Tag: Religion

Is religion honest?

September 17, 2010 | By | 37 Replies More
Is religion honest?

Most religious adherents would be aghast if one suggested that they, or their religion, were fundamentally and consistently dishonest. However I believe that is indeed the case.

I read a comment on a recent blog post by Ed Brayton (honesty vs intellectually honest).

Ed’s post argued about the distinction between honesty and intellectual honesty, and noted that intellectual honesty must recognize not only the arguments in support of a position, but also any evidence or arguments against that position.

One of the commenters (Sastra) then made the following case that faith was fundamentally intellectually dishonest:

[…] An intellectually dishonest person blurs the distinction [between being intellectually honest, and being emotionally honest], and seems to confuse fact claims with meaning or value claims. To a person who places emphasis on emotional honesty, strength of conviction is evidence. An attack on an idea, then, is an attack on the person who holds it. The idea is true because it’s emotionally fulfilling: intentions and sincerity matter the most. Therefore, you don’t question, search, or respect dissent. A person who is trying to change your mind, is trying to change you.

For example, I consider religious faith […] to be intellectually dishonest. It is, however, sincerely emotionally honest.

[…] “Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of what is not seen.” There’s a huge emotional component to it, so that one chooses to keep faith in X, the way one might remain loyal to a friend. You defend him with ingenuity and love, finding reasons to explain or excuse evidence against him. He cannot fail: you, however, can fail him, by allowing yourself to be lead into doubt.

Being able to spin any result into support then is a sign of good will, loyalty, reliability, and the ability to stand fast. The focus isn’t on establishing what’s true, but on establishing that you can be “true.” This emotional honesty may or may not be rewarded: the real point, I think, is to value it for its own sake, as a fulfillment of a perceived duty.

This is exactly the case with religion, and religious adherents.

Their faith in their god is entirely emotional, and no amount of material evidence will alter their belief.

They may be entirely honest in their belief, and may be entirely honest in their objection to evidence (cf Karl, Rabel, Walter, et al) but in doing so are being intellectually dishonest, because they refuse to recognize valid and entirely relevant evidence – they conflate with great consistency and verve fact claims with value claims, and deny any difference between them stating it’s all ‘interpretation’.

No, it isn’t all interpretation.

It’s dishonesty.

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A new site for Biblical scholarship?

August 30, 2010 | By | Reply More
A new site for Biblical scholarship?

I have to admit, I enjoy reading about the gaming scene (I live my geek vicariously).

I was therefore delighted/amazed/surprised/dumbfounded to read about a new MMO game called The Bible Online
warning – extremely slow server
The site describes the game as follows

<The Bible Online: Ch1. The Heroes> is based on the first book of the Bible, Genesis. Players can meet and play the real heroes of Genesis, Abraham and his descendants. The game is designed for users to actually experience the Book of Genesis by fulfilling quests of Abraham, which is based on the true stories of the Genesis.
As a MMORTS, players are to lead their tribe, build buildings, maintain resources and engage in warfare with other tribes. However, players do not stay in one place, but will go on a quest to go to the Promised Land. Players will lead Abraham’s tribe from Ur to Haran and finally to Canaan.

Most game sites are very excited, but confidently expect the game to be ‘adult only’ due to the graphic nature of the sex, violence, and general debauchery inherent in the source material.

[H/T – Destructoid and Penny Arcade]

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Religions, evolution and animals that look like people

August 4, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
Religions, evolution and animals that look like people

The 80/20 Rule seems to apply to many areas of life, including the return for the investment one gets from reading. 80% of the excellent ideas I read seem to result from 20% of the authors I read. The trick, then, is to choose carefully when picking up a book. Make sure that the author is a high-quality thinker/writer, and you’ll end up getting a mind expanding education merely by following a few dozen authors. That is my experience, anyway.

For me, one of those high-quality authors is primatologist Frans de Waal. I have just finished De Waal’s most recent book, The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society (2009) (here is my earlier post on this same book). De Waal makes so many compelling points in his book that I’m tempted to simply throw up my hands and urge everyone to go read this book. Truly, there is a terrific new idea or two every few pages, most of which have application to the increasingly strained modern human condition. Image by s-dmit at Dreamstime.com (with permission)

Starting around page 206, De Waal makes a strong case for the emotional continuity between all animals (and especially other primates) and human animals. Yet, so many people or uncomfortable with the existence of this continuity. They would much rather believe that humans are not animals, and that humans somehow stand outside of nature, whereas all the other animals are part of nature. I have written before about the importance of recognizing that humans don’t stand outside of nature, but that we are full-fledged animals.

De Waal believes that this reluctance to talk about our animal emotions is caused by certain types of religious, “particularly religions that arose in isolation from animals that look like us.” He explains:

With monkeys and apes around every corner, no rain forest culture has ever produced a religion that places humans outside of nature. Similarly, in the East–surrounded by native primates in India, China, and Japan–religions don’t draw a sharp line between humans and other animals. Reincarnation occurs in many shapes and forms: a man may become a fish and a fish may become God. Monkey gods, such as Hanuman, are common. Only the Judeo-Christian religions place humans on a pedestal, making them the only species with a soul. It’s not hard to see how desert nomads might have arrived at this view. Without animals to hold up a mirror to them, the notion that were alone came naturally to them. They saw themselves as created in God’s image and as the only intelligent life on earth. Even today we’re so convinced of this that we search for other of such life by training powerful telescopes on distant galaxies.

De Waal describes how shocked Westerners were when chimpanzees and monkeys started arriving at Western zoos in the 1830s. He points out that this exposure to other primates occurred relatively recently for many Westerners, “long after Western religion had spread its creed of human exceptionalism to all corners of knowledge.”

De Waal’s idea is as powerful as it is elegant. It makes good sense too. People who are exposed to a variety of animals with various gradations of “humanness” would certainly be more comfortable with the idea of biological continuity, with his Darwinian idea that human animals are cousins with every other living thing on the planet.

De Waal clarifies that we Westerners are actually inconsistent with regard to our resistance to this idea that we are continuous with all other life forms. We stack the deck:

When it comes to characteristics that we don’t like about ourselves, continuity is rarely an issue. As soon as people kill, abandon, rape, or otherwise mistreat one another, we are quick to blame it on our genes. Warfare and aggression are widely recognized as biological traits, and no one thinks twice about pointing at ants or chimps for parallels. It’s only with regard to noble characteristics that continuity is an issue and empathy is a case in point.

De Waal points out that many well-accomplished scientists have worked feverishly to seek “specialness” in humans. They focus their efforts on trying to find something to distinguish humans from the “animals.” As De Waal suggests, they are likely to “discover” that these differences are most pronounced in the noble traits. It’s time to recognize the one-sidedness of these efforts, however.

My main point, however, is not whether the proposed distinctions are real or imagined, but why all of them need to be in our favor. Aren’t humans at least equally special with respect to torture, genocide, deception, exploitation, indoctrination, and environmental destruction? Why does every list of human distinctiveness need to have the flavor of a feel-good note?

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Mark Tiedemann wraps up

July 21, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
Mark Tiedemann wraps up

Over the past few days, I’ve been publishing sections of an engaging discussion with Mark Tiedemann that I videotaped about a year ago. I only recently got around to cutting the session up into individual videos, but the delay allowed me to enjoy the discussion anew, and it also allowed me to appreciate more than ever that the topics that draw Mark’s attention tend to be relatively timeless. As you can probably see, this discussion was spontaneous. I went to Mark’s house with a video camera and a few general topics scribbled down, no specific agenda. We both allowed the conversation go where it wanted to go.

In these final two videos from last year’s discussion, the topics are VI) The importance of knowing history and VII) Church and State.

I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know Mark as much as I have. If you’d like to know more about Mark’s way of viewing and analyzing the world, he has already posted almost 200 articles at DI, all of them readily available.

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Mark Tiedemann Interview – Parts IV and V

July 19, 2010 | By | Reply More
Mark Tiedemann Interview – Parts IV and V

This is a continuation of my interview of Mark Tiedemann, who is both an established science fiction writer and an author here at Dangerous Intersection.

In the first video in this post, Part IV, Mark discusses science, religion and morality. In the second video in this post, Part V, he discusses sex.

I had an extensive discussion with Mark, and I will actually have one more post featuring video of our conversation. I expect that those will be published tomorrow night.

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Mending Fences – Part V – the Final Installment

July 15, 2010 | By | 12 Replies More
Mending Fences – Part V – the Final Installment

This post contains the final section (Part V) of Mending Fences, my attempt to grapple with how to handle religious differences (here is Part I of this series).

Where do we go from here?

It doesn’t take a genius to see that religion is deeply important to believers. You can see it in their eyes when a skeptic questions their tenets of “faith.” To me, that “look” is as though the skeptic is trying to tempt them to abandon the safety of a pre-modern community, which would cause them to get eaten by wolves in the forest. That’s the look I often get (or perhaps I’m projecting).

Even if the crazy things believers say aren’t true, they seem important to believers. When skeptics start to circle believers and display their skeptical questions, it seems to believers that we are tying to destroy something that is vitally important to them. Most good-hearted believers change the topic or run away. Other believers become aggressive or even violent. This puzzle some atheists, but wouldn’t you become violent if someone tried to destroy something you believed to be critically important? How, for example, would you feel if someone defaced your mother’s grave? Would you stay calm? Or would become angry? Maybe we don’t understand why believers believe their far-fetched religious stories, but certainly should be able to understand their emotional reactions when skeptics seem to take delight defacing and destroying aspects of religion that (somehow) have value for a believer.

Still, where does this bizarre stand-off leave us?

[More . . . ]

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Mending Fences, Part IV – The many things we have in common

July 14, 2010 | By | 4 Replies More
Mending Fences, Part IV – The many things we have in common

This is Part IV of a series of post titled “Mending Fences.” Part I begins here.

The many things we have in common

Drawing stark lines to divide people into groups often invites suspicion and hostility. Instead of bifurcating humanity into two mutually exclusive groups–believers and atheists—we should carefully reconsider the degree to which atheists and believers are different. To the extent that we discover that we actually share interests, including a mutual interest in better understanding our differences, we dissolve big hurdles to working together.

Whether we see each other as essentially similar or essentially different depends on whether we are focusing on our similarities or our differences. When we consider the ways that believers and atheists are similar, we can quickly think of enough things we have in common to fill encyclopedias. Most of us enjoy good food, good music and fresh air. We contribute to flood victims together. We throw muggers in jail together. We want our children learn to appreciate Shakespeare, mathematics and history together at school. We shop together, work together, celebrate most of our holidays together (even religious holidays) and we all struggle to understand how it was that we ended up on this spinning planet. Most believers and most atheists have another thing in common: they are both attacked by religious fundamentalists. We are so much alike in so many ways that a Venn diagram illustrating the overlap of atheists and believers would present itself as an eclipse.

Truly, a Martian anthropologist who carefully observed the day-to-day behavior of most believers and most atheists would be perplexed to hear us grumbling about our differences. For that anthropologist, trying to differentiate humans based on our outward behavior would be as difficult as it is for humans trying to discern differences among the worker ants in an ant colony. Well, except for one hour per week when the believers went into a building with a steeple on top. Except for that hour, though, it would be almost impossible to tell who is who based on the way we live our lives.

[More . . . ]

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Mending Fences, Part III – Calling a Truce and Considering the Science

July 14, 2010 | By | 19 Replies More
Mending Fences, Part III  – Calling a Truce and Considering the Science

This is the third installment of a series of postings I’ve titled “Mending Fences.” You’ll find the first installment here.

It’s time to call a truce.

Until recently, I didn’t think of atheism as a political movement; it didn’t occur to me that I was being systematically victimized. Rather, I commonly thought of a long personal history of rude, arrogant, and exclusionary behavior directed at individual atheists by individual theists. More recently, though, it has become apparent that atheists are victims of rampant bigotry. How else could you describe a situation where 15% of American adults are atheists, yet only one member of Congress (Pete Stark of California) has ever admitted to being an atheist? Thanks to the new atheists, atheists are now part of something that is akin to a civil rights movement.

Based on historical precedent, though, civil rights movements don’t become successful when they encourage their members to be angry and to call the the aggressors “stupid,” at least not in the long run. Nor is it productive to frame what we want to accomplish as a “war” on ignorance, or any other type of war, because “wars” (on drugs, terrorism) usually polarize opposing camps indefinitely. To stop discrimination against non-believers, we should borrow the successful methods used by women, blacks, gays and other oppressed minorities. In short, we need to add a strong educational component to our movement. Most of the people who make derogatory comments do so without examining the roots of their aggressive impulses. I agree with Hannah Arendt who, in Eichmann in Jerusalem, argued that most damage is not done by people trying to cause damage, but by normal people who fail to think things through—that is the nature of what Arendt termed “the banality of evil.”

How do we counteract deep unexamined prejudices against atheists? We need to be savvy about our PR. We should patiently show others who we are. We need to show believers that we don’t threaten their way of life except to the extent that they must stop slandering non-believers. I doubt that theists lay awake at night worrying about happy atheists; rather, in my experience, theists are far more haunted by images of snarly know-it-all in-your-face atheists. We need to promulgate images of friendly faces of real atheist Americans. After all, functional atheists have lives the stretch far beyond sitting around fretting about people who believe in “God.”

We must also become visible. If all of the atheist Americans glowed as dots on a national map, everyone flying overhead would see tens of millions of law-abiding atheists from coast to coast. We are taxpayers. We fight in the military. We are actors, housewives, musicians, business people, parents, police officers, scientists and teachers. We are inextricably socially connected to believers. We are their brothers, daughters, co-workers and neighbors. We give to charity too, including prominent atheists who give billions to help the poor (e.g., Bill Gates and Warren Buffett). We spend disproportionately less time in prison than those who believe in God.

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Mending Fences, Part II – My Concern with Anti-Religious Atheism

July 12, 2010 | By | 28 Replies More
Mending Fences, Part II – My Concern with Anti-Religious Atheism

[Note: This is Part II of a series of posts being the title “Mending Fences”]

When Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and the other “new atheists” first launched their attacks on religion a few years ago, I was delighted. After decades of relative silence, the mass media was finally giving some atheists a chance to present my view that virgins don’t have babies and that dead people don’t regain consciousness. Harris, Dawkins and other new atheists dared to argue in public that there is no sentient version of God; they reminded believers that all believers were atheists regarding Zeus, as well as all of the purported gods other than their own God. The writings of the new atheists energized considerable discussion, much of it thoughtful. Even a cursory review of the many websites and YouTube videos considering religion makes it clear that many teenagers and young adults have actively joined discussions triggered by the new atheists.

In the wake of this energized discussion, many of us became proficient at pointing out the hundreds of contradictions and absurdities in the Bible. We repeatedly called foul whenever we spotted theists cherry-picking the Bible (none of you are wearing clothes made of linen and wool, I hope!). We repeatedly reminded believers of Carl Sagan’s caveat that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Many of us dug even deeper, studying the philosophy of science, so that we could clearly explain to believers that to be meaningful, claims had to be falsifiable. Not that these arguments actually convinced believers (at least, not in my personal experience), but they did serve to announce our view that religious claims must no longer be privileged—they shouldn’t be assumed to be true and that they must be put under the microscope (as Daniel Dennett urged in Breaking the Spell) like every other natural phenomenon. We made it clear that we weren’t convinced when believers attempted to explain their beliefs by reference to ancient apocryphal supposedly-sacred writings strewn with ambiguity and self-contradictions. Thanks to the arrival of the new atheists, all of these important issues started receiving unflinching media attention.

These past few years have been emotionally and intellectually exhilarating for skeptics of all stripes. Those of us who have maintained skeptical websites have become further energized and intellectually sharpened by reading each others’ posts and by carefully re-reading the Bible and the Koran armed with scalpels rather than intellectual queasiness. The books and media appearances of the new atheists, as well as the many websites by hundreds of newly awakened atheists, have created a community where there had previously been only isolated individuals. The work of the new atheists thus revealed to each of us that none of us was alone in scrutinizing and criticizing the supernatural claims of religions. Many energized atheists have boldly stepped out of their closets and started becoming vocal as a group, especially when believers callously asserted that all atheists are ipso facto immoral and hell-bound.

[More . . .]

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