About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Dawkins' “Delusion” discussed at American Atheists

At the 2007 American Atheists convention in Seattle a bunch of independent-minded freethinkers did what best distinguishes them from religious fundamentalists: we discussed our disagreements on whether one of our own champions is right or wrong, and to what extent. I was invited by AA's President Ellen Johnson (photo, with me) to present a lecture by the title “Is Dawkins deluded? On the relationship between science and religion,” in which I critique Richard Dawkins' best-selling and controversial book, “The God Delusion.”

You can find the full lecture on the RationallySpeaking web site, but here is the gist. As I see it, Dawkins makes five main points throughout the book, which is written in his characteristic style blending an uncommon ability to present complex ideas with a thoroughly enjoyable British sense of humor.

The first point (not in order of appearance in the book) is that open criticism of religion should be a normal part of public discourse in any democracy. He gets no disagreement with me on that one. Contrary to what many people seem to think, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (the one about free speech) doesn't protect people from being offended; on the contrary, it protects people like Dawkins and me if we deem it useful to write or talk in a manner that may be offensive to others. If you don't like it, don't listen to us, change the channel, or click on another link.

Secondly, Dawkins maintains that it is urgent that we raise the public's awareness of religion's dark side. Again, no disagreement here. It should be unacceptable that politicians and other public figures can go on record saying about atheists the sorts of things that few at this point dare say about other minorities – such as blacks or gays. Witness the infamous statement by former President George H.W. Bush: “I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots.” Notice, by the way, that this isn't a matter of statements that are simply offensive (although of course they are), it is a question of attempting to deny to atheists the same sort of Constitutional rights that other Americans enjoy.

Third, Dawkins says that mainstream religious people are complicit in the rise of fundamentalism, because they are reticent to openly criticize the excesses committed in the name of religion – any religion. He also maintains that, at any rate, there is no such thing as a reasonable religion, so we need to pursue “l'infame” (as Voltaire would have put it) in all of its incarnations. Here is where I begin to part ways with Dawkins, albeit only partially. I do agree that belief in the supernatural is irrational no matter what its form, and I also concede that the so-called “silent majority” has been much too silent for much too long. However, it is an elementary logical fallacy to lump every religious belief and position into the same bundle just so that we can have a larger bonfire. On the contrary, we need to engage mainstream religious people to convince them to join forces against intolerance, because it is intolerance that is the clear and present danger. As for being irrational, even irrationality comes in degrees: while it is downright silly – given all we know about the universe – to insist in believing that the earth is 6000 years old, this is simply not the same as to believe in, say, a creator of the universe that made the laws of nature and then retired.

Fourth, Dawkins provocatively labels religious indoctrination, by parents or others, as “child abuse.” My disagreement here is a bit more marked than on the previous point. Yes, I do think that children have their own rights, and that one of these is the right to the best education that parents and society at large can afford to give them. And I agree that a religious education is, essentially, an oxymoron. However, to speak of “child abuse” is clearly an inflammatory and unnecessary exploitation of the word. Yes, in extreme cases – such as Christian Science (talk about an oxymoron!) parents withdrawing medical care from their children – one can in fact talk about abuse. But to claim that 85% of the population willfully abuses their children is simply preposterous, and it does nothing to move civic discourse in the direction we as atheists want it to go.

Lastly, Dawkins claims that what he calls “the God hypothesis” is scientifically refutable, i.e. that science can establish beyond reasonable doubt the non-existence of god, any god. Here, I'm afraid, he is sorely mistaken. Science is a very powerful tool invented by humans to find out about the natural world, but it is grossly ill-equipped to deal with the supernatural, and engages in that task at its own peril. Yes, some kinds of specific religious claims can in fact be tested and rejected on scientific grounds. For example, if your belief in god depends on your belief that there was a worldwide flood 4000 years ago, well science does contradict you beyond reasonable doubt. But that is because you, the religious believer, have made the mistake of moving from metaphysical claims to physical ones, i.e. you positioned yourself squarely on the proper turf of science. Yet, there are a great deal of conceptions of “god” that do not require the believer to make that fatal move. If you think that natural selection is simply one more law of nature established by an intelligent designer, there is absolutely nothing that either Dawkins or any other scientist can do to put that idea to the test. Of course, even that rarefied concept of god would be irrational, for the simple reason that there is absolutely no evidence in its favor, and I maintain that it is in fact irrational to believe anything for which there is no reason or evidence. But such conclusion is a philosophical, not a scientific one, and Dawkins makes the apparent mistake of conflating the two: for him, reason and science are one and the same, in perfect scientistic style.

Or, rather, in perfect Enlightenment style. Indeed, Dawkins expressly claims, in his book, to be “a son of the Enlightenment,” the 19th century philosophy that brought us the first Encyclopedia as well as the French Revolution and the American Constitution. I admire the ideals of the Enlightenment, and I used to take a position very close to Dawkins', when I was younger and a bit more naive. But the fact of the matter is not only that reason is much broader than science (think of philosophy, for example), but that reason alone cannot do the job of cultural change that atheists are really pursuing. To put it as David Hume – the skeptic philosopher who himself embraced the Enlightenment – did: “reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions,” by which he meant that reason alone doesn't provide us with sufficient impetus to care or act about anything, no matter how right our opinions may be. Why did Dawkins write his book to begin with? Because he has a passion for science and reason, and because he passionately feels that religion is a pernicious influence on society. I agree with him, and I'm equally passionate about it. But that doesn't give us license to pretend that science can do more than is within its power, nor to ignore that fact that we will win hearts and minds only with a balanced combination of reason and empathy, not by showing off our scientistic arrogance.

That said, Dawkins' book should be read by anyone seriously interested in atheism, and his arguments ought to be evaluated on their own merits, carefully sifting what is good from what doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Most importantly, he has a right to put forth his opinions in whatever way he feels appropriate without drawing the fire of politically correct “progressive” intellectuals who get squeamish every time religion is put under the microscope of critical evaluation (not to mention, of course, the predictable venom of Christian and other fundamentalists). The Enlightenment may have its limitations, but the First Amendment still stands as one of the highest ethical achievements of humankind.


  1. Hey, do I get to be the first to post on this thread?!
    Max, I'm only going to comment on where you disagree with Dawkins, as the three points of agreement are clearly shared by at least you, me, Dawkins, and all the other rational thinkers (and speakers) around here.
    I think you have to put Dawkins's comments in context. In America, the separation of church and state is explicitly written into the constitution, whereas in Britain, the Queen is Defender ofthe Faith, her gormless son wants to be the "defender of all faiths" (thereby excluding the majority of Brits, for whom religion is unimportant or downright stupid), and schools are expected to hold and act of daily worship "of a broadly Xian nature" (although in practice, many schools now ignore this instruction). The 10-year UK census conflates religion with nationality, asking people if they are Anglican (and thus English), as opposed to Catholic and therefore Irish, or Free Church and therefore Scottish. This then adds fuel to the demands by the established Church for more political power, on the grounds that "75% of English citizens are Anglican". Dawkins's bone of contention with this, and thus the characterising of the religious indoctrination of children as child abuse, is that we should no more label a 4YO a Catholic or a Muslim than we would label them a Socialist or a Marxist or a Capitalist. They are too young to know what they think, and unlike America, the UK is still rife with sectarian violence; just watch a local derby between Celtic and Rangers in Glasgow, or the marching season in Northern Ireland. It is against this background that Dawkins penned his polemic.
    As to the scientist POV, Victor Stenger has just written a book dismantling theistic arguments from a physics, rather than a biological, POV, but the point that Dawkins is making (as far as I understand it) is that to claim that an all-powerful god lurking in the background chose evolution as the mechanism for creating humans falls foul of Occam's Razor, which does not need to postulate a god in order for evolution to be viable, and so by the very act of adding this unnecessary tier, which does nothing to advance the explanatory power of the model or our understanding of the phenomenon in question, theists are outside the rational box.
    Or do you think I've misread Dawkins's intent?

  2. Lastly, Dawkins claims that what he calls “the God hypothesis” is scientifically refutable, i.e. that science can establish beyond reasonable doubt the non-existence of god, any god.

    In fact as I read him that's not Dawkins' argument in TGD. Rather, he argues that a specific kind of god, namely a creator god that intended the world to be exactly as it is, is not an explanation because it requires positing an unexplained entity that is at least as complex as that which is to be explained.

    My gloss of that is that a creator god that intended the universe as it is had to have a point to point cognitive representation of that universe prior to the physical existence of the universe, along with whatever cognitive apparatus that enabled converting that representation into matter and energy. That is the god that's ludicrous, since it replaces a set of (potentially tractable) mysteries about how the universe works with an intractable mystery about how god works and calls that replacement an "explanation".

  3. Kimpatsu, RBH,

    well, obviously, I disagree with your take.

    Concerning the state/church separation issue, I don't think that any British-specific meddling of the situation justifies talk of child abuse. It's simply way too loaded a term, and doesn't move the discourse in a positive way. Besides, Dawkins knows that his audience is mostly American.

    As for the god hypotheses, I note that both of you make _philosophical_, not scientific arguments (Occam's razor), which is exactly my point: the god hypothesis cannot be refuted scientifically (i.e., on the ground of empirically testable hypotheses), but it can be rationally rejected on philosophical grounds.

  4. Jason Rosenhouse of EvolutionBlog has some interesting comments on Dawkins' argument here.

    Basically, if I read him right, he's saying that the argument from design should be seen in the light of already failed Cosmological and Ontological arguments, and that it is a last-ditch argument from analogy. But since the only designers we know (ourselves) are more complex than the objects they design, the analogy fails because of the infinite regress, unless you want to posit a simple God- which destroys the analogy.

    The situation would be different if you regarded the Ontological and Cosmological arguments as successful, because then you could posit a simple God, and reinforce your arguments with the argument from design.

    But I think it is clear that Dawkins does regard the argument from design as a second-run argument. Whether Rosenhouse is actually adding to Dawkins' argument, or simply explaining it better, I do not know.

  5. Max, Dawkins certainly doesn't think his audience is mostly American. He's a British author with a British publisher wirting mostly for a British adenice,surely. Even his examples of "child abuse" are culled from British newspapers. As to whether it's aloaded term: more power to Dawkins if it is. Shaking up the faith-heads is the least that we should be doing.
    Further, and this occurred to me after I completed my last post, but Dawkins is clearly not in favour of scientism the way you portaray him, Max. In "A Devil's Chaplin", he clearly puts limits on what science can achieve: "Science cannot tell you whether it is (ethically) right to clone, but it can tell you that a clone is merely a twin of a different age" (and so arguments against cloning cannot be framed in terms of the clone "lacking a soul").
    And I still think you're trivialising the issue in the UK, where the next (unelected) head of state has already declared his hotility towards atheists, and there is no written constitution to protect any of us.

  6. I'd like to weigh in on Dr. Dawkins' 'child abuse' idea. I grew up in an ultraconservative Xtian sect, much like the Amish (unique mode of dress, no entertainment, etc), and finally escaping completely from that mental prison in my mid 20's was the most horrible thing I have yet endured (I'm 59 now). I actually was fairly certain I would soon either die or go completely insane from it. We were told explicitly that people of 'the world', i.e., everybody but us, were inherently evil and bound for hell. I was heavily pressured to date only girls from 'the church', lest I be somehow contaminated. (and just as heavily pressured to join the group).

    The agony was that I had an engineering degree, and could see that so many things I'd been taught at home and at church just could not be, while in my deepest feelings, I still felt they 'had to be' true. What I would have given in 1973 for a copy of Dawkins' TGD and Sam Harris' End of Faith!! I didn't know such thinking even existed (had never heard of Robert Ingersoll either).

    Anyway - I'm still here, happy to be alive, and with a lot better things to do now on a Sunday morning than sit in rows - such as visiting my uncle in his nursing home. So yes, I personally fully agree with Dr. Dawkins that what I experienced *IS* child abuse, and brutal at that, albeit not on purpose. My parents are still living, and I still love them, and I fully understand they were only trying to do what they were 'certain' was best for me. I do hope I have the chance someday to find a young person facing the same seemingly 'no-win' choices I faced, and can just sit down with him/her and quietly answer *ALL* their questions about religion.


    (btw, right now I'm about halfway thru Vic Stenger's 'failed hypothesis' - superb!!)

  7. Max, I'm sorry, but as to the child abuse matter, I have to concur 100% with Dawkins.

    Let's put this in perspective, shall we?

    What if in, say, 1900, someone had claimed that using a father's belt as an educational tool amounted to child abuse?

    Would a turn-of-the-century Massimo Pigliucci respond by claiming that "...to claim that 85% of the population willfully abuses their children is simply preposterous..."?

    Religious indoctrination of children is child abuse because it cripples their critical faculties, and even if it fails (would a father who only attempted to break a child's leg be less guilty of abuse?).

    Just my two cents.

  8. Massimo, I must agree with KWFco and fcd. Just as there are degrees of irrationality, so there are degrees of child abuse. Religious indoctrination might not be an extreme form of abuse, but it is abuse nonetheless.
    Also, I'd like to suggest that some of the points you make against Dawkins are neither scientific nor philosophical, but political. Dawkins's may be alienating moderate believers? So what? This does not invalidate his points. I don't think it is ever a good strategy to pretend to accept someone's point of view lest we scare them off. Is truth at stake or not?


  9. As a small child I was brought up in the Seventh Day Adventist Church (by my grandmother) not quite so fundamentalist as KWF's experience, but bad enough.

    However, I returned to my mother and step-fathers home for high school, my mom not being particularly religious. I went to church of my own volition and it was more a social thing than a religious one.

    From my high school days I gradually separated myself from those earlier beliefs and I think by the time I was forty was pretty much an atheist, although it took another 10 years before I would come right out and say it.

    I have never felt that suffered any abuse (unless you call making me cut my own willow switch when I deserved and received a strapping around the legs, abuse. I call it getting my just deserts).

    I have never had any of the stress KWF alludes to, as he left the teachings of his youth and young adulthood.

    I guess it was the easing away from religion that made it easy. I'm nearly 69 now and perfectly content in my atheism

  10. It's not just merely "venom", M, but fact that both France and Germany are now, for the most part, Godless (even with all their list of past achievements) but yet also have become heartless, cold and arrogant as collective groups of people go.

    I remember also the explanation that my dad gave me of attending an funeral for a child of an atheist family in his community (possibly they were even relatives) many years ago. He said something to the effect that is was very bleak, hopeless and sad.

    In all honesty...
    do you care to live in the cultural environment that Dawkins envisions and wishes for?

    I, of course, do not. It is such a dis-hearting existence to live with no hope on the horizon.


  11. "Heartless, cold and arrogant", Cal?

    As opposed to the "loving, warm and humble" U.S. of A.?

    You have NO CLUE what you are talking about. In case you haven't noticed, in those countries LESS people sleep outside or die of neglect (or of gun wounds, for that matter) than in your Fantasyland of Milk and Honey.

    And as to the arrogance... Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle. Mr. Kettle, meet Mr. Pot.

    Remind us all, Cal, of exactly who, not five years ago, launched a war of aggression against a third-world country already crippled by a decade of sanctions, causing half a million deaths (give or take a hundred thousand or so), or that, while sitting on a stockpile of WMD high enough to obliterate this Earth a couple of times, declares that any Tom, Dick or Harry of its choice must not develop WMDs.

    Do not project your own feelings of hopelessness onto us atheists. We think that this life is the only one we have, so we cherish it dearly, and mourn the irreplaceable loss of any fellow human being, even a hopelessly delusional one such as yourself. Being sad at a loss is the reaction of sane people.

    "The fact that a believer may be happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunk is happier than a sober man." - George Bernard Shaw

  12. Cal,

    A funeral for a child is very sad. It is a heartbreaking tragedy. The only true comfort is appreciating the brief time we had together.

    A world without an existential purpose is not a world without meaning or hope, unless you can't find a reason for hope or have a relationship with others to give it meaning. Adopt a shelter dog.

  13. Nice to see so many thoughtful comments.

    FCD, good parallel with corporal punishment, but an analogy an argument does not make. Besides, not all types of corporal punishment qualify as "abuse." The problem is that abuse is a strong word that should be used with caution, otherwise is cheapened and becomes meaningless. In the case of mental abuse, if we allow any sort of wrong teaching to be considered mental abuse, then we should throw out 90% of popular culture... (ok, the latter isn't necessarily a bad idea, but still).

    Piero, of course some of my points are political, but they are distinct from my logical arguments, which I stand by. I think Dawkins is both politically and logically wrong in some instances.

  14. Massimo, of course an analogy does not an argument make, and indeed I wasn't making an argument by analogy. I was merely (by way of analogy) pointing out the fallacy in your reasoning. Let me spell it out more clearly: no matter how many people do it, if it's abusive it remains abusive. All sort of abuses were once in widespread use; were they any less abusive then?

    And as to what is abuse, I was not (and quite frankly I think Dr. Dawkins was not, either) speaking of "wrong teachings" per se; perfectly reasonable people have held perfectly reasonable opinions and beliefs that just happened to be wrong (e.g., because the premises were imperfectly known), and this is no abuse, as it doesn't cripple critical faculties!

    Abuse is the teaching of unquestionable dogma and the suppression of doubt and curiosity, the condemnation of reason as a "tool of the Devil", the brainwashing with intolerance and discrimination. THAT is abuse, unquestionably abuse in my opinion. And I may well be mistaken, but am not aware of any religion that does not share at least some of these traits; and at a minimum, none of the major religions of the world are innocent of these abuses.

  15. Massimo,
    I love Dawkins but I do agree with you, especially as a student of philosophy.

    One question:
    "in perfect scientistic style."
    Is reasonable to say that a simple definition of scientism is just the belief that science can answer every question?

    If that's the case then it is indeed scientistic to make "scientific" claims about god but i also think "scientism" gets pejoratively thrown around too much, especially in theories of consciousness such as physicalism.
    What do you think? It shouldn't become one of those words we just throw at people whose theories we don't like. (definitely not suggesting you do this, Massimo)

    Also, what's the correct noun form of someone that believes scietism? obviously not "scientist."

  16. Mark,

    "scientistic" refers to a position where the power and/or proper domain of science is exaggerated. I agree with you that one needs to be careful in using it, and that it is often misused in the area of consciousness studies. There is no associated noun, because it's an insult... :)


    sorry, but I still don't buy your and others' argument about abuse. Abuse is defined in my dictionary as "to treat someone with cruelty or violence, esp. regularly or repeatedly." In other words, there has to be demonstrable bodily or psychologial injury. Now, again, there are some examples of religious abuse (both physical and mental), but simply failing to teach critical thinking, or teaching make belief, as much as they are regrettable, cannot be construed as abusive without making our own position ridiculous.

  17. Massimo,

    you make it very clear you don't think religious indoctrination constitutes abuse, and that is a legitimate opinion.

    However, you have called the opposite opinion "preposterous" (based on the fallacy of popularity) and now "ridiculous" (based on no argument at all). I told you why I think it is abuse: because it stunts, or aims to stunt, a vital part of a child's psychological development. If that's not "irreversible damage", it certainly is "permanent damage", in the sense that a healed wound is not the same as a wound never inflicted.

    Any non-religious indoctrination that tried to restrict a child's mind would be justly regarded as brainwash and abuse. Why are we willing to give a pass and look the other way when this behaviour is labelled "religious"?

  18. "Heartless, cold and arrogant", Cal?"

    That is exactly right. In France people just basically hate God on a larger scale than a lot of places that I know of. Germany, otoh, has a lot of agnostic and yet, of course, also atheistic citizens, (possibly a bit more rationalistic) but neither societal climate has a particularly good working implementation of freewill in it. therefore it is not amazing to me that a literally non-free-thinking culture as a Muslim one would be quite "free" to move in and 'set up camp'. That is what such a level of pacifism will net a society.

    In the end tho, I think that most people in these societies won't care that much. Especially and as long as it will remove all memory of and reminders of "God".

    "You have NO CLUE what you are talking about. In case you haven't noticed, in those countries LESS people sleep outside or die of neglect (or of gun wounds, for that matter) than in your Fantasyland of Milk and Honey."

    That is the result of a different and more open-handed view of freewill, fcd. Most people who sleep outside or are "neglected" choose the lesser responsible path in life. And that is a fact. If people are truly mentally ill the families, not he gov , are responsible for seeing to it that these do not roam the streets and sleep under bridges. Unlike you, I don't think that the gov is the answer to all societal ills.

    There are homeless people in virtually every country on earth, btw.

    But by calling this matter of free-will (i.e. what people choose to do with their own lives)out as abuse, YOU NEGLECT the real and terrible abuse that goes on all across the world - one country man against the other. Somalia and various other instances immediately come to mind.

    Based on your comments, are you suggesting that leaders from other belief systems and governing structures don't have a moral responsibility to their citizens?


  19. fcd:
    "Any non-religious indoctrination that tried to restrict a child's mind would be justly regarded as brainwash and abuse. Why are we willing to give a pass and look the other way when this behaviour is labelled "religious"?"

    Do have children?

    I make zero apologies WHATSOEVER for giving very serious consideration for where my older children go, (and they are now 16, 18, & 20) who they are with and what they think.

    It is TOTALLY a MOTHER'S job to interfere and I take MY JOB very seriously. After all, my mom did. Allowing the gov standards to take over the responsibility for one's offspring is not "love".

    I am, unfortunately, one of those children who the gov took away from their fam for such that was thought to be like abuse. (and placed me in a catholic school, is if that were not)

    The gov was wrong, my parents, originally commissioned by the gov in a less controversial time, were right.

  20. Cal:

    basically you are conceding the argument, I see. You DEFINE France and Germany as "heartless, cold and arrogant" because they do not bow to your mythical being.

    Nope, sorry, no cigar. Your blaming the victims (homeless people and muder victims as choosing their destiny) does absolutely nothing to rescue your pathetic notion. France and Germany, and other countries as well, are compassionate and caring in a SYSTEMATIC way, not allowing their residents to fall through the cracks of a truly heartless, runaway, "dog eats dog" capitalism, which does not equate freedom no matter how loudly its supporters insist it does.
    People in Europe (ESPECIALLY in Germany) have seen where the "moral commitment" of governments leads, thank you very much, and want no more of that. The epitome of the "Ethical State" was Nazism, in case you don't know history.

    And as to your other post: yes, I have two kids, who have not been indoctrinated on the basis of unsupportable assertions of ANY kind. I taught them to say "please" and "thank you", I take an interest in and give very serious consideration to where they go and what they do, and I try my best to allow them to flourish. I don't tell them "behave or else"; I leave that kind of piss-poor "morality" to believers in the Great Pumpkin and similar literary devices.

  21. Massimo,

    "There is no associated noun, because it's an insult... :)"


    thanks, Massimo.
    Mark P.

  22. fcd:
    "People in Europe (ESPECIALLY in Germany) have seen where the "moral commitment" of governments leads, thank you very much, and want no more of that. The epitome of the "Ethical State" was Nazism, in case you don't know history."

    They should see that, but they don't teach it.

    Imagine our surprise when a foreign exchange student, a friend of my kids, from Munich and an otherwise very intelligent young woman informed her host family that they they had been taught that Hitler was the inventor of the Volkswagen! (and that's it) The rest of the story about Hitler's role in the hlcst totally took her by surprise. Needless to say, there were other things in history and various matters about Germany that the students had been misinformed on.

    It'll be rather hard to learn a lesson about history when it's not being taught.

    So, no. I don't believe Germany or France to be particularly enlightened. Knowing a thing or two about "Math" and "Art" isn't quite enough. Quite a few well educated people (Drs and the like) committed some fairly awful things onto people that they did not consider their equal.

    "Your blaming the victims (homeless people and muder victims as choosing their destiny) does absolutely nothing to rescue..."

    As for all the victims of murder and homelessness that primarily seem to live in the USA (which will come as news to the rest of the world), it is inconsistent for you to judge GWB on what you perceive as his actions while judging yourself on your intentions.

    Wanna take in a few dozen homeless folk tonight? Go for it. You do have room in your house, don't you?


  23. Cal:

    the plural of "anecdote" is not "data". I can't verify your story about the German student, but I have stories aplenty about American students not being taught a lot of other things. Such storytelling is futile, however.

    The matter of the fact is that, by any indicator you may choose, be it homelessness, teenage pregnancy rates, murder, spousal abuse, etc. etc., your country comes out losing - badly - versus practically every country in Western Europe.

    You may not believe that France or Germany are particularly enlightened, but you need to SHOW that they aren't. Until now, you've merely said they aren't because they are godless; this is a fallacy, known as begging the question. You equate godlessness with being "heartless, cold and arrogant", but fail to show that this is the case.

    To me, for instance, not guaranteeing healthcare to every person is a truly heartless act; yet this happens in your country, and NOT in France or Germany.

    Claiming that people choose to live on the street, and that they can go ahead and keep living (and dying) there, is a truly cold attitude; yet this happens much more in your country than in France and Germany.

    Finally, invading another country that was not threatening yours and inflicting horrible losses on civilians, to the point of making people who - before the invasion - were oppressed by a bloody tyrant PINE FOR the good old days under him, is definitely arrogant; yet it was your country, not France or Germany, that did so.

    So, dear lady, you utterly fail to prove your point. I suppose that "godlessness" and being heartless, cold and arrogant" are not synonymous after all, eh?

    As for your inept attempt to poison the well, by telling me that I can take some homeless people off the street tonight, I'm sorry, but the society I belong to - heartless, cold and arrogant as it is - prevents people from ending on the street as much as possible, with my taxes, my vote, and my wholehearted approval. It's you who live in the Land of the Healthcare-Free and the Home of the Heat-Packing Cowards, after all.

    Also, nice of you to defend GWB; however, your country's problems did not begin with GWB and will not end with him. He's a symptom, not a cause, of your current crisis.

  24. As ever, Cal attempts to derail the thread by writing nonsense.
    You must have lived in France for a long time, Cal... :rolleyes:

  25. Aureola Nominee,

    Welcome to Cal's world! :-)


    You reminded me of the fact that education is the worst enemy of religion. People should hear that more often.

    Hey, Cal. Do you read any German (language)? For some reason, I don't think so, otherwise I'd direct you to the site of the largest German weekly magazine (Der Spiegel). They are all the time talking about their ghosts from the past, you can feel they want to (over?)compensate for everything their ancestors did. You can't ignore it even if you want. Other publications give the same emphasis to such matters. There's critical discussion of the rise of extreme right over there all the time, again with the unavoidable references to the terrible past. That student you mention was either a drooling idiot, an overly air-headed teenager or had the misfortune of growing up and going to school in a conservative, right wing, ultra-christian environment in Germany. They are the ones who complain about the Germans "being sorry" all the time about the past, want a bigger military again, etc., after all.
    Anyway, as to the "abuse" thing, I kinda agree with Massimo. Although I agree that indoctrinating with religion is crippling to the mental faculties, I also think that the people doing the indoctrination DO NOT think that's the case, and I believe they all have the best of intentions. In which case I don't know if calling it "abuse" would really be accurate. Doesn't intention count? Isn't all of education somewhat "abuse", in that way? Aren't we "indoctrinating" kids with things we deem good, even if they don't want it? I suspect Cal would probably say sex education is abuse, judging by her posts in previous threads (is that the case?). I know I'm kinda doing a "reductio ad absurdum" here, but I hope you get the point. And I like to play devil's advocate to provoke discussion too...

    Also, making an argument by judging people of past generations as if they were doing whatever they did today does not seem like very correct to me. What they did was not wrong. It is wrong.

    Now, it is a political thing for sure. Truth matters, of course, and I always struggle with myself because of that. Conciliate or be aggressive? Trying to get the most results the fastest, even if that makes me be quiet in some cases, or soften the blow in others, is that so bad and damning for my intellectual integrity? Sometimes I think so, sometimes I don't. Right now I'm inclined to say it doesn't. But tomorrow is another day... :-)


  26. Having gone to university with several German students, who of course were born long after WWII, I can assure you that many of them feel an involuntary and uncontrollable sense of shame that you have to see to believe. This goes virtually to the point of physical illness in certain situations.

    I have seen similar reactions amongst orientals (my wife is oriental) who have experienced rude and open rejection by members of our society. But in the case of the German students, no rudeness was required, just a casual snicker, an offhand remark, or a newscast.

    Of course all this is anecdotal. I only mention it for fairness' sake.

  27. j,

    of course very few, at the dawn of the 20th century, considered beating kids as abuse; but if those few had simply shut up, nothing would have changed. If you say "beating kids WAS NOT abuse", you are implicitly condemning those who voiced that opinion and excusing those who did beat their kids. The same goes for slavery, racism, sexism, etc. etc.

    It is not by being silent for the sake of "not being preposterous" that we change societal attitudes. It's been said again and again, but I will repeat it once more: by being vocal to the point of rudeness, even obnoxiousness occasionally, Dr. Dawkins has managed to shift the focus of discussion from "how EVIL those atheists are?" to "are atheists really EVIL?".

    Indoctrination has already been recognized as abuse; the only instance where smart people seem willing to tolerate it is when someone pastes a big "RELIGION" sign on it. Why is that?

    Redefining education to include the concept of indoctrination is a semantic game that I'm not willing to play. The difference between teaching, e.g., "there is no Earth satellite but the Moon and it revolves around the Earth in about four weeks" and "there is no God but God and Mahomed is His prophet" is that for the first there is some non-subjective evidence.

  28. J: "They are all the time talking about their ghosts from the past, you can feel they want to (over?)compensate for everything their ancestors did."

    I don't feel a need to compensate for what my ancestors did. (grandma speaks German fluently. as for me, not too much)

    I feel the need for myself and other Germans to turn an ENTIRE NEW LEAF. I don't know if people can understand how that is done, but I am undertaking that myself.

    It is, I think, to identify and deal with the wickedness that can reside in the 'individual' heart that causes one to follow leaders or ideals that lead to less ethical behavior. And that can NEVER be deferred back to ancestors.

    And no, and the young woman I referred to had one parent who was agnostic (mom) the other atheistic. When she went back to Munich it took her 6 months to run into the first Christian. When she lived in Germany previous to her foreign exchange experience, she knew of no Christians. And please, take my word for it, she really wasn't an "airhead". Thought she was pretty level headed for 17, actually. I also doubt that religion had a thing to do with why she did not know the whole story about the hlcst. Maybe by the time she got to college...

    So regardless of what people might think of my 'uniformed' opinion, I know that when the world shakes down into the two possible categories that it can divide itself into, barring some kind of miracle, the majority of Germany will be the "white(er)" counterpart and sympathizer to Islam.

    Unrequited guilt (which leads to fear) will do that to a person and a collective.


  29. J "suspect Cal would probably say sex education is abuse, judging by her posts in previous threads (is that the case?). I know I'm kinda doing a "reductio ad absurdum" here, but I hope you get the point. And I like to play devil's advocate to provoke discussion too..."

    Yeah, I'm a bit of needler. :) And you can be one too!!!

    No, not all sex ed is bad. But some is REALLY bad and has OBVIOUSLY lead to the rise of stds.

    If you had a little girl, J, you would care DEEPLY that she did not get the kind of info that caused her to throw caution to the wind and bet her life on a condom that she would not get HPV. (get cervical cancer, lose the ability to have children, and so on) Men don't think that through too much, because that particular affliction doesn't affect them directly.

    There is a vaccine. But even tho I know a supervisor very well in the dept. at UNM which created the HPV and HIV vaccine, I would like to see where a few years of use takes or confirms the technology.


  30. Suf, "But in the case of the German students, no rudeness was required, just a casual snicker, an offhand remark, or a newscast.

    Of course all this is anecdotal. I only mention it for fairness' sake."

    It's right of you to be fair and mention that people are (or should be) individuals first. But because of the weight of the noted offense, sometimes it's hard for the collective identity to know how to deal with guilt rationally.

    I am not sensitive at all about being German (as you can tell) so I could care less. Say anything to me about that, no big deal.

    do I look G. enough to be hurt or helped by it? I sure seem to. people often actually approach me in a store and say: "are you German? "I ...blah, blah blah (the rest is not worth repeating). :)

    So every nationality on the earth obviously has it weaknesses, and that's why we ought to have the humility to "need" each other.

    a recipe for world peace. :)


  31. fcd; "Claiming that people choose to live on the street, and that they can go ahead and keep living (and dying) there, is a truly cold attitude; yet this happens much more in your country than in France and Germany."

    And while I'm leaving my 444 comments on RS...

    It's even BY FAR more heartless and cold to not even be tolerant of identifying where responsibility really lies.

    If I love my kids, I will tell them when they are off the beaten track as far as their responsibilities to society are concerned. Do we love street people so much less, to allow them to think that giving something back to the society in which the live is "ABUSE"? How preposterous!

    And you are not talking to someone who has not had people who are homeless (need I add also an ex-con, drug dealer, & pimp) sleep in her home.

    Remind me again, who is worthy of all these gov resources and why don't they need to live a reasonably honorable life to get "assistance"?

    serously. you are propagating socially irresponsible attitudes by your very position on this matter.


  32. Cal

    My point about the German students was that they were deeply aware of their history, not that they experienced prejudice (I am not sure they did; one of them never left, got married here, etc.)

    I admit I muddied the waters by dragging the in travails of some orientals, which were due to out-and-out prejudice. That's the disadvantage of using the stream-of-consciousness technique when blogging.

  33. My wife and I saw the documentary, Jesus Camp, last night.

    She is a believing Catholic and a counselor. She described what she saw as "Child Abuse".

    You cannot watch that movie without a) agreeing that it is child abuse b) feeling sad for the children c) feeling genuine fear for our country and your children's future.

    I doubt as most religious education is child abuse any more than insisting children keep quiet on long car trips or keep their clothes clean or go to bed so that parents can sleep.

    So its incorrect and risky for us to leave the impression that we think all religious 'education' is abuse

  34. suf,

    Do you think that any significant number of populations anywhere feel negatively towards persons who are Asian? I don't tend to see that myself. but, of course, my experience with people who endured wars with Asian countries isn't that broad.

    To me, the Asian cultural norm is more cooperative and submissive. Not like the rest of us'ins. ;)

    AARRRGGHHH!!!!!!!! :::running down the road, tearing at clothes and hair:::

    I heard Shimon Peres speaking a month or two ago. He said something to the effect that 'often times Jews probably wished that they had Swedes for neighbors....but then again, their neighbors probably wished that THEY HAD Swedes for neighbors too'!'

    hilarious :)
    don't we all wish for more than we really deserve sometimes??

  35. Cal

    Do you think that any significant number of populations anywhere feel negatively towards persons who are Asian?

    Hard to answer. My wife feels she can overcome prejudice with her personality. But she is fortunate to have that kind of personality. I have heard lots of comments over the years, mostly directed at Chinese. Also I have seen negative newpaper reporting that exploited prejudice to a remarkable degree. But my impression is that there has been improvement with time, and that, in any case, Asians don't get the same rough treatment as Jews and blacks.

    Still, there is no accounting for the destructive effects of ideology. My #2 son came home for a visit recently, and went downtown to revisit his old haunts. One of his "old friends" refused to shake hands with him, because he had bought into white supremacy. I suppose this kind of thing could happen a hundred times over, and I'd never hear about it.

  36. Cal:

    you are truly something special. Go on, keep blaming the victims, and adamantly insisting that every homeless person in America is destitute because he/she deserves to, and accuse others of being "cold"! As is your constant modus operandi, you talk freely of things you do not understand.

    Healthcare in the USA costs MORE per person than in France and Germany. How come your country cannot provide for all its citizens, and the "heartless, cold and arrogant" democracies of Europe can, spending less than you do?

    How come the "heartless, cold and arrogant" civilized countries of Western Europe have reduced teenage pregnancies through sex ed, and the USA have seen them increase through the misguided idea of "abstinence only"?

    I couldn't care less about intentions. All I know is that the effects of different societal attitudes are visible, measurable, and very, very clear.

    Keep dodging and handwaving, Cal, but don't think for a second that you are fooling anyone but yourself.

  37. Cal

    Further to above:

    The incident I referred to earlier was one where a customer at a Chinese restaurant asked the proprietor "Why don't you f#king people just go back where you came from?"

    I would never have heard of this, if I hadn't had the opportunity to meet this lady through friends of my wife. Nor would I have known of the devastating effect that this single remark had (she spent three weeks in the hospital as a result of the ensuing depression).

  38. "....of attending an funeral for a child of an atheist family in his community (possibly they were even relatives) many years ago. He said something to the effect that is was very bleak, hopeless and sad."

    Very interesting. Please do tell us of this Christian sect you belong to where the funerals of children are joyous occasions. (Read as dripping with contemptous sarcasm).

    I am coming to believe that Cal is utterly disingenous and will pull anything out of her rear-end to attempt to support her argument.

    For example: The German teen who knew nothing of the holocaust. Poppycock I say. It is well known that Germany has great national remorse for the holocaust. They have moments of remembrance and the whole country literally stops and participates.

    Under the comments for another of Massimo's articles I made the comment that if Christians seriously thought that abortion was murder, then they would support comprehensive sex education in schools. Suddenly Cal knows three educated women who have had multiple abortions. This is of course a vicious stereotype.

    "To me, the Asian cultural norm is more cooperative and submissive. Not like the rest of us'ins. ;)"

    See, it seems Cal is very fond of stereotypes.

  39. suf,

    So sorry for your son's unpleasant experience.

    White supremacy is such an ugly lie. I am shocked that any person educated over the 6th grade would accept it. Surprisingly tho, the Free-masons who presume to be very "enlightened" have had a most of their original documents and creeds drawn up by a clansman. And sorry to say, 1/2 my hubs family was mixed up in that Masonry garbage at one time. The other half that his gram married into, was was Jewish. And like my family, one side despised the other and the youngins all pay the price.

    As for myself, I have always thought that some of the "mixed", pardon the term, races were some of the more beautiful looking people one ever sees. But so are many others who are not.

    "Nor would I have known of the devastating effect that this single remark had (she spent three weeks in the hospital as a result of the ensuing depression)."

    Can depend a bit on the person too. Like how sensitive or thick skinned one happens to be.

    Not that it's right that a person said such an ignorant thing to this poor woman, but one should never take the word of someone who does not know you as an authority on YOU. :)


  40. "See, it seems Cal is very fond of stereotypes."

    Sometimes they work.

    After all, it was not the Amish people(who tend to be incidentally German or Dutch) who put six mil Jews to death.

    Beliefs and categories of beliefs really do matter.

    love ya, sheldon.

  41. fcd,

    If you had never heard or read media commentary on the social ills of our time by certain persons povs, I doubt that you would believe 9/10th of what you said.

    I, otoh, think I can have fairly strong views and or different opinions than others around me but I feel no hate or anger towards them at all. Why do you seem to feel so much disgust and anger towards people who don't share your views? Seriously. Apparently we do come from different world or planets...

    &, of course, love ya also, fcd.


  42. Massimo, I think there is an element which has not been considered in this interesting discussion. Religion in modern times has become for many families just a container for common sense and humanity, with some words about God and Jesus which are repeated mainly out of tradition. From this it follows that the kind of education given by many religious families is no more abusive than the education provided by any other family.
    On the other hand, this is just because the grasp of religion has faded at the point that many still label themselves as religious without really being strongly attached to core religious beliefs.
    But the closer you get to the core belief of a religion the more you find abusive education. For instance, the core beliefs of christianity are encoded in the letters of Paul. If you think that to be a good christian you must take Paul's prescriptions seriously (and certainly most catholic priests would agree with it), then you are most probably going to mentally abuse your childrens.
    Monotheistic religions are abusive by definition, they just don't appear that way when they are very much diluted and not taken too seriously, like is the case with most church-going people.
    As a matter of fact, the further you go back in time, the more you find abusive treatments associated with religion. The fact that now you observe less of it is not because religion is changed, but just because it is slowly fading away.
    So, finally, I think that Dawkins' statement is logically correct.
    The question about the opportunity of his words is a different one, and a second order one, too.
    I have enough anectodic evidence about Catholic mothers mentally abusing their daughters to support my opinion. More often, what induces the abuse is not so much the character of the mother, as the compelling nature of the christian teaching that they have received, in their turn, from their own mothers. "If you don't behave that way you break Jesus' heart ("softer" version: my heart) and you are going to hell ("softer" version: to ruin your life)". I think that much pain would be avoided by just exposing the fact that this is a form of mental abuse and that the institutional teaching of religion is mainly responsible for that.


  43. Massimo, I also do not agree with your accusing Dawkins of scientism. You apparently say that science is about verifiable data, but then you have no data to prove or disprove the existence of God, so that's a matter for philosophy.
    Now, first of all, I don't see that sharp distinction between science and philosophy. Data without interpretation are meaningless, and data are usually sparse and indirect. So I would say instead that there is a continuum, on one side you have, in order of certainty, mathematics, physics, biology,... then you come to history, sociology, finally you get to philosophy, i.e. politics, ethics, etc. But there is a common scientific denominator: you must do everything possible to be honest and not fool yourself. By the way, the distinction between these subjects is ours because probably Aristotle would have called all the previous matters parts of philosophy. We have just lost the big picture.
    Finally, there is actually data about God, as it was recognized already by 19th century philosophers: there are data from anthropology, psichology, history that God was created by people, not the other way round. Since this is scientific, it should be taught in schools. One should just introduce the history of religions as a school subject. For instance, just studying the evolution of religious beliefs first in prehistoric times, than in the Middle East and in Europe etc. one sees very clearly, starting from verifiable data (not a huge amount of, but not less than in other scientific disciplines) that God actually exists most probably just in the mind of the people, and not as a separate entity.

    Actually that's what you so often describe in your blog. You even, and interestingly, added neuropsychiatry to the list of sciences that disprove the traditional notion of God.
    So, when Dawkins says that you can be positive on a scientifical basis about the nonexistence of God, I agree with him, and I don't think that he is overextending the boundaries of science. To accept that would boil down essentially to the teaching of the Catholics that scientists should stop their speculation at some holy boundary, where only priests start having a right to say meaningful things. Well, I obviously don't agree, and you don't, too.


  44. Andrea,

    science and philosophy surely have much in common, and science itself is a rather heterogeneous thing. However, "the god hypothesis" (the broad version Dawkins attacks, not the 6000-yr old universe sort of god) is scientifically untestable because it is compatible with any particular data. This, to me, makes it non science, and to try to inflate the domain of science to these cases is what I think of as scientism.

    When I use neurotheology I do so as an argument -- within a philosophical debate -- to suggest that there are naturalistic interpretations of specific religious experiences. I don't think this argument rises to the standard of scientific testability, though.

    One additional word about (moderate) religious education as "child abuse": should we accuse parents who tell their children stories about Santa or the Easter Bunny of abusing them? After all, they are pushing the uncritical acceptance of a supernatural entity...

  45. cal,

    you have no idea whether I heard social commentary and from which POVs, so spare me your condescending attitude. You are spouting far-right talking points, the old and often-debunked lie that people who end up desperately poor are to be blamed and not helped. Of course some people have nobody but themselves to blame, and of course there are people who become filthy rich because they shafted their fellow human beings; but this is no reason for condemning the homeless to fend for themselves, or for condemning rich people to jail.

    You are the one overgeneralizing, Cal, not me; try to keep that in mind.

    Also, please refrain from attaching the label of "love" on your smug complacency. I feel disgust towards your views because they are disgusting, and no anger at all, except towards liars who misrepresent my views and never once confronts the data that prove them utterly, desperately wrong.

    Case in point: your constant evasion of the very well known fact that Western Europe countries have less homelessness, less murder, and less teenage pregnancy rates than the U.S.A., despite: a) being very much more secular than the States, b) spending less per capita on healthcare and much less on law enforcement, and c) teaching SexEd in schools.

    It should be easy to come up with figures that disprove this fact. Why don't you give it a try? It might be instructive!

    Once again, put up or shut up: either support your contrafactual remark that France and Germany are "heartless, cold and arrogant" due to their "godlessness", or admit that they are not (I won't hold my breath, though: you have repeatedly shown that you are impervious to reality).

  46. Massimo,

    when parents will begin warning their children that believing in Santa is their only chance of living forever, and that even questioning his existence is a horrible thing that might cost them their afterlife, yes, that will be abuse.

    The problem is the condemnation of doubt, that as far as I know is not part of Santa Claus-ism.

    Your analogy is very, VERY weak, IMHO.

  47. I agree. Speaking about Santa obviously is not abuse because it does not imply psychological violence. Saying that you can go to Hell is abuse. Moderate religious parents do not speak of Hell anymore, but that's just because they have sanely diluted religion to the point that is almost only humanism.

    As far as I understand Dawkins was speaking of strict religion indoctrination, such as the one you receive in Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Muslim schools, as abuse.

    As to moderate religious people, one should probably appeal to them suggesting that they preserve the humanistic content of religion and just get rid of the irrationalistic and authoritarian part of religion, which they have already done to a good extent.


  48. Yep. The idea of Hell is manipulative to the core. Also, to some extent, the very idea of a personal God, who may become displeased with you.

    "Probably God will understand if you truly cannot afford to donate to the building fund." [quoted verbatim, though from memory,from an RC fundraiser]

    This kind of manipulation, when applied to the wee ones, does constitute abuse, no matter how widespread.

  49. It's super easy to find the info, fcd. It is much harder to tell who is in fact telling the truth about homelessness stats. At the higher rate being claimed by this Financial Times report, that is still 1 out of 60 being claimed as homeless in France. That's ridiculous considering the high rate of taxes that socialist countries pay. I think Finland and Israel pay around 50% to taxes, (which is also ridiculous). But for some reason, I think that tho there certainly is poverty among immigrants, in Israel for instance, homelessness isn't much of an issue unless people are uprooted from their home for political reasons.

    And, by the way, what do you think of Jews losing their homes to political complexities of the region, fcd? It is wrong for anyone to be thrown out of their home, (especially one they paid for) isn't it?

    The mixed data from France which I am referring to...

    "The Insee statistics agency puts the number of French homeless at 86,500. This suggests the issue is being exaggerated in a country of 60m, compared with the 40,000 homeless recorded among Scotland’s 5m residents.
    But the Abbé Pierre foundation says the French figures, based on data from soup kitchens and hostels in 2001, exclude thousands who live in hotels, caravans, tents, sub-let or live with friends. It estimates there are 934,000 French people without their own home."



  50. Cal,

    sorry, your evasions and handwaving are funny to watch but pointless. We are talking about whether France and/or Germany are "heartless, cold and arrogant" in comparison to your fairytale perception of the U.S.A., and I suggested three categories where data are easily available.

    Stick to THIS issue, and maybe - just maybe - you'll end up learning something, for once.

    For instance, homelessness: in the USA, "official" homeless people are estimated at about 800,000; that's about ten times as many as France, with a population only five times as large.

    For instance, murder: in the USA, there are about 43 murders per million people per year; in France, 17; in Germany, 12.

    For instance, teen pregnancy: in the USA, in 1998, there were close to 1,670 births from teenage mothers per million people, vs. about 352 in Germany and 297 in France. Oh but wait: maybe that's because those godless countries perform many more abortions, right?

    WRONG. Abortions are about 4,095 per million people in the USA, vs. 2,656 per million in France and 1,188 in Germany.

    Looks like your arguments have the consistency of whipped cream, Cal.

    P.S.: Israeli soldiers (presumably Jews) are ejecting Israeli citizens (presumably Jews) from houses built in illegal settlements. I don't see why you mention their religion; it seems totally irrelevant to the situation. I hope that the State of Israel will be lenient and help these lawbreakers regain their footing and have a fresh start elsewhere. Does that answer your question?

  51. fcd,

    The Muslim population in France does not like how it is treated there either. Can both the French and the Jews be wrong all at the the same time?

    Maybe the French are "lawbreakers" too...

    "There are now 4.9m immigrants in France and the French Muslim population is estimated to be the largest in western Europe.

    Many live in the suburbs in low-standard social housing, often in tower blocks known as HLMs.

    Unemployment is high among these communities and crime is a problem on the estates.

    In many cases the most disaffected people are the second or third generation immigrants who were born in France.

    Burnt-out car in Clichy-sous-Bois - October 2005
    Riots in 2005 highlighted the deep discontent of a disaffected youth

    A series of riots began in the Parisian suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois in October 2005, following the deaths of two teenagers attempting to hide from police.

    Unrest quickly spread to other parts of the city and within days, the violence had spread to other towns and cities across France.

    Some observers have seen the riots as proof that France's policy of "assimilation" of immigrants and their children is not working."

  52. Cal,

    your use of the tu quoque fallacy is duly noted. I think we could start a Cal Fallacy Bingo, simply by keeping score of every invalid form of argument you manage to use.

    Stop trying to drag the discussion away from YOUR original - and still unsupported - contention. I gave you some data. Are those data correct or not? You can easily check them, and verify that they are, indeed, correct.

    As to your pointless evasion: "Can both the French and the Jews be wrong at the same time?" is meaningless babble. Who said " the Jews" are wrong? Who said "the French" are wrong?

    I repeat: you are overgeneralizing, and it shows every time you write a post.

    SOME Jews broke laws, SOME Jews are enforcing laws. SOME French are undoubtedly wrong about SOMETHING, SOME French are lawbreakers, SOME French are racist, murderous scum, much like SOME Americans, SOME Canadians, SOME Nigerians and SOME Chinese, as well as SOME members of every single national or ethnic group on the whole friggin' planet!

    So what?

    This is ANOTHER fallacy, known informally as "moving the goalposts". You started asserting that the French and Germans were "heartless, cold and arrogant" because of their "godlessness", and are now trying to argue that they are "no better" than some other, arbitrarily chosen group. If this had been your argument from the start, there would have been very little controversy. It is not that France and Germany are the pinnacle of civilization; rather, it is the United States that currently suffer from some big, BIG problems in the "heartless, cold and arrogant" department. Alas, these problems cannot be conveniently blamed on godlessness, can they?

  53. fcd: "SOME Jews broke laws, SOME Jews are enforcing laws. SOME French are undoubtedly wrong about SOMETHING, SOME French are lawbreakers, SOME French are racist, murderous scum, much like SOME Americans, SOME Canadians, SOME Nigerians and SOME Chinese, as well as SOME members of every single national or ethnic group on the whole friggin' planet!"

    That's right. And SOME people who do not have a home, are "there" because that is all their level of respect for society will afford them. And this is equally as true in France as it is in the US.

    Everyone on the planet IS essentially a lawbreaker. And that is a fact.

    Therefore, what one believes about rights and responsibilities still matters. And that is mainly what I have contended all along and is no way a moving goal post.


  54. Cal:

    I suggest you reread your older posts, because you appear to have lost track of what you were claiming a few days ago. Here, let me help:

    It's not just merely "venom", M, but fact that both France and Germany are now, for the most part, Godless (even with all their list of past achievements) but yet also have become heartless, cold and arrogant as collective groups of people go.

    When I pointed out - by way of example - that U.S. society allows many more people to "fall through the cracks" and end up homeless, you replied:

    That is the result of a different and more open-handed view of freewill, fcd. Most people who sleep outside or are "neglected" choose the lesser responsible path in life.

    Which is, frankly speaking, a steaming pile of naturally-produced fertilizer. When someone else has a (smaller) homelessness problem, that's because they are heartless, but when the U.S.A. have a (bigger) homelessness problem, it's free will?

    Yes, you are attempting to move the goalposts, and to turn reality on its head; when you speak of "heartless", you mean "caring for its citizens"; when you say "cold", you mean "spreading the cost of social services"; and when you say "arrogant" you mean "daring to prove American far right wrong on every point". Got it.

    Responsibility is not ONLY individual, it is also social, something that was once quite clear to all Americans, but has apparently been forgotten, at least by you.

  55. of course very few, at the dawn of the 20th century, considered beating kids as abuse; but if those few had simply shut up, nothing would have changed. If you say "beating kids WAS NOT abuse", you are implicitly condemning those who voiced that opinion and excusing those who did beat their kids.

    Aureola, you are still (indirectly) doing the same thing I "condemned", i.e. judging the people of the past by today's standard. If I did this judgment, then yes, I would be "condemning those who voiced that opinion and excusing those who did beat their kids", or the other things you mention. But as I said earlier I think it's not correct to do this type of "moralizing" judgment of the past. Both sides did what was done at the time, and we now have our opinions on all that with the benefit of hindsight (which is not always 20/20 as the saying goes, I believe).

    Which obviously mean that it's the same nowadays, and sure we're starting (very late to my taste) to reject treating religious practices and rhetoric as taboo that should be respected and protected at all costs. But this is now, and I do believe we are in the minority that in future centuries is going to be seen as "who was right". Because I believe we are right. :-)

    As other people also said after me, I don't think I'm redefining education to include indoctrination. The problem to me seems to be that YOU are defining education as "teaching the right things" and indoctrination as "teaching the wrong things". At least that's the impression I got from the example you gave. I think MOST of education is at the bottom a sort of indoctrination. At least the way it's practiced, maybe it wouldn't in a more ideal world of the academic educators with which I've been talking so much as of lately. That some of it (education) is right and some is wrong, as surely is the case (although, again, often we just discover this with hindsight), does not matter for the essence of the process, I believe.

    Good discussion.

  56. " Most people who sleep outside or are "neglected" choose the lesser responsible path in life."

    fcd, "Which is, frankly speaking, a steaming pile of naturally-produced fertilizer."

    Well, yeah, I suppose so. The fact that we (that being myself, sisters brother husband)have helped out a lot of people who have totally found themselves down and out doesn't mean much in terms of experience.

    you win.


  57. j,

    I see it in the diametrically opposed way. If it is education, then it must include the possibility of self-correction, otherwise it is indeed indoctrination.

    The example I gave was NOT of "something right" versus "something wrong"; it was "something verifiable (and, of course, falsifiable!) that you may well disbelieve, risking at most a little ridicule" versus "something unverifiable (and unfalsifiable) that you are nonetheless required to believe under pain of eternal torture".

    I'm not aware of anything secular being taught as incontrovertible, unquestionable Truth; even those very basic things that are taught in the first years of grade school are later revisited, stressing that things are more complicated, more nuanced, and sometimes very different indeed from the simplified "baby formula" fed to infants.

    Anyway, I agree that - minus Cal and her derailment attempts - the discussion was interesting and enjoyable. And of course thanks to Massimo, our gracious host.

  58. Cal,

    read everything and quote everything. Quote mining is not only dishonest, it is outright idiotic when people can simply scroll up and read the full text.

    Which is, frankly speaking, a steaming pile of naturally-produced fertilizer. When someone else has a (smaller) homelessness problem, that's because they are heartless, but when the U.S.A. have a (bigger) homelessness problem, it's free will?

    Your sanctimonious condescension is just that, and if the USA have more homeless people, free will has ZERO to do with it. Unless you believe, in your Bizarro world, that homelessness is GOOD; then of course the USA are better at it!

    It's not me winning, it's you losing.

  59. http://www.tubearoo.com/articles/83785/Atheist_Kid.html?autoplay=true

  60. Gosh,

    ANOTHER IDCreationist with no basic knowledge of statistics and probability lecturing people on the Argument from Improbability...

    The probability of events that did not happen simultaneously and independently CANNOT be computed that way, it's that simple, David. But that's OK: even the Alfred E. Neuman of Information Theory, Dembski, manages to botch that, and he even uses a lot of obfuscatory math to try to make his error undetectable...

  61. What some of these probability arguments are trying to say is:

    "Evolution is impossible because the odds against the null hypothesis (chance assembly) are ntrillion to one." A clear non-sequitur because evolution is not a theory of simple chance assembly.

    Actually the odds quoted would be the measure of the success of the theory, because the successful theory would out-do the null hypothesis by ntrillion to one.

  62. The debate over the semantics of what technically constitutes religious abuse seems to lead nowhere.

    Whether or not it should, strictly speaking, be considered abuse, I would have to say that religious indoctrination of children can (and in my case did) lead to some peculiar dysfunctions of perception and behavior.

    Just for one example, when I was a young child, curious about the world and trusting the "experts" (mom, dad, clergy, other "parent-approved" adults) to "tell it like it is" and help me understand it, I was handed (actually, embedded with) the notion that everybody has a "calling" - a specific life purpose ordained by God. Believing what I was told, I understood that if I had faith and tried to do what God wanted, my calling would become clear to me and I would know what to do with my life. This idea was handed to me early enough and, subsequently, often enough, that it shaped my view of the world to a significant degree.

    Suffice to say, you can waste a lot of time (years!) waiting to hear that call instead of bettering yourself and the world around you in tangible ways, or even just enjoying your life. After all, if God's purpose for you and preparing your soul for eternity is what really matters in this life, what use are your own notions of what to do with it?

    It can be very difficult to climb out of a mental morass, especially if it's all you've ever known. Even if you grow up to be an intelligent and inquisitive person, with sufficient intellect to successfully identify instances of flawed logic, explore the faults, widen the cracks, and, eventually, manage to topple the whole edifice of a false belief system, nevertheless you will probably still subconsciously adhere to behaviors and beliefs you don't even know you have.

    Over the course of more years, you may begin to recognize certain self-defeating patterns in your life that, when you are truly honest with yourself, you can trace back to misconceptions you were handed in a formative time. In my case, even though I was finally able to slough off the trappings of religiosity, it had left its indelible mark upon me in ways I could not (and perhaps still cannot) clearly perceive. I didn't know for many years after I abandoned the wreckage of Christian belief that my life was going nowhere because, down deep, I was still waiting for God to tell me what to do.

    I won't even go into the depression that failing to be a good enough person for God to offer guidance to left me with.

    What a fucking waste.

    Some may point out that I was naive to believe what I was told so completely and unquestioningly. True enough, but I remind those people that we all begin our lives that way, as well we should. Children do not learn to trust; that is their default position. It is a betrayal of that trust to poison their minds with lies, and doing so can have far reaching effects on them and those around them throughout their entire lives.

    Was I abused? I will say "No", because in my mind the word implies some level of intent to harm. Nevertheless, I will just as emphatically assert that my early religious indoctrination DID cause many cognitive and behavioral issues along the faultline between the misconceptions I inherited and REALITY.

    Please don't pass on the blinders to your children. Learn to think and live in the real world, and teach them to do likewise. We don't need institutionalized ignorance.

    We really don't.


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