Gradual, Passive Secularization is Too Slow
Issue   |   Wed, 02/15/2012 - 14:55

We live in a postmodern society: in fact, in the most promising one that has ever existed. We have cured epidemics, created previously unimaginable transportation and communications systems, conceived methods of going to different worlds and have seen life spans and life qualities go up at near exponential rates. But technological advances aren’t the only significant ones we’ve seen: violence rates are at their all time low, literacy in the United States stands at 99 percent, we have now one of the highest (and fastest growing) rates of adult college graduation and we have battled harmful behavioral trends like racism, sexism and homophobia to such extents that we now have systems in place like affirmative action that aim to eradicate these wrongs.

So why is it that in such a wealthy, innovative and even enlightened society there are so much of us who still believe in and adhere to the same ridiculous superstitions that our forefathers did 500,000 years ago? In the venerated words of George Carlin, “Religion convinced the world that there’s an invisible man in the sky who watches everything you do. And there are 10 things he doesn’t want you to do or else you’ll go to a burning place with a lake of fire until the end of eternity. But he loves you! ... And he needs money! He’s all powerful, but he can’t handle money!”

Adhering to laws called for by unfounded beliefs, regardless of how harmless we might find them, is a momentous danger to reason and science. Any belief that requires superstitious literalism (philosophical interpretations of religions like Buddhism and non-theistic ones like Unitarian Universalism are certainly excluded from this list) requires us to reject scientific principles without offering any substantiation for its claims. And rejecting science is simply hazardous. I would like extend the compliment that philosopher Daniel Dennett used to describe Darwin’s theory of evolution to science in general: it is the “single best idea that anyone has ever had.” The scientific method has redefined our method of factual acquisition, and anything that causes us to ignore it must be destroyed. Our society may be on the path of secularization, but we need to actively streamline the process in order to achieve true intellectual and scientific progress. We must forgo the political correctness and disinclination towards confrontation and begin actively arguing against religion. Faith is ignorance, and ignorance is not something that we must be forced to “respect.” We ought to be respectful of people, but to their “beliefs” we owe no such courtesy. I repeat, unjustified ignorance is not something we ought to just accept. If we are serious about spreading rationality, we need to express the reasoning behind atheism instead of just accepting it as some “alternate belief system.”

Self-labeled atheists and agnostics may be a minority in this country, but we are expanding as quickly as the population is becoming more educated (fact: intelligence and religiosity have a nearly perfect inverse relationship: as levels of intelligence amongst a population rise, religiosity falls exponentially). These numbers are also largely underestimated: many atheists/agnostics label themselves in polls as members of established religions for ethnic and traditional reasons. For more information on these, read my article published early in the school year where I reveal that a majority of Americans who identify themselves as ‘Jews’ are actually atheists. Such trends, though in smaller intensities, are also evident in all other deistic religions.

I realize that I didn’t dedicate any space in my article for explaining why atheism should be adopted and why theism is invalid. I don’t plan on addressing the institution of religion at all because I find its fallacies far too obviously evident (if anyone actually doubts that it is not a man-made construct, I would advise that you read about the anthropology of religion). I also don’t offer a conclusive argument against the existence of the supernatural because I don’t believe that one exists. However, I also don’t think that this is a challenge to my argument. The following short group of points explains why:

1. Any scientific theory (such as gravity and plate tectonics) may conceivably be incorrect.
2. However, to our physical knowledge, scientific theories are correct and there is no sensible reason to doubt them.
3. Tenets of theism contradict tenets of science.
4. Therefore, because we should operate the world in accordance to the best, most accurate principles we know of (those of science), we must assume that theism is incorrect.

This should explain why viewpoints like “teapot agnosticism” are suboptimal. Sure, there might be the near-zero, conceptual chance that some teapot is orbiting the world with supernatural powers. However such a situation would violate many of our fundamental physical laws. Because there is no reason to assume these laws to be false, there is also no reason to assume such a situation to be possible.

Anchor
Comments
Alexandra (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/15/2012 - 22:46

Why do science and religion have to be separate? I never understood this, and I don't think I ever will. When I sit in class and learn about everything that happens in the cell and with genetics, I praise God for how intricate and complex life is. Isn't that what makes it so awesome? The more I learn about the world and how it works, the deeper my faith seems to grow. And if my faith is wrong, if there is not a God who loves us and who wants to have a relationship with us, why does my faith affect you so deeply? I'm not saying that you should think I'm right, but if there isn't anything after this world, why does it matter what people choose to believe? If I really believe in Christianity, I have to tell you about how Jesus died for you; otherwise I would let you die without having heard the truth, and I wouldn't really be taking my beliefs seriously, or really believing in them at all. That doesn't mean that I'm going to shove it down your throat or force you to come to church with me, but my faith is important to me and will affect how I approach people. However, I try to not let it affect how I feel about people or to judge someone based on their belief system, which I think is the form of ignorance you refer to in your article. Not all people of faith are like that; in fact, as a Christian, I don't think that is what Jesus wants us to do at all. I haven't really heard the argument that everyone should cast off their faith; I'm not sure how that would make the world better, but it does open my eyes to ideas I had not thought about. Thank you for writing this article and helping me to see a different perspective.

Hana Tran '14 (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/16/2012 - 16:20

I am disappointed in the student body for not giving this more attention (I suppose, in light of Mr. Kaake's controversial article on his views of abortion, many Amherst students have made it their mission to correct his personal opinion, rather than address a serious issue that threatens the atmosphere of the College, such as one raised in this article.) I find that the arguments this article attempts to raise are offensive, demeaning to individuals with religious affiliations, and ignorant of the diversity that is allegedly encouraged at Amherst.
Since Tony Marx's relatively recent campaign (relatively, in relation to Amherst's long reputation of catering to the nation's socially elite, white males) on promoting diversity of all types to the student body, Amherst's social atmosphere has been a fragile one. Yes, on many levels, we have succeeded in bringing students of diversity from around the world to this institution. However, the presence of diversity does not equate to the presence of an integrative community. We are still in the process of reconciling Amherst's past (I refer again to the College's history of attracting, nearly exclusively, white males) with our present situation. Many efforts have been made in promoting a tolerant and harmonious community - some of these attempts have been successful (for example, gender-inclusive housing), while others are still in need of support and fostering by the student body. Since arriving at Amherst, I have been generally enthused by the willingness of most students to contribute to this continuously developing process. However, after reading Mr. Diner's article, and taking note of the mild to positive feedback this article has provoked (drawing mostly from comments posted on Mr. Diner's personal Facebook page), I am absolutely appalled at the lack of respect and/or concern shown here.
I'm particularly disturbed by the statement, "We ought to be respectful of people, but to their 'beliefs' we owe no such courtesy. I repeat, unjustified ignorance is not something we ought to just accept." I'd like to question Mr. Diner's definition of "people". If not defined by our backgrounds, ambitions, and beliefs, just what is it that defines us as "people"? Being blatantly disrespectful of personal beliefs is being blatantly disrespectful to the individual as a whole. If Mr. Diner's justification was used to stigmatize Asian Americans (disclaimer: I am Asian American), the following situation might be plausible:
"Ignorant individual: Hey, you're a pretty cool person.
Asian American: Well, thanks. That's so kind of you.
Ignorant individual: Asians are really lame, though. Sucks that you are one, because I respect you as a person.
Asian American: Seeing as my race is an integral part of my self-identity, I have to respond with the following statement: You're an ignorant, pompous ..."
Of course, the above script is an exaggerated one, mainly written for comedic relief in an otherwise serious accusation. However, the sentiment is the same. It's embarrassing to me, as an Amherst College student, that one of my peers would be so intolerant as to say that an individual's religious beliefs do not deserve our respect.
This article refers to religion as "a momentous danger to reason or science." As a student particularly inept in the "hard sciences", I will refrain from attempting to counter this argument with scientific reasoning or fact. I will, however, assert that alternative theories and speculation are necessary, and even beneficial, to research of all fields.
This article is not a matter of science vs. religion, or even the benefits of a possessing a secular perspective. It's a campaign against everything Amherst College has tried very hard to promote within the past few years - tolerance, diversity, and an environment that promotes the exploration of a variety of perspectives. As a community, it's imperative that we take advantage of the rich student body. This includes the diversity of races, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, and religion, to name a few. Do I think that our personal beliefs are cause for intellectual discussion, and even heated debate (Kaake's article on abortion has caused a minor scandal on campus, but has undoubtedly sparked livening discussion between students who don't usually interact - a positive outcome)? Yes - discussion and debate are healthy and intellectual ways to learn about one another, broaden our horizons, etc. etc. However, by no means does this call for disrespect. If anything, the diversity we have here at Amherst should teach its students to be conscious of the lasting power of their words and actions - and strive to make every student feel accepted, regardless of background or belief.
There's so many pertinent topics to raise about this article, but I'm not going to say them all. I hope that this article will be brought to the attention of a wider audience, and students will step up to defend the rights of their fellow peers. I'll close by taking the advice of Mr. Diner himself, by "[forgoing] the political correctness and disinclination towards confrontation": This article and is an embarrassment and disgrace to the College.

Risalat Khan '13 (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/16/2012 - 20:28

I agree with Hana wholeheartedly. Hope this article sparks more discussion.

And I say this as an agnostic.

Daniel Diner (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/16/2012 - 22:54

Alexandra, you bring up a wonderful point that I would like to think some more about before addressing. So I will first respond to Hana:

1- This is a very minor point of your objection, but I would like to point out that "alternative theories and speculation are necessary, and even beneficial, to research of all fields," while is a perfectly true statement, does not belong here. Faith, a violation of reasoned scientific belief, is no "alternative" scientific theory. Claiming that any sort of faith is an alternative theory is a very common misconception that the religious base their arguments on when attempting to have public schools teach "creationism" alongside evolution.

2- It seems as though you have been offended because you believe that I have argued that we should be intolerant of, or perhaps even uncivil towards religious people. I wish to dispossess you of such a notion. I argue strictly against the practice of religion itself, not against the people who practice it.

Now, it seems you have even foreseen this response from me, for you say the following, "I'd like to question Mr. Diner's definition of "people". If not defined by our backgrounds, ambitions, and beliefs, just what is it that defines us as "people"? Being blatantly disrespectful of personal beliefs is being blatantly disrespectful to the individual as a whole." You then proceed to offer a theoretical where some "ignorant individual" tells an Asian American that he respects the Asian American as a person, but yet is racist against Asian Americans. The point of this theoretical was to show the paradox of such an absurd situation, and to lead into the rest of your points, all of which seem to suggest that I am a diversity-hating bigot. Lack of respect for a race is fundamentally different than a lack of respect for someone's idea. Allow me to explain why.

Actually, I want to begin by restating the quote you pulled out of my article.
"We ought to be respectful of people, but to their 'beliefs' we owe no such courtesy. I repeat, unjustified ignorance is not something we ought to just accept."
Honestly, this lays out my argument perfectly on its own, so all I can do is rephrase and perhaps elaborate on it.
I don't respect ignorance, nor in any idea that stems from it. Perhaps it is the use of the word 'respect' that offends you? Fine, we could easily change that statement to "I find no merit in ignorance, nor in any idea that stems from it" without any difference in my meaning. In my argument, I make the premise that theism is/stems from/includes an ignorance of physical law. Theoretically, you may argue this. Though I won't make any further case in favor of it because I find it to be rather self-evident. So, because I don't (and certainly, certainly don't have to) respect ignorance, and because theism incorporates ignorance, I don't respect theism. And because I think no one should respect ignorance, I think that no one else should respect theism either. But that, of course, is an opinion that I would attempt to force onto people through legislation or coercion.

I have a few friends who love country music. Some might even go as far as to say that country music defines part of their identity. I happen to hate country music. I think the sound is terrible and the lyrics ridiculous, and therefore have no respect for it. Nevertheless, these individuals and I remain close friends. I have respect for them, even though I think that their love of country music deserves none. This type of relationship is clearly not limited to country music. I hope you can see how I and the others who share my opinions might both not respect a religious point of view but still respect the people who hold it.

Daniel Diner (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/16/2012 - 22:59

I would also like assure you that students should feel no need to "step up to defend the rights of their fellow peers." No rights are being contested; I have never suggested that some intrusive, anti-religion law be taken into effect. I am a very strong advocate of the First Amendment. Without it, people like me would have been jailed indefinitely in a less progressive society (read about the fates of controversial journalists in Turkey and Saudi Arabia for more information).

Daniel Diner (not verified) says:
Fri, 02/17/2012 - 00:44

I seem to be forgetting to type words. In the first response, note that I mean to say "But that, of course, is NOT an opinion that I would attempt to force onto people through legislation or coercion."

philocompo (not verified) says:
Fri, 02/17/2012 - 01:53

I am quite shocked to see this kind of low order polemic being passed on as serious, respectable thinking at an institution like Amherst College. I hope that I am mistaken, and that Mr. Diner's views represent those of a minority among the non-religious, agnostic or atheistic persuasion. Additionally, I hope that were a paper containing of Mr. Diner’s points be handed in for grading in a science and religion or philosophy course, it would never get beyond a D grade, or the merciful C minus.

To attempt to rebut Mr. Diner's article is difficult, not because he has presented a brilliant, air-tight argument for atheism, non-theism, nor even secularization, but simply because of the sheer number and magnitude of errors which he has committed in the course of its 800 words. It is challenging to even discern what point he is trying to make, other than stating a vague rallying call for atheists among Amherst students.

To illustrate this point of the incoherence of Mr. Diner’s writing, let's take a paragraph:

"Adhering to laws called for by unfounded beliefs, regardless of how harmless we might find them, is a momentous danger to reason and science. Any belief that requires superstitious literalism (philosophical interpretations of religions like Buddhism and non-theistic ones like Unitarian Universalism are certainly excluded from this list) requires us to reject scientific principles without offering any substantiation for its claims. And rejecting science is simply hazardous. I would like extend the compliment that philosopher Daniel Dennett used to describe Darwin’s theory of evolution to science in general: it is the “single best idea that anyone has ever had.” The scientific method has redefined our method of factual acquisition, and anything that causes us to ignore it must be destroyed. Our society may be on the path of secularization, but we need to actively streamline the process in order to achieve true intellectual and scientific progress. We must forgo the political correctness and disinclination towards confrontation and begin actively arguing against religion. Faith is ignorance, and ignorance is not something that we must be forced to “respect.” We ought to be respectful of people, but to their “beliefs” we owe no such courtesy. I repeat, unjustified ignorance is not something we ought to just accept. If we are serious about spreading rationality, we need to express the reasoning behind atheism instead of just accepting it as some “alternate belief system.””

In the course of a mere 200 words, Mr. Diner goes from “dangerous unfounded beliefs” to “superstitious literalism” to “rejecting science” to “achieving true intellectual and scientific progress” to “faith is ignorance” to “expressing the reasoning behind atheism.” He even manages to slip in an almost non-sequitur reference to Darwin in the midst of this incoherent, self-serving rant. A person not well acquainted with the science versus religion wars often flamed up by extreme conservatives and militant atheists like Mr. Diner presumably would be completely puzzled if reading this mess for the first time. The reason is basically that when Mr. Diner writes about religion, he brings to the table all kinds of dubious and even outright fallacious assumptions which he never bothers to question. He assumes that religious beliefs are unfounded. He assumes that being religious means being associated with “superstitious literalism”, whatever that means. He assumes that all religious people reject science. He assumes that all religious people reject Darwin’s theory of evolution. He assumes he knows what faith is, and how it works for religious people (and I suspect, this conclusion was reached with a barely Sunday-school level understanding of Christianity). In short, Mr. Diner isn’t really writing against religion, except if by religion we mean Kent Hovind, or the Westboro Baptist Church. He is merely writing against a caricature of religion which exists mostly only in the minds of militant atheists like himself.
Most nauseatingly, Mr. Diner also takes up the pretentious posture of the closeted, persecuted, and oppressed self-identified atheist who thinks that atheism, or rather mere lack of religion, is not promoted enough in our intellectual culture. The promoting of this fictional construct about the persecution of atheists runs in the face of the fact of the 100,000 Christians who are still being killed every year for their beliefs all around the world, a significant chunk of it committed by non-religious people.
There is no need to do a point-by-point rebuttal of all the fallacious assumptions above. I simply advise Mr. Diner to expand his exposure to science and religion beyond the standard diet of Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, Bill O’Reilly, and the Discovery Institute.
However, let’s not give Mr. Diner too much of a hard time. After all, he excuses himself by saying things like,
“I don’t plan on addressing the institution of religion at all because I find its fallacies far too obviously evident (if anyone actually doubts that it is not a man-made construct, I would advise that you read about the anthropology of religion), I also don’t offer a conclusive argument against the existence of the supernatural because I don’t believe that one exists.”
Indeed, it is the greatest intellectual power move for one to just state that “I won’t argue against P because the fallacies of P are too obviously evident.” And also “I won’t argue against P because I don’t believe P.” Surely, we should clap our hands together in full-blooded applause at Mr. Diner’s exemplary intellectual competence! In fact, I will seek to follow in the steps of this master: I will not argue for the existence of God. Why? Because I believe God exists! I won’t argue against abortion. Why? Because I don’t believe in it! Problem solved! Alas, I feel it’s not the right place for it in this reply. Perhaps next time.
But then Mr. Diner continues on with his “group of points”:
1. Any scientific theory (such as gravity and plate tectonics) may conceivably be incorrect.
2. However, to our physical knowledge, scientific theories are correct and there is no sensible reason to doubt them.
3. Tenets of theism contradict tenets of science.
4. Therefore, because we should operate the world in accordance to the best, most accurate principles we know of (those of science), we must assume that theism is incorrect.
I don’t know whether this is to be construed as a proper argument or not. Mr. Diner’s introduction of it as a mere “group of points” perhaps was meant to anticipate people calling him out on its outrageousness as an intellectual argument of any kind. But its seeming presentation as a pseudo-syllogism seems to warrant a response.
Let’s start with points 1 and 2. I do not disagree with point 1, although I doubt it accomplishes anything meaningful. But point 2 presents a problem, since the term “scientific theories” is not well-defined. Giving examples (“gravity” and “plate tectonics”) doesn’t suffice, since Mr. Diner makes the bold point that “scientific theories are correct and there is no sensible reason to doubt them.” Really? ALL scientific theories are correct? Which theories? Surely there are many cases where the science is uncertain at this point in time – such as concerning the existence of dark matter, or the existence of the Higgs boson. Or other cases where there are two competing, equally reputable scientific theories which are mutually exclusive – take Gould’s view of evolution occurring in leaps and jumps (e.g., punctuationism) versus more regular and traditional gradualism, which seems to be espoused by Dawkins. These surely cannot ALL be correct.
Point 3 is clearly the most controversial. What exactly are the “tenets of theism” versus the “tenets of science” anyway? The most fundamental tenet of theism is that “God exists”. How does this contradict any kind of conceivable expression of the scientific method? Even the statement “A personal God exists and he actively interacts with the universe” doesn’t contradict the “tenets of science”. Mr. Diner seems to hint at an explanation when he later writes “However [a supernatural teapot] would violate many of our fundamental physical laws. Because there is no reason to assume these laws to be false, there is also no reason to assume such a situation to be possible.” But Mr. Diner seems to have prematurely concluded that the “laws” of science are truly laws in the strict sense of the word. The laws of science are inferred after repeated observations that matter seems to behave in a certain way every time it exists in such-and-such conditions. These laws are merely generalizations which seem to prove true every time. There is absolutely nothing which compels them to be like that; we just observe it so. Hence it is not logically impossible, if a powerful Creator God were to exist, for him to suspend these laws once in a while. In fact, some might think that these laws are contingent upon God’s continued sustenance of them! Hence Mr. Diner’s point is completely without merit.
Point 4 is equally murky, and betrays a kind of naivete which is common among militant atheists of Mr. Diner’s kind. Firstly, what does it mean to “operate the world”? Is Mr. Diner referring to political systems? Then what would be the most “scientific” form of governance available, if he were to be given the choice? Another serious concern is the implication here that one must choose between different kinds of principles in operating the world, and science is one of them. Clearly this is ridiculous. Scientific principles are extremely limited in their usefulness for any kind of world-operating. Science can result in better technology, but it doesn’t tell us how to regulate it. Science can assist in ethical decisions, for example, by helping to demarcate when life really begins, but the pro-life/pro-choice debate proceeds by way of ethics and philosophy, not science.
This brings us to another important point: Mr. Diner’s implied scientism. By trotting out Science-Reason as a kind of supreme principle by which we must judge everything else (a common fashion among militant atheists these days), he negates not merely religion but a whole spectrum of human intellectual endeavor. Perhaps he would like to march up to Chapin Hall and demand our Amherst history professors to immediately submit their publications for scientific testing, or otherwise they should leave and stop impeding the progress of Dinerian secularization, which will bring us towards true enlightenment and progress. But the real problem with Mr. Diner’s position is that it is self-referentially inconsistent. Science cannot prove science. There is no scientific proof for the statement that “we must operate the world in accordance to the principles of science.” The scientific method itself assumes several metaphysical assumptions (for example: the existence of an external, physical reality, and the uniformity of the behavior of nature) which are arrived at via philosophy, not science. Hell, science cannot even prove mathematics: it assumes mathematics.
I have a bit of advice for Mr. Diner: perhaps Mr. Diner would first like to submit his beliefs about racism, sexism, homophobia, and affirmative action to scientific scrutiny. I have never heard of a peer-reviewed scientific paper which has a conclusion that affirmative action is correct, or even that we must fight against racism.
Hence, in the end, the problem with Amherst College is not “gradual, passive secularization”; in fact, the problem with secularization is the regular peddling out of Mr. Diner’s kind of intellectual sloppiness as sound reasoning. The numerous conflations, fallacious assumptions, ignorance, and plainly outrageous statements shows us how pathetic the intellectual state of militant atheism has become, thanks to the incompetent but loud efforts of Dawkins and company. It is the mirror image of extreme religious fanaticism; despite their continued efforts to state the contrary, the inevitable comparison still persists.

an alum (not verified) says:
Mon, 03/05/2012 - 23:41

To philocompo. You're right that alot of Diner's writing and reasoning is sloppy -- but we all get his general point, no? And we can agree or not. But as soon as you introduced the phrase "militant atheists" I knew you had a political agenda to promote, rather than a helpful hand to lend. Your association of "secularization" with "intellectual sloppiness" is no more well-founded, as a general rule, than any of the points on which you criticize Mr Diner, as is the implied assertion that non-secularists think more clearly. Any political persuasion is as likely as any other to reason and write poorly.

philocompo (not verified) says:
Fri, 03/09/2012 - 00:34

If there is anyone with a political agenda to promote, it is Diner. In fact, he openly admits that the piece was best understood as a sort of rallying cry for those of similar persuasion. I write my comments merely as a counterbalance to his opening move - to show that religious people are not clueless and helpless in the face of Diner's numerous accusations (which seemed heavily implied in Diner's piece - note the use of "self-evident"). Amherst College is secular enough; Diner is perhaps trying to push for the next step: creating a culture in which anyone who identifies as religious is immediately perceived being deluded in some tragic way. As I write anonymously for fear of possible ostracization by people like Diner, it's utterly ridiculous to think that I intended my critique to be also be a rallying call of some kind.

I see that I may have freely associated the term "secularization" with intellectual sloppiness way too loosely; in reality, I actually associate only the thinking of the militant New Atheists (Dawkins and co.) with intellectual sloppiness. There are certainly many secularists with much more sensible viewpoints. Now having seen Diner's reply to me, I might well have been mistaken about Diner's association with that movement, but his original article contained many talking points which are so often unleashed by militant atheists that I took it for granted that he came from that background. For example, the statement that "tenets of theism" contradict the "tenets of science". The problem with this statement isn't that it's wrong per se; it's that it's vague and almost meaningless. It's simply a catchphrase often used by militant atheists all over the blogosphere; and my original intentions were to pounce on those. Lastly, Diner's reference to Dennett's book seemed to give it away that Diner is a great fan of New Atheism.

Shirui Chen '12 (not verified) says:
Fri, 02/17/2012 - 14:09

philocompo, I think you misunderstood what Dan meant by "I also don’t offer a conclusive argument against the existence of the supernatural because I don’t believe that one exists." I think Dan meant that he doesn't believe a conclusive argument against existence of the supernatural exists. If I misinterpreted, Dan, please correct me.

Also, philocompo I believe your point about affirmative action, racism, sexism, and homophobia miss the fact that these are all ideas about what is morally good and not about what is factually true. Science makes no presumption to tell us what is morally right. It simply tells us what is factually true. It can tell you that homosexuality may have a genetic component. It cannot and does not purport to tell you how this should affect your moral judgment of homosexuality. (Now of course what an individual believes to be morally right is often informed partially by his/her beliefs about what is factually true.) At least that's my opinion for now - - - I'm certainly open to discussing and thinking about this more. It's a very interesting topic.

Shirui Chen '12 (not verified) says:
Fri, 02/17/2012 - 15:34

To add a bit more to my response to philocompo: So since science cannot tell us what is morally good, only what is factually true (which I think is also what you are trying to say), I suppose we could make the argument that science by itself has no basis to tell people how to live their lives.

However, I would slightly reword Dan's argument to this: Based on scientific principles alone, one can make the argument that religion is false but not that it is morally wrong. However, based on moral principles, it could be considered morally wrong to deliberately try to act according to facts one knows to be false (especially when one is, say, a member of Congress). Put these two together, and you get the conclusion that Dan came to - that people should actively seek to dispel religious beliefs. The key is that although the second premise is based on morals and not science, it is still one which most people would agree with.

philocompo (not verified) says:
Fri, 02/17/2012 - 16:56

Your first point is well-taken - I may indeed have misunderstood Diner's statement by interpreting "one" as referring to "a supernatural reality" rather than "an argument". Notice, however, that this only serves to amplify my criticism of his four points.

Your second point misses the mark completely, as you are simply repeating what I have asserted. Science cannot be an all-powerful tool to tell us how to operate the world. There is no such thing as the "most accurate principle" to operate the world being of a single subject, like science - the "most accurate principle" would likely involve, ethics, philosophy, psychology, and possibly even religion in addition to science. My advice to Diner was to challenge him to be consistent within his own system of thinking - if he does believe that science is the most accurate principle to judge everything and "operate the world".

Your additional point boils down to somewhat this chain of reasoning:
1. Scientific principles prove religious beliefs to be false.*
2. It is morally wrong to act according to facts which one knows to be false.
3. Religious beliefs causes a person to act according to facts which one knows to be false.
4. We don't want to do things which are morally wrong.
5. Therefore, we must seek to dispel religious beliefs.

*Note: there is an important distinction between "religion" and "religious beliefs". One cannot interchange these two terms freely.

Now let's say that to claim 1) is surely true is ridiculous. If by religious beliefs you mean things like creationism, then perhaps this is true. But religious beliefs encompass so many other things. The implied very narrow definition of religious beliefs here causes problems.

Next, 2) might be true, but it is probably irrelevant. Do you really think religious members of Congress act according to facts which they know to be false? That's a ludicrous statement on its face. You can clearly see that members of Congress who oppose measures to combat anthropogenic global warming, for example, sincerely believe that AGW doesn't happen. They may be biased, mistaken, or ignorant, but they don't seem dishonest.

Another criticism of 2) is that it may well be wrong. There is no shortage of cases which we can think of, where sometimes we should act against the facts in order to achieve a greater goal. For example, a parent can let her child fall and trip over, in order to make him learn about his mistakes.

3) is an exemplary statement typically branded about by legions of militant New Atheists everywhere. Again, the narrow definition of "religious beliefs" implied here causes it to miss the mark. Perhaps certain kinds of religion causes people to be intellectually dishonest. But this is true with some forms of atheism as well. Religion as a whole, however, is much too complex and varied for one to make such a hasty conclusion about.

Point 5) is also dubious. Suppose 1, 3, and 4 were all true. Have you ever considered the possibility that religious beliefs might benefit the population in other ways, which in the overall picture makes it better for us to promote it rather than dispel it? For example, religious people are often surveyed as having better personal happiness. They have more children. They even have better sexual satisfaction.

Hence your argument falls flat on its face, because it still reflects the kind of narrow-minded thinking about religion which is similar to Diner's. I advise you to stop thinking religion = Bill O' Reilly or religion = Rick Santorum whenever you approach this topic. Do realize that Democrats, liberals, and lefties often also commit the same kind of anti-logical and anti-scientific thinking as far rightists.

The old slogan that goes approximately like "Modern science has rendered religion false and irrelevant" is just that - a soundbite which has for decades been touted about by non-theists of all kinds, and failed. The promised "march towards enlightenment and progress by scientific principles" sounds so 18th century. Incidentally, I find it amusing that Diner mentions "postmodern society" at the beginning of the essay - postmodernism is the anti-thesis of the modern scientific mindset. Postmodernists question the validity of science, as they view it as no more objective than humanities disciplines. This just serves to illustrate further how muddled Diner's thought is - it's full of contradictory facts and ideas, some true, some false, some well supported, some completely ridiculous.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Fri, 02/17/2012 - 19:57

Hana, that was very well said, and I agree with the points you've raised. Beliefs (religious or otherwise) are fundamental to who we are! Beliefs are the product of intellectual stimulation, of questioning our world, of engaging in thoughtful discussions with our peers. I do not self-identify as religious, and I have very strong beliefs that are not rooted in religious thinking. I respect that other individuals also have beliefs and that sometimes they will conflict with my own. This is part of humanity. I enjoy living in a community of different-minded, thoughtful, intelligent people, and part of this diversity is religious diversity.

I'd like to provide an example of how religious diversity at Amherst has affected my own life, because I feel that it is exemplary of why diversity is important to the Amherst community and why we should respect it: While I may not hold the same religious beliefs as my friend, I enjoy discussions with him that require us each to present thoughtfully our reasoning behind our opinion because this exposure to ways of thinking different from own encourages me to reconsider and re-evaluate my own thoughts, opinions, morals, etc. For example, we recently had a discussion about the current issue of whether religious institutions, such as hospitals, etc., should be required to include coverage for contraception in their healthcare plans or provide contraception to patients. I would like to emphasize the word "discussion" because we did not debate or argue; we considered each others' opinions, listened to each other, and overall had a very interesting and pleasant conversation about something a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately. This is why I love Amherst! These are the moments in which I learn, about myself, about society, and about how to think. Thinking critically is a very important skill, and one that diversity promotes.

Lastly, I'd like to quote one of the last lines from Hana's comment, because I find it beautifully written and especially relevant to the discussions that have been stemming from articles in the Student lately:
"If anything, the diversity we have here at Amherst should teach its students to be conscious of the lasting power of their words and actions - and strive to make every student feel accepted, regardless of background or belief."

Shirui Chen '12 (not verified) says:
Fri, 02/17/2012 - 23:57

Thank you for replying. I’ll just jump right into it. With regards to my first point, acknowledgment that there is no definitive proof that the supernatural does not exist should not be taken to mean it is reasonable to believe the supernatural does exist. There is also no definitive proof Diner’s space-borne teapot does not exist, but no reasonable person would inform his/her decisions based on an assumption that it did exist. ----------------------------------------

I agree with you that science by itself cannot tell us how to operate the world. I think perhaps Dan was somewhat imprecise when he implied that we should operate the world according to scientific principles. What I think he means, and what I would say, is that we should acquire factual knowledge about the world using only what is rationally supported by observation. How we should act based on that factual knowledge is in the realm of morality, not science. ----------------------------------------

However, I do recognize my original argument as a whole wasn’t very sound. Thank you for pointing out some of the problems in it, including the loose usage of words like religion. I do not agree with all of your arguments (and examples), and I think you straw-manned my argument a bit, but for now I will just address your main point. Now that I’ve had more time to think about it and consider your points, I would venture to make the following argument:
1. With regards to the creation of the universe, the existence of supernatural being(s), and related religious beliefs, we should dispel beliefs that are not accurate.
2. If a belief is accurate, then it is supported by observation.
3. The beliefs advanced by most major religions with regards to the creation of the universe, the existence of supernatural being(s), and related religious beliefs are not supported by observation.
4. From 2 and 3: The positions advanced by most major religions with regards to the creation of the universe, the existence of supernatural being(s), and related religious beliefs are not accurate.
5. We should dispel the beliefs advanced by most major religions with regards to the creation of the universe, the existence of supernatural being(s), and related religious beliefs.

philocompo (not verified) says:
Sat, 02/18/2012 - 11:45

I. Regarding the Absence of Evidence and Evidence of Absence
Good of you to mention Russell's (yes, it's not an original Dinerian idea) teapot. However, notice I never said "Because there is no evidence of its absence, it is reasonable to believe in the supernatural." I clearly think there is evidence for the supernatural, which I haven't presented, and won't, in the context of this specific occasion. This evidence is in the form of philosophical arguments, not scientific ones.

II. Responding to your new argument
Let's take a look at your premisses.
Premiss 1 is doubtful. Firstly, why should you add the caveat "with regards to religious beliefs"? Can't you just condense it to "We should dispel beliefs that are not accurate"? If you think religious beliefs have a special status, then there should be justification for that. You can't just state that we ought not to believe in false religious beliefs, but at the same time implying it's perfectly fine to believe in false beliefs about the economy, medicine, science, or whatever.
Secondly, why is there an imperative to dispel beliefs which are not accurate? What justification do you have for this? What if there are good consequences if a lot of people have a lot of false beliefs? Say you find out one day that morality is completely bunk. Won't it good if you don't communicate these conclusions to people, in order so that they will still act morally?

Premiss 2, if not supported by additional premisses to justify it, is ineffective. Besides that, it's unclear. What do you mean by "observation"? Strict empirical observation, with our eyes or a microscope? Or you would allow for deductions made from evidence (think the structure of the atom)? How about beliefs based on testimonial or documentary evidence (think "Julius Caesar was born in 100 BC")? It's not clear. Remember that most of what you learned about science comes is 3rd or 4th hand knowledge from textbooks, so it seems that we should allow testimonial evidence to some extent.

Secondly, premiss 2 is self-refuting. Can you support by observation, the belief that "If a belief is accurate, then it is supported by observation?" Where's the empirical evidence for that?

The vagueness of premiss 2 makes premiss 3 rather meaningless, since many other fields of knowledge would satisfy the criterion of "supported by observation". Note once again, that I'm not simply arguing "there is no reason to think that religious beliefs are false." I clearly believe there are good arguments for some religious beliefs, such as the existence of God, the divine command theory of morality, the resurrection of Jesus, etc. However, these arguments are philosophical and historical, not strictly empirical. Since premisses 1-2 have been shown to be seriously shaky, 4 and 5 fall flat.

Lastly, you may interpret Diner's words anyway you want, but you seriously don't know how many people I have interacted with who believe in a form of strict scientism. They all spout the same nonsense which Diner has said. Hence my suspicions about Diner's beliefs about science and its role.

Stacey (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/22/2012 - 15:22

As an Atheist Freethinker I cannot stress enough how anti-intellectual, pro-religious forces have held back progress, especially in America. While yes, some religious people do charitable works and opposed slavery others championed slavery and oppose social welfare programs using the self same bible. (I refer to the Christian Bible since that is the predominant religious tradition in America.) I am a person who cares about my fellow man and tries to do what I can to help others. I do this because it is the right thing to do based on the ideas of altruism, social interaction, and community well being.

Religion is not a uniting force-it is a dividing force that encourages followers to have violent clashes with those who do not share their faith. I won't even make the easy arguments about how much active damage to humanity is happening right now, this minute, because of people's religious beliefs. All religions are about accepting ideas on Faith. Capitol F faith is the enemy of rationality. Science and Rationality are the only ways in which we can progress and flourish as a species. Even those more liberal or esoteric religions that are not particularly worthy of actively opposing like Buddhism and Unitarian Universalism must still ultimately be opposed *if* they have tenets that must be accepted on Faith.

"Scientism" (to some I guess this refers to an unreasonable 'faith' in science) and Atheism cannot be compared 1 to 1 to religion for the one simple reason that we do not believe in Faith. If I witnessed something happening contrary to the known laws of physics I would be happy to adopt a new version of physics. If a miracle happened...like someone's limb re-growing or an angel appeared to me and was recognizably angelic-I would re-evaluate my Atheism and attempt to determine how this event changes my worldview, even if it meant I needed to embrace Christianity.

Religion is not a vital part of humanity. It can be overcome and abandoned without the loss of culture or cohesion. Much of Europe has abandoned religion and many of the nations with the lowest rates of religion have the highest quality of life and the best social programs that help all members of the society prosper. It is also not comparable to one's ethnicity or one's sex or one's sexual orientation. It is not inherent to a person. It is a learned habit. How many people are of a faith different from there parents? I don't know the exact number but I bet it's vanishingly small. Religion is a learned behavior like a regional accent or one's primary language.

philocompo (not verified) says:
Fri, 02/24/2012 - 02:04

What is "faith", Stacey? The word has been wrangled around in many an atheist forum. Why is "faith" the "enemy of rationality"? Do you accept nothing on faith? How can you imply that religion impedes the progress of mankind, when in history we see that modern science was born from the efforts of religious men working in monasteries? What about the fact that the great men of science have been overwhelming theistic? Even the Vatican still maintains an official, active observatory today. In short, if you don't even attempt to deal with the great burden of proof that it entails, your claim that religion is the enemy of science and rationality is completely baseless and ignorant.

Scientism is flawed simply because it is self-defeating. You cannot scientifically prove the statement, "Science is the only accurate method by which we can determine reality." Hence if you still accept this principle (and most of its adherents don't have a clear reason why they do so), you are hardly different from a religious person with "faith".

"Religion is a learned behavior like a regional accent or one's primary language."
Another load of fresh BS coming from an atheist freethinker who has probably never professed religion seriously before (and no, being forced to go as a church as a kid doesn't constitute being religious). If you think I can suddenly choose to become nonreligious by "breaking the learned habit", then you are seriously mistaken.

"Religion is not a uniting force-it is a dividing force that encourages followers to have violent clashes with those who do not share their faith."
Another dangerous, but meaningless claim. The same can be said of atheism, feminism, LGBT rights, human rights, environmentalism - all of these can be viewed as "dividing forces" in our society, as long as there's someone who doesn't agree with you.

Shirui Chen (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/23/2012 - 15:56

To address philocompo: Sorry for the delayed response. It’s been a hectic week, and you brought up some good points that I had to take time to think about.
----------------------------------
To address your first point, I did not mean to imply that you necessarily believe lack of evidence of its absence is reason to believe in the supernatural. I was however clarifying any implications that might have been drawn from your earlier comment that this statement “amplifies” your criticism of Diner’s four points. I do not see how it could enhance your criticism. There is always the technical possibility that anything is true, and so stating there is a technical possibility that the supernatural exists is not very meaningful. (And in any case, even if the supernatural did exist, it doesn’t mean all the claims associated with one particular religion are true.)
--------------------------------------
Regarding your question of why I specifically mention a few religious beliefs and do not include all beliefs or even all religious beliefs, the answer lies in your own second point. I am simply preempting your challenge in your second point about why there is a moral imperative to dispel beliefs which are not accurate. I am trying to preempt the claim of exceptions in the case of circumstances such as when someone must deceive a burglar or the military must deceive its enemies. I am certainly not implying that it is fine to have false beliefs about other topics. With regard to your hypothetical where morality is found out to be completely bunk, I don’t think that is possible. Morality is not a matter of fact but a matter of preference, and as such it cannot be proven false in the same sense that a factual statement can be proven false. One cannot “debunk” a preference for, say, chocolate ice cream. Individual moral principles may change over time as new information comes to light or people’s perceptions change, but in that case then yes, I would want people to know about the changing moral principles.
-------------------------------------
It is of course true that religion has had some positive influences in the world, but it seems to me that there are very likely better ways to accomplish the same positive influences. To extrapolate from the morality espoused by secular humanists who live today, it seems very likely than an society composed entirely of secular humanists could be at least morally comparable to the society we currently live in.
-------------------------------------
Finally I’ll address your point that there seems to be a paradox in stating that if a belief is accurate, then it is supported by observation (since this statement itself does not seem to be supported by observation). I would counter that the statement is true by the very definition of “observation” (and I do mean empirical observation). A statement of fact is true when it accurately portrays reality. It accurately portrays reality when it allows us to accurately predict the consequences of actions. So if fact A tells me that when I do B, then C will result, and I in fact observe C when I do B, that is one piece of evidence in support of fact A. Of course, you could make the brain in a vat argument, but no reasonable person would ignore all observation and instead act based on the mere possibility of being a brain in a vat.
------------------------------
As for your other points, deductions made from evidence are also based on observation. Third or fourth hand accounts in textbooks can (but are not necessarily) be based on observation in the following way. I observe that scientific authorities (i.e. respected scientists) make factual claims, and they provide evidence in the form of papers and technological advancements that I can observe. Now, you could say the evidence in their papers are falsified, but that would require large chunks of the scientific community to be complicit in the falsification, since findings are always subject to peer review and independent attempts at replication. I could go on and explain why I don’t believe large numbers of scientists are in collusion to falsify evidence, but I will just end by saying that based on the evidence I have seen, I find that very unlikely.
---------------------------------------------
Also, I am unfamiliar with any philosophical or historical arguments saying that belief in the supernatural is true. If you care to explain or even point me to a good website or two, I would be willing to take a look.
------------------------------------------
Finally, I am under no illusion that the arguments I have laid out here are perfect. I welcome everyone’s comments and criticisms so long as they are respectful and in the spirit of honest inquiry.

Shirui Chen '12 (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/23/2012 - 20:54

In the second to last paragraph, I meant to say, "I am unaware of any convincing philosophical or historical arguments saying that belief in the supernatural is true." I have read a few in support of the existence of God, but they all have pretty serious flaws.

philocompo (not verified) says:
Fri, 02/24/2012 - 03:00

I'll just reply to what I think are the more crucial points of the discussion:
I. Dispelling Inaccurate Beliefs
Making certain exceptions for extreme situations is fine, but you still haven't answered the basic question: why should we dispel inaccurate beliefs? Is there really a moral imperative to do so? Having seen that you don't believe in objective morality, this makes me doubt whether you can go beyond merely saying that you would prefer people to dispel inaccurate beliefs. It is a very real possibility that many possibly false beliefs, such as the existence of love (as it is traditionally understood), the existence of human rights, and especially religious beliefs about the afterlife, are actually useful for society.

Your views of morality are just that: your views, which are just one of many about morality, and thus insufficient to dodge the "were morality to be unreal" question. You seem to take it to be obvious that morality is simply a matter of preference, espousing a kind of relativism. But this is not how many people have understood morality to be. Many people believe morality to be objective. For example, I believe that the Holocaust was an objectively immoral act. I believe that it would always be objectively immoral, even if everybody else in the world changes their moral principles and suddenly decides to approve of it, heck - even if I someday become deluded and change my own moral principles. For me, if morality were not objective, that would negate its existence.

II. Observation and Reality

"I would counter that the statement is true by the very definition of “observation” (and I do mean empirical observation)."

ob·ser·va·tion [ob-zur-vey-shuhn]
noun
1.an act or instance of noticing or perceiving.
2.an act or instance of regarding attentively or watching.
3.the faculty or habit of observing or noticing.

I don't really get how you are attempting to circumvent your principle from self-destructing by referring to the "very definition of observation". Notice that "observation", by itself, doesn't reflect anything about reality. I can certainly be deceived by my senses. A religious person might think that her senses reflect accurate observation of God. Now even if I grant that all empirical observations are accurate facts about reality, that doesn't in the slightest bit prove that all proposed facts about the world which are not based on empirical observation are false.

"It accurately portrays reality when it allows us to accurately predict the consequences of actions. "
Does this statement accurately predict the consequences of any action? The specter of self-refutation always looms over scientism-related statements like these.

And secondly, what's the evidence for the above statement anyway? How is mere falsifiability a necessary and sufficient condition for accuracy of a fact?

III. Good arguments for the supernatural
"Also, I am unfamiliar with any philosophical or historical arguments saying that belief in the supernatural is true. If you care to explain or even point me to a good website or two, I would be willing to take a look."

I think that the kalam cosmological argument for the existence of God has a good chance of being true, especially with it being supported by contemporary cosmological evidence. It has been mostly developed in recent times by Christian philosopher William Craig (www.reasonablefaith.org). The argument from fine-tuning of the universe is also quite persuasive, as long as we don't indulge in postulating unverifiable multiverses. Thirdly, I believe that a strong case can be made for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, which is an important argument, as it validates Christianity, not simply deism. However, I do acknowledge that even I believe it is not unreasonable to reject all of these arguments: none are perfectly airtight or so rationally compelling that only an irrational person would reject them. Still, they are not as flimsy as they are usually presented in undergraduate philosophy courses and popular media: most non-philosophers of religion are not even aware of the latest developments in refining these arguments.

Lastly, if you want some interesting reading, read up on Alvin Plantinga, the foremost theistic philosopher of the 20th century. Essentially, he argues that one doesn't need arguments to justify belief in God. His Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism is also very interesting: it proposes that evolution proves naturalism false. Even if you don't agree with him, reading Plantinga is a refreshing experience, since his argumentation is so thorough.

Daniel Diner (not verified) says:
Mon, 02/27/2012 - 14:04

Your first concern was about the split I emphasized between religion and science. This is something that has been debated about for hundreds of years and I do not pretend to be any sort of expert or even to be able to provide you with the argument that my case deserves. You mention praying for the awesome complexities about life that have been revealed to us through cell biology and genetics. I agree that with the liberal-mindeness of the religions that exist today, this is not in fact problematic. Religiously-motivated human decency laws may have made it very difficult for Leonardo da Vinci to dissect cadavers to perfect his knowledge of human anatomy, but today such taboos have largely been lifted. I concede this point. Nevertheless, it is clear that some separation between scientific law and religious law clearly exists. I think I heard this explained best when, during Professor George's talk on Hume's views on miracles, Professor Vavova brought up the following fascinating point: even in the case of a repeated, "witnessed" miracle, such as Jesus reportedly walking on water multiple times in the Bible, we don't change our view of the established natural laws that these miracles violated. For instance, those of us who accept that Jesus walked on water still see "walking on water" as an impossibility. Such people still see the natural laws as they saw them previous to the event of the miracle. What a paradox! My point in mentioning this was to show that in its most fundamental form, religion violates, or perhaps "transcends" natural/scientific law. That is not a statement that is particularly controversial, I think.

Concerning your second issue, I don't think I can offer a single, particularly convincing answer. I appreciate that you try not to let your faith affect the way you approach people, but I doubt that this could be absolutely possible. I also doubt that most religious people share this with you. My biggest issue with someone accepting religion is that, in some fundamental way, they relinquish the infallibility of reason. Now, reason may in fact be conceivably fallible. However, because it is the best, purest tool we have to operate our world with, I find it irrational not to devote oneself entirely to the conclusions that reason dictates. I realize that I have not proved that secularism is that conclusion, but such a thing will require more effort than I am able to extort at the moment. Maybe a future article.

Daniel Diner (not verified) says:
Fri, 03/02/2012 - 02:16

I would like to preface this with a few points.
- I am quite sorry for my delay in responding to this. I realize how overdue it is, but I have had incredibly busy weeks.
- Although your response was ruthlessly demeaning, self-righteous, and ridiculously snobbish I would like to thank you for writing it. My chief aim in writing this piece was to spark conversation on the topic, and your response to my article and to the comments of other readers has certainly added to the achievement of my aims. You have also successfully pointed out several severe logical snags that I am embarrassed I missed when I wrote this. Perhaps worst of all is that, as you say, there is no central "point" in the article. I actually think that a "rallying call" for atheists and rational people is a fair way of categorizing it. I only wish that I had stuck to that and not attempted to make the article seem as though it would lead the reader to any single conclusion. I overextended myself in my goals, which has proved most detrimental to the strength of my argument. For this I am sorry.

Nevertheless, your response was certainly no less absurd than mine.

Because you have written so much, I will section off my responses to you. First, allow me to address your central, article-examining critique.

-My first point is that you have absolutely delighted me. I haven't seen the phenomenon of degrading an argument by ACTUALLY assigning a low grade to it since elementary school. Thank you for the rekindling of the memories. My hope, however, is that in the future you will refrain from such childishness and actually address my arguments directly.

In response to the section that begins with "In the course..." and ends with "by non-religious people.":
- Sure, I used different methods of referencing religion and one might argue that I used stronger language over time. But I don't think that any of the descriptors were untrue or unfair. Religion very often leads one to accepting quite harmful premises (see Kaake's article about abortion) and because science, history, and archeology all disagree strongly with the tenets of religion I find most problematic (I suspect I will be addressing these later in my response), I think it is very fair to call such beliefs unfounded. Therefore, I will safely say that religion is a "dangerous unfounded belief." Religion isn't very far from what we consider superstition (in fact early religions were just customized systems based on series of superstitions) so I will continue to refer to religion, at least a literalist form of religion, as a piece of "superstitious literalism." Religion does reject scientific tenets, so I will continue to claim that it... "rejects science" (see my response to Alexandra for a brief explanation, in case you ACTUALLY disagree with this). We must in fact give up religion to achieve true intellectual and scientific progress" - can't exactly achieve true progress without giving up superstitions. Because reason does lead one towards irreligion (I may publish another article about this in the future. Kindly continue your stream of polite, sensible comments on that one's comment board), faith is in fact ignorance to that reason.
- I would kindly ask that you not apply the label of "militant atheist" to me for I am not, in fact, a militant atheist. I respect values of religious study more than do many atheists and I am not one to coerce a religious person into atheism. I will only offer argument if the method of doing so isn't particularly intrusive. How lucky it is then, for the Student's existence.
- By claiming that religious people subscribe to "superstitious literalism" I certainly do not mean that religious people "reject science." It is very clear, in fact, that many of the devout accept, or at least believe that they accept science to its fullest extent. There certainly exists a paradox, but I believe that plenty are simply unaware of it. They want badly for both systems to make sense to them and then fool themselves into thinking that they do.
- I cannot imagine what you might be basing your comments about my misunderstanding of religion on, for they are absolutely untrue. I have not made the mistake of categorizing some "typical" religious person at all. Instead, I point out a significant fallacy that any theist/deist has in their logic.
- I don't take up any posture. Atheism is, in fact, not promoted enough in our culture. We tend to give plenty of undeserved merit to subscribing to an ideology that science shows is fundamentally incorrect.
- As I believe Shirui mentioned in one of my responses, all I did by saying “I don’t plan on addressing the institution of religion at all because I find its fallacies far too obviously evident (if anyone actually doubts that it is not a man-made construct, I would advise that you read about the anthropology of religion), I also don’t offer a conclusive argument against the existence of the supernatural because I don’t believe that one exists.” was claiming P. P was a premise and I didn't want to extend it beyond that because I thought supporting it would take too much unnecessary space. If I could offer some absolutist argument against God's existence I would. I acknowledged that one probably doesn't exist.

Since I have already acknowledged my logical shortcomings, I will not address specifically any of your attacks on the logical flow of my points. Instead, I will address the reasoning you had behind your attacks.

(Point) 1:
- Point 1 is extremely meaningful. It is why you ought not label me as a militant atheist, and why you should take my arguments seriously. Unlike too many of my irreligious peers, I wish to admit to the fact that the existence of fault with our scientific process, like the existence of some all-powerful being, is technically conceivable. The acknowledgement of this is rather important. It keeps our minds "out of the box" when working on scientific innovation and forces us to permit the chance of imperfection in our way of thinking. In my mind, thought systems and organizations like Buddhism, UU, some general forms of spiritualism, and non-literalist interpretations of Hinduism promote the acceptance of our own imperfection, and therefore deserve tremendous respect. However, this point should not be taken to mean that your own argument is strengthened. ANYTHING could conceivably be different than the way we think of it. Conceivability says nothing of probability. And because there is no absolute truth, there is nothing that has true 100% probability.

2: I clearly did not say that "all scientific theories are correct." Though this was meant to address major tenets of physical law (Hume referred to the collective tenets as "Natural Law"), it will apply to anything we call a law or a scientific principle. If a "law" was to attract significant, scientifically-based controversy we would cease referring to it as a "law" and downgrade it to a theory. Laws are just theories for which we have not yet found exception. Back to my point: we ought to follow such principles/laws as though we were sure that they were true. We cannot conceive of truths more absolute than these laws, and since the best way we have for determining truth is abiding by such things, there is no sensible reason to doubt any such law principle because we have no substantive basis on which to base that doubt.

3: Once again, I urge you to realize that I am not claiming that it is impossible for a powerful god to exist and suspend natural law. I am claiming that according to our physical laws, there is no reason to suspect that such a thing is possible. Because abiding by these physical laws is the best way we know to operate ourselves, we ought not defy them and follow such a grossly unsubstantiated thought system like religion. Yes these laws are "generalizations which [do] prove true every time" and yes they may be incorrect, but we know no better system off which to base our actions.

4:
- By "operating the world" I mean living.
- Scientific principles are certainly not that limited in their usefulness in world-operating. Separating science from philosophy, as I notice you continue to do in your later rants, is absurd. Philosophy relies on the consideration of both empirical observation and intuitive thought. It is no coincidence that the earliest scientists were philosophers. "Physics" is, rudimentary, the empirical PHILOSOPHICAL system of observing our world.

- I actually fail to see what the "intellectual endeavor" point was based on or what it attempted to achieve, so I will not respond to it.

- You are correct in saying "There is no scientific proof for the statement that “we must operate the world in accordance to the principles of science"". I have already acknowledged this in the beginning of my comment. However, given my previous arguments, you should realize why it would be best for us to operate the world in accordance to those principles. We might not be able to prove their truth, but the consequences of following them have proven to be, or at least have seemed to be the most positive.

I will ask that, for the sake of efficiency, you reserve responding to me until I have uploaded responses to your dialogues with Shirui and with Stacey.

Daniel Diner (not verified) says:
Fri, 03/02/2012 - 10:03

Stacey: Thank you for your comment. You have put some of my own thoughts into better words than I have. A few comments:
- You point to the differences in motivation for altruism. I don't think we can or should say a Christian doing altruistic deeds is in some way in the wrong. In consequentalist terms that Christian is benefiting the world, and probably at a higher rate than are most atheists. Sure, helping the world because of internal compassion for others should be viewed as a "better" motive. We are humanists because we think we ought to be, not because some Bible is threatening our eternal damnation if we aren't. However we ought not attack helpful, progressive Christians who don't have such an internal drive.
- Religion is absolutely harmful, but I will disagree with you and say that it can also be quite uniting. Have you heard of megachurches? Jayzus Christ! And it doesn't ALWAYS encourage violent clashes. I would say that the progressive Christianity that is seen up North here is quite peace-fostering.
- "Faith is the enemy of rationality." I will certainly agree. However, you ought to encourage thought systems like Buddhism and UU just as I do. They aren't "Faiths" in the sense that they foster some concrete, absolutist unsubstantiated ideas. Instead, they are more like vague forms of Spirituality. In UU's short list of tenets, it only lists that members should desire things like peace and understanding. No supernatural force is ever mentioned. Something like 70% of people who attend UU churches are atheists and come for the collective experience. The author of a number of talks on Zen Buddhism I read recently discusses how we ought to just consider all that is given to us and live with a "beginner's mind." In both cases, they emphasize that they do not pretend to offer some absolute truth, that it wouldn't hurt your devotion to their philosophy to explore alternative religions they believe the two can coexist. In short, I mentioned the two because they don't have tenets in Faith, but rather in "faith" - some nice, loose concept about how ought to consider things that fall beyond our normal scope of perception.
- Yes, "Scientism" is in fact abused. We don't base our thoughts on some unchanging, unreasonable scientific principles. We make empirical evaluations of the world and change our assumptions in accordance to any changes in the data we receive.

'Philocompo': Your argument is again, more of a rant, so I won't be able to address all of your points.
- Stacey implied that "Faith" has tenets in some mystical, absolute, unfounded beliefs. And so it does.
- Science is the best investigative tool we have into getting empirical facts about our universe. It might be flawed and it might conceivably even be nonsensical, but because we believe that empirical evidence fosters the truest results about our world, we ought to stick with science and not some unproven, abstract philosophies.

Daniel Diner (not verified) says:
Tue, 03/06/2012 - 17:17

My biggest worry, 'philocompo,' concerns the ease with which you are dismissing the significance of scientific observation. You enjoy playing the part of the skeptic: "We don't actually KNOW how much we can trust our knowledge, and therefore don't actually KNOW any of these neat scientific theories to be true, so why don't we just degrade these scientific principles? Oh and by the way, you ought to consider this set of unfounded beliefs, since empirical observation doesn't actually account to very much."

I will repeat once again: What we know of Natural Law is actually uncertain. We may very well (conceivably) be wrong about everything. However, empirical evidence is, in fact, to our knowledge the most reliable information we have. It is only rational that we operate in accordance to the most reliable information we have. Therefore, it is only rational that we act in accordance to scientific knowledge.

Fellow Atheist (not verified) says:
Mon, 03/12/2012 - 00:47

I thought this to be very well written. It pains me to see how deep religion has rooted itself in the United States. It's the 21st century, isn't it obvious to people at this point how a large majority of people in the world were conned? First think of the world when religion first came to be. There were no ways to prevent others from stealing, murdering, raping, and so on. Technology we have to explain everything was not around then. Some genius thought of scaring people into not doing these things by spreading the word about a "God" who will punish you. Today, we don't need that. We have established morals and justice systems to catch criminals. Stop wasting your time praying to a God when all you need is yourself to do what is right.

Philocompo (not verified) says:
Fri, 03/16/2012 - 02:59

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Genetic Fallacy 101. Diner came close to committing it outright, but this is a shining example of it.

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