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Comment count is 23
EvilHomer - 2008-01-07

And so, rather than conclude that religion is not, in fact, a cancerous meme that drags it's adherents back with it into the Dark Ages, he concludes that the Bishop of Oxford is insufficiently religious and betrays both faith and reason by not being a fundie lunatic. Brilliant! But it's good to see him:

a- not acting like an indignant prick and
b- talking to someone on his intellectual level for a change.

Far better than the last circle jerk; thanks, TinManic. Now all we need is one with him discussing evolution with Stephen Jay Gould!

P.S. Glad to see he shaved his beard.

TinManic - 2008-01-07

what i meant was that the bishop isn't the same sort of theist that gets all the press and authority in the American christianity. it is impossible for the an atheist to have a reasonable conversation with people like Ted Haggard and Bill Donohue. it would be interesting to see who can mobilize people to their causes better: the bishop here or fundie preachers and goons like Donohue. that's why interviews like this aren't as important as the contest against radicals.

i'm glad Dawkins is aggressive. atheists often get called arrogant and such for not backing down the same way that women might be called bitchy for doing the same. if a person made important decisions based on the world being flat we'd all be right and reasonable to consider him nuts. drape that belief in the shroud of turin and suddenly WE'RE the ones who are wrong! Dawkins and people like him are a beacon amid a returning darkness and i'm glad he's out there applying the same thinking to religious believe that we'd apply to anything else under the sun.

EvilHomer - 2008-01-07

...yet the thrust of his argument, that religion is not merely wrong, but actually dangerous and a threat to human society, falls flat. You can see why in this interview: here we've got a highly religious individual who clearly ISN'T stark raving nuts. At worst, he's a benevolent eccentric we'd all love to have in our neighborhood; I don't think anyone, Dawkins included, would say that religion is any threat at all in the hands of Bishop Harries.

But rather than admit the point and go back to the old "religion is neither inherently 'good' nor inherently 'bad', it just is" position that seems our most reasonable choice given the facts, Dawkins tries to rationalize away the counter-evidence. "What? A religious man who IS open to science and supports the same sort of social agendas I do? Religious people are nutters, so there must be something wrong with his religious conviction." Come on! At least pretend like your position is falsifiable, Mr Dawkins!

I mean, a similar problem arises with religious types who attack Dawkins, when you get to the question of atheism and morality. I don't remember the exact conversation, but I've seen Dawkins faced with questions about ethics and morality before, and IIRC the conversation basically goes like this:

"Morality comes from God. Morals are given their form and authority through the presence of a higher power which watches over us and judges our actions. Remove that power, and morals are undermined- they lose their authority, they cease to be meaningful, and human beings become immoral and cruel. Thus, according to reason, atheists MUST be immoral, or amoral, monsters." To which Dawkins responds by saying that, regardless of what we might assume, the plain fact of the matter is that atheists AREN'T immoral. On the contrary, they're very often perfectly moral, altruistic people, who act in manners that would make any Christian proud. Now WHY this is so he can't say- while there have been attempts (very convincing attempts, IMO) to show how altruism might have arisen as a sort of "Darwinian group strategy", the best purely scientific approaches to morality still leave the whole thing looking rather arbitrary and open to cheating. And they probably always will. Dawkins' detractors have a very solid point, it does seem that atheism undermines morality and going simply on reason alone we might conclude that atheists should act downright beastly. But this isn't actually the case; the observations don't match the theory, so the theory should be discarded, or at least heavily tweaked.

Dawkins' position vis-a-vis the "immorality" of religion simply puts the shoe on the other foot. He goes to great lengths to show that, according to "reason", people of faith should be grinning maniacs like whatshisname from the other video. And maybe they should? But they aren't! He's smart enough to figure this out, but he still parades around Nigel Q Limey-Muslim and John "Jesus Ridin' A Dinosaur" Knuckleburger and tries to convince us that this is the Troo Face of the Desert Religions.

I'll shut up before I start talking about Michael Shermer again, but you get the idea. The problem I have here is that Dawkins is wrong- I agree with him as far as the "is there a God" question goes (more or less, a bit more on the less but who cares what I think?), but I don't agree with the way he characterizes "the God meme". And I think that "believers" have a problem with him because they KNOW he's just being shrill and unfair; they can see through his parade of numbnuts like an atheist can see through the chants of the "You're all immoral" crowd. If he toned down his rhetoric, "sold out" with more stumping for Atheists for Jesus, and made it perfectly clear that he's fine with believers as long as they are "decent" human beings, then maybe he'd be seen as something more than "that guy who fucked Mr Garrison". But that would require that he step off religion and admit that religion isn't the problem, it's simply us humans and our wonderful, varied, nuanced brains.

EvilHomer - 2008-01-07

God, I write too much. :(

FatFatuousNation - 2008-01-07

The Bishop is easier to stomach because he has shed most traditional Christian tenants; he has so little religion left in him that he's tolerable.

Nevertheless, he still has one nasty tenant, that of the sanctity of life. That makes him oppose assisted suicide in most situations. If he weren't religious, he might be a little more humble and let other men make their own decisions on the matter.

Add more tenants, and you have more nastiness. Religion, like dogshit, is better in smaller doses, but you're better off without any at all.

Also, if you're into Shermer, read the Science of Good and Evil.

EvilHomer - 2008-01-07

I'm not entirely convinced that "sanctity of life" is a "nasty" tenet. I personally support euthanasia, but while I'm miffed that the Bishop doesn't believe in the healing power of killing like I do, his position is hardly threatening to me. If he WASN'T concerned about the sanctity of life, then I might be worried: nothing like a religious guy who sees nothing wrong with snuffing a few heathens! But just because he gives answers I don't like, that doesn't make him dangerous.

And does religion REALLY make things worse the more of it you add? I don't see that either. Bishop Harries has quite a lot of tenets that he follows (hard not to when you're the Bishop of one of the most important Anglican diocese on Earth), and he's far more deeply commited to his faith and the practices of his faith than pretty much anyone I know! Heck, if I was even half as commited to my lack of faith as he is to his actually having faith, I could be the atheist Jesus! Yet it doesn't seem to have done him a lick of harm. That characterization of the "God meme" (the "God meme meme", if you will) only works if you stick to a select few extreme examples, using a very narrow subset of tenets hand picked to produce effects (or justify effects) you disagree with, and even then you've got to do some mental acrobatics around what exactly constitutes "having more tenets". How many tenets does the Bishop have? Five? Six? What about Joe Creationism? Eight? Eleven? How do you quantify this?

Besides, if people really are better off without religion, how come so many atheists these days are whiny pricks? Not saying anyone here is, but if you haven't noticed the rather lackluster performance of atheism on the personal wellbeing of the individuals who get into it, then you need to spend some more time on PoE proper. For every creationist and cute, fag-bashing Phelps daughter, you can produce a junior Communist bitching about the Kkkorporations and a godless git who's convinced aliens are after him. Just as for every starry-eyed science major and teacher fighing the Kansas Schoolboard, you can produce a sweet old Catholic nun who volunteers to serve soup to poor families out behind the Church every night. Religion can do a lot of good for people (and often does), just as it can do bad. Lack of religion is the same way. Like I said, it seems to me like all this religion nonsense is a red herring, and if we really want to figure out what produces all the "bullshit", we have to look somewhere else.

yeahjim - 2008-01-07

You raise good points, Evilhomer. No single mindset has a monopoly on good works, so why take the piss unnecessarily? In some his books, Dawkins goes off on this at length. The underlying theme of the god meme meme continually stresses what might be called a reasonable assumption - that rational people are easier to reason with and are therefore more prone to behave in a sensible way. They see a better way of doing things, adapt their old methodology, and take it from the top: scientific method for the soul. Organized religion necessarily rails against this because it decentralizes power, so you end up with mankind's progress suffering for the sake of tradition.

We've got God on the brain. It's hard even for jaded geeks to get away entirely from the concept of the ineffable and harder still to disentangle all the specifics of today's world from the baseline concept itself. Dawkins would readily agree (and has on occasion) that religion is not the 'source' of all the stupidity that is associated with orthodox practice, but it does serve as a powerful conduit, probably as the most powerful manifestation currently. The reason he attacks it so assiduously is because, as you well know, religions have been given a collective free pass beyond inspection. It's like if the Demo was a spy and no one was allowed to say it because it'd be impolite.

So while Dawkins is aware that the main enemy is Blue Team (unreason), and both Blue Team and Red Team make use of spies (irresponsible irrationality), Blue Team makes far more liberal use of spies in their strategy, in fact is ultimately reliant upon them for victory; Dawkins is taking conversational aim accordingly. Don't let anyone tell you that Dawkins thinks that spies are the actual problem. Shit dude, atheists are nothing if not pragmatic in their aims.

yeahjim - 2008-01-07

I changed my mind. Spies are now 'specific fallacies.'

petep - 2008-01-07

EvilHomer I don't want to suck your dick too much here, but your willingness to argue the point in a civil manner with gibbering fucksticks like these is very admirable.

yeahjim - 2008-01-08

Oh, and unlike your Kansas Schoolboard fighter, the Catholic nun is partially responsible for the problem to which she tends.

jmags - 2008-01-07

"Let alone a nuanced case."

I don't recall having ever admired a living religious figure this much.

TinManic - 2008-01-07

European christianity, since forgoing the rough bits, is a fair bit more thoughtful and intellectual than america's contribution. part of it has to do with state sponsorship, which i don't care for, but means that they don't have to be constantly shilling themselves.

in the states and canada it's a free market so the guys that find the lowest common denominator where they will appeal to the most people. if one guy doesn't toot your horn then go down the street to the guy preaching and doing back flips for ya! it also encourages a very black and white view of the world as anything else takes more thought and experience than is needed to keep people in the pews.

on the other hand this has made american christianity very powerful. i guess it depends on what you're going for.

cognitivedissonance - 2008-01-07

Dawkins' voice is like a terrific nap in a warm bed with many soft pillows and blankets. Cuddles abound whenever he speaks.

TeenerTot - 2008-01-07

Nice to see two guys with different views discussing it all in pursuit of truth.
I think what annoys me about the fundies is they aren't interested in finding truth at all. And they will the world to conform to their truth.
It's kinda sad that they would choose to end their search, deciding they know the truth. I think the act of discovering (or trying to discover) is a very human and humbling thing. If that makes any sense.

FatFatuousNation - 2008-01-07

"tenant" = "tenet" in my above post. I'm a real estate guy...

We should take out religion for pragmatic purposes, since it gives irrationality more power. Not because it is always harmful, nor even that it makes people more irrational.

Nobody really cares what irrational ideas exist in other people's minds, until those ideas cause a person to get up and start stepping on other people's toes.

People like Dawkins, and myself, don't get fired up about the intellectual absurdity of the Trinity. We get fired up about stem cell research, gay marriage, and abortion -- situations where other people's irrational ideas have power over us.

If we wipe out religion, we'll still be irrational, but there will no longer be a convenient amplifier for irrationality. Lots of small irrationalities that differ from one another are harmless. It's only when they aggregate, as through religion, that problems arise.

As for religion sometimes having good effects, that is certainly true. But in nearly all cases we could recreate those good effects with rational ideas.

As an example, EvilHomer says the concept of God has a practical role in morality, since he serves as the ultimate Big Brother, who watches us and gets us if we do wrong, even if we could otherwise get away with it. God can be a "good" irrational idea, in other words.

A rational replacement idea: doing bad will probably bite you in the ass before the end. Being caught in the smallest ill deed does a lot to hurt your reputation, which hurts you in future social interactions. No need to thump on a Bible to do good.

FatFatuousNation - 2008-01-07

that was in response to EvilHomer... not sure how it jumped to TeenerTot's post

EvilHomer - 2008-01-07

Oh, and RE: Shermer. I read most of that one a couple years back, not all of it, so maybe I missed something? But from what I recall, it was basically the same approach I alluded to in tl;dr paragraph 4. All very interesting and profound, but it leaves you with the nagging question: so what? Yes, altruism and morality are valuable group strategies, yes, there can be a perfectly secular, even "scientific" basis for morals. But all this is is an abstract mechanism, a rule of behavior for large scale groups. The individual is left with no real reason not to try and cheat if he thinks he can benefit- on the contrary, if you KNOW the mechanism, it's almost as if you're being invited to work the system. With God, we know that morality is absolute, and cheating WILL cost you, no matter how clever you think you are. Without God, cheating only seems to cost you if you get caught by the group.

I mean, sure, not commiting adultery is great for group welfare. But actually commiting adultery is even better for ME! At least if you don't catch me in bed with your wife. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating being a moral nihilist, but I don't think this is a problem that can be resolved by sociobiological approaches.

Btw, the Shermer comment was directed more towards "Why People Believe Weird Things", in reference to how a clever bastard like Dawkins- well, more clever than me, at any rate- could fall for such a (to my eyes) easy-to-spot trap.

yeahjim - 2008-01-07

Putting something in perspective does not devalue it. Sure, I know intellectually that the person next to me is a vibrating series of electrical impulses, but that does not turn me into a sociopath. The slightest bit of further thinking reveals that I'm in the same boat as he is. To me personally, the stark aspect of realizing our arbitrary situation in the universe, then seeing in someone else's eye the half-hopeless, half-wise of someone else who's wondering what the fuck is going on, that's communion. It does not follow that Dorothy's pulling back of the Wizard's curtain leads to her ruthlessly conquering Oz.

Baldr - 2008-01-07

This is a bit off topic, EvilHomer, but I think there's a better way to look at the argument from morality (that you can't have objective moral values without God). Instead of people being good because there's an omniscient big daddy watching everyone, they're good because they instinctively understand objective moral values, which stem from God's nature.

The distinction here is important, because an atheist can act on moral instincts while denying their source. As an analogy, you can drive a Honda at an expert level while simultaneously maintaining that Japan doesn't exist. It's not rational to do so, but it really doesn't have any bearing on whether or not you deserve a driver's license.

I think that an interesting consequence of this view is that assuming some sort of heaven exists, a theist who led an equally good life as an atheist might be less deserving of it, since the atheist was good in spite of the belief that goodness would ultimately never be rewarded.

baleen - 2008-01-07

I am not a fan of Richard Dawkins. My parents are Catholics (my dad a former Jew) of the "intellectual variety," and I've never felt that they are more nuts than your average physicist.

I agree with Homer's assertion that the American press and the political environment is dominated by the most extreme and anti-intellectual mutations of Christianity. The Bish is a Christian of the C.S. Lewis variety, and that's kind of person who should be representing that religion, not Ted Haggard and Ann Coulter.

gambol - 2008-01-07

Europeans' conceptions of religion are much more practical and intellectualized than Americans'. They hold it as a point of pride that they chased all of those fundamentalist and extremist elements off of their continent hundreds of years ago. Most of them came to America.

Watch this bishop and remember that the Church of England was all made up so that Henry VIII could get a divorce.

baleen - 2008-01-07

There's plenty of that vibrant intellectual life in America as well, look no further than Bill Moyers, who is a member of a "fundy church."

Syd Midnight - 2008-01-08

Can someone embed the first clip on Off Topic in PoE News and take the debate there? This is too big for a video comments forum.

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