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Links With Your Coffee - Saturday

  • The Satirical Political Report - An Offbeat Look at the Hot-Button Issues of the Day » AIG Execs Receiving Threats Even From Kindergarteners
  • How Thoughtful?
    For me, atheism's roots are in a sober and modest assessment of where reason and evidence lead us. That means the real enemy is not religion as such, but any kind of system of belief that does not respect these limits on our thinking. For that reason, I want to engage with thoughtful, intelligent believers...—Julian Baganni
    Hmm. I'm not sure what that means. Are thoughtful, intelligent believers ones who respect the limits on our thinking set by soberly assessing where reason and evidence lead us? But if they are, then are they really believers? If they're not, are they really thoughtful and intelligent?
  • religion, exorcism, relics | Salon Books
  • Pharyngula: Richard Dawkins' awesome computer skills baffle Information Theorists of intelligent design
    It's terribly unfair. Not only are the paladins of evolution handsomer, wittier, more charming, and with a deeper grasp of the truth than the orc-like hordes of creationism, but even our ancillary skills are wielded with more effortless panache than our opponents' primary talents. Here's a beautiful example: Richard Dawkins, a mere biologist, wrote a clear, simple program in BASIC about thirty years ago that has had the Isaac Newton of Information Theory scratching his head in puzzlement. How did a program running a simple selection algorithm turn a random text string into the specific string "METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL" so quickly? He must have cheated! There must be some trick in the code! The poor bewildered 'experts' of Design Theory struggled to comprehend, and floundered trying to create a program of equal complexity.
  • How Choosing Changes You -- Miller 2009 (327): 2 -- ScienceNOW
    Economists generally assume that people make choices based on their preferences. And we do. But psychologists have long argued that the relationship goes both ways. Just as our preferences influence our choices, so too can choices influence preferences. A new study backs both sides in the debate and identifies a component of the brain's reward circuitry that seems to keep track of changing preferences. In 1956, psychologist Jack Brehm published the results of a now-classic experiment in which he asked housewives to rate how much they wanted a bunch of household objects (his own wedding gifts, reportedly). After the women rated the items, they were asked to choose between items they'd found equally desirable--a toaster and a watch, for instance. Then, the women were asked to rate all of the household objects again. This time, they gave a higher rating to the objects they had chosen than they had the first time around; they also pooh-poohed the ones they'd decided against.
  • What are your favourite regional phrases? | Books |
    The dialects of British English are a joy, from the 'crazy' buttercups of Stewkley to the 'made up' Scousers

  • New Depo from Case Linked to Norm Coleman: Senators “don’t make shit”—By Ken Silverstein (Harper's Magazine)



"Hmm. I'm not sure what that means. Are thoughtful, intelligent believers ones who respect the limits on our thinking set by soberly assessing where reason and evidence lead us? But if they are, then are they really believers? If they're not, are they really thoughtful and intelligent?"

I would generally agree, but I think he's making the point that it's good to engage, not alienate, moderates. And if you think about the National Academy of Sci--there have been polls showing even a small percentage of them believe in a personal god. It's a small percentage, but it is not zero. So if belief can can foster in even that elite group of scientists then I think Baganni's point is well taken.

Don't you think it's possible to engage without pandering, without pretending that belief in the supernatural is something other than delusional thinking? What kind of person demands respect for their beliefs before engaging in rational discussion? Engage, certainly, but that shouldn't require some special status for religion. If they don't believe in the supernatural, if they don't believe in a personal god then what they believe in is not really what I would call religion. It has the trappings of religion, but it is a meal sans the main course.

I certainly do, Norm. But maybe I'm confused about what you mean by "engage." If by engage, you mean to have rational discussions with, then yes--I think it would be silly not to engage with religious moderates (Bill Moyers, Barry Lynn, Ken Miller). If by "engage" you mean, "to discuss religion with" then no, I wouldn't hesitate to question their beliefs--I just don't see the need to provoke.


As Mark Twain said, "Faith is believing what you know ain't so."

A couple of quotes from the great 18th century atheist Baron d'Holbach.

"All religions are ancient monuments to superstition, ignorance, ferocity; and modern religions are only ancient follies." (Paul-Henri, baron d'Holbach / 1723-1789)

"If we go back to the beginnings of things, we shall always find that ignorance and fear created the gods; that imagination, rapture and deception embellished them; that weakness worships them; that custom spares them; and that tyranny favors them in order to profit from the blindness of men." (Paul-Henri, baron d'Holbach / 1723-1789 / System of Nature / 1770)

The "choosing changes you" research doesn't seem to be new. In fact it's the basic point of research into the phenomenon of "sour grapes", and cognitive dissonance. We seem to have a psychological motivation to esteem what we happen to have and downgrade what we don't have--to rationalize current limitations, including those we've chosen.

"If they don't believe in the supernatural, if they don't believe in a personal god then what they believe in is not really what I would call religion. It has the trappings of religion, but it is a meal sans the main course."

I guess your definition of religion includes most religious people who exist--those who believe in revealed religion, specifically. But there have been natural religions, in past times when rationalism didn't go hand in hand with humanism. I don't think we have that now, because as much as creationists call modern rationalism another kind of religion, that latter doesn't really include any attitude of worship or sense of the sacred.

Atheists want to focus on the belief in religion and that's fine, because that's what they're criticizing. But I think they go wrong where they claim its necessarily connected to the attitude of worship and the sense of the sacred, which I think are more central to religion. "I have no evidence but I'm going to go on faith" is an important attitude in most religious people's lives. But "I must treat sacred things as sacred, and profane things as profane" seems like the main stuff of religious life.

The idea is that human beings would never direct themselves to anything higher, more wise, more substantial and more holy unless they believed in ghosts, eternal minds and other nonsense that reason knows nothing about. I don't think that's the case, though. It may be the case in the modern world, for most people, however.

A thoughtful reply as always.

I'd be interested in how you would define sacred, it seems the word is so inexorably linked to my common definition of religion as to be worthless as an unsullied description of the something you call sacred.

Whether one uses the word sacred or not, if the nonsense about the creator had been left out, this would come close

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

I guess I feel like there are core beliefs, which I regard as axiomatic, as necessary in a just society - a kind of secular version of sacred - I'm a damned humanist, I guess. It is the closest thing to faith that I can respect.

"I'd be interested in how you would define sacred..."

Tough question, since I'm a crappy theologian. It seems to me that sacred things participate in the "higher, more wise, more substantial", but that doesn't quite get at it. I can revere a great teacher or stand in awe of a really old tree that will be around long after I'm gone, but I don't think either of those two things are sacred for those reasons. Moral values could be "axiomatic, necessary in a just society". But I'm not sure they should be called sacred. They're wonderfully mundane!

Transcendence is about as close as I can get to it. But this would mean that pantheist religion is a contradiction in terms (if the sacred participates in what is transcendent, and a concept of the sacred is central to religion). And it also might exclude a lot of ancient religion, which seems really earthy, immanent, and even humanist to me.

Transcendence in the sense of out of the ordinary; exceptional or transcendent as existing apart from and not subject to the material universe?

The problem with the second is that it is used to remove the topic from rational discussion. I don't like the term sacred because it is used as a club, as in how dare you question me. This is sacred, it is beyond question.


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