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New Dawkins book: "The God Delusion"

#35: Jan. - Mar. 2007 (Non-Fiction)
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Chris OConnor

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Re: New Dawkins book: "The God Delusion"

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Ahh hahaha very true!
Federika22

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Quote:That seems natural. I mean, how much time do we spend thinking about the fact that we don't believe in the tooth fairy? I think this just depends on how much we are confronted by notions of the "tooth fairy" in our everyday lives. I happen to think about atheism very frequently, because my father emails me about his encounters with his supernatural friends every few days or so; I see my Christian mother every few days, and I have a host of other people entwined in my life who are also devoutly delusioned in some way and who won't shut up about it. And this extends beyond my personal world as well, when I pick up the paper or see something on the news about religion's infiltration of our government or about the latest religious atrocity in the middle east, etc. This keeps atheism, and the need for worldwide rational thinking in the forefront of my mind.
nickelplate416

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Quote:I happen to think about atheism very frequently, because my father emails me about his encounters with his supernatural friends every few days or so; I see my Christian mother every few days, and I have a host of other people entwined in my life who are also devoutly delusioned in some way and who won't shut up about it.In my native country they recently held a scientific exposition showcasing research activities from academics. A physics professor commented that science, while indispensable, cannot explain supernatural phenomena. He said that science could never explain why some people can control lightning.... MANY of my friends have the same mentality.
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Re: Okay...

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Well that is the trick used to keep belief in make believe in tact...separate it from any kind of critical exploration. And the saddest thing is that all that is done to enforce the separation is to state that it is separate.It is like closing your eyes and jamming your fingers in your ears and saying that you are open to discussion...or "Boxing Fog" as someone recently put it. (Sorry I forgot who!).Mr. P. Mr. P's place. I warned you!!!Mr. P's Bookshelf.I'm not saying it's usual for people to do those things but I(with the permission of God) have raised a dog from the dead and healed many people from all sorts of ailments. - AsanaThe one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.The pain in hell has two sides. The kind you can touch with your hand; the kind you can feel in your heart...Scorsese's "Mean Streets"I came to kick ass and chew Bubble Gum...and I am all out of Bubble Gum - They Live, Roddy Piper
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Re: Okay...

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Welcome to the fray, Fiske. Needless to say, you and I already disagree on some points, but I do admire the fact that you're so well "spoken".FiskeMiles: I am particularly pleased with his reversal of the argument from design to demonstrate the implausibility of the existence of God in chapter four.On the whole, I find the debate that goes on over the classical "proofs" for the existence of God to be rather tedious. What most people fail to recognize is that these proofs were offered in very specific cultural and historical contexts, and that their intent, more often than not, was to provide a groundwork for addressing certain problems within religious tradition, not to justify religion altogether. Paley's design proof is the one glaring exception that I know of, but by that time popular culture had already latched onto the idea that you could give a rational demonstration of God's existence, and Paley merely offered an innovation on that trend of thought.re: Daniel Harbour's An Intelligent Person's Guide to Atheism: "For there is something that Christianity, other religions, Nazism, Stalinism, Communism, and other tyrannical isms all share: they are to varying degrees dogmatic. ...The issue then is not whether atheism in any shape is better than theism. The issue is the effect of dogma on human goodness. And that effect is negative...."[/i]I think that's problematic on a number of levels. The first is that Harbour, in this quote at least, offers no justification for the claim that dogmatism is a) consistently negative in effect, or b) the central factor in turning any political or religious movement violent. Contra the first point, I'd offer the argument that our belief in humanist ideals like social justice, egalitarianism, and liberty are rooted and communicated in dogmatism. Contra the second, I'd say that the dogmatism of each of the movements named, or at least of their application of borrowed doctrines, is rooted in some motivation that is more operable in inclining those movements towards violence. More often than not, that motivation is a desire for security.On another level, even if we concede the point that dogmatism is essentially negative, I'm not sure we can do without it. Thomas Kuhn, for instance, has pointed out the ways in which high order scientific research depends on the willingness of the scientific community to suspend inquiry into certain basic assumptions. Those assumptions, for better or for worse, are accepted dogmatically. And it often happens that such dogma needs to be rejected from time to time, but until such time, there's no way to progress research without taking them for granted. In many scenarios, in fact, it's difficult to recognize the limitations of scientific dogma (or of any cultural dogma, for that matter) until you've elaborated the dogmatism to a point of complexity at which it becomes clear that the basic assumptions are flawed.Saint Gasoline: And why did it advocate atheism? Kulaks were not liquidated because there was no God. Churches were not destroyed because there was no God. Atheism is not a motivation for any of these actions.In large part -- and this is true of most anti-clerical and anti-religious political movements throughout time -- the motivation was the suspicion that, were religion permitted to continue, it would serve as an obstacle to the proposed social order. Religion has, in so many times and places throughout history, served as one of the only viable platforms for resistance that the Communists, anarchists and revolutionaries were probably right in regarding it as a potential enemy of the new order. What concerns me -- and apparently does not concern Dawkins, et al -- is the way in which so much modern atheistic thought, particularly in democratic countries, considers not on the right-wing, politically involved religious movements, but religion and theism as a whole, in much the same light. There's plenty of evidence of that in BookTalk itself, where the topic routinely turns to the question of whether or not we wouldn't all be better off -- ie. more secure -- if no one held any religious beliefs.Perhaps if you tack on the extra belief that, say, religion can be harmful to a communistic government, then you've got a good incentive to go about destroying churches and banning religion.If we could count on atheists to hold their atheism distinct from their other beliefs, then we might be able to dismiss Niall's and my qualms altogether. But I doubt very many people in this forum, let along in the worldwide community of atheists, could honestly say that their atheism does not play into their political and social beliefs. In all fairness, the same can be said for theists. My point is only that it's absurd to exempt the atheists from a consideration we routinely apply to the theists, particularly when history demonstrates to us precisely how far into the shadows the association of beliefs (and disbeliefs) can take both sides.I've never met, and never expect to meet, a pure atheist -- a person who believes nothing except that there is no God.Notice that this is not nearly anything like the religious justifications for violence, wherein someone will say, "God commands me to do such-and-such" or "Scripture permits me to do such-and-such", that make explicit behavioural commands.You're right that there's no analogy with "commands". There is, however, and analogy with "permits". One thing that positive belief allows us to do (and this is just as true of atheists as it is of theists) is to place limits on the permissibility of certain actions. Atheism alone may not entail any particular behavior, but nor does atheism alone entail any particular moral stance. From that point of view, Karamazov's thesis is incomplete but apt: If there is no God, all things are permitted -- at least until we can find some other grounding for our morality.And it's on this point, I think, that the self-congratulation of some atheists finds its first serious stumbling block. Because the search for some moral groundwork often entangles them in exactly the sort of a-rational thought that they eschew in atheists. How do you provide evidence and logical argument in support of social justice? Are such supports ever free of dogmatic assumptions? I have yet to see an argument that convinces me that they can be. That isn't to say that atheists who feel some commitment to upholding a moral stance are ultimately better off falling back on religion -- just that they are better off recognizing that such a commitment compromises their commitment to embracing complete rationality.Even if atheism DID cause people to go batshit insane and kill people, I'd still be an atheist. The negative consequences of a belief tell us nothing about its truth value.Most convinced religious believers would probably say the same.FiskeMiles: Not simply the more reasonable position, but the only rational position.I don't think either position is ultimately more rational than the other. Both, I'd argue, are rooted in assumptions that are a-rational.nickelplate416: A physics professor commented that science, while indispensable, cannot explain supernatural phenomena. He said that science could never explain why some people can control lightning....By definition, he's correct. Science, as a methodology, is constructed so as to address natural phenomenon. A genuinely supernatural phenomenon would be beyond its means to explain. What's dismaying about the professor's comment isn't that it points to limitations within science -- that's been a given throughout the history of science -- but rather that his belief in some people's supernatural ability to control science seems arbitrary, and seems to have been presented in this context as a way of dismissing scientific inquiry.
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Returning to some earlier points...nickelplate416: Those were not secular inquisitions, in the sense that they were expressions of "political religions".So much depends on how you define religion. The definition provided by Daniel Dennett, for example, doesn't gel well with the idea of "political religion". It looks to me as though the foremost reason for insisting upon a definition of religion that would encompass Maoist communism -- that is, on a definition that would dismiss out of hand their claim to be atheists -- is that it allows you to make these political abuses conformable to your rhetorical argument against religion.Robert Jay Lifton provides a far more practical and neutral term for categorizing these "secular inquisitions": totalism. Dawkins, Harris and the like are really against dogma.Then I suggest that they also find a way to liberate themselves from dogma. It looks to me as though the current crop of anti-religious tracts have been written by people who favor a particular dogma, and who are so devoted to it that they fail to see it as such.Metaphorm: I'm sure it will be a good read, but I kinda do agree with the initial responder--Dawkins does come across as pompous. I agree with most of what he says, but his attitude gets me. Oh well.This "oh well" attitude is part of what gets me. The support for this book among BookTalk atheists has been overwhelming. But there appears to be no attempt at reconciling Dawkins' caustic approach, nor his supposed misinformation, with that agreement. I'm not arguing that anyone should abandon their atheism simply because Dawkins' has put out a faulty, potentially offensive book. But why isn't there more of a general outcry for a book that more accurately represents your view of atheism? Nearly all of the responses I've seen seem to take his conclusion that religion ought to be abandoned as sufficiently right-minded to excuse all of his gaffs -- and none of the people in this thread who have actually started reading the book have denied that it contains those gaffs. In other words, "It's all right that he's probably going to get a lot of people angry at the atheist community, that he may have weakened public perception of the grounds of atheist arguments by backing them up with incomplete or uncertain information. We're both atheists, so he's got my support."Saint Gasoline: The official justification for persecuting the religious in communist regimes is based upon Marxist ideology which claims that Religion is dangerous as it imposes a certain social structure on people that is not in keeping with the ideals of communism.Refer back to the last chapter of Dennett's "Breaking the Spell". It looks to me as though part of his justification for limiting the scope of religion is the danger that it will conflict with the ideals of a democratic society. If all that goes into the decision to persecute religious belief is the fear that religion conflicts with the ideals your society holds most dear, then I don't it alarmist to suggest that some atheists have already naively laid planted the seeds that could eventually grow into pro-active hostility.
FiskeMiles

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Federika:Quote:I think this just depends on how much we are confronted by notions of the "tooth fairy" in our everyday lives.You make a good point. One reason that might cause us to consider/discuss atheism is encounters with theists. Frankly, my theist acquaintances rarely engage me on the subject of their faith. The reason, I suspect, is that demonstrating the irrationality of their position is not all that difficult and many find this upsetting. They also find it upsetting to encounter an atheist who agrees with them on many points of morality and who feels no compulsion to convince them their beliefs are mistaken. Frankly, I think we are each entitled to our own beliefs (whether they are ultimately right or wrong). What I take strong exception too, however, is imposing one's beliefs on others. Interestingly, many theists feel the same way. This is one point on which the atheist community often gets it wrong -- the majority of theists abhor fundamentalist Christians, Muslims, what have you, as much as non-theists do.Another point which your response raises, that I have been pondering, is whether religion compels attempts to impose one's beliefs on others or is only a justification for the desire to do so. This is a complicated subject, and a clear-cut answer doesn't seem that probable to me, but the matter is still worth considering. For example, do Muslims insist on strict forms of dress and conduct for women because of their faith, or do they use faith to justify their insistence? My knowledge of customs and history in the Middle East is not detailed, unfortunately, but it would be interesting to know if burkas and the like were customarily worn prior to the rise of Islam.I guess what this ultimately gets to is whether it is human nature to convince/impel others to be like ourselves? I think this is probable. It's not too hard to see evolutionary advantages resulting from the tendency. If this is so, then arguing that without religion we would not have wars is naive at best. Removing religion would only result in another pretext being used for justification. This also concerns the tendency of atheists to convince theists that their beliefs are mistaken and vice versa.Fiske
FiskeMiles

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Dear Mad:Thanks for your welcome and the compliment on my prose style. Thanks also for your lengthy and detailed post. The fact that we disagree on various points is not troubling in my view. Quite the contrary. I joined this forum looking for people who are interested in the same subjects I am and like to discuss them.So where to start? When you say the classical "proofs" were offered in a specific context (past tense), you seem to imply they are no longer relevant. Indeed they were offered in a specific context, but they are still offered in all sorts of contexts. Like this very thread, for instance, when MaesterAuron151 made the following comment on 8/31: Quote:There is evidence for the existence of god because there's something instead of nothing, and not only is there something there's something that actually does something.Isn't this an argument from first cause? The argument is flawed logically for any number of reasons (it's self-contradictory, leads to an infinite regression, etc.), but it seems to me the proper response would be to point out the logical problems with the argument rather than dismissing it out of hand. Doing so would surely be helpful to those who profess it if they are questioning their beliefs and seeking a better understanding (either of theism or atheism). Note that I don't consider the failure of this argument to be a disproof of theism.Quote:Harbour, in this quote at least, offers no justification for the claim that dogmatism is a) consistently negative in effect, or b) the central factor in turning any political or religious movement violent. I agree with you on this point.Quote:Thomas Kuhn, for instance, has pointed out the ways in which high order scientific research depends on the willingness of the scientific community to suspend inquiry into certain basic assumptions. Those assumptions, for better or for worse, are accepted dogmatically. And it often happens that such dogma needs to be rejected from time to time, but until such time, there's no way to progress research without taking them for granted. In many scenarios, in fact, it's difficult to recognize the limitations of scientific dogmaHere I think you are on shaky ground as a result of shifting the denotative meaning of the term "dogma" in the sense of "scientific dogma" compared with dogma in religious or other authoritarian contexts. Scientific dogma are foundational assumptions based on the preponderance of known empirical data, where religious/authoritarian dogma is founded on what ultimately prove to be arbitrary positions not subject to disproof (from which their authority derives), Biblical texts, etc. Scientific "dogma" can be (and is) challenged with contrary empirical evidence. For well-established laws/principles this is not easily done, but if the evidence is compelling the challenge will eventually succeed. It is the empirical evedentiary (sp?) basis of science which has resulted in the tremendous progress in human knowledge over the past four centuries.The term dogma in its normal usage applies to a set of beliefs which are considered to be absolutely true in the sense that they cannot be challenged. Applying the term to science is misleading because a fundamental element of the discipline (in fact THE fundamental element) is that scientific principles stand only so long as they cannot be empirically disproved. So a method for challenging scientific principles is fundamental to the practice of science. Central to Harbour's treatment of atheism are contrasting worldviews he characterizes as the "Spartan meritocracy" and the "Baroque monarchy." He defines a worldview as "a set of assumptions about the nature of the world, on the basis of which one can begin to attempt to understand other aspects of the world." A Spartan meritocratic world view makes a minimal set of assumptions and subjects those to challenge, a Baroque monarchic world view makes an elaborate set of assumptions and refuses to accept any challenge to them.Quote:I don't think either position is ultimately more rational than the other. Both, I'd argue, are rooted in assumptions that are a-rational.Would you care to be more specific and list the a-rational assumptions in which both positions are rooted? Fiske
FiskeMiles

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Niall:Also from MaesterAuron15:Quote:I'm not a theist in the sense that I'm not a member of a real religeon. I consider myself agnostic with some slight beliefs regarding god and the afterlife which I don't hold with any certainty.However I don't like it when atheists bash others and act like their opinions make them superior. If you wish to not believe in god thats fine, you can even try to pursuade others to agree with you. But denouncing everyone who disagrees with you as uneducated or stupid is not something I agree with.Sounds like someone trying to find their way to me. At least, that's how I sounded when I was struggling with the same issue.And I'm not interested in converting anyone. I'm interested in working out my own ideas. If, along the way, through conversation, discussion, and debate, I can help others figure out what they believe or understand their beliefs more thoroughly, I'm happy to do so. I've gotten quite a bit of help myself.Fiske Edited by: FiskeMiles at: 12/7/06 2:53 pm
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Re: Okay...

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Quote:And why did it advocate atheism? Kulaks were not liquidated because there was no God. Churches were not destroyed because there was no God. Atheism is not a motivation for any of these actions. Perhaps if you tack on the extra belief that, say, religion can be harmful to a communistic government, then you've got a good incentive to go about destroying churches and banning religion.First and foremost, they advocated atheism because they believed that atheism was true. It's not as though the Soviets would have persecuted religions if they thought that there was a God.Second, note that the soviets did not just oppose organised or institutionalised religion, they advocated atheism, materialism and a particular world view. They opposed all forms of supernaturalism and philosophies that allowed for the supernatural.Quote:Atheism doesn't entail any particular action at all, unlike religions with texts that explicitly advocate certain types of behaviours and actions. Disbelieving in God isn't a proper justification for any action, really. Someone who goes about murdering people and says he does so "Because there is no God" is like someone who goes about baking thousands of cakes non-stop "because there is no God". This isn't really a REASON to go about baking cakes or killing people. Notice that this is not nearly anything like the religious justifications for violence, wherein someone will say, "God commands me to do such-and-such" or "Scripture permits me to do such-and-such", that make explicit behavioural commands.Quote:Atheism is about as likely a source of justification for violence as disbelief in unicorns is. Marxism, communism, and theism, however, all contain plenty of justifications for violence.If we adopted some of Dawkins volcabulary here, it might help.If belief in God is thought of a meme, it can be placed within the larger meme-type of any particular world view. This memeotype can be thought of as the equivalant of our genotype. When a gene mutates, or is simply deleted, our genotype can result in a new, very different phenotype. Strictly, it might be true that it was no the deletion of the gene that caused the new phenotype, rather it was the presence of the other genes, but we don't think of it like that.Smilarly, if you remove a meme from the memeotype, then it will have an effect on the resulting phenotype. Take for example, Dawkin's line that raising children to be religious is akin to child abuse. Now, let's imagine that Dawkins became the supreme ruler of the world. Being the benevolent ruler he is, surely he'd lock up all of these people whose crime was the equivalent of child abuse?Now we can say that atheism would not be the cause of this action, but that's a matter of phrasing more than anything else. Quote:When you say the classical "proofs" were offered in a specific context (past tense), you seem to imply they are no longer relevant. Indeed they were offered in a specific context, but they are still offered in all sorts of contexts. Like this very thread, for instance, when MaesterAuron151 made the following comment on 8/31: Quote:--------------------------------------------------------------------------------There is evidence for the existence of god because there's something instead of nothing, and not only is there something there's something that actually does something.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------Isn't this an argument from first cause? The argument is flawed logically for any number of reasons (it's self-contradictory, leads to an infinite regression, etc.), but it seems to me the proper response would be to point out the logical problems with the argument rather than dismissing it out of hand. Doing so would surely be helpful to those who profess it if they are questioning their beliefs and seeking a better understanding (either of theism or atheism). Note that I don't consider the failure of this argument to be a disproof of theism. Has anybody ever met a theist that believed in God because somebody convinced them using an argument from design?I'm sure there's a few, but the notion that somehow, if it were possible to publicise the counter-arguments to these supposed truths would result in mass conversion to atheism seems a little odd. Full of Porn*http://plainofpillars.blogspot.com
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