When “Respectable” Supernatural Beliefs Come Home to Roost

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Discussion by: Simon Tuffen

Earlier this week, Richard Dawkins questioned whether a journalist could be taken seriously for believing in supernatural entities (specifically a winged horse capable of commuting between Heaven and Earth).

 

This simple question provoked outrage across the internet, with Richard being labelled, among other things, as "bigoted" and a "gratuitously unpleasant man". Many atheists in particular thought Richard's comments were indefensible. Some said they were even ashamed to be called atheists. Forums were full of heated discussion, with opinions sharply divided.

 

Today, we read that a couple who, like the journalist, also believe in the supernatural, are facing charges for allowing a second child to die because they allegedly relied on the supernatural power of prayer rather than medicine to cure the child's illness.

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/23/herbert-catherine-schaible_n_3138001.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003

 

A quick skim through the underlying comments to the above article reveals no sign of a debate on this issue. The couple are overwhelmingly condemned. Why is this so? They believe in supernatural forces just like the respectable journalist whose beliefs were are urged to respect. They will have been told all their lives that believing in the supernatural is not only respectable, it is the highest moral achievement and it is outrageous even to question it. This belief will have been enforced throughout their lives by their whole society, by politicians, bishops, pastors, in fact, almost anyone they will have ever met. 

 

However, they weren't really meant to believe this, were they? Only an idiot could really believe that prayer was a better cure than medicine.

 

This is what people forget when they urge us to respect supernatural beliefs: there ARE idiots in this world. There are also millions of people who are trapped by ignorance and fear that are enforced by their religious societies. This leads to terrible consequences, as appears to be the case with this child's death, as well as millions of other deaths, mutilations and general tyranny around the world.

 

Every person who claims to hold a supernatural belief, or who demands that we respect anyone's supernatural beliefs, or who claims that such beliefs are harmless, is guilty of this child's death. Probably more so than the parents, because they ought to know better. They are perpetuating this madness. It is NOT a game.

 

47 COMMENTS

  1. Good point, and one worth promoting.

    I recall the “get out” clause from my schooldays (in a catholic school):

    “Pray like all depends on God, Work like all depends on yourself.”

    Or, paraphrasing – “Believe this stuff, but don’t rely on it”. Seemed like an each-way bet to me. The second half was good sense at least.

    So, Mr Flying Horse Journalist isn’t relying on the pegasus beast, so he’s off the hook. The bereaved parents, however, made the mistake of relying on their religion.

    I wonder if there’s a worthwhile bumper sticker in there someplace. Come on, help me out here:

    “Trust in God. Except when it Matters.”

    Edit: never mind. It’s getting a bit close to “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammo”

    • Sort of like the old saw “God helps those who help themselves”.
      In reply to #1 by OHooligan:

      Good point, and one worth promoting.

      I recall the “get out” clause from my schooldays (in a catholic school):

      “Pray like all depends on God, Work like all depends on yourself.”

      Or, paraphrasing – “Believe this stuff, but don’t rely on it”. Seemed like an each-way bet to me. The second half was…

      • Yes, but god help those who get caught helping themselves.In reply to #20 by Sue Blue:

        Sort of like the old saw “God helps those who help themselves”.
        In reply to #1 by OHooligan:

        Good point, and one worth promoting.

        I recall the “get out” clause from my schooldays (in a catholic school):

        “Pray like all depends on God, Work like all depends on yourself.”

        Or, paraphrasing – “Believ…

      • In reply to #20 by Sue Blue:

        Sort of like the old saw “God helps those who help themselves”.

        We must have a psychic connection, I just used the same phrase in a very recent topic. A previous life brought us close to each other.

  2. A good illustration of the mental contortions believers have to put themselves through on a regular basis. There’s no logic to it at all. On one hand the Muslim journalist, no doubt an otherwise intelligent, clear thinking man ,claims to hold with the belief of Mohammad ‘s miraculous trip to heaven. The naive parents put their faith to the test and allowed their child to die. I wonder if any of those prosecuting the parents were believers themselves? I’m fairly confident they would have been, and yet they were unable to see how ludicrous their judgement was, if following their own line of reasoning.

    Having to rationalise constantly, must be very tiring.

  3. Many atheists in particular thought Richard’s comments were indefensible. Some said they were even ashamed to be called atheists. Forums were full of heated discussion, with opinions sharply divided.

    Where did you see atheists doing this ? Were these the people Richard once referred to as “atheist but-heads” because they always say “I’m an atheist but …”

    Michael

    • In reply to #4 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee:

      In reply to mmurray #3

      The below article on the huffingtonpost site gives some examples of the reaction to Richard’s tweet. Some are from atheists and some from religionists. Owen Jones of the Independent appears to be an atheist but-head, who has typically confused religion with race:

      http://www….

      “Page Not Found”

      I think the “embarassed” atheists are just ridiculous. There is no such thing as atheist creed and atheists have no shared values. Every atheists are as different as every individual, so there is no reason to be ashamed of what someone who has hardly anything in common with you said.

      I disagree with Richard on the same matter, but I think the “embarassed” atheist claim is just bogus.

      It is perfectly reasonable for think that the journalist can do his job well. All he needs to do is check god by the office door when he goes to work, sending god to a different compartment of his brain. I credit this possibility to the marvel of the human brain which allows humans to function even though it holds directly contradictory information. Look in the research on irrationality & you will find that humans in general are all irrational, but to different degrees. Where is the cut off line, now that is the difficult question.

      • In reply to #5 by adiroth:

        It is perfectly reasonable for think that the journalist can do his job well. All he needs to do is check god by the office door when he goes to work, sending god to a different compartment of his brain. I credit this possibility to the marvel of the human brain which allows humans to function even though it holds directly contradictory information. Look in the research on irrationality & you will find that humans in general are all irrational, but to different degrees. Where is the cut off line, now that is the difficult question.

        Of course many people are capable of simultaneously holding these contradictory beliefs. And Richard talks about his fascination with this in his “Away with the Fairies” article on this site. It is amazing that our brains (at least some of them) can do this, but we need to be aware of the consequences. My point is that by holding any supernatural belief at all, and by expecting to be respected for it, one is endorsing the holding of such beliefs, which can have the tragic consequences as in the case I mention. And so we need to draw attention to the gross hypocrisy of those who say we should respect supernatural beliefs.

        The fact that the subject matter of the 2 examples of supernatural belief that I mention are rather different is irrelevant. It is the endorsing of any such beliefs in the supernatural that creates the danger. Just think how often we hear that simply having “faith” is a sign of great moral character.

        Anyway, consider a more parallel example of the journalist’s particular belief. Think of all the people (religious or atheist) who think the journalist’s belief in winged horses should be respected and never ridiculed. Would they respect him if he drove a herd of horses over a cliff, thinking that they’d sprout wings and safely fly away? Of course not. They’d call the authorities and have him arrested for cruelty to animals. We all know he’d never do that anyway. It would be truly crazy. Yet it’s essentially the same belief as the one we’re urged to respect with the utmost reverence.

        It seems there is another duality of mind at play here! Not only is there an ability amongst many humans to hold contradictory beliefs between the supernatural and natural worlds, there is an ability to hold contradictory beliefs about how we should respect exactly the same supernatural belief. In some cases, people will absolutely respect a particular belief; and in other circumstances, I submit that exactly the same people will definitely NOT respect exactly the same belief!

  4. “Where is the cut off line?”

    For atheists (and most others)- right around the neck, according to the koran.

    Hasan is an idiot- at least, that’s how I’d feel making such an idiotic admission

    • In reply to #7 by Nodhimmi:

      “Where is the cut off line?”

      For atheists (and most others)- right around the neck, according to the koran.

      Hasan is an idiot- at least, that’s how I’d feel making such an idiotic admission

      Thing is, he demonstrably isn’t. It’s surprising what people are capable of believing. I’d point out it’s no weirder that believing zombie Jesus zoomed off to heaven: it’s pretty much the same, really. A mythical being flying into space (though the trip back seems to be taking longer). When something’s part of your identity, you’ll do a lot to defend it, internally if not externally. That includes liberal and conservative interpretations of Islam (or Christianity): the text is less important than the notion of what it says. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mehdi_Hasan said on an Al Jazeera debate, to Richard’s surprise and (I think) horror, that he did literally believe in flying ponies. As far as I can tell, he is a liberal, even socialist Muslim. Whatever the Qu’ran actually says, I’m pretty sure he believes it condemns decapitation. Ask yourself, which matters more: what might be believed based on a direct, rational-type reading of the text, or what is actually believed?

  5. I haven’t yet relayed this story to the few theists I am acquainted with, but I think I can predict the general tone of the conversation:

    Them: ” well, of course you would get medical help as well as praying”,

    Me: ” Why? If you truly, unquestioningly, absolutely believe what you say you do, why on earth would you bother with science and medicine?”.

    Cue that familiar expression – best described as the look of cognitive dissonance flickering across their faces – as they try to reconcile what they think they believe with what they actually know to be the truth.

    Imagine how science would look if everyone just picked the things they liked to believe and chose to ignore vast tracts of established, documented, tested and proven facts… ridiculous! Only fundamentalists actually believe their religion, the rest – almost by definition – cannot. It is for this reason that I find myself utterly, totally unable to “respect” the things they say and I fully support what Richard said about the journalist.

  6. I definitely get your point and I think that the two situations are slightly different. The first is a journalist that believes in the supernatural and by all accounts hasn’t hurt anyone because of the view. The second were a couple who allowed one of the children to die because they believed the supernatural would help. They did hurt someone because of their beliefs. I think it is important that we educate people especially those who are religious so that they can be saved from themselves. Do I think these parents had mal-intent? No. but unfortunately their ignorance led to the death of a child and I am assuming it is something that could have been prevented with modern medicine. Their situation is sucks for everyone that was involved.

    • The journalist hasn’t hurt anyone yet… but what if his child gets sick and he just prays to Allah for help?In reply to #10 by bjchiaro50:

      I definitely get your point and I think that the two situations are slightly different. The first is a journalist that believes in the supernatural and by all accounts hasn’t hurt anyone because of the view. The second were a couple who allowed one of the children to die because they believed the su…

  7. *Every person who claims to hold a supernatural belief, or who demands that we respect anyone’s supernatural beliefs, or who claims that such beliefs are harmless, is guilty of this child’s death. *

    This point is not made often enough. And I think it is important to note the relationship between belief and behaviour. Religious people are often at pains to distance themselves from extreme behaviours. In the UK many christians do nothing more extreme than say grace before meals and arrange jumble sales in church halls. However society glosses over the fact that these “good people” nevertheless promote extreme beliefs. It is the on-going normalisation of such extreme beliefs, via holy books and associated theology, that does so much damage.

    Every well behaved, law-abiding muslim, who promotes the truth of the koran, has to take a share of responsibility for every islamic suicide bomb attack.
    Every well behaved, law-abiding christian, who promotes the truth of the bible, has to take a share of responsibility for the cruelties and foolishness inflicted in its name.

  8. I think Richard is perfectly right to ask this question. Most people agree David Icke is generally regarded as a bit(?) kooky and no-one could really take him as a serious journalist, but the moment it relates to a religious belief, it somehow gets protection from scrutiny.

  9. Well said. It has always irritated me that theists expect respect for their contentions declared ‘true” by virtue of their feelings dignified with the term “faith” and whats more seem to think it their due that they be regarded as people of superior morality or virtue courtesy of the fact they are people of “faith” i.e they have elevated their feeligns into a truth discerning machine of godlike infalibility. This is the free ride religion gets, they can insult but will not be insulted. In the example above the Muslim in question holds up a book that says gays like myself should be killed and women are inferior to men… rather offensive contentions that soemhow are allowed to slide becasue its about relgion while Dawkins cannot even call into questions the objectivity and qualifications of someone whio believes in these things without being condemned as a horrible person for refusing to pander to some one elses fantasies or validating their religious views by silence.

    Imagine if every shild reacted this way when mum and dad spilled the beans about santa claus.

    • I’d like to do a little experiment whereby I declare a firm belief in elves – elves of the sort that the Irish call the “little people” and the Norse believed inhabited all sorts of land forms. When people laugh or deride me, I’m going to blow a gasket and demand the same respect for my fantasies as Christians and Muslims demand for theirs. Furthermore, I’m going to claim it’s not only a belief, but a cultural heritage! When I get all sorts of feedback on how ridiculous this is, I’m just going to say, “exactly”.

      But then, irony always seems to be lost on the religious.
      In reply to #15 by Typhon:

      Well said. It has always irritated me that theists expect respect for their contentions declared ‘true” by virtue of their feelings dignified with the term “faith” and whats more seem to think it their due that they be regarded as people of superior morality or virtue courtesy of the fact they are…

      • In reply to #21 by Sue Blue:

        I’d like to do a little experiment whereby I declare a firm belief in elves … When people laugh or deride me, I’m going to blow a gasket and demand the same respect for my fantasies

        For real credibility don’t forget to include a “perpetual motion faith machine” in your fantasy belief system (this is a term that I invented after imbibing a jug of Mrs Pogle’s very fine bilberry wine).

        You must have a holy elf book. When asked why you believe the holy elf book you can say because it was written by the king of the elves. When asked how you know the elf king exists, you can reply that he must exist because it says so in the holy elf book. If the questioner points out that this is rather circular and self-serving, then you can inform them that all you need is faith in elves, and then your personal experience will reveal the truth of it all.

      • In reply to #21 by Sue Blue:

        I’d like to do a little experiment whereby I declare a firm belief in elves – elves of the sort that the Irish call the “little people”

        Yes, I’m in. I always thought St Patrick was a prat.

  10. As others already said – religious people, otherwise rational, will believe any idiocy that their holy books prescribe. Surely the Catholics believe that Mary, the Mother of God’s entire house flew all by itself from Palestine to its current location in Italy where thousands of faithful visit it every year, no doubt with thankful prayers that it is closer to them now than it would have otherwise have been.

    Some people believe that flying horses and houses don’t do any harm on their own, however, when devotional madness goes too far, as in the case of the poor child who died (or was killed, really), and blame has to be apportioned, surely it must be obvious to every thinking person that holding such equestrian and movable real estate beliefs can, and very often does, lead ultimately to greater tragedies. That is why we must, just like Richard, be open and vocal about the idiocy of these beliefs, and hundreds of other similar lunacies spouted by al the religions of the world as well. It is no use being an atheist if we remain quiet because of political correctness or shyness or any other reason.

    I agree – “It is NOT a game’ and we must not ‘perpetuate this madness’ even if the religious will have their own demented answer to this tragedy such as “The prayers which did not save this poor child will not go unanswered; through them God will see how very loved the child was, and will take this child straight to Heaven as a reward”. (Believe me, as a former Catholic, I’ve heard much worse…)

  11. Dawkins asked a perfectly reasonably question. What we say, do and believe in is who we are. Why should I listen to you and have respect for your words if absurd beliefs are part of your identity? I don’t respect that and I will gladly waste no more time with it. The challenge I have is with those who are vague and undefined, those who have not bothered to verify or think or challenge the improbable, to accept flying horses or angels or fairies because ‘there is no way of being certain, so I’ll just float here with these maybes’. We are too polite. If you do not claim credibility then I have no right to bother you at any level. If you do claim credibility however, you better back it up with rational thought, evidence, clear eyes and purpose to your intent. Otherwise it’s a slap in my face, and insult to my integrity if I accept your absurd beliefs. Do you believe in angels? Do you, really? I will not respect you for that.

  12. I know several otherwise very intelligent and capable persons who nevertheless still claim to believe in God, or in ghosts, or in ESP, or other forms of supernaturalism – and it does cause me to question how deeply and how well they really think. They have “intelligence” in their particular jobs or in everyday activities such as managing their finances, but they still hold these childish, ridiculous beliefs. They don’t think they’re ridiculous, though, because they’ve never really examined them; or maybe they find them comforting in some way.
    I don’t think these people make the connection between private or even public beliefs and the harm they can do – not because they’re ignorant, deluded, or evil – but just because they’ve never really thought about it. That’s why I think it’s important to do what Richard does and point out the connection between unfounded beliefs and harmful actions.
    Thanks, Jumped Up, for making the connection. We need to keep hammering on these points and never let up. I’m hopeful – I think the tide is starting to turn in reason’s favor.

  13. Provide reference to the article and R.D.’s comments, please.

    Absent the sources and to be 100% precise, does R.D. criticize the fact that the article was published or that the reporter actually states a belief, presents a biased report or fails to examine the topic critically? An objective story could be legitimate journalism even if we consider the topic stupid and unworthy of serious consideration.

    • In reply to #27 by whiteraven:

      Provide reference to the article and R.D.’s comments, please.

      Richard’s original quote about the journalist’s belief that caused all the fuss was on Twitter. Below is the link to Richard’s article on this site in which he quotes exactly what he said on Twitter and then explains in depth what he actually meant by it.

      http://www.richarddawkins.net/foundation_articles/2013/4/22/away-with-the-fairies

      I hope that is what you were after.

      I’m not sure where the journalist originally made his statement that he believes in winged horses. The point of my post is to illustrate the irrational and contradictory ways many people (both religious and atheist) value the holding of supernatural beliefs. I wasn’t looking to discuss the precise belief of the journalist or exactly what Richard’s opinion is of that belief.

      • In reply to #29 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee:

        …I’m not sure where the journalist originally made his statement that he believes in winged horses.

        That would be here:-
        Aljazeera: Dawkins on religion .

        In the video Mehdi Hasan answered the question as to whether he believed that the prophet flew to heaven on a winged horse @14:33, saying @14:45 “I do, I believe…”

  14. In reply to #30 by Smill:

    In reply to post 29, I will probably dump this post later, but for now I have to exclaim that I cannot believe you posted your original comment, which in fact I thought was well expressed, without actually having researched the original sources!

    Thanks for your comment, but I’m not entirely sure what you mean.

    The sources of my argument are the reactions of other people that I witnessed towards 2 different stories in the media about supernatural belief.

    In the opening post, I provided a link to an example of one set of reactions (the reactions towards to story of the parents who believed the supernatural power of prayer could save their sick child).

    In post 4, I provided a link to an example of the other set of reactions (the reactions towards Richard’s Tweet concerning the journalist’s particular supernatural belief).

    So, I saw those reactions and they were the sources upon which I based my opening post. I’m not really sure what research beyond witnessing those reactions might have been necessary to make my point. If you’re referring to the fact that I said in post 29 that I don’t know precisely when the journalist made his comment about believing in winged horses (i.e. the comment that drove Richard to make his comment to which there was all the reaction), that is not really at all relevant to my argument. These were just 2 examples of reactions towards supernatural beliefs that happened to appear in the media at the same time and served well to illustrate a general point.

  15. Mathematicians and cosmologists profer ideas ( extra dimensions, multiverses) which have a supernatural flavour yet no atheist apparently bats an eyelid.
    I’m utterly opposed to all forms of religion but am, presumably, a “but-head” since I leave a place for what would presently be called the supernatural in my mind, as follows:
    I’m like most of us in feeling that everything is part of a causal chain. And so I feel obliged to wonder how the first phenomenon ( Big Bang, anything you like) came about ; ie what caused the First Cause. I find it too difficult to imagine there was no beginning at all / no cause at all. Don’t you? And I believe that Science is not comfortable dealing with something from nothing. From there, I proceed to thinking that a) we can’t answer the problem but b) if we could, it would require us to discover ways of working presently imagined as arcane and obsessed with the supernatural but, once mainstream like so much in the history of science, accepted as part of the scientific process. In other words, I await a synthesis of materialism (science) and the supernatural (perhaps metaphysics, I’ve no better ideas) which may take us where Rationalism in its present form can’t.
    I don’t think you have to believe in an Old Boy in the Sky or similar to share my views. And the reason I feel uncomfortably ( well, wouldn’t you? ) that I must be a “but-head” is my inability to believe science is on the right track for that really big answer. Probably, surely, it is unanswerable my way too. The only thing is that Ockham’s Razor, as so often quoted in this context, so far from rejecting the so-called Supernatural for being too complicated, is much more likely to think this a simple explanation. And here I offer the interim suggestion that Sherlock Holmes may have a point viz. When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable must be the truth. And for the usual riposte at this point that science has many better suggestions, what might they be?. Alan4discussion, you usually like to be crushing, I’ m sorry I meant contribute, at this point.

    • In reply to #33 by jburnforti:

      Mathematicians and cosmologists profer ideas ( extra dimensions, multiverses) which have a supernatural flavour yet no atheist apparently bats an eyelid.
      I’m utterly opposed to all forms of religion but am, presumably, a “but-head” since I leave a place for what would presently be called the superna…

      Off at a bit of a tangent from the OP, but anyway… This touches on Asimov’s observation that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I too – along with all the scientists I’ve listened to – admit that science hasn’t explained everything. Not yet it hasn’t, and it may never. It’s a work in progress, and there are no signs of it running out of new ideas, hypotheses, new experiments to do, new observations to make, enhanced by our rapidly improving technology.

      Some things are still mysterious. First causes you mention, which depends on a certain linear view of things, a view that makes sense in the common everyday world in which we have evolved to survive, but that doesn’t make it a universal truth.

      Something from nothing is hard to grasp too. But imagine walking penniless into a bank, and emerging with a comfortable property to live in and a large mortgage. You’ve taken zero and reformulated it as two large numbers of opposite sign. Yes I know its a poor analogy, they’ll want a deposit or some references or something, not just nothing. At least since 2008, before which lots of nothings were wrapped up in pretty packaging and happily sold at a profit.

      Bankers understand something from nothing, they’ve been getting away with it for ages. The main thing, when all you have is, essentially, nothing, is to keep it moving. The universe appears to do this too.

      To conclude: no magic or “supernatural” required. Unless you redefine “supernatural” to mean “something natural that we haven’t figured out yet”.

      • Yes, thank you – I probably should have made clearer that I think that “Supernatural” in these columns is equated with impossible/stupid when much of the time what it refers to simply isn’t mainstream yet though, of course, that cuts both ways – we’re all glad Newton’s ideas on Alchemy and Kepler’s on Astrology didn’t succeed in dominating their interests. That said, I’m going to continue to be as tolerant of Creationism as I am of talk of lots of extra dimensions – being unwilling to flatly ignore “Supernatural” explanations for Creation doesn’t, in my book, have any automatic connection with the anthropomorphic or obvious fairytale elements that animate pretty much any religion that I know of. Meanwhile, apologies for, as you correctly point out, going off at a tangent from the OP. incidentally, re Iranians who are, reputedly, well-educated, might it not be just incomplete reporting or a rather feverish metaphor rather than intended literally? Or again, it may represent the Iranian version of “Did the earth move for you, Darling?” Hey Ho. In reply to #34 by OHooligan:*

        In reply to #33 by jburnforti:

        Mathematicians and cosmologists profer ideas ( extra dimensions, multiverses) which have a supernatural flavour yet no atheist apparently bats an eyelid.
        I’m utterly opposed to all forms of religion but am, presumably, a “but-head” since I leave a place for what would…

    • In reply to #33 by jburnforti:

      I’m utterly opposed to all forms of religion but am, presumably, a “but-head” since I leave a place for what would presently be called the supernatural in my mind, as follows: I’m like most of us in feeling that everything is part of a causal chain. And so I feel obliged to wonder how the first phenomenon ( Big Bang, anything you like) came about ; ie what caused the First Cause. I find it too difficult to imagine there was no beginning at all / no cause at all. Don’t you?

      I don’t find anything contradictory about an atheist considering the possibility that there may have been a first cause to the Big Bang, or even considering that the universe might have been created by an as yet undefined intelligent being of some sort, as long you don’t jump to specific claims for which there is no evidence or logical consistency.

      I think the term “atheist but-head” is appropriate for those who respect other people’s completely unfounded, illogical, supernatural ideas that do not fit in at all with the world in which we live and which, technically, are just as absurd as other supernatural ideas that I trust they would never respect, such as the example I gave about the parents who refused medical treatment for their child, or the quote about women causing earthquakes in post 35.

      • I’ve probably left it too long replying for anyone to notice but I’m, in effect, a well-meaning troll inasmuch as I’m not trying to be supportive of supernatural explanations but, rather, wishing to provoke an alternative suggestion/theory from a scientist because I feel I’m always encountering objections that science has more plausible theories than the supernatural but none of these ever seems to get specified. We’ve dealt with phlogiston, with alchemy and so on but by offering alternative theories and then testing them. So far Religion with all its nuttinesses is the only game in town because its central premise, the supernatural, is comprehensible and coherent and, at the moment, unique. The fact that it’s not verifiable isn’t quite as shocking (to me) as all that because it’s very hard to imagine any theory at all that covers Everything being testable in any conventional sense. I’m not suggesting it can’t be or needn’t be but I assert, if I may, that objections to dogma, anthropomorphism, fairy tales are legitimate (obligatory really) but by themselves those rebuttals don’t disprove the supernatural, they disprove, which they always do, the dogma, anthropomorphism and fairy tales which are poor and disputable science. Phlogiston or Humours weren’t particularly poor ideas in the absence of anything else but their methodology was incorrect or lacking and better alternatives were found. I believe what we resolutely seem to call the supernatural ought to be tolerated in the same way. Its opponents should continue to oppose it but the best way of opposing it would be to offer at least a theory as coherent. And to answer that Science isn’t yet ready to offer some equally loony theory leaves all the (misguided, IMHO) religious believers suspicious and determined to cling to something they CAN understand. Science ought to recognise Religion’s legitimate concerns and address them. The all-too-available contempt science offers is not reassuring and I’m unsurprised that there remain many believers in religion. Virtually all the converts to atheism we encounter at this site, it seems to me, started to have doubts about testable features of religion, not about the central premise – cynics may not care how converts to atheism arrive as long as they do. But good science would, I think. reply to #40 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee:*

        In reply to #33 by jburnforti:

        I’m utterly opposed to all forms of religion but am, presumably, a “but-head” since I leave a place for what would presently be called the supernatural in my mind, as follows: I’m like most of us in feeling that everything is part of a causal chain. And so I feel obli…

        • In reply to #42 by jburnforti:

          I’ve probably left it too long replying for anyone to notice but I’m, in effect, a well-meaning troll inasmuch as I’m not trying to be supportive of supernatural explanations but, rather, wishing to provoke an alternative suggestion/theory from a scientist…

          I’m not a scientist but I can say that you’re not going to get any joy because scientists are under no obligation to produce evidence based counter-arguments against any supernatural propositions that anyone may dream up. As I believe Hitchens said, that which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. Science builds on evidence and testable theories. Brick by brick, it’s building an understanding of the universe. It’s not concerned with fantasies and wishful thinking.

          This is all somewhat off topic and I suggest you either try and start your own discussion, or make these comments on a more appropriate thread.

          • You are critical, it seems to me, of belief in or adherence to supernatural explanations/strictures. My response, assuming I am on track this time, is that where science leaves gaps, people will uncritically supply their own unscientific answers. You’d be quite right to riposte that the parents WERE offered a scientific answer I.e. medical treatment* but their behaviour makes clear that they were addressing a prior and entirely different question to which their answer has to do with the supernatural or, more exactly, their chosen cockeyed religion. This has resulted in a tragedy. You and I deplore this BUT I’m suggesting that as long as science feels no need to address certain questions, millions and millions of people will find their own ( crackpot) answers and answers to further issues which they think arise out of those answers. I’m not defending or excusing demented behaviour but suggesting its origins and, by implication, science’s obligations which you, I think, claim science doesn’t have. Maybe it doesn’t but then we’re stuck with the consequences. Which leaves us with “Put up or Shut up” or, more thoughtfully, Sun Tzu’s “Know your Enemies” (!) I’ve tried to stay on track. All the best. reply to #43 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee:*

            In reply to #42 by jburnforti:

            I’ve probably left it too long replying for anyone to notice but I’m, in effect, a well-meaning troll inasmuch as I’m not trying to be supportive of supernatural explanations but, rather, wishing to provoke an alternative suggestion/theory from a scientist…

            I’m not…

          • In reply to #44 by jburnforti:

            …I’m suggesting that as long as science feels no need to address certain questions, millions and millions of people will find their own ( crackpot) answers and answers to further issues which they think arise out of those answers.

            Science is what it is. And it’s not concerned with religious beliefs. I’m not really sure what you’re suggesting science should do. Are you suggesting that science breaks its principles and starts making up answers?

          • The OP is concerned with problems that arise from “supernatural” beliefs. And on this site, first port of call for opposition to the supernatural (religion) is science. I was suggesting re the OP why not everyone gives priority to the scientific answer. Even rationalists with only one life to believe in have been known to surrender it for an ideal; more usually their own than their child’s but the principle’s the same; and any death which results from an abstraction seems to me as wasted as any other. No, science should carry doing whatever it does well. .#45 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee:*

            In reply to #44 by jburnforti:

            …I’m suggesting that as long as science feels no need to address certain questions, millions and millions of people will find their own ( crackpot) answers and answers to further issues which they think arise out of those answers.

            Science is what it is. And it’s no…

  16. Found this in an article from the daily beast. Sometimes I wonder if I am being unfair or too harsh calling believers stupid. Then I read something like this and remember they really are stupid as pre-historic cavemen.

    “Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes,” Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi told Iranian media.

      • In reply to #36 by OHooligan:

        In reply to #35 by F_Ellatio:

        and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes

        Man, those Iranian adulterers sure know how to show a girl a good time!!!

        Hmm, there have been a couple of big earthquakes here in China. I wonder what I’m missing out on.

  17. You are being loopy – everyone with supernatural beliefs is guilty of a child’s death? What do you know of the supernatural? Are you aware that the supernatural is indeed just natural? nothing super about it? Where are the moderators who are menat to be adjudicating these posts and editing out the more unusual accusations made?

  18. If winged flying horses were a common entertainment at circuses, or there were some winged horse fossils then there would be no problem with believing in them. But there is no evidence whatsoever, and the plenty of mechanical evidence a winged horse could not fly. Hint there are no horse-sized flying birds. Science believes all manner of things far more outlandish than flying horses, but they have piles of evidence for them (e.g. the double slit experiment).

  19. IIRC Mohammed is the only witness to this “miracle” and it greatly aggrandises himself. It is part of a sort of LSD trip. There are very few showy miracles like this in the Qur’an. The usual Islamic miracle is more a poem to the wonderfulness of the camel, one of Allah’s better ideas. In the ordinary world we nearly always discount an impossible event as a hallucination if it has only a handful of witnesses.

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