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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

watch it: “Door To Door Atheists Bother Mormons”


Door To Door Atheists Bother Mormons – Watch more Funny Videos



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  • PJK

    Since the number of Mormons in my country is quite small, their role of annoying people in the morning has been taken over by the Jehova’s Witnesses. So I enjoyed this video tremendously!

    Though being an Atheist myself, I wouldn’t do this to other people, since I do feel that “do onto others..” is a valid guide to life.

  • Lea

    Hilarious! This is why I have a sign on my front door informing the religious to bugger off and shut the gate behind them.
    Anyone who disturbs the weekend sleep-in deserves nothing less than termination with extreme prejudice!

  • Kenny

    Haha.. I loved this. We don’t get many around here. I almost wish we did. I’d do a Bernard Black and invite them in for a debate :D

  • Lisa

    can’t watch this at work but “evangelical” atheists annoy me as much as evangelical christians do

  • Kenny

    The term ‘evangelical atheist’ annoys me a hell of a lot. There’s a massive ingrained taboo atheism. That atheists should sit quietly in the corner and not tell anybody what they think… which bleeds over into every atheist who dares to write a book or give a lecture being labelled an ‘evangelical atheist’. Why shouldn’t we tell the world what a crap idea we think religion is?

  • Kenny

    taboo against atheism rather.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Fine. Tell the world. But it will annoy some people, and they might disparage you.

  • Lisa (Tue Apr 20 10, 8:05AM)

    can’t watch this at work but “evangelical” atheists annoy me as much as evangelical christians do

    Religion is an intellectual plague, it is a root cause of wars, intolerance, death, and its proponents brainwash children. Best be careful not to speak up too loud against it… wouldn’t wanna annoy anyone.

  • MaryAnn

    There are very, very few evangelical atheists, and certainly so in comparison to the evangelical Christians. That’s why this video is so funny, and why it works as satire: because atheists do not do this.

  • JoshB

    That’s why this video is so funny, and why it works as satire: because atheists do not do this.

    Neither do Mormons. I’ve had Mormons come to my door, and none of them have been as aggressively rude as this guy. To a one, they’ve taken my disinterest graciously and then left me in peace.

    Let’s be honest here: he was looking to pick fights with these people to get good footage. In fact, from the looks of it many of them did give him a fair and polite listen, and it wasn’t until he started talking over them that they got angry.

  • markyd

    Exactly as MaryAnn said. Atheists don’t DO this. That’s the whole joke. The fellow in the video is just trying to make a point.
    I can’t say I’ve ever had one knock on my door on a Sat. Morning, but we do get them trolling the neighborhood sometimes.

  • JoshB (Tue Apr 20 10, 10:48AM):

    Neither do Mormons. I’ve had Mormons come to my door, and none of them have been as aggressively rude as this guy. To a one, they’ve taken my disinterest graciously and then left me in peace.

    Nonsense! This guy was perfectly civil to everyone he talked to, right up until they slammed the door in his face… I think you’re taking his attitude from the earlier bit and projecting it onto his conversations with the people he visited.

    They were every bit as upset about being disturbed on a Saturday morning as he claimed to be, which is the point of the video. Why is “we believe there is no god” ruder than “we believe in jesus christ and joseph smith”? This is the ridiculous dichotomy that atheists really need to start fighting a little more aggressively. And I don’t mean by being rude, but it’s time to speak up; somebody’s gotta save those kids… give them a fighting chance at a life that isn’t all meaningless ritual and perpetual fear-mongering.

  • Lisa

    not even getting a picture at work can’t tell if it’s funny or not

    but anyone trying to shove their beliefs down other people’s throats does my head in

    I met people who are militantly atheist and they are just as boring and self-obssessed as their christian counterparts

  • bitchen frizzy

    @Newbs:

    What dichotomy? Mormons get doors slammed in their faces athiests get doors slammed in their faces.

  • Isobel

    Religion is just so pervasive, this did make me laugh. Why do the religious think it’s so perfectly all right to wander around foisting their opinions on everyone?

    I’ve been told by the born agains more than once I’m going to hell ’cause I reject God by being an atheist. Of course, I don’t believe in hell so it’s not a particular concern of mine, but I do get breathtaken by the arrogance of these people condemning me to hell (it doesn’t matter whether it exists or not, they believe in it and that I’m going there, despite knowing nothing more about me than a polite ‘No thank you, I don’t belive in God’ when they knock on my door).

    I’m completely and passionately atheist, I have no religious belief whatsover or any believe in any kind of God, but I don’t in general go around castigating believers the way they seem to think they can castigate me. It’s not something I even bring up unless invited as it tends to cause too much tension. I’d never religion at work, for example, yet I had a colleague who continually tried to get me to go to Church with him.

    I’ve been noticing religion cropping up more and more in my TV viewing, reading and film watching and it’s beginning to get on my nerves. Supernatural has started mentioning God and faith far too much for comfort; even BSG turned Kara Thrace into an angel (and despite how much I love BSG I’m not entirely forgiving them for that – fantastic strong well written physical female character, and ooops, now she’s an angel. Gah).

  • Kenny

    There absolutely is a dichotomy. Newbs is completely correct.

    When an atheist does this, the reaction from ‘good honest church going folk’ is outrage. How DARE they push their atheistic viewpoint.

    For fuck sake.. an old guy physically assaulted him in that video, are you not seeing this?

    The attitude to religious people doing exactly the same thing in the street and at your front door is much more relaxed. it is seen as entirely normal. This is the dichotomy, and it’s utterly appalling. We do need to make our point, because our society is still unfairly influenced by religious values and prejudices.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Door-to-door evangelizers meet with lots of abuse and outrage. I don’t treat them that way, but they do get doors slammed in their faces and cursed at plenty.

    Anyone pushing a POV to people that don’t want to hear it will meet with pushback, and it can be rude and even violent. That’s true if you’re an evangelist, a civil rights activist, a pro-democracy demonstrator, an antiwar rallyer, or whatever.

    If you believe it’s time for athiests to make their point, then do so, but don’t expect better treatment than others who push an unpopular or controversial POV. You expect it should be different for outspoken athiests, and there’s the dichotomy. Have you been spit on, or sprayed with firehoses, or teargassed, or crucified, or assassinated? If not, try harder.

  • Kenny

    Oh of course atheists have been brutalised and murdered for their beliefs. We’re vilified across the world. We’re apparently the least trusted minority in the United States… and while you have a point about unpopular points of view, the point we were making is that the reaction to atheists is worse.

  • bitchen frizzy

    “..the reaction to atheists is worse.”

    In the U.S., at this time in history, that may be true. Go back to the 1960’s, though…

    I dunno know about “vilified across the world,” at least not more than any other group.

    In China, your beliefs would fit right in, and outspoken Christians are in hiding or in jail.

  • Lisa

    People who wear their christianity on their sleeves are usually the worst kind of hypocrites. Look at the Pharisees.

    I’m an agnostic – I don’t foist my beliefs on anyone!

  • bitchen frizzy

    Rev. M.L. King, Jr. wore his Christianity on his sleeve…

    Might be more accurate to say that people who aggressively promote their faith, to the contradiction or exclusion of actually practicing it, are – by definition – hypocrites.

  • JoshB

    Nonsense! This guy was perfectly civil to everyone he talked to, right up until they slammed the door in his face

    Like hell! 3:17 – 3:22 the lady clearly states that she is not interested and he goes right on talking.

    4:35 – 4:45 same thing.

    4:24 – 4:30 “Just imagine if you’re wasting your entire life going to church and it all adds up to nothing.”

    4:48 -4:55 he shouts through the door.

    I’ve never had a Mormon do any of that to me.

  • bitchen frizzy (Tue Apr 20 10, 11:15AM)

    @Newbs:

    What dichotomy? Mormons get doors slammed in their faces athiests get doors slammed in their faces.

    This is what I mean by dichotomy. Those who get doors slammed in their faces are in turn slamming their doors in the faces of others. It’s just funny. I’m sure there were plenty of houses where the owners were very polite, just like there are people who endure the mormons (and all door-to-door salesmen) with longsuffering patience.

    Christians are just like everybody else, they want to be left alone when they’re at home. The only problem is they spend so much time trying to fuck with other people. Hence, the dichotomy. Or hypocrisy if you prefer. And, as such, I should have every reason to expect a salesman (such as the mormon teenagers or girl scouts or whomever) to show me some fucking courtesy because they know what it is to have the door slammed in their faces. This is a central tenet of Christianity, if you can believe it. In practice things go far differently than they do in church on Sunday morning.

    As the gentleman in the video says, people can do whatever they want to themselves and each other, just don’t come banging on my door on Saturday morning! I don’t want you to save my soul. There’s not even any such thing as a soul, or a god, or a hell, so why the frak do I need to interrupt my corn flakes and coffee with your insecure fear-induced bullshit mission?

    Just take your bike helmet and go!

    :D

  • bitchen frizzy

    But that’s not “dichotomy,” that’s “consistency”…

    …but now I digress into semantic hairsplitting.

    Who’s “they,” anyway? If all or even most Christians were out knocking on doors you’d never get a moment’s peace and there’d be a line from curb to door at everyone’s house.

    Stereotyping, a bit?

  • bitchen frizzy (Tue Apr 20 10, 1:38PM)

    Rev. M.L. King, Jr. wore his Christianity on his sleeve…

    Are you sure about that? Dr. King very rarely mentioned Jesus Christ in his speeches; he used a generic “God” to inspire social change, but I challenge you to find some place where he preached about Christ as the Son of God, his crucifixion, or eternal salvation through him. He used religion to meet a secular end.

    Here’s a fascinating (and well-researched) article about the subject: http://www.jesus-is-lord.com/king.htm (from a disappointed and slightly outraged Christian perspective).

    MLK might’ve worn his religiosity (or a form of it) on his sleeve, but it wasn’t classic Christianity. And if and where it came close to Christianity, it most certainly wasn’t evangelical. Christopher Hitchen’s marvelous book “God is Not Great” has some excellent passages about Dr. King (and Ghandi too); it’s a great read and I highly recommend it to anyone with even the slightest interest in religious discussion.

    (PS I love talking about this stuff so I hope nobody is offended or whatever, just engaging in spirited discussion)

    :D

  • bitchen frizzy

    Dr. King was an ordained and active Baptist minister throughout his political activism, and that was common knowledge. His speeches were loaded with Biblical allusions and metaphor. “Wearing ones religion on one’s sleeve” does not, to me, necessarily require one to be continuously verbally prosyletizing. He knew the difference between a sermon and a political speech, but that doesn’t mean he set aside his religion for the latter.

    As for using religion to meet a secular end, that’s what all Christians who work in the system to change the world are supposed to be doing, and they don’t have to do it by preaching at people.

    I don’t know what you mean by “classic Christianity.” Would you include Mormonism, which to this point you have used interchangeably with Christianity? Surely there’s room under that broad umbrella for a Baptist minister?

  • He used religion to meet a secular end.

    And had no problem working with those who believed differently to achieve his goals. One of the key organizations behind the March on Washington was the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (the biggest civil rights lobbying group in the US today), which was founded by A. Philip Randolph–a secular humanist who signed the Humanist Manifesto which said “No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.”

    More about Randolph, and King’s humanist influences, here.

    Not sure that’s relevant to this discussion but I thought it was interesting. ;-)

  • Kenny

    I’ve read God is Not Great, and I would also heartily recommend it. I heard somebody call it “Hitchin’s ‘God is Not Great, I Am” the other day on the radio… but I rather doubt he’d read it, since there’s nothing self promoting about it.

    Frizzy… yes, villified across the world. As I said, least trusted minority in the United States… we basically exist outside of normal society in Africa and South America… and I have seen Iranian cartoons which portray the Jews as atheists because in the eyes of the fundamentalist Muslim, atheists are actually WORSE than Jews.
    It’s really only in parts of northern Europe than atheism is considered particularly acceptable.

  • bitchen frizzy

    It’s really only in parts of northern Europe than atheism is considered particularly acceptable.

    Oh, bullshit. You have a valid point. Don’t undermine it with specious claims. And don’t even suggest your plight is as bad as that of Jews in Iran.

  • bitchen frizzy (Tue Apr 20 10, 3:20PM):

    “Wearing ones religion on one’s sleeve” does not, to me, necessarily require one to be continuously verbally prosyletizing.

    bitchen frizzy (Tue Apr 20 10, 1:38PM):

    Rev. M.L. King, Jr. wore his Christianity on his sleeve…

    Just responding to what you wrote. If that’s not what you meant, choose your words better next time :P

    He knew the difference between a sermon and a political speech, but that doesn’t mean he set aside his religion for the latter.

    I find it interesting that you can state so authoritatively what Dr. King “knew” or didn’t know. You can talk about what he said, or what he did. You can quote him. But how can you be so confident in his own inner thoughts? He could’ve been a practicing Satanist in his private life, sacrificing baby goats and doing voodoo in his bathtub, for all you know.

    But all of this is beside the point… it’s probably best not to hold up any one person as a signatory for an entire religion. They often don’t hold up to the scrutiny. As far as the Atheist who Knocks on Doors, I’ll say this: he has every right in the world to expect to be treated with kindness and respect, regardless of his beliefs, and regardless of his crazy antics. Nobody should ever have a door slammed in their face, or be smacked by some old dude, just for saying something about their personal beliefs, even if it’s unsolicited.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Just responding to what you wrote. If that’s not what you meant, choose your words better next time :P

    Huh? I’m saying that “religious” isn’t equivalent to “continuously prosyletizing?” In other words, it’s possible for Dr. King – or anyone – to give a secular speech without forfeiting his religion. You disagree? It’s not possible to be outwardly religious without ongoing preaching? An interesting premise. Please explain.

    I find it interesting that you can state so authoritatively what Dr. King “knew” or didn’t know. You can talk about what he said, or what he did.

    I’m not. I’m stating the fact that he was an ordained and practising Baptist minister, and that he used religious allusions in his speeches. These are established and incontrovertable facts, upon which I base my straightforwardly derived conclusion. I assume nothing. You made the assumption that he wasn’t a “classical Christian,” a statement I said I found puzzling, and upon which I requested you elaborate. It is you, sir, that are speculating on King’s religious beliefs.

    But all of this is beside the point… it’s probably best not to hold up any one person as a signatory for an entire religion.

    I fully agree. That means, then, you shouldn’t hold up Mormons knocking on your door as signatory for all Christians. Agreed?

    When you go tell others your beliefs, especially on their property uninvited, you will meet with some who will respond rudely, particulary if you deliberately provoke them for effect after they’ve made it clear they’re not interested in listening, as the guy in the video does. It ought not be that way, but that is the way it is. To expect otherwise is beyond naive.

  • I’m reading all this, and all I can think of a story a friend told me. When he was too young to know better, some missionaries knocked on their door and he answered it with a Doberman at his side.

    Missionary: What a lovely dog. What’s his name?
    Little Boy: Satan.

    And they left.

  • Oh, and the guy spent half his video talking to the camera. The man needed an editor.

  • I don’t like being the recipient of unsolicited religious propaganda either and yet when I look back over all the annoying neighbors I’ve had to deal with in the past, I’d rather put up with the annoying Mormon who knocks on my door at eight a.m. than the annoying secular idiot who plays his car radio full-blast outside my bedroom window at 2 a.m.

    And in a world in which Christians are still being imprisoned for their religious beliefs in various countries that are officially atheist, I find it sadly amusing that atheists in this country kvetch about the fact that people continually say bad things about them at the same time they’re describing almost every one who holds a different religious philosophy from themselves as being stupid, ignorant or evil. Heh. Irony.

    Geez, you really think there aren’t people out there who also diss Jews and Catholics? And do you really think all those disses are really all that accurate? And aren’t the accuracy of such disses kinda besides the point?

    How does that old saying go?

    Oh, yes.

    If I am not for myself, who is for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?
    –Hillel

  • I’d rather put up with the annoying Mormon who knocks on my door at eight a.m. than the annoying secular idiot who plays his car radio full-blast outside my bedroom window at 2 a.m.

    Tonio: How do you know the 2 a.m. idiot is secular? Is he playing the audio book of The God Delusion? :-)

    And in a world in which Christians are still being imprisoned for their religious beliefs in various countries that are officially atheist…

    This brings to mind a comment I read recently on Jerry Coyne’s site, which argued:

    We must make a distinction between – to coin an apt expression – the “faith-based atheism” of many Communist states […] and the very different atheism based on “public use of reason” (to hijack Kant´s very useful expression.

    The necessity of the distinction is obvious as many Communist states, such as Soviet Union during Stalin´s dictatorship, PRC during Mao´s dictatorship, Cambodia under Khmer Rouge. North Korea under Kim Il Sung and Kim Kong Il etc. simply transferred all ideas about divine power to earthly authority: the Party and/or its Leader were divine and all criticism directed towards it heresy punishable by death. They did not try to eradicate religious mentality from public life; rather, they were intolerant of any rivals to their own particular brand of faith, dogma and mystique.

    […]

    This all is very different from the sort of atheism Dawkins (and most of us!) represent. We are talking about atheism that is based on comprehensive “public use of reason”, i.e. the self-correcting authority of scientific and philosophical reason. That cannot take place except in conditions of freedom of thought and discussion. This institutionalized criticism of all beliefs and valuations is completely antithetical to the sort of religiosity that joins together the “secular religions” of faith-based atheism to their more obviously religious brethren, whether Pharaonic religion of ancient Egypt, Islam, Catholic Church etc. etc.

    Sam Harris in The End of Faith and Timothy Ferris in The Science of Liberty make similar points.

    Food for thought (as I often find myself saying).

  • Kenny

    @Bitchin Frizzy what I said was…

    “and I have seen Iranian cartoons which portray the Jews as atheists because in the eyes of the fundamentalist Muslim, atheists are actually WORSE than Jews. ”

    Perhaps I should explain that in a little more detail?

    In the Iranian cartoon, there had supposedly been a massacre of muslims in a village by an “evil and atheistic Israeli colonel”

    The way I interpreted it was that, from the cartoon’s perspective, calling a Jew an atheist dehumanizes and villifies him more than just calling him a Jew. By extension… this implies that the only thing the script writer respects LESS than a Jew, is an actual atheist.

    What the hell is this about?

    “And don’t even suggest your plight is as bad as that of Jews in Iran.”

    When did I do that?

    And I am standing by what I said. It is really only in parts of Northern Europe where being an atheist is considered particularly acceptable. Everywhere else you might be one, there is at least an air of disapproval… the “How can you not believe in God?” The “What’s wrong with you?” situation.

  • Kenny, bitchen frizzy–Here’s a useful overview:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discrimination_against_atheists

  • This might also be of interest.

    http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2008/12/how-to-be-an-ally-with-atheists.html

    An excerpt:

    9: Be aware of how religious belief gives you a place of mainstream and privilege.

    This is a lot less true for believers in minority religions, like Jews and Muslims in the U.S. But even though the specifics of your belief marginalize you, the fact that you have belief at all does give you some privilege that you may not be aware of.

    The assumption that everyone believes in some sort of God is so widespread as to be practically invisible. And the assumption that morality must stem from religious faith is incredibly pervasive. Many religious believers — even the more hard-core ones, maybe especially the more hard-core ones — are more trusting of other religious believers whose beliefs they don’t share than they are of atheists.

    […]

    And if you are a Christian? Forget about it. If you are a Christian in the United States, then — when it comes to this particular area of the “privilege/ marginalization” palette — your Christianity puts you squarely in the “privileged mainstream” category. Christians are in the clear majority in the United States, and they are in the clear mainstream of politics and culture. You’re not being thrown to the lions anymore. You haven’t been thrown to the lions for almost 2,000 years. You are in the group that is running the show.

    The whole thing is worth reading IMO.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Dudes, once again, I totally get it: athiests in America are outside the mainstream and sometimes meet with the treatment the mainstream often gives those who are different. But a little perspective doesn’t hurt, eh? Do athiests get pulled over for Driving While Athiest? Do they often get the crap beaten out of them by athiestphobes? Have they ever been required to sit in the back of the bus, or been turned away from a business that had a sign saying “No dogs or athiests”? And what the heck do Iranian cartoonists have to do with how athiests are treated in the U.S.?

    Bluejay, your article is relevant to the U.S., but Kenny is taking this worldwide; and, hell yes, there are still places in the world where Christians are thrown to the lions, so to speak. And, I’m sorry, but the reference to how Jews are treated in Iran really set me off. In Iran, Jews are treated with all kinds of discrimination on a level that he won’t ever face in Europe or America, and all Kenny can see is how the cartoon applies to him as an athiest. It’s the Jews in Iran that the cartoonist is hating on. It’s not all about you, Kenny.

    Sure, lots of people are too ignorant or intellectually lazy to make the distinction between ideological athiesm characteristic of communism, and intellectual athiesm of the West. Got it. But, then again, a lot of athiests – including some right here on this thread – are too lazy to bother with distinctions between Christians that knock on your door and those that don’t, or between Mormons and Baptists. Yeah, yeah, religion is religion, they’re all equally bad, can’t be bothered to learn the differences, yada yada; but it comes back at you. Do unto others and all that.

  • Tonio: How do you know the 2 a.m. idiot is secular? Is he playing the audio book of The God Delusion? :-)

    1. He isn’t playing religious music such as gospel, Christian rock, etc.

    2. He chooses to play songs very loudly that are in a genre most religious people often either avoid listening to or overtly criticize.

    3. He chooses to play songs with the type of profane language that isn’t much heard in the religious music I’m familiar with.

    Then again, an idiot is an idiot is an idiot is an idiot. As far as I’m concerned, the guy could be playing excerpts from Handel’s Messiah at that time of the morning and he would still be an idiot.

    Sure, lots of people are too ignorant or intellectually lazy to make the distinction between ideological atheism characteristic of communism, and intellectual atheism of the West.

    I have no problems with the intellectual atheism of the West. My late father used to be an atheist and so for a long while was my middle brother. To this day, my middle brother will give impromptu sermons on the evils of organized religion which make even MaryAnn seem kinda soft-spoken on the subject.

    What I have issues with is the mentality that any one group–including my own–is exempt from the vices of human nature and that any one group would somehow be automatically immune from succumbing to said vices if it ever took power. It’s not that simple and it never was.

    Apart from that, what Bitchen Frizzy said.

  • As a Hispanic Catholic whose Mexican-born father–a former migrant worker, btw–once lost a job because he refused to pass for Anglo or Italian, I’m sure glad I’m part of the privileged class. ;-)

  • LaSargenta

    Intersectionality, everyone. Please remember to mind the gap.

  • Dudes, once again, I totally get it: athiests in America are outside the mainstream and sometimes meet with the treatment the mainstream often gives those who are different.

    And women and minorities who were once outside the mainstream sure didn’t gain acceptance and equality by being quiet about it.

    Have they ever been required to sit in the back of the bus, or been turned away from a business that had a sign saying “No dogs or athiests”?

    No, but a black man can be elected President (as long as he professes some kind of [Christian] faith). Openly admitting one’s atheism effectively kills or severely diminishes one’s chances of holding public office in the US. And probably cuts you off from other social or career opportunities as well, depending on the attitudes of the people in your town.

    Look, no one is saying that atheists have it worse than any other oppressed minority ever, but that doesn’t diminish the validity of our complaints. Just as you can’t trivialize the grievances of LGBT folks by saying that, hey, at least they were never kidnapped from their homelands and made to endure centuries of slavery.

    Bluejay, your article is relevant to the U.S., but Kenny is taking this worldwide

    Kenny is pointing out that atheists are discriminated against around the world. And why not? Read the Wiki article again; it’s true. Ask Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

    In Iran, Jews are treated with all kinds of discrimination on a level that he won’t ever face in Europe or America, and all Kenny can see is how the cartoon applies to him as an athiest.

    Come on, this isn’t fair. That wasn’t “all” Kenny could see; he wasn’t dismissing Iranian discrimination against Jews; he just saw an extra layer of meaning that was relevant to atheists, and commented on it. He wasn’t comparing the actual treatment of atheists to the actual treatment of Jews in Iran, but was, rather, commenting on statements made by the Iranian media that suggested that Iranians harbor intensely negative feelings about atheists as well. This is actually in keeping with the fact that people tend to use “atheist” as a pejorative, to make a group of people seem extra-nasty; there are people who still claim, incredibly, that the Nazis were atheist. Far from it.

    If any atheists out themselves in Iran, then maybe we can see how they’re treated, and compare. (At the moment, according to the Wiki, they have no recognized status, and must declare themselves to be some faith or other “in order to claim some legal rights, including applying for entrance to university.”)

    Yeah, yeah, religion is religion, they’re all equally bad, can’t be bothered to learn the differences, yada yada; but it comes back at you.

    I certainly don’t agree with this. I think everyone, including atheists, should be as religiously literate as they possibly can. It’s just too important a cultural force in the world to ignore or have misconceptions about…and the same is true of atheism.

  • As a Hispanic Catholic whose Mexican-born father–a former migrant worker, btw–once lost a job because he refused to pass for Anglo or Italian, I’m sure glad I’m part of the privileged class. ;-)

    Touché, Tonio. To be fair to Greta Christina, she clarifies that statement about religion and privilege:

    When it comes to the “privilege/ marginalization” palette, most people have some of both. I am privileged as a white person, a college- educated person, a middle- to- upper- middle class person, a more or less able bodied person, an American. I am marginalized as a woman, a queer, a bisexual, a fat person, an atheist. And my privileges don’t confer wickedness onto me, any more than my marginalizations confer virtue.

    But my privileges do confer some responsibilities. They confer the responsibility to educate myself about the experiences of marginalized people, and the myths about them. To speak out against bigotry, even and especially when it isn’t against me. To not assume that everyone is just like me. To remember that passionate anger is as important to a movement as gentle diplomacy. To learn what kind of language people prefer when talking about them, and what kind of language totally sets their teeth on edge. (Which is just good manners anyway.) To tread carefully when I’m criticizing marginalized people, and to make sure I know what the hell I’m talking about.

    And to not act like a victim when my privilege is questioned, or indeed simply pointed out.

    This attitude should, ideally, go both ways. Not that I’m always perfect about observing it myself. :-)

  • bitchen frizzy

    Openly admitting one’s atheism effectively kills or severely diminishes one’s chances of holding public office in the US. And probably cuts you off from other social or career opportunities as well, depending on the attitudes of the people in your town.

    Why is that? What should be done about it?

    I already said that Kenny has a valid point. I don’t think Iran is a very useful example. First, we’re not in Iran. Second, everybody is treated like crap in Iran.

    I think everyone, including atheists, should be as religiously literate as they possibly can.

    Great. Now reconcile that with the hyperbole, stereotypes, and sweeping generalizations about religion and Christians on this thread…

    Religion is an intellectual plague, it is a root cause of wars, intolerance, death, and its proponents brainwash children.

    I wouldn’t vote for a politician who said that… sounds like something right out of Mein Kampf.

    Why shouldn’t we tell the world what a crap idea we think religion is?

    Go ahead, but that won’t win you many elections or many friends either.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Grrr. One missing tag. I’d edit it if I could. Sorry.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Look, the Dr. Kings, Ghandis, and Harvey Milks of the world didn’t change things by becoming what they beheld.

    Spewing indiscriminate bile and hate at all religion… well, that is what it is.

  • Kenny

    @Bitchin Frizzy and Bluejay

    First of all, thankyou Bluejay, you rather calmly reinforced and paraphrased my points.

    Bitchin… I brought up the cartoon to illustrate attitudes towards atheism in a specific part of the world. I was ‘taking it worldwide’.

    You’ve assumed that I am a resident of the United States (or at least that is the impression I got). This is not the case. I am Scottish.

    At no point did I imply that Jews do not suffer terribly in Iran, etc. In fact I know from a recent report that there are just 8 Jews now resident in all of Iraq.
    I was pointing out that the word atheist is used as an insult to rob the recipient of their humanity in the eyes of the one who delivers it. It is therefore strongly implied that the only thing worse than a Jew, in the eyes of fundamentalist Muslims, is an atheist.
    As Bluejay said, atheism effectively bars a person from holding political office in the United States. In Iran, as he said, being an atheist isn’t even an officially recognised status.
    Even here in Scotland, there are public sector jobs I cannot hold as an atheist, since about a third of our state funded schools are Catholic faith schools and will not employ a non-Catholic in a promoted post, or as a teacher if there is a Catholic candidate available.

    You cannot tell if somebody is an atheist by looking at them Bitchin. That is the reason we have never had to deal with being told to sit at the back of the bus.

    But we have been burned at the stake. We have been tortured. We do endure discrimination and it is almost worldwide.

  • Kenny

    @Bitchin

    I did not use Iran in isolation. It was one example from a list, illustrating that discrimination against atheists is a worldwide phenomenon. This is why Iran was a useful example.

    Also, I am religiously literate. As a teacher in a primary school, I have to be so that I can teach the subject… but I am also widely read, and I don’t think it’s terribly unfair of me to say that, unlike many, if not a majority of Christians, I have actually read the bible.

    All religions promote themselves as the one true faith, and all the others as a lie that in some cases will take you straight to hell, do not pass go, do not receive two fluffy white wings.
    I do think religion is a bad idea. I said crap before. I don’t think this is discriminatory at all. I don’t hate religious people, I simply strongly disagree with their beliefs on logical and moral grounds. I would never discriminate against somebody based on their beliefs. My girlfriend, for example, is a Jew. (Her family, by the way, are very accepting of my atheism.)

  • Openly admitting one’s atheism effectively kills or severely diminishes one’s chances of holding public office in the US. And probably cuts you off from other social or career opportunities as well, depending on the attitudes of the people in your town.

    Why is that? What should be done about it?

    Because, as Kenny pointed out, atheists are the least trusted minority in America. From the Wiki:

    Atheists note that few politicians have been willing to identify as non-theists, since until recently such revelations would have been “political suicide”, and welcomed Representative Pete Stark’s 2007 decision to come out as the first openly nontheistic member of Congress. In 2009, City Councilman Cecil Bothwell of Asheville, North Carolina was called “unworthy of his seat” because of his open atheism. Indeed, several polls have shown that about 50 percent of Americans would not vote for a well-qualified atheist for president. A 2006 study found that 40% of respondents characterized atheists as a group that did “not at all agree with my vision of American society”, and that 48% would not want their child to marry an atheist. In both studies, percentages of disapproval of atheists were above those for Muslims, African-Americans and homosexuals.

    What should be done about it? Lots of things, I suppose; probably similar things to what other marginalized groups are doing to promote their causes. More atheists should speak up, for starters, and show their neighbors they’re godless and good people. Organize more, to strengthen our voice and be counted in national conversations. Point out where and when discrimination against atheists does occur, and not keep silent about it. Reach out to religious groups to form partnerships to accomplish mutual goals. Be more visible as a force for good. Fight to maintain the separation of church and state. Fight to keep public education secular. Increase science literacy–because, I think, a more scientifically literate public will be more tolerant and accepting of skepticism and atheism. And so on.

  • bitchen frizzy

    You’ve assumed that I am a resident of the United States (or at least that is the impression I got).

    I gathered that you were European.

    As Bluejay said, atheism effectively bars a person from holding political office in the United States.

    So does Islam, or Scientology. Until recently, so did Catholicism. That is not a justification. My point is that when people takes their religious stance into the public sector, anyone with outspoken belief – athiest or a particular religion – runs into obstacles.

    If the Catholic schools in Scotland are reluctant to employ non-Catholics, they presumably aren’t singling out atheists – correct me if I’m wrong. Probably more a case of preference for Catholics than discrimination against atheists. Same goes in the U.S., often. I see at least a shade of difference between that and active discrimination – correct me if I’m wrong.

    Where I live, I’d be barred from serving on a jury in a capital punishment case, because of my religious belief.

    My father-in-law, a doctor, has lost jobs and job opportunities because he won’t perform abortions.

  • Kenny

    Well now we’re getting into a more reasonable conversation.

    I am not sure how wide a belief it was, but Obama did become president despite the fact that there were sections of the voting public who firmly believed him to be a Muslim.

    I would challenge you to find much in the way of discrimination against the religious in the Scandinavian countries where atheists are in the majority.

    I am sorry, but I do not think it is wrong that your father has missed out on jobs because he will not perform abortions. I believe that the duties of a particular job exist independently of the religious views of the person doing the job.
    If I worked for an adoption agency and I refused to place a child with a homosexual couple because of MY religious convictions, I would not be doing my job properly.
    Your father has obviously decided that his religious principles are more important to him than the jobs he has decided not to take. This is NOT discrimination on the part of the employer.

    Now, your point about the Catholic faith schools is a good one. Since it is not direct discrimination against atheists, I will not bring it up again.

  • …atheism effectively bars a person from holding political office in the United States.

    So does Islam, or Scientology. Until recently, so did Catholicism. That is not a justification. My point is that when people takes their religious stance into the public sector, anyone with outspoken belief – athiest or a particular religion – runs into obstacles.

    I suppose it depends on the religion. Lots of US politicians wear their (Protestant/Evangelical) religion on their sleeves–mostly Republicans, it seems–and it doesn’t seem to hurt them with their constituents.

    The religious affiliations of public officials in the US are becoming more diverse (including Mormons, Buddhists, and Muslims)–with the exception, it seems, of nonbelievers. Check out The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, and click on “The Religious Affiliations of US Presidents” and “The Religious Affiliations of Members of Congress.” Some interesting stuff: Nearly half of US presidents have been Episcopal or Presbyterian; JFK was the only Catholic; and only three–Andrew Johnson, Lincoln, and Jefferson–have had “no formal affiliation,” and they were all in the 19th century.

    For Congress, only five (out of 534) fall under “unspecified/don’t know”–all Democrats, by the way–and zero explicitly said they were “unaffiliated.” Make of these numbers what you will. I’d say that, for a general population that’s 15% nonreligious (according to the latest polls), that’s not exactly proportional representation. :-)

  • bitchen frizzy

    Well now we’re getting into a more reasonable conversation.

    Yes, we are. ;)

    Almost nobody who believed Obama was a Muslim voted for him. Many people who did vote for him would not have if he had been a Muslim. He probably would not have won the election if he were a Muslim.

    Father-in-law, not father.

    This is NOT discrimination on the part of the employer.

    No, it’s not. That wasn’t my point.

    My point was that religious conviction can cost, and that isn’t likely to change with a new set of bosses. You appear to be arguing that society will be made right when atheism doesn’t cost, even if [insert term]ism has to cost more to get there.

    If, in the future, religious conviction must be kept in the privacy of one’s home, then effectively the atheists have merely changed places with the religious in society. Religious people will have to be functionally atheist. They stand to lose in this case, and they don’t want to be driven into the closet any more than anyone else.

    Okay, all of the above is not entirely rational or fair, but that’s the concern your political opposition has, and it is not an entirely groundless fear. That must be understood for there to be constructive engagement.

    All religions promote themselves as the one true faith, and all the others as a lie…

    I see no practical distinction between this and your own conviction that religion is crap. Mirror, mirror.

  • bitchen frizzy

    For Congress, only five (out of 534) fall under “unspecified/don’t know”–all Democrats, by the way–and zero explicitly said they were “unaffiliated.” Make of these numbers what you will. I’d say that, for a general population that’s 15% nonreligious (according to the latest polls), that’s not exactly proportional representation. :-)

    Yeah, but politicians do what’s politically expedient to get elected. I don’t know, except in a few specific cases, how devout or sincere these various politicians really are in their stated religious conviction. Naturally, identifying with the majority of the voters helps a politician get elected. If the U.S. happened to be majority Islam, most elected officials would probably be Muslim, or claim to be.

    In any given election, an atheist candidate will identify with a minority of voters in that constituency. That explains why very few Congressmen are nonreligious. That’s how the math works. That’s why congressional districts have to be gerrymandered to produce ethnically proportional representation.

    People will vote identity and preference, and that isn’t necessarily active discrimination. A choice for somebody else is not always a choice against you.

  • Kenny

    @Bitchin

    My conviction that religion is a crap idea is based on the historical evidence. It is simply not a sweeping generalization to say that religions have been responsible for the majority of wars, bigotry, torture and inequality across the whole span of human civilization.

    It is not a coincidence that societies become fairer and more tolerant as religion becomes weaker. Look at the Scandinavian nations for examples of this.

    The theistic view that their religion is the ‘one true faith’ is not based on evidence… it is based on power.

    Perhaps it would help if I discussed with you what atheists generally see as an ideal solution.

    1. Complete separation of church and state.
    Religions should have no say in how a nation is run. That is not to say there should be no organised religion. In fact, with no ‘state’ religion, others can flourish and religious bigotry is lessened.

    That’s basically it. :) I can’t think of anything else I’d add that isn’t covered by that. Nobody sensible is saying the religious should practice their faith only within the confines of their homes.

    I think we’d also rather like (but won’t get) there to be a general acknowledgment that being an atheist is the default setting for human beings. Nobody is born believing in Jesus, or Allah, or the Invisible Spaghetti Monster… they are born ‘without belief’ which is what an atheist is.

  • People will vote identity and preference, and that isn’t necessarily active discrimination. A choice for somebody else is not always a choice against you.

    Good point. Sometimes it’s not. But sometimes it is. As you pointed out above, a lot of people who voted for Obama wouldn’t have if he actually were Muslim. Is that just voting your identity, or is it active anti-Muslim discrimination? Lots of non-black people had no problem voting for a black man, just as lots of minorities have no problem voting for white candidates for various positions, and Christians have no problem voting for Jewish candidates and vice versa. Why the attitude change when the religion is Muslim? (Okay, this is mostly rhetorical, because we know why, at least in part, post-9/11.)

    Atheist politicians (what few there are) face similar discrimination, I think. City Councilman Cecil Bothwell was called “unworthy of his seat” because of his atheism. Kay Hagan, campaigning against Elizabeth Dole for the North Carolina senate seat, was attacked by Dole for taking “Godless” money from atheist lobbyists, whom Dole’s ad described as “the most vile, radical liberals in America.” (Hagan herself is Presbyterian.) On the bright side: Bothwell was popularly elected to his seat, and his opponents’ demands to unseat him were considered unconstitutional; Dole’s “Godless” ad was roundly criticized, and Hagan won the election. So that gives me hope. (Although it’s not clear to me whether the ad was criticized for just falsely associating Hagan with atheism, or for its negative depiction of atheists themselves.) I wish there were more case studies to look at to see if my argument holds water, but atheists running for or elected to office are few and far between.

    If, in the future, religious conviction must be kept in the privacy of one’s home, then effectively the atheists have merely changed places with the religious in society. Religious people will have to be functionally atheist. They stand to lose in this case, and they don’t want to be driven into the closet any more than anyone else.

    Okay, all of the above is not entirely rational or fair, but that’s the concern your political opposition has, and it is not an entirely groundless fear. That must be understood for there to be constructive engagement.

    You’re right–it’s not rational or fair. As Kenny pointed out, it would be a challenge to find discrimination against the religious in the majority-atheist Scandinavian countries. I don’t think the faithful in these nations feel pressure to keep their faith secret. The observance of faith will be suppressed by atheists gaining mainstream acceptance to the same degree that gay and interracial marriage will force “traditional” couples to hide their status: that is, not at all.

    I think the biggest concern of most atheists in the West is simply to keep secular democracy secular: we want religion dissociated from government and the formulating of public policy (as well as out of science classrooms). Religious people have no need to go into hiding or fear persecution in a secular democracy–heck, America was designed to have protections for individual religious belief. The religious conservatives who are trying to break down the separation of church and state are, I think, sparking much of the pushback from outspoken atheists. And I don’t think they realize that the church/state separation benefits them as well, by keeping government out of religious affairs. (It was the Baptist minister John Leland who inspired Jefferson to advocate for church/state separation in the first place, a fact the Christian right seems to have forgotten or chosen to disregard.)

    Anyway, sorry for the length of this. Big topic…

  • Overlapping with Kenny’s post, I see, which makes some of the same points in fewer words. Sorry. :-)

  • Writing as a non-believer, I disagree that people are natural atheists. I think most people are born with a pre-disposition towards both:

    1: inventing grand theories to explain the world
    2: projecting our own traits onto other things

    Individually, the first leads to philosophy and science and the second leads to empathy and an understanding that other people are human, too. Combined, you get religion.

    On the other hand, what religion you believe in is determined by where and when you were born, unless you make a conscious decision to change your mind later.

  • Kenny

    Paul, the human brain has evolved to find patterns in things. It is why people think it’s amazing when they meet somebody they know in an unexpected place. They think meeting that person is somehow statistically more remarkable than meeting any one of the other people who happened to be there.

    This need to see patterns in things is what drives scientific research and discovery.
    Religion is partly based on the same thing. Early on, with no better explanations for what was going on, people made shit up.
    This doesn’t mean we aren’t born atheists, everybody is,… it just means that in the absence of rational scientific reasoning our species had to go through a ‘religious’ stage during its social development.

    The second, and I feel the more driving and important reason for religion is power. Power over land, power over wealth and resources, power over women (who were and in places still are almost universally considered to be property or second class citizens) and power over other religions.

  • bitchen frizzy

    It is simply not a sweeping generalization to say that religions have been responsible for the majority of wars, bigotry, torture and inequality across the whole span of human civilization.

    Yes, it is a generalization. It’s a belief you maintain, which is a prism through which you view history. That way, like anyone looking through the prism of their religious belief, you miss the contradictions. The worst war in history, in terms of casualties and destruction, was not a religious war, to begin with. The Khmer Rouge, Maoism,… what’s the use, though? You want to assign the evils of this world to religion, and that’s how you’re going to see it; and that can’t possibly be an irrational belief on your part because you’re an atheist, and only religious people hold irrational beliefs.

    It is not a coincidence that societies become fairer and more tolerant as religion becomes weaker. Look at the Scandinavian nations for examples of this.

    Again, you see the examples that support what you want to believe. China is neither fair nor tolerant. Neither was Stalinist Russia. I know, that’s a different kind of atheism, but still… As for Scandinavia, I’ll have to take your word for it that historical anti-Semitism and prejudice against Muslim immigrants has all but disappeared. Personally, I seriously doubt that, but I just don’t have the data at hand to make a case.

    The theistic view that their religion is the ‘one true faith’ is not based on evidence… it is based on power.

    It’s based on their conviction, often sincere. To ascribe to religious persons in general a craving for power behind what they profess is bigotry, to call a spade a spade. That, too, is a sweeping generalization.

    Perhaps it would help if I discussed with you what atheists generally see as an ideal solution.

    You are convinced you know of an ideal solution. I don’t think that atheism brings about a fundamental change in human nature, such that those in power will no longer abuse it. You may not see it in yourself, but I’ll point it out for the benefit of other readers: you and Bluejay are both implying an intellectual and ethical superiority on the part of atheists. You are utterly convinced of the rightness of your own views, and you combine that with veiled contempt for any POV informed by religion.

    Religions should have no say in how a nation is run.

    Yes, but what about religious people? Do they get a say? Isn’t that dangerous? In the U.S., some atheists are calling for the IRS to revoke the tax-exempt status of churches that preach sermons on political policies and platforms. Canada has begun criminalizing content of sermons if they qualify as “hate speech”.

    In fact, with no ‘state’ religion, others can flourish and religious bigotry is lessened.

    But we’re not talking about merely abolishing state religion, are we? That’s already been done in the U.S. and W. Europe. You’re actually talking about taking it farther, aren’t you? Besides, it simply isn’t true, or even generally true, that religion can flourish and bigotry is lessened in countries without state religion. There’s no correlation, in fact, between abolishment of state religion and religious freedom. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t.

    Nobody sensible is saying the religious should practice their faith only within the confines of their homes.

    Not in so many words, no. But if we reach the point that in their employment and politics they must not practice or express their religion, what’s the difference?

    I think we’d also rather like (but won’t get) there to be a general acknowledgment that being an atheist is the default setting for human beings.

    Well, you won’t get that from psychiatry. The science supports the idea that people are hardwired with a strong disposition toward belief in the supernatural. The default setting is to acquire the surrounding culture’s belief, probably as a tribal bonding instinct.

    Nobody is born believing in Jesus, or Allah, or the Invisible Spaghetti Monster… they are born ‘without belief’ which is what an atheist is.

    No, that’s an agnostic. By default, people are undecided or follow their parent’s beliefs without much consideration. An atheist has reached the intellectual conclusion that religious belief is false.

  • bitchen frizzy

    This doesn’t mean we aren’t born atheists, everybody is,… it just means that in the absence of rational scientific reasoning our species had to go through a ‘religious’ stage during its social development.

    The second, and I feel the more driving and important reason for religion is power. Power over land, power over wealth and resources, power over women (who were and in places still are almost universally considered to be property or second class citizens) and power over other religions

    This is psuedoscientific conjecturing, based largely on a desire to conform the facts to what you wish to believe. Essentially, you’re crafting your own belief system.

  • JoshB

    Yes, but what about religious people? Do they get a say? Isn’t that dangerous? In the U.S., some atheists are calling for the IRS to revoke the tax-exempt status of churches that preach sermons on political policies and platforms.

    So what? Tax exemption and freedom of speech/religion are not the same thing. You pay taxes, do you feel your freedom of religion is being infringed upon?

    The science supports the idea that people are hardwired with a strong disposition toward belief in the supernatural.

    Science supports the idea that people are hardwired for crappy pattern recognition, not a belief in the supernatural.

    Mix crappy pattern recognition, ignorance of the way the natural world works, and a profound fear of death, and you get a strong disposition toward belief in the supernatural.

    Science also supports the idea that greater scientific knowledge tends to correlate with lesser religious belief. What do you make of that?

  • bitchen frizzy

    So what? Tax exemption and freedom of speech/religion are not the same thing. You pay taxes, do you feel your freedom of religion is being infringed upon?

    Please reread what I wrote. I spoke of churchs’ tax exemptions, not a personal one.

    …and you get a strong disposition toward belief in the supernatural.

    Which is what I said. Did you assume I was making a theological point? Is it pattern recognition and not tribal programming? Not sure, myself. I’ve heard both. Either way, same point.

    Science also supports the idea that greater scientific knowledge tends to correlate with lesser religious belief. What do you make of that?

    Another oft-quoted canard that I’m supposed to accept uncritically because, as an atheist, you’re smarter than me.

  • bitchen frizzy, I assume you’re primarily addressing Kenny but since you mention me as well and seem to regard me in the same light, I’d like to respond too, speaking just for myself.

    you’re an atheist, and only religious people hold irrational beliefs.

    No, we’re all human, and we all have irrational as well as rational tendencies. Perhaps the most that can be said is that I think a skeptical mindset makes it easier for us to identify our irrational beliefs and decide whether basing our actions on them leads to good things.

    China is neither fair nor tolerant. Neither was Stalinist Russia. I know, that’s a different kind of atheism, but still…

    So what was that you were saying earlier about not lumping things together?

    I’ve been recommending this book I’ve just read on a few forums, and I’ll do it here too: Timothy Ferris’s The Science of Liberty has quite a lot to say about the relationship between science and liberalism (and atheism, though that’s not really his focus), and why the common belief that Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, etc. were scientific/atheistic societies is a misconception. I’ve blogged about the book if you’re interested in some extensive passages and my thoughts on them.

    you and Bluejay are both implying an intellectual and ethical superiority on the part of atheists.

    What did I say on this thread that makes you think that? In any case, I don’t believe myself personally to be a smarter or more ethical human being than anyone else. I do think that science, and a humanistic philosophy that doesn’t rely on supernatural motivations, yield better results in interacting with the universe and with each other. I think there’s evidence for it, and I’m willing to have a conversation about it with someone who isn’t making assumptions about my attitude from the get-go.

    You are utterly convinced of the rightness of your own views, and you combine that with veiled contempt for any POV informed by religion.

    What will convince you otherwise, bitchen? I examine my views all the time (which is not the same as discounting them), and I acknowledge wisdom wherever it’s found, including in religious ethical teachings. Maybe I just haven’t written about it as much. (I also think King, Gandhi, and Desmond Tutu are the bee’s knees.) As far as the “rightness of my views” about the existence of God: I see nothing wrong with standing by a position that I think I’ve arrived at through intellectually honest means. Tonio and LaSargenta have done their own thinking and reached different conclusions, and I respect their right to those views, though I may not agree with them.

    Besides, it simply isn’t true, or even generally true, that religion can flourish and bigotry is lessened in countries without state religion. There’s no correlation, in fact, between abolishment of state religion and religious freedom.

    Can you say more about this? What’s your basis for this claim? (Genuinely interested.)

    [Kenny wrote] Nobody sensible is saying the religious should practice their faith only within the confines of their homes.

    Not in so many words, no. But if we reach the point that in their employment and politics they must not practice or express their religion, what’s the difference?

    This seems like paranoia to me. From reading and talking to other atheists, I’d say that atheists will fight for religious people’s right to express themselves. All we’re saying is that government’s actions and decisions should be based on evidence and secular motives that benefit people of all faiths (and no faith), rather than based on dogmas specific to any faith. Beyond that, be as loud and proud in your faith as you want. Yes, we do wish that more people would think the way we do (naturally, as everyone wishes), but we hope it happens through persuasion in the free marketplace of ideas, not through coercion. I’ll argue that you shouldn’t believe in God, but I won’t make the government force you to renounce your faith at gunpoint.

    But for what it’s worth, Jesus wanted faith practiced quietly too: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5-6) ;-)

    An atheist has reached the intellectual conclusion that religious belief is false.

    Yes. May we say so?

  • Kenny

    Ok. I am going to answer these in a numbered list.

    1. It is difficult to find a war which does not contain religious elements. The second world war, which you described as non religious, had at its heart the cults of personality of Hitler and Stalin… Hitler’s complete with master race. The holocaust, the collaboration of the pope, the Japanese kamikaze and banzai charges.
    This is not a belief I maintain. This is a conclusion based on the available evidence.

    2. If you accept that the atheism of Stalin’s Russia was not what we are discussing as atheism, then kindly stop brining it up. The ‘but still…’ is utterly meaningless. Historical anti Semitism is part of life across Europe. It is, thankfully, historical in many nations, rather than currant. It is also a holdover from the Christian religious belief that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. It therefore has NOTHING to do with atheism and the modern ultra secular Scandinavian nations.

    3. Let me pose this one as a question. Why do you think women are cast as sinners and property in so many world religions? Why do you think so many religions urge their adherents to conquer, enslave or destroy those who adhere to other belief systems? Why, when Christianity was strong in Europe, did it seek to control every aspect of life?

    4. http://www.holysmoke.org/icr-pri.htm
    These statistics show that despite the proportion of atheists in the United States being in the region of 8-16% (though the most common figure I have heard is 10%) in 1997 the percentage of prisoners held in the United States who are atheists was just 0.2%.
    Why should the proportion of atheists in the general population be 50 times greater than the proportion of atheists in the prison population?
    If atheism brings about no change in human nature, why are the percentages not the same?

    5. Of course religious people should get a say in how a nation is run. They have a vote, just like everybody else. That’s what a democracy is. One adult, one vote. Religious, atheist, everybody.
    When we advocate a state where religions have no role in government… we are not advocating one where the religious are excluded from government. Hopefully you can see how these are not the same thing.

    6. While the evidence that smaller religions can flourish when a state religion is abolished is limited, there is plenty of evidence that strong state religions smother their competition.

    7. Who said people shouldn’t practice or express their religion? I didn’t. Bluejay didn’t. Nor did Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchins.

    8. Science does not support the idea of a hard wired human need to believe in the supernatural. That certain areas of the brain become more active when we pray is not evidence of spiritual hard wiring. What humans do have a hard wired desire to do is to explain things. It is what drives scientific study, and (partly) what drives religion.

    9. No. You are incorrect.
    Atheism… a means without, and theism means belief. Agnostic… a means without, and gnostic means knowledge.
    These are dissimilar concepts.
    Neither Bluejay or myself have stated that God does not exist. We will never do that, because doing so would be a claim without evidence. It would be a statement of faith. Atheists do not believe in God… that’s not the same as saying it does not exist.
    Bitchin, you were an atheist when you were born. You did not pop out believing in God. You became theistic. (Actually that is an assumption… I don’t believe you have actually professed to any particular faith.)
    I struggled with Christianity as a young boy. I couldn’t make myself to believe in it.. I actually got pretty worried.

    Lastly… psuedoscientific? No. It is conjecture, based on some reasonable assumptions. Without science, early people made things up to explain the world around them. This is what happened. I am not crafting a belief system when I say this.

  • Kenny

    Oh dear, I took so long to answer that several posts found there way onto the thread. Haha.. sorry Bitchin, it might be a little hard to follow that.

  • bitchen frizzy

    No, we’re all human, and we all have irrational as well as rational tendencies.

    Well, that’s right. Atheists are human, too. Equally prone to human foibles, like corruptibility and hubris. That’s why I don’t accept that governance by atheists would be any better than governance by theists. They’re all human beings.

    So what was that you were saying earlier about not lumping things together?

    I know, but I needed a good example of what we might call irrational atheists – if it’s not too simplistic to call Maoists and Stalinists that. That goes with the point I just made above. I know that communist rhetoric has never matched reality, on atheism or egalitarianism. Makes them hypocritical.

    I do not accept a priori a positive correlation between atheism and tolerance.

    I do think that science, and a humanistic philosophy that doesn’t rely on supernatural motivations, yield better results in interacting with the universe and with each other.

    How else should this be interpreted, but as a belief in superior ethics? “Better results”? Granted, that’s no different than any religion’s similar claims. Fair enough. We all think we’re on the right path or we’d change paths. Here, I will acknowledge that I don’t regard you entirely in the same light as some others. You are not one of those spewing bile and hyperbole.

    This seems like paranoia to me. From reading and talking to other atheists, I’d say that atheists will fight for religious people’s right to express themselves.

    Hmmm. Let’s see how my point about taxing churches goes over. What I honestly don’t know is if the notion that churches should be taxed out of the political arena is a majority view, or just that of a loud minority of atheists.

    You know that Jesus also told his disciples, “Go forth and make disciples of all the nations” and that he got himself killed by being very public about his religious POV. He, and the religion that he founded, never did believe that religion should be kept in the privacy of the home. In the passage you quote, Jesus was condemning public display of religion by those who did so hypocritically. He was not suggesting that religion had no place in public life.

    Yes. May we say so?

    Of course, as far as I’m concerned. You can even come knock on my door and tell me in person. We can have a beer while your at it. But I know that you, for one, wouldn’t begin ranting about me “brainwashing children” and being an “intellectual plague.”

    What’s your basis for this claim?

    Simple. List those countries that have no state religion (or state church), and see what you come up with by way of a correlation. You can’t include Norway, Sweden*, or Finland, though – isn’t that interesting, in light of what’s been said?

    Here’s wikipedia’s list (from the page State_Religion)
    Albania, Australia, Brazil, Bolivia, Canada, Chile,
    Cuba, People’s Republic of China, Republic of China (Taiwan), East Timor, Ecuador, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kosovo, Laos, Lebanon, Mexico, Montenegro, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, North Korea, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden (*on Sweden, the wikipeida article contradicts itself, but in either case it had a state church until 1999), Turkey, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, Vietnam

    Tolerant Norway has a state religion. So does England. Lebanon, North Korea and Turkey do not. Etc. Correlation?

  • JoshB

    Another oft-quoted canard that I’m supposed to accept uncritically because, as an atheist, you’re smarter than me.

    Accept or don’t based on its truth or lack thereof. I don’t make arguments from authority.

    I didn’t say I was athiest, and even if I was, it wouldn’t be my athiesm that would make me smarter than you.

  • bitchen frizzy

    It is difficult to find a war which does not contain religious elements.

    That’s a tautology. Wars include religious combatants, so “religious elements” are present. WWII was not a religious war. Hitler and Stalin “personality cults” as equivalent to religion? That’s a stretch. And the Holocaust was directed at those who were ethnically Jewish. It was based on ethnicity, not religion. Didn’t matter to the Nazis what religion those rounded up professed. Atheist Jews, too, went to the gas chambers. The Holocaust also included other ethnicities, like Gypsies.

    It is, thankfully, historical in many nations,

    I don’t believe that anti-Semitism is dead in NW Europe. You’re idealizing.

    If atheism brings about no change in human nature, why are the percentages not the same?

    Something an atheist once wrote about “lies, damn lies, and statistics”…

    …Maybe that atheists tend to be wealthier and can afford better lawyers has something to do with it? Blacks are disproportionately represented in the prison population. Should I extend your logic to conclude that they are of lower nature? I don’t think you’re bigoted, but when you make an argument like this to extol atheists’ superior nature (yes, you did say that) you’d best think before you type lest you be seriously misunderstood. And you’re obviously discounting other sociological factors that govern the statistics of prison populations.

    Point 5, pending. Point 6, not supported by facts, read my other post. Point 7, ditto Point 5. Point 8 I addressed elsewhere.

    Point 9, semantics b/t atheist and agnostic, but an interesting logical conundrum. If people are born atheist, then doesn’t that make it the unthinking default, and not agnostic/unaffiliated? I mean, most atheists I encounter began as something or other as children, or explored this or that, before concluding with atheism. But hang on a minute…

    Merriam-Webster defines an agnostic as
    “a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god”.

    Your stated position on your own belief is much closer to the dictionary definition of agnosticism.

    An atheist is defined as “one who believes that there is no deity”. That’s NOT what you’re professing.

    A baby is born not believing anything one way or the other. According to the dictionary, that’s agnostic.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Let me pose this one as a question. Why do you think women are cast as sinners and property in so many world religions? Why do you think so many religions urge their adherents to conquer, enslave or destroy those who adhere to other belief systems? Why, when Christianity was strong in Europe, did it seek to control every aspect of life?

    How many theists do you actually know that fit the description above? What about the churches/synagogues/mosques in the town where you live? How much of the above have you researched as opposed to reading somewhere on teh intarwebz?

    If you don’t want to be lumped in with Mao and Stalin, then ACT ACCORDINGLY!

  • Science also supports the idea that greater scientific knowledge tends to correlate with lesser religious belief. What do you make of that?

    And yet one of the most religious person I ever knew–a former atheist, btw–was a computer programmer who knew a lot about raising plants and do-it-yourself construction work and yes–science. Yes, I know. It’s anecdotal and may be at best an exception that proves the rule.

    And yet when–like myself–you’ve read articles in various conservative magazines in which people use “science” to “prove” that blacks and Hispanics are intellectually inferior to non-Hispanic whites, that Mexican immigrants don’t read that much, and that AIDs victims should have been treated the same way TB victims were treated in bygone eras, one tends to get skeptical about the way “science” gets used to prove points the same way I get skeptical when people who advocate such-and-such a practice because “God told them to.”

    After all, both Isaac Asimov and William Shockley knew something about science. Yet the latter thought I.Q. tests proved something about various racial groups and the former did not. Who was right?

    I think which one I believe and I don’t side with old Isaac because the Bible told me to. But the fact that two different individuals could look at the same scientific statistics and come to different conclusions is something very disturbing.

    And when–like me–you have a father who for many years was held back in his chosen field because his would-be employers in the computer programming field–who is supposedly a field in which you expect the top people to know something about science–thought people of his ethnic background were too dumb to work with computers, one tends to be wary of any science-based ideology.

    Yes, knowledge is good and there is much to be said about the promotion of learning. But knowledge is only good when it’s used by good people and put to good ends–and not all men who would use knowledge are necessarily good just because they’re not religious any more than they’re necessarily bad because they are religious. All too often, people acquire just enough knowledge to justify their particular ideology–and yes, I guess I could find that statement ironic but as I noted on another thread, the nonbeliever who is killed because the local government considers him to be genetically inferior tends to be just as dead as the one who is executed because he refuses to bow to the one, true God.

    China is neither fair nor tolerant. Neither was Stalinist Russia. I know, that’s a different kind of atheism, but still…

    And most Christians I know practice a different sort of Christianity than that practiced by Cotton Mather or the Spanish Inquisition. And many will not only denounce the guy who pickets funerals, covers up clerical abuse cases or bombs abortion clinics as loudly as most atheists but will do so more loudly precisely because they expect the people who do such deeds and yet claim to be Christian to know better.

    Anyway, I suspect the point Frizzy was attempting to make with that statement was not “atheists are evil–let’s keep them out of power.” It was “atheists on occasion have done great evil. It’s a mater of historical record. And just because you see little similarity between your kind of atheists and that kind of atheists doesn’t mean said record should be ignored. Any more than the record of the Spanish Inquisition should be ignored just because few people nowadays would consider the members of that group true Christians.” And if so, he has a point. Besides, which the counter-argument smacks a bit of the “No True Scotsman” Fallacy.

    Even if it didn’t, atheists are hardly alone in being blamed for the sins of others who supposedly share their religious philosophy. Many Catholics here in the U.S. were persecuted during the Know-Nothing riots of the 1840s and said persecution was often justified by various Vatican scandals supposedly uncovered by Napoleon. There was even a book, The Confessions of Maria Monk, which, despite being blatantly fictious, proved to be very popular and very influential with said Catholic-baiters.

    And of course, the number of Jews persecuted for the deeds of others is endless.

    These statistics show that despite the proportion of atheists in the United States being in the region of 8-16% (though the most common figure I have heard is 10%) in 1997 the percentage of prisoners held in the United States who are atheists was just 0.2%.

    Why should the proportion of atheists in the general population be 50 times greater than the proportion of atheists in the prison population?

    If atheism brings about no change in human nature, why are the percentages not the same?

    How many of those people were atheists before they went into prison? How many were jailhouse converts? How many turned to religion as a way to survive? What influence does the fact that a prisoner who shows interest in “churching up” often gets leniency in his parole hearing have on the religious status of such prisoners? And how can we tell that a poll taken of a group not necessarily famous for its ability to tell the truth is not necessarily a whole bunch of people telling the poll takers what they want to hear?

    Yes, I know I’m unduly cynical about a study that might be quite accurate. But then much of my religious philosophy was influenced for a time by a late cousin who himself was a jailhouse convert who used to speak many times of how professing to be a Bible enthusiast got him out of many a prickly situation while he was in prison. Of course, in the long run, I discovered that he wasn’t as reformed a character as he initially pretended to be when he first got out of prison–which created a temporary crisis of faith on my part–sorry, t.m.i.–but the point still stays. Some prisoners find a distinct advantage in turning to religion in prison.

    Why, when Christianity was strong in Europe, did it seek to control every aspect of life?

    I have no idea.

    Why did things not improve in Mexico when the government still passed laws in the wake of the Mexican Revolution that sought to reduce the influence of the Catholic church in Mexican society? And why did such measures–despite being the strongest anti-clerical laws passed against a dominant organized religion outside of the former Eastern bloc–ultimately fail to curb Catholic influence?

    Why did so many pagan cultures such as the Imperial Romans seek to control every aspect of life? Why were the wars of the Romans against fellow pagans in Carthage, Gaul and Germania so brutal?

    I can ask such questions all day. But it is late. And this post is already long enough.

    Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

    Can we at least agree on the awesomeness of MaryAnn. the self-professed Geek Goddess who may someday become known as Our Lady of the Raggedy Doctor?

  • I think which one I believe and I don’t side with old Isaac because the Bible told me to. But the fact that two different individuals could look at the same scientific statistics and come to different conclusions is something very disturbing.

    I know which one I believe and I don’t side with old Isaac because the Bible told me to. But the fact that two different individuals could look at the same scientific statistics and come to different conclusions is something very disturbing.

    …but the point still stays.

    Or stands. Whatever.

  • I think which one I believe and I don’t side with old Isaac because the Bible told me to. But the fact that two different individuals could look at the same scientific statistics and come to different conclusions is something very disturbing.

    What I meant:

    I know which one I believe and I don’t side with old Isaac because the Bible told me to. But the fact that two different individuals could look at the same scientific statistics and come to different conclusions is something very disturbing.

    …but the point still stays.

    Or stands. Whatever.

    Please feel free to delete the post directly before this one.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Accept or don’t based on its truth or lack thereof.

    OK, I don’t accept it, because it’s not true.

  • Isobel

    Bitchen Frizzy, I think you need to be a little bit circumspect in making correlations about England having a state religion. It’s a technicality – Church of England is officially the and a state religion, but it’s a bit of joke, really. Having lived for a year in the USA (in Virginia) there is a vast difference between people who refer to themselves as CoE in England and people who refer to themselves as baptist in the USA, for example. My experience is that England is mostly a secular nation – those who refer to themselves as CoE usually have almost no active belief whatsoever, and don’t behave according to a religious agenda, don’t attend Church etc etc. The church is pretty much an empty figurehead, much like the Queen.

  • Isobel

    Not being Norwegian or Swedish, I couldn’t comment to precisely but I suspect that their state religion is similar to ours, a ‘state religion’ in name only.

    In my experience, most English people are made uncomfortable by any kind of overt religiousity.

  • Kenny

    Hold on a second. I’ll respond to other points later, but why are we having a serious discussion here where the Romans are described as ‘pagan’?
    Tell me you’re not going with the dictionary definition which also describes pagans as “pertaining to the worship or worshipers of any religion that is neither Christian, Jewish, nor Muslim” in other words, an attempt to sweep their religions into one big pile and pretend they don’t matter.

    Roman polytheism is still religion. Also, given that the Emperor Constantine effectively invented the Catholic church and made it the State religion (if not to more effectively control his people, then why?) I don’t think the Romans act particularly as evidence for the defence.

  • Kenny

    The difference between an atheist and an agnostic is not a semantic one, there is a very important distinction which you have missed. You provided two dictionary definitions, and while these are both correct, you have misinterpreted them.

    Merriam-Webster defines an agnostic as
    “a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable; broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god”.

    An agnostic does not think it is possible to know anything about God, because God is an intangible, invisible, etc. You have to be aware of the concept of God to be an agnostic though.

    An atheist is defined as “one who believes that there is no deity”.

    Will you accept that “one who does not believe in a diety” is a valid rewording of the above definition? (since the definition apparently forgets that if atheist means “one who is (a) without and (theist) belief, then “believes there is…” is a simply stupid way to phrase it.)

    I cannot say “there is no God” or “God definitely does not exist” not because I think he might, but because I cannot make positive statements about something I do not have any proof of.

  • Kenny

    Now. I phrased what I said about the evidence of varying religiosity in the public at large and in prisons as a question because it is something I wish to have a conversation about.

    I fully accept, and believed prior to posting that the following points are true.

    1. That prison populations have a larger number of people from deprived backgrounds than the general population.

    2. That atheists tend to be educated liberals. (I know some conservative atheists, but I think the overall tendency is liberal.)

    I do not accept that more than a tiny minority of atheists who go into prison become religious as a way to shorten their sentence.
    Adult atheists tends to have arrived at an intellectual conclusion, and nothing short of a physical manifestation of God in front of their eyes will make them religious.

    So all that being said. The proportion is about 50 times greater than the proportion in the general population.

    You disliked the positive claim I implied, fair enough… I’ll make the point in another way.

    Religion does not make you a better person. What I think is that religious doctrine teaches some values which are morally questionable.
    I have never heard of an atheist deliberately flying a plane into a building (well, I don’t know anything about the IRS building guy, but I think he was suicidal for a rather different reason), or the deck of an aircraft carrier, or severing a young girl’s clitoris and sewing up her vagina… or of having sex with a virgin to cure AIDS.

    Our world is chock full of examples of some really disgusting abuses which are directly attributable to religiously held views.

    It is do not think it is a stretch to consider the cults of personality built up around Hitler and Stalin as religions. I would be interested in discussing that further with you..

    Oh and there is no such thing as “ethnically Jewish”. That is a common misconception. Jews come from all over the world. It is a belief system. I know many atheist Jews, but they exist because Jewish culture is very strong and while they don’t believe in God, they still consider themselves culturally Jewish.
    The same is often true of Catholics. The comedian Dara o’Brien states on stage that he “doesn’t believe in God or Jesus or angels or the bible or anything, but I’m still a catholic.” While tongue in cheek, and while he also calls himself an atheist, I hope you will take the point.

  • Kenny

    Oh and atheism is both the unthinking default AND the intellectual conclusion. It means “one who is without belief”. This is not a complex definition.

  • bitchen frizzy

    @Isobel:

    I agree with you that the English are not devout about their state religion. The point is, those nations you mentioned did not find it necessary to abolish state religion to achieve religious tolerance. They got there, one way or another, without resorting to that. And the U.S., which constitutionally prohibits a state religion, is arguably no more religiously tolerant. Remember, I’m not making a correlation, I’m arguing that there’s no correlation.

    @Kenny:
    I think that Tonio’s point was, in response to your statement about Christianity wanting to control everything, that the Romans – before and after Constantine – wanted to control, conquer and dominate. That wasn’t something introduced to that part of the world by Christianity.

    No, I won’t accept a rewrite of the dictionary. Words have to have meaning. Your professed belief is more congruent with the commonly accepted definition of agnosticism. I’ve encountered plenty of atheists who assert that there is no deity. They aren’t required to prove that because it’s not necessary to prove a negative.

  • bitchen frizzy

    I fully accept, and believed prior to posting that the following points are true.

    1. That prison populations have a larger number of people from deprived backgrounds than the general population.

    2. That atheists tend to be educated liberals. (I know some conservative atheists, but I think the overall tendency is liberal.)

    Right. Meaning that atheists tend to be of higher social status and wealthier, so they get better lawyers, more acquitals, and probated sentences. Again I refer you to the racial disparities in prison populations. A valid explanation has to be consistent with all observed facts, not just selected ones.

    It is do not think it is a stretch to consider the cults of personality built up around Hitler and Stalin as religions. I would be interested in discussing that further with you..

    So it’s not fair of me to lump you in with communists, but it’s ok for you to lump theists in with Nazis? Hitler was avowedly anti-religious. He said he couldn’t afford to move against the Christian churches at the time, but he’d get to them later.

    Our world is chock full of examples of some really disgusting abuses which are directly attributable to religiously held views.

    Atheists, likewise. If you persist in your argument that atheists are morally superior to theists, you’re not going to have much credibility left.

    The rest of your post is asked and answered. What about the theist next door to you, or down the hall from you?

    Oh and there is no such thing as “ethnically Jewish”. That is a common misconception. Jews come from all over the world. It is a belief system. I know many atheist Jews, but they exist because Jewish culture is very strong and while they don’t believe in God, they still consider themselves culturally Jewish.

    The Nazis didn’t give a damn one way or the other. Jewish descent ===> gas chamber. It wasn’t about religion to them, and it wasn’t just Jews or just theists being rounded up. Antisemitism is directed at the culturally Jewish, not the observent Jewish.

    So, what about my question on tax exemptions for churches?

  • bitchen frizzy

    One thing that is true of Western intellectual atheists is that they’ve never held the reins of power.

    If they had the power that religions have had at times, or that communists have had, would they be any less susceptible to hubris and corruption? It’s never been tested.

  • Kenny

    @Bitchin

    This debate about the meaning of the word atheist needs to be put to bed. The dictionary definition you provided was poorly worded. The literally meaning of the word atheist is ‘without belief’.
    You have tried very hard to skip around this.

    “atheism
    1580s, from Fr. athéisme (16c.), from Gk. atheos “without god”” – from the online etymology dictionary ( http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=atheism )

    Contrary to your statement, the burden of proof lies with anybody who makes a claim. I should be able to prove any statement which begins “there is no…” OR “there is a…”

  • Kenny

    Woops… literal. Sorry, passionately typing there…

  • Kenny

    Bitchin, you, like all adherents of a particular religion, believe that yours is the ‘correct’ religion. Is this fair?

    You wouldn’t, I suspect, have chosen to follow your faith if you didn’t believe this.

    Your religion’s particular set of morals and values are therefore what you consider to be the ‘correct’ morals and values.

    Therefore you can stop your baseless attacks on my credibility before the blatant hypocrisy stinks up the place any further.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Your link says to see “atheist”, and there it expands on the meaning of the Gr. “atheist” as “godless, to deny the gods”.

    The definition you supplied is consistent with the one I supplied. What am I missing?

    Besides, your source doesn’t supply a current meaning of the word in English, but only the etymology. You didn’t actually provide a definition.

    Plenty of atheists deny there’s a god, and require proof of existence from theists with which they debate. In the rules of debate, that’s a fair and valid request. It’s the affirmative assertion that requires proof in a debate.

  • bitchen frizzy

    I believe my religion is the correct religion. I don’t believe it is correct about everything, or that its adherents are better people than the rest, or that it can answer every question or solve every problem.

    My religion’s morals and values, as a corrolary of the core beliefs, have often been incorrect and doubtless some of them still are.

    You have asserted that you are morally superior, and you’re making a dubious and refutable claim based on prison population statistics to support your argument. Sure, I’m questioning your credibility, as far as that argument goes. I am not challenging your credibility on all points.

    How does that make me a hypocrite?

  • Kenny

    I know the Nazi’s didn’t care. Did I say anything to the contrary? All I pointed out was that there is no such thing as being ethnically Jewish. I’m not particularly sure we still want to be using terminology and thinking on the culture they attempted to exterminate… do we?

    Jews come from all over the world. They are a genetically diverse culture, similar to Christianity and Islam.

    Hitler, was NOT avowedly anti religious. Nazi soldiers had “God is with us” stamped on their belt buckles for crying out loud.
    http://www.nobeliefs.com/mementoes/buckle.jpeg

    Christian symbolism was rife in Nazi Germany. I am NOT equating Christians with Nazi’s… simply pointing out that your assertion is utterly false.

    By the way, women are treated as property or second class citizens almost everywhere religion is strong. It is most assuredly the secularisation of the West that has allowed women more equal status.

    I think you should expand your argument against my point that religiously held beliefs result in horrific abuses. You said “atheists likewise”…

    What? We likewise what? Without religious dogma telling me to, I would have to be criminally insane to, for example, cut off a young girl’s clitoris and sew up her vagina.

  • Kenny

    Hah.. Bitchin, are your morals and values not divinely inspired?

    The core beliefs of the religions I am familiar with are more conservative and dogmatic than their modern sets of morals and values.

    Unless you are actually talking about a modern reinterpretation of your religion’s core beliefs?

    You seem pretty set on centuries old interpretations of the word atheist… interpretations which were invented when people didn’t think it was truly possible for somebody to truly not believe in God. ‘Denying’ God was seen as heresy.

    This belief is common of course… the “There are no atheists in foxholes’ chestnut is particularly obnoxious.

  • JoshB
    Let me pose this one as a question. Why do you think women are cast as sinners and property in so many world religions? Why do you think so many religions urge their adherents to conquer, enslave or destroy those who adhere to other belief systems? Why, when Christianity was strong in Europe, did it seek to control every aspect of life?

    How many theists do you actually know that fit the description above? What about the churches/synagogues/mosques in the town where you live? How much of the above have you researched as opposed to reading somewhere on teh intarwebz?

    This is a hilarious way to shoot your argument in the foot. Do you seriously think that people won’t be able answer this question?

    I personally know many Christians (my relatives, who I love dearly but who drive me insane) who would happily see homosexuality outlawed.

    And yet when–like myself–you’ve read articles in various conservative magazines in which people use “science” to “prove” that blacks and Hispanics are intellectually inferior to non-Hispanic whites, that Mexican immigrants don’t read that much, and that AIDs victims should have been treated the same way TB victims were treated in bygone eras, one tends to get skeptical about the way “science” gets used to prove points the same way I get skeptical when people who advocate such-and-such a practice because “God told them to.”

    Tonio, you’re arguing against a point that I didn’t make. I didn’t say that science makes people moral, I said science has a tendency to make them less religious.

    The conversational thread that I was following was about whether or not people are hardwired to believe in the supernatural. The point that I (and Kenny, I believe) was making was that, absent science, people inherently have large gaps in their knowledge of the natural world that tend to get filled with supernatural explanations. Once science fills those gaps people tend to become less religious.

    OK, I don’t accept it, because it’s not true.

    Cool. Just one question: why not? I can site this (from wikipedia):

    A study has shown atheism in the west to be particularly prevalent among scientists, a tendency already quite marked at the beginning of the 20th century, developing into a dominant one during the course of the century. In 1914, James H. Leuba found that 58% of 1,000 randomly selected U.S. natural scientists expressed “disbelief or doubt in the existence of God” (defined as a personal God which interacts directly with human beings). The same study, repeated in 1996, gave a similar percentage of 60.7%; this number is 93% among the members of the National Academy of Sciences. Expressions of positive disbelief rose from 52% to 72%.

    What have you got?

  • Kenny

    @Bitchin

    An affirmative assertion is one in which I make a claim that something is the case.

    If I say “There is no God” I am making an affirmative assertion. I need to prove it in a debate if I say it. You are muddled on this point.

  • Kenny

    This is fun, isn’t it? :D

  • bitchen frizzy

    The Nazis believed it was possible to be ethnically Jewish, and they acted on that belief, false or not. That’s why they wanted to see birth certificates and ancestry records. Not much consolation to their victims if they were operating from an erroneous premise.

    Hitler was content to use religion to his ends, and for the time being he couldn’t afford to alienate the Christians in Germany. He personally was not at all religious. Dispensing with religion was part of his long-term plans. “Gott mit uns” was part of German military tradition, about as meaningful as, say, “In God We Trust.”

    These are all facts on record, and I’ve read extensively on the subject. I don’t agree that WWII was a “religious war,” I think that’s a far-fetched claim, and if we’re starting to go round and round on that then we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    I think you should expand your argument against my point that religiously held beliefs result in horrific abuses. You said “atheists likewise”…

    My argument is extremely simple and readily summarized:

    Atheists are human beings.

    Corollary: Atheists are fully as capable of the evil that men do to each other as anyone else, and just as corruptible by power. I have no confidence whatsoever that, if in power, Western atheists would fare any better than any other group that has held power.

  • Kenny
  • Kenny

    Bitchin, on the contrary, the more secular society becomes, the fairer and more tolerant it becomes.
    This assertion…
    “I have no confidence whatsoever that, if in power, Western atheists would fare any better than any other group that has held power.”
    …has been disproved by the history of the West.

    Atheists as human beings are fully as capable of the evil that men do to each other as anyone else… however the point that I have repeatedly made is that we are without the dogmatic beliefs which excuse and encourage such behaviour.

    Would you care to refute this? As I said, I have not heard of atheist suicide bombing, or atheist mutilation of children’s genitals.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Hah.. Bitchin, are your morals and values not divinely inspired?

    The core beliefs of the religions I am familiar with are more conservative and dogmatic than their modern sets of morals and values.

    Unless you are actually talking about a modern reinterpretation of your religion’s core beliefs?

    What difference does any of this make, in reference to this debate? I am who I am, and I believe what I believe. I suspect you wish to fit me into a stereotype, and I’m not cooperating.

    You seem pretty set on centuries old interpretations of the word atheist…

    I’m using current English dictionary definitions, and what most atheists I dialogue with tell me. Once again, many atheists are quite comfortable asserting that there is no god.

    I don’t know why you’re hung up on this. If you’re an agnostic and not an atheist, does it matter?

    I personally know many Christians (my relatives, who I love dearly but who drive me insane) who would happily see homosexuality outlawed.

    Of course. Your relatives, practicioners of female circumscion, your neighbors, torturers, oppressors, me, Tonio… paint us all with one broad brush. Make no distinctions. Then assert your moral superiority. Then complain when you get compared to a Maoist, and then wonder why atheists are widely mistrusted in Western society.

  • JoshB

    Of course. Your relatives, practicioners of female circumscion, your neighbors, torturers, oppressors, me, Tonio… paint us all with one broad brush. Make no distinctions. Then assert your moral superiority. Then complain when you get compared to a Maoist, and then wonder why atheists are widely mistrusted in Western society.

    I’m not asserting my moral superiority. I am asserting my intellectual superiority, to you as an individual. Throwing a non sequitur laced tantrum, as you have done several times in this thread, will make me do that.

    You asked a factual question and I gave a factual answer. Stop whining that you didn’t get the one you wanted.

  • I do think that science, and a humanistic philosophy that doesn’t rely on supernatural motivations, yield better results in interacting with the universe and with each other.

    How else should this be interpreted, but as a belief in superior ethics? “Better results”? Granted, that’s no different than any religion’s similar claims. Fair enough. We all think we’re on the right path or we’d change paths.

    Sure. I don’t think I’m intrinsically superior to anyone else. But I do think there are better and worse paths, that are available to anyone who wants to switch. There’s a difference.

    Everyone has beliefs and is at least moderately convinced of their rightness. The real question is, what evidence are those beliefs based on? Does that evidence sufficiently apply to human experience, or to observations about the universe, that you can validly claim that everyone ought to accept it? I said “better results”–sure, why not? Antibiotics yield better results than trying to exorcise sickness demons. Installing lightning rods saves more lives than claiming that God strikes whomever he pleases (which lightning rod critics used to say). Treating men and women equally because they’re demonstrably moral and intellectual equals leads to a better society than treating women as inferiors because a deity says they are. These are extreme examples, and I’m not saying religious people today all hold to these beliefs, but I’m just trying to show that there are better and worse ways to treat each other and to think about how the world works. I think skepticism is a toolkit that helps us figure out what those ways are.

  • Kenny

    Hah. I am not agnostic. I do not believe in God. That makes me an atheist.
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/atheist

    This definition includes the word “disbelieves”.

    Even your original definition says “a person who believes there is no god”

    I dislike it only in as far as it is poorly worded when the etymology of atheist is taken into account. It means the same thing. I do not believe God exists. That is not the same as saying “God does not exist.”

    You’ve glossed over my point about affirmative claims. Does that mean you accept it?

    Also where is the ‘pending’ comment for point 5 waaaaayyy up there?

    Now. Fortunately, you, Tonio and the advocates homosexuality being outlawed live in a secular Western society. If you lived in a society where your religion retained its absolute power… would you, hand on heart, tell me you would not practice the way it told you to?

    Oh and please do not confuse yourself here. The church was not the mechanism by which our society became more secular… philosophy and education were the forces most responsible.

  • Well, that’s right. Atheists are human, too. Equally prone to human foibles, like corruptibility and hubris. That’s why I don’t accept that governance by atheists would be any better than governance by theists. They’re all human beings.

    […]

    I do not accept a priori a positive correlation between atheism and tolerance.

    […]

    One thing that is true of Western intellectual atheists is that they’ve never held the reins of power.

    If they had the power that religions have had at times, or that communists have had, would they be any less susceptible to hubris and corruption? It’s never been tested.

    Fair points. Dogmatic atheism has existed, as has dogmatic theism, as well as human foibles, and all have caused harm.

    Sorry to keep mentioning The Science of Liberty by Tim Ferris, but having just read it, my mind is still full of his arguments, and I think they’re relevant here. He contends that science–not its facts or discoveries, nor its technological products, but its methods–is the key to encouraging the liberal values that result in tolerant democratic societies. He argues that the practice of scientific inquiry by a serious scientific community has only really flourished under “liberal democratic” conditions because: science is “inherently antiauthoritarian”; “self-correcting” (i.e. individual scientists are human and make errors or have dishonest intentions, but the science community as a whole subjects all ideas to criticism so that bad ideas are eventually exposed and good ones are proven to be so); “must draw on all available intellectual resources” in order to flourish (hence, “nations aspiring to compete in the front ranks of science and technology cannot afford to suppress any element of their society–since none has a monopoly on brainpower–and so are obliged to educate their people”); and so on. And he contends that liberal democracy historically arose alongside (because of?) this scientific mindset, and draws parallels:

    It helps to consider that whereas prior systems dealt in claims of certitude, such as philosophers’ allegedly airtight reasoning and monarchs’ god-given right to rule, science and democracy are steeped in doubt. Both start with tentative ideas, go through agonies of experimentation, and arrive at merely probabilistic conclusions that remain vulnerable to disproof. Both are bottom-up systems, constructed more from individual actions in laboratories and legislatures than from a few allegedly impervious precepts. A liberal democracy in action is an endlessly changing mosaic of experiments, most of which partially or entirely fail. This makes the process frustratingly inefficient, but generates its strength.

    Ferris rejects the notion of a dictatorship run by scientists as much as one run by priests or godless communists; he “favors the messy, selfish, and often foolish and greedy push-and-pull of democracies as they are–neither rational nor expert but experimental–as better attuned to the spirit of science than are enchantments with authoritarian expertise and top-down planning.” Nor does he claim that science and democracy are perfect: “On the contrary, the very notion of perfection is inimical to both institutions. Scientists and democracies sometimes make mistakes or act contrary to their ideals, which leads some to condemn or dismiss them; but “All such arguments consist of comparing a real system with an imagined ideal that does not exist and (the deadly dreams of idealists notwithstanding) almost certainly never will.”

    There’s more, but that’s more than enough for now. Here’s my point: If Ferris is right, that science leads to (or at least is intimately connected with) liberal societies that can experiment with (i.e. try out and discard) leaders, ideas and programs through democratic elections, then that’s the kind of social system that would safeguard against the abuses of rigid human ideologies, whether secular or religious. It’s what we have now, in fact. Didn’t like Bush’s rigid conservative/religious principles? Here, try Obama. Don’t like Obama’s socialistic tendencies? Vote him out next time. And so on. It’s messy, but as Churchill said, it’s the worst form of government except for all the others.

    I think that Western intellectual atheists are atheistic because of arguments from the skeptical, empirical methods of science. And if they take “the reins of power,” it would be within the framework of the science-based, experimental, liberal democracy that made their atheism possible in the first place. This doesn’t make them better people. But it does arguably mean that an experimental, skeptical spirit, applied to science and politics, leads to more flourishing societies. (How do we define flourishing? I guess that’s a whole other conversation.)

  • Kenny

    My last point was needlessly confrontational. You are a moral person and you were brought up in a society that cherishes individual freedoms and rights.
    I simply mean that where religious dogma holds sway, these freedoms and rights are secondary.

  • Kenny

    Also, I do very much like the reasonable tone Bluejay uses to frame his arguments. I should take lessons. :D

  • Whoops–forgot to use the close-quote at the end of: “On the contrary, the very notion of perfection is inimical to both institutions.” Sorry. The very notion of perfection is inimical to my typing as well.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Can we dispense with the “Nazi’s were atheists or anti-religious” rubbish please?

    I never said Nazis were atheists. I said Hitler was anti-religious, and like any clever and cynical politician he used religion for his ends. Yes, Nazi-era Germany had a lot of religious symbolism and ceremony. Western civilization still does. What does that have to do with anything? Again your “wars contain religious elements” statement is a tautology. “Gott mitt uns” doesn’t say shit about the soldier wearing the belt buckle, any more than “In God We Trust” in an atheist’s wallet means anything.

    Atheists as human beings are fully as capable of the evil that men do to each other as anyone else… however the point that I have repeatedly made is that we are without the dogmatic beliefs which excuse and encourage such behaviour.

    What difference, if it doesn’t make you better people?

    …has been disproved by the history of the West.

    Atheists do not yet hold power in the West. It’s still theists running the show. All of this enlightenment and tolerance has come about while atheists are still in the small minority, and as you say, still underrepresented and mistrusted.

  • Kenny: fair enough, if you’ll give me lessons on brevity. :-)

  • bitchen frizzy

    I’m not asserting my moral superiority. I am asserting my intellectual superiority, to you as an individual. Throwing a non sequitur laced tantrum, as you have done several times in this thread, will make me do that.

    Its not nonsequitur. It’s in direct response to statements made on this thread. I’ve been very careful about that.

    To be honest, I thought I was responding to Kenny. My mistake. Point stands, though. If atheists will not make any distinctions between the theists they know and the perpetrators of atrocities, then they aren’t demonstrating that intellectual superiority.

    I already allowed that you’re smarter than me. ;) You can have that if it makes you happy.

    Kenny:

    You’ve glossed over my point about affirmative claims. Does that mean you accept it?

    It means I don’t care as much about the distinction as you do. To be fair, you seem to be claiming to be an atheist that won’t go so far as to state that there is no god, but you believe there isn’t. I don’t know what difference it really makes whether babies are born agnostic or atheist.

    Also where is the ‘pending’ comment for point 5 waaaaayyy up there?

    It’s awaiting your – anyone’s – response to my question about taxation of churches. I do actually have a point.

    Bluejay:

    If Ferris is right, that science leads to (or at least is intimately connected with) liberal societies that can experiment with (i.e. try out and discard) leaders, ideas and programs through democratic elections, then that’s the kind of social system that would safeguard against the abuses of rigid human ideologies, whether secular or religious.

    Well, that’s right. But religion is not inherently inimicable to that process, obviously, or those liberal societies would never have developed. Like I said, theists are still calling the shots… and did so throughout the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The deists and humanists and so forth were not burned at the stake.

  • JoshB

    Also, I do very much like the reasonable tone Bluejay uses to frame his arguments. I should take lessons. :D

    I’ve taken to picturing Bluejay like this, cuddly and with near infinite patience.

  • JoshB

    To be honest, I thought I was responding to Kenny.

    Oh, then my apologies.

  • I’ve taken to picturing Bluejay like this, cuddly and with near infinite patience.

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Thanks.

    It’s awaiting your – anyone’s – response to my question about taxation of churches. I do actually have a point.

    Could you make your point anyway? I think you were trying to connect taxing churches with somehow infringing on their freedom of expression, and I was puzzled as to how or why.

  • bitchen frizzy

    I think skepticism is a toolkit that helps us figure out what those ways are.

    Of course. And Augustine, Aquinas, and Martin Luther would agree with you. That’s why fundamentalism is abhorrent to thinking theists. Religion evolves too, and in the West it’s been coevolving with science, and because the process is necessarily messy it hasn’t always been harmonious.

    Belief in the power of antibiotics is shared by theists. ;)

  • Kenny

    Yes, quick one before I rush out for the evening. I would like to know what your point on taxation and the church is as well.

    While you’re at it, could you tell me why a church should receive automatic tax exemption in the first place?

    P.S. Absolutely seconded on the fuzzy Bluejay :D

  • bitchen frizzy

    Could you make your point anyway? I think you were trying to connect taxing churches with somehow infringing on their freedom of expression, and I was puzzled as to how or why.

    Churches are organizations of theists, where they promote and share theistic ideas.

    The separation of church and state in the U.S. has always included the exemption of churches from taxation.

    Taxing churches will involve a reinterpretation of the separation clause of the Constitution. People do get touchy and paranoid when it comes to that.

    I’ve heard people call for the taxation of any church that espouses a POV related to a political issue. Right now, IRS regulations say a church crosses the line only if it endorses by name a specific candidate or ballot item. Some are calling for that line to be pushed back to the point that churches must effectively remain silent or be taxed.

    If fairly applied, this would open Pandora’s box, of course. Any tax exempt organization, secular or not, would have to stay completely out of politics or be taxed. That could include universities, PETA, whoever. If unfairly applied… well, there goes Farris’ ideals.

    Are these calls a majority view amongst atheists? Seriously, I want to know.

    Can you see why that might contribute to mistrust and reluctance to support atheist candidates at the polls?

    Again, the fairness or reasonableness of those suspicions are beside the point. Theists stand to lose, a lot, if that comes to pass. Maybe we all stand to lose, if we give the government that kind of power.

  • That’s why fundamentalism is abhorrent to thinking theists. Religion evolves too, and in the West it’s been coevolving with science, and because the process is necessarily messy it hasn’t always been harmonious.

    This sounds reasonable to me. Obviously I don’t think all theists are fundamentalists.

    I wonder, though, if religion has evolved reluctantly, in response to scientific progress. Theists have always been in charge, yes, and at times in opposition to science: the religious reactions to Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin come to mind. When religious authorities have opened up to more liberal or scientific ideas, did they do so out of adherence to their religious principles, or out of ideals that arose out of secular philosophy, or because the scientific evidence could no longer be denied, or out of pressure from business or political forces that saw and wanted the benefits of science and liberalism? There are dogmatic and skeptical tendencies in everyone, including historical religious authorities; when those folks “allowed” liberal societies to emerge, was it because they were pulled more towards their own skeptical/scientific leanings, and away from their fundamentalist ones? That is: when religion has become more open and tolerant, is it because religion wanted to, or because it had to, in response to other social and intellectual forces?

    I’m not a historian and don’t have a definitive answer to this, but it would be interesting to explore.

    Re: church taxation: Honestly, I haven’t formed a position on this, and haven’t given the issue as much thought as you have. I’ll have to think about that. Would taxing churches financially ruin them, or would it still be possible for them to accept taxation and freely express themselves?

  • bitchen frizzy

    I wonder, though, if religion has evolved reluctantly, in response to scientific progress.

    Well, that’s an interesting debate in itself. I find the interplay of science and religion in the West to be a fascinating topic. However, in reference to this increasingly lengthy thread, and not to be dismissive, does it matter? Seriously, I’m not being not flip.

    Would taxing churches financially ruin them, or would it still be possible for them to accept taxation and freely express themselves?

    Oh, they’ll express themselves all right, with none of the constraints that currently limit them. They stay out of Washington, to the degree that corporations are involved, because they don’t want to be taxed and regulated like corporations.

    Pulling bricks out of the wall of separation of church and state is a really bad idea, with all kinds of unintended consequences to all of us.

    In the long run, it could render churches – and other tax-exempt organizations, don’t forget that – identical to corporations from the standpoint of the U.S. legal system. Then, they’d have to adopt the same bland similarity as corporations, to comply with various regulations and laws. Short term, there might be rejoicing by those who want to force that compliance on them, but in the long run it would diminish the cultural diversity of the U.S. and that would be a shame.

    It also erodes the concept in U.S. culture of the private entity, as it applies to organizations. Corporations are “persons” under the law, subject to government regulation and such. Tax-exempt organizations are outside that process – “private”.
    Moving them into the public sphere would be one more increment down the slippery slope toward fascism.

  • LaSargenta

    Today HAS been busy here!

    Taxing Churches? If churches and religious ‘organisations’ didn’t own anything or collect money or property, taxation would be irrelevant.

    I don’t think a religious group should become an organization and I don’t think it should own anything.

    Signed, A Quaker.

  • Pulling bricks out of the wall of separation of church and state is a really bad idea, with all kinds of unintended consequences to all of us.

    I absolutely agree, as I think I’ve said a couple of times in this thread. I guess my question is, does taxing and regulating churches amount to abolishing church/state separation? As you say, corporations are taxed and regulated; but they’re still considered private enterprise, not government-run. Being taxed and regulated means that businesses have to follow certain rules (e.g. to meet health and public safety standards and such), but does it necessarily lead to “bland similarity”? Your favorite mom-and-pop restaurant isn’t the same as McDonald’s.

    Moving them into the public sphere would be one more increment down the slippery slope toward fascism.

    Maybe. I think there’s some room for argument there. (But again, I don’t have a firm position on this, not yet; just thinking aloud.) Everyplace is a slippery slope towards everyplace else; I think critics of Social Security and Medicare were afraid they’d lead us down the slippery slope to–well, some kind of hellish dystopia, but that didn’t happen, did it?

    I find the interplay of science and religion in the West to be a fascinating topic. However, in reference to this increasingly lengthy thread, and not to be dismissive, does it matter?

    Matter in relation to what? It matters to those interested in discussing it. It’s cool if you’d rather not. This is getting lengthy, and rather off-topic, though not as much as some others I’ve been in. ;-)

  • bitchen frizzy

    Theistic nihilism… ;)

    Heck, even Jesus and the Apostles had a community purse and owned the clothes they wore…

    Hard for a university to function without property. Where would the football team play?

    And what would PETA do without money to put up billboards?

  • bitchen frizzy

    I guess my question is, does taxing and regulating churches amount to abolishing church/state separation?

    I think it does in U.S. culture, yes. At the very least, it does involve messing with the wall of separation, and if that’s a bad idea, then why do it?

    Being taxed and regulated means that businesses have to follow certain rules (e.g. to meet health and public safety standards and such), but does it necessarily lead to “bland similarity”?

    Well, they’d have to follow equal employment practices, too. That effectively ends their uniqueness. I’m sure a lot of people would rejoice at that, but in the long run…

    Since Godwin’s Law has already been invoked, lets go back to Germany. The Weimar Republic was a slipshod construction with half-assed checks and balances and inadequate barriers between the power blocks. Once a charismatic leader ascended the throne of the Chancellorship – and it was effectively a throne despite intentions to the contrary by the constitution’s framers – he didn’t have much trouble bringing the corporations and religions into line. Long before aggressive rearmament, the Nazis were pouring public money into corporations as part of revitalization. The line between corporations and government eventually disappeared. No wall prevented churches from actively participating in government if they wanted to, and no wall protected the leaders that did not wish to play along. They could get in line, go into exile, or go to the gas chambers as enemies of the state.

    Tax exemption in the U.S. is symbolic. It’s a meme. It draws the line between the public and the private in people’s minds.

    So back to the U.S. The ease with which corporations can already tap into the public treasury ought to horrify more people than it does. Eliminate the ingrained cultural distinction between churches and corporations, then add a leader who can bring religious power in line behind his agenda, then remove the bars to church participation in the government process, and what do you have, potentially?

  • bitchen frizzy

    My first question above goes begging: Why?

    Why do this, even knowing the risks? How is it worth the risk?

  • Isobel: Bitchen Frizzy, I think you need to be a little bit circumspect in making correlations about England having a state religion. It’s a technicality – Church of England is officially the and a state religion, but it’s a bit of joke, really.

    Now it is. As I seem to recall, at least one group of American colonists in times past emigrated from England precisely because they had issues with the Church of England.

    But that’s besides the point.

    Kenny: Hold on a second. I’ll respond to other points later, but why are we having a serious discussion here where the Romans are described as ‘pagan’?
    Tell me you’re not going with the dictionary definition which also describes pagans as “pertaining to the worship or worshipers of any religion that is neither Christian, Jewish, nor Muslim” in other words, an attempt to sweep their religions into one big pile and pretend they don’t matter.

    Roman polytheism is still religion. Also, given that the Emperor Constantine effectively invented the Catholic church and made it the State religion (if not to more effectively control his people, then why?) I don’t think the Romans act particularly as evidence for the defence.

    Bitchen Frizzy: I think that Tonio’s point was, in response to your statement about Christianity wanting to control everything, that the Romans – before and after Constantine – wanted to control, conquer and dominate. That wasn’t something introduced to that part of the world by Christianity.

    What Bitchen Frizzy said.

    Sorry, passionately typing there…

    No worries. It’s obvious that there are a lot of passionate typists here.

  • Tonio, you’re arguing against a point that I didn’t make. I didn’t say that science makes people moral, I said science has a tendency to make them less religious.

    Okay, point taken, JoshB.

  • Hey bitchen frizzy:

    Thanks for your thoughts re: church taxation. I’m still not familiar enough with the issue to take a definitive stand, but your argument has inspired me to see what other people are saying about it.

    Here are some links arguing the other side (interestingly, also claiming church/state separation as a reason):

    http://www.taxthechurches.org/

    http://www.daylightatheism.org/2006/10/tax-the-churches.html

    http://www.gainesvillehumanists.org/chrchtax.htm

    And a discussion on Gospel.com, “a community of online ministries”:

    http://www.gospel.com/blog/index.php/2010/04/15/should-churches-be-tax-exempt/

    (Interesting that some pastors in the comments are against tax-exemption status, for a variety of reasons.)

    I”ll look at more pro-tax-exemption arguments too, promise. :-) Let me know if you have any recommendations.

    Thanks again.

  • Kenny

    Bitchin, wait wait… Godwin’s law has not been invoked! Hah. We were discussing the Nazi’s. The law requires inappropriate, inordinate, or hyperbolic comparisons of other situations (or one’s opponent) with Hitler or Nazis or their actions.

    Of course… you have rather tried to lump me in with Mao and Stalin… which is getting on for Godwin’s territory ;)

    I was thinking about some of this while I was out tonight.

    None of us, not Josh, Bluejay nor myself, have stated that we want an atheist leader or government. If two candidates were available, one an atheist, and one a Muslim (or whoever), I would vote for the one who’s politics I preferred.
    What we do want, is complete separation of church and state. We want religion out of politics.

    None of us have advocated forcing the religious to practice in secret. And as I just pointed out, we don’t want the religious barred from politics or office. We just want the religions to keep their noses out of government.

    Now… You seem to have a problem with my refusal to make the affirmative assertion that there is no god.

    I’ll tell you why I think it’s so important.

    Religious people have faith in things that cannot be proven. They believe things without observable evidence. It is partly for this reason that I am an atheist.
    If I say “there is definitely no god” I am making a claim without any evidence to back it up.

    On the topic of God’s ultimate existence, all I can do is examine the evidence.
    The Universe runs itself according to a set of physical laws… life didn’t apparently need help to create itself… I have never seen a miracle and I have never heard of one that couldn’t be explained fairly easily. I could go on… but the point I am making is that given all these things, I consider God’s existence to be vanishingly unlikely. I therefore do not believe in him.

    Now… churches and taxation.

    I don’t believe a church should be automatically exempt from taxation just because it’s a church.
    If a church does charitable work, then of course, tax exemption should be granted on that work and all funds associated with it.

    Perhaps we could discuss this?

    Oh and I think Bluejay’s point about how willingly religion gave way to secular ideas and scientific progress is fairly important. I think we can see from historical and current trends that in general, they fought for every inch.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Here are some links arguing the other side (interestingly, also claiming church/state separation as a reason):

    Thanks for the links.

    To me, it still doesn’t seem worth the risk. The interpretation of the separation clause has been consistent from Day 1 of the republic. It’s bedrock. And in my opposition I’m not just selfishly guarding my church’s funds. I think that there’s all kinds of unintended consequences that most people aren’t thinking through.

    Let me put it another way: think about Halliburton, and ExxonMobil, and GM. Consider the power and connections they have in Washington, and how they can dip into the public till in so many ways. Do you want a world where the LDS, the Catholic Church, and the Southern Baptist Convention can do the same thing? I don’t even like the fact that corporations have that kind of access to government power. Eisenhower tried to warn us, and we didn’t listen.

    Bitchin, wait wait… Godwin’s law has not been invoked! Hah. We were discussing the Nazi’s. The law requires inappropriate, inordinate, or hyperbolic comparisons of other situations (or one’s opponent) with Hitler or Nazis or their actions.

    Fair enough. And that’s bitchen, not bitchin. ;)

    Of course… you have rather tried to lump me in with Mao and Stalin…

    Now that’s not fair. I wrote a paragraph explaining the distinction in my mind, and when I did reference Mao and Stalin I made it clear why I was doing so. We cannot honestly discuss atheism in world history and politics without reference to ideological atheism.

    We want religion out of politics.

    That’s an ideal of many, but it’s also effectively impossible. Voters will vote conscience and policy informed by their religious belief; there’s no way to stop that without unintended consequences. Churches also have access to the media – that’s also bedrock – and will express political opinions, and the media is a powerful force in the outcome of elections.

    Also, in the U.S., court cases often set public policy. Churches and religious individuals can be parties to lawsuits, both as plaintiffs and defendants. Atheists can, too.

    You seem to have a problem with my refusal to make the affirmative assertion that there is no god.

    No, I don’t. I was curious as to why you thought it so important to carry the label “atheist” instead of “agnostic,” and I’m particular about the meaning of words used in a debate. It’s not really all that important at this point. It’s your beliefs and opinions that matter, and once I got past the label and down to what you really meant, the label ceased to matter.

    If a church does charitable work, then of course, tax exemption should be granted on that work and all funds associated with it.

    Almost every church does charitable work, and you would find it suprisingly difficult to separate the funds. The popular misconception of churches sitting on mountains of cash is far off base. The exceptions prove the rule, as those are generally con men.

    I think we can see from historical and current trends that in general, they fought for every inch.

    You need to watch those sweeping generalizations. Consider the Catholic Church’s reaction – rather, nonreaction – to Darwin’s ToE. Or the active involvement of religion in abolitionism and the civil rights movement in the U.S. It’s a mixed bag, part of that mess and tension Bluejay mentioned.

  • bitchen frizzy

    I thought a primer on finances of a typical diocese – Catholic or other organized religoin – in the U.S. might be useful.

    When you read about a multimillion dollar lawsuit settlement, understand that those settlements are generally paid by insurance. The diocese doesn’t drag sacks of cash out of a vault under the cathedral to pay the settlement; it’s their insurance company paying it.

    When insurance won’t cover it, then the diocese is obliged to sell off land or tap endowments.

    The majority of a typical diocese’s net worth is in land value. Each diocese has hundreds or thousands of acres of land, which is the property that all those various parishes with the myriad of saints’ names are sitting on. Collectively, that can add up to millions of dollars of value, but that’s illiquid wealth, not cash.

    Each parish has a cash reserve, and collectively for the diocese, this can again add up to a lot, but for each parish it’s just emergency funds.

    Like corporations, dioceses also have employee benefits funds, but these would not be taxable in any case.

    The final category of wealth is in endowments for institutions like monasteries or universities. In taxing these, you might want to tread very lightly, because if we start taxing endowments that will include charitable trusts, scholarship funds, university endowments, and so on. Frankly, I’d much rather that money went to what it’s going to, than be given to the government.

    Also, if churches are to be taxed like corporations, then they’d be taxed on profits. They’d get to deduct operating expenses and depreciation. Also, a lot of revenue – a lot – goes directly to charitable work. Most churches don’t make a lot of profit, even if they have a lot of revenue.

    Also, in case it’s not clear, church employees, including clergy, pay personal income tax.

  • I tried posting a couple of links earlier, but I guess the spam filter slapped me down. Anyway:

    I was also wondering what the deal is with churches and taxation in other countries, and how it affects the relationship between religion and the state. Does the US already have the ideal arrangement, or are there useful ideas we could adapt from other variations? Here’s a Wiki article on “church tax” in other countries:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_tax

    Interesting to see how the much-discussed Scandinavian countries are doing it. I wonder what rules, regulations and restrictions are involved.

  • And here are international perspectives on church/state separation:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Separation_of_church_and_state#International_views

    Just more info to think about, I guess.

  • MaryAnn

    Sorry ’bout the spam filter. When I’m sitting in front of the computer, I approve those legitimate comments tagged as spam immediately, but I was out most of the day today. Sorry.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Those were interesting articles.

    In Europe, though, it’s very different than in the U.S. In many ways, European culture and U.S. culture have quite a bit of overlap and commonality, but when it comes to church/state separation, the U.S. is truly alien.

    According to the article you referenced, church taxation in Europe is actually a government tax on the public, which is then used to fund churches.

    I would not propose that for the U.S., and I don’t think there’s any chance of the public standing for it.

    I had concerns about my then-fiance’s dog moving in with my cat, and I asked a vet about it. She told me that in almost all such cases, the animals themselves work it out. According to her, when a dog and a cat are put together under one roof, and their owners demand that they be nice to each other, they almost always work out a way to coexist, even if they hate each other. It’s been that way in Europe, with church and state. Since Constantine, they’ve coexisted and coevolved, intertwined and overlapping, and they’ve had to work it out between themselves somehow. The financial arrangement appears to be part of that. Not so in the U.S., where a wall has separated them from the beginning.

    Maybe that’s why some of the Europeans I dialogue with don’t get what the big deal is about taxing churches, and why I don’t get why they don’t understand my concerns about taxation being a threat to church/state separation.

  • Kenny

    Well, no Bitchen, I think it’s a lot simpler than that. There is a wall between church and state in the US, yes, that’s absolutely true, but religion has bled into politics rather insidiously (I use the word to indicate the way in which this has occurred, rather than to cast religion in a negative light) and society is rather less secular than it could be as a result. (It is my view that Christianity in America is rather having its cake and eating it.)

    In Europe, in spite of most nations still having a state religion… the overall level of religiosity is somewhat lower and religion doesn’t filter into politics anywhere near as much. I think that is one of the reasons we have no problem at all with the idea of church taxation.

  • Kenny

    P.S. I enjoyed your pet analogy.

  • Kenny

    Bitchen, I’ve been away from my computer for a couple of days… so I’ve not really been posting here, but I kept meaning to post this.

    You didn’t think it mattered particularly whether I called myself an agnostic or an atheist. Well… I don’t know what particular denomination you are, but I am sure you would correct me if I described you as being the wrong one.

    What I am, along with all sceptical atheists is an atheist agnostic. Now don’t jump in there with an “I told you so” :) You see, Richard Dawkins said it rather well.

    “I am an agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden.”

    In other words, atheism is the important and defining bit of the definition. As a scientist, (and I am scientifically trained) it is abhorrent to me to make a claim without evidence to back it up. No matter how unlikely I consider something to be I won’t say it is definitely not the case. I think it unlikely that a UFO, piloted by my, now sadly departed, springer spaniel will crash through my bedroom wall… but I cannot say it definitely will not happen.
    (Bluejay may think I am gifted with brevity, but Dawkins rather has me beat at the moment.)

    Here is a wiki link on the subject,
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheist_agnostic

    On a side note, there is a graphic on the page that I want to link separately as it illustrates the world distribution of atheists. (You’ll note the Scandinavian nations.) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Atheists_Agnostics_Zuckerman_en.svg

  • Kenny

    Oh and there are a couple of high percentages in Asia which you’ll probably guess represent Buddhist populations.

  • In other words, atheism is the important and defining bit of the definition. As a scientist, (and I am scientifically trained) it is abhorrent to me to make a claim without evidence to back it up. No matter how unlikely I consider something to be I won’t say it is definitely not the case.

    margaret atwood defines this as “orthodox agnosticism.” as in, “I am an Orthodox Agnostic.”

  • I myself am reminded by all these distinctions of the old joke–once told by prominent atheist Isaac Asimov–which ends with the question: “But are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?”

    But if you don’t know that one already, I probably shouldn’t tell it.

    In Europe, in spite of most nations still having a state religion… the overall level of religiosity is somewhat lower and religion doesn’t filter into politics anywhere near as much. I think that is one of the reasons we have no problem at all with the idea of church taxation.

    I have maternal relatives in Krakow, Poland and I always had the impression that church and state didn’t get along that smoothly in that country. Indeed, the example of that country and many other in Eastern Europe and the Baltic Republics, would tend to suggest that politically inclined atheists should perhaps take a lesson from the old Aesop fable about the Wind and the Sun. As long as the wind blew, the traveler refused to give up his cloak, but the minute the wind gave up and the sun tried more passive methods, the traveler eventually lightened up and took off his cloak. There’s a lesson in there, methinks.

    If nothing else, it explains to me why so many people cling to religion in countries where being a religious person would seem to have little if any advantages due to outright persecution. It certainly makes more sense to me than the old “they’re just dumb” or “they’re just evil” theory.

  • Kenny

    That’s interesting, but gives no indication of what she believes (or doesn’t believe) so I suspect she was much more the agnostic and much less the atheist.

  • Kenny

    Sorry, my comment was for Bronxbee.. :D

    Oh and Tonio, I have been asked a variation of that very question in a pub in Belfast.

    In Glasgow, where I am from, there are two major football teams. Rangers is the team associated with Protestants, and Celtic with the Catholics.

    So when I was in Belfast in a bar, a local heard my accent and said
    “You a catholic or a prod mate?”
    I replied that I was an atheist, (thinking that this was the safest answer, as well as being honest)
    The local was not satisfied with this at all.
    “Right, you’re an atheist… which team do you support then? Rangers or Celtic?”

    When I told him “Partick Thistle” he left me alone… (almost certainly considering me a moron.)

  • MaryAnn

    In other words, atheism is the important and defining bit of the definition. As a scientist, (and I am scientifically trained) it is abhorrent to me to make a claim without evidence to back it up. No matter how unlikely I consider something to be I won’t say it is definitely not the case. I think it unlikely that a UFO, piloted by my, now sadly departed, springer spaniel will crash through my bedroom wall… but I cannot say it definitely will not happen.

    Bingo. We are *all* agnostics: No one knows *for sure* whether there is a God or not, up to and including the Pope and Pat Robertson. I wish all those religious types who insist that those of us who calls ourselves atheists should *really* be calling ourselves agnostics would realize that the same thing applies to them, too.

    Do I know *for absolute, 100 percent certainty* that there is no God? No. Do I know *for absolute, 100 percent certainty* that there is no Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, or Flying Spaghetti Monster? No. Do I know *for absolute, 100 percent certainty* that gravity isn’t just a huge joke being pulled on us by advanced alien beings who are controlling our perception of everything outside our atmosphere? No. But it seems likely that these things do not exist. It seems unlikely that they do. It also seems to me that any deity who — as many religious types claim — gave us a brain to use and a universe to observe *and* who made it appear as if it did NOT exist and THEN proceeded to punish those who looked at that evidence and concluded that said deity did not, indeed, exist is a monster whom all decent people should decry and fight at every conceivable opportunity.

  • politically inclined atheists should perhaps take a lesson from the old Aesop fable about the Wind and the Sun. As long as the wind blew, the traveler refused to give up his cloak, but the minute the wind gave up and the sun tried more passive methods, the traveler eventually lightened up and took off his cloak. There’s a lesson in there, methinks.

    Tonio, who do you mean by “politically inclined atheists”? Do you mean simply atheists who are vocal about our views? Should we, as a minority, be quieter to gain more mainstream acceptance, and to persuade government to remain secular in its motivations? Do you think that would work? Should blacks have been quieter? Should gays be quieter?

    We’re not blowing ourselves up; or beating up Christians and Muslims in the streets; or shooting the people picketing abortion clinics; or suing for evolution to be taught in Sunday school; or carving Carl Sagan quotes on the rifles of soldiers in Iraq; or leaving death threats in Pat Robertson’s voicemail; or calling for churches to be abolished by the state.

    We think atheism is antithetical to religion, but you know what we’re doing about it? We’re talking about it, in lectures and speeches and videos and articles and websites and books, that you can purchase or look at or ignore as you please. We’re simply arguing for our views, even Dawkins and Harris and the most vocal among us, and apart from that, mostly just living good godless lives. How much more “passive” could our methods possibly be? Do you have any suggestions?

  • Bingo. We are *all* agnostics: No one knows *for sure* whether there is a God or not, up to and including the Pope and Pat Robertson. I wish all those religious types who insist that those of us who calls ourselves atheists should *really* be calling ourselves agnostics would realize that the same thing applies to them, too.

    This reminds me of something Richard Dawkins said: We’re all atheists about the majority of defunct gods in human history (Zeus, Thor, Baal, etc). Some of us just go one god further. :-)

  • @kenny: i think she was making the point that she had no belief system of any kind, but that she was willing to take whatever evidence came along to prove either, or any, existence or non-existence of a god or gods.

  • Wow, I’m gone for a day or two and 100 new posts. I shall attempt to comment in brief.

    Kenny – I do not believe there is any contradiction between what we said about the nature of the brain, only at what point the brain deduces a religious belief.

    I think the issue of prison conversion isn’t about if people in prison are religious or not, but can they be trusted to accurately self-report. In the same light, the statistics on how many Americans have cheated on their spouse range from 30% to 70%, which is an amazing spread.

    As far as I know, blacks are both more religious and more likely to end up in prison than white people, but this does not mean that religion = crime, but rather both result from racism. Crime is the economic result of racism, and racism also leads to more and longer prison sentences, and blacks use religion as a psychological counter to racism.

    I don’t believe Constantine invented the Catholic Church, but rather a wide spread State Church that, via the twists and turns of history, later seperated into the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

    General audience: I think the irony of taxing churches is that liberal churches would suffer more than conservative ones, because in my experience conservative churches are better funded and therefore better able to withstand a tax. Thus atheists would be hurting their defacto political allies within religion.

    I used to think that religion = oppression, but I don’t think religion is the source of oppression anymore; I think it is a primary psychological tool of oppressors, but obviously not the only one.

    And sometimes religious belief takes a life of its own. Christianity started out as a little cult, so started with a moral structure that assumed its powerlessness in the face of the Roman State. As it expanded, it compromised. Then it became part of the State, a tool of imperial unity. Since the New Testament and early theology was written during this time of transistion, it’s pretty easy for good and bad people alike to go back and find what they want. Which is why on the Third Crusade King Richard went to fight Muslims but Saint Francis went to preach to them, but both came from the same religious tradition. The blacks and whites fighting over civil rights came from the same religious tradition, but one side used religion as a form of control and one side used the same religion to shame them.

    And while there is a gulf in understanding between people who believe in gods and those who don’t, I think there is an even bigger gulf between those who believe things because they’ve thought about it, and those who believe things because it gives them an excuse to do what they want to do anyway.

  • Kenny

    Wow Bluejay, what an excellent post. Hah, I liked it so much I read it aloud to my girlfriend.

    Paul. I made the point about the statistics for religious faith in prisons because I wanted to use it as part of a wider argument. I know that there are various factors at work there. I know that atheists tend to be more affluent, and are therefore less likely to commit crimes. Who knows, perhaps they are more intelligent (there are various studies and meta-studies which show a correlation between intelligence and religiosity) and are therefore less likely to be caught when they commit crimes.
    The point is that the proportion of atheists in the general population is 50 times greater than the proportion of atheists in prison. (Please remember that people who say they are atheists tend to be people who have come to that conclusion, not those who are simply lapsed members of a faith (in most cases, somebody brought up in a Christian background will describe themselves as Christian even if they don’t attend church and religion isn’t important to them.))
    I think a difference in proportions that large is significant. I think there is something else going on, beyond factors such as education and economic circumstance.
    I think, rather simply, that we (atheists) tend to have well tuned baloney detectors. We don’t have much of the dogma and prejudice that religion cannot help but inflict upon its adherents.
    Which is why I pointed out that atheists are unlikely to mutilate a little girl’s clitoris (unless psychosis is at work) whereas this is a common religious practice in regions of Africa. Similarly, having sex with a virgin to cure AIDS, or crashing a plane into a building.
    These are relatively extreme examples, I am sure you will agree, but my point is that this is probably true of more minor crimes as well. (Violence between gangs from different cultures, who define themselves by different religions, would seem to be an excellent example.)
    I am not (as Bitchen seemed to think I was) saying that atheists are better people, or that we are morally superior. We just don’t have the morally questionable edicts of bronze age priests to contend with.

  • Tonio, who do you mean by “politically inclined atheists”? Do you mean simply atheists who are vocal about our views? Should we, as a minority, be quieter to gain more mainstream acceptance, and to persuade government to remain secular in its motivations? Do you think that would work? Should blacks have been quieter? Should gays be quieter?

    I’m talking about atheists who are not just content to be atheists but feel to carry their cause further into the political arena. And I’m also saying that atheists who keep talking about wanting to do away with this, that and the other thing should try the same tactics that worked in the Scandinavian countries rather than the same tactics that failed so miserably in the Communist Bloc.

    And I’m not suggesting you and the other atheists who post here be less vocal. I’m suggesting you’d be more successful if you were more diplomatic.

    After all, it shouldn’t take a genius to guess that if you continually refer to people who hold a different religious philosophy from you as morons, you are going to lose a lot of would-be allies who might be more sympathetic if you concentrated more on the freedom of philosophy angle and not the “my philosophy is better than your philosophy” angle.

    Everybody believes that their particular religious philosophy is better than the other guy’s and yet most Jewish politicians are smart enough to know that they wouldn’t hold office in a Gentile neighborhood long if they went on and on about being God’s chosen people. Nor would Catholic politicians get many votes if they continually emphasized their membership in the One True Church. And if I feel inclined to just ignore the born-again Christian who keeps loudly insisting that he is a better person than me because he knows the Lord and I don’t, then by what logic should I be expected to pay more heed to the person who automatically considers himself more enlightened than me because he doesn’t believe in a Supreme Deity?

    I too wrestled with the theism question when I was younger and I also went through a phrase of atheism. Technically, it should be simple to just declare myself one of the smart people by just re-declaring myself an atheist here and now but in order to do that, I would have to believe that my late father–a former atheist and life-long Mensa member–dropped several points off his I.Q. the minute he stopped being an atheist and I’m sorry but that just sounds stupid. Just as it would be equally stupid to believe he automatically became even more intelligent when he started attending Catholic Mass. Life doesn’t work that way–at least in my experience.

    If you want to believe that you deserve the same rights in society as the average theist, Bluejay, then I agree.

    But if you’re going to argue that said rights means being able to talk smack about people outside your group without getting called on it, then I disagree.

  • I too wrestled with the theism question when I was younger and I also went through a phrase of atheism.

    I obviously meant “phase.”

    @Paul. Btw, that was an excellent post. I’m sorry I don’t have a more imaginative response than that to make at this time.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    And I’m not suggesting you and the other atheists who post here be less vocal. I’m suggesting you’d be more successful if you were more diplomatic.

    Tonio, you’re making a Tone Argument here. The Tone Argument is condescending and dismissive. Don’t do that.

  • Okay, I get that, Dr. Rocketscience. I apologize.

  • Kenny

    Tonio… Soviet atheism has nothing to do with what I believe. I doubt very much that it has anything to do with what Bluejay or anybody else in the thread believes.

    You see communist atheism had basically two aspects.
    1. Marx thought that religion was “the opium of the masses”, in other words, he thought it was something the poor turned to for momentary relief from the grind of their daily lives. He felt that it was deliberately promoted by the upper classes as a means to control those beneath them… with the sop of religion, they were less likely to revolt.
    Now, I think he had a point, but the thing about the Soviets is that they used Marx dogmatically and in many cases, unthinkingly.
    2. Stalin, who was the most fervent of the State Atheism proponents, hated competition. He sent people to die in Siberia or simply hung them or had them shot for the slightest bit of opposition. He saw the religions as competition for dogmatic socialism and he persecuted it.

    Stalin was an atheist, but he was also a megalomaniac, a despot and probably suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder… as far as he was concerned, he was god.

    So to sum up. Soviets were atheists purely as a reaction to the ‘opium for the lower classes’ view of religion, and because they had their own Marxist dogma, and religion was competition.

    This has already been addressed, but Hitler was not an atheist.

  • Wow Bluejay, what an excellent post. Hah, I liked it so much I read it aloud to my girlfriend.

    I’m like Barry White that way. ;-)

    Tonio, you’re making a Tone Argument here. The Tone Argument is condescending and dismissive. Don’t do that.

    Okay, I get that, Dr. Rocketscience. I apologize.

    What Dr. Rocketscience said. Apology accepted, Captain Nee–I mean, Tonio. ;-)

    Just to add to the “tone argument” thing, and not directed at anyone specific here, here’s Greta Christina from her post “How to Be an Ally with Atheists”:

    6: Don’t divide and conquer, and don’t try to take away our anger.

    Don’t divide us into “good atheists” and “bad atheists” based on how vocal or angry we are. Don’t say things like, “Well, you seem reasonable — but that Richard Dawkins and that Christopher Hitchens, they’re just so mean and intolerant!”

    I hope I don’t have to tell you about the ugly history of dividing activists for social change into “the good ones” who are polite and soft-spoken and easy for the privileged power structure to get along with, and “the bad ones” who are angry, rabble- rousing trouble- makers. I hope I don’t have to explain about the not- no- subtle message behind it: “We’re fine with you as long as you don’t speak up too loudly, and don’t make us too uncomfortable, and don’t ask for too much.”

    Like every other movement for social change I can think of, the atheist movement has its more diplomatic members and its more confrontational ones. And like every other movement for social change I can think of, the atheist movement needs both. It’s more powerful with both. Both methods together work better than either one would work on its own.

    Besides, we all know that Hitchens is an asshole. It’s not news to us.

    7: If you’re going to accuse an atheist or an atheist group of being intolerant — be careful, and make sure that’s really what they’re being.

    Atheists often get accused of being intolerant for saying things like, “I don’t agree with you,” or, “You haven’t made your case,” or, “I think you’re mistaken — and here, exactly, is why.” Atheists often get accused of bigotry when, in fact, they’ve been very careful to criticize specific ideas and actions rather than insult entire classes of people. Atheists often get accused of being close-minded for firmly stating their case and saying that, unless they see some good evidence or arguments to the contrary, they’re going to stand by it. Atheists, as Richard Dawkins recently pointed out, often get accused of being insulting or hateful for discussing religion in the kind of language that is commonly accepted in political opinion pieces or restaurant reviews.

    It’s totally fucked up. Please don’t do that.

    Here’s the thing. Atheists see religion as (among other things) a hypothesis about the world: an explanation for how the world works and why it is the way it is. We think that, as such, it should be willing to defend itself in the marketplace of ideas, on an even playing field. And we see the “criticism of religion is inherently intolerant” trope as one of the chief ways religion avoids having to do that. It totally gets up our nose.

    As someone whose name I can’t remember recently said: Religion has been discussed in hushed tones for so long, that when people talk about it in a normal tone of voice, it sounds like we’re screaming. But most of us are not screaming. Most of us are talking in a normal tone of voice… for the first time in our lives.

    8: Do not — repeat, DO NOT — talk about “fundamentalist atheists.”

    If you think an atheist or an atheist group is being intolerant, or bigoted, or close-minded, then by all means, say that they’re being intolerant or bigoted or close-minded. But please, for the sweet love of all that is beautiful in this world, do not call them “fundamentalist atheists.” The “fundamentalist” canard makes most atheists want to scream and tear our hair out. It’s a problem for three reasons:

    1: It’s inaccurate. Atheists do not have a text or a set of basic principles to which they strictly and literally adhere… which is what the word “fundamentalist” means. (See “common myths about atheists” above.)

    2: It perpetuates the myth that atheism is just another form of dogmatic religious faith… which it most emphatically is not. (Again, see “common myths about atheists” above.)

    3: It divides the atheist movement into the “good” ones and the “bad” ones: the good ones who keep their mouths shut, and the bad ones who speak their opinions loudly and firmly. (See “don’t divide and conquer” above.)

    Think of the phrase “fundamentalist atheist” as an epithet. If you insist on using it, you should expect that no atheist will listen to anything else you say.

  • Kenny

    Oh and Tonio, I am glad your father was a lifelong Mensa member. Nobody here is saying the stupid people are the only ones who believe in God.

    We are saying that intelligence often leads to atheism… not that religion makes you stupid.

    Various studies have shown that the more intelligent you are, the less likely you are to be religious. Obviously this has to do with education, as intelligent people will have more of it, and a greater understanding of the world will often lead to atheism.

    This is why the National Academy of Sciences has an almost reversed percentage of believers and non-believers when compared to the general population of the United States.

    So although 90% of leading scientists are atheists… 10% are theists. These are still very smart people.

  • JoshB

    But if you’re going to argue that said rights means being able to talk smack about people outside your group without getting called on it, then I disagree.

    Not that I necessarily concede that smack has been talked, but who among the atheists here claimed the right to not get called on their bullshit?

    What would this athiest diplomacy look like? How would you, Tonio, be diplomatic in explaining to a Hindu why you believe in Jesus rather than Shiva? In my estimation the only way to do this would be to open the conversation with “Let’s agree to disagree. How about those [insert sports team]!”

  • bitchen frizzy

    I think a difference in proportions that large is significant. I think there is something else going on, beyond factors such as education and economic circumstance.

    OK, then you need more data. The conventional explanation for disproportionalities in U.S. prison populations is poverty. Poverty breeds crime, and the poor are also unable to afford quality legal representation. In sentencing, judges and juries are biased toward lighter sentences for “upstanding” or “productive” members of society.

    That’s the generally accepted explanation, and it fits the observable facts better than yours. Yours completely fails to address the racial disparities in prison population. You’d also need to establish a causal relationship between religion and the crimes committed by the prison population. Rather few of the inmates in U.S. prisons are there for genital mutilation.

    (Female genital mutilation, BTW, and to be precise, is a cultural practice not connected with any particular religious tradition.)

    This has already been addressed, but Hitler was not an atheist.

    Nobody said that he was. Let’s avoid binary logic.

    There’s an article on Hitler’s religious beliefs on Wikipedia, FYI.

    It’s very clear, from the statistics, that the National Academy of Scientists seldom elects theists to its membership. It also didn’t elect its first black member until 1965. I should assume, then, that there were no sufficiently intelligent or qualified black scientists until 1965.

  • Kenny

    :D Bluejay, I read it in a deep voice with some funky guitar in the background. She melted. You’re the best.. ;)

  • Kenny

    Bitchen, the national academy of sciences seldom elects theists to its membership because there are not very many theists in the top flight of scientists in the USA. If there are 99 apples in a barrel for every orange, I’m not going to get oranges very often.

    I never said I didn’t need more data for the prison statistics discussion.
    This is actually why I said “I THINK there is something else going on.” I did not say
    “There is something else going on dummy! Open your eyes! Holy shit!”
    I also didn’t say there were many people in US prisons for infant genital mutilation (which IS a religiously inspired practice, you don’t get to discount it by saying a culture defined by is simply practising “cultural” genital manipulation.)

    Oh and in New York state, a rabbi was giving little boys genital herpes when he sliced around their foreskins and then sucked them off with his blistered mouth. Oh but it was ok for him to do that, he was practising his religion. (One of them died.)

    Also… what? The USA was rife with civil rights abuses against blacks for decades, and you’re decrying the fact that the National Academy of Sciences elected a black member in 1965? Holy crap, the “I have a dream…” speech was only made in 1963.

  • Kenny

    Hah, that last sentence was meant to indicate that, in the climate of racism prevalent at the time, election of a black member to the Academy was awesome, and should be applauded. It does not indicate racism. Again though, the apple barrel analogy applies.

    I also missed out something I was going to say about the prison situation. I did mention in a previous post that lower level religiously inspired crimes will often occur and are a reason people go to prison. Examples might include violence against women and gang violence between members of different cultures who define themselves by their religions.

    To expand upon the point about violence against women… women are often seen as second class humans in religion. They are seen as possessions. It’s in the book… read it.

  • bitchen frizzy

    The NAS doesn’t elect women in proportion to the number of female scientists, either. Maybe there just aren’t many women in the top flight of scientists? And no woman has ever been elected president of the NAS. See what statistics can do for you?

    I never said I didn’t need more data for the prison statistics discussion.

    Fair enough. Then I should take your conclusions based on prison statistics with a grain of salt.

    My point was – again – that few U.S. inmates are in prison for religiously-motivated crimes. It’s not a question of them doing bad things dictated by their religious beliefs. That must be allowed for in your analysis.

    Oh but it was ok for him to do that, he was practising his religion.

    Who said it was o.k. for him to do that?

    I’m saying that academia is not immune to prejudice and bias. Read or listen to what women in academia have to say about that.

  • bitchen frizzy

    I did mention in a previous post that lower level religiously inspired crimes will often occur and are a reason people go to prison. Examples might include violence against women and gang violence between members of different cultures who define themselves by their religions.

    Oh, bullshit!

    This is sophomoric. Now you’re simply attributing the majority of all crime to religion, no matter how ephemeral the connection. Gang violence – religion! Domestic violence – religion!

    A very large percentage of the U.S. prison population is incarcerated for drug-related offenses. Drug abuse – religion!

  • Kenny

    Hmm.. I don’t think I said drug related offences were anything to do with religion.

    However you’re mistaken if you think that I’m talking about religion being overt in these situations.

    Domestic violence has to do with control. If a man hits his wife, it is because he believes he needs to to exert his authority over her. The reason he thinks he has authority over her in the first place is because there is a religiously inspired cultural idea that women are property.

    There are obvious exceptions to this… maybe the guy’s just a psycho, but it is the perceived superiority and authority of men in the relationship that leads to violence in the majority of cases.

  • Kenny

    |This is from a UNICEF document discussing the causes of violence against women.

    “Several complex and interconnected
    institutionalized social and cultural factors
    have kept women particularly vulnerable
    to the violence directed at them, all of
    them manifestations of historically
    unequal power relations between men and
    women. Factors contributing to these
    unequal power relations include: socioeconomic
    forces, the family institution
    where power relations are enforced, fear of
    and control over female sexuality, belief in
    the inherent superiority of males, and legislation
    and cultural sanctions that have
    traditionally denied women and children
    an independent legal and social status.”

    And here’s the link. Enjoy.
    http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/digest6e.pdf

  • Kenny

    It is religion we have to thank for these factors.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Phychiatry tells us that actually, abusive men feel inferior, small, and powerless; and they try to negate that by abusing women. They don’t generally target assertive women – it’s not a need to find an empowered women and beat her down to satisfy their notions of a woman’s place. Also, abuse is learned from abusers, whatever their religious affiliation. It’s familial and generational.

    Hmm.. I don’t think I said drug related offences were anything to do with religion.

    It’s something else you must account for. Depending on the prison, as many as half the inmates are there for drug-related offenses.

    If you know any U.S. atheists who are drug users, then there but for the grace of God – or better lawyers, or celebrity status – go they…

  • Kenny

    P.S. Sophomoric? My, aren’t we getting a little free with the name calling? You might as well just have called me an idiot.

  • bitchen frizzy

    It is religion we have to thank for these factors.

    More oversimplification.

    Religioius

  • bitchen frizzy

    It is religion we have to thank for these factors.

    More oversimplification.

    Religious fundamentalists do this, too. Simple, once-sentence explanations to distinguish “us” from “them” and to explain the evils of the world, while assuring themselves that they are above it all.

  • Kenny

    You are being simplistic. Men who feel inferior are hitting women because they need to assert themselves to live up to the manly ideal they’ve been brought up with. It’s about control. It comes from the historical bias religion has towards the superiority of men. Try reading the UNICEF article.

    I also didn’t say anything that required I fill prisons with those who commit religious crimes. Actually the question is why do such a tiny, tiny minority of atheists ever end up in prison?

  • bitchen frizzy

    Don’t know what happened above. Imps, or faeries, I’m sure.

  • Kenny

    I am not oversimplifying the situation Bitchen. We get a cultural bias towards the superiority of men from religion. That is a given.

  • LaSargenta

    @bichen

    They don’t generally target assertive women – it’s not a need to find an empowered women and beat her down to satisfy their notions of a woman’s place.

    It is anecdata, but, my personal experience tells me that this statement doesn’t necessarily follow the first statement. (I did not give myself my internet handle, it was bestowed on me many years ago because of my assertiveness. I also regularily get threats tailored for me as a woman stepping over some artificial boundary.) I also have seen other people going through shit when the abuse escalated once someone stood up for herself.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Men who feel inferior are hitting women because they need to assert themselves to live up to the manly ideal they’ve been brought up with.

    No, for the last time, that is not what is behind domestic abuse.

    And you’re conflating domestic abuse that lands U.S. men in prison with what UNICEF is describing.

  • Kenny

    Man.. you really don’t want to read that document do you?

  • bitchen frizzy

    I also have seen other people going through shit when the abuse escalated once someone stood up for herself.

    Oh, I know. The abuser can become frantic when he feels control slipping away.

    But initially, the women that tend to fall into abusive relationships and not exit when they see the red flags, are often unassertive and lack self-esteem.

  • LaSargenta

    @ Kenny

    P.S. Sophomoric?

    I don’t necessarily agree with what bichen is saying, but I’d like to point out that it was the statement that was called sophomoric, not you.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Man.. you really don’t want to read that document do you?

    And another unfounded assumption…

    I have no problem reading the document. There’s nothing in it I haven’t seen before.

  • bitchen frizzy

    That is a given.

    To you, it is, because it fits with your need to simplify everything down to “religion.”

    To an anthropologist, it’s much more complicated than that.

  • Kenny

    Excellent, well you’re assertion that I was conflating UNICEF’s take with the reasons that men end up in prison in the US for domestic abuse could now be re-examined… since the cover of the document does not read “Violence against women and girls everywhere except in the USA, where the reasons behind it are totally different and not at all to do with religion.”

    Also LaSargenta, fair enough. He does rather throw these terms around though.

  • LaSargenta

    Hmmm, bichen,

    But initially, the women that tend to fall into abusive relationships and not exit when they see the red flags, are often unassertive and lack self-esteem.

    And why is that? could it be because they are taught by their culture (which often has a HUGE religiously-derived intellectual base) that they are worthless or second-class?

    I may be a ‘believer” (whatever the hell that means) due to an epiphany, but I do credit a great deal of my self-esteem to being brought up in a family environment where religion was an intellectual puzzle to be observed in others, but not something to indulge in myself. It was also NOT something to provide me with rules to live by. My father was most definately an atheist and he took an anarchist’s approach to human behaviour: You have to be very honest to live without law.

  • Kenny

    Wow… you really do see us sitting here with closed minds going “religion baaaaaaddd!!!”

    Anthropologist or not, it is the idea that women are secondary, or evil, or something to be afraid of, or property, which comes directly from the holy books of so many different religions, for which we have to thank for these attitudes in historical and modern society.

    I always loved Hitchen’s quote from the Talmud… “You must thank God you were not born a woman.”

  • JoshB

    It’s very clear, from the statistics, that the National Academy of Scientists seldom elects theists to its membership. It also didn’t elect its first black member until 1965. I should assume, then, that there were no sufficiently intelligent or qualified black scientists until 1965.

    The NAS doesn’t elect women in proportion to the number of female scientists, either. Maybe there just aren’t many women in the top flight of scientists? And no woman has ever been elected president of the NAS. See what statistics can do for you?

    I’m guessing you didn’t think this through.

    Women and blacks have historically been marginalized and underrepresented in virtually every aspect of society. Religious people, on the other hand, are in the clear majority of virtually every aspect of society.

    If we follow general social trends then atheist membership in the NAS should be at best equivalent to their representation in the general population, if not lower. Again, see atheist membership in, say, Congress. Female and black underrepresentation is predictable. Atheist overrepresention is a reversal, the exact opposite of predictable. How do you explain that?

    I mean, you seem to be implying that there’s some culture of exclusion in the NAS against theists. This notion begs the question of how atheists managed to get so much power within the organization as to be able to exclude what in your hypothesis is a clear majority of theist scientists.

  • bitchen frizzy

    could it be because they are taught by their culture

    Could be… could very well be… hold that thought…

    You have to be very honest to live without law.

    Jesus said that, too!

    Wow… you really do see us sitting here with closed minds going “religion baaaaaaddd!!!”

    Not “us,” Kenny, you. It’s been the theme of your entire argument.

    …and back to the thought.

    Look, we all abhor social ills like domestic violence. This is something we need to address as a society, and we won’t solve the problem by saying, “It’s them damn theists!” It’s very comforting to some, theist and atheist, to blame “them.” But that’s just distancing yourself from the problem, a good way to make it somebody else’s fault. If you really think that we’ll eliminate domestic violence by eliminating religion, then you’re living in a mythology of your own creation, and the victims of domestic violence can’t afford your blame game and easy answers.

    That’s why arguments like this start to make me tired. You’d begrudge theists who are working on problems like domestic violence, and many are; or believe that their attitudes are in spite of their theism. I said above that thinking theists abhor fundamentalism.

  • LaSargenta

    Nice ziggurat!

  • bitchen frizzy

    I mean, you seem to be implying that there’s some culture of exclusion in the NAS against theists.

    I don’t know if there is or not. I’m not going to assume there isn’t on the basis that atheists are above that.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Nice ziggurat!

    I know, what a mess! Sorry if that’s hard to read.

  • Oooh, pretty! I want to try.

    Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

  • Kenny

    Bitchen, first, what the hell was that thing? If those were supposed to be quotes of mine, you’ve obviously not looked particularly carefully at the names which come directly after “posted by” at the top left of each post.

    Secondly, I have repeatedly stated that the attitudes which lead to domestic violence are rooted in cultural bias which comes from religion. I did not say that Little Timmy read in the bible that women are property so he went out and beat the shit out of his girlfriend because she didn’t respect him enough.

    Thirdly…. are you separating us into good atheists and bad atheists? Bluejay already quoted Greta Christina.

  • Kenny

    (Some of them were quotes of mine.. :)

  • bitchen frizzy

    Bitchen, first, what the hell was that thing? If those were supposed to be quotes of mine, you’ve obviously not looked particularly carefully at the names which come directly after “posted by” at the top left of each post.

    I’m also dialoguing with La Sargenta. Obviously, I tried to take one too many shortcuts. Again, I’m sorry.

    Thirdly…. are you separating us into good atheists and bad atheists?

    I’m treating you as individuals.

  • Kenny

    Bitchen. Let me say this clearly for you. Insinuating that there is some kind of intentional bias against theists by the NAS is ridiculous. You are very clearly trying to cast aspersions for which you have not a single shred of evidence.

    There are not very many theists in the NAS because there are not very many theists to choose from in the top flight of science. The end.

  • Kenny

    You’re treating us as individuals, but you’re still attempting to divide and conquer :D

    I don’t expect Bluejay or Josh or Rocketscience or Paul to stand by everything I say, and they do not expect me to do so for them. However I think you’re trying to separate us into good atheists and bad atheists and win your argument that way.

    We are having a debate about ideas, so let’s talk about ideas…

  • bitchen frizzy

    You’re treating us as individuals, but you’re still attempting to divide and conquer :D …
    However I think you’re trying to separate us into good atheists and bad atheists and win your argument that way.

    No, I’m not. And I couldn’t care less about winning my argument.

  • Kenny

    Ok. I see now why you’re participating so enthusiastically in this nearly 200 post thread. :D On the plus side, I am enjoying myself immensely.

  • JoshB

    I don’t know if there is or not. I’m not going to assume there isn’t on the basis that atheists are above that.

    Blatant, absurd straw man. I made no mention of atheists being above anything and you know it.

    You shouldn’t assume that there isn’t a culture of exclusion because atheists are above it, you should assume that there isn’t because that idea doesn’t make a bit of sense. There’s no way that atheists, a tiny minority of the population, could force their way into majority control of any group not called “Christopher Hitchens Fan Club.”

  • bitchen frizzy

    OK

  • bitchen frizzy

    Blatant, absurd straw man. I made no mention of atheists being above anything and you know it.

    Dude, it’s not an “accusation.” It follows logically, and it goes without saying. If they’re electing members solely on the basis of qualifications, then they’d have to be “above that,” at least as far as their selection of new members goes.

  • Kenny

    Bitchen, you cast aspersions about the NAS. Yes, they elect members based on qualifications. That’s the thing about a meritocracy.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Bitchen, you cast aspersions about the NAS.

    I’m not, but so what if I am?

    OK, so they elect on qualifications. According to the statistics, 60.7% of the natural scientists in general are atheist. Yet 97% of the NAS members are atheist. The percentage of atheists on the NAS is far higher than amongst scientists in general. That’s interesting.

    Now, from that I conclude that the NAS tends to elect atheists to its ranks. That’s all I said, and that is mathematically incontrovertable.

    One explanation might be that only the top-flight scientists get elected to the NAS. Therefore, it must be true that most top-flight scientists are atheist. In fact, that would mean that only a tiny minority of the theistic scientists are as “top-flight” as the atheists.

    Another explanation might be that there’s some self-reinforcement going on. After all, the NAS is an elitist community, with lifetime membership. That might be a wrong explanation, but it’s not implausible, unless they really are “above that”. But we all know that academians can be exclusive and elitist.

    I know which case you want to believe is true. I shall remain agnostic. I don’t know which is true.

  • Kenny

    You clearly insinuated that the NAS were biased against theists.

    “new members of the organization are elected annually by current members, based on their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.”

    The NAS has one criteria for election of new members, religious belief is not it.

    The wonderful thing about Occam’s razor is that in the absence of any evidence for your second explanation, while it could be made to fit the facts, it is far less likely, and can be discounted until you find any evidence to support it.

  • Kenny

    That last paragraph was meant to read…

    The wonderful thing about Occam’s razor is that, while your second explanation could be made to fit the facts, it is far less likely, and can be discounted until you find any evidence to support it.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Fair enough.

    I also know that women and minorities are underrepresented on the boards of major corporations. Corporations promote and hire without regard to gender, race, creed, color, or ethnic origin – trust them.

    I would hesitate to draw conclusions about the superior leadership of white males, based on that…

    …I know that “old boy” mentality can exist at the top of a field, and it’s self-reinforcing. Just sayin’.

  • AJP

    The difference is that in those cases there is often other corroborating evidence beyond the mere statistical distribution that indicates bias. You do not have such corroborating evidence with regard to the NAS and theism/atheism.

  • Kenny
  • bitchen frizzy

    Read that earlier today. What did you make of it?

  • Kenny

    That because the NAS doesn’t elect new members until they are in their 50’s and are distinguished and continuing contributors in their field, their membership doesn’t reflect the demographics of science as a whole.
    Dr Summers comments don’t anything to do with selection… only his thoughts on why there might be relatively few eligible women.

  • Kenny

    Or rather, it doesn’t reflect the modern demographics of science in the US as a whole. :D It does however reflect the demographics of science in the US from say, 20 years ago… but that’s the sort of lag you’d expect from an institution that waits until late career before inducting members.

  • bitchen frizzy

    If the membership is lagging the demographics, then why are atheists a higher percentage of membership than of science as a whole?

    Why are the male atheists of the NAS lagging in electing women but leading in electing atheists?

  • Kenny

    Because atheism in science is not new Bitchen. For well over a century, we’ve known enough about the Universe for scientists to widely reject religion.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Because atheism in science is not new Bitchen. For well over a century, we’ve known enough about the Universe for scientists to widely reject religion.

    That does not explain the statistical disparity between scientists in general and the NAS, unless they are either rejecting theists, or the best scientists are atheists. We’ve come right around to where we were.

    You’re making a circular argument. You hold up the NAS statistics as proof that atheists are the best scientists, and argue that’s why the vast majority of the NAS membership is atheist.

    Maybe the NAS membership just thinks the best scientists are atheists, just as you and a lot of other atheists do.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Because atheism in science is not new Bitchen. For well over a century, we’ve known enough about the Universe for scientists to widely reject religion.

    That does not explain the statistical disparity between scientists in general and the NAS, unless they are either rejecting theists, or the best scientists are atheists. We’ve come right around to where we were.

    You’re making a circular argument. You hold up the NAS statistics as proof that atheists are the best scientists, and argue that’s why the vast majority of the NAS membership is atheist.

    Maybe the NAS membership just thinks the best scientists are atheists, just as you and a lot of other atheists do.

  • Maybe the NAS membership just thinks the best scientists are atheists, just as you and a lot of other atheists do.

    I’m going to quote JoshB from this other thread (which, in length, this thread is fast rivaling):

    From my perspective that is the difference between the atheist, (or rather scientific) view, and the theist one.

    Science assumes that the universe is knowable, that we can figure out why things are the way they are if we put our minds to it.

    The theist view is that we don’t have to because: God.

    This may be a bit of a generalization, but I think there’s some truth in it. A scientific mindset that’s committed to following the evidence wherever it takes you, more often than not leads to atheism. This seems to be true whether you take the 60% atheism in scientists in general or the 97% atheism in the NAS.

    Neil DeGrasse Tyson has pointed out that throughout the history of science, even when scientists were religious, they were religious about what they couldn’t yet explain. In other words they believed in the “God of the gaps.” Newton explained an enormous amount of things in great detail in the Principia, and only when he came to stuff he couldn’t figure out did he mention God. But then other scientists came along, generations later, and explained those mysteries without referring to the divine; and so on.

    (Of course, there’s still an awful lot that scientists don’t understand, but maybe modern scientists are comfortable being atheists because of science’s established track record: they now see it as likely that any mysteries in the universe can be explained by science, provided we have time to figure it out.)

    The thing about bringing God into scientific work is that, I think, it’s an impediment to having the proper mindset to solving mysteries in the natural world; there’s always the temptation to say “God did it” and stop trying to figure it out.

    I’m not scientifically trained, just an avid science reader. Maybe Kenny has more to say about this.

  • Kenny

    The statistical disparity is due to the fact that those with more knowledge of the Universe are more likely to be atheists.
    The general population has about 10%, there are a higher percentage in universities, 60% in general science, and 93% in the NAS.

    Remember that there were no existing statistics about the religiosity of the members of the NAS until fairly recently. The survey was done to gather evidence for the hypothesis that religiosity decreased with intelligence.
    The NAS doesn’t “think atheists make better scientists”
    The point is that better science tends to make atheists.

  • bitchen frizzy

    The thing about bringing God into scientific work is that, I think, it’s an impediment to having the proper mindset to solving mysteries in the natural world; there’s always the temptation to say “God did it” and stop trying to figure it out.

    It’s potentially an impediment, agreed. Certitude of any kind is always an impediment to further study. Lots of people can fall into that trap, including theists.

    You’re misunderstanding the “God of the Gaps” as it applies to theism. Newton’s faith in God was in no way diminished by his scientific discoveries. Science did not replace a portion of his theism. It’s not a tradeoff, except for those whose theism runs no deeper than superstitious explanations of natural phenomena.

    The NAS doesn’t “think atheists make better scientists”
    The point is that better science tends to make atheists.

    These sentences contradict each other. If you believe something to be a fact, then that’s what you think.

  • JoshB

    Ooh, I got cross-quoted! *pride* =P

    Yeah, that comment was definitely a simplification, but you expanded on it in the proper ways.

  • JoshB

    These sentences contradict each other. If you believe something to be a fact, then that’s what you think.

    No they don’t.

    Most scientists are atheists.
    Most A’s are B’s

    All athiests are good scientists.
    All B’s are good A’s.

    The second statement does not at all follow the first. See Stalin, Lysenkoism.

  • I think this quote at the end of the article is particularly important to the discussion:

    “You have to be careful about the statistics of small numbers,” he said. For example, 22 of this year’s new members are from institutions in California. “I would not know how to put a value judgment on this,” Dr. Brauman said.”

    As for the religion and culture debate, I would like to pose a question. Let’s say you have a country that oppresses women (hardly boggles the imagination), and the religious conservatives insist upon that tradition, even as God given(again, pretty normal), but that tradition predates the religion and is not mentioned in the holy texts (there are examples but I don’t want to mention the specific religions in this thought experiment), do you still blame the “religion”?

  • Kenny

    Well in response to Bluejay, what I’d say is simply that any preconceived idea is a bar to good science. It’s just that when you already think something is the case, it’s harder to be analytical and keep personal bias out of your work.

  • Kenny

    Ok… in response to Paul. I would say that the religious conservatives in your thought experiment are preserving this tradition because they wish to maintain control over society. Equality for women is a rather progressive step, which allows all sorts of liberalism in the door.
    I would not blame the religion in that case, as long the attitudes towards women in that region were explicitly not mentioned in the holy text. (Though even a hint can be enough… women being derived from a rib for example, or the woman being cast as a temptation to resist, etc.)

  • bitchen frizzy

    “Better science tends to make atheists” is the belief.

    The NAS elects atheists much more often than theists, is the action.

    Are atheists objectively better scientists? If both statements above are accepted as fact, and the NAS action is not due to outright bias, than the answer to the third question must be “yes.”

    Therefore, the notion that “better science makes atheists,” leads to the conclusion that “atheistic scientists are better scientists.” So you (or the NAS, at least) must think – or know, if you prefer – that the atheist candidates for the NAS are the better scientists.

    Otherwise, there’s no point to quoting the NAS statistics in the first place.

    That’s the train of thought, isn’t it?

  • bitchen frizzy

    Well in response to Bluejay, what I’d say is simply that any preconceived idea is a bar to good science. It’s just that when you already think something is the case, it’s harder to be analytical and keep personal bias out of your work.

    Totally agree with this.

  • Kenny

    Josh already refuted your statement Bitchen, but I’ll expand upon his post a little.

    “The NAS doesn’t “think atheists make better scientists” The point is that better science tends to make atheists.” Is not a contradiction.

    When I say that A does not make B, I do not contradict myself when I say that B does can make A.

    Paintings do not paint painters, but painters paint paintings.

  • bitchen frizzy

    *Headsmack*

    Took me this long to see your’s and JoshB’s error in logic.

    “Scientist” isn’t the same as “science.” You don’t have a mathematical relationship there. Your B in Sentence 1 is not equivalent to your B in Sentence 2.

  • Kenny

    “Better science tends to make atheists” is the belief.

    The NAS elects atheists much more often than theists, is the action.

    Are atheists objectively better scientists? If both statements above are accepted as fact, and the NAS action is not due to outright bias, than the answer to the third question must be “yes.”

    Therefore, the notion that “better science makes atheists,” leads to the conclusion that “atheistic scientists are better scientists.” So you (or the NAS, at least) must think – or know, if you prefer – that the atheist candidates for the NAS are the better scientists.

    Otherwise, there’s no point to quoting the NAS statistics in the first place.

    That’s the train of thought, isn’t it?

    Ok. No, that isn’t the train of thought.

    The point of quoting those statistics in the first place was as part of a discussion based on the effects of intelligence on religiosity.

    These statistics did not exist until fairly recently. To say that the NAS had an opinion on the religiosity of its members is daft, as they generally didn’t know how religious these people were. They elect members based on their careers as scientists.

    Also you’re entirely missing the point that the NAS doesn’t recruit like a corporation. They don’t elect people based on what they think their future contributions are going to be… they elect those who have already had a successful career in science.

  • Kenny

    Bitchen, science is the practice, scientist is the one practising the practice. There is no logic failure in equating the two for this discussion, and there is no contradiction in the original statement.

    If I were to say “The running federation doesn’t think strong legs make good runners, rather that good runners get stronger legs.” There would be no contradiction.

    Examine the original statement.

    “The NAS doesn’t “think atheists make better scientists” The point is that better science tends to make atheists.”

    It is functionally the same.

  • Kenny

    And even if you don’t accept that…

    The NAS doesn’t think atheists do better science, they think that better science tends to make people atheists.

    Works just fine.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Kenny, how about this:

    1) Atheistic scientists are generally better scientists than theistic scientists. TRUE or FALSE. I stipulate that “FALSE” does not imply the reverse is true or rule out parity.

    2) If Statement 1 is TRUE, then do the NAS statistics correlate with it?

    3) If Statement 1 is FALSE, then how do you explain the 9:1 ratio, consistently with Statement 1 being false?

  • [Kenny wrote] Well in response to Bluejay, what I’d say is simply that any preconceived idea is a bar to good science. It’s just that when you already think something is the case, it’s harder to be analytical and keep personal bias out of your work.

    [bitchen frizzy wrote] Totally agree with this.

    But where are you going with this, bitchen? Going by your comments thus far, it’s not hard for me to suppose that you think scientists’ atheism is itself a “preconceived idea.” (If I’m putting words in your mouth, please stop me.) Are you setting up to argue that scientists should formally consider God as a possible explanation for every scientific problem? Because even if a scientist is religious, it seems to me that the notion of God as a cause of natural phenomena is an empirically untestable (and therefore useless) hypothesis in science. It’s why the Intelligent Design proponents have no credibility in the scientific community; ID is not science.

  • Kenny

    I think, all things considered, the answer to 1 is true, with the stipulation that there are and have been truly excellent theistic scientists who didn’t let their preconceptions influence their work more than scientists in general.

    So my answer to 2 would be yes, they correlate, as if, in general, scientists who are atheists are better able to apply the scientific method, they will produce better results and write better papers… papers, that when peer reviewed, stand up to examination and describe reproducible experimental data.

    I think that there are several factors at work here.

    We have discussed the theistic mindset… the idea that you don’t need to question things because the answer is just “God did it.” I think that this will cut large swathes of the truly religious out of the equation to start with. We’ve gotten to an age where science is no longer the domain of monks or rich aristocrats with a lot of time on their hands. It’s in the hands of the professional… and the professional has to have that drive to become a scientist in the first place. I think this is simply more likely in people who have less religious faith.

    I do not believe there is any discrimination based on theism. I said this literally 30 posts ago… If you have a 99 apples in a barrel for every orange, you’re not going to get oranges very often.

    They induct scientists based on long, successful careers and real meaty contributions to science. They don’t ask them if they believe in God or not first. It just so happens that when they’re done electing people, there are not that many theistic ones.

    Let’s be clear… of the scientists working in the US today, only a very small number will ever be elected to the NAS, but it’s their ability, not their lack of religious faith that will get them in.

  • Kenny

    Bluejay :) I have a dragon in my garage.

  • I have a dragon in my garage.

    LOL! I’d forgotten about that, but yes, exactly.

  • Apology accepted, Captain Nee–I mean, Tonio. ;-)

    Aw, gee. I’m all choked up.;-)

    I’ve taken to picturing Bluejay like this, cuddly and with near infinite patience.

    That toy looks neat. And it just so happens my sister’s daughter collects stuffed animals in that series.

    What would this athiest diplomacy look like? How would you, Tonio, be diplomatic in explaining to a Hindu why you believe in Jesus rather than Shiva? In my estimation the only way to do this would be to open the conversation with “Let’s agree to disagree. How about those [insert sports team]!”

    Fair enough, JoshB. But I learned the hard way that people were more likely to listen to my complaints about various ethnic stereotypes when I stopped trying to play the fiery Chicano militant than when I did.

    Plus I grew up with a Mexican-born father who noted many times the difference between taking a legitimate stand against prejudice (which he approved of) and shameless Anglo-baiting (which he didn’t).

    However, those are my issues, not yours. And I should not have offered unsolicited advice.

    Plus I have noted the points Kenny and Bluejay have already made in response to that post.

    Oh and in New York state, a rabbi was giving little boys genital herpes when he sliced around their foreskins and then sucked them off with his blistered mouth. Oh but it was ok for him to do that, he was practising his religion. (One of them died.)

    You realize, of course, that most Jews would approve of that rabbi about as much as most Catholics approve of Father Rudy Kos.

  • I always loved Hitchen’s quote from the Talmud… “You must thank God you were not born a woman.”

    Jewish author Letty Cottin Pogrebin addresses that issue in her book Deborah, Golda, and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America (New York: Crown, 1991).

    I’d quote it but you’re probably better off reading it in its original context. After all, I’m biased, you know.;-)

    (Seriously, it is a good book. Please don’t let my endorsement keep you from reading it.)

  • Nice ziggurat!

    Yes, it was, Bitchen Frizzy. Bluejay’s wasn’t too shabby either. :-)

  • Kenny

    Tonio, my girlfriend is an atheist Jew with a non atheist family, and thanks to my many years of work at a New England summercamp, I have several dozen Jewish friends.
    I know that the story of Yitzhok Fischer does horrify them. For several, disturbingly I think, it is the fact that he gave them herpes, not that he sucked the foreskin off with his mouth that horrifies them.

    I don’t think a grown man should have a little boy’s penis in his mouth under any circumstances.

    Read this article…
    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/26/nyregion/26circumcise.html

    I want to know why it is legal, in New York city, to suck a baby boy’s penis.

    A circumcision ritual practiced by some Orthodox Jews has alarmed city health officials, who say it may have led to three cases of herpes – one of them fatal – in infants. But after months of meetings with Orthodox leaders, city officials have been unable to persuade them to abandon the practice.

    The city’s intervention has angered many Orthodox leaders, and the issue has left the city struggling to balance its mandate to protect public health with the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.

    Why is this legal? I am flabbergasted. Under no other circumstances could this ever happen… but because it’s religion, it’s ok… the only reason Fischer is barred is because he’s actually given them herpes as well as just sucking off their foreskins.

  • Kenny

    *given them herpes and killed one, as well as just sucking off their foreskins.

  • I don’t think a grown man should have a little boy’s penis in his mouth under any circumstances.

    I agree. My friends and relatives–regardless of their religious philosophy–would also agree.

  • Muzz

    Another cracking thread I find late. Oh well. Good readin’ times in any case.

    I note this from bitchin’ way up top, discussing whether people are atheist or agnostic:

    By default, people are undecided or follow their parent’s beliefs without much consideration. An atheist has reached the intellectual conclusion that religious belief is false.

    I don’t think that definition of atheism holds anymore. Increasingly I meet people who can’t be described as either of the above. They have grown up with no religious or supreme being concepts whatsoever. There’s no rational conclusion to reach (or be unsure of) since the question for them does not exist.

    This isn’t a big surprise in Australia, being one of the more secular places on earth for a couple of generations now. But there really isn’t a better term than atheist for these people, regardless of how technically apt one thinks it is.

    This is something worth keeping an eye on too, since, as we can see here, most of our definitions depend on addressing one way or the other the idea of a supreme being (and it is pretty exclusively monotheistic). The notion that the whole question can be brushed aside entirely, psychologically and culturally irrelevant to enough people to potentially call a population, is utterly marvellous to me.

    For the time being we’re probably stuck with the old paradigm, however. On that subject there is a lot of talk about vocal atheists being “nicer” or more diplomatic around the place.

    Well, for one thing, you can’t expect Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and coiner of the Meme concept, to not behave as though his ideas are in aggressive competition with other ideas. That would be silly.

    But also the religious seem to forget that there’s no nice way of saying that the font of all grace, maker of all things, the beacon of light in the universe, the thing of pure love most dear to you, where you come from and shall return… doesn’t actually exist, at all. There’s just not. OK, you can couch it nice polite terms and sort of ease the shock a little bit, but ultimately there’s no way of getting around it. It’s a horrible psyche shattering thought atheists hold. Being reminded of it hurts. They’re insulting your mother and kicking your dog at the same time.

    Some will say they know lots of atheists who are their friends and they agree to disagree all the time and it doesn’t affect their faith in any discernable way. This is probably true, but I’m willing to bet they don’t get down to brass tacks in these discussions very often. When you actualy do it can get rather uptight. And it always will.
    Once all the “who is the ultimate font of all evil?” stuff is hashed out there’s still that sticking point that can’t help but offend, regardless of the words used.

  • Kenny

    But also the religious seem to forget that there’s no nice way of saying that the font of all grace, maker of all things, the beacon of light in the universe, the thing of pure love most dear to you, where you come from and shall return… doesn’t actually exist, at all

    You do have something of a point there. (It also made me smile)

  • I don’t think that definition of atheism holds anymore. Increasingly I meet people who can’t be described as either of the above. They have grown up with no religious or supreme being concepts whatsoever. There’s no rational conclusion to reach (or be unsure of) since the question for them does not exist.

    That’s very interesting.

    I’m working my way (slowly) through the book Doubt: A History by Jennifer Michael Hecht, in which, among other things, she argues that religious belief was once held with this kind of easy-going attitude; people lived in small, like-minded communities and simply took faith for granted, the same way they took for granted that the sun was bright and water was wet. There saw no need to question or even really think about it. It was in the big cities, with all sorts of cultures brushing up against each other, that people realized their beliefs weren’t universally shared, and began to see their religion as a matter of active belief. And once there was active belief, there was active doubt as well.

    Anyway, interesting stuff. I may be misstating her argument, so I suppose I should go back to reading the book soon…

  • Seth R.

    You know, the ironic thing is that when this video came out, the LDS Church was in the middle of phasing-out and cutting back on the amount of time missionaries spend knocking on doors. Even during my mission in the mid-1990s, I think I went door-knocking maybe 3 or four times in the ENTIRE 2 years I was out there.

    It’s being acknowledged that door approaches simply don’t work very well. So they’re being phased-out. Yet this is the moment that this atheist decides to come out with a video ragging on Mormons for door-knocking.

    Day late, and a dollar short bud.

  • Kenny

    Oh, yeh, the original point of this thread.

    I felt my ire rise somewhat when I read “this atheist”, as if it’s some kind of insult… but I’ll let it slide.
    He is from Australia. Was your mission in Australia? Do you know of the policy of the LDS church concerning door approaches in that nation?
    My assumption, and it was just that, was that he had been the victim of numerous door approaches early on a Saturday morning.
    He chose to travel to the heart of LDS territory for a bit of satire.

  • Kenny

    Bluejay. I think comparisons could be made with small, isolated communities that the main religions have ignored. Jungle tribes and Island communities for example. While they usually have quite well developed mythologies, they don’t seem to have a particularly active faith. Perhaps they just don’t have time?

  • bitchen frizzy

    What I am driving at, Bluejay, is confirmation as provided by Kenny.

    Atheists hold a belief that the “theistic mindset” [quotes because it’s your words] renders a person less capable of doing good science. They’re just not going to work as hard at it.

    I’ve seen this reasoning before, in other circumstances, complete with the same circular argument.

    When white males hold the positions of power in politics and business, it must be because they are best suited for that. The proof is that are the ones in charge, so obviously they’re best suited. Those who challenge the glass ceilings are met with the same patronizing condenscention. Those that hold the top positions are sincerely convinced of their own entitlement to those positions – they rose to the top, didn’t they, and on their own merits. Of course the path to the top is open to anyone qualified – the company policy clearly states that promotions are without regard to gender or race.

    9:1 ratio, just happened spontaneously? Really?

    And if atheists don’t want theism out of science, how do you explain the likes of Dawkins? And, honestly, do you really have no desire to see theism taken out of science, or is it just not polite to say so in mixed company?

  • JoshB

    Atheists hold a belief that the “theistic mindset” [quotes because it’s your words] renders a person less capable of doing good science. They’re just not going to work as hard at it.

    Nope. I feel like a broken record saying this, but here goes…Atheism does not make good scientists, science makes atheists.

    Atheistic scientists are generally better scientists than theistic scientists. TRUE or FALSE.

    The answer is TRUE, but the way you’ve phrased it reverses the causal relationship. The process of good science does not allow for a belief in things not in evidence. Science is the cause, the arbiter, the active agent.

    I was raised Catholic. Scientific thinking forced me to admit that I could not prove the existence of God. This is not circular reasoning.

    do you really have no desire to see theism taken out of science, or is it just not polite to say so in mixed company?

    I want to see theism taken out of science (Intelligent Design), I do not want to see theists taken out of science (Ken Miller). The linked video is almost 2 hours long, so to sum up, he’s a theist scientist who demolishes intelligent design in most entertaining fashion.

  • JoshB

    Just wanted to add, 24:50-27:20 of that video is especially applicable to the conversation of theism in science.

  • AJP

    Atheists hold a belief that the “theistic mindset” [quotes because it’s your words] renders a person less capable of doing good science. They’re just not going to work as hard at it.

    While theism can produce good scientists like Ken Miller (noted in JoshB’s post) it also produces clowns like Michael Behe, who has no hope at all of being selected to the NAS, not because he is a theist, but because his scientific work is so shoddy that the biology department at Lehigh University, where he is on the faculty, has publicly opposed his views on intelligent design.

    And if atheists don’t want theism out of science, how do you explain the likes of Dawkins? And, honestly, do you really have no desire to see theism taken out of science, or is it just not polite to say so in mixed company?

    Dawkins isn’t a member of the NAS and thus has no power one way or the other to determine its membership. Neither is PZ Meyers or any of the other outspoken atheists that crop up in conversations like this. Your argument doesn’t seem to hold up very well.

  • LaSargenta

    As a scientist (applied sciences, though, aka engineering) who also can be called a theist (although I certainly don’t go along with the idea of a divine watchmaker or some human-shaped law-giver on a throne or something similar) I’ve got to say that the problem with a helluva lotta theists I’ve met who go into the sciences are that they are too wedded to their dogma. They bring it along and cling to it and encase it in steel to prevent it from changing and they try to make their work fit the dogma instead of exploring and seeing where it leads.

    Personally, my epiphany happened when I was very small and I held to the memory of my experience and didn’t try to bind or explain it with any dogma. The more I studied as I grew up, the more I found a place to fit that experience in the real world instead of in a set of rules from a heavily edited text. The study did not lessen my belief in the eternal, if anything, it actually increased it.

    In another thread, I’ve told a story about a geologist I met who managed to live with some severe cognitive dissonance as he was a strict creationist but still working as a geologist. I must say, with regards to that individual, I do think that his religious (note I did NOT say theistic) ideas and ideals made him an inferior scientist. He was still perfectly good at mechanics — how hard a substance is, what its engineering properties are, etc. — but, the broader work in geology requires an ability to see the history of our planet as something older than one created October 22, 4004 BC in the evening.

  • Kenny

    What I am driving at, Bluejay, is confirmation as provided by Kenny.

    Atheists hold a belief that the “theistic mindset” [quotes because it’s your words] renders a person less capable of doing good science. They’re just not going to work as hard at it.

    I’ve seen this reasoning before, in other circumstances, complete with the same circular argument.

    When white males hold the positions of power in politics and business, it must be because they are best suited for that. The proof is that are the ones in charge, so obviously they’re best suited. Those who challenge the glass ceilings are met with the same patronizing condenscention. Those that hold the top positions are sincerely convinced of their own entitlement to those positions – they rose to the top, didn’t they, and on their own merits. Of course the path to the top is open to anyone qualified – the company policy clearly states that promotions are without regard to gender or race.

    You “totally agreed” that good science is done by scientists who have no preconceived ideas which will get in the way of their work.

    9:1 ratio, just happened spontaneously? Really?

    What? Like the Universe “just happened spontaneously?” The 9:1 ratio happened because the best scientists are the ones who can dispense with their preconceptions and let reality speak for itself. For most of these people, that means they have let go of their theism (if they had any to start with) for some, less than 10%, that has not been necessary for them to match their colleagues accomplishments.

    And if atheists don’t want theism out of science, how do you explain the likes of Dawkins? And, honestly, do you really have no desire to see theism taken out of science, or is it just not polite to say so in mixed company?

    THEISM. DOES. NOT. EQUAL. THEIST.

    The former has no place in science. The latter is welcome, as long as they can be truly analytical and employ the scientific method without looking at it through God tinted glasses.

  • I concur with pretty much everything Josh said. As far as “explaining the likes of Dawkins,” I’d say that he wants science to be free from useless (in terms of scientific inquiry) God hypotheses; but he wouldn’t have a problem with religious scientists as long as they set aside any notions of unprovable supernatural causation when they’re at work, and just do science. I could be wrong about Dawkins’ opinions, though; do you have any passages of his in mind? If you can quote me something, I could tell you if I agree with it or not.

    Also: I don’t think the NAS asks scientists what their religious beliefs are, before they’re admitted. And unlike with women or minorities, it’s not obvious on sight who the religious and nonreligious ones are. Therefore, it’s not a factor in their selection criteria. Therefore, yes, in this case, the 9:1 ratio was not engineered to be that way, but just happens to be so.

    Kenny said as much already, but I don’t think you addressed it:

    They induct scientists based on long, successful careers and real meaty contributions to science. They don’t ask them if they believe in God or not first. It just so happens that when they’re done electing people, there are not that many theistic ones.

    the “theistic mindset” [quotes because it’s your words]

    If you’re talking to me, those are Kenny’s words, not mine.

    Thanks for the link, Josh. I can’t watch the whole thing now, but I saw a portion where he talked about the Dover trial, which was a fascinating case, I think. Some good ID-demolishing arguments were made there.

  • Kenny

    I have to say that I was very slightly irritated when I posted that. There are some very good thoughts in other’s responses to Bitchen’s post. LaSargenta’s example about the geologist is excellent, and Josh has pointed out the rather loaded nature of Bitchen’s line of true/false questioning.

    Now that I step back and think about it… it wasn’t unlike another “quiz” I was given by a theist. I have just spent 20 minutes looking for it, but the basic idea was that by answering a few true or false questions, I would discover that the Lord’s divine creation would be self evident.

  • Kenny

    By the way Bitchen… I have tried, very hard I might add, to use your words in context. I do this because I am having a debate with you about logic and reality.

    Do not take my words out of context, as this just looks like you’re trying to score points. Let’s try to keep the debate honest shall we?

  • bitchen frizzy

    Quite frankly, Kenny, I am sick and damn tired of you making assumptions about my motives.

    This is exactly the condenscension and contempt I am talking about. Why don’t you pat me on the head while you’re at it?

    I have no intention of converting you. I am not trying to win an argument, or prove there is a god. I have said as much before. You assume I am lying and I have hidden motives against you.

    The questioning is to get ideas clearly stated. Nothing like straightforward answers to direct questions to encourage persons to clearly state their ideas. You did say this should be a sharing of ideas, did you not? I want you to share your ideas.

    Do not take my words out of context, as this just looks like you’re trying to score points. Let’s try to keep the debate honest shall we?

    Where have I done this? You imply I am being intentionally dishonest; i.e., I am a liar.

  • bitchen frizzy

    And before I forget, touche Bluejay on “theistic mindset” not being your words. If that bit on “theistic mindset” being a hindrance to good science does not apply to you, then I apologize.

    @LaSargenta:
    I am not a creationist, and yes, holding onto explanations of the workings of the universe in contradiction to the evidence would indeed hinder science. I maintain that the notion of the “god of the gaps” as science displacing theism in an honest theistic scientists mind is often oversimplified. Newton was as theistic as any creationist.

  • If that bit on “theistic mindset” being a hindrance to good science does not apply to you, then I apologize.

    Well, my position on that is, it seems to me, the same as JoshB’s and Kenny’s and LaSargenta’s and, for that matter, probably yours: that a scientist’s religion (or lack of it) shouldn’t influence his/her scientific research and conclusions.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Fair enough, and agreed.

  • JoshB

    The questioning is to get ideas clearly stated. Nothing like straightforward answers to direct questions to encourage persons to clearly state their ideas. You did say this should be a sharing of ideas, did you not? —I want you to share your ideas.—

    That doesn’t look to be the case from where I’m sitting. Looks more like you want your ideas about what atheists think confirmed for you. How else to explain a sentence like this:

    And, honestly, do you really have no desire to see theism taken out of science, or is it just not polite to say so in mixed company?

    You do appear to want to win an argument, not necessarily that God exists, but that atheists are assholes. You keep insinuating that we’re not being honest about what we think. You worded your TRUE/FALSE question so that a true answer meant that we think theists are dummies incapable of good science. +10 asshole points for the atheists. You cling to this idea that the NAS is, ***just maybe, wink***, racist, misogynist religion haters. +10 asshole points for the NAS.

    You assume I am lying and I have hidden motives against you.

    You’re the one making assertions about what we secretly think, “or is it just not polite to say so in mixed company?”

  • bitchen frizzy

    @JoshB:

    That dig about “mixed company” was appallingly bad manners on my part, and I regretted it as soon as I posted it.

    The first part of that sentence, valid question: Do you desire to see theism taken out of science?

    That’s been answered as such: Theism should not influence the science done by theists.

    How does that figure into the membership of the NAS, if at all? I don’t know. The statistics are very interesting, and well worth discussing. I am permitted a hypothesis. In a debate, when someone presents statistics, it can be expected that the opposition will present another way of explaining those statistics.

    This isn’t the kind of debate format where someone can be forced to answer a yes-or-no question then be cut off, like a witness being cross-examined. Those being asked the question can disagree with how it is phrased, or the challenge the logic behind it, qualify their answers, of just not answer it.

    And I don’t think you’re a dummy, or a mysogynist, or a woman-hater.

  • Kenny

    Bitchen, you said…

    Atheists hold a belief that the “theistic mindset” [quotes because it’s your words] renders a person less capable of doing good science. They’re just not going to work as hard at it.

    You have taken the term “theistic mindset” out of context. It is dishonest of you to do that, and it is dishonest of you to throw a tantrum when I call you on it.

    What I said was this.

    We have discussed the theistic mindset… the idea that you don’t need to question things because the answer is just “God did it.” I think that this will cut large swathes of the truly religious out of the equation to start with.

    I clearly said that this was in reference to earlier discussion, and that it describes a situation where a person believes a certain thing to be true, something which colours literally everything about the way the world works. I did not say that it meant there were no good scientists who happened to be theists. In fact what I said was that people who view the world with this mindset are unlikely to become scientists in the modern world at all. When people with professed religious faith become scientists, often (not by any means in every case) they become atheists. When they don’t become atheists, they either put their personal views aside to concentrate on science, or they do not, and allow them to interfere. This is a hindrance to a scientist no matter what the idea might be.

    Now of course, in ages past, devoutly religious people were the driving force of science and discovery… but their breakthroughs very often came in spite of their previously held beliefs.

    You have to look at it like this.

    The Universe doesn’t care what you believe. It just is.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Then again, maybe I’m a paranoid asshole making the hypothesis. Could be, could be.

    ( And it shoulda been, “religion-hater” not “woman-hater”.)

  • Kenny

    @Bitchen, I do not mean to patronise you. I apologise if I have given that impression. It is a habit of mine, and I get called for it now and then. I was annoyed when you drew emphasis to a term I used and used it in a context I had not intended.

  • bitchen frizzy

    You have taken the term “theistic mindset” out of context. It is dishonest of you to do that…

    No, it means I misunderstood you. Genuine puzzlement: then you are saying that not all theistic scientists have a theistic mindset? Do most of them?

  • bitchen frizzy

    … but their breakthroughs very often came in spite of their previously held beliefs.

    You have to look at it like this.

    Or in complement to them, often. Some theists write of their beliefs being deepened by their studies. LaSargenta wrote something to that effect, though I’m not sure she wants to be classified as a “theist,” at least in any traditional or defining sense.

  • Kenny

    Oh I don’t doubt that some theists consider the majesty of the Universe to be a complement to their faith… these would of course tend to be slightly less literal believers.

    No, it means I misunderstood you. Genuine puzzlement: then you are saying that not all theistic scientists have a theistic mindset? Do most of them?

    In that case I apologise. Firstly, I dislike the term “theistic scientists” it has tinges of the morons they wheel out to support intelligent design. Let’s call them “scientists who are theists”. I know it’s more cumbersome, but it at least indicates that their theism doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with their jobs as scientists.

    I am saying that the theistic mindset is one which colours everything about a person’s view of the world. I am saying that this “god did it” view, when strong, would probably mean somebody would never become a scientist in the first place. I think that you can be a theist and not hold this mindset. Many, many people are what would probably best be described as deists, though the term has somewhat fallen out of use. Many people who are theists consider their faith to be entirely separate from the dogma of their particular religion. Again, they would not be at nearly as much of a disadvantage.

  • LaSargenta

    Many people who are theists consider their faith to be entirely separate from the dogma of their particular religion.

    Or, they are fortunate to have a way of joining in spiritual contemplation and communion without having to swallow rigid dogma that does not permit mystery (and I don’t want ANYONE telling me that religion is all about mystery…as far as I’m concerned, much of it takes the mystery and awe out of the mystery by waving its hand over it and ascribing it all to “God”).

    Quakers, for instance, don’t have Dogma, we have Queries. In a way, these are english koans. (But, that is only “in a way”, don’t take it literally!)

  • bitchen frizzy

    @Kenny

    OK, but based on the above statistics, of those theists who pursue higher education in science and engineering, fewer than half of them enter academia. And of those that do enter academia, almost none achieve the honor of NAS membership.

    And the numbers are way past the point of statistical fluctuations.

    This isn’t “just happening.” Somebody has a bias, and I want to know who. Either scientists who are theists are biased (and I do believe they can choose this, they aren’t victims) against doing good science, or the atheists who do the electing are biased against the theists.

    And if it’s the former, then it would have to be that most – almost all, in the case of the NAS – of the scientists who are theists are biased due to a theistic mindset. That’s the only way the math works out.

    What does “good science” consist of, anyway? You make a novel discovery or groundbreaking research… that’s “good science,” at least to a layman’s understanding. How on earth could theistic astronomers, say, manage to fail at that so badly? I can’t imagine most of them saying, “Well, what I see through the telescope defies my belief in God, so I won’t report it or won’t believe it!” I mean, I’m a theist, and I look at the universe and say, “Yeah, it’s awfully big, and old, and the center is clearly not the earth.”

    Heck, even the ones that support intelligent design aren’t all “morons,” just the ones that are coopting that term to support a sort of crypto-creationisism – unless that’s most of them. I mean, intelligent design (unless the term now means something different than last I checked do to co-option) doesn’t preclude valid and valuable work on evolutionary biology.

  • What does “good science” consist of, anyway? You make a novel discovery or groundbreaking research… that’s “good science,” at least to a layman’s understanding.

    I think good science isn’t simply the groundbreaking “wow!” discoveries; it’s the commitment to the scientific method. Wikipedia has a pretty thorough overview.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method

    If you scroll down through it, in the section on “Philosophy and sociology of science” you’ll find a link to the Wiki article on demarcating “science from non-science,” which in turn offers a link to an article on the relationship between science and religion.

  • Heck, even the ones that support intelligent design aren’t all “morons,” just the ones that are coopting that term to support a sort of crypto-creationisism – unless that’s most of them. I mean, intelligent design (unless the term now means something different than last I checked do to co-option) doesn’t preclude valid and valuable work on evolutionary biology.

    The reasons why ID isn’t accepted by the scientific community as valid science seem to be pretty clearly laid out here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligent_design#Defining_science

  • I have to confess, though, I feel guilty for referring to Wikipedia all the time, as they’ve so unfairly dissed MaryAnn…

  • bitchen frizzy

    The reasons why ID isn’t accepted by the scientific community as valid science seem to be pretty clearly laid out here

    I read the articles, with apologies to MaryAnn for adding to the click count.

    I’m not defending ID as valid science. I’m asking why ID renders an astronomer incapable of valid science, or hinders him or her to such a degree that they would not be able to do good science.

    How is commitment to the scientific method gauged? What criteria establish commitment?

  • Kenny

    Bitchen, for the first part of your post…

    OK, but based on the above statistics, of those theists who pursue higher education in science and engineering, fewer than half of them enter academia. And of those that do enter academia, almost none achieve the honor of NAS membership.

    And the numbers are way past the point of statistical fluctuations.

    This isn’t “just happening.” Somebody has a bias, and I want to know who. Either scientists who are theists are biased (and I do believe they can choose this, they aren’t victims) against doing good science, or the atheists who do the electing are biased against the theists.

    And if it’s the former, then it would have to be that most – almost all, in the case of the NAS – of the scientists who are theists are biased due to a theistic mindset. That’s the only way the math works out.

    I don’t think there is a bias. I think that 1. Atheists are more likely to ‘self-select’ which is why there are so many more atheists in science than there are in the general population. And 2. religious belief does seem to be a bit of a handicap. It makes it harder to excel in the field.

    The NAS does not ask people if they are religious before election. We’ve said it dozens of times… they don’t overlook people who go to church and take inferior candidates who don’t. They just go by how good a scientist they’ve shown themselves to be.

    As for what constitutes good science?

    An open mind. Lots of reading (other scientist’s papers!) well designed experiments. Inspiration. Application of other scientist’s work in possibly entirely different fields of study. An open mind. Detective skills. Allowing the evidence and results to dictate your thinking. Not being afraid to throw your entire theory out the window and start over when the observed data doesn’t fit.

    It is the last part, I think, which would cause many theists to stumble.

  • bitchen frizzy

    1. Atheists are more likely to ‘self-select’

    Please explain what you mean by this. I think I know, but I don’t want to misunderstand.

    The NAS does not ask people if they are religious before election. We’ve said it dozens of times… they don’t overlook people who go to church and take inferior candidates who don’t. They just go by how good a scientist they’ve shown themselves to be.

    Let’s take it as a given that they don’t apply litmus tests, and that they sincerely select the scientists who they deem are most qualified, so we can get past this and not add another dozen iterations.

    It is the last part, I think, which would cause many theists to stumble.

    How would it become evident in their work? What would be the “fail”?

    Allowing the evidence and results to dictate your thinking. Not being afraid to throw your entire theory out the window and start over when the observed data doesn’t fit.

    Am I misinterpreting if I take this to mean that you are stating that scientists who are theists are more likely to do this than scientists who are not? Why would an astronomer who is a theist be less likely to reject results that don’t fit his hypothesis than one who is not a theist? Would it go too far to say they have a subconscious bias against the data or conclusions, due to their theism? Or is it that their theism is due to the same shortcomings that render them incapable of objectivity in their scientific studies?

  • Kenny

    Self select as in, more likely to choose science as opposed to say, hairdressing, or the clergy. Let’s be fair, there is a reasonably evident conservative, anti-science streak in a lot of the more devoutly religious Americans. Your kids are less likely to be scientists if you’re of the opinion that the world is 5000 years old and you think Jesus made friends with the dinosaurs.

    Now… as for the fail. Let me give you an thought example.
    Say you’re a biologist. You’re studying the effects of deforestation on tree frogs.
    You were brought up as a devout Christian, and though you are aware of Darwin’s work (who isn’t?) you can’t really, deep down, bring yourself to believe it.
    So you faithfully record data on population density and male female ratios and numbers of eggs.
    But you miss the little detail that would have catapulted you out of the mediocre… you miss the extended membrane between the fore and hind limbs that allows some of the tree frogs to jump slightly further than their compatriots, allowing them to reach branches that, thanks to a reduction in forest density, are slightly farther away.
    Why did you miss it? You weren’t really looking. You assumed, deep down, that there wouldn’t be anything of the sort, so it didn’t register.
    A good scientist would see it. Good biologists don’t look at species as fixed points, they appreciate that any modern species is just a snapshot of a constant, fluid, changing, adapting form.
    It’s one of the hardest concepts for anybody to grasp in science… let alone somebody who was
    brought up to think, no believe otherwise.

    I hope that wasn’t too rambling and that it made a certain amount of sense.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Your kids are less likely to be scientists if you’re of the opinion that the world is 5000 years old and you think Jesus made friends with the dinosaurs.

    To be fair to the children of devout parents who are demonstrably good scientists, this is not something that is congenital or inescapable.

    I hope that wasn’t too rambling and that it made a certain amount of sense.

    Three details don’t entirely make sense to me. Correct me anywhere that I’m wrong:
    1) Lots of devout Christians aver that Darwin was correct and his conclusions are not inconsistent with their beliefs. Assuming that they are not lying, are they carrying a subconscious bias that they consciously deny but cannot overcome in their work?
    2) Failing to note morphological differences in a species being studied sounds like a gross oversight, as is failure to follow up on the reasons behind why some can jump farther than others. Do I read you correctly in stating that a theist is more likely to commit such an oversight subconsciously?
    3) How does this generalize to math, or to astronomy, or to engineering, or to any other field where conclusions are highly unlikely to conflict with preconceptions due to theism? I’m having a great deal of difficulty understanding how a mathemetician or a chemist could be so affected. Could you explain?

  • Kenny

    To be fair to the children of devout parents who are demonstrably good scientists, this is not something that is congenital or inescapable.

    I didn’t say inescapable, I just said less likely.

    As for your points.

    1. That’s what we’re discussing…
    2. I’m not talking about a large difference. This might simply be a slight extension of a pre-existing feature, or an ability to flatten the body slightly which can only be caught with high speed camera.
    Then even if you DO see the difference, you might not realise what it means. The point I’m making is that it’s missing these slight differences that can keep a scientist in the average Joe category.
    If you were brought up to believe something, your parents told you it was true, your Sunday school teacher told you it was true, your priest told you it was true, all of your friends think it’s true… it’s extremely hard not to let it colour your judgements.
    Darwin struggled with this.

    3. Well, my example was from biology, and previously in the thread there was an example about a geologist.

    As for astronomy… it’s not just looking at the sky and noting position and brightness. The big bang is a contentious subject. What caused it? What does that question even mean? There is a LOT of room for philosophical and perhaps even theological questions right there. It’s about maths, pure, complex, beautiful maths. When you’re neck deep in the most esoteric formulae… describing an event that defies our language to make sense of. It’s head exploding. Does the theist have a lot of room here to let preconceptions creep in? Absolutely.

  • bitchen frizzy

    @Kenny

    1. Well, I know that’s what we’re discussing. That’s why I was interested in your answer to this question.
    2. Preconceptions affect everybody. I can almost understand your point about a creationist missing or subconsciously overlooking a detail supportive of evolution, though it does require me to accept as a given that perceptiveness is blunted by judgement at the subconscious level. I have trouble believing that theists are adversely affected by preconceptions, in far higher numbers than atheists, and in all fields of scientific endeavor.
    3. You lost me here. Preconceptions, of the theistic sort, will compromise a scientist’s ability to do math, or to study black holes?

    The Big Bang theory was proposed by a Roman Catholic priest.

  • The Big Bang theory was proposed by a Roman Catholic priest.

    Yes, it was.

    Though I must find it ironic that the only allusion to this fact I’ve ever found in American pop culture was in a comic book–i.e. Ex Machina.

  • bitchen frizzy

    What’s also interesting is that Einstein that missed his opportunity to make the discovery of an expanding universe. He noted the necessity of a coefficient of expansion to make the math work. He then refused to believe the conclusion, on the preconceived notion that the universe cannot expand. Lemaitre had to correct him. Einstein’s initial comment to Lemaitre? “Your math is correct, but your physics is terrible.”

    Now I think Einstein was a pretty damn good scientist, myself. But he was not free of preconceptions that blinded him to something staring up at him from the page, either.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Let’s be fair, there is a reasonably evident conservative, anti-science streak in a lot of the more devoutly religious Americans.

    Forgot to mention: I’ll give you this point.

    For every modern-day Newton, Leibniz, or Mendel, there seems to be 500 quasi-scientific luddites in public discourse. For my own edification, I’m trying to sort through how much of that is my perception vs. reality, and whether that’s a growing phenomenon in the West or was also true during the Renaissance and Enlightenment.

  • Muzz

    Here’s video of Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about that idea that religious belief has hamstrung the thinking of various scientists in history.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vrpPPV_yPY

    just in case folks want to check it out. It’s the sort of point Myers and Coyne et al often make as well. How relevant it is today and how big an issue for a given scientist doing particular work in some field is up for debate I suppose. It would be hard to pin down. Ken Miller is the poster boy for the best of both worlds and he seems to be doing ok, I guess. Although the above two guys do, on a regular basis, lay into the wishy-washyness that creeps into Ken’s books when wanders off to that subject.

    (and cheers to Bluejay for the book recs)

  • Kenny

    Let’s get down to brass tacks here.
    You have, rightly I think, pointed out that the statistics come from somewhere. We’ve got 39.whatever% theists in general scientific circles and 7% in the NAS.
    Well, I don’t necessarily want to say it, but the original point of the investigation which provided us with the statistics was about intelligence and how it affected religiosity.
    Their findings were that, as you went up the scale of intelligence, fewer and fewer people in each percentile were religious.
    The thing is, the average IQ in the NAS is higher than the average IQ in the scientific community as a whole. Nobody said religious people couldn’t be intelligent, just that for any given person, the smarter they are, the less likely it becomes that they’ll believe in God.
    Now, as for my theories… that’s all they are, theories, and not the scientific kind which can stand up to a lot of scrutiny. In fact all I have are thoughts. You asked me what, about scientists who are theists, might hamstring them and prevent them from excelling.
    Well, my thinking, is that at a subconscious level, we absolutely do make judgements. We make assumptions every day without even thinking about them. The one thing that differentiates a theist from an atheist is belief. Belief in a god or gods. The former has it and the latter doesn’t. If you believe something, then it influences your thinking and what you consider to be likely and/or true.
    Of course everybody has preconceptions. I assumed the sun would rise this morning. I didn’t consciously think “oh, the sun will rise in the morning, so I won’t bother checking” it simply didn’t cross my mind to check… so sure of this assumption was my subconscious. I believe the sun will rise every day. I have no evidence for this other than historical precedent.
    A religious person believes in the holy book of their particular flavour of religion. If they are brought up to believe this stuff, then it is absolutely going to influence what they do and do not see. Could an atheist miss something because of a preconception? Absolutely. You mentioned Einstein, and although I consider him to be one of the greatest scientists ever to have lived, he messed up that time. But my point is about likelihoods. Is it more likely that a theist will miss things based on their preconceptions? That’s certainly possible. I think probable.
    My point about astronomy is simply that with so much room in the early Universe for uncertainty over cause and effect, there is certainly room for a theist with preconceptions about the subject to inject a little ‘god did it’ into their mathematics. The point I am making, is that this work wouldn’t stand up so well to peer review. It wouldn’t be as good science as if they’d not thought that way.
    Maybe the video Muzz linked (thanks for that, though the volume is so low!) has bearing on this too. Perhaps the God of the gaps is at fault. Perhaps scientists who are theists are much happier doing the work that’s understood, and are less likely to break new ground, because at the limit of their understanding, they are tempted simply to say.

    God did it.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Well, I don’t necessarily want to say it, but the original point of the investigation which provided us with the statistics was about intelligence and how it affected religiosity.
    Their findings were that, as you went up the scale of intelligence, fewer and fewer people in each percentile were religious.
    The thing is, the average IQ in the NAS is higher than the average IQ in the scientific community as a whole.

    Whoa! Stop the presses! There’s no litmus test for the NAS, and that includes IQ, which is a measure of intelligence derived from standardized testing.

    It’s one thing to say that atheists are better scientists than theists, it’s another thing to say that atheists are objectively and measurably more intelligent than theists.

    Can I be forgiven for wondering if you are implying that theistic scientists are stupider than atheistic scientists?

  • I think we can all agree that no one is saying all religious scientists do inferior work to nonbelieving scientists. Clearly, there are scientists who are religious; and clearly some of them are doing significant work, such as Francis Collins who directed the Human Genome Project and who Obama appointed to head the National Institutes of Health. Look:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/23/national/23believers.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

    I think what’s essential is, as has been said, that scientists be able to lay aside their preconceptions (religious or otherwise) and just do science. Which leads me to bitchen’s question:

    How is commitment to the scientific method gauged? What criteria establish commitment?

    I think the answer is–and I apologize if this is already obvious–that science as practiced by the scientific community is guided by criticism, peer review, and self-correction. Scientists, whether religious or not, are human beings, and individually they’re not immune from making mistakes or being stubborn about their views or even being dishonest. But the way the community works as a whole tends to sift the good ideas from the bad in the long run.

    Whatever scientists believe, their work has to pass muster with the community as a whole. I think scientists who believe in God can still do good scientific work. It’s when they try to scientifically prove God’s existence and intervention in the universe that they run into trouble, as criticisms of Intelligent Design Theory show.

    Carl Sagan says a lot about the self-correcting mechanisms of science in The Demon-Haunted World, which is highly recommended reading for anyone who wants to know how science operates and what it is and isn’t. To quote at length:

    One of the reasons for its success is that science has built-in, error-correcting machinery at its very heart. […]

    Every time a scientific paper presents a bit of data, it’s accompanied by an error-bar–a quiet but insistent reminder that no knowledge is complete or perfect. It’s a calibration of how much we trust what we think we know. If the error bars are small, the accuracy of our empirical knowledge is high; if the error bars are large, then so is the uncertainty in our knowledge. Except in pure mathematics, nothing is known for certain (although much is certainly false). […]

    You sit in at contentious scientific meeting. You find university colloquia in which the speaker has hardly gotten 30 seconds into the talk before there are devastating questions and comments from the audience. You examine the conventions in which a written report is submitted to a scientific journal, for possible publication, then is conveyed by the editor to anonymous referees whose job is to ask: Did the author do anything stupid? Is there anything here that is sufficiently interesting to be published? What are the deficiencies of this paper? Have the main results been found by anybody else? Is the argument adequate, or should the paper be resubmitted after the author has actually demonstrated what is here only speculated on? And it’s anonymous: The author doesn’t know who the critics are. This is the everyday expectation in the scientific community.

    Why do we put up with it? Do we like to be criticized? No, no scientist enjoys it. Every scientist feels a proprietary affection for his or her ideas and findings. Even so, you don’t reply to critics, Wait a minute; this is really a good idea; I’m very fond of it; it’s done you no harm; please leave it alone. Instead, the hard but just rule is that if the ideas don’t work, you must throw them away. Don’t waste neurons on what doesn’t work. Devote those neurons to new ideas that better explain the data. […] Valid criticism does you a favor.

    Scientists do not seek to impose their needs and wants to Nature, but instead humbly interrogate Nature and take seriously what they find. We are aware that revered scientists have been wrong. We understand human imperfection. We insist on independent and–to the extent possible–quantitative verification of proposed tenets of belief. We are constantly prodding, challenging, seeking contradictions or small, persistent residual errors, proposing alternative explanations, encouraging heresy. We give our highest rewards to those who convincingly disprove established beliefs. […]

    Science is different from many another human enterprise–not, of course, in its practitioners being influenced by the culture they grew up in, nor in sometimes being right and sometimes wrong (which are common to every human activity), but in its passion for framing testable hypotheses, in its search for definitive experiments that confirm or deny ideas, in the vigor of its substantive debate, and in its willingness to abandon ideas that have been found wanting. If we were not aware of our own limitations, though, if we were not seeking further data, if we were unwilling to perform controlled experiments, if we did not respect the evidence, we would have very little leverage in our quest for the truth.

  • Kenny

    There are theistic scientists in the NAS.

    And I’m sorry, but that was the original point of the survey they did to establish religiosity in the NAS in the first place.

    Here’s a wiki link for you. Please enjoy.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religiosity_and_intelligence#Studies_comparing_religious_belief_and_I.Q.

  • Kenny

    Bitchen, I would humbly submit that the defining characteristic of the men and women who get elected to the NAS, apart from their distinguished careers, is the higher average intelligence that allowed them to have distinguished careers.

    Sure, some may have just gotten incredibly lucky, but you have to read Sagan’s words in Bluejay’s post to understand what it takes to be a successful scientist. These people have managed to publish good, peer reviewed papers time and again.

    I cannot give you IQ data for the NAS, or for the scientific population as a whole. I can however make a call based on logic. I think NAS members, on average, are more intelligent than the average scientist. I do not think that is a controversial claim.

    I was a little sad when you apparently ignored the rest of my post :( I worked hard on that and drafted it and everything. *tears*

  • bitchen frizzy

    It’s when they try to scientifically prove God’s existence and intervention in the universe that they run into trouble, as criticisms of Intelligent Design Theory show.

    Bluejay, unless you can demonstrate that the majority of scientists who are theists are actively engaged in this, then this assertion has no broad application, especially with regards to sciences other than biology and geology. If you truly believe that this behavior is characteristic of theistic scientists, then you are stereotying.

    Carl Sagan was a pop scientist, more famous and highly regarded for his TV shows and bestselling books than anything groundbreaking he did in science. The NAS gave him a medal, but they denied him membership. He was also denied tenure at Harvard. Basically, he was a talking head.

    @Kenny:

    I didn’t ingore the remainder of your post. First, a lousy analogy to sunrise – the belief that the sun will rise tomorrow is not a preconception, it’s a conclusion based on mountains of data and repeatable results.

    As for the rest, you repeated your insinuation that a theistic scientist will not follow a line of reasoning to its conclusion.

    I read your wiki link. The two scientists who have made a correlation between testable IQ and atheism are Helmuth Nyborg and Richard Lynn. Both of them and their conclusions are highly controversial and hotly disputed within the scientific community.

    Helmuth Nyborg has also asserted that men have higher IQ’s than women. Richard Lynn claims his evidence shows that whites have higher IQ’s than blacks. Their methodology and reasoning are both under attack, and not by me but by the scientific community.

    I can however make a call based on logic. I think NAS members, on average, are more intelligent than the average scientist. I do not think that is a controversial claim.

    A call based on logic requires evidence, not supposition. To the truth, it matters not what you think. It was you who put forth the claim that NAS members have higher IQ’s. That’s a testable claim. I can reasonably request the data. If you don’t have it, then it’s a hypothesis at best, not a call you can make. And if it’s an unsupported assumption, then it’s entirely fair for me to suppose that your preconceptions are coloring that assumption.

  • Henry

    @Bluejay

    All that stuff is true; however, I would also say (speaking as an academic) that it’s a somewhat incomplete picture of academia, in that all of this community and peer-reviewing of findings occurs *after* you’ve managed to orchestrate an opportunity for yourself to conduct the work that interests you, thus giving you findings to present. In order to have those opportunities, you have to play a rather complex networking game; the lines between professional and social are somewhat blurred. Succeeding in an academic field is not just about test scores (tangent–do people take the IQ test seriously anymore?), it’s also about cultivating supportive relationships with mentors and colleagues. It matters whether you’ve attended the department picnics and happy hours; it matters whether people think your jokes are funny and your personal religion and politics are palatable.

    So (and I’m not saying this is the case, just throwing it out there as a possibility) if you’re a theist in one of the only environments in which atheism is a privileged perspective, this kind of necessary socializing/friend-making could potentially be more difficult–not because atheists hate all theists and consciously exclude them or any of that kind of nonsense, but simply because part of succeeding in an academic field is clicking with people, and cultivating relationships with people who “get” you. Though the truly brilliant will probably rise to the top regardless, this may be a way that theists who might do “good work” end up with slightly less-stellar CVs.

  • It’s when they try to scientifically prove God’s existence and intervention in the universe that they run into trouble, as criticisms of Intelligent Design Theory show.

    Bluejay, unless you can demonstrate that the majority of scientists who are theists are actively engaged in this, then this assertion has no broad application, especially with regards to sciences other than biology and geology. If you truly believe that this behavior is characteristic of theistic scientists, then you are stereotying.

    I never said that the majority of religious scientists are engaged in doing this. I was saying the opposite: that religious scientists can do good science, and it’s only when they (i.e. some of them) attempt to prove ID that they don’t pass muster with the scientific community. I meant it more as an aside, and I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear. Please don’t be so quick to assume the worst about my motives.

    Carl Sagan was a pop scientist, more famous and highly regarded for his TV shows and bestselling books than anything groundbreaking he did in science. The NAS gave him a medal, but they denied him membership. He was also denied tenure at Harvard. Basically, he was a talking head.

    I’m surprised you dismiss him as a “mere” popularizer of science, as I happen to think making science accessible to the public is a pretty important job. His gift for communication made him a talking head, but he knew what he was talking about. And he had respectable scientific achievements: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Sagan#Scientific_achievements …He did solid work, contributing to the increase of scientific knowledge–which is more often incremental than “groundbreaking.” That’s a point a lot of people don’t seem to get.

    In any case, this is an ad hominem dismissal, isn’t it? What does any of this have to do with the validity of his description of the scientific community?

  • bitchen frizzy

    Merely acheiving tenure is not just about results or test scores, it’s also an honor that must be conferred.

    Though the truly brilliant will probably rise to the top regardless, this may be a way that theists who might do “good work” end up with slightly less-stellar CVs.

    This is a hypothesis. Is there any evidence in support of it? Merely the same set of statistics being used to prove that atheists generally are better scientists.

    “Lies, damn lies, and statistics…”

  • @Hank: That’s a fair point.

  • I meant Henry, not Hank. Sorry.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Please don’t be so quick to assume the worst about my motives.

    I’m not quick to assume that. If the majority of theists aren’t doing that, then why do you think this point is even relevant to a discussion on why the majority of scientist are atheists? You’re bringing it up for some reason. I thought it was as evidence for why theistic scientists don’t do as good a job as atheistic ones. But that cannot be a valid point unless it applies to a statistically significant number of theistic scientists. If I’m wrong, please explain.

    In any case, this is an ad hominem dismissal, isn’t it? What does any of this have to do with the validity of his description of the scientific community?

    Goes to his credibility. If he was a mediocre scientist, as gauged by the scientific community, then how is his POV on science any more valid than any other mediocre scientists, or anyone else’s POV?

  • Kenny

    @Bitchen, If I’m going to bring a scientific study to the debate, and you’re going to attempt to refute it by saying “oh but those guys are hacks and everybody knows it” then you have to provide me with links, articles and rival papers which build a reasonable case for the dismissal of the data.

    Otherwise, the point stands.

    The sunrise analogy was deliberately simplistic, it was not a lousy :) It illustrates the point that a scientist shouldn’t take anything for granted. Now, obviously a scientists who followed this rule to the letter would never get anything done, but the analogy is still good.

    I also did NOT insinuate

    that a theistic scientist will not follow a line of reasoning to its conclusion.

    I said that due to preconceptions, ANY scientist may fail to spot something, or fail to realise the significance of data. I pointed out that scientists who are theists will, due to their religion (which they presumably believe in) have more preconceptions than scientists who are not theists.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Otherwise, the point stands.

    You brought a wikipedia article. So did I. Why is my burden of proof higher than yours?

    You point about IQ is proven only so far as Nyborg’s and Lynn’s work is credible.

    I also did NOT insinuate

    OK, so you didn’t insinuate. You said it outright. And I don’t agree with you.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Kenny, this is what you said:

    Perhaps scientists who are theists are much happier doing the work that’s understood, and are less likely to break new ground, because at the limit of their understanding, they are tempted simply to say.

    God did it.

    If you are subsequently claiming that my interpretation of that (you are saying that theists are likely not to follow through to conclusions) is off the mark, then you are equivocating.

  • If the majority of theists aren’t doing that, then why do you think this point is even relevant to a discussion on why the majority of scientist are atheists?

    Ah, I see. I wasn’t trying to speculate on why there are more atheist scientists, as you and Kenny are doing. I was trying to address your specific question about “how commitment to the scientific method is gauged.” My answer was the peer review system, and criticism of ID was my example.

    As for Sagan, I don’t think his description of peer review in the scientific community is controversial; I’ve read other eminent scientists saying the same thing, though I admit I don’t have those quotes at hand. If you’ve seen or heard of NAS members disputing that this is how scientists work, I’d be genuinely interested in knowing about it. And just because Sagan’s work wasn’t deemed NAS-worthy doesn’t mean his points about scientific process can’t be valid. An actor can speak knowledgeably about the workings and politics of the acting community even if he or she hasn’t won an Oscar.

  • Kenny

    I’d also like to point out that you are the one who mentioned IQ in the first place. It is hardly the only, or even the best judge of intelligence.

    It is a supposition, but it is a very good supposition, that since science is a profession where intelligence is one of the tools of the trade, an elite group of scientists will be higher up the rather nebulous scale of ‘intelligence’ than regular scientists.

    Listen. By now, I’m sure we’re all a bit confused by what you want from us.

    You accept that only 7% of the 500+ members of the NAS are religious, and you want to know why.

    We’re giving you a bunch of different possibilities. If you, behind all this, think the NAS is an organisation that actively discriminates against theists based solely on their faith, then say so and provide us with evidence.

    (P.S. I did say if)

  • Kenny
    Otherwise, the point stands.

    You brought a wikipedia article. So did I. Why is my burden of proof higher than yours?

    No you didn’t. I did look… you did not bring anything other than your “Nah, they’re hacks and the scientific community all think so.” comment. No links. Perhaps you forgot to put it in? I would love to read it.

    I also did NOT insinuate

    OK, so you didn’t insinuate. You said it outright. And I don’t agree with you.

    I did no such thing. You have decided what you think I was saying, and drawn an incorrect conclusion. You therefore are disagreeing with your own erroneous conclusion. I find that interesting.

  • bitchen frizzy

    I’d also like to point out that you are the one who mentioned IQ in the first place. It is hardly the only, or even the best judge of intelligence.

    No, I’m not. And in reference to the NAS, you are the one that first mentioned IQ. You were certainly the first to quote studies on IQ.

    Each scientist has an article in wikipedia.

    I did no such thing.

    Read my post that follows the one you are quoting.

    @Bluejay:

    My answer was the peer review system, and criticism of ID was my example.

    OK, it’s an interesting point, and you’re not taking it as an explanation of the makeup of the scientific community. Fair enough.

    If you, behind all this, think the NAS is an organisation that actively discriminates against theists based solely on their faith, then say so and provide us with evidence.

    I don’t know if it does nor not. Further, it wouldn’t have to be active discrimination, as I’ve already said and Henry pointed out. Evidence? The same evidence as you have – the statistics. The rest is what you and I are supposing. And around we go. I’ve made my argument on this. Clearly, it doesn’t satisfy you, and I didn’t think that it would.

    By now, I’m sure we’re all a bit confused by what you want from us.

    I could as easily ask the same question of you. Why do you keep trying to get at my “agenda”? I don’t have one.

  • bitchen frizzy

    ARRGH!! Sorry. In the above, I switch back to Kenny after “Fair enough.”

  • bitchen frizzy

    And just because Sagan’s work wasn’t deemed NAS-worthy doesn’t mean his points about scientific process can’t be valid.

    Well, the thing is this. Sagan is a darling to the choir he preaches to, but outside of that his credibility is limited. Now I’m not sophomoric or knee-jerk enough to flatly deny that he has valid points, and in fact I think that his summation of the peer review process is technically accurate but really doesn’t add much that we didn’t already know.

    It’s something you should know when quoting him. It would be akin to someone referring you to Ann Coulter, who is also a popular, highly-educated, talking head.

    And if I’m being patronizing, then smack me.

  • AJP

    Merely acheiving tenure is not just about results or test scores, it’s also an honor that must be conferred.

    And he became, a scant two years later, a professor (complete with tenure) at Cornell University. Are you arguing that somehow Cornell is not a noteworthy institution? It is reasonably common for young aspiring academics to move between a couple of universities before they settle into their tenured position. Trumpteing that Sagan was somehow not a good scientists because he was “denied tenure at Harvard” while leaving out the rest of the facts about his career is simply silly.

    And Sagan was an atheist. If the NAS has some sort of bias in favor of atheists (which you seem to imply) then wouldn’t that mean that he would have had a leg up in getting membership? And yet he didn’t. Your arguments, no matter which way you look at them simply don’t make sense.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Are you arguing that somehow Cornell is not a noteworthy institution?

    Of course not. Cornell is a top-flight university. Cornell is also the university from which Ann Coulter graduated cum laude. Can we agree that Cornell is not a talisman that dispells mediocrity and preconceptions? :D

    And Sagan was an atheist.

    Actually, Sagan was quite insistent about being called agnostic, and objected to being labeled an atheist. Not that the labels matter as much today as they did then.

    If the NAS has some sort of bias in favor of atheists (which you seem to imply) then wouldn’t that mean that he would have had a leg up in getting membership?

    If they don’t have a bias, and they didn’t select him, then they didn’t rate him a good enough scientist to elect him. That’s what I said, not the words you’re putting in my mouth.

    Your arguments, no matter which way you look at them simply don’t make sense.

    Fool, or fools who argue with fools, for 300 posts…

  • bitchen frizzy

    …while leaving out the rest of the facts about his career is simply silly.

    And for the rest of his science career, he did fairly routine work. Solid work, but nothing revolutionary or that someone else assigned to it would not likely have accomplished.

    Why are you rising to his defence, out of the blue?

  • Kenny

    That was an unusually lazy reply on your part Bitchen. Or perhaps you were pressed for time.

    Firstly, I did mention IQ first. I apologise for that, it’s been a long thread and I did attribute something to you that was in fact mine.

    Each scientist has an article in wikipedia.

    You have refuted nothing. You effectively told me to go and do your research for you. Not good enough.

    Here’s another study. I don’t think this is the best paper, from the review here, but it draws some interesting conclusions.
    http://ibcsr.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=150:is-atheism-linked-to-intelligence&catid=25:research-news&Itemid=59

    I did no such thing.
    Read my post that follows the one you are quoting.

    If you are subsequently claiming that my interpretation of that (you are saying that theists are likely not to follow through to conclusions) is off the mark, then you are equivocating.

    Your interpretation is incorrect. You are wrong. You have failed to understand what I said. You don’t get to claim that I am attempting to mislead you if I don’t agree with your interpretation of what I meant by my own words.

    I could as easily ask the same question of you. Why do you keep trying to get at my “agenda”? I don’t have one.

    You will accept no explanation other than the one you decided upon a hundred posts ago. The statistics do not show what you are claiming they show.
    The NAS is not discriminating against people who are theists. Have you ever come across this claim elsewhere?

    Fool, or fools who argue with fools, for 300 posts…

    I don’t believe any of us are fools. My position on several issues has changed since the beginning of this debate, and I certainly know more now than I did at the start of it, so I consider it a worthwhile exercise.

  • Sagan is a darling to the choir he preaches to, but outside of that his credibility is limited.

    I suppose this is fair, although the choir seems to be pretty large; I’m actually not familiar with those who question his credibility and their reasons for it. Look, the guy was a public figure and got recognition from lots of different sources, not all of them equally distinguished; but among his awards (see his Wiki article) are four medals from NASA, including for “Distinguished Public Service” and “Exceptional Scientific Achievement,” and the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction. The award you mentioned that was given to him by the NAS was the Public Welfare Medal, for “his ability to communicate the wonder and importance of science, to capture the imagination of so many, and to explain difficult concepts of science in understandable terms.” Which tells me that, whatever the NAS thought of his own individual work as a scientist, they thought he was doing a pretty darn good job of communicating science to the public. Which makes his general-audience books about science credible enough to me.

    Can we agree that Cornell is not a talisman that dispells mediocrity and preconceptions?

    Is Harvard?

    And if I’m being patronizing, then smack me.

    SMACK!!!

  • Dokeo

    Folks, before this degenerates any further can I ask a question?

    Bitchen Frizzy and Kenny: what point(s) exactly are you each trying to prove (or disprove)?

    The thread is long and somewhat meandering. I keep getting the feeling that you are talking/arguing past each other. Perhaps you aren’t having the same argument?

  • Kenny

    Hah.. good point Dokeo.

    I’m arguing, essentially, that the National Academy are not bigots with an unfair selection process weighted against people who believe in God.

    I think that, in general, scientists who are atheists are higher achievers. Part of this debate has been a very detailed discussion of why that might be the case.

    Apart from that, earlier in the debate, we discussed multiple topics. The usual tropes of any theist vs atheist debate, though with a focus on morality, since we don’t have a creationist in the mix.

  • AJP

    And for the rest of his science career, he did fairly routine work. Solid work, but nothing revolutionary or that someone else assigned to it would not likely have accomplished.

    Fairly routine work that was noteworthy enough to get him recognized by NASA, the NAS, and several other organizations. Hmm, maybe the fact that he was “denied tenure at Harvard” isn’t that important.

    But that doesn’t fit your narrative, so I’m sure the facts won’t get in your way.

    Why are you rising to his defence, out of the blue?

    Maybe in your rush to label the NAS somehow prejudiced based on scant evidence you missed the other posts I have had in this thread.

  • Kenny

    Bitchen, I’ll write this separately, in case it gets lost in the recent posts.

    Is your theory about the fact that the NAS only has about 35* theistic members supported by anything other than the fact that they only have, well, 35 theistic members?
    And is this a theory shared by other theists in general, or did you come up with it on your own? I had never heard a whiff of it before you brought it up.

    (* The last membership total I heard was 500+)

  • Dokeo

    Could we also consider that perhaps the people out there who are both religious and very smart are choosing careers other than science?

    I think it’s fair to say that the actual process of doing science requires the scientist to question everything and to distrust ideas that can’t be proven. Therefore it seems natural that someone who is strongly committed to a faith (i.e. an idea that is not susceptible to proof), might prefer to find a gig that didn’t come with existential angst each and every day.

  • Muzz

    Running down Sagan’s credentials seems a bit of a non sequitor in all this. I’m not sure what the point of that would be (the last time I saw that was Ben Stein doing it in the midst of the Expelled farrago, if memory serves).

    If him not being Einstein is somehow a problem for what he says, just substitute Richard Feynman who says largely similar things and is probably the second most quoted science populariser of the seventies and eighties (sixties too, for that matter). I trust his credentials are up to standard. (although I suspect his battles with the NAS would just muddy the waters of an already confusing topic)

  • AJP

    If him not being Einstein is somehow a problem for what he says, just substitute Richard Feynman who says largely similar things and is probably the second most quoted science populariser of the seventies and eighties (sixties too, for that matter). I trust his credentials are up to standard. (although I suspect his battles with the NAS would just muddy the waters of an already confusing topic)

    Don’t cite Fenyman or else bitchen will obsess over the fact that he was denied admission to Columbia and fired by the University of Wisconsin as evidence for his clear mediocrity as a scientist and dismiss anything he had to say on that basis.

  • Kenny

    Well, Dokeo, the problem isn’t so much that people of faith choose other professions (I am sure they do… as a group, atheists are disproportionately well represented in Science as a whole)

    It’s just that the general scientific community boasts something like 40% believers, and the elite NAS boasts only 7%… we’re arguing over why that difference exists.

    You know. I am going to go out on a limb here. I’m going to submit another hypothesis.

    Could it be that the general scientific community has a level of knowledge which allows 40% of them to reasonably happily hang onto their faith… while the elite of science simply know more about it and just don’t feel like they need God?

    I would be interested in how many of the 93% were theists earlier in their careers.

    Also. I am going to say this as nicely as I can Bitchen… You made another dig about atheism and agnosticism being interchangeable.

    Not that the labels matter as much today as they did then.

    We’ve very patiently explained this to you. We are atheists who also happen to be agnostic. Atheist because we do not believe in God, and agnostic only in so far as to make the claim that there definitely is no God would be a statement we cannot make without evidence.
    As Richard Dawkins said… I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of my garden.
    The labels do matter. When you pretend they don’t, it sounds like you’re dismissing our beliefs as irrelevant. I have never done this to you.

  • LaSargenta

    Kenny, there could be another issue at work with the stats. What is the breakdown of the fields in the NAS? Is there a difference in percentage of theists in different fields? Are the less theist fields heavily represented in the NAS?

    My personal anecdata says there is a difference between fields (more theist engineers, for example, than geologists), but, I have never looked into it in a systematic way.

  • JoshB

    I would be interested in how many of the 93% were theists earlier in their careers.

    Yes, this.

    I would hazard a guess that most of the 90% do not come from long family traditions of atheism. Most probably come from religious families and became atheist.

  • Kenny

    As there is something of a lull in the debate right now, I would like to take the opportunity to invite you all to an atheist community forum I’ve been a part of (on an off) for a few years. There’s a good number of us there, and we absolutely don’t sing from the same song sheet :D

    There are lots of debates about all sorts of things… it’s also very international. It would be a pleasure to have any of you join. (yes, theists are allowed in. We even have a specific forum called “atheist vs theist” specifically for debates of the kind we have here. Debates like that are banned from the other channels :D

    Anyway the address is http://www.atheistnetwork.com/forum/

    I hope to see you there. My name on the forum is Stonedog… It seemed a good idea at the time.

  • bitchen frizzy

    OK, had a family emergency this week, pressed for time. Don’t know if I can come back to this much. Let me summarize some points.

    You effectively told me to go and do your research for you. Not good enough.

    Well, you gave me a wikipedia article and a few lines about why you thought it was relevant; I responded in kind. I believe the science behind the IQ claims on your wiki link lacks credibility; and my look at the wiki pages about the scientists that came up with those claims confirmed my suspicion that their work is far is from generally accepted by their peers. Then too, there’s my own informed inclination to believe that IQ tests are of limited usefulness and reliability as a measure of intelligence – particularly given challenges to the methodology of the researchers conducting them and interpreting them. So, I guess that’s a long-winded way of saying that I don’t give the IQ argument much merit to begin with.

    You will accept no explanation other than the one you decided upon a hundred posts ago.

    It’s not necessary for me to accept explanations, or agree with them, and my failure to accept them is no reflection on the effectiveness of your presentation or your persuasiveness. I understand them while learning a lot in the process of understanding them. It’s my hope that you understand my argument but I never for a minute believed you were going to buy it.

    Seriously, when do people ever actually change each other’s minds on these internet debates, in a big way? I think it’s been a productive discussion, and I take a lot away from it. The introduction to Greta Christian is a real gem for me to take away, for instance. There comes a point, though, when the argument starts to go in circles or stalls, because it gets down to what we believe to be true and I’ve seldom seen forum debates change people’s minds on the major points.

    I certainly hope the “fool” statement was recognized as a figure of speech – used by no less than Obi-Wan, for one – and not intended literally as calling anyone a fool. It was specifically in response to AJP’s comment,

    Your arguments, no matter which way you look at them simply don’t make sense.

    on the grounds that if he feels that way then why read my drivel, or take time out of his life to dignify it with a response; and why are others actually working at reading and refuting me? “Sod off, bitchen” would be a lot less work to type and would save a lot of posts if I’m simply not making sense.

    I’m not “running Sagan down”. As a kid, I took in every episode of “Cosmos” like the desert takes in rain; and he was one of my inspirations for an amateur interest in astronomy and cosmology. But putting his achievements into perspective is not unreasonable. I was suprised by the vigor with which people rose to his defense, and learned a bit from that: he’s still something of a hero.

    Kenny, you’ll scroll up to find others making the suggestion that perhaps the labels don’t matter as much, and I must respectfully submit that I’m inclined to agree with them on this. You’ll have to take the matter up with them. It is not necessary for you (not “we”) to keep “patiently explaining” to me why I am obligated to agree with you. Please also note that I pointed out to someone who called Sagan an atheist that he actually insisted on being called an agnostic. On your’s (sincerely) and Sagan’s behalf, I didn’t let it slide.

    When you pretend they don’t, it sounds like you’re dismissing our beliefs as irrelevant.

    I certainly don’t mean to do that. I’ve gotten into arguments with theists who won’t draw the distinctions between reasoned atheism, agnosticism of someone who didn’t go to church as a child but has never really thought about it, agnosticism of social churchgoers, ideological atheists, etc.

    I would be interested in how many of the 93% were theists earlier in their careers.

    I would too. That’s a very good question. And you know where a devil’s advocate would go with that: how much did peer pressure and conformity have to do with their change of heart, especially given that many childhood theists are that way largely out of habit?

    Bluejay said:

    Is Harvard?

    I’m not sure what you mean. I don’t think any university is. And smackdown accepted. I don’t know how to make suggestions to people without coming across as patronizing, and maybe it’s not possible, though a more gifted or persuasive speaker than I might have managed better.

    AJP, I meant, why are you rising to Sagan’s defense. Sorry that wasn’t clear.

    But that doesn’t fit your narrative, so I’m sure the facts won’t get in your way.

    This is nothing but flamebait. Again, why bother with me, if you think so little of me or my argument?

    LaSargenta:

    Kenny, there could be another issue at work with the stats. What is the breakdown of the fields in the NAS? Is there a difference in percentage of theists in different fields? Are the less theist fields heavily represented in the NAS?

    Another good question: as I remember from what I gathered on teh webz, it varies a little bit but it’s an overwhelming majority atheist in every field. I would like to be corrected on this if I’m wrong. If it’s just biologists and geologists, well then I really am a fool for having argued this long. I seem to recall that theists were the most represented in field of mathematics – 12% is my hazy recollection.

    This is why I emphasized the point that it’s not merely a question of straining out the creationists and ID’ers. It’s not simply a matter of theists who overtly bring religion into their work – like a creationist – being ruled out for high honors. Astronomers, engineers, and mathemeticians too, to only a slightly lesser extent.

    Back to Kenny (I think this was Kenny’s):

    And is this a theory shared by other theists in general, or did you come up with it on your own? I had never heard a whiff of it before you brought it up.

    I can’t generalize to all theists, but it’s not my personal hypothesis (not theory, I don’t have anything like the kind of proof for that, nor am I anywhere close to convinced that I’m anything more than paranoid). I don’t think your typical theist has given it much thought, to be honest. The NAS is not exactly close to daily life or in the news all the time, and academia is to some extent a world of its own, too. To see it expressed with conviction elsewhere, surf the sites of the radicals, for example creationists.

  • Kenny

    I thought that was a very reasonable post… I’d pick up on two bits in particular.

    I would too. That’s a very good question. And you know where a devil’s advocate would go with that: how much did peer pressure and conformity have to do with their change of heart, especially given that many childhood theists are that way largely out of habit?

    Thanks… For the sake of argument, the Devil’s Advocate might go there, but Scientists have thick skins. They need them to survive in a peer review environment where everything they publish has to pass muster with a critical audience.
    I don’t think they are the kind of people who would give up there religion to fit in better.

    The second point is that I am not the only one who has discussed or tried to explain the atheist/agnostic point. The labels matter.

  • Kenny

    Oh, and I hope your family emergency works out ok…

  • AJP

    AJP, I meant, why are you rising to Sagan’s defense.

    Mostly because your argument concerning his “mediocrity” is stupid. Arguing that Sagan was “mediocre, and thus you can dismiss his opinions on the basis that he didn’t get tenure at Harvard is simply idiotic. As I pointed out, you can make similar arguments to prove someone like Feynman was “mediocre” (rejected by Columbia, fired by the University of Wisconsin), so long as you leave out his actual accomplishments and focus on trivial setbacks.

    Similarly stupid was your Anne Coulter reference. I could make a similar list of mediocre graduates of Harvard, and it wouldn’t prove anything. (And if you think Anne Coulter is mediocre, then you aren’t paying attention. Sure her books are lunatic rants, but she has parlayed a persona into a vast fortune, and is laughing at us all the way to the bank).

    You didn’t dismiss Sagan’s argument, you launched a foolishly thought-out ad hominem against him, with limited basis in fact. And made yourself look like a fool in the process. If you don’t want people to treat you like an idiot, don’t make arguments that make you look like one.

  • bitchen: First off, re: your family emergency–I hope everything is okay.

    Bluejay said:

    Is Harvard [a talisman that dispels mediocrity and preconceptions]?

    I’m not sure what you mean. I don’t think any university is.

    What I meant was that you used Sagan’s denial of tenure at Harvard as part of an attempt to discredit him, which implied that you thought Harvard’s standards were unimpeachable, as opposed to Cornell’s. I was pushing back against that. I also think that, given his accomplishments and publications and the degree to which he influenced the public’s knowledge and attitudes about science worldwide, suggesting that he’s merely the liberal atheist/agnostic equivalent of Ann Coulter is pretty silly. But this all seems beside the point in this thread. Sagan’s reputation doesn’t need my defense, and everything he’s done and said is in the public record. If you’re not impressed, you’re not impressed.

    As a kid, I took in every episode of “Cosmos” like the desert takes in rain; and he was one of my inspirations for an amateur interest in astronomy and cosmology. But putting his achievements into perspective is not unreasonable. I was suprised by the vigor with which people rose to his defense, and learned a bit from that: he’s still something of a hero.

    Fair enough. I’ll admit he’s a hero to me. (Just FYI, I discovered Sagan as an adult, so he’s not just a hero to impressionable young kids.) And I wish you’d mentioned this about yourself earlier; the way you immediately attacked Sagan after I quoted him implied you scorn and dismiss everything he did. I suppose lack of context and nuance is one of the hazards of Internet conversation.

    And no, putting his achievements in perspective is not unreasonable. I would make a distinction, however, between his achievements as a scientist–how much he made significant contributions to the increase of scientific knowledge–and his achievements as a science educator–how accurately and compellingly he presented scientific knowledge to the public. I’ll argue that his contributions as a scientist were important (though you and the NAS might disagree), but his contributions as an ambassador for science are even more so (and the NAS awarded him for that). Basically, Sagan was a teacher, and he’s revered the way we revere those teachers in our past who opened up our minds to various subjects, even if they weren’t personally at the bleeding edge of the fields they taught.

    why are others actually working at reading and refuting me? “Sod off, bitchen” would be a lot less work to type and would save a lot of posts if I’m simply not making sense.

    Personally, I’m responding to your arguments to clarify my own thinking and see if my own arguments hold up. It’s good brain exercise. And IMO sometimes you make sense. :-)

    Seriously, when do people ever actually change each other’s minds on these internet debates, in a big way? I think it’s been a productive discussion, and I take a lot away from it. […] There comes a point, though, when the argument starts to go in circles or stalls, because it gets down to what we believe to be true and I’ve seldom seen forum debates change people’s minds on the major points.

    Yes, I’m finding this to be true as well. Although I do try to keep an open mind, if the other side presents their case thoughtfully and respectfully.

  • brad mayeux

    yeah, which is kinda the point of the video.
    Atheists are like Rodney Dangerfield…
    They get no respect.

    When i was a kid i noticed that most people
    follow the religion they grew up in
    There are only a handful of Hindu in the USA
    and a handful of Christians in Iran.
    I thought for sure this glaring inconsistency would make people realize that they dont look at things in a rational way… Eventually… but i thought by now, most people would be atheists.
    it certainly isnt happening as fast as i thought it would
    but,
    atheism is on the rise
    and its scaring the shit out of the zealots.

  • Bluejay

    Since a recent comment bumped this up in the “recent comments” page, I’ve been rereading this. Wow, what a discussion. (And clearly I used to invest a lot more effort in my posts.) So many regulars who aren’t regulars anymore: Kenny, JoshB, Bitchen Frizzy… Wonder where they all are? Hope they’re well.

  • Danielm80

    I’m curious whether Bernie Sanders’ religious beliefs (he says he’s a not-very-religious secular Jew) will become a major factor in the political campaign over the coming months.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Not in the primaries, I suspect, unless he gets much closer very soon. But if he does manage to win the nomination, you bet your ass it will.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Circle of (internet) life, my friend: lurkers become regulars become lurkers…

  • LaSargenta

    What was the recent comment? Something that got deleted? You and the replies under you are the only post-6 year old comments.

  • Bluejay

    A decade ago we were having REALLY in-depth discussions on religion, science, government, and culture. People were actually trying to be persuasive, finding common ground, disagreeing in nuanced ways, and articulating their arguments with great detail. We all seemed to be operating under the assumption that the other commenters were reasonable people we could have reasonable conversations with. And maybe sometimes the debates got long and heated and off-topic, but they were usually smart and interesting as well.

    Maybe we were all forming our opinions then, and they’ve hardened now, so we don’t see as much of these kinds of threads. (I’m certainly not going to write multi-paragraph posts explaining/defending atheism again.) Nothing is “101” anymore, so we tell challengers to go educate themselves elsewhere. People already know their own minds, and don’t have the time or inclination to change anyone else’s. We’ve lost patience, and sometimes it feels like all that’s left is hostility and snark.

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