1 2 > 
 
   
 

Count the strawmen

 
Billy Shears
 
Avatar
 
 
Billy Shears
Total Posts:  2782
Joined  09-10-2006
 
 
 
21 November 2006 10:19
 

Here's an article from Dinesh D'Souza criticizing not only Sam Harris' The End of Faith, which is mentioned in the article's opening sentence, but other recent books criticizing religion, such as Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion.

By Dinesh D'Souza
Tue Nov 21, 3:00 AM ET


RANCHO SANTA FE, CALIF. - In recent months, a spate of atheist books have argued that religion represents, as "End of Faith" author Sam Harris puts it, "the most potent source of human conflict, past and present."

Columnist Robert Kuttner gives the familiar litany. "The Crusades slaughtered millions in the name of Jesus. The Inquisition brought the torture and murder of millions more. After Martin Luther, Christians did bloody battle with other Christians for another three centuries."

In his bestseller "The God Delusion," Richard Dawkins contends that most of the world's recent conflicts - in the Middle East, in the Balkans, in Northern Ireland, in     Kashmir, and in Sri Lanka - show the vitality of religion's murderous impulse.

The problem with this critique is that it exaggerates the crimes attributed to religion, while ignoring the greater crimes of secular fanaticism. The best example of religious persecution in America is the Salem witch trials. How many people were killed in those trials? Thousands? Hundreds? Actually, fewer than 25. Yet the event still haunts the liberal imagination.

It is strange to witness the passion with which some secular figures rail against the misdeeds of the Crusaders and Inquisitors more than 500 years ago. The number sentenced to death by the Spanish Inquisition appears to be about 10,000. Some historians contend that an additional 100,000 died in jail due to malnutrition or illness.

These figures are tragic, and of course population levels were much lower at the time. But even so, they are minuscule compared with the death tolls produced by the atheist despotisms of the 20th century. In the name of creating their version of a religion-free utopia, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong produced the kind of mass slaughter that no Inquisitor could possibly match. Collectively these atheist tyrants murdered more than 100 million people.

Moreover, many of the conflicts that are counted as "religious wars" were not fought over religion. They were mainly fought over rival claims to territory and power. Can the wars between England and France be called religious wars because the English were Protestants and the French were Catholics? Hardly.

The same is true today. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not, at its core, a religious one. It arises out of a dispute over self-determination and land. Hamas and the extreme orthodox parties in     Israel may advance theological claims - "God gave us this land" and so forth - but the conflict would remain essentially the same even without these religious motives. Ethnic rivalry, not religion, is the source of the tension in Northern Ireland and the Balkans.

p>Yet today's atheists insist on making religion the culprit. Consider Mr. Harris's analysis of the conflict in Sri Lanka. "While the motivations of the Tamil Tigers are not explicitly religious," he informs us, "they are Hindus who undoubtedly believe many improbable things about the nature of life and death." In other words, while the Tigers see themselves as combatants in a secular political struggle, Harris detects a religious motive because these people happen to be Hindu and surely there must be some underlying religious craziness that explains their fanaticism.

Harris can go on forever in this vein. Seeking to exonerate secularism and atheism from the horrors perpetrated in their name, he argues that Stalinism and Maoism were in reality "little more than a political religion." As for Nazism, "while the hatred of Jews in Germany expressed itself in a predominantly secular way, it was a direct inheritance from medieval Christianity." Indeed, "The holocaust marked the culmination of ... two thousand years of Christian fulminating against the Jews."

One finds the same inanities in Mr. Dawkins's work. Don't be fooled by this rhetorical legerdemain. Dawkins and Harris cannot explain why, if Nazism was directly descended from medieval Christianity, medieval Christianity did not produce a Hitler. How can a self-proclaimed atheist ideology, advanced by Hitler as a repudiation of Christianity, be a "culmination" of 2,000 years of Christianity? Dawkins and Harris are employing a transparent sleight of hand that holds Christianity responsible for the crimes committed in its name, while exonerating secularism and atheism for the greater crimes committed in their name.

Religious fanatics have done things that are impossible to defend, and some of them, mostly in the Muslim world, are still performing horrors in the name of their creed. But if religion sometimes disposes people to self-righteousness and absolutism, it also provides a moral code that condemns the slaughter of innocents. In particular, the moral teachings of Jesus provide no support for - indeed they stand as a stern rebuke to - the historical injustices perpetrated in the name of Christianity.

Atheist hubris
The crimes of atheism have generally been perpetrated through a hubristic ideology that sees man, not God, as the creator of values. Using the latest techniques of science and technology, man seeks to displace God and create a secular utopia here on earth. Of course if some people - the Jews, the landowners, the unfit, or the handicapped - have to be eliminated in order to achieve this utopia, this is a price the atheist tyrants and their apologists have shown themselves quite willing to pay. Thus they confirm the truth of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's dictum, "If God is not, everything is permitted."

Whatever the motives for atheist bloodthirstiness, the indisputable fact is that all the religions of the world put together have in 2,000 years not managed to kill as many people as have been killed in the name of atheism in the past few decades.

It's time to abandon the mindlessly repeated mantra that religious belief has been the greatest source of human conflict and violence. Atheism, not religion, is the real force behind the mass murders of history.

Atheism, not religion, is the real force behind the mass murders of history

This article contains so many half-truths, distortions, and falsehoods I hardly know where to begin.

I'm amazed the author can claim with a straight face that the worst example of religious persecution in American history was the salem witch trials.  How he managed to overlook the explicitly religious element in such crimes as the supression of Native American cultures, and in the activities of groups like the KKK, or in the religious strife so prevalent in the early history of Mormonism, I can't imagine.  And this, of course, says nothing about the horrible religious persecutions all over the rest of the world throughout history.

D'Souza makes light of the death tolls of the Crusades and the Inquisition as compared with 20th century genocides, but the differences is mostly due to the advanced technology that 20th century tyrants had at their disposal.  Does anyone really think the Holy Inquisitors' zeal or cruelty was less than that of the Nazi einsatzgruppen troops?  Does anyone think the crusaders would have slaughtered fewer people than Stalin's Red Army if they'd had machine guns, howitzers, and tactical bombers?

And D'Souza also resorts to the tired old canard of blaming the genocides of the 20th century on atheism.  Not only does the he repeat the outright falsehood that Hitler was atheist (and even claims that Nazi ideology was explicitly atheist, which it certainly wasn't) , he has Stalin and Mao acting in the name of atheism, rather than on behalf of the secular religion of communism.  Why is it that religious people flat out refuse even to try and understand that atheism is nothing more than lack of belief in a god, and this is not something that ever motivates someone to commit atrocities.  No, atrocities are motivated by positive beliefs, which the holders of those beliefs then act on.  In the case of Stalin and Mao, it was an ideology every bit as irrational and bound by dogma as any religion.

The author of this diatribe goes on to dismiss the idea that religion is at the heart of the Palestinian/Israeli, or indeed any other conflict, but his arguments here remain as weak, and as poorly grounded as those in the rest of the article.

We rationalists truly have a long way to go in weaning people off blind belief in ancient myths and superstitions.

 
 
Run4orest
 
Avatar
 
 
Run4orest
Total Posts:  215
Joined  03-07-2006
 
 
 
21 November 2006 14:19
 

After following the link to the article, I noticed a blurp beneath it saying the following:

“Dinesh D’Souza is the Rishwain Fellow at the Hoover Institution. His new book, “The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11,” will be published in January”.

Sounds like an apologist for all things right wing and religious if you ask me. As for the content of his article, he grossly understates the history of religious violence while being sure to point out what has been done by atheistic philosophies in the last 50 years.

Very typical.

 
Publius
 
Avatar
 
 
Publius
Total Posts:  334
Joined  06-11-2006
 
 
 
22 November 2006 05:20
 

Why is it that religious people flat out refuse even to try and understand that atheism is nothing more than lack of belief in a god, and this is not something that ever motivates someone to commit atrocities.  No, atrocities are motivated by positive beliefs, which the holders of those beliefs then act on.  In the case of Stalin and Mao, it was an ideology every bit as irrational and bound by dogma as any religion.

My atheistic friend—your dogma is showing itself.  Is atheism merely the denial of one proposition that “There is a God.”?  Surely not.  Indeed, the essence of Harris’ arguments is that this one proposition informs the core of a web of beliefs, and this web of integrated beliefs effects numerous actions.  So to merely assert that atheism is the denial of a simple and singular proposition is disingenuous because the denial necessarily effects an entire web of belief.

Moreover, calling fascism and Marxism secular religions is mere boot-strapping.  You are committing the cardinal sin that Harris rails against in his books:  ignoring the facts.  It is debatable whether God is necessary or sufficient for morality, but it is not debatable that fascism and Marxism are atheist ideologies.  Marxism and fascism state that there is no God.  Is any ideology which leads to suffering and death necessarily a religion?  If so, then you’ve simply begged the question and defined the problem away.  Such an “argument” is no more compelling than the theists’ argument from design or from the definition of God.

The author of this diatribe goes on to dismiss the idea that religion is at the heart of the Palestinian/Israeli, or indeed any other conflict, but his arguments here remain as weak, and as poorly grounded as those in the rest of the article.

You need to read history, or at a minimum cite to some facts that would justify this.  Israel is a secular state.  And the original basis for Palestinian resistance had nothing to do with religion, but was based on nationalistic/socialistic infused ideas of pan-Arabism.  (See Berard Lewis).  And if you believe that the Unionists and Republicans are killing each other in northern Ireland for the same reasons that Luther rejected the Church, I have a bridge to sell you.  Ditto if you believe adminstrative distinction between Hutus and Tootsies created by Belgium rule in Rwanda had anything to do with religion.  Was the suppression of native populations based on religion, or the political ideas of manifest destiny?  Was the KKK’s motivation sola Scriputra, or was it merely racism?

It cannot be denied that religion has often been a source of conflict and much death, but to blame the vast majority of suffering and death on religion again violates Harris’ cardinal command to look at the facts. 

We rationalists truly have a long way to go in weaning people off blind belief in ancient myths and superstitions.

Indeed, you do.  Asserting that you are about the mere denial of the proposition “There is no God” is morally inadequate.  You must put forward a constructive alternative theory for how political society and ethics should be.  Absent a coherent, rationalist alternative, why would you expect people to agree with you, when you’ve put forward nothing positive to agree with?  So kindly put one forward.

 
Billy Shears
 
Avatar
 
 
Billy Shears
Total Posts:  2782
Joined  09-10-2006
 
 
 
22 November 2006 07:37
 

[quote author=“Publius”]

Why is it that religious people flat out refuse even to try and understand that atheism is nothing more than lack of belief in a god, and this is not something that ever motivates someone to commit atrocities.  No, atrocities are motivated by positive beliefs, which the holders of those beliefs then act on.  In the case of Stalin and Mao, it was an ideology every bit as irrational and bound by dogma as any religion.

My atheistic friend—your dogma is showing itself.  Is atheism merely the denial of one proposition that “There is a God.”?  Surely not.  Indeed, the essence of Harris’ arguments is that this one proposition informs the core of a web of beliefs, and this web of integrated beliefs effects numerous actions.  So to merely assert that atheism is the denial of a simple and singular proposition is disingenuous because the denial necessarily effects an entire web of belief.

Atheism does indeed affect one’s worldview, but your implication that it somehow leads automatically to certain other beliefs is absurd, unsupported by any evidence, and demonstrably false.  There are atheists who are Republicans and Democrats, politically conservative and politically liberal, homosexual and heterosexual, violent and passive, rational and irrational, socially well-adjusted or maladjusted, Marxist or Keynesian, stoic or epicurean, and the list goes on and on.  Atheists all over the world have beliefs that run the entire spectrum, and the only thing that some of them may have in common is a lack of belief in a deity.

For your assertion to hold any validity, you must show how atheism, rather than being a simply lack of belief, automatically leads to other particular positve beliefs.  So how about coming up with some?

[quote author=“Publius”]Moreover, calling fascism and Marxism secular religions is mere boot-strapping.  You are committing the cardinal sin that Harris rails against in his books:  ignoring the facts.

No, it is you who are.  The fact that apart from belief in a supernatural element, Marxism and Fascism have all the hallmarks of a religion: dogma, which is not to be questioned, and which evidence must be spun or doctored to fit if the plain facts don’t; exalted figures that are held above criticism (i.e. prophets, under another name); a body of followers adhering, sometimes fanatically to the sacred beliefs, and maintaining them in defiance of contradictory evidence.  And it is beyond contestation that ideologies like Marxism-Leninism can inspire fanatical devotion to rival that of any authentic religion.

[quote author=“Publius”]It is debatable whether God is necessary or sufficient for morality, but it is not debatable that fascism and Marxism are atheist ideologies.

Actually, it is, since Fascism is not atheist, although Marxism is.  If you think that it is, please explain the following picture.

http://sf.indymedia.org/uploads/2004/11/gott.mit.uns.jpg
It’s a WWII German soldier’s belt buckle.  The inscription means “God is with us”.  A strange motto for an atheist government to display on its soldiers’ uniforms.

[quote author=“Publius”]Marxism and fascism state that there is no God.

See above.

[quote author=“Publius”]Is any ideology which leads to suffering and death necessarily a religion?  If so, then you’ve simply begged the question and defined the problem away.  Such an “argument” is no more compelling than the theists’ argument from design or from the definition of God.

Strawman.  What makes these ideologies quasi-religious is their adherence to a dogma, and their tendency to label those who do not adhere to the dogma as enemies and attack them.

[quote author=“Publius”]

The author of this diatribe goes on to dismiss the idea that religion is at the heart of the Palestinian/Israeli, or indeed any other conflict, but his arguments here remain as weak, and as poorly grounded as those in the rest of the article.

You need to read history, or at a minimum cite to some facts that would justify this.  Israel is a secular state.

It is not a theocracy.  It is, however, a “Jewish state”.  On its flag is the symbol of that, and the overwhelming majority of its population is of that religion.  Moreoever, it is surrounded by Islamic states which do have an official, state religion (or are outright theocracies), and which demonize the people of Israel, and wish to wipe that state off the map because its people are Jews.  Look at some of the Arab anti-semitic propaganda.  It doesn’t condemn the Israelis because of their secularism, it condemns them because they are Jews.

Do not pretend that religion is not overwhelmingly important in this equation.

[quote author=“Publius”]And the original basis for Palestinian resistance had nothing to do with religion, but was based on nationalistic/socialistic infused ideas of pan-Arabism.  (See Berard Lewis).

Nonetheless, it has adopted a religious overtone, and religion is now a hugely important factor, and continues to provide justification for dividing people into “us versus them” camps. 

[quote author=“Publius”]And if you believe that the Unionists and Republicans are killing each other in northern Ireland for the same reasons that Luther rejected the Church, I have a bridge to sell you.

See above.  As Richard Dawkins pointed out in his most recent book, Northern Irish children educated outside their respective religious schools show far less tendency to view kids of the other faith as the enemy, than those educated in Protestant or Catholic schools.  So again, do not pretend religion isn’t playing a major part in keeping these people divided.

[quote author=“Publius”]Ditto if you believe adminstrative distinction between Hutus and Tootsies created by Belgium rule in Rwanda had anything to do with religion.  Was the suppression of native populations based on religion, or the political ideas of manifest destiny?  Was the KKK’s motivation sola Scriputra, or was it merely racism?

It cannot be denied that religion has often been a source of conflict and much death, but to blame the vast majority of suffering and death on religion again violates Harris’ cardinal command to look at the facts.

I am looking at the facts, and the significant fact that is staring me in the face is that subordinating one’s reason to a set of ancient myths is fundamentally injurious to one’s critical thinking skills, and the tendency to blindly follow any dogma makes one more likely to demonize those who don’t share this belief. 

[quote author=“Publius”]

We rationalists truly have a long way to go in weaning people off blind belief in ancient myths and superstitions.

Indeed, you do.  Asserting that you are about the mere denial of the proposition “There is no God” is morally inadequate.  You must put forward a constructive alternative theory for how political society and ethics should be.  Absent a coherent, rationalist alternative, why would you expect people to agree with you, when you’ve put forward nothing positive to agree with?  So kindly put one forward.

This is the fallacy known as shifting the burden of proof.  Sorry, but it’s on you.  The burden of proof is on those making a positive assertion.  You are the ones saying “there is a God”, and we are simply saying, show us some evidence.  If you can’t, why should anyone believe you?

 
 
Publius
 
Avatar
 
 
Publius
Total Posts:  334
Joined  06-11-2006
 
 
 
22 November 2006 08:51
 

Atheism does indeed affect one’s worldview, but your implication that it somehow leads automatically to certain other beliefs is absurd, unsupported by any evidence, and demonstrably false.  There are atheists who are Republicans and Democrats, politically conservative and politically liberal, homosexual and heterosexual, violent and passive, rational and irrational, socially well-adjusted or maladjusted, Marxist or Keynesian, stoic or epicurean, and the list goes on and on.  Atheists all over the world have beliefs that run the entire spectrum, and the only thing that some of them may have in common is a lack of belief in a deity.

For your assertion to hold any validity, you must show how atheism, rather than being a simply lack of belief, automatically leads to other particular positve beliefs.  So how about coming up with some?

Your arguments prove too much.  They show that belief in God is not the problem but rather evil people.  Unless you’re claiming that belief in God is some how causally connected with evil behavior.  But I don’t think you’re claiming that because every counter example of good theists would refute that.

Does atheism causally lead to immoral conduct?  No more than theism does.

No, it is you who are.  The fact that apart from belief in a supernatural element, Marxism and Fascism have all the hallmarks of a religion: dogma, which is not to be questioned, and which evidence must be spun or doctored to fit if the plain facts don’t; exalted figures that are held above criticism (i.e. prophets, under another name); a body of followers adhering, sometimes fanatically to the sacred beliefs, and maintaining them in defiance of contradictory evidence.  And it is beyond contestation that ideologies like Marxism-Leninism can inspire fanatical devotion to rival that of any authentic religion.

“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. ... Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”  Barry Goldwater.  Not all extremism is bad.  (And indeed, it sounds like you are quite extreme in your adherence to atheism.)

Actually, it is, since Fascism is not atheist, although Marxism is.  If you think that it is, please explain the following picture.
It’s a WWII German soldier’s belt buckle.  The inscription means “God is with us”.  A strange motto for an atheist government to display on its soldiers’ uniforms.

Fascism and Nazism, while both really nasty ideologies are different.  I didn’t mention Nazism.  But we can discuss if you like because while there’s no debate about fascism’s atheism, there is an interesting debate about whether Nazism is Christian or pagan.

Strawman.  What makes these ideologies quasi-religious is their adherence to a dogma, and their tendency to label those who do not adhere to the dogma as enemies and attack them.

I think not.  Let me stick with just Marxism and fascism.  If these are religions, then the term “religion” has been robbed of any meaning.  If the real issue is dogmatic adherence to a point of view, then your critique is no longer against religion.  You’re just saying people should do more critical thinking.  Fair enough as far as it goes, but not all dogmas are bad.  See the Goldwater quote above.

See above.  As Richard Dawkins pointed out in his most recent book, Northern Irish children educated outside their respective religious schools show far less tendency to view kids of the other faith as the enemy, than those educated in Protestant or Catholic schools.  So again, do not pretend religion isn’t playing a major part in keeping these people divided.

Fair enough.  Not pretending religion isn’t playing a role.  But does it predominate?  I don’t think that’s accurate.  As I said, the Unionists and the Republicans are not fighting each other because they disagree about canon law, the selling of indulgences or sola Scriptura.

I am looking at the facts, and the significant fact that is staring me in the face is that subordinating one’s reason to a set of ancient myths is fundamentally injurious to one’s critical thinking skills, and the tendency to blindly follow any dogma makes one more likely to demonize those who don’t share this belief.

You mean the same way that athiest’s demonize theists?

This is the fallacy known as shifting the burden of proof.  Sorry, but it’s on you.  The burden of proof is on those making a positive assertion.  You are the ones saying “there is a God”, and we are simply saying, show us some evidence.  If you can’t, why should anyone believe you?

A request for you to make a positve case for how we ought to set up society or establish ethics is not a fallacy.  It was you who set the task but did not follow through.  If for example people believe that ethics can only be founded by belief in God, then the only way to counter that is not merely to deny God, but to show that ethics can be established without God.  Otherwise you offer no viable alternative.  And your argument fails, not because of a logical flaw per se, but for the pragmatic reason that there’s nothing to replace the flawed idea.  Take an analogy from science.  A couple of experiments that were incompatible with Newtonian physics did not disprove Newtonian physics.  Many experiments coupled with an overarching theory of general relativity was required.

Cheers

 
mudfoot
 
Avatar
 
 
mudfoot
Total Posts:  1038
Joined  22-12-2005
 
 
 
22 November 2006 09:34
 

[quote author=“Publius”]

You need to read history, or at a minimum cite to some facts that would justify this.  Israel is a secular state.  And the original basis for Palestinian resistance had nothing to do with religion, but was based on nationalistic/socialistic infused ideas of pan-Arabism.  (See Berard Lewis).


Dinesh D’Souza is one of those conservatives who thinks that all religions in all forms are always better than lack or criticism of religion.  Therefore, Islam is not to blame for terrorism—Muslims are simply responding to western secularists exporting their perversions throughout the world.

[quote author=“His Editor Or Some Buddy Of D’Souza”]
D’Souza contends that the cultural left is responsible for 9/11 in two ways: by fostering a decadent and depraved American culture that angers and repulses other societies—especially traditional and religious ones— and by promoting, at home and abroad, an anti-American attitude that blames America for all the problems of the world.

 

 

While the Zionists were definitely largely secular, I can’t tell pan-Arabism and Islam apart too much.  Did the Grand Mufti vow to kill all Zionists because they were non-Arab outsiders or because they were non-Muslim outsiders?

While Arab Nationalists haven’t always been in complete harmony with Islamists, Arab Nationalism doesn’t repudiate Islam like Communism and Fascism do with Christianity.

It’s a bit of a stretch to think that the war against Israel was entirely secular in origin.  Muddied a bit because Islamic culture doesn’t seem to differentiate between civil and religious matters.
[/url]

 
Billy Shears
 
Avatar
 
 
Billy Shears
Total Posts:  2782
Joined  09-10-2006
 
 
 
22 November 2006 10:18
 

[quote author=“Publius”]Your arguments prove too much.  They show that belief in God is not the problem but rather evil people.  Unless you’re claiming that belief in God is some how causally connected with evil behavior.  But I don’t think you’re claiming that because every counter example of good theists would refute that.

Does atheism causally lead to immoral conduct?  No more than theism does.

I am saying it can be causally connected with belief in God.  Something else Richard Dawkins said or quoted (I forget which), in his latest book that is absolutely right is that good people do good things, and evil people do evil things, but religion can make good people do evil things.  Like condoning genocide.  A good example was a study he cited where a group of Israeli schoolchildren were read a passage from Joshua about the taking of Jericho by the Israelites (and the massacre that followed).  66% gave total approval of the massacre.  A similar group of Israeli children were read the same passage, but with all the personal and place names changed to make the whole thing appear as though it had taken place in ancient China, and lo and behold, 75% of the children expressed total disapproval.  It was their religion that made the first group justify a genocidal atrocity.

[quote author=“Publius”]“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. ... Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”  Barry Goldwater.  Not all extremism is bad.  (And indeed, it sounds like you are quite extreme in your adherence to atheism.)

I’m quite extreme in my adherence to the germ theory of disease too.  And the theory of gravity.  And in my belief that the earth is round.  I’m extreme in my adherence to a lot of things, but the crucial difference is that they are things that can be positively demonstrated to be true.  They can be supported with evidence.  And an even more crucial differene is that I am open to new evidence, so that if something comes along and overturns a belief, then I can change that belief as long as the evidence supports the new idea.  Religious dogma (or the dogma of an ideology like Marxism) does not change with new evidence.  It is “sacred” and inviolable.  Beliefs, even though demonstrably false, are maintained in defiance of all evidence to the contrary.  Creationists are living proof of this.


[quote author=“Publius”]

Actually, it is, since Fascism is not atheist, although Marxism is.  If you think that it is, please explain the following picture.
It’s a WWII German soldier’s belt buckle.  The inscription means “God is with us”.  A strange motto for an atheist government to display on its soldiers’ uniforms.

Fascism and Nazism, while both really nasty ideologies are different.  I didn’t mention Nazism.  But we can discuss if you like because while there’s no debate about fascism’s atheism, there is an interesting debate about whether Nazism is Christian or pagan.

Really?  Then please explain why Benito Mussolini had himself baptized by a Roman Catholic priest in 1927.  Explain why among those executed in Francisco Franco’s Spain as enemies of the state were atheists.  And also explain why one of the titles Franco took for himself was “el Caudillo de la Última Cruzada y de la Hispanidad” (“the Leader of the Last Crusade and of the Hispanic World”), and why he used the phrase “by the grace of God” in his official titles, and why the enforcement by public authorities of strict Roman Catholic social mores was a stated intent of the regime.  And finally, explain why Franco’s tomb “Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos” “National Monument of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen” is so named, and why, as the title indicates, it is dominated by a large cross.  These are all strange actions for the dictator of an atheist ideology to take.

[quote author=“Publius”]

Strawman.  What makes these ideologies quasi-religious is their adherence to a dogma, and their tendency to label those who do not adhere to the dogma as enemies and attack them.

I think not.  Let me stick with just Marxism and fascism.  If these are religions, then the term “religion” has been robbed of any meaning.  If the real issue is dogmatic adherence to a point of view, then your critique is no longer against religion.  You’re just saying people should do more critical thinking.  Fair enough as far as it goes, but not all dogmas are bad.  See the Goldwater quote above.

ALL dogmas are bad.  ALL.  Nothing is above critical examination.  If it is true, critical analysis will support it.  If it is not true, it will not, and it is false and unworthy of adherence.  Dogmas straightjacket one’s thinking, and that is never a good thing.

[quote author=“Publius”]

See above.  As Richard Dawkins pointed out in his most recent book, Northern Irish children educated outside their respective religious schools show far less tendency to view kids of the other faith as the enemy, than those educated in Protestant or Catholic schools.  So again, do not pretend religion isn’t playing a major part in keeping these people divided.

Fair enough.  Not pretending religion isn’t playing a role.  But does it predominate?  I don’t think that’s accurate.  As I said, the Unionists and the Republicans are not fighting each other because they disagree about canon law, the selling of indulgences or sola Scriptura.

No, but religion is, more than any other factor, the thing that perpetuates the divide.  There was a time in Irish history when invaders were assimiliated.  The first Anglo-Norman invaders settled among the Irish, and were culturally assimilated, and in time became “more Irish than the Irish themselves” as the saying went.  But after the Protestant reformation, when Ireland stayed Catholic and England and Scotland became predominantly Anglican and Presbyterian respectively, the assimilation ground to a screeching halt.  The difference in religious faith put an obstacle in its path that has never been removed right down to this day.  When the native Irish and the invaders had a common faith, they eventually blended with each other, despite cultural and other differences, and even despite the bad blood and hatreds engendered by violent invasion and dispossession.  After their faiths separated, they didn’t.  Now rather than finding common ground, a man might disown his daughter for marrying a “dirty Papist”, or a “bloody Prod”.  A terrible “us and them” mentality grew up which dominates today, and we have religion to thank for it.

[quote author=“Publius”]

I am looking at the facts, and the significant fact that is staring me in the face is that subordinating one’s reason to a set of ancient myths is fundamentally injurious to one’s critical thinking skills, and the tendency to blindly follow any dogma makes one more likely to demonize those who don’t share this belief.

You mean the same way that athiest’s demonize theists?

Another strawman.  I don’t demonize theists.  I know and like and admire many of them.  I only condemn those whose beliefs lead them to extremes of behavior and ill deeds.  And I condemn a system of beliefs which positively abets such behavior.

[quote author=“Publius”]

This is the fallacy known as shifting the burden of proof.  Sorry, but it’s on you.  The burden of proof is on those making a positive assertion.  You are the ones saying “there is a God”, and we are simply saying, show us some evidence.  If you can’t, why should anyone believe you?

A request for you to make a positve case for how we ought to set up society or establish ethics is not a fallacy.  It was you who set the task but did not follow through.  If for example people believe that ethics can only be founded by belief in God, then the only way to counter that is not merely to deny God, but to show that ethics can be established without God.  Otherwise you offer no viable alternative.  And your argument fails, not because of a logical flaw per se, but for the pragmatic reason that there’s nothing to replace the flawed idea.  Take an analogy from science.  A couple of experiments that were incompatible with Newtonian physics did not disprove Newtonian physics.  Many experiments coupled with an overarching theory of general relativity was required.

Cheers

Sorry.  Wrong.  This is still shifting the burden of proof.  I repeat, it is on you to support your assertion with evidence.  You are the one saying God exists.  It is up to you to back that up, not me to shoot it down.  You are the one saying ethivs and morality must come from God.  It is up to you to back that up, not me to shoot it down.  That’s how it is, and how it has to be.  If you dispute this, alright, I assert the following: unicorns exist; God exists, but is female; life exists on other planets in the universe; Confucianism is superior to all other moral codes; the 9/11 hijackers were all in the pay of the CIA; William Shakespeare was not the author of the plays attributed to him; Abraham Lincoln was an atheist; Socrates never actually existed; Richard the Lionhearted was a homosexual; elves exist in the Black Forest in Germany; Robin Hood was a real person; King Arthur was not; the Venerable Bede had an illegitimate daughter with a nun; the Carib Indians once practiced cannibalism because they preferred human flesh to any other meat; John Lennon is not really dead, he just went underground; and dinosaurs still exist in isolated stretches of the Brazilian rainforest.

Now, prove each of those assertions false.  If you cannot, I will take that as a concession that they are each true.

You can spend literally the rest of your life trying to refute each of the literally limitless assertions people can come up with, no matter how outlandish.  Or you can do the logical, sensible thing, and withold belief from any proposition until it has been supported with evidence.  This is why I will not now, or ever, accept your attempt to push the burden of proof on this question of ethics over to me.  You are making the assertion that God is necessary to ethics.  It’s up to you to support that.  Period.

 
 
mudfoot
 
Avatar
 
 
mudfoot
Total Posts:  1038
Joined  22-12-2005
 
 
 
22 November 2006 10:44
 

[quote author=“Billy Shears”]
Really?  Then please explain why Benito Mussolini had himself baptized by a Roman Catholic priest in 1927.  Explain why among those executed in Francisco Franco’s Spain as enemies of the state were atheists.  And also explain why one of the titles Franco took for himself was “el Caudillo de la Última Cruzada y de la Hispanidad” (“the Leader of the Last Crusade and of the Hispanic World”), and why he used the phrase “by the grace of God” in his official titles, and why the enforcement by public authorities of strict Roman Catholic social mores was a stated intent of the regime.  And finally, explain why Franco’s tomb “Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos” “National Monument of the Holy Cross of the Valley of the Fallen” is so named, and why, as the title indicates, it is dominated by a large cross.  These are all strange actions for the dictator of an atheist ideology to take.

[quote author=“Mussolini, Doctrine of Fascism”]
12. The Fascist State does not remain indifferent to the fact of religion in general and to that particular positive religion which is Italian Catholicism. The State has no theology, but it has an ethic. . . . The Fascist State does not create a “God” of its own, as Robespierre once, at the height of the Convention’s foolishness, wished to do; nor does it vainly seek, like Bolshevism, to expel religion from the minds of men. Fascism respects the God of the ascetics, of the saints, of the heroes, and also God as seen and prayed to by the simple and primitive heart of the people.

Mussolini was just cynical about religion.

 
nv
 
Avatar
 
 
nv
Total Posts:  7998
Joined  29-04-2005
 
 
 
22 November 2006 14:39
 

[quote author=“Publius”]. . .
My atheistic friend—your dogma is showing itself.  Is atheism merely the denial of one proposition that “There is a God.”?  Surely not.  Indeed, the essence of Harris’ arguments is that this one proposition informs the core of a web of beliefs, and this web of integrated beliefs effects numerous actions.  So to merely assert that atheism is the denial of a simple and singular proposition is disingenuous because the denial necessarily effects an entire web of belief.

Publius, would you agree with me that if God and all his amazingly diverse and numerous (throughout recorded history) supernatural helpers and antagonizers are mere fictions, then at some point in humanity’s stay on this planet we’d damn well better figure out how to survive in our environment without Him?

If so, then perhaps a more meaningful discussion may take place here.

 
 
CanZen
 
Avatar
 
 
CanZen
Total Posts:  1382
Joined  22-01-2005
 
 
 
22 November 2006 16:55
 

I tried reading it, but when I came to the part where he claimed that fascism is an atheist ideology, well I had to stop.  What’s the point in reading any further when such a basic component of his critique is obviously inaccurate . . . there is no point.

Thanks Billy and mudfoot for pointing out the facts behind the fascist defense of christianity. Thanks for the nazi-christian belt buckle, hard evidence is so much better than quoting Hitler from Mein Kampf. 

And what’s with the attempt to separate naziism from fascism, Publius?  Weren’t the nazis sort of the classic example of fascism.  Fact is, either way, both the nazis and the Italian fascists were ready to wipe the “evil” atheists from the face of the earth.

Bob

 
 
mudfoot
 
Avatar
 
 
mudfoot
Total Posts:  1038
Joined  22-12-2005
 
 
 
23 November 2006 10:39
 

They only wanted to get rid of the leftist atheists.  Fascism was definitely anti-Christian.  Basically an appeal to pre-Christian social structure.

Consider the root term of fascism, fasces, which was the ceremonial rod carried by Roman magistrates to symbolize state power.

Fascists view(ed) Christianity as a corrupting influence on the human spirit.  Christian ethics make people weak, basically.  Further, it’s a foreign belief system derived from Judaism.  To fascists, Jews we[a]ren’t the enemy merely because they killed Jesus or merely stood apart.  Rather, Jews epitomize the spirit-abnegating weakness expressed by Christianity.

To fascists, authentic Chistianity is weakness:
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

 
Publius
 
Avatar
 
 
Publius
Total Posts:  334
Joined  06-11-2006
 
 
 
27 November 2006 05:59
 

Sorry.  Wrong.  This is still shifting the burden of proof.  I repeat, it is on you to support your assertion with evidence.  You are the one saying God exists.  It is up to you to back that up, not me to shoot it down.  You are the one saying ethivs and morality must come from God.  It is up to you to back that up, not me to shoot it down.  That’s how it is, and how it has to be.  If you dispute this, alright, I assert the following: unicorns exist; God exists, but is female; life exists on other planets in the universe; Confucianism is superior to all other moral codes; the 9/11 hijackers were all in the pay of the CIA; William Shakespeare was not the author of the plays attributed to him; Abraham Lincoln was an atheist; Socrates never actually existed; Richard the Lionhearted was a homosexual; elves exist in the Black Forest in Germany; Robin Hood was a real person; King Arthur was not; the Venerable Bede had an illegitimate daughter with a nun; the Carib Indians once practiced cannibalism because they preferred human flesh to any other meat; John Lennon is not really dead, he just went underground; and dinosaurs still exist in isolated stretches of the Brazilian rainforest.

Now, prove each of those assertions false.  If you cannot, I will take that as a concession that they are each true.

You can spend literally the rest of your life trying to refute each of the literally limitless assertions people can come up with, no matter how outlandish.  Or you can do the logical, sensible thing, and withold belief from any proposition until it has been supported with evidence.  This is why I will not now, or ever, accept your attempt to push the burden of proof on this question of ethics over to me.  You are making the assertion that God is necessary to ethics.  It’s up to you to support that.  Period.

The rest of what you wrote was quite provocative and insightful.  But on the big question of whether you can put forth a realistic alternative to theistic based ethics and politcs you’ve faltered dramatically.  If you read what I wrote carefully you’ll notice that I NEVER said that (1) God exists or (2) that ethics was only possible with a belief in God.  While I do affrim the first proposition, which is irrelevant to what I’ve been arguing, I think that God could NEVER be the source of ethics.  God is no more the source of ethics than Socrates was the “source” of ethics.  But many people think otherwise, so if you wish to convince the masses, then you’d best have something more to say than I’m merely shifting the burden of proof.  Indeed, the burden is upon you to show that a non-theistic ethics is possible.  Moreover, giving statements which are false propositions is a non-sequitur to the point I made since ethical statements are neither true nor false.  “Murder is wrong” or “Giving to charity is good” are neither true nor false.  So what I’m insterested in is whether you have some sort of compelling alternative non-theistic based account of ethics.

 
Publius
 
Avatar
 
 
Publius
Total Posts:  334
Joined  06-11-2006
 
 
 
27 November 2006 06:12
 

[quote author=“homunculus”][quote author=“Publius”]. . .
My atheistic friend—your dogma is showing itself.  Is atheism merely the denial of one proposition that “There is a God.”?  Surely not.  Indeed, the essence of Harris’ arguments is that this one proposition informs the core of a web of beliefs, and this web of integrated beliefs effects numerous actions.  So to merely assert that atheism is the denial of a simple and singular proposition is disingenuous because the denial necessarily effects an entire web of belief.

Publius, would you agree with me that if God and all his amazingly diverse and numerous (throughout recorded history) supernatural helpers and antagonizers are mere fictions, then at some point in humanity’s stay on this planet we’d damn well better figure out how to survive in our environment without Him?

If so, then perhaps a more meaningful discussion may take place here.

You assume too much.  You assume that all theists are literalist fundamentalist rapture ready christians.  But that is just as much of a mistake as supposing that all atheists are by definition immoral.  In addition, you assume to much about what I think about the nature of God (e.g. that God has little helpers, etc.).  We could discuss varying theological views regarding Unitarian conceptions versus Trinitarian conceptions, or various views regarding angelology/demonology, but I suspect you have no interest in that.

There are several ways in which I might begin to address your querry.  Unlike you, because I do not take scientific truths to be the only form of knowledge, the answer to your question about fictions is a false dichotomy.  It is akin to confusing the “truth” of poetry with that of prose in a science text book.  If I were to grant that God is mere fiction, it does not follow that the fiction should be abandoned, any more than it follows that I should give up Tolstoy or Jane Austin.  Myth might be valuable in its own right.  If collective myths are good means of maintaining social stability and transmitting ethical norms from one generation to the next, then the answer is no, we should not give up religion.

 
Traces Elk
 
Avatar
 
 
Traces Elk
Total Posts:  5591
Joined  27-09-2006
 
 
 
27 November 2006 06:18
 

[quote author=“Publius”]If collective myths are good means of maintaining social stability and transmitting ethical norms from one generation to the next, then the answer is no, we should not give up religion.

You seem to assert that transmitting ethical norms from one generation to the next is a priori valid. Where do you get this? Not that I really need to ask, given that it so devalues the acquisition of new knowledge.

 
 
camanintx
 
Avatar
 
 
camanintx
Total Posts:  754
Joined  16-08-2006
 
 
 
27 November 2006 06:31
 

[quote author=“Publius”]If I were to grant that God is mere fiction, it does not follow that the fiction should be abandoned, any more than it follows that I should give up Tolstoy or Jane Austin.  Myth might be valuable in its own right.  If collective myths are good means of maintaining social stability and transmitting ethical norms from one generation to the next, then the answer is no, we should not give up religion.

Nobody is suggesting that by giving up faith we should abandon all that religion has wrought. I don’t have a problem with religion as long as people understand the mythological nature of it. We can still look at the Bible, the Torah and even the Koran as good books while rejecting the belief that they are “The” good book.

 
 
Publius
 
Avatar
 
 
Publius
Total Posts:  334
Joined  06-11-2006
 
 
 
28 November 2006 06:11
 

Nobody is suggesting that by giving up faith we should abandon all that religion has wrought. I don’t have a problem with religion as long as people understand the mythological nature of it. We can still look at the Bible, the Torah and even the Koran as good books while rejecting the belief that they are “The” good book.

I did take you to be suggesting that.  My apologies.  On the other hand, as Harris points out in his book, “true believers” really do treat their book as “The” book, or at least “A” book that has a certain paramount status compared to all others. 

There’s an interesting book called When Religion Becomes Evil by Charles Kimball.  In it he identifies 5 dangers (1) absolute truth claims, (2) blind obedience, (3) establishment of an “ideal” time, (4) claims that the end justifies any means, and (5) declarations of holy war, as signs that adherents to a religion are tempting evil.

The interesting thing about absolute truth claims is this.  At least at first blush we tend to think that science makes absolute truth claims.  So perhaps we need to back up and think about that statement some more.  Either we might want to say that science is not making absolute truth claims, even though it is making truth claims, or we may wish to take considerations of religion in a radically different direction and argue that thinking religion is making any truth claims at all is a mistake.  That last idea is a difficult one to deal with.  But if you think about it, it’s not wholly absurd.  The fact of God doesn’t mean anything.  Rather it is the fact that believers believe that God has issued commands.  Commands, like “Shut the door” aren’t true or false.  (And as I’ve tried to insist elsewhere, neither statements like Murder is wrong or Hamlet is a good play.)  If the focus is on commands, that still doesn’t resolve the issue, but at least it reveals to us that what we’re really interested in is the second concern, namely, blind obedience to a command.

 
 1 2 >