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Ultimate Religious Debate; Sam Harris And Andrew Sullivan


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#151 Nyarlathotep

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Posted 26 February 2007 - 07:24 PM

Well, you are using two different terms and mix them up. The statement of "I don't believe a god exists." and "I belief that no god exists." are quite different from each other. The first one is a disbelief that conforms to my hole in the pocket. It simply doesn't exist. While the latter IS an actual belief, which you might construe as a disbelief but it isn't, because it IS a belief but about the opposite of your belief.

You've got to be kidding me. You agree with my argument, but you're going to nitpick with me over my use of terminology, even though I've already made myself clear on what I mean by those terms. I use disbelief to mean a belief that a statement or another belief is false (corresponding more closely with the common usage of the term), but you use disbelief to mean a lack of belief (corresponding more to the literal definition, but what I would term unbelief). Can't we just agree to mutually accept the context of our arguments, at least so long as they're explicitly stated?

Again there is a problem here. what do you mean with "the power of science" and how would a belief in such be similar to a belief in god? There is a fundamental difference here, because god is accept on pure speculation without any proof at all, while "beliefing in science" is based on prior proof of what it can achieve, and a postponement of current achievements. If I say that at current time there is no anything can go faster than light, but I beliefe that scientists may overcome that barrier sometime in the future, it is very different from a belief in a god.

Then we agree that there are different levels and types of belief, and now we're simply arguing on the categories.

Why is it negative? Earth will continue on it's path and the universe as well. Just because I cease to exist as myself, I don't see that as a negative.

Exactly. I don't think Domarius has explained this sufficiently why this is negative.

That's actually the only regrettable part about it. :) So I pay for my house almost all my live, and by the time I'm finished with it, it's already over. When I read books about space science I'm quite curious how it will turn out. Such things would be quite interesting and for wchih life is to short. :)

Yup.

Nyarlathotep, yeah you did strawman my arguments - the idea that I don't believe in god but do, is ridiculous :) I'm not deluding myself. There are questions that are not answered, so there's a hole there. If you mean "deluding" as in "ignoring", then ignoring what? Ignoring the proof that nothing happens after death? There isn't any proof. I use things that I experience as a reason to beleive there is a guiding force, and something more than decomposition after death. That's pretty much it.

Maximus has more than covered the flaws in your argument, so I think I just leave that bit alone for now. However--about the strawmanning--I know perfectly well what I was doing; I was simply illustrating our viewpoint. A strawman does nothing to refute another's argument, but it does show a great deal about their perceptions of said argument.

I wish I could give a more detailed argument, but I always wind up doing this just before I have go do something else--this time I have to go argue religion live, rather than behind the safe veil of pretend anonymity that a keyboard affords. :D

#152 Maximius

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Posted 26 February 2007 - 07:56 PM

I completely agree with the balance you assert, but even so it isn't productive to be represented in our ideals by extreme arrogance, even if it is on the side of logic and reasoning.

I would hope popular atheist/secular debaters always maintain composure and respect, thus making our side appear benevolent and informative in the least. Some of them in your articles are too ready to dismiss the believers as ignoramus rather than lay out convincing arguments which can hopefully turn them over.



I can't disagree with that, we do have to maintain our composure and present the face of reason in all ways. Its a hard thing to do sometimes but thats our task, if we wish to win new friends over.

But I think too we need to become a bit "fundamentalist" ourselves, in that we must cede no ground to these points of view in our talk and actions. Treat the individual with respect but the idea must be resisted. This doesn't necessarily mean going on the attack, although thats called for sometimes. But we have to constantly represent our views whenever possible, in the best possible manner but with a firm resolve to express them as being correct, not just on par with but actually correct.

Here in the States, lots of fence sitters and common agnostics and so on talk of giving each side its due. To hell with that. We have to draw a line in the sand, because everyone else already has and they aren't budging any time soon.

#153 Springheel

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Posted 26 February 2007 - 08:15 PM

One thing I find irritating about these debates is when people say there is "no evidence" for such and such a belief. Evidence is not binary, it's a sliding scale. Unless your beliefs are completely random or spontaneously generated, there is always some evidence to support them. The trick is whether that evidence is *compelling* or not, and that is often highly subjective.
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#154 Domarius

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Posted 26 February 2007 - 09:28 PM

Exactly. I don't think Domarius has explained this sufficiently why this is negative.

Are you serious? I gave a hypothetical example that I think we're all familiar with, someone upset about the death of another until they're consolled by the idea that they've gone to a better place. The point is that everyone sees it differently. You may not need that idea to move on after the death of another, but some people find it very useful.

@Maximus & Sparhawk - you don't get it. You're still debating the "logic" of the idea that something happens after death. I told you, it won't stand up to scruitiny. The point of it is that some people find this idea comforting, and therefore, the idea is useful. You can't deny that.

Going around in circles.


One thing I find irritating about these debates is when people say there is "no evidence" for such and such a belief. Evidence is not binary, it's a sliding scale. Unless your beliefs are completely random or spontaneously generated, there is always some evidence to support them. The trick is whether that evidence is *compelling* or not, and that is often highly subjective.

That's also what I'm trying to explain. Thanks for wording it better than I could have :)

#155 Maximius

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Posted 26 February 2007 - 10:33 PM

But springheel why should we accept their evidence, be it black/white or shades of gray? Our evidence is the process of a comparative method, a critical discussion of ideas and facts. Its not perfect but what can they offer in return? Your point is well made, these people don't hold their beliefs in a vacuum, and its important to recognize that. But as I think Orbweaver said when you get down to brass tacks in a discussion of these ideas they always shuffle off, believing because they want to believe, not because they can assemble good reasons for it.

Dom, I can agree there is a usefulness to such beliefs, but there is also a lot of danger. People don't quarantine their thoughts as carefully as I think you have, they often tend to hold "blanket" views of the world and the ways it works. Beliefs in afterlives are in my experience bundled together with a host of other faith based beliefs to make up a whole worldview.

#156 OrbWeaver

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Posted 27 February 2007 - 04:30 PM

But as I think Orbweaver said when you get down to brass tacks in a discussion of these ideas they always shuffle off, believing because they want to believe, not because they can assemble good reasons for it.


Well yeah, my point was really that this is the ONLY acceptable defence of such beliefs, weak as it may be. Domarius and other's view that "its just my personal belief, it doesn't stand up to scrutiny" may be, in the skeptics opinion, misguided, but at least it is honest and does not try to abuse logic by presenting some ignorant misconception as evidence (like "There must be a god, how else could the universe exist?" and other drivel).

#157 Nyarlathotep

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Posted 27 February 2007 - 06:28 PM

Are you serious? I gave a hypothetical example that I think we're all familiar with, someone upset about the death of another until they're consolled by the idea that they've gone to a better place. The point is that everyone sees it differently. You may not need that idea to move on after the death of another, but some people find it very useful.

@Maximus & Sparhawk - you don't get it. You're still debating the "logic" of the idea that something happens after death. I told you, it won't stand up to scruitiny. The point of it is that some people find this idea comforting, and therefore, the idea is useful. You can't deny that.

Going around in circles.

Two points: one, this doesn't actually explain why my viewpoint is actually negative in any way, just that other viewpoints are better salve to some people; two, the objection that we skeptics have is that the afterlife amounts to the greatest propaganda campaign in the entirety of human history.

To use your words, "...the 'logic' of the idea that something happens after death...won't stand up to scrutiny." You then suggest that the reason that such an idea may be allowed to persist despite such faulty logic is that the notion is comforting. You've essentially suggested that lying to loved ones is acceptable. While you can argue that using a loved one's preconceived beliefs are still acceptable (or your own beliefs), you can't argue that continuing to teach these flawed notions to children is still acceptable.

1. speech or writing advancing one's cause or ideas, or denouncing one's opponents;
any type of communication ultimately directed to a large public, whose message has a deceiving character seeking a reaction, in terms of opinion or behavior, according to one's interests, cause or ideas.

If you believe that these ideas and notions are ultimately wrong, i.e., they don't stand up to scrutiny, then teaching (preaching) them is to deceive the public. Essentially, consoling a loved one must necessarily be an exception to the rule, rather than the norm. Let the children come to embrace these ideas on their own, if they do at all.

Well yeah, my point was really that this is the ONLY acceptable defence of such beliefs, weak as it may be. Domarius and other's view that "its just my personal belief, it doesn't stand up to scrutiny" may be, in the skeptics opinion, misguided, but at least it is honest and does not try to abuse logic by presenting some ignorant misconception as evidence (like "There must be a god, how else could the universe exist?" and other drivel).

Misguided or not, teaching your beliefs as anything else is wrongheaded and ultimately unacceptable. While someone who does not accept that their beliefs are unfalsifiable or downright wrong will generally preach their beliefs as the truth, someone who realizes this cannot, as they would necessarily be hypocritical to do otherwise. It is my firm belief that it is the responsibility of those who realize this (the only acceptable defense of belief is that it is a strictly personal one) to prevent the fallacious teaching of beliefs as truth. I suspect that the conception of one's (usually shared) beliefs as the one, ultimate truth is the source of the deadly disease that is fundamentalism.

#158 Domarius

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Posted 27 February 2007 - 07:02 PM

Dom, I can agree there is a usefulness to such beliefs, but there is also a lot of danger. People don't quarantine their thoughts as carefully as I think you have, they often tend to hold "blanket" views of the world and the ways it works. Beliefs in afterlives are in my experience bundled together with a host of other faith based beliefs to make up a whole worldview.

Well actually the most surprising thing about this discussion, is that I'm used to pretty much everyone I know thinking the same way about this as I do. They say something to the effect of "I don't have any religion, but I beleive there's some greater force, and you go somewhere after you die." That's it.

#159 Domarius

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Posted 27 February 2007 - 07:05 PM

You've essentially suggested that lying to loved ones is acceptable.

No I haven't. Look at my example scenario, and keep in mind Spring's point that the complellingness of evidence is subjective.

My example is a person saying "Well, we don't REALLY know if anything else happens. X and Y could suggest Z happens, which is a nice thought." This is ultimately a form of consolence. Nobody's lying because nobody claims to know anything for sure. They just say what they beleive and let the other make their own mind. And even if someone firmly beleives something else happens after you die, and that's it - what's the harm in that?

What you're talking about in the rest of your paragraph is preaching organised religion as if it were fact, which is not what I'm talking about at all.

#160 Nyarlathotep

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Posted 27 February 2007 - 08:55 PM

No I haven't. Look at my example scenario, and keep in mind Spring's point that the complellingness of evidence is subjective.

For starters, quote me in context. Specifically:

You then suggest that the reason that such an idea may be allowed to persist despite such faulty logic is that the notion is comforting. You've essentially suggested that lying to loved ones is acceptable. While you can argue that using a loved one's preconceived beliefs are still acceptable (or your own beliefs), you can't argue that continuing to teach these flawed notions to children is still acceptable.

Note the italicized text.

My example is a person saying "Well, we don't REALLY know if anything else happens. X and Y could suggest Z happens, which is a nice thought." This is ultimately a form of consolence. Nobody's lying because nobody claims to know anything for sure. They just say what they beleive and let the other make their own mind. And even if someone firmly beleives something else happens after you die, and that's it - what's the harm in that?

Your specific example would be an agnostic consoling a person from his or her own beliefs, which would be more than acceptable. They are arguing from their own belief, instead of telling them some crap just to make them feel better.

What you're talking about in the rest of your paragraph is preaching organised religion as if it were fact, which is not what I'm talking about at all.

That is only because that is what occurs when one treats one's beliefs as fact. In fact, I would argue that it is a far more general mechanism, and one that has plagued us for centuries. If you want to know what the harm in belief is, why don't you read the rest of my post?

Misguided or not, teaching your beliefs as anything else is wrongheaded and ultimately unacceptable. While someone who does not accept that their beliefs are unfalsifiable or downright wrong will generally preach their beliefs as the truth, someone who realizes this cannot, as they would necessarily be hypocritical to do otherwise. It is my firm belief that it is the responsibility of those who realize this (the only acceptable defense of belief is that it is a strictly personal one) to prevent the fallacious teaching of beliefs as truth. I suspect that the conception of one's (usually shared) beliefs as the one, ultimate truth is the source of the deadly disease that is fundamentalism.

The harm does not lie in belief itself--in faith; it lies in humans treating it as far more than the sum of its parts. Their faith becomes "fact", and they feed this poison to their children, closing their minds to both the truth and humanity. Don't think I am too harsh or too quick to condemn these men; if you do, you haven't heard much of the drivel, lies, and propaganda they will feed these children, and all to protect their faith.

#161 Maximius

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Posted 27 February 2007 - 11:09 PM

Well yeah, my point was really that this is the ONLY acceptable defence of such beliefs, weak as it may be. Domarius and other's view that "its just my personal belief, it doesn't stand up to scrutiny" may be, in the skeptics opinion, misguided, but at least it is honest and does not try to abuse logic by presenting some ignorant misconception as evidence (like "There must be a god, how else could the universe exist?" and other drivel).


Sorry I took you out of context, I'll grant you I'd rather deal with someone who just doesn't know why they believe something rather than someone who has rigged up some Frankenstein style suite of rationalizations for what makes the world run.


Well actually the most surprising thing about this discussion, is that I'm used to pretty much everyone I know thinking the same way about this as I do. They say something to the effect of "I don't have any religion, but I beleive there's some greater force, and you go somewhere after you die." That's it.


Yes, I hear quite a bit of that too, my brother says something along those lines as well. But its still faith. And I pick at him about it.

Why do they think that? There has to be a why, or its no good in my book. You can't just say "These things are different, you can believe anything you like about them." Its true no one knows what comes after this life, but there is no reason to think there is anything, anyway, other than a complex of peoples hopes, fears, and dreams firmly rooted in this life.

I used to be a "live and let believe" kind of guy but honestly not anymore. I'm going on jihad. But gently, the nice version of jihad, convincing people with argument and example.

#162 Domarius

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Posted 27 February 2007 - 11:47 PM

I know that weaker minded people extend their ideas about what happens after life into psychotic behaviour of sacrificing parts of their children's genitalia and only eating certain foods on certain days. But these people don't concern me. I have seen enough to know you can have the beleifs without the stupidity.

@Maximus - yes there is a reason. If it makes you feel better, that's a reason. You may not need it but other people benefit from it. By trying to convince people that your way of thinking is the best way ... well, I categorize that kind of behaviour squarely with the behaviour of the other religious nuts :)

#163 Gildoran

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Posted 28 February 2007 - 01:14 AM

Well you are saying there is one rule to apply to everything, and there isn't. Not in the world as we currently experience it. Logic doesn't say what happens after you die, if anything at all. We just know the body decomposes. There could be more but nobody knows. And for some people, the thought of something better than decomposition brings releif. Logic won't bring releif for them, but beleifs will. That's the reasoning behind this.

It seems to me that same argument could be used to defend escapism and denial as beneficial.

#164 Domarius

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Posted 28 February 2007 - 01:17 AM

True, but am I doing that? No.

Denial would be saying they haven't left our existance, physical body hasn't decomposed, etc.

Escapisim would be similar - "They are here right now and I can talk to them!"

#165 Gildoran

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Posted 28 February 2007 - 01:47 AM

Denial could very well be "I'm sure that the minds of my loved-ones haven't ceased to exist, and I'll meet them again one day".

There's a favorite quote of mine from Alpha Centauri, which I think does of a good job of describing religion and why it's not so different from denial/escapism:

Man’s unfailing capacity to believe what he prefers to be true rather than what the evidence shows to be likely and possible has always astounded me. We long for a caring Universe which will save us from our childish mistakes, and in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary we will pin all our hopes on the slimmest of doubts. God has not been proven not to exist, therefore he must exist.



#166 Nyarlathotep

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Posted 28 February 2007 - 01:49 AM

I know that weaker minded people extend their ideas about what happens after life into psychotic behaviour of sacrificing parts of their children's genitalia and only eating certain foods on certain days. But these people don't concern me. I have seen enough to know you can have the beleifs without the stupidity.

@Maximus - yes there is a reason. If it makes you feel better, that's a reason. You may not need it but other people benefit from it. By trying to convince people that your way of thinking is the best way ... well, I categorize that kind of behaviour squarely with the behaviour of the other religious nuts :)

The point is that we have to stop the stupidity, and unfortunately, there's very little we can do at the source. It's a deadly and vicious circle. Educators don't know any better and therefore can't teach the children any better. What's worse is that generally they don't just not know better, but they refuse to admit that there is a better way of teaching them. They actively go out and try to poison their students' minds, although they generally don't see it as such. The final result is that they are conditioned to believe the church and to deny any evidence that contradicts their beliefs.

The churches themselves seek to encourage and reinforce this behavior at every step of the way. By getting their sheep into positions of power, they can ensure that status quo remains true to their god. Any and every attempt to counteract this process results in further backlash.

To be honest, I don't see how this process can be stopped any time soon. Teaching science better would help, but would result in instant backlash--and of the very worst sort. To tell the truth, the only way we can really end this is by having a much higher rate of public acceptance. When was the last you ever heard of an atheist whose mere existence wasn't controversial? :rolleyes: Exactly.

It seems to me that same argument could be used to defend denial and escapism as beneficial.

True, but am I doing that? No.

But, that sort of thinking can easily foster it, and that's the whole reason why I've been jumping on your case, so to speak. You have to know where to draw the line. Use their own beliefs to console them; use your beliefs, but don't teach them what their beliefs should be. Let them find them on their own.

#167 Domarius

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Posted 28 February 2007 - 01:57 AM

You might not have noticed, but I've been saying the same thing all along as well.

#168 Nyarlathotep

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Posted 28 February 2007 - 02:08 AM

You might not have noticed, but I've been saying the same thing all along as well.

You'll have to excuse me for my limited memory. I had forgotten what you had said at the beginning, and assumed that your statements on belief were also meant to apply to religion. While, to a certain extent, I feel they are still somewhat apologetic to religion, I see that they weren't intended as such.

BTW, I edited my previous post. It should read a little easier now.

#169 OrbWeaver

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Posted 28 February 2007 - 05:33 AM

Why do they think that? There has to be a why,


You've pretty much answered your own question there.

#170 Domarius

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Posted 28 February 2007 - 05:49 AM

@Ny - Well rather than go back and find all the quotes I made to that effect (I'm heading out) I'll say my stance again - these thoughts and beliefs are internal, they are to help yourself get over fears or grief. You can express them to someone, but its up to them to choose their own beleifs.

#171 Maximius

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Posted 28 February 2007 - 09:01 AM

@Maximus - yes there is a reason. If it makes you feel better, that's a reason. You may not need it but other people benefit from it. By trying to convince people that your way of thinking is the best way ... well, I categorize that kind of behaviour squarely with the behaviour of the other religious nuts :)


Its not a good reason. Some people may benefit but others, including myself, suffer when such reasoning or lack thereof is used to make decisions that effect others. If people could quarantine it to the Great Beyond, I'd be slightly less antagonistic towards such thinking, but the truth is no one does.

And why does trying to convince people that my way of thinking is best make me nuts? I use reasoned arguments, I demand evidence, and I try to critically examine the way I think. I have a standard in place, as imperfect as it may be. My way of thinking is rigorous, or at least it tries to be. I can produce new knowledge with my methods, I can explain how some things work and even why we may never completely know how other things work. You cannot honestly compare the two ways of thinking, they are diametrically opposed. One demands a process with standards, filters, for trying to flesh out the truth. The other simply begins with the assumption that what is believed is true, as if this were enough. In the final analysis, its a matter of believing what you want to believe, in spite of evidence to the contrary or an utter lack of evidence, as in the case for an afterlife. It gives us no new useful information, it only tells us what we were told or hoped for, is.

This kind of thinking has corrolaries in political thought and I think the two feed into one another. I got in an argument with a guy at my pub about five months back. He was saying to me "I know there are all these scandals going on in the White House and Congress. I know there are all of these huge questions about the truth of the reasons for going into Iraq. I know there are no connections between Al Quaida and Saddam despite being told so by the media and politicians for the last two years." **BUT** "Don't you think that the people in power, the President and his team, our Congressmen and women, don't you really think in the bottom of your heart that they are good people, trying to do a good job?"

His faith in the system was being challenged by reality, and like any Bleever, he ran to his mental tortoise shell for comfort. I whipped him with scorn for about an hour, at one point I told him I would bring in a dozen books to argue against what he believed. He snapped at me " I don't care about books, I mean, don't you just feel that they are good people?" You should have seen the anguish in his face as he desperately clung to his fantasy image about the Good Ole US of A and its brave leadership. He has never spoke with me again, I assure you his ears are still ringing with the drive-by rhetorical ass whipping I hit him with.

Dom, there is no difference between this and the beliefs you are describing. To misquote Wittengenstein and take him out of context a bit I think too, for that which we have no knowledge, we must pass over silence. That means we can make NO claims about an afterlife that are of any value, other than to anesthesize our minds to our mortality, and the truly precious time we have here as living thinking beings.




You've pretty much answered your own question there.



Hehe, yes I guess I did.

#172 Maximius

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Posted 28 February 2007 - 09:23 AM

http://www.secularhu...page=kurtz_27_2

#173 Domarius

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Posted 28 February 2007 - 09:34 AM

If people could quarantine it to the Great Beyond, I'd be slightly less antagonistic towards such thinking, but the truth is no one does.

Is that so? Me and the people I know are living proof that you're wrong there.

BTW - thanks for the link, but it so happens I'm actually reading The God Delusion right now. :) That's why my brother sent me that link in the first post.

#174 Maximius

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Posted 28 February 2007 - 09:44 AM

Is that so? Me and the people I know are living proof that you're wrong there.

BTW - thanks for the link, but it so happens I'm actually reading The God Delusion right now. :) That's why my brother sent me that link in the first post.



Forgive an extravagent statement, I should have said the vast, vast, majority can't or won't. It's good to see people who do, I think its an important start, but I think there is more road to cover. ;)

#175 Domarius

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Posted 28 February 2007 - 10:06 AM

Well, you guys can continue on your crusade against organised religion. I'm behind you on that. :)




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