New Atheism Produces Another Curiously Uncurious Science v. Religion Book

Jerry Coyne is an evolutionary biologist, a professor at the University of Chicago, and a prominent atheist blogger, who writes mostly about why faith is stupid (and quite a bit about cats). His new book, Faith Vs. Fact, is a 250-page critique of religion couched in a more modest epistemological argument. “Science and religion,” he writes, “are competitors in the business of finding out what is true about our universe. In this goal religion has failed miserably, for its tools for discerning ‘truth’ are useless.”

Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible
Jerry A. Coyne
Viking (May 19, 2015)

It takes chutzpah to argue that most living humans navigate reality incorrectly. But this particular form of chutzpah has become familiar—so much so that it runs the risk of being boring. Do we really need another book arguing that the faithful don’t have the evidence on their side?

Maybe. But Coyne doesn’t manage to demonstrate that his book is a necessary addition to that little canon. Instead, Faith Vs. Fact consists mostly of rewarmed arguments from other New Atheist writers. Coyne’s analyses of religion are largely confined to tired smackdowns of marginal groups. The Mormon origin story doesn’t quite make sense! Nation of Islam stories sound weird to outsiders! Islam in general is especially dangerous because “the tight connection between Islam and politics means that beliefs are directly converted to law—often sharia law.” (Cue the ominous music). Faith in general just doesn’t make sense.

We’ve read this all before. So, why bother to review FvF at all? At first, I wasn’t planning to do so, but FvF is useful, insofar as it highlights the questions that Coyne and his intellectual allies seem ill-equipped to ask.

For me, the most revealing part of the book occurs in the opening pages, where Coyne writes:

in the last five hundred years there have been conflicts between science and faith—not continuous conflict, but occasional and famous moments of public hostility. The two most notable ones are Galileo’s squabble with the church…and the 1925 Scopes ‘Monkey Trial’ involving a titanic clash between Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan over whether a Tennessee high-school teacher could tell his students that humans had evolved (the jury ruled no).

A couple of pages later, Coyne refers to “the persecutions of Galileo and John Scopes.” The conflation of the two is clumsy—and telling.

Equating Scopes with Galileo is, at best, a display of historical ignorance; at worst, it’s an exercise in willful blindness. Galileo was an intellectual pioneer. Scopes was the main actor in a show trial. The whole Scopes affair was a publicity stunt, conceived by the civic leaders of the not-terribly-pious town of Dayton, Tennessee, in order to draw attention to their local struggles. Scopes volunteered to take part in the legal drama. A football coach who taught physics, not biology, Scopes was no crusading evolutionist.

Darrow and Bryan were only too happy to burnish their public reputations. The trial was the nation’s first to be broadcast by radio, and it turned into a major media event. The narrative that emerged—principally, of Northern urbanites versus rural Southerners—had obvious links to historical grievances and social power. It also helped shape the modern American creationist movement, which Coyne mistakenly portrays as the cause of the Scopes Trial, rather than a product of its outcome.

I’ve written about this Scopes history before, but it’s not exactly new; the scholar Edward Larson, some of whose other research Coyne cites, wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the topic in 1997.

Details, details: Coyne will have none of it. “Although both of these incidents,” he writes (of Scopes and Galileo), “have been recast by accomodationist theologians and historians as not involving genuine conflict between science and religion—it’s always construed as ‘politics,’ ‘power,’ or ‘personal animosity’—the religious roots of these disputes are clear.”

Sure: the religious roots are clear. But it’s quite a stretch to describe a staged trial, starring a former presidential candidate and a celebrity lawyer, as somehow not really being about politics and power.

Why am I harping on this one detail? Because it strikes at the core perspective behind FvF. The thrust of Coyne’s project is not just to tackle Big Bad Faith. More deeply, Coyne wants to frame our conversations about religion and science as, fundamentally, a conversation about ideas—specifically, good ideas (science!) versus bad ones (faith). For thinkers like Coyne, the power struggles and politics are distractions. Ultimately, it’s the quality of a person’s thinking that’s at stake.

In some ways, I admire Coyne’s position. There’s a purity to this brand of intellectualism, which rests on a profound confidence in the power of ideas. The opposite approach can be a kind of cynicism (of which I have at times been guilty)—a sense that all these conflicts are just about power, and power alone, such that the content of the beliefs themselves is somehow besides the point.

Coyne and his fellow New Atheist writers are at their gadfly finest when they remind us that people really are motivated by beliefs, and that the specific details of ideas can indeed influence our actions. In the case of Coyne and many of his intellectual allies, what emerges is a vision of a world in which reasoned argument—in which being right—can cure religion and the social ills that supposedly accompany it.

That’s an idealistic, even utopian vision. One need not be cynical to call it naïve. “The ability of people to ignore inconvenient truths that conflict with their faith, whether or not the faith be religious, is astonishing,” Coyne writes, confused that not everyone may have the willingness—or the luxury—to let ideas trump convenience.

Actually, the use of the term “inconvenient” is rather strange here. If you’re a coal miner, the reality of climate change is probably more than an inconvenience for you, especially if climate policy costs you a job. Not everyone is an affluent, tenured Chicagoan who gets paid to think. With his obsessive focus on the correctness of ideas, Coyne is blind to the ways in which class and power can entangle themselves with any kind of belief (including, perhaps, Coyne’s own).

That blindness is chronic; there are essential questions that Coyne doesn’t even think to ask. For example, in a book about the harmful incompatibility of science and religion, he never explains why it’s inherently bad to sometimes hold logically inconsistent beliefs. Within the purity of this ideas-above-all mindset, that awfulness is simply a given. But for those of us curious about the inconsistencies and weirdnesses of actual human experience, it’s not.

I’d love to see some evidence (does Coyne have it?) that holding some inconsistent beliefs is frequently harmful because of that inconsistency.

Or take one of Coyne’s central premises, that “religious claims are empirical hypotheses.” In other words: religious groups make claims about the world that are directly comparable, in their aims and in their applications, to scientific statements.

Setting aside the circular logic of using the methods of science to illustrate the non-science-ness of religion, intuitively this analogy feels strange. If a doctor realizes that I’m dying, she’ll try to intervene immediately. But while my neighbor might think I’m going straight to hell, he generally doesn’t literally run over and try to save me from the fiery pit with every possible effort, which suggests that something a bit more complicated is going on here than a straightforward claim about the universe and our role in it.

When ideas, and ideas alone, are what interest you, though, these finer shades of context don’t seem to matter quite so much. To back his equation of faith claims with scientific claims, Coyne leans on the source of evidence—surveys—that gives the most abstracted version of the messy ways in which people actually think and believe. These are the kind of surveys that ask questions about things like whether you go to church “to worship God” or for “the feeling of community.” They tend to conclude that people take their faith claims very, very literally—in a way that does, indeed, have the rigorous clarity of scientific fact.

Coyne doesn’t seem to consider that how people live their lives, and how people answer IRB-approved questions about intimate topics posed by complete strangers, aren’t entirely congruent. And he pretty much ignores ethnographic analysis of religious groups and the formation of faith.

For someone who has written an entire book about the power of evidence, the omission of such a major field of inquiry is an enormous oversight. Find me an anthropologist who grounds her theory of global culture in a handful of multiple choice surveys, and I’ll find you an anthropologist without a job. Coyne is a biology professor, diving into the territory of other academic fields; why not live up to the standards they set? Once again, the blindness: when the ideas are everything, their formation and application don’t matter.

Coyne isn’t wrong so much as he’s asking old, somewhat lazy questions. Does a scientific worldview provide more accurate knowledge of the world than a faith-based worldview? isn’t a hard question to ask when most of your readers are atheists.

In the process, he avoids the more difficult questions. Is a consistent system of thought an inherent good for an individual? Is a privately-held, unverified belief always harmful? How should one critique the beliefs of a culture other than your own? What would be the challenges of a society in which there were only one method for probing reality?

Coyne doesn’t go there in Faith Vs. Fact. And it’s hard to imagine him doing so. While he seems genuinely fascinated by the ideas that religious movements propose, he seems markedly uninterested in the people who hold them. A commitment to the power of ideas is only half the recipe for strong intellectual inquiry. The other half—the one that’s missing here—is a thirst for new and unfamiliar ways of seeing; which is to say, curiosity.

  • Jim Reed

    That is true. Even Galileo was just a disagreement between him and the pope, and not directly about religion. The only one who strikes at the heart of religion is Darwin because his book showed the Bible is just made up stories that can’t possibly be true.

  • Frank

    Another example of the bankruptcy of atheism.

  • Frank

    It shows no such thing. Evolution could be the mechanism of God. Plus there is proof of micro evolution but none for macro evolution.

  • DKeane123

    Sorry this is long, but a couple of points to counter. BTW – Haven’t read the book, but am thinking about getting it now.

    “It takes chutzpah to argue that most living humans navigate reality incorrectly.” – All humans navigate reality incorrectly, just some more than others. Our brains see agency everywhere, and our perceptions of events vary from person to person. Coyne likely holds beliefs that are not true.

    Islam is not a marginal group (neither is Mormonism for that matter).

    ” is a vision of a world in which reasoned argument—in which being right—can cure religion and the social ills that supposedly accompany it.” – Not sure I’ve ever heard an atheist of credibility (however defined) claim that reasoned argument will cure social ills. It certainly would rob those that would use religion as a justification to withhold rights from homosexuals (out groups) or to defend traditions that are clearly a detriment to society. I know a little less focus on religious purity and a better understanding of humans as a branch of Great Apes would help.

    “Setting aside the circular logic of using the methods of science to illustrate the non-science-ness of religion.” – How else do we figure out which claim is true or not? Should we give equal weight to statements Dr. Chopra and Dr. Hawkins? How do we figure out which one more closely maps to reality?

    “But while my neighbor might think I’m going straight to hell, he generally doesn’t literally run over and try to save me from the fiery pit with every possible effort.” – Ever read stories from children about their god-fearing parents worrying to no end that their child will burn in hell? CNN just did a special on it. Mormons/JWs come to my house regularly to save me from that pit. And I live in the least religious state in the nation.

    “Does a scientific worldview provide more accurate knowledge of the world than a faith-based worldview? isn’t a hard question to ask when most of your readers are atheists.” – This has nothing to do with readership, and everything to do with the historical scorecard and how useful the knowledge gained is. Medical science has dropped the infant mortality rate from 50% to 9.7 of 1,000 births is the poorest state in the nation.

    “Is a privately-held, unverified belief always harmful?” – Not sure about always. But it can be manipulated for politics or other means. And why do they have to be privately held? Lots of unverified beliefs are publicly held and used to campaign against stem cell research, IVF treatments, equal rights, and so forth. Control over my wife’s infertility isn’t about power or politics – it is because little 20 celled blastocysts have an eternal soul.

  • DKeane123

    If it is a mechanism of God – it is the most bloody and violent way of arriving at his ultimate creation. >99.9% of all species that ever lived are extinct.

    As a geologist, I’ve had enough education in the fossil record to understand you know nothing about the evidence for evolution.

  • Frank

    Then you should be able to conclusively prove macroevolution. I’ll wait but wont hold my breath.

  • DKeane123

    The entire fossil record. Older sedimentary rocks consistently have simpler organisms that evolve into more complex organisms in newer rocks. At no time do we find a human femur in with a dinosaur bone – if this were to happen all of evolution would come into question. Throw modern genetics, and the human influenced evolution of our food sources and you have a very convincing argument. Additionally, you would have to assume that all biologists are mistaken or actively involved in a conspiracy.

  • Frank

    Once again macroevolution seems to be a slam dunk. There are still many holes and nothing conclusive regarding macroevolution. I’m not saying that it isn’t true as it wouldn’t affect my faith one bit.

  • DKeane123

    You state macro twice. Regardless, you prove Coyne’s point very well.

  • Frank

    Yes sorry first is meant or be micro.

    Coyne has no salient or cogent point. He is a mess.

  • DKeane123

    I’ll read the book and consider his arguments before deciding on how much of a mess he is.

  • NewAndImprovedCM

    “The only one who strikes at the heart of religion is Darwin because his book showed the Bible is just made up stories that can’t possibly be true.”

    This sounds like the statement of someone who has never read either Darwin or the Bible, or else someone who doesn’t care how grotesquely he exaggerates in making a point. Darwin’s work more or less showed that (portions of) the first two chapters of Genesis “can’t possibly be true,” but it had nothing whatever to say about the possible truth of, say, Exodus. Archaeology is a more useful study than biology regarding that “made up story.”

  • Rmj

    You’re confusing Darwin with German biblical scholarship of the same century.

    And confusing “true” with “historically verifiable.” Funny, most of modern theology and biblical scholarship is quite comfortable with the idea that there is, for example, no “Red Sea” in Egypt, or that Abraham was probably more a literary character than an historical one.

    The only people upset by that kind of information are the fundies, who yell and scream about it, and sound like a lot more people than they actually are. The rest of Christianity has gotten on with it. Not quite sure why Coyne can’t.

  • Jim Reed

    That always leads back to the question of what is Christianity if the Bible is not God’s word? Does this mean no heaven and hell, and God is not actually making promises to us in the Bible?

  • Jim Reed

    Exodus archaeology is also an important topic, but with the beginning of Genesis gone, doesn’t that also mean no Adam, no Noah, no Abraham. They were all made up the same as the creation story was made up.

  • cranefly

    New Atheism is the designer tattered jeans of philosophy. The latter is rebellion against capitalism put on sale by capitalism; the former is rebellion against idiocy, by and for idiots.

  • Frank

    You are welcome to do so. I have a million things to do that would be a better use of my time.

  • NancyP

    Well, my problem with the new atheism is that it doesn’t address WHY people believe (or not), what they get out of it, how it affects their daily lives, and so on. I think that conversion and walkaway (loss of belief) processes are fascinating insights into culture and individual psychological / emotional processes.

    On the practical end, I don’t care if somebody “believes in” Jesus Christ, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the eight-fold way, or zip, if they behave in a decent manner and have the humility to recognize that they could be wrong – and if they respect the right of other people to live their own lives with different belief systems.

    Science and story-telling have different functions. This should be obvious.

  • NancyP

    Exodus archaeology also shows that the Exodus story is not “as written”. That doesn’t mean that the Exodus story is irrelevant. Among other things, it is a foundation story for the Civil Rights Movement. Stories can motivate for good or for evil (often for both).

  • DKeane123

    Because everything is true until shown to be false by science or historical scholarship. At that point it automatically becomes metaphor.

  • NewAndImprovedCM

    Well yeah, if God didn’t create the world, then you and I don’t exist either and we aren’t having this discussion.

    Your previous comment claims that Darwin’s “book showed the Bible is just made up stories that can’t possibly be true.” That’s just wrong. In the first place, Darwin wrote more than one book, and in the second place none of them “showed the Bible is just made-up stories.” What they showed is a way of understanding life-forms in a way that seems to render the Genesis story irrelevant.

    The Bible certainly is made up of stories, but proving one story definitively false doesn’t prove the whole thing false. Or do you think that because George Washington didn’t really chop down that cherry tree, he wasn’t really the first president of the United States?

  • Camera Obscura

    Being of the opinion that Jerry Coyne only writes rationally when he has an editor over him or when his professional reputation depends on what gets on the page, I’m not going to read another one of his books or articles.

    I wonder what he would say if someone pointed out to him that not only that Galileo remained a Catholic, that lots of his supporters during and after the trial were Cardinals, Bishops and other Catholic clerics but that after the Scopes Trial, John Scopes converted to Catholicism.

    The fact is that better scientists and rationalists than Jerry Coyne have been religious. His ideological cult has to pretend that those people don’t exist or to ignore their existence.

    Not to mention that science has often adopted ideas that turn out to not be factually based, some of them have been based on assumptions based on favored theories. Evolutionary Psychology is one of those I think will be added to the bone yard of discontinued science along with the eugenics and scientific racism which were taught in the textbook John Scopes was using when he was summoned to court. I would imagine that when he converted he may have given up any of those ideas, widely held by scientists in the pre-war and post war period, even such renowned scientists as Francis Crick, R.A. Fisher, William Shockley, and many others retained a belief in it as do many others, still today. One of the foremost opponents of eugenics was the Catholic Church.

  • cmbennett01

    And evolution could be a mechanism of Bob. The the significance of evolutionary theory is that no agent required to explain the diversity of life on the planet. The macro/micro evolution controversy is not a controversy. It is distinction manufactured by creationists as part of their “wedge strategy”. Evolution is an observable fact it is not a theory. It has been observed over very short time frames for simple organisms, and in small changes in complex organisms over periods of decades. The theory of natural selection (Darwinism) is a theory that is supported by all evidence from the geological record as well as biology, anthropology, and evolutionary genetics. To date there is no other theory that accounts for the diversity of life on the planet. Jerry Coyne’s views on evolutionary biology are in accord with those of 99.9% of all scientists in the field. They are not controversial. You may reject the evidence for evolution if you choose, but that is by definition irrational.

  • cranefly

    Or that Galileo was invited by inquisitors to prove the Copernican theory, but he couldn’t and didn’t, because the Copernican theory he worked with was still wrong in many ways (circular orbits, etc). Or that the person who discovered elliptical orbits, Kepler, was excommunicated by the Lutheran church (not for heliocentrism) but stubbornly kept attending. Copernicus himself was a canon in the Catholic Church, a pretty easy job that gave him plenty of time to think about math. Science and religion are both complicated. Pitting them against each other is reductive and polemical.

  • cmbennett01

    I’m quite certain the Jerry Coyne, like any educated scientist today realizes that many of those that preceded him were religious as are a few working scientists today. The point is that the cumulative body of scientific knowledge serves to undermine religious belief. If religion confined itself to metaphysical speculation about some immaterial “greater power”, there would be no conflict. Science has nothing to say about anything that is immaterial. Religion, however makes claims about the physical universe; claims that are demonstrably wrong. What distinguished science from theology is that scientific theories are revised to conform with accumulated evidence, religious ideology is not. What you describe as a flaw in science is in fact what gives it it’s legitimacy. The comfortable, technologically advanced world you live in is a testament to effectiveness of the scientific method. What gets people so worked up about Jerry Coyne are his political views. It seems he is of the opinion that religion no longer deserves it’s privileged place in society. He is probably right. All you examples of good decent people who were Christians is irrelevant. There are as many examples of those who weren’t. Most of the murders, thieves, and other criminals in Americas prisons are after all Christians or adherents of some other religion. Religion is no guarantee against atrocity, as history has shown. It is also pretty easy to make the case that it is often the church that is standing in the way of progress and justice.

  • NewAndImprovedCM

    Science is story-telling.

  • Jim Reed

    Proving one story definitely false does prove the Bible is not God’s word.

    Scientific work does explain things about life and nature in ways that the guesses in ancient writings never could.

  • Jim Reed

    The civil rights movement needs to learn to get by without the Exodus because it is just a story that never happened. Civil rights is a lot more important than Bible stories.

  • seashell

    Macroevolution is microevolution continued over an extended period of time. If you believe in microevolution, you believe in macroevolution by default. Unless you’re a creationist. In that case, the disbelief is on you, not within macroevolution, which is not harmed a bit by your disbelief.

  • Camera Obscura

    Not only that, if Coyne had bothered to read Copernicus he would see he dedicated it to Pope Paul III talked about the support he had had from bishops, reproducing a letter of encouragement to publish from a Cardinal. The previous pope had also encouraged him to publish after attending some lectures on Copernicus’ ideas, as I recall, given by a priest.

  • Camera Obscura

    Anyone who believes the first sentence in Genesis would believe that God created the universe as it is, no matter what human description of the universe is. Anyone who really believes that could not have that faith shaken by anything that science finds. Science studies that same universe that someone who believes that believes in. It doesn’t belong to atheists, it doesn’t belong to science.

    What gets people worked up about Jerry Coyne is that he is a bigot who often speaks out of ignorance and with a clear hatred of the large majority of the human population who do not share his atheism. His ideology is political poison in a democracy where he and those who share his ideology delight and relish nothing more than insulting the vast majority of people who vote in order to assert their own superiority. I really think that’s what’s eating them, that the vast majority of people do not automatically acknowledge their superiority and adopt their thinking. His particularly furious rage is reserved for scientists who do not adopt his thinking whether over religion or over matters of science, as can be seen in his rage over his disagreements with James Shapiro.

    Anyone who is a murderer or a thief is bad at being a Christian, both of which are forbidden by Christianity, though stealing in need is actually something that Jesus excused. You can’t say the same thing about atheism which doesn’t hold that those are moral wrongs. Natural selection doesn’t, either. the struggle for existence it lays out as the engine of evolution consists of killing and taking resources, including in the human population. Charles Darwin, in The Descent of Man promoted the idea that the deaths of weaker people at the hands of stronger people was a means of “improving the stock”

    “With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health.”

    In a book which was widely viewed as reliable science by the all time favorite scientist of his ideology. So science certainly contains no prohibition on murder or theft, either. I’d like to see the scientific paper that contains those prohibitions and what reviewed journals they were published in.

    For Coyne to blame murder on a religion that forbids it while his ideology and his proposed winner in a struggle against religion doesn’t contain any prohibition against it. I, personally, think that fact is why the undisputed champions of murder in the 20th century were atheists, dictators of officially scientific, anti-religious regimes who did more than Coyne’s side here ever will to try to suppress religion, yet it survived. And it may continue if the products of science, such benefits to the world as given by nuclear weapons science, extraction industry geology and engineering and other forms of pollution don’t end up leading to our extinction.

    Coyne’s view of science is romantic and unrealistic in the extreme, it is ridiculous when the benefits and the perils it has given us, the noble acts of scientists and the evil ones are all taken into account. You can say the same thing about religion, though religion has never given us the means to cause our own extinction. It does, though, contain a prohibition on causing death to innocent people, being cruel and unjust. Some of it even contains the idea that we are to do to other people what we would like them to do to us, to give food, clothing, housing and other sustenance to the poor, the sick, the weak and the unintelligent and to forgive those who persecute us and to pray for them. Which would seem to be totally foreign to the thinking of many atheists.

  • DKeane123

    Church was the only game in town and the worldview was such that it was inconceivable to exist outside of that organization. So to say that X scientist dedicated this or so and so was excommunicated (this is what you bring for support?) and still went to church is not evidence for anything.

  • Camera Obscura

    First, even if it were “the only game in town”, which it wasn’t, the fact is that the Catholic Church supported Copernicus in his science. In his letter to the Duchess of Tuscany, Galileo points out that the Church thought so highly of Copernicus that it asked him to help reform the calendar and, since unlike Coyne and almost every other atheist I’ve ever heard gas on about the topic, he’d read Copernicus, he also pointed out the support from Cardinals, bishops and Popes for Copernicus’ solar centered model of the universe. The argument is that the church was opposed to science when it supported science so Coyne et al lose that one, hands down, based on the evidence.

    Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller weren’t under anyone’s thumb when they led the development of the atomic and nuclear bombs. The scientists who first produced nuclear fission or, for that matter, the theories that led to those were under no one’s thumb as they did what they did.

    And, since you bring up Kim Il Sung, there is nothing in either atheism or science that marks what he does as immoral. In a world and in minds ruled by science, alone, there would be nothing to identify what he and his regime do as being evil or immoral. In the introduction to The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin said that he agreed with Ernst Haeckel’s The History of Creation to the extent that if he’d seen the book before he’d gotten very far in writing The Descent of Man he would have stopped writing his book because he was in such total agreement with Haeckel. In that book Haeckel explicitly lays out his theory of materialist monism the triumph of which he attributes to Darwin – you can read both books for yourself and see what I mean, both of those men say what they do in books they presented as rigorous science and which was taken and to some extent still are regarded as rigorous science. In Haeckels’ book his system is amoral and he continually advocates the benefits of killing off those he identifies as weaker, his advocacy for killing the mentally and physically disabled could have been adopted, intact, as the basic plan of the Nazi T4 extermination program. Again, if you don’t believe me, you can read the book for yourself and see. You can include frequent encouragments for infanticide and in both books you can read rather disturbingly optimistic predictions for the extermination of entire racial groups at the hands of “superior” people.

    Haeckel is certainly not an outlier in the culture of atheism, his books were translated by Joseph McCabe, the most famous English atheist in the period before Bertrand Russell or A. J. Ayer took that title from him, they were popular with atheist publishers who excerpted or reprinted his books right up to today’s Prometheus Books, under Paul Kurtz. He is mainstream atheist thinking.

    I would advocate everyone do what few do and actually read what such heroes of atheism actually say. And I could add to Nietzsche to that list, someone adored by many other atheists more revered than read such as Emma Goldman. The literature of atheism is as depraved as a superficial reading of the Book of Judges would seem, only it pretends to be scientific. And science is helpless to reject their claims in their advocacy of violence and murder.

    Neither science, nor atheism contains a prohibition against murder or genocide, though they certainly can be used to advocate both.

  • DKeane123

    For all the prohibitions on murder and genocide – your morally superior church doesn’t seem to stand on high ground either – you are cherry picking your history. Again, leading the way with the Vatican statement this past week that the Irish gay marriage vote being a “defeat for humanity”. If Coyne or any atheist said something similar, I wouldn’t give them the time of day – never mind attend put my rear in a seat for them every Sunday.

    And as far as not all scientists being atheists – what does that prove? They are human and prone to all the same mistakes any of us are? That indoctrination is hard to overcome? Did these people publish any work on religion to show it had any real world claims to knowledge? I’ll let you get the last comment. Please – keep the anecdotes coming (Newton believed in alchemy – so it must have some truth to it), as if they are evidence for anything.

  • Camera Obscura

    Your description of religion is nothing like my experience of religion it is an atheist stereotype of religion.

    You do know that science has nothing to say about civil rights, it can’t define or identify civil rights, not even a right to choose to have an abortion or to try to have a baby through science based medicine. Where do you find those rights in the scientific literature, how do you find them through the methods of science. Religion, though, does recognize free choice and the right for people to make their own choices in consultation with their conscience. A majority of Christians in most Western countries recognize that right and support, either entirely or to some extent, a right of women to choose to exercise their ownership over their own bodies.

    Science in the hands of atheists is much more likely to deny the possiblity of people making a free choice, as I recall Coyne is pretty much against the idea of free choice. So your argument using a right to choose is not coherent in this context. You can go to the atheist “Free Thought” blogs and read reference after reference claiming that free choice and, in fact, consciousness, itself, is an illusion and a myth. How you square that fact with a claim that atheism is the bulwark of freedom of choice would be interesting to hear.

    I will not go into the scientific denial of reproductive rights under eugenics, etc. but it’s a fact that that was mainstream science for more than half a century and it still has its advocates in prominent, even eminent scientists.

  • DKeane123

    “my experience of religion” – yes, your view/version of religion is the right one.

    On science – I never said anything about it being a moral system. Hint: It is a tool for acquiring knowledge. Humanism/Enlightened principles has your bronze age philosophies beat hands down.

    I’m not getting into a debate on free will on this comment thread. I’m done with you.

  • Camera Obscura

    I suspect that if you looked at the statistics of religious identity in Ireland and the percentage of the vote for marriage equality, you would be forced to conclude that most of those voting in favor of marriage equality there, as in my home state of Maine, were religious believers, most of them Christian, I would guess in the case of Ireland, Catholics.

    As a gay man, if my right to marriage depended on the votes of atheists, I’d never see it in my life time and I will say, it would never happen. Here over 200 churches endorsed marriage equality, the margin of the vote would have had to have been mostly with religious people favoring it, most of them Christians.

    I cited historic and scientific documents that you can look at if you care to, which I have to say, almost no atheist I’ve ever encountered has or was willing to do, not even those written by their hero, Charles Darwin. I didn’t “cherry pick” anything that I can’t support with numerous citations in his books and in his letters, in the testimony of his children and professional scientific associates who, unlike anyone alive today, knew the man. The same for Ernst Haeckel. I don’t “cherry pick” I do what Charles Darwin did in his book, I cite things that people write. Unlike him, as for example, in one quotation taken from an article by W. R. Greg, I don’t leave out sentences and passages to make things more palatable or to enhance their unattractive qualities. I can provide the passage in both Darwin and the original if you if you’d care to look at it.

    The existence of religious scientists disproves, totally and unquestionably, the contention that science and religion are not compatible and have to be antagonistic. If they can coexist in the minds of eminent scientists, some of them far more accomplished than Jerry Coyne, that disproves that contention. Science and religion only exist in peoples’ minds, that is the only place such a conflict can happen, that’s the only place that any incompatibility could exist and be expressed in.

  • NewAndImprovedCM

    Is that your way of conceding that you erred in claiming that Darwin was “the only one who strikes at the heart of religion”?

  • Camera Obscura

    1. Iron is mentioned in Genesis, Exodus and many other books of the Jewish and Christian scriptures so your typical atheist “bronze age” cannard only proves you, as most atheists I’ve encountered, never read them.

    2. If you want to claim the moral superiority of science or atheism, citing the moral lapses of religion, you certainly can’t do so from the basis of science or atheism, you have to leave both. Like it or not, you are slamming religion for violating moral positions held by religion but not held by your atheism or by the science which Coyne claims as its successor. In a world governed by atheism and science there would be no place for that. Both well regarded atheist and scientists have declared the death of traditional- they clearly mean “religious” – morality such as you use to criticize.

    Your attempt lacks both intellectual and ethical integrity.

    No one has any knowledge of religion, or science, or atheism as it really exists in the world except through their experience of it. As Marilynne Robinson points out in one of her essays, all of the sins attributed to Moses and the Israelites by atheists are known THROUGH THOSE AS REPORTED IN THEIR OWN RELIGIOUS SCRIPTURES. The Jewish scriptures are probably unique as an intense and fierce moral self-criticism, such as atheists and scientists never engage in. The very fact that we have both the descriptions of their lapses from The Law, the results of that and their assuming responsibility for the suffering cased by that is definitive proof of the moral superiority of their approach. The frequently failed and often quite shockingly shoddy practice of scientific and academic peer review has nothing on them.

  • Camera Obscura

    Natural selection is based on the creation of narrative, it has to be because the fossil evidence alone wouldn’t suffice to come up with an explanation of how evolution happened.

    Evolution is a fact, natural selection is more like a creation myth explaining how it happened. As it turns out in the post-war period, it isn’t the universal acid that it is held to be as such other things that are clearly demonstrable without the creation of narrative, such as genetic drift, are clearly part of evolution.

  • Fired, Aren’t I

    Philosophy to my knowledge hasn’t changed much in structure in the last 2500 years. I don’t think there’s as much difference between, say, Islamist and Jewish philosophical thought and Humanist philosophical thought as you think.

  • Jim Reed

    I didn’t say he was the only one, but he did show the Bible was not the word of God. It just takes a while for everyone to catch up to that fact. Nowdays the Jesus myth thing might be even bigger, but in Darwin’s time showing the world the creation story and Adam and Eve were not true was impressive.

  • Fired, Aren’t I

    Like copy-pasting your comments again and again on any and all articles that might mention gays on the internet? Doesn’t sound teribly different than what you’re doing right now.. nor does it seem to be a “better” use of time

  • DKeane123

    As a humanist – I think there is a big difference between my belief structure and most other religions.

  • Camera Obscura

    It’s a common enough folly to think our preferred framing is the special one. “Humanism” as defined by atheists in the 20th century has its own mythology, it’s own metaphysical holdings, its own mythology about itself that it tells itself and asserts is fact.

    One of the funniest things I find “Humanists” do is to accuse other people who don’t agree with them of anthropomorphic thinking, as if there is anything more human centered than “humanism” and the assumption that human thinking and the humanly invented methods of science are not anthropocentric when asserted to be absolute truth.

  • Frank

    You need to learn more about it. Changes over time as species adapt is microevolution and there is no doubt that this occurs. A single cell organism converting over time to become a human is macroevolution, one species changing into another species is macroevolution and there are huge gaps in any perceived evidence that this occurs.

  • Frank

    There is no conclusive evidence that an amoeba evolved into a human. None.

  • Frank

    Very well done here! I’m impressed.

  • NewAndImprovedCM

    Actually, you did say he was “the only one,” as anyone can see merely by looking back at your earlier comment, which you evidently still don’t want to admit was erroneous.

    Not only was Darwin not “the only one,” his theory of evolution by natural selection did not “strike at the heart of religion” nor did it “show the Bible was not the word of God.” What it did do was contradict one way of reading the stories in Genesis 1 and 2, namely the naively literal reading. Since that reading was already under heavy assault by practitioners of the “higher criticism,” and was further shaken by the cuneiform documents from Mesopotamia that began to be translated around the same time and showed definitively that much of Genesis was essentially an adaptation of much older myths, the impact of Darwin’s work on Christianity was mainly the weight it added to an accumulating pile of testimony against literalism.

    For anyone of a religious bent who is not attached to a literal interpretation of Genesis, or indeed to the Bible at all, none of this makes any difference. So much for “the heart of religion.”

  • seashell

    … and there are huge gaps in any perceived evidence that this occurs.

    And the same can be said about the existence of God. There is no perceived evidence at all, never mind some gaps.

    Not sure you should stick to this argument.

  • Frank

    Why not? Faith requires faith not scientific evidence. You can put your faith in evolution if you choose.

  • seashell

    Because your argument against macroevolution is:

    Because there are huge gaps in macroevolutionary theory, it must mean the involvement of a supernatural creator – meaning God – created man.

    To get from gaps to god requires twisted reasoning, not faith. The either/or is a false dichotomy.

  • Frank

    It requires faith, just as evolution does.

  • seashell

    No doubt you will keep thinking that. And now we part.

  • Frank

    It’s the truth. Since there are major chasms in the evidence it requires faith, just like God does.

  • cmbennett01

    I do not dispute that there are many people who believe that god created the universe ex nihilo as described in genesis. That does not make it true. Man has learned many things since the 14th century BCE. You may not like the idea that you are no longer gods special creation but the universe is the way it is whether you like it or not. Darwin’s description of nature is indeed cruel, and inefficient but it has the advantage of being an accurate description of the natural world. The pursuit of scientific knowledge is what allows humanity to thrive in spite of the fact that nature is constantly trying to kill us.

    Though nature cares nothing for human life, the beauty of the universe is undeniable. It is in fact infinitely more beautiful than any description you will find in the bible or any other religions creation mythology. A trip to your public library will easily show the poverty of religious doctrine when compared to the accumulated knowledge of mankind. Once you get over the fact that you are no longer the center of the universe you are free to explore the universe in all it’s glory.

    Science is not moral, it is the study and description of the universe as it is. Nothing more. All values, to include yours, are a human creation. The gods of men were created in the image of man. To the extent that men act with kindness, compassion, and justice, they are acting in accord with the values of their society. Men have in the past endowed their creation with their own values but they remain human values. Justice and injustice, kindness and cruelty, are attributes of men. Kindness, compassion, and justice come from the recognition that others are like us and can feel pain and sadness. The source of cruelty hatred and injustice is fear and ignorance. Religious belief encompasses both. It can serve to bind a society together and promote peace and understanding, but it also excludes those who do not believe the same things. In that, it promotes fear and distrust of outsiders, leading to hatred and violence. That there are those whose faith in religious doctrine can not be shaken regardless of all evidence to the contrary is a cause for concern.

    Atheism is not the solution to injustice and cruelty of human society, because it is not a value system. It is not even a belief. It is a rejection of the idea the universe is ruled by a supreme deity. It is a rejection informed by the facts of science and a recognition that absolutist religious doctrine contradicts human values when extended to all humanity and not just your tribe. What replaces religion when the atheist rejects god is generally a humanist outlook. It is a value system that espouses the primacy of human life. It embraces the notion that man is inherently good and that evil is the result of fear and ignorance. It ultimately places the responsibility for good and evil on the shoulders of men. Science does not refute that. That nature is cruel and indifferent to the concerns of man has no bearing on how men should conduct themselves with relation to others. That is an idea espoused not only by Darwin but by most everyone who have followed him.

    Coyne’s view that religion is harmful to modern society is justified given the history of religious belief. It most certainly, at one time, served to bind people together and to meliorate violence within societies. It also justified extreme violence against those considered outsiders. Your claim that Christianity prohibits murder and theft is contradicted by the text of the book in which you have unshakable faith. The bible condones, justifies, and encourages unspeakable atrocity. I realize there are some who will say that they do not take the bible to be the literal word of god, and that it should be read as allegory, as a guide to acting good. There are however a great many who disagree with that view. I myself have difficulty understanding what moral truth we should learn from the allegory of rape, murder, and genocide. The modern world is a very different place than it was 2000 years ago. The peoples of the world are no longer isolated tribal societies and beliefs that exclude and demonize other cultures and beliefs are a threat to peaceful coexistence. I do not believe religion is an existential threat to humanity. It is in fact on the decline, but that does not mean there is no danger of religious extremists causing great harm to the innocent. Recent history should be proof enough of that.

  • cmbennett01

    You display a profound lack of understanding of how evolution and the process of natural selection work. I might suggest a trip to your local library. It would at least give you a better idea of what it is you are opposed to. Careful though, knowledge is dangerous.

  • Frank

    I have studied it quite extensively. My statement stands and any credible scientist will admit it.

  • Fired, Aren’t I

    He’s a troll, don’t feed him. If this were an article about gays, the statement would read “There is no conclusive evidence that being gay is inborn. None.”

    REALLY. His comments are literally copy/pasted into the articles. He doesn’t even have a thought original to his own brain, let alone to the subject. The moderators need to do a better job around here.

  • Jim Reed

    Whoever said what now or in the past, at least we can agree that the Bible is not God’s word.

  • cmbennett01

    Your statements betray your reliance on creationist ideology for information about what evolutionary science is about. If your aim is to understand what it is that creationists believe, the proper source is creationist literature. You appear well versed in those ideas. To understand evolution and natural selection, on the other hand you should read the works of evolutionary biologist and scientists. These you have clearly not read. Any credible scientist would most certainly not claim that amoebas or monkeys or any other living species evolved into humans. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of the process. Hence my suggestion that you study up on it a little.

  • Camera Obscura

    If an atheist such as the one I was arguing with is going to criticize religious people for moral lapses, they have to leave their atheism to do that because atheism contains no moral teachings. Which leads to some interesting things, such as people who profess to be Christians but who violate the teachings of Jesus, the central teaching figure of Christianity, they are being bad at being Christians but you couldn’t say they were being bad at being atheists because atheism doesn’t forbid, killing, enslaving, oppressing, using, using up, regarding people as objects. Which can be said of science as well.

    Atheism and science contain nothing that would be able to discourage the worst kind of depravity, as I pointed out, frequently atheism and science have embraced and even encouraged depraved behavior. Eugenics was accepted as science by mainstream scientists, it was widely believed in and widely practiced, up to the beginning of WWII scientists, even many in the United States, Britain, etc. were praising the Nazi eugenics program, Charles Davenport, a member in good standing of the community of scientists, was working with Nazi scientists up till it became legally risky for him to do so. After the war, Conrad Lorenz, Eugene Fischer, Fritz Lenz, and many others who had a direct role in promoting or participating in the Nazi war and extermination machines continued to work in science, Lorenz winning the Nobel prize, which reminds me of nothing so much as his scientific colleagues giving Fritz Haber the Nobel prize in chemistry as he should have been facing charges as a war criminal in the First World War.

    The harm done to humanity through science, by scientists and as scientists disclaim any moral responsibility is certainly enough to show Coyne is either ignorant, incapable of objective evaluation of science or, as is so typical of his ideological side, covering it up because it is so inconvenient.

    I think you should be arguing with the “Humanist” as “Humanists” are the ones who think people have a special place in the universe. As I mentioned anyone who believes in Coynes and your romantic view of science and, clearly, believes in its virtual omnipotence is as guilty of anyone of thinking people have a “special place” in the univese, that we are “the measure of all things”. Science is a human invention, entirely a product of entirely human determined convention, especially true the farther away from observation based science is. Darwinism, natural selection, is a human construct, it was based on a misapplication of Malthus, itself an expression of the British class system purported to be science. It is based on the creation of narratives, mostly about things which can’t be observed because they happened in the lost past. The theory of natural selection has required continual patching and propping up, beginning during Darwin’s life as he, in response to problems with it, had to continually adjust it. His co-creator of natural selection A. R. Wallace had serious reservations about Darwin’s description of it and his choice of words. So much so that in the 5th edition, he followed advice from Wallace and identified Natural Selection with Spenser’s Survival of the Fittest. It has required constant adjustment and has come to mean a number of differnt things depending on who is using the word. In some really bad cases, such as Daniel Dennett, the concept is so distorted that it becomes logically contradictory, to little notice by his biologist cohorts.

    If I had to make a prediction, if we survive so long, after much political battling and many fights, eventually I think biology will retire natural selection as an historical oddity, a cultural artifact of Victorian science. Evolution, of course, will continue but, I hope, without the pretense that the key to understanding it sprang from the mind of Charles Darwin as he read Malthus for the kind of diversion that a member of the British upper class could get from its advocacy to starve to death millions of people. As William Cobbett pointed out, the cluelessness of Malthus avocating that the poor of Britain be thrown onto the savage mercies of the “law of nature” would not be to the benefit of the such as Malthus, a parson on the public dole or other members of his and even higher elites as the poor would then have no reason to not take what they could not get otherwise. That’s the law of nature as imagined by Malthus-Darwin, I wonder how you would like to be subjected to it.

  • Frank

    I have. I understand what is claimed quite well and I understand what evidence their is. Microevolution seems to be a slam dunk. Macro evolution not so much. And even if we ever have the required proof it makes no difference to Christianity.

  • NewAndImprovedCM

    It’s my belief that, in a manner of speaking, everything in the universe is the word of god, so I wouldn’t say that the Bible is in any way exceptional or privileged in that regard.

  • cmbennett01

    Why is it so difficult for you to understand that atheism is not a belief system? It has no creeds, no dogma, no liturgy. It is simply the rejection of your dogma as irrational and indefensible; a dogma that I am very well acquainted with. It is printed in black and white in the books you hold dear; books that I also have on my selves and have read front to back. It is your dogma that justifies genocide, oppression and slavery, not mine. I’m not sure what your fixation with Nazis and eugenics is, but I hope you do realize that most of it’s proponents were Christians.

    Since you clearly have not read what I wrote, I will repeat it again. The neither the “laws of god” nor “laws of nature” determine human actions. What prevents man from committing atrocities is human decency not god. What allows man to rise above nature is a scientific understanding of nature.

    Science is without a doubt a creation of man and that is to the great credit of humanity. Science long ago superseded mythology and superstition as description of the universe. That battle is over and done, regardless of whether you accept it or not. It is also high time man replace his other creation as the basis for moral action. Gods may have once served a purpose but that time is no more.

  • cmbennett01

    There is no micro/macro evolution, there is only evolution. Over short periods of time species evolve a little, over long periods of time species evolve a lot. There has been life on this planet for a very long time. It is in fact Christianity that makes no difference; you may believe what you want but it has no relevance to the facts of the universe.

  • Frank

    You can go on believing that. Meanwhile Christians are 2billion strong and growing.

    There is no conclusive evidence, in fact there are giant holes in the theory that species change into another species.

  • cmbennett01

    Not really. 2 billion luke-warm Christians and a few loud fundamentalist isn’t really something to be concerned about. For the most part reason prevails.

  • DKeane123

    Excellent reply. Thank you.

  • Camera Obscura

    For people who claim not to have a belief system, your beliefs seem to just somehow always assume a very uniform form. If you really didn’t believe anything then you have no grounds to base a moral criticism of religion, its history, the conduct of its members, As it is, atheism is a belief system, typically scientistic materialism is the ideological belief of atheists but mostly they believe deeply and fully in their superiority to the large majority of humanity.

    I’ve read what you you’ve written for decades, it is exactly the same thing that atheists have been saying since at least the middle of the 19th century.

    You, as almost all atheists I’ve had discussions with, is totally ignorant of the literary history of atheism and the history of the uniformly violent, murderous, oppressive atheist regimes of the last century and of such in the past as the Reign of Terror in France. Since atheism contains no belief that it is a mortal sin to commit murder, as almost all religions do, that’s not any surprise that atheists would gain and hold power by doing that. As I said, anyone who claimed to be a Christian would have to be violating the teachings of the central moral authority of Christianity, Jesus and those who knew him.

    Really, atheists are always trying to have it both ways, either atheism is amoral and atheists have no basis for making moral criticisms of other people or atheists have moral beliefs which are not based in atheism while pretending they have no moral beliefs. Lying about the defining moral teachings of Christianity, which are there no matter how hard it is for those who profess Christianity to follow them. Those are the defining moral character of Christianity done with integrity and an attempt to follow the professed beliefs of Christians. To claim that the failure of everyone who professes Christianity to follow those teachings debunks Christianity is about as sensible as claiming that the frequent mistakes in multiplication falsify arithmetic.

    I never used to think of atheists the way I have come to in the past dozen years of reading their unedited thoughts in these comment threads. While I now atheists who aren’t dishonest bigots, I have to conclude that an unusual number of them are.

  • Camera Obscura

    I should add that if religion has to answer for evils done in its name, evils that it often forbids, science doesn’t get to have a carte blanche when scientists use science to do the same things with the excuse that it doesn’t do morality. Science is whatever scientists say it is, it exists in the minds of scientists and not in nature, it does what they want it to do, even if if is just to make money off of doing things with science for someone who is paying them. There is no reason for anyone to accept the moral impunity of science on the say so of scientists and the lay fan club of scientism.

    I won’t stop pointing out that atheists are always slamming religion for sins committed under its umbrella- often making those up or exaggerating or distorting what actually happened, while claiming they don’t get to be held to the same standard because “atheism isn’t a belief system” and “science doesn’t deal with morality. Science does, frequently deal in moral atrocities, the creation of weapons, the assurances that faulty oil drilling technology is safe, that dangerous, ineffective or even poisonous drugs are safe. It’s way past time that science, scientists, were made to answer for their acts, especially the acts that they do while in the employ of military establishments, corporations and dictators. They are not above being held responsible for the atrocities they commit, for the lies they tell, for the lives they take.

  • Jim Reed

    Are they arguing over which side is moral, or which side is true?

  • Camera Obscura

    What makes anyone think that those are an either/or proposition? One of the reasons that truth matters is because it is necessary to know the truth to chart a more moral course of behavior. Which is one of the reasons that it is generally held by religious people that it is a sin to tell a lie and to bear false witness. The prophets, including Jesus constantly emphasize the importance of truth. The Bible says, You will know the truth and the truth will set you free. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. John 4:24.

    I think that what too many people, including many atheists, especially those who comment online, mistake the truth for agreeing with their opinions.

  • DKeane123

    Both. As long as you equate humanism and atheism.

  • Jim Reed

    Science has science to limit what science can do. Scientists try to wipe out the work of other scientists if possible, and only that part that can be demonstrated as true and stand the test of time survives.

    Religion has apologetics to help it stay the course and do what it wants to do. They have the concept of the divine so that what they want can’t be questioned without consequences.

    If you can get beyond all the apologetics, then you have humanism trying to do what is right for people, and environmentalism trying to do what is right for other creatures and the environment. That will always be the best we can do.

  • Camera Obscura

    You talk about “science” as if science were not whatever it is scientists say it is under rules that scientists set, as can be seen from the comment you’re answering, often to their own advantage, maintaining their professional impunity as an advantage to themselves. There is no “thing” that is science outside of the agreed to norms and practices that scientists set for themselves.

    One of those things is the agreed to permission for scientists to not consider the moral results that will come from their work. The artificially constructed wall between theory and applied science pretends the two are not inseparably linked, I believe for the advantage of scientists. You don’t get to hold up science as some moral beacon while claiming that exemption from the morality of science being considered. At least not while it’s me you’re making that claim to. There is no disembodied entity, “science” that has any characteristic that isn’t given to it by decisions made by people. There is no disembodied, perfect ideal that is science, separate from its reality in the human population and the world.

    “Humanism” as you are using it is a 20th century theft of a word describing an entirely different intellectual movement that is linked to a rather romanticized view of the classical Greeks and Romans. One of the great ironies of this, in this discussion is that the Popes who encouraged and patronized Copernicus were, I believe, not counted as humanists. Urban VIII, sometimes called the last humanist pope, was, of course, the pope who had the inquisition summon Galileo. He also pretty much wrecked, for a long time, Catholic hymnody by trying to fit the medieval Latin of the hymns into classical meters.

    Most hilariously, for students of the intellectual history of atheism, is that even as their “Humanists of the Year” and other “Humanists” deride philosophy, the 20th century atheists who invented your form of “Humanism” were almost uniformly professional philosophers such as John Dewey. His student, the professional atheists, trust fund Stalinist, Corliss Lamont who bought them out a couple of decades later and turned “Humanism” into a tool of his crusade against religion was one of Dewey’s grad students, in philosophy, his chief enforcer, Paul Kurtz was a professional philosopher who taught philosophy and wrote a truly awful book describing his philosophy, “Exuberance” which one reviewer said sounded a lot like Shirley MacLaine. Other than Dewey, I don’t think the others are regarded as having been very good at philosophy.

    I have made a study of the history of atheism and can say that your version of these things is not backed up by the literature.

  • conjurehealing

    Very well said. In my opinion Atheists who are fearful and emotional, rather than purely scientific and rhetorically “objective,” are not particularly useful in dialogue. I would say the same about religionists too, although it is fairly typical for Christians to fearful and emotional, as a rule, since it is built into their theology.

  • conjurehealing

    In my opinion humanism provides for the possibility that humans can be divine beings in the world, the best of science and religion.

  • Camera Obscura

    Atheists have to pretend that fire and brimstone fundamentalism is the same thing as Christianity when it isn’t because they can’t deal with other kinds of Christianity. For one thing, it would require reading what such Christians say and it isn’t especially simple stuff to read. If there was one surprise in reading what lots of atheists online were saying, it was the low quality of intellectual activity it betrayed.

  • Camera Obscura

    OK, I will rest my case about “Humanists” being radically anthropocentric, the charge that such “Humanists” love to throw at religious people.

  • Jim Reed

    I don’t think I follow all that.

  • Camera Obscura

    You have to read the primary source material, perhaps. It’s something you learn to do in studying the humanities as opposed to scientistic “Humanism”.

  • OK, I think this might be one of my favorite insulting comments at Religion Dispatches. Here’s to the simple joy of quality snark.

    (Btw, you broke one of the rules of New Atheism Fight Club. When New Atheists insult others, it’s for the “worthy goal of shocking people out of their religious delusions”. When anyone else does it, it’s considered to be ad hominem and thus, poor form.)

  • conjurehealing

    Yeah, agreed. But I find Sam Harris to be different in this regard: not only does he think about Christianity (and other religions) in an sophisticated manner, but he is intellectually honest. To him the liberal/progressive Christians are just as problematic as the fundamentalists. Interesting that as an neuroscientist he says you can get the benefits of religion through things like meditation without the icky theological dross.

  • Jim Reed

    In a way that doesn’t matter because going forward it can be what we want it to be which is a moral way of looking at humanity as we move beyond religion.

  • Givethedogabone

    “atheism is a belief system, typically scientistic materialism is the ideological belief of atheists ”
    No, you are wrong.
    Atheism is the absence of belief in a god(s). That’s it. No extras, no side orders, no creed and no manifesto.
    Some (probably all?) atheists have beliefs. Those beliefs are likely to be consistent with their lack of belief in god(s). Any such beliefs are not part of atheism; they are additional to, maybe consequential upon, their atheism, but they are not intrinsically atheism.
    As has been said before “I can explain it to you but I can’t comprehend it for you”.

  • pennyroyal

    perhaps you need to study the scientific method…scientists often find their research proves their hypothesis wrong. That’s the beginning of testing what’s really going on. Religion just believes the first notion or hypothesis that comes to the human mind and believes that as truth. Science loves a false answer. It prompts new question.

    Religion doesn’t want questions that it cannot answer. I have dozens of friends who had their hands rapped or legs (or worse) whipped for asking questions the teacher didn’t want to answer. They never believed the claptrap they were fed and suffered for not being able to accept it. They couldn’t wait to escape the old time religion.

  • pennyroyal

    Galileo remained a Catholic because he was an old man and in a religious environment. He was lucky he wasn’t killed by the pope and he knew it. He also forced his daughter into the convent. Not a nice guy.
    Yes, the CC does some good but on balance it commits horrible acts and continues to do. Attacking LGBT persons and keeping women subordinate does not offset the opposition to the death penalty.

  • pennyroyal

    religion is under attack from within. Catholics for Choice and groups encouraging the ordination of women. That is infrequently noted. I don’t know how those who ‘defect from within’ the church stand it but they do.

  • pennyroyal

    Jerry Coyne isn’t the only person defending science. Go read some E.O. Wilson.

  • pennyroyal

    ah, my friend, I am an atheist but live and work with a humanist identity. (I am also a retired interfaith chaplain who loved and respected the Catholics I worked with).

    Humanists rely on the time tested humanist virtues and virtue ethics, which predate the RC Church — and even the Greek Orthodox Church (the original church and the only direct line back to Jesus). The Humanist virtues come from the ancient Greeks and Confucius and are made up of understandings (not knowledge) of what is best for human relations and civil behavior. Go study virtue ethics.

  • pennyroyal

    Believers often cite the murderous regimes to malign atheists. That is a fallacious argument. Stalin and all, were totalitarian psychopaths.

  • pennyroyal

    you can say anything to feel superior, but I don’t have to find it compelling or true.

  • pennyroyal

    there’s scientific, tested truth, and there’s bogus beliefs that one has taken as ‘truth’. Jesus was prescientific. I’ll take the Dalai Lama over Jesus. He’s studied science and says if his faith contradicts science, his belief must give way.

  • Camera Obscura

    How do you propose running tests to determine the reproductive success of animals, plants, etc. which died tens and hundreds of millions of years ago? How do you propose to do so for a valid representative sample of the trillions of organisms that are the basic evidence that would be needed to test the validity of natural selection? Natural selection is the creation of a narrative that purports to explain how species diverge and evolve but the evidence that shows that is why that happened is lost, forever. To claim it as the overarching explanation of evolution is only possible if you overlook the inconvenient fact that you can’t know that in the lost past and that your assumptions of the strength of natural selection as a “force” masks or distorts any observation you can make in living organisms. Richard Lewontin said:

    “It is not only in the investigation of human society that the truth is sometimes unavailable. Natural scientists, in their overweening pride, have come to believe that eventually everything we want to know will be known. But that is not true. For some things there is simply not world enough and time. It may be, given the necessary constraints on time and resources available to the natural sciences, that we will never have more than a rudimentary understanding of the central nervous system. For other things, especially in biology where so many of the multitude of forces operating are individually so weak, no conceivable technique of observation can measure them. In evolutionary biology, for example, there is no possibility of measuring the selective forces operating on most genes because those forces are so weak, yet the eventual evolution of the organisms is governed by them. Worse, there is no way to confirm or reject stories about the selective forces that operated in the past to bring traits to their present state, no matter how strong those forces were. Over and over, in these essays reproduced here, I have tried to give an impression of the limitations on the possibility of our knowledge. Science is a social activity carried out by a remarkable, but by no means omnipotent species. Even the Olympians were limited in their powers.”

    While he didn’t say so, the impossibility of measuring presumed “selective forces” alone would mean that those can’t be subjected to scientific method. You would need to observe those “forces”, measure them against other possible “forces”, and analyze those in terms of reproductive success attributable to those to demonstrate the presence, or absence, of natural selection in any given scenario, not to mention that you’d have to do that to an enormous number of such scenarios when there is no evidence available to do that. And when I say “scenario” I’m using the wrong word because you would have to see the organisms, in the wild, in their normal environment to do that.

    Evolution is an obvious phenomenon, obvious in both the clear relatedness and the diversity of organisms today and in the fossil record, natural selection is the creation of narratives, OK, I’ll say it, creation myths, to explain that. I agreed with Lewontin and Gould and others on that when it was evolutionary psychology and Sociobiology but I’ve come to also believe it’s the truth about the overarching theory that is used to make up those Just-so stories of evo-psy.

    I think Marx got it right in his second consideration of natural selection, Darwin was both misinterpreting Malthus who pointed out that human beings are NOT like animals in the wild due to the enhanced ability of human beings to ensure their survival and reproduction through the benefits of human culture, Darwin, instead, took Malthus’ imposition of the British class system on the entirety of the human population and imposed it on the entire biosphere.

    Opinions can differ on that but it is a fact that as honest an assessment of natural selection as Richard Lewontin’s proves it can’t be subjected to scientific methods.

  • Camera Obscura

    Oh, how odd. Considering the habit of atheists citing murderous regimes which were led by people who purported to be Christians, only, as I pointed out, they have to violate all kinds of commandments either given by Jesus or endorsed by Jesus to do so. Murderous Christians are bad at being Christians.

    Stalin was an atheist who was supported by many, many atheists here, notably the godfather of the new atheism, Corliss Lamont. As I’ve pointed out, Stalin, unlike the allegedly Christian mass murderers, wasn’t violating any moral holding of atheism. Murderous atheists are not being bad at being atheists. Neither are Christians who violate the moral teachings of Jesus, they could be quite successful at being atheists who, for example, were lying about their beliefs in the interest of holding power.

    I doubt a psychopath could have held power as long as Stalin did. He was quite coldly rational in achieving his ends. He stayed in power until he died of natural causes when it was hardly a safe and secure position, considering what a bunch of amoral thugs his possible rivals were. He wasn’t irrational, he was amoral, as is atheism, and so immoral in achieving his ends.

  • Camera Obscura

    If you’re not going to make a substantial point I’m not interested in arguing with you.

  • Camera Obscura

    “Humanism” was invented in the 1930s by a group of philosophers, the most well known of whom was John Dewey, which was more or less bought out by Corliss Lamont a couple of decades later. Paul Kurtz was certainly one of his foremost lieutenants, I strongly suspect most of his myriad of “skeptical” “rationalist” etc. fronts for promoting atheism were at least started on money from the Lamont trust fund.

    You really don’t know much about the Greeks or Confucius for a chaplain. For example, in the Analects of Confucius are these passages:

    The Master said, `Heaven produced the virtue that is in me. Hwan T’ui what can he do to me?’ VII Chapter 22

    and

    The Master said, `Without recognising the ordinances of Heaven, it is impossible to be a superior man. XX Chapter 3

    I generally find, when I look at the claims of atheists about such things as Confucius and Hammurabi, when I look at the original material instead of the atheists’ secondary and tertiary claims about them, those generally don’t hold up.

    It’s rather bizarre for you to claim more influence from Greek culture considering the Christian scriptures were in Greek and it’s very possible that Jesus spoke Greek as well as his native language. You obviously are unaware of the citation of Greek philosophy in Christian theology and the fact that most of the real humanists, not the 20th century atheist club, were Christians. “Humanism” is to humanism as Wicca is to pre-Christian European paganism, a romanticized attempt at recreating the original entirely on 20th century terms.

  • Camera Obscura

    Yes, it does matter. You can’t know what people really said without reading what they really said, in full instead of in snippets, clipped out of things by scribblers to be published by Prometheus Books.

    Which is it? Either atheism doesn’t deal in morality or it does. You guys are always trying to have it both ways and I’m not buying that. You don’t get to set up double standards in your favor, either.

  • Camera Obscura

    That is E. O. Wilson, whose recent apostasy from Hamiltonian evo-psy led to more than a hundred scientists signing a letter against his latest position, led by Richard Dawkins.

  • Camera Obscura

    If they remain in the Church they certainly aren’t turning into atheists.

    I really would like to ask you, as a “Humanist” chaplain, where do you find moral positions since neither atheism nor science produce those?

  • Camera Obscura

    Who are you to figure you know his mind better than he did in his conduct and his writing? He was never in danger of being killed by the pope, they’d been friends until he openly mocked him in a book. Which of the atheist heads of state in the 20th century do you think would have allowed a prominent figure to do that and to live the rest of his life in detention in a palace, where he wrote, as I recall, two books, including his last book, probably his most significant. As I recall he was allowed to go to Florence to visit his eye doctor. He received visitors, wrote letters, pretty much carried on as he had. You should look into it instead of relying on atheist and anti-Catholic mythology. I have researched most of the common atheist canards and find almost all of them are bosh.

    What makes you think his daughter didn’t want to be in the convent? You have evidence in her words to that effect? Many women probably did, considering the alternatives available.

    Being a gay man I’m not really inclined to take straight people’s lecturing on LGBT issues. I would rather live in many countries with some Christian denomination as a state church, with a large majority of people in the government who are Christians than under any of the officially atheist, anti-religious governments. I’d certainly rather live in Iran today than in, say Revolutionary France, under the Reign of Terror, that great event in the history of the “Enlightenment” praised by so many atheists, even today. I would rather live in Iran than any of the former Republics of the Soviet Union, any of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe or Asia, though I might, possibly make an exception of Cuba. I certainly wouldn’t rather live in North Korea. There are many Latin American countries I’d far rather live in than Cuba, even with the strong influence of the Catholic Church there.

  • Jim Reed

    Atheism is a rejection of the customary belief of religion in God. Atheists are moral people to the extent that they live moral lives. In America that morality can come because there is a lot of moral high ground for the taking while Christianity is off on their latest Crusade.

  • pennyroyal

    There’s a difference between being rational and being ruthless. He was the latter. He ruled so long by terror and killing opponents. Anyone who might challenge him, was sent to Siberia. The opposite of ruthlessness is mercy, which today’s Christian Taliban sadly lack, along with a concern for the poor, a seeking of justice, a thirst for righteousness. I am an atheist who seeks mercy, justice, righteousness. I call myself a humanist.

    The problem that goes unnamed is that all these murderous regimes were led by those who had the same kind of brutal, authoritarian fathers. It’s more psychopathology than anything. We don’t even need to bring the supernatural in. I don’t even care if anyone calls ‘god’ Love.

    I don’t care what you or anyone else believes or doesn’t believe. Just don’t impose your authoritarian Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim beliefs on me. (Like Hobby Lobby is doing privileging their corporations ‘religious freedom’ above that of living, breathing employees with a legal and moral right to have their reproductive healthcare covered.
    Faith and belief are not important. It’s how we treat one another.

  • Camera Obscura

    Sometimes, in the absence of morals, ruthlessness is a result of a rational choice in the absence of any kind of inhibitions from believed in moral obligations. Your first sentence is a rather empty squib, it is, though, clearly false. Stalin would never have lasted in that milieu unless he was very much able to play off people against each other, outwit his rivals, be constantly on the look out for possible dangers from people as amoral as he was. Your amateur psychoanalysis of dictators is no more valid than Charles Krauthammer’s opportunistic diagnoses of mental illness in those whose politics he doesn’t like.

    “Christian Taliban”. Let me get this straight, you’re some kind of “chaplain”? Obviously you are interested in trying to cut the legs out from under the competition. Tell me, how is this “Christian Taliban” putting into practice the commandments of Jesus to do unto others as they would have them do unto them, to love their enemies and pray for them, to forgive those who persecute them, to give all of their money away to people who won’t pay it back. How well do they treat the least among them? And a hundred other teachings of a man they claim to believe spoke with divine authority? It would seem that they’re far more of a pseudo-Christian “taliban”.

    Now tell me what moral holdings of atheism you can use to identify what they’re doing as immoral and wrong, not to mention where in the scientific literature the papers demonstrating that what they are doing is wrong.

    The fact is, you can’t find anything in atheism or science to support your pose of moral outrage.

    My authoritarian beliefs like Hobby Lobby? I was against the Hobby Lobby decision, I wrote a blog post and numerous comments supporting what Justice Ginsburg wrote in disssent. You are misrepresenting my politics and my religion to promote your own bigotry. Some “chaplain”. You should take the beam out of your eye so you can see the speck in other peoples’ eyes.

  • Camera Obscura

    Since you’re taking the “atheims is the absence of beliefs, with no creed” you certainly can’t make any kind of moral criticism of anyone else within atheism. You have to swipe moral positions from outside of atheism to do that, in my experience with atheists, moral positions they don’t hold their side up against, only their opponents.

    Neo atheism is based on trying to impose a double standard in favor of atheism at the expense of the vast majority of people. And such atheists become enraged like Jerry Coyne when the vast majority of people refuse to tolerate that double standard.

  • pennyroyal

    Obviously, you have forgotten that the Greek Philosophers and their humanism were not read by Roman Catholic theologians until the Renaissance was underway. Only then did we have Christian Humanism, the valuing of the human individual and thus the beginning of human rights as we know them now.

    Please, I am not interested in arguing or being anti-theist, since I’m not (usually). I’ve worked and found it a privilege to serve Christian patients and families. To me they represent the best of Christianity. My issues with that religion now is it’s co-optation and misuse by the religious and political right.

    As for ethics and the virtues, please read “A Small Treatise On the Great Virtues” by Andre Comte-Sponville. Or this by the late great humanist chaplain from Harvard University, William R. Murry: “Becoming More Fully Human: Religious Humanism as a Way of Life”. Maybe we can find something to move this into a discussion rather than the “argument” you seem to expect from me.

  • Camera Obscura

    You obviously have no idea what you’re talking about. Just for example, this passage from Acts

    “6 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the market place every day with those who chanced to be there. 18 Some also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers met him. And some said, “What would this babbler say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he preached Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took hold of him and brought him to the Are-op′agus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you present? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears; we wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new….”

    And then there is the beginning of the John’s Gospel. “In the beginning was the word….” Since ALL of the New Testament comes to us in Greek, that in the original is, Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος. Sounding like nothing so much as classical Greek philosophy. The Second Testament is full of allusions to Greek philosophy, which it is clear that several writers were conversant with. Greek culture was so influential throughout the Mediterranean in the formative period of what became Christianity that it would have been about as unlikely for it to influence Christianity as it would have Roman Paganism.

    It is rather odd for you to cite Comte as he, as much as anyone, associated atheism with a rather naive scientism. Though I will grant that Comte was aware what that would do to morals, which is why he created his atheist religion, putting his dead girlfriend in it as a goddess and trying, rather irrationally, considering the rest of it, to assert morality through it. As it was, his chapels are museums to his eccentricity as the next generations of atheists, the Haeckels, the Nietzsches, the Spencers, the Galtons, reveled in the destruction of morality that was a necessary conclusion of their scientistic atheism. Only, not morality such as the laws against theft and the British Poor Law that protected their economic position in the world. Brutal capitalism was a beneficiary of their system, seen as a good of it. While Charles Darwin never came out as an atheist, he did come out as saying that the death camps that the British work houses were, the poor law, universal vaccination, etc. were harmful to the health and well being of the human population because they kept too many poor people, too many “weaker members” of the human population alive. That is something I can’t think that Comte would ever have done or been less than horrified about, but it is a logical consequence of his ideological framing.

    And if you don’t believe me about that, you should try to read the original source materials from Spencer, Nietzsche, Darwin, Haeckel, Galton, etc. Because it is all there for anyone to see, with the internet providing easy access to their published works and the aid of word search, that cat is out of the bag for good.

  • apotropoxy

    Schulson. “It takes chutzpah to argue that most living humans navigate reality incorrectly.”
    _______

    You make a wee straw man argument, Mr. Schulson. Coyne argues that our species navigates SOME of life’s reality incorrectly- the magical thinking part.
    __________________________________________________________________

    Schulson: “Coyne’s analyses of religion are largely confined to tired smackdowns of marginal groups. The Mormon origin story doesn’t quite make sense! Nation of Islam stories sound weird to outsiders!”
    __________

    Marginal groups???
    The world’s Mormon population is around 15,000,000 and its Muslim number is 1.6 billion. Jews figure to be a million fewer than the LDSers.

  • apotropoxy

    The use of the word story is Semantic Fallacy.

  • Camera Obscura

    State what “Fallacy” you are referring to and tell me how the assertion that the stories told from fossils about the numbers of offspring resulting from the presence of absence of “traits” attributed to those is not telling a story which the fossil evidence doesn’t contain.

  • Camera Obscura

    I think there should be a rule of internet discourse that the first person that uses the word “straw man” as incorrectly as you have here, loses.

  • apotropoxy

    Fine with me.

  • Jim Reed

    We should probably continue to allow it in the meaningless type discussion threads.

  • apotropoxy

    “Science is story-telling”
    ____________________

    The writer applies the broad literary meaning of story while applying it to the critical discipline of scientific method. You do too.

  • NewAndImprovedCM

    I’d be curious to know what it was in my rather terse statement that you think allows you to claim that I was using the “broad literary meaning of story.” You might not like the word being applied to science, but “A caused B” is a story.

  • Camera Obscura

    “Straw man” as used in a vast majority of times by atheists in blog discussions really means, “I don’t like what you said but I can’t refute it” or “I don’t understand what you said but I think I don’t like it” or some such thing. It hardly ever means a false representation erected because it can easily be knocked down. That’s a specialty of those atheists who try to claim that the worst of fundamentalism represents all of religion because fundamentalists are generally easier to knock over and to make unpopular, which veers into the real meaning of “ad hominem” which is another of the terms of standard logical fallacies that atheists almost inevitably misuse.

    I guess they think using the words makes people think they know what they mean.

  • Jim Reed

    We have real things to discuss here, or at least we did last week.

  • Matthew Berry

    “Within atheism” is a contradiction of the fact that atheism is an absence of beliefs, with no creed. Atheism is a statement of negation, nothing more.

    What you are criticizing is the personal systems of belief built by individuals to justify their actions, not atheism, which is just a statement of negation.

    It is extraordinarily naive to argue that Abrahamic injunctions against murder have led to the avoidance of atheist-caused atrocities, given the rich history of atrocity in the Christian era and the obfuscation of the issue in Abrahamic religions by creation of a distinction between morally evil murder and morally acceptable or even good killing. This Biblical ambivalence extends to moral codes you present as firmly decided, such as the command by Jesus to forgive transgressors whose context is the preaching of apocalyptic first century Judaism, which promised the imminent and violent destruction of the enemies of Israel.

    There is a reason it took subsequent arguments and many mutual excommunications to arrive at orthodox views on many subjects in the New Testament.

    It is extraordinarily ironic to complain that many opponents of Christianity simply respond to caricatures of one’s chosen religion by the most grotesque firebrands, while responding to atheism by reference to Stalin. Stalin, by the way, was considered to be to at least some degree psychopathic by at least one of his respected biographers, Alan Bullock. Far from weakening his grasp on power, his psychopathic symptoms probably strengthened it.

  • Matthew Berry

    “A caused B” within the context of scientific method is a theory, not a story.

    “A caused B” within the context of English literature is a story.

    These are conventions of language, and conflating the two is nonsensical.

  • GeniusPhx

    when fish were running out of food in the water they started eating from the banks but their fins were inadequate to get them to the food and back. Over time the fins starting becoming more like feet and then small legs. They know that because they found a fossilized one. Fish who could find food survived and the ones who didn’t died off. That’s how natural selection works. They have found the single cell life and most of the links to now, they continue to find more evidence not less.

  • Camera Obscura

    You really don’t get my argument. Atheists here were condemning religious people who acted immorally, killing people, oppressing people, etc. I pointed out two things about that, first your objection, I was pointing out that atheists had to come up with the idea that what those people were doing from somewhere other than atheism as atheism doesn’t provide moral standards, atheists can’t find them in their own ideology which is deficient in that regard, as in some others.

    They, ironically, were expropriating moral standards, moral obligations, that are contained in the religious they criticize for lapses of morality that their own ideology, atheism, doesn’t even hold are real. If atheists didn’t have external sources which find or generate morals they’d never know the first thing about them as atheism has no morality. Neither does science, as atheists are always telling me, only to instantly forget that in claiming superior moral status for atheism and science.

    Stalin certainly works as a good example of what atheism with total political power leads to. He was certainly sane enough to win in a power struggle with some extremely intelligent people such as Trotsky. He won over all of his rivals, playing a game more intricate than any series of chess matches to avoid being killed by rivals, to consolidate his power, to survive the massive blunders he committed, the revelations of his massive campaigns of genocide and murder. He died of natural causes, surrounded by a hoard of some of the more immoral and power hungry men who would have thought nothing of killing him if they thought they could come out on top. Read the accounts of his death when as vicious a person as Lavrentiy Beria, an accomplished mass murderer in his own right, alternately mocked and, when he thought Stalin might revive, cower, only, after he died, to claim he’d killed him. Only to die in the power struggle that led to Kruschiev winning. Kruschiev, by the way, lead a resurgence of the war on religion begun by Lenin, intensified enormously under Stalin but which Stalin let up on a bit as he realized he needed the Russian Orthodox Church to win WWII.

    To dismiss Stalin as a psychopath is too easy, a mere psychopath wouldn’t have been able to do what he did, he was entirely aware of what was going on around him with an accuracy that allowed him to play events like a virtuoso. What he was was amoral and so, as it served his purposes, massively immoral. He was able to be that because he was an atheist whose ideology contained no moral commandments.

  • Camera Obscura

    Which is a story. The fossil evidence doesn’t tell that story, the story is created to sort of fit into what the fossils appear to be. The story might be right or it might be merely of seeming plausibility depending on what framing you choose to believe and what evidence is available. But you don’t know that, as the great geneticist Richard Lewontin said,

    “In evolutionary biology, for example, there is no possibility of measuring the selective forces operating on most genes because those forces are so weak, yet the eventual evolution of the organisms is governed by them. Worse, there is no way to confirm or reject stories about the selective forces that operated in the past to bring traits to their present state, no matter how strong those forces were.”

    He’s admitting that that’s what evolutionary biologists do when the interpret fossil or other evidence in the common way it is done. They are making up stories to explain things, much in the same way that the authors of Genesis were making up stories to explain things. I know you won’t like me pointing that out but it’s actually the case. In most modern religious people and in a number of religious people in the past that might surprise you, they don’t take the Genesis narratives to be literally true. I certainly don’t believe the universe and all of life were created in six days, I certainly believe in the common ancestor of all life theory that Darwin did. I just don’t buy natural selection as either a real theory of science or as being more than a product of the thinking of the Victorian British elite.

    Their chosen framing of natural selection will determine the kind of stories they make up. Which might be true or they might not be, as he said, when it’s in the actual bottom line of natural selection, the forces proposed to be selection are so weak that you can’t really know. Given the choice between believing Lewontin’s honest, clear and logically coherent admission or the claims of the Drawinian fundamentalists, I’ll buy Lewontin’s admission, with reservations.

    I got a lot of flack a few years back when that 35,000 year old figure of a woman was all over the news, many anthropologists claiming it was clearly a figure made by a man representing some ancient ideal of female sexuality. I asked how they knew it wasn’t made by a woman or that maybe she made it as an image of her mother. Or a self portrait or as a figure to mock some other woman. Or any number of other stories that could be made up about it. You can imagine that if you chose to believe it had been made by a woman or any of those other scenarios the interpretation of the object would have been entirely different. The fact is, we have no way of knowing who made it and what they were thinking as they made it. Same as the fossils, we have the objects, we don’t know the entire lives and reproductive success of those individuals as compared to others in their species which may have had or not had whatever “trait” the story is being made up about.

  • apotropoxy

    Very well. Chose a word that more accurately describes your intent. If you can’t, the correct assumption must be mine.

  • Matthew Berry

    The point is that atheism, as a statement of negation, is no source for generalizing a group’s beliefs. Moving on from the statement of negation to a system of morality is what everyone except an utter nihilist would do, and it is that system you should critique. Atheism, as said before, is not an ideology.

    It is true that atheism itself has no morality, and that systems to fill the void need to be developed. I’ve always found it odd to abrogate this challenge by handing it to a celestial judge, which is in practice simply the projection of whatever a particular group believes at a particular time.

    That atheists develop morality externally is not equivalent to atheists expropriating them from theists. Theists, deists and atheists have all contributed compelling arguments to moral thought at any given time. Theists are prone to imagine their contributions as eternal truths without qualification, which others steal, without acknowledging their own changing stances or debts to other systems.

    Stalin did not base his morality on atheism. Doing so is impossible, since it’s a statement of negation. Stalin based his morality on his particular interpretation of Maxism and Leninism, and rampant megalomania. Marxists will argue Stalin perverted their opinions, as Christians will argue the Crusader kings perverted Christianity. Where Christianity struggles more than Marxism on this issue that Marxism is more coherent, inevitably.

    The relationship between the Orthodox Church and Stalin/Khrushchev was the contemporary chapter of a very convoluted power struggle between the two institutions, hardly unique to Russia. The latest chapter in the story is the co-opting of the Church by Putin to support his narrative of chauvinistic nationalism.

    You don’t seem to understand what psychopathy is. It is not, in many cases, a debilitating condition. Many Fortune 500 companies have psychopaths in their higher reaches, for example. Psychopathy does not entail an abrogation of responsibility, it provides a context for understanding motivations.

    Whatever Stalin was, in his own mind he was following a very clear morality: sacrifice everything to the state, which he associated with his own person. You might call him immoral, but I’m not personally convinced that “Because God says so” is a good justification for doing so.

    If Stalin did what he did BECAUSE he was an atheist, whose adherents have no moral commandments, whence the Christian monsters culminating in genocidal Serbs and SS officers?

  • Matthew Berry

    The problem is you’re presenting the argument of Lewontin as the brave admission any biologist would make, if he had the courage.

  • Camera Obscura

    Natural selection is the creation of a narrative to assert something, sometimes even creating the “B” for “A” to have caused. If that’s not story telling, it’s only because you chose to not call it what it really is.
    As I noted, Richard Lewontin was honest enough to admit that, Stephen Jay Gould was accurate enough to point out that Sociobiology and evolutionary psychology made up “Just-so” stories all the time.

  • cranefly

    Pffft. You would call creationist propaganda artists idiots. I’m not talking about atheists. I’m talking about “new atheism” which is polemic by definition.

  • Matthew Berry

    It seems to me that attempts to conflate stories and science here is more interested in denigrating one side of the comparison than reflecting any worthwhile equivalence. If the status of science should be diminished, then at least do it head-on and not with these semantics.

    Natural selection is the projection of an explanation for currently observed interactions into the past, in analogous situations. It is the consensus opinion in current studies to explain the mechanisms of evolution.

    You are leaning on a single source, Lewontin, to deny the validity of a theory when the source, from everything I’ve seen including your quotes, is warning against hubris. This warning does not justify your out-right denial of validity.

    I’d be interested to know, what do you propose in place of natural selection to explain evolution’s mechanisms?

  • GeniusPhx

    what science does is build hypothesis on the preponderance of the evidence they have, fossils, dna, genetic, bones, drawings on cave walls, locations of finds, etc. you point out what is unknowable, but is that necessary when you have 4 million+ years worth of evidence. Science makes assumptions and works to prove them true or false. Have you proven evolution or natural selection false?

  • Camera Obscura

    Maybe I should insist on stopping with this “science does” stuff because “science” doesn’t do anything, scientists do things. And I’ll try to avoid using that narrative myth, myself. When those hypoteses are expressed in a creative narrative of action by organisms or objects in reality, it is really no different than coming up with a story. Stories can be based on preponderances of evidence, that doesn’t change the fact that they are stories. Historians, scientists, other scholars all make up stories to explain things. Sometimes those are supported by testing and more evidence as those develop, sometimes they aren’t. That’s a fact of life in academic practice.

  • Camera Obscura

    I said he was honest, I mentioned nothing of bravery, though I’m sure that is required in his field, considering the viciousness of the Darwinian fundamentalists. I twice analyzed Richard Dawkins’ most famous explanatory myth, his “first bird to call out” story for logical coherence and if it doesn’t violate both mathematical coherence and the requirements of natural selection, no one has yet been able to explain to me why it doesn’t. Yet it is considered science and very influential.

    http://zthoughtcriminal.blogspot.com/2013/02/illusions-of-materialism-2b-burning.html

  • Camera Obscura

    It is absurd to say that the creation of stories is a denigration of science when that’s exactly what scientists often, though not always, do. They’ve been doing it from the beginning of science. Einstein said his stories about traveling on a beam of light helped him enormously in thinking about the problems of physics he dealt with, Dalton, if I recall, correctly dreamed a story that helped him formulate his atomic theory. All of the interpretation of fossils which come up with scenarios explaining aspects of them are stories. The fossilized organisms can’t tell what really happened in real life to them millions of years ago, not enough of the artifacts of their lives are available to come up with anything accurate in that regard.

    The pretense that scientists don’t do that is a denial of reality as can be seen in both what scientists say and in the personal testimony of scientists, themselves.

  • Frank

    You keep believing that as Christianity grows and grows.

  • Matthew Berry

    There isn’t much going for conspiracy theories about “Darwinian fundamentalists”, as much as some love a good persecution story.

    It is not my job, or anyone’s job, to explain to you why a blog post doesn’t make sense. I have absolutely no interest in dealing with your Quixotic issue of “evolutionary psychology”, beyond pointing out the obvious point that your source’s arguments have not managed to convince many in relevant fields.

    You’re perfectly entitled to enter into the debate, provided you pay the toll of working to a relevant level of expertise. I would not call the fact you’ve argued with a mathematician and written a blog enough to reassure anyone that their argument is sound.

    From what I’ve seen of your contributions to issues that I do have an interest in, ancient history and textual criticism, you are quite often the victim of your own sweeping generalizations or fringe opinions.

  • Matthew Berry

    You’re still conflating “stories” in a literary sense, for example Einstein’s story of traveling on a beam of light, with scientific theories, for example the theories he arrived at.

    There is a reason we distinguish between theory, story, eye-witness accounts, etc. This is because of their context.

    The interpretation of fossils via scenarios are based on scientific theories, which are separated from stories by their more stringent requirements regarding coherence and truth. If you insist that every “story” be the best possible interpretation of phenomena, then these are “stories”, but that’s not how the word is commonly applied.

    We do not need fossilized organisms to tell us what happened to them, we can work it out as long as life today is analogous to life then. Which, as far as we know, it was.

    You’re straying dangerously close to Ken Ham’s ridiculous distinction between “observational science” and “historical science”. If you insist on this approach, it would be appreciated to at least see some consistency of approach when dealing with religious claims.

  • Camera Obscura

    Oh, lots of people , from Stephen Jay Gould to Susannah Varmmuza and even Jerry Coyne’s grad student, the eminent geneticist and writer H. Allen Orr have documented Darwinian Fundamentalism as a reality and a real force determining the course of evolutionary biology.

    What “fringe opinions” would those be?

  • Camera Obscura

    Of course you are now trying to associate what I’m saying with Ken Ham’s ideology. It’s the kind of thing I’ve come to expect atheists to do. Making associations in order to avoid what their opponents really say. There’s a name for that, perhaps, perhaps its covered under The Genetic Fallacy, though I’m not really interested in labeling it. You are wrong.

    There is nothing “ridiculous” in admitting that almost everything about the lives of organisms, even those tiny percentage which have left fossil evidence, is unknowable because we didn’t observe them in real life. Anyone who proposes to do science or to read science in the absence of understanding that has, literally, not gotten to the first level of competent understanding. Which has nothing to do with whether or not you believe in creationism or think that Intelligent Design, the kind they do in Seattle for pay, is valid science.

    The conventional evolutionary biologists who come up with stories about the lives of those ancient fossils in the absence of evidence are making up stories as certainly as Lamarck did – with Darwin’s approval, by the way – and as their Intelligent Design foes do. It’s the only way to come up with scenarios of what might have happened and what might have resulted from it. Only, generally, other than the fossil, we don’t really know what resulted from any given fossil’s or group of fossils’ lives. That information is permanently lost in time, no one was there to observe it, not to mention observing it with the quality that comprises what is considered valid observational science of real organisms today.

    Marc Hauser made up stories about the tamarins he was writing about in peer-reviewed papers, one after another. They had to have been stories because when the lapses of his reviewers caught up with them, what he said hadn’t happened as seen on the lab film of those experiments.

  • pennyroyal

    You are full of hate and spread your hate by finding the worst dirt and representing that as all atheists and atheism.
    PS are you talking about the same Compte I referenced? I doubt it.

  • Matthew Berry

    I’m not sure those people are saying what you’re saying. It seems to me that you’re saying Darwinian fundamentalism is a dogmatic assertion that natural selection controls everything, end of discussion. Fine. But you’re opposing them with people who you seem to believe agree with your total rejection of natural selection as myth-making narrative. This does not seem to be the case.

    If the assumptions above are correct, you’re setting up a dichotomy between two extremes, one of which is sneeringly referred to as a form of fundamentalism, and the other of which doesn’t actually exist.

    Gould, for certain, made absolutely clear that he held the view that adaptation is a fundamental driver of evolution, and that natural selection drives adaptation. Varmuza seems to say the same. Orr certainly does too.

  • Matthew Berry

    “It’s the kind of thing I’ve come to expect atheists to do. Making associations in order to avoid what their opponents really say.”

    This is a truly hilarious moment of hypocrisy. I’ll leave the response at that.

    “There is nothing “ridiculous” in admitting that almost everything about the lives of organisms, even those tiny percentage which have left fossil evidence, is unknowable because we didn’t observe them in real life.”

    If you assume that conditions today are, on matters that count, the same as they were a billion years ago, it is possible to work out reliably what mechanisms were at play. This is a fundamental assumption of all of science: that the experiment done now can be repeated in the same conditions with the same result.

    Your rejection of this fundamental concept means rejecting all of scientific theory in every field until some arbitrary point in the recent past. It makes cosmology, geology and any other science which relies on uniformity over time literally impossible. It means that any evidence from any experiment performed today inadmissible in any possible study of the past, no matter how analogous the situation, because “we weren’t there”. It’s an arbitrary and absurd position to hold.

  • Camera Obscura

    I certainly didn’t say that Gould and Lewontin agreed with my skepticism of natural selection, I stated that, clearly, in a comment here about Lewontin, that I don’t think that his and Gould’s skepticism about evolutionary psychology would have lead someone who agreed with them, reading more about natural selection as it’s presented by entirely orthodox Darwinists, the rational type as well as the fundamentalists, could, eventually, find himself in the same position as St. George Mivert in the 1870s. Although he was a total convert to Darwinism, on attending lectures given by Darwin’s closest associate, Thomas Huxley, he found that the more he knew about it the less convincing it was to him. That’s what happened when I read entirely conventional scientists, including Darwin, Haeckel, Huxley (both Thomas and Julian) Karl Pearson, A.R. Wallace, Fischer, and a host of others right up to E.O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins and, heavens help us, Daniell Dennett. I think it’s merely a conventionalized framing that is more or less required of all biologists if they hope to get work and grants to do research in this area. I think chance events, things like genetic drift are far more likely to be both real and powerful determinants in the creation of new species. Both would operate on any individuals that would be “selected for” or against due to any genetic traits, especially chance, as well as those who would be “selected against” under the framing of natural selection. Even if it were there, it would be so weak a force, as Lewontin said, that mere chance would probably drown it out. In the hands of the hard cases, such as Richard Dawkins, it becomes mathematically impossible and even contradictory of other aspects of conventional Darwinist holdings. Not to mention, at times, seeming incredible on the basis of things like the speed of sound and distances of predators and their possible prey. You can read more about that at the link I posted on one of these comments.

  • Camera Obscura

    “I’ll leave it at that.” Oh, no, point out the hypocrisy you accuse me of, citing what I’ve said, accurately and fully.

    1. It is a certainty that conditions today are not, in matters that count, the same as they were billions of years ago. If you deny those differences you are as in much of a denial of the geological record as people who refuse to believe the age of fossils and the radical differences in those in different geological strata. And that in each of the 3.5+ billions of years now generally accepted as the history of life on Earth, those conditions varied and changed drastically. So your first contention is in error.

    2. Without seeing what actually happened at any given time in any given place it is totally impossible to determine with any accuracy what was happening, what plants, animals, etc. were leaving more successful offspring which propagated as opposed to which didn’t, what “traits” you want to contend led to that difference in percentage – something which would be impossible to know without having detailed knowledge of their anatomy, their well being, food supply, exposure to diseases, predators, chance events, the differences in percentages that give rise to rapidly changing percentages under various conditions giving rise to genetic drift, and a myriad of other known and as of yet probably unsuspected vectors that would be crucial in determining whether or not natural selection would be a valid explanation for changes from one species to the next. In the vast majority of species in those billions of years, we have no knowledge of any of those things, we don’t even know what species turned into what species. Very, very few lines of descent are even partially documented in the more recent periods. The only thing we can know is that, for example, modern human beings were not there but other individuals with whom we share anatomical similarities and, if we’re lucky, surviving evidence of genetic commonality. We don’t know why that happened or exactly how, we only know that it did happen.

    I’m fine with there being no universal explanation of how evolution happened, I, personally, doubt there was any one entirely dominant force governing that, if in the case of things like chance and genetic drift can be held to govern things. I don’t need an explanation to accept that evolution was a fact, but, then, I’m not interested in using it idologically as atheists have been since they got their hands on the drafts that Darwin was showing his friends and associates. Galton, in his memoir, talks about how excited he was as soon as he read it, seeing the ideological use it was in promoting his materialist ideology, Ernst Haeckel, as well, though I believe he had to wait for publication.

  • Camera Obscura

    As I said, you really don’t get what I was saying, your first sentence verifies what I said. Atheism is an ideology no matter how many times atheists deny that it is. Nihilism, an even more radical program of negation, is an ideology. They are related.

    Your third paragraph verifies the deficiency of atheism.

    Stalin was amoral. I think even his own daughter more or less admitted that. He had no sense of moral obligation to anyone, not members of his own family, not his sons, not even her. I’m not sure if it was her who said that on one occasion he held a little girl in his lap as he joked about how he had had her father tortured and imprisoned, maybe killed. I don’t recall in detail. His execution orders which are extant show he had absolutely no moral inhibitions at all. He was hardly the only atheist to either demonstrate amorality or to tout that atheism had liberated people from any moral obligations, it was all over the air in the writings and jabbering of atheists.

    Any Serbian Orthodox or German Lutheran or Catholic who murdered people were violating the entire gospel of a man they claim to believe spoke with divine authority, to, in fact, be God. Any who oppressed or enslaved or committed genocide or violence were completely violating their professed religious beliefs. The simplest explanation of that is that their professions of faith were a lie, which they might have been. What you can’t say with any kind of integrity were that they were following the teachings of Jesus or the Prophets or the Apostles or the earliest recorded Christians who were, notably, pacifists.

    The Nazis killed enormous numbers of people for trying to follow those teachings of Jesus and the Jewish prophets, I’ve looked and I have not found a single case of them killing someone for trying to be good at being an atheist. It would be rather hard to make that case as Martin Bormann, Hitler’s second in command was a loud-mouthed, religion hating atheist who, a very few words changed, would fit right in on may an atheist dominated comment thread today.

  • NewAndImprovedCM

    I don’t need to “chose” another word, “story” communicates my meaning perfectly sufficiently: The word “story” derives (via Latin “historia”) from the Greek “ἵστωρια,” meaning (Liddell-Scott lexicon) “inquiry, knowledge obtained from inquiry, or an account (a narrative or history) of one’s inquiries.” However, one need not reach so far: the Oxford English Dictionary currently includes as definitions: “An account of past events in someone’s life or in the evolution of something” and “A situation viewed in terms of the information known about it or its similarity to another.”

    I thought you science groupies were all about “evidence,” but you sure don’t seem to have brought any to this discussion.

  • NewAndImprovedCM

    As I suggested to Apoplexy a moment ago, you’d be a little more credible as a proponent of strict science if you would provide a little evidence – a credible language reference source, for example – to back up your claims.

  • NewAndImprovedCM

    Just so there’s no confusion, I have no intention of denigrating science. I am perfectly happy with the theory of evolution through natural selection. But I also have no problem with referring to the scientific view as a “story” of origins. I don’t think Darwin would have, either. You’re fighting on the wrong front when you quibble about that word.

  • Sam

    Sidebar:
    Regarding beauty, are you in fact stating that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder?

  • Sam

    I agree with much of what you are saying especially the role narrative plays in all human activities.
    I do not think though that evolutionary psychology will end up in the bone yard. I do agree that there is much at play we do not know but I think that our evolutionary self-understanding does, and will, provide amazing insight into how we tick.

  • cmbennett01

    Pretty sure I didn’t address the subject let alone make a statement of fact regarding the idea.

  • Sam

    “Though nature cares nothing for human life, the beauty of the universe is undeniable. It is in fact infinitely more beautiful than any description you will find in the bible or any other religions creation mythology.”

    I apologize. I must have misunderstood what you meant by “[i]t is in fact infinitely more beautiful…” It seems that you are implying that something, nature in this case, is more beautiful than something else, descriptions found in mythology specifically.

    Would you be so kind as to clarify for me what you mean?

  • Philip Finn

    “It takes chutzpah to argue that most living humans navigate reality incorrectly.” Not as much chutzpah as it takes to assume that most dead humans (an incredible number, even compared to present living seven billion) were wrong, since to embrace religion in the present is to de facto reject all religions of the past,even the former versions of one’s own chosen religious exceptionalism. It is chutzpah to reject, say, Egyptian Pharoenic traditions when one considers they lasted longer than Christianity, and sides uncomfortably with the same racism that assumes “Ancient Alien” origins to previous cultures because the little brown people couldn’t possibly have contributed.
    Atheists just assume, as humanists, that all humans living or dead are capable of falling into the same false or unfounded errors, and simply reject one more religion than everyone else.

  • Matthew Berry

    You’ve just flatly contradicted the argument I offered for why atheism is not an ideology, which is inadequate. As I said before: atheism is simply a statement of negation, and it is the ideology which replaces that void which you’re actually criticizing.

    You’ve completely ignored the fact that to cast the exchange of normative ideas in ethics is not a one-way street from theists to atheists, or “expropriating”. Atheists are as capable of producing systems of ethics as anyone else, and have done so in the past. Arguing that the only legitimate form of ethics is the one espoused by this or that particular version of divinity is ludicrous.

    Your story is wrong. What his daughter referred to is a daughter sitting on his lap whose father had been killed during the Terror, to no discernible discomfort to Stalin. You’re completely right that he was not the only atheist to behave immorally, but your argument that this was the consequence of being “liberated” from moral obligations is flawed. It is not true that the only source of morality is theism, or that atheists “liberate” themselves from morality. Stop dealing with the caricature, deal with the reality.

    As I’ve pointed out, your caricature of Christian ethics is inadequate. Jesus did not have a problem with directed violence, only violence within his community. He was an apocalyptic preacher with a hatred for intellectuals and foreigners, who fervently believed those groups would be violently destroyed in an imminent apocalypse.

    The Bible is full of divinely-mandated or directly acted genocide; slaveowners in the American South and Apartheid South Africa cited Bible verses to justify their racism; the gigantic suffering inflicted by Manifest Destiny of European societies is well-documented; as is a millennium of antisemitism and misogyny. It is simply inadequate to refuse to engage with the subject by flatly calling those people wrong, and you right. What elevates you above them, when you both claim origin for morality in the same book of the same divine power? They claimed with absolute conviction to be following the teachings of Jesus, just like you do. They were certainly not pacifists, some of the earliest martyrs died in violent mob attacks on “pagan” temples and cultural landmarks. The Church Fathers excommunicated one another with enthusiasm.

    The Nazis explicitly referenced the atheism of Bolshevism as part of the justification for the Commissar Order; Nazi propaganda set up the Christian Aryan German against the atheist, degenerate Slav. That you’re not aware of this cornerstone of the justification for the war in the East is astonishing. That you implicitly acknowledge the distinction between “murder” and “killing” is indicative of how much more complicated this moral issue is than your simplistic approach can deal with. Where, by the way, do you think the Nazis got their antisemitism? Ex nihilo?

    Extensive studies have been conducted on the beliefs that drove members of Einzatsgruppen and other SS units to commit the incredible atrocities that they did, I suggest you read one. Comparing Bormann to an atheist on a comments board is precisely that grotesque caricature that you decry when it is employed by atheists.

  • Matthew Berry

    Your hypocrisy is in accusing atheists of only dealing with caricatures of theistic belief systems, and then citing Stalin when dealing with atheism in general. Your hypocrisy is in accusing atheists of “making associations in order to avoid dealing with what their opponents really say” one sentence after “It’s the kind of thing I expect atheists to do”. This is straightforward.

    1. It is not. While factors like climate and atmospheric content change, fundamental drivers like adaptation did not. It is a fundamental principle of science that the universe has not changed its basic laws in 14 billion years of existence. You are free to reject that, but don’t cherry-pick “observational science”.

    2. This is not true. It is possible to work out mechanisms based on the effect those mechanisms have. Again, what you’re doing is undermining the whole of science to satisfy your Quixotic tilting at natural selection.

  • Camera Obscura

    Stalin is a good example of someone with absolute power and absolutely no moral restraints. He was an atheist who conducted one of the most extensive wars against religion during the 1920s and 30s. murdering enormous numbers of people in that one murder campaign, as well as tens of millions in his other murder campaigns. Not to mention such matters as denials of rights, enslavement, torture, false imprisonment, and falsely accusing and convicting people of crimes.

    As I’ve mentioned the trust-fund baby, Corliss Lamont, a big wig in “Humanism” the foremost promoter of atheism in the United States, almost certainly the money in the foundation of such groups as CSICOP and, I would be anything, CFI, was a huge fan of Stalin, even up till the end of Stalin’s regime writing a pamphlet promoting his Soviet union for publication even as his “Jewish Doctors” pogrom was underway. And he was hardly the only hero of “Humanism” who was a huge fan of Stalin. Even many people who were otherwise admirable in many ways, such as I. F. Stone, one of my journalism heroes, had a period of Stalinism to stain his biography. You should look up the letter that Max Eastman wrote, breaking with Lamont, it’s available online, in which he gives his reasons for the break over Lamont’s Stalinist activities. Eastman, an atheist as well, who praised Lamont’s book purported to disprove the possibility of immortality, his Doctoral dissertation in philosophy, I believe. Of course, Eastman not having any real liberal inclinations and having no real sense of morality, instead of becoming a real liberal after he fled Stalinism, he joined up with the far right, as so many other atheist “leftists” did, especially the Trotskyites who became the original neo-cons, most of them in the atheist circles at City College. Somewhere online you can also find Irving Kristol’s article about that. I have also become entirely convinced that atheism, materialism, is the absolute death of liberalism, in the American sense of the word, things like equality, justice and universally held moral obligations. I think materialism is inevitably corrosive of democracy, which is how I first became interested in these matters, after reading what atheists were saying in large numbers about 12 years ago.

    I don’t rely on single sources, I have researched these matters in the way they used to teach people in the humanities to do back when I was in school.

  • Camera Obscura

    What have I said about natural selection and the requirements of verifying it in reality instead of in story telling that isn’t true? Tell me, how you would verify its presence or even reality in the natural world, in the real life, uncontrolled conditions under which it would have had to operate in the period before human beings began to practice selective breeding which cannot really reproduce those unknown and unknowable conditions.

    I’m merely applying the claims of scientists as to what would be needed and logical analysis to the conditions that would be necessary to show that natural selection is a thing, as they say, and what role it plays in bringing about evolution of species when other forces, such as genetic drift are known to be at work. As it is, I don’t think you can point out anything wrong with what I said, so you characterize it dismissively. That is generally what the Darwinian fundamentalists do instead of responding to what was said.

  • Camera Obscura

    Nihilism is just a statement of negation, it is an ideology. The characterization of something isn’t done on its own terms, it is done externally of the entity being characterized. I know atheists like to have everything their way but the rest of us aren’t under any obligation to allow them to do that.

    Atheism is, actually, what atheists make of it and what’s on display here is a full blown ideology, including some pretty vulgar and crudely considered beliefs surrounding materialism, scientism, a host of historical myths, invective that could have come from anything from Foxe’s frequently false “Book of Martyrs”, Chick Publications, and other such sources of bigoted fable.

    I have made an extensive study of the claims of atheists over the past dozen or so years and one thing I have learned is that atheists have certainly in those dozen years and, very often, well into the past, constructed double standards in their favor in which they don’t ever hold it is fair or valid to be held up to the standards they use to criticize religions and religious people. They feel they have carte blanche to misrepresent what they did and said, to exaggerate, to lie about religion and religious people as so many of those commenting here have in this discussion, having learned those same distortions and misrepresentations from previous atheists who originated them. Atheists, in my long experience of arguing with them, seem to be allergic to original source materials, favoring atheist clap trap as published by Prometheus or some other such tertiary or worse junk.

    Your characterization of Jesus clearly is of a piece with that atheist propaganda. It leads me to believe you’ve never read the Gospels or anything that anyone who was near in time to him said about him. The only incident in the gospels that comes anywhere near what you said is the incident of him driving the money changers out of the Temple precinct. Which was hardly anything in line with what you said. The moral commandments of Jesus, if followed, would certainly not produce killing or oppressing or slavery, do unto others as you would have them do unto you could not produce slavery. Forgive your enemies and pray for them, what you do to the least among you you do unto me, says the Lord, “Neither do I condemn you”, etc. all show what an enormous lie that characterization that is.

    I’ve answered you on Stalin already, I will answer you on the Nazis. As I pointed out, the Nazis murdered enormous numbers of people for trying to act according to the words of Jesus and The Law. His second in command, as I pointed out, was a loud-mouthed, bigoted anti-religious atheist who, really, when you read him sounds like nothing so much as so many blog thread atheists. While Hitler had to deal with a population which was largely Protestant and Catholic, his clear plan was to destroy Christianity, as the OSS documented from its study of the public and the internal documents of the Nazi regime. He used a pose of Christianity, just as so many of the clearly hypocritical Republican politicians do, even as they violate every single moral teaching that Jesus set out.

    I would go look up the reference but you’d just ignore it, Hitler addressed the Christian resistance to him by telling his opponents they didn’t matter because he had their children. His regime made all of the Protestant youth groups illegal and made it mandatory that all children join the Hitler Youth at age 10. He had agreed to allow the Catholic youth groups to continue but made it illegal for Hitler Youth to belong to other youth groups, effectively making membership in Catholic youth groups illegal. The leaders of the Hitler Youth were vehemently anti-Christian and made up all kinds of anti-religious chants and songs for the Hitler Youth to sing. Which is all available online, now.

    We know where Hitler got his racial theories because we know what he was reading while he was in prison, what he called his “university education at the public expense”. He read Grundriss der Menschlichen Erblichkeitslehre und Rassenhygiene by Eugene Fischer, Fritz Lenz and Erwin Baur, as he was writing Mein Kampf. We also know from Martin Bormann who was there when he said it, that Hitler hated Jesus because of his moral teachings, which he would have since he and all of his apostles,. etc. were Jews. Any pose of Christianity that he made was political expediency.

    I have also studied those accusations you make, in detail, and could go on at length, with citations. What you claim is rubbish.

  • apotropoxy

    Well done by default. Since you chose to exclude the objectionable definitions* of “story”, your usage becomes acceptable.
    *
    a piece of gossip; a rumor.
    “there have been lots of stories going around, as you can imagine”
    synonyms:rumor, piece of gossip, whisper;
    speculation
    “there have been a lot of stories going around”
    informal
    a false statement or explanation; a lie.

  • NewAndImprovedCM

    The definitions I cited are valid definitions. There’s nothing “objectionable” about any other definitions, they just weren’t relevant to the issue. My usage doesn’t “become” acceptable, it is acceptable. Language obviously isn’t your strong suit.

  • Burnt Orange

    Interesting review of this mans work. I was struck by the statement ““The ability of people to ignore inconvenient truths that conflict with their faith, whether or not the faith be religious, is astonishing,” What is astonishing is his total ignorance about this statement itself. People ignore all sorts of “evidence” about everything that conflicts with their beliefs religious or otherwise. In the world of politics, a quasi-religion, reality is ignored as a matter of course. When inconvenient truths of ANY kind are placed before most people, including scientific ones, they are often ignored. It is part of the human defense system. People are usually won over by the power of persuasion, stark reality or just time.
    When it comes to religion intellectual arguments don’t seem to cut through the often comforting and restorative properties of religious ideas and beliefs. Most people believe their children are somehow special and different then other kids. To them in reality they truly are. The truth is often subjective and personal even though the “actual” truth might be something else all together. This mans belief in atheism is no different in that the belief itself is the driver behind his “evidence” and he ignores most of the people and the whys and wherefores of their belief systems. The question that might be posited is “is it part of being human that causes religion or is religion (ignoring reality) somehow part of an intrinsic flaw in humanity.”

  • Burnt Orange

    Feet might have been developed because bigger predators were chasing smaller fish into shallow waters where they were safe. They remained in the shallow waters for generations and their fins got stronger and developed into something that allowed them to leave the water for longer and longer periods of time, like the so called walking Asian carp, and they lost their gills.
    There you go another “theory” for evolution. Stories posited by scientists have the same qualities as other creation stories. Often there is more information but in the end a leap of faith in the conclusions of the scientists (high priests) is necessary to complete the story.

  • GeniusPhx

    but for scientists the stories are based on evidence, what is more likely than not, what is proven in similar species. On PBS a documentary called ‘your inner fish’ is a good example. When religious stories were written they only knew what they knew at the time. The ‘gaps’ were much larger and they filled them with fantastic stories completely unbelievable today by rational people. That’s the main difference between religion and science, science did not stop in the first century.

  • Sam

    Thank you for the clarification. Your statement sounded rather definitive rather than an opinion. 🙂

    Are you assuming I disagree or just stating that I am allowed to when you say “You are of course free to disagree. Maybe this will change your mind.” What leads you to assume I disagree?

    And, if I may receive further clarification, you state “the fact that one paragraph in Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncius says more about the nature of the heavens that the entire bible.” Is that really a “fact” or just another opinion?

    Last, I think that:

    Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, Darwin; any one you pick will give you an elegant description of some incredibly complex aspect of nature. Genesis pretty much boils down to “god did it”.

    Draws a false comparison doesn’t it? Does Genesis say nature is not “elegant” or “incredibly complex”? Do the “elegant description[s] of some incredibly complex aspect[s] of nature” found in “Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, Darwin” state god did not do it?

  • Burnt Orange

    If you were a religious scholar or debated with an educated theologian you would know religious beliefs evolve and change as time and science uncover more information regarding the known and unknown. The idea that change stopped in the first century within the religious community is just uninformed. Much of Christ’s teachings have been confirmed by mental health scientists, social workers and others as beneficial to living an integrated community life. So called rational people of just 80 years ago believed in eugenics, racial superiority and other claptrap so “rationality” might not be the best criteria for judging the truth of something.
    So called gaps were very large in the “scientific” community and they were also filled with unusual information based on the know information of the time. Humans abhor information vacuums and often fill them with “best guess” information. Than includes the scientific community which is made up of humans. Their methodology might seem more rational to many people but is often influenced by politics, peer pressure and other non-imperiacal considerations. Religions are subject to the same pressures and human foibles as all institutions.

  • Burnt Orange

    A story can be true, speculative or false. It is still a story. The story of someone’s life if a biography might say one thing and if an autobiography another. It is still a story. Both versions are true, speculative or false. That does NOT make them less of a story.

  • Burnt Orange

    A theory is in fact a story based on some independent speculative or known information. The theory can be proved somehow, disproved or left hanging like the “theory of everything.” It is still a specific type of story.

  • Burnt Orange

    If as Coyne asserts “Coyne’s view that religion is harmful to modern society is justified given the history of religious belief” then it must follow that science is also harmful to society since it has given us the tools to destroy ourselves.

    As a matter of fact science and industry have been the implements of more death and destruction then all religious wars combined. HUMANS are harmful or helpful to society NOT religion or science. Both are tools used by imperfect humans to try to understand and move within their lives and be happy, pursue life and be free as they understand the terms.

    Why the atheists keep harping on religions wars and persecutions is beyond me when non-believers like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao all atheists have caused more death and destruction many times over then any religion, could ever even conceive, is beyond me.

  • Matthew Berry

    Nihilism is not atheism, I’m not going to deal with it here. As pointed out elsewhere, the basis for you calling atheism an ideology is your perception of common beliefs held by atheists. You’re now resorting to some imaginary “rest of us”.

    Find me some objective assessment of atheism as an ideology, and I’ll respond to that. I’ve responded to your personal argument that it is one, and it’s now reduced to going round in circles.

    You seem determined to conflate disagreement with how you see historical events and “carte blanche to misrepresent what they did and said, to exaggerate, to lie about religion and religious people”. This kind of hysterical caricature of your opponent has no place in a reasoned debate. I’ve no doubt that you’ve met some stupid atheists, who’ve said stupid things. Caricaturing an entire group of people based on that is as wrong as those atheists caricaturing all Christians on the basis of Christian fundamentalists.

    You are resorting to an ad hominem argument on the subject of Jesus and the Gospels. I have actually spent my life in academia on the subject, and the subject of the Hellenistic Near East, and I can tell you that your simplification of New Testament moral teaching is utterly absurd. The moral commands of the New Testament have been interpreted, from at latest the Medieval Age, to include the most horrific violence. The most notorious example is in Matthew 27: 24-25, which has been used to justify pogroms for a millennium.

    You have also not responded to the context in which Jesus was preaching: as an anti-intellectual apocalyptic preacher who believed that the violent death and destruction of Israel’s enemies, as he perceived it, was imminent.

    Responding to these issues by claiming superior insight into the mind of divinity simply begs the question.

    Bormann’s position as “second in command” is a ridiculous over-simplification of the system in which Hitler operated. Hitler’s opinions on Christianity were at best, for you, ambivalent, and his repeated references to Providence and explicit statements of faith do not support the idea that Hitler was interested in either destroying Christianity or doing anything more than making the Churches subject to Nazi control.

    The Einsatzgruppen were recruited from religiously conservative farmers and policemen, the traditional core of the Nazi vote. The majority of officers in the SS were confessing Catholics. Both of these groups, responsible for the most horrific crimes against the Jews and Soviets, explicitly linked their Christian faith to their actions. They saw their role as the modern Crusaders, destined to protect civilization from Jewry and atheist Bolshevism. These groups have been extensively researched, I suggest you read some of it.

    It is true that Hitler saw the Church as a rival center of power and protest, which it was on one important occasion. His responses to this should be interpreted in this context, not in the context of Bormann’s hatred of Christianity, since Bormann only had any influence in the last couple of years of the war, if no other reason.

    We know where Hitler got his racial theories. This is half of the story, and still controversial. His application of racial theories to Jews and Slavs, in particular, is what is at issue here. It beggars belief to argue that a millennium of Christian antisemitism had no role in his development. Hitler’s Table Talks on the issue are worth reading, although I don’t suggest it since they’re incredibly boring.

    The problem with your arguments on Hitler, Jesus and others is that you hold positions so extreme and total that they inevitably beggar belief. You are reduced to a conspiracy theory on natural selection, you are reduced to arbitrary distinctions on questions of Christian behavior, you are reduced to caricature on the issue of Stalin and Hitler. It’s true that there are natural selection extremists, the worst of whom is Dawkins, it’s true that some Christians base their behavior on only the most tenuous justifications, and that Stalin and Hitler were monsters. But reality doesn’t correspond to your black and white world, and you tie yourself into all kinds of knots by angrily demanding that it does. Most of all, you time and time again rely on a tiny number of sources, which you elevate to ridiculous heights in order to ignore contrary evidence. It does you no service.

  • cmbennett01

    I’m not going to address the “does science prove there’s no god” questions. It’s a non-question and is solely the preoccupation of those with a pre-conceived faith in the supernatural.
    The religious beliefs of those engaged in science are not really relevant. Galileo was engaged in science when he made observations of the heavens, and the Starry Messenger is a record of what he saw not what he believed. When Pope Pius declared that the big bang proved the existence of god, Lamaitre, the catholic priest who developed the theory, told him it does no such thing. It is a scientific theory and has nothing to say about theology. There is no god in science.
    For a comparison of the content of Genesis as opposed to the that of science it is very easy to do. They are printed in black and white. I realize considerably more effort is required to understand the content of science, but sometimes the more difficult road is the most advantageous.

  • Sam

    “I’m not going to address the “does science prove there’s no god” questions. It’s a non-question and is solely the preoccupation of those with a pre-conceived faith in the supernatural.”

    I concur, but when did I ask that? All I have been is asking for clarification on what you have stated.

    What of:

    Are you assuming I disagree or just stating that I am allowed to when you say “You are of course free to disagree. Maybe this will change your mind.” What leads you to assume I disagree?

    And, if I may receive further clarification, you state “the fact that one paragraph in Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncius says more about the nature of the heavens that the entire bible.” Is that really a “fact” or just another opinion?

  • Camera Obscura

    Historical fiction, the good stuff, is based on evidence.

    You know absolutely nothing about religion if you think religion stopped at the first century. Typical of atheists, you are entirely ignorant about what you’re babbling about yet apparently hold yourself to be a genius.

  • apotropoxy

    The word “story” doesn’t describe scientific explanation accurately. The term is redolent with chaos.

  • Camera Obscura

    If your support for you claim that atheism is not an ideology is “atheism is simply a statement of negation” you can say the same thing about nihilism, about which the statement is ever more true than it is atheism. Yet I would suspect any credible philosopher would count nihilism as an ideology.

    I will answer some, though not all of the things you say about Nazis, lots of which is garbage. For example, try this simple experiment, Google Martin Bormann Hitler’s second in command” and see what comes up. I didn’t make up the idea, it is somewhat ubiquitously held.

    If the Einsatzgruppen were Christians, they certainly were violating every single thing that Jesus taught, the entire JEWISH Law which Jesus taught and cited. Since Jesus and all of the apostles, virtually everyone mentioned in the Gospels apart from some Romans and a few Samaritans and others were Jews, they would have all been lined up and shot by the Nazis.

    Atheist claims about the Christianity of the Nazis while denying the atheism of Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot and Enver Hoxha is absurd in so far as none of the atheists were violating a single thing about atheism in their campaigns of mass murder while the Nazis violated everything in the Gospels.

    Really, atheists have absolutely no intellectual integrity.

  • Penny Davis

    Thanks to all of you for this conversation. I wanted to jump in with a comment, but most of what I could have said was said by someone else. A particular thanks to Schulson for summarizing my own response to Coyne and to Camera Obscura and others for the history lessons.

  • cmbennett01

    It is humans that are responsible for the evils that are perpetrated. People act according to their beliefs using the technology available to them. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao were acting in accord with their ideological beliefs not in accord with what they did not believe. Totalitarian ideology has in fact more in common with religious ideology than you are probably willing to admit. In fact the “Nazis were atheist” arguments are not supported by facts. Nazi ideology had a very religious character. Just because it’s not your particular idea of religion does not mean it’s not religion. With very few exceptions in all of the wars throughout history religious ideology was a driving force or at the very least a justification.

    Science is not an ideology. It is the method by which man investigates the nature of the universe. You can try and suppress knowledge in the service of protecting society, but that is a strategy that is very likely to fail. Technology derived from scientific knowledge is dangerous only in the hands of ideologues. Religious ideologues are no less dangerous than any other, and you can easily make the case that technology in the hands of apocalyptic religious fanatics is of more concern than that of a totalitarian regime. If the idea of the “islamic bomb”, the “hindu bomb”, or nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran and an increasingly religiously fanatical Israel does not concern you, then I’m not sure what would.

  • Burnt Orange

    Scientific explanations are based on “known” criteria and can usually be reproduced by other scientists. Not so with theories or scientific explanations based on informed speculation. If the underlying information has some flaws or is itself speculative, no matter how rational, it is still a story told by a scientist based on his (their) best guess.

    Most evolution theories can not be reproduced in a lab or out in nature and as such are scientific stories that rely on a preponderance of “evidence.” Sometimes the underlying science itself changes and the story goes out the window. Facts don’t themselves change so if science is based on facts why are they always revising their results in many areas. Maybe their FACTS are not in true facts but self serving bits of information presented as “settled science” as Al Gore would say.

  • cmbennett01

    You’re “just asking questions” but I’m getting kind of bored with it so.. If you’d like to make an argument by all means I’ll continue but if all you want to do is play Socrates I’ll move on to more productive conversations.

  • Burnt Orange

    Yours is a curious definition of ideology. “Nazi ideology had a very religious character.” ALL ideologies have a religious character, a political character and or a scientific character. Even atheism has an ideological component. Any organized human activity has an ideological component. That in and of itself does not make it bad. It would be like saying some organizations have a hierarchic component. So what!

    What was the religious basis for the Civil War, WW I and WW II. Just what religious idea was the motivating force. Seems it is in the IDEOLOGY of atheism to keep referring to wars, violence and other negative happenings as religious based.

    BTW how many hospitals, orphanages, soap kitchens or other charitable endeavors have atheists undertaken? Odd how the ideology of atheism ALWAYS mentions the wars and violence but never even considers the billions of dollars and uncountable man hours spent in the name of religion helping other people. If man relied on atheists for anything they would be waiting a long time since there seem to be no provisions for anything but the “self” in their world view.

  • Sam

    That is your prerogative. 🙂

    An interesting position to take though after so few questions. You prejudged me and my beliefs, made statements regarding facts and truth and then back pedaled from them, and most of all were unwilling to take responsibility for any of the above. You can do that, as can anyone else, and you can shroud yourself in a cloak of rationality, as can anyone else, but I think it would be disingenuous of you to hold that you are somehow more rational than others when the evidence doesn’t present that.

    But what do I know. 🙂

    Go in peace and may the road always rise to meet you.

  • cmbennett01

    Atheists don’t help people in the name of atheism, and they don’t kill people in the name of atheism. Atheism isn’t a thing. If they are generous or compassionate it is because they are decent human beings and believe it is right, not because they fear god. And I’m pretty sure you’re the one who brought up the wars. If you don’t want to talk about it, maybe you shouldn’t do that.

  • GeniusPhx

    religion didnt stop (unfortunately), but the writing of the texts stopped with the new testament.

    Studies show atheists to be better educated and higher IQ’s than believers. The cure for religion is education.

  • Camera Obscura

    Oh, how odd, I just bought a book by James Cone written within the last twenty years. If I had it with me I’d check the date on it. I’m planning on reading one by David Bentley Hart written a couple of years ago. Seems someone failed to notify them and thousands of other writers.

    Passing by the quaintness of someone who still believes in the validity of the pseudo-scientific hoax that I.Q. testing is,

    And you might like to look up the article in the Atlantic Montly that was entitiled:

    It Turns Out Colleges Aren’t Actually Atheist Factories

    For people born after 1960, having a college degree doesn’t cause religious disaffiliation—young, highly educated people are more likely to identify with a faith, according to a new study.

  • Matthew Berry

    It is your claim that atheism is an ideology, which is up to you to justify. You seem to have confused this with a situation where, if I cannot convincingly prove to you that it isn’t, it necessarily is one. Obviously, that doesn’t work. “Atheism is simply a statement of negation” is not support, it is a truth claim which I would be happy to support if asked. Because of these two factors, your leap to nihilism is unjustified.

    What you claim is that atheism is an ideology, because you see many atheists holding the same views. That you arrive at this by caricaturing atheists, as we’ve seen above in your Stalin and Bormann comparisons, and ridiculously misrepresent their views, as we see above in your claims that they are amoral, undermines your argument without any need for my input. So come up with a good reason for why it is an ideology, don’t waste time with digressions into nihilism.

    Google is not an academic source, and will naturally return a result in your favor when your result is contained in the search query! It’s amusing that you’ve stooped this low, but it is still unconvincing. Perhaps Google “Martin Bormann” and look at some actually enlightening explanations of his rise in the Nazi system, starting in 1943, ten years into the Third Reich.

    It is inadequate to emphatically condemn people who were convinced they were behaving as good Christians. You have still completely refused to even engage with the deep ambivalence of the New Testament to violence and Christian history of antisemitism. Try engaging with the issue. As it is, you’re just wasting my time with these emphatic claims, particularly in the light of a millennium of Christian antisemitism. As an aside, the issue of Jesus’ “Jewishness” vexed theologians for centuries, and fed into wider bitter debates on the nature of Jesus’ divinity or otherwise. Again, the issue is actually complex, and your simplifications don’t work.

    There are no credible ways to deny that Stalin and Mao were atheists, or to argue that atheism in some way inoculates against behaving badly, any more than being religious does. You’re responding to “atheist claims”, but not my claims. I am not here to defend every stupid utterance of any atheist, and more than you are here to defend every Christian instigator of a pogrom.

    The Christian faith of members of the SS and Einzatsgruppen, along with appeals to Christian “Crusader” spirit in Nazi propaganda is well documented. You can go look it up for yourself. It is, and this is getting tiresomely repetitious, inadequate to emphatically claim that the Nazis “violated everything in the Gospels” without actually engaging with the contents of the Gospels. It is a fact that the Gospels, and I’ve already given you one important couple of verses, contributed significantly to Christian antisemitism. You need to deal with it.

    Insults are demeaning. Do better.

  • Camera Obscura

    Am I going to have to resort to the dictionary? Well, here from the online Merriam Webster:

    Full Definition of IDEOLOGY

    1 : visionary theorizing

    2 a : a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture

    b : a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture

    c : the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program

    The fact that atheism has been all of those is fully demonstrated in this and other blog discussions through what atheists assert is the consequence of atheism. If you deny that in this discussion almost every assertion made by atheists fulfills one or another of those items, you are proving what I said about atheism not being able to produce the idea that it is a sin to tell a lie. Coyne’s every assertion about atheism and the consequences of being an atheist as compared to being religious proves my point, as well.

    You couldn’t have looked very closely at that google search because in mine I saw lots of them linked to statements to that effect made by academics. You are merely denying what is so obviously true, Hitler’s second in command, a man whose atheism, his ranting against Christianity and religion in general, didn’t get him into the kind of trouble that, for example, the students of the White Rose got into over asserting their religious convictions. His regime chopped their heads off with that emblem of the materialist “Enlightenment” the guillotine.

    I looked and could find absolutely no evidence that the Nazis ever murdered someone for being an atheist, they killed millions for being religious. Same as Stalin, Mao, and those with fewer opportunities such as Hoxha, Pol Pot. And those “Enlightened” atheists of that event wildly popular with many atheist academics today, the Reign of Terror, were no slouches in killing people for their religion either. Most of them peasants.

  • Camera Obscura

    “You have still completely refused to even engage with the deep ambivalence of the New Testament to violence and Christian history of antisemitism.”

    “The deep ambivalence of the New Testament to violence”. You mean like when Peter took out his sword and cut of the ear of the guy who was coming to lead Jesus to his death and he told Peter to put it away? When he said, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword”? Or do you mean when he turned over the money changers tables and drove them out of the temple precincts? If you find that “deep ambivalence to violence” I would counter you with Nietzsche, Haeckel, Marx, the neo-cons, and a vast host of other writers who are beloved of atheists, excerpted by atheists, republished by atheists. I would repeat my citations of the atheist regimes of the 18th and 20th and 21st centuries with the oceans of blood, the oppression and enslavement of people.

    I would even refer you to the many statements of people like Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley and Ernst Haeckel saying that the consequence of believing that natural selection is a valid way of looking at the human population means that violence, killing people has salubrious effects on the human population. Both Charles Darwin and Ernst Haeckel attribute the widespread practice of infanticide to the excellence of the Spartans, a violent, military despotism which, every so often, would declare war on their slaves and decimate them, selecting out those they thought might present the greatest challenge to them. Though, of course, the reputation of the Spartans was not scientifically based but was more like lore and gossip. It was no wonder that so many Darwinians in the next generation, such as Huxley’s student H. G. Wells, would advocate using the “lethal chamber” to murder those they deemed “unfit” including, in the case of Wells, named racial groups who he said “must go”. You should read Scott Christianson’s book, about the history of the gas chamber, the first chapter, Envisioning the Lethal Chamber may still be available online,

    “Writing at the dawn of the twentieth century, H.G. Wells often mentioned “lethal chambers for the insane” and mused that the “swarms of black, brown, and dirty white, and yellow people . . . have to go.”

    An idea which he could have developed directly from things that were written by the eminent scientist who was his teacher, through whom his link to Darwin was made. Ideas which were held by the educated elite at that time to be sophisticated, scientific and modern. If you don’t believe that you should read The Descent of Man and The History of Creation,. Thomas Huxley’s Emancipation in Black and White and Well’s Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress Upon Human Life and Thought. Oh, and his “Experiment in Autobiography” in which he talks about how his study of science led him to atheism. What he says about Jews and other ethic and racial groups in the first one in terms of social “efficency” as a determinant of whether or not they should be killed along with the “yellow” “brown” “dirty white” could have inspired much of what the Nazis said, as could the British talk about murdering large numbers of people, en masse, in gas chambers in the early years of the 20th century, before the Nazi Party was even formed. All of them inspired by science, all of them entirely uninhibited by the words of Jesus.

    Now, that’s unambiguous advocacy of violence.

  • Camera Obscura

    To start with, any meta analysis of studies is only as good as the studies it includes in its numbers crunching, and a number of the studies included in that study have been notable for not being particularly good studies. You don’t have to take my word for that, you can take the word of an atheist and sociologist, Frank Feredi said in an article in The Independent, “Atheists are more intelligent than religious people? That’s ‘sciencism’ at its worst”

    “It has just been announced that a meta-analysis of 63 ‘scientific’ studies have concluded that people of faith are less intelligent than atheists. Outwardly the study, titled ‘The Relation Between Intelligence and Religiosity: A Meta-Analysis and Some Proposed Explanations’, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Review, bears all the hallmarks of a rigorous scientific monograph. Atheists looking for an argument can now say “research shows”. However experience suggests that the relationship between “research shows” and the truth is often as dodgy as that between the claim ‘God said’ and what actually occurred.”

    And as Jordan Modge pointed out in her article on this meta-analysis, Mentioning Furedi:

    ” Plus, in spite of presenting a sweeping meta-analysis, the study’s authors relied on a limited range of research, as they admit in the paper. They primarily address Protestants, in the U.S. (This highlights a common problem in psychological research, which is heavily weighted toward a particular population that is rather WEIRD—Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic—when compared to the rest of the world.

    The most significant issue comes with the very question these researchers chose to explore. The way they framed their study suggests an implicit bias in the way scholars think about religion. “Secular researchers are likely to discover what they already suspect which is a co-relation between their values and high levels of intelligence,” noted atheist sociologist Frank Furerdi. He questioned the value of such a project, where “social science research turns into advocacy research.”

    Given my experience with atheists casually rejecting meta-analyses of much better quality studies with data much less prone to being a reflection of bias, under much more rigorously controlled conditions, I’d say that it’s no wonder you buy this one. Atheists are quite as capable of deciding what they believe and what they won’t on the basis of liking it. That goes for sociologists, such as Barry Kosmin who invented the category “nones” so he wouldn’t have to admit what his own data showed, that religious affiliation is the norm in the United States and most developed countries. And he, as a member of the board of CFI and one of its paid speakers has a conflict of interest that should have led other sociologists, etc. to reject his category, yet it is widely and illogically used.

    I have, actually, studied these issues, as atheists bring them up. In almost every case their contentions are anything from inaccurate to total nonsense if not fraud.

  • GeniusPhx

    And of course you have no bias the other way?
    I dont believe that study. I was raised Baptist i know where fanaticism comes from.

  • Camera Obscura

    I didn’t do a meta analysis, I didn’t do a sociological study. I only pointed out what an atheist who is a sociologist said about it and what a journalist wrote about it. I do, though, entirely reject the validity of I.Q. as a measurement for testing, it is total and absolute pseudo-science.

    Pardon me for pointing it out but you’re not a very good advertisement for your contention.

    I was never a Baptist. The Reverend Martin Luther King jr. was one, The Reverend Cornel West is another. You mean Baptists like them?

  • Jim Reed

    I guess you are saying people in the distant past might have been wrong about all their religious beliefs, but that doesn’t make them stupid because they had no way to know any better.

  • GeniusPhx

    there is a part of our brain that orients us in space and time that wires us for belief if you interpret it that way. it can be interpreted other ways also, what seems like ‘spirit’ can actually be normal functioning.
    baptists that make their kids go to church and Sunday school, not dance, fear and guilt, all those things. a christian madrases, in my opinion, like the one you probably grew up in. But people can grow up out of that, and learn alternative theories (science) and we are all free to choose which to believe. I don’t think you should call anyone not smart, you dont know me, just makes you seem like a jerk. I’m very comfortable.

  • Camera Obscura

    I think you ought to go over to Jerry Coyne’s blog and tell him he’s wrong about free will being a delusion, then you can go over to the “Free Thought” blogs and tell them that they’re wrong that free will is a delusion. Not to mention most of the atheists who write about the question of free will. Atheists, materialists, of the kind you reference in your first paragraph pretty much refuse to believe in free choice, often misciting the Libet experiments, misrepresenting his own conclusions about his own experiments. Materialism is incompatible with the concept of free thought because materialism is a deterministic ideological system. And almost every atheist is a materialist.

    You really don’t have a clue about these things, do you.

  • Matthew Berry

    Your dictionary entry, far from helping you, actually reinforces the point I’ve been trying to get through to you from the start. Atheism is “not theism”. This is not visionary, it is foundational. It certainly is not a systematic body of concepts, as demonstrated by the wide and sometimes mutually exclusive variety of views atheists hold, from someone like Ayn Rand through to your beloved Stalin. This means “atheism” has no “socialpolitical program.” As pointed out repeatedly, there are no necessary consequences of being an atheist, beyond adopting a worldview that does not include theistic beliefs.

    “Sin” is a theological construct, which obviously conflicts with atheism. “Wrong” is a moral construct. Atheists are perfectly capable of coherently adopting moral systems, or thinking up convincing ones of their own. What I’ve said all along is that atheism itself does not lead to anything, it’s the system one adopts subsequent to the statement which is what you’re actually judging.

    I did look at the Google search, and I criticized your use of the conclusion in the terms, which you failed to respond to. I did not argue with the fact that Bormann ended up very powerful in the Nazi system, I argued that his appointment in 1943 leads inevitably to the argument that his influence was instrumental over the entire period being invalid. Your argument is equivalent to saying that Speer was influencing the German economy in the 1930s, which is equally untenable, however influential he may have become in the last 2 years of the war. Nazi policy towards the Churches was deeply ambivalent; they saw the Catholics in particular as a rival source of power, and treated it as such. The Vatican reciprocated. The Church was still powerful enough to inflict a serious policy defeat on the Nazis over the euthanasia program in 1938, but not powerful enough to prevent the arrest of outspoken priests. Crucially, priests who didn’t involve themselves in politics were left alone throughout the period.

    That you looked or otherwise is unimportant, when experts devote their lives to the subject. The atheism of Bolshevism was referenced repeatedly by Nazi justifications for their brutality in the East.

    Saying that mass murderers are wildly popular with academics today is hilarious. It does highlight the inconsistency of your approach, which condemns anyone who happens to be a Christian who commits an offense as wayward or not following Scripture, while arguing that every murderer who happens to be an atheist is a murderer defined by their atheism, despite the complete lack of justification.

    It is hard to find any examples of people killed during the Terror for being religious. It’s, again, a complicated subject that I’m not about to allow to become another digression.

    I see you’ve just stopped responding at all to the faith and conviction of Christian murderers, and the life and times of Jesus, and the actual content of the New Testament. Oh well…

  • Camera Obscura

    Oh, no, not “my beloved Stalin” That would be Stalin beloved of the sugar daddy of “Humanism” and neo atheism here and abroad, Corliss Lamont who was trying to peddle him to Americans even in the early 1950s and up till the point where his successor officially revealed a short list of his crimes. Not to mention so many other atheists who were members of the Communist Party and others who were not officially backers of his deposed rival, Trotsky. The habit of Trotskyites to become neo-cons from the Irving Kristol generation to that latter day god of neo atheism, Christopher Hitchens is rather striking in itself, as is Trotsky’s violence, as even someone as prone to violence, herself, as Emma Goldman pointed out in writing about his role in suppressing the Kronestadt rebellion. Alexander Berkman as well.

    Try as you might you can’t avoid the fact that anyone who murders people, who oppresses people, who does violence to people while professing Christianity has to be a hypocrite in their profession because they are violating the words of Jesus, a man they claim to believe was speaking with divine authority when he issued commandments which would have identified what they were doing as evil, as sinful as things which would definitively define them as not being his true followers. Christians who murder are not acting according the the defining characteristics of followers of Jesus, as laid out by Jesus. To claim otherwise would be like claiming someone who denied the reality of evolution could be considered a real follower of Richard Dawkins.

    You can not avoid the fact that atheists who murder,who oppress, who enslave, who lie who are hypocrites, who falsely profess, are violating not a single thing about being an atheist. Stalin was a perfectly good atheist, Ayn Rand was a perfectly good atheist, Nietzsche was a perfectly good atheist, Pol Pot, the Kims of Korea, the heroes of materialist-atheist “Enlightenment” who slaughtered peasants in the Vendee, who tied priests and nuns together to drown them in “Republican baptisms” who chopped off the heads of Lavoisier and a number of other scientists, as well as thousands of peasants who had never committed any crimes and who came close to chopping off the silly head of Thomas Paine who was saved only by a sort of miracle that reminds me of nothing so much as an atheist passover because the jailer left the door open, covering the mark of death that had been placed on it… all of those people were doing not a single thing that could mark them as being bad at being atheists. Neither were Hitler et al if, as they violated everything about Christianity, they pretended to respect Christianity for temporary political expediency even as they were actively and violently undermining it and propagandizing the youth of Germany to reject it.

    Your claim “It is hard to find any examples of people killed during the Terror for being religious,” is so ridiculous and ahistorical and so blatantly untrue that you could only say it if you were entirely ignorant, which I doubt, or a facile liar, which is something I’ve come to be unsurprised about when arguing with atheists.

  • Matthew Berry

    Associating Stalin with humanism goes back to this selective elevation of individual figures, as though they in themselves can condemn an entire movement. This is equivalent to me condemning Medieval Christianity by name-dropping Torquemada, or Christianity in general because it is based on the mythological life of an illiterate and xenophobic apocalyptic preacher. It’s too simplistic a view, and it’s one you continuously resort to.

    Your argument about murderers is circular. Of course murder is a violation of the New Testament, it is apriori a morally negative act. Hence the distinction between murder and killing, the latter of which professing Christians have engaged in from the very beginning and seen as no contradiction of their faith. It’s killing justified by Scripture which you refuse to engage with, not the morally unambiguous murder. A slaveowner in the antebellum South saw no conflict between owning slaves and being a Christian, for example. It is this moral relativism over Christian history that you have to deal with, before you decry atheists as “liberated from morality”.

    I have always agreed that the cruelty of atheists is not a contradiction of atheism, which I’ve always said is simply a statement of negation. Stalin and his ilk were violating all sorts of moral standards, and the challenge is to justify those standards. It is inadequate to simply project that responsibility onto a celestial being, and mendacious to pretend that doing so resolves the issue of morality in perpetuity. The challenge does not end at the door of theism, as demonstrated above in the issues of slavery and murder/killing. You’re back to denying the Christian nature of professing Christians on an emphatic basis. You’ve yet to engage with the genuine challenges of the issue.

    The idea of Thomas Paine being saved by a miracle is hysterical. Thanks for that. I can only imagine him spinning in his grave at the thought!

    You seem to either not understand the period of time that the Terror denotes, or to be happy to ignore its realities. Ironically, at the height of the Terror you got hard labor for being an Old Believer or Baptist, and an execution for being a “saboteur” or “enemy of the revolution”. While insulting me might be soothing, it’s still unconvincing. Try to engage with the actual topics.

  • Camera Obscura

    I’m afraid that it was the dean and seed funder of American neo-atheism, Corliss Lamont, who did that when he pretty much bought out the “Humanists” even as he was still promoting Stalinism. I believe one of its locals, in NYC is named after him and he was … well, I guess you might pretend its owner was elected, “Humanist of the Year” before his death. So, it was pretty much anyone who chose to be associated with one of the premier promoters of Stalin, certainly in the years while he was alive, who made that association. I can’t see that “Humanism” has posthumously dumped him.

    Murder isn’t so apriori a morally negative act in Charles Darwin’s view. He attributed the health of the human population to it as did Ernst Haeckel. In his exchange of letters with G.A. Gaskel. Gaskel’s call of mandatory birth control for the “unfit” noted that the alternative that Darwin laid out in The Descent of Man was the death of the “weak”

    “In conclusion, I submit, the birth of the fittest offers a much milder solution of the population difficulty, than the survival of the fittest and the destruction of the weak.

    If you read the Descent of Man you would note that murder was among those means of destroying the weak which Darwin promotes as avoiding the catastrophe which the unchecked reproduction of the “weaker members” of the human speices was not stopped. He clearly advocated the idea that infanticide, murder, was to the good, giving the example of the Spartans examining infants so they could expose those who didn’t measure up to their standards of military efficency.

    Anyway, Darwin rejected birth control, he was as against it as any Hobby Lobby case fan, he held it would lead to “immorality” among women. Karl Pearson noted that both his teacher, Francis Galton and Charles Darwin, the men who sparked eugenics, both were opposed to the less violent means of birth control.

    And to those names I could add countless others, certainly going back to the atheists in the French Revolution, those in the Calles dictatorship in Mexico, all of the 20th and 21st century atheist regimes, the neo-cons, including Hitchens who expressed his adoration of cluster bombs and Sam Harris who blithly advocated the necessity of killing “tens of millions” of Muslims, in nuclear first strikes as a preemptive measure, though he has lied about doing that, continually since Chris Hedges called him out on it.

    The fact is that the struggle for the abolition of slavery is almost uniformly a Christian phenomenon, the literature advocating that going back to the 4th century with Gregory of Nyssa, through many papal encyclicals, the German Town Quakers, John Woolman, the liberal reform congregations and ministers and seminarians, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth.

    On the other hand, virtually as the ink was still drying on the Emancipation Proclamation, Thomas Huxley, hater of Judaism and Christianity and all religion, said that emancipation would turn black people from kept animals to inferior people who would be wiped out by white people when it came to a battle of “brains instead of bites” HIS WORDS. Based on his belief in natural selection and his deep and obviously rather primitive racism. Which he shared with that other hero of atheists who have never bothered to read him, Thomas Jefferson.

    If that door hadn’t been left open, Thomas Paine would have had his head as chopped off as any of the priests, nuns, religious lay people had theirs off. Perhaps it was a miracle, he didn’t learn much from it. Thomas Paine bitterly decried how all of his old friends dropped him. It could have been because they knew him and knew he was a nut case who loved trouble.

    I don’t know if I ever read anything Paine wrote decrying the oceans of entirely innocent blood his “Enlightened” revolution drew, the Inquisition accounts for a fraction of the deaths over its centuries instead of months of existence. Can you refer me to anything? I, unlike you, promise to find it and read it if you can make an exact reference.

  • Matthew Berry

    This is an ad hominem attack, pure and simple. It is beneath me to respond to the insinuation that, because a humanist praised Stalin, humanism is bankrupted as a moral philosophy.

    Murder is apriori a negative act. Do I need to link the definition? What has this got to do with Darwin? That your quote uses the word “destruction” is adequate demonstration of my point, not yours. That you unthinkingly link infanticide to murder is not an adequate response to Darwin’s intellectual opinion of evolutionary mechanisms, nor is it a moral statement on his part. Even if he did, as the Spartans did, it would not to their minds be “murder”, since to them it would be a morally good act. You are not entitled to simply impose your moral system onto theirs without justification, and abrogating your justification to a deity has made you lazy in finding justifications.

    Nonetheless, this entire rambling digression is in response to a point about Biblical ambivalence towards killing of human beings, and that some Christians have justified this behavior when subsequent Christians have not, while both have recourse to the same God and the same Bible. In which case, the obvious challenge is: Who is right? You have yet to answer this with an actual argument, over days of discussion.

    The history of racism and eugenics is not pretty, and not limited to any particular group. That this is so is precisely my point: neither being an atheist nor theist inoculates against evil actions, and morality is not the preserve of theism, for atheism to selectively adopt. This childish view of morality is completely inadequate.

    As an aside, and further example of Christian moral relativism:

    The greatest resistance to ending slavery came from Christian slaveowners and the greatest resistance to ending Segregation came from Christian racists. At the same time, the greatest pressure to end slavery came from Christian abolitionists and the greatest pressure to end Segregation came from Christian pastors (and secular liberals). Both groups were equally convinced that they were operating under Christian scriptural guidance.

    It is not to the benefit of Christianity to get into a numbers game on murder/killing. The wars of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation were, proportionally, the most destructive Europe has ever experienced. The destruction of property in pogroms and massacres that accompanied the Crusades were without parallel until the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.

    I see you have, as is becoming typical, simply stopped responding to issues you raised and I answered, this time in the case of the Terror and Bormann’s role within the Nazi state. Shame. We’ll add it to the pile.

  • Camera Obscura

    Oh, but I pointed out that Corliss Lamont wasn’t just any old “Humanist” he was one of the lead figures of “Humanism” it’s guide, the one who put Paul Kurtz in charge of its journal, the one who funded it and pretty much reformed it when it was about to go under in the 50s. He wrote the “Humanist” catechism, “The Philosophy of Humanism” published by his “Humanists” and “The Affirmative Ethics of Humanism” and was a co-author of “Humanist” funeral and wedding rites, for the love of Mike. He was a “Humanist of the Year”, for Pete’s sake, and honored in the naming of “The Corliss Lamont Chapter of the American “Humanist” Association (quotes are mine). That he was also probably about the last prominent holdout Stalinist, decades after the mass murders, the show trials, etc. had been thrown in his face by, among others, his fellow atheist hack, Max Eastman and the Dewey Committee, is a mere fact of HIS life, of his choices, of his ideological commitment to atheism.

    Since the qustion raised BY YOUR FELLOW ATHEISTS was of the character of “Humanism” as it is within the contemporary atheist phenomenon, there is no way my bringing up those facts constitutes “ad hominem”. They are entirely relevant, since they opened that door, and entirely on topic when the topic is the character of atheism and religion. Corliss Lamont was one of the premier proponents of atheism with a decades long career as an opponent of religion. Probably the source of funding of many of the premier organs and organizations of the new atheism even before it was called that.

    I merely read what he and other “Humanists” said and did. You’re just sore that I know those things and can introduce them into arguments. And what I’ve said here isn’t the half of it.

    You said that it was the “New Testament” which was ambivalent about violence, now you are shifting to the “entire Bible” as if it’s the same claim. You specifically made that first claim in regard to the character of Christians who violate the teachings of Jesus, implying that those books in which what he said is recorded, are “ambivalent” about violence and other evils when there is little to nothing ambivalent about the condemnation of those in those books and in what is known of the earliest followers of Jesus and even into the establishment of Christianity.

    Your characterization of the Jewish scriptures have their refutations but I’m not going to follow you down that diversion. I will point out one thing. In the story of the woman found in the act of adultery, after they brought her to Jesus and he said that the one who was without sin should cast the first stone to kill her, if you take Paul seriously, the only one there, or in the entire world, for that matter, who was qualified to do that was Jesus (“He is like us in all things except sin.) Then as they all left Jesus said, “And I do not condemn you.” Which would logically lead someone who believed what he and Paul said would have to conclude no one was authorized to kill anyone for transgressions of even those Mosaic Laws for which death was the sentence. I know that isn’t the history of those who profess Christianity but it is ten times more so for those who profess atheism.

  • Matthew Berry

    Your point is still pure ad hominem, and could be applied to the character of Jesus, Paul, Augustine, any number of the Church Fathers, and anyone else who shaped Christianity in its first few hundred years. Your argument is still equivalent to arguing that, because a monk inserted a famous story into John after 800 AD, or the fact that we will never know what the Gospels originally said or what documents they were based on, the whole Bible should be thrown out as a joke.

    My fellow atheists are equivalent to your fellow fanatics. Should you be judged by the frothing rabid preacher with no clue and a devotion to literalism? If not, don’t judge me by the stupid things other atheists say, since there is only a statement binding me to them and a whole religion binding you to your preacher.

    I’m not interested in engaging with the assassination of ideas via the assassination of characters. It is an illogical and ultimately fruitless exercise.

    “Biblical ambivalence” contains “NT ambivalence”, but I’m happy to go back to the more specific measure if that pleases you, though it would be funny to hear you deny the controversy over New Covenant theology.

    There is a great deal of ambivalence to violence, even within the Gospels. A vast amount of violence and murder has been carried out based on the Gospels alone, particularly against the Jews. As I pointed out earlier. Even if we limit ourselves to the utterances of Jesus, we still have ambivalence on the topic. It’s an inevitable product of how the Gospels were written and collated.

    If we go the other direction and look at the actual behavior of members in the early Church, we need look no further than Revelation or the actions of various factions within the community to impose orthodoxy on one another. From almost the earliest moment we can go in Christian history, these themes are there. The great thing for textual critics and historians is that the Christians took so long to resolve their orthodoxy issues, it makes it much more interesting.

    The glorious thing about the woman caught in adultery story, which always comes up in these discussions, is that it was added to John at least as late as 800 AD. If I were like you, I’d use that to throw out every teaching in John, by attacking the entire thing as unreliable. It is nonetheless an example of how your absolute Christian morality, in reality relativist, is based on a text that you pretend is set, but until very late on was not. The last novel lines to the Bible were added mere hundreds of years ago.

    Your argument is by implication, and an implication Christians have been almost universally unprepared to adopt. It is possible to generate almost any position using your method.

    There isn’t any actual data to suggest that atheists, whatever their ideology, are less moral than theists. As pointed out before, sectarian wars have historically been more violent and destructive than those which include parties which happen to be atheists. Besides which, your point still relies on the flawed idea that the atheism of Stalin or his ilk characterized his actions, while excusing the actions of theists who actually did explicitly characterize their actions in Christian terms as merely “professing” Christians.

    Since you still have not been able to establish the fact that atheism is an ideology, you have not been able to characterize any action as necessarily dependent on atheism. Stalin was a Stalinist, who invented his own fusion of Marxism and Russian nationalism to justify his mass killings. Neither of these two ideologies necessarily follow from atheism. Has this conversation not gone on long enough for you to realize these flaws in your position?

  • Camera Obscura

    OK, so you don’t know the meaning of the phrase “ad hominem” as used in criticizing a debate strategy. There’s not much I can do about that except advise you to forget the Carl Sagan school of logic and go read a simple, old-fashioned Freshman Rhetoric textbook. There’s one called, “The Discourse of Reason” that is good and quite clear.

    Neither do you understand how sets work. While “New Testament” can be considered a subset of “The Bible” it has its own characteristics which need not be and, in fact, are not shared with the subset “The ‘Old’ Testament” ( I prefer “First and Second Testament” it’s both more accurate and more respectful of the Jewish scriptures). You can’t start by specifying one of those two subsets and then claim that features it doesn’t share with the others are characteristic of it because the other member of the universal set are accurately characterized by it. I can point out that not all of the members of the set, “The First Testament”, the books contained in it are uniform in their character, either. Again, you should review a good book on set theory.

    Since “The Jews” as used in, for example, the Gospel of John, is used to specify those Jews who were opposed to the followers of Jesus, all of whom named in the same book were Jews, including Jesus, including Peter and James, who that book also elevate to leadership in the apostles, the author of the book must have known he was setting up a problem for its interpretation. If you are asking me if he should have been more specific about which Jews he was talking about, when, well, certainly. He wasn’t infallible and anyone who wants to read it honestly has to do that for themselves. That Christians have used such passages malignantly changes nothing about the fact that if they followed the moral commandments of Jesus they would never have harmed any Jews or told lies about them or treated them other than they’d have chosen to treat themselves.

    You guys are always changing the date when the story of the adultress taken in the act was put into that gospel. The fact is no one knows. None of the ancient texts of the Second Testaments are entirely in agreement, none are complete. If it was a later insertion its remaining there must have jibed with the sense of Christianity of whoever put it there and kept it. I choose to believe it is a far older part of the sayings tradition than that. Whatever you say, anyone who believed it was, well, “Bible truth” would be bound to consider those points I made about it. And every conventional, present day, Christian denomination includes it in their reading of the Bible.

    Stalin was an atheist who conducted a vicious war against religion, killing huge numbers of clergy, religious, lay people, not only Christians but other religons, the Buddhists of Mongolia were practically wiped out by him, he was set on an anti-Jewish pogrom when he, thankfully, died in his own urine and filth as his fellow atheists gathered by were anxious that he did die before he could order their murders too.

    You won’t wash that off of Stalin or the fact that Stalin violated nothing about atheism in being, perhaps, the champion mass murderer of our time, that is until someone follows Sam Harris’s idea and nukes cities in Islamic countries, killing “Tens of millions in a day”. In which case, he might be granted that title, or whoever took his encouragement would. They would be violating everything I can think of in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism if they did so, they would be violating nothing in atheism. Everything you say exonerating Stalin of atheism could be said exonerating Hitler of Christianity, to which I would point out, everything Hitler did was in violation of the teachings of Jesus, his disciples and the early Christian community.

  • Matthew Berry

    I do know what it means, and just flatly contradicting the point is inadequate.

    I’ve no interest in a discussion on set theory, although in this case your argument fails because the qualities are common, and I didn’t argue that they were common as a result of being held by the second set. If I did, you’d be correct, but I didn’t. To return to the topic, both the New Testament and the Bible in general are ambivalent on the use of violence, and you can narrow this down as far as Jesus’ reported utterances.

    That the Gospels portray Jesus as antagonistic towards at least one group of Jews is a fact, and has been used to justify antisemitism. This is not just simply resolved as calling violent acts justified by such scripture as “malignantly” used, when the basis for determining such a distinction is no different to the basis used by the people who have come to the opposite conclusion. You, for most of Christian history, would have been called a heretic for arguing that the Gospels do not teach antisemitism. And that antisemitism was based on, among other things, what Jesus was reported to have said about the Jews.

    You are also reducing yourself to mere utterances of Jesus, and not the rest of the Gospels’ content, which is arbitrary and has never been the basis only for Christian teaching. It will, if pursued, create huge problems of doctrine for you, particularly on the question of Jesus’ divinity.

    The date that the woman caught in adultery was very first added is incredibly easy to establish, which is why I said “at least as late as 800 AD”. I can explain why if you’d really like to know. Beyond that, it’s more complicated, and I don’t want to claim consensus on issues where that is lacking. That the scribe who added it convinced the story was part of a body of Jesus’ sayings is very likely, but the scribes only felt that after 800, not before, which is a problem for your argument that is impossible to get around.

    Most modern versions of the Bible include a footnote discussing the late addition of the story, and some don’t even include the much later added Johannine Comma. The point these additions demonstrate remains.

    Stalin did not do what he did because he was an atheist, he did it because he saw anything but a loyalty to the State as sedition-in-waiting. This was not entirely without merit, though his actions to resolve the issue are unjustifiable. You’re refusing to engage with the distinction I’ve repeatedly pointed out between atheism and his chosen ideology of Stalinism/Nationalism.

    Idiots wanting to nuke are not limited to atheists. You’re butting up against the problem I finished the last entry with. Of course it would not be violating anything in atheism, since atheism is a statement of negation. The issue you have with Sam Harris is with whatever moral system he has built subsequent to his statement. I’ve dealt with this enough times now, you’re just going round in circles and it’s boring.

  • Camera Obscura

    Will you please stop misrepresenting what I said, I didn’t merely “flatly contradict” anything, I showed exactly why “Humanism” is inevitably linked to Stalinism through the person who pretty much defined and bought out the old line “Humanism” of Dewey et al. That is an historical fact, it is evidence of what I said, it is not mere “flat contradiction”. You, Matthew Berry, are lying, perhaps to yourself but to anyone else who read your last statement, as well.

    “Idiots wanting to nuke are not limited to atheists” Well, I never said they were. They couldn’t, however, be following such teachings of Jesus as “Forgive your enemies and pray for them” “Forgive them ‘seventy times seven’ (for which his listeners would have understood an infinite number of times)” and, of course, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That is the Law and the Prophets”. You would have to want them to nuke you in a preemptive strike in order to be consistent with that saying if you propose a nuclear first strike to keep them from nuking you. It would be logically incoherent to do that, though logical coherence isn’t a strong suit with people who want to nuke anyone. Or atheists, in my experience of arguing with them.

    As Stalin’s epic mass murder was not inconsistent with anything to do with Atheism, it was entirely consistent with atheism and atheism was no inhibition for him doing that. If he had been a Christian who took any of the relevant sayings of Jesus seriously, he would never have committed or approved of even one murder because what he did is entirely inconsistent with a belief that Jesus was telling the truth, never mind believing he spoke the truth with divine authority.

    You’re not going to cover up the history of atheists with political control of a government, no more. That lie is one of the signal lies of atheism and it is not going to stand any more.

  • Camera Obscura

    I didn’t “just flatly contradict” anything, I provided evidence and a logical argument against it. I think you, as so many ideologues do, mistake agreeing with you for making an argument, presenting evidence logically ordered and telling the truth.

    Oh, yeah, the neo-cons like to accuse Jews of being antisemites too. Odd that when the Romans killed Jesus they put a sign over him calling him “King of the Jews” if that’s the case. Odder still is that he endorsed The Law, which he understood similarly to the way Hillel did, that he went into the temple and taught and impressed quite a number of Jews with his erudition.

    The history of antisemitism preceedes Jesus by quite a while. I once had the pleasure of telling a blog thread atheist who called himself “Antiochus Epiphanes” that he had named himself after one of the first persons who tried to commit genocide against the Jews, who believed in the form of the blood libel already current among pagan Greeks, who believed a kidnapped Greek was fattened in The Temple to be killed and eaten at Passover. The Romans in the first two centuries of the Common Era were certainly antisemtitic and attempted their own kind of ethnic cleansing against them, including the Christians who were still pretty much considering themselves Jews at that period. They were banned from Jerusalem and slaughtered in large numbers after the Third Rebellion. The Romans had a similar form of blood libel against the Christians, as is documented by Tertullian.

    Of course there is antisemitism in the history of Christianity, especially in Europe. Which was always irrational as Christian Churches recognized the validity of The Covenant and the scriptures, repeatedly identify Jesus as a Jew, all of the apostles, allmost every one of the named followers of Jesus, even Paul who evangelized the gentiles was Jewish, beginning as something of a legalist before his conversion. It is clear in Acts that James, the brother of Jesus and Peter considered themselves to still be Jews bound by The Law, well after Jesus was no longer around. Considering they were the leaders of the first community of what would become Christians and among the closest to Jesus, if he had taught antisemitism they seemed to be remarkably unaware of it. Of course, just as the people who knew Charles Darwin and so have a credibility concerning him that none of those who erected the phony St. Darwin who was set up in the post-war period, those who knew Jesus and who preserved and tried to follow his teachings have a credibility that later people who called themselves “Christians” did not have in asserting what his teaching were and what they meant. And, believe me, you would not want me to go into what Darwin’s children and his closest associates said on that count.

    Jesus was responsible for what he said and what he did. He didn’t write any of the Gospels.

    Your claim that the story of when the story of the woman caught in adultery was ” very first added is incredibly easy to establish, which is why I said “at least as late as 800 AD” is apparently not so incredibly easy, as the first noted appearance in an extant manuscript is the Codex Bezae, a fifth-century. Apparently set theory isn’t the only part of math you find a challenge. And, apparently, it is present in all of the copies of the Vulgate translated by St. Jerome in the fifth century. And, which I just found out but never knew before, the atheists favorite “New Testament” expert Bart Ehrman has located the story in other, non-cannonical books. Daniel B. Wallace says:

    “Many scholars have noted that these verses contain distinctively Lukan grammar, vocabulary, and themes, but the lack of early manuscript evidence associating PA with Luke’s Gospel has made this a dead-end. Bart D. Ehrman, however, made a groundbreaking contribution several years ago (“Jesus and the Adulteress,” New Testament Studies 34 [1988]: 24–44) by demonstrating the likelihood that PA as we have it in John’s Gospel is in fact a conflation of two earlier stories, one found in Papias and the Didascalia, and the other found in Didymus and the Gospel of the Hebrews. Erhman noted that all of the Lukan features of PA John are found in the former of these (what I’ve termed “PA East” = John 8.2-7a, 10-11).”

    My article builds on Ehrman’s contribution by arguing that PA East and the Lukan special material (the so-called “L” source, which is that material unique to Luke’s Gospel) have remarkable similarities in their style, form, and content. Citing distinctive parallels in each category, I conclude in my article that “in terms of style, form, and content, PA East so closely resembles the L material that PA East almost surely would have been part of an original L source” (p. 247). Given a shared Syro-Palestinian provenance, I contend that a single line of transmission from L to the Didascalia is in fact quite plausible.

    From all this, I draw several conclusions. Perhaps the most interesting is that “we can affirm the essential historicity of the event recorded in PA to the extent that it is preserved in the Didascalia, since identifying the account with the L source places it into the middle of the first century” (p. 247). Much of this beloved story rings true to what else we know of Jesus’ life and would almost certainly not have been the kind of account the early church would have invented.

    As for why Luke left this story out of his Gospel, there’s no reason to think that he included every story he heard, and the non-conflated PA East is a bit of a bore compared to the form that appears in Codex Bezae. Nevertheless, it continued to circulate (likely orally) in Palestine, made its way into the Didascalia, and was ultimately conflated with a similar story and inserted into John’s Gospel. Why? At this point, I’ll simply refer interested parties to the work of Chris Keith, whose proposal I find quite satisfying.”

    So, not so easy as you’d like to think. I find the story quite convincing and wouldn’t be at all surprised if it hadn’t appeared in other, lost, documents or in oral tradition. Whatever you want to conclude about it, the Christian community accepted the authenticity of the story and if it hadn’t been believed to reflect the teaching of Jesus it probably wouldn’t have ever been included.

    You guys seem to think that books from that period have the same kind of character as books published today when it is not true.

    You know I can keep this up indefinitely because I have, actually, heard all of these things before and I have looked them up. I went to college just like everyone else and did so back when we were expected to research our papers and back things up with documentary evidence, primary source material mostly. I know that seems to be an unknown thing among online atheists but that’s not my fault.

  • Matthew Berry

    It’s good to see you engaging with the subject. However, what you’re unwittingly demonstrating is the dangers of trying to read up on a niche subject via Google. This is not a sniping comment at you, but a genuine issue and one which the Alands and other popularizing authors have tried to address in the past, and which Ehrman does quite well today.

    Wallace is an Evangelical, who is not particularly interested in consensus or methodology, except when it furthers his own prejudices. The same goes for his acolytes. His primary contributions to the subject over the last few years seem to have been to the remarkably unacademic “Ehrman Project” website, giving talks to Evangelical audiences, and claiming to have found first century manuscripts that never see the light of day.

    It is assumed that PA is contained in Jerome’s Vulgate, but none have survived so we don’t know for sure. We do know it is in Bezae, which is usually excluded from evidence for reasons below. We also do know that Jerome and others were careful to mark which sections of various books they believed were of doubtful heritage, while still including them. In simplified terms, this is what seems to have happened to include PA in Bezae, which appears in this single majuscule manuscript, and never again until miniscule manuscripts hundreds of years later.

    Bezae is, in general, a fantastically difficult manuscript. It is a keystone text in the Western tradition, which doesn’t help, and contains more variations than any other single manuscript of the period. It has additions from a much later hand, and at times the Greek doesn’t even match its corresponding Latin. I’d guess that Bezae and PA have probably generated more scholarly debate than any other single issue, with the possible exception of the ending of Mark. The consensus on Bezae is that it is an unreliable manuscript, and should only be given credence when supported by other majuscule manuscripts. This is why I excepted Bezae when considering PA, since PA doesn’t appear in any other majuscule manuscripts at all, and when it later appears it is clearly viewed as an addition, by as late as 12th century commentators.

    The effect on Bezae on the Western tradition, and consequent allusions in to the story in Latin an issue that dealing with here would make this comment very long, but I suggest reading up on the various streams of manuscript traditions if the issue interests you.

    The problem is the website you’ve found doesn’t reflect this controversy at all, first with PA and with Bezae in general, which has further, more technical problems. The reason you don’t get that communicated in the website is ideological; Wallace has put great effort into ignoring consensus and controversies on a number of NT issues, because they undermine his conviction that the NT as we have it can both be reliably thought to contain the spirit of what the first writers said, and that the spirit of what they said was preserved by Providence. It’s not very intellectually honest to do so.

    The Lukan language of PA also suggests that the L source is involved, but Wallace’s conclusions are based on an appeal to ignorance (well Luke wouldn’t write down everything, right?) and on a misunderstanding of what L constitutes and its contributions. For further reading on the subject, please read Ehrman’s actual article, which is on the internet. Needless to say, Wallace’s leap is unjustified.

    Getting from the controversy of Bezae to a conclusion that “the Christian community accepted the authenticity of the story” is easy when one ignores the actual controversy, and the fact that the Christian community actively questioned PA’s inclusion into the Medieval era.

    The Jesus Seminar is not held in high regard today.

    The comparison between Biblical textual criticism and criticism of other ancient sources is odd. Ancient historians make a living rooting through the single sources for people like Socrates, whose character has spawned endless discussion, which is precisely the methodology applied to scripture today, and only wasn’t applied on a consistent basis until the relatively recent past due to resistance from believers who associated intellectual exploration of the Bible with attacks on faith. Wallace is a late example of this anti-intellectual approach, but thankfully he lacks the power of earlier advocates to shut down debate.

    However, when it boils down to it the events of Jesus’ life are, in simple terms, about as justified as the events in Tacitus, for example. This is because the vast majority of manuscripts on Jesus are hundreds of years after the events, and the closer you get to the first century, the more variance you will find. There is as yet, no manuscript in existence from within a hundred years of the events. Which has led to the consensus conclusion that reaching “original” content in the Gospels is simply not attainable. PA is a good demonstration of that.

  • Camera Obscura

    “Wallace is an evangelical” is as valid a reason to dismiss what he says as “Ehrman is an agnostic” would be. What did he say about the age of the story in question that was incorrect?

    Your condescension really is rather funny as I knew how you made the mistake you made BECAUSE I KNOW A BIT ABOUT THE ISSUE but you would seem to have misunderstood the nature of it. The rest of your comment trying to dismiss the fact that every New Testament scholar I’ve ever read on it, of any character, admits that the story is present in the Bezae manuscript. I don’t think you understood what you read, I would guess online but I’m willing to argue on the issue and not fall into your continual habit of replacing evidence and logic with condescension. Believe me that you haven’t demonstrated any of what it would take to make me feel condescended to by you. It is a tactic I’m aware is widely practiced by atheist polemicists but one that I am immune to so you really don’t need to try it.

    I should think, considering how atheists love to cite things from antiquity, mis-citing them, generally, turning such figures as Confucius and Hammurabi into atheists when both of them attributed their authority to divinities and “the heavens” in the very documents that atheists pretend to have written, your attempt at debunking the Gospels of Jesus due to the vicissitudes of texts from that era is ludicrous.

    The fact is that the different sources of information about what Jesus taught and, perhaps to a lesser extent did, for a Jewish peasant of no standing, whatsoever, is remarkable for that period. Or today, for that matter. I think the simple fact is that atheists hate Christianity so much, the Jewish moral tradition is that it imposes moral obligations on them and they don’t like that. I think that’s the real reason the Nazis, the British upper class that bred the 19th century intellectuals and many in the 20th century that comprise the (often myth filled) literature of atheism, other atheist elites in Europe. They didn’t want to have to think about doing justice to poor people, to the stranger among them, to anyone but themselves. I think that can be seen in Mr. Bad Religion, himself, Steve Weinberg, promoting a moral sense that would be tiresome in a spoiled 6-year-old and his fellow atheists being pretty much stumped by his declarations of self-centered selfishness. Atheism provides nothing to match that tradition in inhibiting exactly the Wineberg method of avoiding moral obligations. A world populated mostly by atheists would be an amoral hell hole.

  • Matthew Berry

    The person acting with condescension here is you. You’ve repeatedly sneered about “Online atheists” and your expectations, while constantly conflating my views with your experience of atheists and simultaneously whining that atheists refuse to deal with the thoughts of moderate Christians. Your attacks on character are incessant. That you think I’m being condescending is your problem, don’t make it mine. I’ve continued to engage with you despite your ridiculous associations of what I’ve said with Stalinism, and now hatred of Christianity. If you can only respond to what I say with such grotesque caricature, fine, but again that’s your problem. That you think I would even be interested in trying to condescend to you is amusing. Perhaps this is better explained by an insecurity complex on your part, or bad experiences in the past. As far as I’m concerned, this is a discussion that involves ignoring the angry outbursts and getting to what you actually mean. Why exactly you respond with such ceaseless anger is not particularly interesting to me.

    That Wallace is an Evangelical is not the basis for my criticism of his arguments. You haven’t responded to my criticisms.

    That the story is present in Bezae is not the issue, that Bezae should be included as evidence is the issue. The consensus is that, on issues where it is the sole witness, it should not. Hence, I did not include it when dating the first entry of PA into the tradition. I also assumed you were familiar with manuscript traditions, in which Western is usually downgraded in comparison with others.

    I’ve not tried to “debunk” the Gospels. What I’ve said is the consensus of scholarly opinion on the subject, which Wallace does not reflect or engage with for ideological reasons. You’re free to take his views as valid in the discussion, but a discussion is what it is, and he does often forget to reflect this in the certainty of his conclusions.

    The fact is that if you have to caricature atheists as people who hate Christianity and resent having morals imposed on them, you will inevitably reach ludicrous conclusions. Conflating antagonism towards purely theologically-driven morals, such as the continuing stance on homosexuality, with a general hatred and rejection of morality is similarly ludicrous. This is not an antagonism limited to atheists, but extends as far as liberal and moderate Christians.

    As for the rest, it’s just too hysterical to bother with, beyond pointing out the dichotomy you’re imagining between eternal morality of divine mandate and amoral atheism is reflected by neither side in reality.

  • Camera Obscura

    You have a really bad habit of trying to shift the issue. The issue was the antiquity of the story of Jesus and the woman found in adultery. You dated it far later than it appears in a manuscript. It’s not my fault that the atheist’s favorite NT scholar finds it in non-canonical, as well and that another scholar, doing what scholars of ancient texts do, interprets the evidence. You haven’t told me what’s wrong with his analysis other than that he’s an evangelical and, obviously, you figure that means the merits of his argument don’t matter.

    I would rather have my rights in the hands of liberal and moderate Christians than I would atheists who don’t believe in moral obligations, justice, equality as anything other than social conventions. “Purely theologically-driven morals”. ” Continuing stance on homosexuality”. Well, the Christians in my home state and Ireland delivered on marriage equality. Atheists certainly didn’t, there aren’t enough of those here to elect a registrar of deeds in our least populous county. And a lot of them would have used the occasion to insult religious people, dividing and distracting and defeating any likely successful coalition. Atheists are ballot box poison except in a few voting districts in the country. I’ve proposed to my fellow liberals that we dump them because they seem constitutionally incapable of not insulting the vast majority of people from whom we will have to get support.

    I’m hysterical? Coming from you and your conduct and your silence on the conduct of your fellow atheists in this discussion, now, that’s hysterical.

  • Matthew Berry

    It’s consensus that Bezae is unreliable, and shouldn’t be considered when it is a single witness. Not a single contemporaneous manuscript has the story, and when it reappears in the 9th century it is treated with suspicion for at least 300 years.

    This is why I didn’t include it. Not because of the “atheist’s favorite NT scholar”, who is just reflecting the consensus of scholars on the subject anyway, most of whom are Christians. When I tried to explain it to you, your only response was garbage about how you can’t be condescended to.

    The point, by the way, was that your dichotomy between eternal Christian morality and amoral atheism is incorrect on both counts. That the Bible is an organic document, which is still changing, was part of demonstrating the falsity of that first half of the dichotomy.

    Of course you’d rather have your rights in the hands of almost any group rather than atheists, given your grotesque caricature of atheists’ positions on morality. The main reason Ireland voted for gay marriage, by the way, was the horrific abuse of children by the Catholic church, the subsequent cover-ups and revelations, and resulting disillusionment in what was once a profoundly pious country. When saying atheists don’t believe in moral obligations, perhaps consider that fact, along with the moral nihilism that Christianity can often sink to.

    I’m not interested in defending the loud stupidity of militant atheists such as Dawkins or Harris. I’m not going to reduce myself to responding to your caricature of the majority of atheists as amoral monsters. It’s pointless.

  • Camera Obscura

    I think the popular atheist phrase for what you’re doing is “changing the goalposts”. If the presence of the story is the age, the age of the document is the issue.

    Ah, time to haul out a bit more of “Humanist” history. In 1992, a Distinguished Humanist Service Award was given to the sexologist Vern Bullough by the International Humanist and Ethical Union. While I haven’t seen any citation detailing why they gave them that award, at the time I believe he was also on the board of the infamous group Paidika, a group dedicated to “normalizing” sex between children and adults, essentially a group dedicated to legalizing the rape of children by men. He was also a signatory of one of the latter day “Humanist” Manifestos.

    I have written many times on the topic of the sex industry, including the porn industry and, specifically, the widespread distribution of incest themed and pedophile pornography online, despite it allegedly being illegal. Every single time I have done that a group of atheists who take themselves to be civil libertarians have attacked me for saying those should be removed and those producing and distributing it should be tracked down and prosecuted and the rape of children as “free speech” should be stopped.

    Again, any Catholic priest, any minister, any Christian lay person who rapes a child is violating one of the strongest condemnations in the gospels, they are violating not a single thing forbidden by atheism. Among the most severe critics of the bishops, cardinals and popes who covered up and enabled the rape and abuse of children have been Catholics, who also accounted for most of the victims of that abuse. I have yet to have a single atheist even admit that Vern Bullough favored making what they did legal, contingent on the rapist being able to talk a child into giving consent which they are not capable of giving. In fact, I was told that aspect of his CV has been being covered up as I’ve started bringing him up to atheists online. Perhaps Gerbic’s “Guerrilla Skeptics” at work?

    I’m always so interested in atheists who don’t believe in mind reading telling us things like why the Irish voted for marriage equality. Those Catholics I’ve heard who voted for it said it was a matter of equality, justice and fairness, hardly things established in atheism, both of which are the signal moral contribution of the Jewish scriptures. Atheists in my experience aren’t big on equality and think justice is a matter of ambient social convention. I’ve had enough of them tell me that. Of course, that means in a society where gay folk aren’t considered equal or the possessor of rights any assertion of rights for gay folk would be, by atheist definition, a delusion. Same for societies that might hold that atheists don’t have rights. Congratulating them on having made their whining about having made claims of injustice into a delusion, including their own whines to things that aren’t a right, like being president, was rather satisfying.

  • Philip Finn

    Sorry not to get back to you sooner, Jim…
    No, that’s not what I said; more precisely “…people in the distant past [were wrong] about all their religious beliefs [according to both atheists AND believers, otherwise (a “reasonable and prudent person” might assume) both the atheists and believers would (still) believe the former religions (and not modern religions or belief systems)] and they numbered greater (over long periods of time) than the number of people who comprise current believers today.
    Therefore, the “I know what you are, but what am I?” defense is inadequate, and if you go back over any of my posts, I doubt if there is anything anywhere that has me calling people “stupid”; “wrong” perhaps – smart people have been wrong before, which is precisely my point about civilizations who raise pyramids (and no, racism to the contrary, the “little brown people” didn’t need Aliens to show them how) motivated by indefensibly improbable beliefs in non-existent gods – but not “stupid”. It is a foundation of Humanism that characteristics like being “stupid”, “wrong”, “chutzpah” and “navigat[ing] reality incorrectly” are universal and with enough to go around, and therefore can’t reliably be attached to any particular human group as a unique or defining characteristic.

    My claim, if I have one, is (as I said) I simply reject one more religion (or more accurately, belief system) than most other people around me. I think people should be more aware of the phenomenon of “presentism” where humans focus so myopically on the present, even elevating it to a significant culmination of events that may or may not have preceded it, that they lose all perspective (and take their hand off the reality rudder). This isn’t “stupid’, just the way of all flesh, and perhaps a bit careless.

  • Jim Reed

    I think you can kind of see why people in the past believed in their religions, but it seems stupid that people of today continue to believe in them. I know they are just following the crowd, which is a very human thing to do, but it still seems stupid when today we should know better.

  • Craptacular

    “Stalin is a good example of someone with absolute power and absolutely no moral restraints.” – Camera Obscura

    The god of the old testament is a better example of that. 🙂

  • Camera Obscura

    You have of obviously not read the First Testament. Just like almost everyone who spouts that same vilification of the Jewish scriptures. I’d refer you to Marilynne Robinson’s essay, The Fate of Ideas: Moses. Just one of the observations she made was to point out that, as compared to most other codes of law, the Mosaic law forbade capital punishment for crimes against property. That alone makes the First Testament entirely less blood thirsty than most other codes of law, scriptures…. Considering the governments that atheists have promoted as great events in history, including the Reign of Terror and Stalin’s, nothing in the First Testament matches those for bloodiness. Materialism, after all, considers people to just be objects without inherent rights or to whom moral obligations are owed. And it shows in history.

  • jim6661

    I look forward to reading this book so I can judge for myself. I understand the author’s point to some extent. Yes, hearing the same arguments over and over can become tedious. However, as we have seen with humans, you must repeat the same information so it will sink in. Josef Goebbels said “If you repeat the same lie often enough, it becomes the truth.” Truth also needs constant reinforcement because if you don’t do that, the liars will tell their lies so often it becomes the truth.

  • Re: “It takes chutzpah to argue that most living humans navigate reality incorrectly.”

    Really!? “Chutzpah”? I don’t think so. Most people are stupid to one degree or another. Stupidity is a core element of human nature. Those who tend toward the smarter end of the human range are, nonetheless, quite stupid sometimes.

    No, the “chutzpah” lies in denying the reality that people are — overwhelmingly and all-too-frequently — stupid, not in arguing it’s the case.