Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010: A Campaign Against Garbage Arguments

One of the most valuable projects I think one can take up in 2010 is to battle against the prevalence and acceptance of garbage arguments. These are arguments on issues relevant to the life, health, and well-being of people that carry some blatant flaw - a flaw that any reasonable and responsible person could see and would avoid.

Some of my recent series postings contain examples of these garbage arguments.

One example is the claim that since humans are responsible for only a small percentage of CO2 emissions in a given year, that humans are not responsible for the change in atmospheric concentration of CO2.

Whatever these other sources of emissions are, the system has been in equilibrium for over 10,000 years. The amount of CO2 released in a year has equaled the amount absorbed. None of these emission sources of have changed. The only new emission source in the last century that is available to account for the new increase in atmospheric CO2 comes from human emissions. Furthermore, the amount of new CO2 in the atmosphere is less than the amount that humans release (the rest being absorbed mostly by the oceans).

A responsible person can make this mistake once, or until somebody actually shows her the error. From that point on, it becomes a 'garbage argument'.

The most important point here is that it should become a matter of social convention to identify this as a garbage argument and to condemn those who use it.

It is tradition, in these cases, to correct people who make these types of mistakes. "Your argument is flawed. All of those other emissions have been in equilibrium with absorptions over the last 10,000 years. We have to look at what has broken 10,000 years of equilibrium. Unless you want to argue that these other sources such as the oceans came into existence in the last 100 years, and that they release more CO2 than they absorb, you have to concede that these emissions are not relevant."

Yet, there are people who keep using this argument, ignoring its obvious flaw.

When this happens, the response needs to change from politely correcting the individual to morally condemning him.

"Obviously, you do not care that whole cities may be destroyed and whole populations may be made to suffer. A person who cares about such things will not continue to use garbage arguments once they are shown to be garbage arguments. You're like the drunk driver, carelessly and irresponsibly making claims that have the potential to get people killed without any regard for the harms that you might do. You are a threat to human well-being and even to human life."

The attack on garbage arguments does not depend on whether one's position on any issue in which the garbage argument might be used.

One garbage argument that I have attacked in the past year is the argument that, "These religions promote acts that are worthy of condemnation; therefore, all religion must be condemned."

I have called this The Bigot's Fallacy. The person who uses this argument seeks to promote hatred towards a whole group of people by making an invalid inference from the actions of a subset of the group he loves to hate - and wants others to hate.

"Religion" is simply the belief that one or more gods probably or certainly exist. This proposition does not imply anything about how one ought or ought not to behave. It does not imply the evil actions that some religious people commit. The evil that some religious people do comes from the other beliefs that they attach to the belief that at least one God probably or certainly exists. It is those beliefs that are responsible for this evil, and those beliefs that are worthy of condemnation. Yet, not all religious people share those beliefs. The leap from this or that specific evil to a general message of hate represents a garbage argument of the type I am concerned with here.

One of those garbage arguments appeared on an atheist sign put up this year. The Freedom From Religion Foundation put up a holiday sign that said:

At the time of the winter solstice, let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is just myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

Yes, that sign qualifies as hate speech.

The proposition, "At least one God probably exists" can be, and often is, simply a mistaken belief. We all have mistaken beliefs. None of us has the ability to hold every one of our beliefs up to the light of reason, so we use reliable but fallible shortcuts in adopting beliefs. "That which is widely accepted in the society in which I grew up" is one of those shortcuts.

None of us have beliefs that are 100% certified true according to the principles of perfect reason.

Consistent with that, some people seriously believe that there is sufficient evidence for the existence of a God. The design argument and argument is fine-tuned to support life are persuasive. They are flawed arguments, but not the obviously flawed arguments that any responsible person giving the subject an ounce of thought can see through. Most importantly, they merely support the conclusion that a God probably exists and created the universe. It does not support any type of hardening of hearts and enslaving of minds.

You simply cannot get to the proposition, "At least one God probably exists" to the hardening of hearts and enslaving of minds without adding a bunch of additional premises. No matter what additional premises you add, there is no reason to believe that they are necessarily shared by all people who hold, "At least one God exists."

What causes people to embrace garbage arguments such as this and post them in government buildings during the holiday season? It is nothing less than tribal hatred stampeding over reason – a moral fault against which atheism provides no immunity.

An atheist culture that is truly devoted to reason is going to shun garbage arguments. Even when a garbage argument supports a conclusion that they want to convince others is true, their hatred of garbage arguments is going to outweigh their desire to convince others that a particular conclusion is true.

She will adopt a prescription such as, "I will try to convince people of X but I will not stoop to doing so with the use of garbage arguments - and, in particular, stoop to doing so by embracing and propagating The Bigot's Fallacy."

This is no more different than saying, "I will try to make that trip to Greece this year but I will not stoop to do so by using theft and fraud to pay for the trip."

The inference, "religion -> evil" is simply invalid. It's garbage. There is no way to make the deductive leap from "At least one god probably or certainly exists" to "it is permissible to perform these acts that are, in fact, evil," without a set of additional premises - and those additional premises are not premises that all religious people must necessarily share.

This would not be a campaign that aims to promote acceptance of any particular conclusions. It is a campaign that looks at the way people reach those conclusions. It argues that certain forms of argument are not only mistaken (and may be corrected), but indicate a moral flaw in the character of those who use them - making them worthy of condemnation.

32 comments:

verbivore said...

I think you're skipping a step. The FFRF sign says "religion" and then you take the liberty of substituting "the positing of a significant probability that one or more gods exist" for "religion" and then show that the FFRF argument is flawed. Well, yes, but you've substituted a strawman. In practice, no religions limit their dogma to simply the statement that one or more gods probably exist. That is not a religion, that is simply a statement. The FFRF isn't talking about this statement, they are talking about religions. Religions, the things. Not religions, the concepts.

Not that this affects the validity of my statement at all, but I agree that the FFRF sign is unduly harsh, overly simplified, and isn't necessarily accurate in all cases. But not for the *ahem* garbage argument you give.

Brian said...

"Yes, that sign qualifies as hate speech."

How do you define hate speech, and why would that sign qualify?

For statements of belief like that expressed in the sign, is it hate speech because it offends someone's core beliefs? If so, any statement is potentially hate speech if someone elects to make its converse their core belief. Your statement about my sports team's chances at making the playoffs is potentially hate speech.

Is it hate speech because you think the sign incites violence? While it is true that someone may be delusional enough to take rejection of an idea as license to do violence against that idea's proponents, this is equally true of statements in cookbooks. If one says to use only a copper bowl for something, and another says to use glass, are they hate speech once I find someone willing to do violence based on the disagreement? Or are they hate speech simply because someone like that might exist?

Is it hate speech because you think the sign's creators intended to spark violence? If so, how would you know this?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

No atheism limits itself to the belief that it is the proposition that at least one god exists is probably or certainly false.

Every atheist combines this with other views.

However, insofar as he is an atheist, he is to be understood simply as a person who holds that gods certainly or almost certainly do not exist.

And insofar as somebody is a theist, he is to be understood simply as somebody who holds that at least one certainly or almost certainly does exist.

My original statement stands. It is not in virtue of religion that a person's heart is hardened and mind enslaved. Religion itself has no such implications. It is the stuff one adds to religion that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

Yet, all of the things that can be attached to religion can be attached to other things as well. An atheist is just as capable as a theist to add propositions to his god-belief that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

Brian said...

"Religion" is simply the belief that one or more gods probably or certainly exist. This proposition does not imply anything about how one ought or ought not to behave.

This belief has implications for how we ought to believe, not behave. It permits belief on insufficient evidence, and belief in something unless it is conclusively disproven. In doing so it popularizes the same modes of thought (as well as often the same texts) used by fundamentalists.

In this way it enslaves minds, although I admit it doesn't always harden hearts.

Moderate religion fights against arguments that discredit both it and fundamentalism, favoring only those that undermine fundamentalism. It thereby robs society of tools that could be used against fundamentalists.

The conclusion "...all religion must be condemned." is deeply wrapped up in political considerations, and is not necessarily true. It's possible that advocating bullshit moderation is the best policy. I have never heard it offered alone after only "These religions promote acts that are worthy of condemnation...", so while it is technically true that your post described a garbage argument, it was a straw man.

Eneasz said...

Brian - In yesterday's comments (and possibly post as well) Alonzo defined hate speech as "... an eagerness to unjustly denigrate whole groups of individuals and to teach children they are lesser beings (deserving the same condemnation as those who support rebellion, tyranny, or injustice) without good reason to do so."

verbivore & Brian -

The question of atheist bigotry against theists comes up here with some regularity. These two posts (and their resultant comments) touch on the subject in more detail and may prevent us from retreading old ground.

Cpt_Pineapple said...

This is a good goal for 2010.

I think all claims should be put up to investigation, including claims by religion [for example the Earth is 6000 years old] and claims about religion [such as religion causes dysfunction].


It's a breathe of fresh air to see an atheist willing to step up to the plate against other atheists who use faulty logic.

Brian said...

...Alonzo defined hate speech as "... an eagerness to unjustly denigrate whole groups of individuals and to teach children they are lesser beings...without good reason to do so."

I see. I think that definition is ridiculous and that nonetheless the content of the sign does not fall within it.

First of all, what does enthusiasm have to do with anything? Is something said unenthusiastically never hate speech? How could you ever know the speaker's intent? It's particularly impossible to apply this test when the speech in question came out of committee, like the sign.

The sentence "teach children they are lesser beings" is grammatically ambiguous, but if it means teach children that other people are lesser beings I don't see why whether something is hate speech or not depends on its target audience. Is speech inciting/threatening adults never hate speech? Why not?

Teaching anyone that other people are lesser beings for anything other than a good reason - such as its truth and usefulness - is wrong. However, saying that "Religion is just myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds," is a statement about a belief, not people. It doesn't imply any action should be taken against people who are religious, particularly not state action. It's a hypothesis about the effect of religion, equivalent to the obviously permissible hypothesis that the belief is false. Even the part that I don't think is true, that religion always "hardens hearts", is not hate speech for the same reason. It would also fall under the "well motivated" exception proposed in the Nov. 16 post, especially since we can't expect perfect logical rigor from what is essentially a bumper sticker.

For the record, I don't think atheists are automatically superior to theists. It's just a single proposition that theists are wrong on and atheists are right on. One can be an atheist for a terrible reason, like one's parents being Raelians and growing up with it, or randomly deciding to be atheist one day, and theist for a merely bad reason, like not understanding the problems with the Kalam cosmological argument. In such a case I would have much more in common with the theist.

Most importantly, there is one crucial error I saw on practically every page of this website - it might be my only disagreement with its author, or at least the root of all our disagreements. Forgive me for quoting from a past post but I think it exposes it best, from June 30, "Religions are make-believe stories. As such, people do not get their morality from religion. Instead, they assign their morality to religion. All of the moral faults that one might assign to those who believe in God are a part of human nature."

I agree with a tremendous amount of what Mr. Fyfe says: I believe that most evil in the world is not done in the name of religion, and furthermore that most evil done in the name of religion is not done because of religion, but is merely justified by it. However, I have experience from within fundamentalist religion and people without that would not necessarily understand how religions can take on a life of their own. While it's true that they are man made, and by men who projected their morality onto them, they ossify into dogmas and become truly unchangeable. They develop principles of exegesis that are believed to be divine and faithfully followed despite consequences that no one, not even their most corrupt, hypocritical leaders would wish for - consequences that impoverish the human experience even for them, or leave them no better off from this particular suffering of their flock. This aspect of religion is not always smoothed out by self-interested men reforming and developing it. Since religions are all false these consequences are all unnecessary, and are in fact wholly attributable to religion. Sadly, most evil will survive the end of the religious delusion but not this kind of evil.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

...saying that "Religion is just myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds," is a statement about a belief, not people.

Beliefs do not have hardened hearts or enslaved minds. People do.

It's a hypothesis about the effect of religion, equivalent to the obviously permissible hypothesis that the belief is false.

It is a hypothesis easily proven false - which is what I did in this post. There is simply no valid inference from "X believes that a God certainly or almost certainly exist" to "X has a hardened heart and enslaved mind." Even though I hold that it is probably a false belief, I certainly must accept that it is possible to have a false belief without having a hardened heart and an enslaved mind - particularly given the fact that all of us (atheists and theists alike) almost certainly have at least one false belief.

This hypothesis is so easily proved false that it gives us reason to ask what types of attitudes would draw people into thinking that it is true. The best hypothesis there is that the acceptance of such a hypothesis is motivated by tribal sentiments - an interest in dividing the world into groups of "us" and "them" and to make unjust generalizations against "them" to cast them as inferior.

Thus, the charge of "hate speech".

It is particularly enlightening to note that hypocrisy that, when people attack atheists claiming that it has lead to such things as Stalin's Purges and the evils done in the French Revolution and Mao Tse Tung's China, atheists are quick to assert, "Atheism is merely the lack of belief in God" (or, more honestly and accurately, "Atheism is a belief that the proposition that at least one God exists is certainly or almost certainly false). It does not imply any of the propositions that were ultimately used to justify these evils. So, you are mistaken to blame atheism for these evils."
In fact, that argument is entirely sound and justifiably classifies those types of claims as hate speech against atheists.

But the argument is just as sound when applied to those who make blanket statements in the name of religion. Theism is merely the belief that one or more gods certainly or almost certainly exists. It does not imply any of the propositions that were ultimately used to justify evils done in the name of God. So, atheists are mistaken to blame theism for those evils.

Brian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian said...

"Beliefs do not have hardened hearts or enslaved minds. People do."

Is English your first language? If not I'm incredibly impressed. But "beliefs...enslave minds" clearly means "beliefs cause minds to be enslaved," not that they have minds, so your objection is an example of the straw man argument.

"This hypothesis is so easily proved false..."

The hypothesis is a straw man because I have never heard the argument presented so badly. I posted a refined version of the argument in the fourth post on this thread and you didn't even attempt to refute it.

"Theism is merely the belief that one or more gods certainly or almost certainly exists. It does not imply any of the propositions that were ultimately used to justify evils done in the name of God. So, atheists are mistaken to blame theism for those evils."

See the last paragraph of my 1:48am post. How long were you a member of a fundamentalist religion, and which one? (To clarify: I am not claiming that some knowledge on this subject is experiential and inaccessible to outsiders, merely that being an insider provides insight.) Some actions done in the name of religion are attributable to the religion, and not to the people making it up. It is true that this is not logically necessary (which is what you showed) but it is an observation of how religions function in the world: particularly the three Abrahamic monotheisms, and I know enough about Eastern religions to be seriously concerned about them.

Perhaps I'd have better luck having all of my points addressed if I stopped writing before I got to the character limit. Happy new year everybody!

Emu Sam said...

It is a hypothesis easily proven false - which is what I did in this post. There is simply no valid inference from "X believes that a God certainly or almost certainly exist" to "X has a hardened heart and enslaved mind." Even though I hold that it is probably a false belief, I certainly must accept that it is possible to have a false belief without having a hardened heart and an enslaved mind - particularly given the fact that all of us (atheists and theists alike) almost certainly have at least one false belief.

In short, check anything you say about religion generally against all religions specifically. If you say religion hardens hearts and enslaves minds, you are talking about moderate and fundamental religions at the same time. Does it apply to both? Are you claiming that there is no significant number of religious people with open minds and soft hearts? That every religion significantly increases hardened hearts and enslaved minds?

Emu Sam said...

As I understand it, one part of the dialogue has gone thus:

Brian: However, saying that "Religion is just myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds," is a statement about a belief, not people.

Alonzo: Beliefs do not have hardened hearts or enslaved minds. People do.

Brian: But "beliefs...enslave minds" clearly means "beliefs cause minds to be enslaved," not that they have minds, so your objection is an example of the straw man argument.


To me, the statement "Beliefs do not have hardened hearts or enslaved minds. People do" means that Alonzo is claiming "beliefs...enslave minds" is a statement about how beliefs affect people, and therefore is a statement about people. This is an argument against your statement (the first time I quoted you in this comment) and so it is not a straw man.

Brian said...

@Emu Sam:

I repeatedly said I don't think religions universally harden hearts. If your goal is to change someone's mind about something, it helps to show that you understand what their position actually is.

Evidence against religion is so prevalent where the sign was posted that it is no longer possible to hold some false beliefs without an enslaved mind. It takes ignorance or willfulness to pretend the best explanation for reality involves the supernatural.

There are fantastic scientific explanations not only for the physical state of the world, but for why religion would be invented even if untrue. To posit the supernatural is unnecessary, especially because it is never offered as a final explanation that ties up all loose ends but always leaves its own "mysteries".

Everyone reading this knows the objections to fundamentalism. Advocates for moderate religion suffer from enslaved minds as well when they expectorate their beliefs into the public discourse and demand respect for them unless they are disproved. That's an irrational approach. Beliefs are respectable to the extent they are reasonable. If the believer only uses such poor logic on this subject, he or she is a hypocrite. If the believer always uses it, he or she has an enslaved mind. If not for the demands of religion, this person would probably never use a conspiracy theorist's reasoning - few people do, outside of the realm of religion.

I've never met anyone without confirmation bias, so even someone who is a believer from ignorance will have a partially enslaved mind. This would make the statement "X is false" equivalent to "X enslaves minds," not terribly useful I admit, but leaving the sign true in such cases as well.

Were I writing the sign, I would have said "softens minds" and qualified "hardened hearts" with "often".

Brian said...

@Emu Sam 7:44pm comment

We had a miscommunication. My second quote was an objection to what I thought Fyfe was saying, that my argument somehow depended on the personification of beliefs. I simply didn't understand his real argument because he didn't spell it out as you did.

I indirectly addressed what I now realize his point was in the sentences immediately preceding and following that first quote of mine you cited. It's true that a statement about the effect of beliefs on people is a statement about how those people act or think.

However, there is no implication that they should be treated badly because of the effect of their thoughts on them. It's no different than a statement that a legislator following the GOP platform will negatively influence the country. You would have to introduce the proposition that people with wrong ideas or harmful ideas deserve denigration.

I don't agree that we should automatically infer it is permissible to denigrate people as others apparently do, so for me that wold have to be part of the speech itself for it to be hate speech. One possible response to hearing an opinion that some people are wrong about something and that it hardens their hearts may be to persecute them, but others include talking to them, ignoring it, investigating the issue more, etc.

Some statements, like that someone is a lesser being because of race, do contain within them the idea of persecution.

I get along with all kinds of people, and it bothers me when so much harmless speech is labeled hate speech - cheapening the label, pandering to the thin skinned, and creating an environment of censorship.

It also bothers me when people ignore the problems with and consequences of religious moderation.

Also, my neighbor, not immediately above me, but one apartment over: does he play marbles on the wooden floor once a month, or what? At least he's quiet at night.

My New Year's resolution is to be more equanimous.

John Doe said...

Are any of you familiar enough with the Bible to recognize the irony of what is being said? "Religion hardens hearts" is almost the opposite of what the Bible teaches. It speaks of men hardening their own hearts against God. I know I'm new here and don't know all ya'll's backgrounds, but I'm thinking that those using "religion hardens hearts" must have some Christian/Jewish background. That's not a phrase I've heard anywhere else outside of the Bible.

Also, I know I'm new to the blog (and probably hated) but it always irks me whenever someone makes a blanket statement and asserts that it is true without any proof. What proof have you that "religion hardens hearts"? Is that s'posed to be as obvious as the nose on my face that I should accept it without question? Or "on faith", as a Christian might say? I don't suppose my statement that "atheism hardens men's hearts" would go unchallenged.

Emu Sam said...

Brian,

I remember you saying that you don't think religions harden hearts. But what would the average person think upon reading that sign and giving it an average amount of thought? You have argued that a bumper sticker (short, pithy, and memorable) doesn't have to be a work of fantastic logic. But what if I say it should represent accurate logic in both letter and spirit? Perhaps most atheists know we don't apply the strictest interpretation of the sign to all religious people. If we become the majority, and a hundred years from now, this sign is displayed in a sixth grade classroom, do we expect children from atheist familes to be kinder or less kind to children of religious families?

And what if I think we (the people of the world) should hold each other accountable to a higher standard than we currently do?

My argument is this:
The words of the sign, in strict interpretation, are denigrating to all religious people.
The words of the sign do not apply to all religious people.
Therefore, it is an unfairly denigrating sign.
The words of the sign have been published far and wide via the internet.
People from around the world may visit the location of the sign for business or pleasure.
Therefore the sign affects everyone (some in a smaller way than others), not just those who live in the immediate vicinity.

I've never met anyone without confirmation bias, so even someone who is a believer from ignorance will have a partially enslaved mind. This would make the statement "X is false" equivalent to "X enslaves minds," not terribly useful I admit, but leaving the sign true in such cases as well.

So do you feel that it is impossible to have a mind that is not enslaved? You seem to be arguing that anyone who holds a false belief and never criticizes it has an enslaved mind. I guarantee that every human holds at least one false belief they have never thought about.

You also seem to be arguing that the sign is accurate and therefore not hate speech. That is probably a valid inference. True criticism is not hate speech.

The argument would be over whether this blanket statement really is accurate.

Brian said...

"So do you feel that it is impossible to have a mind that is not enslaved? You seem to be arguing that anyone who holds a false belief and never criticizes it has an enslaved mind. I guarantee that every human holds at least one false belief they have never thought about."

I hope you aren't accustomed to only thinking in binary terms. There are different degrees of slavery, which makes this observation banal. Every mind is partly enslaved, some are truly enthralled.

Yes, I'm arguing that religion enslaves minds because for the overwhelming majority of people, it causes them to accept poor logic. For a minority, it enslaves minds the same way any other falsehood would enslave minds, via confirmation bias. Perhaps there is someone somewhere without confirmation bias who is merely mistaken.

If I were posting a sign I would not have the part about the hearts because I disagree with it. I don't defend that part as true criticism.

"But what if I say it should represent accurate logic in both letter and spirit...And what if I think we (the people of the world) should hold each other accountable to a higher standard than we currently do?"

You are shifting the goalposts. I merely think it's true enough to not be hate speech while on a sign. If one wrote a book with many such statements and didn't qualify them, it may well be hate speech. However, considering the amount of logical rigor it is reasonable to expect from signs, this is not untrue enough to be hate speech. I hold myself to a higher standard of truth, but to call this hate speech cheapens the term.

For the life of me I don't know why they didn't say "softens minds."

Here are my proposed modifications:

At the time of the winter solstice, let reason prevail. There are probably no gods, devils, angels, heaven or hell. There is probably only our natural world. Religions are myths and superstitions that usually harden hearts and soften minds.

It's ambiguous whether "usually" refers to "soften", but to put "soften" first didn't flow. I think the best sign of all might simply read:

At the time of the winter solstice, let reason prevail.

Everyone knows the meaning, and anyone objecting to it paints himself into a corner.

"Therefore the sign affects everyone (some in a smaller way than others), not just those who live in the immediate vicinity."

My point about it being posted where everyone had access to overwhelming evidence against the supernatural was not an attempt to say criticism from afar was from an unaffected person, and therefore inappropriate. The point was that very few people seeing the sign would be simply innocently ignorant of competing ideas, such that they would accept the existence of the supernatural from proper reasoning on the best evidence they had. People on the internet absolutely have the best access to reasons to not believe.

Eneasz said...

Brain -

Yes, I'm arguing that religion enslaves minds because for the overwhelming majority of people, it causes them to accept poor logic.

Are you saying that the overwhelming majority of people have a severe degree or enslaved mind? Fundamentalists are only 20% of the US, which I agree is abhorently high, but it's not even close to a majority, much less an overwhelming one.

Or are you saying that "accepting poor logic" counts as a severe degree of enslaved mind? That would mean everyone has a severely enslaved mind, since everyone does this with some regularity.

Or is there some other interpretation I'm missing?

there is no implication that they should be treated badly because of the effect of their thoughts on them. It's no different than a statement that a legislator following the GOP platform will negatively influence the country. You would have to introduce the proposition that people with wrong ideas or harmful ideas deserve denigration.

I find this a VERY strange statement. It is commonly accepted by almost everyone that harmful things deserve denigration. We don't want to be harmed, and denigrating harmful things (ideas, attitudes, people, policies, etc) is a fairly effective way of reducing their number. No one who argues "X is harmful" then elaborates "and harmful things should be denigrated." The second part is assumed.

I find it hard to believe you don't also follow that assumption. If you really do, then you are an extreme outlier and must take that into account.

John Doe -

Are any of you familiar enough with the Bible to recognize the irony of what is being said? "Religion hardens hearts" is almost the opposite of what the Bible teaches.

Many of us are very familiar with the Bible. And many of us know that the Bible often teaches two diametrically opposed positions. The difference between good and bad religions is whether they choose the ignore the bad positions and teach the good ones, or vica versa.

So yes, many of the teachings of the bible are the opposite of hardening hearts (Luke 14:13-14), but many of them do in fact teach a severe hardening of hearts (Deut 13:6-9)

Brian said...

"Are you saying that the overwhelming majority of people have a severe degree or enslaved mind? Fundamentalists are only 20% of the US..."

Anyone who believes in the truth as well as validity of circular logic, in faith over reason, that the burden of proof is on the one trying to disprove a hypothesis, or in non-overlapping magisteria has a very badly enslaved mind, much worse than I when I have confirmation bias that Ovechkin is better than Crosby.

I'm not sure where you get the 20% figure but if that is from something like a percentage of Americans who are Young Earth Creationists, I do not agree that all of this group has its minds enslaved through poor reasoning. Extreme fundamentalists are especially likely to employ no errors in reasoning, only an acceptance of garbage premises they take to their logical conclusions. Their only enslavement is through confirmation bias. This is what Sam Harris means when he says in some ways he has more respect for fundamentalists than moderates.

"It is commonly accepted by almost everyone that harmful things deserve denigration."

I disagree. Someone could just as easily say that it's commonly accepted that harmful things deserve legislation, which is not true. Religion is bullshit and universally harmful, but perhaps it is appropriate to ignore that and focus only on fundamentalism that is more likely to kill us at the moment. Similarly, people rarely change their minds about religion and science, perhaps it isn't worth creating a controversy for anyone over 30, and focus on schools. In deciding how to influence the Afghan and Iraqi constitutions, America ought to have considered how much better religion does in a free market like America as opposed to under state control like in Iran or England and considered supporting a combination of Islam and state for that reason alone. In all of these cases I say perhaps, but no, it doesn't follow that all bad things should be denigrated and certainly not that all denigrations should be of equal volume.

"The difference between good and bad religions is whether they choose the ignore the bad positions and teach the good ones, or vica versa."

If there is an external standard we can consult to see what is a good position and a bad one, that would be better written as "the difference between a nearly useless and bad religion."

Yet the useless one wouldn't be truly useless: it would still induce its followers to reason poorly, and insist that the bad statements were God's word, and on the truth of religion in general, and allow other countries to see the country's religion as essentially unchanged from the time of the crusades, and suspect all of its polices of whatever motive to stem form religion. It would still hamper anti-cult activities, as there is no clear line between religions and cults, both by fighting deprogrammers and providing cover for independent churches. The moment someone speaks of the Devil causing them to do something, we ought to be able to know they are crazy, but we do not, for the overwhelming majority of people who believe this are not psychotic. As a consequence, truly crazy people sometimes do grievous harm when the only warning signs did not distinguish them from their moderate neighbors.

Religions are false. We don't need them.

John Doe said...

Brian wrote: "Anyone who believes...that the burden of proof is on the one trying to disprove a hypothesis...has a very badly enslaved mind"--Doesn't that statement apply to Alphonzo and all the global warming alarmists?? They believe the hypothesis (AGW) and place the burden of disproving it on skeptics and deniers.

And further, I note that he wants to "focus" on the schools. Sure he does, since he can't reason with we adults and have his way with us. I know people like him: he wants to ban Christianity from schools and allow atheism free reign. He's just as closed-minded as the so-called fundamentalists he despises. Only difference is he thinks he's correct, and they think they are correct.

Atheism is false. We don't need it.

verbivore said...

@John Doe,
No, the statement doesn't apply to AGW. No scientist says, "We believe it unto death, until you disprove it." Your inability to refute any of the tens of thousands of observations that support it doesn't make it non-disprovable. All of those tests, observations, and experiments are disprovable, all of them have the method clearly explained and the data sources provided, and a provisional - always, provisional, with science - provisional conclusion reached that is subject to peer review and change. That's what makes it sound science. Bleating "But but but Al Gore drives a semi to his Church of Satan meetings!" is not. Al Gore could eat baby puppies for breakfast, and the science doesn't change.

Nobody wants to teach atheism in schools. They want to NOT teach the Christian right's particular religion. That's theirr problem. They're not complaining about banning Allah, or Vishnu, or Thor. They're just complaining about not being able to jam their own religion down everyone else's children's throat. So let's be clear, it's not about freedom to practice religion. It's about freedom to force religion in a non-religious space. Nobody wants to "teach atheism" unless by "atheism" you mean "critical thinking skills".

"Atheism is false" is a positive assertion. Feel free to provide evidence for the existence of gods. Need vs not need is irrelevant.

Brian said...

"They believe the hypothesis (AGW) and place the burden of disproving it on skeptics and deniers."

Once a theory has been amply supported by evidence, it is appropriate to shift the burden of proof to attempted refutations.

"Sure he does, since he can't reason with we adults and have his way with us."

What sort of evidence would dissuade you from Christianity or a belief in a god? How about substantial evidence that the universe can be explained without a god, and that unexplained areas of science are not qualitatively different than any other previously inexplicable, now explained facts? What if that were coupled with extensive neurological and sociological evidence that mankind would invent religion even if there were no god? (Presumably something like that belief already accounts for how religious people view those of some other religions.)

Is there any evidence that should convince a rational person that they were mistaken? Let's say all physicists said light is both a particle and a wave, which defies common sense, would it be rational to believe that? What if almost every expert in every area agreed that the Bible was a terrible explanation of how the world is, yet you didn't understand why, would it be rational to cling to your belief?

"Nobody wants to "teach atheism" unless by "atheism" you mean "critical thinking skills"."

It's not a coincidence that the two are often confused.

John Doe said...

Verb: "All of those tests, observations, and experiments are disprovable, all of them have the method clearly explained and the data sources provided" is bullshit. And the "peer reviewed" science articles, the ones that the scientists try to keep out dissenters and skeptics? They "lost" the original data, and only have the homogenized temperatures. Hello? Have you been paying attention, or are you just being intentionally obtuse.

"Religions are false" is likewise a positive statement, and that is what I was referring to, in Brian's previous comment. I was merely showing that two could make unsubstantiated assertions. And BulLsHit about the "nobody wants to teach atheism." Do you think I was born yesterday? Godless heathen don't want to just remove religion from public schools, they want to fill the void with secular humanism. There is nothing about atheism that involves "critical thinking." Don't flatter yourself. You have a closed mind and can't debate religion with an open mind.

Brian, "what sort of evidence" would convince you that there is a creator of the universe? All these "coincidences" that just happened. We are just the right distance from the sun. A little closer, or a little farther away, and... Our atmosphere contains just the right amount of greenhouse gases to keep us from frying or freezing. Hell, even just the right of ozone in there to keep UV rays from killing us with cancer. You choose to believe that life suddenly came into existence from non-life, out of the primordial ooze billions of years ago. Utterly without any proof. And you criticise Christians for their belief. Poof! Arise, oh single cell organizism. Go forth and multiply.

If I were to make up a religion I wouldn't be that dumb. "Billions and billions of years ago, back in the primordial oooze, just the right bits of glob and goo came together in just the right way. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning came from the sky. And life emerged! From that single cell, eventually man evolved from beasts. The end. p.s. All you theists who make up stuff are dumb."

verbivore said...

Let's see, we have insults, baldfaced assertions, argument from ignorance, ad hominems, and putting words into a strawman's mouth. I apologize, Joe, it's clear that I'd misjudged you. Thank you for showing me how very wrong I was.

Eneasz said...

I'm really confused by John Doe. I'm generally convinced he's actually an atheist who's portraying a caricature of a fox-news-christian for laughs. Altho every now and then he makes an insightful comment which makes me think "hey, maybe he's serious". But then we get this:

We are just the right distance from the sun.

That on its own (not even getting into his goo-to-you joke) is enough to fully convince me of the Prankster Hypothesis. Perhaps his occasional lucid comments are attempts to keep us from writing him off fully and losing interest?

Anyone else have opinions on this?

John Doe said...

Oh, verbavore, why so sensitive? If I've hurt your feelings, I apologize. I'm not used to having to be all sensitive and walking on eggshells. Don't you ever mix it up and say what you mean? And you are wrong ("No person wants to teach atheism in schools."), so when you make a boneheaded statement so broad that no intelligent person would accept it, expect to have the statement called bullshit. If you are so sensitive that you can't handle that, then perhaps you should cloister yourself and only talk to others who think exactly as you do. And you can't take "godless heathen"? Is that somehow worse than bible thumpers and fundamentalists and all the snide remarks that atheists say about Christians?

Eneasz, you are confusing lucidity with agreement. You only think I'm lucid in those rare times when you agree with me.

No, I'm not an atheist. I used to be. Frankly, I think I am smarter than I was as an atheist. I don't have to run from facts that make me uncomfortable: Yikes! Maybe there IS a creator, and maybe he has certain expectations of me, and maybe there are eternal consequences for my actions!!! Gulp. Nah! Shit no! I'm an atheist. There is no god. There is no god. Ahhh. Now that feels better. Whew. I was worried for a minute.

Brian said...

"Religions are false" is likewise a positive statement, and that is what I was referring to, in Brian's previous comment. I was merely showing that two could make unsubstantiated assertions.

The first thing to say is that this statement was part of a post addressing and decrying atheists' support for religious moderates. It was about how false beliefs have negative consequences. As such "religions are false" was a premise, so it was justifiably unsubstantiated within that post.

As a conclusion it is supportable by inferences from my post immediately prior, among others. Below I will try to be more explicit.

There is nothing about atheism that involves "critical thinking."

Atheism doesn't entail critical thinking; any belief, true or false, can be held because of a reliance on untrue facts or poor reasoning. Atheism as a simple assertion that there almost certainly isn't a god is true, but even then bare facts shouldn't be the focus of schools. The critical reasoning process should be, because it allows students to distinguish good ideas from bad, of which each theism is the latter.

Brian, "what sort of evidence" would convince you that there is a creator of the universe?

A simple reversal of the reasons I left religion and became an atheist would do the trick. First, evolution and creation.

All these "coincidences" that just happened. We are just the right distance from the sun. A little closer, or a little farther away, and... Our atmosphere contains just the right amount of greenhouse gases to keep us from frying or freezing. Hell, even just the right of ozone in there to keep UV rays from killing us with cancer.

One reason I left was the invalidation of the notion a god helps explain the way the world is. You tried to do show this with a fine tuning argument, but science shows life adapts to its conditions, not the other way around. Humans are adapted to the earth, not the earth to us. If the earth were as far away as mars, it would be less hospitable to life, and we simply wouldn't be here. The atmosphere we evolved to breathe has changed significantly over time, life evolved without free oxygen at all. It did not require anything like what we have today, however, it changed the climate by emitting oxygen as waste, allowing our later evolution.

You choose to believe that life suddenly came into existence from non-life, out of the primordial ooze billions of years ago. Utterly without any proof.

Are you familiar with radiometric dating? I found this site helpful in understanding biology: http://www.talkreason.org/

Do you feel confident you could stand in for, say, verbivore, in a debate defending the theory? I've never actually met anyone who disagreed with evolution, only people who misunderstood it.

Eneasz said...

Eneasz, you are confusing lucidity with agreement. You only think I'm lucid in those rare times when you agree with me.

You make an assumption, and you are wrong. The time I congratulated you on a decent post I actually disagreed with what you were saying, but was encouraged to see that it was said with a trace of sanity.

maybe there are eternal consequences for my actions!!! Gulp. Nah! Shit no! I'm an atheist. There is no god. There is no god. Ahhh. Now that feels better. Whew. I was worried for a minute.

Because annihilation is so much more comforting than this:

They say that if you believe in Yahweh, Jesus, or Allah, then you are on the side of good in a cosmic war with evil, and you will win because God is on your side. They say you will never die, but live forever in a magic realm of bliss. They say bad people will ultimately be punished, and good people will ultimately be rewarded. They say that humans are the apex of all creation, the point of the whole universe. They say he has given you an eternal “soul” that you use to create your own choices. And they say that the infinite Creator of the universe cares for you and wants a personal relationship with you.

Hat-tip Luke

John Doe said...

Brian, I never said I don't believe in "evolution." What I don't believe is that life suddenly sprang from non-life from the primordial oooze billions of years ago. As to that I am a skeptic. There is no proof of it. Perhaps some day there will be.

Likewise, I do not believe that there is sufficient proof that say, reptiles evolved into birds, and that frogs evolved into mammals, etc. Cats are cats, there are many variations, but they are essentially cats.

Eneasz said...

John Doe also doesn't have enough proof that the sun is mainly hydrogen, and finds it laughable that scientists say that the great ball of fire we SUPPOSEDLY orbit is made of the same stuff that water is made of! Fire = water, science proves it, lulz! And we wonder why he doesn't believe in science! Silly atheists!

John Doe said...

Eneasz, why don't you resume doing what you do best, seeking underage boys to ogle.

KenaiiGrimm said...

JohnDoe: I don't have to run from facts that make me uncomfortable: Yikes! Maybe there IS a creator, and maybe he has certain expectations of me, and maybe there are eternal consequences for my actions!!! Gulp. Nah! Shit no! I'm an atheist. There is no god. There is no god. Ahhh. Now that feels better. Whew. I was worried for a minute.

I personally think you're confused on what makes an atheist well, atheist. Although this statement may be true for some people, the idea of atheism in itself is just another belief. People complain of atheists "bashing" their religion and then they something such as this.
This proves nothing. All it is an argument on who is better. Intelligence is an idea as well as a personal opinion. You think you're smarter. Doesn't mean you are. Atheists aren't more intelligent than you either.
That's all I have to say.