Tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury…

Much has been made recently of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, variations on the teapot analogy, and the Best-selling Atheist Bookseller’s Club.  I’m not sure exactly why so much has been made of this topic, but then again, the question “Does God exist?” has been a fairly important question since time immemorial, permeating just about every significant philosophical debate throughout the Ages.  Descartes thought he had definitive proof of God’s existence nearly four hundred years ago.  Now Richard Dawkins has grabbed hold of Bertrand Russell’s tailcoats in definitively proving that God does not in fact exist.

Or not.  Basically the best Dawkins can do is argue that since there must be some evolutionary origin of deities, as it were, to explain the extraordinary complexity of God, than God must have emerged from something, and this leads to a sort of never-ending series of origins going back to something that is actually quite simple.  (Say a Bigger Bang that created God and then from there on out we’ve had God doing everything else…I’m not sure how this disproves God, though).  What Dawkins fails to realize is that in most theological circles the complexity of God is really fairly immaterial, written off with a statement as simple as ‘begotten, not made.’

And so Dawkins and his fellows in the International Unbeliever’s Union have come up with such quaint analogies as the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a less elegant variation on Russell’s teapot.  Essentially, they claim that the likelihood of God is similar to the likelihood of a Flying Spaghetti Monster or an interstellar magical teapot orbiting the Earth.  To which, of course, one might say, “Who cares?”  There is nothing likely about anything, really.  There is nothing likely about our very existence, and yet here we are.  Faith doesn’t take into account likelihood any more than a lack of religious belief requires definitive proof of God’s non-existence.  People are atheists because they have no proof to the contrary; people are religious because they require no proof to back their beliefs.  Hence the term faith.  Hence the advent of agnosticism, a rather lukewarm if practical sort of faith in our inability to really know anything.  (Note: agnostics can only sell self-help books, as they are quite likely to fail in attacking others for their beliefs, but quite good at reinforcing that marketable notion of believe (and do) whatever you like).

Atheists, of course, have every right to sell books and make movies and mock those they disagree with.  This is a capitalist society after all, and we treasure freedom of speech no matter how opportunistic or silly that speech may be.  And make no mistake, Dawkins has long since left the realm of evolution advocate (something entirely worthwhile) and entered the realm of religion-basher (something entirely profitable, if in every other sense a complete waste of time).

Chris is right on the money with this:

Rather than the stupid inane question of whether God exists or not (easy answer: Who Cares?) why not people share what is of deepest value to them.  What they ultimately put their trust and their hope in?  What gives them strength in their darkest days, what gets them out of the bed in the morning?  That would at least serve some function and could bring some spirit to the event.

Indeed, though their books might sell fewer copies, the Anti-Theist Writers Consortium might do well to focus on these questions in their future writings.  Or focus on the very noble cause of science education.  Dawkins is a brilliant biologist and more importantly, an accessible science writer.  Why not further the cause of biology by writing page-turners about evolutionary theory that don’t even bother touching on these unsolvable questions of faith?  Who honestly cares what one person or another believes so long as they are all free to do so?   Creationism is a continuing nuisance in the education debate, however, and those snake-oil-salesmen who are trying to sneak Intelligent Design into the classroom and further the dumbing-down of our children are worthy of a book or two riddled with derision and appeals to our snarkier selves.  In the end it’s really not about being nice or mean or trying to convert or any other thing.

It’s just that all of this talk on whether or not God exists is simply pointless.  It means nothing, signifies nothing.  It has no bearing on the world itself.  We all believe what we believe, and no 300-page diatribe will change that, be it religious or atheistic or agnostic.  What matters is how humans interact.  What matters are those fault lines where religion, atheism, politics, culture, language, economics, and history intersect and the inevitable human consequences that manifest within those intersections.  I imagine a best-seller could be found among some of these themes, though it might not be so easy to pitch.  Taking pot shots at those who have different views is easy money, and the choir loves it.  Really trying to understand this crazy, screwed-up world of ours takes time and empathy and humanity….

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34 thoughts on “Tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury…

  1. And so Dawkins and his fellows in the International Unbeliever’s Union have come up with such quaint analogies as the Flying Spaghetti Monster

    What? No.

    The origin of FSM (may we all be touched by his noodly appendage) is quite available to anyone who wants to look it up. It derives from claims made by Intelligent Design advocates during l’affair de Kansas State Board of Education. Specifically since Intelligent Design cannot be disproven it must be given equal time in the classroom, logically leading to all sorts of theories that must be given equal time in the classroom. Its relevance to broader theological claims, and especially claims about the existence of a Deity at all, are marginal at best.

    On the broader issue, taking book-hawking soapbox-dwelling Atheist(tm)s as representative of atheism in general is about as sound as taking Ann Coulter as representative of the depth of conservative thought. These people have wares to sell and a movement to build and that will profoundly affect their representation of their philosophies.

    Personally, I’m atheist not for any consequential benefit or deep dissatisfaction with theistic life, but for the simple fact that the preponderance of evidence leads me to believe in alternate explanations for the Christian belief in God rather than the actual existence of the Christian God. In other words, I don’t believe it because I don’t believe it. I don’t need an agenda. And in fact, I’m quite respectful and supportive of theistic belief around me and find that — contra Dawkins — overall it’s likely a positive force in personal lives and society at large. So I don’t spend any time attempting to proselytize it away. And I suspect there are a very large number of atheists in my camp.

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  2. I’m not in any way trying to bash atheism or atheists, and I agree that most atheists, like most conservatives, are not of the Dawkins or Coulter variety. Thanks for your thoughts…

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  3. Your harping on the books and the riches atheists glean from the sales trivializes your argument. If Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens write books you find lacking criticize the book, point out the slender threads from which the author weave their arguments. Your wholesale condemnation of their enterprise is silly. You are gracious enough, however, to allow that this is their right, it is, after all, still a free country, turning a buck is allowed. You come dangerously close to blurting out it is just a money making industry, you disallow the possibility that the books do indeed represent the authors honest thoughts. You assert, you offer no evidence. You offer snarky comments, “religion-basher,” “Tales Told by Idiots…,” “…a compleat waste of time.” Those are your words.

    Regarding the religious niche found in book stores I have noticed that pro-religious books far out number the atheist titles. Check it out the next time you are in a book store. But this only makes sense since an overwhelming number of Americans claim some degree of belief in a god. I am unwilling to accuse those writers of being in it only for the money. I am willing to bet that Rick Warren has sold more books than Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens combined. But you don’t have a word to say about that side of the coin.

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  4. Good points, Bob. However, I do sum up Dawkins’s arguments in my second paragraph, I think? The point being, it’s fine to make money, but the effort here is so entirely pointless that the minds of these authors, be they Hitchens, Harris, or Dawkins, et al could all be used to much greater effect arguing or discussing worthwhile topics. As in, not merely atheism for atheism’s sake, or to pounce on religious people or religion, but to discuss perhaps the wonderful world of science, history, and so forth. The reason I harp on their money-making is that this can be the only explanation to write this sort of pointless screed. It’s not an intellectual pursuit at all, because the intellectual ends of each of their pieces are so hollow and meaningless. I’d go off on Warren or the other faux-Christian writers (and yes, I’m sorry, but the purpose of Christianity is not to build wealth but to live simply and good and with as little as possible) but that’s not the topic at hand. Still, food for thought. My words for the televangelists and the Rick Warrens of the world would be far, far more harsh than my words for the Atheist Joy Luck Club, you can be sure.

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  5. “Now Richard Dawkins has grabbed hold of Bertrand Russell’s tailcoats in definitively proving that God does not in fact exist.” What is this in reference to?? That doesn’t sound like Dawkins m.o. at all.

    And this seems like a downright bizarre thing to say to Dawkins, of all people: “Why not further the cause of biology by writing page-turners about evolutionary theory that don’t even bother touching on these unsolvable questions of faith?” I mean, he’s written _The Selfish Gene_, _The Ancestor’s Tale_, _Climbing Mount Improbable_, _River Out of Eden_… I mean, the guy has already done exactly what you’re telling him he should do. If he has decided that Creationists are, in fact, more than a “nuisance” but are downright dangerous, well, it seems to me that his is indeed a voice worth attending to. I don’t think he or any of these other folks really have much of a beef with religion so long as it is a form of personal hobby. But it seems to him — and to a lot of others — that it is a vocal faction of the religious who are the primary threat today to the ideal of “Who honestly cares what one person or another believes so long as they are all free to do so?” And they need to be opposed, equally vocally.

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  6. But it seems to him — and to a lot of others — that it is a vocal faction of the religious who are the primary threat today to the ideal of “Who honestly cares what one person or another believes so long as they are all free to do so?” And they need to be opposed, equally vocally.

    Be that as it may, does anyone really think that the best mechanism of opposition to resurgent theocracy is an attempt to prove God doesn’t exist? That’s a purely orthogonal hobby.

    If you want to undo the influence of televangelists and culture war baiters, you do it by convincing their followers that their influence is poisonous to our society and discordant with their own values. Telling them that God doesn’t exist is hardly an effective strategy.

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  7. “Be that as it may, does anyone really think that the best mechanism of opposition to resurgent theocracy is an attempt to prove God doesn’t exist?” I think you’ve probably a bad interpretation of what Dawkins et al. are trying to do. (And, again, I still don’t know what particular Dawkins text is being taken here as trying to “prove” God doesn’t exist.) Rather, they are doing exactly what you just said they should do — namely, show that the way that we so often defer to religious beliefs and practices is inconsistent with some of our most important values, in this case, the value of thinking practically and reasonably about the world, based on real evidence.

    There’s also a kind of ‘window’ effect here — if there are no visible strong atheistic positions in the public discourse, then it will continue to seem like a position that is simply beyond the pale. By saying so loudly, “no, really, not only are there lots of atheists out there, in fact, they have pretty good reasons for their atheism,” that can shift the basic terms of the discourse.

    Basically, if you take Dawkins to be doing something that he’s not really doing, for reasons that aren’t really his, he does indeed come out as doing something he shouldn’t be doing. But that should be a sign to you that maybe he’s just not really doing what you think he’s doing.

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  8. Wow! And I thought I made over the top generalizations. I just can’t believe you wrote this, “The reason I harp on their money-making is that this can be the only explanation to write this sort of pointless screed. It’s not an intellectual pursuit at all….” This defines cynical.

    And this, “…(and yes, I’m sorry, but the purpose of Christianity is not to build wealth but to live simply and good and with as little as possible)….”

    E.D. if I was to become religious and christian I would be right there. But as an atheist, an imperfect label, I can say the purpose of my life “is not to build wealth but to live simply an good and with as little as possible.” Well said Mr. Kain.

    The Wow factor is the fact your “purpose of Christianity” is not universally accepted. (I know you are not saying that.) But a large number of the followers of Christ reject your definition. I guess they are generally refereed to as Charismatic, followers of Prosperity Gospel (PG)/theology. Even to me, one that has no use for religion but is reasonably aware of contemporary events, the folk associated with PG trip right off my finger tips: Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer etc.

    E.D., if your philosophy held sway in the christian community we would be having that Kum Ba Yah moment.

    But no singing yet, not as long as you continue to hold the “pointless screed” theory.

    I love you, ya’ big lug!

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  9. Okay, in reverse order:

    Bob, I know. Christianity has drifted a teeny, tiny bit from its original stated purpose. That there are even things like the Prosperity Gospel sends shivers through my soul. Am I being too harsh to Dawkins et al with that quote? I don’t mean to lambaste their body of work, just the work that tries to proselytize atheism. I’m an anti-missionary, no matter the faith.

    James Williams–The text I was referring to specifically of Dawkins’ was “The God Delusion” which does, indeed, attempt to disprove God. I know he’s written about biology already, which is exactly why I recommend he do so again. It is of a far finer vintage than his atheism-peddling. Show, don’t tell.

    sidereal–exactly. That’s the nail. I see you’ve hit it directly on the head.

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  10. I realize that your comment was directed at The God Delusion, not all of his writing’s. But you only have faith to back-up your theory that the book is nothing but a money grubbing enterprise. And when I write “faith” I mean it is a belief. You can’t, I dare you, to offer one single fact to back up your claim that the book was written in, as the saying goes, “bad faith”. Are you privy to a letter Dawkins sent the publisher proffering a book that would pad the bank account of both the author and publisher but would otherwise have no merit? Some fact like that?

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  11. No, of course I have no proof of that, Bob. I do believe that such a book is a form of shock-literature, though. And of course it has sold far more copies than any of his previous works, which is fine. I just don’t think it’s the most intellectually honest pursuit Dawkins has undertaken.

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  12. James:

    And, again, I still don’t know what particular Dawkins text is being taken here as trying to “prove” God doesn’t exist.

    Take your pick. It’s a significant part of the totality of his writings. I’m not sure why you need a specific volume to work from but if so, let’s go with the The Infected Mind chapter of A Devil’s Chaplain.

    they are doing exactly what you just said they should do — namely, show that the way that we so often defer to religious beliefs and practices is inconsistent with some of our most important values

    That’s not what I said they should do at all; nor does it accurately describe the practice of attacking the foundational beliefs of religion. It is one thing to say ‘this particular manifestation or practice is inconsistent with a free society and inconsistent with the ethical principles of your own faith’. It is another to say ‘Your faith is a delusion and is inherently poisonous to society’. You’re not going to convince anyone with that tack. Literally no one. The only people who agree will be the people who already agree.

    There’s also a kind of ‘window’ effect here

    I totally agree and very much endorse atheists making their atheism known and furthering the perception that it’s a common and reasonable path to take. But contemptuous criticism of theists is not a better example. It’s prosyletization. And a clear display of overcompensation for insecurity.

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  13. “The text I was referring to specifically of Dawkins’ was “The God Delusion” which does, indeed, attempt to disprove God.” This isn’t really an accurate reading of the book. Rather, he is disproving a very particular theistic claim: that the apparent design in the universe is in fact there because it was created by a very intelligent, very powerful being. If your religious beliefs don’t license such a design inference, then you just aren’t a target of the book.

    I seem to have gotten crossed up with who was saying what. When I wrote, “they are doing exactly what you just said they should do — namely, show that the way that we so often defer to religious beliefs and practices is inconsistent with some of our most important values”, I had in mind this from the main post: “why not people share what is of deepest value to them.”

    Nonetheless, I reject the sharp line you want to draw, sidereal, when you write, “It is one thing to say ‘this particular manifestation or practice is inconsistent with a free society and inconsistent with the ethical principles of your own faith’. It is another to say ‘Your faith is a delusion and is inherently poisonous to society’.” Your statement of the first part of that incomplete, as it definitely needs to include not just a free society or some basic ethical principles, but also, as I noted, our best norms of epistemic rationality. And from there it is a short step to the second part: if someone’s beliefs are being held in flagrant contradiction of our best norms of epistemic rationality, then their so believing is indeed cognitively not up to snuff, and it may well be dangerous to society to let such irrationalism run amock. Especially when said irrationalism wants to take over school boards.

    Versions of theism that keep the religious beliefs thoroughly & completely disentangled from prediction and explanation of the physical world will not have this problem, since they do keep themselves clear of contradicting what it means to reason well based on good evidence . But such versions of theism are just not the targets of these discourses.

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  14. Best-selling Atheist Bookseller’s Club and International Unbeliever’s Union

    I searched online and failed to find these organizations but, of course, “taking pot shots at those who have different views is easy money, and the choir loves it”

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  15. E.D. you say, “I’m an anti-missionary, no matter the faith.” That is in #9. I always thought that Jesus charged the apostles to go forth and spread the good news, the Gospels. Right? Are you anti-Jesus?

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  16. No, Bob, I’m not. But there’s plenty of ways to interpret that Gospel and to interpret how that should influence one’s actions and behaviors. I personally believe in the lead-by-example method, rather than to proselytize. I really can’t imagine how that could make me “anti-Jesus.”

    And clamflats, those are sarcastic little names I came up to describe a handful of the new atheists who I think are profiting from a pointless attempt to somehow prove their is no God. I do not include the vast majority of atheists in my snark, a far cry from say Maher’s ridicule of the religious.

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  17. E.D. I don’t really have a quarrel with you. Your philosophy, “…the purpose of Christianity is not to build wealth but to live simply and good and with as little as possible)….” is
    one I share, leaving out the christian thing. You see Christ as an inspiration, I see common sense as my inspiration, the “less is more” argument.

    My gripe, well one of them, with religion is that it is totally subjective but the religious refuses to admit it. After all, if god has inspired the writing of holy texts (Bible, Book of Mormon, Kur’an) setting forth his will, well you better damn sure follow it/them, “drink my blood” to holy under ware.

    That example, my anti-Jesus post was directed at the very point you used in your defense. I know you are not anti-Jesus, you love Christ, but your Christ is not Benny Hinn’s Christ, it is not the pope’s Christ, it is not the Christ Andrew Sullivan sees. You said that there are different interpretations of how to spread the Gospels, you have the lead by example model, Billy Graham the proselytize model, the Mormon’s the sending out of young missionaries to disturb my Saturday morning, Islam, the knock a few heads together model. But most things in religion are rife with interpretation. Most(?) christians believe that good works are necessary to gain heaven, but Calvin had a different view. Folks were born saved or damned, good works would not change their destiny. The list is close to endless. Religious wars fought because of some minor, my word, interruption of a holy text.

    I am not claiming the above criticism is new, indeed it is a quite common critique of religion. But for me it is a valid critique. Religion is subjective.

    Now the religious will probably answer with, “these interruptions are minor, we all agree that X is the true god.” Well I’m not buying that argument, when you are sending your opposition to eternal flames for not buying “it really does turn into the blood of Christ” it’s getting pretty serious.

    These inter and intra- disputes diminish religion far more than any some rant by Dawkins.

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  18. Good points, Bob. I’d add I do not believe in Hell, and in fact the momentum in Christianity is to do away with that nonsense altogether. I forget the link, but I found stats on the number of times the word Hell is included in modern Bibles, and it is diminishing.

    I also have come to believe that most “Holy wars” or religious wars are actually nationalistic with overtones of religiosity only. Religion is a great recruiter, but it rarely inspires wars, which are more often fought for land, wealth, power…women. ;)

    Just some thoughts…

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  19. I agree that this post was over-generalized and downright wrong in some places, including your follow-up comment that “I don’t mean to lambaste their body of work, just the work that tries to proselytize atheism. I’m an anti-missionary, no matter the faith.”

    First, I completely disagree that “We all believe what we believe, and no 300-page diatribe will change that, be it religious or atheistic or agnostic.” Dawkins pushed me from indifferent deism to atheism, so he has had some effect on those already on the fence.

    Second, the facet of Dawkins that pushed me over to atheism was NOT his arguments against God. He fully admits that the beginning of his book that you cannot disprove God – he just goes on to point out that an interactive God is very unlikely. But after dealing with that point, he goes on to describe the harm that theism can cause. That is the part of the book that really did it for me. As many of the atheists writers have pointed out at length, their biggest problem with religion is the form of thinking it requires. As you yourself put it, “people are religious because they require no proof to back their beliefs.” This type of thinking has consequences – many of them pernicious. (Many of them good, but the writers argue that we could have the good without the bad.)

    Don’t take my word for it, look at the chapters in the books.

    For the God Delusion, I count 2 of the 10 chapters that deal with argument for/against God’s existence. (And the beginning of the book takes special care to define God as an interventionist God.)

    Lets turn to Hitchens’ God Is Not Great. By my count, only 1 of his 19 chapters focuses on arguments for/against God. The rest focus on the negative way that religion affects our lives here on earth.

    You said, “What matters is how humans interact.” I agree, and I expect the “atheist writers” do too.

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  20. E.D.:

    You’re smarter than Andrew Sullivan. I mean, really. I can tell from literally the first word of his rejoinder that he simply isn’t smart enough to comprehend your argument. That word is If …

    Everything that follows relies on the contingency of his personal metaphysical speculation. What you are saying is that “Your metaphysical speculation is of no concern to me whatsoever unless it affects your objective behavior in a way that affects me. In which case, it’s your behavior that concerns me, not your metaphysics.”

    Having said that, however, I think you grossly misapprehend Dawkins because his argument reduces to the same premises. Granted, Dawkins is more of an asshole than you are, but then, he’s spent fifty more years than you dealing with these dolts who don’t understand the distinction between metaphysical speculation and objective reality. You’d be an asshole too in those circumstances.

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  21. I think that your summary of Russell’s teapot and the Spaghetti Monster illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the point those metaphors.

    “Essentially, they claim that the likelihood of God is similar to the likelihood of a Flying Spaghetti Monster or an interstellar magical teapot orbiting the Earth.”

    It’s easy to point out the fundamental unlikeliness of things. There’s a story about a professor who stood up in front of his class one day and said, “Today I was walking and I saw a car with a license plate of ZZ9AAA. Can you believe it? How many different combinations of license plates are there, and I see the one that says ZZ9AAA? The odds are astronomical!” Anything can seem stupendously unlikely if you think about it in those terms.

    But Russell’s teapot has absolutely nothing to do with probability, and everything to do with proof, and with burden of proof. Russell’s not saying that the teapot and a Christian God are equally likely (although in my opinion, the teapot might actually win out in that scenario); he’s saying that they both have about the same amount of concrete evidence to back them up. Probability doesn’t enter into it, and to describe the thought-experiments as you have is to completely alter the debate.

    I will agree with you, if a bit reluctantly, that it’s more important to find a common ground upon which to talk to people about religion than it is to convince people of atheism’s correctness. I’m passionate about my own beliefs, and I think that atheism should be defended where it’s attacked and explained to those who are curious about it, but a lot of atheists take the next step and try to actively spread their beliefs. This, I think, is taking the worst elements of the religions that we decry, and moreover I don’t think it’s necessary. My own experience with atheism, and that of other atheists I’ve talked to or read about, is that we came to it because we were dissatisfied with the other options available, and this process is inevitably described as a natural, freeing one. I think that simply by virtue of our existence we gain converts, and when we are preachy, we only push them away.

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  22. Jack, thanks…and you and the many who have critiqued my critique of Dawkins are right on that score also, to some degree. What irked me about The God Delusion was that Dawkins really does attempt to disprove God, at least through one side of his mouth, while at the same time admitting that it can’t be done. Then why try? That’s the point I’m making here. It’s an exercise in futility. And writing books about the evils of religion is an exercise in redundancy. But that’s just my take, and you all have raised some valid points.

    Thanks!

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  23. No disrespect intended, but your essay misses the point completely. And is from an intellectual standpoint, fundamentally dishonest. You are right that a bestseller awaits the person that can articulate the interminable conversation that currently exists around god/myth. The multiple errors you labor under being rather strong evidence. I have never written a single published word, but am so compelled by the confusion surrounding this argument that I plan to quit my job this later this year to finish a manuscript addressing it.

    No culture has ever established a functional system of communication that is not based on a supporting myth. For the first time, Western civilization is trying to do it. No agreed myth = no value = no communication. Nihilism. Hitchens and Dawkins are nihilist. The only way you can even begin to comprehend their language is that it is spoken with a thick Anglican brogue. They have left the church, but have not gone any further than the church yard (insert small essay on cowardice here; which of course, is a word defined on a myth).

    “Crazy, screwed up world?” Really? Says who? Backup your claim that its crazy or screwed up. But first of all you will have to define those words, which you obviously can’t do. Any response that comes from your mouth, or your pen, is based on complete myth. Everything else is grappling for power (survival).

    Alas, your essay is just another tale, told by another fool.

    (just doing you the favor of critiquing you with your own tools, a la Nietzsche)

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  24. E.D.:

    Then why try?

    As I think you implied above–to sell books, or, more creditably, to ensure these ideas get injected into the civil discourse.

    The squeaky wheel gets the grease and empiricism hasn’t been very squeaky these last fifty years or so, leaving the loud and persistent purveyors of metaphysical specualtion as a substitute for objective reality in control of the discourse.

    The “New Atheists,” as they’re called, simply would never have broken through the media clutter without those aspects of their argument that you object to.

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  25. E.D. , hope you understand I am not calling you a fool personally :).

    My point is that every one has only two rational positions: myth or nihilism. Hitchens and Dawkins preach nihilism, but in truth, it is aesthetically to disgusting for them to embrace, so they keep singing nonsensical words over Christian melodies.

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  26. Ned, don’t be silly. We’re all nihlists by your definition.

    No culture has ever established a functional system of communication that is not based on a supporting myth. For the first time, Western civilization is trying to do it. No agreed myth = no value = no communication. Nihilism. Hitchens and Dawkins are nihilist.

    Why should anyone ever take the first step and buy into an “agreed myth”? You can’t answer that question because there is no answer until after you buy in. Therefore, your moral system requires an arbitrary, unjustifiable leap of faith right at the beginning. EVERY moral system does. This leads me to two suggestions:

    – (1) Just admit this fact of moral reasoning and start analyzing which moral assumptions are best

    – (2) Let’s confine the definition of the word “nihlist” to those people who go about actually espousing affirmatively nihlistic views, which almost no one does. (Except for Nietzsche, and he was an asshat.)

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  27. Chris,
    Of course there is no agreed myth until you “buy in”. Do you not understand what a myth is? You must, since you go on to suggest that we “analyze which moral assumption(s) are best” when no such thing is possible, unless you buy in to a myth telling you how to determine what is best! And no, Nietzsche was not an asshat. He simply stated what all analytical philosophy refused to admit: that they were no more than making up a new religion–just like you. At least religious people will admit that they take a leap of faith, as opposed to smug, self-satisfied intellectuals who are doing the same thing, but lack the backbone to admit it.

    “affirming nihilistic views”: sorry Chris, but as a nihilist, it would be impossible for them to even affirm a nihilist view, as that would require meaning/value which, by definition, a nihilist doesn’t have.

    So tell me, which myth do you believe in? Say you don’t believe in a myth? Then tell me, which is better/worse: (a) sexually abusing a child (b) making a 35-yard field goal? It is impossible for you to provide an intelligible answer to that questions that is not based in myth. Go ahead and try, and fail. Its just a preference; a choice; just like the one Stalin made in his show trials, and I make about which toppings to put on my pizza here in Brooklyn.

    Back to my point, you won’t address: you either choose nihilism, or take a leap of faith into a religious myth. No other choice exists.

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  28. Yes and no. I agree that the urge to keep up the ol’ Cosmic Quibble is tiresome. However, as the Simpson neighbor lady always says, “What about the children?”

    The piling on by Dawkins Dennett Hitchens et al today might be tiresome to adults whose minds are made up but it will pay off in a generation. I nearly did not have a chance to grow up, as the man said, imagining no religion. But I was lucky. I was around 10 when I stumbled onto a goofy-sounding book — “zen” — and I’ve pretty much straightened out meaning-of-the-cosmos-wise ever since.

    Thanks to Dawkins Dennett Hitchens et al, kids today should find plenty of non-ridiculous inner-space lifestyles, readily available and conveniently peer-sanctioned. That is a dramatic generational improvement.

    re: “religious wars,” yours is a semantical distinction. Getting people hopped up “in a cause bigger than themselves” is required to start wars. A real live feller who wears epaulets can be a potent inspiration. But for good people to perform bad craziness, they must fear ghosts and the voices in their own head.

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  29. Wow, Ned. I don’t think I’ll be spending much time responding to you if you’re going to respond in such a smug way without even reading what I wrote. For example:

    At least religious people will admit that they take a leap of faith, as opposed to smug, self-satisfied intellectuals who are doing the same thing, but lack the backbone to admit it.

    Did you miss the part where I wrote, “EVERY moral system requires an arbitrary, unjustifiable leap of faith right at the beginning.” We agree.

    It is, at the end of the day, an impossible question to answer. The is/ought gap can’t be bridged. The skeptic can’t be answered. The best we can do is to make our assumptions as small and logical plausible as possible. That being the case, which of these two starting assumptions do you find more consistent with reality?

    – Humans are the product of a process of evolution, which created emotional and moral predispositions in the brain that are commonly shared by the vast majority of the species. We should accept these feelings as given and work together to maximize happiness as a group.

    – The creator of the Universe impregnated a virgin in an ass-backwards part of the world so that his son could grow up and teach the correct moral system to the barely literate peasants he encountered during his life. We should, therefore, follow that code.

    Again, I fully recognize that both choices are arbitrary – but surely one is at least more logically consistent with reality?

    —–

    Dawkins and Hitchens have both written that they are not nihilists. They mean that in the same sense that anyone else could mean it. By your definition, apparently, everyone is a nihilist. (Or could you name me someone who isn’t?)

    But if you’re going to use words in that way, then you will be a really uninteresting person to talk to.

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  30. “non-ridiculous inner-space lifestyles”?

    Your ridiculous inner-space post suggests the possibility that you have been educated beyond your intelligence.

    okay, now I must leave this page of juveniles and return to the adult world. but it was fun for a few minutes. :)

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  31. Look, to all who make the point that the New Atheists have to write this sort of book to ever even be heard–that is a very true thing. I know this post is loaded with snark on the futility of it all, but you’re absolutely right that to even be noticed and welcomed into the debate, atheists needed these sorts of spokesmen to break on through to the other side…

    And so I say, “bravo, New Atheists!” Futility aside, we do need a healthy debate between religious and non-religious. And again, both Hitchens and Dawkins are wicked smart, and very enjoyable reads.

    Bill Maher, however, is an insufferable buffoon who I absolutely cannot stand. If he was any more full of himself it’d be coming out his ears…

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