The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age
    Nebton's picture

    Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron give away free copies of Origin of Species

    In an odd turn of events, Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron are giving away free copies of Origin of Species. No, this is not satire. What's the catch? Well, Comfort has added an introduction where he presumably explains why Darwin's theory is all nonsense.

    Surprisingly (to me, at least) this has gotten Richard Dawkins (et al.) upset. I've got to say that I just don't see what's to get upset about. If adding this introduction gets Bible-thumpers to actually read the Origin of Species, then that's excellent!

    Can any dagbloggers help me understand how this could possibly be a bad thing?

    [Update] It's actually happening today, one day earlier than previously announced.



    They're trying to trick atheists into distributing the Bible.

    (Though now that I mention it, getting folks to actually read the Bible might make them a little more skeptical.)

    PS Kirk Cameron? Why the does the religious right only employ Hollywood has-beens? Who's next, Gary Coleman? They need some schooling from the Scientologists.

    This would be my intro if I were trying to discredit the Bible:

    Read this whole thing and not just the bits you're told to read.

    Btw, I know you're focusing on the Old Testament, but this was one of my greatest WTF moments in the New Testament:

    "After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had." (John 5:1-4)

    OK, I know what you're thinking. What about Lazarus, or the whole ascending into heaven thingy? I suppose it's about familiarity. Those stories were preached to me when I was young, so they were easier to accept. I don't remember ever hearing of this one until I read it as an adult, and it just couldn't pass the giggle test for me.

    I'm sure the Heretic could have some fun with it, but yeah, it seems like a pretty minor miracle compared to raising the dead, multiplying loaves, virgin birth, et al. Still, I like that the angel descends at regular intervals--and only cures the one who steps in first.

    Supply and demand, baby.

    As I understand it, Cameron had a "come to Jesus" moment after experiencing the free-wheeling Hollywood lifestyle, or something to that effect, rather than being recruited per se.

    Some arguments for why the book may be harmful to Darwin are made here:

    Comfort's confused polemic, disguised as an informational Introduction but full of mistakes, half truths, untruths, muddled logic, old creationist arguments, misleadingly excerpted quotations, and ill-framed analogies — plus a good dose of fire and brimstone at the end — will do a severe disservice to anyone who takes it for an entryway to Darwin's great book.

    I've also read that the book has been edited in some ways, specifically that one or more of the later chapters were omitted.  I can't confirm this firsthand as, sadly, I don't own a copy of Comfort's edition.

    As a possibly analagous scenario, Glenn Beck's new book, entitled Common Sense, actually reprints the entirety of Thomas Paine's revolutionary pamphlet of the same name.  Using this as an example, I think that the "how it could be a bad thing" is likely that people will read Beck and not Paine, but then presume that they know what Paine said because Beck told them so and, after all, they read a book called Common Sense!

    I'm guessing this is more or less what Comfort is banking on.  He hopes that people will read him and not really delve into Darwin, much as Beck is banking on the fact that people won't actually read Paine, who vehemently disagreed with nearly all of Beck's views.

    Thanks for the link. I'd say this is as good a response as Dawkins' was a bad response.

    After Cameron proved God's existence via banana, I don't think skeptics much worry about him anymore.

    And dammit, I can't bring myself to dislike Cameron. He's just so freakin' earnest.

    You aren't kidding about his earnestness.  I watched this video fully expecting that nothing good could come of it, but he solidered on:

    I've updated the blog to reflect a change in plans. Note that WND really loves the Dawkins response, and I'm not at all surprised by that.

    Wow, I'm really impressed by this:

    "I say in the introduction that evolution is not scientific. It's just a theory, it hasn't been proven," he said. "The missing link is still missing. To call it science is bogus. There's no species-to-species transitional forms in the fossil record. Darwin was a racist, he disdained women. And I'm not making this up. This is all from his own words."

    The ad hominem attack on Darwin is pedestrian as hell, but coming from a Biblical literalist it's a fairly astonishing indictment of racism and misogyny.   I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that he doesn't hold his god to the same standards as he's holding Darwin here.

    I find Comfort's comments (in your last link) ironic. He's basically using the "bwak bwak bwak" argument to suggest that Dawkins and other atheists are upset because they are afraid of their point of view being challenged. He's essentially saying: What's the big deal if I take someone else's work, add my own couple of chapters pointing to the author as somewhat responsible for the Holocaust, republish, and redistribute it?

    It'd be as if, say for example, I decided to publish a Bible with Dawkin's "The God Delusion" as an introduction. Comfort and Cameron would be perfectly comfortable with that, right? I mean, it's not as if nobody's ever written an introduction to the Bible before. What would they have to be afraid of?


    Ray Comfort is a guy who tried to assert that a banana was an "atheist's nightmare" because it exhibited features of intelligent design.  This is what Wolfgang Pauli might have called "not even wrong" because the modern banana was intelligently designed, but this was done by human beings, not any kind of god.

    Atheist's nightmare?  I think not.  Atheist's snack?  You bet.

    Comfort is a common charlatan whose bad faith arguments are hardly surprising or original.

    Whether you believe him or not, Comfort actually said he'd love for Dawkins to publish a Bible with a Dawkins' introduction in it.

    I don't believe him. Unless he wants to save on winter heating costs by holding book burnings.

    I do find, by the way, the threats of book burnings by the atheists in the bunch very disturbing. A few years back, my family burned hundreds of old paperbacks saved up over the years by an elderly member of my family. They were mildewed and of no use to anybody. But it still hurt my heart to hear that they were burned.

    I'm with you 100% on the book burning. I have a couple of mildewy old books myself. A couple of them are on the order of 100 years old or so.

    I don't normally engage in battles like this, but just briefly...

    Why do you all like to argue with retards?

    Why do you deal only with the dumbest possible "religious" people all the time?

    Why do you find Dawkins a useful ally in this? I wouldn't come within 100 yards of him. This is Mr Sociobiology by the way (asinine from page 1 through to the end), not a serious scientist, and an extraordinarily egotistical and sexist man in the bargain (in my opinion), who is entirely likely to lurch off in any direction on any issue, should it further his own shiny ass' progress through life. My thoughts on him, I would note, being about as relevant as the comments about Kirk whassisname's TV life.

    That said, I find it kinda obnoxious - after about the 1001th blog, that all religious people and all human spirituality is stuffed - by you guys - into the same categories as the morons that happen to have infested the TV stations of your particular country. A bit like me taking apart the Khmer Rouge, daily, as the best example of atheists in action.

    Ha ha! All religions kills peoples! None of them religious peoples are educated! They just hates and kills a lot, and have stupids in their holy books. After a while, it starts to sound like atheists hee-haw.

    And believe me, I really do know WHY you wanna spend time taking these morons apart. Really. Just try and mix it up now and then, eh? And maybe leave the window open that 1/2 inch, you know, systematic doubt, size of the universe and all. Things are big, kids... not all that easy to pin down... and this show has been running a long time. There could be surprises.

    Quinn, whether or not Dawkins is a useful ally in whatever he's pre-supposed to be an ally in, saying that he's "not a serious scientist" is just stupid.  You don't have to like him as a person, but that statement makes it really hard for me to take anything else you've said here seriously.  Here's a list of scientific publications by Dawkins.  Am I to presume that the editors of Science and Nature are unserious, too?  Are the people responsible for hiring him at institutions like Cal and Oxford unserious scientists as well?  Did Dawkins just fool them real good?  Honestly, I can't tell from this missive whether you have more contempt for Dawkins or for science itself.  So, are you just confusing his popular works with his actual academic work because you find it useful when you're tearing into him or because you honestly don't understand the difference between the two?

    Comfort and Cameron aren't just some strawmen for easy punching on obnoxious blogs.  They're intent on trying to widely discredit the theory of evolution.  Now, we can all laugh about it if we want.  We can laugh about the museum with dinosaurs and people that's been built here in America, but do you make the connection that many of the political gripes you have with America are directly connected to religious thinking?  That our former President said that the jury was still out on evolution?  That schools here in America are actually removing scientific findings from scientific texts?  That we can't get shit done on climate policy at least in part because there are people who don't think that God's perfect creation could possibly work like that?

    That over half of the people in this country don't believe in one of the most important scientific theories, full stop?

    Frankly, I could care less whether or not people want to believe in a god or gods or fairies or whatever the hell in their personal lives.  What I do care about is that we can't even seem approach having a rational, fact-based, adult discussion about many of the massive problems coming down the chute because of this type of thinking.

    I didn't write this blog, but Nebton didn't even hail Dawkins as the cat's pajamas or even an ally, useful or otherwise.  From what I read, he seemed to be critical of the way that Dawkins responded to this.  Honestly, Dawkins and Comfort aren't even the point here.  The point is that there's a significant and well-moneyed contigent of people running around, trying to turn back the clock on human progress.  Frankly, I don't give a good goddamn whether you or anyone else thinks that pushing back against that is obnoxious or not.

    Now, is someone making you turn on your computer and so regularly point it at the blogs that you find so obnoxious?

    Ummm, no. Just because you think Dawkins is a serious scientist, and he's well-known, doesn't make him a serious scientist. He's actually done very little serious scientific work. Look at his papers during a prime decade, the 80's. Yeah. He just likes to... preach, and debate. And he writes well. That was, at Oxford, a very widely accepted view, by the way. A pretty boy who knew how to play to the cameras. right wing, left wing, he didn't give a damn. It was all about him. If you think he's done serious scientific work, in all those journal articles, please do name one. Yeah. Me neither. In short, it is you, DF, who don't understand the difference between a popularizer and a really good scientist. Is he good at debating, writing, popularizing? Damn right. He's top-notch. Will anyone remember a single piece of science that he did after he's dead? Errrrrm, no chance.

    Like I said, I get it that these clowns are dangerous. I also think it's worth considering whether American liberals may have done a really awful job of combatting religious extremism. Whaddya think? Thesis worth considering? Personally, I find the level of mockery, the intellectual haughtiness, the willingness to frame debates around extremist voices and then to caricature them further to be seriously off-putting. Look at TPM. they think they're geniuses for focussing 24/7 on the RW nutbar brigade. I think it's shallow, and more important, really really bad politics.

    Note to self. Ask liberals on blogs why their critiques of right-wing religion bear almost no resemblance at all to those developed by President Obama.

    As for your last comment, I come here to learn stuff, to laugh, and sometimes to get irritated and to piss in people's boots. So what else is new? You ever growl at anyone on a blog? Or are you telling me to piss off?

    No, I'm not telling you to piss off.  I find a lot of what you write to be funny and interesting, but sometimes it seems to me that it's just sniping.  That's what this seemed like.  Maybe you're just grumpy.

    You're welcome to your personal opinions of Dawkins, but your assertion that he's not a "serious scientist" is still just crap.  Now it's that he's not a "really good scientist" or that he apparently didn't publish enough for your liking in the 80's a "prime decade"... for something.  The measure of his scientific prowess certainly couldn't be his knowledge of the field in which he worked.  And we must apparently disregard his contributions in research because apparently no one will remember a single piece of science he did after he's dead.  I guess all the unsung researchers the world over are also not "serious scientists" either.  I know that's he most well-known at this point for popularizing science, but he attained that position in part by knowing what the hell he was talking about.  You could make the same attack against, say, Carl Sagan, but it would be just as baseless.

    Here's an example of an important recent study that doesn't pass your smell test.  Do most people know who Lenski et al. are?  Will they be remembered after they die?  Frankly, that's an incredibly silly measure of the importance of scientific work.  The Darwins and Einsteins are once in a lifetime, maybe a few lifetimes.  That doesn't dimish all of the hard and careful work done to build toward the next revolution in the meantime.

    So, you're simply wrong, quinn.  I do get it.  I just don't think that popularizing science negates everything that someone has done before or hold to some notion of having to attain rock-star status or post mortem recognition for one's work to matter.  That's not what science is or does.  Every little piece of the puzzle counts, a notion that is not at all odds with your pleas for us to remember how big the universe truly is.

    As for all your crankiness about the liberal blogosphere, etc., Nebton isn't the liberal blogosphere.  He's Nebton.  And he didn't write all of the posts you really seem to be at odds with.  He wrote this one.  He heard this was going on, mused about the motives and the response.  I didn't see any of the religious scapegoating you're apparently grouchy about here and that was the main motivation for my response to you.  Nebton didn't shoot the Sheriff or the Deputy, so I don't see the need for the pot-shots at him.

    But when it comes to combatting religious extremism, I'm not sure anyone's done a good job of combatting it.  The right-wing demonizes religious extremism when it's Islamic, but then engages in religious extremism on its own.  The left-wing perhaps might go too far in remaining quiet about religious extremism in the name of tolerance, but perhaps finds it easier to criticize in the case of American Christians precisely because they typically represent political rivals and because, truth be told, they are in absolutely no danger of being marginalized in American society anytime soon.  At any rate, I'd be interested to know what you think the right approach might be.

    That's nonsense, DF. His publication list is - in terms of academic science - is thin to an extreme, and would in no way justify him becoming famous, or holding a standard professorship (which is why he was later appointed as the first holder of a special seat, not a regular scientific chair.) Many of those "academic" articles listed are just him arguing about religion. And many others are just about this bastard right-wing piece of political shit he loosed on us, sociobiology. Strip out the religion/political ones and you've got very little.

    And I'm just ever so pleased to see our "progressive" blogging community forget his history, seemingly happy because dear Richard's onside with hating religion. You know how a lot of you dislike that social darwinism pseudo-science that was loosed on the world, and has done such damage in the US, in particular? Well go check its late 20th Century roots, because the #1 name on the list is... Richard Dawkins. I spent far too much of my university career in England watching this ass-lick posing and riding the tide of Thatcher to ever have that little set of memories wiped.

    He was a fame-seeker from the word go, DF. His shit-eating little book on the Selfish Gene fit the times, and he antropomorphized and politicized like crazy in it. Or are we now going to get a vigorous defence of it as being first rate science? You're missing on this guy - pseudo-science was his schtick from the start. He wrote his first grand piece of hackery, the one that made him famous, in 1976 - Selfish Gene. Far more important than his later religious stuff. It wasn't as though he had this long and successful scientific career, and then started popularizing stuff. He was a crank and a self-promoter from Day One.

    And no, I didn't mean to piss down Nebton's boot. I just find the level of attacks on religion here, and at TPM, and elsewhere as I wander, to amount to throwing turds at the worst of the religious freak brigade. Which is fine, as far as it goes. But it has nothing to do with making a case about religion or spirituality in general. And in fact, in that regard, I find it really counterproductive.

    I understand your point about the attacks on religion, but at least from my perspective, I'm attacking religious dogma (the absence of any doubt) and also the encroachment of religion on politics and government. I have no problem with anybody believing what they want to believe, although I will poke holes in it where I see logic problems, as people poke holes in the theories that I live by. I'm generally disappointed with people who won't take the time to think for themselves and I'm absolutely disgusted with people who rewrite history and the Constitution to suit their objectives to theocratize government.

    As for those people who want to worship some god in a church or a temple or a mosque or a meadow, have at it. You're not bothering me one bit and you have a right to believe what you want. You do not, however, have a right to demand that legislation respect your only your belief system and to hell with everybody else. I understand that you understand that. But I see much of the vitriolic mocking from the left based in this fact. What's to understand? The right-wingers preach all kinds of shit from the Bible that they have no intention of living by themselves AND they conveniently ignore anything in the Bible that doesn't justify their ends. Their hypocrisy doesn't deserve respect.

    And we're about to have another battle because people want to deny healthcare to women because they think a blastocyst has an immortal soul.  That's the problem here.  I don't care if people believe that, but they aren't satisfied with believing it.  They want to legislate and force their view on others.

    It's hard for me to debate this stuff, because frankly, I hate the asses off the loudmouths of the New Right churches, and believe they should be imprisoned and/or sent to hell. The problem is, there's not much room left in the US to discuss the views of the tens of millions of religious people who think differently than the right-wingers do. And what happens is they tend to be treated with a, "Oh, I'm sure they're very lovely, and I have no problems with them, etc." And then we all go back to the shit-slinging. But truth is, their views are rarely represented in these debates.

    Take religion in schools. I, like you all, want the Right-Wing freakery OUT. But. Anybody who does not think we are, in fact, presenting a certain range of worldviews preferentially inside our schools is, in my humble opinion, an idiot. I might ACCEPT that that range of views will cause my kids the least damage, and can be compensated for, etc. But do I agree with it? Errrrm, no. Do I think it has any more solid an objective footing than my own views? Errrm, no. If I believe that God is real, and that very real currents within the church have historically been central to human improvement and liberation, then not including that in history and civics and such is just as goofy as leaving out the roles of any other "reality," whether the roles of women or slaves or the working class. But right now, if an historic movement was led by little old Church Ladies, you can be damn sure the history being covered will recognize their ladyness first, then their oldness, likely their littleness next and their churchiness probably last, if at all. Because religion is supposed to be kept out.

    Same with science, and yes, even evolution. We've gotta deal with the assholes who set up their creation museums, and the morons who tart up some sad-ass version of intelligent design - but we have to ignore the fact that most of the liberal church leadership across the Western World has found perfectly acceptable ways of meshing their views, some of which they called "intelligent design." But those views - which don't, BTW, amount to just accepting evolution as is - are now lost in the US, as the term (ID) has been handed over, lock, stock and two smoking barrels, to the asshole right. So most of the liberal, progressive, lefty, green parents I know do what I do in life, which is play nice with our allies, recognize the larger threat - the fundamentalist freaks - and just shut the fuck up.

    But it's kinda sad that we can't have a debate or discussion about that. See, everybody on our side recognizes the mental deficiencies of the hard right churches, but when you get to the level where they define your debate, you really are reduced to monkeys flinging turds. I get why we do it, but what it squeezes out are the people who aren't assholes, but who might also be religious.

    Like if you read Genghis' post on this Manhattan thing, and then look at the historically progressive and liberating movements that have succeeded, and see the fact that large numbers of their people came from precisely those religious groups we've squeezed out, you can see the importance of the loss of this strand of thought/life in the US. People like MLK himself, for instance.

    Another way to put it is, do you really think a religious person with the views of President Obama should be represented in public debate? You know, in our blogs we do shit like mock Leviticus. And yeah, it's fun. But do we have any discussion at all of how the book of Exodus, and that history-myth, was enormously socially and politically liberating, in historic terms, and has played a role as the motivating political myth of the West ever since? Errrrm, no. The world of MLKing, Obama's theology and Michael Walzer disappears into the dust, so we can laugh at some stupid line out of Leviticus and use it to mock the literalists of the Right. Let's face it, 9 out of 10 people blogging on the left can't even tell you the relationship between the book of Exodus and the book of Leviticus, right? But somehow we think we're the "educated" ones in this debate.

    Same with abortion. Look. If the state made legal, and in any way supported, provisions whereby doctors could set aside male Jewish infants to be slaughtered (a la Herod), then damn straight I'd be outraged, civilly disobedient, and so on. It is not impossible for me to see that someone might view abortion as an extension of this, only with the babies selected by other criteria. Do I accept this view? No. But should the issue be defined by the moral freaks like that sign-wielding family that shows up at clinics? No. Is it? Pretty much.

    In short, I understand what you feel you're fighting against. And I'm against it too. Does that mean I actually agree with all our arguments? Nope. But the way we're apparently gonna handle that is to... reload. There's monkey poo'ing to be done.

    You make some very good arguments quinn, many (but not all) of which I agree with. I'm not telling you to take it off this thread (I don't mind having it on the thread at all), but I do encourage you to start a new blog with this as the subject so that your arguments will get the merit they deserve.

    Before I address some of your arguments, allow me to point out that you're contributing to part of the problems here (as are many of us). Your initial complaint was fairly vague. Were you bothered by me pointing out the viewpoints of Comfort and Cameron, or were you bothered by comments made on this thread? If the latter, which comments in particular bothered you? This is important, because right now the argument seems to reside in generality, which might be helpful, but not as helpful as specifics if there are some to be found on this thread. (Maybe you've done this already and I missed it.)

    Now to the meat of what you've just posted. (I'll cut & paste this perhaps if you take me up on my suggestion and start a new thread.)

    [T]heir views are rarely represented in these debates.

    You probably know the reason for this, and you seem to allude to it, so I won't belabor the point, but "the squeaky gear gets the oil".

    I might ACCEPT that that range of views will cause my kids the least damage, and can be compensated for, etc. But do I agree with it? Errrrm, no. Do I think it has any more solid an objective footing than my own views? Errrm, no.

    Obviously I don't hold the same view point as you if you're not accepting evolution as pretty solid science, but I don't see much point in debating it since I agree that our opinions can co-exist.

    If I believe that God is real, and that very real currents within the church have historically been central to human improvement and liberation, then not including that in history and civics and such is just as goofy as leaving out the roles of any other "reality," whether the roles of women or slaves or the working class. But right now, if an historic movement was led by little old Church Ladies, you can be damn sure the history being covered will recognize their ladyness first, then their oldness, likely their littleness next and their churchiness probably last, if at all. Because religion is supposed to be kept out.

    This might be true about the MSM or about schools in Canada (or even in New England). It's not at all true about schools in the Bible Belt, where I grew up. (Or, at least, it didn't used to be, and I don't think it's changed that much.) Also, judging by the lack of a transition suggesting otherwise, it seems you're connecting this with your previous statment, so forgive me if I misinterpreted your previous statement.

    But those views - which don't, BTW, amount to just accepting evolution as is - are now lost in the US, as the term (ID) has been handed over, lock, stock and two smoking barrels, to the asshole right.

    I had an interesting discussion with someone who described himself as believing in "creationism". His "creationism" basically amounted to God-directed evolution (including allowances for a Big-bang event). Such a theory cannot really be disproven, IMO, meaning it's not really scientific, but the same could be said for any assertion that God had nothing to do with evolution. (AFAIK, no assertions are made in high school biology classes, at least not in the South.)

    See, everybody on our side recognizes the mental deficiencies of the hard right churches, but when you get to the level where they define your debate, you really are reduced to monkeys flinging turds. I get why we do it, but what it squeezes out are the people who aren't assholes, but who might also be religious.

    I think it's essential to recognize that not all relgious people are assholes (or even a sizeable percentage IMO). Of course, the flip side to identifying people's religions with their actions is what's happening now with Fort Hood. (Not that it stops many of us on the left from doing so with the Creationist folk.)

    But do we have any discussion at all of how the book of Exodus, and that history-myth, was enormously socially and politically liberating, in historic terms, and has played a role as the motivating political myth of the West ever since? Errrrm, no.

    Actually, yes. In some college religion classes, at least. A few high schools have religion classes as well, but I'm not sure what's discussed in these, as my high school wasn't exactly top-notch.

    Same with abortion. Look. If the state made legal, and in any way supported, provisions whereby doctors could set aside male Jewish infants to be slaughtered (a la Herod), then damn straight I'd be outraged, civilly disobedient, and so on. It is not impossible for me to see that someone might view abortion as an extension of this, only with the babies selected by other criteria. Do I accept this view? No. But should the issue be defined by the moral freaks like that sign-wielding family that shows up at clinics? No. Is it? Pretty much

    I completely understand this argument and have made it myself. That said, it's a very dangerous argument. Would you be justified in killing doctors who set aside male Jewish infants to be slaughtered?

    Nebton, there was nothing nasty, personal or exceptionally disagreeable in your post. It was just one of those instances where I had read dozens of posts in and around a subject, and thousands of comments, and it eventually triggered a response. A much more general response, so yes, it should probably go elsewhere. So I'll wrap up my whining. In order:

    Yes, the squeaky wheel sometimes gets the grease. But it's often in one's political interest to focus attention on other voices, to bring them out into the light, either as potential allies, or just to divide and conquer. We're too reactive around these religious debates I believe, and have given all the media's attention over to the asshole right-wingers who bought their way to tv time.

    No, I don't think there is very much religion left in schools. I grew up in a Bible Belt area, and it was fading away in the 60's, 70's - last vestiges. I actually suspect that most public schools today have little/no mention of Christian or Biblical views during science, history, etc.

    Our educational system today really doesn't handle religion much, other than in religious studies classes, as you mention. Spend time in Europe, and you'll see it fully blown. People really don't know much of anything about Christianity and the Bible. I remember reading British reviews of the movie Magnolia who asked why the hell there were suddenly frogs raining from the sky and what did that mean? (Even with billboards shown throughout the movie with verses from Exodus listed.) Now, this may be a good thing, but what it means is we on the liberal/left's atheist wing are, in fact, often arguing from ignorance as well.

    I agree the abortion argument is dangerous. That's one of the problems I'm trying to get at. We're having to accept arguments and positions, knowing there are some real issues here, BECAUSE the other side are fundamentalist, authoritarian and organized. It leaves us in a weaker zone that would be ideal.

    Thanks for the time and space to raise this stuff Nebton.

    Evidently I'm a little younger than you, as my experiences in the South come primarily from the 80s, having graduated high shool in 1988. At that time, religion's place in history was included quite well, in my opinion (and I was a Christian at the time). In fact, I had discussions about relgion with both my history teacher (a conservative who welcomed debate, and was shut up when I essentially asked him the equivalent of WWJD before there were bumper stickers saying the same) and my chemistry teacher, who was a Creationist (although raised Christian, I've never doubted evolution, although I would've easily allowed God a role in it).

    Well, I certainly didn't go to school in England while he was working there, but I don't really understand your criticism as far as what you're calling sociobiology goes.  As I understand the book, the selfish gene is essentially just making the argument that the gene is the unit of selection in the evolutionary process.  Maybe that made him a useful idiot for Thatcher, but it's not something that I'm aware of outside your comments in this thread.  I've never heard Dawkins advocate social-Darwinisn or anything like it.  I've also seen Dawkins make some compelling arguments for the presense of altruism in nature, which seems counter to your description of his views and work, popular or otherwise.  And are you really telling me that you think some socio-religious argument is couched in research on digger wasps?

    It's clear to me that you don't like him personally, which again is fine, but as far as the science goes I think you protest entirely too much.  He was an assistant professor at Cal before he was hired at Oxford, where he was a lecturer of zoology for over 20 years before he received the appointment you reference.  That appointment, by the way, was on the basis of an endowment created precisely to do what Dawkins has been doing for the last 15 years.  All of this sociobiology stuff that you want to pin on Dawkins seems like it might just as easily be blamed on characters like Richard Hofstadter and E.O. Wilson.  Dawkins has spent his public life primarily popularizing the findings of evolutionary biology.  Not even his popular works do what you claim they do.  I've read them.

    Last comment, DF. Dawkins' Selfish Gene is what made him. It triggered an intellectual war, as he took a very strong reductionist position and then wrote it up in very flamboyant, personified style, one which fit perfectly with the rise of the right. He was the public face, much more than EO Wilson. He fought a war with Stephen Jay Gould, who I regard as 10 times the scientist as Dawkins, and overall, a man much more to be respected on the left. Gould pointed out that evolution could act at a whole series of levels, the organism, across populations, etc. Dawkins twisted and turned his language every way he could - and now says he never should have used the word selfish at all - but he's never moved from his view that the gene isn't just important, it's... all.

    "We are survival machines, robot machines, blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.... This is a truth which still fills me with astonishment." And... "They are in you and me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines."

    What it did was drive the wider social-political debate in a ferociously right-wing direction, toward pure hardass individualism. Here's Dawkins on "communication" -

    "Natural selection favors individuals who successfully manipulate other individuals. Whether or not this is to the advantage of the manipulated individuals. Selection will also work on individuals to make them resist manipulation. But actors do sometimes succeed in subverting the nervous systems of re-actors. As adaptation to do this are the phenomena we see as animal communication."

    Above all, if you lay Dawkins arguments down about the invisibly-working, all-powerful, "gene" it fit perfectly with an Adam Smithian description of the invisible hand of the market. So here it was, Social Darwinsim being proposed by a scientist, and an articulate one, someone who could take the arguments within sociobiology and translate them the way the rising Right needed, into selfishness.

    And yeah, I was studying biology and genetics (as well as socio and politics) in 83-84 in the UK, so his stuff was fairly central, and I need to step back I guess. But just to say, I do not think he was a significant scientific discoverer, though he was a great popularizer. He made his name with ideas that fit a rising right-wing political ideology, and used terms and methods he later skated away from, and he was attacked by other scientists from Day One (including Gould.) His recent wider acceptance on anti-religious grounds I find distasteful.

    Thanks for the chat.

    I can appreciate the distinction between scientists like Dawkins and Gould, although Gould, too, was a popularizer of science himself.  Most important to my mind is that both men offer interpretations of evolutionary theory, just as there are various interpretations of other scientific theories, quantum mechanics being a prime example.  Gould, too, has his legitimate detractors.  There are plenty of viable criticisms of punctuated equilibrium.  Ultimately, you may prefer Gould's interpretation, but it doesn't seem to me at all apparent that Gould is wholly right and Dawkins wholly wrong as a matter of interpretating the science.  Nor does it mean that either of them are unserious as scientists.

    As for how people may have used or abused Dawkins argument, that isn't much different than what's happened to Smith, but Smith didn't actually hold many of the views that are attributed to him.  Similarly, I don't hear Dawkins advocating the right-wing social views that you seem to object to.

    I'm not really sure whether I'm interested in debating his approach on religion.  A lot of people seem to find it offensive, but I find much of what is said and done in the name of religion to be not only offensive, but morally repugnant.  And not just word and deed on the part of the Fred Phelps set, but by major and contemporary religious institutions from the Catholic Church to the Lamas of Tibet.  Dawkins is, for the most part, simply advocating the view that evolution is scientific fact.  As for atheism, he advocates the "weak" model, which I think is the most reasonable point of view anyone can hold on the matter.  But that's just how I see it.

    I've heard Dawkins speak in person, on his book The God Delusion, and although I find his logic solid, I find his approach insulting to believers and hence counterproductive. Although he does argue that evolution is scientific fact, I think it's wrong to say he's "simply advocating" that, as it seems to me a big part of his schtick is that believers are deluded (read idiots).

    As far as science goes, I'll take Gould over Dawkins, but I completely agree with you that (a) Dawkins is not incorrect in his interpretation any more than one interpretation of QM is incorrect over another, and (b) he is not responsible for how his theories are abused any more than Smith is (and less responsible than Oppenheimer, but I might be reflecting my own biases now).

    Gould being a better scientist than Dawkins does not make Dawkins a bad scientist, as I can think of many scientists who have contributed far less than Dawkins, but who I nevertheless consider "serious". I think the rub might lie in Dawkins' fame being disproportionate to his scientific contributions, but that reflects more on his fame than his scientific contributions, IMO.

    I think that's a good way to look at Dawkins fame versus his resume.  And with respect for his Simonyi Professorship, putting him out there as a public figure was exactly the purpose.  I suppose one might disagree with this decision on the part of the university, perhaps on similar terms to which one might have disagreed with Obama's receipt of the NPP, but in both cases the endowment provides for the purpose.

    I'm on the fence about offending believers.  On the one hand, I understand the pragmatic point, one that NDT attempts to make in the clip I linked below, about what he calls being a better scientific "educator", but I would argue that a more appropriate term might be "evangelist."  Tyson doesn't want to just give people the facts, he wants to persuade them.  That's all well and good.  I understand the desire to be persuasive.

    However, some of what people like Dawkins and Dennett are trying to do is to examine the role of religious belief from a scientific perspective.  Whether or not their approach is optimal when it comes to being persuasive, I think their goal is necessary.  Such inquiry thus far, as in the field of anthropology, has been decidedly superficial, mostly limited to simply indentifying beliefs, but rather short on examining the very function of religious belief itself.

    Whatever is discovered in pursuing such inquiry, it's quite conceivable to me that believers might be offended, but this is hardly interesting to me.  People are capable of working themselves into a lather about anything.  What interests me more is the question of whether Dawkins is correct.  To say that holding religious belief as delusional is his schtick is an understatement.  It's his thesis.  That this is offensive to believers isn't really surprising to me.  Is he right?

    It's a hell of a gauntlet to throw down, but he's not the only one throwing it.  The time has come for this kind of examination.  As much as we might want to just make nice, this cat isn't going back into the bag.

    It's one thing to follow the truth wherever it takes you, regardless of whether it offends anyone. It's another thing to revel in offending others. I don't believe that Dawkins manipulates his data to make it more offensive*, but when I hear him speak you can hear the downright joy in offending believers.

    *Not deliberately, at least. All scientists need to be careful that their preconceived notions don't subtly influence their data collection/retention/interpretation methods, and Dawkins is undoubtedly not immune to that. I have strong feelings about general relativity and how current beliefs in one subfield of it make it hard to overturn what I think is a faulty theory. I'm also keenly aware that I might be the one who is wrong, especially considering that I'm in the minority.

    I suppose.  I guess that just comes down to personal judgment.  When it comes to sparring with jerks like Comfort, I really can't blame him for taking a some joy in it.  In the realm of such judgment, do you really have the sense that he delights in offending all believers or simply the most egregious among them?

    The talk I actually went to (as opposed to hearing on YouTube) was at the University of Virginia, and the audience was probably about 95% liberal if I had to guess. There was no one badgering him there, no Comforts or what-nots. He was still pompous and arrogant, and he still seemed to enjoy making insulting comments about Christians. Obviously, there's some interpretation required, but that's how it seemed to me, and I'm not the target of his scorn, so I imagine it comes off even more harsh to believers themselves (considering selective perception, etc.)

    DF. Gotta say old bud, that on this issue, I think you're mentally ill. You must've been personally harmed as a child by someone you'd term "religious," cause you can't discuss this rationally.

    Now. If I may, the para above was obviously said for effect. My point being that I'm not sure you see how Dawkins' terming someone's religious views "delusional" is not just slightly offensive, but staggeringly so. I mean, to say someone is delusional is really pretty plain - it's to say they shouldn't be in positions of responsibility.

    Would you look Martin Luther King in the eye and say, "You're delusional?" Or that more recent weirdo, Barack Obama? Clearly, he's religious, so he must be delusional. And since religion is apparently a mass murdering kindof show, with a nightmarish history, and which shows the holder is failing to think rationally, it should pretty much bar them from office.

    And you add things like, "It's quite conceivable to me that believers might be offended, but this is hardly interesting to me.  People are capable of working themselves into a lather about anything." So YOU regard it as an unimportant thing, comparable to "anything." So, the fact that it's enormously important to them counts as zero, to you? And you're hardly interested if they're offended at being called delusional? But you wonder by religious people feel they're the targets of scorn??"

    Quinn, perhaps you should tell me what you think is so valuable or redeeming about religion instead of telling why you think I must have been abused as a child.  No, I'm really not interested in the popular version of "offense."  I think it's fucking stupid, actually.  Yes, people can tell you that they are "offended" by absolutely anything.  So, why should I care about that ipso facto?  I could say that I don't like American Idol and someone might cry out that it's their most favoritist show of all time.  So what?  I'm require to approve?  To like it myself?  To shut up if I don't want to text in my vote?

    The MLK rag is old hat, my friend.  As Hitchens and others have pointed out, MLK invoked the narrative of Exodus, but there's a good reason for this: It's a story from probably the only book that he could have reasonably expected nearly everyone he was trying to communicate with to have read.  I don't personally consider that fact to necessarily be a strength of religion.  Do you?  Furthermore, MLK is not such a sacred cow that I'm going to back off from such inquiry merely because you invoke his name.  There's only one real, honest answer to your question: I couldn't; he's dead.

    I get why people find the notion that religious belief is akin to other delusions as offensive, but, in terms of trying to have an understanding of what religious belief is or what purpose it might serve, focusing on solely "offense", thereby avoiding the ideas labeled as "offensive", tells me little.  So, unless you actually have some insight to offer in that department, I'm not interested in any more obtuse rants.  I was asking Nebton to tell me more about why he assesses Dawkins in this way because I'm interested in how people see him and why, not just blanket pronouncements that he's a useless ass and that anyone who tries to consider what he has to say must have been kicked by a reverend.

    And have I said somewhere that I think all religious believers are mass murderers or something like this?  Is there a reason you keep haranguing on that?

    The fact that religion is important to people and this notion of "offense" are two different things.  Plenty of things are important to me, but I don't react when people disagree with me as those who hold religious views react when their views are deconstructed.  I don't pretend to this blustery notion of "offense."  But apparently this means that I'm not even capable of discussing the matter rationally.  Fancy that.

    YOU on the other hand.  What exactly is it that you're offering here?  I'm supposedly in need of lectures about the polite way to discuss these matters from.. who?  YOU?

    PS - After eight years of a guy who looked into Putin's soul and saw nothing he didn't like, you don't think it's perhaps a good idea for people to factor that sort of thing into their judgment?  As for Obama, I'm not even convinced he's a true believer.  His mother wasn't.  Let's stipulate that he's not, but can't say so.  Even if this isn't true for him, it's undoubtedly true of some politicians in the U.S.  What does this say about the hold of religion over discourse and the iron curtion of "offense"?

    Bah. I give.

    Look. The "mentally ill" and "personally harmed as a child" lines were supposed to be a parallel construction to the "deluded" charges, right? To show you how easy these terms insult/irritate. I think my point was proven. No insult actually intended.

    Dawkins is a not-nice guy. Offensive and manipulative, but also morally repugnant. I should just leave it there.

    I don't think you in any way dealt with my Selfish Gene points by saying Dawkins was famous like Gould. Nor does your response to the MLK and Obama issues work. WERE they religious, or weren't they? And if they WERE, should they be in positions of responsibility? They're mentally ill, so what's the story?

    I think aggressive atheists are pathetic, thin, shallow people, who over-rate their intellects. I avoid them like I avoid the uber-religious. Life is big, and we are very small, and know very little. You find the record of religions to be bad over the ages, I'd say atheism's coming out party in the 20th Century to be so blood-soaked that it should perhaps be put down as a failed experiment.

    I wrote an alternative response earlier, in which I critiqued your points and called them "dim." My point was that to be called "dim" is less of a personal, moral, insult than "deluded." Because it suggests less personal responsibility. I just really think you should consider whether theses which are worded in such a way as to directly and personally insult people are really needed.

    I'm out. Hope y'all are well.

    My response to your original comment is below.  Please keep that in mind when you read it.

    Above all, I just want to point out that I feel like you're dealing with straw-men here and not the actual arguments that I, or even Dawkins, might be making.  I've detailed why I think is so.

    And I didn't deal with your point about Dawkins v. Gould by saying that they're both famous.  I said they both offer interpretations of the facts of evolution.  To behave as if there isn't a huge contigent of scientists that agree with Dawkins' view, to act as if he's out there all alone on this, simply isn't accurate.  Gould has his supporters, too, but as a matter of science I think there's honest disagreement over how to interpret these findings.  And I even gave an analogy to another field.  There's similar debate over the interpretation of quantum mechanics.

    I think the Robert Pirig quote that I cite below very well illustrates what is actually meant by atheists in these arguments by "delusion."  Perhaps that's offensive to some, but I think it's a perfectly valid question to ask why we put a guy who claims to be Napoleon in a mental institution whereas we're supposed to worship the guy who claims to be God.

    FWIW, I'm with Quinn about Dawkins. That list of publications is pretty light on what I consider real science and heavy on atheist vs. christianist religious sniping. Being an institutionally accepted academic is nowhere near the same thing as being a serious scientist.

    IMO, there are two sides to evolution: evolution (small "e") which is the group of legitimate scientific principles extracted from actual contemporary scientific research (heredity, mutation, extinction, adaptation, natural selection, etc). Very few people dispute these principles regardless of religious belief as there is actual science to back it up.  Sure there are some, but you have to go to the fringes of religion to find them and then cast those people as "The Christians".

    The other side is Evolution (capital "E") which is the religious belief that the principles of "Darwinism" are the sole mechanism by which terrestrial life came to exist and the only factor that impacted the course of life after it's appearance. It is the atheist's equivalent to the 7 days of creation. There simply isn't any science that proves this, yet religious atheists insist that their interpretation be taught in government mandated education as integral to the legitimate scientific observations. People with other beliefs naturally (and correctly) protest the desire to utilize the public school system to indoctrinate children with a religious belief as if it were science.  When you strip all the "it's better than any traditional religion's explanation" pontification, the decision to believe evolution-as-sole-mechanism-for-the-existence-of-life as "truth" is a choice of faith not a result of scientific proof.

    The way the religious have entertwined their beliefs with the science that used to be attributed to the word "evolution", and the inability for most folks to recognize the dual meaning of the word, lead those who reject the religious aspects to challenge the combined theory ... which also includes the legitimate scientific observations.

    For practical purposes, life on earth simply *IS*. Biology is the study of that life in the contemporary. Where it came from is irrelevant to how it works. Mitosis works no differently if someone asserts a cell was created by "God", spontaneously erupted from chemicals in an as-yet-unexplained set of conditions that existed in primordial times, or came into existence when Thor smote the ground with his mighty hammer.  The mechanics are science, the narrative beyond what is provable is not. The "danger" from those who challenge religious atheism seems to be a political and social one, not one of human ignorance - evolution is not the only or even the primary line of battle between these opposing sides.

    One thing I find very interesting is that as anthropologists and historians who focus on the earth's biological past continue to expand their view, it continues to more closely resemble the basic narrative presented in the Bible for the progression of the appearance of life. I find this to be amazing. How did a tribal society from thousands of years ago manage to so closely describe basic evolution starting at the planetary level? This seems like an amazingly unlikely coincidence ... the sort of thing that an open minded scientific community would want to explore.  And then there's the question of the amazing coincidence of DNA which essentially defines all life in a common and compatible operating system of exceptional stability.  You can turn on fish genes in a tomato. That's pretty impressive system compatibility for two very different life forms theoretically existing as the result of two very different evolutionary paths. It seems almost impossible unless complex DNA itself was completely done evolving by the time the common ancestor of fish and tomatoes diversified - which doesn't make any sense at all.

    Dogma is dogma.  It's not the belief in God that makes one dogmatic - it's the unwavering belief that one is right. You may say there's no "God" but have you (or any of today's evolutionists) actually looked for such with an open mind and legitimate scientific rigor? It seems to me much of this is simply about ensuring that those who want approach the issue from an angle of challenging the religious beliefs of establishment science can't get funding or academic support. Pretty much same as it ever was.

    First, I do feel a bit guilty about my previous tone in mocking a book that some people consider holy. It's not the nicest thing to do, but it might help you understand why iI (and others) do so if you consider that many of our friends and/or family regularly try to get us to accept this book as being awesome. I've studied it, and I find in wanting in numerous ways, but it's still not great of me to mock it when others dervie great comfort from it.

    Secondly, as DF points out, I most definitely do not consider Dawkins to be a useful ally in this. He could be, as I do think he's a serious scientist and a great thinker, but h'es not. As you point out, he can often be quite obnoxious, and that's not helpful. Personally, I aspire to be more like Neil deGrasse Tyson.

    Just to be clear, I feel guilty about my comment mocking John 5:1-4, and not about the original piece.

    Here's a great clip of the two men actually discussing the difference in their styles:

    It's worth noting that this shows that scientists are conscious about some of the concerns that quinn has expressed and do discuss different approaches and ends.

    That is my second favorite clip of NdGT and atheism on YouTube. Here's my favorite one, where he disproves the notion that (strong) atheists cannot be spiritual:

    Though I didn't catch the connection between this clip and strong atheism, it does remind of this quote from Feynman:

    Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars — mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is "mere". I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination — stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern — of which I am a part... What is the pattern or the meaning or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little more about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?

    So often are science and other rational movements, like atheism, portrayed as the enemies of beauty and wonder, but nothing could be further from the truth.

    The connection to strong atheism is two-fold, if subtle: One, my understanding is that NdGT is a strong atheist, and, two, his speech demonstrates what your Feynman quote does, i.e., that one can be in awe of nature while still maintaining that there are no supernatural forces at play.

    I, too, like that Feynman quote.

    Hmm.  I wasn't aware that he identified as a strong atheist, but I suppose the distiniction is somewhat subtle even if the ultimate implications might be more profound.  I'm not sure that the views either he or Feynman expressed require strong atheism per se.

    They don't require it, but my point is that they most definitely do not prevent it.

    This is in response to Quinn above: I'm gonna take this whirlwind of bullshit piece by piece, okay?

    First of all, you need to sort out just who in the hell you're at war with, eagle-eye.  Me?  Dawkins?  Liberal blogosphere?  The disembodied voices in your head saying all of the other stuff not said by any party even tangentially related to this discussion?  Can you even hit the broad-side of a barn with that thing?

    I fully understand what your little quip was all about.  You obviously didn't get the irony that is making some kind of plea for civil discussion in the midst of slinging a bunch of ad hominem crap.  Someone was saying something about slinging crap earlier.  Oh, yeah, that was you, but I guess you were just doing it in this case to make a point, whereas the people you're attacking were just.. oh shit.  Guess you'll have to let me know what you think the solution to that chicken-ang-egg game is.

    The funny thing is that your analogy doesn't even understand what Dawkins, or any of the other "aggressive atheists", are saying.  Since you're fixated on Dawkins, down to his sexual habits apparently, let's start with what he's actually saying in The God Delusion.  His assertion is this: Since there is no evidence for the god that people claim, then we should regard such belief as belief in a personal god, which would in all other circumstances, save for when we label such circumstances with the word "religion", be regarded as a delusional belief.  Pretty simple.  He's essentially developed an argument similar to the observation by Robert Pirsig that "when one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion."  I suppose Pirsig can simply be added to the list of arrogant, aggressive, dim-witted atheists.

    This is an argument about the nature of religious belief and our relationship to it in the general.  Your analogy is specific, but more important personal.  It only lives and functions on this level.  Perhaps it would have been better to ask me whether I had been raped by a priest.  After all, that's a story that's been in the headlines so many times that we can all instantly recognize the story arc.  And we might as well revisit this cliche since your whole diatribe contains nothing but rehashed arguments that have been revisted in these debates ad nauseum.

    How's that story go again?  Priest abuses children, church covers it up for decades, child grows up, finally comes forward, church floods locality with money and lawyers, arbritration and settlement occur, priest is re-located.  That sounds like proper behavior on the part of the organization claiming to represent God on Earth to me.

    What's important here is to note that not I nor Dawkins nor Hitchens nor anyone else that I'm aware of ever makes the claim that being a priest necessarily leads to abusing children, although I'm sure some clever person could perhaps account for the percentages on the basis of the code of behavior that priests are sworn to (insert big, flashing arrows pointing to men trying to live up to vows of chastity here).  However, the church claims moral authority.  Not only that, but it's claimed in such a way as to be the highest moral authority that can possible exist.  Those are two exceedingly bold blaims when made in tandem.

    Yet what does it say about this claimed authority when we see the utter hypocrisy, the violation of trust?  There's no one that I know of who claims that only priests rape children.  However, the utter denial of the claim to highest moral authority on the basis of a god that isn't at all evident is due.  Furthermore, that the church has any claim whatsoever to moral authority should be based on, oh I don't know, their fucking actions and not the mandate of some sky-fairy.  You know, sort of like everybody else?

    I realize just how radical and offensive and outrageous a notion this must be, that the holy men of the world might have to actually behave in a moral way instead of just claiming ultimate moral authority by fiat and birth-right, to wallow in the soup of moral ambiguity like the rest of us, with no life-preserver from on high.

    Then, there's this:

    And since I apparently don't bring in enough particulars for you, try
    seriously responding to my charge that Dawkins is a popularizing,
    egotistical, hack who would say whatever he could in order to get

    Not to put to fine a point on it, but you haven't put forth any particulars that I can see. You want a serious response, but this no serious charge. It's a bunch of ad hominem crap. What exactly am I defending here? This is nothing but pure vitriol. Classically, you haven't refuted one specific point he's made, scientific or otherwise. This deserves no rebuttal. If you have something specific to say, I can tell you what I think.

    As for taking a second run at your MLK/Obama appeal to authority (what a double-header!), if you want to know what I think it's this: From what I have read and known of the man, I highly doubt MLK would be as singularly reactionary to questions of faith as you've proven to be. I think he could probably understand that some of what Dawkins, for example, says echoes doubts in faith on the part of Darwin himself. Similarly, you can't convince me that Obama is a true believer in the sense of being so obtuse either. First, I know his family background. Second, I've read his words on the matter. Third, he's the first President to go out of his way to make inclusive statements about non-believers on several occasions. Again, I'll remind you that his mother was one. And you may also be aware that he didn't really join up with religious organizations until he was starting to build his political career.

    But let's stipulate that they both were/are/will be true believers. So what? Again, what's at issue here isn't whether someone can be otherwise sane. If you think that's what's being said, then I'd like to know who's saying it. It's not a view I've forwarded. What's important to me about evaluating religious belief in the context of evaluating leadership is this: Religious belief requires a wholly separate epistemology. As a result, it becomes a way to introduce illogical constructs into discussion and decision-making. That's the real trouble if you ask me. Keep in mind, the people who had been running the free world for the previous eight years were of precisely this ilk. How did that work out for you, pal? You think God is on our side in the Middle East?

    As for Obama, like I said, I doubt he's really on the order of true believers, but if he was, then I definitely would find that as a reason to question his judgment. In reality, even his espoused views on faith are decidedly moderate and not at all at odds with science and rationality. Oh, and of course you completely avoided my question about what it says
    about the control of religion over discourse if we stipulate that Obama is a non-believer, but cannot afford to be honest about this publicly.

    It's this simple: Religion and religious belief do not inexorably lead to immoral behavior. Religion does, however, make extraordinary claims to moral authority. Religious belief does require extra-logical constructs and the suspension of disbelief. It must necessarily posit a supernatural world, but it takes these supernatural claims as premises for arguments about what must be done in the real world. And it has been observed that these extraordinary claims, on the order of authority and of justification for moral codes, have been made in concert with acts that are decidely immoral by nearly any measure.

    But I guess historical arguments are weak, only to be made by the dim, yes?

    Quinn, I figured you for smarter than the old "Communist regime = atheist" yarn. Before I get to that, I did enjoy that you placed Hitler in the list. That's always fun. Of course, Hitler is great fodder for this debate. Believers always claim he was an atheist. This is, of course, easily rebutted by noting his writings, even Mein Kampf itself. However, I like to split the difference just a bit. I like to think of Hitler as being Christian in the finest modern tradition. You know, someone who pays lip service to Christianity because they know how much control that will buy them, while implementing a policy that would break the Christ's heart. Sort of like all the people here in America who busily oppose pretty much every policy initiative you'd like to see pushed through. You know, rank hypocrites who exploit that gaping hole in rational faculties that we call religious belief.

    But I guess the real problem with society is a handful of bastard atheists, giving talks on college campuses. Fucking assholes.

    As for the communists, I hope you don't honestly expect me to defend them as atheists or their behavior as the actions of atheists. They didn't do what they did in the name of atheism. They did it in the name of totalitarian state. Banning religion was one dimension of the abuse of this power, not the singular focus. No modern atheists that have been the focus of this discussion, not me, not Dawkins, not Hitchens, not Dennett, not Harris, not anyone else that I'm aware of would possibly support such a state. All of these people firmly believe in First Amendment protections, which include the right to believe what you will in a free society.

    Furthermore, Hitchens, who has actually been to North Korea, notes just how religious the communist cult of personality truly is. Their president is fifteen years dead, yet he is still their "Great Leader." They effectively pray to and worship him. In fact, he's officially the "Eternal President." Does this honestly sound irreligious to you? The same thing can be said of the other regimes you mention. A rose by any other name would smell as religious.

    Finally, I want address this, because it is truly stunning:

    The universe we can see is so large that you could take each neuron in each brain of each human being alive today, and place it on its own star. 1
    neuron, 1 star. That's how big this show is. On top of that, so to
    speak, we may have plenty more dimensions, or more universes, etc.
    However. DF and his great and grand bunch of friends have announced
    that they've got this all sorted out. Though merely bipeds, lacking
    ultraviolet vision, lacking an ability to cure the common cold, unable
    to yet travel outside our galaxy, not knowing their own species' family
    tree, and not knowing the breeding grounds of the creatures with the
    largest brains on our own Earth... still and all, this brill bunch has
    sorted out the deepest mystery on Earth. They've looked, thought about
    it, and there is no God.

    So, your response to people who are essentially saying that there isn't any evidence for a supernatural creator entity and that we should instead focus on science and rationality (amazing that this view is controversial still, centuries after the Enlightenment) is to point to scientific facts? Are you daft, man? You wouldn't have that nice little tidbit about neurons-are-to-stars-as-the-brain-is-to-the-universe without science, my friend. You do grasp that, don't you? When have you heard any scientist say that they have it all figured out? When have you heard me say that? Who exactly do you perceive yourself to be arguing with here?

    Your rebuttal is that the dumb science-inclined bipeds might have something to learn from the dumb fairy-believing bipeds? The ones who were wrong about absolutely every scientific fact you just mentioned? And your evidence for this is the scientific knowledge that was attained not at the behest of the fairy-believers, but absolutely in spite of them, sometimes at a great personal cost to those who disobeyed their dictate? Pardon my blasphemy, but Jesus Christ. You want to rail against lame historical arguments and offer this?

    Religion makes an extraordinary claim. For every other such claim, extraordinary evidence is required. In this case, there's essentially no evidence. Your response to this is, predictably, to behave as if science and rationa thinkers are making claims that they simply don't make. The reality is that atheists, at least those of my stripe, are simply saying that they see no more reason to believe in a supernatural creator than they do to believe in a unicorn. Do you spend as much time and energy badgering people as to why they don't take more seriously the possibility, however remote, that unicorns actually exist?

    Christmas is coming up. It's a day of two myths. One is for children, the other for adults. The big difference between these two myths is that when children reach a certain age, we tell them that it was just make-believe the whole time. Some children are upset by the revelation that they've been lied to. It's understandable.

    Some adults don't get the memo. When people like Dawkins show up with this message, they are understandably upset. You want to act like that's all a matter "offense," like the messenger just didn't massage it right before he broke the bad news. I say bullshit. I think that both they and you are upset because you know that he's probably right. So, you shoot the messenger. It's typical.

    There's nothing new or original or refreshing about any of this. All of these arguments are tried and tired. And for all of the pleading here, you still don't say one thing in favor of religion or religious belief. Hitchens does a quick thought-experiment when he gives talks. He asks the audience first to name one thing that a supposedly religious person has said or done that could not have been said or done by a non-believer. To my knowledge, no one has ever seriously proposed an answer to his question. Then he asks a second question, which is to name a single act of evil that has been committed by a religious person or in the name of religion. Not suprisingly, the answers abound.

    That's what's at issue here. Faith requires the suspension of disbelief, of critical thought. In absolutely no other realm of discussion or understanding is this considered desirable nor is it generally permitted as a mode of thought or argument. At the same time, faith wants to command not just moral authority, but absolute moral authority. Science makes no such claim. Rationality makes no such claim. All of your protestation is simply in the face of demand that religious claims be put on equal footing, judged equally alongside other phenomena. When you consider how much mileage those that command the faithful get out of their current arrangement, it's no wonder that a handful of professors and authors are considered to be so virulent.

    But this is nothing new.


    Amusing that you think I'm leading the ad hom attacks. My first comment was about not liking having all religious people lumped in with the freaks. Your first sentence back was about how I was stupid, followed by how you couldn't take me seriously, and concluded with one of those "nobody's making you come here" passive-aggressive things. And all based on how you being too tough to mind giving offense, which is pretty easy to say when it's YOU who's busy calling other people deluded (mentally ill.)

    1. Communism & 20th Century History. Apparently, you dislike the fact that the single most explicitly, virulently, anti-religious movement of the last 150 years - Communism - slaughtered millions of own people. It's amusing, almost, how intellectually dishonest this stance is. It's anti-history, anti-fact, anti-science, but it fits your prejudices, so hey! It's ok! Like when you want to claim Obama and MLK... so you pull them toward being atheists. But you don't want the Commies... so you shove them into the religious basket. Just a fabulous exhibition of the tight rationality you atheists utilize, eh?

    My thesis was on Marx, I've read everything he and Engels ever wrote, hundreds of commentaries, studied political theory and history for 7 years with some great minds. After that, I lived and worked with people of the organized, lifetime Left in 3 countries for 22 years. Anyway. Based on all that, I really do feel quite secure in stating that you cannot argue, not even for 5 minutes, that somehow Communism, its actions and its leaders exemplify RELIGION rather than atheism. Not in the sense you've spelled it out, where religion is all about belief in that external, supernatural voodoo that has no evidence, right? You just can't argue that they were more religious than atheist. Sorry. So I really will insist that Marx and Engels were quite clear on the topic, as were Stalin and Mao and a whole lot of others, and they were in fact virulent about it. And to argue otherwise - as you did - is actually quite vicious, when you stop and think of the millions (yup, count 'em) of explicitly religious people who were jailed and murdered for their beliefs in those countries.

    So I'd just like to say, as someone who's been a member of those Lefty circles pretty solidly for 25 years, and who continues himself to have a lot to say in FAVOUR of Marx and the organized Left, and who understands full well how hard it is to take really shitty behaviour by MY guys onboard - that is, my own political side, the Left, did this - I call bullshit on you. You're being intellectually dishonest. If something's bad, you label it religion. If it's good, then you want it on your team. Now, that may make you feel good, but it's irrational. It is, as you put it, behaving as a child. Refusing to grow up. But DO keep on with your belief in the fabulosity of an atheist unicorn, eh? I'm sure it'll show up.

    2. Catholic & Religious Immorality. Apparently the actions of the Catholic church are surprising, as well as morally repugnant and outrageous to you. To me, not so much. Why? Because I was raised Baptist, and we were drilled in what the Catholic hierarchy had done wrong for oh, about 2000 years. We knew about the slaughters, the lies, the wealth, the sexual sickness, you name it. Though I always love it when people wanna preach to the Anabaptist wing of Christianity about the shocking abuses of the Catholic church. Hello?


    Considering people like the Baptists fought for decades and lost enormous numbers of people to leave the Catholic Church, and DID actually succeed in dropping some of its most egregious sins (like the buggery thing), while still remaining religious, I'm not sure how Catholic has come to stand in for all religion. In fact... you may want to check out the fundamentals of the Baptists, who believe in the priesthood of all believers, and who have no central church hierarchy, or even really any written creed. Which makes your schtick about moral authority and codes and hierarchy a bit weak. (Note - NOT arguing the Baptists have done remarkably well, just... they're different.)

    So then you tell me all about this genius distinction between moral authority and moral actions. Ummmm, DF? You ever read anything by Christians with an IQ above 110? i.e. Are you retarded? Because you'd have to be a moron to not understand that MOST religions and religious people kinda get that difference between moral claims and moral actions. There's been a few debates in the church over a few moral issues, and hypocrisy and such, over the years. Prophet vs Priest, Jesus vs. the Authorities, and so on....

    BRIEF MUSICAL INTERLUDE. Just FYI, I fell 1 unit short in my undergrad from having all the classes I'd need to become a United Church minister in Canada. The Uniteds being the most left, liberal, feminist, green, ecumenical, liberation, death of god types imaginable. Eventually I decided not to, left the church, took my other courses - economics and politics - and went to study in England. But which training in ethics/morality, New & Old Testament, etc. etc. is part of the reason I'm pissed at your cartoonings here.

    Because truth is, your stuff is actually quite... vicious, DF. Everybody - and everything - bad, ever, is on the other side. While anyone good, you wanna claim (or wipe free of blame.) You know, Hitchens and Dawkins you're setting up as moral individuals? Really? The Commies were religious? Obama isn't? Bush is? And I'm "singularly reactionary to questions of faith?" Gotta say old man, I've dealt with other faiths, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, evangelicals and charismatics, and truckloads of atheists (seeing as Western Europe only has about 17 Christians left) --- but it's the first time I've been called that.

    Now, as to the priests, why... it raises just such an interesting and particular case, doesn't it? Because there are other circles in society that were really quite keen on assaulting/raping boys. As in... private schools, but also, universities such as Oxford. Amazing thing, how in that protected setting, rafts of men - believers and non - could get away with certain things. Oddly, I happened to be someone who insisted on opening these behaviours up. And getting them stopped. Odd, I say, because I was still quite religious at the time, and you would have thought the atheists - like our beloved Dawkins - might have led an action to protect little boys from being fucked by Dons, but... it seems to have escaped his interest. Maybe he was too busy chasing his own preference. I donno.

    So, let's just say I enjoyed your smartass little comment about me being fixated on his sexual habits. DF. I risked an awful lot, and got something stopped. I stepped up. A lot of assholes, religious and atheist both, did nothing. They had their codes, written and non, atheist and theist. But they continued their predations. You owe me an apology on this one, but what the hay.

    I'm more pissed though, because there's something wider that taints how you talk. Take my Baptist Ministers growing up. Some were the complete sexist, egotistical, hatred-spewing, homophobic, irrational, science-hating types you'd recognize in a second. But then there were the people who weren't. A Brit who'd worked in the Underground to save Jews from out of Europe. A staggering, shining, example of a human being. Or the two women Ministers I had, that taught me about how religion and science can and should meet, talk, deal with one another. They were opposed, in the most hateful way, by lots of other ministers. But they themselves? Shining. Courageous.


    Your prejudices have no room for these people, DF. You either dismiss them, or claim them. Just as with Obama, MLK, Communism, religious scientists etc.

    Which leads back around to the way moral claims and moral codes and moral authority sometimes run - in your words - "in concert" with poor moral behaviour. But to state the screamingly obvious, sometimes the codes and the actions MESH, and people do really really well. Sometimes they're courageous and noble and good. They oppose slavery, fight for civil rights, protect the weak. And sometimes, atheists don't. And from the world-historical examples like Pol Pot through to the failure to act of some people at Oxford, life is complex.

    Boil it down? Let's make it personal. Your bottomline position is that you, as an atheist, are more likely or better equipped somehow to lead a moral life, than I am. Because the extraordinary claims of religion, and their justification for moral codes, has been made in concert with acts that are decidedly immoral, and this is shown by history - and I'm more tightly wired to religion than you are. Therefore, you're freer, more able to think rationally, more open to realities that go beyond some book, less tied to prejudices and nonsense handed down by authorities. So you'll be more moral. Correct? I doubt you'll want it spelled out quite this bluntly, but if we erase "religious people" and "atheists" and insert our own names, it just makes it easier.

    3. Dawkins' & His Selfish Genes. I laid out my problems with him, went back in his history, quoted sections from his key book to show the problem, and you still claim that I argue with no particulars. Frankly, I don't think you have any understanding of what an impact Selfish Gene had, and your comments try to shove the blame over to EO Wilson and others. I don't think you'll admit to this though.


    I also gave you direct quotes where he's clearly writing crap that is non-scientific, and you respond by claiming that he's like Gould because they're both scientists and interpreters. Jesus, man. Of course they're both bleeding interpreters, and popularizers, etc etc. The question is, do their writings take liberties by enflaming, by cartooning, by distorting, by pitching for media attention? And on any of those scores, I see absolutely no way Dawkins and Gould are in the same class.

    4. Science and/Or Religion. What I was trying to argue from the word go was that the American Left has been so reduced in its intellectual capacity, by only arguing with religious monsters morons fundamentalists and retards, that they've lost any ability to hold discussions with more interesting issues and people. You couldn't have won that case for thoroughly for me if you'd tried.

    Do you honestly think I oppose science? Not sure you noted, but I studied biology, genetics, ecology - and loved it. I gave the example of the stars and the neurons to SHOW, deliberately, that the universe is far beyond the abilities of our puny science, and our puny religions. Brian Greene was going through our college at the time, and a friend (though not one I could ever participate in serious scientific discussion with, just to be clear.) But do you honestly think the universe those guys are dealing with is so clear cut and dried as to have no room to even have a sensible discussion? Are you so dim you don't think science and religion hold together quite happily for many intelligent people? Do we need to do that stupid thing by listing scientists who are also religious? Are you really so far out on the atheist freak wing that you refuse to permit the possibility of any such stance? And if I may ask... do you actually know much science, or philosophy or history of science? Because I found the latter two to be incredibly enlightening.

    Stop it, just stop it, you two. I swear I'll turn this car around and you'll never get to see the Grand Canyon. Is that what you want? Well, is it?

    Awww, c'mon Dad. We were just playn'.

    And what about Old Time Hockey? Eddie Shore?

    Besides. He started it.


    There is a "science of mythology" to be read and studied. Were religion nothing but ignorance, why have so many gifted scholars spent lifetimes in pursuit of the universal deep structures within the stories and beliefs? 

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