For atheists, all religion is superstition

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The “Good Book” is seriously flawed. Which book am I talking about?  It could be any book.  No single book contains the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. They all contain errors, and should be read skeptically. The older the book and the more it asserts about the universe, the more skeptical we should be. This includes science books.


Paul Erdos, one of the finest mathematicians of the 20th century, once claimed to be 2.5billion years old. His reasoning? When he was a child, he was told that the Earth was 2 billion years old. But many years later in 1970, scientists said the Earth was 4.5 billion years old. That was Erdos’ humorous way of saying we don’t have all the answers and, in light of new evidence, we must discard some beliefs learned in childhood.

Creationists would say that Erdos couldn’t have lived billions of years because the Earth is only 6,000 years old—and that Methuselah lived for 969 of them. I wish such irreconcilable differences between a worldview based on faith and a worldview based on science didn’t matter. Unfortunately, it does because we live in a world where the views of politicians deeply matter.

Anti-science arguments from politicians is nothing new, like this one from Rep. Paul Broun: “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell.” He added, “…as your congressman I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll continue to do that.”  Broun just happens to chair the panel on investigations and oversight, House Science Committee. Yes, the Science Committee!

Many Christians in this country expect the Rapture in their lifetime. Not surprisingly, because of Jesus’ imminent return, they are less likely to support long-term governmental policies such as those designed to curb global warming.

It’s easy to wave a Bible or most other holy books to justify political or social positions, though I’m troubled when seemingly rational people also feel the need to give biblical justifications for their positions. For instance, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) recently gave a fine speech about how carbon pollution is seriously affecting our planet. But to counter an unnamed senator who said “God won’t allow us to ruin our planet,” Whitehouse responded, “We are warned in the Bible not to plow iniquity, not to eat the fruit of lies.” He then went on to quote from Galatians, Job, Luke, Proverbs, Jeremiah, Samuel, Thessalonians and Revelations.

. . .

Herb Silverman is founder and President Emeritus of the Secular Coalition for America, author of “Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt,” and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Charleston.
 

 

Written By: Herb Silverman
continue to source article at washingtonpost.com

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  1. I think one impediment to atheism getting more political power is that a lot of scientists just don’t understand politics. So when the author says

    ” I’m troubled when seemingly rational people also feel the need to give biblical justifications for their positions.”

    If he was talking about a paper in a journal I would agree. But when it comes to politics you need to think in terms that aren’t just about reason. In this example Senator Whitehouse knows that a certain percentage of his electorate will be convinced by bible quotations and nothing else and he wants to get every vote, even if he has to appeal to the bible to do it.

    I see this with Prof. Dawkins a lot as well. He will go on a political show and say things that make other people on the show — even people who are inclined to agree with him — gasp in shock. There is a clip of him on the Chris Hayes show where this happens. Dawkins is making a perfectly rational point about how crazy the Mormon faith is. But in the context of that show it sounds like he is saying being a Mormon disqualifies someone from being president. Dawkins look like the stereotypical “fundamentalist atheist” that his detractors wrongly portray him as. There are just some things that are essentially taboo to talk about in a US political discussion and telling people that there should be a religious test for office is one of them. Its not rational, his point was nuanced and made a lot of sense but what got communicated was awful.

    • In reply to #2 by Red Dog:

      I think one impediment to atheism getting more political power is that a lot of scientists just don’t understand politics. So when the author says

      ” I’m troubled when seemingly rational people also feel the need to give biblical justifications for their positions.”

      If he was talking about a paper…

      A lot of that was the fault of the moderator…Chris Hayes is simply a shoddy imitation of Rachel Maddow.

    • In reply to #2 by Red Dog:

      I think one impediment to atheism getting more political power is that a lot of scientists just don’t understand politics. So when the author says

      ” I’m troubled when seemingly rational people also feel the need to give biblical justifications for their positions.”

      If he was talking about a paper…

      I disagree with your evaluation of Dawkins political savvy. It is only common sense for most inexperienced politicians to garner support among the philosophical status quo exhibited by the majority. However, it takes a true politician to use his wit and guile to gain the respect of the populace before educating and swaying them toward his unwonted philosophy. I personally believe that Richard Dawkins is a strong political figure with the intelligence and integrity to guide humanity toward a realistic and infinitely more humane global society. Even the ignorant thirst for knowledge and generally want to rid the world of ignorance.

  2. Most of humanity live in a world of technological advancement but, view science as another mystery like religion. It is beyond their grasp to even fathom the technology they use except as a tool to lighten their work load. Its enough for them to know that a clock keeps accurate time without confusing their minds with its internal workings. That’s why they are willing to accept inadequate explanations between scripture and the truth of nature. If you blindly accept the mysteries of myth, any lie supporting the myth will be accepted without question. It’s just easier than learning new philosophical axioms for human conduct even though you know yours are rationally flawed. Ignorance cannot see beyond its immediate field of vision.

  3. the main difference i see between superstition and religion is you don’t have to prove your superstition to anyone to hold it.

    the phrase “religion of fools” makes me laugh, it suggests it’s not foolish to accept supernatural claptrap if it’s delivered to you by someone dressed like a nomadic clown

  4. The best theories are testable and they can be challenged. Why else would Darwin, Freud and Einstein still be quoted so often even by their most vehement opponents?

    In turn, why does RDFRS even have a Religion category? What a waste of energy that certain books were pulled apart to figure out what they meant, instead of simply finding out what matter is capable of.

    I guess rational thinking can also be a superstition. Hacking away at the meaning, instead of the meaningfulness; seeking the costs, instead of the worth, over and over again, even if there is no point in doing so.

    Also, the author suggests how knowledge has always been constructed from opinion/s. There’s nothing wrong with that, just sayin’ “that’s life” so please don’t try to fit your dogma into it.

    I also have a strong conviction that if I believe in a certain being that I will be living in Hell-on-Earth.

    • In reply to #5 by fractaloid:

      The best theories are testable and they can be challenged. Why else would Darwin, Freud and Einstein still be quoted so often even by their most vehement opponents?

      Actually Freudian Psychoanalysis is a classic example of a theory that is not testable. It was used by Karl Popper in a seminal work on defining what science is as an example of something that could not be falsified and hence wasn’t science. In Freudian analysis the analyst can always explain any prediction. For example if an analyst determines a patient has a fear of water and the patient then tells them that they love to water ski, the analyst would say that was a “reaction formation” where the patient was dealing with their anxiety by actually seeking out the thing that caused it. Freudianism is filled with things like that, any phenomenon can be explained in multiple ways and there is no objective metric to really determine which explanation makes sense.

      Freud was very important in the history of western thought but the reason people still quote him is because he was insightful and did ground breaking work but IMO no serious psychologist believes psychoanalytical theory counts as science.

      • In reply to #6 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #5 by fractaloid:

        The best theories are testable and they can be challenged. Why else would Darwin, Freud and Einstein still be quoted so often even by their most vehement opponents?

        Actually Freudian Psychoanalysis is a classic example of a theory that is not testable…

        Thanks, but I think Freud presented theories that were most certainly destined for scientific consumption. His Psychosexual stages are testable and cited by physiologists, developmentalists and educators, but I was really referring to the claims that the Oedipus complex is “universal” and Freud’s own fit with post-modern, feminist and post-colonial theorists and therapists.

        One could also argue that psychology involves, at least, the propagation of emotional competencies, statistical understanding and the scientific method, or that psychology is merely a “soft” scientific discipline.

        • In reply to #13 by fractaloid:

          Thanks, but I think Freud presented theories that were most certainly destined for scientific consumption. His Psychosexual stages are testable and cited by physiologists, developmentalists and educators,

          So are you rejecting what Kuhn and Popper said about falsifiability, science, and Freud? From the Wikipedia article on Pseudoscience:

          In the mid-20th century, Karl Popper put forth the criterion of falsifiability to distinguish science from nonscience.[14] Falsifiability means a result can be disproved. For example, a statement such as “God created the universe” may be true or false, but no tests can be devised that could prove it either way; it simply lies outside the reach of science. Popper used astrology and psychoanalysis as examples of pseudoscience and Einstein’s theory of relativity as an example of science.

          And yes the “soft sciences” are a lot harder to do real science in but it can be done. It just means you have to be a lot more circumspect and conservative about how much you think you can explain than Freud was. I’ve actually been reading some literature in cognitive science on the scientific study of emotions, desires, intentions, etc. Its possible to do it and there is excellent work being done and no one that I read ever cites Freud as relevant science only as historical background.

          • In reply to #18 by Red Dog:

            So are you rejecting what Kuhn and Popper said about falsifiability…

            It’s nice to see that Freud still evokes the types of useful mental challenges that you’re offering me now, and yes, a splendid historical background to an entire academic field that should be merited.

            Red Dog, I originally didn’t say that any of Freud’s theories are testable as you’ve burdened yourself with; nor have I meant that they’re peculiar to the scientific or mathematical realms, I was only meaning that they are “theories,” but open to scrutiny and therefore sufficiently rational to live with/by.

            I’ve also added that plenty of Freud’s claims have been proven false, so I’m not sure how Kuhn & Popper’s cautionary tale is relevant, because to be proven false means that they were falsifiable.

            What I was daring to suggest was that there is no difference between religious and scientific inquiry of any sort when it comes to human superstition – because humans are involved in the behavior; so if you look up “superstition” I’m 100% certain that any experimental psychologist and/or behavior analyst has an excellent description of it.

            Cognitive psychology is not the developmental psychology which I mentioned, although babies see high-contrast really well… With respect to developmental psychology I think you’ll find that Freud’s Psycho-sexual stages – ie. a stage theory – is the foundation of all developmental psychology – which often involves the “hard” sciences like neuroscience and physiology – and this really is common knowledge in that field, so Freud may not directly have a citation. It seems nobody would dare!

          • In reply to #22 by fractaloid:

            In reply to #18 by Red Dog:

            So are you rejecting what Kuhn and Popper said about falsifiability…

            It’s nice to see that Freud still evokes the types of useful mental challenges that you’re offering me now, and yes, a splendid historical background to an entire academic field that should be merit…

            I’m not surprised that you think Freud is still relevant. You aren’t alone a lot of smart people still do. People on this site love to take cheap shots at the humanities but I try not to be one of them. But in this case I will take a shot at the humanities because I don’t think its a cheap one. Its scandalous IMO how concepts like Freud are still taken seriously in so many academic journals for the humanities and in so many institutions that teach therapy. But as others have also pointed out if you talk to any credible scientist working in psychology they only read Freud for historical background.

            Red Dog, I originally didn’t say that any of Freud’s theories are testable as you’ve burdened yourself with; nor have I meant that they’re peculiar to the scientific or mathematical realms, I was only meaning that they are “theories,” but open to scrutiny and therefore sufficiently rational to live with/by.

            OK, so at least we agree its not science. But I also disagree that it can provide anything beneficial. I am a believer in talking therapies. What convinced me is a book by Robert Trivers on self deception in humans. He showed clear evidence (real scientific evidence with controlled clinical trials) that talking about traumas can help lessen their impact. Also he demonstrates how its just in our DNA as humans to bullshit ourselves. That is why I like therapy, having someone that I am completely honest with and someone that I don’t care what they think of me it really helps me figure out when I’m bullshitting myself. I’ve found several times that when I have to say something out loud in front of someone I can realize how I’m really just deceiving myself and for some reason having to verbalize it is a big difference than just thinking about it. So I think its quite possible that talking to a Freudian can still give you benefits. But its not because of the Freudianism its just the talking and if anything the Freudian pseudoscience just gets in the way.

          • In reply to #22 by fractaloid:

            I’ve also added that plenty of Freud’s claims have been proven false, so I’m not sure how Kuhn & Popper’s cautionary tale is relevant, because to be proven false means that they were falsifiable.

            Of course Freud said things that were wrong it would be amazing if he hadn’t. The point is his theory as a whole is not falsifiable. If you are familiar with concepts like Reaction Formation for example its the ultimate scientific cheat. Any time a patient displays some behavior that is the opposite of what the theory predicts you just say “ah ha Reaction Formation I was right!” Understanding Kuhn and Popper is fairly important to understand modern science in general IMO, especially if like me you are interested in applying science to the “softer” domains like psychology.

          • In reply to #26 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #22 by fractaloid:

            Sorry that you’ve repetitively reduced Freud to psychoanalysis which is only a part of his life’s work. I’ve definitely not been interested in psychoanalysis. Kuhn & Popper are not needed to steer me clear of that, while the psychology that I enjoy is evidenced by well designed experiments, unlike many observations of insect behavior that borders on anthropomorphism.

            Reaction formation doesn’t come into the picture of Psychosexual stages that is the foundation contributor to developmental science; while the false claim that these stages are universally applicable to all humans has only encouraged derivative attempts involving the scientific method such as biology and neuroscience.

            Seeing that any type of therapy has a 50% chance of a desirable patient outcome, it could be classed as bunk, but most failures are to do with patient compliance, which is more about factors outside of a therapist’s control such as the unfounded public perceptions that it’s bunk.

            Call me superstitious, but I’ll remain pragmatic about it and avoid the pseudo-science label, not that I believe in it or in any other socially constructed knowledge domain, but ‘cos it works better than teaching science or religion to our patients.

          • In reply to #22 by fractaloid:

            I’ve also added that plenty of Freud’s claims have been proven false, so I’m not sure how Kuhn & Popper’s cautionary tale is relevant,

            I just wanted to clarify that Popper wasn’t saying Freud was never wrong. If being wrong was all that was required to make a theory qualify as science then Creationists would be scientists. They say a LOT that is wrong. The point about Freud is that his theories are not falsifiable. No matter what a patient does you can find a way to make it fit the theory. If they avoid something that they fear its a phobia. If they seek out what they fear its a reaction formation. There are no predictions the theory makes that you can structure an experiment around and say that a predicted result will support the theory. What that boils down to is that the theory really makes no predictions and is useless as a valid scientific theory.

            As I said before though that doesn’t mean Freud was useless or that I see no value in reading him. I read him and I think people interested in psychology should definitely read some of his work. Its been a long time but I remember Civilization and its Discontents was pretty interesting.

            And Freud was a pioneer. I’m sure he discovered many things in developmental psychology that are still valid. But there is a difference between reading someone for historical reasons and for good science. Even in terms of developmental psychology there has been a lot of progress and any valid stuff that Freud found has been folded into theories with a lot more scientific foundation and solid empirical data.

          • In reply to #29 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #22 by fractaloid:

            I’ve also added that plenty of Freud’s claims have been proven false, so I’m not sure how Kuhn & Popper’s cautionary tale is relevant,

            I just wanted to clarify that Popper wasn’t saying Freud was never wrong. If being wrong was all that was required to make a theory…The point about Freud is that his theories are not falsifiable.

            OK, theories and hypotheses are different. My point remains that hypotheses based on Freud’s theory outside of his psychoanalysis have led to significant findings in human development. Do you understand that?

            As for my original comment, it’s meaning is completely lost on one when one focuses on half-a-sentence instead the whole picture. You didn’t need to pick out that one small thing and try tearing that apart. Surely Einstein and Darwin stand up to your rigorous standards and are enough to help you get the gist of what I was saying? Please move on, it’s boring.

      • You beat me to it. I remember having a heated debate about 30 years ago with a ‘social psychology’ student about why we (department of experimental psychology) didn’t study Freud who he maintained was the most important psychologist in history. My reasoning was as yours.
        In reply to #6 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #5 by fractaloid:

        The best theories are testable and they can be challenged. Why else would Darwin, Freud and Einstein still be quoted so often even by their most vehement opponents?

        Actually Freudian Psychoanalysis is a classic example of a theory that is not testable. It was used by…

        • In reply to #14 by headswapboy:

          You beat me to it. I remember having a heated debate about 30 years ago with a ‘social psychology’ student about why we (department of experimental psychology) didn’t study Freud who he maintained was the most important psychologist in history. My reasoning was as yours.

          Its funny. When I went to college the first time in the 70′s I couldn’t wait to study Freud. All the people in the psych department just smiled, patted me on the head and said “in the class on the history of psych they cover that”. Then when I actually worked (for a short time but it seemed like an eternity) in a psych hospital I was amazed at how much Freudian theory was still around. When I go back to psych literature now I’m appalled to be honest at how prevalent Freud still is and how many people think its still science. Freud was a brilliant man, insightful and an excellent writer, sometimes progress comes just from asking the right questions even if the answers are mostly wrong. Or as in Freud’s case “not even wrong”.

    • In reply to #5 by fractaloid:

      In turn, why does RDFRS even have a Religion category?

      For some people (me for example) the scientific study of religion is a fascinating topic. When you look at religion from the standpoint of a sociobiologist its a mystery. The data suggests that every primitive people had some form of religion. Yet the evolutionary cost of religion was high. You have to sacrifice food, time, animals, sometimes even people. You have to pierce things and do other incredibly costly (again just thinking as an evolutionary biologist observing a human animal) things in terms of rituals. Why do all ancient human tribes have it? Why wasn’t there a gene that evolved at some point that said “hey this is stupid, lets focus on just building a better canoe not on saying prayers every time we decide to build one” Since that didn’t happen there might be some interesting scientific reasons why and learning them may tell us a lot not just about religion but about human society.

      • In reply to #10 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #5 by fractaloid:

        In turn, why does RDFRS even have a Religion category?

        … The data suggests that every primitive people had some form of religion. Yet the evolutionary cost of religion was high. You have to sacrifice food, time, animals, sometimes even people. You have to pierce things and do other incredibly costly (again just thinking as an evolutionary biologist observing a human animal) things in terms of rituals. Why do all ancient human tribes have it? Why wasn’t there a gene that evolved at some point that said “hey this is stupid, lets focus on just building a better canoe not on saying prayers every time we decide to build one” Since that didn’t happen there might be some interesting scientific reasons why and learning them may tell us a lot not just about religion but about human society.

        My Dawkins primer might escape me [piercing self] but I think preserving or defending our environment (or the status-quo) might come under the banner of the ‘selfish gene’?

        There must surely be a gene for doubt or recognizing fairness? I’m sure somebody at some time got into trouble for disagreeing with establishment.

        It must also have been effective to sense those patterns which induce fear, and then also sense safety-in-numbers, that then accumulated into some social organisation. We still juggle with these sensations to this today.

        Apologies for my introspection.

        • In reply to #23 by fractaloid:

          In reply to #10 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #5 by fractaloid:

          In turn, why does RDFRS even have a Religion category?

          … The data suggests that every primitive people had some form of religion. Yet the evolutionary cost of religion was high. You have to sacrifice food, time, animals, sometimes even…

          A gene for “fairness” is not something that makes sense by conventional theories of selfish genes and altruism. The argument is the same as that used to disprove group selection. If there was a fairness gene, a gene that made everyone that had it act more fairly in distributing resources then yes everyone in the group would be better off but groups don’t put selection pressure on genes (colonies like termites are a different story because they are share so much DNA) only individuals do. There would be great pressure for an unfairness mutation. In a group of cooperators a cheater makes out like a bandit.

          • In reply to #24 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #23 by fractaloid:

            In reply to #10 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #5 by fractaloid:

            In turn, why does RDFRS even have a Religion category?

            … The data suggests that every primitive people had some form of religion. Yet the evolutionary cost of religion was high. You have to sacrifice food…

            Well, fairness can evolve if it’s accompanied by some cheater-detection and punishment systems. Tit for Tat enables a rudimentary form of fairness to evolve, and it has been mathematically proven to be a successful strategy, as shown in the Axelrod simulations.

          • In reply to #31 by Zeuglodon:

            In reply to #24 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #23 by fractaloid:

            In reply to #10 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #5 by fractaloid:

            In turn, why does RDFRS even have a Religion category?

            … The data suggests that every primitive people had some form of religion. Yet the evolutionary cost of religion was hig…

            The idea of a gene for “fairness” — a gene that makes the individual compromise its fitness for the sake of an outcome that is sub-optimal for the individual but optimal for the group — is a contradiction of the core concept of the selfish gene. I’m pretty sure that’s what factaloid had in mind in the original comment that I was responding to.

          • In reply to #32 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #31 by Zeuglodon:

            In reply to #24 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #23 by fractaloid:

            In reply to #10 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #5 by fractaloid:

            In turn, why does RDFRS even have a Religion category?

            Thanks heaps for reminding me Red Dog & Zeuglodon, will need to follow-up on Axelrod systems and selfish gene concept after semester headaches. Will look into these, there might be something in it.

          • In reply to #32 by Red Dog:

            .. The data suggests that every primitive people had some form of religion. Yet the evolutionary cost of religion was high…

            We should remember that the contributions from the masses supported an elite priesthood which often kept track of key calendar events which seriously affected everyone’s lives.

            The idea of a gene for “fairness” — a gene that makes the individual compromise its fitness for the sake of an outcome that is sub-optimal for the individual but optimal for the group — is a contradiction of the core concept of the selfish gene.

            I don’t think so. It presumes there is only one copy of the selfish gene, but altruism in kin-selection (“The Selfish Gene Chapter 6 p. 88 – 108 explains this) means that an individual containing a gene, may sacrifice itself for the preservation of other copies of that gene in related individuals.

            This is well illustrated in social insects or in pack animals (wolves, meerkats) where daughters do not breed while their alpha mothers remain dominant and subservient offspring support their siblings from the alphas.

            (The Selfish Gene page 93). – “Now we are in a position to talk about genes for kin-altruism much more precisely. A gene for suicidally saving five cousins would not become come more numerous in the population, but a gene for saving five brothers, or ten first cousins would. The minimum requirements for a suicidal altruistic gene to be successful is that it should save more than two siblings (or children or parents) or more than 4 half siblings (uncles, aunts nephews, nieces, grandparents, grand-children).”

          • In reply to #32 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #31 by Zeuglodon:

            The idea of a gene for “fairness” — a gene that makes the individual compromise its fitness for the sake of an outcome that is sub-optimal for the individual but optimal for the group — is a contradiction of the core concept of the selfish gene. I’m pretty sure that’s what factaloid had in mind in the original comment that I was responding to.

            Oh. I thought you were referring to the logic of reciprocal altruism, but in hindsight, I realize I must have misunderstood the context of your remark.

            If the “group” is made up of genetic relatives, then it isn’t a problem because the gene is helping copies of itself, advancing its own spread “selfishly”. Of course, kin selection is a million miles away from group selection, and if that’s all you meant by refuting “fairness” genes, then you’re correct they would be selected out.

          • If you took equal numbers of people both with and without a “fairness” gene and randomly assigned then to one of two warships and then got them to battle it out, the warship that by chance had the best cooperators i.e. had been randomly assigned the greater number of those with the fairness gene, would be the victor. Because, in this case literally, they are all in the same boat, non-kin selection can take place. It is a (near) all or nothing game, either your boat stays afloat and you have a good chance of survival or your boat sinks and you go down with it.

            Although the surviving boat will be the one with a greater number of “fairness” genes, thus increasing its success within the population at large, within-boat dynamics work in the opposite direction. Thus if you are selfish in a boat full of selfless genes you maximise your chance of success. But as Jonathan Haidt demonstrates in his TED talk, the increasing prosperity of these lucky selfish genes hurts the future success of the boat as a whole. If you’re very good at being selfish then you might be able to jump to another boat of cooperators before the ship sinks (convert to another religion?) so really what you need from an organisational level is to be extremely efficient at eliminating the selfish gene.

            This multi level dynamic between intra-boat and inter-boat behaviour explains a lot. If atheists wish to stay free from religion they’d better understand it… and the levels of wealth inequality in the UK suggest that we don’t.

            In reply to #35 by Zeuglodon:

            In reply to #32 by Red Dog:

            In reply to #31 by Zeuglodon:

            The idea of a gene for “fairness” — a gene that makes the individual compromise its fitness for the sake of an outcome that is sub-optimal for the individual but optimal for the group — is a contradiction of the core concept of the selfis…

          • In reply to #36 by AndyLS:

            If you took equal numbers of people both with and without a “fairness” gene and randomly assigned then to one of two warships and then got them to battle it out, the warship that by chance had the best cooperators i.e. had been randomly assigned the greater number of those with the fairness gene, wo…

            Something tells me you have never actually been on a warship or in the military. Not that I have either but I’ve read a lot about how people behave in actual combat and I have worked quite a bit with actual people in the US Air Force and seen how command and control works in the military. And being a cooperator has nothing to do with it. The last thing you want on a warship are a bunch of people who are going to practice principles of fairness and equality. Its about as structured and controlled an environment you can get. When you give someone an order they can’t reply back that its not fair and that you always give the hard jobs to me and not him. Actually, to go off topic a bit, its a pet peeve of mine when I see movies like Saving Private Ryan where subordinates talk back to and question the orders of their superiors in the military. That almost never happens. And it certainly never happens (except in situations where discipline breaks down like Vietnam) in combat. There were times in that movie where I thought “in the real world right now the Captain would draw his side arm and shoot the guy if he continued to talk back”

            And anyone that thinks there is a “fairness” gene needs to go back and read The Selfish Gene again. Start with the title.

          • In reply to #36 by AndyLS:

            Thus if you are selfish in a boat full of selfless genes you maximise your chance of success. But as Jonathan Haidt demonstrates in his TED talk, the increasing prosperity of these lucky selfish genes hurts the future success of the boat as a whole. If you’re very good at being selfish then you might be able to jump to another boat of cooperators before the ship sinks (convert to another religion?) so really what you need from an organisational level is to be extremely efficient at eliminating the selfish gene.

            So you are saying that a selfish person would want to leave a boat full of selfless people? I think you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the concepts. I’m going to define my terms precisely: a cooperator is someone who has a “fairness gene”. Such a person will put the needs of the group ahead of her own needs. (I maintain such a gene can’t exist according to Dawkins). A cheater in this context just means someone without the fairness gene, who seeks to maximize her own reproductive success over the group. If you had one cheater on a boat of cooperators the last thing the cheater would want to do is leave. As they say in the US South a boatload of cooperators is “hog heaven” for a cheater.

  5. A slightly more polite way to put it is religion is speculation. They are 4000-year old crude attempts at scientific hypotheses. The problem is, people became so attached to them, that even when a ton of evidence came in they were wrong, people were unable to discard them.

    Unlike ordinary scientific theories, they include threats of torture if one rejects them. A traumatised child has not sufficient confidence to discard the threat as empty.

    I used get an average of 3 death threats a day. It was completely ho hum. But just after 9/11 I got one delivered in a very calm voice threating to kill everyone in my family as well as myself because I had suggested the Twin Tower site be turned into a memorial park with a lake. That rattled me, even though I knew the caller was in Hawaii. So even an non-credible threat, if the threat is ghastly enough, can have effect. I can easily see someone thinking other plans would be better, but hardly requiring death threats to silence my suggestion. It was the strange mixture of politeness and insanity that was so unsettling.

  6. What is there to “get” about politics? Who gives a damn if the audience gasps when you tell the truth? Right now I am dealing with the fallout of Animal Planet running a “show” on mermaids. When I tell my students that it is bullshit, do I give a damn if they gasp? The only thing that matters is the demonstrable, reproducible truth. If we emphasized the truth more than we emphasize everybody having their “feelings” respected, we’d have fewer tv shows about mermaids and less money going to preachers and humanity could get to the business of solving the actual problems we face.

    • Did the show explain why mermaids don’t exist? That reminds me of a show years ago – I believe it was also on Animal Planet – about “dragons”. Not Komodo dragons, crocodiles, or other real animals that could possibly be called “dragons” by the ill-informed, but the mythical, fire-breathing, winged creatures right out of medieval legend. It had a whole thing about how fire-breathing and wings could be evolutionary adaptations and how they could really exist (in some alternative universe, I guess, since there is no fossil or other evidence of them on earth). There was also an incredibly stupid sop to the creationists when they posited that dragon legends could have come from early humans who actually saw such flying reptiles as ptersoaurs. I never saw a worse travesty of televised biology and evolution in my life, and didn’t watch the whole thing. I don’t know why they feel they have to dumb down and misrepresent science to catch the interest of kids. If they made shows explaining why such creatures DON’T exist by explaining how evolution works, they’d be worthwhile, but they just pander to fantasy and myth and the five-second attention span of most people with flash and noise and over-the-top crap. In fact, I don’t waste my money on cable or satellite TV at all anymore, since Animal Planet started televising shows about animal ghosts and the History Channel became a conduit of christianity.

      In reply to #15 by crookedshoes:

      What is there to “get” about politics? Who gives a damn if the audience gasps when you tell the truth? Right now I am dealing with the fallout of Animal Planet running a “show” on mermaids. When I tell my students that it is bullshit, do I give a damn if they gasp? The only thing that matters is…

    • In reply to #15 by crookedshoes:

      What is there to “get” about politics? Who gives a damn if the audience gasps when you tell the truth? Right now I am dealing with the fallout of Animal Planet running a “show” on mermaids. When I tell my students that it is bullshit, do I give a damn if they gasp? The only thing that matters is…

      Actually you made my point perfectly. You have a certain (very appropriate) mind set about how to teach your students. You don’t want to baby them you want to challenge them and I agree. I wish my daughter had more teachers like you so many of them seemed to bend over backwards to accomodate the slow students rather than trying to challenge the brilliant ones.

      But the mind set you use to teach students is not the mind set you use in politics. Politics is in many ways not rational. I wish it was more rational and I will encourage and support anything that makes it more rational. But if I act as if it is rational and the other side exploits emotions who do you think is going to win? Trying to be purely rational in politics is like continuing to cooperate in a prisoner’s dilemma even after the other player has defected tor the last hundred turns.

      If the only thing you care about in politics is making a point then your approach and Dawkins approach makes sense. But if you do that you will inevitably lose time and again to the people who are willing to compromise, exploit emotions, and form coalitions.

      • You speak the truth. The thing is, there are no correct answers in politics; what is beneficial to one is detrimental to another. Therefore, persuasion, emotion, and coalition building all enter the equation. This, in turn, makes it exceedingly hard to arrive at a correct answer and more often than not arrive at an answer that is comprimise acceptable to the majority. Rational discourse is boring and emotional outbursts ar interesting; I agree with you completely.

        However, politics should contain facts, and this is where the “I don’t give a damn” comes in. Interpret it how you’d like, but thousands of gun deaths a year are a FACT. (A fact that makes me gasp)… Whether this means we need to examine the constitution is the politic of it. The gun deaths are a fact. We have allowed politicians to distort the fact part in order to maintain control over the politic part.

        So, I see your point and BTW thanks for the kind words. The thing is, there should be more in common between politics and classrooms. That was really the point that i was (badly) making. If people would continue their education after their schooling; we’d have fewer charlatans and outright frauds running politics. They would simply be the laughingstocks that their silly voodoo bullshit SHOULD make them.

        In reply to #20 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #15 by crookedshoes:

        What is there to “get” about politics? Who gives a damn if the audience gasps when you tell the truth? Right now I am dealing with the fallout of Animal Planet running a “show” on mermaids. When I tell my students that it is bullshit, do I give a damn if they gas…

  7. I’m not debunking this article, but I’ll make a few comments.

    Paul Erdos, one of the finest mathematicians of the 20th century, once claimed to be 2.5billion years old. His reasoning? When he was a child, he was told that the Earth was 2 billion years old. But many years later in 1970, scientists said the Earth was 4.5 billion years old.

    Erdos was born in 1913, but the estimate of Earth’s age as 2-3 billion years old dates to 1895, and the estimate of 4.5 billion years dates to 1956.

    All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell.

    The part of this I’ve always had trouble understanding is what lies he thought he was told in embryology. Does he dispute the sequence of events in embryological development, or their approximate timings? Or does he just mean he wants to call it a baby much sooner than everyone else does?

    as your congressman I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote

    Why he never votes to help the poor, then, is lost on me.

    Whitehouse responded, “We are warned in the Bible not to plow iniquity, not to eat the fruit of lies.” He then went on to quote from Galatians, Job, Luke, Proverbs, Jeremiah, Samuel, Thessalonians and Revelations.

    Similarly, Skeptical Science (an excellent resource to understand contemporary climate change) is motivated, says its founder, by his Christianity.

  8. Every religion started with storytelling.

    Once the storytellers realized that they were given authority simply by virtue of their storytelling skills, their stories became more peremptory and logic-proof. The skill of keeping an audience enthralled with a good plot line evolved into the skill of manipulating the emotions of a congregation.

    I’m comfortable with the idea of describing all clergy people as bog standard storytellers….

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