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Rev. Michael Dowd: Thank God For Evolution
Posted: 25 August 2008 12:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 61 ]
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Dowd reminds me of the Jesuits who taught me in college. They also wanted to have their God and eat it too. They
would drive me mad with their insistence that they were free to do “deep interpretations” of all the stuff in their
little holy book, stuff that was spelled out pretty much unequivocally as fact, but which they—knowing those “facts”
were silly—would “interpret” in some vaguely New Age, Jungian, pantheistic way. I consider it now what
I considered it then: intellectual dishonesty and cowardice. Kierkegaard got it absolutely right: if someone wants
to get away with calling themselves a “Christian” then they should step up to the terrifying existential responsibility
implicit in calling themselves such. As K bluntly put it: if someone doesn’t have the “faith of Abraham”—that is to
say, the willingness to slit one’s child’s throat because a voice in one’s head tells one to do so—then one doesn’t
have a right to call oneself a “Christian”.  Somehow I think if Dowd heard a small still voice in his head, his first
stop would be at the nearest mental health clinic, just as any self-respecting freethinker would.

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Posted: 25 August 2008 12:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 62 ]
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jholt - 25 August 2008 12:16 PM

“For we are the local embodiment of a Cosmos grown to self awareness. We have begun to contemplate our origins: starstuff pondering the stars; organized assemblages of ten billion billion billion atoms considering the evolution of atoms; tracing their long journey by which, here at least, consciousness arose. Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. We speak for earth. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves but also to that Cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we sprung.”

... let us travel in our space ship of the imagination ...

[ Edited: 25 August 2008 12:46 PM by Riley ]
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Posted: 25 August 2008 12:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 63 ]
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Thanks for your posts, jholt.  Yes, I actually have the Sagan quote memorized and begin most of my sermons this way: “Today’s scripture reading is from cosmologist Carl Sagan…” then I recite the quote you posted.  Another of Carl’s quotes which I love is this one:

“Science is, at least in part, informed worship.”

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Posted: 25 August 2008 12:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 64 ]
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steveg144 - 25 August 2008 12:33 PM

As K bluntly put it: if someone doesn’t have the “faith of Abraham”—that is to say, the willingness to slit one’s child’s throat because a voice in one’s head tells one to do so—then one doesn’t have a right to call oneself a “Christian”.

It’s not enough that we have authoritarian fundamentalist Christians to dictate who does and who does not have the right to call themselves a “Christian” ... now we have authoritarian fundamentalist non-believers to do that as well?

wonderful.

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Posted: 25 August 2008 12:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 65 ]
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Riley - 25 August 2008 12:44 PM
steveg144 - 25 August 2008 12:33 PM

As K bluntly put it: if someone doesn’t have the “faith of Abraham”—that is to say, the willingness to slit one’s child’s throat because a voice in one’s head tells one to do so—then one doesn’t have a right to call oneself a “Christian”.

It’s not enough that we have authoritarian fundamentalist Christians to dictate who does and who does not have the right to call themselves a “Christian” ... now we have authoritarian fundamentalist non-believers to do that as well?

wonderful.

I have no more patience for a New Age pantheist like Dowd calling himself a “Christian” than I would have for someone who
proclaimed themselves an atheist and then say “Well, of course, I actually kinda sorta believe in some kinda God, but you know,
nudge nudge, wink wink ...” I’m old enough and crusty enough to insist that people at least have the courage of their purported
convictions, and not hide behind a wall of fluffy-bunny rhetorical gingerbread.

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Posted: 25 August 2008 01:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 66 ]
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Steve, more power to the person who can transform Christianity into a culture that rejects supernatural belief (personal “god” and all) and that fully embraces the universe as revealed by evidence. Everything else is just a matter of symbolic preferences and personal perspective.

[ Edited: 25 August 2008 03:14 PM by Riley ]
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Posted: 25 August 2008 01:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 67 ]
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Steve/CrustyPolemicist,

You write as though you didn’t see my earlier posts.  I find it hard to believe you would say what you’re saying here had you read them.

I guess I have two questions for you:

1) Do you know of anything more important in the coming decades than assisting religious people the world over (especially here in America) in coming to embrace a science-based evolutionary/ecological worldview?

2) Do you know of an approach that seems more likely to succeed in this endeavor (or at least be a stepping stone in the right direction) than the one I sketch out in TGFE?

Best,

~ Michael

[ Edited: 25 August 2008 02:02 PM by Michael Dowd ]
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Posted: 26 August 2008 11:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 68 ]
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I certainly enjoyed the interview and wouldn’t dispute the smoothness of Mr. Dowd’s sales pitch…

But the fundamental flaw is opportunism. What is the trade-off? Mr Dowd would have us believe that we can smuggle the scientific, materialist worldview through the closed borders of relgious superstition by covering it with (insincere) outward concessions to faith, and the artful, ‘respectful’ use of ‘night language’ or whatever…

On a retail level I’m sure it’s a good living. In the big picture I strongly doubt that these concessions will have the desired effect. The positive reenforcement offered to the anti-rationalist worldview will be registered by the true believers, while the sugar-coated science/ecology message will mainly be embraced by those who are already there anyway.

Ultimately, the consciousness of broad masses of people does not change through salesmanship, but through transformations in the material circumstances of daily life, for good or ill… at a certain point the comfort provided by the false consciousness of religion is inadquate to the felt anger, frustration, and outrage at the injustices dished out by the rulers to the ruled. The churches, mosques etc. rush in at these moments to emphasize the ‘social justice’ features of their various teachings - in hopes of keeping the lid on… and sometimes succeed.

But the same principle, as I see it, is not applicable in reverse. It is better to swim against the stream of religious nonsense forthrightly and openly, while pointing out who and what is served by instilling the ‘virtues’ of blind obedience preached by the clerics, as a first step in illuminating how society really works under all the forms of ideological BS (not just religion) fed to us day in and day out.

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Posted: 26 August 2008 12:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 69 ]
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Balak - 26 August 2008 11:48 AM

Mr Dowd would have us believe that we can smuggle the scientific, materialist worldview through the closed borders of relgious superstition by covering it with (insincere) outward concessions to faith, and the artful, ‘respectful’ use of ‘night language’ or whatever…

These types of responses remind me of the type that Sam Harris has received when promoting meditation and “mindfulness” as a valid area for research. Likewise, Sam’s critics get so caught up in what the tradition of meditation has often meant (e.g. ideological BS such as pantheism and new age mysticism) that they fail to be able to get at the content of what is actually being proposed.

Balak, would you assume that Einstein was making insincere concessions to faith based merely on the fact that he made reference to “god” in his writings and public statements?

[ Edited: 26 August 2008 01:56 PM by Riley ]
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Posted: 26 August 2008 01:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 70 ]
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THE SACRED EMERGENCE OF NATURE

If you want to know where Connie and I are coming from, as Religious Naturalists, I highly recommend reading an amazing essay by Ursula Goodenough and Terrence Deacon: “The Sacred Emergence of Nature”, which is a chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science.  It is a fabulous introduction to the worldview of emergent evolution (not the religious side of it—just the straight science/philosophy side of it).

I also highly recommend spending some time on the following websites:

THE GREAT STORY: http://www.thegreatstory.org

RELIGIOUS NATURALISM: http://www.religiousnaturalism.org/

~ Michael

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Posted: 26 August 2008 02:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 71 ]
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I think Mr Dowd’s references to Spinoza are misplaced. Spinoza was a tremendously corageous intellect, but extremely circumspect about the dangers of openly coming out as an unbeliever for very practical reasons (it was a good way to get yourself killed).

In contrast, the secular sanctimony being pushed here smacks more of of liberal cowardice in my opinion.

Ultimately, there are few people who come off as more ridculous in history than those - from the French revolutionaries of the 1790s to the Russian radicals like A. Lunacharsky, V. Bogdanov and the other ‘God Builders’ who tried to make science and socialism into a new relgion. They all had in common the attempt to ‘popularize’ a secular and scientific worldview by clothing it in priestly vestments and parading it around in a fog of incense. The masses never bought it… but the significance of a weakened Revolution grovelling before a (secular) altar is never lost on the reactionaries.

In the French case it helped open the gates for the Thermidorian Right and the later emergence of the upstart Napoleon. In Russia, after Stalin consolidated his bureaucratic stranglehold on the land of the October Revolution, he made Lunacharsky personally responsible for promoting the bizarre ‘cult of Lenin.’

[ Edited: 26 August 2008 02:06 PM by Balak ]
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Posted: 26 August 2008 02:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 72 ]
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Balak - 26 August 2008 02:03 PM

there are few people who come off as more ridculous in history than those [...] who tried to make science and socialism into a new relgion. They all had in common the attempt to ‘popularize’ a secular and scientific worldview by clothing it in priestly vestments and parading it around in a fog of incense. The masses never bought it…

...the priestly vestments, gowns,  tassels, ceremonies, greek fraternaty rituals, mascots, cheerleaders, loyalty pledges and bumper-stickers of our universities notwithstanding.

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Posted: 26 August 2008 02:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 73 ]
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Thomas Berry, one of my mentors, often said: “Humanity will never enter a mutually enhancing relationship with the natural world on the resources of the existing religious traditions—and we can’t get there without them.”  I agree.  So allow me to restate in a slightly less arrogant way what I asked in post #67:

1) If anyone on this forum knows of anything more important in the coming decades than assisting religious people the world over (especially here in America) in coming to embrace a science-based evolutionary/ecological worldview, please let me know.  I just don’t see it.

2) If anyone knows of an approach more likely to succeed in this endeavor (or at least be a stepping stone in the right direction) than the one I sketch out in TGFE, please let me know that too.

Thank God for Evolution is Connie’s and my best efforts toward this end.  The Great Story and TGFE websites are our best web efforts along these lines.

I look forward to others succeeding where we fail. Indeed, I can’t think of anything that would make my heart sing more loudly.

~ Michael

[ Edited: 26 August 2008 02:43 PM by Michael Dowd ]
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Posted: 26 August 2008 08:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 74 ]
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Michael Dowd - 26 August 2008 02:40 PM

So allow me to restate in a slightly less arrogant way what I asked in post #67:

1) If anyone on this forum knows of anything more important in the coming decades than assisting religious people the world over (especially here in America) in coming to embrace a science-based evolutionary/ecological worldview, please let me know.  I just don’t see it.

2) If anyone knows of an approach more likely to succeed in this endeavor (or at least be a stepping stone in the right direction) than the one I sketch out in TGFE, please let me know that too.

Michael,

That endeavor is important to you, so by all means pursue it as vigorously as you like. In contrast, I find the prospect at least tedious as trying to teach a pig to sing, and quite possibly just as barking mad. So personally, I won’t spend much time at it.

The most important thing to me is to help reduce the suffering of those with whom I interact. Sometimes the best way to accomplish this by helping them learn critical thinking skills. But I avoid trying to convince them of specific conclusions. If they’re being sensible, calm, and loving, then that’s a good sign they’re suffering is less (and causing less suffering) than someone who is irrational, revved up, and ruthless.

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People often argue over the term “god” without defining it. It is almost as if they are using the same term to refer both to a penguin and to a quiche. While both may contain eggs, that’s hardly their most salient characteristic.

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Posted: 26 August 2008 09:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 75 ]
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Thanks, NH Baritone.  I agree with you.  I’m doing what I feel “called”, “led”, “compelled”, and “inspired” to do, as you are.  In my limited experience of six years of preaching and teaching this perspective in many different religious and non-religious settings, I’m more hopeful than ever that it will work on a large scale.  Time, of course, will tell.  BTW, I discuss what I mean and do not mean by the word “God” in Chapter 7 of Thank God for Evolution: “What Do We Mean by the Word ‘God’”.

Also, for those who might be interested, I just posted on my TGFE blog a response to an atheist with Asperger’s Syndrome who came to one of my evening programs and sent me an email critiquing my perspective as too “Pollyanna” for his taste.

Best,

~ Michael

[ Edited: 26 August 2008 10:04 PM by Michael Dowd ]
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