Is one arrogant if they point out the irrationality in believing in leprechauns? What about God?

A query to the rationalist community: Don’t you just love it how religious people believe that their beliefs are somehow special? And that to point out the irrationality in believing them and to refer to the beliefs as having all the tell-tale signs of a fairy tale until proven otherwise is arrogant? 

I have this friend who accuses me of arrogance and compares me to history’s greatest tyrants. It seems that he views religious beliefs as special. And that anyone who takes a stance of agnostic atheism, who refuses to dignify a set of beliefs until given evidence for such beliefs, and who is not reluctant to speak up about how those beliefs have not been bolstered by any evidence to suggest that they are special is ignorant, arrogant and comparable to Stalin. I’m sorry that my dogmas are rationality, intellectual honesty, and freedom to criticize ideas no matter who holds them and no matter how special these people think these beliefs are.

My friend also criticizes me for having not read the religious texts of these books, as if that makes some sort of monumental difference here. While I am currently reading the Bible, it remains true that I have yet to read the grand majority of it, nor have I read any of the Koran. But why is this relevant? While I haven’t read these texts, I’ve researched and debated quite thoroughly on the validity on these belief systems. I have read many claims, talked to many people, and have done a lot of thinking. To this point, these belief systems are still completely unrespectable when it comes to objective truth value. They may contain some valuable ideas, but as far as the claim that they come from a supposed God, they are intellectually unmeritorious. He claims that these books have to be experienced. That you come to believe them by reading them, not by looking for scientific proof for them. I’m sorry, but I am going to give a bit more credibility to honest, rational, internally-critical, and rigorous analysis of the universe (i.e., science) than I am to a potential good feeling I get from a book. It’s not like Muslims are the only people that feel something special when they read the Koran (my friend is a non-literalist Muslim). Christians get this, too, as do Mormons, Hindus, and on and on. My friend counters this by saying that each of these religions tap on an incomplete picture of God. While it may be the case that none are completely correct, many may be partially correct. Well how do we know where the correct parts are? And how do we know that included in the correct parts is God? Perhaps the correct parts are only correct in a metaphorical sense. Perhaps God is a metaphor for such notions as the connection among all people, or that which is meaningful, important, and good.

The world, in my opinion, would be a much better place if people would stop investing themselves so much in their beliefs. Beliefs are external to ourselves and they could be wrong. To the degree that we connect our identity to a vulnerable belief (thereby internalizing it), we sow the seeds for personal vulnerability and consequently, social conflict. The world would be a better place if people dedicated themselves to mindfulness, discovery, and wisdom, rather than being right right now.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Addendum:

In a subsequent comment, my “friend” said that I am not arrogant because I criticize, I am arrogant because I think my atheist beliefs make me better than others. Hogwash. I believe that holding the agnostic atheist position based on careful thought is a demonstration of being informed, honest, and rational. What does it mean to be superior to others? Do I think that I deserve to live more than them, or deserve greater rewards than them? No. I do think that I am more informed, honest and/or rational than believers in this domain (i.e., theism), and the evidence is quite clearly on my side. But that’s it.

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Comments
103 Responses to “Is one arrogant if they point out the irrationality in believing in leprechauns? What about God?”
  1. Matt says:

    Religious beliefs are held to be special simply because society holds them to be so. Religious origanisations/churches/charities/whatever get uncountable benefits and cotton-wooling, that it makes you wonder just how come it happens. From Tax free status to exemption from anti-discrimination laws, it’s just plain silly.

  2. I think perhaps the problem run into most often is not that pointing out an irrational point of view is arrogant. Instead, often atheists act in such a way that is arrogant. Attitude and tone affect how people perceive what we say. *shrug*

  3. fadnet says:

    The opinions held by a rationalist are beliefs, as rationalist believes that reason is infallible, which is simply not the case. Reason can be used to prove two contradictory views on the same point which puts into question reasons ability to find truth, further rationalists use reason to prove that reason is reasonable, which is a circular argument.

    I know who your ‘friend’ is and I understand his point, there certainly is a sense of arrogance in your argumentation. You act as though reason is the end all and be all of truth, which by your own reasoning (your reasoning will change with new evidence) make its fallible for you to hold such strong confidence in your opinions as they will inevitably change.

    Regardless of what I have said above I truly believe the claim of arrogance comes from the way you formulate your arguments and not the arguments themselves, take ‘this blogs reading level: ‘Genius” as credence to this point.

    This blog is inaccessible to the general public in the sense that that it is very wordy and written like a scientific paper. Look at some of the words you used: monumental, unmeritorious, completely unrespectable, metaphorical.

  4. fadnet says:

    carriedthecross makes a good point.

  5. ronbrown says:

    fadnet and carried the cross: I’m sorry, but I disagree. I do not think that it is arrogant to talk phrase things in a what one can interpret as a demeaning fashion when the person that they are talking to is being stubborn and unreasonable and is demanding respect for an idea they can’t back up.

    Fadnet: I have never said that reason is infallible. I will be the first to admit that we cannot know anything but our own existence for certain (you and I can disagree on this contention of knowledge elsewhere, if you like, as we have before). Further, I’m aware that reason is circular. This is a big part of why we can’t know anything. However, reason is all we have and it has proven itself to be the best thing we have for figuring out the world around us. Nothing else has even come close. We didn’t faith our way to evolution, quantum mechanics, game theory, supply and demand, the physics of flight, the germ theory, or any other piece of knowledge we have about the world (here I am using knowledge in the sense of a scientific fact that has so much evidence in its favour that it would be ridiculous to not ascent to the idea). And when we have faithed our way to things they’ve either been shown to be wrong, to be right (through empirical research), or to be held continuously despite the absence of evidence.

    As for the reason being able to generate two incompatible conclusions, this is not idealistic reason, this is human reasoning gone awry. Ideal reason (i.e., reason with complete logical coherence, no oversights, etc.), to my knowledge, should not generate these events; human error in reasoning, however, can. But perhaps I’m incorrect here. Perhaps you can pose examples of paradoxes that would prove what I just said wrong.

    And in any case, my stance of agnostic atheism still remains on top. Even if reason is fallible, that does not justify claiming to know God. And when another person claims to have knowledge of God (i.e., certainty), I feel no discomfort in pointing out *their* arrogance. That’s another big point. How am I the one whose arrogant when I’m the one saying that I don’t know the answers? How is it that the person who claims to know with certainty the Creator of the universe and the ultimate arbiter of morality is the one accusing the reasonable skeptic of arrogance?

    And lets not apply a double standard to outspoken nontheists like myself. How many of us get as offended when we see people “arrogantly” castigating political leaders or their senseless decisions? How many of us got offended when liberals “arrogantly” condemned the Bush administration’s faith-based decision to go into Iraq? And how many of us are offended when we see “arrogant” observers criticizing the behaviour of small cults?

    How about we stop treating religion as if it were special? How about that?

  6. ronbrown says:

    Fadnet: As to the language of this blog and the genius status, I’m sorry, but this is the way I speak, and apparently certain writing standards view it as advanced. I went to university, studied my ass off to write the GRE and in-so-doing greatly expanded my vocabulary.

    Lets change the domain. What if I was a well-practiced guitarist and made a site in which I put up my lyrics, guitar tabs, and recordings of me playing. Would that be arrogant? After all, I’d be demonstrating a skill of mine just the same as I am here with my writing. And what if a music site had rated my musical work as being very good. Would I be any less arrogant for displaying the award? Yes, it is somewhat of a showing off thing to do. I’ll admit that. But most people who we do not call arrogant show off their successes. And it’s not like I rammed it down people’s throats. I made a quick post, and I put the banner of the rating on a part of the screen that you have to scroll down to see.

  7. This Busy Monster says:

    What might be arrogant is believing that the Blog Readability Test is anything more than a spam advertising scam. PZ Myers noted this a while back (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/12/did_you_take_the_blog_readabil.php) as did his source in a couple stories (http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/12/05/get_a_cash_advance_for_my_blogs_reading_level_im_not_sure_i_understand.html and http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/dec/07/blogreadability) which were easy enough to find (30 seconds effort). It’s a nice case of social engineering though. Stroke a few egos, and spam ’til your heart’s content.

  8. ronbrown says:

    This Busy Monster:

    While I disagree with the notion that believing the readability test is an indication of arrogance, I definitely appreciate the tip. I was aware of the spam component—I deleted the spam out of the code.

    It is definitely a good ploy, though, I agree. Very sneaky and exploits people’s desire to know how they compare to others.

    My guess, though, is that the program does use algorithms that do have a reasonable degree of validity. I played around with the program a bit, entering in a number of blogs that I frequent. The ratings seemed fairly reasonable. They seemed to be better than chance. However, this isn’t to say that I might have been a bit biased in my interpretations and memory of its output, and/or that the system “just got lucky” when I was testing it out. In the discussion section for the post “Quiet please, genius at work”, I discussed a few of the potential alrogorithms.

    I’m gonna check out those links. Thanks.

  9. This Busy Monster says:

    Readability formulas do a simple statistical analysis at best. They can hardly rate your ability to write well, or to create a chain of logic which holds together. The beauty of this scheme is that it plays on a writers propensity to use big words to get them to display and spread spam-crap all over the web. Fooling people by telling them how smart they are is one of the oldest tricks in the book.

    The sad thing is, for a blog purported to be about skepticism and science, you didn’t employ any. Isn’t that kind of crowd following non-critical attitude the kind of thing that you are always on about here? It’s easy to be an armchair skeptic, comment on things other people do and say, and then let yourself off the hook. Can you honestly say you apply the same standards in your own life as you write about here?

  10. ronbrown says:

    TBM:

    Honestly, yes I can say that I apply the same standards. Well, that’s not totally true. Many of us have a tendency to think of, remember, and notice things that are self-inflating, and a corresponding tendency to minimize that which is less favourable to us (the main exception being people with major depression; though presumably even they have self-serving biases in some domains). However, I will say that I do make genuine, rigorous and consistent effort to counter these tendencies. Moreover, by presenting my views publicly I allow others who will not have have any automatic biases to confirm my beliefs to criticize my reasoning.

    As for the spam deal, of course I didn’t believe that it assessed anything to do with how well I write in terms of reason and coherence. You can view the algorithms I speculated on in the comment section of “Quiet please,…” as I mentioned in the last post. And when I noticed the spam code, I obviously knew that this was a scam. Nevertheless, in my experience with the program its ratings seemed to be better than chance. So, I removed the spam code and posted the rating.

    However, because it is a scam I think I’ll take it down. I may have caught the spam, but not everyone else will.

  11. This Busy Monster says:

    Here’s another self test for you, your readers who claim to be rational at heart, and anyone who cares. What we eat tends to be based on emotion and misinformation as much as anything. For the past 30 years or more, the hard science (e.g.)has pointed to the fact that animal protein and animal fat are generally bad food. The more you eat, the worse it is for you in terms of cancer, diabetes, etc. It’s also worse for the environment (1 ,2) and certainly doesn’t come out so well for the animals.

    Apply a little rationality to the situation. What is the obvious course of action? How many people, faced with the evidence take that course of action and how many do you know that respond with “….but, but, but, where do you get your protein, huh?”
    How do frame problem readers fare in this reason vs. dogma conflict?

  12. ronbrown says:

    TBM:
    I was unfamiliar with all of this.

    To answer your query, the obvious course of action is value-dependent. Some people enjoy meat so much that they will be willing to shave a few years of their life off for it and might be willing to turn a blind eye to the suffering of animals. I will not lie and say that I am not one of these people. I really should be ashamed of myself with regard to the animal suffering. They are put through inhumane degrees of punishment and are eaten in quantities in excess of need—if indeed it is needed at all, which apparently it’s not (though I’m not sure if supplements can fully make up for the lack of meat).

    So I don’t really see any dogma here.

    If you say that studies have shown that people who really like meat who learn what you have just told us and are inspired by it find that once they’re off meat they are just as happy as before and I still didn’t make the transition, then one could argue that I am either lacking in drive and/or am irrational. If this scenario were to be true, I’ll be honest and admit it if I believe that I am being irrational or am showing a lack of drive—or morality.

  13. This Busy Monster says:

    My point is this, despite the science being on the side of giving up the burger, no amount of some shrill harpy-like vegan pointing out your folly is going to inspire you to change. Would you and the world be better off if you did. Arguably, yes.

    Now, imagine you are a Christian. We all know it’s not a rational behaviour. It’s rooted in belief that flies in the face of the facts. It’s a behaviour that is chosen because the person believes they are happy eating the dogma burger and don’t want to change.

    We all engage in our irrational behaviours; sweep the uncomfortable facts under the carpet once in a while and go on with life, oblivious. You’re agenda is god and science; other people have other agendas. It’s good to remember that when arrogance and irrationality are the topic of conversation.

  14. Stoobs says:

    The only way that reason, correctly implemented will lead you to contradictory conclusions is if you begin from contradictory premises. It’s that simple. If you begin by assuming two things that are contradictory, then you will arrive at a contradictory conclusion. This is not a problem for reason, it is a feature. It allows us to discover contradictions in complex masses of facts, to determine that there is an error in our assumptions.

    It is telling that someone defending religion would criticize reason on the basis that it produces contradictory conclusions. Of course it does, for you – you begin by assuming nonsense. This is no different from someone making a pie from dish soap and coffee grounds, and then claiming that it proves cooking is a sham. Reason is perfectly fine – you are flawed.

  15. fadnet says:

    My disagreeance with your hardliner faith in reason does not mean I agree with religious faith, as I have said before I don’t think its safe or wise to put all ones eggs in one basket, especially with such fever.

    Paradoxes:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curry%27s_paradox
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_paradoxes
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wave-particle_duality

    My Paradox, “I want ice cream.” “I don’t want ice cream”. You can reason that both are true at the same time, and there are an infinite number of other such situations where one could argue both sides of an argument equally well and logically.

    In regards to the language, its up to you, but if you want a larger audience you have to write at that audiences level, the way it is right now makes if very easy for ‘regular people’ to just avoid. My blog was rated elementary level which I am proud of, it shows that what I write is accessible to anyone who wants to read it.

    “In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.”

    Galileo Galilei quote

  16. fadnet says:

    Ron I’m pretty sure the information he provided about animals and veganism isn’t new to you, if it is maybe he was also right about you not applying as stern reason to your own behaviours as you do to this blog.

  17. Stoobs says:

    I want ice cream and I don’t want ice cream are never both true. Your paradoxes are not counterexamples to the utility of pure reason. Most paradoxes arise from the use of garbage premises, which are considered solely for the purpose of producing a paradox. No one ever observes something empirically which leads them to one of these premises – it is a valid criticism of natural language that it is capable of expressing these things so readily, but not a criticism of logic that it leads us to the position that they are incoherent.

    The other, smaller class of ‘paradoxes’ are those like the wave/particle duality example. In fact, however, the fact that we arrive at problematic conclusions is first and foremost a reason to look suspiciously at our premises.

    In fact, the business of studying the universe is a complex one, because we face many limitations woven into our language, into the functioning of our senses, into the very construction of our brain. If reason fails, it does not tell us that reason is flawed – it tells us to begin by reexamining our premises, to restudy the data, and to formulate new hypothesis to explain the results, then test them.

    If you are unable to dig a hole in a big rock, that doesn’t mean shovels don’t work – it just means your digging in the wrong place. Reason, logic, and the scientific method are not faiths – they are tools. When evaluating a tool, there are only two relevant questions – “is what it does useful?” and “does it do the job better than other tools?”

    If you want to criticize reason, you can claim that it does not do a good job – which is a value judgment, but a difficult one to substantiate. You can also claim that you don’t think what it does ought to be done – another value judgment, but again, one that is fairly doubtful on the face of it. To criticize it because when misused it produces silly results is, well, ridiculous.

  18. Stoobs says:

    To clarify, sure, you can abandon reason. The only good argument for not doing so is that reason is very useful, while faith, its only real competition, is highly detrimental.

  19. ronbrown says:

    Fadnet writes: “Ron I’m pretty sure the information he provided about animals and veganism isn’t new to you, if it is maybe he was also right about you not applying as stern reason to your own behaviours as you do to this blog.”

    You’d be pretty sure but you’d be wrong. Why would I lie about whether or not I’d heard about this? It’s not like it would make me come off as less reasonable if I had heard about it. Knowing this info, I can weigh it against my enjoyment of meat and decide accordingly. There are a lot of things I do that have negative health consequences. I smoke pot about once a week. This will have some negative consequences in terms of cognitive functioning as well as cardiovascular conditioning. I do it any way because at this point I would rather have the benefits of pot and these costs than the other way around. Another example, you have a lot of friends who used to be into trick skateboarding (e.g., on ramps). This obviously posed many health risks, but they did it anyway because they really enjoyed it. You could call it irrational if you want, but that fails to take into account the value judgment—they really really liked extreme skateboarding and they would have rather lived with extreme skateboarding and the associated risks then have to live life without being able to partake in what they found to be a very enjoyable activity.

    Now this brings me to a reply by This Busy Monster regarding value judgments and (ir)rationality. I disagree with your assessment. The example of eating meat is different from religious belief in at least one very important way. If you give me strong evidence to suggest that there are negative health consequences to eating meat, I will admit it. I may keep eating the meat because I enjoy it, but I will freely admit the negative consequences and that I am behaving in a way that puts me at increased risk of certain types of health problems; my value judgment being that I would rather have the enjoyment of meat and the health consequences than to not have the enjoyment of meat or the health consequences. The scenario of religious belief is different. Religious people will not admit that their belief is not reasonable to believe. They will not admit their irrationality. They will not dignify the case against them. I on the other hand would fully recognize the evidence for the health consequences of meat eating. The relevant parallel between religion and meat-eating here would be if I dogmatically denied the truth of the scientific studies just because I didn’t like the implications for my meat eating. And I’m not doing that.

  20. fadnet says:

    God is the best way to explain the mysteries of the universe, there are no better tool available.

  21. fadnet says:

    I still don’t understand how you weren’t aware of the environmental affects of the meat industry and the negativity of animal fats and proteins.

  22. This Busy Monster says:

    Have you ever given up meat, to see if you can live happily without it, or is that just an article of faith?

    Perhaps it’s Pascal’s (meat) Wager. I assert that I am happier eating meat, and can therefor justify ignoring the facts and continuing to do so. Given that this is an easily testable hypothesis (Null Hypothesis: My life is less enjoyable without meat.) and that the existence of a god is more abstract and harder to test, who is being most dogmatic here?

    Lots of religious people accept some kind of implicit Pascal’s wager, and feel better off with religion, the sense of security and peace that comes from a religious community, etc. Are you saying that you have no beef (pun intended) with this brand of religious behaviour, as it resembles your own meaty devotion?

  23. ronbrown says:

    Fadnet:

    I do not agree with you characterizing my prioritization of reason over all else as being faith in reason. My confidence in reason is well-calibrated with the evidence for its efficacy. Second, I do not say that reason is infallible as I can’t—I don’t have an objective and comprehensive view of the universe, so such a statement cannot be made based on honest interpretation of the evidence. There may be situations in which it produces incorrect solutions. Evolution is not geared at producing ideal solutions, just workable ones that give one an advantage over others. Thus, our capacity for reason need not be assumed to have evolved to perfection. I favour reason because it is the only thing which has shown itself to be reliable when it comes to understanding and predicting the behaviour of the world. What else can I go by? What else can I say is the best?

    Next, the ice cream example in uncompelling, I find. It is not a case of failure of reason, but one of conflicting motivations. On the one hand you may want ice cream because you enjoy it. But you might also be watching your weight. This is not in any way a failure of reasons. It’s a set of competing motivations which you can subject reason to, but your reasoning will be based on your value judgments. What do you want for you? And your behaviour will also depend on your will power. You may reason that you shouldn’t eat the ice cream but the desire may be too much for you to resist. This, however, has no implications for the God thing. If you fail to resist temptation but you come up with a strong case for not eating the ice cream (perhaps you have a job interview for your dream job in 2 weeks and you are having trouble fitting into your suit and need to lose 5 pounds, eating the ice cream is highly maladaptive to you given your major goal), you could still admit that your behaviour was maladaptive and likely to hurt you more than it helps you. You may even call it irrational. How many religious people will admit that their belief is irrational?

    Curry’s Paradox: I’m having trouble understanding the value of it. The truth value of santa being real is unrelated to that sentence. Santa is real or he’s not. If santa is real then the statement “if this sentence is true, santa exists” is nothing but tautology.

    Next, you can list all the paradoxes you want but it is still true that reason is the only tool that we use that has shown itself to have any value with respect to understanding and predicting the behaviour of the world. Religious faith is boils down to ignorance (innocent or willful; ignorance of the counterarguments, etc) and/or believing simply because you want something to be true (e.g., God and heaven) or fear that it is true (e.g., God and hell).

    Finally, an interesting and somewhat humorous point. You are attempting to use reason to discourage confidence in reason and perhaps even give some justification for unreason (e.g., because reason cannot be trusted completely, we should consequently have a bit more respect for religion)—but correct me if I’m wrong. If you are not defending religious belief at all here and are just trying to test my cognitive appraisal system, let me know. Secondly, it is humorous that people like the friend who I was speaking about in the current post has repeatedly tried to use reason to show that human reasoning and science aren’t comprehensive and perfect and that, consequently, religious belief is respectable. He is using reason in order to try to justify his unreason in a reasonable fashion—and has been quite unconvincing in-so-doing. If someone—you, he, or anyone else—wants to argue for the imperfection of reason, that’s fine. But the imperfection of reason does not entail that belief in anything that one wants is respectable. When you argue down reason, you are not arguing up religious faith. You are simply arguing for less confidence in other things that we believe—which is something that I am on side with anyway.

    Religion is about faith, but in my experience religious people will leap at any chance to try to justify their beliefs on reasonable grounds. And when that fails they’ll often revert back to saying that I’m arrogant for thinking I know everything when in fact it is they that is claiming to know the answers to the big questions. The friend who is the subject of the current post has angrily accused me of thinking I know everything a number of times when it is he who says that he knows with certainty that his God is real. When have I ever (EVER) claimed to know anything with certainty, aside from my own existence? The only thing that I ever do is point out the lack of evidence and thus lack of reason for confidence in religious beliefs. That’s it. I take the position that I know very little, or next to nothing. When others say that they know the answers to big questions like God I ask them for their reasons and if their reasons don’t justify the conclusions I will say so and give them opportunity to address my criticisms and eventually it always gets to the point where they do not provide a solid case (on the grounds of honest thorough reasoning which takes into account reasoned rebuttals) but maintain their beliefs anyway and declare that their beliefs deserve respect even though they can’t justify them, nor can anyone else, to my knowledge.

  24. ronbrown says:

    TBM: No I haven’t. And your argument is not compelling, in my opinion. Listen, I am making no claims that I would be less happy without meat. I am simply saying that at this point I enjoy meat and would prefer to keep it as a part of my life. And again, I am not denying any findings suggesting ill effects to health (no pun intended). Where is the parallel with religion here? When was the last time you heard a religious person say something along the lines of “I am not denying that it is unreasonable to believe in God, I am not denying that the only reason I believe is because I prefer to believe, I am simply saying that I believe even though I know it’s unreasonable to do so, and I will continue to believe because I prefer to believe.” I have never heard a religious person say this. I have never heard a religious person claim that it is unreasonable to believe that their faith is false, but that they’re going to maintain it out of preference.

  25. Colin says:

    Maybe the utility of reason should be considered to be self-evident. Self-evident truths cannot be proven rationally without a tautology.

    Another example is the Law of non-contradiction…’A’ cannot be ‘Not A’. You can’t prove or disprove the conclusion without using the premise.

  26. ronbrown says:

    Colin: I admit that reason is validated tautologically. Actually, it’s not quite that simple. I should say that reason in conjunction with human experience of the world validates the application of reason to the world. However, I have admitted that we cannot be certain about the truth value of the outputs of reason because we do not have objective and comprehensive perception and understanding of the world. But this does not justify religious belief. Rather, it warrants skepticism about all beliefs (save perhaps knowledge of self). This is discussed in more detail in previous comments.

  27. This Busy Monster says:

    Perhaps you haven’t heard that perspective because those aren’t the most likely candidates to enter a debate over their beliefs, they just quietly keep them to themselves.

    You’re assertion that you are happier doing something that you have never tried doing without, despite evidence that could suffer for your choices and that you are hurting others with your choices is in fact pretty similar to simply saying, I don’t want to test my belief, it’s just right and I know it (faith).

    The fact that you find arguments to the contrary uncompelling isn’t surprising either. It’s the way people with religious beliefs react. They aren’t interested in evidence to the contrary because they already have made up their mind what’s true and need no further test of their belief.

    Lot’s of faith belief is based on fear. If I give up what I have believed as certain, I won’t know what to believe and how to decide. Existential terror is a great motivator towards irrational faith. It won’t be overcome by a simple (or brash) presentation of evidence and reason. Those who criticize you as arrogant likely feel that you don’t really respect their struggle to make sense of the world and their need for faith. Of course they are being irrational. It’s part of life for all of us.

    (And, from a vegan perspective, your stand on meat looks batsh*t crazy.)

    Life no argument.— We have arranged for ourselves a world in which we can live—by positing bodies, lines, planes, causes and effects, motion and rest, form and content; without these articles of faith nobody now could endure life. But that does not prove them. Life is no argument. The conditions of life might include error.
    –Nietzsche

  28. Stoobs says:

    You do not NEED to give up meat to have some idea… You can extrapolate from your having eaten meat, and eaten vegetarian foods. I’ve eaten at vegetarian restaurants before – hell, I’ve dated a vegetarian, and eaten with her quite often. I find that the food is less satisfying to my stomach, and less enjoyable to eat. I can’t speak for others on those points, but I can, once again, extrapolate from my own experience of the world to approximate the thinking of people with a similar world view to me.

    Decision making is done on the basis of two kind of entities, beliefs and desires. A belief is a claim about the world. A desire is an emotional response. As such, desires are not capable of being right or wrong. Claims about a desire can be right or wrong, of course, but the desire itself simply is. You can not determine your desires, only meet or fail to meet them. Beliefs, on the other hand, are fully amenable of such classification – they are right to the extent that they correspond to facts about the world, and wrong to the extent that they fail to do so.

    The problem with religion is that it represents, ultimately, a desire to believe. The danger here is that beliefs are, as I have already said, tools. It is perfectly coherent to have a desire to use the wrong tool to handle a situation, because reason says nothing to desires. A desire to believe in god is equivalent to a desire to eat jello with chopsticks, and the only criticism one can make of it is that “you aren’t actually eating very efficiently.” If the person you’re talking to is willing to accept that, you can’t do much else but laugh at them and move on. There are two things, however, that put religion in a category of its own, completely separate from jello related issues.

    The first place where religion differs is that doesn’t just want you to eat your jello with chopsticks. It demands that you tear the spoons from other peoples mouths and force your chopsticks on them. When you’re harming yourself, that’s your business. When you’re forcing harm on others, it becomes society’s issue. If someone else considers jello eating more desirable than chopstick use, they have every right to eat with a spoon.

    The second, and more insidious difference, is that faith is ultimately just a desire to hold a belief. Reason, however, dictates the relationships between beliefs, and regardless of what you say, reason is an inescapable master. We reason automatically, reflexively, from whatever premises we are given. When you accept a premise simply on the basis that you want to accept it, you are then forced to evaluate your other beliefs relative to it.

    This leads us to the position where you end up with people committing murders in defense of ‘the sanctity of life’, and electing political leaders who work entirely against their interests. They are forced to discard reason, and in doing so, they make themselves unfit human beings, only different from a man with no legs in that they have willfully deprived themselves of a faculty far more important than legs, and now seek to deprive others of that same faculty. Once incoherence ceases to be a problem for you (and if incoherence is a problem for you, then you can’t be a christian – it’s that simple) you can do any stupid thing, not because you have carefully weighed the pros and cons and come to the conclusion that best serves your desires, but just simply because. Everything after the word because is reason.

    Religious folks lower themselves to the level of children, doing what their parents (or priests, or deities) showed them to do. Children are meat eaters or vegetarians because of what their parents put on their plate. I prefer to fill my own plate, with the foods of my choice, and that requires reason.

  29. This Busy Monster says:

    Stoobs,

    I’m all for reason, I use it almost every day. Ron makes the point above though that reason only works in conjunction with human experience. Human experience is mediated by existing beliefs and values. It is in the conflict between reason and previous belief that people get caught up in dogma.

    What is reasonable in one context may not apply to another. The best reasoning is worth squat when experience is incomplete or you are being lied to (WMD in Iraq). If you try to reduce human experience to a) observe without error b) apply logic perfectly c) act, you are being a little naive. In all situations, we fudge a little, decide before the evidence is in and engage in wishful thinking. To pretend otherwise is arrogant.

  30. ronbrown says:

    TBM: I’ll respond to your first post since my last one:

    Which perspective are you referring to?

    I never said that I would be happier with meat than without it. I simply say that I enjoy meat. I also enjoy watching Toronto Blue Jays baseball. Perhaps I would be happier without it, though. Maybe the time I’d spend doing other things would be more fulfilling to me. It’s a real possibility. In both cases, thus far I have chosen not to look into it. I’m not sure if this is irrational, though, as there is a cost to trying: having to go through the weaning phase and foregoing the opportunity to enjoy what I am currently enjoying during the period of experimentation.

    Next, regarding your thinking my perspective on meat is crazy: I can respect that opinion. I myself could probably make a very good case for vegetarianism, maybe veganism. I’m not sure about the latter—I just don’t know enough about all of its tenets.

    Next, your equating my disatisfaction with theist arguments with theist disatisfaction with atheist arguments in my opinion is either disingenuous or not fully thought out. You seem to be implicitly arguing for a type of postmodernist view that all opinions and views are equal, with complete disregard for intellectual honesty and evidence. In what way are religious arguments, which in my experience have *always* boiled down to one, some or all of the following pitfalls as respectable as well-reasoned agnostic atheism?

    Pitfalls:
    1. arguments from ignorance
    2. arguments from authority
    3. arguments from personal experience (which can be made by people of all faiths, as well as by secular meditators and some users of some drugs) and hearsay
    4. arguments from hindsight-informed cherry-picked scripture
    5. misunderstanding of what atheism says (e.g., atheism says that there absolutely is no God, and that’s a faith statement itself—such positive atheism is a faith statement, but the more prevalent agnostic atheism invokes no faith statements)
    6. Since we cannot know anything, claims to know (or at minimum, to believe in) God is respectable.
    7. misunderstandings and misrepresentations of evolution, cosmology, or the scientific enterprise

  31. This Busy Monster says:

    Epistemology aside.

    The point is simply that for someone who doesn’t highly value reason, arguments against religious belief based on reason aren’t likely to be effective. You counter with, “Reason has had good results for me.”, and the believer responds with, “I too am happy with the results I am getting through religion.”

    The point is, there is a simple practical situation in your life (diet) which you are unmotivated to explore a different perspective on. Religious belief is much more foundational in people’s lives than hamburgers, it shouldn’t surprise you when your arguments fall short of convincing for them. Reason and evidence just don’t get some people over the hump, even for a trial run at atheism.

    If you can acknowledge that you don’t slavishly change your behaviour with every new fact you acquire, you might develop some insight into religious belief and find new ways to address those who find you arrogant.

  32. ronbrown says:

    This Busy Monster:

    Point understood. But it doesn’t really change my stance. My stance is that they are being irrational in their belief formation. They may be being no less irrational than I when it comes to meat in terms of doing what makes them feel good, but nevertheless they are still being irrational in their belief formation. I am simply one of the people that is generally not afraid to point this out and is resistant to social efforts to stop me from doing so. If they want to be irrational, fine. But don’t get mad at me for pointing it out (I’m not referring to you here, but to the generalized individual). If they want to believe unreasonable things for unreasonable reasons, they can. That’s their decision. But at this point in my life, I don’t feel that I should have to stand by and be complicit in the cultural illusion that their highly consequential beliefs are rational. In addition to being of political importance, I think it’s unfair to believers of all other ridiculous beliefs (e.g., I don’t view it as fair that we aren’t as accomodating to the members of small cults, believers in UFOs, or in those who believe in the reasoning of G.W. Bush).

    If they would just admit that they have no good epistemological reason for believing what they believe but that they are keeping their beliefs anyway because they are enjoying the ride it would be a different story. But obviously this is not the case, nor will it ever be, I assume.

  33. Colin says:

    “reason in conjunction with human experience of the world validates the application of reason to the world. ”

    It seems to me that reason is validated on its own…otherwise you would be right that we could not know anything…including things that are empirically confirmed.

    But the plain truth is that we can know things for sure, independent of our experience. ‘A’ cannot be ‘Not A’, regardless of human experience.

    Reason cannot be grounded objectively in a materialist worldview, leaving us with no way of knowing anything, which in itself is patently false.

  34. This Busy Monster says:

    I think most people whole hold “faith” in something are explicitly acknowledging that they are not basing their belief on rationality. That’s what faith means. What the believer may object to is that they are being unreasonable, since reasonableness is a subjective standard. I may seem to be completely unreasonable in my assertions to you, when my reasonableness is quite obvious to me.

    A charge of arrogance would be reasonably brought against someone who proclaimed themselves as the arbiter of what is reasonable. As I mentioned, it may be the a person suffers such existential angst at the thought of giving up a faith based belief that they can not function without it. To them, it is perfectly reasonable to continue their faith, it works.

    I don’t defend religion, religious belief, or any other nonsense. I am willing to defend a charge of arrogance against someone who proclaims “Admit I am right and then I’ll leave you alone.” So what, you might be arrogant. As long as it works for you, keep doing it; just don’t object when someone points it out. If you admit it, maybe they will leave you alone.

  35. fadnet says:

    Religious people use reason, they simply asses a different value to each point than you would.

    My point is; You can use reason to prove anything you want, questions about the validity of premises and value assessed to each point are essentially open to subjective interpretation and debate.

    You have your ‘frame’ and religious people have their ‘frame’ which makes it possible for you both to create your own reasonable arguments.

    My point remains, you can use reason to prove anything you want, which is usually the case when people ‘choose’ an answer then justify it though reason. You ‘choose’ agnostic atheism and justified it though reason, religious people ‘choose’ god and justify him though reason.

    I guess my point really is that opinions are choices justified by reason. I could believe that the sky was purple, use reason to prove it to myself and no amount of ‘your’ reasoning would be able to prove me wrong.

  36. ronbrown says:

    Fadnet:

    I strongly disagree with you. In fact, more than that. You are just plain wrong so many times over in that statement.

    You are basically saying that no belief system is better than any other. You are saying that a person who has no evidence other than “what their heart tells them” has a belief that is on equal footing with a person whose belief is based on 200 years of rigorous unrefuted but refutable research. This is insane. I guess this means that you have no problem with George W. Bush having gone into Iraq. The evidence wasn’t there, but he had his frame of reference and so his point of view is just as good as the evidence-based other point of view. But you might say he had his evidence along with different attached weights. Well, the fact that he couldn’t argue for it without lying is instructive, isn’t it. As is the fact that no weapons were found, to this day.

    You are wrong that reason can be used to prove anything. Reason can be used to prove 6 day Young Earth Creationism? No, it can’t. The only way anything resembling reason could do this is by ignoring most of the information. This isn’t reason. This is unreason. Prove to me using reason that tennis balls fall up. Prove this to yourself, to the point where you genuinely believe it and actually feel shocked when the ball falls down.

    And no you couldn’t believe the sky was purple. You can’t just choose the way your cognitive system works. You can’t choose to make your retina and visual cortex represent one colour as another. Similarly, if you were about to have a car crash you can’t just trick yourself into believing that the car isn’t there. It’s there. And you’re going to be hit. And after you are hit, you can’t just choose to believe that you weren’t hit, that your legs aren’t being amputated, etc. If people could do this, then no one would be unhappy because they would just imagine that their life was exactly what they wanted it to be.

    And if you’re going to say “prove it” to me—prove that one can’t do things, I’ll say “no”. You’re the one making the extraordinary claim. You prove it.

    All reasoning isn’t equal. Some reasoning is rational, intellectually honest and open to rebuttal. This is real reason. Other reasoning is loaded with self-deception, selective attention, one-sidedness, and logical fallacies.

    You’re honestly talking nonsense. If you really think the things you just said and continue to believe them, then there might not even be any point in us talking because you simply believe that all points of view are somehow equal just because people have them. You apparently think that just because someone has a view, that it is reasonable because it is reasonable to them. That there is no such thing as an unreasonable view. And most ridiculously, that person can just choose their beliefs—that they can just choose to overhaul their evolved cognitive system (even the more primitive cognitive processes, like colour vision). And most importantly, I will never be able to convince you that my argument is the most reasonable because even if I do convince you to adopt it yourself, you may just think that you chose to adopt this view but it is no more valid than someone else’s view that has logical and evidential holes you could drive a bus through.

  37. fadnet says:

    You take this far to seriously and your arrogance is showing.

    I know the above statement ^ is a cheap shoot but its true, also you are to far locked into your ‘frame’ to see anything other then the way you see it, there real is no point in arguing because, even though you say your are open to new information your opinion will never change.

  38. fadnet says:

    that should say really instead of real and it should end with ‘….your opinion will never change until you choose to change them.’

  39. ronbrown says:

    Fadnet: Yes. There is no point in talking. My frame is reality. Your frame seems to be a pie-in-the-sky world which can be perceived whatever way you want and it will automatically be reasonable—You can believe that skies are orange, that I am taller than Shaquille O’Neal even though I have to look up to talk to him, that squirrels eat gorillas, and anything else, just because I want to. It’s not about only seeing things the way I see it, or want to see it. I am quite willing to change my mind. I just want good reason to do it. I’ve changed my mind on a number of things in my life. If someone has different views than me, they can share them and if their reasons are good I’ll adjust my views. Your reasons are not good. You have no respect for reason because you think that people can just believe whatever they want and no matter what they believe or why they believe it, it is reasonable just because they believe it and think it’s reasonable. You’ve responded just like a religious apologist would: you can’t rebut my points and so you call me arrogant and say that I’m closed-minded. It’s not that I’m closedminded, it’s that your mind is so open that allows garbage in unfiltered. My mind is open to reason and evidence. I pressure myself to question my deeply held beliefs and to be willing to let them go.

    Now, of course you’re going to say something like that I just proved your point because I am saying that only what I think counts as reasonable is reasonable. That is just garbage. You can talk about all this theoretical stuff like that people can believe whatever they want, that it’s all about my frame of reference, and so on, but lets look at what actually happens in the world. When you are sick, do you trust scientific medicine or do you go to some Christian scientists to pray for you to get better? When you want to fly somewhere do you buy a plane ticket or do you just sit in your bedroom and try to will yourself to wherever you want to go and then just make yourself believe that you are there? When you want to know about how the species evolved, do you read a biology textbook or Genesis—and similarly, do you trust some alleged person from 2000 year’s ago’s testimonies more than you trust actual self-critical empirical research into the matter? When you want to know if global warming is real, do you trust the majority of the world’s climate scientists, or the conservative christian who says that God wouldn’t do this to us or that the world is gonna end soon anyway?

    You call my conduct arrogance. I don’t. I call it responding to silly suggestions. You can have your opinion and I’ll have mine.

  40. This Busy Monster says:

    I’d have to go with Ron on this one. Even if you are a complete post-modern relativist, there are methods of comparative analysis that can evaluate different points of view as being more or less valid. We do all exist in the same time and space, after all, and there are only so many different ways to unpack that.

    Unless you acknowledge that, you aren’t really participating in the discussion in good faith. Ron may have been emphatic, but that’s not really an example of arrogance.

    Complete relativism is nonsense. It’s a retreat in defense of an indefensible position. A grown up version of “I know you are, but what am I?”

  41. ronbrown says:

    And of course you will call my last statement arrogant because you don’t think there is such thing as silly suggestions because you think that the mere fact that you believe something and believe it to be reasonable automatically makes it reasonable.

  42. ronbrown says:

    TBM: Thank you most kindly, friend.

  43. Stoobs says:

    The claim that we all exist in space and time is one that is open to dispute. There are plenty of idealists who are perfectly rational, and have entirely coherent belief systems. Kant’s transcendental idealism is a brilliant ontological approach that is at least as convincing as materialism (more so, even, in the face of some of the wackier parts of quantum mechanics.)

    My problem with most religions is that they are internally incoherent, but framed in a way that keeps the contradictions just far enough from one another to ignore. Once you accept an internally contradictory set of beliefs, you can prove absolutely anything from it using pure reason. The problem arises when the person, unable to detect the contradictions, or unwilling to accept that some part of his data is wrong, persists in using their flawed data-set to ‘prove’ whatever they like.

  44. This Busy Monster says:

    There is all kinds of epistemological and ontological silliness we can engage in. The point is there there is some common thread through our experience or communication becomes impossible and there is no point in any of this.

    The focus on this discussion, for me, is simply that faiths beliefs explicitly exclude rationality and evidence as a reason for their adoption. To simply appeal to someone with rationality and evidence is not going to convince them against their belief. Perhaps a discussion about the role of that belief in their life, their reasons for adopting it on faith in spite of the apparent problems, etc. could help things along.

    Ron has stated his commitment to point out the irrationality, to which, were I a believer, I might respond “Well duh, I believe on faith, go away, discussion over.” As for arrogance, if you can’t play nice and you make the believers feel that you think you are superior, they are within their rights to call you on it. If that bothers you, either find a different approach, or rest easy that, in your scientific frame of reference, you are superior.

  45. ronbrown says:

    TBM: It’s not about superiority. When people hold irrational beliefs and won’t admit it, it annoys me. Perhaps I should let it stop bothering me. A big problem for me, though, is the lack of fairness (not to mention the political import of these beliefs). It seems that there are 3 categories of belief (well, this is one way of grouping beliefs): 1. beliefs which people hold for good reasons; 2. beliefs held for poor reasons, which people are free to point out to others the irrationality of such belief (e.g., believing in UFOs, homeopathy, that Elvis is alive, that there are most definitely WMDs in Iraq and they’ll be found shortly, that the holocaust didn’t happen; cult beliefs); and 3. religious beliefs: beliefs that are held for poor epistemological reasons, but that society deems valid and unsuitable for the same type of scrutiny and derision that is acceptable in the case of category 2 items.

    I also do not appreciate that a person will completely flout intellectual honesty and rationality but still demand to be respected in the debate, and moreover will demand that everyone that doesn’t agree with them be intellectually honest and rational when it suits the apologist.

    Next, yes, we may all make reasoning errors. That is not any kind of justification for religious silliness, however. Religious silliness represents a type of silliness that people willfully maintain, cling to, and deny the silliness of. Moreover, it is considered inappropriate to call them on this. If a person knew someone who continued to conduct the same secular irrational deed over and over again, it is very often the case that there is little social pressure not to call the person on it. Why the double standard?

    As for the claim that if you were a believer you might respond to my assertion of irrationality with “Well duh, I believe on faith, go away, discussion over,” but you wouldn’t (if you were like religious people I have spoken to) admit that your beliefs were irrational and you wouldn’t be pressured to by most people to anywhere near the degree that you might be if the issue was secular in nature.

    The issue of cocnsidering the role of the beliefs in one’s life, and the like is a reasonable suggestion.

    And really, to a certain degree, I think an air of superiority might actually be warranted. If a person is going to reason like a 5 year old…

    As I’ve noted, a big part of my issue is this cultural specification that religion is special. That religious ideas are different than other ideas. You can apply religious-like reasoning to other fields and it is laughable—and what’s more, it’s socially acceptable to laugh.

    If I said that inside of our heads is a little man who watches what our eyes see on a movie screen, hears what our ears hear on speakers, and so on, and that is part of how the mind works, you might reasonably respond with “well, how does the little man’s mind work?”. This is an example of an infinite regress, parallel to the God infinite regress. Why is it more acceptable to laugh at this logical blunder when the subject matter is cognition rather than God?

    If I said that the war on Iraq was a good idea because most Americans supported it, would you feel compelled to respect my beliefs and to treat me like I was being an open and reasonable person if I would not budge from this belief? If not, why do this for a person who gives the truth argument of a religion’s popularity, and sticks to the belief even after you discuss with them how truth is not democratically determined?

    We could go through the whole roster of religious reasoning errors. Basically, I am not a fan of being bullied by the majority into treating some beliefs as different than others when they’re not. Ideas are ideas.

  46. ronbrown says:

    People can call me arrogant if they want. But really, in my mind I am being quite noble. I am standing up for fairness and am working to not do conversational favours for the believers of certain beliefs which happen to have many adherents that I would not be granting to believers of less popular beliefs. I am standing up for reason, the pursuit of knowledge, fairness, and equality. Religious communities, on the other hand, conduct themselves under the assumption that they deserve special treatment and that they know the answer to some of the biggest questions (something that I never claim for myself). To me, that sounds pretty arrogant.

    And I’ve barely even mentioned the political importance of these beliefs… Given their political consequences, if anything people should be even more aggressive in their discussions of religion versus, say, belief in Sasquatch. While the latter is clearly silly, at least it is not having huge political consequences.

  47. fadnet says:

    Quasi-realism is an expressivist meta-ethical theory developed by Simon Blackburn which asserts that though our moral claims are projectivist we understand them in realist terms as part of our ethical experience of the world. Blackburn derives this stance from a Humean account of the origin of our moral opinions, adapting Hume’s genealogical account in the light of evolutionary game theory.

    To support his case, Blackburn has issued a challenge, Blackburn’s Challenge, to anyone who can explain how two situations can demand different ethical responses without referring to a difference in the situations themselves. Because this challenge is effectively unmeetable, Blackburn argues that there must be a realist component in our notions of ethics.

    However, argues Blackburn, ethics cannot be entirely realist either, for this would not allow for phenomena such as the gradual development of ethical positions over time. In his 1998 book, Ruling Passions, Blackburn likens ethics to Neurath’s boat, which can be changed plank by plank over time, but cannot be refitted all at once for risk of sinking. Similarly, Blackburn’s theory can explain the co-existence of rival ethical theories, for example as a result of differing cultural traditions – his theory allows both to be legitimate, despite their mutual contradictions, without dismissing both views through relativism. Blackburn’s theory of quasi-realism provides a coherent account of ethical pluralism. It also answers John Mackie’s concerns, presented in his argument from queerness, about the apparently contradictory nature of ethics.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quasi-realism

  48. ronbrown says:

    What is the relevance of this? I thought we were talking about truth claims of the objective universe, not ethics and morality.

  49. This Busy Monster says:

    The relevance is that if by some appeal to the authority of an obscure scholar, with a little Hume thrown in for effect, the possibility of and objective moral standard can be shown, then the next question becomes “Where did it come from?” and the answer is God. That gives a rational basis for a belief in God and religion is back in business alongside science. Even if something like this held together through real scrutiny, it’s not like the God of Abraham would fill the bill. Mainstream religion would be wacky just the same.

    The reason religious types won’t admit that they choose faith (an irrational basis) as the foundation of their beliefs, at least around people like you, is that faith or unreason is characterized badly. You want them to admit to doing something which you have already stated at the outset is inferior to your rational science based approach.

    Try hanging out with a group of them and you’ll hear about how wonderful their faith is and how they just know in their heart…… The are all over the irrational part of their belief, the crazier the better. Haven’t you seen them speaking gibberish and rolling on the floor?

    If I started a conversation with you, “Cognitive Psych is utter shit and anyone who believes in that crap is a complete fucking moron, but as long as they admit it I won’t bother them.”, what would your reaction be?

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t do exactly what you do. I’m just saying, once you understand who you are dealing with, how can you be surprised with the results?

  50. ronbrown says:

    TBM: There are perfectly reasonable cognitive evolutionary accounts of morality. And even if there weren’t, or if we found out that these accounts were most certainly wrong, that would not making believing in a God (whether a deist God or a specific one) anymore reasonable. It would just be an argument from ignorance.

    On the basis of intellectual honesty and rationality, faith absolutely is inferior. It’s less intellectually honest and it is the exact antithesis of rationality. If they want to flout intellectual honesty and rationality, they can go for it, but at least admit it. So basically you’re saying that they are not admitting it for the sake of image protection. I could agree with that. But on top of that there is self-deception.

    I doubt many religious people, even amongst themselves with no skeptics around, would admit that it is unreasonable for them to believe their beliefs and that there is no good reason to believe that their God exists. They’ll talk about faith all the time, but they won’t admit that there is no good reason to believe their beliefs. Many of them will even say that their beliefs are not irrational, but nonrational, which is completely untrue. And many will attempt to use reason whenever possible to try to justify their beliefs. When reason fails, they refer to faith. When they believe there is a reasonable argument they will apply that. And when that argument is knocked down they will continue to hold the belief anyway.

    As for the cogpsych example, I would be very skeptical of your claims because there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. I would definitely be annoyed with you, however. But because there is evidence for the reasonability of the findings of CogPsych, that creates a relevant distinction between it and religion. Of course if someone slams something that I am confident in it might annoy me. Why will it annoy me? Well, like anyone else I take my beliefs somewhat personally. And this is a character flaw, in my opinion. This is something that I am working to reduce, and I should work even harder at this. I think it’s very dangerous for the individual and society for people to identify with their beliefs. It would also annoy me because the person’s slam would most likely be based on misrepresentations. Given that I make great effort to make my beliefs consistent with evidence and change my beliefs and the confidence with which they are held according to such analysis, there is a good chance that the person is getting something wrong. And if the person is not, and they have a valid case, then my annoyance will reduce greatly and I will consider their arguments and very possibly change my beliefs.

    As for your last point, I’m surely not surprised by the results. I’m just not impressed with them. I don’t think society is doing itself any favours by ennobling the identification with and rigidification of beliefs, and declaring that it is inappropriate to treat all beliefs equally.

  51. This Busy Monster says:

    You are missing the important distinction between rational and reasonable. A declaration of faith is a declaration that rationality has been abandoned. The dispute lies in whether it is reasonable to do this or not. They say yes, you say know.

    You confront them with “It is not reasonable because it is not rational, ergo to do it makes you inferior.” Many religious types have experiences they describe as “spiritual” which provide them with first hand evidence for their faith. Even though there are no objective means to verify their experience, and alternate explanations abound (mass hysteria), they feel their faith is a “reasonable” response to their indoctrination and hysteria.

    You attack based on “irrationality” comes from outside their frame of reference. Just as my hypothetical attack in cognitive psych would out you off, your rationality attack will put them off. That’s not a bad thing, because it can open the door for and exchange, but you may hurt feelings and appear arrogant when you do it.

    I completely agree with your assessment of religious beliefs being too privileged and in my opinion you are welcome to attack away. My point has always been that you shouldn’t complain about the results you get.

  52. ronbrown says:

    TBM: I’m not talking about the rationality of abandoning reason. I’m talking about the simple irrationality of faith. One may argue that it is rational to pretend that homeless people do not exist because then one doesn’t have to feel bad about not giving to relevant charities. But the denial itself is an instance of intellectual dishonesty, and the belief itself is rationally indefensible.

    I never said anything about them being inferior in general. But just as we would refer to a person who was certain that the world was going to end soon for nonreligious reasons, I would apply the same thing to religious people. And just as we referred to a person who believes in leprechauns as irrational, I make the same assessment of religious believers.

    Next, the argument from personal experience is bunk. People of irreconcilably different religions have them. Moreover, people have dreams of events, places and people all the time, but how many of us assume based on these dreams that there is any relevant truth value to these experiences? Same with drug experiences (e.g., hallucinations, God or otherwise).

    Their frame of reference starts from the assumption that their God exists. That’s why it’s a different frame of reference. Mine frame starts from a position of agnosticism and works from there, based on the evidence and argumentation.

    Your point is understood about complaining about the results. On the one hand I sympathize with you, but on the other I disagree. I understand that I shouldn’t complain because just putting myself in their shoes, as you put it, what the hell do I expect? But on the other hand, I have every right to complain about the double standards that so often favour religion unjustifiably.

  53. Paul says:

    It is not the questions we ask that makes us arrogant, but the way we think about those questions. Are you formulating your answer w/o listening to the one speaking or writing? Does the fact that nothing spiritual/mystical has ever happened to you make you feel that therefore nothing happens to anybody? Is your mind made up and you have no intention of changing it? To me, these are the kind of things that make one appear arrogant.

    I think that it is not arrogance, but rather Ego that makes it difficult for some people to accept even the possibility of there being a God. I would think that a ‘real’ scientist would always have an open mind so as not to skew their results, thus they would have difficulty agreeing with any statement that suggests an understanding greater than their empirical findings. A friend who considered himself a scientist told me once that it was impossible for God to appear before us. I asked him how he knew and he said “I just know”. I asked him if he felt that he understood the universe so well that he knew all that was possible? His response was Yes. Assuming that he was being serious, this exemplified a closed and unscientific approach, at least to the topic of God. I have seen many intelligent people close their mind because they can’t phathom believing in anything to do with God. Interesting how a scientist loses their scientific way of thinking when confronted with something that goes against their belief system. This guy had never met someone who said he knew God. You see, ever since I thought I was going to die at 5 years old I have had God in my life. I am sorry if you (anyone) do not accept my experiences as proof, as I am usually asked “How do you know it was God?” Usually the one who asks this is not really interested in learning about my experience, but are rather looking for ammo to use against me as they have no intention of listening with an open mind. This is what I would describe as the height of arrogance, as what is really being said is that you know better than anyone else.

    I have also been told by some friends who are Agnostic that I am arrogant when I say that I know God; however I can’t help but feel that if I do anything but be honest and open about what has happened to me then I am listening to fear and not love. Is it arrogant of me to understand my own experiences? Or is her Ego getting in the way of allowing her to even consider the possibility. You see, I think all of our actions/ behaviours stem from either love or fear, good or bad. So whenever I do something I ask myself is it love or fear that is motivating my behaviour. I can say that everytime I have felt God, it is love that I was feeling. If I were to think about God and how I feel about it, I get all emotional. It feels exactly like the first time I feel in love. Also everytime I follow what my heart says, I have something wonderful happen. If it were possible that something other than God was responsible, then I will be deceived at some point. Obviously it has not happened yet, so I may have to wait until I die; but if I have to wait until I die then I will never know since once I die I will become unaware– assuming I am being deceived. Something I should also tell you is that all of the times I have had things happen have not all been solitary. Once I had a fight with a friend and I told her that I couldn’t hang around her as she always said things designed to hurt me. I then proceeded to bump into her around the city of Toronto (where we live) approximately 20-30 times over less than 2 years. I didn’t even know where she lived. I saw her all over the city. How did it happen? I would get a feeling that I should go left or look left and there she would be. Near the end of the two years I started having dreams that ‘softened my heart’ and helped me to want to have her in my life again, just before her husband cheated on her and told her he never loved her. I was able to help her and have her back in my life all because I listened to what my heart was telling me. I honest believe that if more of us could/would listen to our hearts then we would all have an easier time seeing God as the things we do would tend to be flowing with love.

    So to answer the question, yes it is arrogant to tell another person that it is irrational to believe in God; however, I do not believe it would be arrogant to feel that way yourself. Is it love that is motivating your desire when you engage in this discussion? Would there be more love in the world if more people did not believe in God? God should not be faulted for what those who believe in it do, we should let the blame lie where it belongs.

  54. ronbrown says:

    Paul: I will address your argument late tonight or tomorrow.

  55. lichanos says:

    I don’t believe in God. Never have. I have never heard a single argument that convinces me to accept the concept. I’ve heard lots of good arguments about how religion makes people better (and how it makes them worse) but that doesn’t have anything to do with whether the God-idea makes sense.

    There are many concepts I “reject” simply by refusing to credit them although I can never disprove them. For a while, my daughter claimed that men had never landed on the moon. No matter what evidence and logical arguments I made she would retort with, “Well, you know, THEY faked all that…” I tried to turn her own logic against her by claiming that I KNEW her best friend was Satan. To all her arguments I replied, “Well, you know, Satan is very clever…” As they say, you cannot prove a negative, e.g., “God does not exist.”

    I believe this is the source of the charge of arrogance against many atheists. Often, they go to far and claim that CAN DISprove the God-idea. They forget that they don’t need to. The don’t notice that when it comes to God, the standard of proof gets REALLY high for believers (or rather, the standard of DISproof.) Believers use logic that they would never accept in their day to day lives. This infuriates atheists, who sometimes get exasperated and shrill. I think this is Dawkins’ problem.

    Maybe it’s a temperment thing. I’ve gotten used to irrationality as a way of life. I simply stick to my guns and make minimalist statements, e.g., “I don’t believe in God – convince me!” The usual arguments get trotted out: “A garden must have a gardener…” Why? A human garden, yes, but so what? “All things begin somewhere…” How do you know? We’re talking about the universe, not an ice cream cone. And who created the creator? Why isn’t that a valid question?? The usual.

    A deadpan minimalist approach preserves your intellectual integrity while refusing to get into the shouting match. You have to accept that you want convince hardly anybody.

  56. This discussion is quite repetitive, it seems to be a constant restatement of the fact or claim that religious people are irrational, there isn’t any progress.

    As for the Quasi-realism reference, I think Fadnet’s point was to show that ‘truth claims of the objective universe’ are expressed from a realists point of view but are actually ‘projectivist’ in form. Meaning you use reason to formulate your opinions but are essentially creating fiction about reality.

  57. This Busy Monster says:

    Sandy:

    I wouldn’t say it’s repetitive, just creepingly slow in it’s progress.

    Paul,a few things,

    The possibility of a god in some sense is much different than the possibility of a Christian god, which fails every test except that it’s in the Bible, so there. If you are a Christian, you hold an irrational belief based on faith (i.e. belief not based on evidence and rationality).

    The possibility of some god, sure. But so far we can do pretty well in our attempts to understand things without some putatve mystical creator god. Unanswered questions aren’t a big deal to a scientist, they are just items on the to do list. A religion that can’t tell the whole story, start to finish, is in trouble though, which is why the religious make such a big deal about those things.

    As for statistical anomalies, I was at the doctor’s office a couple years ago when an obnoxious crazy woman came in screaming over a minor injury until she got pretty quick treatment she really didn’t need. Ever since then, I see her a couple times a month on the street. Most likely, I’ve been crossing paths since I moved here. We seem to take the subway around the same time of day, enjoy doing similar things on the weekends, and I suspect she has friends near where I live. I never noticed her until she annoyed the shit of me at the doctor, but she’s probably been there all the time. Is that a proof that a god has thrown us together, not really.

    As for your personal relationship with whatever it is you call a god, that doesn’t really fit into the mainstream religious picture either and most Christians would give you a sideways glance if you brought it up. Almost dying is a trying experience, for you and everyone around you (especially a 5 year old). Could be mass hysteria, could be whatever drugs you were on, could be a lot of things. If it helps you along, go with it.

    Your post illustrates perfectly that you have a faith (irrational and in spite of evidence to the contrary) based belief which you rationalize (not the same as rationality).

    Ron, this is a good illustration of the structure of religious beliefs. Faith, strongly linked to emotion is usually at the root of it, so appeals to rationality are doomed to fail, and likely to offend. Where does that leave the atheist activist? You can still do what you do, as it open up a space for discussion, but you can also come to understand foundation of the faith based belief and come at it from a different angle.

    As for religious belief having special priority, well, they are sadly in the majority, and they get touchy when you challenge their core beliefs.

  58. ronbrown says:

    I am going to respond to the new comments since my last tomorrow. I am just writing now to clear something up: Sandy Copeland IS Fadnet. This may or may not have any relevance in this discussion, but I wanted to nip this in the bud now.

  59. Stoobs says:

    The problem, for me at least, is that religious people do not respond with “my beliefs are founded on pure faith, without recourse to reason.” If they did, their beliefs would be in a void, and no real problem. I could accept that kind of religion quite happily, silly though it is.

    Rather, they take their irrational beliefs as premises from which to make reasoned arguments, and therefore arrive at frankly ridiculous conclusions, such as that global warming is not a problem because god wouldn’t let that happen, or that the world is going to end soon so we shouldn’t bother worrying about solving our problems, or that education is bad because educated people are less religious, or that evolution doesn’t occur because god created man in his image, or… The list goes on and on. It is this habit of applying reason to ridiculous premises, and thus arriving at insane conclusions, and finally trying to force other people to live their lives according to those insane conclusions, that I have a problem with.

    Yes, faith in god is silly, but detached from reason it’s harmless. Once you start reasoning from blatantly false premises, you create problems. Christians go a step worse, reasoning from a world view that is internally inconsistent, and clearly at odds with the way the world is. When you start from a contradiction, you can prove anything, and its opposite.

  60. lichanos says:

    Stoobs:

    You said:
    “…Rather, they take their irrational beliefs as premises from which to make reasoned arguments…”

    I think this is a good point, and it accounts for a lot of the weirdness and exasperating nature of debates with believers. They accept reason, but only so far. (Sort of like Bush I, who said, “I’m all for dissent, but his goes too far…”) I am often struck by the nature of the arguments religious critics give of Darwin. They chop logic very finely, but dance around certain very fundamental notions. I find their attitude towards reason very interesting. They see it as a tool to confirm their faith, not to pursue knowledge without limitations. I believe that this point of view has a ancient lineage – perhaps the medieval scholastics were the originators, perhaps St. Augustine.

  61. Paul says:

    Hey Busy Monster/Autumnrythym, I appreciate your words, and can see that it is still just a conceptual thing for you. You (anyone) can say/feel/believe anything you want. That is the beauty of the system we live in.

    Faith, is something that I have always realised I do not have, unless I would also say that I had faith that I am alive or that I had faith that I knew my mother and father. People can tell me that it is ilogical to believe in God, for numerous reasons, and had I got to this point by reasoning or deciding I wanted to believe in something bigger than myself, then possibly I might be able to change my mind. We can attribute all kinds of reasons for my behaviour or for my attitude; still I can not deny that which you consider irrational/illogical as I have been touched in a way that you do not understand. I mean no disrespect, and I wish that more of us could experience what I am talking about. You see, I do not simply wish that God watches over me, as it has explained to me it is everywhere. I can not explain how it has shown me this, other than to say that one of my experiences entailed ‘being allowed to understand God’s experience’. God being everywhere, can allow one to understand that in ways that my simple imagination can not. A universal truth is that knowledge once attained is not reversible w/o some other factor’s coming to play on the situation; e.g. the person is a drunk, has a disease, etc. Usually once we understand or experience something, there is no going back. The only possibility for me to ever accept an arguement that says that God does not exist, would be if it was still a choice for me. I do not know why I have had the experiences I have had, but I know unequivocally that God has touched me. I do not ususally get a good response from people (even christians) when I say that I have felt God. Most religious people I know have a tendeny to use the Bible/Koran/etc as a means to judge others by; however I believe that those books can be used as a means to better oneself if one so desires, and they are not to be used to judge anyone but ourselves. There are, of course, other non-religious books that can also help us go toward being more self actualisied. I know that God (that which has touched me in ways that is not explainable, only experienced) loves all of us equally, and few religious people that follow church doctrine believe that. People usually go to churches as they want to try and connect with something as they desire a deeper meaning for life. I pray in my room where no human knows, and things happen in my life that directly relate to those prayers.

    The woman in your example may have been something as simple as she needs help and God was trying to help her through you– that assumes that you are an empathetic person, if you aren’t then there may have been an other reason. You do not mention if you had any insight into the situation? Did you feel like you were suppose to do something? Did you feel her presence, then turn and look? Did you feel overwhelmed by emotion and knew that love/God was present? Or was it more like watching t.v., you were passive and did nothing? Maybe you were being given the opportunity to ‘soften your heart’ and realise that we are all connected. I do not know ‘coiincidences’, but I do know God. That does not mean that I believe that God is the cause of all, as most of what we experience is caused by the ramifications of our choices. Some people expect that God will come charging done on some angels when it offers us help. It knows what is in your heart, and a simple test would be to follow your heart and see where it takes you.

    If I were to do as so many here would like, I would agree that I am being irrational; however that in and of itself would be irrational as I can not deny that which I have experienced. I know that I will not convince many people, especially those that are entreanched in their postion, that I know God. I have noticed that most people consider me odd when I say the things that I know. I remember when I was going to a boarding school (the only way I could stay in Canada as my parents lived out of the country) there was a boy who was in the infirmary because he said he had seen God. He became the laughing stock of the school. A lot of people teased him, and while I was not one of those people, I still said nothing! I was too afraid to speak that which I knew. I could have collaborated his story, but I followed the fear in my heart and now I can not even imagine the effect that my inaction could possibly have had on him. Hopefully, the effect has been minimal and it is only my guilty feelings that have magnified it.

    I am also an extremelly logical person, and my logic does not have any difficulty with the situation, because it comes from within me and it knows what I know. Logic dictates that when all irrelevances have been eliminated then what remains must be true. We can argue till blue in the face as to why it is ilogical to believe in God, however I can no longer understand the logic in trying to convince myself to unlearn that which I know? I am not being flippant when I say that I am having a hard time seeing the love or logic in trying to convince someone that what they know can not possibly be true? I understand that there is a lot of dispare in our world and some of us feel that we have to do everything on our own. That is my hope anyway, but there are probably also some who just enjoy creating more pain in the world as misery loves company. I do not say this as one who has not experienced how bad I can act or behave toward other people when I am feeling angry/bad/dispair. I also have an ego to contend with, but it also knows that which I know, so it can not easier dismiss me.

    I have posted a few times here and each time I say a little more, but I have come no where near the end of the types of things that have happened to me, and other people in my immediate family, and each time I ask myself if I can see the love or the fear in what is happening? If I do not see/feel the love then I do not equate the situation with God. I can say that the feeling is always the same; the best way to describe it is to say that it is almost, but not quite exactly quite like, (I love that expression which I stole from Douglas Adams–Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe.) the time in your life when you felt the best. When you were the happiest/most in love, etc. For me to be deceived that same feeling would need to accompany the situation and I am sure that it is not possible for another entity, however powerful, to imitate the love that God emanates. Deception does not accompany love, so what remains must be true.

    While so many arguements I have read here do well on paper, they all break down once God touches you. There is no going back, unless I listen to the fear which tries to convince me that it can’t possibly be true. An unrelated example from my personal experience would be when my mother (with I believe good intentions in her heart), tried to convince me that if I smoked marijuana then I would jump off of a bridge or building. She told me this before I even knew what marijuana was, then one day I noticed the stoner kids. The logical problem for me was that I kept seeing the same stoners smoking dope every weekend. I never saw the jumping off the bridge part, so logic told me that she was in error. It is not marijuana or any drug that makes us do things, it is the desires and choices that we make. Someone who is depressed might jump off a bridge and also had smoked marijuana prior to doing so. That would make these events have a positive corerlationship, but no more

  62. This Busy Monster says:

    As for your mystical experiences:

    a) There a mundane ways of causing people to have them (1,a href=”https://theframeproblem.wordpress.com/2008/01/09/magic-mushrooms-inspire-spiritual-experiences-the-role-of-this-finding-in-assessing-the-claims-of-organized-religion/”>2)

    b) Even if your experience wasn’t due so some mundane cause, it offers nothing in the way for proof for the veracity of the Bible, Koran, etc. In fact, it’s not even really consistent with the kinds of religious writings that are up for debate here and is not what people are arguing for when they argue for the existence of a god.

    Your experience doesn’t show that god created the universe, inspired the Bible, created Adam and Eve, or did anything debate worthy. You are reporting a mystical experience which you have chosen to live by ever since you had it. In the greater scheme of the debate over the rationality of believing in religious doctrine / god, which people do on faith alone, it’s worthless. Enjoy it, use is for whatever it does for you, but it fails to offer proof of anything to anybody, especially because after taking some drugs, people report similar experiences.
    You’re belief in god is an interpretation of your experience from within your pre-existing belief system when you had the experience. You choose the interpretation and live with the consequences, enjoy.

    Your story does illustrate, for the rest of us, the fact that religious beliefs are not based on rationality and verifiable evidence, so attacking them on that basis alone is unlikely to move a believer. It may be a good way to get their attention, but unless you have something else to offer in the way of discussion, you will wind up with “I just know it’s true, so there, you can’t tell me anything to convince me.”

    My earlier point is that you must come to understand the role faith beliefs play in religious peoples lives and the structure of belief / knowledge (from a psychological perspective) before you will be effective in saving lost minds from irrationality.

  63. This Busy Monster says:

    Apologies for the mangled links. Ron, can you fix that?

  64. Stoobs says:

    The problem with the ‘feeling that god has touched you’ is that it can be produced by secular meditation, drug use, or sticking electrodes in your brain. None of these things require god. Like all feelings, it is neurochemical in nature, and all it really proves is that your brain chemistry was a certain way at a particular time. You have interpreted it as involving god, because you were predisposed by your culture and upbringing to interpret it that way. If you were from a different culture, you would have interpreted it differently – as becoming one with tao, as being touched by krishna, as being chosen for shamanhood, or as being on a freaky good trip. Possibly even as undergoing a neurochemical event.

    Regardless, it no more shows that god exists than closing your eyes and pushing on your eyelids with your fingers shows that you are surrounded by dancing red and blue spots.

  65. lichanos says:

    Following up on what Stoobs said, note that Thomas Paine, in The Age of Reason, made this same argument so long ago. Revealed religion may be true, he avers, but how can we possibly know it since the only evidence is the revelation that the prophet alone has (claimed to have) heard?

    My post:
    http://iamyouasheisme.wordpress.com/2004/12/01/against-revelationfor-mr-brooks/

  66. autumnrhythm says:

    First, the most important part that no one who replied to Paul has touched on that it’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the **Galaxy**. 😛

    paul, it is not arrogant to tell someone they are being irrational because they believe in a god. It is irrational. That doesn’t mean god doesn’t exist. That doesn’t mean you’re not right. Plenty of things are irrational, like the example of eating meat when evidence points strongly towards the fact that it is better for your health if you don’t. The idea that we’re supposed to be completely rational beings is quite faulty. Humans will never be this, unless they stop being human. All we can do is try to be as rational as possible while still remaining true to ourselves. Your experience, to you, was evidence enough for you to believe in god. Not only that, but it IS true, it IS correct, and there is (more than likely) nothing even you yourself can do or say to change your mind. If I experienced the same thing, I would hope that I could remember that these experiences happen to people all the time, usually when they are in a spot of trouble, and especially when that trouble involves the mind and/or the whole body physically. I would hope to remember that when the mind percieves a physical threat, it often does amazing things (which, as a sidenote, are the product of our evolution) in order to preserve itself at all costs. A good example of this is the calming effect the “bright light” has on us when we go through a near-death experience. You CAN believe that this is you, going to heaven. Sure, everything you’ve heard in your life is pretty much in line with regards to this experience being like ascending to be with god. However…I for one would hope that I remember that this can be easily explained through simple psychology/biology that even I can understand (that’s saying alot :)). The idea here is that this doesn’t MEAN that god doesn’t exist…it means that he is unnecessary for the solving of the equation.
    You represent my favourite kind of christian, well, really, the only kind I’ll take seriously. I have quite a few friends who would echo verbatim what you said about knowing that god is all around you, in everything, and I have great conversations with them.
    I suggest William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience, if you want to read some interesting stuff on, well…religious experience. This isn’t to say “read it, the book will prove you wrong/right”, I’m just saying it’s an interesting read.

  67. ronbrown says:

    Response to Paul:

    “Are you formulating your answer w/o listening to the one speaking or writing?” I argue based on what the person gives me.

    “Does the fact that nothing spiritual/mystical has ever happened to you make you feel that therefore nothing happens to anybody?” No. I’m sure “spiritual” things happen to people. I am not debating these experiences at all. I am debating the meaning they attach to them. There is no good reason to assume that these experiences provide any indication of God. People of all religions have them, and they cannot all be right. If you were born in India you probably would have attributed your experiences to Hindu Gods. Does this not give you reason to doubt your interpretation of your experience? Do you hear of stories of mass quantities of people in non Westernized islands that have minimal if any contact with the West having Christian conversions because of experiences they’ve had? Does God like you better than them? Are there masses of Hindus running into their temples telling their fellows that they have been having dreams or prayer experiences in which some God-like figure is tells them that they’ve got the wrong God and extols them to go on Amazon and order a copy of the Bible as soon as possible? And why haven’t I had these experiences? Does God like you more than me? It’s not like I’ve been a skeptic all my life. Up until at least age 18 I believed in God (the Christian God) simply because of the constant cultural endorsements of the God (As a Canadian, on a daily basis I heard a national anthem which said “God keep our land” and repeatedly heard people thanking God, I constantly walked by churches, heck, for at least a few years I even felt bad that I didn’t go to church—like I wasn’t doing something that I was supposed to be doing). Lastly, even if you’ve had a religious experience in which you believe you heard a God tell you that he is God and that he is the God of the Bible, even this is not sufficient evidence for belief. I assume that you live in a culture in which Christianity is very prominent. It would not be outlandish for one to have such a descriptive religious experience when their society is constantly endorsing the God. Moreover, given the prominent endorsement of a particular God and claims that that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and cares about each of us, it is not surprising that people would attribute peculiar experiences to that God.

    “Is your mind made up and you have no intention of changing it?”. I have no problem changing my mind. I just demand evidence that is credible and in proportion to the proposition (e.g., for God, I would want evidence that there is a God and that it is this particular God, and I would not want the case for God to depend on arguments from ignorance (“I don’t know how this all go here, God must have done it”), arguments from authority (e.g., the church says, the Priest says, my parents say, the majority of the population says), arguments from personal experience (such experiences are experienced by people of all faiths, by secular meditators, and some drug users, as others have pointed out here), arguments from hindsight-informed cherry-picked scripture, arguments that atheism is a religion itself (which it is not; agnostic atheism involves no faith; moreover, I have always found it funny when religious people criticize atheism by calling it a religion…), arguments based on misunderstandings of science, and the like.

    “I think that it is not arrogance, but rather Ego that makes it difficult for some people to accept even the possibility of there being a God. I would think that a ‘real’ scientist would always have an open mind so as not to skew their results, thus they would have difficulty agreeing with any statement that suggests an understanding greater than their empirical findings. A friend who considered himself a scientist told me once that it was impossible for God to appear before us. I asked him how he knew and he said “I just know”. I asked him if he felt that he understood the universe so well that he knew all that was possible? His response was Yes. Assuming that he was being serious, this exemplified a closed and unscientific approach, at least to the topic of God.” Your friend was being dogmatic and faith-based. No question. But that isn’t how I roll. I would never make an argument like that. Next, there is having an open mind and then there is having a mind that is so open that it doesn’t filter out the irrational. I am not against the possibility of there being a God. I am an agnostic atheist, which means that I lack a belief in God, not that I believe there absolutely is no God. Similarly, I lack a belief that my thoughts are controlled by martians, but I am not certain that my thoughts do not have a martian explanation. There are an infinite range of Gods and concepts that one could believe in by virtue of the fact that they have not been disproven but for which positive evidence is lacking. It is not closed minded to not believe in that for which a strong case cannot be made. If I may be so bold, it is my belief that religious belief (or claims to religious belief) is based entirely on one or a mixture of the following: closed mindedness or insufficient information(since there is not sufficient evidence that gets around any of the logical pitfalls I described above, e.g., arguments from ignorance, authority, etc, I see no way in which one can truly believe unless they have a bias against not believing that is so strong that it prevents intellectual honesty with respect to the lack of evidence; alternatively, the person may not be aware of all of the counterarguments), or they may claim to believe out of fear (e.g., the fear of their culture’s God’s wrath, of having to reconstruct their sense of meaning, or of social ostracism from a family or religious community that may be staunchly intolerant of defection, as many are).

    “You see, ever since I thought I was going to die at 5 years old I have had God in my life. I am sorry if you (anyone) do not accept my experiences as proof, as I am usually asked “How do you know it was God?”” Yes, how do you know it was God? Not everyone who thinks they’re going to die does. There is no need for a supernatural explanation for explaining what is (or is believed to be) an improbable event. Improbable doesn’t mean impossible. Moreover, even if there was some sort of divine intervention, it is a shear coincidence that you believe the intervener was the Christian God. You could have ascribed the good luck to the Muslim version of your God, to the orthodox Jewish version, to one of the many Hindu Gods, to a Greek God, to an ancestral spirit (which are commonly believed in in small tribes), or to one of the thousands of other Gods that humans have believed in over time, or to a new one that you could have conjured up yourself. I should say also that a few months ago I had a near death experience. In the interest of intellectual honesty I cleared my mind via meditation and asked repeatedly if there was a God there. I meditated in order to minimize conscious skeptical declarative thoughts. I “called out” 2 or 3 times over the course of at least a minute of clear-headedness. All I heard was silence and all I felt is what I usually feel when meditating.

    “I have also been told by some friends who are Agnostic that I am arrogant when I say that I know God”. I don’t blame your friends for making this interpretation. You are, after all, claiming to know answers to the biggest questions of the universe. You are claiming to know things about the origin of the universe that world renowned genius physicists like Einstein and Hawkings have never claimed to know. You are claiming to know the ultimate moral authority, something that world renowned philosophers are loathe to do. And you are claiming to have some sort of knowledge about what happens after death. All of this is true, unless you are a very active cherry-picking scripture reader and trust that God exists, and trust in Jesus’ moral advice, but selectively choose to interpret much of the rest as metaphor. Any physicist, philosopher, or secular person who claimed to know what religious people claim to know would be written off as arrogant and or deluded—if this were not the case, then society would not laugh at new cults, they would very curiously listen.

    “Is it arrogant of me to understand my own experiences? Or is her Ego getting in the way of allowing her to even consider the possibility.” You might not be acting arrogantly. But you are displaying a lack of intellectual honesty or previous critical thinking if you are claiming to know God. Your friend may not have been against considering the possibility of God. The claim of God is an extraordinary claim. Until believers can present extraordinary evidence, they should not be accusing nonbelievers of being closed-minded (except in cases like the friend of yours that I had referred to above; and it could be argued that even he was being less closed-minded than a religious believer in that the evidence for God does not seem to be much or any greater than that for leprechauns).

    ” Also everytime I follow what my heart says, I have something wonderful happen. If it were possible that something other than God was responsible, then I will be deceived at some point. Obviously it has not happened yet, so I may have to wait until I die; but if I have to wait until I die then I will never know since once I die I will become unaware– assuming I am being deceived. Something I should also tell you is that all of the times I have had things happen have not all been solitary. Once I had a fight with a friend and I told her that I couldn’t hang around her as she always said things designed to hurt me. I then proceeded to bump into her around the city of Toronto (where we live) approximately 20-30 times over less than 2 years. I didn’t even know where she lived. I saw her all over the city. How did it happen?”
    Every time? I studied cog psychology for a few years. A very well-known and highly-replicated finding is that people have confirmation biases and tendencies to remember coincidences but forget about failed coincidences. This is extremely well-established.

    Next, wht is more stunning? You bumping into a friend 20-30 times in 730 days or a God of a particular book just existing, creating everything, watching over all of us, and so on?

    “Is it love that is motivating your desire when you engage in this discussion?” I’d be lying if I said there was no Ego. But it’s far more than that. Firstly, I get peeved by irrationality. Personal pet peeve. But that’s not all. Second, the political consequenes. But that’s not all. Just as big as number 2, and infinitely bigger than number 1 is the double standard that religious beliefs get over all other faith-based beliefs. I think it’s a clear case of injustice that people treat religious ideas differently than faith-based ideas of other types—including less popular religious ideas (e.g., Mormonism gets way less respect than Christianity, as do new cults; moreover, there is far less consideration given to believers in UFOs, Big Foot, that Elvis is alive, WMDs in Iraq, and so on.

    I’ll respond to subsequent comments later.

  68. ronbrown says:

    Fadnet/Sandy: It’s repetitive because I am asking for evidence, it is not forthcoming, I consequently assert irrationality when the belief is held with no less conviction, and then I get called arrogant.

  69. ronbrown says:

    Lichanos: I like your minimalist idea. I should try and adopt it.

  70. ronbrown says:

    TBM:

    “Ron, this is a good illustration of the structure of religious beliefs. Faith, strongly linked to emotion is usually at the root of it, so appeals to rationality are doomed to fail, and likely to offend. Where does that leave the atheist activist? You can still do what you do, as it open up a space for discussion, but you can also come to understand foundation of the faith based belief and come at it from a different angle.

    As for religious belief having special priority, well, they are sadly in the majority, and they get touchy when you challenge their core beliefs.”

    I definitely acknowledge the emotional, as well as the social and existential side of religion—which are the bigger sides. But as you referenced, its the double standard—plus, of course, the politics. I have trouble dealing with these things. No one ever said the world was fair, right?…

  71. ronbrown says:

    Responding to Paul msg 2:

    “Hey Busy Monster/Autumnrythym, I appreciate your words, and can see that it is still just a conceptual thing for you. You (anyone) can say/feel/believe anything you want. That is the beauty of the system we live in. ” This isn’t true. Try denying the holocaust. Or try telling people that Blacks are an inferior race, females an inferior sex, and so on. You may argue that these beliefs are either nonsense, deliberately hate-based or self-serving, or known to be untrue. Very well. Imagine what kind of responses you would get if you told people that you had personal experiences with a Somalian ancestral God. Do you think you would get the kind of respect that Christians get? You might not be prevented from believing this–you might technically be free to believe it. But you would quickly be marginalized. The situation of your school mate saying he’d experienced God would be nothing compared to this. You wouldn’t even be able to say you believed in this Somalian ancestor without being marginalized. You might even be recommended for psychiatric assessment.

    “I can not deny that which you consider irrational/illogical as I have been touched in a way that you do not understand. I mean no disrespect, and I wish that more of us could experience what I am talking about. You see, I do not simply wish that God watches over me, as it has explained to me it is everywhere. I can not explain how it has shown me this, other than to say that one of my experiences entailed ‘being allowed to understand God’s experience’.” When someone claims that their experience is more valid than that of others—which is the clear implication here—how am I the arrogant when I point out irrationality when the person cannot argue their beliefs without invoking the same kind of experience that other people of other faiths (as well as meditators and drug users) have reported? See, I don’t say that my experience is more valid than yours or anyone else’s. I simply use reason and call spades spades. Your belief necessitates that you believe your experience more valid than those of atheists, Hindus, Wiccans, Muslims, and everyone else who hasn’t experienced your God. It necessitates this because there is no way you could believe your beliefs otherwise. For you to believe that your experiences are right, you must believe that those of other religions are wrong, as well as lack of belief. Since your case is based on personal experience, you imply the claim that your experience is more reliable, more accurate, more keen, and so on than those of others. There is also an implication that perhaps God likes you more than others because he is coming to you and not others. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you are doing any of these things deliberately. I don’t think you are trying to create any type of superiority complex. Nevertheless though, your belief necessitates a prioritization of your experience over that of everyone who believes differently. I have never made such a claim about my experiences.

    “The woman in your example may have been something as simple as she needs help and God was trying to help her through you– that assumes that you are an empathetic person, if you aren’t then there may have been an other reason.” This statement has all the signs of a hypothesis held which cannot be falsified. No matter what happens, events will be interpreted to support the hypothesis, or at minimum, to not contradict it.

    “If I were to do as so many here would like, I would agree that I am being irrational; however that in and of itself would be irrational as I can not deny that which I have experienced” But you will deny what Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Wiccans, and anyone with beliefs different than yours have experienced? Or at minimum, to treat these experiences as somehow less meritorious than yours?

  72. ronbrown says:

    TBM: I looked into your post. I dunno how to fix it.

  73. ronbrown says:

    Paul: I forgot to mention that I’m happy that you view religious texts as tools for personal development, not the judgment of others.

  74. lichanos says:

    Ronbrown says:

    “I have always found it funny when religious people criticize atheism by calling it a religion…”

    Well, I find it irritating. Like when I argue with a religious person about their concept of God, show them it is illogical, and then hear them tell me that I believe in God – my God, it seems, is the physical laws of the universe…Well, I could believe that, but I don’t, and never say I do.

    Nevermind, no matter what concepts I do say I believe in, they reply, “Well, THAT’s what I mean by God.” It’s an argument that goes nowhere because they only want it to come out their way.

  75. ronbrown says:

    Well, you want it to come out your way too (as do I), but you and I are willing to be honest and rational to get there.

    The most humorous way I’ve ever put the atheism-religion thing is this: “Don’t you just love it when religious dogmatists try to insult rationalists by comparing them to religions?! It’s like they have an implicit understanding of how full of dogmatic anti-intellectual crap they are.”

    I made this comment in response to someone who accused me of being closed-minded and blindly anamored with science: https://theframeproblem.wordpress.com/2008/01/26/apparently-im-closed-minded-and-blindly-enamoured-with-science-maybe-thats-why-ive-been-missing-the-mountains-of-scholarship-that-confirms-the-bible-as-being-historically-accurate/

  76. autumnrhythm says:

    I’ve gotten the “atheism is just another religion” thing too. I’m sure we all have (and isn’t it amazing how they all seem to think “oh look how WITTY I’m being by pointing out something that I just bet you’ve NEVER thought of or heard from anyone else ever before”. Well, please christians, for the love of your god, DROP this pseudo-argument. We don’t “believe” in science, we agree that with all the evidence we’ve gathered so far, the theories that we have right now seem pretty good, however, (as this is the fundamental nature of science itself) if presented with ANYthing that falsifies said theory, we will adapt it or get rid of it altogether in favour of getting closer to the reality of things. How can it be a “belief” if there is evidence for it? Once you have evidence, you no longer require belief. For gods sakes, I don’t “believe” in the computer I’m writing on, I don’t “believe” in gravity, no one does, no one says this, this is the last grasping effort of a religious person who knows, KNOWS, their argument is completely faulty. And there is NOTHING that angers me more (can you tell) than someone who KNOWS they are being stupid, but refuses to admit it, and learn something new. (@$#*&$!!!

  77. lichanos says:

    Many of the popular anti-scientific arguments trade on the slippery use of specific words, e.g., “theory”. Theory has a very definite meaning in scientific parlance, but in popular speech, it can mean just a guess or a hunch. That’s why creationists will often say, “Evolution is JUST a theory,” as though it’s one hypothesis among many that are equally reasonable.

    The arguments that atheism is a religion because we “believe” certain things is similar. I try to avoid saying that I “believe” in evolution, but sometimes I slip because it’s easier than remembering to say, “I concur with the proven theory of…”

    As I have pointed out, there is probably more genuine scientific controversy about the theory of gravity than Darwin’s theory, but nobody is saying physics textbooks in highschool have to warn students about it!

    My post about a related US court case:
    http://iamyouasheisme.wordpress.com/2005/01/14/one-for-our-side/

  78. ronbrown says:

    Autumn: Wow! You went from calm and nice to furious quick! Yeah, I too get very frustrated with people refusing to admit the shortcomings of their arguments. What’s worse, though, is the hypocrisy. In every argument that I have ever had with an apologist, they (reasonably) expect me to be intellectually honest and rational in hearing about their arguments, but often don’t want to do it themselves. And this would be less frustrating if their next statement was something like “see, we both hold beliefs that are kind of irrational, but that’s okay”, but that’s not what happens. Before I get a chance to rebut them and show that I wasn’t being dishonest or irrational in the first place, I will often hear them exclaim that they are the correct, rational and honest one.

    Lichanos: Yeah, the “theory” thing is just ridiculous. How many times does the distinction between terms need to be repeated? Moreover, evolution is not only a scientific theory, it is also a scientific fact in the sense that it did happen. Evolutionary theory refers to the mechanisms by which evolution happened (e.g., natural selection, genetic drift). That evolution (i.e., the changing in the genetic (and thus phenotypic) composition of populations across generations) occurred is a scientific historic fact, given the overwhelming converging evidence from archaeology, genetics, comparative anatomy and embryology, etc.

    Lich and Autumn: A common substitution for “belief” when talking about highly supported scientific theories (and of course scientific historical facts) is “accept”. I accept evolution. I accept gravity. I accept that I am typing on my computer. Now, of course the philosophical rebuttal is “do you really know that your computer is there?” and the response is “well, no”. But insofar as humans can claim to know anything beyond themselves, these things are right up there.

  79. gotnoblue says:

    I’d like to go back to the question in your title. On the issue of arrogance – no, it is not arrogant to point out the irrationality of another’s belief. It is arrogant if you begin to assume that you, rather than your position, is superior. This goes back to what carried the cross said about attitude. As to your response to carried the cross – even if they become completely belligerent/hostile/demeaning themselves, you do become arrogant if you react in kind. Arrogance isn’t relative to how someone is acting towards you – its how you act towards them.

    I have a few other thoughts/questions for you.

    1. How can you be a agnostic atheist? This seems like a contradiction to me. How can you say that no one can say anything with certainty, but also say that there is no God? It’s either one or the other.

    It seems as though you really are an atheist, and you are using agnosticism to defend your position. You say to the theist or christian – prove your position, show me empirical evidence, but retreat to agnosticism to say that you claim nothing can be proven. You set up an argument that you cannot lose because you have a back door to get out. In this way, you are arrogant – because you have established a game in which you will always win, and you invite others to play that you may defeat them with your “logic and rationality.”

    If you are an atheist, then just say so. But don’t hide behind not having to prove anything yourself and ask someone else to provide evidence.

    2. You are placing an extremely high value on rationalism. However, irrationality can be just as compelling in many ways. To the artist or comedian, rationality is less of a value than feeling. Comedy is practically based on irrationality, or the juxtaposition of the irrational with the rational. For many of faith, yes, there is some irrationality in believing in something that has no concrete evidence. But also for them, that belief and how it shapes their actions and affects the lives on those around them (hopefully in a positive way, in a way that is taught by Jesus) is more important than living completely of the sphere of rational thought.

    You can be rational and absolutely right in your belief that there is no God, or that you can’t ever be sure that there is or isn’t a God; but if you are a total dick in proving your position, then your ability to influence or spur critical thinking in others is reduced. Being right isn’t always the right way to engage someone in this discussion.

    3. I would encourage you to check out some of the teachings/leaders of what is being called the emergent church movement. This “movement” (I hesitate to use that word, but don’t have another) recognize that there are things that we simply cannot explain, that we cannot grasp. And they struggle with these things. They don’t try to force their position on others, but rather invite people to explore faith and these mysteries together. They don’t have problems with people asking difficult questions, challenging their thinking about God. They are willing to say, “I don’t fully understand, but I am seeking. Would you like to explore with me?”

    This is a much more fruitful way to engage in this discussion. To find someone who has a different opinion and explore those differences in a fashion that is respectful to that person.

    However, you seem to be very combative to anyone who has a differing opinion, and your language is remarkably dismissive. In this way you are arrogant. Which is a shame because you seem like an intelligent person, but one who is not worth talking to or engaging in discussion because you don’t seem to value those who disagree with you.

  80. Stoobs says:

    An agnostic atheist could mean any number of things. Its most likely meaning is that you accept that it is possible that there is a god, but hold it to be so improbable as to be not worth paying attention to until such time as real evidence arises. I’m agnostic, but I think the existence of god is a very very long shot – it’s possible in principle, but so are all kinds of other things – I certainly would assign higher probabilities to an interdimensional portal in the Bermuda triangle, the seeding of life on earth by aliens, and the idea that Robert Anton Wilson faked his own death so he could go work for the CIA. None of these things are particularly probable, mind, but all of them are more coherent than the idea of a god, or even multiple gods, which are more plausible than just one.

  81. ronbrown says:

    Gotnoblue:

    I am going to reply to your comments within your comments. I will place my rebuttals in square brackets and in capitals so they stand out—I’m not yelling!.

    “It is arrogant if you begin to assume that you, rather than your position, is superior.” [WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO CLAIM TO BE SUPERIOR? DO I THINK THAT I DESERVE TO LIVE MORE, DESERVE TO BE HAPPIER, TO BE REWARDED MORE, OR TO SUFFER LESS? NO. HOWEVER, ON TOPIC OF THEISM AND IN CONSIDERATION OF RATIONALITY AND INTELLECTUAL HONESTY, I DO THINK THAT I HOLD THE SUPERIOR POSITION. THIS, HOWEVER, IS NOT ARROGANT. THE THEIST THINKS THEIR POSITION IS SUPERIOR, TOO. IF THEY DIDN’T, THEY WOULDN’T HOLD IT. WHILE I DO THINK MY POSITION IS SUPERIOR, COGENT ARGUMENT COULD SWAY ME] … As to your response to carried the cross – even if they become completely belligerent/hostile/demeaning themselves, you do become arrogant if you react in kind. Arrogance isn’t relative to how someone is acting towards you – its how you act towards them. [NO ONE IS PERFECT. I ADMIT THAT MY EGO CAN SLIPPED ITS WAY INTO MY ARGUMENTATION.]

    1. How can you be a agnostic atheist? This seems like a contradiction to me. How can you say that no one can say anything with certainty, but also say that there is no God? It’s either one or the other.

    It seems as though you really are an atheist, and you are using agnosticism to defend your position. You say to the theist or christian – prove your position, show me empirical evidence, but retreat to agnosticism to say that you claim nothing can be proven. You set up an argument that you cannot lose because you have a back door to get out. In this way, you are arrogant – because you have established a game in which you will always win, and you invite others to play that you may defeat them with your “logic and rationality.”

    If you are an atheist, then just say so. But don’t hide behind not having to prove anything yourself and ask someone else to provide evidence. [THESE STATEMENTS REFLECT A VERY COMMON AND UNDERSTANDABLE MISUNDERSTANDING OF ATHEISM. NOT ALL ATHEISTS ARE OF THE VARIETY THAT BELIEVES THAT THERE ABSOLUTELY IS NO GOD. THERE ARE ALSO AGNOSTIC ATHEISTS. THE AGNOSTIC ATHEIST DOES NOT SAY “THERE IS NO GOD”. RATHER, THEY SAY “I LACK A BELIEF IN ANY GOD”. THE DIFFERENCE IS BOTH SUBTLE BUT HUGE. THERE IS AN INFINITE VARIETY OF THINGS THAT ONE COULD POTENTIALLY BELIEVE IN IF THEY SET THEIR STANDARDS OF BELIEF TO BE SIMPLY THAT THE IDEA HASN’T BEEN DISPROVEN. ACCORDING TO THIS STANCE, ONE COULD BELIEVE THAT THERE IS A TEAPOT REVOLVING AROUND MARS BECAUSE IT HASN’T BEEN DISPROVEN. HOW RATIONAL WOULD THIS BELIEF BE, THOUGH? WHAT EVIDENCE IS THERE FOR IT? NONE. HOWEVER, BECAUSE IT HAS NOT BEEN DISPROVEN, IT WOULD BE IRRATIONAL AND DISHONEST TO CLAIM THAT ONE KNOWS THAT THERE IS NO TEAPOT IN ORBIT OF MARS. THE RATIONAL POSITION IS TO BECOME AN AGNOSTIC TEAPOTIST. THAT IS, TO BE OF THE STANCE THAT ONE DOES NOT BELIEVE IN SUCH AN ORBITTING TEAPOT, AND DOES NOT THINK THAT IT WOULD BE RATIONAL TO HOLD SUCH A BELIEF GIVEN THE ABSENCE OF EVIDENCE, BUT ALSO DOES NOT CLAIM TO KNOW THAT THERE IS NO SUCH TEAPOT. AGNOSTIC ATHEISM IS A POSITION THAT COULD NOT BE LESS ARROGANT. IT IS SIMPLY SAYING THAT WHILE I DO NOT KNOW IF THERE IS A GOD OR NOT, I WILL NOT BELIEVE IN ONE UNTIL I HAVE EVIDENCE FOR IT. HOW COULD ONE BE ANY LESS ARROGANT, NOT TO MENTION ANY MORE REASONABLE? SO I’M NOT HIDING BEHIND ANYTHING. I AM COMPLETELY OUT OF THE CLOSET WHEN IT COMES TO MY ULTIMATE AGNOSTICISM. I DON’T KNOW THE ANSWERS TO THE BIG QUESTIONS AND I’M PERFECTLY SATISFIED WITH THAT AND WILLING TO ADMIT IT. AND I HAVE NOT SET UP AN ARGUMENT THAT I CANNOT LOSE. I CAN LOSE THE ARGUMENT WHEN AN ARGUMENT IS MADE FOR THEISM THAT DOES NOT DEPEND ON ONE OF THE PITFALLS THAT I HAVE LISTED PREVIOUSLY (E.G., ARGUMENTS FROM IGNORANCE, AUTHORITY, POPULARITY, CONVENIENCE, HINDSIGHT-INFORMED SCRIPTURE SELECTION, PERSONAL EXPERIENCE, THAT ATHEISM IS A RELIGION ITSELF, MISUNDERSTANDINGS OF SCIENCE]

    2. You are placing an extremely high value on rationalism [I PLACE A HIGH VALUE ON IT, BUT IT IS NOT EXTREME]. However, irrationality can be just as compelling in many ways. To the artist or comedian, rationality is less of a value than feeling. Comedy is practically based on irrationality, or the juxtaposition of the irrational with the rational [THE ARTIST AND COMEDIAN AREN’T MAKING SERIOUS STATEMENTS ABOUT THE NATURE OF OBJECTIVE REALITY, THOUGH. IF THEY WERE MAKING ARGUMENTS IN THE CONTEXT OF ART OR COMEDY, IT WOULD BE A DIFFERENT STORY AND I WOULD HAVE THE SAME ARGUMENTS FOR THEM AS I AM PRESENTING IN THIS DISCUSSION. ART CAN BE BEAUTIFUL AND COMEDY CAN BE FUNNY EVEN WHILE THEIR MEANING IS EVIDENTIALLY UNJUSTIFIED. WHEN CLAIMS ARE MADE FOR THE TRUTH VALUE OF THE CONTENT OF THE ART OR COMEDY, THESE CLAIMS ARE SUBJECT TO THE SAME SCRUTINY AS THOSE OF A PHILOSOPHER, SCIENTIST OR THEOLOGIAN]. For many of faith, yes, there is some irrationality in believing in something that has no concrete evidence [NO, THERE IS COMPLETE IRRATIONALITY IN THIS. THE ONLY WAY OUT OF THIS IRRATIONALITY IS TO TEMPER THE NATURE AND DEGREE OF CONFIDENCE IN THE BELIEF TO MATCH THE EVIDENCE]. But also for them, that belief and how it shapes their actions and affects the lives on those around them (hopefully in a positive way, in a way that is taught by Jesus) is more important than living completely of the sphere of rational thought [OKAY. VERY WELL. BUT THEN THE LEAST THEY CAN DO IN THE INTEREST OF HONESTY IS ADMIT THE IRRATIONALITY AND THAT THEY HAVE NO GOOD EPISTEMOLOGICAL REASON TO BELIEVE IN OR BE CONFIDENT IN THE NOTION THAT THEIR GOD IS REAL].

    You can be rational and absolutely right in your belief that there is no God, or that you can’t ever be sure that there is or isn’t a God; but if you are a total dick in proving your position, then your ability to influence or spur critical thinking in others is reduced. Being right isn’t always the right way to engage someone in this discussion. [I CAN SYMPATHIZE WITH THIS. I CONSTANTLY AM IN SOME INTERNAL STRUGGLE AS TO HOW TO CONDUCT MYSELF. ON THE ONE HAND, YES, BEING GENTLE IS GENERALLY MORE WELL-RECEIVED. HOWEVER, I ALSO HAVE A GREAT DEAL OF DIFFICULTY DEALING WITH THE DOUBLE STANDARD THAT OUR SOCIETY HAS CONSTRUCTED IN SUPPORT OF RELIGIOUS BELIEFS OVER ALL OTHER FAITH-BASED BELIEFS. HOW MANY OF US ARE ACCUSED OF ARROGANCE WHEN WE SAY THAT BUSH IS EITHER DISHONEST OR A MORON FOR HOLDING OR CLAIMING TO HOLD THE BELIEFS THAT HE HAS HELD (E.G., WMDS IN IRAQ)? HOW MANY OF US ARE ACCUSED OF ARROGANCE FOR POINTING OUT THE RIDICULOUSNESS OF THE EVIL SPACELORD XENU ARGUMENT OF SCIENTOLOGY? HOW MANY OF US ARE ACCUSED OF ARROGANCE WHEN WE SNICKER UPON HEARING THAT THERE ARE TRIBES IN AFRICA TO THIS VERY DAY WHO BELIEVE THAT THE SUCCESS OF THEIR CROPS IS DETERMINED IN GOOD PART BY THE MOODS OF ANCESTRAL SPIRITS AND DEMONS? HOW MANY OF US WOULD BE ACCUSED OF ARROGANCE IF WE DID NOT RESPECT THE BELIEFS OF A PERSON WHO BELIEVED THAT THEY WERE PSYCHIC, WHETHER OR NOT THEY WERE USING THEIR CLAIMED ABILITY TO RIP OFF PEOPLE?]

    3. I would encourage you to check out some of the teachings/leaders of what is being called the emergent church movement. This “movement” (I hesitate to use that word, but don’t have another) recognize that there are things that we simply cannot explain, that we cannot grasp. And they struggle with these things. They don’t try to force their position on others, but rather invite people to explore faith and these mysteries together. They don’t have problems with people asking difficult questions, challenging their thinking about God. They are willing to say, “I don’t fully understand, but I am seeking. Would you like to explore with me?” [THERE ARE OTHER PLACES THAT DO THIS, TOO. SUCH AS SCIENCE AND PHILOSOPHY DEPARTMENTS. AND THESE PLACES ARE PROBABLY MORE LIKELY TO BE LESS RELUCTANT TO CALL PEOPLE OUT ON IRRATIONAL STATEMENTS. RELATEDLY THOUGH, I PERSONALLY WOULD LIKE TO ONE DAY HELP CREATE A SECULAR COMMUNITY FOR THE CONTEMPLATION OF MEANING, REALITY, MORALITY AND SO ON; A PLACE FOR THE PRACTICE OF MINDFULNESS MEDITATION, A PLACE WHERE PEOPLE CAN SUPPORT EACH OTHER, LEARN TOGETHER, GROW TOGETHER, HELP EACH OTHER, AND HELP OTHERS. THIS IS SOMETHING THAT I WOULD VERY MUCH LIKE TO BE A PART OF. IT WOULD NOT REJECT RELIGIOUS PEOPLE, BUT IT WOULD NOT ACTIVELY FAVOUR FAITH LIKE ORGANIZATIONS SUCH AS UNITARIAN UNIVERSALISTS DO]

    However, you seem to be very combative to anyone who has a differing opinion, and your language is remarkably dismissive [I’M NOT COMBATIVE TO THOSE WHO DISAGREE WITH ME. I HAVE HAD MANY FRUITFUL DISCUSSIONS WITH PEOPLE WHO I’VE DISAGREED WITH ON A VARIETY OF TOPICS—E.G., SAM HARRIS, COGNITIVE SCIENCE, MORALITY, ETC.. I’M NOT DISMISSIVE OF PEOPLE SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY DISAGREE WITH ME. I AM DISMISSIVE WHEN PEOPLE PRESENT ARGUMENTS THAT THEY CANNOT BACK UP AND ARE UNWILLING TO RECONSIDER THEIR BELIEFS OR TO ADMIT THAT THEY CANNOT BACK UP THEIR BELIEFS. IT IS NOT DISAGREEMENT THAT I AM AGGRESSIVE AGAINST. IT IS IRRATIONALITY, DISHONESTY, AND THE BELIEF THAT ONE’S BELIEFS ARE ENTITLED TO SPECIAL TREATMENT]. In this way you are arrogant. Which is a shame because you seem like an intelligent person, but one who is not worth talking to or engaging in discussion because you don’t seem to value those who disagree with you. [HOW IS IT ARROGANT TO BE FRUSTRATED BY PEOPLE WHO ENTER INTO ARGUMENTS, EXPECT ME TO BE HONEST, RATIONAL AND OPEN-MINDED, BUT WON’T RETURN THE FAVOUR? AGAIN, IT’S NOT THAT I DON’T VALUE THOSE WHO DISAGREE WITH ME. IN FACT, I VALUE THEM AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN MORE. BUT WHEN A PERSON DISAGREES WITH ME AND IS UNWILLING TO BE OPEN-MINDED, HONEST AND RATIONAL, WHILE HOLDING THE BELIEF THAT THEIR BELIEFS ARE ENTITLED TO RESPECT (DON’T GET ME WRONG, THEY AS PEOPLE DESERVE RESPECT, BUT I GIVE NO RESPECT TO IDEAS BASED SIMPLY ON THE FACT THAT THEY ARE BELIEVED) THAT IS A DIFFERENT STORY.]

  82. gotnoblue says:

    Your definition of agnostic atheist certainly helps to puts things into a better light for me. I feel whole lot less as though you are enticing christians or any other religious follower into an argument just so you can prove them wrong. Thank you for the definition, pointing out and clearing up of my misconception. (By the way, most of experiences are related to the christian realm, so when I am referring to religious people, go ahead and assume that is what I mean unless otherwise stated. This is probably a product of my geographic location, but I haven’t run across too many Muslims, Hindus or Jews arguing with rationalists.)

    For me, claiming to be superior means that you think another is completely less valuable to society. If you reach this conclusion based upon their belief in God or any god, then I think you have crossed the line into arrogance. I am not saying that you are arrogant, especially now that I understand the agnostic atheist thing better, but simply trying to define superiority. The fact that you are willing to admit that you are not perfect indicates to me that you although you may cross a line now and then, you are in general not arrogant.

    Quote “[OKAY. VERY WELL. BUT THEN THE LEAST THEY CAN DO IN THE INTEREST OF HONESTY IS ADMIT THE IRRATIONALITY . . .” Yes, they should admit it and most don’t and never will. It is too often used as a reason to dismiss their position, by those not as willing as you to listen. Or their reason for belief fall into a category that you have already dismissed – namely personal experience.

    Once you discount personal experience as a reason for evidence in God, you have taken away one the biggest arguments that believers have. Many, if not most christians believe that God comes to us in a personal way. To argue outside of that experience becomes difficult if not impossible because God does not wholly fit into the natural world. I don’t think that anyone is ever going to be able to bring you physical evidence of God. (So don’t hold your breath.) To try and provide evidence outside of personal experience, one really only has the bible or other holy books which you have already explored. I don’t know how I or any other would even begin to try and explain in a way that you haven’t already dismissed. Maybe you could help me to qualify belief or faith in a way that would be acceptable for the sake of argument? Or maybe that’s your point, that faith and belief are by nature irrational, and therefore unable to be presented as evidence.

    As far as being dismissive, maybe I’m just reading into your tone or applying some prejudice to you. Part of this is due to not having physical interaction, i.e. actual conversation rather than internet conversation and part of this I am sure is my own ego. I should have given the benefit of the doubt, but didn’t.

  83. autumnrhythm says:

    “Now, of course the philosophical rebuttal is “do you really know that your computer is there?” and the response is “well, no”. But insofar as humans can claim to know anything beyond themselves, these things are right up there.”
    yeah, I also hate postmodernists. : P

  84. This Busy Monster says:

    Good point, one thing religious types and most scientists have in common is a belief in some kind of objective, really real, reality, whatever that means.

    How do you know there is an objective reality? Not the everyday common sense reality; we can all agree that chairs don’t blink out of existence and people can’t walk through walls. How do you know that atoms and sub atomic particles are really there. Perhaps the universe just behaves in a way that works with that story about things, but there are also lots of stories about the universe that could work.

    Once we get too far away from the everyday, things start to look a little frayed. Little success is apparent in the effort unite quantum mechanics and relativity. Some attempts rely on Dark matter / energy which can’t be detected, but must be there or the model falls to bits.

    Moreoever, on the Planck scale, time seems to fall apart. When we measure time on the Planck scale, it seems to cease to exist. (1,
    2).

    So, exactly how much faith do you have that the story science tells is the correct story, or that there even is a correct story to find?

    Don’t get me wrong here, I love physics. When I want a laptop or microwave oven or a car that goes vroom vroom, I’ll call the engineer every time and have confidence that physics will solve the problem. As a gateway to some universal truth though, I have a few doubts.

  85. lichanos says:

    Autumn and Ronbrown:
    Regarding, “Do you really know that your computer is there?”

    First, I would say that the postmodernists are really Johnny-come-lately to the super sceptic position. They just style themselves as literary-philosophes rather than head-on epistemological nihilists.

    Beyond that, you two should not open yourself up into this kind of debate by saying, “..the response is “well, no”. But insofar as humans can claim to know anything..” This cedes the argument to the radical sceptics (who really don’t have a leg to stand on) and gives comfort to the anti-rationalists who like to point out that we don’t “know” anything anyway, so why worry about faith?

    This is not the place to get into a detailed controversy about the nature of knowedge per se, but I’d like to point out that this IS the question behind all this. How do you KNOW there is God? How do you KNOW there is No God? Both sides act as though they agree on what knowledge is, and in fact, they don’t.

    The religious person (and the radical sceptic) asserts that knowledge requires certainty, otherwise it is mere belief. The scientific, rationalist, secularist recognizes that knowledge is never absolute.

    There is a real snake pit here – some will assert that 2 + 2 = 4 is absolute (never mind Orwell’s 1984)…I leave off here

  86. ronbrown says:

    TBM: I’ll use brackets and caps to distinguish my responses from your points.

    “How do you know there is an objective reality? [I DON’T]

    “How do you know that atoms and sub atomic particles are really there. Perhaps the universe just behaves in a way that works with that story about things, but there are also lots of stories about the universe that could work.” [AGREED. NEW DATA COULD COME IN AT ANY TIME WHICH STRONGLY CONFLICTS WITH CURRENT THEORY AND WILL NEED A NEW THEORY THAT COULD LOOK PRETTY DIFFERENT FROM WHAT WE HAVE NOW]

    “Once we get too far away from the everyday, things start to look a little frayed. Little success is apparent in the effort unite quantum mechanics and relativity. Some attempts rely on Dark matter / energy which can’t be detected, but must be there or the model falls to bits.” [I DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT QUANTUM PHYSICS OR DARK MATTER/ENERGY, BUT DOESN’T THE INFERENCE OF DARK MATTER/ENERGY RESULT IN ACCURATE PREDICTIONS, INDICATING THAT THE POSTULATION IS NOT SIMPLY A MATTER OF SAVING QUANTUM PHYSICS, BUT IS ITSELF A VALUABLE AND LEGITIMATELY SCIENTIFIC PART OF THE THEORY. I’M NOT SAYING THAT YOU WERE SAYING ANY DIFFERENT. I JUST WANT TO PUT THIS OUT THERE EXPLICITLY SO IT DOES NOT APPEAR THAT SCIENTISTS HAVE JUST MADE SOMETHING UP IN ORDER TO HOLD PART OF THEIR WORLDVIEW TOGETHER]

    Moreoever, on the Planck scale, time seems to fall apart. When we measure time on the Planck scale, it seems to cease to exist. (1,
    2). [I REMEMBER READING ABOUT THIS AND THINKING IT WAS VERY COOL. PERHAPS THERE IS A QUALITATIVE SHIFT IN THE NATURE OF REALITY AT THESE SLICES OF WHAT WE CALL ‘TIME’. PERHAPS AT A CERTAIN TEMPORAL TIPPING POINT THERE IS A QUALITATIVE SHIFT IN THE NATURE OF SPACE-TIME, AND SO WHEN WE APPROACH SLICES OF TIME AT THE TIPPING POINT WEIRD THINGS HAPPEN. JUST THROWING IT OUT THERE, THOUGH. AS A STANDARD OF COMPARISON WITH RESPECT TO EMERGENT QUALITATIVE SHIFTS, CONSIDER ECONOMIC SYSTEMS. WHEN SELF-INTERESTED INDIVIDUALS ACT, A SELF-ORGANIZING EMERGENT ECONOMIC SYSTEM RESULTS THAT REQUIRES DIFFERENT TYPES OF ANALYSIS AND THEORY THAN ITS CONSTITUENTS (INDIVIDUAL PEOPLE).]

    “So, exactly how much faith do you have that the story science tells is the correct story, or that there even is a correct story to find?” [FAITH: NONE. I AM NOT CERTAIN THAT SCIENCE IS CORRECT. IN FACT, I HAVE EVERY REASON TO BELIEVE THAT MUCH OF WHAT IS CURRENTLY BELIEVED WILL BE MODIFIED OR ABANDONNED ALTOGETHER DURING MY LIFE TIME. I WILL HAPPILY CHANGE MY BELIEFS ABOUT REALITY IF SCIENCE INDICATES THAT CURRENT THEORY IS WRONG. HOWEVER, LIKE YOU I WILL GO ALONG WITH WHAT SCIENCE SAYS AS IT IS THE BEST TOOL WE HAVE FOR ANSWERING QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PHYSICAL UNIVERSE.]

    “Don’t get me wrong here, I love physics. When I want a laptop or microwave oven or a car that goes vroom vroom, I’ll call the engineer every time and have confidence that physics will solve the problem. As a gateway to some universal truth though, I have a few doubts.” [I AM HIGHLY SKEPTICAL OF SCIENCE WHEN IT COMES TO PRODUCING OBJECTIVE KNOWLEDGE. IN MY OPINION, THERE IS NO REASON TO BELIEVE THAT SCIENCE WILL NECESSARILY BRING US TO COMPREHENSIVE OBJECTIVE KNOWLEDGE—AND IF IT DID, HOW COULD WE KNOW FOR SURE THAT WE HAD GENUINELY LEARNED THE OBJECTIVE TRUTH? I SIMPLY THINK THAT IT IS THE BEST WE’VE GOT FOR ADDRESSING QUESTIONS PERTAINING TO THE PHYSICAL UNIVERSE.]

  87. ronbrown says:

    Lich: Is the postmodernist really a rational skeptic, though? I mean, they are in terms of saying that we cannot know anything with certainty. But don’t they then go on to say that all knowledge is similarly valid and actually has value? Don’t postmodernists tend to act as if religious claims regarding the objective universe are not BS, which would be anything but skeptical. I’m not speaking rhetorically here, I’m actually asking. I haven’t really read any postmodern writing, so I’m not sure if my understanding might be a caricature.

    As for not having a leg to stand on, yeah, if they’re saying that knowledged derived from science and open-minded, honest and rational analysis is no better than beliefs not based on these processes, yeah, totally legless.

  88. This Busy Monster says:

    There are wacky post-modernists, who give the whole thing a bad name by asserting that any belief is as good as any other. Don’t waste your time on them. Aside from shitty art and literature, they have nothing to offer.

    There are lots of post-modernists that realize that the meaning of any statement (even the scientific ones) is rooted in context (time, place, culture) in which it is made. There is relativity in meaning, but there are also scholarly rigorous ways to bridge the distance and make meaningful comparisons of truth, despite differing contexts. This of course applies mostly to social knowledge and statements, but not exclusively.

    Lastly, there are people who don’t believe in an objective reality that conforms to any scientific description and believe all truth is pragmatic. It’s only as good as it is useful.

    This doesn’t preclude comparisons between my frame of reference and yours, because I could systematically demonstrate that mine could explain everything yours does, plus more, and has less silly assumptions to boot (as Einstein did to Newton).

    While there may not be objective truth and meaning, there is no need to be paralyzed by it and no need to suffer fools.

  89. This Busy Monster says:

    I DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT QUANTUM PHYSICS OR DARK MATTER/ENERGY, BUT DOESN’T THE INFERENCE OF DARK MATTER/ENERGY RESULT IN ACCURATE PREDICTIONS, INDICATING THAT THE POSTULATION IS NOT SIMPLY A MATTER OF SAVING QUANTUM PHYSICS, BUT IS ITSELF A VALUABLE AND LEGITIMATELY SCIENTIFIC PART OF THE THEORY.

    I’m not a physicist either, but when I see someone say, this must exist, otherwise the system of equations I am committed to fucks up, I begin to have my doubts about things. Having done no recent reading, I am only aware that the existence of these things is inferred because the universe doesn’t behave according to our theories without it.

    AND IF IT DID, HOW COULD WE KNOW FOR SURE THAT WE HAD GENUINELY LEARNED THE OBJECTIVE TRUTH?

    There you go, you’re a post-modernist.

  90. ronbrown says:

    I’m a post-modernist?… I’m gonna have to look that term up, because I’m nothing like the post-modernists I hear about in these debates.

    As for quantum physics and dark matter, it seems like neither of us is really qualified to make an assessment here. However, there is another way we could look at this. Rather than casting the speculation of dark matter negatively as being a theoretical ass-coverer, perhaps it should be viewed as a theoretical prediction. The prediction is either right or wrong. If it’s wrong then something is gonna have to give. It seems reasonable to be confident in dark matter if dark matter is apparently necessary to uphold quantum physics (or a major part of QP) given the strength of the support for QP. If dark matter is necessary for QP, then wouldn’t all of the evidence for QP count as evidence for dark matter? However, of course the prediction of dark matter could be wrong and QP or a major part of QP may need to be modified or abandoned. But at this point I am not nearly as fishy about it as you appear to be.

  91. autumnrhythm says:

    I wondered how long it was going to be until someone brought up 2 +2 = 5 here.
    Also, from taking physics in university, we had a section on the history of physics, and first we covered the idea of “ether”, and then later the idea of “dark matter”. I asked my prof if it was just me, or these two things sounded almost exactly alike, the only difference being that ether has been disproved, and dark matter hasn’t. He laughed a bit, and couldn’t really answer. He said something like, yeah, you’re right, but we’ll just have to wait and see if our current theory works out. He’s a really good prof, he gave his best answers to just about everything, too. (shrugs)
    note: this was about a year ago, things may have changed since then the physics’ communities knowledge, I don’t know either.

  92. ronbrown says:

    Maybe the dark matter/energy is God. Maybe a physics version of Michael Behe should write a book called “The Edge of Quantum Physics”, in which he argues that naturalist quantum physics can only take us so far in terms of explaining the universe, but beyond that edge we need God. For those unfamiliar with Michael Behe, he is a Christian biochemist who believes in evolution but does not believe that naturalistic evolution is sufficient to account for what we observe. He believes that there is an edge to evolution (i.e., the point beyond which naturalistic evolutionary theory can no longer explain, much like quantum physics broached the limit/edge of Newtonian physics), beyond which God’s handiwork was necessary.

  93. lichanos says:

    Regarding 2+2=5…I certainly am not in the camp of Big Brother! I was being a bit sly there, and I love Orwell. But, the foundations of mathematics, as a whole, are not that clear in some ways. I was alluding to that. For example, how do we know this is true?
    a=b
    b=c
    therefore, a=c?

    It’s obvious…but not so easy to say how we KNOW it’s true, what the mechanism is, etc. A lot of basic axioms are this way.

    I must point out also that many fundamental concepts of physics are similarly vague or circular: energy is the ability to do work; work is force applied over distance; force is change in acceleration of mass; mass is stuff that resists acceleration…and so on. Newton was attacked by his contemporaries for positing universal gravity. It seemed mystical to them…force acting at a distance through empty space (the aether came later to fill that gap…)

    No, science does not give us absolute truths and there probably are none. We go with it because it is all we have and the best we have, and we are always learning more. The difference between most scientists (not all!) and philosophers is that scientists are not troubled by the loose ends. They are happy to focus on what they know, or what they think they can know right now. Quite modest, actually.
    Contrast this with religion which insists it has the answers, right now.

    As for post-modernists, I think Busy Monster summarized them better than I could. They are a very mixed bunch, some say things that are reasonable, some get a lot of attention for their blather. Personally, I find them trivial in that if they say anything good it’s been said better before by others, and it is a movement rife with hangers on who substitute bad poetry for analysis. Some of the most famous of them are nearly impossible to read – something that I think makes them suspect as thinkers right off.

  94. This Busy Monster says:

    I think if this is a credible theory, dark matter / energy needs to have defined properties which make it observable through some kind of meaningful experiment that doesn’t have 3 dozen alternate possible explanations. If so, I’m all good with it.

    If not, it’s not god, it’s just time for a new theory that actually explains the common sense things we know about the universe.

  95. lichanos says:

    Behe also admitted during his testimony in a recent legal action that his ideas would admit of astrology as being a valid science on the level of physics and biology.

    What gets me about his idea of “the edge” is, why is the fact that he thinks that Darwin’s theory is insufficient to explain what we observe evidence for intelligent design? Maybe Behe doesn’t understand Darwin? Maybe some things are difficult to figure out, and we haven’t explained everything yet, huh? And even if he could demonstrate that Darwin DOESN’T or CANNOT explain some things we see, that doesn’t invalidate Darwin’s theory. Maybe it’s just incomplete. (Well…I guess that IS is point of view.)

  96. Stoobs says:

    Post-modernism is to continental philosophy what Humean skepticism is to analytical philosophy. It is the acknowledgement that in the end, we are stuck inside our skins – we can not know the universe directly, but only through sense organs that are predisposed to know it in a particular way. Post-modernists use a different route to arrive at the same position.

    A Humean skeptic is, if he’s honest, stuck in the same place – the only way to differentiate science from religion is in terms of its fruitfulness – science produces technology, religion produces prayers. Attaching an objective value to each of those things is a personal endeavor – there are, after all, people who will refuse modern medical technology in terms of prayers. They tend to die from easily cured diseases.

    Ultimately, any position is vulnerable to someone who is just willing to bite the bullet on everything. The extreme end of this is willingness to accept outright contradiction. If you’re willing to let go the law of non-contradiction, then you can believe whatever you like – you can even be both a Christian and an atheist, at the same time, if it takes your fancy.

  97. spiritwealth says:

    Religious beliefs aren’t necessarily just about religion. Brushing your teeth every day is an expression of holding a religious belief. It is the belief that you need to purify yourself daily, that you need to enact a ritual to purify yourself, and if you do this, that you will be protected against evil (your teeth falling out). Seriously. Every bit of your day is defined by your beliefs. If you had no beliefs you would be dead, they are the tools that you use to create your reality. They are neither good or bad. Check out my latest post to see how I use even religious beliefs when I think they suit my purposes…

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