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A humanism like Dawkins's and possibly that held by Hitchens isn't worth all that much. It's too easy."

i dunno, i'm sure this isn't a popular opinion here, but i like this eagleton fellow. he loses me sometimes with the christian mysticism stuff, but he's the closest to a worthy opponent for the "four horsemen" i've seen yet. and since for me it's all about entertainment, i say bring it on. the interview was fair, with both the author and the interviewee making sharp points. good show.

is it true that dawkins refused to debate him? i find that hard to believe.

btw, it occured to me to wonder why eagleton, or anyone might consider hitchen's humanism to be less "easy and worthless" than dawkins, and i think i have the answer.

when dawkins talks about his love for classical music, or art or the beauty of nature or his warm feelings toward family christmases (google it if you don't believe me) he is fundamentally unconvincing. he seems cold, distant, reciting a litany of things that turn him on merely to convince that he is capable of being turned on. (forgive the hippie lingo.)

whereas hitchins is passionate about his love of great human achievement and writes about it frequently without any reference to his differences with religious frameworks. he is a fan of humans, and dawkins doesn't seem to be so much. dawkins seems to me like a cleric in the church of science, and hitchens is a pagan revelling- which is why his humanism is more compelling. too bad he's such a prick. :)

lol, good show. *8)

Eagleton is full of straw man arguments and dodges. I do think it's in a way easier to think like Dawkins and Hitchens, provided you have let go of your religious baggage. Sometimes things are simpler than they seem. Eagleton is one of those that complicate themselves and love it, with dubious forays into vacuous and vague mysticism and then somehow can come to the conclusion that christianity is true which is a total non-sequitur. It's a "baffle them with bullshit" approach.

These guys (he's not the only one doing this criticism, which is probably the most popular against "the Dawk") go on and on ranting about how these simple minded atheists don't "get" theology, and should have consulted "experts" and such, while NEVER providing anything of substance that "actual" theology has to say. It's actually very similar as the form of attack of creationists to evolutionary biology.

His review of the God Delusion is probably one of the most often quoted by atheists and theists alike, only for opposite reasons. Check out this point of view for a suitable parable. In this scneario, of course the "simple minded" view that the Emperor is just plain naked, is the "easier" thing to believe.

i don't deny that eagleton uses straw men and plenty of "dodges", i just think dawkins and company do as well. it's human nature, and they seem to me well matched.

re: the courtier's argument link:

very elegant and funny, but not much of an argument in and of itself, imho, tho i've seen it used here many times by norm and everyone else. the problem with it is this: it assumes a priori that the emperor has no clothes. and since the argument itself is about the emperor's cloth's or lack of them, it cancels itself out. let me ask you: if you wanted to write a book debunking say, phrenology, wouldn't it be reasonable to expect you to have a good grasp of the principles of phrenology, in spite of the fact that you see those principles as false and spurious? the case against the courtier's argument basically says "your position is complete bullshit, so why do i need to study it?"

i have many times here argued that dawkins et al's arguments are 90% directed specifically at christianity and it's clear he has little or no understanding of the theology, cosmology, metaphysics or philosophy of other religions-and yet he claims to be arguing against religion as a whole. if he claimed to be against superstition or christianity only i could take him more seriously. but here eagleton is saying look, you don't even know anything about christianity, and furthermore you claim there's no need to."

i'm certainly no lover of or expert in christianity, but i think this is a valid point.

as for your own arguments, andyo, i think they're more honest and direct than dawkins or eagleton. but they're not making the attempt to be evidence-based, which i think makes sense given the subject matter. i'm just a fan, trying to keep my beloved intellectual gladiators on their toes.

oh, and of course i'm aware that the "easyness" of believing something has no bearing on the truth of the matter. i was only quoting eagleton.

i wanted to comment on this as well:

I do think it's in a way easier to think like Dawkins and Hitchens, provided you have let go of your religious baggage. Sometimes things are simpler than they seem.

i realize i'm arguing against myself here, but do you really think the idea that some all-powerful sky person created everything is MORE complicated than current and developing scientific notions regarding the origins of life? why? because you just can't imagine such a sky person given your hard won weltenschaung? :) just fuckin wit' ya


What I meant is that the omnipotent sky-person is exactly the kind of religious baggage you have to let go of. Just start with nothing in particular, and then look not only at the evidence, but both at the history of religious claims and science. You'll likely find that the idea of a god is superfluous, introducing it is needlessly complicating things. They don't make them simpler just because you can say "goddidit". That's not simplifying things, that's just a cheap cop-out.

Thus in this way, a simpler way of thinking is actually also easier to arrive to if you don't have any religious inclinations. It's not simpler in that it's non-complex, it's simpler in that it doesn't propose anything that it doesn't absolutely require for it to work. The universe, as we see it doesn't require a god to explain anything. The "god of the gaps" won't do either, that's a thoroughly unsatisfying and frankly disingenuous proposition.

By the way, the Courtier's Reply is not an argument in itself, it's just a perfect parody (a "parable", ironically, is the best way I can think of describing it) of the arguments being made by Eagleton and the "experts" in theology.

For "expertise" in theology or any mystical line of thought to have any validity, they first have to start producing something valuable, don't you think? They are all vocal when they criticize those "ignorant" atheists, but when asked to describe what theology actually says, they are all dodge and evade, and move goalposts.

For instance, see here:

The telling point, though, comes at the end. The interviewer asks whether Eagleton prays. It's a simple question; you can answer yes, or no. If I were asked that, I'd be able to say no without a moment's hesitation, since it's a simple question about what a person does, requiring no philosophical maundering. Can you guess what Eagleton's reply might have been?

No answer at all. He laughs, and claims it's too long and hard to answer. And mumbles on and on, and the interviewer is clearly getting exasperated at his evasiveness.

And then there's also that little fact that all these "enlightened" theologians happily accept the hundreds of millions of people believing in resurrections, miracles and virgin births, and even worse sorts of weird things, but when pressed, just say that's not the "sophisticated" view they hold. The dishonesty reeks, but it always comes from the mystical side.

The dishonesty reeks, but it always comes from the mystical side.

well, i can't disagree with you there. but if one wants to confront this dishonesty, doesn't it behoove one to have a thorough understanding of the dishonest claims? dawkins is not completely ignorant, he deals with many of the more ridiculous claims of christianity, and especially catholocism and it's english variant, anglicanism. but, given that christian theologians are also well aware of how ridiculous many of these ideas are and have put a lot of effort, over more than a thousand years into rationalizing their positions, isn't it fair to expect dawkins to be familiar with the rationalizations as well as the basic principles?

and as for "weird" beliefs, i'm sure you're aware that creationists and other religious apologists like to use the "weirder" "beliefs" of quantum physics to justify and illustrate their positions. and since REAL scientests make no claims to any kind of ultimate knowledge, their (the religious apologists) arguments sometimes at least seem to work, never mind that they may be entirely false.

and just for fun:

For "expertise" in theology or any mystical line of thought to have any validity, they first have to start producing something valuable, don't you think?

define "valuable". :)

The thing with science (QM in your example) is that QM didn't come about as a belief, it's a theory formulated from extensive research and evidence, and as weird as it is, it happens to be the most accurate scientific theory ever.

About Dawkins vs. the Eagletons of the world, the thing about the dishonest claims is that their dishonesty is not that they're plain lies. They've been carefully crafted (over hundreds of years as you say) to avoid all kind of clarity. Their sole purpose is no be able to always have a cop-out ready. You cannot pin them down because they don't say anything. That's WHY even these "experts" can't express themselves clearly about their mysticism. They seem to be more interested in obfuscation than to share what they are so experts about.

Another important thing that always gets missed (on purpose) is that Dawkins is VERY clear, at the start of his book, that he's criticizing the god and the religion most people believe in, not this "sophisticated" vague stuff "experts" claim to know.

And by "valuable" I mean useful in the real world. I suppose if I asked you what has scientific knowledge brought about that's useful, you'd have no problem and be talking for hours. Can you say anything like that for theological claims of knowledge?

Sorry typo fixed:

"their sole purpose is to be able to have a cop-out ready"

Ha, sorry put the italics in the wrong "to", but you know what I meant.

Another important thing that always gets missed (on purpose) is that Dawkins is VERY clear, at the start of his book, that he's criticizing the god and the religion most people believe in, not this "sophisticated" vague stuff "experts" claim to know.

Ah hah! So those (such as jonathan.. hi jonathan!) who attack Dawkins for criticizing that which he does not understand, are not even that familiar with Dawkins himself.

Oh, the delicious irony in this.


about eagleton's reluctance to admit to prayer: i don't see how this has to do with anything. humans have developed (thru evolution of course) to be negotiators. a human in a tight spot will negotiate with whoever's around, and if no one's around, s/he'll invent someone. it's part of the "fight or flight" thing. i don't see what it has to do with religion, other than a possible explanation for it's existence and development.

oops. i guess that means it has a lot to do with religion.

When I had an older car I would often negotiate with it.

Just start with nothing in particular

due to cultural evolutionary considerations, i have yet to meet the person who is capable of this.

I don't understand why so many people feel that Dawkings is cold. I find him to be a rather warm and fuzzy kind of fellow.


me too,

Whereas The Hitch always makes me throw up a little bit. ;)

damn groupies.

my intention here wasn't to criticize dawkins so much as to criticize the casual dismissal of what i feel is a valid point made by one (many, actually)of his ideological opponents. whether dawkins is cold, or eagleton slippery, is not such a concern to me.

i am aware of dawkins disclaimer, and i still strongly beg to differ that his arguments deal even with the religion "most people believe in", but rather with the simplest, most thoughtlessly dogmatic understandings of christianity. his level of courage in attacking islam is most disappointing-practically nonexistent. he doesen't deal at all with eastern religions, and only touches on judaism (which doesn't even have a proper theology) insofar as it relates to christianity. simply put, he'd be a much more effective "horseman" if he learned to ride something bigger than a pony.

none of this makes his points any less valid, of course, but to me he still seems part of the christian world, which of course has it's head perpetually up it's ass. and that includes christian atheists, who assume that by attacking simple christians they are "saving the world from religion". well, they may be saving developed democracies with christian roots from the tyranny of the ignorant- which is a good thing, no doubt- but it's a far cry from even touching "religion" itself.

JoAnn, i think you're mistaking his obvious gentleness and decency for warm and fuzzy- not the same thing. my point was that the nausea-inducing hitchens is more compelling because he actually likes people.

andyo, anyone who knows anything at all about mysticism knows it has nothing to do with "theological claims of knowledge". even those christian forms that claim to understand the velvety texture of gods three assholes :) realize this "knowledge" means nothing outside the context of human behaviour. i think. does mysticism provide anything useful? yeah, it keeps the idiots busy and off my back. which is no small thing as far as i'm concerned.

Well I'm not that much of a Dawkins groupie when it comes to this "atheism" thing, though his books on evolution are wonderfully written. I am actually more of a fan of the angry American "New Atheists", like PZ and lately, Jerry Coyne. Dawkins to be honest seems to me a bit of a fuddy duddy, and I don't check out the forums cause frankly a lot of the people there are a bit too sycophantic for my taste (don't tell them I said so!).

But anyway, another thing Dawkins makes clear is that he does not criticize the vague mystic "theology" because it actually makes no clear claims, it's only held by a minority, and it poses no significant threat to science. I have to review my copy of TGD before I go on more about that.

I don't know if you're in the U.S., but here most people do believe in prayer and miracles (both at odds with scientific knowledge) and other things that god does which affect the natural world. But most importantly, even the crazy creationists ones, have political power, and are a real problem not only for science education, but for education in general, and even politics and environmental issues.

I don't know if you're in the U.S

oh jeez, how long have you been reading this blog? i'm the token israeli settler, dontcha know.

I thought Leftbanker was also from out your way.

I love that you call yourselves settlers. It conjures this image of you setting out across the plains in a covered wagon to build an homestead on unsettled land.

i think leftbanker is also an american ex-pat but he lives in spain. he has a nice blog, if you click on his name. don't confuse the left bank with the west bank, yo.

the covered wagon thing isn't that far from the truth, btw- the land being "unsettled" in the same way that the new world was "unsettled" when the europeans arrived. only we treat our "natives" a whole lot better than they did.

So you are saying that folks did have claims on the land but you are treating them better than the American settlers that slaughtered millions of Native Americans. I am glad I didn't make that analogy.

My amusement is that Americans stopped using the term settling long before the practice of moving into land and just setting up stopped.

Its still done today but its call squatting.

Some statutes allow for sweat equity laws that give squatters legal claims on land.

The Idea that Dawkins or anyone else needs to be an expert in religion to criticize its practice and refute claims of the existence of a supernatural overlord is silly.

Strawman for strawmen if you ask me.

Can one not tell that the lord of the rings trilogy is a work of fiction without reading the Hobbit?

And as someone that has never read the bible and been to Sunday ceremonies less than 10 times in my life I do often find myself informing Christians on the details of their beliefs. Indeed for most believers the details are unimportant unless they hear them on Sunday.

The crux here is that determining the truth or fiction of religion is not in the details of the stories in a holy book but in the application of the religious theory of how the universe works.

For instance one point I make is that the theory of an active god involved in everyday life is disproved by natural law. Indeed if God was altering the world to reward his followers, things like gravity would get in the way and get altered, yet they don't. If praying could change the weather, insurance companies would research the level of sin in areas, the weddings scheduled by the faithful in a region and use that data to predict the weather or natural disasters. No christian has started using that business model.

Can one not tell that the lord of the rings trilogy is a work of fiction without reading the Hobbit?

yeah, it says "fiction" right there on the spine of the book. bad analogy.

by pointing out the astounding level of ignorance of most christians of their own religion you're only proving my point.

didn't really get your last paragraph at all.

yeah, it says "fiction" right there on the spine of the book. bad analogy.

You must not have the leather bound copy.

Does someone doing a double blind study on acupuncture need to understand all the spiritual origins of the energies that practitioners believe they are altering? This is perhaps a weaker analogy as that may be useful to more directly refuting their claims, but regardless to test and refute a theory you need a working knowledge of the theory and the claims on how it effects the world around us. For religion, that changes for every believer but is canonized by institutions.

If Dawkins isn't an expert in religion and I don't think that is a real hindrance in criticizing religion. In that he is an expert in science and specifically biology, which I imagine few religious experts are.

Also, the claim that most believers don't believe in Cannon is such a cop out. Picking and choosing what part of religion you think is true is akin to simply admitting that you don't believe an of it is true and choose to delude yourself for comforts sake.

Religion is defined by religious experts, the clerics and priests.

My only point in the last paragraph is only meant to communicate that the testing of religions truth is done in the real world reflection and study of claims of its affects.

the testing of religions truth is done in the real world reflection and study of claims of its affects.

i'm not clear so much on what the claims of religion are, beyond that people feel better believing certain things. the acupuncture analogy is also no good, since acupuncture makes claims to heal, and this can be tested. the results are in: it works about as well as any placebo. and placebo works, for whatever neurological reasons. that is, it works around/over 50% of the time, and there's no reason in the world not to try it if you're desperate enough. and desperation is the beginning of religion. and this is the beginning of my realization i'm making no sense whatsoever.

see, you've infected me.

Religions have lots of claims of god's affects on the real world(I.E. the power of prayer or simply the good luck of the Pius and the bad luck of the sinners) and also that religious mythology describes the real history of the world and therefore has gives us truth about its current nature(I.E the world was designed by a creator).

True that many primarily focus on the eternal life business as the main point, but that too should tell us something about the living world and as discussed at 1GM a while back doesn't jive with how human life actually works. ?

why don't you credit thought with supernatural status and be done with it? it'll feel so good...

it wouldn't show up on brain scans than would it?

i was just kidding mean thought itself, as opposed to electrical activity shows up on brain scans? since off-topic was breached long ago here, you got any data or links on that? i'd like to put it in a forum thread but the forum is denying me access to make my own posts and norm isn't answering my emails about it.

i always thought it was hugely ironic that r. dawkins's own concept of the "meme" is itself one of the best arguments for the existence of the supernatural i've seen yet.

re: your comments above: so it's the terminology that bugs you? ok, "squatter" will be just fine. we don't call ourselves settlers, btw, but "mitnachalim"- literally, those claiming an inheritance. i know, i know, it's even worse. i didn't write the script.

Well, first brain mapping does point to thought being linked to the physical brain and therefore thougts to those electrical impulses. I did also read a story about an experiment where they used some hook up to essentially read an image from a brain.

Patients looked at a letter, machine read brainwaves and put image on a little screen. Scientists could identify the letter.

  • literally, those claiming an inheritance.

Yes, well I wish you the best, but as long as Israel plays in the realm of religious state or religious homeland etc I fear that things will be trouble for you. It has never worked out well for anybody. Christians did something similar in Europe and basically killed each other for a few centuries and the moslems, well lets just say the mixture of religion and government has not given them the peace and prosperity that their people must so desperately want at this point.

don't confuse the left bank with the west bank, yo.


the moslems, well lets just say the mixture of religion and government has not given them the peace and prosperity that their people must so desperately want at this point.

you're right, that mixture of religion and government didn't provide prosperity. "god" did. (they woke up one morning sitting on the worlds largest reserves of the worlds most valuable commodity, etc.) and it's what their mixture of religion and government DID with this windfall (in terms of the distribution of wealth) that has created these non-democratic, repressive "kingdoms" which breed among their citizens the closest thing to a worldwide apocalyptic order we've ever seen. islam is all about authoritarianism, questioning the boss man is forbidden under pain of death. so you just take your money, make yourself a boss man and voila, a kingdom.


i think islam can be summed up for the philosophically minded by this "joke":

how do you turn a broomstick into an m16?

you sharpen it and stick it in someone who has an m16.

ooh, i'm totally bashing. sorry.


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