Friday Roundup

“I was glad to get out of Barbara Ehrenreich’smind. But I do agree with her that we need to stop automatically attributing mystical experiences to madness and get about the business of serious scientific study.”

Life indeed, is a journey

This atheist gets it…

“New Atheism’s scientism may be explicable, even understandable, as the kind of reactionary position one falls into, exhausted, after endless rounds of debating evolution with creationists. Nevertheless, it is a very silly posture to end up in: a defensive crouch. Just because the natural sciences disprove many claims by religionists about how the world works doesn’t mean that only the natural sciences can speak truth. It doesn’t mean that one can actually get along with just the objective knowledge of matter in motion provided by physics, or determine the moral status of foetuses with the findings of developmental biology alone. Rejecting the broad but blinkered understanding of the world provided by religion only to lock oneself into the deep but narrow perspective provided by science doesn’t seem particularly rational to me. Even most philosophers of science have long since dropped this worshipful attitude towards the scientific method.”


Interesting.  Perhaps atheism is just a stage many young males go through?

“To me, there’s one fact that stands out: the shockingly low average age of the men responding to this survey. Even taking into account the greater internet uptake of younger generations, I’d have expected some of them to be older. And that, I think, is a big clue as to what’s really going on here. I’d wager that MRAism and atheism among this crowd both spring from the same source: the phenomenon of adolescent male rebellion, the arrogant and defiant “nobody can tell me what to do” attitude that crops up in every culture, combined with lived experiences of privilege which lead them to conclude that they deserve to be at the top of the heap, answerable to no one (remember, they’re also overwhelmingly white). To this crowd, both religion and feminism are perceived as constricting, as sources of unwanted rules; and sexism and religious skepticism are both means to an end, giving them excuses to reject those rules and justifying their feeling of superiority.”

It’s still all about perspective…narrative…

Just added to my reading list…
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13 Responses to Friday Roundup

  1. RonH says:

    There's no real good reason to be an atheist. Not that I can see. The atheist non-story is lame. The only reason it has traction is that (in the “West” at least) modern Christians have done a pretty lousy job of telling their own story. There wouldn't even be any atheists if European “Christians” hadn't been doing such a bang-up job of ripping the continent to shreds. (Of course, “secular” Europe went on to keep ripping the continent to even more shreds, but never mind that.)

    Without religious people to galvanize them and give them someone to shake a fist at, atheists as a species would just fade away in a mist of ennui. Pity we'll never get a chance to see that happen. Natural selection, after all, would appear to be on the side of the true believer.


  2. Darrell says:

    Hi Ron,

    Good point. I’m convinced one doesn’t become an atheist through some dispassionate, objective, consideration of the evidence or the arguments (that comes later), but rather through a reaction either to the faults of believers (either behavior or poor arguments) or through social, family, or personal circumstances. But it’s rarely a natural default—it’s a reaction. Unfortunately, living within a world-view that’s reactionary means living out something that can never lead, only react, and is forever “against.” That gets pretty old no doubt.


  3. Hi Guys

    I teach a fair number of teens who would describe themselves as atheists (and Christians, Muslims, agnostics, we get the range) and your characterisation of atheists, as it applies to them, is awfully unfair.

    Until we start by accepting that there are some delightful stories, respectable motivations, and thoughtful moves on both sides, the trench mentality will continue.



  4. RonH says:

    Hi, Bernard…

    I'm talking about atheists as a group, not atheists as individuals. I've mentioned this before: I don't see how atheism scales. It seems to me that you can't organize a society around the idea that ultimately there is no story. A single atheist can operate just fine with no story other than whatever subjective one means something to him. But nobody operates on his own. Cultures coalesce around creeds, and atheists can't even agree on if they should have one, much less what it might be.

    Atheism is like homosexuality… Harmless when a sufficiently small percentage of the population, and possibly even beneficial. But if it is widespread, it threatens survival.

    I've got no problems with folks being atheists, if they've got no problems with folks being Christians. It's these anti-religionists like the “New” Atheists — the ones like Peter Boghossian who claim that religion is a public health crisis that needs to be contained and eradicated — that I consider a threat, both to me and to my society.

    I encourage atheists to develop compelling stories. If Christianity is false and atheism is our future, then society will need something to fulfill the role that religion has played in human civilization since its inception. The story that says “Religion causes all our problems, and if we eradicate it Utopia will descend” is naive, threatening, stupid, and wrong. Intelligent atheists must do better, if they can.


  5. I agree Ron

    Those stories, as you phrase them, are harmful. Atheists do need to do better. Many do. The same is true for Christians.



  6. Burk says:

    It sort of depends on what you mean as a “story”. If you mean a magical fairy tale by which I am always loved and end up licking the butt of god in eternity, then we don't really need anything like that, at all.

    If what you mean is a general world-view of optimism, that we can solve climate change and be good stewards of our time and earth, while enjoying life as well, then I would agree. But it is hard to call that a “story”, really. Was Star Trek a story? Perhaps, but it functions not as a cult of ritual worship, but as a philosophical touchstone of optimism. We get those sorts of stories all the time through the normal cultural creative processes- no priests required.


  7. RonH says:

    LOL, Burk. Divine butt-licking… You're just so endearing. One day you'll figure out that insulting and misrepresenting those you disagree with doesn't win folks to your cause.

    Then again, probably not.

    You're right, though. “Optimism” isn't a story. A story provides a justification for the optimism… provides a context for the optimism. In a random, pitiless, indifferent, purposeless universe, one can have optimism. But only if one doesn't think much about it. 'Cuz it's really just irrational consolation.

    Which I'm totally fine with, because, hey, I am a Christian after all. But as irrational consolation goes, the Christian story works way better than “general optimism”. And since we conveniently all make our own meaning, mine is no less warranted than yours.

    Unless you can convince me that I'd be better off with some other irrational consolation. And I'm game to listen.


  8. Hi Ron

    I'm no theist, and yet I find great joy in my day to day life: in my interactions with others, in my wonderings, in my hopes for the future and so forth.

    There is a type of existence I wish to lead, because of the joy I find in leading it, and a delight to be found in pursuing (and refining my understanding of) that existence. In what sense is this irrational?



  9. RonH says:

    Hi, Bernard…

    Well, it's technically irrational because “joy” is an emotion, and not rational itself. Doing things that give you joy is perfectly rational. But why do some things give you joy and not others? Who knows? Joy simply is, and we follow it.

    But when I mentioned “irrational consolation”, I was specifically referring to Burk's “general optimism”, and how it's no more rational than my Christianity.

    If meaning and purpose and joy and whatnot is all in our heads, then in principle anyone's is as good as anyone else's. But that's not how Burk and the atheists referenced in Darrell's links behave. Oh, no… My pursuing things that give me joy is somehow objectively stupid, given that they lack evidential support sufficient to satisfy Burk. Again, though, Burk can't seem to make a case for me why I should adopt his irrational consolation instead of mine, which I think happens to be way cooler with messiahs and resurrection and atonement and stuff.

    Pursuing what gives one joy is all very well and good, but it can't happen unless one is part of a culture that provides a context in which it can happen. This is where you have to go from “my personal story” to the story that the society tells itself… a story that has to create some degree of cohesion between the members of the society. Burk's “Well, we can take care of the planet while enjoying life” is pretty flaccid. Especially since entirely too many people would prefer to enjoy life more even if it means taking care of the planet less. And why should a vasectomied 25-year-old care about what happens to the planet anyways after he's dead?


  10. Burk says:

    Hi, Ron-

    Great to hear from you!

    I think there is such a thing as gilding the lilly. It is one thing to love life and the environment in full recognition that we have evolved to have exactly such loves, so it may be an over-determined love, rather than one of “free will”, so to speak. However we explain it, (and it needs no explanation, really), it remains natural and unforced.

    It is quite something else to make up an elaborate invisible reality to explantion of this love and fufill a long list of other psychological needs and wishes, entirely in the teeth of what evidence plainly shows us.. that there is no superintending father cleaning up after us or telling us what to do. Such stories tend to warp rather than fulfill their prompting motivations, veering off into sectarianism, theological befuddlement, and social hierarchy / ossification. This is addition to their being *not true*, to invoke a category which Darrel is straining his utmost to obliterate.

    I might also add that, considering that no one knows anything about god, atheists are surely as deserving of their image of a god they hate (or disparage) as theists are of a god they love (or fear). As soon as you can point to something solid to pin your image on, (i.e. evidence), then we will all be forced to bring our images into closer alignment. But I don't think we are there yet.

    And your bit about atheists as dangerous as homosexuals… that was a classic! The fact of the matter is that the causation goes in the opposite direction. The more misireable the society, the more necessary religion seems to be. The happiest societies in the world are the least religious.


  11. Darrell says:

    Just as an aside, we need to be careful with this idea the happiest countries are the least religious. Religion is a very broad term. And how do we, or should we, define what it means to be “happy?” Putting that aside, Denmark is often noted as one of the happiest countries in the world. And in Denmark we find these parallel lines:

    “Compared with most other countries in the world, Denmark’s societal institutions and popular mentality have been shaped by Christianity to an exceptional degree. It can be asserted that religion is more firmly entrenched in Danish society than in many other countries.”

    “In practice, Christianity today comes to the fore, however, primarily during solemnisations surrounding birth and death. That is to say like the other Nordic countries, particularly Sweden, Denmark is also among the world’s most secularised countries, in which religion and Christianity play only a minor, often indirect, role in public life.”

    “Christianity’s unique history in Denmark explains why the mutual interdependence of the people, the state, and the church has remained in place longer and more strongly in Denmark than in any other country. There has, quite simply, never been a break in this interdependence, as has occurred as a result of revolution, civil war, military occupation, cultural struggle, religious revival, and immigration in virtually all other European countries. This is not to suggest an absence of debate concerning this relationship, yet there is general popular support for Article 4 of the Constitution of Denmark, which sets forth that the Evangelical Lutheran church is Denmark’s People’s Church and is thus supported by the state.”

    So it is a mixed bag here and there is no reason to assume Denmark’s happiness results purely from its secularity. It matters little if formal Christianity plays a direct role in public life, when the culture, mindset, and perspective are completely drenched in that narrative and have been for centuries. The other thing being missed here is that the religious aspect that does come to the fore in Denmark is a progressive Christianity and most definitely not a fundamentalist type, which could also explain their happiness.

    And, of course, the rest of Burk’s ferment is question-begging nonsense and blather…but what else is new. Funny how some comments seem unfair to Bernard and others (which are obviously and clearly unfair) get a pass. When such is the case, I think this great show of caring about fairness to be a pretending at best.


  12. RonH says:

    Hi, Burk…

    what evidence plainly shows us

    More Burkean wishful thinking, in which only that which Burk finds compelling constitutes “evidence”. Burk, when it comes down to intuitions, I trust mine more than I trust yours. It's simply not rational for me to adopt your biased standard of “evidence”. You give me no good reason to.

    The happiest societies in the world are the least religious.

    All together class: correlation is not causation! Regardless, how is this a complete non-starter? Let me count the ways. First, “happiness” is totally subjective. That Danes are happy in Denmark means… only that Denmark is full of happy Danes. I roomed with a Dane whose family (atheists, btw) were happier in the US. Go figure. Secondly, society-wide atheism is a very, very recent phenomenon in Europe. To be able to isolate it out as a significant component in happiness there is a stretch for which — ahem — I suspect you have little evidence. The UN World Happiness Report does not identify religion (or lack of it) as a factor in happiness, for example. Thirdly, counter-examples to your premise abound. Japan, for example, is about as non-religious a country as you can find, and is also quite wealthy and educated. However, in the UN report it ranks at #43, well below us crazy fundamentalists in the US at #17. China is also very unreligious. As is Estonia. Both rank low on the happiness index.

    Atheism is a luxury good, heretofore only successful in areas where wealth and education are already high — it's not responsible for those factors. Your most happy countries also have small populations with lots of wealth. And large, intrusive governments with high taxation levels. And homogeneous populations. And precipitously dropping birth rates that throw their future-mortgaging social programs into jeopardy… (In 2011, Japan's largest diaper manufacturer reported that adult diapers outsold baby diapers for the first time ever.)

    So, your claim about causation is… well… silly. And not supported by Evidence.


  13. Darrell says:

    I have to add just a couple quick things…

    “I might also add that, considering that no one knows anything about god, atheists are surely as deserving of their image of a god they hate (or disparage) as theists are of a god they love (or fear). As soon as you can point to something solid to pin your image on, (i.e. evidence), then we will all be forced to bring our images into closer alignment. But I don't think we are there yet.”

    No one cares about the god you hate. Keeping hating. That isn't even the issue. The issue is you projecting this imaginary god you hate onto everyone else’s. You need to get over that. Address the God others are talking about, not your own projection.

    Lastly, when are you going to understand that what counts as “evidence” and how we are to interpret that evidence are the very issues disputed? This is like philosophy and logic 101. Do you not understand question-begging in the slightest? And God is not “solid” by the way (for the billionth time). We are not going to pick God up on radar or seismograph or find God’s footprint. Is God as big-foot or UFO the closest you can come to a view of God? That is right out the sophomoric school of philosophy. Whether you agree or not, what is so hard with at least following the arguments and attempting a response or comment that isn't completely embarrassing?


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