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South Park trashes Dawkins!
Posted: 09 November 2006 04:26 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Horray for South Park!

South Park finds a way to show that though both evolution and atheism are real and respectable, some folks with their simplistic "delusions" of religion and human nature just make things worse for society rather than better. 

You gotta love this!

Watch Part One (called Part Two) here: http://telicthoughts.com/?p=1010

Watch Part Two (called Part Twelve) on Comedy Central on one of these dates, EST:

Saturday Nov 11 2006
12:30 AM

Sunday Nov 12 2006
11:00 PM

Monday Nov 13 2006
2:00 AM

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Posted: 09 November 2006 06:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I saw both parts, and enjoyed them quite a bit.  The thesis seemed to be that “scientism” is no better than theism if it is too dogmatic.  Also that there is no one true answer…  The more outspoken producer of SP, Matt Stone, recently said that he’s spiritual, not into organized religion, but also that he thought atheism was the MOST ridiculous worldview.  I have to disagree there : ) of course.

What these episodes get right, is that atheism and science must be accompanied by reasonable ethics and morality, or else violence and strife continue to be inevitable, even without the lies of religion existing.  As we’ve all heard a zillion times, science gives us artificial hearts and nuclear bombs.  wink

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Posted: 10 November 2006 01:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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In what way does Dawkins “make society worse rather than better”? What precisely is the problem with what Dawkins says, and why should we be cheering if he is “trashed”?

If the issue is that he is nasty about religion, then citing South Park really is the pot calling the kettle black. One might even say it is hypocritical. South Park is much cruder and nastier about religion than Dawkins ever has been. Remember the boxing match between Jesus and the Devil, to take one of dozens of examples?

South Park is a funny show, and they are equal opportunity offenders. They view their role as that of poking fun at all sides in a debate. That’s fine with me, good comedy can be (like Borat, which I haven’t seen) extremely crude and all-encompassing. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the people they “trash” are wrong, or even particularly deserving.

For further insight, I will quote this paragraph from their Wikipedia entry :

[quote author=“Wikipedia”]The term “South Park Republican” was coined after Parker and Stone claimed to be Republicans whilst receiving an award from the liberal advocacy group, People For the American Way (PFAW) in 2001. At the same time they declared TV producer Norman Lear, the founder of PFAW, to be one of their heroes, and Lear subsequently worked on South Park. More recently, a small movement has sprung up of youngish, South Park Conservatives who hold ideas from extreme ends of the political spectrum, believing, for instance, that global warming is a myth while supporting gay rights. In an interview in Time Magazine (March 13, 2006) the two have stated that the only reason people might peg them for conservatives is that they are willing to mock anti-smoking laws and hippies. They also stated that the show could just as easily be pegged as a show supporting liberal ideologies. The interview ended with Trey quipping “We still believe that all people are born bad and are made good by society, rather than the opposite” and Matt adding “Actually, I think that’s where we’re conservative.” Stone has also stated: “I hate conservatives, but I really f…ing hate liberals.”

(Edited the ‘f’ word to keep this a family forum :wink: ).

Anyhow this should give you some idea as to their (libertarian) political leanings. Anyone with particularly strong views on anything—particularly politics—should be aware that they would make vicious fun of it if given half a chance.

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Posted: 10 November 2006 04:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Re: South Park trashes Dawkins!

[quote author=“Barry”]You gotta love this!

No, I don’t. Not a big fan of people throwing feces at each other. I found it absolutely disgusting, stupid and vulgar.

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Posted: 10 November 2006 07:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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South Park, Politics and Dawkins

Just to respond to these few replies:

I am not advocating for the creator’s of South Park’s political ideologies.  I did not know what they might be before this forum, and do not care very much now.  South Park is, like Borat, crude but thought-provoking humor (OK, so the feces tossing was a bit too crude for my tastes too).  Of course whatever their politics might be, or whether they are atheists, religionists, or (it seems) spiritual agnostics, we know their beliefs will become part of their art.  There is no such thing as neutral art even when its “seems” to be neutral (or equal opportunity bashing like SP).  Nothing humans do - even most science - is truely neutral.

That all said, one can still gleam the point(s) made in this 2-part SP. I think they are trying to talk about the problems with scientism, of course.. And also with the cruelty of man against man when each man thinks he has the right “answer” (religious or not). 

What I think is also said in this episode is that Dawkins is not just hard on religion, but dangerous to society.  It may not be his honesty which is the problem (recall his “wife” was the rude, obnoxious one), or even the fact that he might be right about the problems with religious beliefs and that atheism and science are the most logical and reasonable ideals over religion and Creationism… It is, however, the method he chooses to share his beliefs with the rest of the world which are a problem. 

The second most important message, if you will, of these episodes of SP - besides thinking there can be one right answer all questions and that everything else is BS - and everybody else are idiots - is that what causes the 3-way war in the SP future is that Dawkins (and his wife) taught us to be a “d*ck” to anyone who does not agree with us.  That is said plain and simple in part 2, and is the point I’ve been making about how Dawkins and Harris insult anyone who thinks other than how they do, rather than argue for us to try to understand why others think as they do (besides silly angry-atheist reasons), and how to best communicate therefore with most religious people toward creating a better society.  Clearly, SP is arguing that the angry-atheist way does not lead to a better future!

Finally, Doug, to add to this and my past posts on Dawkins’ and Harris’s two books (found elsewhere in these forums @ http://www.cfi-forums.org/viewtopic.php?t=981 & http://www.cfi-forums.org/viewtopic.php?t=1084), I think that both of these gentlemen do what they do, write how they write, not from a humanist perspective where they want a humanistic future.  They just want an atheist future. 

Yes, I DO think we will one day get there in the sense that we will outgrow supernaturalism.  I also think books on how some religious persons are attacking the First Amendment (see Marci Hamilton’s God vrs. the Gavel), or science (see Chris Mooney’s The Republican War on Science) are indeed important.  But books like End of Faith and God Delusion are only digging the wedge between religious people and atheists or naturalists in even deeper.  Most religious people are really looking for spirituality and connectedness more than pure supernaturalism, and we need to talk with them with this in mind.  Harris and Dawkins need to take a page from Carl Sagan who understood these things far better.

Also, it is clear to me at least, that both Harris and Dawkins are not humanists because they hold very dubious notions about how to achieve a better society, and about human nature itself.

By the way, I also think SP does a good job at showcasing the fissures in the atheist community.  CFI, AHA, and AA had split from each other in the past, and continue to fissure today - each thinking they have the best answer to how to “sell” and promote and defend atheism (though to me, all are misguided when they put atheism and/or scientism above humanism.  CFI and AA are the ones who do this the most, obviously). 

Another reason for the fissures, I think, is due to the uber-hierarchal nature of CFI and AA.

Barry

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Posted: 10 November 2006 08:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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A few questions, Barry:

(1) What do you mean by “scientism”, and what are its problems? Seems to me, prima facie that scientism is a good thing, like rationalism, experimentalism and atheism, as I argued in a different thread. More’s the point, if you don’t like scientism, what do you propose in its stead? Belief by faith?

(2) Don’t you think that there can be more than one route to promoting humanist principles? You do seem awfully fundamentalist about your particular brand of humanism. If you don’t believe that CFI shares your aims, fair enough. It seems to me a good thing that there are competing humanist visions. That way we can learn from one another. Personally, I find myself quite comfortable with CFI, and in fact I find that it mirrors my way of thinking almost exactly. But I would not expect everyone to share my opinion. To each his own.

(3) How is it that the “method [Dawkins] chooses to share his beliefs with the rest of the world” makes him “dangerous to society”? That is a very strong claim, Barry, and absurd on its face. Unless it is “dangerous” to bring up strong arguments in public about society’s sacred cows ... and you, of all people, ought not to be making such a claim. Do you think people who advocate for ‘anarchy’ are also dangerous to society? (Or maybe that’s a good thing for you but bad for him?)

(4) If it is “dangerous to society” to insult religion, how isn’t South Park even more “dangerous to society”? It is much more insulting than Dawkins ever has been, and has many millions more viewers.

(5) Where does Dawkins insult religion anyhow? Granted, you may be able to pick a few words here and there, but the vast majority of his work is a clear, coherent attack against precisely the same irrationalisms that all of us argue against here all the time. Why is that suddenly a problem for him? And what’s wrong with using pointed rhetoric in such a terrific fight? Certainly the fundamentalists we’re up against have no compunctions about doing the same. You will recall how “secular humanism” has been so well demonized in the past by the religious right.

(6) You are wrong to claim that Dawkins and Harris don’t want “a humanistic future”. Both have expressly supported humanist goals and organizations, and both explicitly say that they want humanism to triumph. Unless your claim is, in fact, the much more questionable claim that humanism is identical to your particular sort of anarchist political belief. In that case, I’m afraid, there are only a handful of humanists in the entire world, and I don’t count myself among them. But that is an absurd view of what humanism is.

(7) You say that “Most religious people are really looking for spirituality and connectedness more than pure supernaturalism, and we need to talk with them with this in mind.” Both Harris and Dawkins agree with you. Harris devoted the second half of End of Faith to that project, and Dawkins devoted his first and last chapters to it in God Delusion, as well as several of his other entire books, like Unweaving the Rainbow and The Ancestor’s Tale. The first chapter of God Delusion is entitled “A Deeply Religious Non-Believer”, where “religious” is intended in precisely the sense you give. He says, e.g.:

[quote author=“Richard Dawkins”]All Sagan’s books touch the nerve-endings of transcendent wonder that religion monopolized in past centuries. My own books have the same aspiration. Consequently I hear myself often described as a deeply religious man. (p. 12)

So I have to ask myself if you’ve ever actually read any of Dawkins’s work. He is clearly a humanist, clearly interested in the same aims we all have of combating irrationality, superstition and fundamentalist religion, clearly possessed of the same “transcendent wonder” towards the universe that Sagan shared, and clearly one of our most gifted writers about science. I have to ask myself what on earth problem do you have with him apart from the fact that he does not advocate for the sort of anarchist political vision that you have.

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Posted: 10 November 2006 11:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Answering Doug’s many questions

What do you mean by “scientism”, and what are its problems? Seems to me, prima facie that scientism is a good thing, like rationalism, experimentalism and atheism, as I argued in a different thread. More’s the point, if you don’t like scientism, what do you propose in its stead? Belief by faith?

Scientism, as I understand it, is like metaphysical naturalism as opposed to methodological naturalism.  Science is a method and a tool and not a worldview or a philosophy.  SP showed this by showing what happens when science become a religion.

Don’t you think that there can be more than one route to promoting humanist principles? You do seem awfully fundamentalist about your particular brand of humanism. If you don’t believe that CFI shares your aims, fair enough. It seems to me a good thing that there are competing humanist visions. That way we can learn from one another. Personally, I find myself quite comfortable with CFI, and in fact I find that it mirrors my way of thinking almost exactly. But I would not expect everyone to share my opinion. To each his own.

What I find wrong with CFI is that the mission Kurtz set forth when he united humanism (CSH) with CSICOP and the other projects he founded, he decided that the common denominator at CFI would be be atheism and skepticism.  This is why the primary thrust of CFI is negative atheism, negative skepticism, and a “promotion” of science which borders on scientism (meant to replace religion’s hold on people?). 

The problems with this for promoting naturalism is that mere negative atheism/skepticism is only the first step toward offering naturalism as a real, relevant world view.  CFI does not even advocate for the clearly positive aspect of naturalism… determinism!  (To be fair, neither AA nor AHA seem to “get it” either about naturalism.)

The bigger problem however, is that the main mission of all Kurtz’s plans in the past for “Eupraxophy” centers was humanism.  CSH, then, was to be the most important arm of all of CFI.  But to fit in with Kurtz’s lowest common demonator (meant to sell CFI to donors) - those of atheism, skepticism and secularism - CFI now focuses on these componants as the mission itself, and misses the bigger picture of humanism.  This has ruined CSH, in my not-so-humble opinion. 

Humanism, as a world view, is more than atheism (or more clearly, anti-supernatualism), skepticism and secularism.  Indeed these may be necessary parts of humanism, but are not the thrust of humanism.  That thrust must be built on the progressive/positive element of naturalism (determinism), and on the society/human nature elements which are socio-political and economic. 

CFI and CSH refuses to seriously deal with determinism, politics, economics, and the social sciences.  To the small extent that they try to rectify this, they remain narrowly focused on the Establishment Clause, any part of the “culture wars” that are meaningful to atheists and atheists only, and the backward social politics of folks like Hitchens, Machan, Warraq and Pinker.  They do showcase some determinists, but do not embrace this key part of naturalism in their mission and overall message to the public (though I think Flynn, Dacey and perhaps others are, or claim to be determinists).

To me, CFI/CSH does not employ a different way of understanding humanism.  Competing definitions of humanism at this level is not a good thing .. not when we are talking about the core of humanism!  CSH totally misinterprets humanism!  Indeed, David Koepsell - the director of CSH of all people - defines humanism as a “method of inquiry, plain and simple.”  That does not sound like humanism to me.  It sounds like the definition of science. 

How is it that the “method [Dawkins] chooses to share his beliefs with the rest of the world” makes him “dangerous to society”? That is a very strong claim, Barry, and absurd on its face. Unless it is “dangerous” to bring up strong arguments in public about society’s sacred cows ... and you, of all people, ought not to be making such a claim. Do you think people who advocate for ‘anarchy’ are also dangerous to society? (Or maybe that’s a good thing for you but bad for him?)

This is simple.  I’d like Dawkins and Harris to make strong arguments which challange the sacred cows of supernaturalism.  The mannor of doing this ought to be mature, conversational, smart, sensitive, etc.  Dawkins and Harris only come off as extremists and hate-mongers to the general public, not much different than those on the religious right.  Being smarter and even correct is not enough. 

Advocating for anarchism or libertarian-socialism itself is not dangerous any more than advocating for naturalism or atheism.  But I do not intend to insult and attack others by doing so.  I would not call my book, “The State Delusion.”  I would not call capitalists, “Unwavering Free-Market Heads.”  Etc, etc.

If it is “dangerous to society” to insult religion, how isn’t South Park even more “dangerous to society”? It is much more insulting than Dawkins ever has been, and has many millions more viewers.

South Park is comedy.  It is not in itself meant to be taken seriously, even if some of the ideas it showcases ought to be.  Dawkins and Harris are not George Carlin.  And by the way, how does one square Harris’ call for torture and his Islamiphobia with humanism?

I will respond to the rest of Doug’s questions soon.. on my way out…

Barry

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Posted: 10 November 2006 06:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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The rest of Doug’s questions….

I am back!  Friday is the day my wife and I go to dinner and the bookstore to hang.  While there, I read through parts of Dawkins’ book again.  As I said in one of the other links I listed in the previous post here, I did not read the Dawkins’ book cover to cover, and based my opinions on certain sections, the book’s title and chapter titles, and other essays by Dawkins I have read (some in FI).  So I wanted to take a closer look before I responded to the below…

Doug: You say that “Most religious people are really looking for spirituality and connectedness more than pure supernaturalism, and we need to talk with them with this in mind.” Both Harris and Dawkins agree with you. Harris devoted the second half of End of Faith to that project, and Dawkins devoted his first and last chapters to it in God Delusion, as well as several of his other entire books, like Unweaving the Rainbow and The Ancestor’s Tale. The first chapter of God Delusion is entitled “A Deeply Religious Non-Believer”, where “religious” is intended in precisely the sense you give.

Yes, Harris and Dawkins make what I’d call quasi-attempts at this.  When you and I spoke of the last chapters in End of Faith, I believe you dismissed them as silly, mysticism ridden, and worth passing over.  I had said, that while some of it seemed to be even antiscientific (why would Harris “not know” what happens to consciousness after the death of the body and brain?), these parts of his book were at least an attempt to grasp a better understanding of what religious people are looking for.  Of course, he calls for a ‘religion of reason,’ which is NOT what folks are looking for.  But he tries.  Again, you dismissed his attempts, not because, I think, you thought that they were not good enough, but because you thought they were not worthy reading for atheists.  Many atheists I have spoken with agree with you, by the way.

As for Dawkins, he does try to talk about this stuff a bit.  He calls it ‘deserved’ belief (where as ‘undeserved’ is something insane people have, and so they’re beliefs are not worth respecting ... does this mean one should disrespect the people who own these unworthy beliefs?  If not, how does one disrespect someone’s beliefs while not disrespecting someone’s person?) 

I think Dawkins’ idea of understanding why religious people are as they are is simplistic because, in his book, though he goes over many possible “reasons,” he seems to discount the good ones (group selection, economic, political, spiritual, social).  He cares more about brainwashing of parents (which is a silly idea because it goes into infinite regress and because it assumes free will on the parent’s end - though I do agree kids are not naturally born Christian or Muslim, they are taught it… this is obvious and not worth much text)... And his idea that people are just gullible because children have to be gullible to survive (why do their parents stop being gullible about certain things as adults, and yet still remain gullible about other things like God… Clearly its much more than gullibility here). 

Also, Dawkins only mentions Scott Atran in one graph.. Not saying what Atran’s ideas are because if he had, he would reveal that Atran’s ideas are far more scholarly and well thought out than his. 

As for Dawkins’ quoting Sagan, it’s really silly.  Dawkins is no Carl Sagan.  Sagan brought the masses science in a clear and charming way.. Dawkins is just witty and linguistically flowery.  Sagan was never rude, insulting or arrogant.  Dawkins is often all three.  Dawkins’ understanding of Sagan’s spirituality is woeful, applying it only to the love and awe of science (or what science tells us about the universe), and not to anything personal or humanistic.  At an Ann Druyan talk for CFI, a woman asked her if she saw Richard Dawkins as the next Carl Sagan in bringing science to the public.  After Druyan almost choked, she said politely something about how well Dawkins can write.  :wink:

Doug: He is clearly a humanist, clearly interested in the same aims we all have of combating irrationality, superstition and fundamentalist religion, clearly possessed of the same “transcendent wonder” towards the universe that Sagan shared, and clearly one of our most gifted writers about science. I have to ask myself what on earth problem do you have with him apart from the fact that he does not advocate for the sort of anarchist political vision that you have.

Nothing you said above about what Dawkins is doing is what humanism as a world view is about.  They are necessary ingredients of such a worldview, but nothing more.  And even then, as I’ve just said, Dawkins is not doing Sagan justice. 

The rest of Dawkins’ book includes atheism 101 - the philosophical and scientific arguments for and against God and the Supernatural, the immortally of the Hebrew God, and why the fundies and theocrats are so bad.  These are all good arguments, but for a different sort of book.  Using these good argument to back an angry atheist idea about religion and religious believers does no justice to the arguments.  They belong in books like those of George Smith, Michael Martin, Marci Hamilton or Chris Mooney.  Dawkins’ book is meant for the everyday person, and it is seems to be meant to show the absurdity of 95% of such persons’ (in America, that is) entire belief systems by mixing some good science with some good philosophy and lots of witty insults.  Who does Dawkins think he’s writing for? 

Dawkins asks a good question of himself in the section, “Why be so Hostile,” but he then offers as the answer the dangers of fundamentalist religion!  I saw nothing in that section which speaks to the many religious people I talk to.  Why does he need to be hostile to THEM?  Indeed, many of these people would agree with Dawkins about the fundamentalists!  Its as if Dawkins really has no good idea as to why people think other than like him, so they must be “deluded!”

While at the bookstore today, I also skimmed through Sen. Obama’s new book.  He is a smart, thoughtful man with many humanistic values.  He is also a liberal, nonliteralist Christian who finds the same problems with the sort of religion Dawkins finds problems with.  I wonder ... can Dawkins write a book called, say, “Why Naturalism?” for a religious humanist like Obama in a way that Obama would ‘hear’ him and want to begin a deeper conversation with him?  I somehow doubt either Dawkins or Harris could do this… But I’d be the first to praise them if they did!

PS: Let me add that after looking at my past posts, I agree with Doug that my saying that Dawkins’ and Harris’ approach to religion, etc., was “dangerous to society” was a bit of accidental hyperbole.  I did not mean that their writings or books were such - that would be silly.  I DID mean that they deepen the wedge between religionists and atheists/agnostics rather than close the gap and lead us to a more humanist society.  I DID mean that they COULD have written books promoting naturalism via positive, academic or plain-spoken and sensitive dialogue since they are both inteligent and (claim to be) humanistic gentlemen.  I DID say that by lumping fundementalists in with most religious Americans, they just came off as angry atheists.  The “dangerous to society” comment was meant as SP meant it when they showed what could happen when arrogant atheists begin to see their ideas as “better” than anyone elses, scientistic or dogmatic, and they see other’s ideas as deluded and worth attacking.  I was, along with other things I said, with this comment, pointing to the problem with fundementalist atheism.

Barry

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Posted: 11 November 2006 01:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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A few comments on the show.

There is PLENTY to make fun of about atheists, unfortunately, it real atheists would really be aware of these things.

The basic idea in the shows was almost on track, as atheists are pretty splintered and the groups conflict with each other, but the science bit was all wrong.

Making fun of things is all well and good, but it should at least make sense.

Their charge was that science and atheists were just as dogmatic as religions, which is completely false.

Atheists disagree with each other on tons of stuff, almost everything, but the beauty of science is that its not dogmatic and scientists or atheists don’t sit around saying we are opposed to other groups because “their science is different” or that “they have different answers than us”.

The claim of the episode essentially was that science is no different than religion, which is just blatantly false and doesn’t even make sense, and IMO, misses the points.

They could have done a lot of things to make fun of atheists, such as making fun of our disorganization, or making fun of how we argue points into absurdity, or arguing into paradoxes, etc., but IMO they missed the points.

Barry

I completely disagree with any “religion” of any kind. We had a thread about this. That was what went wrong with the Communist movement, it became a secular religion. Marxism became popular because it delved into this socially religious aspect.

There are fundamental problems with dogma and “religiosity”.

Religiosity really has a lot to do with group-think, blind faith, and followers.

I think that we can make arguments that make sense to a lot a people, that break down the respect for religion and the desire for that type of religion.

Do people still need social interaction, community meetings, fellowship, peer support, guidance, etc. Yes, of course. Do these things have to have a “religious” wrapper around them? No.

I was in a fraternity in college, this was a pseudo-religious cult type organization, all frats are, and I’d say that for kids in college it was okay, but I’d hope that adults can grow out of such things. I’d say that frats are possibly one model that we could use, however, if you want to look at what the most ritualistic extreme of secular non-religious organizations could become.

I’d prefer a world of secular fraternities to religious churches, that’s for sure, but frats have their problem, being inherently exclusive and relying to a large degree on that exclusivity for their cache.

At any rate, I don’t think that we should go down the road of trying to “embrace spirituality”, we should go down the road of explaining what it is.

As for books, I am working on a book right now, which I hope I will be able to get published, at least by Prometheus Books if no one else, which I think will address the issue of “Why Naturalism?” for religious people, and that is exactly my desire, to make the case for naturalism.

My approach is very different from Harris or Dawkins, because I present the case from a historical perspective and do a lot more to clear up misconceptions about human history than simply going into scientific and philosophical arguments on my own.

I think that religion, especially Christianity, has a lot of weight behind it for people because they think that its some ancient original view of the world that people had, and that naturalism is some new paradigm that is overturning man’s original view of the world.

This is completely false. Naturalism is really man’s original view of the world, and Christianity is really a late development, which overturned many more reasonable worldviews.

So, that’s the case that I am making in my book, Christianity vs. Evolution: The 2,000 year old conflict that changed the world.

My Table of Contents so that you can get an idea of the subject matter is here:

Table of Contents
Foreword
Introduction
Evolutionary Themes in “Primitive” Cultures
The Beginnings of Civilization and Mesopotamian Origin Belief
The Development of Greek Thought
Greek Materialism and Sophism
Greek Opposition to Materialism
Science and Technology in the Greco-Roman World
Christian Opposition to Naturalism
The Christian Revolution
Re-fighting 2,000 Year Old Battles
Christianity vs. Naturalism
Summary and Conclusion

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Posted: 11 November 2006 05:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Barry:

Re. Scientism, you say:

[quote author=“Barry”]Scientism, as I understand it, is like metaphysical naturalism as opposed to methodological naturalism. Science is a method and a tool and not a worldview or a philosophy. SP showed this by showing what happens when science become a religion.

How is it that we come to a belief about metaphysics? By finding out what our best theory of the world is, and then seeing what it says exists. Our best theory of the world comes from science. So “scientism” in the sense of metaphysical naturalism is not only not objectionable, it is the only one we ought to believe is correct. The alternative is to dispense with Occam’s Razor and add entities needlessly.

Further, scientism is not a religion. How could it be? There is no recourse to a god or other supernatural phenomena. There is no sense of being damned or saved. So this view of scientism gets things entirely backwards.

Re. humanism: it appears to me that your version of humanism is very different from mine and from CFI’s; as I say, it is a good thing to have debates about the nature of humanism, and how one wants it to be practiced. I am in total agreement that the main aim of humanism comes from the scientific worldview. Why is that? Because the main issue for ethics and politics is the question, How do we get things right? How do we know? And that comes down to the question as to which is our best epistemic method, that is, science.

Your claim that:

[quote author=“Barry”]to fit in with Kurtz’s lowest common demonator (meant to sell CFI to donors) - those of atheism, skepticism and secularism - CFI now focuses on these componants as the mission itself, and misses the bigger picture of humanism.

is pretty nasty, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Kurtz was insulted by the insinuation that he was peddling something in which he didn’t believe. What on earth do you mean that “atheism, skepticism and secularism” are the “lowest common denominator” of CFI? I would argue instead that they are the highest aspirations—at least skepticism about non-proven claims and secularism. Humanism has to follow from those basic aims if it is not itself to become another religion. And that is the rub.

The rest of your section on this topic leads to a reconfirmation of my belief that your problem with Dawkins and the CFI is that they aren’t anarchists. But evidence from people like Pinker and others establishes that anarchism falls at the gate of scientific skepticism. Results from the social sciences demonstrate that it is nothing more than a romantic fiction of the sort that produced Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. Not only should CFI not support its dissemination, it is not a form of humanism at all. It is a fantasy.

That said, I will repeat that I am not a fundamentalist when it comes to humanism. So just as I would support a Republican humanist with whom I disagreed, so too I would support an anarchist humanist, so long as I could establish that they were genuinely interested in promoting democracy.

[quote author=“Barry”]I’d like Dawkins and Harris to make strong arguments which challange the sacred cows of supernaturalism. The mannor of doing this ought to be mature, conversational, smart, sensitive, etc. Dawkins and Harris only come off as extremists and hate-mongers to the general public, not much different than those on the religious right. Being smarter and even correct is not enough.

Dawkins and Harris make some of the strongest arguments challenging supernaturalism. Indeed, that is their entire aim, as it is the aim of CFI in general. Dawkins and Harris do come off as extremists to some believers, but judging from their acceptance at speaking engagements and among the skeptics’ community, they are not judged as extremists by anyone who actually sees that there is a place for atheism in public discourse.

The only reason they are judged by some as hate-mongers is that these are people who are not used to having their sectarian prejudices actually called into question. I don’t believe it would be possible to produce a book of atheist arguments without being considered an “extremist and hate-monger” by religious bigots, or people who, in Dennett’s felicitous phrase, “believe in belief”. That is precisely the problem we face in contemporary US society, and why people like Dawkins and Harris are so crucial.

It’s like someone in the 1960s south saying that Rosa Parks shouldn’t get too uppity for fear of making the white man angry. (And boy was she considered an extremist in her day!) Or in the 1980s saying that gays shouldn’t come out of the closet for fear of inciting a backlash. While I wouldn’t argue by any means that all atheists/skeptics/humanists should engage in the pointed arguments of a Dawkins or a Harris, their presence is absolutely necessary. You can see the sort of reaction they and they alone have garnered: they are on the covers of book reviews, best seller writers, on the cover of Time Magazine, on talk shows, now even South Park ... people are talking about atheism and humanism as they never have before, and this at one of the most religious times in this country’s history. I am wondering what else CFI, you or I have done that is a tenth as important for raising consciousness, and can’t come up with a single thing.

So three cheers to Dawkins and Harris.

Re. Sagan: Sagan was one of my heroes, a lovely man, a giant in the community, and one of the greatest science writers who ever lived, but let’s be honest enough to realize that he never publicly questioned religious belief in detail during his lifetime. Although his widow is publishing a series of lectures on religion that he gave (and which I am very much looking forward to reading), this was to a small university level audience, and not to the general public. Further, Sagan’s agnosticism was agnosticism in little more than name, and one does have to wonder why he pussyfooted around the issue so much. It is clear that he did not believe in any god worthy of the name in any standard religious community.

Re. Harris and Dawkins on spirituality: my problems with Harris were that (1) his views didn’t make much sense, and (2) they depended much too much on a starry-eyed version of eastern religious practices, like meditation. I do enjoy meditation and have practiced it myself, but it is far from the great fount of knowledge about our inner states that he suggested. So my problem with his approach is that he is basically taking onboard all sorts of odd practices of the eastern sort which really need scrutiny before we should value them so highly.

Dawkins’s approach is identical to Sagan’s on this matter: both believe that the universe is in itself beautiful, and that science, correctly understood, is an enterprise that provides “spirituality and connectedness” in the sense you mentioned before. Indeed, in her recent podcast interview with Michael Shermer, Ann Druyan argued that Darwinian evolution was spiritually deeper than creationism in that it revealed our connectedness to all of life. This is precisely the approach that Dawkins takes.

To repeat, if you want to learn more about Dawkins’s ‘spiritual’ tendencies, read some of his other books. God Delusion is a focused polemic. He has whole books on the spiritual/connectedness stuff.

I do agree that Dawkins’s focus on parenting is a bit quixotic: parents are never going to give up indoctrinating their kids in their religion. But that said, clearly parental indoctrination is the huge deal in perpetuating religious prejudices. It is through parents that modern-day religion is spread in the vast majority of the cases. Either directly, or by the parent deciding to send the child to a religious school. That’s how the ‘meme’ gets spread, if you like.

A short aside about Atran and Boyer on religion: I learned about their books because they were recommended by Steven Pinker in a paper on the Biology of Religion. I did enjoy their books, but it is extremely speculative stuff, and neither of them is really interested in pushing back on religious extremism. They are anthropologists, and as such are more interested in describing things than changing them.

So, in sum, I remain mystified as to the difficulty you have with Dawkins and Harris apart from the fact that they don’t actively support your anarchist version of humanism. Their strategy is to attack, and for that reason they do not make many friends on the religious side of the aisle, but OTOH their attack isn’t meant to do so. It is to “raise consciousness” in the same way that the pushy blacks, women and gays did in previous eras. It is to make people aware that there is another way of looking at things, that is perfectly reasonable and that people are willing to defend passionately. There is plenty of room for milquetoasty writers to smear the differences, or for genuine middle-of-the-roaders to write in a different style. But that said, Dawkins and Harris have raised awareness of the issue like nobody before them, perhaps since Robert Ingersoll himself. And that is no small praise.

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Posted: 11 November 2006 03:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Reply to "rational revolution"

Their charge was that science and atheists were just as dogmatic as religions, which is completely false.


I think the charge was that some atheists and scientists (not science) CAN be dogmatic like religionists.

Atheists disagree with each other on tons of stuff


Right!  Because atheism is only a negation of theism (and perhaps supernaturalism).  It is nothing more.

scientists or atheists don’t sit around saying we are opposed to other groups

Many atheists I know ARE opposed to lots of religious people and groups.  And scientists argue about science in more ways then via peer-review.  Dawkins and Gould often stabbed at each other, and so do the Group Selectionists vs the Selfish Gene folk, and more and more.

I completely disagree with any “religion” of any kind. We had a thread about this. That was what went wrong with the Communist movement, it became a secular religion. Marxism became popular because it delved into this socially religious aspect.


You are talking about the ability of religion (including that of non-supernaturalists like communists) to become dogmatic.  I would agree here.  But I was saying that not all religion is dogmatic or even really about supernaturalism.  It was THIS that I was addressing. 

Another point I was making was that there is a difference between disagreeing with something someone believes, and attacking people re their beliefs.  Religion is very complex - far more so than Harris or even Dawkins would lead anyone to believe.  And its not all evil or dangerous.  I am an atheist, but again, I think there are better ways to address the subject of religion (the bad and the good) that respects people and helps move them forward so society moves forward.

And by the way, I agree that communism as religion (cult?) was one of the reasons it ‘went wrong’... but it was also because of the Statist step communism advocates.  You can not create a Vanguard Party to lead people in a statist mannor (as a transition as is argued) and then assume that one day, the party members will happily disband and their society would then become the communist ideal of a stateless society. 

Also, Russia got rid of capitalism (a good move), but not the market economy (bad move).  This eventually led to a more capitalistic economy post-Stalin than many Americans think was there…like China today

I don’t think that we should go down the road of trying to “embrace spirituality,” we should go down the road of explaining what it is.


I do not know we that we have to all quite “embrace” anything. Spirituality is a part of who we are, even we non-theists, skeptics, and non-supernaturalists.  We ought to understand what it is and how to express it through naturalism.  We do have to avoid explaining it away.

My approach is very different from Harris or Dawkins, because I present the case from a historical perspective and do a lot more to clear up misconceptions about human history than simply going into scientific and philosophical arguments on my own.


Good luck with your book!  I would love to read it!  And I have nothing against scientific and philosophical arguments.  I do have a problem, obviously, with disrespect, ONLY exposing the evils of religion, or promoting anti-humanistic policy (Harris), in a book which is supposed to promote naturalism, reason and a humanistic future. 

PS: I like your TOC, but even if your book is meant as a historical examination of these things, If you are making a case for naturalism for the masses, then those titles sound a bit to academic to me.

Barry

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Posted: 11 November 2006 04:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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More with Doug

How is it that we come to a belief about metaphysics? By finding out what our best theory of the world is, and then seeing what it says exists. Our best theory of the world comes from science. So “scientism” in the sense of metaphysical naturalism is not only not objectionable, it is the only one we ought to believe is correct. The alternative is to dispense with Occam’s Razor and add entities needlessly.

From Wikipedia:

Naturalism is any of several philosophical stances, typically those descended from materialism and pragmatism, that do not distinguish the supernatural (including strange entities like non-natural values, and universals as they are commonly conceived) from nature. Naturalism does not necessarily claim that phenomena or hypotheses commonly labeled as supernatural do not exist or are wrong, but insists that all phenomena and hypotheses can be studied by the same methods and therefore anything considered supernatural is either nonexistent, unknowable, or not inherently different from natural phenomena or hypotheses.

Metaphysical naturalism, which is often called “philosophical naturalism” or “ontological naturalism”, takes an ontological approach to naturalism. Ontology is a matter of whether something exists, and so this is the view that the supernatural does not exist, thus entailing strong atheism. In contrast, methodological naturalism is “the adoption or assumption of philosophical naturalism within scientific method with or without fully accepting or believing it ” science is not metaphysical and does not depend on the ultimate truth of any metaphysics for its success (although science does have metaphysical implications), but methodological naturalism must be adopted as a strategy or working hypothesis for science to succeed. We may therefore be agnostic about the ultimate truth of naturalism, but must nevertheless adopt it and investigate nature as if nature is all that there is.

Further, scientism is not a religion. How could it be? There is no recourse to a god or other supernatural phenomena. There is no sense of being damned or saved. So this view of scientism gets things entirely backwards.

Again, Wikipedia:

Scientism is an ideology which holds that science has primacy over other interpretations of life (e.g., religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic explanations). The term has also been applied to the view that natural sciences have primacy over other fields of inquiry such as social sciences.

Re. humanism: it appears to me that your version of humanism is very different from mine and from CFI’s; as I say, it is a good thing to have debates about the nature of humanism, and how one wants it to be practiced. I am in total agreement that the main aim of humanism comes from the scientific worldview. Why is that? Because the main issue for ethics and politics is the question, How do we get things right? How do we know? And that comes down to the question as to which is our best epistemological method, that is, science.

Yes, I agree.  Your version of humanism stops at atheism and includes scientism (though we both choose the scientific method as the best epistemology).  My humanism builds from the ingredients (not the main aim) of scientific naturalism, but extends to politics, society and economics.

Barry wrote:
to fit in with Kurtz’s lowest common demonator (meant to sell CFI to donors) - those of atheism, skepticism and secularism - CFI now focuses on these components as the mission itself, and misses the bigger picture of humanism.

Doug: (This) is pretty nasty, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Kurtz was insulted by the insinuation that he was peddling something in which he didn’t believe. What on earth do you mean that “atheism, skepticism and secularism” are the “lowest common denominator” of CFI? I would argue instead that they are the highest aspirations—at least skepticism about non-proven claims and secularism. Humanism has to follow from those basic aims if it is not itself to become another religion. And that is the rub.

Yes, humanism must be built on scientific naturalism to avoid being dogmatic.  I have argued as such many times.  But we dissagree on what CSH’s (if not CFI’s) highest aspirations should be.

Kurtz seemed to be heading, years ago, toward building Humanist Centers.  That would mean centers which saught to address the most important questions of real life.  Real life is not just philosophy, but politics, economics, social justice, and so much more.  Humanist Centers would be places for the promotion and teaching of humanistic ways of understanding (based on good science), and acting on (as an activist body), issues like poverty, war, racism, criminal justice, feminist issues, economic issues, etc. 

But, and this is true (not nasty, I know CFI and Kurtz since 1999), politics and economics and many of these other issues are sometimes considered peripheral, at best, to humanism by those who head CFI… And indeed, many of those same people adhere to ideas about politics and economics which are inherently anti-humanistic! 

So rather than become consistent with what humanism is, and promote humanist centers as stated above, Kurtz (and others at CFI) decided to go for the ‘big-tent’ plan.  This means that anyone who is an atheist or skeptic can very well be a humanist in their eyes.  To “brand” CFI (which covers much more than just CSH), it was necessary to find the best way to “sell” CFI to the media and the public.  So this became the message of promoting science and reason (a rather broad term), and advocating for non-belief (atheism). 

CFI does lots of things.  And it does atheism, secularism and skepticism quite well.  It sometimes does science promotion well too, but remains too one-sided in just which scientists they wish to promote. 

But they don’t do humanism much anymore. 

Doing humanism is messy.  It means addressing controversial topics like politics and economics (more tricky than atheism or secularism), and taking stands on related issues.  But Koepsell says this is not what humanism is about.  Kurtz says Neo-Cons, Conservatives, and Right- Libertarians can be humanists too!  This allows the money to flow.  When stands have been taken on some of the most obvious issues of politics and economics (like opposing the war in Iraq), many donors called to complain and ask that if CSH (nevermind CFI) became “political,” they would pull their funding. 

I am not insulting Kurtz, his work was very important to me as I became an atheist, skeptic and in my early days of being a humanist; he is a shrewd business man who has grown an empire.  And much of what that empire does is interesting and some of it is important to society. 

But humanism is not about business or capitalism.  Humanism is not about empire.  Humanism is much more than atheism, secularism or promoting science.  AA does atheism.  AU does secularism.  And many science museums and academies do science and method.  What used to make CSH (pre-CFI) unique was that it wrapped all these things up into a bigger picture, the world-view of humanism.  But now the relevant HUMAN parts of humanism are avoided at CFI, and some of the components of humanism have become alive unto themselves.  The uniqueness which could have moved mountains is gone.  The motivation to create a better world is gone, or left up to atheists, secularists, and science fanatics.  Been there, done that.  Now what? Society still sucks.

The rest of your section on this topic leads to a reconfirmation of my belief that your problem with Dawkins and the CFI is that they aren’t anarchists. But evidence from people like Pinker and others establishes that anarchism falls at the gate of scientific skepticism. Results from the social sciences demonstrate that it is nothing more than a romantic fiction of the sort that produced Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot. Not only should CFI not support its dissemination, it is not a form of humanism at all. It is a fantasy.

Spoken like a true dogmatist.

That said, I will repeat that I am not a fundamentalist when it comes to humanism. So just as I would support a Republican humanist with whom I disagreed, so too I would support an anarchist humanist, so long as I could establish that they were genuinely interested in promoting democracy.

See, one of the points I am trying to make is that the term ‘Republican Humanist’ is an oxymoron ... at least in most of the 20th or 21st centuries.

It’s like someone in the 1960s south saying that Rosa Parks shouldn’t get too uppity for fear of making the white man angry.

Oh no.  Now he is comparing Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins with Rosa Parks!  Science save me!

People are talking about atheism and humanism as they never have before, and this at one of the most religious times in this country’s history. I am wondering what else CFI, you or I have done that is a tenth as important for raising consciousness, and can’t come up with a single thing.

People are talking about atheism, Doug.  Not humanism.  Now, that’s not bad in itself.  And if Harris and Dawkins at least do that much for America - get people to talk about this stuff - then no publicity is bad publicity.. I think. Let’s see just how many people do more than buy these books.  Lets see what sort of dialogue comes from these books. 

But…  I found very little humanism in Letters to a Christian Nation or The God Delusion, and found anti-humanism in End of Faith.

So three cheers to Dawkins and Harris.

Well, maybe one cheer.

Re. Sagan: Sagan was one of my heroes, a lovely man, a giant in the community, and one of the greatest science writers who ever lived, but let’s be honest enough to realize that he never publicly questioned religious belief in detail during his lifetime. Although his widow is publishing a series of lectures on religion that he gave (and which I am very much looking forward to reading), this was to a small university level audience, and not to the general public. Further, Sagan’s agnosticism was agnosticism in little more than name, and one does have to wonder why he pussyfooted around the issue so much. It is clear that he did not believe in any god worthy of the name in any standard religious community.

You missed my point on Sagan.

If you want to learn more about Dawkins’s ‘spiritual’ tendencies, read some of his other books. God Delusion is a focused polemic. He has whole books on the spiritual/connectedness stuff.

Yes, I read some of them.  They are nice re what you said Druyan said to Shermer.  But it goes deeper than even that.  But if Dawkins UNDERSTANDS spirituality a part of humanity, and he realizes that supernaturalism is NOT the way to go, why does he attack non-fundamentalists (Harris does this even more) rather than try to help them find spirituality in naturalism?  Sagan did that.  Dawkins talks about it, but acts by attacking religionists.  He can’t have it both ways.

A short aside about Atran and Boyer on religion: I learned about their books because they were recommended by Steven Pinker in a paper on the Biology of Religion. I did enjoy their books, but it is extremely speculative stuff, and neither of them is really interested in pushing back on religious extremism. They are anthropologists, and as such are more interested in describing things than changing them.

No, they are not talking much about changing things in this matter ... not in their books.  Atran does, however, advise many politicians on the religious and biological qualities of terrorism, and this is indeed an attempt to change things.  But Dawkiins is not changing things in his book either.  He is just offering old arguments mixed with some new insights re science, and in the end, calling religionists mad.  Harris is opening the debate, and this is good, but he has not yet written anything about how to change things besides asking why people don’t question their beliefs? Duh!

Here’s a new question which may need its own topic on these forums.  Is religion the cause of the bad society we live in today, and that if we eliminated religion, we’d have a better world?  Clearly Mr. Rational Revolution thinks not as he referenced communism as religion.  Of course, if we kill off religion and not spiritually, we may fare better. 

But perhaps what must be understood is it is possible that religion is the justifier or tool of choice of those people who wish to dominate the world.  Maybe religion is found in certain cultures because of other problems in those cultures which leave room for religion to ‘rush in’ for many reasons.  If no one believed in God(s) anymore, or angels or demons or whatever, what would ‘rush in’ to bad societies then?  Whatever that is, would it create a religious like power that will create the same kind of havoc?  When Marxism rushed in (or rather, was pushed in), did it fair better than God? 

I think in order to rid ourselves of religion (the bad, supernaturalistic kind), we first need to find out what is wrong with our societies besides religion.  Then, when those things are fixed (or are close to being fixed), there will be no room for (bad) religion to seep in to and do damage thereby.

Dawkins and Harris ... strategy is to attack, and for that reason they do not make many friends on the religious side of the aisle, but OTOH their attack isn’t meant to do so. It is to “raise consciousness” in the same way that the pushy blacks, women and gays did in previous eras

.

Blacks, Women and Gays did not raise consciousness by attacking whites, men or heterosexuals.  They did not raise consciousness by insulting them and pretending the attacks and insults were just ways to let folks know they existed and had good ideas.  If they had, they would still be at square one.

Harris and Dawkins are not being pushy… I only wish that’s all they were being.


Barry

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Posted: 12 November 2006 05:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Re: More with Doug

When I talk about ‘naturalism’, the theory I am citing comes from W.V.O. Quine’s notion of “epistemology naturalized”: science is our premier method of epistemology, and our metaphysics (which includes our ontology) must be based on what our premier method of epistemology tells us exists.

Since science has not discovered any evidence of supernatural entities like ghosts, god, demons, ESP, etc., these have no place in our metaphysics. But it remains an empirical question whether there are these disembodied spirits about. It is not a question of “ideology”.

[quote author=“Barry”]Wikipedia: Scientism is an ideology which holds that science has primacy over other interpretations of life (e.g., religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic explanations). The term has also been applied to the view that natural sciences have primacy over other fields of inquiry such as social sciences.

This is a tendentious definition, which appears to me to have been written by a devotee of post-modernism. How else do we make sense of the notion of “interpretations of life”? The point of science isn’t to “interpret life” the way we interpret a painting, it’s to understand life, or more clearly, to understand reality.

Now, as to the claim that the natural sciences have primacy over the social sciences, that is a more interesting claim; usually, however, it goes by the name “physicalism”. That’s the notion that all sciences reduce to physics. In some senses this is clearly true, and in others it is clearly false. But this goes far afield, and has nothing interesting do do with “scientism”.

[quote author=“Barry”]Your version of humanism stops at atheism and includes scientism (though we both choose the scientific method as the best epistemology).  My humanism builds from the ingredients (not the main aim) of scientific naturalism, but extends to politics, society and economics.

Well, now, let’s be clear here: the version of humanism that I and many others follow does include issues of politics, society and economics. In particular, it discards any religious aims as proper in these fields. It includes a very strong governmental role in the social safety net, universal health care, etc. But the main aim is the betterment of society and the proper care of each individual, and the best way to plan and gauge the effectiveness of any such scheme is through the a posteriori methods of science, rather than the a priori methods of some political or religious ideology.

[quote author=“Barry”]CFI does lots of things.  And it does atheism, secularism and skepticism quite well.  It sometimes does science promotion well too, but remains too one-sided in just which scientists they wish to promote. 

But they don’t do humanism much anymore. 

Doing humanism is messy.  It means addressing controversial topics like politics and economics (more tricky than atheism or secularism), and taking stands on related issues.  But Koepsell says this is not what humanism is about.  Kurtz says Neo-Cons, Conservatives, and Right- Libertarians can be humanists too!  This allows the money to flow.  When stands have been taken on some of the most obvious issues of politics and economics (like opposing the war in Iraq), many donors called to complain and ask that if CSH (nevermind CFI) became “political,” they would pull their funding. 

As I say, I agree with CFI’s stand, and not because I simply want to “allow the money to flow” in your words (once again, too cynical), but because I do believe that humanism has to be a large tent: there is room within it for debate and disagreement. I am concerned that in your eyes it is rather a fundamentalist enterprise, and fundamentalisms are quasi-religious. They are things with credos and excommunications.

I would have enough difficulty with this approach if I agreed with your picture of what the fundamentals of humanism were, but I don’t, and that makes it all the more difficult to agree with your critique of CFI’s position.

[quote author=“Barry”]  The uniqueness which could have moved mountains is gone.  The motivation to create a better world is gone, or left up to atheists, secularists, and science fanatics.  Been there, done that.  Now what? Society still sucks.

Well, I don’t know that society “sucks”; it is far from perfect, that is true. But our aim can’t be the literal utopian perfection of society: that is fantasy. Our aim has to be the more difficult and realistic goal of continuing compromise with people of different political leanings, in ways that exclude sectarian religious aims, and in ways that follow careful epistemically achievable goals.

[quote author=“dougsmith”]That said, I will repeat that I am not a fundamentalist when it comes to humanism. So just as I would support a Republican humanist with whom I disagreed, so too I would support an anarchist humanist, so long as I could establish that they were genuinely interested in promoting democracy.

[quote author=“Barry”]See, one of the points I am trying to make is that the term ‘Republican Humanist’ is an oxymoron ... at least in most of the 20th or 21st centuries.

See, but one of the points I’ve been trying to make is that this sort of fundamentalism about humanist goals is wrongheaded. When I discuss this with you one day and with an outraged Republican another, you will understand the difficulty it is to be pinned in the middle. But it’s the position I honestly believe is best for humanism to flourish. You may call me a “true dogmatist” but at least I believe the tent is large enough to include you and a Republican. You would have us exclude the Republican altogether.

So who’s the real dogmatist?

[quote author=“Barry”]But Dawkiins is not changing things in his book either.  He is just offering old arguments mixed with some new insights re science, and in the end, calling religionists mad.  Harris is opening the debate, and this is good, but he has not yet written anything about how to change things besides asking why people don’t question their beliefs? Duh!

Not “duh” at all, Barry. The point that needs to be appreciated with these books is that there is a hunger people have now to understand what religion is all about. There are a mass of people, as Dawkins says, who are in the middle or on the fence, who aren’t totally at home with religion, or have been brought up having never heard a decent atheist argument.

Showing these people the force of arguments against the literal truth of the Bible, against the knee-jerk assumption that god exists, can be a breath of fresh air for many. Again, just look at the reception that Dawkins is getting in his trip around the US to see the amount of pent-up frustration with holier-than-thou religious know-nothings.

(Not to say that all religious people are know-nothings or holier-than-thou).

What I’m saying is that on the margin, a good argument actually can change minds. And changing minds can “change things”. Indeed, what else can a good book hope to do?

[quote author=“Barry”]Here’s a new question which may need its own topic on these forums.  Is religion the cause of the bad society we live in today, and that if we eliminated religion, we’d have a better world?

Nobody who is party to these debates believes that eliminating religion is possible, or that if it were possible it would result in a perfect world. (This is one of the straw-man arguments that religious reviewers trot out when reviewing Dawkins and Harris). But it is certainly the case that moderating sectarianism would make the world a better place. For one thing, it would reduce the impetus for religious wars and terror; it would eliminate issues of research on stem cells, contraception, gay marriage, and any number of other troubling issues.

This is a particular problem in the US, where we have witnessed a steady erosion in the secularism of government.

So no, we can’t say that religion is “the cause of the bad society we live in today”, since for one thing, the society we live in today isn’t totally bad, and for another thing, there is no one cause of its problems. There is no one cause of any complex socio-political event. But nevertheless, it is quite clear that one cause of some societal problems we know about quite well is religion. And for that reason we need to work hard to moderate it and increase the level of committed secularists here and abroad.
[quote author=“Barry”] When Marxism rushed in (or rather, was pushed in), did it fair better than God? 

The problem with Marxism is that it is a form of totalitarianism, and totalitarianisms always fare worse than free governments. I have no truck with people who might want to go about outlawing religion or religious practices. That’s the worst option.

Religion may be a problem, but totalitarianism is the anathema to humanism.

[quote author=“Barry”]I think in order to rid ourselves of religion (the bad, supernaturalistic kind), we first need to find out what is wrong with our societies besides religion.  Then, when those things are fixed (or are close to being fixed), there will be no room for (bad) religion to seep in to and do damage thereby.

So your position is that religion is some sort of epiphenomena created by other bad things in society. This is an interesting claim, although I doubt it is true. Atran and Boyer, for two, show that religious beliefs (beliefs in the supernatural, superstitions, etc.) are to a large extent biologically based. They are, to that extent, natural misfirings of the human intellect.

However, that said, it may be that there are some societal ills that produce religious thinking. Searching out what they are (and doing unbiased research in that regard) would be an interesting job, and one of which I’m sure Dawkins and Harris would approve.

[quote author=“Barry”]Blacks, Women and Gays did not raise consciousness by attacking whites, men or heterosexuals.  They did not raise consciousness by insulting them and pretending the attacks and insults were just ways to let folks know they existed and had good ideas.  If they had, they would still be at square one.

Much of gay consciousness raising was with slogans like “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” Dawkins and Harris are saying similar things for atheists and secularists. Also you will recall the ACT-UP demonstrations during the eighties. Many of them went too far, IMO, because they became borderline terroristic and literally disruptive. Were atheists to go into churches to disrupt meetings, as ACT-UP members did to scientific meetings, they would lose my support as well.

The one difference between an atheist and a gay person is that an atheist is an atheist based on arguments and beliefs, not natural sexual preference. So just as a gay person can celebrate his or her identity by showing off sexually in public (e.g., holding hands or kissing), an atheist can celebrate his or her identity by outlining the arguments and reasons for being atheist. That’s why Dawkins’s meetings (like some of Ingersoll’s a century or more ago) do seem somewhat revivalist.

It is unfortunate that we are at the level where identity raising is necessary for atheists in this country, but with some luck we will be beyond that stage in a few years or decades, and then books like Dawkins’s and Harris’s will be less necessary. Or at least they will tend to have a different tone.

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Posted: 12 November 2006 06:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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The problem with Marxism is that it is a form of totalitarianism, and totalitarianisms always fare worse than free governments. I have no truck with people who might want to go about outlawing religion or religious practices. That’s the worst option.

Well, not really, but the people who undertook revolution in that name were the totalitarians. There isn’t really anything written by Marx or Engels that advocates any kind of totalitarianism, just the opposite. The whole point was to overthrow totalitarianism, but that’s all really beside the point here.

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Posted: 12 November 2006 06:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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[quote author=“rationalrevolution”]Well, not really, but the people who undertook revolution in that name were the totalitarians. There isn’t really anything written by Marx or Engels that advocates any kind of totalitarianism, just the opposite. The whole point was to overthrow totalitarianism, but that’s all really beside the point here.

Yes, well, we can debate the point (in my view they were de facto totalitarians: dictatorship was the only way to bring about the utopia they were looking for; then since the utopia didn’t prove a viable possibility they were stuck with the totalitarianism), but it isn’t really on topic.

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Posted: 12 November 2006 07:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I just caught the last few minutes of the Dawkins south park episode the other nite.  It didn’t seem like they were making fun of him except for the fact that they were portraying him sarcastically…and then of course had him engaged in homo/transexual activity.  The only thing that made it seem as though they were mocking him was at the end when the neo-atheist confederation started fighting the national atheist alliance or whatever they called themselves.  The point obviously being that religion is not the cause of all conflict, and without it, conflict would still be prevalent. However, I don’t like that logic, because it’s like saying that without meth, drug use would still be prevalent, so we might as well legalize it and condone it.

Like I’ve always said, Dawkins is pretty much right on target on everything I’ve heard or read of him.  It’s hard to find a place in his aruments to poke holes in. And if you do, you’re being hypocritical, illogical, or, as in southpark’s case, just trying to be funny.

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