Nick Matzke posted Entry 2827 on January 8, 2007 02:42 AM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/2817

Back in November I was interviewed and photographed by the San Francisco Chronicle for the “Facetime” section of their Sunday newsmagazine. A month or two went by without anything coming out, so I figured I’d been dropped as an uninteresting nerd or some such. Well, I figured wrong, the article is out and my soul is laid bare, including my two cents on religion if anyone’s interested, and the influence of my dear beloved grandmother, college roommates (but see below), and this very group of Panda’s Thumb bloggers on my somewhat strange life. The reporter, Sam Whiting, conducts the “Facetime” interview by asking rapid-fire questions for 20 minutes, and then they excerpt the juiciest bits, resulting in a short piece that really cuts to the chase. Mission accomplished, I’d say.

The only thing I’m going to regret is the bit about my college roommates at Valparaiso being “rich.” I wonder if a word got written down wrong from the interview recording, I don’t believe I said anything about them being rich. Conservatives, maybe, but even sitting here today I have no idea if any of them came from rich families. Several of my roommates were pastor’s kids, so I doubt it. Maybe I said something about how the ones who went and became engineers were almost certainly richer than me, which is quite probably true. Well, that will give us something to talk about at the Valpo reunion…

(HT: Thoughts in a Haystack)

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Comment #153797

Posted by Peter on January 8, 2007 7:40 AM (e)

Congratulations Nick. I’m not surprised that you’ve gotten the attention. Good luck with your grad applications.

Comment #153800

Posted by FL on January 8, 2007 8:02 AM (e)

On education

I went to Valparaiso University in Indiana. I was raised Lutheran and it’s a Lutheran school.

On believing

I’m agnostic now. An ultimate question like this might just not be answerable. It may be a leap of faith to take either position, either atheism or theism.

First, thanks for being willing to share your religious views openly. Not everyone is willing to do that.

Secondly, although I did read about you going to church “on holidays when I’m back with my family”, your comments do look like you’ve shifted all the way from Christianity (defined here as belief in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as your personal Lord and Savior) to Agnosticism.

If that’s true, it would be the same sort of huge shift that historically took place with Charles Darwin. So I’d like to ask you a couple of questions.

(1) Would the aforementioned “shift” be an accurate assessment of what has happened in your case?

(2) If so, what role–what percentage–did your belief in evolution play in causing that shift to take place over the years?
What other factors, if any, were involved in that shift?

My motives in asking you these admittedly personal questions are simple. I happen to agree wih evolutionist author James Rachels (Created From Animals, 1990) and pro-evoluton Slate editor Jacob Weisberg, concerning the effects that evolution-belief can have on religious-belief. In Rachels words,

“An evolutionary perspective undermines religious belief by removing some of the grounds that previously supported it.”

So, I’m sincerely asking these two questions in light of that particular perspective.

Having said that, what would be your responses to the two questions? Whatever your responses be, thanks in advance.

FL

Comment #153803

Posted by Katarina on January 8, 2007 8:25 AM (e)

I have a feeling this will be our next “Holy Wars” thread.

Comment #153819

Posted by Ed Darrell on January 8, 2007 10:25 AM (e)

An evolutionary perspective can only undermine religious belief if the religious belief is anti-knowledge, anti-science, or anti-reality.

Christianity, for example, is none of those. If someone tells you that they found that studying nature undermined their faith, you need to understand that it’s not the study of evolution itself that does it.

Instead, my experience with college students is that many of them are quite shocked that people they respected had misled them so badly as to what the facts are for evolution, cosmology, nuclear physics, and often, history. Their faith is shaken not by the facts of science they learn, but instead by the realization that earlier teachers had, with glee and elan, misled them. They regard this as a breach of ethics, and they then question whether they should continue associating with the people who have such ethical issues, and with the ideas that tend to mislead otherwise ethical people to unethical behavior.

One should note, for example, that Darwin never complained about his own understanding of the Bible, but instead he complained about theology that claims evil people get salvation by doing the right theological dance steps, while good people who live Christianity in all ways but ceremony avoid salvation. Darwin thought this unjust, and said so. If you think Darwin was wrong about that, tough. There are times when modern morality is superior to what the ancients thought.

FL, your question should be, “How does the study of evolution affect your sense of justice in the world, what we can know and what we can say about what we know, and how does that lead us to make ethical decisions?” You may want to consider the effects of DNA evidence on the administration of criminal justice, for example, and the effect on criminal justice were it accurate the evolution theory is wrong, and that consequently DNA evidence cannot be used in court. I suspect you’d discover a lot of anti-evolution people had not made such a consideration. Follow up: Ask them what they think about Deuteronomy 16:20 (usually listed as “Justice, justice shalt thou pursue”), and ask whether it shakes their faith to reject scientific means of delivering justice.

And stop trying to hijack the thread.

(Congrats on the profile, Nick – get one of those nicely printed, non-fading, framed copies, for your kids.)

Comment #153821

Posted by Mike on January 8, 2007 10:35 AM (e)

““An evolutionary perspective undermines religious belief by removing some of the grounds that previously supported it.”

Only for the literalists.

Comment #153823

Posted by Raging Bee on January 8, 2007 10:40 AM (e)

“An evolutionary perspective undermines religious belief by removing some of the grounds that previously supported it.”

FWIW, I’m not sure what you mean by “an evolutionary perspective,” but the theory of evolution certainly didn’t undermine any of my religious beliefs. (The idiots and charlatans who did undermine some of them did it without any help from science, thankyouverymuch.)

Comment #153826

Posted by Mike on January 8, 2007 10:51 AM (e)

“You may want to consider the effects of DNA evidence on the administration of criminal justice, for example, and the effect on criminal justice were it accurate the evolution theory is wrong, and that consequently DNA evidence cannot be used in court.”

The use of DNA for identification in legal proceedings doesn’t depend on evolution being true but on the accuracy of claims that DNA provides unique identification for individuals (as fingerprints do) and that those markers show up in their children and relatives. That human beings are descended from other human beings is entirely compatible with creationism of even the most literalist forms.

Now, if a court case turned on whether or not a chimp was somebody’s cousin, albeit very distantly removed, then the truth of evolution would matter. Perhaps that will be the creationists’ next try: to get a case to court where a court will decide that, as a matter of law, a chimp isn’t my cousin, so the creationists will claim that evolution has been ruled wrong by a court.

Comment #153828

Posted by Bill Gascoyne on January 8, 2007 11:33 AM (e)

The use of DNA for identification in legal proceedings doesn’t depend on evolution being true

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t it the prediction of evoltuion theory that some mechanism had to transmit hereditary traits through the generations that led to the discovery of DNA?

Comment #153832

Posted by Kristine on January 8, 2007 12:03 PM (e)

The problem of how traits were transmitted from parent to child was not just a problem for Darwin but for everyone at the time. Darwin’s contemporaries assumed that the traits of both parents mixed somehow. It was Mendel who sought the actual mechanism by fertilizing his pea pods, finding that some plants were carriers of recessive traits and that some traits bred true. Darwin made no specific “prediction” about this, but it was problematic for him because he had to no concrete alternative to Lamarkism to offer.

Comment #153833

Posted by Ed Darrell on January 8, 2007 12:07 PM (e)

DNA use as evidence is predicated, for paternity, on the nested hierarchy idea of evolution – DNA will accurately reveal for the unique creature tested, half the DNA of each of its parents, allowing positive correlation to the correct set of parents.

That each person has unique DNA (except for idential twins)is a by-product – but still dependent on the nested hierarchy idea.

In contrast, IDists like to argue about “front-loading” of genes in species. Were that accurate, were we all front-loaded for later eventualities, for later adventures in reproduction, then DNA could not be so unique, and it might be difficult not only to tell children from parents accurately, but it would call into question the idea that everybody has unique DNA. The hypothesis calls into question whether DNA is unique from species to species.

The prediction that DNA provides a unique marker is dependent on evolution theory being accurate, and the fact that DNA is unique for each person is a reification of evolution and a refutation of one of the popular nodes of ID claims.

Comment #153834

Posted by FL on January 8, 2007 12:07 PM (e)

And stop trying to hijack the thread.

You may personally feel that way Ed, but I am satisfied that I’ve made clear the basis and motives for the particular questions I have asked of Nick Natzke.
You are welcome to your opinions, no problem, but I am primarily interested in hearing Matzke’s answers to the specific questions that I asked.

FL

Comment #153837

Posted by Ed Darrell on January 8, 2007 12:23 PM (e)

Nick, do they teach evolution at Valparaiso in the biology department? Is creationism in any form taught there, anywhere?

Comment #153839

Posted by Bill Gascoyne on January 8, 2007 1:08 PM (e)

Thanks, Ed, for the clarification.

Kristine wrote:

Darwin made no specific “prediction” about this, but it was problematic for him because he had to no concrete alternative to Lamarkism to offer.

I find it interesting that I attributed the prediction to “evolution theory” and Kristine, seemingly in response, attributed its absence to “Darwin.” The validity of each statement is independent, but one might infer that this sequence implies a confusion of the two.

Comment #153842

Posted by gwangung on January 8, 2007 1:16 PM (e)

The use of DNA for identification in legal proceedings doesn’t depend on evolution being true but on the accuracy of claims that DNA provides unique identification for individuals (as fingerprints do) and that those markers show up in their children and relatives.

True only on the gross, empirical level, false in that it’s part of a large set of interlocking facts that are made sense of through evolutionary theory. And that its empirical utility in legal proceedings is based on evolutionary theory.

Comment #153843

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on January 8, 2007 1:25 PM (e)

Nick, do they teach evolution at Valparaiso in the biology department? Is creationism in any form taught there, anywhere?

No, the biology department is totally legit. Stories about the olden days where faculty got flack for teaching evolution were sometimes told by the older professors.

If you read Numbers’s The Creationists, there is an account of a physical geographer who was a longtime professor at Valpo (up into the 1960s) who was a YEC, and I believe I read something by O.P. Kretzmann, a famed president of mid-century, who also endorses YEC in a Bible commentary he wrote.

But this is ancient history in terms of the faculty. Currently, Valpo has a fair proportion of creationist students who come from conservative Lutheran backgrounds however. But I only knew one faculty member who was a young-earth creationist, he was in the humanities – teaching the Nietzsche class actually, and quite capably I should add. He mentioned it after class once when we had been discussing evolution in the discussion section, and I got the impression he had never thought seriously about the issue.

Comment #153847

Posted by Peter on January 8, 2007 2:03 PM (e)

I for one agree with FL that acceptance of the Theory of Evolution eats away at religious faith and not just literalist views. It combined with astronomy and a healthy douse of reading lots of history to annihilate my own albeit-generally-thin-minus-one-short-period-early-in-college-of-fervency faith.

Comment #153849

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on January 8, 2007 2:09 PM (e)

First, thanks for being willing to share your religious views openly. Not everyone is willing to do that.

I don’t make an issue of it usually, I believe everyone has to find their own path in this area.

Secondly, although I did read about you going to church “on holidays when I’m back with my family”, your comments do look like you’ve shifted all the way from Christianity (defined here as belief in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as your personal Lord and Savior) to Agnosticism.

The number of capitalized words in the prior sentence makes me wonder what you might be after here. I do not subscribe to any “Agnosticism” with a capital A. I simply personally don’t know the answer to questions like Does God Exist.

If that’s true, it would be the same sort of huge shift that historically took place with Charles Darwin. So I’d like to ask you a couple of questions.

Darwin’s shift was very gradual, moving from basically Biblical literalism to agnosticism – James Moore argues that a key event, moving Darwin from theism to Deism in the 1850s, was the long illness and death of Darwin’s daughter, not so much evolution

(1) Would the aforementioned “shift” be an accurate assessment of what has happened in your case?

I dunno – it was not like Darwin’s shift really.

(2) If so, what role—what percentage—did your belief in evolution play in causing that shift to take place over the years?

None really. Evolution was not an issue in my church or for my parents. Being exposed to creationism probably did awaken me to the idea that it is possible for large numbers of sincere people to be misled about something.

What other factors, if any, were involved in that shift?

For me, the key issue was learning about higher criticism of the Bible in college. One of the first things they have students do, at least in Christ College (the humanities honors college) is (a) read Genesis and (b) read the Gospels – not just any Bible, but an academic version that notes the textual variants etc.

What one discovers is stuff like (a) Genesis has two creation stories, not one, and in fact the Penteteuch is a pastiche of perhaps four different sources from different traditions that have been edited together, and (b) the Gospels are in fact not eyewitness accounts, they too are edited together from earlier written and/or oral traditions, and – I remember this being important to me – the resurrection accounts especially don’t match up, the later ones are much more elaborate and mythical than the earlier ones, etc. This all made me pretty skeptical, although this is not the same thing as saying it is false, and it’s not even clear to me that one has to believe in the resurrection as a literal matter to be Christian.

But nevertheless I pretty rapidly ended up skeptical. I went through a phase where I read a bunch of atheists but they were not particularly convincing either. Thus, agnostic.

My experience is not universal – indeed, the professors and most of the students who took these classes remained Christian. But if you want my personal mental evolution, there it is.

Note to fundamentalists: Let’s not have any tiresome attacks on V.U. or the faculty – believe me, they know more about than you and they’ve heard it all before. In fact, they get it every year around Thanksgiving when the freshman go back home for the first time and talk about what they’ve been learning at college…

Comment #153850

Posted by Bob O'H on January 8, 2007 2:15 PM (e)

The use of DNA for identification in legal proceedings doesn’t depend on evolution being true but on the accuracy of claims that DNA provides unique identification for individuals (as fingerprints do) and that those markers show up in their children and relatives.

You’re only thinking of a limited use of DNA profiles. Try this for a fun example of the practical use of evolutionary theory:

Primmer, C.R. , Koskinen, M.T., Piironen, J. (2000) The one that did not get away: individual assignment using microsatellite data detects a case of fishing competition fraud. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 267: 1699-1704.

(and it’s available for free!)

Bob

Comment #153864

Posted by Mike on January 8, 2007 3:59 PM (e)

Bob,

Sorry, but nothing hinged on evolution itself in that paper (and the word doesn’t even figure except in the name of a journal in the references), or at least I couldn’t spot it. Perhaps you can say where in that paper the analysis depends on the common ancestry of, say, salmon and trout, or of humans and salmon, because common ancestry of even the entire Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) population, never mind that of subpopulations, isn’t a point on which evolutionists, cdesign proponentists or creationists diagree.

Comment #153866

Posted by stevaroni on January 8, 2007 4:04 PM (e)

DNA use as evidence is predicated, for paternity, on the nested hierarchy idea of evolution — DNA will accurately reveal for the unique creature tested, half the DNA of each of its parents, allowing positive correlation to the correct set of parents.

According to the fundie account of the world, shouldn’t there only be 5 possible sets of genes, since only 8 people made it off the ark, and the three boys were already mixtures of Mom & Pop Noah?

Therefore, wouldn’t any DNA identification of, say, 8 random sites turn up only 40 possible combinations, for a 1 in 40 chance of misidentification?

Better than 3 blood types, to be sure, but hardly unique. Maybe DNA evidence should be stricken in cases where victims identified themselves as fundies, just out of principal.

Comment #153867

Posted by Bill Gascoyne on January 8, 2007 4:13 PM (e)

According to the fundie account of the world, shouldn’t there only be 5 possible sets of genes, since only 8 people made it off the ark, and the three boys were already mixtures of Mom & Pop Noah?

And all human Y chromosomes come from Noah.

Comment #153868

Posted by Mike on January 8, 2007 4:19 PM (e)

“And that its empirical utility in legal proceedings is based on evolutionary theory.”

In what way? You need to show how DNA identification wouldn’t work if evolution weren’t true.

It isn’t even necessary for DNA to be the means of biological inheritance for it to be useful in identifying someone. All you need is a reliable estimate of the likelihood of two people having the same markers at a particular set of loci, and that depends on empirical evidence of the amount of variability at those loci, not on evolutionary theory. For instance, evolution is true, but using the part of our DNA that codes for a simple but important protein wouldn’t be much use since it wouldn’t vary much among different people (or, indeed for many proteins, across the entire spectrum of life!).

Just to be clear, I’m as pro-evolution as they come. I just think that the claim that the use of DNA by courts for identification and for determining whether two people are related relies on evolutionary theory is incorrect and thus a bad argument. Heck, even the folk at AIG recognize that bad arguments for a point do no good.

Comment #153871

Posted by FL on January 8, 2007 4:38 PM (e)

But if you want my personal mental evolution, there it is.

And I appreciate your straightforward, sincere responses. I thank you for that, for real.

The number of capitalized words in the prior sentence makes me wonder what you might be after here. I do not subscribe to any “Agnosticism” with a capital A. I simply personally don’t know the answer to questions like Does God Exist.

No problem. No ulterior motives with the capitalization. With the exception of the term “agnosticism”, I usually capitalize each of the terms I capitalized in that sentence. After all, things like “Jesus Christ, the Son of God” are what I honestly believe.

Occasionally I might capitalize the “a” in “agnosticism” or “atheism”, just to put a bit more emphasis on it, as I did this time. At any rate, you’ve explained what your particular agnosticism-belief is about, so that’s clear. My appreciation for your doing so.

For me, the key issue was learning about higher criticism of the Bible in college.

Yes, how I remember that higher-criticism business.
I was exposed to similar scholarly skeptical-claims at the secular university I attended.
Claims such as the alleged two-creation-stories of Genesis; the Documentary Hypothesis and its implications against the historical reliability of the Pentateuch; alleged discrepancies and alleged myth-making gigs in the Resurrection accounts and Gospels, right down the line.

(During one semester, I wound up quietly slipping a copy of Wilkins and Moreland’s book Jesus Under Fire to a young Christian student in a New Testament class who seemed particularly shook up about the skeptical-claims she was hearing.
Just wanted her to know that that there was another PhD-scholarly side to that story, and that she did NOT have to stop trusting the Bible and the Four Gospels as historically reliable and accurate. She seemed grateful for that, and was visibly calmer during the rest of the semester.)

I appreciate what you said about your experience “not being universal”, but the situation is serious enough, and happens often enough AFAIK, to where local churches dare not ignore such things.

Note to fundamentalists: Let’s not have any tiresome attacks on V.U. or the faculty

Well, you’ll get no such attacks from me.
A best friend I grew up with in church, stopped attending by the time he finished his sophomore year, because his Sunday School class got all flustered and upset with him by one simple collegiate skeptical-claim that he brought back home with him from Kansas University. His church, our church, had failed to show that they cared enough to do the research and deal with the skeptical-claim that was important to him, so he dropped out.

What I learned from that experience, is that the real question is NOT “what is XYZ University teaching our Christian freshmen and how can we pressure their faculty?”,
but instead it’s “what is my church/Sunday School/CCIA/pastor/priest gonna do to provide some up-to-date, scholarly resources to actually answer those higher criticism questions and skeptical-claims when inquiring freshman come back for Thanksgiving break?”

So thats where things are at for me. For now though, I simply thank you once more, with sincerity, for your honest straightforward answers to he previous questions.

****************

(Side note for the poster Peter: I want to extend a similar thank-you for also sharing your own honest response and personal story likewise. I did not overlook it, I did read it and think it over; I’m taking your response as seriously as I am with Matzke’s. Thanks again.)

FL

Comment #153878

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on January 8, 2007 5:24 PM (e)

Funny how mere capitalization allows one to guess an entire worldview…

Comment #153879

Posted by Michael Rathbun, FCD on January 8, 2007 5:28 PM (e)

FL wrote:

(2) If so, what role—what percentage—did your belief in evolution play in causing that shift to take place over the years?

Just to give you a somewhat divergent data point, it was nearly a decade after my Christian belief system collapsed that I finally bought into the whole set of evolutionary concepts.

In other words, “belief in Evolution” does not necessarily lead to atheism. In my case, atheism led to acceptance of the principles modern Biology.

Others’ mileage may vary.

Comment #153882

Posted by GuyeFaux on January 8, 2007 6:03 PM (e)

FL, I became a skeptic at 8 when I posed “where did Adam’s sons find wives?”

Would you consider this an instance of evolutionary theory interfering with faith? My befuddlement, after all, arises from my knowledge of how babies are made and natural incest taboos, both of which are parts of the TOE.

(I don’t actually want to know your answer to the question I posed as a wee one. I’ve since heard various explanations, confirming my skepticism about a literal reading.)

Comment #153894

Posted by Sir_Toejam on January 8, 2007 7:53 PM (e)

but the situation is serious enough, and happens often enough AFAIK, to where local churches dare not ignore such things.

FL IS on a mission. He is trying to find out exactly what disinformation needs to be sown in his church in order to dismiss the “alleged” evidence of mutliple genesis accounts and manipulation that is readily discernible in the KJV.

It certainly seems obvious from everything else he has ever written on PT, and including his last post, which is just dripping with obvious contempt for theological scholarship that disagrees with his viewpoint.

what short memories.

Comment #153976

Posted by Bob O'H on January 9, 2007 12:01 AM (e)

Sorry, but nothing hinged on evolution itself in that paper (and the word doesn’t even figure except in the name of a journal in the references), or at least I couldn’t spot it.

Estimates of the rate of population divergence depends rather a lot on knowledge of neutral evolution. The population assignment method depends upon knowing how populations will diverge (i.e. departures from Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium). It’s difficult to see how this isn’t evolution.

Perhaps you can say where in that paper the analysis depends on the common ancestry of, say, salmon and trout, or of humans and salmon,…

Do you want a hand with that goalpost? It looks a bit heavy.

Bob

Comment #153978

Posted by Popper's ghost on January 9, 2007 12:17 AM (e)

I find it interesting that I attributed the prediction to “evolution theory” and Kristine, seemingly in response, attributed its absence to “Darwin.” The validity of each statement is independent, but one might infer that this sequence implies a confusion of the two.

It is a bit odd that Kristine does not recognize Mendelian genetics as being part of “evolution theory”. OTOH, it simply isn’t true that it was “the prediction of evoltuion theory that some mechanism had to transmit hereditary traits through the generations that led to the discovery of DNA” – that is rarely how science works. Rather, DNA had long since been discovered (chromosomes were observed in 1842 and DNA was isolated in 1869), and had already had its chemical composition established, before it was hypothesized that it was a medium for transmitting traits. Of course, once that was realized, it became very important to discover its exact structure, but that is a very different matter – Watson, Crick, and Franklin most certainly didn’t discover DNA.

Comment #153979

Posted by k.e. on January 9, 2007 12:34 AM (e)

F.L. I became a skeptic at 5 when all my friends started babbling on about g$d, strangely all on the same day….a Monday BTW.

Further enquiry let to the revelation that they all were given that, as it turned out, disinformation on the same day (a Sunday) at the same time, in the same place.

You see, the small rural town, where I was at the time, had been without a foreskin collector for too long.

You can imagine the relief of the parents that it still wasn’t too late when he did finally show up, poor little buggers would have grown up atheists.

According to them this new word they learnt could do anything…except tell me it existed.

But I did give g$d a chance I tried praying one day, needless to say it didn’t work, so don’t say I didn’t try.

Ever since then I’ve been waiting for h$m just to do something …….anything.

Comment #153980

Posted by k.e. on January 9, 2007 12:39 AM (e)

Bah …I prayed for fewer commas, more proof if needed.

Comment #153982

Posted by Popper's ghost on January 9, 2007 12:44 AM (e)

I have a feeling this will be our next “Holy Wars” thread.

It doesn’t help when the author continues to misrepresent atheism, falsely suggesting that it requires “a leap of faith”, this time for consumption by readers of the SF Chronicle. I wonder if he considers the question of whether the Greek, Roman or Norse pantheon exists, and if not, how he justifies his answer.

It also doesn’t help when some Christian believer justifies his beliefs via a “true Scotsman” fallacy, claiming that those Christians who, and those Christian dogmas that are, anti-knowledge, anti-science or anti-reality are not real Christians or real Christianity.

Comment #153983

Posted by Popper's ghost on January 9, 2007 12:46 AM (e)

Make that:

I wonder if he considers the question of whether the Greek, Roman or Norse pantheon exists unanswerable, and if not, how he justifies his answer.

Comment #153985

Posted by Popper's ghost on January 9, 2007 1:00 AM (e)

Just wanted her to know that that there was another PhD-scholarly side to that story, and that she did NOT have to stop trusting the Bible and the Four Gospels as historically reliable and accurate.

Ah, so you played the same helpful role that ExxonMobil plays when people start worrying that global warming is real.

She seemed grateful for that, and was visibly calmer during the rest of the semester.

Prozac and electroshock therapy can produce similar results.

Comment #154015

Posted by Katarina on January 9, 2007 8:14 AM (e)

Refreshing to have you back, Pops.

Comment #154044

Posted by Allen MacNeill on January 9, 2007 11:49 AM (e)

Capitalization in Sentences is quite interesting. In German, of course (the Language from which English evolved), all Nouns are capitalized, for Reasons that have never been satisfactorily explained to me (BTW, pronouns are not, unless they refer to Deities, and then only proper Ones). The only Remnant of this peculiar linguistic Tradition is the Retention (hmm…do gerundive Nouns count?) of capital Letters for proper Nouns in English. Now, an interesting Question in this Context is, why are proper Nouns still capitalized in English (unless you’re e.e.cummings), and why are some role Names and some Pronouns capitalized (such as God - his proper Name in Hebrew is, of course, J*W*H…remember, no Vowels, only diacritical Marks), but usually only when referring to Deities? Kind of mixes up the logical Categories of proper Nouns, Pronouns, and plain old garden variety Nouns…hmm? Maybe that’s the Point.

Damn, this is hard Work! Maybe that’s why the Tradition gradually (almost) went (e)Extinct…

Extincted?

Extinctified?

Aw, hell, it just died…

Comment #154045

Posted by harold on January 9, 2007 12:11 PM (e)

Recognizing in advance the level of hostility I’m calling down upon myself, this statement by Popper’s Ghost is profoundly unfair…

“I wonder if he considers the question of whether the Greek, Roman or Norse pantheon exists unanswerable, and if not, how he justifies his answer.”

First of all, it’s a straw man. Failure to reject the possible merit of all religious positions is not logically equivalent to failure to reject a few very specific religious positions. Do the Dalai Lama or Kenneth Miller find this question “unanswerable”?

It’s worth noting, as well, that a fair number of otherwise reasonable people do describe themselves as “pagans” or followers of “Wiccan”.

Comment #154048

Posted by harold on January 9, 2007 12:28 PM (e)

Moving on to what I hope will be less controversial…

The theory of evolution, from its beginnings, does make a number of implicit predictions about the nature of genetic material, all of which were confirmed by molecular biology -

1) Genetic material needs to be prone to adequate but imperfect replication (of course, perfect replication isn’t possible, but if it were too perfect the theory of evolution would have been challenged).
2) Genetic material would have to be similar across all of life. If different forms of life used radically different genetic material, the theory of evolution would have been challenged.

Furthermore, what we now know about molecular genetics independently implies evolution. If the the theory of evolution had not existed, modern molecular genetics would have led to it. Here’s why -

1) We now know unequivocally that genetic material undergoes imperfect replication.
2) We know unequivocally that phenotypes of offspring differ from phenotypes of parents, for this reason, as well as for a number of othe genetic reasons, such as meiotic reproduction (and some non-genetic reasons, too, of course).
3) It’s obvious that some phenotypes will have a reproductive advantage over other phenotypes.
4) Since there is an interaction between imperfect replication of genetic material (“imperfect” meaning “not exactly the same as the template”) and selectable phenoytpic traits, evolution must take place.

You can make a strained argument that evolution might not explain “all” of life’s diversity (scientists have alread thought of that, though). It’s impossible to accept contemporary molecular genetics, forensic or otherwise, and deny evolution.

Comment #154049

Posted by Edwin Hensley on January 9, 2007 12:29 PM (e)

I was brought up as a biblical-literalist who did not believe in evolution and thought all of biology must be wrong. During my college years I started examining evolution, mostly to either prove it wrong or to make it coexist with Christianity. Also while in college I was searching for the most correct protestant Christian religion and went to a variety of bible studies. While at one in particular, the minister (also a biblical literalist) was explaining why the Catholic bible was different from the protestant bible. This lead me on a long path that where I learned the following.

Early Christians did not carry around the Bible or new testament as I new it, but rather had the Septuagint (Greek), books or letters currently in the New Testament, and many books not in the current New Testament. The writers of New Testament books used the Septuagint to write the books of the New Testament. Many books in the New Testament refer to verses contained in what is called the Apocrypha by protestants. The Septuagint contains an obvious mathematical error in that Methuselah would have been born before Noah’s flood but would have died 17 years after Noah’s flood without having been on the boat. The genealogy in the Septuagint is different from the genealogy in the Masoretic Text (Hebrew) and the Samaritan Pentateuch. The Septuagint has over 6000 differences from the Masoretic Text and 4000 differences from the Samaritan Pentateuch. The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew is completely different from the genealogy of Jesus in Luke from King David to Mary’s husband Joseph. Early Christians were not united in their views. Some thought Jesus was divine, some thought human, some thought both, some thought the god of the Old Testament was different from the god of the New Testament. This problem was solved with the Epistle of Athanasius in 367 A.C.E. when the then powerful Catholic church ruled the 27 books we call the New Testament were divine and others (Infancy Gospel, Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Revelation of Peter, etc) were heretical. Prior to Christianity gaining political power via Constantine, early Christian scribes were notoriously bad, made many errors of both little and major importance. There are over 400,000 discrepancies between the early new testament texts - more discrepancies than there are words in the New Testament (see Bart Ehrman for more interesting reads on this). Of course, the protestants did not like Maccabees (it supported Catholic doctrines like prayers for the dead, Purgatory, etc), so they kicked out all Jewish books in the Septuagint but not in Hebrew texts, first printing them as an extra “Apocrypha” (not reliable) texts (originally in the first King James bible) and later removing them altogether (even though they were previously deemed divine for over 1000 years).

In contrast to this, my investigations into evolution were different. Almost all of what I was taught in anti-evolutionary classes at Baptist churches in Texas was false and misleading. The fossil evidence was convincing, but what pushed me over the top was human atavisms, including humans with tails, polymastia and polythelia (more than 2 breasts/nipples - women have been found with 10 lactating breasts), congenital generalized hypertrichosis (wolf man syndrome) and many others that only evolution could explain. There was much more evidence but biblical literalism could not and will not ever explain why sometimes humans have animalistic attributes.

To answer FL’s question she asked Nick, yes, for me evolution did help decrease my ability to pretend that the bible was the literal word of God. But the larger problem was not evolution. Evolution and Christianity could have co-existed in my mind. The larger problem for Christianity is that to me the bible is obviously not divine.

Comment #154050

Posted by chunkdz on January 9, 2007 12:36 PM (e)

Nick,
I notice from the article you are pursuing a PhD in evolution. Care to elaborate?

Comment #154051

Posted by Raging Bee on January 9, 2007 12:49 PM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'i'

Comment #154052

Posted by Raging Bee on January 9, 2007 12:58 PM (e)

Otherwise reasonable,” harold? You damn us with faint praise. We in the Pagan/Wiccan/Druid/etc. camp are quite reasonable in that, at the very least, we (a) are consistently pro-science and pro-education; (b) aren’t trying to brainwash your kids; © support religious freedom; and (d) won’t try to make your kids hate themselves for having bodies and noticing them.

Comment #154054

Posted by Raging Bee on January 9, 2007 1:01 PM (e)

Oh look, our support for religious freedom is copyrighted! Eat your heart out, Bill O’Reilly… © © © © ©

Comment #154057

Posted by k.e. on January 9, 2007 1:17 PM (e)

Just had a funny thought…just supposing g$d did decide to show up from the (yet to be discovered) 12th dimension after taking a long holiday….. after blowing his eyebrows off at the big bang (well boys will be boys).

Just imagine if everyones past prayers were answered…all at once.

Comment #154064

Posted by Henry J on January 9, 2007 2:12 PM (e)

Even the ones that conflict with each other? ;)

Comment #154065

Posted by Katarina on January 9, 2007 2:13 PM (e)

after blowing his eyebrows off at the big bang (well boys will be boys).

LOL!

Comment #154068

Posted by Raging Bee on January 9, 2007 2:43 PM (e)

Just imagine if everyones past prayers were answered…all at once.

Including all the “Dear Lord, please kill my enemies” prayers? And how about the “Dear Lord, please get me the lover I want” prayers? All of those together will make the Second Coming rather freakier than anyone bargained for…

Comment #154074

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on January 9, 2007 3:42 PM (e)

I notice from the article you are pursuing a PhD in evolution. Care to elaborate?

Yeah, I put in for the Integrative Biology program at Berkeley to do evolution (interests: bioinformatics as applied to complex adaptations and biogeography). This would be the dream program, but contrary to what some might expect it is a long ways from a sure thing even for a Defender of Evolution, because it is so competitive.

Comment #154075

Posted by Steviepinhead on January 9, 2007 4:17 PM (e)

And, heck, there’s always that li’l ol’ Farm across the Bay if Berkeley is silly enough to pass up the opportunity…

Or I’m sure “Doc” Martin would be happy to put in a word for you at Yale, as soon as he remembers for sure which year and program he was in.

Comment #154077

Posted by Steviepinhead on January 9, 2007 4:46 PM (e)

I’m sure Nick considered this program,
http://www-helix.stanford.edu/people/altman/bioi…,
but for “lurkers” who may not have already made their mind up as between the Funny Farm and Berkeley, I’ll stick it up here anyway.

Comment #154078

Posted by Middle Professor on January 9, 2007 4:50 PM (e)

Nick:

In what sense does atheism require a “leap of faith”. And, is this the same kind of faith required to believe in an anthropomorphic god? I am asking you about this because you’ve positioned yourself as a publich intellectual and spokesperson regarding issues related to evolution, science, and society. In this position, your statements will need to be very clear and unambiguous if we are to take you seriously.

Comment #154080

Posted by Sir_Toejam on January 9, 2007 5:11 PM (e)

Yeah, I put in for the Integrative Biology program at Berkeley to do evolution

LOL. that was the program I graduated from in 91.

sadly, just about all of the profs who i learned evolutionary biology from there have since moved on or retired.

I think Roy Caldwell is still there. I would have recommended Harry Greene with your interests, but he went to Cornell, last I checked.

Good luck with your entrance, you have a lot going for you to get in; just be persistent and they’ll find some space for you.

If you want to hear stories, feel free to write me:

fisheyephotos AT hotmail DOT com

Comment #154081

Posted by Raging Bee on January 9, 2007 5:26 PM (e)

…I am asking you about this because you’ve positioned yourself as a [public] intellectual and spokesperson regarding issues related to evolution, science, and society. In this position, your statements will need to be very clear and unambiguous if we are to take you seriously.

Right – because people dealing with scientific issues can’t be taken seriously unless their statements on religion pass muster. Don’t forget to grill him on his opinions about the English Monarchy too, while you’re at it.

Comment #154082

Posted by Katarina on January 9, 2007 5:32 PM (e)

Sir_Toejam,

We know each other, don’t we?

Comment #154084

Posted by Katarina on January 9, 2007 5:36 PM (e)

No worries, my lips are sealed.

Comment #154089

Posted by Sir_Toejam on January 9, 2007 7:04 PM (e)

We know each other, don’t we?

only one way to find out. feel free to use the address I provided above.

forgive me if you don’t sound familiar right off; if we met at UCB that was 15 years ago, after all….or did we meet later, in Santa Cruz?

either way, just write; this is hardly an appropriate place to renew old acquaintances.

Comment #154103

Posted by harold on January 9, 2007 9:09 PM (e)

Raging Bee -

Much as I hate to interrupt a budding romance - consider the “otherwise” to be deleted.

Comment #154105

Posted by harold on January 9, 2007 9:15 PM (e)

Raging Bee (and all others)

Oops, too much beer (which reminds me - what happened to Lenny Flank - was somebody foolish enough to “ban” him from this site?).

Ignore my comment about romance (although of course, I would hate to interrupt it).

But do consider the “otherwise” deleted.

Comment #154110

Posted by Steviepinhead on January 9, 2007 9:50 PM (e)

Lenny is alive and well at AtBC.

Comment #154112

Posted by Middle Professor on January 9, 2007 9:51 PM (e)

Raging Bee: Claiming that atheism might require a leap of “faith” as Nick claimed is not a scientific issue. And as I stated, in Nick’s position, he has to address many issues outside of but related to science. I’m not sure how this wasn’t clear. I’m all for Nick getting out there and fighting the fight. I just prefer to have those on the side of science avoid saying silly things (such as atheism requiring a “leap of faith”).

Comment #154117

Posted by Anton Mates on January 9, 2007 9:56 PM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

Including all the “Dear Lord, please kill my enemies” prayers? And how about the “Dear Lord, please get me the lover I want” prayers? All of those together will make the Second Coming rather freakier than anyone bargained for…

A Revelation-style Second Coming will grant virtually all of the first class of prayers, no matter who your enemies are. As for the second class, well, either you love Jesus and you’ll get him, or you love someone else and you’ll at least get to be in the same place as them for eternity. And at the same temperature.

Comment #154298

Posted by J. L. Brown on January 10, 2007 1:47 PM (e)

Middle Professor posted:

Raging Bee: Claiming that atheism might require a leap of “faith” as Nick claimed is not a scientific issue. And as I stated, in Nick’s position, he has to address many issues outside of but related to science. I’m not sure how this wasn’t clear. I’m all for Nick getting out there and fighting the fight. I just prefer to have those on the side of science avoid saying silly things (such as atheism requiring a “leap of faith”).

My reply:

As a fellow agnostic (but of the more capitalized version) I’ll take a whack at this one, though I can’t pretend to speak for Nick.
Agnostics claim to have no reliable information on the existence or non-existence of any or all supernatural entities / constructs / pantheons / what-have-you. More strongly, some Agnostics claim that no reliable information can ever exist for the existence or non-existence of the above. Asked “Does the God of Christians exist?” an Agnostic must reply ‘I don’t know’; asked the same question with relation to any other deities, the answer must still be ‘I have no knowledge’.
Atheists differ from this stance, and claim to have knowledge of the supernatural world - they claim that it does not exist. This claim (of the non-existence of the supernatural) is, from an Agnostic point of view, a leap of faith… as no evidence is available (and perhaps, no evidence will ever be possible).
Personally, I’d love to be an Atheist; I really enjoy it when the dishonesty of the sleazier cross-worshipers is exposed. But, as much sympathy as I have for Atheists, I do get tired of taking flak from ‘em about how Agnostics are slaves to superstition, or that Agnosticism is a belief for weak or lazy minds. It is simply a correct, and rigorously honest, claim to have no reliable evidence.

Comment #154304

Posted by Katarina on January 10, 2007 2:21 PM (e)

Christian/Jew/Muslim: I don’t care about modern “evidence:” I believe in a particular deity, and particular claims about that deity to be true, based on ancient scriptures.

Deist: Despite lack of objective evidence, I believe in something, but I’m not sure what.

Agnostic: There is no objective evidence in favor of belief, so I don’t know if I believe

Atheist: There is no objective evidence in favor of belief, so I don’t believe

Comment #154306

Posted by Raging Bee on January 10, 2007 2:23 PM (e)

Middle Prof.: what specific “silly” things has Nick said that need to be duscussed here?

Comment #154308

Posted by Raging Bee on January 10, 2007 2:27 PM (e)

Katarina: you misrepresented, or at least grossly oversimplified, the first three of the four beliefs you “quoted.”

Comment #154344

Posted by J. L. Brown on January 10, 2007 4:01 PM (e)

Katarina posted:

Christian/Jew/Muslim: I don’t care about modern “evidence:” I believe in a particular deity, and particular claims about that deity to be true, based on ancient scriptures.

Deist: Despite lack of objective evidence, I believe in something, but I’m not sure what.

Agnostic: There is no objective evidence in favor of belief, so I don’t know if I believe

Atheist: There is no objective evidence in favor of belief, so I don’t believe

My response:
I will leave it to followers of the first two viewpoints to defend themselves, but it seems to me that the last two are both a bit off….

Agnostic: There is no objective evidence, so I don’t believe. All other positions may be wrong, or one or more of them may be right.

Atheist: Despite (or because of) lack of objective evidence, I believe not. All other positions are certainly wrong.

Comment #154355

Posted by Katarina on January 10, 2007 4:30 PM (e)

This is such a re-hash. But since I’m new at this, I’ll try my hand at it, briefly.

While atheism can be divided into positive/explicit/strong and negative/implicit/weak, it is defined in the most basic sense as a lack of theism.

See wikipedia:

as far back as 1772, d’Holbach said that “All children are born Atheists; they have no idea of God”.[53] More recently, George H. Smith (1979) put forth a similar view:

“The man who is unacquainted with theism is an atheist because he does not believe in a god. This category would also include the child without the conceptual capacity to grasp the issues involved, but who is still unaware of those issues. The fact that this child does not believe in god qualifies him as an atheist.”[54]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheist#Positive_de…:_atheism_as_the_belief_that_no_deities_exist

Comment #154358

Posted by Katarina on January 10, 2007 4:32 PM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'kwickxml'

Comment #154359

Posted by Katarina on January 10, 2007 4:34 PM (e)

Bee: Did I say I was quoting someone? If it makes you happy, old comrade, we can throw in “personal experience” and “subjective evidence” somewhere in there.

Comment #154371

Posted by Katarina on January 10, 2007 4:50 PM (e)

I suppose there are statistical reasons for choosing strong atheism (the subset of “events” we’ve observed show no sign of “non-natural” causes, and there’s no reason to think this subset differs from the whole set, unless god is a deceiver, and who needs a god like that, etc. etc.), as some commenters here have suggested in the past, but I don’t understand well enough to take a stand.

In the meanwhile, atheism to most means simply that. Lack of theism. And whether or not they choose to challenge believers may or may not be relevant to their level of conviction in their dis-belief.

Comment #154384

Posted by J. L. Brown on January 10, 2007 5:14 PM (e)

Katrina; you are right, this is a rehash. However, the wikipedia article you quoted doesn’t support your comment 154304.

From Wikipedia:
Pejorative definition: atheism as immorality.
Positive definition: atheism as the belief that no deities exist.
Negative definition: atheism as the absence of belief in deities.

Immediately after the passage you quoted, the article continues:

“Smith coined the terms implicit atheism and explicit atheism to avoid confusing these two varieties of atheism. Implicit atheism is defined by Smith as “the absence of theistic belief without a conscious rejection of it”, while explicit atheism—the form commonly held to be the only true form of atheism—is an absence of theistic belief due to conscious rejection.”

As (presumably) non-ignorant folk neither you nor I can make the case that we do not know of god… so ‘Implicit’ or ‘Negative’ atheism isn’t what you seem to be discussing. This leaves us ‘Explicit’ or ‘Positive’ atheism.

From wiki, again:
“The broader, negative has become increasingly popular in recent decades, with many specialized textbooks dealing with atheism favoring it.[42] One prominent atheist writer who disagrees with the broader definition of atheism, however, is Ernest Nagel, who considers atheism to be the rejection of theism (which George H. Smith labeled as explicit atheism, or anti-theism): “Atheism is not to be identified with sheer unbelief… Thus, a child who has received no religious instruction and has never heard about God, is not an atheist—for he is not denying any theistic claims.”[43]”

Since you draw a distinction between agnostics and atheists, this (Atheism = Anti-theism) seems to be the position left to you. (*Shrug*) No worries, but it does mean that my criticism of comment 154304 stands.

Comment #154400

Posted by Katarina on January 10, 2007 6:05 PM (e)

No worries, but it does mean that my criticism of comment 154304 stands.

I wasn’t aware your response was a criticism. It looked more like a revision of statements I imposed on different groups. Whereas my imposed statement for atheists implied a definition of atheism in its broadest sense, encompassing both strong and weak, in your revision you chose to add a qualifier that leans toward the strong subset, or at least toward the subset of atheists who choose to challenge the beliefs of others.

The quotes you provide from the wiki article do not contradict this, though they don’t talk about “evidence” as I did. This is the introductory article, which sums things up:

Atheism is the disbelief in the existence of any deities. It is commonly defined as the denial of theism, amounting to the positive assertion that deities do not exist, or as the deliberate rejection of theism. However, others—including most atheistic philosophers and groups—define atheism as the simple absence of belief in deities (cf. nontheism), thereby designating many agnostics, and people who have never heard of gods, such as newborn children, as atheists as well. In recent years, some atheists have adopted the terms strong and weak atheism to clarify whether they consider their stance one of positive belief (strong atheism) or the mere absence of belief (weak atheism).

In my original comment I did not distinguish between weak and strong. I did so later in order to respond to your revised def.

Comment #154401

Posted by Katarina on January 10, 2007 6:07 PM (e)

As (presumably) non-ignorant folk neither you nor I can make the case that we do not know of god

Huh? This must not be what you meant.

Comment #154429

Posted by Katarina on January 10, 2007 7:26 PM (e)

In my original comment I did not distinguish between weak and strong.

I should add that I did so consciously.

Comment #154436

Posted by Arden Chatfield on January 10, 2007 7:44 PM (e)

In German, of course (the Language from which English evolved),

English did not evolve from German.

English is a Germanic language, as is German. English is derived from old Saxon dialects spoken along the North Sea coast of Germany. Those dialects that stayed behind became Frisian, not German. Old German was spoken considerably south of that.

Comment #154456

Posted by Middle Professor on January 10, 2007 8:40 PM (e)

Nick said (in the SF Gate interview to a question concerning belief): “An ultimate question like this might just not be answerable. It may be a leap of faith to take either position, either atheism or theism.”

The quote is silly because the second sentence is a soundbite (and a favorite one of religiously conservative Christians) that doesn’t follow from the statement in the first sentence. I’ve lost the energy to address this fully. So I’ll just leave you with a quote from Atheism: A Short Introduction:

“When people say that atheism is a faith position, what they tend to think is that, since there is no proof for atheism, something extra—faith—is required to justify belief in it. But this is simply to misunderstand the role of proof in the justification for belief…. A lack of proof is no grounds for the suspension of belief. This is because when we have a lack of absolute proof we can still have overwhelming evidence or one explanation which is far superior to the alternatives.”

Comment #154520

Posted by Henry J on January 10, 2007 11:28 PM (e)

Re “This is because when we have a lack of absolute proof we can still have overwhelming evidence or one explanation which is far superior to the alternatives.”

Yup. And, absolute proof of general principles is pretty much limited to formal mathematics, and even there it’s relative to some set of assumptions (axioms) which themselves had to be figured out by trial and error to start with.

Henry

Comment #154574

Posted by Popper's ghost on January 11, 2007 2:46 AM (e)

Recognizing in advance the level of hostility I’m calling down upon myself, this statement by Popper’s Ghost is profoundly unfair…

Few people who have ever posted to PT are as hostile as harold.

“I wonder if he considers the question of whether the Greek, Roman or Norse pantheon exists unanswerable, and if not, how he justifies his answer.”

First of all, it’s a straw man. Failure to reject the possible merit of all religious positions is not logically equivalent to failure to reject a few very specific religious positions. Do the Dalai Lama or Kenneth Miller find this question “unanswerable”?

It is unremarkable that harold mislabels my statement a straw man while immediately responding to one of his own construction.

It’s worth noting, as well, that a fair number of otherwise reasonable people do describe themselves as “pagans” or followers of “Wiccan”.

It’s unremarkable that this is a non sequitur.

Comment #154578

Posted by Popper's ghost on January 11, 2007 3:01 AM (e)

Atheists differ from this stance, and claim to have knowledge of the supernatural world - they claim that it does not exist.

It’s notable that many agnostics need to lie about atheists in order to justify their own views.

The difference between agnostics and atheists is that agnostics are epistemically neutral on the matter of God, whereas atheists are not. An example of epistemic neutrality would be claiming that there is simply no basis for deciding whether O.J. Simpson did or did not kill his wife. An example of epistemic non-neutrality would be claiming that there are good reasons to think that O.J. Simpson killed his wife – a far cry from claiming to know that O.J. Simpson killed his wife.

Comment #154582

Posted by Popper's ghost on January 11, 2007 3:26 AM (e)

As (presumably) non-ignorant folk

That should not be presumed of anyone – whereas the contrary presumption is warranted, as we are all ignorant of something. In your case, we can at least presume that you are ignorant of Richard Dawkins’s “The GOD Delusion”, particularly the section called “THE POVERTY OF AGNOSTICISM”, where he writes “The fact that we can neither prove nor disprove the existence of something does not put existence and non-existence on an equal footing” and “I am agnostic only to the extent that I am agnostic about fairies at the bottom of the garden”. The rest of the book gives well-argued reasons for that level of doubt.

Comment #154610

Posted by Katarina on January 11, 2007 7:58 AM (e)

Thank you PG- I need to actually buy TGD so I can quote it freely.

Comment #154662

Posted by Anton Mates on January 11, 2007 12:19 PM (e)

J. L. Brown wrote:

Asked “Does the God of Christians exist?” an Agnostic must reply ‘I don’t know’; asked the same question with relation to any other deities, the answer must still be ‘I have no knowledge’.

Why? Some deities are more accessible to investigation than others. When I called myself agnostic, I had no problem saying the Christian god–at least, the god of certain Christian sects–does not exist, because that’s a god whose existence has logical or observable consequences which don’t pan out. There are other gods, such as deist ones, about which I couldn’t (and can’t) make claims either way.

I’m not aware of any rule that says agnostics can’t come to a decision on any entity anyone might label “God”.

Atheists differ from this stance, and claim to have knowledge of the supernatural world - they claim that it does not exist.

Not necessarily. Some deities impact the natural world, and you can decide whether or not they exist by observation of same. If a god is supposed to answer prayers, help the faithful and punish the wicked with any degree of regularity, or to have worked various miracles, then lack of miracles and answered prayers and so forth is evidence against that god’s existence.

Comment #154665

Posted by harold on January 11, 2007 12:54 PM (e)

Putting aside questions of whether applied science (medicine, engineering, forensic science, and so on) is “real” science, which is a largely semantic question…

1) Ideally, virtually all physicians should accept the theory of evolution (as should all educated people, but especially those with a science background). There should not be any tendency for people in applied fields to deny basic principles of science. Whether or not physicians are “real” scientists should be irrelevant to this question.

2) Operationally, believing that a deity “guided” evolution, while this is extremely objectionable to some, is compatible with a full understanding of evolution. However, the belief that “God created humans in their present form” is unreasonable from any science-accepting perspective.

3) As a physician, albeit no longer practicing, I am mildly disappointed that 15-20% of my colleagues would claim to agree that “God created humans in their present form”. This number seems distressingly high. To be blunt, I suspect that this may reflect cultural and political bias, and/or an older age cohort, and quite possibly some internationally educated physicians.

4) Nevertheless, if the opinion of phyisicians is considered in any way relevant, the message is that we have further evidence that people who study the life sciences are overwhelmingly more likely to accept the theory of evolution than the general population. This does not in itself mean much, but it does further contradict the creationist claim that opposition to evolution is common or increasing among the scientifically educated.

5) I am heartened to note that medical schools are beginning to incorporate evolution into the curriculum. This may actually be an example of creationist political schemes backfiring.

6) Certain aspects of clinical medicine - antibiotic resistance by bacteria, transient reproductive advantage of neoplastic cells, and others - a dramatic illustrations of evolution in action.

Comment #154684

Posted by Raging Bee on January 11, 2007 3:31 PM (e)

PG is calling harold “hostile?”

What a joke!

Comment #154686

Posted by Katarina on January 11, 2007 3:47 PM (e)

Make a specific accusation or shut up.

Comment #154722

Posted by Salvador T. Cordova on January 11, 2007 9:49 PM (e)

Congratulations, Nick!

No hard feelings on my part toward you.

Best wishes,
Sal

Comment #154727

Posted by Raging Bee on January 11, 2007 10:47 PM (e)

2) Operationally, believing that a deity “guided” evolution, while this is extremely objectionable to some, is compatible with a full understanding of evolution. However, the belief that “God created humans in their present form” is unreasonable from any science-accepting perspective.

Such a belief is compatible ONLY if the believer does not contend that such divine guidance is scientifically provable, or that such belief should be confused with – or confuse – actual scientific reasoning. This distinction is important: mixing religion with science is only harmful when done on company time.

3) As a physician, albeit no longer practicing, I am mildly disappointed that 15-20% of my colleagues would claim to agree that “God created humans in their present form”. This number seems distressingly high. To be blunt, I suspect that this may reflect cultural and political bias, and/or an older age cohort, and quite possibly some internationally educated physicians.

It might also reflect a certain amount of laziness: they have neither time nor reason to study the issue of evolution in depth, or to get into fights with their friends and family over evolution vs. Genesis; so they settle on the easily-understood “default position” they were spoon-fed and concentrate on the duties at hand. If they are ever forced to confront the issue in a practical manner (i.e., understand evolution in order to understand some new medical treatment), chances are they’ll quietly set the literalist stuff aside long enough to get the job done, and not say anything about it to their parents or ministers. (Assuming, of course, that they haven’t done this already.)

Comment #154729

Posted by Raging Bee on January 11, 2007 11:09 PM (e)

Sal: why should Nick, or anyone else for that matter, think you have any reason to hold “hard feelings” for him? Are you trying to imply that he’s done you some wrong and needs to be forgiven? Or are you just trying to make yourself look big while running away from idiotic and/or dishonest statements you’ve made but can’t defend?

Comment #154731

Posted by Katarina on January 11, 2007 11:27 PM (e)

I happen to know a physician who won’t insert an IUD based on his religiously based conviction that abortion is wrong no matter how far along the pregnancy may be, since it is possible for the device to dislodge an embedded embryo, thereby “aborting” it.

At least in his case, religion does play a role in professional ethical choices. Strangely, he does offer patients referrals to MDs who are willing to insert the device.

Comment #154735

Posted by J. L. Brown on January 12, 2007 2:21 AM (e)

Katarina,
Responding to your Comment #154401:

You had included a quote from Smith in a previous comment, to the effect that a child raised in complete ignorance of god was an atheist. This is implicit & weak atheism. Since we are discussing god(s) and their (non)existence, neither of us can claim to be that child.

Responding to your comment #154429:

You stated: In my original comment I did not distinguish between weak and strong. I should add that I did so consciously.

My response: In your original post, you distinguished between agnosticism and atheism. But, by the wiki article which you cited, agnosticism is indistinguishable from weak atheism. To quote the article:
Weak, or negative, atheism is either the absence of the belief that gods exist (in which case anyone who is not a theist is a weak atheist), or of both the belief that gods exist and the belief that they do not exist (in which case anyone who is neither a theist nor a strong atheist is a weak atheist).[13][55]
By separating agnosticism from atheism in your original post, you very strongly implied that you were referring to explicit & strong atheism as just ‘atheism’.

Since then, you have claimed the weak atheist stance; but I find it disturbing that by some semantic slight-of-hand agnosticism can be made to disappear, apparently ‘really’ being some flavor of atheism. I disagree, the claim to have no knowledge of the workings, drives, or values of supernatural IS different from the claim that there is no supernatural. If you object to calling the former agnosticism, then perhaps you can suggest a name for the latter….

Anywho, none of this is really on topic. My apologies, Nick, and congrats on the favorable article!

Comment #154737

Posted by J. L. Brown on January 12, 2007 2:37 AM (e)

Anton Mates Comment #154662

You wrote:
Why? Some deities are more accessible to investigation than others.
[Snip]
Some deities impact the natural world, and you can decide whether or not they exist by observation of same. If a god is supposed to answer prayers, help the faithful and punish the wicked with any degree of regularity, or to have worked various miracles, then lack of miracles and answered prayers and so forth is evidence against that god’s existence.

My response:
The trouble is, the supernatural is, by definition, not amenable to any sort of observation or investigation. Anything which happens in the natural world is.. um.. natural.
If by some miracle you do get to study a genuine miracle (presuming, for the sake of argument that they really do occur), then you can STILL make no judgments about the supernatural. Did the Christian god do it? One of the Norse pantheon? Was it REALLY on of the Greek, Roman, Native American, Aborigines, Hindu entities, or was it some new Papua New Guinean upstart, just getting started in the godding business?
An observer confined to the natural world can draw no conclusions about the supernatural agency(ies) which may or may not be involved… but you can bet your ass that you will observe cults, denominations, faiths, etc stumbling all over themselves trying to claim credit for their pet deity. Sadly, human nature seems to dictate that these mutually exclusive & contradictory claims will gain more adherents than reasonable skepticism.

Comment #154760

Posted by Raging Bee on January 12, 2007 8:08 AM (e)

For what it’s worth, as long as we’re arguing about the definitions of words like “agnostic” and “atheist,” here’s some definitions I’d like to offer:

“Nontheist:” one who either has no opinion about god(s) or has no place for any religious thought or action in his life. The baby mentioned earlier is “nontheistic;” so is an adult who doesn’t think or care about religious beliefs at all.

“Atheist:” one who consciously and explicitly believes that no gods exist and all theistic beliefs are wrong. (This is how I have always heard the word used. YMMV.)

“Agnostic:” one who has no firm belief or disbelief of his own in any god, but who may acknowledge (in word and/or deed) the possibility that they exist. Granted, the line between “agnostic” and “nontheist” is a bit vague; one might say that “nontheist” = “agnostic leaning toward atheist.” Or “nontheist” = “agnostic who just doesn’t care enough to think seriously about it at all.” Many agnostics think very seriously about theistic beliefs, whether or not they actually embrace them.

“Anti-theist” (hyphen optional): one who is hostile and/or disrespectful toward theistic beliefs. It’s probably safe to say that all anti-theists are atheists, but not all atheists are anti-theists.

I offer these definitions because I’m a little tired of people muddying the distinction between “agnostic” and “atheist.” Also, I believe (in my own biased way) that my definitions are a bit more descriptive, and more in line with conventional interpretations of the words, than all this stuff about strong, weak, positive, negative, hard and soft atheists. You’re starting to sound like Duelling Quarks.

Comment #154768

Posted by Katarina on January 12, 2007 8:52 AM (e)

If Nick doesn’t want this discussion on his thread, I will be happy to move.

Bee: Thanks for your offered definitions.

While I still haven’t settled into my place on the spectrum (though this discussion is helping me), I see that at least part of the problem is definitions, not just in this discussion but in general. Proponents and opponents of atheism each advance definitions that favor their own position.

It is telling that atheism was first defined by Catholic apologetics, who, as J.L. Brown included in his summary of the Wiki article, offered the pejorative, immoral definition. Since their self-imposed constraints categorized “moral” as only belonging to people with specific supernatural beliefs, anything outside of that was “immoral,” therefore atheism was equated with immorality.

This is obviously not in line with how atheists describe themselves. And among them, naturally there is much diversity in how they describe their views, as there is much diversity among all people in general. The support they provide for those views can be put into question, sure, but we haven’t brought up specific claims of “gnostic atheists,” who may use logic or probability to argue against the existance of a deity or deities in general.

So in my view the question is, do we define the views of others, or allow them to define themselves? The first choice would almost certainly misrepresent how poeple define themselves. The second choice would almost certainly include unjustified, illogical, or unsupported views. In my original description of different groups, I admit I probably captured only some people. However, my effort was centered around objective evidence, and made it possible to encompass only objectively defensible views, which admittedly is no guarantee that it did so.

My attempt was prompted by this blatant misrepresentation:

Atheists differ from this stance, and claim to have knowledge of the supernatural world - they claim that it does not exist.

Comment #154772

Posted by Raging Bee on January 12, 2007 9:18 AM (e)

…we haven’t brought up specific claims of “gnostic atheists,” who may use logic or probability to argue against the existance of a deity or deities in general.

This seems cumbersome to me, but there may be situations where it may be necessary to include, in a label, a reason why one takes the label.

(Note, however, that the phrase “gnostic atheists,” may cause confusion, as there is a distinct branch of Christian thought that calls itself “gnostic” (and which the established Church called heretical).)

So in my view the question is, do we define the views of others, or allow them to define themselves?

Wherever possible, we should try to reduce confusion by sticking to, or buiding from, the meanings that most people already associate with the words we use. We should not try to graft a completely new meaning onto a widely-used word; or, if we must do so, we will then have to go out of our way to explain our new definition and why we’re using it.

My attempt was prompted by this blatant misrepresentation:

“Atheists differ from this stance, and claim to have knowledge of the supernatural world - they claim that it does not exist.”

Why is this a misrepresentation? Are you accomodating people who believe in the supernatural, but not in “gods?” If so, you’d be right (I used to be in that camp, sort of); but I’m not sure what you mean here.

Comment #154797

Posted by Anton Mates on January 12, 2007 1:02 PM (e)

J. L. Brown wrote:

The trouble is, the supernatural is, by definition, not amenable to any sort of observation or investigation. Anything which happens in the natural world is.. um.. natural.

But many gods are natural, or have natural aspects. Sure, Western gods have tended to retreat more and more into the supernatural realm as science dominates the natural, but that wasn’t always the case.

Suppose that any time you happened to be pointing a telescope at a part of the sky where thunder occurred, you saw a bearded man hurling his hammer at humanoid giants, while riding an airborne goat-drawn chariot loaded with Hostess Twinkies. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to conclude that this was the entity the Norse knew as Thor? You might not have hashed out all the metaphysical stuff about whether he’s truly divine as opposed to a powerful mortal, and it might still be that he’s just a shapeshifting alien inspired by human beliefs, but you would have established at least that a guy exists who does a lot of the stuff Norse religion claims.

Again, suppose a giant cloud of fire appeared in Tel Aviv and started laying down Leviticus-style commands, smiting non-Jews and so forth. That wouldn’t tell you whether it was the true creator and maintainer of the universe or anything like that, but it would be a reasonable guess that this was the being the Hebrews worshipped. And it would also be a reasonable guess that you’d better convert to Judaism immediately and be very, very careful about eating kosher.

If by some miracle you do get to study a genuine miracle (presuming, for the sake of argument that they really do occur), then you can STILL make no judgments about the supernatural. Did the Christian god do it? One of the Norse pantheon? Was it REALLY on of the Greek, Roman, Native American, Aborigines, Hindu entities, or was it some new Papua New Guinean upstart, just getting started in the godding business?

Quite true, but the inverse is a different matter. If Jesus was born of a virgin and resurrected from the dead, you don’t know that it was the Christian god–it could be Loki having fun, or Jesus could just be a mutant or something. But if Jesus was not born of a virgin or resurrected from the dead, then you do know the Christian god (as defined in many sects) isn’t there, because those miracles are part of his defining characteristics. Doesn’t mean any of an infinite number of other conceivable gods couldn’t be there in his place, of course.

Likewise, there are certain conceivable gods whose existence is ruled out by the existence of evil, or the existence of suffering, or the existence of gravity for that matter.

Comment #154801

Posted by Raging Bee on January 12, 2007 1:18 PM (e)

Suppose that any time you happened to be pointing a telescope at a part of the sky where thunder occurred, you saw a bearded man hurling his hammer at humanoid giants, while riding an airborne goat-drawn chariot loaded with Hostess Twinkies. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to conclude that this was the entity the Norse knew as Thor?

No, because Thor doesn’t do Twinkes.

Comment #154810

Posted by Anton Mates on January 12, 2007 1:51 PM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

“Nontheist:” one who either has no opinion about god(s) or has no place for any religious thought or action in his life. The baby mentioned earlier is “nontheistic;” so is an adult who doesn’t think or care about religious beliefs at all.

I think that clashes with most people who call themselves nontheists–it’s usually used just to mean “not a theist.” Atheists, agnostics (such as Gould), deists, and many Buddhists (such as Lenny Flank) call themselves nontheists.

“Atheist:” one who consciously and explicitly believes that no gods exist and all theistic beliefs are wrong. (This is how I have always heard the word used. YMMV.)

It’s not how I’ve heard it used by atheists, which is rather the point. I have heard another atheist say they’ve met other atheists who explicitly believed no gods existed, but that’s about it. Or, to put it another way, under that definition about six atheists exist on the planet, which doesn’t make it a very useful term.

“Agnostic:” one who has no firm belief or disbelief of his own in any god, but who may acknowledge (in word and/or deed) the possibility that they exist.

Sure, and I think that acknowledgment is probably more common for modern agnostics, as those who don’t seriously entertain the possibility are increasingly likely to label themselves weak atheists instead.

Something more characteristic of agnostics, I would say, is the assertion that the existence of a god (given whatever definitions they find relevant) is inherently unknowable.

“Anti-theist” (hyphen optional): one who is hostile and/or disrespectful toward theistic beliefs. It’s probably safe to say that all anti-theists are atheists, but not all atheists are anti-theists.

I suppose if you could find a Satanist who actually believed in God and Satan, you’d have a theist anti-theist.

I offer these definitions because I’m a little tired of people muddying the distinction between “agnostic” and “atheist.”

No disrespect, but you don’t generally identify as either, do you? If agnostics and atheists are doing the muddying themselves, what’s the problem?

Wherever possible, we should try to reduce confusion by sticking to, or buiding from, the meanings that most people already associate with the words we use. We should not try to graft a completely new meaning onto a widely-used word; or, if we must do so, we will then have to go out of our way to explain our new definition and why we’re using it.

When you’re talking about a word that people use to label themselves, going out of your way to explain what it means is a good thing IMO. Especially a word that used to be primarily pejorative, like “atheist” or “queer.”

John Shelby Spong calls himself a Christian in spite of not believing in the virgin birth or resurrection, or any other miracles, or even in a personal God at all. Is this what I would think of if asked to define Christianity? Not particularly. Do I have a problem with Spong calling himself a Christian, or with having to acknowledge the possibility that any given self-labeled Christian might think as he does? Not at all. In fact, I’d much rather the “Christian” label ended up being dominated by guys like him, if it led to other Christians revising their positions toward his.

And that applies to religious moderates generally. It’s the fundamentalist who says that the moderate isn’t truly Christian/Jewish/Muslim/whatever, because they don’t conform to a particular checklist of beliefs. Why should we contribute to that exclusionary position? We want personal identity to float free of belief, so they can update the latter without fear of losing the former.

Comment #154812

Posted by Anton Mates on January 12, 2007 1:54 PM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

No, because Thor doesn’t do Twinkes.

Heretic!

Comment #154821

Posted by Katarina on January 12, 2007 2:31 PM (e)

“Atheists differ from this stance, and claim to have knowledge of the supernatural world - they claim that it does not exist.”

Why is this a misrepresentation?

I am short on time these days, what with the new semester starting at all, (so I appreciate Anton’s comments) but let me just address this question real quick.

Bee, you’re smart enough, and have been through enough holy wars with me, to know what I meant by that, right? Isn’t it obvious to you what a strawman (or rather, scarecrow) that is? As I explained, very few atheists actually claim to “have knowledge” (gnostic) about the supernatural. Instead, they say something like, since we can’t know about this reliably, we may as well abandon the whole concept. Religion cannot be acknowledged as an objective view of the world. If you’re interested in the individual psychology of people’s subjective beliefs, have fun with it, but don’t pretend there is “validity” there.

I wish I could stay on longer for this discussion; maybe I’ll get back to it in a few days.

Have fun!

Comment #154825

Posted by Raging Bee on January 12, 2007 2:56 PM (e)

I suppose if you could find a Satanist who actually believed in God and Satan, you’d have a theist anti-theist.

No, you’d have a worshipper of one “god” (powerful supernatural being) showing hostility to another. Perhaps I should have said “one who is hostile and/or disrespectful toward all theistic beliefs as such,” to differentiate anti-theists from theists who worship one god and believe in, but despise, another. (That’s not what the Satanists I’ve heard from believe, BTW, but that’s another matter.)

It’s not how I’ve heard [the term “atheist”] used by atheists, which is rather the point. I have heard another atheist say they’ve met other atheists who explicitly believed no gods existed, but that’s about it. Or, to put it another way, under that definition about six atheists exist on the planet, which doesn’t make it a very useful term.

If we are to accept the terms “weak atheist” as one who doesn’t explicitly believe that gods don’t exist, but quietly acts on that default assumption for lack of contrary evidence, and “strong atheist” as one who explicitly believes gods don’t exist (am I getting that right?), that’s fine. But how much practical difference is there between those two groups? How far wrong would I be in lumping those two groups together as “atheists?” If I’m wrong here, than what’s your definition of “atheist?”

I think that clashes with most people who call themselves nontheists—it’s usually used just to mean “not a theist.” Atheists, agnostics (such as Gould), deists, and many Buddhists (such as Lenny Flank) call themselves nontheists.

Good point. Do you have a set of definitions that can differentiate between the nontheists I described and the ones you mentioned? (I do think we should distinguish those groups – their “beliefs” or attitudes are significantly different.) As for deists, I would call them theists: AFAIK they do believe in a god, just one who doesn’t intervene a lot.

Comment #154826

Posted by Raging Bee on January 12, 2007 3:09 PM (e)

As I explained, very few atheists actually claim to “have knowledge” (gnostic) about the supernatural. Instead, they say something like, since we can’t know about this reliably, we may as well abandon the whole concept.

Okay, point taken.

OTOH, how much practical difference is there between those two groups? From what I see, they’re both acting on the same premise: for all practical purposes, there is no supernatural, period.

Comment #154922

Posted by Henry J on January 12, 2007 11:22 PM (e)

I suspect that no matter how the terms (atheist, agnostic, etc.) are defined, they’re going to blur into each other when applied to actual people.

Henry

Comment #154932

Posted by Anton Mates on January 13, 2007 2:38 AM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

Perhaps I should have said “one who is hostile and/or disrespectful toward all theistic beliefs as such,” to differentiate anti-theists from theists who worship one god and believe in, but despise, another. (That’s not what the Satanists I’ve heard from believe, BTW, but that’s another matter.)

Yeah, that’s why I said “If you could find one.” All the Satanists I’ve read stuff by are atheists or agnostics. But yes, it’s hard to imagine a theist who thinks theism is bad, except maybe a lapsed Catholic who can’t quite lapse all the way….

If we are to accept the terms “weak atheist” as one who doesn’t explicitly believe that gods don’t exist, but quietly acts on that default assumption for lack of contrary evidence, and “strong atheist” as one who explicitly believes gods don’t exist (am I getting that right?), that’s fine. But how much practical difference is there between those two groups? How far wrong would I be in lumping those two groups together as “atheists?” If I’m wrong here, than what’s your definition of “atheist?”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But that default assumption, as expressed through their actions, isn’t unique to atheists; most agnostics and deists and even some theists act similarly. They don’t follow religious commandments just in case the relevant gods might be pleased; they don’t pray in times of trouble just in case they’re heard.

If I had to define “atheist,” I would say, “Someone who lacks belief in the supernatural.” While it’s certainly possible to believe in supernatural powers without an actual god, as Scientologists and some Buddhists and New-Agers do, I don’t think they usually self-label as atheists. But if someone wants to, I wouldn’t stop ‘em.

As I said on another thread, I think the atheist/agnostic distinction is not so much about belief as about one’s social setting. It certainly was in my case. In Berkeley I identified as an agnostic, because most of my peers’ god-conceptions were genuinely undecidable or at least unfalsifiable; deist gods, quantum-hidden gods, god-is-love gods, etc. In Columbus I identify as an atheist, because most of my believing peers have a much more definite, interventionist and therefore falsifiable god-conception. Plus, “atheist” is a sufficiently scary word in Ohio that I think I’m doing some good by coming out with it, whereas nobody gave a damn in Berkeley.

Do you have a set of definitions that can differentiate between the nontheists I described and the ones you mentioned? (I do think we should distinguish those groups — their “beliefs” or attitudes are significantly different.)

I’ve heard nontheists in your sense refer to themselves as “apatheists”–they just don’t care about the God question. Yes, it’s a made-up word and doesn’t sound very serious, but then that’s rather appropriate for someone who thinks the whole discussion is pointless.

As for deists, I would call them theists: AFAIK they do believe in a god, just one who doesn’t intervene a lot.

I don’t think it would be wrong for a deist to call themselves a theist, but AFAIK most historically haven’t (even if they did call themselves, for instance, Christian). However, I would bet that the deist/theist distinction has become much fuzzier in modern times, just because the average Western believer no longer takes all the Biblical stories of divine intervention as seriously. Moderate theism is moving towards deism on the whole.

Comment #155036

Posted by Middle Professor on January 13, 2007 6:05 PM (e)

Anton Mates: Your location-dependent variation in self-description reminded me of Bertrand Russell (see below). This excert is also relevant to all the self-proclaimed agnostics on this thread.

“Here there comes a practical question which has often troubled me. Whenever I go into a foreign country or a prison or any similar place they always ask me what is my religion.

I never know whether I should say “Agnostic” or whether I should say “Atheist”. It is a very difficult question and I daresay that some of you have been troubled by it. As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one prove that there is not a God.

On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.

None of us would seriously consider the possibility that all the gods of homer really exist, and yet if you were to set to work to give a logical demonstration that Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, and the rest of them did not exist you would find it an awful job. You could not get such proof.

Therefore, in regard to the Olympic gods, speaking to a purely philosophical audience, I would say that I am an Agnostic. But speaking popularly, I think that all of us would say in regard to those gods that we were Atheists. In regard to the Christian God, I should, I think, take exactly the same line.”

Comment #155038

Posted by Katarina on January 13, 2007 6:31 PM (e)

Thank you, Middle Prof. Which book/article is this quote from?

Comment #155070

Posted by Henry J on January 13, 2007 10:28 PM (e)

Re “yet if you were to set to work to give a logical demonstration that Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, and the rest of them did not exist”

Xena killed most of them; that was documented on TV. ;)

Henry

Comment #155081

Posted by fnxtr on January 14, 2007 1:28 AM (e)

Russel via Middleprof:

Whenever I go into a foreign country or a prison or any similar place they always ask me what is my religion.

I never know whether I should say “Agnostic” or whether I should say “Atheist”.

If Bert would just say “none”, he wouldn’t have the pleasure of this musing.

I support the parallel of the a-fairyist. There’s lots of stories about fairies, too, but no particular reason to believe in them. We aren’t labelled for this worldview, why should we be labelled for being equally sane about Sky Daddy?

Comment #155082

Posted by Anton Mates on January 14, 2007 1:42 AM (e)

Katarina wrote:

Thank you, Middle Prof. Which book/article is this quote from?

Am I an Atheist or an Agnostic?

Comment #155105

Posted by Katarina on January 14, 2007 7:14 AM (e)

Never mind, I found the source:

Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic?
A Plea For Tolerance In The Face Of New Dogmas
by Bertrand Russell (1947)

http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/russell8.htm…

As a new unbeliever, I have a long reading list to catch up with. But what fun I’m having! Thanks to all of you who cared enough to attack my religious claims!
(warm fuzzy feelings of gratitude)

Comment #155106

Posted by Katarina on January 14, 2007 7:15 AM (e)

Thanks Anton, your comment didn’t show up until I posted mine.

Comment #156011

Posted by Popper's ghost on January 18, 2007 7:24 AM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

PG is calling harold “hostile?”

What a joke!

You’re the joke, moron. I said that few people who have ever posted to PT are as hostile as harold. Even if I were the most hostile person on the planet, that would have no bearing on the validity of my statement.

Comment #156016

Posted by Popper's ghost on January 18, 2007 7:57 AM (e)

I support the parallel of the a-fairyist. There’s lots of stories about fairies, too, but no particular reason to believe in them.

Russell would never have called himself agnostic with respect to fairies, even when speaking to philosophers, so I think he was mistaken to say that he should have called himself an Agnostic. If the mere inability to offer a logical demonstration of a proposition were sufficient to be agnostic about it, then we would all be agnostic about a great many empirical matters. Was Russell also agnostic about whether Julius Caesar existed, or whether the moon was made of green cheese with a thin layer of dust over it? I can’t see how he would have an easier time providing a “logical demonstration” of those one way or the other than of the non-existence of the homeric gods. Yet he, and many others, apply a different standard when it comes to “God”, which I think is quite unwarranted. I agree with Dawkins that this is a matter of “bending over backwards” to accommodate believers and that T. H. Huxley, in justifying his coining of the word “agnostic”, was doing just that.

Comment #156020

Posted by Popper's ghost on January 18, 2007 8:13 AM (e)

BTW, in regard to Matzke’s comment, published in the SF Chronicle, that

I’m agnostic now. An ultimate question like this might just not be answerable. It may be a leap of faith to take either position, either atheism or theism.

I wrote

I wonder if he considers the question of whether the Greek, Roman or Norse pantheon exists unanswerable, and if not, how he justifies his answer.

In response, harold hostilely and stupidly called that “profoundly unfair” and “a strawman”, irrelevantly suggesting that Ken Miller doesn’t find the question unanswerable, completely ignoring the point about justification (hardly a surprise, since harold shares Miller’s unjustified and unjustifiable views). Now, harold can take it up with Bertrand Russell.

Comment #156448

Posted by Anton Mates on January 19, 2007 2:24 PM (e)

Popper's ghost wrote:

If the mere inability to offer a logical demonstration of a proposition were sufficient to be agnostic about it, then we would all be agnostic about a great many empirical matters. Was Russell also agnostic about whether Julius Caesar existed, or whether the moon was made of green cheese with a thin layer of dust over it?

Actually, yes, in a philosophical sense I think he probably was. He often expressed a hope that a unified science could (in principle, even if not by humans) be developed which made no claims about the external universe whatsoever–it would simply predict your perceptions based on your prior perceptions.

So if he was talking to a philosophical audience he might well say he was agnostic on Caesar’s existence. But for all practical purposes he wouldn’t worry about Caesar not existing, just as for all practical purposes he didn’t worry about either the Homeric or the Christian gods existing, so he wouldn’t claim agnosticism on any of those questions to a lay audience.

Comment #156457

Posted by Raging Bee on January 19, 2007 2:37 PM (e)

I said that few people who have ever posted to PT are as hostile as harold. Even if I were the most hostile person on the planet, that would have no bearing on the validity of my statement.

Actually, PG, it would have a bearing: it would make your statement laughably hypocritical as well as false.

Comment #160029

Posted by Eve on February 7, 2007 4:31 AM (e)

Placed to bookmark!

Comment #165481

Posted by Mike Stranger on March 14, 2007 6:57 PM (e)

God site. Thanks!

Comment #165760

Posted by Mike Stranger on March 16, 2007 11:11 PM (e)

Thanks 123 adware

Comment #186488

Posted by paddy on July 7, 2007 4:50 PM (e)

;)Nothing happens unless first a dream.