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Chris Hedges - I Don’t Believe in Atheists (merged)
Posted: 05 May 2008 03:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 91 ]
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For anybody that has some spare time to contribute:

SAMHARRIS.ORG
Research Volunteers Needed

We are preparing to run another fMRI study of belief and disbelief, and we need volunteers to help us refine our experimental stimuli. This promises to be the first study of religious faith at the level of the brain. By responding to the four surveys I have posted online, you can make an enormous contribution to this work.


You’ll find links to these surveys on my home page.

Please answer as many of the surveys as you can. If you only have time to answer one, please choose at random (otherwise, we will have many more responses to the first than to the others).

Feel free to post this message to your blog or to forward the relevant links to your friends. I especially need Christians to respond, as one of the goals of these surveys is to design stimuli that a majority of Christians will find doctrinally sound.

I will, of course, pass along the results of this work the moment I have something to report.

Many thanks for your help.

All the best,

Sam

http://www.samharris.org

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Posted: 05 May 2008 03:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 92 ]
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Somethings make give me the creeps and raise my skin hairs:

http://faculty.ucmerced.edu/smalloy/atomic_tragedy/photos.html

I just see some similarities between the American decision to nuke the Japs and force Japanese-Americans into detention camps (decisions made with little religious influence?) and the vilification and dehumanization of Muslims-Arabs-Persians.

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Posted: 05 May 2008 03:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 93 ]
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Hal Helms - 05 May 2008 01:45 PM

But it seems reckless to say that science provides positive evidence that “God” does not exist. It’s just this illegitimate use of science that provides fodder to the fundamentalists who want to tell their flock that science is evil. We don’t need to do this. We don’t need our own version of televangelists willing to shade the truth and slip pseudo-arguments into the mix. At least, I don’t.

Taking the entire paragraph, rather than stripping a single sentence from Hal’s comments, it becomes clear that Hal is justified in his concerns. Science cannot prove god does not exist - that’s Hal’s point (and mine). Scientists that even hint that science has proven god does not exist are lying and making scientists appear irrational. That image can do more damage than some might think. I’m an atheist and a scientist, but I have seen emotion get the better of even the brightest of scientists - that is not a good thing.

Science asks, where is the proof. Keep it simple.

EDITED because: I originally missed a quote format - and I’m usually so good at writing code. hmmm

[ Edited: 06 May 2008 05:36 AM by traveler ]
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Posted: 05 May 2008 05:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 94 ]
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Science cannot prove god does not exist - that’s Hal’s point (and mine). Scientists that even hint that science has proven god does not exist are lying and making scientists appear irrational.

But it’s a point that’s not worth making because it’s a straw man - scientists know better than the vast majority of people that science can’t prove god does not exist: scienctists don’t talk about proof in that silly journalistic way because scientists know better than the vast majority of people that science can’t prove anything. Hedges makes the mistake of wildly mischaracterizing what Dawkins (in particular) says, and his book is startlingly lacking in direct quotation. Don’t allow Hedges to influence you. His version of Dawkins (and by extension science) is a giant straw man.

Of course science can’t prove god doesn’t exist. But that’s not the issue.

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Posted: 05 May 2008 06:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 95 ]
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traveler - 05 May 2008 03:53 PM
Hal Helms - 05 May 2008 01:45 PM

But it seems reckless to say that science provides positive evidence that “God” does not exist. It’s just this illegitimate use of science that provides fodder to the fundamentalists who want to tell their flock that science is evil. We don’t need to do this. We don’t need our own version of televangelists willing to shade the truth and slip pseudo-arguments into the mix. At least, I don’t.

Taking the entire paragraph, rather than stripping a single sentence from Hal’s comments, it becomes clear that Hal is justified in his concerns. Science cannot prove god does not exist - that’s Hal’s point (and mine).

Reading the entire thread, instead of just that one post, you can see that Hal’s objection was more than what you claim it to be:

Hal Helms - 05 May 2008 10:25 AM

[...]Not only can we neither prove nor disprove such a god’s existence, science itself has nothing to say on this subject.

Hal Helms - 05 May 2008 11:29 AM

If Dawkins is going to use science to argue against a belief in a god, he needs to explain how, exactly, science traverses from the realm of the created to that of the creator. I fail to see how it can do so.

Hal appears to me to be objecting to the very idea that science could be used at all to argue against a belief in “God”, and this is what I take difference with. Of course, no one (not Dawkins, nor any of the other “new atheists”) has claimed that science has proven that “god” does not exist. Science can’t prove anything (thank you Ophelia). But science can speak to the likelihood of claims, and that’s what Dawkins does. Read Dawkins book, or re-read it more carefully; Dawkins presents the case in terms of probability and does so with regard to a “personal god” (i.e. the type that interacts with “creation”).

If “God” interacts with “creation” (i.e. interacts with the natural world), then “God” can be subjected to scientific testing. If the god you believe in is a god that answers prayers, sends messages, send messengers, and/or sends floods, etc., then qualified scientists have an obligation to subject those god-claims to scientific rigor, just as they do in every other field of human endeavor.

[ Edited: 05 May 2008 08:57 PM by Riley ]
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Posted: 05 May 2008 07:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 96 ]
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Balak - 05 May 2008 12:30 PM

  The racism here (for those who still claim not to get it) is the depiction of the ‘enemy’ country’s rulers as uniquely fanatical, irrational, evil, and unconcerned with human suffering, when there is no empirical evidence whatsoever that this is the case. In fact, Iran - in stark contrast to the U.S. and Israel - has not waged a single offensive war against a neighbor over the last milennium or more (at least).

Who doesn’t get it?

Ever hear of Human Rights Watch?

Take a look at this sick list of human rights abuses perpetrated by Iran:

http://hrw.org/doc/?t=mideast&c=iran

Did you say “there is no empirical evidence whatsoever that this is the case”?

Have a look at this headline from Reuters today: “Iran women activist gets suspended jail sentence.”

http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSDAH51857220080505

I’ll agree that these women’s rights activists are not “fanatical, irrational, evil, and unconcerned with human suffering.”  But they are being jailed, intimidated, tortured, and silenced by those who you are defending.

Balak - 05 May 2008 01:42 PM

The key for the racist is to make “the other” not simply different but “given what they believe” inherently subhuman - less rational, thoughtful, concerned for human welfare than “us” (who are magically exempt from similar scrutiny), in order to justify their extermination.

Sure, it’s us humanists who are the dehumanizers?

Religious fundamentalists who indoctrinate their children and teach them to hate and live with blind faith are not dehumanizing anyone, right?  It’s Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins?  It’s them, not the religious fanatics that are “less rational, thoughtful, concerned for human welfare than ‘us’,” right? 

This is the same nonsense that Hedges trotted out.

Hedges is an apologist, propagandist, and moral relativist.  Let’s shout that nonsense down for the good of humanity.

[ Edited: 05 May 2008 08:45 PM by Pragmatic Naturalist ]
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Posted: 05 May 2008 07:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 97 ]
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Pragmatic Naturalist - 03 May 2008 01:59 PM

I don’t believe in Chris Hedges.

Well I couldn’t believe that he could present himself as an expert on Islamic issues and then glibly say something to the effect that he hadn’t read anything by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and that he didn’t need to read the works of others. I forget exactly how this went—I was waiting for Ibn Warraq to come up but he didn’t.

I thought D.J. did a good job—this is one for him to replay for notes on how to interview a hostile witness. The guy wanted to debate D.J. not give an interview.

I was also bothered by his redefining “New Atheist” to mean something that didn’t seem to have anything to do with atheism (which he didn’t really discuss, did he?)

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Posted: 05 May 2008 08:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 98 ]
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Jackson - 05 May 2008 07:40 PM

   

Well I couldn’t believe that he could present himself as an expert on Islamic issues and then glibly say something to the effect that he hadn’t read anything by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and that he didn’t need to read the works of others. I forget exactly how this went—I was waiting for Ibn Warraq to come up but he didn’t.

Exactly!  Hedges claims to be an authority (and to minimize and belittle EVERYONE else) because he says he’s an arabic speaker and was a Middle East beauro cheif?!?  The audacity of this guy is heroic!  (Excuse me, I’m choking back a dry-heave.) 

And, how about the part where D.J. finally settles on a muslim society to talk about (after Hedges refuses to talk about Islamic theocracy in general)?  Hah, it’s Saudi Arabia, and Hedges has to admit that he was banned from Saudi Arabia!  That makes the very point itself.  These are nasty, human rights-abusing, repressive societies.  But Hedges then just brushes it aside and tries to minimize it.  D.J. should have pounced there; but you could sort of sense that Hedges was ready to bolt and end it at the sign of any serious resitance—kind of like when Rush Limbaugh cuts off a caller if they challenge anything he says—D.J. probably just wanted to finish the interview. 

And then D.J. asks if 9/11 would have happened without the religious extremeism and dogmatism, and Hedges says no, its these “other” institutionalized factors.  As if this religious extremism hasn’t been the key polarizing factor that’s been institutionalized in this scary mix of politics and religious ideology?  At any rate, it was probably the most exciting POI episode I’ve ever heard, even though it was also the most exasperating.

Always like your input J.

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Posted: 05 May 2008 08:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 99 ]
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Jackson - 05 May 2008 07:40 PM

 
I was also bothered by his redefining “New Atheist” to mean something that didn’t seem to have anything to do with atheism (which he didn’t really discuss, did he?)

Yes, yes.  Great point.  I have been reading George Lakoff on metaphor and framing and how it is used to acheive politcal and ideological agendas.  We need to be very careful about this.  Calling (“redefining” as you say) atheists fundamentalists (as Hedges has the audacity to do) is so, so, so, false and misleading, but it can nonetheless be used as a tactic by the theists and anti-reason-crowd to try to demonize their opposition.  Very scary stuff.  That is why I called Hedges a “propagandist” earlier.  He is manipulating language to suit his ideological Will To Power (to mention a Philosopher, Nietzsche, who Hedges is obviously familiar with).

[ Edited: 05 May 2008 08:50 PM by Pragmatic Naturalist ]
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Posted: 05 May 2008 09:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 100 ]
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Riley - 05 May 2008 03:24 PM
Hal Helms - 05 May 2008 01:45 PM

it seems reckless to say that science provides positive evidence that “God” does not exist.

It’s not reckless if you are actually being scientific.

If someone makes the claim that “God” sent a flood upon the earth and you can use science to show that there was no flood, then that is positive proof that “God” (as defined) does not exist. It’s not certain proof (science doesn’t provide 100% certainty about anything), but it is scientific evidence. And you’re right, one could argue that “God” makes things to happen, tells messengers to record their occurrance, but then decides to make it impossible for anyone else to verify for themselves that such an occurance did in fact happen. Sure. That’s possible. But that doesn’t mean that science has nothing to say about the likelihood of that alternate scenario. That’s exactly how science works ... by assigning probabilities and error-bars.

You seem to be arguing that science should be silent about such matters, and that seems to me very narrow minded.

Actually, it doesn’t provide positive proof that God doesn’t exist at all. It may well give positive proof that the person making the claims has a faulty understanding of such a deity. Perhaps I can give an example:

I believe that Richard Dawkins exists. Further, I assert that Professor Dawkins is an expert at Vogon poetry, having been versed in all seventeen forms, and has written a marvelous book, “Vogon Poetry: So Beautiful It Hurts”. I tell you I just bought this from amazon.com and that it has changed forever the way I think about Vogon poetry.

You, the astute skeptic you are, head over to Amazon, only to discover that no such book exists—either by Dawkins or anyone else. You do more checking: no such book. You may well say, “That Hal guy has no idea what he’s talking about on this subject.” That’s a legitimate conclusion. But if you conclude, “That Hal guy has no idea what he’s talking about. There is no such person as Richard Dawkins”—well, that’s not legitimate.

Now, you may say, “But I can verify to a high degree of certainty that, in fact, Richard Dawkins does exist!” Again, you would be right, but suppose I exchange the name “Richard Dawkins” for “Rudwell Sweedy”. All your searching is in vain: there seems to be no evidence that Rudwell exists. Are you then justified in thinking that no such person exists? No, that’s not legit.

In the case of a god who is outside the universe, we have no possible scientific tools or methods to determine if such a deity exists. We can be pretty sure that some of the people that claim to speak for God are mistaken (where’s the evidence of a universal flood?), but there our conclusions based on good science must end.

I don’t think this is narrow-minded at all. Nor is it a knock against science. Science is doing just what it’s supposed to do. Any problem we may have comes from asking it to do something it was not designed nor can do.

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Posted: 05 May 2008 09:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 101 ]
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Hi Hal,

Testimony is one way to reach knowledge, but not a very good way.  For, if something seems out of whack with the testifier then one can check it for oneself and verify.  We don’t believe everything we hear, hopefully.  I’ll demonstrate. 

But first, I want to let you in on a little secret of mine that I do not tell very many people.  But I’ll tell you because I think you would understand.

(Whisper): “I’m telling you right now, straight up, God’s honest truth: an invisible pink dragon lives under my house.”

Shhh!!!

Just listen, I can defend this claim:

And, to do so, I’ll just re-insert my name—i.e. “PN”—for “Hal,” and “invisible pink dragon” for your “Richard Dawkins.”  See what you think?

“Trust me, Hal, I really do have an invisible pink dragon under my house.”

You, Hal, the astute thinker you are, head over to my house, only to discover that no such invisible pink dragon exists. You, Hal, do more checking: no such dragon. You, Hal, may well say, “That PN guy has no idea what he’s talking about on this subject.” That’s a legitimate conclusion. But if you conclude, “That PN guy has no idea what he’s talking about. There is no such thing as an invisible pink dragon”—well, that’s not legitimate.

Believe me now?

[ Edited: 05 May 2008 09:50 PM by Pragmatic Naturalist ]
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Posted: 05 May 2008 09:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 102 ]
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The question was asked “Where was Hedges wrong” and I’d like to address that.

Lets take his position that we are not marching towards a better future, morally. He thinks that cruelty and violent death have not decreased in the west over the centuries. He is simply wrong.

First, the 20th century was not particularly special in terms of the size or carnage of its wars. If you look at the actual facts, the number of people dying from violence has steadily declined throughout human history. What makes the 20th century seem so bloody is two things: the relative rarity of war and the enormous population boom. Per Capita deaths in Stalinist Russia and Maoist china were not high by the standards of previous centuries, especially if stacked up against per capita deaths among Native Americans in the 19th or the Irish under Cromwell.

An exception to this is the wildly successful pogrom undertaken by German Christians. This explicitly religious massacre had a kill rate of 1 in 2, which was historically significant. So it was religion, not science, that was responsible for the only historically outsized state murder of the twentieth century.

So he’s wrong there. And he shows a lack of understanding of history and statistics that is frankly appalling.

He thinks that modern evolutionary biologists need to get in touch with Freud. Freud had 12 case studies, total, and his theories are not validated by modern science nor followed in modern psychology. Hedges is wrong about that, too.

He thinks that evolutionary psychology, and the study of primate morality, is a misuse of science. Apparently, he thinks this is so because one scientist, 150 years ago, didn’t actually discuss that topic or do that research.

This misunderstanding of science and history is so absurd as to render anything he says on the subject meaningless and trite.

Shall I go on? Do I need to?

Hedges thinks that there is no absolute right or wrong (so he says) and that we are not moving towards something better (so he says) and yet he comes out and says that he hates radical islam. By what measure? For what acts? What could they possibly be doing that is wrong? He is incredibly inconsistent and sloppy in his thinking about morality, as a moral relativist must be.

Now as to whether he is correct that violence is not the optimum response to the situation we find ourselves in vis-a-vis radical Islam, I don’t know. I sympathize with his point. But I’m unsure of its practical application.

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Posted: 05 May 2008 10:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 103 ]
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Pragmatic Naturalist - 05 May 2008 09:48 PM

Hi Hal,

Testimony is one way to reach knowledge, but not a very good way.  For, if something seems out of whack with the testifier then one can check it for oneself and verify.  We don’t believe everything we hear, hopefully.  I’ll demonstrate. 

But first, I want to let you in on a little secret of mine that I do not tell very many people.  But I’ll tell you because I think you would understand.

(Whisper): “I’m telling you right now, straight up, God’s honest truth: an invisible pink dragon lives under my house.”

Shhh!!!

Just listen, I can defend this claim:

And, to do so, I’ll just re-insert my name—i.e. “PN”—for “Hal,” and “invisible pink dragon” for your “Richard Dawkins.”  See what you think?

“Trust me, Hal, I really do have an invisible pink dragon under my house.”

You, Hal, the astute thinker you are, head over to my house, only to discover that no such invisible pink dragon exists. You, Hal, do more checking: no such dragon. You, Hal, may well say, “That PN guy has no idea what he’s talking about on this subject.” That’s a legitimate conclusion. But if you conclude, “That PN guy has no idea what he’s talking about. There is no such thing as an invisible pink dragon”—well, that’s not legitimate.

Believe me now?

LOL. After a few bouts of…uh…adult libations, I did think I saw a pink something (perhaps an elephant or a dragon, I wasn’t sure) but I can believe the acuity of my observations might have been dulled somewhat.

What you say (besides being witty!) is absolutely true—if we’re talking about something that can (at least in theory) be to a high degree of certainty falsified. But is this the case with a god—at least the kind of god Christians believe in?

That’s my problem: I don’t see what tests one could do to either verify or falsify his existence.

I’m certainly under no intellectual obligation to conclude that, since I have no counter-evidence, he must (or probably does) exist. And, in fact, I strongly suspect that people don’t use science to arrive at this conclusion. From talking with many people (some believers, some not), I find that the belief or lack of belief in a god is part of a larger view of reality—and how commensurable the idea of a god is with their understanding of reality.

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Posted: 05 May 2008 10:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 104 ]
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Hal, PN, if I may jump in.

Hal, if you claim that Dawkins is the author of a bestselling book on Vogon Poetry, as well as the author of “Modern Knitting for the Incontinent” and “My Journey’s with a Space Unicorn”, we cannot then conclude that Dawkins does not exist. We can, however, conclude that you don’t know jack about Richard Dawkins.

Every testable claim about the existence of god holds up about as well as my Richard Dawkins’ book list. While the existence or non-existence of some sort of deity cannot be tested by examining such claims, we can conclude with great certainty that the claimants don’t know jack about god.

Is this a reason to conclude that there is no god? Who cares? You’re asking the wrong question. The question is, is there any reason whatsoever to believe in God?

Given that 100% of the evidence that god exists comes from claims that clearly demonstrate the claimants lack of knowledge about god, I would have to say “no.”

And that is why science and skeptical reasoning demonstrate that God does not exist. Not by proving the negative, but by revealing that the positive claim is without merit.

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Posted: 05 May 2008 10:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 105 ]
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Ophelia Benson - 05 May 2008 05:46 PM

Science cannot prove god does not exist - that’s Hal’s point (and mine). Scientists that even hint that science has proven god does not exist are lying and making scientists appear irrational.

But it’s a point that’s not worth making because it’s a straw man - scientists know better than the vast majority of people that science can’t prove god does not exist: scienctists don’t talk about proof in that silly journalistic way because scientists know better than the vast majority of people that science can’t prove anything. Hedges makes the mistake of wildly mischaracterizing what Dawkins (in particular) says, and his book is startlingly lacking in direct quotation. Don’t allow Hedges to influence you. His version of Dawkins (and by extension science) is a giant straw man.

Of course science can’t prove god doesn’t exist. But that’s not the issue.

I’m not setting up a straw man. I’m not suggesting Dawkins asserts that science disproves the existence of a god. My assertion is that science is not in the business (nor should it be) of determining either the existence or non-existence of a deity; that, further, science has nothing whatsoever to say about the possibility of the existence of such a being. But Dawkins does insist that religion and science are antithetical and that a proper understanding of science virtually precludes one from believing in a god. That simply is not good logic.

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