PDA

View Full Version : Richard's Daughter, Juliet: Review of A Devil's Chaplain


James Brody
October 31st, 2004, 06:39 PM
Whether in short essays or book reviews, Dawkins is at his best when he attacks, defends, or counterattacks. A Devil's Chaplain shows this fencing master to be fit, agile, and combative nearly 30 years after The Selfish Gene. He thrusts and parries in five sets, each set consists of 4-8 essays, written between 1991 and 2003, and a final essay in regard to religion vs. science, written on behalf of his daughter, Juliet. You will find, however, not only brilliance and precision but also a fundamental contradiction within Dawkins's view of human will.

The Chaplain's Backbone

Dawkins first strongly endorses the unity of life, undresses postmodernists (not an inspiring sight!) and gives tribute to Frederick William Sanderson (1857-1922) , a master teacher, one who catalyzed not ritual but active discovery by his young charges at Oundle School in the U.K. Hooray for all this great stuff! Dawkins next demonstrates the subtle but irresistible force of natural selection but, paradoxically, avers that humans escape genetic interests.
Third, "The Infected Mind" tells us one more time about ideas that imitate viruses and move from carrier to carrier. (Dawkins, however, tells us little about the foundations for such processes. Some of the network people can supply structure beneath his constructions. Especially see Watts, 2004; Barabasi, 2002; Strogatz, 2003; and Brody, 2004.) Fourth, he gives us memorial tributes to Douglas Adams, W. D. Hamilton, and John Diamond. (This last one also skewers homeopathy!) His sixth and near-final section pivots around our African heritage. (I treasure one image on p. 235: "The engagingly filthy town of Laum...Skeletal cats sleep in patches of sun. Black-veiled women like crows walk obsequiously past men seated on doorsteps, talking the heat and the flies away." These few lines reserve Dawkins a spot in Westminster next not to Darwin but to Eliot!)

Neodarwinism and Evo-Devo: About Section Five

There is a quarrelsome, proud tribe known as "neodarwinians" who believe that evolution moves in small steps, arises when natural selection acts on small random mutations, and that most of human nature was crafted during a recent ice age, the Pleistocene, when individuals in small groups reproduced or died in relation to their success in hierarchies, trade, and cooperation. Evolution, like constipation, must be slow, painful, inconvenient, and unpredictable, genes matter more than organisms, human society was the driver for human intelligence, and neodarwinism is the only light under the basket.

Their story seems plausible except that we also find startling similarities between human conduct and what we see in birds. Implication: much of our social prowess was crafted long before we stood upright and we carried out of the Pleistocene the baggage that we carried into it! Thus, a group in developmental biology believes in master plans that support infinite arrays of small differences (Gerhart & Kirschner, 1998; Kirschner & Gerhart, 1998; Gould, 2002) and is open to evolution's sometimes moving in rapid steps or larger steps (as when entire genes and chromosomes are duplicated, when there is change in a transcription gene, or when severe stress disrupts normal development and leads to a "throwback" in one segment [Raff, 1996]. Concept: we humans have segments and each of our segments responds to its own selective pressures!) The developmentalists often endorse the concept that living creatures convert physical settings into environments and that an occupant and its nest represent a construction. Human intelligence drives the development of human societies.

Dawkins usually aligns with the neodarwinians and Gould with the evolutionary-developmental group: the mutual acrimony between groups sometimes achieved national attention (As when Gould and camp used a NY Times ad to roast neodarwinian E.O. Wilson on a Marxist spit) but usually remained a very local disturbance, full of sound and fury in its teacup.
Dawkins gives us five essays that review Gould's thinking. The first two recognize substantial agreements with Gould, the next two are more hostile as Dawkins becomes a sheepdog for neodarwinism and bites off clumps of Gould's fur. I'm unsure as to motives: Dawkins may have attacked Gould or may have been simply defending himself. The final essay in this section is a postmortem tribute to Gould and their alliance against creationism. Symbiosis?: first greet, next resist, and then honor the dead...

Whatever Gods May Be, Juliet is the Sun...

In his final essay, Dawkins considers religion to be an imposed environment warns his daughter against the mental fondling that she might experience from theists. A different view of religion, however, accepts it as a self-chosen environment for half of its participants.
Tools change with invention or discovery, beliefs change with generations. First, life evolves in moderate constancy: not too much or too little. (See Kauffman, 1995, on phase transitions; also, Brody, 2002.) It is no surprise that genes, languages, customs, cultures, and religions tend to be conservative and buffer the impressive genetic variability that we find in humans. At each of these levels, big steps are polished in small amounts, we keep what worked last week, and imams now signal old rituals with new technology.

Second, coming together can be seen as a flexible, deeply ancient adaptation that supplies not only clumps of bacteria but also metazoans with protection, mates, food, reassurance, and the resources and signals for exploration and migration. For schools, swarms, flocks, herds, or congregations in churches or malls, the outcomes are matched to the evolved nature of the participants, whether for fish, bees, birds, cattle, or peoples. Even plants and Democrats cluster for the same advantages.

Martin and others (1986), however, found a significant genetic loading for "religiosity" but not for religion. That is, communicating with unseen beings may be more inherited but our rituals and whether we practice them on a Saturday or Sunday is very much a function of our rearing. Juliet will define her own religious impulse as a function of genes that she shares with her mother or with her father. If she becomes a theist, Dawkins will blame her schooling; if she does not, then he will credit his lectures but in neither case will he recognize that some of her outcomes were favored at the moment of her conception! She, like every living creature, will seek or manufacture settings that are consistent with her nature and as every parent discovers, Dawkins will find that his lectures may contribute, at most, 2-10% of the variance in her long term outcomes.

Conclusions

Science and religion both arose from human nature and, therefore, can be not only antithetical but also quite similar. Science, like religion, seeks Big Truth rather than clusters of local truths and both defend their methods whatever their accompanying tools and explanations: we scientists, however, discover initial conditions and procedures and, thereby, weave a fabric of beliefs that is subject to continuous revision through our five senses and a process of systematic replication. In contests between fingertips and ideologies, scientists choose fingertips for the same reasons that self-arranged, unique environments eventually defeat imposed ones.

Within science, changes in belief and tradition are to be sought if they better align circumstances with instinctive human needs: again, for protection, mates, food, reassurance, and the resources and signals for exploration and migration. Science, more than religion, is a selective, exploratory organization like that we find in cells, immune systems, brains, or the termites that build cathedrals 30 feet high, complete with chambers and air conditioning. Biochemist or bee, the "architect above" is really an "architect within," even if, for genetic reasons, you must believe that a god inserted it.

Ironically, Gould and Lewontin ? Lewontin is a geneticist of the first rank? strenuously believe that humans escape their genes; so does Dawkins who often affirms the priority of genes over organisms! So did Thom Huxley! That is, evolved human minds make choices that are not moored to biological advantage. Both camps assert there to be one great family of life wherein every living species has the same temporal seniority but they also invent a schism between birds and bipedal characters in straw hats! Bah! I think they find their own faces in too many mirrors. The assertion of a disinterested free will is neither more nor less supported by coat hook or platform than assertions of a living deity. This confusion will be reconciled not by the elders in this generation but by the von Humbolts, Darwins, Kirks, and Spocks in the next.

Dawkins gave us The Selfish Gene in 1976 and maintained an incredible energy and focus for 332 pages. His next books have been progressively more labored, perhaps in relation to changes in his levels of dopamine and testosterone or because of the same processes that we find in evolution: big stuff leads to smaller stuff as environments and occupants, such as Dawkins and his audiences, each stabilize the other. Complex, micro-evolved, very stable ecosystems result. (So do tests of reader persistence such as An Ancestor's Tale!) Per Bak (1996, cited in Kauffman, 2000) noticed these patterns in nature as did Albert Barabasi (2002) when he told us about power laws in emergent organizations. A Devil's Chaplain, however, reverses this course but as a collection of brief essays that match impatient readers to a writer who shares that quirk. Buy, read, and get infected by, if you're vulnerable, A Devil's Chaplain!

References
Bak, P. (1996) How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organized Criticality. NY: Copernicus.
Barabasi, A-L (2002) Linked: The New Science of Networks. NY: Perseus.
Brody, J., (2002) From Physics and Evolutionary Neuroscience to Psychotherapy: Phase Transitions and Adaptations, Diagnosis and Treatment. In G. Cory & R. Gardner (Eds.) The Evolutionary Neuroethology of Paul MacLean: Convergences & Frontiers, Praeger-Greenwood, pp. 231-259.
Brody, J. (2004) Bipolar disorder: self-interested networks, cycling, and their management. In M. Brown (Ed.) Progress in Bipolar Disorder Research. Hauppage, NY: Nova Science Biomedical Series.
Dawkins, R. (1976) The Selfish Gene. New York: Oxford.
Dawkins, R. (2004) The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution. NY: Houghton Mifflin.
Gerhart, J. & Kirschner, M. (1997) Cells, Embryos, and Evolution. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Gould, S. (2002) The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Belknap.
Kauffman, S. (1995) At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self Organization and Complexity. NY: Oxford.
Kauffman, S. (2000) Investigations. NY: Oxford.
Kirschner, M. & Gerhart, J. (1998) Perspective: Evolvability. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. 95(15), 8420-8427.
Lewontin, R. (2000) Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, Environment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Raff, Rudolf (1996) The Shape of Life. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Strogatz, S. (2003) Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order. NY: Hyperion.
Watts, D. (2004) Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Copyright, James Brody, 2004, all rights reserved

ToddStark
December 6th, 2004, 01:11 PM
Interesting and useful review.

Who is "Martin and Others (1986)" ? I'd like to follow up on this work distinguishing the transmission of religion from the transmission of religiosity.

Todd

James Brody
December 7th, 2004, 04:59 AM
Todd,

Eaves, L., Martin, N, & Heath, A. (1990) Religious affiliation in twins and their parents: Testing a model of cultural inheritance. Behavior Genetics, 20, 1-22.

Martin, N. G., Eaves, L. J., Heath, A. C., Jardine, R., Feingold, L.M., & Eysenck, H.J. (1986) Transmission of social attitudes. Proceedings National Academy of Science, 83: 4364-4368.
Lindon Eaves is a key name: former priest and now an integral part of research and interpretation of human behavior genetics research.

always good to hear from you!

Jim

Fred H.
December 7th, 2004, 01:51 PM
JimB writes: The assertion of a disinterested free will is neither more nor less supported . . . than assertions of a living deity.


The assertion that there’s a creator (living or otherwise), or at least the odds that we’re not here by chance, is actually more supportable.

What are the odds that the universe and we are by chance? Roger Penrose did the math (actually on the odds of the low entropy at the beginning, 13 billion years ago), and the odds are infinitesimal.

Since we’re not here by chance, it’s relatively easy for me to accept my gut instinct, telling me that I do indeed have at least some “disinterested free will.” Besides, no one truly believes, in their gut, otherwise; not even those less than completely authentic atheists you’ve mentioned, except for maybe the dead ones.

ToddStark
December 7th, 2004, 06:34 PM
The assertion that there’s a creator (living or otherwise), or at least the odds that we’re not here by chance, is actually more supportable.

What are the odds that the universe and we are by chance? Roger Penrose did the math (actually on the odds of the low entropy at the beginning, 13 billion years ago), and the odds are infinitesimal.

Since we’re not here by chance, it’s relatively easy for me to accept my gut instinct, telling me that I do indeed have at least some “disinterested free will.” Besides, no one truly believes, in their gut, otherwise; not even those less than completely authentic atheists you’ve mentioned, except for maybe the dead ones.

Hi Fred,

I agree with you that free will is tougher to sell than deity, although both are problematic in my opinion. Both rely on comparing various strong intuitions that we hold with empirical data. As I think Dan Wegner demonstrates in "The Illusion of Conscious Will," it is only moderately difficult to frame the classic free will question (that human will is an "uncaused cause") in an empirically testable way and then show some of its more blatant failures. We thereby show that our intuition is (partly) faulty. Will is caused and constrained, however not neccessarily a fatalistic prison. The intuition does tell us something of real value, that we do have choices even if not perfectly unconstrained in some absolute sense.

Arguments about the more common concept of free will (your "at least some" free will) seem pointless to me as well as they do to you since no sane person would seriously deny such a thing. We have responsibility in some sense for some subset of our actions because we have some ability to distinguish good from bad consequences and to predict and prevent the bad ones by controlling our own actions.

It seems to me that there is no equivalent empirical testing framework for the concept of a deity because it is so broad and so inclusive. It isn;t the existence of such a thing that is the issue, since it can take more forms than we can imagine, and have properties we cannot comprehend, but what it means to our lives. The place it really matters is when claims about deity are used to support claims of authority among mortals on earth. Authority is the lynch pin on which the meaningful philosophical arguments hinge.

Making religion (or some equally totalistic atheist ideology) enforceably the ultimate authority, and the Church or State its mediator on earth leads to a very different kind of authority model from imagining nature as the ultimate authority, and empirical science its mediator, and with very different social and political consequences, regardless of whether a deity exists or whether we believe in it.

kind regards,

Todd

Fred H.
December 7th, 2004, 08:14 PM
Todd says: It seems to me that there is no equivalent empirical testing framework for the concept of a deity because it is so broad and so inclusive.

Todd, forget about deity—wrong question, wrong test. The relevant question is what are the odds that the universe and we are here by chance?

ToddStark
December 8th, 2004, 05:14 PM
Todd, forget about deity—wrong question, wrong test. The relevant question is what are the odds that the universe and we are here by chance?

For me that's a strenuously abstract question, but no I don't think our existence is the simple random outcome of cosmic dice.

I suspect that things could easily have been very different for us, or that our existence might never have occurred at all, based on different chance events happening, but I don't think we are here as some simple random outcome of cosmic dice. As the "anthropic principle"" suggests, an awful lot of things had to line up in particular ways to make us possible. "Random outcome" would be a very misleading way to think of it. More like one remarkable outcome of many possible ones, some of which are remarkable in other ways.

It suggests to me any of at least three broad implications: (1) an awful lot of universes and environments exist and that we are aware of being in one of the very few places that could support someone who can be aware of such a thing, (2) that there might more things similar to ourselves out there than we generally imagine, or (3) that there was some intention or plan to bring us about.

That step I can take with many theologians. Some of them, like the process theologians, who have no interest in theocratizing science, I can even walk with a little farther and understand their ideas in metaphorical and meaningful human terms. But eventually we part when my fascination with figuring things out in more or less mechanical terms runs up against their requirement of explaining the totality of human experience in a socially meaningful way.

At some point we have to decide whether spirit exists on its own or is a rather special way of looking at certain aspects of nature in its otherwise dreary looking physical form. I just find that leap to a literal existence of entirely independent spirit too far to jump. That's why a specific planning intelligence beyond our ken that guides evolution or intervenes in quantum mechanics or plays games with our microtubules just doesn't seem to work for me intellectually, even though those are tempting reconciliations of our intuitions and any of them would certainly provide a lot more comforting picture overall than a universe of nothing but cold, dark partcles and forces.

kind regards,

Todd

James Brody
December 8th, 2004, 07:29 PM
The computations are not equivalent: the present universe versus a robed old guy with human characteristics!

The present universe may be very likely (check Stu Kauffman, 1995, 2000) once you understand emergent outcomes. That is, any particular outcome is very unlikely but once we have a finite set of rules, star systems make calcium and iron through fusion. The variation is more in the details of life forms but they will occur.

Gosh! Our universe as an exploratory system with a few BIG rules and an infinity of details that flows from them!

If you accord "deity" standing to math, then welcome to my club of Pythagoreans!

Again consider, Fred, that you may have your faith because of a bent gene and I don't have your faith because of a different bent gene.

With kind regards...

JimB

Fred H.
December 8th, 2004, 07:50 PM
Todd, you say that asking what the odds are that the universe and we are here by chance is a “strenuously abstract question.” The physicist/mathematician Roger Penrose apparently didn’t think so, and backs it up with science and math.

Regarding the three implications that you suggest:
1. Regarding the “lot of universes” idea, there’s not much evidence, string theory notwithstanding, and it lacks elegance; I doubt Occam would approve.
2. Regarding “more things out there,” again, we have to work with the available evidence & science, and pay Occam his due.
3. Which leaves us with your “intention or plan.” I think Occam would concur.

And there’s really no need to “decide whether spirit exists”—as Penrose, who I think has indicated in times past that he’s a materialist, notes, we still don’t even know what matter (waves and/or particles?) is.

Fred H.
December 8th, 2004, 09:44 PM
OK JimB, you and Todd are going to have to get out of your system that preconceived “robed old guy with human characteristics.” Perhaps hypnotism and/or electric shock?

Your emergent outcomes wouldn’t exist without the low entropy at the beginning, 13 billion years ago; and the odds that entropy would be so low are infinitesimal, at least according to Penrose’s math.

Perhaps we both have that “bent gene” you refer to, but that your faith is in chance, and/or in many universes, and/or in the atheism of the academics you study (except for great E. O. Wilson).

It’s a troubling question, isn’t it—what are the odds that the universe and we are here by chance? Seems to shake one’s faith in one’s atheism, doesn’t it? And just think of how happy you and Todd will make me this Christmas when y’all renounce your atheism.

ToddStark
December 9th, 2004, 08:29 AM
Todd, you say that asking what the odds are that the universe and we are here by chance is a “strenuously abstract question.” The physicist/mathematician Roger Penrose apparently didn’t think so, and backs it up with science and math.

Regarding the three implications that you suggest:
1. Regarding the “lot of universes” idea, there’s not much evidence, string theory notwithstanding, and it lacks elegance; I doubt Occam would approve.
2. Regarding “more things out there,” again, we have to work with the available evidence & science, and pay Occam his due.
3. Which leaves us with your “intention or plan.” I think Occam would concur.

And there’s really no need to “decide whether spirit exists”—as Penrose, who I think has indicated in times past that he’s a materialist, notes, we still don’t even know what matter (waves and/or particles?) is.

Hi Fred,

Thanks for your concern for my soul, or my sanity, whichever motivates you to want me to believe and would consider it a gift.

Let's say that my allelle for religiosity more fully expresses itself next week and I verbally acknowledge the God of Spinoza and Einstein (the one that doesn't play dice and without whom science is blind).

Let's say He is something slightly more ethnic than the one revered by the cult of Pythagoras and Penrose (it's all in the math!) ... but not quite a robed Father who listens to and answers prayers individually.

Let's say he is also not quite the one who gives up His Son for His beloved job creating and redeeming mortal souls, since that one is not even part of my Jewish upbringing and has never seemed any sort of an option for me given the free choice of belief.

I don't quite see why this apparent change would make a difference to you, do you think it would change the way I act toward or think about other people?

Let's say my religiosity allele then fully expresses itself a year later, and I recognize that God listens to our prayers and sometimes answers them. I now not only pray with my children for their comfort, and with my wife for the harmony of our home life, but now also in private. In what other way have I changed as a result? Have I suddenly become more compassionate? Wiser? More reliable friend, husband, father? Have I "grown up" spiritually? Is that what you are looking for or expecting here?

Would you think I'd come to my senses in that case, or would my atheist friends think I've begun the descent into senility? Perhaps both.

I'm not a militant atheist, in fact those folks sometimes give me the creeps nearly as much as militant evangelicals. I'm just someone for whom that sort of belief has thankfully never become a "live option." My strong belief in Jeffersonian secularism does put me in conflict with activist evangelicals who oppose it, but that has little to do with the mathematics or the Spinoza-Einstein deity. As Jim said, it's a different computation entirely. Were I born in the 18th century under similar favorable circumstances to my current life, I suspect I almost certainly would have been Deist rather than atheist or evangelical.

As for the three options, I don't know of any way to distinguish them empirically, although my own bent gene is similar to Jim's in that I find something like Kauffman's theory the most persuasive, leading me to believe in the likelihood of option 2 even though evidence of multiple similar evolutionary outcomes in all the universe or universes is obviously not available.

Joyous Christmas to you anyway ...

Todd

Fred H.
December 9th, 2004, 11:10 AM
Todd, you indicate that you’re led to believe in the likelihood of option 2—“that there might be more things similar to ourselves out there than we generally imagine.” Ahhh, yeah, sure Todd, whatever . . . don’t think I’d necessarily disagree that there’re more things out there….

Anyway, great question isn’t it—what are the odds that the universe and we are here by chance? Seems to be something of a stumbling block for those professing atheism.

Nevertheless Todd, as we’ve already determined, and as documented in my August 22, 2004 post in your Evolution of Ernst thread, once we get thru all your bluster, “you’re actually agnostic, or somewhere between agnostic and atheist, which is still agnostic.” Therefore I’m not concerned for your soul; and for your sanity we have drugs—yes Todd, my Christmas will indeed be joyous. You too have a blessed holiday, and ponder the odds.

Fred H.
December 9th, 2004, 09:14 PM
JimB and Todd, the breaking story from abcnews.com, Associated Press, below, is probably somewhat distressing for those professing atheism. Do y’all think this guy’s “bent gene” underwent a random mutation, or is this just one of them there “emergent outcomes?”


Famous Atheist Now Believes in God

NEW YORK Dec 9, 2004 — A British philosophy professor who has been a leading champion of atheism for more than a half-century has changed his mind. He now believes in God more or less based on scientific evidence, and says so on a video released Thursday.

At age 81, after decades of insisting belief is a mistake, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe. A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature, Flew said in a telephone interview from England.

Flew said he's best labeled a deist like Thomas Jefferson, whose God was not actively involved in people's lives.

"I'm thinking of a God very different from the God of the Christian and far and away from the God of Islam, because both are depicted as omnipotent Oriental despots, cosmic Saddam Husseins," he said. "It could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose."

Flew first made his mark with the 1950 article "Theology and Falsification," based on a paper for the Socratic Club, a weekly Oxford religious forum led by writer and Christian thinker C.S. Lewis.

Over the years, Flew proclaimed the lack of evidence for God while teaching at Oxford, Aberdeen, Keele, and Reading universities in Britain, in visits to numerous U.S. and Canadian campuses and in books, articles, lectures and debates.

There was no one moment of change but a gradual conclusion over recent months for Flew, a spry man who still does not believe in an afterlife.

Yet biologists' investigation of DNA "has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved," Flew says in the new video, "Has Science Discovered God?"

The video draws from a New York discussion last May organized by author Roy Abraham Varghese's Institute for Metascientific Research in Garland, Texas. Participants were Flew; Varghese; Israeli physicist Gerald Schroeder, an Orthodox Jew; and Roman Catholic philosopher John Haldane of Scotland's University of St. Andrews.

The first hint of Flew's turn was a letter to the August-September issue of Britain's Philosophy Now magazine. "It has become inordinately difficult even to begin to think about constructing a naturalistic theory of the evolution of that first reproducing organism," he wrote.

The letter commended arguments in Schroeder's "The Hidden Face of God" and "The Wonder of the World" by Varghese, an Eastern Rite Catholic layman.

This week, Flew finished writing the first formal account of his new outlook for the introduction to a new edition of his "God and Philosophy," scheduled for release next year by Prometheus Press.

Prometheus specializes in skeptical thought, but if his belief upsets people, well "that's too bad," Flew said. "My whole life has been guided by the principle of Plato's Socrates: Follow the evidence, wherever it leads."

Last week, Richard Carrier, a writer and Columbia University graduate student, posted new material based on correspondence with Flew on the atheistic www.infidels.org Web page. Carrier assured atheists that Flew accepts only a "minimal God" and believes in no afterlife.

Flew's "name and stature are big. Whenever you hear people talk about atheists, Flew always comes up," Carrier said. Still, when it comes to Flew's reversal, "apart from curiosity, I don't think it's like a big deal."

Flew told The Associated Press his current ideas have some similarity with American "intelligent design" theorists, who see evidence for a guiding force in the construction of the universe. He accepts Darwinian evolution but doubts it can explain the ultimate origins of life.

A Methodist minister's son, Flew became an atheist at 15.

Early in his career, he argued that no conceivable events could constitute proof against God for believers, so skeptics were right to wonder whether the concept of God meant anything at all.

Another landmark was his 1984 "The Presumption of Atheism," playing off the presumption of innocence in criminal law. Flew said the debate over God must begin by presuming atheism, putting the burden of proof on those arguing that God exists.

ToddStark
December 10th, 2004, 12:41 PM
Very interesting. He crossed the very line that we keep arguing over, from atheism to deism. I admire him for it, it must be making his most dedicated fan base very uncomfortable.

It's a little like Sharon giving up the Gaza strip!

Todd

ToddStark
December 10th, 2004, 12:56 PM
Also, be sure to let us know when Dawkins is caught by the National Inquirer praying the rosary and Dennett does an ad for Scientology ... it's bound to happen eventually now, you know how these things tend to snowball once you make a small concession to the enemy ... :p

ToddStark
December 10th, 2004, 01:52 PM
Flew's actual comments reveal an additional twist, that he considers the response of both theists and atheists to recent scientific developments to be rational. This seems to allude to something like the underdetermination thesis where the same evidence can rationally lead to different conclusions. I tend to agree with this.

Here is an article (http://atheism.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://www.secweb.org/asset.asp%3FAssetID=138) where Flew responds to all the buzz over his apparent "conversion" to some sort of deism.

First, it seems I was wrong about him previously being what I could call a militant atheist (though he is one of their favorite sources), he says he was always only a "negative atheist" in the sense of claiming that deity can never be verified or disconfirmed. I certainly go that far as well. He also makes the comment that theism is a rational response to scientific developments given the assumptions of believers, just as it is rational for "positive atheists" to deny any such conclusion.

He apparently doesn't consider his recent comments to represent a conversion of any sort, just an elaboration of his continuing "negative atheism" (deity can neither be verified nor disconfirmed) plus his acknowledgement of the persistent mystery of things like the origin of the first reproducing organism.

I agree with him that it is not that much of a stretch from "negative atheism" to a Spinozan pantheistic deity. I feel pretty much the same way, simply in the sense that the origin of something like "autopoeisis" and the existence of extraordinary natural systems are a much harder problem than the things Darwinian adaptation directly deals with, for example. They do merit a different order of explanation than natural selection alone. I'm not sure they require "intelligence," depending on what that really means, but surely more than "positive atheists" (as fans of thoroughgoing simplification to known natural processes) are comfortable admitting to. My willingness to consider Peter Corning's "synergism" as a scientific hypothesis, for example, seems to be something that seems outside of science by many people.

It largely comes down (for the technical explanatory aspect) to the sorts of explanations we are willing to allow for apparent mysteries.

kind regards,

Todd

Here are Flew's own words ...

Richard C. Carrier, current Editor in Chief of the Secular Web, tells me that "the internet has now become awash with rumors" that I "have converted to Christianity, or am at least no longer an atheist." Perhaps because I was born too soon to be involved in the internet world I had heard nothing of this rumour. So Mr. Carrier asks me to explain myself in cyberspace. This, with the help of the Internet Infidels, I now attempt.

Those rumours speak false. I remain still what I have been now for over fifty years, a negative atheist. By this I mean that I construe the initial letter in the word 'atheist' in the way in which everyone construes the same initial letter in such words as 'atypical' and 'amoral'. For I still believe that it is impossible either to verify or to falsify - to show to be false - what David Hume in his Dialogues concerning Natural Religion happily described as "the religious hypothesis." The more I contemplate the eschatological teachings of Christianity and Islam the more I wish I could demonstrate their falsity.

I first argued the impossibility in 'Theology and Falsification', a short paper originally published in 1950 and since reprinted over forty times in different places, including translations into German, Italian, Spanish, Danish, Welsh, Finnish and Slovak. The most recent reprint was as part of 'A Golden Jubilee Celebration' in the October/November 2001 issue of the semi-popular British journal Philosophy Now, which the editors of that periodical have graciously allowed the Internet Infidels to publish online: see "Theology & Falsification."

I can suggest only one possible source of the rumours. Several weeks ago I submitted to the Editor of Philo (The Journal of the Society of Humanist Philosophers) a short paper making two points which might well disturb atheists of the more positive kind. The point more relevant here was that it can be entirely rational for believers and negative atheists to respond in quite different ways to the same scientific developments.

We negative atheists are bound to see the Big Bang cosmology as requiring a physical explanation; and that one which, in the nature of the case, may nevertheless be forever inaccessible to human beings. But believers may, equally reasonably, welcome the Big Bang cosmology as tending to confirm their prior belief that "in the beginning" the Universe was created by God.

Again, negative atheists meeting the argument that the fundamental constants of physics would seem to have been 'fine tuned' to make the emergence of mankind possible will first object to the application of either the frequency or the propensity theory of probability 'outside' the Universe, and then go on to ask why omnipotence should have been satisfied to produce a Universe in which the origin and rise of the human race was merely possible rather than absolutely inevitable. But believers are equally bound and, on their opposite assumptions, equally justified in seeing the Fine Tuning Argument as providing impressive confirmation of a fundamental belief shared by all the three great systems of revealed theistic religion - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For all three are agreed that we human beings are members of a special kind of creatures, made in the image of God and for a purpose intended by God.

In short, I recognize that developments in physics coming on the last twenty or thirty years can reasonably be seen as in some degree confirmatory of a previously faith-based belief in god, even though they still provide no sufficient reason for unbelievers to change their minds. They certainly have not persuaded me.

Fred H.
December 10th, 2004, 05:24 PM
Flew indicates that he’s still a “negative atheist,” but that he is best labeled a deist like Jefferson, and that he now also believes that intelligence was involved in producing life. Hmmm, he sounds schizophrenic too.

Difficult to let go of old beliefs, to admit that you’ve been so wrong about so much. Kind of how I felt when Clinton revealed that BJs aren’t sex.

And Todd, don’t look at this as a “small concession to the enemy,” rather think of it as the twilight of atheism, and perhaps a returning to the fold.

ToddStark
December 10th, 2004, 09:51 PM
And Todd, don’t look at this as a “small concession to the enemy,” rather think of it as the twilight of atheism, and perhaps a returning to the fold.

Could be. Hopefully not also the twilight of naturalism and science as I think of it, but who knows. A shift of strict atheists to secularist deism as in the case of Flew wouldn't bother me at all, but the end of secularism would be catastrophic for what I think of as the intellectual tradition many of us have enjoyed and benefitted from greatly for its insights and clarity.

And as an aside, I don't think of Sharon's efforts as a small concession to the enemy, I think of it as a big risk of compassion and an act of good faith almost unprecedented in the history of the struggles in that area.

If Flew really "converted" from a strict atheism to a secularist deism as some are claiming lately, I view that as not a concession but a remarkable act of courage to acknowledge it.

On the other hand, I don't know what the universe having "intelligence" means to an atheist, so I can't really be sure that it isn't some minor form of schizophrenia. ;)

Mike Phillips
December 11th, 2004, 12:42 AM
Hello, Gentlemen

Science ("repeatable" proven experiments) is the wrong test to prove the existence of a Creator.

The proper approach is a method lawyers use. A historical legal evidence or documented proof.

Since, scientifically you cannot prove what you ate for breakfast last Tuesday ( you could most likely produce a few witness's to testify to the fact of what & where you ate your breakfast and the actual time.) or the last thought that passed through your mind (unless spoken to someone else). The date you were born (other than the proof of your own existence and documentation).

Or, that George Washington lived and breathed or Socrates; we cannot give scientific facts or produce scientific evidence. What we do have is historical evidence and proof. That these two men in history walked on this earth, the actions and philosopies of their legacys' and documented accounts, remain to this day as proof of their existence.

We have more proof of the existence of Christ, and His life on this planet has done more to change the course of history and the lives of men to this very moment in history, than any character of our human existence througthout mankinds history.

It narrows down to what Jesus said of Himself "If you have seen Me; you have seen the Father ( God ) " " My Father and I are one" ( God / Creator ). HHHHMMMM???

So now it rests on what does one believe about the claims of Christ and how they relate to the existence of God ( His Father in Heaven ). From His life and His testimony, not excluding the apostles, other believers or the historical accounts of non-believers.

What really tics off atheists, perplexes skeptics & stumps evolutionists; about whether there is a God or not? Is Jesus the Messiah is the only emperical / historical proof God gave us, and the evidence is irrefutible.

Freewill is not an allusion.

Merry Christmas,
Mike

ps I voted for "W" as well. Go figure, it must have been something about the moral / ethical issues. Oh Yeah!, that "Lurch" would sell us out to enemy, would have had anything to do with it?

ToddStark
December 12th, 2004, 11:50 AM
Hi Mike,

Thanks very much for your reply! I agree with you. A shared goal of theology and law is to build the best possible case for a particular pre-determined interpretation of particular historical events. I agree that the legal model is more suitable to theology than is scientific inquiry.

For a Christian theologian to interpret historical evidence to falsify the divinity of Christ would be like a lawyer arguing the case to convict his client. They would appear insane or incompetent. It's just not their job.

A scientist or philosopher who argues a completely different position from previously confuses us at first because it seems contrary to human nature, but unlike the theolgian or lawyer, they are eventually applauded for their integrity if they manage to make their case well.

The goal of scientific inquiry is indeed different from both law and theology, the goal is explaining the natural world better, not proving or disproving God or convicting or exhonerating a client.

kind regards,

Todd

ToddStark
December 12th, 2004, 01:40 PM
What really tics off atheists, perplexes skeptics & stumps evolutionists; about whether there is a God or not? Is Jesus the Messiah is the only emperical / historical proof God gave us, and the evidence is irrefutible.

Thanks for asking this. I'll give you my honest perspective.

First, the tradition that overlaps all of those things can be described in a single word instead of the awkward multiple categories. I think you are referring in general to secularists.

I can tell you some things that tick me off as a secularist in general. I can assure you that they have nothing to do with specific religious claims. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, and various denominations of Christians live together in my neighborhood peacefully and without trying to convert each other or any serious interest in doing so. That's the model that secularism strives for in my opinion. Most of us aren't the least bit bothered that the other groups believe something different about God. That's the point. People don't want to be preached to, especially from someone else's religion.

I think ab important source of contention is that anti-secularists perceive that secularism is itself a religion or anti-religion rather than a no-religion zone. They don't see it as a protected region of non-religion and objective inquiry the way secularists do. Though it may seem subtle, that is a very central point of contention between the two kinds of traditions.

Secularists don't care about specific religious claims, secularism is about people being free to practice their religion, but not imposing it on other people who believe differently. It is about (1) recognizing the sheer brute fact that people (rationally or not, warranted or not) believe different things about God and (2) about the optimism that this doesn't have to divide us if we draw reasonable boundaries. Not everyone accepts this division of private belief and secular public inquiry, and that's where the tension arises.

Anti-secularists (most often conservative evangelicals) consider the secular idea to be thinly disguised atheism. Most secularists disagree strenuously with this. We believe that the people who oppose any such boundaries (and we see them as offering essentially a form of theocracy as preferable) simply take for granted the intellectual traditions that secularists believe resulted from and support the secular autonomy of inquiry. That's where the two visions differ and a big part of why intellectuals feel so threatened by conservative evangelicals.

Equally important, secularism is about objective forms of inquiry that people can agree on regardless of their personal beliefs. Secularism started not at all with atheism of any sort, but with the almost unimaginable excitement that was generated in the 17th and 18th centuries over the success of mathematics and physics compared to the seemingly endless unresolvable conflicts between theologians.

Reasonable people can and do successfully argue the divinity of Christ or Vishnu (the point of free will?), but not the principles of calculus or the rate of acceleration due to gravity (a matter of intelligence, education, and common human nature).

Deism arose among a tiny but vocal group of intellectuals as a natural extension of secularism and secularism was widely influential beyond the deists probably because it seemed to offer a way to avoid the endless negative influence of theological disputes in politics and public life in a theocracy.

The idea can be differently interpreted, but the basic principle is simply that some things are much more universally agreed than others, and that autonomous inquiry based on them should be protected even if it sometimes creates (hopefully constructive) tension with theology and with specific religious traditions.

So one thing that disturbs secularists deeply is when their hard fought right to practice autonomous intellectual inquiry (particularly science and natural philosophy) free of the brute force of mass opinion is threatened, as when politicians intrude in science and universities in the name of "cultural renewal."

Another thing that disturbs us is when the real value and often truth of our intellectual traditions is ignored because it has been systematically misrepresented in order to make the theological/legal case against secularism.

Admittedly, secularism itself can become overly aggressive and verge on suppressing religion, and some of the response is in understandable reaction to that.

However many of us believe that there is also very good evidence of a systematic, well-organized "wedge" strategy to eliminate secularism because it is misconceived as positive atheism, and to promote theocracy. This is the "cultural renewal" political agenda and secularists feel justly threatened by it.

kind regards,

Todd

Some good introductory sources:

Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, Susan Jacoby. A history of the struggles of secularism, documenting why they were considered so important and why they are not simply atheism in disguise.

Science and Religion in Historical Perspective , Vern Bullough, in Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?, Prometheus Press.

The Science and Religion Movement, Eugenie Scott, in Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?, Prometheus Press.

The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen Scientist, Richard Feynman, Perseus Press.

The Sacred Depths of Nature, Ursula Goodenough, Oxford University Press. An argument for natural religion compatible with the values of secularism and the evidence of scientific inquiry.

Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design ,
Barbara Carroll Forrest, Paul R. Gross, Oxford University Press. Documents the "wedge" strategy of "culture renewal" and how it is intended to replace science with religious ideas in biology.

James Brody
December 12th, 2004, 07:38 PM
Is Life Based on the Laws of Physics? (p. 76)

"What I wish to make clear in this last chapter is, in short, that from all we have learnt about the structure of living matter, we must be prepared to find it working an a manner that cannot be reduced to the ordinary laws of physics. And that is not on the ground that there is any 'new force' or what not, directing the behaviours of the single atoms within a living organism, but because the construction is different from anything we have yet tested in the physical laboratory. To put it crudely, an engineer, familiar with heat engines only, will, after inspecting the construction of an electric motor, be prepared to find it working along principles which he does not yet understand. He finds the copper familiar to him in kettles used here in the form of long, long wires wound in coils; the iron familiar to him levers and bars and steam cylinders is here filling the interior of those coils of copper wire. He will be convinced that it is the same copper and the same iron, subject to the same laws of Nature and he is right in that. The difference in construction is enough to prepare him for an entirely different way of functioning. He will not suspect that an electric motor is driven by a ghost because it is set spinning by the turn of a switch, without boiler and steam."

In a word, yes.
JimB

James Brody
December 12th, 2004, 07:40 PM
Nice statement! Hit him again if he gets up!

Jim

Fred H.
December 13th, 2004, 09:18 AM
JimB says Schroedinger and his genes answer Fred—“Is Life Based on the Laws of Physics?”

Well, aside from the fact that one would need a far greater appreciation for the “new force” of electromagnetism to understand the electric motor versus the heat engine; and aside from the fact that the known laws don’t seem able to explain human consciousness; and although I may have wondered about your bent genes and emergent outcomes in relation to Flew’s—the so-called negative atheist—recent conversion to believing that intelligence was involved in producing life; that wasn’t my question.

My question, apparently, is more disconcerting, at least for those professing atheism: What are the odds that the universe and we are here by chance?

jasonparker
December 17th, 2004, 02:10 PM
Yes I agree with you. you can see new articles about this subject in www.harunyahya.com I suggest you to check it out.

Fred H.
December 18th, 2004, 08:34 AM
jason agrees . . . and Fred wonders, with friends like jason, who needs enemas?

Mike Phillips
December 18th, 2004, 11:21 PM
Todd & Jim

Thank you Todd for the Thumbs up, next round!
So Todd, you just admitted that you & Jim both, along with other secularists (pluralists) have "freewill" to believe what you choose to believe. (miracles do happen!).

My choice through trial & error of many pathways; only one really provided peace, hope and love, for me my fundamental beliefs have been tested by time as well as myself and has never led me astray. When compared to other religions "real" Christianity is the only one that fulfilled my soul and is more intellectual than other religions that are of pagan origins. In a moment of perfect clarity faith is revealed.

The God I have placed my faith in is the same one that Abraham in the Old Testament placed his in. And the same one that sent His Son for you all as well as myself.

I have researched many religious beliefs. And yes, Christianity is exclusive to WHO is God, But so are other religions with their various idols & gods.

Historically tested Judism the roots of modern Christianity, is one and the same except the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.

I do not believe allah, buddha, vishnu, confucious or other gods is the same Creator God in the bible (just do a little "historical" research) and you will draw some very distinct & clear conclusions. I do not judge or condemn others by their religious belief. But what I have discovered is they judged me for saying I believe in salvation through Christ. Not only that, but when I am among different religious people, which is often, they ask me questions. Several "converts" have made stark distguishing conclusions comparing their new faith to their old religion and are quite satisfied with their decision experiencing fulfillment, joy, peace, hope, love and reality. Something their old religion could not provide or substane. I guess the proof is in the pudding.

Hey Jim, You call that a punch, Com'on, you guys can hit harder than that, what are you afraid of? My friendly "Ghost" won't hurt ya' (well......)

Enjoy This Christmas Season & May You All Be Blessed with Many More!!!

Mike

ToddStark
December 19th, 2004, 12:24 PM
Todd & Jim

Thank you Todd for the Thumbs up, next round!
So Todd, you just admitted that you & Jim both, along with other secularists (pluralists) have "freewill" to believe what you choose to believe. (miracles do happen!).


My guess is that virtually everyone believes in free will. However, we certainly think of it (and especially its role in decision making and morality) in different ways. We also explain its origin differently. Unlike two people looking at a tree or a rock, two people reflecting on abstracts like free will can perceive very different things, I think.

My choice through trial & error of many pathways; only one really provided peace, hope and love, for me my fundamental beliefs have been tested by time as well as myself and has never led me astray. When compared to other religions "real" Christianity is the only one that fulfilled my soul and is more intellectual than other religions that are of pagan origins. In a moment of perfect clarity faith is revealed.

That's great. The question with respect to your attitude toward secularism is then whether you would acknowledge the possibility that other people feel the same way about their "pagan" religions and are equally fulfilled by them. Does it seem impossible, possible but irrelevant, empirically disconfirmed, or what? The first hurdle is what the "pagan" philosophers call the principle of charity, the idea that we should assume that the other side is being rational and honest and that it makes sense to see why and how they are being rational and honest, rather than assuming that their reasoning is just the devil trying to tempt us.

I have researched many religious beliefs. And yes, Christianity is exclusive to WHO is God, But so are other religions with their various idols & gods.

It may well be that human nature drives us to make our religions exclusive, once we have made them part of our identity. I see a similar thing happening with nationalism. However, I would arge that it isn't true of logical neccessity. Many scholars argue persuasively that there are common themes in religion and mythology that reveal a universal architecture to the human mind and spirit. We don't have to see religions as mutually exclusive, although there is a tendency to do so.

I do not judge or condemn others by their religious belief. But what I have discovered is they judged me for saying I believe in salvation through Christ.

You don't condemn others, yet they judge you. Very well. I think nearly everyone would make the same claim.

Not only that, but when I am among different religious people, which is often, they ask me questions. Several "converts" have made stark distguishing conclusions comparing their new faith to their old religion and are quite satisfied with their decision experiencing fulfillment, joy, peace, hope, love and reality. Something their old religion could not provide or substane. I guess the proof is in the pudding.

Have you ever considered the remote possibility that you might be operating under a selection bias here? That when people find other religions to be equally fulfilling that you simply don't hear their words or believe what they say is in their heart? Even if it was true that you had discovered the religion that brings greatest fulfillment to the greatest number of people, it could be explained by one religion being a more effective "opiate of the masses" than others. A more seductive temptation. Isn't it possible that most religions see the others in this way as temptations from the truth?

I don't see an argument here against secularism as I have defined it, in fact I see your argument as supporting it. You want the freedom to pursue the religion you find so fulfilling.

If you grant that I want the same thing but that I might find something different to be fulfilling, then we have no argument left on this particular point. If you think it is your moral responsibility to work to deny that to me, then we are at odds with each other.

The secular philosophy at its core is intended to avoid that contention, although like anything else it can be applied overly aggressively and effectively make the presumably "neutral" zone so large that it impinges on freedoms. Aligned with identity politics, for example, or "political correctness" it can itself become oppresssive. Philosophies and ideologies are no replacement for wisdom.

Enjoy This Christmas Season & May You All Be Blessed with Many More!!!

My best to you as well.

peace and joy,

Todd

Fred H.
December 19th, 2004, 03:06 PM
Todd:

Secularism is defined, by Houghton Mifflin, as religious skepticism or indifference; or the view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs or public education. It’s virtual atheism, and therein lies the tension.

The problem seems to be that the so-called secularists are often atheists attempting to impose their desire to exclude all traces of God and/or religion, or all traces of “religious considerations,” from “civil affairs or public education.” An impossible and undesirable goal, and something the Founding Fathers, mostly deists, didn’t really intend. No wonder we have annoying religious fanatics like Mike attempting to impose their own POV.

Back in the 1950s, when I was an atheist in grade school, we all prayed (sort of), said things like “one nation under God,” and sang Christmas songs. Far as I know, no one was psychologically damaged. That’s before you GD “secularists” and religious fanatics started having your hissy fits. Y’all really mucked things up … hope Santa craps in your stockings.

ToddStark
December 25th, 2004, 11:24 AM
hope Santa craps in your stockings

Nice. I used to love the spirit of Christmas. The "believers" like you are threatening to kill it for me with their very un-Christ-like partisan rhetoric. I'm trying not to lose faith. You present a serious challenge for me sometimes, my friend. I wish you nothing but joy. I hope that chip falls from your shoulder some day while we are both breathing and able to appreciate the event.

Secularism is defined, by Houghton Mifflin, as religious skepticism or indifference; or the view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs or public education. It’s virtual atheism, and therein lies the tension.

It seems fairly obvious that secularists are less passionate about imposing religion on the public sphere than evangelicals, that's what makes them secularists. Calling them "virtual atheists" is simply inaccurate, it is a rhetorical stance not a point of fact. To disconfirm it simply notice that a great many secularists are theologically liberal ministers, rabbis, and priests. Not atheists at all, unless you stretch "atheist" so neither of us would recognize it.

It seems to me that you are lumping several completely different groups together by stereotype (and to some degree common themes), in the same manner that liberals tend to think that anyone who sounds like you and Mike as the "religious right" even though you see yourselves as having very different perspectives.

What you aren't recognizing, I think, is that people tend to stereotype those they think are opposed to them and thus miss the nuances in their views. It seems to be a pretty reliable fact of social cognition. Repeating over and over that liberals are all atheists doesn't make it true, it just shows how strong the stereotype is and how successfully Republican party leaders and their "think tanks" and special interest groups have framed the issues in their own terms in recent years.

The problem seems to be that the so-called secularists are often atheists attempting to impose their desire to exclude all traces of God and/or religion, or all traces of “religious considerations,” from “civil affairs or public education.” An impossible and undesirable goal, and something the Founding Fathers, mostly deists, didn’t really intend. No wonder we have annoying religious fanatics like Mike attempting to impose their own POV.

There is an important theory in sociology known as secularization. It refers to the idea that religion should in principle diminish in both reported belief and practice (church attendance) as people become more educated. It has happened in Western Europe, but not in the United States.

The question is why. One plausible theory is that the secularism enforced in the U.S. by the constitutional separation of Church and State forces churches to be more aggressive in their marketing in order to survive, whereas in nations with state-sponsored religion, churches become lazy about building and maintaining their flocks. I think it is very possible that you at least partly right, that it is our very secularism that encourages religion, and also religious fanatacism.

Back in the 1950s, when I was an atheist in grade school, we all prayed (sort of), said things like “one nation under God,” and sang Christmas songs. Far as I know, no one was psychologically damaged. That’s before you GD “secularists” and religious fanatics started having your hissy fits. Y’all really mucked things up

It surely won't stick in your head any more than it ever has in the past, but moderates and fanatics are distinguishable, even among people you don't like. I'm not in favor of the things you accuse me of, like taking widely shared religious symbols competely out of the religious sphere. I never had any problem with "under God" or religious holidays being celebrated in public school. These things are more of nationalism and community unity than they are of religious piety. That's why the deists supported them. It is the extremists on the right that have been taking advantage of militant atheist fanaticism to try to make even conservative democrats sound too "liberal."

I drew the line when in response to "culture war" rhetoric the social conservatives tried to teach the Bible in science class. That just isn't right. Even in countries where there is a national Church, that is recognized as an inappropriate thing. People can pray and refer to God as far as I'm concerned, most of us know what they mean and share most of their feelings of national unity and spiritual commonality without thinking of it in sectarian terms. I go to church with my Catholic family and respect their beliefs and they mine. Hypocrisy like atheists attending church and your Santa who craps in stockings is a product of the tensions we hold between our beliefs.

We can learn to understand and deal with it on an individual basis, or we can make a senseless "culture war" out of it and divide us over every arbitrary point that politicians persuade us is important. That strategy works extremely well for spreading division between Muslims and Christians, Christians and Jews, Jews and Muslims, and inthe U.S., liberals and conservatives. Not to mention racial groups and to a lesser extent, groups that like different sports teams.

That's how I see the choice we face. I reject that choice and work hard to deal with individuals in spite of their refusal to recognize their stereotypes and my own challenges recognizing mine. Not that it is a real choice for most of us. We don't change our frame, not because we disagree (since you agree with me on virtually every substantive point) but I think because we usually aren't aware of the effect of the ideological frame on our thinking. People don't discover their own stereotypes because someone points them out, they discover them with great difficulty and great rarity and often great effort. Yet the evidence is there if we work to see it. We can learn to think more clearly and less ideologically in spite of the difficulty.

Joyous Christmas!

Todd

Mike Phillips
December 25th, 2004, 08:42 PM
Hello Todd,

You grasp my viewpoint very well I do support freewill, and the right to believe in one's particular faith and pursue it in peace.

But who have to admit, the minority I happen to belong. Has received the short-end of the stick for quite some time and to be frank, We sort of expect the line to be drawn by the "secular world" but it really doesn't bother us.

Unless they continue to teach 1st graders homosexual lifestyles are okay and how to be one, it does bother us.

Rewriting our country's history to appease 10% of the population, it does bother us.

Teaching witchcraft (a religion) in schools and not allowing the Bible to be taught, bothers us.

Not allowing Creation equal footing with a religious atheistic format of evolution, bothers us.

Teaching islam in public schools (California) a religion that is proven throughout history to be hostile (even "peaceful" Islam) towards Christian and Jewish Faiths, bother us.

Removing the Ten Commandments (our Judaic/Christian) heritage and foundation of our laws from the public arena is scary, and it does bother us.

Not saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school, bothers us.

Liberals that want to sell our sovereign right as a country to protect ourselves, to the united nations, bothers us.
and these same liberals that want gun control for every law-abiding citizen accept criminals.

Murdering the unborn, breaks our hearts.
and our tax money paying for it, bothers us.

So Let Freedom (secularism/plurism) Ring? or Let Our Real Freedom Ring?

Or we can blindly appease everyone and be politically correct while some people on the far-left want to blot out all morals & ethics, freedoms & rights from society, including yours. I am talking about the ones that want to destroy our Constitution & Bill of Rights.
And this sort of balancing act of staying in the middle will eventually cause you to either make a stand or be steamrolled.

When you burn a candle on both ends; it runs out of wick, pretty quick!

History speaks for itself; examine the evidence.
Peace, Mike

Fred H.
December 25th, 2004, 11:17 PM
hope Santa craps in your stockings
Nice. I used to love the spirit of Christmas. The "believers" like you are threatening to kill it for me with their very un-Christ-like partisan rhetoric. I'm trying not to lose faith. You present a serious challenge for me sometimes, my friend. I wish you nothing but joy. I hope that chip falls from your shoulder some day while we are both breathing and able to appreciate the event.

Oh Todd, lighten up. As I’ve noted before, from our various discussions it seems to me that you’re really more agnostic than hardcore atheist, so I don’t really have much problem with your secularism—it’s probably close to my own. If all “secularists” tended to be as tolerant and/or agnostic as you generally seem to be, I don’t know that the religious fundamentalists would be such motivated pains in the ass.

Actually I think you’re too tolerant of Mike’s annoying fundamentalism, or maybe you’re just baiting him.

So anyway Todd, since you don’t really seem to be a zealous atheist intent on spreading an atheistic gospel (I think atheism, even more than one’s faith in God, is best kept to one’s self), I suppose I never really wanted Santa to crap in your stocking. And I hope that over the holidays you’ll have an opportunity to ponder the tiny odds that the universe and we are here by chance.

ToddStark
December 26th, 2004, 10:02 PM
Mike, thanks for your response list. It's good to hear honest complaints, they give me a better sense of how people think.

Hello Todd,
You grasp my viewpoint very well I do support freewill, and the right to believe in one's particular faith and pursue it in peace.

But who have to admit, the minority I happen to belong. Has received the short-end of the stick for quite some time and to be frank, We sort of expect the line to be drawn by the "secular world" but it really doesn't bother us.


It seems to me that evangelicals continue to be negatively stereotyped by the political activists on the left, and that this is part of what stimulates supposed "backlash" that Republican politicians and corporate political action committees have been exploiting to garner populist support.

Everytime some extremist brings a suit somewhere against something Christian in the public sphere, it is is exploited all over the media for its dramatic effect as if "liberals" are all ACLU members or atheists or multiculturalists. Most people on the left are not trying to ban the Bible, and don't care about displays of the Ten Commandments. Most secularists have no interest in such things one way or the other, until the issue becomes polarized and we have to choose sides because someone is forcing a "culture war" unneccessarily on us. Most people in Tennessee didn't care one way or the other about evolution until the drama of the Scopes Trial made it an issue.

Unless they continue to teach 1st graders homosexual lifestyles are okay and how to be one, it does bother us.

My feeling is that if there is any teaching to be done about people living together and the sanctity of marriage that we should be teaching people about love and commitment first and then worry about who they are choosing secondarily. My experience is that regardless of whether the couple is heterosexual or homosexual, our biggest problem with the sanctity of marriage is people giving up their commitment, not people choosing someone of the wrong "type." I understand that such things go against the grain of the implicit natural order for many people, but the problems I've seen with heterosexual marriages are so much worse than those with homosexual ones
that I can't believe it is really as big a priority for all of us as political activists have made it seem. I haven't been in public school for years, but when I was there, they didn't teach us to be homosexuals. My kids go to parochial school, so I don't have a recent personal reference.

Rewriting our country's history to appease 10% of the population, it does bother us.

Not sure what exactly you're referring to here. I'm not a historian, but I suspect that there is indeed a slant to historical interpretations in most places because of the natural tendency for communities of scholars to share a common tradition of interpretation and the difficultly corroborating historical facts the way we do with physical ones. Have you ever read British conservative historical Paul Johnson's history of the United States? I think he fills in some of the gaps in places by showing among other things the role that religious traditions played in history, as well as the role of secularism. I think conservative scholarship may have an important role in understanding history because it reveals things that an alternative bias may blind us to.

Teaching witchcraft (a religion) in schools and not allowing the Bible to be taught, bothers us.

We probably differ fundamentally over what makes sense to be taught because we come from very different traditions. The Western liberal individualist tradition that is the basis of much modern scholarship is "pagan" in its roots, (as is much of Christianity!). It could well be part of your "witchcraft." But philosophy is not religion and is not taught as such. I don't see a justification to stop teaching everything that is opposed by fundamentalists who are particularly selective about what their religion is comprised of. They have a legitimate claim to their own tradition of interpretation, but they don't represent either the majority of scholars and historians nor the majority of the population. Their viewpoint should be taught along with the others in a pluralistic curriculum regarding religious traditions.

This also cuts right to the reason for secularism. The history of public schools is a history of division between different Churches in the way they want to teach the Bible (and which Bible they want taught). The compromise here was to teach religion in a comparative way, it's sources treated as literature rather than Scripture. If they refused to teach the Bible as literature, I would strongly agree with you that its omission would be unfair and unrepresentative. However I have to agree with the principle that we shouldn't teach Scripture as such in public education, but that this should be done by parents and local communities.

Not allowing Creation equal footing with a religious atheistic format of evolution, bothers us.

These are different traditions and can reasonably be taught as such. Most people wouldn't deny this. The tension is not over "equal footing" it is over whether science classes are a place for equality of different traditions as well as different theories. Science classes are for most of us a place for teaching the scientific tradition and its theories. We don't expect theology classes to teach the methods of scientific inquiry or to teach materialist philosophy except as a rather bleak alternative, and we don't expect science classes to teach the metaphysics of Creation or the theological methods of inquiry.

The tension is over the widespread perception (or fear) that science is a "better authority" and therefore that teaching theories that seem to presume naturalistic metaphysics will corrupt the minds of people against Creation and its perceived natural and moral order. I don't know how to resolve that tension, since naturalized ethics are far from compelling to most people.


Teaching islam in public schools (California) a religion that is proven throughout history to be hostile (even "peaceful" Islam) towards Christian and Jewish Faiths, bother us.

I'm skeptical that California public schools are practicing Islam, but if they are, I'm with you against it.

Removing the Ten Commandments (our Judaic/Christian) heritage and foundation of our laws from the public arena is scary, and it does bother us.

I would agree with you that removing symbols of common heritage that have been there for generations is pointless and disruptive.

Not saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school, bothers us.

I grew up during the Cold War, we said the pledge every day and every Tuesday we huddled in the hallways pretending there was a nuclear attack by the godless commies. It was an important source of unity and comfort. I feel the same way about this as the other symbols, I think removing them to suit militant atheists is pointlessly disruptive and defeats the purpose of secularism, which is to help foster peaceful national unity in our diversity.

Liberals that want to sell our sovereign right as a country to protect ourselves, to the united nations, bothers us.

I can understand that, although we disagree fundamentally here as well. Until recently, most Americans felt that we were part of an alliance with Europe. It isn't just liberals, many conservatives agree that the idea that we should act unilaterally on the basis of our "moral leadership" is actually fairly radical. It requires a rather extreme religious viewpoint about the U.S., that not only are we are chosen by God to lead the world but that working together with our allies is akin to "asking permission." It seems to many liberals and conservatives alike that we are pointlessly alienating our own allies out of an excessive sense of moral superiority to them.

and these same liberals that want gun control for every law-abiding citizen accept criminals.

That's silly, they would prefer to disarm the criminals first, then the rednecks. ;) They may be unrealistic about whether it can actually be done, however, and wrong about whether it would improve things all over.

Murdering the unborn, breaks our hearts.
and our tax money paying for it, bothers us.

It saddens me as well.

Or we can blindly appease everyone and be politically correct while some people on the far-left want to blot out all morals & ethics, freedoms & rights from society, including yours. I am talking about the ones that want to destroy our Constitution & Bill of Rights.

When I was in school, the establishment clause and the right to due process were part of the Bill of Rights. It is the Republican politicians and judges that have been working to repeal them, not the left. The ACLU is, if anything, an overzealous defender of our rights.

And this sort of balancing act of staying in the middle will eventually cause you to either make a stand or be steamrolled.

I'm usually steamrolled, no doubt about it. I still try to get up again and stay true to my beliefs. When a fight starts, you can pick a side or you can recognize that the fight itself is stupid and try to stop it. You can recognize what each side gets right and what each side gets wrong. That's something I am fairly good at and temperamentally well suited for. I have been a very competent facilitator and negotiator in situations where most people can't even figure out what the sides are arguing about and can only pick a side.

I value intelligent reflection, which means recognizing what truth and legitimacy is in different viewpoints, and where each of them gets things wrong. It means being hard on important principles and important shared values, but flexible about people and their different ways of reasoning.

The middle is the only honest place for someone like me to be, even though people often see it incorrectly as weakness.

peace,

Todd

Mike Phillips
February 4th, 2005, 11:05 PM
Hello Todd,

Our founding fathers who so brilliantly drew up our Bill of Rights and Constitution did so in a manner that would prevent the (papal) oppression that was still fresh in their minds from the struggles and persecutions that took place in England, as well as other European countries.

Amid the chaos of national religion imposed on the "common folk" during these times (the dark ages), our founding fathers (several years later / the idea actually began during Jamestown, Plymouth then Williamsburg and came to fruition later on) had the wisdom and foresight to try and prevent a papist imposed national religion within the confines of government, that in times past had successfully wrapped their tentacles in areas of monarchy, political arenas and courts, which they unmercifully tried to stamp out all attempts to print the truth or defy their "authority".

The "idea" behind a secular government was to protect an individuals "christian" rights to worship Almighty God and practice the Gospel of Jesus Christ FREELY and with LIBERTY in their own way without imposing a national state controlled religion. Drawing from & escaping the horrors of papal controlled state religion, they did not want to have the same "dark age" cast its hideous shadow upon our newly won freedom. (It wasn't just about breaking away from the the "king" there were a few other issues/nuances involved).

You mentioned earlier in a previous post, the failures of a national religion in the European Countries.

I ask you what is their national religion? and why is it failing? I'll give you 3 guesses and the first two don't count!

I ask you, why is our national religious FREEDOM so successfull?

And "tolerance" take a glance at the recent militant/peaceful islamic faction growing stronger everyday; is doing to the tolerant national religion controlled governments of Europe. They are taking over the countries and converting many to Islam (and killing the ones that do not) and the culture is growing more anti-semictic daily all in the name of an all-inclusive tolerant national religion. >who is really holding the smoking gun<
to coin a phrase "the power of the pen is mightier than the sword" {Here is another clue, could it be that someone has "islam" on a leash and using that rabid dog to do his dirty work?}.

Don't forget the moral decay, ethical depravation & ignorance of truth that is spreading. (sounds like another "dark age" to me? and let us not forget the "merlins"/"evolutionists") proclaiming science is the answer to the woes of humanity.
Yeah, it is a real fine mess. The sad part is, certain entities within our beloved country's boundries desire to abolish the document that protects our freedom of worship, to impose a "state" religion and create another dark age of ignorance & deception.

I most certainly pray that history does not repeat itself, but in these current times & culture America is falling victim.

Peace???
Mike

p.s A couple more little questions. Who is really being tolerant? or is "tolerance" a clever sheme to subvert the truth?

Mike Phillips
February 5th, 2005, 12:14 AM
Todd,

On a more personal note, from your last statement, it appears to me; you have a gift.

A gift that we "fundamentalists" call discernment.

I pray, that it never fails you and may your special insight reveal what your heart is searching for.

Shalom,
Mike

p.s You are more spiritual than you know.