Response to Vox
Alright - I had posted this as a comment under my previous blog post, but it's too damn long to not make it separate. So, without further ado...my response to his response to my response to The Irrational Atheist.
Actually, we're only supposed to make sure you have heard the Gospel, if you're not inclined to listen, we're permitted to shake the dust from our sandals and move on in good conscience. Moreoever, I never claimed to be a particularly good Christian, the reason I'm less annoying than the door-knocking fundamentalist who wants to talk to you about Jesus is because I care less about your fate. My libertarianism pretty much goes to the bone.
I prefer your more subdued form of proselytization, but I think that the bible clearly indicates that as one of the “elect,” you should in fact feel sorrow for the fate of our heathen souls. People like Paul even wept for the lost. At any rate, this is a trivial point that is not written out plainly as a command, so I won’t press it further.
As for the idea of an "intrusion" of religion into public policy, this is hardly any such thing given the concept of democratic rule. Either Kelly must reject the idea of rule by will of the people or she must accept that religion has a place in public life. I suspect she is subject to a parochial American view, but even in America, the unalienable rights are endowed by a Creator God and contorted Supreme Court reasoning notwithstanding, it is only Congress that is not permitted to make a law about establishing religion, the sovereign States and various other governmental agencies know no such limitation.
First of all, the US is not a pure democracy, and the majority does not necessarily get their way. The government was founded upon secular principles and the absolute separation of church and state was the foundation upon which they were constructed. I also find your addition of the word “God” following “Creator” to border on dishonesty, as I’m sure you are aware that the god of the founding fathers was not the god of christianity and the creator to which they refer could very well be the universe or the deistic god in whom most of them believed. The states also cannot have laws that violate any constitutional principles and are given the power to rule only within those boundaries.
Finally, I note that the tagline on Kelly's site: "Believe in God? We can fix that." tends to undermine her assertion of indifference towards the beliefs of others.
I see that some people have a hard time appreciating facetious sarcasm.
Kelly hasn't shown how MY beliefs affect her in any way. I don't even live in the same country as she does and I haven't voted in more than two decades. No one can condemn Kelly to Hell except Kelly; if she's walking down the road towards a house on fire and I point out that she's going to end up getting burned if she continues along her present path, it's not my accurate observation that dooms her, but her own actions. If you believe in the primacy of human freedom, there is simply nothing to be done, Kelly's seemingly innocent question is the seed from which so many authoritarian horrors, some theist, some atheist, have blossomed. Either people have the right to believe in ridiculous things and behave in ridiculous manners, or the Pope has the right to burn you at the stake because you refuse to submit to his infallible dictates. Everything in between is merely a different answer to the question of who is to play Pope and who is to play torch.
I disagree here for multiple reasons, some of which may boil down to theological differences. First of all, your belief affects me because it compels you to a) write books on the subject, b) consider yourself vastly superior to those who don’t find your god’s existence axiomatic, and c) engage in the same psychological terrorism which I previously mentioned. Secondly, the bible is quite clear that my salvation is not dependent upon my actions, but rather is a gift from god to those whom he has chosen. If you believe that the bible is at least remotely accurate, then you must accept that I am walking down the path that was made for me by your god who created me specifically for the purpose of going to hell. After all, it was all planned from before the foundations of the universe. Is that not what is written?
As far as personal beliefs and behaviors are concerned, I have already stated that I do not care what an individual person believes as long as it stays personal. Attempts to proselytize, subversion of scientific research, the desire to control uteri worldwide, do I really need to go on? Legislating morality based on your god belief immediately removes it from the personal level and places it firmly within the public sphere.
As with the five atheists analyzed in TIA, history is not Kelly's strong point. Feudalism and caste systems were not ended by the Enlightenment, indeed, the former is largely a fictional concept of medieval governmental structure popularized by Montesquieu in the 18th century and is as historically dubious as the long-discredited concept of "the Dark Ages".
I believe that is an issue of some dispute within academia. The structure in the French government was very much feudalistic and also had similarities to caste systems as advancement through the three “levels” was difficult, if not impossible. If anything was the impetus for the revolution, it would have been the fact that the established hierarchy was oppressive and not the fault of the philosophers who pointed it out.
The caste system never existed in Christendom and it still exists today in a number of Asian countries.
I don’t recall ever making a statement about any particular ethnic group. Regardless of that point, the pre-revolutionary France was very much like a caste system. I feel that the analogy is appropriate.
Kelly's statement about free will reveals a shocking ignorance of the concept, as it is not an Enlightenment idea in any way, shape, or form, it is a Christian one. In fact, its very existence is denied today by New Enlightenment thinkers such as Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett.
I never stated that the concept itself was new, only that the right to express it, even in opposition to the government, was. And just for the record, I don’t believe in absolute free will, either. I believe that people will make certain decisions, seemingly of their own volition, based on genetic and environmental variances. The nature versus nurture debate will likely never end, but a critical examination of the studies will show that things as trivial as your vehicle preference are correlated to genetic similarity. If free will exists as you claim it does, then how is it that I have control over my own destiny which according to the bible was determined before I was even conceived?
Were she even slightly familiar with Christian philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas, (http://www.mnstate.edu/gracyk/courses/web%20publishing/aquinasFreeWo.htm) or Augustine, (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1510.htm), or Enlightenment philosophers such as Voltaire (http://history.hanover.edu/texts/voltaire/volfrewi.html), she'd realize that she is, in a very Harrisian manner, demonstrating the precise opposite of what she wishes to prover. The Enlightenment free will of Hume and Rousseau is holdover from the Christian traditions of their Christian societies, it was far from a new concept. Democracy predated the Enlightenment by literal millenia, and the statement that "senseless killing is certainly not rational" is a meaningless tautology that says nothing about the fact that most of the mass killing committed by atheist revolutionaries is perfectly rational given their stated goals of remaking human society according to the precepts of their new and shinier morality.
There was a form of democracy in Greece, true. I think that there are some benefits to an Athenian style democracy, personally, but the system itself was still not as sophisticated as what we have currently.
Your assumption that I am unfamiliar with Aquinas, Augustine, or enlightenment philosophers in general is patently absurd. Not to drag “formal” education into the debate, but I did study theology and philosophy at a Jesuit university for 2 years, and have read many of the works of all of the aforementioned. “Free will” as a concept was present in christianity, but my remark was related to governments and the legal right to exercise our autonomy. I could, perhaps, chalk this up to a semantic or contextual misunderstanding, but it is also likely that you just purposely interpreted what I said in such a way that you could accuse me of ignorance of those subjects.
The idea that we are arguing over atrocities committed by “atheists” during that time period is ludicrous. I asserted that the philosophers did not advocate violence, which is true, and furthermore, there is no evidence that all or even most participants in the actual fighting were atheists. This is an assumption made by you, presumably to further your own agenda of vilifying atheists.
Finally, killing for a specific purpose (ie in a revolution—were there no deaths in the American Revolution? That’s news to me.) would not be inherently irrational, but killing for the sake of killing would be.
Kelly misses the interesting point. If atheism is nothing more than simple lack of belief in god, a concept that I acknowledge, but dispute for various reasons, then there should be no significant similarity between the views of one atheist and the next.
Check the Oxford English Dictionary—an atheist is one who disbelieves in or denies the existence of god. Period. I disbelieve in god based on my lack of, and in my opinion, inability to acquire, knowledge of such a being. End of story. Therefore, the only necessary commonality between myself and other atheists is that we lack belief in god.
And yet, when one examines the views of one of the first, self-conscious atheists, Jean Meslier, we see that his views across a wide spectrum of philosophical, political and epistemological concepts are virtually identical to those put forth by the leading atheists nearly 300 years later. This is why it is so easy to identify the High Church Atheist, because his atheist dogma is covers far more intellectual ground than Kelly's limited atheist doctrine could possibly permit.
Reading the personal opinions of atheists past or present doesn’t change the fact that atheism only entails lack of belief in god. Those who conflate atheism with some larger philosophy are simply incorrect. Christopher Hitchens is politically conservative; I’m not, but we’re both atheists. I disagree with atheists who believe that one can prove that ANY supernatural being doesn’t exist (which sounds extraordinarily silly to a logical positivist), but we’re both still atheists. Get it?
The fact that atheists still don't believe in God isn't remarkable, the fact that 279 years later so many of them are still - despite ample evidence of failure - calling for new moralities, new societies, global dictatorship and rule by a scientific quasi-priesthood is astounding. As for the godless jihad, it's called metaphor, and it's worth noting that neither St. Bernard nor Osama bin Laden are known to have done any more than write and speak out in public.
You have to be joking about Osama bin Laden, but we won’t delve into conspiracy theorist accusations.
I desire no “new” morality, society, dictatorship, or global domination. I have no desire to make god-belief illegal or in any way restrict your right to practice your religion, but I do feel that it is hazardous to humanity and would hope to have others abandon religion of their own volition. As previously stated, as long as religion stays out of schools and governments, I’m fine with whatever you choose to believe. (There’s more to this line of thinking, but I will address it in more detail when I get to the appropriate part of the book.)
I don't think the problem of self-identification is an inherent problem atheists or Christians, or for anyone except those who would attempt to make arguments based in any way upon those self-identifications, such as, for example, the specific individuals I am criticizing in TIA. This question of self-identification doesn't necessarily reduce the number of Christians, as larger studies of the sort required for global numbers are not based on self-identification, but rather church affiliations and so forth.
What is the definition of christian in your mind? If it is solely church affiliation, then I guess I’m an Episcopalian since I never officially renounced my baptism and am included in the numbers somewhere. If a christian is someone who personally accepts the main tenets of the Nicene Creed, then I think you’ll find that the numbers based on church affiliation are artificially inflated. (I want to note here that I’m not making the No-True Scotsman fallacy as I’m not arguing that those who would self-identify as christian are not christian based upon behavior or some other characteristic. I do, however, feel that many christians are the nominal sort who haven’t examined their beliefs and may not even believe Jesus rose from the dead after his propitiatory sacrifice, thereby providing an example of the type of improper group affiliation that Vox references.) If you don’t find that nugget of info compelling, why include it? Was the point not to imply that there are less atheists than even the polls report due to incorrect self-identification?
I'm not criticizing those who engage in introspection here, but rather those who think that because they are interested in studying the matter, those who are not given to such introspection should be somehow obliged to identify their beliefs according to the abstract classifications of intellectuals.
I don’t expect people, particularly the complacent and apathetic who seem so prevalent in society, to do or believe anything. If they attempt to argue a position or make a claim, then I will expect them to logically and rationally support that. If you cannot refer to a dictionary to settle a definitional dispute, to what should we refer? I understand the nuance and connotations that can be left out of dictionaries, but there must be some final arbiter within language.
The problem with the dictionary definitions is the one I have already pointed out: there are common characteristics of atheists which can be readily observed by even the most casual observer which indicate that either a lack of god belief is causing the development of these characteristics, it is the result of those characteristics, there is some underlying factor that causes both the characteristics and the identification, or that the mere lack of god belief is an insufficient description of the totality of atheism as it is actually practiced.
I don’t “practice” atheism and wouldn’t even know how to go about doing so. You may be able to correlate certain characteristics with atheism, but let’s not forget that correlation does not equal causation. Furthermore, many of such observations are biased and stereotypical. Many people will read more into a particular action than is actually there based upon the kinds of memes that have spread about atheists, so their analysis would be tainted by such a predisposition. For example, some people claim that atheists live a life of total debauchery and just want to have sex with everything in sight. Well, so do some christians, muslims, or hindus. Some atheists are celibate by choice. The sexual behavior of atheists and even the mores regarding sex are likely not that different from those of the religious. We just don’t need to feel guilty because Jesus just watched us masturbate.
I also feel that your group of “Low Church Atheists” was over-generalized to include a group of people whose religious affiliation is merely in question or not known. The conclusions that you made based upon their inclusion are invalid, and in my opinion, a dishonest attempt to bolster your argument.
First, I should clarify that neither Kelly nor I are saying that Harris is a Buddhist per se, he merely practices certain esoteric rituals from the Buddhist tradition.
I do yoga; does that make me Hindu? Harris is an example of an atheist with whom I have some variance of opinion. We’ve spoken on some of these differences with no assertion on either side of correctness. We’re still both atheists.
The primary significance of the contradictory definitions of atheism provided by Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett is to show a) the broad variance of how atheism is defined even by its leading advocates, and b) to lay the groundwork for later demonstrating that some of Sam Harris's arguments about atheist societies directly contradict his earlier definition(s) of atheism quoted in this first chapter. (See TIA p. 121). And Harris's careful distinction between Buddhism the atheistic non-religion and Buddhism practiced as a religion is not irrelevant because it suggests that there may be a need to make same distinction between atheism the atheistic non-religion and atheism practiced as a religion as well.
Atheism is sometimes defined differently, and oftentimes incorrectly. I would have to re-read the referenced sections of their work to analyze their intent with using those particular definitions, but just for the record, I also disagree with the American Atheists’ description of what an atheist “is.” Many of those tenets I agree with in principle, but not as a corollary to atheism that is fundamentally necessary.
Buddhism does in fact have many sects and branches that practice their religion differently. For example, the Japanese form of Buddhism is a Shinto fusion as far as popular belief is concerned. Mahayana, Theraveda, and Zen Buddhists also have differing beliefs and mythologies. That doesn’t change the fundamental aspect of Buddhism as a path by which one can attain peace or enlightenment without a necessary god of worship. It is a religion by definition, though, with a prescribed set of ritualistic behaviors, but practicing meditation does not make one Buddhist.
Hey, I didn't claim the Aspie thing was a done deal, I merely happened to OBSERVE a few behavioral patterns and then form a HYPOTHESIS. That's what we scientists do, the next step is to test the hypothesis. Perhaps I can apply for a grant somewhere.... Kelly is going through one of the usual atheist dance routines here, including "no religion" or secularism in general as a variant of atheism is routinely done by Sam Harris, by PZ Myers, and it's the very foundation of Richard Dawkins's OUT Campaign and is proclaimed to be the basis for the evangelical aspect of The God Delusion. She may not conflate the two, but the authors addressed in TIA certainly do.
You implied some type of statistical correlation between Asperger’s and atheism; I merely pointed out that you had insufficient data to make such a correlation from a statistical standpoint. I have never personally seen Harris, Myers, or Dawkins defend the notion that all people with no specific religious affiliation or all who consider themselves secularists (which really only applies to religious intrusion into government, not personal beliefs) are de facto atheists. As far as your admitting that I “may not conflate” these differences, how exactly am I doing a “typical atheist dance routine?”
But there's nothing slippery about pointing out the criminal tendencies of the low church atheist. You can argue that they shouldn't be considered a form of atheist at all, but I haven't seen too many atheists who want to wholly disassociate atheism from secularism or irreligion. If Kelly would prefer to divide the two groups into High Church Godless and Low Church Irreligionists, I have no objection. Finally, I note that the negative correlation between imprisonment and intelligence is very well-established with the support of scads of scientific and testimonial evidence, so that it isn't a valid objection. I'm all for better data here; I was simply making use of what was available to me and I certainly don't consider the matter closed on the basis of a single prison survey in one country.
Regarding your first point, I would not label that group of people as atheists since it is merely unknown. One can have “no religion” and still believe in god or wood nymphs or anything else. As far as the HCAs go, I would dispute your characterization of them, and don’t feel that your dichotomy has an appropriate “church” for people like me. The ivory tower elitist atheists are out there, and they don’t even like me, mostly for the penury of letters behind my name.
The fact that labels are not always applied accurately hardly makes them meaningless. As for the point, I'm surprised that it is necessary to explain that if one is attempting to demonstrate the irrationality of certain atheist arguments, it just might be helpful to show that the very atheists who make them can't even agree upon a consistent, rational definition of what the atheism they are championing is, and to show the broadest possible spectrum of atheism in all its irrational glory. (emph. mine)
But Kelly is very welcome, and I shall look forward to her next salvo.
This is a perfect example of the bait-and-switch you like to pull—you claim to only be referring to Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens every time your arguments are critiqued, but then make the same claims for all of atheism and all atheists. Which is it? It would be much easier to respond if I knew your target. Unless, of course, obscuring it was intentional and the RD, SH, CH attacks are merely a rhetorical ploy meant to distract so you can surreptitiously generalize arguments against specific people and apply them to all atheists.
See you next time. Sorry this is taking me so long—I’ve been working a lot lately so I don’t have much free time.