Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: For Good Friday

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  • Paul Litterick,

    ... I think "new atheism" is a convenient label for a strident and intolerant (perhaps even smugly arrogant) way of discussing "strong" atheism.

    After enduring decades of discrimination and abuse, Atheists fight back with words, only to be accused of bad manners.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1000 posts Report Reply

  • Kracklite,

    storm god sincerely believed that they would make the storm stop by doing so

    ...which really begs the question of whether sincerity is a virtue in itself by your own argument. If it is nonfunctional, then it is not a virtue.

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 982 posts Report Reply

  • Kracklite,

    After enduring decades of discrimination and abuse, Atheists fight back with words, only to be accused of bad manners.

    I find myself ironically amused, as an atheist, to be interested in anti-atheist arguments. An accusation of bad manners is surely better than being burned at the stake. To quote Laplace on God, 'I have no need for that hypothesis', (take that, Pascal!), and anything that has the capabilities of 'God' must be inconceivable to any human being and therefore any human-originated religion or cosmological schema is absurd, but I can only admit to being 99.99999999... % sure of the nonexistence of any transcendent order or being.

    This paradox is something that I find amusing.

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 982 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Litterick,

    Beyond your recognition. I'm not responsible for your limits.

    Beyond the limits of the language. Feel free to make up alternative meanings for words, but keep them to yourself, for the sake of clarity.

    Actually, not. Animist religions had/have nothing to do with 'controlling' nature by 'appeasing' it, but serve to articulate a functional relationship and hierarchy...

    Blah, blah, blah. You, of course, know what these people, noble savages to a man, believed. It's a basic psychological fact, after all.

    What external force or telos validates it?

    Oh gawd, a telos. You make sweeping statements unsupported by facts, but you expect me to supply external forces for validation. There are no external forces, there is no telos. Valuing sincerity enables societies to function, to use your words.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1000 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Litterick,

    ...which really begs the question of whether sincerity is a virtue in itself by your own argument. If it is nonfunctional, then it is not a virtue.

    No, it doesn't, because that is not what 'begging the question' means.

    Sincerity is a moral value; the value of what is sincerely believed is one of fact. The moral and factual values are distinct.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1000 posts Report Reply

  • Kracklite,

    Blah, blah, blah. You, of course, know what these people, noble savages to a man, believed. It's a basic psychological fact, after all.

    That's a straw man argument... and information of these 'noble savages' (hyperbole on your part - I said no such thing, merely that 'primitives' have brains no smaller than our own) is cunningly concealed in libraries. There may be one hidden in your town. Look under 'anthropology'.

    Valuing sincerity enables societies to function, to use your words.

    OK, but where does 'sincerity' equal 'objective truth comprehensible to a human' as you presented it? Such a connection is absurd. We're savannah apes, with modifications. No more. The savannah is not the universe as it really is.

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 982 posts Report Reply

  • WH,

    After enduring decades of discrimination and abuse, Atheists fight back with words, only to be accused of bad manners.

    I didn't mean to suggest that Atheists generally have bad manners, or that Atheists are rude to discuss their views. I meant to say that some people have recently commented on the fact that certain ways of talking about strong atheism have come across as... uh, inflexible, to others.

    I guess these things are relative. A man on a box on Queen St told my friend he was going to contract AIDS and go to hell.

    Since Nov 2006 • 797 posts Report Reply

  • Kracklite,

    Actually, I have to say that your definition of 'sincerity' is very narrow. One can 'sincerely' believe in, say, the observations of Dickens on the lives of the poor without 'sincerely' believing that there really was an individual named 'Oliver Twist'. The former might be 'true' but the latter is not... but the untruth of the latter is irrelevant to the practice of sincerity itself.

    One need not believe that there is some higher force governing one's appreciation of aesthetics, but can still appreciate Bach's sense of order and beauty without subscribing to his religion, for example.

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 982 posts Report Reply

  • Kracklite,

    I meant to say that some people have recently commented on the fact that certain ways of talking about strong atheism have come across as... uh, inflexible, to others.

    You might mean Richard Dawkins, at a guess? His rather sweeping comments on superorganisms and group selection have annoyed some nominally in the same camp as himself.

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 982 posts Report Reply

  • WH,

    Thinking about that - a weak agnostic is someone who considers the strong atheist's case to be too sure of itself. A weak agnostic frames his or her argument in a way that emphasises lack of knowledge in a way that a strong atheist can't.

    So when an agnostic, who by definition believes that the case for strong atheism is pushed too far, talks to an atheist who makes his or her case emphatically and persuasively, it's only a stone's throw to finding him or her overconfident.

    Since Nov 2006 • 797 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Litterick,

    That's a straw man argument.

    No it isn't.

    And who was it who introduced 'primitives' and their brains to the argument? Not me. And do these books on anthropology say that animists did not hold their beliefs sincerely? I think not.

    I am not surprised you find my definition of sincerity narrow, given your liberal use of the word 'religion.' And if you look carefully, you might notice that your Oliver Twist argument is no more than a reiteration of my argument. But then, you seem to think that I equated 'sincerity' with 'objective truth comprehensible to a human.' Such a connection is absurd, as you say; but then you made it, not me.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1000 posts Report Reply

  • Kracklite,

    WH,

    a paradox that may lead to further discussion... philosophically, one cannot prove a negative, therefore, as an honest atheist, I cannot say therefore that there is no God, merely that I have no need for the hypothesis that God exists. As a corollary of that, I cannot say that the Judeo-Christian God as described in the Bible is tenable according to my understanding of the universe as described by the empirical scientific method.

    On the other hand, day-to-day, the systems and metaphors of theology provide me with a means of articulating the contexts and choices of my existence... and I will admit to subscribing to Pascal's wager 0.001%. :-)

    Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, after all.

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 982 posts Report Reply

  • WH,

    You might mean Richard Dawkins, at a guess

    I hesitate to say that. I am really talking about a more widespread tone, a way of talking (or making implications) about other people's views. Obviously, tone, polite or otherwise, says nothing about the truth of the strong atheist's position.

    I read the God Delusion recently, which was better than I expected. I wonder whether Dawkins has (successfully) tried to be controversial in order to provoke public discussion about current state of mass movement religion and the role it plays in society. He steps back from strong atheism, if only just, with his 6-leaning-7 on the atheist scale.

    I personally don't find the probabalistic approach helpful, but that is just me.

    Since Nov 2006 • 797 posts Report Reply

  • Kracklite,

    And who was it who introduced 'primitives' and their brains to the argument? Not me

    Sarcastic use of the term 'noble savage' does so. You are being disingenuous.

    given your liberal use of the word 'religion.

    That is my point. I could add the prefix 'crypto' if you wish - but I already have. Repetition would be redundant. Unfortunately, the point I concede to John Gray (in Black Mass ) is that many explicitly political ideologies are in fact covertly apocalyptic religions.

    And do these books on anthropology say that animists did not hold their beliefs sincerely

    Really, you should read more on the study of myth and religion. It is quite illuminating and entertaining. The books in question are far too numerous for me to single out any one, but at the the more literary end of the scale, I'd recommend Roberto Calasso's exegeses, starting with The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony . There is a substantial element of play and irony involved in the interpretation of transcendental symbolism, especially as practised in Neoplatonist influences on Renaissance art and Florentine philosophy. Frances Yates' books on the subject, starting with --The Art of Memory__ give a good historical and philosophical grounding on the use of mythic symbolism's applicability to mnemonics for starters.

    I do in fact have many disagreements with John Gray's argument on points of detail (which are irrelevant here), but his fundamental thesis is one that I support.

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 982 posts Report Reply

  • Kracklite,

    I personally don't find the probabalistic approach helpful, but that is just me.

    Well, that's the nature of faith, or trust - under the framework of Christian theology and morality, calculation subverts faith and trust by inserting raw quantified self-interest. To harp on about Pascal, he'd actually go to Hell for his argument for believing in God for that reason!

    BTW, I have no idea if you are a person of faith.

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 982 posts Report Reply

  • WH,

    As a corollary of that, I cannot say that the Judeo-Christian God as described in the Bible is tenable according to my understanding of the universe as described by the empirical scientific method.

    On the other hand, day-to-day, the systems and metaphors of theology provide me with a means of articulating the contexts and choices of my existence... and I will admit to subscribing to Pascal's wager 0.001%. :-)
    Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, after all.

    We seem to talking past each other. :)

    I think I understand your position. I might change some of the numbers but I see what you mean. I do struggle with what I take to be the somewhat bleak implications of the atheist-existentialist thing at times, but I suppose that is best left for another discussion.

    Since Nov 2006 • 797 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    I studied - and practised- religion for over 30 years.
    I am an atheist - neither weak nor strong - just an atheist- since 1989.
    That was when my knowledge of other animal behaviour (paticularly that of fellow primates) joined my knowledge of human history & psychology,and my own examined life experience, and some matters became glaringly obvious. Cartesian duality was a sick joke, and ALL religions rather pathetic (but dangerous) methods of social control (often, control of female or 'other' sexuality.)
    H. sap.sap is an hierarchical, status-driven. omnivorous. omnisexual
    sentient/self-aware ape.
    We can tell stories.
    We do.
    Our stories are reflections of us, our perceptions of 'reality'(which we define for ourselves); our needs/sorrows/joys, and our very deep innate understanding (as long-term omnivores) that *death is death*. The only recycling of a dead body is as shit or left over bits & pieces. We - normally- dont like this fact. We have invested emotional energy in the -our!- future...and the longterm future is extinction, personal, species-wise, and planet-wide.
    Cheers! Slainthe! Kia ora!
    (-raising a dram with Kracklie-)

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Kracklite,

    We seem to talking past each other. :)

    Maybe not :)

    somewhat bleak implications of the atheist-existentialist thing

    Well, there's always Kierkegaard..., er, but he's rather bleak, and a Dane, like Hamlet. Maybe not...

    (Mind you, a Dane I know thinks that that play is really indelibly English.)

    We can tell stories.

    Ah yes, I think that that defines us, not sapiens , but storytelling. My Latin's too poor to articulate 'Storytelling Man (in the non-gendered sense)' as opposed to 'Wise Man'. Stories are our immortality and transcendence (still, as Woody Allen said, not dying is still preferable as a method).

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 982 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    I was rather surprised when someone answered my question "should we be teaching students that light is a particle or a wave?" with a "yes", instead of a "no; we should teach them it's both."

    That just shows that you don't understand the meaning of "or".

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1716 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    It makes sense in the context of foraging on the serengeti plains for my monkey forebears to see an odd pattern of light and shadow in the grass and instinctively assume TIGER! In that context, scepticism might get you killed....

    Wheras nowdays I just see a boot and go "cat"...

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1716 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Litterick,

    Really, you should read more on the study of myth and religion. It is quite illuminating and entertaining.

    Really, you should stop patronising me and answer my question.

    There is a substantial element of play and irony involved in the interpretation of transcendental symbolism, especially as practised in Neoplatonist influences on Renaissance art and Florentine philosophy.

    I thought we were out in the storm with the animists, but now we are in the Florentine Reanaissance. Things move so fast. Pray tell me, how is this relevant? When giving your answer, bear in mind that I know a fair amount about Renaissance art and its influences.

    And still you have not explained how Rationalism is a religion.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1000 posts Report Reply

  • Kracklite,

    Hmmm, patronising? Consider your own manner.

    Really, you should read more on the study of myth and religion. It is quite illuminating and entertaining.

    You know, I brought that up because I think that pleasure is involved in classical studies. I was actually trying to be encouraging. It is a pity that you should interpret that as a sneer, but then that seems to be your default mode, so you can be forgiven for attributing it to everyone else perhaps.

    No doubt you do know about Renaissance art, but sorry, I never got into comparing penile lengths at intermediate school and I'm not going to indulge now.

    Yes, I do take a liberal view of religion as a category. I don't stick to explicit signs such as incense, tonsures and tiaras, but statements of creed and mythos. Perhaps you need to define 'rationalism', and in doing so you would have to detach it from a large number of self-declared 'rationalists' who have preached change, revolution (a euphemism for apocalypse) and utopia in a manner indistinguishable in form from innumerable religious proponents. 'God', 'historical inevitability' and 'the invisible hand' are one and the same as far as I'm concerned - both speak of a certainty of an overriding, coherent force. The first has a bearded face, the others hide theirs, but are effectively the same. Sorry, but that's the admittedly rather tired 'If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck...' argument, but I'm sure that Alan Turing would understand. Again, try Gray and come back to me.

    It's too late at night/too early in the morning to bother with talking about how Bruno, Ficino, Pico della Mirandola et al found the idea of a single superior God unsatisfactory and reverted (so to speak) to resort to populating the cosmos with personified intermediate forces and principles immanent in the physical, spiritual and cognitive phenomena of the world and their delicate negotiations with the church (failed, in Bruno's case) or their infleunces on artists such as Bronzino or Botticelli. By you own boast, you should be well aware of all this.

    Animism is in my definition on a continuum with theism, holding that there are sentient forces immanent in the phenomena of nature, which may be negotiated with in some manner, whether to appease or to establish a relationship of allegiance or comprehensive identification.

    I am not going to bother with preces of Plutarch, Yates, Couliano, Joscelyn Godwin's translation of the Hypnerotomachia or even bloody Paglia. Read them and tell me what you think.

    Mind you, I do feel the urge to make a gratuitous Battlestar Galactica reference...

    ...and didn't you say that you were going to ignore me in future?

    Nighty-night.

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 982 posts Report Reply

  • Amy Gale,

    I suspect that most of the people who are becoming 'non-religious' are actually just getting high on crystals and chakra. That doesn't seem to be much of an improvement to me.

    I suppose it's an improvement to the extent that chakras don't go round telling you to kill infidels and crystals don't have opinions about civil rights for gay people.

    There is a line, like most things. It's hard to see how having lots of crystals in your house could be a problem (except for the dusting). It's pretty easy to see how substituting crystal healing for a trip to the doctor could go terribly wrong.

    tha Ith • Since May 2007 • 471 posts Report Reply

  • Amy Gale,

    I was going to comment that I'd never had any religious education in school, but I realised I did.

    To the best of my recollection, my class spent the entire Std 3 year worth of RE lessons learning to sing Lord of the Dance. At least once the instructor (a local vicar) brought in a tape of other children to show us how it was done.

    tha Ith • Since May 2007 • 471 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Litterick,

    ...and didn't you say that you were going to ignore me in future?

    No, I only committed to ignoring you for the remainder of that thread, the one in which you accused me of oppressing you. I find your ability to concoct accusations against me, rather than addressing the point, far too entertaining to ignore. I wonder, do strawmen compare penis sizes?

    I am sure you will accuse me of further sneering, but I think your introduction of Renaissance Humanists into the discussion was an attempt to avoid answering my question about Animists. But it turns out that you think the Humanists were Animists. Whatever next?

    I have read John Gray's Black Mass. I also had the pleasure of meeting Gray and discussing his work with him, at length. I think you are misinterpreting him by saying that rationalists are the authors of the ills you describe. You appear to be making rationalism synonymous with utiopianism, which is the subject of his book. Gray refers to rationalism only briefly, and in the context of Oakeshott's criticism of political rationalism.

    Do forgive me if I misinterpreted your desire to encourage me in further reading as an attempt to belittle me, but that is what it seems to be. Please do not trouble yourself to write preces. I can assure you I am well-enough read.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1000 posts Report Reply

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