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Introduction: You're too nice 
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Post Re: Introduction: You're Too Nice
MadArchitect wrote:
Getting on to the discussion...
1. Several times you use the term "True Believer" to characterize a certain degree of religious conviction. I wonder if your thinking here is influenced by Eric Hoffer's book of the same name?


Only to the extent that I'm aware of the book and its title. It's a work I've always meant to get around to reading but haven't yet.

I'm using the phrase "True Believer" to refer to the most dogmatic religionists. The "True Believer" usually claims to have the only valid understanding of "God" and his or her religion. I think it's clear from the context, but let me make it clear if it's not, that I understand most religionists do not fall into the category of "True Believers."

MadArchitect wrote:
2. If you issue a second edition, might I suggest that you go through and eliminate some of the phrases that work against your premise that "there is a need to talk about these subjects to the broad mass of people, and to do so in a way that is neither patronizing nor elitist." I'm thinking specifically of comments like, "What make atheists atheists is that they have no belief in a cosmic super critter of any description." From what I've read so far, it looks as though your book is comparatively free of that kind of characterization, but you could do better than "comparatively." On the whole, a great deal of the atheist literature I've read traffics in descriptions and analogies that derive a certain part of their strength from trying to make religious belief look as silly and ridiculous as possible: they compare it to belief in, say, Martian unicorns, or compare God to Superman, and so on. Maybe that's how you really feel about religious belief -- though I suspect you're more sympathetic than many atheists -- but I hope you can at least agree that language of that sort is not likely to foster genuine discussion or mutual understanding.


Here we disagree. The "cosmic super critter" isn't intended to be a caricature of anyone's idea about god. The phrase is aimed at the generic god concept. One of the reasons I use it is to move away from the word "god" in recognition that not all ideas about deities use that language. The "cosmic super critter" is a characterization of a generic entity, not the "God" of any religion and certainly not the "God" worshipped by any believer. And, yes, I will confess it is my way of poking a little gentle fun at the vagueries associated with the concept.

By the same token, I think it's clear my reference to Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief" is my opinion of the mechanism at the core of religious faith, most specifically the faith of the "True Believers" referenced earlier. It's certainly an arguable point, but I don't think it's necessary to avoid making the comment for fear someone may be offended.

Let's be clear. I don't have a very high opinion of most of the god ideas I've encountered and most of the religions I know about. This book is partly about my reasons for leaving those things behind. I don't know of any way to indicate those reasons without offering my opinions.

However, I assume this is for an audience of adults who can read without seeking out reasons for finding offense unnecessarily. I understand, as I indicated, that believers find it hard to have their beliefs criticized and tend to take it personally when they are. However, while I haven't intentionally gone out of my way to offend anyway, neither have I edited my opinions so as to avoid the possibility of giving offense

MadArchitect wrote:
3. To be honest, I find your quote from Smith's "Atheism: The Case Against God" problematic. Not because I think atheists should be obliged to answer the questions or accusations of their opponents, but because I think the fact of a person's atheism implies some very valid and difficult questions, even given the definition of atheism as a lack of belief in, rather than a denial of, gods. Those questions aren't intrinsic, of course -- they arise from context in which all modern atheists live. In other words, an atheist living in an atheist culture wouldn't be faced with the same questions. But it does seem to me that a person who has accepted a great many of the institutions and assumptions of a culture that, over a long period of time, built those things on the premises of a particular belief (ie. theism), draws all of that into question when he abandons that belief.


I think of atheism as a starting point from which one may well revisit a number of things, such as morality and so on. But one cannot legitimately infer a particular moral or philosophical (or any other) stance based on a declaration of atheism. Atheists come at these issues in all sorts of ways. The only legitimate implication to be drawn from atheism is that whatever position an atheist takes, a god won't be part of it.

MadArchitect wrote:
4. In the fourth footnote to this chapter, you equate religious belief with any strongly held set of beliefs. Do you mean that as literally as it reads?


No. Just that strongly held beliefs are sometimes called "religious." I wanted the reader to understand that when I use the word in this book, I'm referring to theistic religions and not the more colloquial uses of the word.

MadArchitect wrote:
5. I think you make an excellent point in noting that the origin of a belief -- including religious belief -- neither justifies nor negates the validity of that belief. I've seen a lot of attempts to discredit religion by a sort of pseudo-historical method -- Dennett's "Breaking the Spell" comes to mind.


Of course that doesn't mean that we ought not consider the origins (or what we think may be the origins) of such beliefs. I don't think that's so much an attempt to discredit religion as an attempt to understand it.

MadArchitect wrote:
6. It's also valid to point out that "Christianity is such a huge denomination with so many mutually exclusive elements, it seems wishful thinking to call it one religion." But I'd extend that principle. The same is true of political parties, of national organizations, of ethnic groups, etc. That sort of internal fragmentation seems indicative of any large group (the primatologist Robin Dunbar has some interesting comments along those lines), and I'm not sure it says anything about religion in particular that isn't equally applicable to any other kind of large group.


Such fragmentation is certainly true of large groups, including, as I note in the text, all other religions. However, it's important to understand that discussions about "Christianity" have to take that fragmentation into account, and that was the point of the comment.

MadArchitect wrote:
7. You also note that your personal position of the supposed existence of a god or gods is provisional. I hope that's true; I think it's a commendable position to genuinely hold. There's a lot of talk among atheists and metaphysical naturalists of provisional belief, but from my experience, a lot of them are towing a party line in the interest of diplomacy.


My opinion on the god/no god question is provisional because I think it has to be. I can see no way to prove or disprove the proposition "god exists" with any sort of certainty. That doesn't mean I don't have strong opinions on the matter, just that I recognize it may be futile to attempt to resolve it with any finality.

But you seem to be trying to have it on both ways when you speak of atheists "towing a party line in the interest of diplomacy" and then go on to say they're really itching for a fight with theists. I know that goes on, but I have to say that in my experience the vitriol and vehemence of the most extreme example of that sort of thing (feel free to chose your candidate for that honor) does not begin to compare with the vituperation that has been heaped by many members of the clergy and other theist as well on anyone who dares declare their atheism openly. Now I don't suggest that one justifies the other, but it certainly helps to explain it. Don't you think?

MadArchitect wrote:
8. Oh, and just as a minor quibble, creator status is by no means consistent among religions as a criteria for divine status. This should be patently obvious with just about any polytheistic religion. Even if Hinduism attributes Creation to a god, it still makes reference to any number of gods that took no part in creating the world. The Greek creation story of Hesiod doesn't involve a creator god at all -- all the gods arise as parts of creation. So if having created the world is a baseline criteria for god status, how do we account for the plethora of non-creator gods that appear in so many religious traditions?


You have to read what I said. "For purposes of this discussion, I am using the term "god" as it is commonly used in western civilization. God is a supreme being (a cosmic super critter, if you will) who created the universe, who created all that is in that universe and created it for a purpose."

I think your quibble is misplaced. I'm not talking about every possible idea about a deity ever offered, and I certainly recognize there are lots of variations out there. I don't claim to be writing an exhaustive compendium of all the nuances and variations of religious belief on the planet.

George


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[i][b]mere atheism: no gods


Fri Sep 21, 2007 2:24 pm
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You guys may want to go over to our ezboard and copy the posts in the temp thread about Godless in America. We won't be moving that forum so this is the only way to bring them over.

http://p197.ezboard.com/fbooktalkfrm125



Fri Sep 21, 2007 2:35 pm
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Post Re: Introduction: You're Too Nice
garicker wrote:
MadArchitect wrote:
1. Several times you use the term "True Believer" to characterize a certain degree of religious conviction. I wonder if your thinking here is influenced by Eric Hoffer's book of the same name?

Only to the extent that I'm aware of the book and its title. It's a work I've always meant to get around to reading but haven't yet.


It's definitely worth reading at least once. Very germaine to a lot of what you talk about, although Hoffer uses the phrase to encompass secular fundamentalisms and utopians as well.

garicker wrote:
The "cosmic super critter" isn't intended to be a caricature of anyone's idea about god.


Well, for what it's worth, I'm a theist, and it read like caricature to me.

Quote:
This book is partly about my reasons for leaving those things behind. I don't know of any way to indicate those reasons without offering my opinions.


I know you're not likely to revise the book to the extent that would be necessary to incorporate this suggestion, but I'd say that the best way would be to present it in a more overtly biographical manner. Rather than talking about what religion is or seems to be, talk about how you progressed from seminary-enrolled theist to outspoken atheist. If you assessments of religion were presented as part of your personal development, they'd be less prone to come across as a more objective characterization.

But it may simply be the case that the two goals you've stated are at odds with one another. If contempt for religion is one of the reasons that you've left it behind, then it may not be possible to talk about both that and the impact that both religion and atheism have on American society without also patronizing or condescending to theistic readers.

garicker wrote:
I think of atheism as a starting point from which one may well revisit a number of things, such as morality and so on. But one cannot legitimately infer a particular moral or philosophical (or any other) stance based on a declaration of atheism.


I'm not saying that atheists should. What I'm saying is only that it doesn't make sense for atheists to accept wholesale notions from a morality that was premised on, or at least intertwined with, theism. If a thoroughgoing atheist who takes seriously the task of determining an atheist morality (in the sense of "not contingent on theism") cannot formulate it with reference to the simple fact of his or her atheism (and we agree that they can't), then they'll simply have to find some other foundation on which to build. There have been fledgling attempts to build a morality premised on certain scientific theories, but I think that's a practice that comes with its own built in dangers -- not least of which being its potential effect on the practice of science. The Soviet adoption of Lamarckian evolutionary theory, for instance, was in part premised on the perception of how the Lamarckian model would better accord with Soviet values.

garicker wrote:
Of course that doesn't mean that we ought not consider the origins (or what we think may be the origins) of such beliefs. I don't think that's so much an attempt to discredit religion as an attempt to understand it.


It can be either. I've made ongoing study of the origin of philosophical and religious ideas a regular part of my reading, so I'm certainly not one to dismiss the historical perspective. And I have a great deal of respect for the scholars and writers who have made a sincere effort to squelch whatever bias they may have when studying the origins of varying forms of belief. But at the same time, when a writer like Dennett or Dawkins gives some cursory rendering of the history of some belief or another, it certainly seems calculated to cast obloquy on that tradition. And in doing so, they often let personal bias dictate their choice of sources and their presentation of the material.

garicker wrote:
My opinion on the god/no god question is provisional because I think it has to be. I can see no way to prove or disprove the proposition "god exists" with any sort of certainty.


If all you mean is that it's provisional because something could feasibly have so much force of persuasion that it could change your opinion for you, then I'm not sure there's much value to that notion of "provisional". I don't think that's what you mean, but when you break it down to a matter of proof or disproof, it's a little like saying that my opinion on phlogiston is provisional. Yes, the last several hundred years of science could be wrong, but I'm so confident of my opinion that there is no such thing that I am, for the most part, not even really willing to consider arguments to the contrary.

garicker wrote:
But you seem to be trying to have it on both ways when you speak of atheists "towing a party line in the interest of diplomacy" and then go on to say they're really itching for a fight with theists.


I should be clear that when I say as much, I'm talking mostly about what I've come to refer to as "movement atheists". Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens are the most visible exponents at the moment. And at least two of them have declared the provisionality of their opinions, but those declarations don't entirely square with the suggestions they've made. They're also four of the most frequently mentioned names around BookTalk, and while I wouldn't characterize most of the current batch of regulars as movement atheists, there are certainly a few individuals whose declarations of provisionality on the subject of theism I take with a melon-sized grain of salt.

garicker wrote:
I know that goes on, but I have to say that in my experience the vitriol and vehemence of the most extreme example of that sort of thing... does not begin to compare with the vituperation that has been heaped by many members of the clergy and other theist as well on anyone who dares declare their atheism openly.


I certainly wouldn't deny it. For one thing, it just makes sense in terms of numbers -- there are so few atheist compared to the rest of the population that they'd have to make a full time job of it just to keep up. And the vehemence of some supposedly pious offenders is enough to outweigh anything that we've seen from American atheists for most of the century. (That said, Spanish atheists during the Spanish Civil War and Russian atheist anarchists certainly didn't stop short of murder.) That said, the dialectical turns taken by movement atheists of late make me wonder if maybe the tide isn't likely to turn soon. Even if the current batch is as pacifistic as MLK, social and civil movements almost always produce a spectrum of response, and it's not at all implausible that an atheist equivalent to the Black Panthers could sprout up in the near future. I don't say that to excuse the behavior of the violent fringe of religious communities, nor to stir up some sort of pre-emptive fear, but just to say that the moral highground is a position you have to be diligent to hold, and that if someone who claims solidarity or affiliation with you steps down from that highground, they're likely to spatter mud as they go.



Fri Sep 21, 2007 5:26 pm
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Sorry to follow one post so quickly on the heels of another, but I do want to clarify my position vis a vis this quote:
garicker wrote:
However, I assume this is for an audience of adults who can read without seeking out reasons for finding offense unnecessarily. I understand, as I indicated, that believers find it hard to have their beliefs criticized and tend to take it personally when they are. However, while I haven't intentionally gone out of my way to offend anyway, neither have I edited my opinions so as to avoid the possibility of giving offense


I don't mean to suggest that you shouldn't be able to say whatever you want to say, particularly in your own book. I don't even mean to say that you shouldn't say how you feel, regardless of whether or not anyone is gonna like it. Personally, I side with Frank Zappa on that matter: anyone should be able to say anything they want, and anyone who's offended by it should be able to call them an asshole for it. But does that raise the level of discussion? Rarely, if at all.

My perception going into the book was that it was an attempt to reach out to an audience with which you disagreed and engage them in a discussion that would ultimately be profitable for everyone involved. That was my perception, mind you, and if I come away disappointed, it's partly my fault for bringing my own perceptions to the table. But at the same time, I think your book encourages that perception, both in its subtitle (which has the upperhand: "atheist" or "conversation"?) and in how you've expressed your intent in the Introductory chapter.

Maybe I just bought into those English class lessons about audience more than most people have. You have to weigh the audience you want against the audience you're likely to snag with any particular idiom you choose. If you want to write a book that lays everything down on the table, and reader's sensibilities be damned, you certainly can, and Im not one to complain about it. I'll probably even read it. Personally, I find that kind of book enjoyable, provided it's not run-of-the-mill or poorly written. So to say that you've tried to write what you believe without letting consideration for who it offended stand in the way of self-expression, that's all fine and well, but from my admittedly limited perspective it doesn't look like that's what you set out to do. For one thing, I'd expect that sort of book to be far more candid and confrontational -- your book has just a little too much decorum to be of that genre -- and for another I've taken seriously your intimations for the book's having a more utilitarian end.

What I'm getting at is, that if you had intended the book to open channels of communication between theists and atheists in the hopes of mediating some sort of solution to the impositions caused by theistic inroads into secular institutions, then it pays to be careful about who you're offending. It isn't even a matter of whether or not everyone involved is adult enough to take some ribbing with good humor. At the day's end, it's also an economic matter. Sitting down and reading some else's thoughts is expensive -- particularly if you're measuring that expense in time rather than dollars spent -- and if a person doesn't think their point-of-view is being taken seriously, they're likely to opt for a book that doesn't condescend. Which means they may move on before they get to the really valuable material in your book. Try not to view this as a question of intent -- if you tell me that you didn't mean to condescend, I've had enough respectful dialogue with you to take you at your word -- but rather one of effect. And from the perspective of a theist -- mind you, one who is tough-skinned enough to have parleyed in an atheist forum for the three years now (at least) -- some of your choices have come across as condescending. If, on reflection, you decide that conveying your opinion of religion without self-censure is more central to your vision of the book than arbitrating the social interaction between religious believers and atheists, then problem is solely mine. I just didn't take that to be your intent.

And for what it's worth, I think it's a relatively minor phenomenon in your book. There have certainly been more flagrant offenders. Dennett's "Breaking the Spell", for example, starts with several chapter's worth of "in the spirit of compromise"-themed build-up -- so much of it, in fact, that when the last half of the book begins to shuffle off the encumberance of an unbiased inquiry, the introductory material starts to look like classic bait-and-switch. (Click here to see the thread I started on Dennett's approach to his audience. I examine it more in specific chapter threads.) And there's not much point in even comparing your book to those of, say, Hitchens or Dawkins in terms of decorum. I just think that you have a better opportunity to even further moderate some of the aspects of your book that work against the spirit mutual understanding and to improve the odds that it will actually foster some sort of bilateral social change.



Sat Sep 22, 2007 2:15 pm
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Yeah, I'm going to do the usual and say that I agree with a lot of what Mad is saying. I'm going to very extra-busy till the end of October so looks like I won't be able to make detailed posts round here often.

What bugged me was the constant use of the term "cosmic super-critter." Use it once, and it's mildly funny - though generally inaccurate. It's when you start to use it again and again, that it tends to edge toward pure mockery, which isn't the best way to endear yourself to anybody. You cannot compare teapots, critters or unicorns to a supernatural creator God without first changing their definition to the point where they don't have any of the properties normally associated with teapots, critters or unicorns. The use of these terms can only be interpreted as the kind of dirty debating trick that is best left to university debating societies.

But like Mad said, this is a much smaller problem in your book George than it is in the New Atheist works. It's just a pity that you use it given your desired audiences.

Oh and my only experience of the term "True Believer" came through Stan Lee.



Last edited by Niall001 on Sun Sep 23, 2007 1:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Sun Sep 23, 2007 11:08 am
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Some say, someone should take a long, hard look at the collected works of Stan Lee, and write a book about the view of America that filtered through his characters and iconography. He's probably had as much influence on the late 20th and early 21st centuries as any other single writer or artist, but that's something few people seem willing to recognize.

Oh, and I really do wish that some atheist BookTalk regulars would read "Godless in America" and make some comments here. I imagine it must be fairly discouraging to George to have Niall and I as the only other points of reference in the discussion. Particularly given that we're technically still minority points of view in the context of BookTalk as a whole.



Sun Sep 23, 2007 1:53 pm
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Niall: I understand the "cosmic super critter" is off-putting to some. Maybe I overused the phrase. However, I refer you to what I said to Mad on the subject. As to teapots and unicorns, I didn't use them.

Mad: You've expressed the concern before over the danger of some sort of cabal of atheists going after religious people. Here you talk about a group of "movement atheists" analogous to the Black Panthers.

I'm not sure where those "movement" atheists would come from, and I really don't see anything in atheism qua atheism that should lead anyone to take action against anyone else. I've said before, there is nothing in the statement "I don't believe in a god" or even "I believe no gods exist" that ought to lead anyone to harm anyone.

Although I don't see any evidence of any such tendency on the part of atheists in the United States or anywhere else for that matter, I suppose it might be possible for a group of people who were anti-religious to indulge in such behavior. But even among the most strident atheists today, I see no evidence of any such intention. There's a good bit of rhetoric and hyperbole flying around, but I think that may simply reflect a necessity to clear the air before we can move into more constructive forms of dialogue. The overwhelming consensus among most atheists is that we aren't bothered by religion unless someone is bothering us with it.

For what it's worth, should such an action ever take place, you can rest assured I would be on your side in the trenches fighting against it.

Incidentally, in case you hadn't noticed, my book came out well ahead of Dawkins' The God Delusion, Dennett's Breaking the Spell and Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation. Godless in America came out in April 2006. The others came out in fall of that year.

One last note, on the matter of writing for an audience. I think you may have misconstrued something. I did say I hoped to explain my view of what atheism really is, as opposed to common caricatures of it, and to explain how I came to become one. And I said I hoped to attract believers and nonbelievers alike. I used the phrase "open a dialogue" and that probably was a poor choice of words, since you really can't do that in a book, except to the extent you talk to people about it, as we are doing here, after the fact. However, I thought I also made it clear in the introduction that I intended to be candid about my view of gods and religions and cautioned that I understood believers might be offended by my criticism of their beliefs because they intend to view such things as attacks on them. Honestly, I thought my choice of a title, and the summary of the book's contents that appears on the cover, would give all readers fair warning about the tone of the writing inside.

As I noted in my earlier response. I didn't go out of my way to offend people, but I also didn't soft-pedal my opinions so as to avoid offending anyone.

George


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[i][b]mere atheism: no gods


Tue Sep 25, 2007 2:22 pm
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garicker wrote:

I'm not sure where those "movement" atheists would come from, and I really don't see anything in atheism qua atheism that should lead anyone to take action against anyone else. I've said before, there is nothing in the statement "I don't believe in a god" or even "I believe no gods exist" that ought to lead anyone to harm anyone.

Although I don't see any evidence of any such tendency on the part of atheists in the United States or anywhere else for that matter, I suppose it might be possible for a group of people who were anti-religious to indulge in such behavior. But even among the most strident atheists today, I see no evidence of any such intention.


Two quick points:

1. There already have been militant (in the literal sense) atheist groups that have physically persecuted religious groups. Just have a look at Albania, the world's first "Atheist Nation." Even if you explain away the actions of such groups by arguing that the motivation of such groups as political (an argument the New Atheists tend not accept when it comes to supposed religious violence), there are atheists in Western society who compare religion to child abuse and who think it should be illegal to raise a child as a member of a religious community or group.

2. The argument atheism is a non-belief that has no causal effect - while technically true - is counterproductive when examining the role if plays or could play in modern social life. It would be like saying that retinoblastoma is not the result of a partial gene deletion, but the result of the presence of the rest of a human's genotype. Sure, it's technically true, just not in the everyday sense of the word.

Remove a belief from a traditional worldview, and it has an effect on the resulting phenotype. Our behaviour is not the result of specific beliefs, but of the interactions between the many beliefs we hold. Some beliefs serve to moderate or amplify others. If you believe in memes as a useful concept, imagine if somebody were to lose, or simply never acquire, the memes that lead us to value human life. The actions that result from the absence of such a belief (lets call it ahumanism) would be best explained by reference to the absence of humanist beliefs and not be reference to the other memes in the individuals' memeotype, no? In everyday life, atheism is not simply the absence of a belief. It has effects.

Edit:

Make that three quick points! George, for what it's worth so far, this is the most moderate book on atheism I've read, and I think it's better for that. There's far less hyperbole and general silliness than you find in the New Atheist works. I know I'm spending most of my time in these threads criticising, but my general opinion of the book is favourable believe it or not. It is a pity that the New Atheists didn't read your book, or least follow its example, when writing their own diatribes.



Tue Sep 25, 2007 5:45 pm
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garicker wrote:
You've expressed the concern before over the danger of some sort of cabal of atheists going after religious people. Here you talk about a group of "movement atheists" analogous to the Black Panthers. I'm not sure where those "movement" atheists would come from, and I really don't see anything in atheism qua atheism that should lead anyone to take action against anyone else.


When I talk about "movement atheists", I'm talking about a group that's already there -- specifically, the group emblemized by Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, Hitches, et al. They're probably best described as atheists who see religion as historically and potentially hazardous to their values and to society in general, and who see the spread of atheism as the only way to counter that hazard. To that end, they're churning out a lot of arguments against religion. I don't mean to imply that violence, or even the potential for violence, is a characteristic native to movement atheists, but I do think they've set the stage for such a potential.

As soon as ethics and politics became the focal point of movement atheism, that stage was set. It was politics that led to the violence directed against Catholics in Revolutionary Spain and China; they were perceived as a threat precisely because their religious beliefs seemed to bring them into conflict with the winds of political change. Now Harris is arguing that religion is inherently violent; Dennett is arguing that they're inimical to the values of an open, democratic society; Dawkins is arguing that they're the root cause of most historical persecution and social conflict. These writers have a readership in the millions. Is it really so paranoid to suppose that some atheists are going to swallow those sentiments and decide that the best way to stifle those threats are through force? It's happened in the past, and I don't see any particular reason why it couldn't happen again.

Quote:
I've said before, there is nothing in the statement "I don't believe in a god" or even "I believe no gods exist" that ought to lead anyone to harm anyone.


No, but there's a very real difference between, "I don't subscribe to any religious belief," and "All religious belief is dangerous."

Quote:
But even among the most strident atheists today, I see no evidence of any such intention.


I'm loathe to take it as confirmation of a growing movement, but the apparant instances of expressed hostility against Christians in the case of school campus shootings since Columbine at least disconfirms the idea that there is no such basis for an atheist backlash.

Quote:
Incidentally, in case you hadn't noticed, my book came out well ahead of Dawkins' The God Delusion, Dennett's Breaking the Spell and Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation. Godless in America came out in April 2006. The others came out in fall of that year.


I hadn't noticed. Out of interest, do you think you would have changed anything had the other books beat you to the market?

Quote:
Honestly, I thought my choice of a title, and the summary of the book's contents that appears on the cover, would give all readers fair warning about the tone of the writing inside.


Well, your subtitle is conversations with an atheist. Which does imply an invitation to dialogue.

niall wrote:
There already have been militant (in the literal sense) atheist groups that have physically persecuted religious groups. Just have a look at Albania, the world's first "Atheist Nation."


Thanks for drawing this to my attention. I really don't know much about it. Got any good recommendations for books or articles on the topic?

Quote:
The argument atheism is a non-belief that has no causal effect - while technically true - is counterproductive when examining the role if plays or could play in modern social life.


I think what Niall is trying to say is, that taken in a vacuum, atheism is certainly no cause for concern, socially speaking. But atheism rarely if ever describes a situation isolated from the context of interaction, and it's that interaction that sometimes leads to the situations we're concerned about.

At least, I think that's what he's trying to say. That whole retinoblastoma analogy flew right past me.



Tue Sep 25, 2007 9:59 pm
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I suppose the questions that a lot of my comments are leading towards are, What did you intend for the book to achieve? and, How do you see the book that you've written achieve that goal? Is it intended to make a dent in the public debate over religion's role in government? Is it supposed to encourage fundamentalists to be more reasonable? It seems to me that there are several agendas in the book, all competing to express themselves, and I'm not at all sure which you see as the most central.



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In relation to Albania, my knowledge is based on a lecture I had five years ago and a handful of articles and copies of original documents. I'll have a look around and see if I can dig them up.

Here's a link to an article on the subject that gives an overview. It doesn't seem to contradict anything I remember, but that's about all I can say.

http://countrystudies.us/albania/56.htm

Quote:
At least, I think that's what he's trying to say. That whole retinoblastoma analogy flew right past me.


Right. Apologies if the retinoblastoma analogy misfired. I'd drank 2 litres of coke in the effort to keep myself awake long enough to finish an essay and was a little hyper as a result.

Retinoblastoma is a condition arising from the deletion of a gene that inhibits tumor development. Just as we attribute the atypical retionblastoma phenotype to the absence of the deleted gene (as opposed to the presence of the rest of the genotype), where an individual would have behave differently had they been a theist, it is fair to attribute their behaviour to atheism. The deletion of theism from traditional world views has consequences.



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MadArchitect wrote:
It was politics that led to the violence directed against Catholics in Revolutionary Spain and China;


Well, it could be argued that it's politics in one way or another that leads to any large-scale acts of violence. I don't think the religious among us, and I'm speaking of the U.S. here, have much to fear from a violent atheist movement, anymore than the reverse would be true. If anything, I think most Americans are too apathetic to be collectively violent about anything. In the end though, a violent response to religion would oppose, at least part of, what the likes of Dawkins, Harris, Ricker, etc. are calling for, which is an end to violence over ideology. Now that's not to say that non-believers couldn't misinterpret atheist texts in the same way religious believers misinterpret religious texts. But I think it's clear that the atheist writers you have mentioned are not promoting violence.



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Mad and Niall:

I hope you guys will forgive me, but I'm in the midst of submitting a new book to my publisher and the process has heated up a bit, nothing negative just more activity. So I'll probably be scarce around here for a few days. Rest assured I'll try to get back and address the points you've raised as soon as I can.

In case I haven't mentioned it already, I'll really do appreciate the input. So thanks for that. I'm not at all put off by criticism, especially not when it's in the form of conversation.

George


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"Nothing about atheism prevents me from thinking about any idea. It is the very epitome of freethought. Atheism imposes no dogma and seeks no power over others."

[i][b]mere atheism: no gods


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George you've gone to the trouble of addressing almost every post made in this sub-forum. You're allowed a break! Hopefully things go well with your publishing. What's the book about?



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[quote="rose]But I think it's clear that the atheist writers you have mentioned are not promoting violence.[/quote]

Just to be clear, on a couple of things:
1) I'm not suggesting that Dawkins et al are promoting violence. But I do think that their books have introduced some suggestions that could lead to other people adopting violent tactics. It certainly wouldn't be the first time writers interested in the dissemination of peace had inspired activists who worked by violent means;
2) It isn't really wide-scale violence I'm worried about. I'm not suggesting that there's likely to an atheist Third Reich, or anything of that sort. But American history (and beyond that, Twentieth century Industrialized history) is peppered with instances of small-scale groups that have resorted to violent means as a way of progressing a political or cultural agenda. The Black Panthers in the 60s and 70s, the Skinheads in the 80s and 90s, various anarchist groups throughout, and anti-abortion religious groups in the last few decades all spring to mind; and
3) Most of the groups I've mentioned above have resorted to violence as a way of addressing what they regarded as moral or social injustices. So it certainly isn't historically inconsistent to suggest that violent activism could coalesce around writers who have tried to progress a peaceful agenda. And I think that Dawkins et al. have provided some fodder for such groups by painting religious belief as the root cause of major political and social conflicts, as antithetical to the values of a just , democratic society, or as mired in moral injustices (ie. calling religious indoctrination "child abuse"), and by suggesting that secular intervention (like screening who can and cannot have religious affiliation) is called for.

And George, good luck with the new book!



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