authority.  Nor do Social Services Departments and the BBC threaten children that breaking their rules will result in everlasting torment, while describing that torture in detail.

    Also, a social norm of not speaking evil against another is not the equivalent of a conspiracy where the entire hierarchy of an organisation is dedicated to hiding systematic and institutionalised problems.

    The BBC has not commissioned lawyers to lean on victims and to obfuscate in courtrooms over the release of evidence.  It has, to its credit, examined its past performance and promised to improve.  It has released all evidence to the Police.  It has also admitted that its past mistakes were wrong even by the standards of the past.

    “You rightly can’t excuse what the RCC did but you also can’t then fail to acknowledge it wasn’t the only institution engaged in cover ups … ”

    It’s true that some Social Services Departments acted in bad faith, and continue to do so.  I don’t see what that has to do with RDFRS?

    “The main criticism singling out the RCC now should be that it didn’t react like the BBC not that it was somehow worse abuse because it was religious.”

    That accusation still stands for me, as above.

    “It was all bad.”

    Was it?  The major part of the problem was that the problem was previously invisible.  Now that it is more visible we can certainly say that the problem of pederasts in positions of trust was far worse than originally thought.  However, these revelations also indicate that the majority of children went unmolested.  While I appreciate that is a mere crumb of comfort, and no consolation whatsoever to victims, it is still a very long way from: It was all bad.

    “Likewise RD rightly criticises treatment of women under Islam but yet again fails to place it in cultural context.  For example abuse of women occurs under Islam in Pakistan, but you can’t divorce that culturally from the fact that non Islamic far less religious India is rapidly becoming known as a leading centre for vicious gang rapes of newly independent and working women.”

    I see a connection between religions saying to men that whatever they do that is righteous – if done within the ’constraints’ of holy writ – is good even if illegal (i.e. immoral in the eyes of society) and breaking laws that protect women.  Yes, you’re right Mark, religion poisons everything – not just the faithful directly, but the whole culture.

    “If you acknowledge that you have to acknowledge the cultural treatment of women as well as religious aspects.”

    I do not acknowledge that any modern society is run on the basis of a culture where the daily, routine, subjugation of women is the norm – where that subjugation is not rooted in religion.  I am ready to learn.

    “Then you have to examine whether women are badly treated by Islam in different cultures like the UK …”

    Where female genital mutilation, forced marriage, so-called ’honour’ killings, being publicly clothed as a submissive, postal votes are stolen, marital rape, their domestic rights are undermined and their children taken from them by religious tribunals and their right to work is withheld?  That UK?

    “ … and conclude that in many respects they aren’t (with tragic exceptions of course)”

    Where, the available information suggests, these things happen to tens of thousands of women (at least), every year.  That UK?

    “ … and that makes a less good anti-religious story.”

    Well, if you say so Mark.

    “That doesn’t seem to have been a criticism anywhere.”

    You’re so right Mark.  It’s a subject that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.  But if women don’t think it’s important to look into these things, to be politically active, to search out the facts …

    “[Richard Dawkins] has many fans who are believers … ”

    Sorry Mark you lost me there.  Believers in … ?

    “He complains about atheists who say ‘I’m an atheist but’ – I know loads of christians and muslims who say ‘I’m no fan of RD but’ and then go on to list a whole host of things they agree with like creationism being crap.”

    Mark, I’m sure it’s me, I’m being dense again.  What is your complaint here?

    “My girlfriend wouldn’t come here because she said the first thing that would happen would be she’d be accused of being a creationist, anti abortion, homophobic moron …”

    I don’t see why.  Certainly, if your Girlfriend (or anyone else for that matter) posted a creationist or anti-abortion comment, they would be inviting some questions in return.  But otherwise, no.  What is it about standing up for her beliefs – and for democratic debate – that your Girlfriend doesn’t like?

    “ … all of which she’d find really offensive because she isn’t.”

    I can totally understand that being thought that you are something you’re not can be a bit of a pain.  Two things:

    -    Don’t use your real name.

    -    You can complain to the Moderators

    As for taking offence; I always ask people to remember that we take offence to ourselves.  Taking offence isn’t an argument, it’s an empty defence gesture designed to shut someone up because they’re winning the argument.

    “Lots of religious people are none of the above and lots have a lot of time for a lot of what RD says.”

    True.

    “Some things he’s said or implied are wrong. We’ve just watched the faith school menace and some things were very factually inaccurate – you can’t actually bribe your way into any school by being nice to the priest for example.”

    I’m not familiar with this documentary(?), so I can’t comment.

    “Yes but [atheists not having had any leaders in the past] doesn’t that in itself lead to problems. Infallible Popes for example? Or unquestioning acceptance of a political line?”

    It might lead to that kind of problem if atheists were not usually sceptics – but they are usually sceptics.  If atheists had some dogma that might also lead to the kind of problem you propose.  Atheists have no dogma.  Also popes tend to claim powers because they are at the top of a hierarchy.  There is no atheist hierarchy.

    “[Richard Dawkins] does a lot of brilliant things and is a very clever man but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t listen to criticisms or that he shouldn’t be criticised or that he shouldn’t admit when he’s wrong.”

    I agree.  I feel certain the Richard Dawkins would also agree.

    “Anyway thanks for the interesting debates.  Girlfriend has enjoyed having someone intelligent to challenge her and you have made her think a lot about what she believes and whether it is valid. Which is a first for her!”

    I was glad to be of service.  I enjoyed it too.

    Peace.

  37. Stephen of Wimbledon: Your commenta

    Sorry to be dim Mark, but I wasn’t sure if you were talking there about discussions within religions or discussions of religions.”

    Discussions within religion.

    “Dissent, and therefore discussions, within religions is a constant.  They tend to be about doctrine (what constitutes the Group’s beliefs and principles – homophobia, racism, sexism (e.g. women priests)).  If you’re not a member of the religion they’re usually pretty silly – How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? – for example.”

    Agreed totally but the point was at least there is some dissent within religion no matter how silly. I wouldn’t expect dissent here or criticism or RD on essentials  like NO god but would expect some criticisms of other things he’s said or some dissent on other issues. LIke for example whether or not to work with moderate religious groups on a issue or not.  

    Re the criticism about having a seperate site for women. 
     
    “The RDFRS is simply responding to the problem that the new atheist movement is short of women.  There is no reason to believe there are less atheist women than there are atheist men, yet women often make up less than a quarter of the numbers at any meeting.  Also, as you noted Mark, organised religions tend to treat women very badly.  How does your Girlfriend feel about that, by the way?”
     
    Duh! Thats hardly rocket science! Don’t appear in playboy (RD gave an interview apparenly) – or allow comments like phwooar when a picture of a woman without her hijab is shown (that was the first comment my girlfriend saw on this site)? They’re hardly going to endear you to women. Even I know that – how do you think I get girlfriends?
     
    “Also, sites aimed at specific sub-groups of women are often runaway successes.  Why is it, then, that women post here so rarely?  Perhaps your Girlfriend, and her pals, could shed some light?”

    Her answer – specific sub groups in general are usually specific for some reason other than PURELY gender. For example – a specific sub group dealing with say breast cancer on a general medical website would be specific just to women not men. But it would be specific only because it dealt solely with something that ONLY happened to that gender. Likewise LGBT sites.

    Things like atheism (or politics or religion or art or science) aren’t gender or sexuality specific – unlike breast cancer. The issues are pertinent whatever you are. The intellectual discussions should therefore be equally relevant to all regardless of gender. You don’t really have a specific sub group of women discussing gravity for example.

    So how is no god or the abuse of women and gays by religion gender specific topics for sub specific groups when they are relevant to all? When and how would they differ on a special site? Why not equality? 

    She thinks the problem is that it almost feels as if this is a ‘male’ specific sub group site which is why women might not come and the others agree with her. She thinks you’d have to change the attitudes of some of the men here towards women -make them more up to date and less old fashioned.

    Women aren’t going to come to hear men chat about whats in playboy because thats seen as a male sub specific group site thing. So wouldn’t it be better to change it from being seen as a male specific sub group website rather than setting up a women only one in parallell. She wouldn’t go to a women only one. Don’t ask me to elaborate as she’s just left to go  to relatives.

    In my year group and especially in my A level RS there are probably more fiercely atheist girls than boys (most of the blokes are apathetic) as they’re the ones who get worked up about womens rights and abuses. 

    The girls were the original  RD fans in our school (or one was) long before I’d even heard of him. They were the ones who had lobbied the library to stock the God Delusion (its an RC schools so it wasn’t there) and the first to discuss its ideas in RE. So there are lots of women but they were upset by some of the things they’d seen here at a time when they were involved in things like the time for change campaign, why not get RD to sign and support that if he wants to appeal to more women?. 

     
    “Then why aren’t they commenting right now – why are they leaving this important conversation about them and their information needs, debate needs and political needs to a couple of mere men?”
    –”
    See above.

    Re religion and culture:
    “I’m not sure I understood that correctly, and assumed that you meant; sometimes bad things are products of culture (and we should therefore view them in the context of today).”

    Yes you assumed right. That criticism was that you blamed all on religion and ignored culture. I used the treatment of women in Pakistan (very bad) and India (just as bad – gang rape ignored, women protestors hit with water cannons and tear gas for saying enough is enough). Both have appalling records but only one can be blamed on Islam and religion. Therefore the link looks to be more cultural. This site and RD nearly always ignores that.
     
     Re the media and RCC and abuse:
    “It has, to its credit, examined its past performance and promised to improve.  It has released all evidence to the Police.  It has also admitted that its past mistakes were wrong even by the standards of the past.”
     
    that was partly my point. All your points are what the site should be saying about the RCC and abuse. It isn’t. One person even said the abuse at the BBC didn’t seem as bad as it semed to be consensual. That was bizarre – it wasn’t. The differences between the RCC and elsewhere are as you’ve listed. Nobody else has made that distinction. Why not? The overwhelming impression is RCC abuse bad other abuse neutral cos not relious.
     
    “However, these revelations also indicate that the majority of children went unmolested.”
     
    Many went unmolested in the RCC too. You can moralise rightly about the RCC claiming morality and its response and continued response. You cannot divorce it from the fact that the non abusers seemed to be no different in their attitude to listening to children as other areas where they were threatened. As far as I can see the threat of hell was just the priest threat btw. Other institutions used different threats. I’m not arguing with your points I’m wondering why you’re the only one to raise those particular ones.  

    I will have to answer the rest after xmas as have lots to say. But you are engaging my girlfriends brain and it is very interesting. 
     
    .

  38. Hi Mark,

    “ … the point was at least there is some dissent within religion no matter how silly.”

    A silly argument is worthwhile, really?

    “I wouldn’t expect dissent here or criticism on RD[.net] on essentials like NO god but would expect some
    criticisms of … for example whether or not to work with moderate religious groups on a issue or not.”

    Is that really likely.  I appreciate that we can be religious and humanists, and secularists, but if you can be those things simultaneously there are specific humanist and secularist organisations you can join.

    To quote Jerry Coyne:
    “If religious believing had implications only for the individual believer, then it could be easily dismissed as a harmless idiosyncrasy, but since almost all religious beliefs have incredibly serious implications for many people, religious belief cannot be regarded as harmless.  Indeed, a glance at the behaviour of religious believers worldwide day by day makes it
    very clear that religion is something to be feared and justly criticised.”

    Richard Dawkins has always been clear that so-called ’broad-church’ (the faithful who embrace allegory, symbolism and metaphor as opposed to ’inspired word’ literalism) are just as culpable for the evils in the World as the evangelicals and fundamentalists (a.k.a. ’fundies’).

    The reasoning behind this position is that:

    – Broad belief offers a smoke-screen for fundies to operate within.  For those of us who see religions from the outside; how do we know which is the reasonable metaphor-believer, and which is the fundamentalist believer?

    – Many fundamentalists begin as easy-going, liberal, live-and-let-live, believers …

    – As Jerry Coyne points out, even among the faithful generally regarded as religious and ’benign’ there are dogmas that target minorities (especially women, always women) and this severely hampers thoughtful and humane approaches
    to social issues.

    Given, also, that Richard Dawkins is the inspiration and leader of the RDFRS, including this Site, it seems highly
    unlikely that moderate religions (whatever that means?) will get a free pass, let alone an invitation to join forces.  I am
    confused as to why you, or your Girlfriend, should think this would be any different.

    Also, many people here are familiar with the work of the late Christopher Hitchens. It is from him that we get the philosophical, logical and historical perspective of that fact that religions that claim to be ’moderate’ today are
    that way – it’s because (as Jerry Coyne recently pointed out as his excellent Edinburgh Uni. lecture) secular society has pressurised them to be that way.  Christopher Hitchens was, characteristically, more pithy:

    “Religion now comes to us in this smiling-face, ingratiating way, because it’s had to give so much ground, and
    because we know so much more.  But you’ve no right to forget the way it behaved when it was strong, and when it really
    did believe that it had God on its side.”

    With that background, why would we give power back to religions by inviting them back into the tent?  Better, by far, that we continue to work on the basis that all religious involvement in social discourse is, at best, redundant
    – and, at worst, extremely dangerous.

    I said in an earlier post that New Atheism offers nothing new as regards philosophy and arguments against the
    existence of gods.  It does, however, offer a new political emphasis.  This is seen most clearly in our desire to side-line all organised religions in politics. That’s why you don’t see anyone offering the criticism that ’moderate’ religions – even assuming we could identify which ones are ’moderate’ – are being shut out.

    When I put forward that there is no reason to believe there are less atheist women than there are atheist men, yet
    women often make up less than a quarter of the numbers at any meeting, you responded:

    “Don’t appear in Playboy (RD gave an interview … )”

    Good feedback.

    “ … or allow comments like ‘phwooar’ when a picture of a woman without her hijab is shown (that was the first
    comment my girlfriend saw on this site)”

    I understand that to mean humour should be banned?

    The idea that such a post belittles anyone – except those who think the perversion of demoting a woman to being a
    public submissive is acceptable – is bizarre.  That would appear to be evidence that your Girlfriend is no feminist?

    “ … specific [Net] sub-groups in general are usually specific for some reason other than PURELY gender.  For example – a specific sub group dealing with say breast cancer on a general medical website would be specific just to
    women not men.  But it would be specific only because it dealt solely with something that ONLY happened to that gender.  Likewise LGBT sites.”

    Okay.

    “Things like atheism (or politics or religion or art or science) aren’t gender or sexuality specific – unlike breast cancer.  The issues are pertinent whatever you are.  The intellectual discussions should therefore be equally relevant to all regardless of gender.”

    Apart from those sub-group topics which are purely gender based, obviously.

    “[My Girlfriend] thinks the problem is that it almost feels as if this is a male-specific sub-group site which is
    why women might not come and the others agree with her.”

    That just seems to take us back to my original question: Why not post then? What is holding these women back?

    Although there are few women posting, there are some.  They appear to me to be treated with equality and respect … ?

    “[My Girlfriend] thinks you’d have to change the attitudes of some of the men here towards women – make them more
    up to date and less old fashioned.”

    I’ll take that on the chin, I may be guilty of that.  I don’t see how being old fashioned is a problem – unless that is code for; stop being such patronising misogynists when a woman posts a comment or, stop being condescending when your
    pretending to be deferential or, get a woman to give you her feedback on that joke involving gender before you post it? 
    I would be mortified to learn I am guilty of not bearing all these things in mind when posting, but I recognise all of them pop up occasionally.

    I promise, to your Girlfriend, to be more active in rooting out comments that lean the wrong way in future.  Males who understand the problem should also be more active.

    That still doesn’t answer two of my original questions:

    – Why not post responses about this – drive out the anti-women attitudes?

    – Why not make use of the moderators, and report problems?

    On a personal basis, I have another problem with your Girlfriend’s (and her friends’) response; what is ’right-speak’
    and what is ’wrong-speak’?

    I have waged a personal battle with political correctness – it is evil.  Fair comment and a right to a personal opinion are part of our much ignored natural right to free speech.  One thing RDFRS could do is to have posting guidelines that enable moderators to take down posts that are specifically personal or abusive in nature (they exist: http://richarddawkins.net/cms/….  Could the Terms of Use be better?

    “Women aren’t going to come to [listen to] men chat about whats in playboy because thats seen as a male sub specific
    group site thing.”

    Fair enough, let’s hope RDFRS will receive responses along those lines.

    “[My Girlfriend] says [she] wouldn’t go to a women only [RDFRS Site].  Don’t ask me to elaborate … ”

    No need, her position is already clear.

    “In my year group and especially in my A level RS [Religious Studies?] there are probably more fiercely atheist
    girls than boys (most of the blokes are apathetic) as they’re the ones who get worked up about women’s rights and abuses.”

    Mark, this is exactly why it is important that RDFRS reaches out to women – especially young women.  They want to be heard – we want them to be heard, and to hear what they have to say.

    Just a quick aside Mark; never assume that someone who has little to say is apathetic – it is often more the
    case that they are feeling oppressed by group dynamics, or feel unable to articulate their position.

    “The girls were the original RD fans in our school (or one was) long before I’d even heard of him.  They were the ones who had lobbied the library to stock the God Delusion (it’s an RC schools so it wasn’t there) and the first
    to discuss its ideas in RE.  So there are lots of women but they were upset by some of the things they’d seen here at a
    time when they were involved in things like the time for change campaign, why not get RD to sign and support that if he wants to appeal to more women?”

    It isn’t up to me Mark.  I’m a supporter of Mind (a friend and former colleague works there), and I support Time for Change and changing attitudes to mental illness, as a sometime sufferer of depression.  But someone (probably better if it’s some people – the more the merrier) write to Richard Dawkins and ask him to support the project.  I doubt he gets to read all the posts here, so he is very unlikely to see this.

    What we appear to be agreeing here, if I may make so bold, is that the RDFRS idea of asking women what they want to
    see in an on-line site is a very good idea.  I urge your Girlfriend, and her female friends, and your female friends,
    and my female friends, to respond.

    “This site and RD nearly always ignores that … women protesters [are treated appallingly badly via] cultural [norms, rather than because of religious norms].”

    I stand by my previous answer Mark.  Cultural norms and religious norms are extremely hard to divide (as per Christopher Hitchens’ and Jerry Coyne’s comments above) – and, even where we are able to do that, religious misogyny far exceeds cultural misogyny.  In addition this Site, and the RDFRS, are clearly about fighting the evil of religions –
    they’re not about adjusting cultural norms that are un-influenced by religion.  They have their work cut out with that
    limited aim.  With the best will in the World they can’t fix everything, so general misogyny can only be challenged
    through rhetoric.

    “All your points are what [this] Site should be saying about the RCC and abuse.  It isn’t. One person even said the abuse at the BBC didn’t seem as bad as it seemed to be consensual. That was bizarre – it wasn’t.”

    I agree with you Mark, that was an inexplicably odd remark.

    “The differences between the RCC and elsewhere are as you’ve listed.  Nobody else has made that distinction.  Why not?”

    Ah, Mark, I’ve already fallen into the trap of speaking for everyone at this Site once.  I can only say why I didn’t point that out before – and it’s really very simple.  I thought it was obvious.  Few things are more annoying than people stating the obvious in on-line posts (and yet it happens all the time).

    “The overwhelming impression is RCC abuse [is] bad [while] other abuse [is] neutral ’cos not religious.”

    I don’t see any comments on the Site that call child abuse of any kind neutral.  I do see comments that call RCC child abuse worse than other forms of child abuse.  There is a reason for this Mark – and I touched on it in my previous post, but – here it is again in more detail:

    – The RCC claims to be a moral authority.

    – The RCC claim that their religion will make you more moral if you join.

    – The RCC claim that their priesthood is, literally, holier than thou and therefore more moral than you and me.

    – The RCC claim that their dogma proves that they are more moral and they can therefore be trusted more than other people with the welfare of children (and receive our taxes to run large numbers of schools and orphanages around the World as a result).

    – The RCC do not merely claim – they INSIST – that their moral authority is so great that they must be consulted on all issues to do with children.

    Not neutral, but also, not the same.  Guilty of child abuse and admitting it to themselves, yet acting against the children and denying it outside the Church.  Covering up child abuse and, thereby, ensuring even more child abuse and greater child abuse.  Denying the truth of child abuse, and denying the cover-up.  The RCC, on this evidence,
    is not only not moral; they are morally inferior to the rest of us.  From the ordinary laity to the Bishop of Rome
    – the Catholic Pope – they’re morally repugnant.  They are worse.

    “Many went unmolested in the RCC too.  You can moralise rightly about the RCC claiming morality and its response and continued response.  You cannot divorce it from the fact that the non-abusers seemed to be no different in their attitude to listening to children as other areas where they were threatened.”

    Yes, they asserted that they were moral over and over again until we believed them.  Some people still can’t see beyond the rhetoric of the Church – can’t make the mental leap beyond the propaganda.  The RCC has had centuries to hone its
    behavioural psychology warfare skills.

    The RCC continues to get a free pass from many social workers and politicians.  Children are still at risk.

    “As far as I can see the threat of hell was just the priest threat btw.”

    Thanks for reminding me Mark; add psychological abuse of children to the RCC charge sheet.

    “Other institutions used different threats.”

    I’m no expert on how social services departments – in league with their lawyers – might pressurise people formerly
    under their care as children to reduce or retract their accusations.  But I can be sure that while bullying was
    probably applied in most cases others did not sink as low as the RCC – and threaten children with eternal torment, even beyond the grave.

    For the record: Although I am not, and never have been, a member of the RCC I was a Boy Scout.  The Boy Scout movement has also had to defend itself against child abuse allegations. My time as a Boy Scout provided some of the most fulfilling times of my life and I’m quite sure that is the memory and experience of the vast majority of
    scouts.

    I have great compassion for those in the Boy Scouts who were painted with the same brush as a few, quite
    nasty, individuals who misused their position of trust as Scout leaders.

    Just as in the RCC, many Boy Scout people suffered social injury as a result of the misdeeds of the few.  I can therefore find it in my heart to say some members of the RCC are innocent, and are being wickedly exploited –
    particularly by the media.

    But the Boy Scout movement has never pretended to be a moral authority.  The Scouts did the moral thing: They set up new safeguards, and released what evidence they had.  In part they did this because parents were removing and withholding their children from the movement.

    Yet, in the face of the evidence that has come to light about the RCC, many remain members.  That is why I say that all of the RCC is now tainted – and proven to be immoral.

    “I’m not arguing with your points I’m wondering why you’re the only one to raise those particular ones.”

    I don’t believe I am the only person raising the points I have discussed here at richarddawkins.net.  What I said above about the basis of discussion here (being a Site where the evils of religions are understood to be taken as read) and the assumptions I made about the people who are attracted to the Site by the RDFRS mission statement probably means that some assumptions are unavoidable in discussion threads.

    That said if you, your Girlfriend or any friends, think we’re missing an important point there is a simple solution: Post.

    “I will have to answer the rest after xmas as have lots to say.”

    Excellent, I’ll look forward to it.

    Wishing you and your Girlfriend a great New Year – here’s to A grades all round!

    Peace.

  39. “A silly argument is worthwhile, really?”

    No, but that wasn’t my point. My point was dissent is healthy and even here some arguments will be seen by some as silly. Having no dissent is risky I think. As is always surrounding yourself with people that agree, sometimes it means you don’t really listen and can then make mistakes.

    “Is that really likely.  I appreciate that we can be religious and humanists, and secularists, but if you can be those things simultaneously there are specific humanist and secularist organisations you can join.”

    That is true, but say you wanted to halt things like creationism in schools or female genital mutilation? Most religious people aren’t creationists -in fact I’ve only come across one. Most creationists can get others to ignore the science by claiming it is an atheist plot and therefore to be avoided. They get more flustered by religious people who accept the science as it ruins their best argument and gives the people they’ve been indoctrinating permission to look at the science. The hardline creationists won’t change, but the people they’re bullying sometimes just need permission from the less hardline religious to change.

    Moderate religious people are also often against things like female genital mutilation or the burkkha. Who is someone who has just come over from Somalia going to listen to? A male dominated atheist organisation shouting there is no God or an imam or female muslim pointing out it’s grevious bodily harm and not necessary. It takes the law and the religious and atheists to stop things sometimes and working together has got to be better if it achieves more.

    People don’t usually go from devout to atheist in one huge leap. They move via moderation. Avoid the moderate and you miss reaching lots of people.

    “Richard Dawkins has always been clear that so-called ’broad-church’ (the faithful who embrace allegory, symbolism and metaphor as opposed to ’inspired word’ literalism) are just as culpable for the evils in the World as the evangelicals and fundamentalists (a.k.a. ’fundies’).”

    This is genuinely very scary as this is my first piece of dissent against RD and I expect you’ll intellectually eviscerate me easily. I don’t agree, they are not fundamentalists they are often vague.

    ” Broad belief offers a smoke-screen for fundies to operate within.  For those of us who see religions from the outside; how do we know which is the reasonable metaphor-believer, and which is the fundamentalist believer?”

    Dissent explained – the fundies hate the moderates more than they hate the atheists. Go onto any creationist website for example. They cite RD and hate what they call the compromisers. To tell the difference? Mention evolution, tell them you’re going to a gay civil partnership ceremony. To be honest they’ll probably have already mentioned God somewhere along the line already.

    “secular society has pressurised them to be that way. Christopher Hitchens was, characteristically, more pithy:”

    I’ve only just heard of Jerry Coyne and Christopher Hitchens but I guess they’re both American. Here, in a lot of Europe (exception being Eire) wasn’t it actually religious divisions that pushed society to be secular. The RCC had control of Europe, burns any heretics that come along but Martin Luther gets quite powerful. But it has to keep too many individual rulers happy eg Henry VII wants divorce, fine except in most circumstances except its from a Spanish Queen and the pope has to keep the Spanish happy too. So first schism and break in power, then more. Eventually society has to become secular just to keep it all in check.

    The other flaw there is that the US has clear separation of church and state yet religion dominates politics and it is difficult for an atheist to get elected. Here we have a state religion and a head of state and church yet religion has little or no effect on legislation and hasn’t for years and nobody knows or cares what religion there MP is as long as they do their job properly.

     “As Jerry Coyne points out, even among the faithful generally regarded as religious and ’benign’ there are dogmas that target minorities (especially women, always women) and this severely hampers thoughtful and humane approachesto social issues”

    More dissent here and again I’m genuinely nervous and don’t want to seem rude. Here we get to an issue where some dissenting voices or more women would have been useful. Problem here is we are one of the few schools in the country with a 50/50 girl/boy split in A level physics – yet we’re RC. That is thanks to a fairly devout catholic physics teacher pushing and pushing girls to achieve and saying to them from year 7, the best money is in physics why are you leaving that cash and kudos just for the boys. Why aren’t you doing as well, why aren’t you trying to be better, aim high etc etc. He is brilliant teacher and very much seen as a feminist. The national split at A level is 20/80 girl to boy less at degree level.

    Then we have muslim Malala fighting, with other muslim men and women for girls education in Pakistan and Afghanistan against an admittedly male taliban working from the same text. Malala uses the koran to justify her stance on education. We have an Islamic womens group locally fighting to increase the number of muslim girls going to uni and raise their aspirations.

    We have the CofE fighting to get women bishops who will be equal even if it is in an organisation that deals in magic, and women vicars are equal to male vicars.

    Unfortunately we also have a very  fierce muslim girl in my year who loathes RD. She found the RD thread about playboy and she is now keen to point it out to anyone that will listen and compare to the above. So it’ll be very difficult to put that argument and not be eaten alive.

    In the greater scheme of things you’re spot on!  At a micro level things are different from place to place and here the religious seem to be winning the rights of women war.

    “Also, many people here are familiar with the work of the late Christopher Hitchens”

    He seems to have produced some interesting stuff I’d not heard of him before. What is best to start with.

    Re lack of women/separate site
    “I understand that to mean humour should be banned?”
    Depends on your view of humour. Are racist jokes ok? It was just one example from many, our muslim peer found loads more and happily disseminated them. They even came up with the idea that you took a male centric view of evolution – ie lots of comments about women evolving to be attractive to men, little about them evolving to hunt or keep children alive or negotiate for food when older etc. RD as an evolutionary biologist could have stepped in there.

    “I don’t see how being old fashioned is a problem – unless that is code for; stop being such patronising misogynists when a woman posts a comment or, stop being condescending when your”

    I’m afraid that is very much what they meant.

    ” Why not post responses about this – drive out the anti-women attitudes?”

    The playboy thread was dissected, I don’t think any women were positive about the choice and only one (I think was a woman) argued to the end. Even I cringed at how she was treated and what how what she actually said was ignored in favour of the men just saying the same thing over and over and accusing of her being religious or anti sex. My mum says it is a sexist view of women so her generation don’t seem to like it much. My girlfriend and her friends were surprised that the males commenting seemed to be their dads age but the women in playboy were about there age or just a bit older.

    My girlfriend didn’t think those sorts of comments and images should be on this sort of website and she’s definitely not a prude. If an older women could be sort of bullied and misunderstood that much I don’t think she’d stand a chance really. I wouldn’t be happy if she was treated like that either.

    “Mark, this is exactly why it is important that RDFRS reaches out to women – especially young women. They want to be heard – we want them to be heard, and to hear what they have to say.”

    I don’t think younger women would go to a separate site. I think its the sort of thing my mum would go to in the 80s when women were less equal but now I think they expect to be equal in the mainstream. Maybe a separate site for younger people though those have lots of legal issues I think.

    Sorry I’ve run out of time. Will have to respond to the RCC at a later date. Girlfriend unfortunately is very busy at the moment. Shes working in Debenhams sales, having lots of driving lessons to pass and the sciences and maths have A2 modules when we get back to school so she’s stressing about doing well in those. She has more interesting things to say on religion than me.

  40. Hi Mark,

    “ … dissent is healthy and even here some arguments will be seen by some as silly.”

    I don’t really care what other people think of me – I’m not responsible for them, they’re responsible for themselves.  If someone says one of my arguments is silly then that will either be because I failed to put my argument across or because the person putting my argument down is saying more about themselves than they are about my argument.

    Winning the argument isn’t enough.  This site is essentially partisan.  Those of us who spend a lot of time here like to think that it is a partisanship that is based on truth – and that it is therefore not a bigoted, dogmatic, or uncompromising site.  To succeed in civil society you have to win the argument and persuade.  The first lesson I learned (and it’s much more difficult to do than it sounds) posting here is: Don’t allow yourself to be pulled down to the other person’s level.

    If someone calls your argument silly, they’re effectively belittling you because they don’t have a better argument – because they’re losing the argument.  So if someone calls your argument silly, just add persuasion.

    “Having no dissent is risky I think.  As is always surrounding yourself with people that agree, sometimes it means you don’t really listen and can then make mistakes.”

    Agreed, and here we are …

    The next three paragraphs of your last response appear to me to boil down to this:

    Accommodationism (where a person or group seeks compromise with a moderately opposed person or group, in order to overcome a more extreme opposition) is a good thing.  Therefore, why is RDFRS not more accommodating – why not work closely with the moderately religious?

    I hope you approve of that summary?

    There are several things to say about this.

    The first thing I have already said – as per my last post – that moderate religions are dangerous; they conceal (usually unknowingly) extremists, provide succour to extremists (sometimes unknowingly), act as first-stage recruiters for extremists, and, and, and …  That makes us cautious, but we’re sophisticated enough to know that this isn’t the whole story

    At the same time, we have to recognise that moderates exist.  I, personally, have no difficulty with this because my Mother is a priest in one of the most moderate churches that exists (the Anglican Communion).  Richard Dawkins is clearly not afraid to team up with churchmen, and has done so several times.  I urge you to look up his 2012 debate with the recently retired Archbishop of Canterbury (it’s on YouTube).  A more polite, civil and good natured debate would be hard to imagine.

    The next thing is that, like any civil organisation, RDFRS needs to make friends and learn to compromise.  This is especially true if another organisation is being effective.  One of the most effective organisations battling against creationism in the US has been the National Center for Science Education (http://www.ncse.com), which is led by Dr. Eugenie Scott.  Dr. Scott is well known for her accommodationist views.  This did not prevent the RDFRS awarding Dr. Scott the 2012 Richard Dawkins Award.  Richard Dawkins own view is: “Eugenie Scott is one of my very favourite people, although we have our civilised disagreements”.

    Add to this that many people who post here, when they first arrive, are recovering from religion.  They’re coming here because they have reached that stage where the lost time, the psychological torture they were put through (Catholic angst is a big one), and the crimes that were done – ostensibly in their names while they were ’of the faith’ – the realisation of how religion poisons everything and the emotional turmoil of family and friends is making them sad and angry.  Increasingly such people are less obvious and less common.

    So the bottom line is:

    -    Sometimes people are not in the mood to compromise.  You have to learn to read between the lines.

    -    Accommodation happens.  We could not succeed without it.  We could not persuade without it.

    “People don’t usually go from devout to atheist in one huge leap. They move via moderation. Avoid the moderate and you miss reaching lots of people.”

    I agree.

    “ … I expect you’ll intellectually eviscerate me easily. I don’t agree, they are not fundamentalists they are often vague.”

    As much as I like to win an argument, as discussed above, the real goal must be persuasion.

    “ … the fundies hate the moderates more than they hate the atheists. Go onto any creationist website for example. They cite RD and hate what they call the compromisers.”

    True.

    “[How] To tell the difference [between a religious moderate and religious nutcase]?  Mention evolution, tell them you’re going to a gay civil partnership ceremony.  To be honest they’ll probably have already mentioned God somewhere along the line already.”

    That’s only true of the religious extremist who feels the need to tell you.  Many, it is clear from what we see in news reports, feel the need to lie for their lord.

    “I’ve only just heard of Jerry Coyne and Christopher Hitchens but I guess they’re both American.”

    My motivation in mentioning them is that both say (or said) some very interesting things.  Hitchens was born British and emigrated to the US.

    “Here, in a lot of Europe … wasn’t it … religious divisions that pushed society to be secular.  The RCC had control of Europe, burns any heretics that come along but Martin Luther gets quite powerful. But it has to keep too many individual rulers happy eg Henry VII wants divorce, fine except in most circumstances except its from a Spanish Queen and the pope has to keep the Spanish happy too. So first schism and break in power, then more. Eventually society has to become secular just to keep it all in check.”

    I apologise, Mark, for not being clearer in my last post.  The reformation certainly played its part, along with politics, the printing press and the Black Death, in pushing Europe towards secularism.  But, as I clumsily explained in my last post, you can be secular and religious at the same time.

    Religion continued to be a driving force in European politics up until the First World War.  The First World War saw the first backlash against the rising tide of humanism, secularism and liberalism.  Specifically, it played midwife to the first non-supernatural dogma, Communism.

    After the Second World War, Europe began to emerge as the first place on Earth where dogma and politics are being separated.  It is a slow and painful process that is being complicated by outdated models of education and for informing the electorate.

    “The … US has clear separation of church and state yet religion dominates politics and it is difficult for an atheist to get elected.  Here we have a state religion and a head of state and church yet religion has little or no effect on legislation …”

    There is plenty of evidence to suggest that religion is, if anything, enjoying something of a comeback in British politics.  Faith schools, a Minister of Faith and MPs support for restoring the ‘public good’ presumption of religion – these are just the tip of the iceberg.

    “ … and nobody knows or cares what religion there MP is as long as they do their job properly.”  George Galloway and Mohammad Sarwar would disagree.  A large proportion of politicians would appear to disagree – given the time they give to religion.  My local MP is always very clear that he is a religious man.  Clearly he wouldn’t do that if he thought it would lose him votes.

    “ … we are one of the few schools in the country with a 50/50 girl/boy split in A level physics – yet we’re RC. That is thanks to a fairly devout catholic physics teacher pushing and pushing girls to achieve and saying to them from year 7, the best money is in physics why are you leaving that cash and kudos just for the boys. Why aren’t you doing as well, why aren’t you trying to be better, aim high etc etc. He is brilliant teacher and very much seen as a feminist. The national split at A level is 20/80 girl to boy less at degree level.

    Then we have muslim Malala fighting, with other muslim men and women for girls education in Pakistan and Afghanistan against an admittedly male taliban working from the same text. Malala uses the koran to justify her stance on education. We have an Islamic womens group locally fighting to increase the number of muslim girls going to uni and raise their aspirations.

    We have the CofE fighting to get women bishops who will be equal even if it is in an organisation that deals in magic, and women vicars are equal to male vicars.”

    Yeah, to be honest I don’t understand why that’s important to progressives.  If the C of E wants to be openly misogynist, let it.

    Unfortunately we also have a very  fierce muslim girl in my year who loathes RD. She found the RD thread about playboy and she is now keen to point it out to anyone that will listen and compare to the above. So it’ll be very difficult to put that argument and not be eaten alive.

    Judging someone on a single act that harmed no-one is harsh.  Then there is the free speech aspect too; is this girl saying that Richard Dawkins is not allowed to reach out to people he would not normally talk to?  We’ve already covered the Playboy thing, so I’ll move on.  By the way, anger is often a defence mechanism deployed by people desperate to engage the emotions of others.

    “Christopher Hitchens … seems to have produced some interesting stuff I’d not heard of him before. What is best to start with?”

    I recommend God is Not Great (http://www.amazon.co.uk/God-No….  Also, there’s lots of excellent video footage of him on YouTube.

    “ ‘I understand that to mean humour should be banned?’  Depends on your view of humour.  Are racist jokes ok?”

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  What is funny to you may not be to me.  Personally, I would allow racist jokes – but not because I find them funny.  When people make comments that we object to they make us think.  Democracy simply cannot work if people are not allowed to give voice to their ideas.  Free speech means allowing people with the most disgusting, vile and objectionable opinions a place to say their piece.

    Deniers of the Jewish Holocaust are often forbidden to speak.  Why?

    “It was just one example from many, our muslim peer found loads more and happily disseminated them. They even came up with the idea that you took a male centric view of evolution – ie lots of comments about women evolving to be attractive to men, little about them evolving to hunt or keep children alive or negotiate for food when older etc.”

    If you put your mind to it you can take any series of comments and put a different perspective on them.  To what extent were the comments she found evidence of a male-centric view of human evolution?  Without seeing her sample I cannot say.  If the comments were taken from the main stories (i.e. from studies concluding that men and women evolved to be attracted to each other) then I don’t see where the problem is – such a conclusion would be based on the evidence gathered to make the study.

    If, on the other hand, she is taking comments from posts like yours and mine then the idle speculation of people who are not scientists can be ignored, challenged or discussed.  Either way, we come back to free speech.  Just because someone has an inane opinion doesn’t mean we must shut them up.  They have as much of a right to be heard.

    The only difference is that they are exercising their rights and these women are not.

    Post.  Respond.

    Complain to the Mods.  Make sure that people understand the rules.

    If you don’t take part you cannot persuade.

    If you don’t take part those people will go on thinking that their behaviour is okay.

    “RD as an evolutionary biologist could have stepped in there.”

    Yes, that might be true.  Richard Dawkins doesn’t need me to make excuses for him, but I will on this occasion.  He has a lot on his plate and, while he appears to take an active interest in this Site, he cannot be expected, with the best will in the World, to respond to every post.

    “ ‘I don’t see how being old fashioned is a problem – unless that is code for; stop being such patronising misogynists when a woman posts a comment or, stop being condescending when your’ I’m afraid that is very much what they meant.  ‘ Why not post responses about this – drive out the anti-women attitudes?’ ”

    Thanks for all the feedback on why women thought it inappropriate for Richard Dawkins to be interviewed by Playboy.  There are 117 posts after the interview so I’ll just follow your lead.

    With the benefit of hindsight I think that Richard Dawkins probably wouldn’t do that again.  He would also, probably, use the same defence that I do above: It was an attempt to reach an audience he had not previously considered – you don’t win arguments or persuade people by sitting silently in the corner  Also, atheists and publishers have a common social goal: Free Expression.

    Your response still hasn’t answered my central question to these women: Why are there not 1,117 comments after this story?  Why was a lone woman left to take on the rest?

    “I don’t think younger women would go to a separate site. I think it’s the sort of thing my mum would go to in the 80s when women were less equal but now I think they expect to be equal in the mainstream.”

    I hope that’s true.  The response so far seems disappointing.

    Peace.
     

  41. “Richard Dawkins is not allowed to reach out to people he would not normally talk to?  We’ve already covered the Playboy thing, so I’ll move on.  “

    I’m very bored with it too, I’ve heard it ad nauseum at school from the religios and girls, but that comment intrigued me. Is it read by lots of religious men?

    “you don’t win arguments or persuade people by sitting silently in the corner  Also, atheists and publishers have a common social goal: Free Expression.”

    Intrigued by that one to. Why not a publication with a far wider general readership? Or if lack of women an issue why something that contentious? Why not choose something like Cosmopolitan. Or if it is widely read by religious men why not something less contentious that they also read like the Daily Mail? They’re not questions I’d expect an answer to, just observations btw.

    “When people make comments that we object to they make us think.  Democracy simply cannot work if people are nWhen people make comments that we object to they make us think.  Free speech means allowing people with the most disgusting, vile and objectionable opinions a place to say their piece.ot allowed to give voice to their ideas.  “

    It does but we’ve been taught since year 7 that my rights end where yours begin. So someones right to hold disgusting, vile and objectionable opinions is not absolute. So when it impinges on someone elses rights, eg not to have their self esteem shattered by constant racist jokes or not to be blown to smithereens as a result of free speech designed to encourage people to be terrorists, doesn’t it have to be moderated?

    Someone has an absolute right to be a vile racist for example, but if they tell racist jokes in schools or march up and down with the BNP doesn’t that impact on say a childs right to grow up feeling safe or good about itself and have high self esteem and achieve?

    Also if you’re going to take that stand absolutely than don’t you have to agree that you then have to accord that right to religion? If you say that  total unregulated free speech is ok than you can’t stop religious people exercising their right to damage young kids with visions of hell? Surely that is wrong?

    The other thing we’ve been taught is that all rights come hand in hand with responsibilities not alone. So to have rights you have to take responsibility and use them wisely. We are in big trouble if we use racist, homophobic or sexist language at school. Though we’ve had to had help to recognise when we’re being accidentally homophobic - like using the word gay to mean bad. If a group is in a minority in a place it makes it more difficult to judge what is offensive I guess, so because gay people are usually in a minority in schools we needed help from Stonewall to understand what we were doing wrong.

    “If, on the other hand, she is taking comments from posts like yours and mine then the idle speculation of people who are not scientists can be ignored, challenged or discussed. “

    She did give examples but I can’t tell you where from. They were from posts and were idle speculation. The only one I remember  the gist of was someone speculating thst evolution should mean men should keep moving to younger women when the ones they were with got unattractive, pretty much unchallenged despite being inane. There were quite a lot of comments from the girls here about that one, none of which were complimentary about the attractiveness of older men to younger women. :-(  I don’t know why the women here didn’t object so can’t answer that.

    “Your response still hasn’t answered my central question to these women: Why are there not 1,117 comments after this story?  Why was a lone woman left to take on the rest?”

    I don’t know – they chose not to? Maybe they’re ok with it? Not all people are the same. It moved away from the main part of the thing as well so hopefully got forgotten about.

    The girls I know just came to the site at the wrong time I guess, and decided it wasn’t for them at that moment in time. Richard Dawkins is getting a much higher profile though so I confidently predict  that thangs will change soon and lots more younger women will come if the older men don’t perv about them.

    I suspect the ones I know will come back at a later date as well. They’re too angry with religion at the moment not to and they were huge fans of his at one point. Getting more women to participate will just a matter of time and common sense – because religion doesn’t benefit them much.

  42. “Is [Playboy] read by lots of religious men?”

    I have no reason to believe it isn’t.  I know that the age demographic they aim for is 18-35 – but that’s all I know about their audience.

    “Why not [a RichardDawkin’s interview] in a publication with a far wider general readership?”

    Two things:
    -    It’s more a case of being asked by a magazine – so it’s more like an unsought privilege than a choice.
    -    Although the readership is male and young, it covers a lot of demographics in other ways – it cuts across class and income bands for example, and it’s international.

    “ … if lack of women [at RDFRS] an issue why something that contentious?”

    You have to remember that to someone of Richard Dawkin’s generation Playboy is not contentious.  Don’t forget he was living in San Francisco in the Hippy era.  Plus, the magazine has interviewed people like Martin Luther King and Jimmy Carter (a former US President).

    I’m not making excuses for Richard Dawkins here, I’m just asking you to see it from his perspective.

    “Why not choose something like Cosmopolitan.”

    Even Richard Dawkins might struggle to get into Cosmo by demanding to be interviewed, don’t you think?

    “Or [something] widely read by religious men why not something less contentious that they also read like the Daily Mail?”

    You have to remember that publications interview people on the basis of interest to their readers.  The religious don’t want to hear Richard Dawkins – in fact they went out of their way in some places to try and stop people like you and me from hearing him.

    ‘Free speech means allowing people with the most disgusting, vile and objectionable opinions a place to say their piece’

    “It does but we’ve been taught since year 7 that my rights end where yours begin.  So someone’s right to hold disgusting, vile and objectionable opinions is not absolute.”

    That is flat wrong.

    If you cannot hear someone they are censored – ergo you do not have free speech because free speech must work both ways if it is to work at all, if it is to lead to be truth.  You have the right not to listen, and to ignore – but not the right not to hear.

    There is no ’right not to hear’ because you cannot limit what you can hear, in a public debate, without limiting my ability to hear.  Every time you tell someone to shut up, every time you censor someone, my ability to hear truth, enlightenment and fact are diminished.  Every time you censor someone you censor me, and you censor yourself.

    That kind of thinking leads to thoughtcrime.  Read: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.

    It is often argued that it is possible to tell if something is objectionable, so censorship is clearly okay in some ways because, hey, it’s obvious that’s bad (whatever that is).

    But you only have to think about it to see there are many problems with this approach.  What if that one person you’re so sure is being ’objectionable’ is actually telling the truth?  If someone is saying something objectionable then there must be an alternative objection, an alternative view – how do I decide without being able to compare these views, surely someone is getting a free pass?  Who decides what is ’objectionable’?

    For a really great take on this, see this video:
    http://onegoodmove.org/1gm/1gm

    “So when it [comes to] not to hav[ing] their self-esteem shattered by constant [personal] jokes … ”

    Where does the right not to be offended come from?  I know of no such right.  When people take offence the clue is in the phrase: They take it.  I refuse to have my right to speak infringed by their invented feelings of offence, just because they’re losing the argument.  I refuse to give in to them.  People who take offence are not interested in truthful debate and persuading – they’re only interested in appearing to win the debate by pretending to be hurt.

    “ … or not to be blown to smithereens as a result of free speech … ”

    Never happened.  People have been shot and blown up by other people who were persuaded to do so but that is easily separated out from fair comment, truth, fact, argument, discussion, etc..  Inchoate law has a long history, and it doesn’t need the recent addition of so-called ‘Hate Speech’ to help it work.

    “ … doesn’t [debate] have to be moderated?”

    Yes.  It is an imperfect solution (like most of the best solutions) but moderation is a good way to draw a grey area between free speech and polite society.  The bottom line though is that, as far as is humanly possible, people should be allowed to say whatever they like.  To do otherwise is the path to madness.

    “Someone has an absolute right to be a vile racist for example, but if they tell racist jokes in schools or march up and down with the BNP doesn’t that impact on say a child’s right to grow up feeling safe or good about itself and have high self-esteem and achieve?”

    Children are, by definition, not adults.  Therefore schools should apply more stringent rules to speech.  This is particularly true for tackling bullying and potential bullying, and of teaching social niceties and how to participate in a polite society – diplomacy and good manners.  But the bottom line is that schools should also be teaching that public debate is about free speech – and that in the public square not only is it possible for the gloves to come off, but that sometimes it is necessary.  School should be about preparing pupils to take their place in society, and this is a big part.

    “Also if you’re going to take that stand absolutely than don’t you have to agree that you then have to accord that right to religion?”

    Yes.  Fair’s fair.

    “If you say that total unregulated free speech is ok than you can’t stop religious people exercising their right to damage young kids with visions of hell?  Surely that is wrong?”

    School’s different, as above.

    “The other thing we’ve been taught is that all rights come hand in hand with responsibilities not alone.  So to have rights you have to take responsibility and use them wisely.”

    That is true, and it’s a good way to judge when you should be polite (i.e. most of the time), and when to ditch the niceties.

    “ … we’ve had … help to recognise when we’re being accidentally homophobic – like using the word gay to mean bad.  If a group is in a minority in a place it makes it more difficult to judge what is offensive I guess, so because gay people are usually in a minority in schools we needed help from Stonewall to understand what we were doing wrong.”

    Sounds like an excellent school.

    “[My Girlfriend] did give examples but I can’t tell you where from.  They were from posts and were idle speculation.  The only one I remember the gist of was someone speculating that evolution should mean men should keep moving to younger women when the ones they were with got unattractive, pretty much unchallenged despite being inane.”

    At the risk of sounding like an old teacher: Most adults will rise above the odd bad comment.  None of us is perfect we all make silly comments occasionally.  It just sounds like a bad joke to me.

    “There were quite a lot of comments from the girls here about that one … ”

    Good feedback.  This is the sort of thing the survey will hope to discover.

    ‘Your response still hasn’t answered my central question to these women: Why are there not 1,117 comments after this story?  Why was a lone woman left to take on the rest?’

    “I don’t know – they chose not to?  Maybe they’re ok with it?”

    But Mark, that’s not what you’ve been saying.  You’ve been saying that they don’t like what they see.  That’s why I’m asking them to get involved.  It sounds as if you’re saying they just want to sit on the side-lines and moan – and expect the World to change.  It doesn’t work like that, they actually have to join the Site and write, then the Site will change to be more like them.

    “The girls I know just came to the site at the wrong time I guess, and decided it wasn’t for them at that moment in time.”

    Well I hope you’ll tell them what I said above.  It’s really easy to do (it must be, I did it).

    “Richard Dawkins is getting a much higher profile though so I confidently predict  that things will change soon and lots more younger women will come if the older men don’t perv about them.”

    It’s quite difficult to know what age someone is by their text.  But you’re right, the moderation will need to be a little tighter.

    “I suspect the [women] I know will come back at a later date as well. They’re too angry with religion at the moment not to and they were huge fans of his at one point. Getting more women to participate will just a matter of time and common sense – because religion doesn’t benefit them much.”

    True enough Mark, I can’t think of any group that gets less (on balance) out of religion than women.

    I hope you don’t mind but, if your Girlfriend doesn’t have any more feedback, I’d like to sign off from this thread now?

    Peace.

  43. I think your suggestion and the analogy with religious education good.

    With humility and some bias I suggest that discussion of rationalism, humanism, realism and science (outside of social movements) is talk of formal philosophy and so while the curriculum can include material from science journals to dead sea scrolls there should be a philosopher in the mix of instructors.

    As for atheism (theism and other isms) this too is talk of philosophy and so a philosopher should be present.

    No one would discuss matters structural absent an engineer or medical without the consultation of a physician.

    Philosophers best use the tool of philosophy – the tool that in fundamental ways geared rationalism, humanism, science, theism and atheism.  Neither the tool nor the technician are explicitly replied upon much these days – especially in the media of theism.

    I speculate that this is because most philosophers – from Plato and Aquinas to Russell and Dennett – consider belief in (say) the sort of god found in the New or Old Testament without much to recommend it.  At all.

    Reason is the purview of philosophy.  If the idea is that proper reason leads to atheism, then teach philosophy to children – and notice that we do not…

    If the need is of guidance in how to be a proper, whole atheist, then same prescription.  The identified philosophers are fine examples but history is frankly riddled.

    Cheers

Leave a Reply