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Austin Dacey - The Secular Conscience (merged)
Posted: 25 March 2008 12:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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Just because someone bold fonts proclamations about defending the wall of church and state separation means nothing and is used only as a scare tactic. The arguments presented are in no way advocating anything near chipping away at the wall. What they are is a recognition that the hyper sensitive approach that is mired in political correctness in the name of tolerance has failed us. This approach tells all of us, the religious and secular alike that we must be careful how far we can express our beliefs which stifles any way to have an open and honest debate. Because of this idea which hides behind rhetoric such a “multiculturalism”, it now shields the religious beliefs from full scrutiny. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and start believing the scare rhetoric or that the religious will back away from the fight. I have seen on Richard Dawkins web site almost daily the responses from the religious, they are answering to the call of war. It is beyond fair now to allow the debate to proceed as open as possible. We can begrudge the liberal and moderate religionist all we wish, but what they deserve is nothing less than the most dogmatic in terms of open criticism. Ayaan Ali and Sam Harris have been bringing this message out into the public conscious for all of us, and if they refuse to join the secular fight, then they must be held responsible in no uncertain terms. The battles will continue, including those of church/state separation, evolution etc., but what must no be forgotten is the beliefs behind the madness, that the war goes to the supernatural beliefs themselves. We must be willing to take risk, and perhaps lose or forfeit a minor battle, for the sake of the larger war. The ones who want an apologist approach are asking nothing less than that Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris just shut their mouths.

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Posted: 25 March 2008 01:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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I don’t believe Dawkins has followed Harris in endorsing torture, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, or threatening Iran with nukes. (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong on this).

That said, I also disagree with all the ‘new atheists’ to the degree that they seem unable to address in any kind of scientific manner the material bases for religious backwardness in human societies, instead they present the fight against religion strictly in idealist terms (correct vs mistaken ways of thinking). This is one significant failing they all have in common.

As I mentioned above. If religions had only their ideas to support them, they would be long gone… religions serve social and political functions in stabilizing class societies while answering (with illusory comfort) to the felt needs of believers. From this they also derive their considerable political power and influence.

Approaching religion bereft of this understanding is to disarm reason and science before they even enter the battle.

[ Edited: 25 March 2008 01:38 PM by Balak ]
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Posted: 25 March 2008 01:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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Balak - 25 March 2008 01:22 PM

I don’t believe Dawkins has followed Harris in endorsing torture, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, or threatening Iran with nukes. (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong on this).

You need to get your facts straight. This is the tired old rhetoric which works to try and undermine Sam Harris.

The addition of Afghanistan is rather new, it’s also rather meaningless since the ones who did not support the invasion in Afghanistan were few and far between for many good reasons. Not supporting the military invasion of Afghanistan is a questionable position to take.

Here is Sam Harris’, Responce to Controversy page which answers the questions of torture and Iraq.

Supply your evidence that Sam Harris endorses threatening Iran with nukes.

[ Edited: 25 March 2008 06:53 PM by bob james ]
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Posted: 25 March 2008 01:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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Here is a reminder of the effectiveness of using criticism and ridicule in the public domain. I do not think we can ask any less of ourselves. By the way, Richard is speaking off the cuff.

If you have already seen Joan’s lecture (not worth it anyway, and not the point) just skip to Dawkins’ response starting at 29 - 38 minutes. It buffers quickly. Lets not forget that what the “new atheist” have done in just a short period of time is much greater then decades of niceness. There’s simply no reason to be “nice” when we are talking about the truth.

http://thesciencenetwork.org/BeyondBelief/watch/watch.php?Video=Session 3

[ Edited: 25 March 2008 01:54 PM by bob james ]
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Posted: 26 March 2008 07:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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Here is Sam Harris’, Responce to Controversy page which answers the questions of torture and Iraq.

Thanks, the despicable Sam Harris really makes my arguments for me. ‘State Department Secularism’ on the march.

It’s true that Harris has only supplied the arguments for nuking Iran, without actually coming out (so far) in support of the specific threats now being brandished by Washington (which is worse?), so I accept this correction.

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Posted: 29 March 2008 09:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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I strongly believe in Austin Dacey’s choice of direction for the secular movement.  I know that atheists believe that people can have morality without belief in God, but most deeply religious people I’ve known are unable to make a distinction between the two.  This is most exemplified in the statement “God is Love”.  God is supernatural, exists outside of the Universe, and cannot be proven to exist.  Love is a value system which is real and can be proven to exist.  The secular movement needs to separate the two belief systems so that people won’t feel like they have to be religious to have values.  Dawkins claims that God is a delusion.  Belief in God may be lumped together with beliefs that aren’t delusional thereby making belief in God stronger.  The person believes God is real and the person has a relationship with it when in reality the person is having a relationship with their value system.  In which case getting rid of a belief in God will take many worthwhile beliefs with it.  A vacuum will be created which will have negative consequences.  This is why I believe so strongly in Dacey’s choice of direction.  At the same time irrational beliefs are being attacked, rational worthwhile beliefs need to be encouraged.  The most important beliefs that get lumped together with a belief in God are values and morality.

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Posted: 29 March 2008 03:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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bob james - 25 March 2008 01:39 PM
Balak - 25 March 2008 01:22 PM

I don’t believe Dawkins has followed Harris in endorsing torture, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, or threatening Iran with nukes. (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong on this).

You need to get your facts straight. This is the tired old rhetoric which works to try and undermine Sam Harris.

Hate to interject here, but I think Balak may have meant to refer to Christopher Hitchens rather than Sam Harris.  It was Hitchens, if I recall, who vehemently supported the Bush administration’s policy to use the military to cleanse the Middle East of Islamic fundamentalism and fascisism.

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Posted: 29 March 2008 07:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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I don’t know, PN.

I’ve had about four different nicks on this forum, including.. zarcus, Mano and this one. After about my third post on this thread the rest is just B.S. There’s so many holes in what I wrote that it’s nothing more intellectual swiss cheese. There’s little doubt I offered up a personal attack against inthegobi, but I added that it wasn’t.

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Posted: 29 March 2008 07:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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Zarcus… er, Bob!  It’s nice to see you again.

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Posted: 29 March 2008 09:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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bob james - 25 March 2008 01:50 PM

Here is a reminder of the effectiveness of using criticism and ridicule in the public domain. I do not think we can ask any less of ourselves. By the way, Richard is speaking off the cuff.

If you have already seen Joan’s lecture (not worth it anyway, and not the point) just skip to Dawkins’ response starting at 29 - 38 minutes. It buffers quickly. Lets not forget that what the “new atheist” have done in just a short period of time is much greater then decades of niceness. There’s simply no reason to be “nice” when we are talking about the truth.

http://thesciencenetwork.org/BeyondBelief/watch/watch.php?Video=Session 3

Thanks for this link.  I know you are skeptical of some of Sam Harris’ stuff but I think he was on track to rephrase the slogan to “The Audacity of Reason”—I think spraying the light of truth on a lot of this stuff is exactly what is needed.

[ Edited: 05 April 2008 02:09 PM by Jackson ]
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Posted: 05 April 2008 02:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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Great points and I find myself making arguments on both sides here as well…  I can empathize in favor of Dacey every time a theist stone walls me in debate (especially debating with my religious family, who usually begin arguing with some notion of objectivity, but then always end up slipping into some postmodernist “everyone is right” position).  It’s really frustrating being shut down time and again.  Also, calling for the application of empirical standards of consistency to religiously based legislation does seem like a good idea on the surface (e.g. the reference to Mr. Reagan highlighting the inconsistency over stem cells vs. in vitro).  To what other types of legislation could secularists apply this type of reasoning?  How would we apply it to Faith Based Initiatives, for example?  BUT, my fear is that even if we could win some battles by decrying inconsistency that it will be turned on its head by theists with the impossible standards which Retrospy (“If the system can’t recognize this injustice, how do we hold these actions in contempt of court?”) and Balak spoke of (“Approaching religion bereft of this understanding is to disarm reason and science before they even enter the battle”) because we don’t even have legislators with Enlightenment thinking like we used to, let alone the general public.  The dark side of social Darwinism: might wants to make right.  It may just not be a good time for this move politically and we may need to take some more baby steps before “opening the floodgates” as DJ put it.  The interview also made me think of the Dover trial and the ruling against ID/creationism that was at least partially, if not mostly based on ID/creationism not having falsifiability (in fact, I wish DJ’s question to Dacey regarding “subjectivity” would have been re-framed to inquire about “falsifiability” instead- there is a subtle difference in those arguments).  If the “flood gates” were opened- what’s to uphold the Dover ruling in Dacey’s model?  Isn’t the falsifiability issue in supernatural ethical systems analogous to the Dover ruling, because the repercussions of supernatural ethical systems are claimed to be, at least partially, post mortal and not empirically verifiable?  The discussion can go nowhere at that point (as Bob James noted talking to his sister and we have all experienced).  It also seems, for that reason, that the “Catholic Natural Law Tradition” Dacey referred to, in order to lend more credence to theistic morality claims, is ironically, untenable in that context.  If the effects of morality were empirically evident, heaven and hell would be superfluous.  But THEN (back and forth…), although privacy have won us some great liberal victories, I think Roe V Wade SHOULD stand on more objective grounds than privacy issues, it does have the evidence for that… and only breaking down that wall would open the way… It’s a pretty difficult situation.  I’m still on the fence I guess…

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Posted: 05 April 2008 08:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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gatogreensleeves - 05 April 2008 02:01 PM

...although privacy have won us some great liberal victories, I think Roe V Wade SHOULD stand on more objective grounds than privacy issues, it does have the evidence for that… and only breaking down that wall would open the way… It’s a pretty difficult situation.  I’m still on the fence I guess…

For me the question is one one of materialism or idealism. Do you believe that the best idea eventually ‘wins out’ by virtue of its innate superiority? This is plain old idealism (and Dawkins lame-ass ‘memetics’ hypothesis). Do you see ideas as, in the final analysis, serving to defend/legitimise the material interests of social classes? This is materialism. What other explanation is there for the persistence of ideas, like religious beliefs, that have no ‘rational’ basis to support them.

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Posted: 06 April 2008 01:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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Balak - 05 April 2008 08:48 PM

For me the question is one one of materialism or idealism. Do you believe that the best idea eventually ‘wins out’ by virtue of its innate superiority? This is plain old idealism (and Dawkins lame-ass ‘memetics’ hypothesis). Do you see ideas as, in the final analysis, serving to defend/legitimise the material interests of social classes? This is materialism. What other explanation is there for the persistence of ideas, like religious beliefs, that have no ‘rational’ basis to support them.

Well, if we’re talking about memetics, as I understand it (forgive me if I’m remiss), that depends on what you mean by “superiority” (survival fitness?).  Though not a perfect analogy, apparently memes, like genes, are not necessarily partial to idealism or materialism exclusively.  And as you know, an “is” is not necessarily an “ought.”  Ideas are subject to randomness/poor distribution/poor explication/aesthetic appeal (e.g. a catchy rhyme/phrasing), blahblahblah/ artificial selection- and anything that “wins out” may still be temporary, regardless of its “innate superiority.”  Isn’t this really the egoism vs. altruism battle?  Why ideas appeal to materialism is obvious.  Idealism is more difficult to defend, though ideas that appeal to idealism do have survival value, in the least, however genuine or disingenuous (e.g. self-promotion, social control).  Why?  Because even when idealistic notions are perpetuated out of self interest/egoistic/base motivation (materialism), their effects can and do still become institutionalised. 

I appreciate your thoughtful commentary, as well as the other posters here.

[ Edited: 06 April 2008 01:23 PM by Gatogreensleeves ]
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Posted: 07 April 2008 08:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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Great debate, and interesting podcast. I may have missed it in the details, but I think only gatogreensleeves has so far raised what I thought of as a big flaw in Dacey’s argument. Namely, if religious justifications for public policy are considered even more legitimate and acceptable to make in public debate, what in the world makes anyone think that the secular moral alternatives would stand a chance in America? If we make pro-choice arguments or arguments in favor of gay marriage on the basis of secular moral values (namely that God’s commandments regarding these things are idiotic, immoral, and irrelevant), we’ll lose big time. As much as I disagree with Balak about many things, he is right to point out the pragmatic question of where power lies in politics. The majority of Americans likely believe the revealed Christian moral truths that conservative political policies are founded on, and if we give up the notion of a public arena in which one must argue one’s case without relying on a particular sect’s revealed truth, secularism isn’t likely to fare well. It is the best basis for a rational, sound morality, but that doesn’t mean it will win a war with the Goliath of religious belief.


I’m all for opening up religion to criticism, and for stating the secular alternatives to religious moral justifications publically. But I don’t think that requires encouraging the idea that public policy should best be formulated by a direct contention of fundamental moral positions regardless of their source. Dacey says that even if a policy position is founded on faith and revelation, one can still argue against it. What he seems to fail to understand, is that such arguments are meaningless to the person who is basing their position of faith and revelation. And the public observing the debate and judging the “winner” is likely to be far more swayed by moral convictions based in religion than by arguments from reason, logic, or evidence. That’s just the state of the culture right now. Creationism has had to turn to ID, which is itself failing in the courts, precisely because the society seems willing to accept the idea that basing policy on religious belief is essentially forcing that belief on others. If arguing for policy on the basis of religious belief is considered fair game in mainstream politics, then we will be left with arguing against creationism on the basis that the bible is in fact not the true word of God and that science is right and the entire history of Christianity is a myth. Good luck with that!

[ Edited: 07 April 2008 05:29 PM by mckenzievmd ]
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Posted: 07 April 2008 05:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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Yeah, the Dover victory had a very tangible practical issue going for it as a sticking point: well trained students=well trained scientists=better jobs and more practical science for America and the world. 

    The first question is: do we really have a one- two punch that can show the practicality of default secular ethics that will be perceived as tenable enough to topple the faith based epistemology of supernatural Goliath, with its inability to offer a consistent method for determining truth, and thereby create legal precedent, let alone a new paradigm (are the old naturalistic arguments, which have not worked well enough to avoid dismissal in the past, enough?)?  Of course, practicality and the Dover ruling are arguments for secular ethics, and we should constantly highlight the links, but these inroads are gained by the deliberation of the issues themselves, one by one, and not by opening up a huge Pandora’s Box of apologetics and metaphysical abstractions that overwhelm academics, let alone the general public, with rhetorical smoke screens.  The current idealistic legislators/judges we must appeal to will appropriate and capitalize on such metaphysical language for their own aims and the general public will be too overwhelmed to do anything but hop on board- they will not find their way through it. 

    I think we should ask: how much are theists willing to cede to naturalism in their obvious internal struggle between their supernatural ideology and the empirically practical naturalistic benefits they are willing to adopt in society currently?... and work from there.  Secular minded people should continue to do what we have been doing: ardently spotlighting the benefits of empirically based evidence for naturalistic positions in ethics and science (showing that naturalism is in their best interests and that they apply these benefits every day), chipping away at the current zeitgeist, until the secular position is overwhelmingly realized practically (when the hand goes in the fire, what heals the hand?). 

    Dacey’s position seems to overcompensate for the empirical evidence that yes, there have been some good things done in the name of religious ideology.  But much of the general public can’t even reconcile “my good deeds validate my religious claims” with “someone else’s good deeds validate their religious claims.”  Obviously, morality is appropriated for all manner of reasons and opening up the public square may serve, at worst, to legally establish some bizarre subjective parameters concerning a post-consequential morality as being fundamentally valid considerations.  That is a scary thought.  Who knows what they are capable of. 

    Really, this is all a huge gamble- too precarious right now anyway, in light of the current legal/legislative arena (one only need review the ideologically driven wormhole rulings laid down by the Vatican Five last year… Hein vs. FFRF comes to mind…).  Historians have noted that if the Constitution was implemented a decade or so before or after it was, it may not have had the secular basis that it does.  That’s something to consider.

[ Edited: 07 April 2008 08:37 PM by Gatogreensleeves ]
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