« G.I. Joe learning from the past? | Gene Expression Front Page | Superman!(?) »
March 05, 2003

Religion-comments & observations

Ah, I'm sure my religious readers are excited that I, the atheist, am going to comment on their faith, an experience that I have never directly experienced [1]. First, I am prompted by some statements that were asserted in the Frontpage Symposium:


Here is the difference between Christian and Muslim extremism: Jerry Falwell called Muhammad a terrorist. He killed no one and called for no killing. In response, eight people were killed and 90 hurt in riots in India, and an Iranian official called for Falwell’s death. All involved invoked Islam.

I agree that Christian fundamentalists in the West are not violent [2]. But, the example of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda (thanks to Head Heeb for the link), the attacks on African religion practioners in Brazil & Catholics in Central America by Evangelicals and assualts on Buddhist relics & temples by Fundamentalists in Korea attest to the fact that the bite has not been totally taken out of Old-Time-Religion. The Reformation, the Renaissance and Enlightenment have tamed Christianity. But when introduced to a new culture, Christianity is often stripped of its Western cultural accretions to make it more acceptable and compatible with indigenous cultural traditions, which may result in the awakening of ancient atavistic ferocity in the faith [3].

Charles Murtaugh comments on religion as well. I would say to his statements about liberal misunderstandings of religion-we atheists often wonder at this idea that the society and media is irreligious when there are National Prayer Breakfasts, In God We Trust on coins, and Churches on every corner. The key I think though is that unbelievers tend to view all religion as irrational and beneath consideration-while liberals with the least dash of religion will wink and accept "spirituality" and wish-washy mainline Christianity as acceptable manifestations of faith. America is a pro-religious society, at least judging from the myriad covers on Newsweek and Time about how many of us believe in angels and how science is proving the existence of God. Old-style unbelief is just not fashionable. Wendy Kaminer has addressed American society's attitude toward atheism in her essay The Last Taboo. Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell can agree on one thing-that liberal Christianity and evolutionary theism are incoherent and untenable.

That being said, the attitude toward exclusivist Old-Time-Religion is unfavorable. This explains the disproportionate attention paid to elite oriented numerically marginal religions such as Zen Buddhism or the New Age movement [4]. When Americans of a broad-minded bent focus on Islam, they look to elite Sufis, and try to marginalize the vibrant if scary Salafi & Islamist Reformist movements as outside the mainstream of the faith. The division is between those who think religion is good, rather than a particular religion is good. Remember how George W. Bush was attacked for stating that Jews go to hell because they don't believe in Jesus? This is not a controversial statement in the light of an ancient (and generally dominant-remember Pelagius?) thread of Christian thought-the ideas among modernist Christians that all faiths lead to Christ is the one that deviates from the historical norm [5].

The theology and worldview of nearly half of America's Christians is being marginalized by the "mainstrem" as "intolerant" and beyond the pale of respectable. This is factually true, I don't think liberals should dispute this. But this is not resulting in an atheist America-but rather a fuzzy, spiritualist and firmly irrationalist (from my viewpoint at least) nation under many gods.

Now, as for Charles' last remark about his fear of irreligious conservatives-what, like me? What do you have to fear Charles? :) What type of neighborhood would you want to settle in? One in the inner city of Detroit that still had a vibrant black church community, or one in the suburbs of Portland where Unitarian Republicans were the norm? (Bob Packwood, William Cohen and Nancy Johnson are examples of Unitarian Republicans-and we all know that Unitarianism is the closest you get to godlessness under Church Steeples) Yes, I am throwing up a straw-man, but self-identified atheists, of what-ever-political-stripe are not the nihilists & evildoers that most Americans think we are.

[1] Though I've been a self-aware atheist since the age of 8, before that point I can confidently say that God(s) had little meaning or importance to my conception of the universe. In fact, I remember thinking in a primitive fashion that God was the Ground of Being when I was 5 or so, but didn't really elaborate or consider a more anthropomoprhic or personalized role for the deity....

[2] A little terminology, from what I know, the terms "Born Again," "Evangelical" and "Fundamentalist" have different meanings in the American context. Very roughly, each is a subset of the preceding, though there are exceptions to this. In other words, though 40% of Americans may identify as "Born Agan," only 25% may identify as "Evangelical" and 10% as "Fundamentalist." The numbers change, but their general magnitude is on this order. Jerry Falwell is a Fundamentalist-he looks to scripture as the final authority. He is a literalist and theological conservative. But not all Evangelicals are literalists or theological conservatives. Jimmy Carter for instance is both Born-Again and Evangelical, but not a Fundamentalist (and he left the Southern Baptist faith because he felt that it was veering too close to that branch of American Christianity). Members of The American Scientific Affiliation (such as Francis Collins) are Evangeicals, but generally not Fundamentalists, and take a strong stand against Young Earth Creationism. Of a different stripe alltogether is the Charismatic movement, which Pat Robertson is associated with. Generally conservative, they emphasis the Holy Ghost but do not place as much importance on scriputural study & reading as Fundamentalists.

[3] I think though a compelling argument can be made that modern Christians are less prone to organized acts of violence against other faiths than Muslims, at least by the examples of Nigeria, Sudan or Uganda. In the last case, Idi Amin, a member of the small Muslim minority, banned Judaism, expelled the Asians and promoted Islam. In Nigeria and Sudan, Christians are a non-trivial minority (in Nigeria nearly half the population) but tend to be targets for persecution and pogroms in Muslim dominated areas that have traditionally been temporally ascendent.

[4] Though New Age beliefs do permeate much of non-Fundamentalist America, in particular, about 25% of Americans assent to belief in reincarnation.

[5] Funny anecdote-a friend went to a wedding that was presided by an Episcopal Priest, the bride's father in fact. He found out that my friend was from Alaska, she, a red-headed girl of Irish extraction. He asked her, "What tribe are you from? What is your religious tradition? What gods do you worship?" He explained that he'd learned a lot about indigenous Native American beliefs in divinity school.

Posted by razib at 11:52 AM




Just in time for Ash Wednesday, my man. I'll admit that atheists generally have to "prove" themselves to me. It takes a while before I'm convinced that any given atheist isn't a petulantly self-absorbed, narcisstic, unimaginatively materialistic, arrested adolescent. You've passed the bar (way to represent for your blaspheming bretheren!). I know this will probably offend many regulars to Gene Expression, but what is the purpose of this Board if not to express our most socially forbidden selves?

Posted by: duende at March 5, 2003 04:20 PM


Just in time for Ash Wednesday, my man. I'll admit that atheists generally have to "prove" themselves to me. It takes a while before I'm convinced that any given atheist isn't a petulantly self-absorbed, narcisstic, unimaginatively materialistic, arrested adolescent.

well-i'll admit that i assume most theists are intellectualy underdeveloped & psychologicallly arrested in the spiritual adolescence of the majority of the human race, following the faith of their fathers with little self-reflection and less reason. but you've proved yourself to me :)

additionally duende, if your thesis is correct, nations with high rates of god-belief like nigeria and india are on average more mature psychologically than sweden or japan, in fact-something that one might not disagree with i suppose depending on how you look at it....

on a more serious note-i agree that many atheists are not particularly rational and don't make cogent arguments for their position. that being said-few theists hold their own ideas to the same standard. i remember a born-again-type trying to convert me years ago, and asking, 'well, are you SURE there isn't a god,' and when i responded, 'of course not, are you SURE there is god?,' he was obviously taken aback, as that was not a question he had ever considered-his query was just a debating trick he had learned (i do not by the way imply that christians have never found that doubt can not lead to faith-descrates being an example, but i don't want to get into the intellectual history of the myriad proofs and refutions of those proofs dealing with the existence of god)....

Posted by: razib at March 5, 2003 04:31 PM


"additionally duende, if your thesis is correct, nations with high rates of god-belief like nigeria and india are on average more mature psychologically than sweden or japan, in fact-something that one might not disagree with i suppose depending on how you look at it...."

There are many aspects of Swedish and Japanese cultures that I find psychologically immature, but I'd say that pandemic atheism is a symptom, not a cause. I'd guess the problems in Sweden and Japan are caused by the abstract, self-indulgent dogmatism that often accompanies high IQ. Stuff like Communism, Nazism and atheism is always a big hit among psychologically immature high IQ people. Present company (largely) excepted.

"i responded, 'of course not, are you SURE there is god?,' he was obviously taken aback, as that was not a question he had ever considered-his query was just a debating trick he had learned"

Life is much less anxious when you learn to live without total knowledge.

Posted by: duende at March 5, 2003 05:51 PM


Prisons contain few atheists, but that is more a symptom than a cause of prisoner's problems. Most Phd types are atheists, or relativistic monotheists (eg, Unitarians, or Jews who engage in severe doublethink when discussing the sacredness of the 'chosen people' on sabbath but then celebrate diversity in the day).

I think most uneducated and ignorant people have no realistic alternative metaphilosophy that would give similar meaning to their lives. I doubt that cutting God out of the ghettos wouldn't lead to more increased enlightened self-interest.

Posted by: eric at March 5, 2003 06:36 PM


petulantly self-absorbed, narcisstic, unimaginatively materialistic, arrested adolescent.

duende, even if this were the case, what you are saying is essentially meaningless. If you want your attack on Atheism to mean anything at all, you have to undermine its induction- the process of facts and principles it's built off of.

Nowhere is it written that truth has to belong to "nice" or "likeable" people.

Posted by: Jason M. at March 5, 2003 11:46 PM


"...petulantly self-absorbed, narcisstic, unimaginatively materialistic, arrested adolescent."

Uh, yeah... so what does that make me, duende? From earliest childhood through early adulthood I was not only a devout and evangelical Christian, but (as I grew older) an occasional lay preacher; I spent much of my undergraduate work in theological and religious studies. Around thirty years ago, however, I was no longer able to reconcile the world of my beliefs with the world of my experience and learning, so I abandoned those religious beliefs.

I freely admit to atheism, and I've been much happier with that than with trying to persuade myself there's some reason to believe otherwise. There is only so much contortion the human mind is able to withstand, and now it's difficult for me to understand how an intelligent, educated person can support any but the most abstract and nebulous of religious beliefs.

This is most poignant, of course, when I watch someone defend one particular variety of religious belief while denigrating all other such beliefs, including (oddly enough) the complete absence of any such belief. One might wonder which of those is truly the most logical belief... mightn't one?

Posted by: Troy at March 6, 2003 01:43 AM


At least the posters here explain the gods they don't believe in, (and terrible gods so many were and are) but I think we all believe the Universe is really, really big (humongous, almost past believing) and we really, really don't know, do we, all that's out there. Agnosticism seems the more rational and intellectually honest approach, even for those who lack spiritual hunger, for after all, these days even science admits to the non-physical reality. That's my humble opinion. But what do atheists think is out there? Just an endless series of natural phenomena to be endlessly explained away as laws of nature, put into effect by--well, by nature? This is not being facetious, I want to understand what you think about the great beyond. Surely we are not bugs crawling under a rock refusing to believe in the sky because we cannot see it.

Posted by: MaryClaire at March 6, 2003 06:06 AM


Hold on. Did I not say "Present company excepted"? Troy, I don't know you so I won't comment. For all I know you could be secular Mother Theresa or a serial killer.

"Nowhere is it written that truth has to belong to 'nice' or 'likeable' people."

Jason, are you claiming that atheists have the One Truth, or agreeing that they are unpleasant people? I don't really have the desire to debunk atheism. That's not my way. Believe, or unbelieve, in whatever you want. If I tend to dislike atheists it is largely because their personalities usually don't jibe with mine. Is that so uncommon or unreasonable? You may well dislike me for similar reasons and I would not be offended.

Anyway, we have people on this board who declare that they find black women sexually repulsive, people who want low-IQ people to be sterilized so they won't litter the world with stupid children and these comments are taken in stride. My generalized distaste towards atheists is very similar to the sentiments that more than a few Gene Expressers have for blacks. Oh well, I guess it all depends on whose ox is being gored. More on this later.

Posted by: duende at March 6, 2003 07:03 AM


petulantly self-absorbed, narcisstic, unimaginatively materialistic, arrested adolescent.

Y'know, this is how I think of libertarians. Also, role-playing games fanatics.

Posted by: Ikram Saeed at March 6, 2003 08:15 AM


mebee everyone should take a chill pill. itz not like duende wants to round atheists up and gas them :) i dispute her assertion sociologically, though i don't think it is false on the face of it. ikram's point is amusing-i know many libertarian republicans that ditched the libertarian party because of the 'role playing game' type-and i do no think atheists and libertarians have some stuff in common sociologically (and a disproportionate number of libertarians are atheists).

on the comparison with blacks being ugly and atheists being petulant and what not-the problem i have with the analogy is the former is an assertion about a superficial physical trait that one can assess after a few minutes of observation. the latter is a judgement of character. i tend to take the second more seriously since it should matter more....

though many atheists have an excessively (and unwarranted from their own personal knowledge) view of theists-so we should not be surprised at duende's perspective. conversely, since theists represent more of the general population, they are more likely to be dumb as rocks, and as they are overwhelmingly the majority are less likely to be self-reflective about their position rather than just assurred that it is correct (atheist disputatiousness in the united states is a function i suspect of the minority position as well as the demographic that rejects religion).

Posted by: razib at March 6, 2003 08:42 AM


Y'know, this is how I think of libertarians.

The two categories have substantial overlap. :)

Jason, are you claiming that atheists have the One Truth, or agreeing that they are unpleasant people?

I'm claiming that the methodology of their claims is more significant than whoever they might turn out to be as people. I am unconcerned with the latter.

My generalized distaste towards atheists is very similar to the sentiments that more than a few Gene Expressers have for blacks. Oh well, I guess it all depends on whose ox is being gored.

If I had a generalized distaste for the religious, then I guess it would de facto be a distaste for blacks as well (96%). I tend to see "generalizable" distastes as a poor social strategy. There are many things I like about many people and there are many things I dislike about many people. If I had a general distaste for Christians (or blacks, or "liberals", or what-have-you), I would end up excluding most people, and limiting everyone I like down to rare exceptions. I operate from the opposite assumption- likeable until proven otherwise.

Posted by: Jason M. at March 6, 2003 09:11 AM


Was religion an ineluctable component in the development of modern civilization or a superfluous detour into idiocy? For me, it was ineluctable-thus my tolerance and sympathy for theists of most stripes-whereas scornful sort of atheists seem to view it as a noxious superfluity best discarded posthaste. The existence vel non of deity is uninteresting and non-productive-I wish the debate would switch to the utility or lack thereof of religious belief.

Posted by: martin at March 6, 2003 10:04 AM


Hi guys. Guess what? You just learned WHY discussing race and IQ is taboo. Duende didn't say that atheism was incorrect. She didn't even say how strong she beleived the correlation to be between atheism and immaturity etc. Still, she upset several of the presumably rational and calm people who post here. Razib; blacks haven't just been called ugly here, but stupid too. To most people this is far more insulting than petulant, etc. There are two sides to this coin. It is almost impossible to not feel included when a non-group member accuses your group of undesirable traits (and feelings of loyalty are involved even if one doesn't feel included, as well as feelings of injustice at the inevitability of being stereotyped) AND it is almost impossible not to stereotype once correlations are acknowledged.
P.S.
I have been an atheist, a libertarian, and a role-playing fanatic, and currently consider myself a mystic and an adherent to one of the above-mentioned "nebulous theologies". Direct knowledge and all that jazz.
I would say that the identified traits of atheist/libertarian/role-players are probably primarily a result of anger at having so much of their life wasted by adult authority who they rightly disdained. Hostile to authority, they lack the desire for authority that encourages many people to project the kindly father onto the universe as a whole or onto a government. I also think that our society should get over this idea of a "maturity continum". Immature is an insane insult. Neotany is a defining human trait, and appears to me to be stronger in the more intelligent. There is even some evidence for this belief relating to mitochondrial metabolism and cross-talk interference in brain activity.

Posted by: michaelvassar at March 6, 2003 10:23 AM


Razib,
Reasonable response, but I must quibble with the following:
"on the comparison with blacks being ugly and atheists being petulant and what not-the problem i have with the analogy is the former is an assertion about a superficial physical trait that one can assess after a few minutes of observation. the latter is a judgement of character. i tend to take the second more seriously since it should matter more...."

The vast majority of men, on some level, view personal beauty and sexual desirability as a moral value. You're right, they aren't the same thing but they are closer than we'd want them to be.

Posted by: duende at March 6, 2003 10:25 AM


Hi guys. Guess what? You just learned WHY discussing race and IQ is taboo. Duende didn't say that atheism was incorrect. She didn't even say how strong she beleived the correlation to be between atheism and immaturity etc.

Whatever mike. Race and IQ are taboo because the world is gross and superstitious. Materialism scares them. Meanwhile the masses trip all over themselves to denounce Atheism (remember congress 'uniting' on the capital steps to sing about god after the Newdow debacle). Why is this? Why, because the world is gross and superstitious, and materialism scares them.

Duende and the race-baiters are one in the same camp. Murtaugh can call us "unhealthy", just like Duende can call us "petulant", but in the end I am offended for the same reason- because it's frustrating dealing with a demon-haunted world.

Posted by: Jason M. at March 6, 2003 11:59 AM


this is starting to sound like Java vs. C++...a religious dispute :)

as for the statement michael that now "we know how it feels," the only thing is, we assert that black americans have lower average IQ scores. this is factually correct. we do go further than that in asserting this is not totally elastic and a function of environmental factors. but it's not like we say, "i personally find all blacks stupid."

Posted by: razib at March 6, 2003 01:38 PM


Jason,
Do atheists believe in demons? If you find life frustrating I can't imagine that's my fault. One of these days I'll post an essay clarifying the atheist issue, but for now I'm going to ask why my opinion of atheists matters so much to you. You don't know me, what do you care what I think? I'm quite aware that many here think I'm a deluded fool for being a believer. Why not simply accept the chasm? You pity me for my hallucinations of prayer and I'll pity you for your self-exclusion from divine wisdom, and we'll respect each other for having made individiual choices. It seems to work for Razib and me.

Posted by: duende at March 6, 2003 01:59 PM


Razib,
I'm not comparing our IQ ruminations to saying "black people are stupid". But many people on this board (not you personally) have made it clear that they dislike personality traits and cultural tendencies common in blacks apart from the lower average IQs. The only difference is that my personal opinions hit a little closer to home. When I have time I'll clarify this, but here at Gene Expression I'm not going to start apologizing for hurting anyone's feelings.

Posted by: duende at March 6, 2003 02:05 PM


duende,

i think you understand my feelings have not been hurt :) though i wonder if this sort of intramural squabbling can't hurt our esprit de corps in fighting the good fight (but i suppose it's my fault for bringing it up)....

additionally, many people on the board does not include Gene Expressors with accounts-i think we tend to be a little more circumspect because we know we are held to a higher standard. on the other hand, there are very few places you would get flack to disliking atheists-this is one of the few out there :)

Posted by: razib at March 6, 2003 02:19 PM


I think MichaelVasser has a point, and Razib's rebuttal does not fully address it.

Micheals says (I paraphrase) that the astonishing uproar over duende's blanket statements about atheists is similar to the uproar that normally results when people make blanket statements about blacks. The subtext I read: if you (GNXP) can't take it, don't dish it out.

Razib responds that GNXP posts deal with facts only, such as IQ test results of self-described African-Americans. If this were true, I think razib would win the argument. But it's not. Frex, there was the highly contentious black=ugly post (by Duende!) that was not based on numerical, repeatable, experimental data, but instead on personal impression and history (used as 'data points').

As I see it, this blog can do 2 things. One, quit engaging in blanket statements not backed up by stats or facts. No more -- "most Americans hate Muslims", or "JAPS are the most self-hating roup ever".

This would elimiante controversy, but severely limit the scope of the blog. It would also exacerbate the perennial blog problem of being dependent on the research agenda of others (where 'others' have ideoloigical motivations).

The second is for the Godless, the Jews, the Muslims, or the Browns to be able to take blanket statements against their own particular groups with good humour and in the spirit of scientific inquiry (to the extent this is 'science'). Put another way, don't dish it out (es. about all those ugly stupid blacks) unless you can take it (about those immature atheists).

(side point: Duende, the term 'present company excepted' really doesn't make anyone feel better. Either explain _why_ present company is excepted, or lump 'em in with the rest.)

Posted by: Ikram Saeed at March 6, 2003 04:35 PM


Just to jump in, I'm not a Gene Expressor with an account, but I'll try to comment, politely I guess, on the annoying atheist issue. Also, I agree with here that all atheists are not as she describes, Razib is definitely a gentleman for example.

To start, if Razib's reasons for being an atheist are the garden variety 'scientific' ones, he's a mechanist/materialist to use the common phrase, though of course Razib can correct me if I am in error. A materialist's axioms concerning the big picture, which in this case the proper English word to use is dogma, stated precisely, is the only things that exist are things that can directly or indirectly tickle the human senses, like photons, either in the visible spectrum or radio waves. Given that only such things can exist or can be part of any chain of causality, it necessarily follows that though a man might be be stimulated by a wider range of phenomena, and respond with a wider range of behaviors, he is fundamentally no different than a soda machine in that he mechanistically responds to stimuli that effect him with the behaviors he can exhibit. Perhaps there's a little randomness because of quantum phenomena, but this doesn't differ for soda machines, though the amplification level might be different and the amplification process will be deterministic for both.

So, assuming I've gotten Razib's reasons for being an atheist correct, I think he's a bit disingenuous with that comment above about 'spiritual development' and 'psychological maturity' since 'spirit' and 'psyche' aren't things allowed to exist, or at the very least allowed to be in the chain of causation for human behavior, by his reasons for being an atheist.

The really annoying atheists IMHO, and I think in Duende's case also, are the one's that are atheists for the reasons stated above, and then get on their high horse about how irrational it is to not think as they do, eventhough their dogma precludes the existence of 'rational' beings. If the atheist's description of man is correct, how can the theist, or the atheist, 'think' any differently ? Discussing this with a belligerent 'I'm an atheist because I'm rational' atheist is like talking to a ... umm ... machine. Never pleasant.

Posted by: j mct at March 6, 2003 04:52 PM


this is a complicated topic-and i think emotions have boiled over-board. ikram, michael & duende have some validity when they talk about people taking things i good humor. we should keep this in mind. but despite how one's initial emotional reactions play out-reason can win out in the end-that i believe (perhaps on faith? :).

to touch on a point or two-about 5% of americans are "atheists" (though only 1-2% would identify since the word has highly negative conotations-about 5% reject the God hypothesis in most polls). in sweden, abut 20-30% are atheists. i would suspect that swedish atheists are more like other swedes simply because they are probably not as self-selected in terms of personality. what makes one an "atheist" or a "catholic" or a "liberal" what term you want to use is often partially social, perhaps an accident of history, rather than reasoned and well thought out.

as some have pointed out, the number one correlative on whether you are religion A or religion B is whether your parents are religion A or religion B. that being said-many atheists (at least in the united states) have had negative personal reactions and experiences with religion. this is less common in my experience with people from less religious societies where irreligion is less of a deviation from the norm and more taken for granted as within the normal range of humanity....

a few other minor points-the dichotomy between "atheists" and "theists," can get a bit muddled. after all, some eastern religions that are not materialistic in orientation (ie; Jainism) are atheistic. similarly, one can be a theist if one asserts that points of evidence lay at the root of their acceptance of the God hypothesis.

when a theist says-"i believe because i have faith," i generally don't move the discussion any further because this axiom is rather hard to dispute as it is so personal and subjective. i personally am convinced that i have a natural (genetic) disinclination toward having "faith," so if i was of the reverse predisposition, my perspective might be very different, all with the same general philosophical tools and empirical evidence available to me. on the other hand, if a theist presents crude teological/cosmological proofs, or perhaps versons of the ontological proof, or even utilitarian arguments (or pascal's wager) we are on different ground, and i have no hesitation in flaying their assumptions.

last point before i run-on the communists & nazis were atheists. i actually have done some research into nazi spirituality (my history minor was centered around germany)-and they were not atheists, not even rationalists. by 1940 80% of SS officers were "God believers," a vague animistic theism that drew from ancient Germanic religion (or the Nazi interpretation of it) and notions drawn out of romanticism. though traditional christianity would have been extirpated from german life is the nazis had not been destroyed, a materialist atheism was not their vision of utopia, but rather a spirituality predicated on an immenant godhead and monistic philosophy. as for the communists-they were materialists and atheists, and their lack of moral restraints via religion is a plausible (likely?) explanation for their ferocity-but their pogroms and massacres were only partially (marginally) motivated by hatred for religion-rather class and the dysfunction of democratic centralism that led to the what we see in North Korea as the end product, rather than a rational humanistic philosophy, goaded their brutality. as evidence for this, note that the atheistic state of north korea had bizarre stories about squid coming ashore and flowers blooming in winter when the birthday of the "great leader" occurs. this is closer to the god-king philosophy of the pharoh that something drawn from the enlightment project of skepticism, rationalism & empiricism. just as the bizarre brutalities that occurred during the reformation with the spread of protestant sectarianism is a manifestation of the distortion of the message of christ and turning it into a vehicle for human social movements, so "science" and "progress" can also be hijacked. all for now....

Posted by: razib at March 6, 2003 05:23 PM


Nice exposition of materialism, j mct. So clearly expressed, it sounds so...well, stupid. Not that it is not a perfectly valid starting point for scientific inquiry. For those purposes I adopt it myself. Nevertheless, I never saw the reason to swallow the whole enchilada and embrace materialism as my entire metaphysic. I ask the materialists who do if j mct's exposition was lacking in any aspects?

Posted by: martin at March 6, 2003 06:25 PM


It doesn't seem, Razib, that any "theist" has attempted to present any "proofs" crude or otherwise concerning the cosmology. Rather they acknowledge the existence of universal questions, which have remained unflayed and unanswered by the best and brightest among humankind. The vastness and unknowability of the universe is its own argument. One can huff and puff till he blows the house down, but the questions remain. They are bigger than all of us.

Posted by: MaryClaire at March 6, 2003 08:03 PM


It doesn't seem, Razib, that any "theist" has attempted to present any "proofs" crude or otherwise concerning the cosmology. Rather they acknowledge the existence of universal questions, which have remained unflayed and unanswered by the best and brightest among humankind. The vastness and unknowability of the universe is its own argument. One can huff and puff till he blows the house down, but the questions remain. They are bigger than all of us.

i stand it awe of your brilliance mc :) the reason duende and i don't get into religious arguments is that she stated early on that it was an issue of faith. and i do have discussions outside of this blog you know, and some theists have brought out their third hand garbling of Summa Theologia. as for this statement that the universe is big and needs an answer, did i say i had one? atheism addresses the God Hypothesis-it is no grand ideology or metaphysical system. i always say that God is a small answer to a big question-ignorance is preferrable in my mind to giving answers that come from wishfull thinking.

for the record-i don't like to present my views on "transcendence" or "spirituality" because they are very difficult to communicate between human beings. that's why christian theologians have to use analogies (evil exists in the universe, but it is the lack of goodness, not something in and of itself, because god could create evil, according to catholic theologians) and mysteries. the attempt to communicate our stupification of our existence and the universe is difficult and soul-bearing-and i only attempt it with people i'm a relationship with-end of story.

PS-i haven't presented any metaphysical system-you could call me a materialist, but i guess presumptive naturalist is probably better-i don't know if reality is real, but i just assume so or my world comes crashing down :) at the end of the day, these things are mental games and playthings-for amusement.... [also, groups like logical positivists used to reject metaphysics out of hand]

Posted by: razib at March 6, 2003 08:31 PM


Duende didn't say that atheism was incorrect. She didn't even say how strong she beleived the correlation to be between atheism and immaturity etc. Still, she upset several of the presumably rational and calm people who post here.

but for now I'm going to ask why my opinion of atheists matters so much to you.

Seeing as how razib has been a perfect gentleman all throughout this thread, and how Troy is not a member with an account (though he could be), I can't help but to understand how I must be this "irrational" person, and primarily for my response in post #5.

Once upon a time I had a conversation with The Raving Atheist over whether atheists did come in the form of stereo-typically wholesome good-natured polite middle-americans, or if they were all cocky drunken sex-criminals like he and I (I kid :). TRA said he was skeptical of the former, but that it shouldn't matter. Truth should be the first and primary compelling interest.

So, to answer your question duende, I don't care/dispute your description of atheists as narcisstic brats. Or about your "general" distaste for them. What I do challenge (and what it is my obligation to challenge) is implicit distaste for reason, which I take very seriously, much more so, than how any given person feels about polynesian skin tone:

petulantly self-absorbed, narcisstic, unimaginatively materialistic, arrested adolescent.

This was more than a personal aesthetic opinion folks, this was an epistemological challenge sandwiched between subjective impressions which might very well have a basis in fact.

So let's cut all this super-bull about "who's ox is getting gored". So far Ikram, vassar, and duende have all tried this same sneaky race-baiting, and it's really getting on my nerves. If someone thinks Irish people are ugly, or have lower mean IQs than Russians then what the hell do I care, and how the hell does that relate to me responding seriously to a challenge of ideas (which it was, let's stop kidding ourselves)?

Every time a Theist trys to make a "challenge" I feel like I'm getting criticized by a six-year-old, and it's hard to "let it slide", and personally, I see no reason to let it. If religious people don't want to get confronted with Atheist argumentation, they should be wise to avoid making not too subtle critiques of Atheist logic.

PS- It would also exacerbate the perennial blog problem of being dependent on the research agenda of others (where 'others' have ideoloigical motivations).

Ikram is there some specific data you'd care to challenge, b/c I fail to share your views of "tainted" science.

The second is for the Godless, the Jews, the Muslims, or the Browns to be able to take blanket statements against their own particular groups with good humour and in the spirit of scientific inquiry

Ikram, I could really care less about "the godless". I feel solidarity with no such group, in fact most of my friends are highly religious. Most of those friends also know that I wouldn't tolerate for a second any suggestion that they are somehow "more rational" than me. It's not about "groups", it's about ideas. Also, I'm getting bored with your facile suggestions that this board is full of elitist Jews and South Asians, when I have yet to see evidence of this. Razib seems to take "his group" with an amazing amount of humor.

Posted by: Jason M. at March 7, 2003 01:57 AM


Jason: For an ideological agenda, consider the frequent invocations of Rushton. Razib has a post (somewhere back there) about how Rushton, unfortunately, was not able to clearly seperate his racial views from his scientific inquiry. Similar comments have been made about the Bell Curve on this blog. It does not mean the blog does not draw from Rushton or the Bell Curve, but it does mean that more these resources are used, the more the blog reflects the preset ideological agenda of Rushton et al.

More generally, I doubt anyone would disagree that research into racial differences is a very prickly, sensitive, even dangerous thing to do in North America. (I believe Godless Capitalist said so directly, and used it an explanation of his web-pseudonym.)

However, there are some issues that are more easily visible and quantifiable than others (Blacks are stupid vs. Irish are drunks). And there are others that are less controversial (Jews and Tay Sachs). The more easily quantifiable (and thus defensible) and less controversial issues get more research attention than other issues.

Voila -- an unbalanced reaserch agenda. Do you disagree?

Lastly, as for the prickliness about self-criticism (and I'm not suggesting a Maoist self-criticism circle). I am glad you feel that GNXPers are broad minded enough to criticize their own groups and others with equal passion and intensity. I look forward to it.

Posted by: Ikram Saeed at March 7, 2003 07:36 AM


but it does mean that more these resources are used, the more the blog reflects the preset ideological agenda of Rushton et al.

Sooo, is there specific data that we are using that is false? Or does certain data necessarily carry political agendas? Did I mention I consider myself a liberal? . . . .

I am glad you feel that GNXPers are broad minded enough to criticize their own groups and others with equal passion and intensity. I look forward to it.

I will criticize my own group with equal passion and intensity that I criticize other groups with just as soon as I figure out:

A)what group it is I have criticized.

B)what group it is exactly that I belong to.

Posted by: Jason M. at March 7, 2003 08:05 AM


Well, I did ask. I read Razib's response for a few lines before I realized who mc was! Certainly that's not brilliant. I have never read the theologian to whom you refer, I am not a Christian apologist. You do write from a comprehensive historical perspective that is rare and interesting which is why I thought you might have some information I've never heard before. Certainly I have no desire to intrude on your private space, but I've read the most startling statements here so you never know what's ok to ask and what is not. To me discussions of the nature of reality are not (just) games or (only) for amusement.

Posted by: MaryClaire at March 7, 2003 09:22 AM


mc-well, perhaps that makes me an umitigated nihlist in your eyes? :)

this thread is approaching VB6 vs. Perl levels....

Posted by: razib at March 7, 2003 10:11 AM


"They are ill discoverers that think there is no land, when they can see nothing but sea."
-Francis Bacon

Posted by: martin at March 7, 2003 10:18 AM


the ideas of certain groups being more prone to becoming drunks has been investigated through biochemistry & genetics ikram. additionally, there are reams & reams on studies on intelligence from psychometry & neuroscience-the studies stop when racial differences are brought up. there is less controversy about studing male vs. female differences, especially since the average IQ is the same.

as for my statement about rushton-well, i thought his tone got our of control sometimes, and i cringned, but that doesn't mean that his data is all wrong-you can go and double-check some of the more cut & dry stuff pretty easily, so what if rushton brought it to people's attention, it's out there for anyone to check (asians have fewer twins than europeans for instance). as for the bell curve & race, it didn't talk much about race, it mostly studied whites & focused on class.

let me give you an example of something where politics intrudes into science pretty obviously. recently scientists found a gene that correlates closely with violence in abused children. the subjects of the study were men in new zealand of european ancestry. get all the variables out of the way-that is a good thing to do. but i doubt you'll see a study like this on maoris or blacks anytime soon-the racial politics are too charged, and it is pretty quantifiable & clear cut when you look for a specific gene. also, whenever scientists think they have found a "math gene" (these are usually more about face-time than anything else, but it's not all useless), they never seem to give a racial breakdown.

i remember reading that in 1995 there were 300 african-american SAT takers than scored about 700 on the math portion o the test. i would be curious to see a study that focused in on one of these "math genes" that they find in bright precocious geeks and see if they show up at the same percentage in black boys as non-black boys. if black boys show the same frequency of the gene in their population, one might think it would support the idea that cultural reasons or discrimination serve to prevent them from excelling in math. but this study won't be done-because no one wants to go and explain the results if this gene wasn't found (the common explanation would probably be that the correlation was too weak between the "math gene" and mathematical ability).

Posted by: razib at March 7, 2003 10:32 AM


Razib,
I have a request. Will you please write a general analysis of what you dub the "fuzzy irrationalism" that is becoming our new state religion?

Posted by: duende at March 7, 2003 11:06 AM


uh, i am reading a lot of math-so when you say "general"-i'm thinking some really hard, some proof or something :) but you want general?

the universal axiom of america's culture:
does it feel good? do it!

ergo-atheist & fundamentalist christianity are bad because they deny wish fullfillment and sensory gratification respectively. liberal/"tolerant" christianity is good-because god loves you, now matter how many people you screw, screw over, how self-absorbed and egotistical you are, etc. etc. god loves you and will save you from all your sins, and everyone goes to heaven....

Posted by: razib at March 7, 2003 03:00 PM


The new"spirituality" is perfect for a people that wants to devote their lives to adolescent self-indulgence. You get to heaven if you're "a good person", and everyone is "basically good at heart". Except in cases like Mohammed Atta, I don't presume to guess who goes where. Despite the vagueness of their theology they seem quite sure of themselves.

Posted by: duende at March 7, 2003 08:21 PM


"They are ill discoverers that think there is no land, when they can see nothing but sea."
-Francis Bacon

"So they that think there is no sea, when they've not ventured beyond the continents, or not seen the Rings of Saturn or the Milky way, or distant galaxies, myriad though they be. What Gods have you? All gods are too small a for the human soul's reachings."

Posted by: at April 21, 2003 11:19 AM