Back to previous post: Steamers

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Hurra Torpedo

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

July 29, 2006

Why Barack Obama can kiss my ass
Posted by Patrick at 11:49 PM *

Christian yahoos drive Jewish family out of southern Delaware:

Mrs. Dobrich, who is Orthodox, said that when she was a girl, Christians here had treated her faith with respectful interest. Now, she said, her son was ridiculed in school for wearing his yarmulke. She described a classmate of his drawing a picture of a pathway to heaven for everyone except “Alex the Jew.”

Mrs. Dobrich’s decision to leave her hometown and seek legal help came after a school board meeting in August 2004 on the issue of prayer. […] A homemaker active in her children’s schools, Mrs. Dobrich said she had asked the board to develop policies that would leave no one feeling excluded because of faith. People booed and rattled signs that read “Jesus Saves,” she recalled. Her son had written a short statement, but he felt so intimidated that his sister read it for him. In his statement, Alex, who was 11 then, said: “I feel bad when kids in my class call me ‘Jew boy.’ I do not want to move away from the house I have lived in forever.”

Later, another speaker turned to Mrs. Dobrich and said, according to several witnesses, “If you want people to stop calling him ‘Jew boy,’ you tell him to give his heart to Jesus.”

Immediately afterward, the Dobriches got threatening phone calls.

Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) lectures secularist liberals:

“It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase ‘under God,’” he said. “Having voluntary student prayer groups using school property to meet should not be a threat, any more than its use by the High School Republicans should threaten Democrats.”

I’m thinking back to Tempe, Arizona, in 1968. Where, in fifth grade, I got to hear from the principal about how if I didn’t agree with the Pledge of Allegiance, I should go back to Russia where I belonged.

More from the good people of southern Delaware:

“We have a way of doing things here, and it’s not going to change to accommodate a very small minority,” said Kenneth R. Stevens, 41, a businessman sitting in the Georgetown Diner. “If they feel singled out, they should find another school or excuse themselves from those functions. It’s our way of life.”

If Barack Obama wants to support Kenneth R. Stevens over Alex Dobrich, that’s his right, but he can do it without further support from me. I’ve had it with Sistah Souljah moments. No more.

Comments on Why Barack Obama can kiss my ass:
#1 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 12:12 AM:

He followed up a few days later by saying that he certainly didn't mean to suggest that Democrats have to embrace the tropes of right-wing millennialist evangelical christianity.

Except, of course, that he did.

#2 ::: Kip Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 12:23 AM:

There has to be a rule, dammit: you get up on a bully soapbox to decry all those secular liberal leaders who fail to be sufficiently respectful of those beleaguered American Christians, well, you'd damn well better start naming some very specific names and dates and times and places and examples.

In part because sneak attacks on straw stalking horses is getting really tiresome.

But mostly because I want to start assembling a list of people to cheer on and vote for. Dammit.

#3 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 12:32 AM:

What Julia said, with bells on.

#4 ::: Will "scifantasy" Frank ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 12:39 AM:

I think you're reading a bit much into Obama's remarks, myself.

"Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation. Context matters."

"Context matters." That's a big phrase, right there. Most of the issues I have with American politics and public decisions rely on a lack of consideration for context and a need for bright-line rules: Zero-tolerance school policies, that suspend the kids who were beat up along with the bullies; war hawks of all stripes; knee-jerk voters who follow anybody their side supports, regardless of what they think; the equation of disagreement with disloyalty. Seems to me we need more understanding of context.

Hell, I'm Jewish, and I never had a problem with nativity scenes on the Town Hall lawn. It wasn't a message that there was one path to heaven or salvation, it was a bunch of people and a harmless display of their faith.

And then, when the Jewish families in town got the money together to put up a menorah next to the scene, I frankly didn't care. Sure, I went along to the lighting--my mother would have killed me otherwise--but it felt transparent to me. The religious equivalent of keeping up with the Jonses...they were all there to get equal time, even though they really didn't need it. They just wanted it, thought they had to have it.

Yes, the Delaware yahoos are a problem, but that's just it. Context: declaring Jesus the "only path to salvation" and calling a kid "Alex the Jew" is a far cry from a religious group borrowing school grounds for a meeting, especially if it's after school.

#5 ::: Kip Manley ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 12:42 AM:

Leaving "under God" in the Pledge and requiring kids to say it and making a big deal out of those that don't for whatever reason is also a far cry from a religious group borrowing school grounds for a meeting.

#6 ::: Will "scifantasy" Frank ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 12:49 AM:

Harassment for not saying the pledge is a problem. I won't say otherwise. But it's just as much a problem for the kid who stops saying it because it feels like a lie (as I did--and I know exactly when. Ever read a book called The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danzinger?) as for the kid who stops saying it for religious reasons.

The issue here isn't religious persecution, it's restriction of the exercise of freedom of speech--which carries with it the freedom to stay silent.

#7 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 12:54 AM:

Will, I used to think the way you do. The behavior of my fellow Americans dissuaded me.

Attentive readers of Making Light will have discerned that I'm no atheist. But I'm a convinced radical secularist where public policy and public funds are concerned. And no, I'm not "reading too much" into Obama's remarks; they're a despicable attempt at the worst kind of "triangulation." They're a bid to sell out 11-year-old me in the vain hope of getting the support of Kenneth R. Stevens, 41.

#8 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 12:54 AM:

Quoting Obama here:
“It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase ‘under God,’” he said.

Except of course, it does; my husband certainly felt oppressed and forced to do something he was uncomfortable doing. I managed to mostly miss that little ritual; it wasn't part of my elementary school experience.

I'm not too keen about forcing kids to verbally plight a troth that they can't possibly understand, no matter what religion they are.

And I'm getting a little desperate, trying to find someone I can support in elected office.

It may be Kenneth R. Steven's way of life, but it isn't mine.

#9 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 12:55 AM:

"The issue here isn't religious persecution"

You are completely full of shit.

#10 ::: Will "scifantasy" Frank ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 12:58 AM:

Ouch. Well, I'm still not seeing it. Not without context, anyway...but, as you suggested, I'm young and probably naive.

#11 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:01 AM:

Your inclination to be tolerant is admirable, but these are people who would kill you if they could.

I'm not in favor of killing them back, but I am in favor of realistically noting what they are.

#12 ::: Will "scifantasy" Frank ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:17 AM:

Your inclination to be tolerant is admirable,

Like I said. Young, naive. *grin* I'm only sort of kidding. I freely admit I've led something of a sheltered/charmed life; it colors my outlook.

these are people who would kill you if they could.

I'm not in favor of killing them back, but I am in favor of realistically noting what they are.

Maybe it's just a question of not being able to understand it until you look it in the eye, then. I see what you mean, but...

Anyway. I can see why Obama is playing up the importance of faith and religion. The perception of liberals as atheistic, religion-hating, anti-American, and morally depraved is a problem, no question. Maybe he's right, and maybe he's wrong, but I can definitely see the argument that sometimes you have to play the game a little, to get a wedge to open up the system. It's not a quick way; it's more of a lifetime. Is it the right call? *shrug* Hell, I dunno.

Suddenly I hear Leslie Fish's song "A Toast For Unsung Heroes" in my head...

(I find the irony outstanding, by the way. I wasn't alive for it, but I recall my grandfather telling me that when JFK ran for office, there was a very real concern that he'd take orders from the Pope. Now, I almost think people would rather that happened, than that a president base his decisions on the facts.)

#13 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:23 AM:

Patrick, Julia, I read Obama's speech shortly after he first made it, and just re-read it now. He's wrong about the Pledge (and what the hell is a nation of supposedly free people doing with a pledge of allegiance anyway?), and he's too quick to lend credence to right-wing anti-secularist strawman arguments, but I'm just not seeing the part where he "suggest[s] that Democrats have to embrace the tropes of right-wing millennialist evangelical christianity". Could you point it out?

And did you catch his advice for the religious conservatives?:

"For one, they need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice. Folks tend to forget that during our founding, it wasn't the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of the First Amendment. It was the persecuted minorities, it was Baptists like John Leland who didn't want the established churches to impose their views on folks who were getting happy out in the fields and teaching the scripture to slaves. It was the forbearers of the evangelicals who were the most adamant about not mingling government with religious, because they did not want state-sponsored religion hindering their ability to practice their faith as they understood it.

Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America's population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers."

#14 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:29 AM:

"The perception of liberals as atheistic, religion-hating, anti-American, and morally depraved is a problem, no question."

It certainly is, as long as we have Barack Obama (and Amy Sullivan, and a cast of thousands) enthusiastically promoting it in order to advance their own careers.

#15 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:32 AM:

Gosh, Avram, the last time we went around over this set of issues, I was defending religious people and you were being Mr. Brave Secularist.

Forgive me if I get the impression that your basic outlook here is Patrick Must Be Wrong.

#16 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:38 AM:

Also, note how this kind of nitpicking has completely displaced any discussion of what's been doing, and what's being done, to the Dobrich family.

We'll all go down, and die, to the tune of wiseass intellectual fanboys explaining how we weren't precisely right on point 2(a)(1)(b).

But it won't be any skin off Barack Obama's nose.

#17 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:38 AM:

I'm Jewish, secular, a separation-of-church-and-state absolutist, and no fan of Obama's speech. Like Patrick, I think it's an example of a would-be Democratic leader advancing his own career at the expense of his party. It has made me think less of Obama, just as the same kind of stunt has made me think less of Lieberman.

However, just to be fair: didn't Obama's speech come before the story of the Dobriches, not after? He wasn't referring to them, and I think he has enough decency so that he would find what happened to them as appalling as we do.

#18 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:41 AM:

BTW, the Georgetown story actually broke a few weeks ago. Here's an article from late June. It lists several specific allegations from the Dobrich-Doe lawsuit. (Bonus: Crappy CSS that causes a sidebar to overlap the article text!) It's not where I first saw the story, but it's what came up when I googled.

#19 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:42 AM:

And yes, I caught his obligatory dance-of-even-handedness. Did you, Avram, catch what aspects of his speech got covered in the national media?

Oh, never mind, none of this matters, it's all fucking performance. All that matters is the skill with which you grab off opportunities to position yourself.

#20 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:50 AM:

"just to be fair"

The hell with "fair". Nobody's being fair to the Dobriches. Nobody was fair to me in Tempe in 1968. Barack Obama has a good life going. He could stand to be a little bit ashamed of himself for his truckling careerism. He could take a fucking stand for Alex Dobrich. Or, as Alex's neighbors--the people Barack Obama wants us to be so understanding of--call him: "Alex the Jew."

#21 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:51 AM:

Or maybe, Patrick, I'm judging these things on a case-by-case basis, examining actual facts. (Not that I actually remember what "last time" was.)

I'm not about to defend those assholes in Georgetown (and I composed my second message, with the link to additional information, before I saw your reply to me). I'm not willing to sweep Barack Obama up into their category, or paint him as defending them when he's not.

#22 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:58 AM:

Yes, Avram, you're "judging these things on a case-by-case basis." Quant suff.

#23 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 02:16 AM:

It wasn't a message that there was one path to heaven or salvation

Correct: it was a message that Americans are supposed to believe in the birth of Jesus, and that it's right and proper for taxpayer dollars to advance Christianity. I find it hard to believe that anyone bright enough to operate a Web browser would not find that problematic, 'charmed life' or otherwise.

#24 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 02:17 AM:

And incidentally: Nobody's "painting" Obama as overtly "defending" "those assholes in Georgetown."

The point is that his rhetorical strategy empowers those assholes in southern Delaware. It makes them happier, stronger, better-defended. No matter how much anti-fundie boilerplate he ladles in. Whether he intends it or not. That's how the media works in 2006. Get this point. Get this fucking point.

Or, maybe, don't get the point. Sail along on your cloud, happy in the belief that correctly-parsed logic is all that matters. Until, you know, they cut your throat.

#25 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 02:40 AM:

Yes, Patrick, like I said "he's too quick to lend credence to right-wing anti-secularist strawman arguments". That was my first reaction, weeks, ago, when I first saw the stories, to roll my eyes and say to myself "Thanks for banking those fires, Obama."

Then I read the full speech, and decided it was more the media's fault than his.

#26 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 02:51 AM:

Though actually, where the hell does Obama come off with "Having voluntary student prayer groups use school property to meet should not be a threat"? OK, yeah, now I see what you mean about the right-wing tropes.

I still blame the media more than I blame Obama.

#27 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 03:21 AM:

“It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase ‘under God,’” he said.

Well, sure. That might have something to do with the brainwashing, don't you think?

As far as the Ken Stevens of the world are concerned, most of the words that come to mind to describe him and his ilk are uttered with great frequency on Deadwood

#28 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 04:22 AM:

I think that we damn well ought to expect politicians to understand how the media will use their words, and plan accordingly. It's not like this is exactly a recent development - there's been time to look and understand. We've noticed, and it's not even our jobs or anything. There are folks voting this year who lived their whole lives inside the Republican noise machine (since they were born in 1988). I would like politicians unprepared to deal with it to fucking get out of the way. In the meantime, I'm quite comfortable criticizing them as tools.

I don't know how it is with y'all, but among my friends, the #1 thing I hear from friends not wild about Bush but also not feeling motivated to vote much is the sense that the two parties simply don't matter that much. What we need is someone willing to say that the Democratic Party would be much better off by shoving out the folks who want to keep arguing that the war in Iraq was ever a good idea, that the party is insufficiently coddling of conservative Christians, and all of that crap. Anone whose vision of the Democratic Party is, basically, "the Republicans but a little less so" should be putting the effort into reviving the dead soul of decent Republicanism and leaving the Democratic Party to people who want something else.

#29 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 04:28 AM:

Follow-up on the media awareness point:

Yes, the noise machine will distort whatever it can, and will lie about the rest. Even so, the rest of us can stop handing them such convenient straight lines in public speeches crafted in advance. We have to start out by challenging their frameworks, not by adopting them, and then take it from there.

#30 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 05:39 AM:

There are times when I wonder if Americans, and American Politicians in particular, know what alleigance is.

Mind you, I don't think our politicians are much better, these days. They all swear their oaths of office, and seem to forget to just what or who they have pledged their honour to.

#31 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 05:50 AM:

"I still blame the media more than I blame Obama."

Think Obama didn't know which aspect of his speech the media would pick up on? 'Left chides Left' will make headlines, 'Left chides Right' won't, even if the overwhelming balance of the speech or article is the latter. This is a known art. I've seen it practiced in Britain for almost thirty years. Tony Blair is a master of it.

In that respect, the key sentence of the speech is this:

But what I am suggesting is this - secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square.

If that isn't 'lend[ing] credence to right-wing anti-secularist strawman arguments' I don't know what is.

#32 ::: lalouve ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 05:57 AM:

“It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase ‘under God,’” he said.

And how does he know that? Did he do a survey? Or is he just more comfortable assuming that children don't feel oppressed or brainwashed? I'm High Church, living in a country where the church and state divorced about six years ago, and I would feel oppressed having to 'mutter' that.

#33 ::: Kate ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 07:58 AM:

The Dobrich family was singled out by the community they live in and they were percecuted by their faith. Alex - their son was openly called Jew boy and other slurs. They were told to accept Jesus as their savior and to stop wearing that damn yarmuke. Their older daughter was singled out by remarks from a local pastor at her HS graduation, as being a special student who needed guidance from G-d and Jesus. They were the only Jewish family in their community and they were run out on a rail after they protested the local school board's decision to have a Christian based curriculum county wide.
They sued, and their address was published as part of an outing of people who sue via the ACLU. They moved due to the death threats adn harassment. Granted I may not have all the facts right here - but when a Jewish or a Muslim or Hindi/buddhist family is told to accept Jesus or else, there is something wrong.

If I've offended, I apologise.

#34 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 07:59 AM:

I wonder how Sen. Obama would regard someone who said, "I'm sure there's no racism in this region. I've talked to a bunch of white people, and none of them said they experienced any problems with racism directed against them."

#35 ::: Mary R ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 09:00 AM:

It sounds good to say that these problems should be treated on a "case by case" basis, but that leaves how many families having to uproot themselves, put up with harassment, etc? Is it right that only people willing to go through a lawsuit and bankrupt their families have access to their basic constitutional rights?

Allowing evangelical Christians to set the standards for church-state separation is like letting the white pride crowd determine what constitutes racism, or men define sexual harrasment.

#36 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 09:25 AM:

The most remarkable phrase I read here, was: " Like Patrick, I think it's an example of a would-be Democratic leader advancing his own career at the expense of his party."

At the expense of his party?

At the expense of the party that has been falling all over itself to claim it supports the war against the Iraqi people even more than Bush does? The party whose preumptive nominee (Clinton) just came out against gay marriages? The party that has been caving in to the Christian Right on nearly every issue for the last 8 years? The party that has been rushing to back Israel's war against Lebanese children? THAT Democratic Party? Just where is his break with the Democratic Party?

Until those who wish for social progress are willing to admit that the Democratic Party is politically and morally bankrupt--basically Republicans with a leavening of hypocricy--I do not see any viable option for defending the Dobrichs of this world.

#37 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 09:36 AM:

*sigh* I wish Stephen weren't making such good sense. I'm not yet quite prepared to concede that the party simply will not be used for any good end at the moment, pending the outcome of this year's sundry challenges. I don't expect it to matter to the election outcome, since I think that was stolen long since. But the balance of power in the party might be more up for grabs. If it fizzles out, though...I dunno. I feel awfully stuck for possibly effective options.

#38 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 10:00 AM:

Allowing evangelical Christians to set the standards for church-state separation is like letting ... men define sexual harassment.

Uh, without getting into the other thread's question of whether feminist men exist, could we amend this to something like "...letting abusive men define sexual harassment."

#39 ::: teep ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 10:05 AM:

The thing that I hate most is that the religious people are all on about "It's freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion." In public spaces, supported by public money, it ought to be freedom FROM religion. Tax dollars should not ever, ever go to favor, promote, support, or further any religion. There should be no mention of any deity in the pledge of allegiance. There should be no deity on the money.

The evangelicals redraw the lines in this argument every time the church-state issue comes up.

They muddy the waters by claiming that not-believing is a religion called secular humanism. Uhm. No.

They claim that "the majority" of people believe in some vaguely similar Judeo-Christian God and that therefore this God has some right to public money and public places.

They refer to the "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" lines in the D-of-I to prove that the founding fathers intended a religious basis for this nation.

They will do whatever it takes to push their agenda of belief upon those who do not believe, including accusing those who DO NOT believe of being haters, intolerant nazis, for opposing harmless demonstrations of faith and goodwill towards men.

And, y'know, they do it all while couching the terms to make it look like they are the persecuted minority.

#40 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 10:09 AM:

There's a possibility that history will make a fool of me again, but I don't think I'm ready to concede that the Democrats and the Republicans are indistinguishable yet. The Lamont-Lieberman race in CT certainly shows that not all Democrats are identical.

There is an interesting point in the Rick Perlstein article which Patrick sidelighted that the various factions of the right do not fight in public against each other and so is able to maintain a coalition in which they all benefit. I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing that the left does not appear to do the same. (Yes, this assumes a very broad definition of "the left." I find that all sorts of people are being called liberal who do not really deserve the term. Under what rational criteria could either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton be considered liberal?)

It does look like that we're eventually headed for a schism where the "Democratic wing of the Democratic party" finally gets sick of the pandering and does its own thing. Unfortunately, that would probably just ensures governments with no respect for civil liberties or any notion of fairness for the foreseeable future.

#41 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 10:16 AM:

From wikipedia, Barack converted to christianity sometime around the age of 25 or so. His DNC speech included the line "We worship an awesome God in the Blue States,"

So, he would seem to have a personal bias towards christianity, and that his religious beliefs have some strength of conviction to them.

Wikipedia also states: Though known as a principled liberal, Obama was highly regarded for his ability to build coalitions and persuade opponents. He engineered the unanimous passage in the Senate of several pieces of progressive legislation, and in one instance, successfully convinced the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Rifle Association to endorse a bill they had previously opposed.

Wikipedia goes on to say: in June of 2006, appearing before Call to Renewal, a faith-based movement to overcome poverty, Obama encouraged fellow Democrats to reach out to evangelicals and other church-going people.

This is where Obama said his bit about "It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed"

So, it would seem that this is part an outcome of Obama's attempt to build coalitions and persuade opponents in an attempt to address the problem of poverty. And there is some truth to the stereotype of liberals-hate-all-religion. The poster child for anti-religion-of-any-kind is Bill Maher. I love Bill's show, but his anti-religion tirades certainly can alienate people who might otherwise be supportive of his point of view. Not all liberals are like that, but some really are.

It would also seem that Obama's partly influenced by his personal religion, and it is his "awesome God" under which we Pledge our Allegiance. So, he is biased, which doesn't mean he isn't able to change. The thing is that this speech was given at a meeting to overcome poverty through faith based initiatives, and Obama's speech at least in part seemed directed to the idea that Democrats should not be anti-religion. It was not in response to the Dobrich family leaving town or their son being called "Jew boy".

Obama's attempt to build a coalition, of getting Democrats to work with religious groups to address poverty, seems to be an honest attempt to produce a good outcome. It does, however, seem to suffer from Obama's denial of or inexperience towards religious prejudice. Part of which will be amplified by his own personal religion.

The reveal would come if Obama responded to the Dobrich case or similiar cases. Obama has demonstrated his ability to try to build coalitions to get Democrats to work with religious groups. The question is would Obama in response to the Dobrich's case try to build a coalition to get Christians to work with non-christians. Is he open to adjust his point of view based on new information, or is he immovable in his pro-christian point of view, to the point that Christianity can do nothing wrong.

Personally, I don't think he's doing this to get someone's vote. It's hard to see someone who is good at building coalitions of people from different backgrounds, to the point of using that skill to pass progressive legislation, and call it pandering. I think he's being true to his personal faith, and if he's making any mistake, it is having a blind eye to the problems that can occur when religion, even his own religion, is brought into government entities, such as public schools.

The question I have is whether that blind eye is a matter of simply never having seen religious prejudice after converting to christianity, or if it is a function of outright denial. Obama's tried to court Democrats to embrace religion. Now the question is whether Obama can court his own religion to embrace tolerance of other religions that are not his own. And that tolerance would be in the form of a new respect for the separation of church and state.

This isn't to lessen what happened to the Dobrich's or Patrick, or to say that prejudice doesn't exist right here and now, or that said prejudice can't be physically dangerous to its victims. Death threats are a hair's breath from a lynch mob.

I'm just not convinced that Obama would be one of the people holding a rope. yet.

#42 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 10:27 AM:

they protested the local school board's decision to have a Christian based curriculum county wide.

So why is a public school district requiring everyone to use a religion-based curriculum? Right there I'm feeling my blood pressure rising. Yes, there may be only one family who is obviously non-Christian - but that doesn't mean there aren't more who are afraid to speak up.

#43 ::: Janna Silverstein ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 10:30 AM:

Maybe it's me, and maybe this reflects a shocking naivete, but why does this discussion keep moving away from the fact that a Christian community persecuted and eventually pushed a Jewish family out of their home because they didn't accept Jesus and, in this separation-of-church-and-state, post-Holocaust, post-Civil Rights United States, so many people seem to be okay with that?

And why does this discussion keep moving away from the fact that what Obama should have done was come out against it and not make some general statement that was so wishy-washy that it could be interpreted by any side in the discussion as a defense of Good Christians Everywhere and the idea that a few words can't hurt anyone?

As for Mr. Brust's assertion that Israel is waging a war against Lebanese children, well, beyond my pure disbelief that someone with any brains at all would think that's what's going on, I'm really pretty speechless. That's all I'm going to say on that subject.

#44 ::: Mary ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 10:32 AM:

I don't think it's true that Obama is saying these things in order to grab headlines and advance his career. I think he's saying this stuff because he grew up in Kansas and represented the South Side of Chicago and he knows a lot of good people who are also deeply religious, and he thinks that Democrats who say things like "These are people who would kill you if they could," are doing everyone a disservice.

Driving away votes and slurring a lot of decent people who are just a little overwhelmed by the modern world, nostagic for an imagined simpler time. They're wrong, but they're not evil, and they could be won over. We have nothing to gain by escalating the culture wars. It will just radicalize more of them. In that, Obama is right.

But no, I don't think kids should have to say the pledge, with or without its late "under god" addition. I disagree with his implication that there's nothing wrong with that. However, just because I disagree with him on some things, doesn't mean I'm ready to demonize him. Doesn't mean I won't vote for him (again. I already did, in both the primary and the general IL senate elections.) So long as his opinions are sincerely held (and I believe they are, as he's been consistent and has passed up opportunities for demogoguery) and he strikes me as a thoughtful and capable man, he doesn't need to agree with me on every single issue in order to be a good leader.

#45 ::: Laughingrat ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 10:32 AM:

You know, I thought I was cynical enough that no shameful American act could surprise me, but no. This was actually shocking. I figured that when faced with real flesh and blood persons instead of an amorphous group of "Atheists" or "non-Christians," these people would surely behave humanely. Instead they're confusing "majority rule" with "mob rule," and we know how smart and humane mobs are.

#46 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 10:34 AM:

And so I give you Rev. Gregory A. Boyd, pastor of one of these evangelical (distinctly UNliberal) mega-churchs (this one in Minnesota) with thousands and thousands of members. From an article in this morning's New York Times:

In his six sermons, Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek "power over" others — by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars. Christians should instead seek to have "power under" others — "winning people's hearts" by sacrificing for those in need, as Jesus did, Mr. Boyd said.

"America wasn't founded as a theocracy," he said. "America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn't bloody and barbaric. That's why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state.

"I am sorry to tell you," he continued, "that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ."

Mr. Boyd lambasted the "hypocrisy and pettiness" of Christians who focus on "sexual issues" like homosexuality, abortion or Janet Jackson's breast-revealing performance at the Super Bowl halftime show. He said Christians these days were constantly outraged about sex and perceived violations of their rights to display their faith in public.

"Those are the two buttons to push if you want to get Christians to act," he said. "And those are the two buttons Jesus never pushed."

Some Woodland Hills members said they applauded the sermons because they had resolved their conflicted feelings. David Churchill, a truck driver for U.P.S. and a Teamster for 26 years, said he had been "raised in a religious-right home" but was torn between the Republican expectations of faith and family and the Democratic expectations of his union.

When Mr. Boyd preached his sermons, "it was liberating to me," Mr. Churchill said.

Since Rev. Boyd started saying this stuff, he has lost 1,000 of his 5,000 members. I get the feeling his attitude about that is pretty much, "Forgive me, O Lord, but good riddance."

#47 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 10:54 AM:

I memorized the PoA without understanding a word of it, and recited it every morning for years. I gradually came to understand what it meant (I was a little spotty on the difference between 'indivisible' and 'invisible'.) When I finally realized what it meant, and that I'd been taking an OATH that I didn't understand, I was furious.

Yes, furious. In grade school.

I wasn't brave enough to stop saying it. But I have been firmly convinced since then that it should be abolished outright. 'Under God' or no 'under God', it's wrong to make people recite oaths they don't fully understand. In fact, it's wrong and deeply wrong to impose an oath on anyone; an oath not freely entered is a false oath, and the swearing of false oaths is a dreadful karmic burden.

Yeah, that's MY religion coming through. And that's the role of religion in American politics: it informs our opinions, may even determine them; but it may not be the argument for or against any law or practice. The majority does not have any right to impose its religious views, per se, on the minority.

So, for example, if you say "I'm against gay marriage because I believe that God established marriage as between one man and one woman," you're being historically naïve, but not outrageous. You ARE being outrageous if you say "We cannot permit gay marriage, because God established etc." And even the former can be offensive if uttered e.g. on the floor of the Senate, where anything you say is de facto an argument for a policy.

What happened to the Dolbriches is an outrage, and Georgetown, DE should now become a byword for anti-Semitic bigotry. I'm sure that if I went there and they knew all about me I would be lynched by nightfall (gay Pagan leftie that I am). We should be activist about this, and denounce Georgetown, DE in every possible venue. People should be ashamed to be from there.

#48 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 10:57 AM:

These things should never be decided on a case-by-case basis. They should be decided on the basis of principles. Otherwise, a school board will be free to say "yes" in the case of a Christian youth group meeting in the library after school, and "no" in the case of a Wiccan youth group meeting in the library after school.

The whole point of having a bill of rights is to force the assholes in charge of things to apply the same rules in ALL cases.

#49 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 11:00 AM:

Yes, Michael! In Wicca we call it "power-with." For example, I'm more likely to listen to you than to a random poster, because your past posts give you power with me. People don't start at zero; they have to be Mrk Yrk to get down that low.

It's part of my life's work to reduce the amount of power-over in the world and increase the amount of power-with. When the Vertical World Becomes Horizontal, what a peaceful world we'll have!

#50 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 11:00 AM:

And why does this discussion keep moving away from the fact that what Obama should have done was come out against it and not make some general statement that was so wishy-washy that it could be interpreted by any side in the discussion as a defense of Good Christians Everywhere and the idea that a few words can't hurt anyone?

Obama gave that speech at a faith-based project to overcome poverty. It wasn't in response to the Dobrich's situation.

As for Mr. Brust's assertion that Israel is waging a war against Lebanese children, well, beyond my pure disbelief that someone with any brains at all would think that's what's going on,

The "what's going on" is that Israel just killed 34 children in a single airstrike. Yahoo reported it here. It doesn't matter what the target was. What matters is the "what's going on" the what really happened, the end results. And the end results is that 34 children were killed by an Israeli airstrike.

Israel complains that Hezbollah is using Lebanese civilians as "human shields", but that doesn't mean it's then OK to kill the shield. The civilians remain civilians and aren't guilty simply based on their address.

But the reality of dead civilians is always overlaid with excuses and justifications.

Israel has a beef with Hezbollah. And in fighting Hezbollah, Israel has declared that Lebanese civilians aren't important to them. Or at least not important enough to deal with Hezbollah in some other way.

Instead, Israel seems driven simply by a "score card" where dead Israeli's count a "1", dead Hezbollah count as "-1", and Lebanese civilians count as "0", and they're simply going about evening the score. They have waged a war of escallation with complete disregard for non-Israeli civilians.

Their tactics of telling Lebanese civilians to evacuate and considering them "militants" if they don't comply is little different than the stupidity and bullheadedness of Bush invading Iraq for the attacks on 9-11. And of course, neither can admit any mistakes. Both must continually change their excuses to keep up with an ever-changing reality.

#51 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 11:03 AM:

Uh, without getting into the other thread's question of whether feminist men exist, could we amend this to something like "...letting abusive men define sexual harassment."

Even the non-abusive men just don't *see* sexual harrassment of us - because it's not something that affects them personally. If I had a dollar for every time some liberal, self-proclaimed feminist Nice Guy told me I was overreacting, that there was nothing chauvinistic about this advertisement or that essay or this prof or that movie, I'd be able to put a downpayment on a Prius, at least.

Which is exactly the point - it's *exactly* the same sort of thing as nice white/Christian moderates telling religious or ethnic minorities they're overreacting and "too sensitive" about instances of bigotry or bias. How the heck would you/they/we *know*--? It isn't happening the same way, and it hasn't happened the same way all along, to people inside and outside the marginalized group.

--I've just finished Pears' An Instance of the Fingerpost, which illustrates better than even Handmaid's Tale what a theocratic plutocratic society - with a modern, western, "civilized" flair - would be like to live in, both for those who would prosper and profit in it, and all the rest of us. Do we really want to slip-slide back to that?

#52 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 11:11 AM:

Even the non-abusive men just don't *see* sexual harrassment of us - because it's not something that affects them personally. If I had a dollar for every time some liberal, self-proclaimed feminist Nice Guy told me I was overreacting, that there was nothing chauvinistic about this advertisement or that essay or this prof or that movie, I'd be able to put a downpayment on a Prius, at least.

Okay, well, that's an argument from That Other Thread so I will drop it here. In fact, come to think of it, I will drop it entirely since I don't think there's any argument I could make that would change your view.

You are perfectly entitled to your view, of course. Just as I am perfectly entitled to mine inasmuch as I have earned mine every bit as much as you have earned yours.

#53 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 11:11 AM:

Ken, "left chides left" makes headlines even when the paper has to lie about the content of a "left chides right" speech -- see the NY Times on Senator Clinton's "wasting time" speech.

#54 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 11:16 AM:

And now we've got the same thing going on here, with Mary R and Mary Dell taking my "case by case" entirely out of context. Thanks for the on-the-spot example of shoddy, dishonest reporting, folks!

#55 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 11:17 AM:

Even the non-abusive men just don't *see* sexual harrassment of us - because it's not something that affects them personally. ... it's *exactly* the same sort of thing as nice white/Christian moderates telling religious or ethnic minorities they're overreacting

No, not exactly the same. completely opposite, maybe. But not exactly the same.

Justice isn't defined by the victim. Thankfully. And it isn't defined by the oppressor either. It is defined by everyone. Having been on jury duty for a murder trial and having been amazed at the completely different interpretaions that jurists had at the exact same evidence, I'm a subscriber of the idea that justice is defined by society. That trial by jury is in part an idea that the state must convince the society (based on a random sample of 12 members of that society) of someone's guilt.

It isn't enough for a woman to say she's been harrassed. She needs to convince society that she's been harassed.

Which means that a woman could be harrassed and never get justice because she couldn't convince anyone. But it also means that we avoid the problems inherent in victim's justice. Letting women decide what is needed for sexual equality without the input of men is simply more sexual inequality.

You're claiming that women will do what's fair for men, but men cannot do what's fair for women. And I'm just a little tired of this sort of argument.

And no I'm not saying harrassment doesn't happen. But yes, I am saying you are overreacing in proposing that teh only way for justice to be achieved is to allow the victims to implement the solution.

If the solution doesn't involve everyone, it is simply more injustice of a different flavor.

#56 ::: Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 11:18 AM:

We have nothing to gain by escalating the culture wars. It will just radicalize more of them. In that, Obama is right.

And therein lies the essence of Patrick's earlier response, and the heart of why we are where we are right now-- because those fucking assholes feel empowered, as a community, to openly ride other citizens out of town on a rail for their religious beliefs-- but heaven forfend we should fail to make nicey-nicey when talking to them, or even about them.

Once again, it's all our fault for making the bully hit us.

#57 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 11:21 AM:

I didn't respond to Jenna's remark about Lebanon because otherwise this is going to get sidetracked onto that issue. Happy as I am to discuss it, right now it is a distraction from what I think is an important discussion. If it isn't too late, I withdraw my remark about Israel.

I do so the more readily because, even without it, I think my comment about the state of the Democratic Party stands. And to me that is the key issue. There is today no political party in America that is able to answer the attacks of the extreme right, and is able to defend the mass of the American people against the loss of basic rights, and continued economic attacks.

#58 ::: Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 11:22 AM:

Or just in case that wasn't clear enough, let me shoot again: The people escalating the culture wars are the cretinous fucking thugs driving their fellow citizens away from their homes and their lives. And we're supposed to feel bad about calling a spade a spade? Balls.

#59 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 11:30 AM:

OK, on my blog is a sample of what we can do to further the denunciation of Georgetown. Not much effect, given the obscurity of my blog. But some of you who have more widely-read blogs could spread the word.

Is it "questionable content" to post a blog link? If this posts, it is.

#60 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 11:35 AM:

Scott Lynch: Hear, hear.

#61 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 11:39 AM:

Obama: "It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase 'under God,'" he said.

It sure teaches them how to deal with being oppressed as in "keep your head down and lie through your teeth".

When I consider what it has taken most of Europe to get away from state religions and theocracies... decades of war in Germany, a bunch of bloody revolutions in France, witch hunts and coups in England, a fascist catholic dictatorship that only old age could kill in Spain (and they are still fearing that it may rise from the grave), a thousand years of progroms, murders and persecutions all over the place, reaching right into the "last week", in Ireland and the Balkans... in the end you might have a pretty and tame state church which is subordinate to a democratic government and keeps mostly quiet, but until you get there it's an awful mess.

#62 ::: Annalee Flower Horne ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 11:45 AM:

::headdesk:: It's the first ammendment... the first freakin' one! It's not like you even have to read that far to get to it... Why do so many people manage to miss it?

On the subject of the pledge, I agree with Xopher. 'Under God' or no, making kindergarteners recite oaths is wrong. It's also pointless, because an oath not taken in good faith is not an oath at all. If people want to voluntarily swear their allegience, cheers for them. Really, I hope they have fun with that.

But as a Quaker, my religion forbids me to take oaths whether or not I agree with their wording. My entire academic carreer was a long string of "Why won't you stand?|What's a Quaker?|I don't care if you don't want to say it; you have to stand|People died for that flag|Go to the office, young lady!" Arguments. Every new teacher, substitute, or school, there it was again: Another trip to the office to explain to the principal that he/she had my every blessing to call my parents, because I wasn't going to stand. If I count up all the class time I missed over those twelve years, it'd probably total at least a semester's worth of credit hours. I go to school to get an education, not to argue my faith with the principal or to get bullied by other students with the teacher's blessing because I refuse to participate in a ritual.

#63 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 11:56 AM:

What bothers me worst about the Delaware debacle is that no one there (as far as we know) stood up and said, "This is wrong."

I don't know which is worse - that the people there who know this is wrong are too scared/indifferent to say publicly that this is wrong, or that no one there knows that this is wrong.

#64 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 12:03 PM:

Annalee Flower Horne, I'm sorry that that happened to you. Thank you for having the courage to stand up for...not standing up. Oh, you know what I mean!

Am I correct in assuming that you won in every case (eventually)? Why didn't your parents just send a note with you on the first day of every school year, explaining the situation?

I'm asking because I know some Wiccan parents who did send such a note saying "you can expect trouble at Halloween." When their daughter said "THAT's not a Witch! My mommy is a Witch and she doesn't look like that!" the teacher was ready with "Your mommy is a real Witch. This is a pretend witch," which (npi) was good enough for second grade.

#65 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 12:05 PM:

What people like Obama need to be saying to evangelical Christians is this:

You have exactly the same right as every other American to pursue your life as you see fit. The government takes no stand on whether your choices are God's will for you, sinful, or anything else, so long as they abide by the law of the land. You have the right - not granted by God, but enshrined in our fundamental charter and laws - to choose your worship, your family roles, and a whole lot else. But sin and grace are not the basis of civil law, and you have no more right to stop others from doing what you believe sinful than they have to stop you for violating their own creeds.

You will, in America, always have to live with the knowledge that others are doing things you are sure do damage to their souls, and that you have no means but persuasion to use against them. That's the price each of us pays to protect all of us from those who are just as sure of their rightness as you and me, but who would stamp us out. You are not entitled to protection from their criticism, or their scorn - you're guaranteed respect in the public square. Your duty as a citizen of this republic is to make peace with that fact, and live your life as a born-again child of God in ways that do not destroy the fabric of the republic that allows you to hear and preach the Word. You may preach against your neighbor. You may condemn your neighbor's ways in the strongest terms you see fit. You may not use the law to keep your neighbor from living his life according to his lights, so long as he continues to respect your rights under the law.

This is what God calls you to do: to be a light in the world, not to be the agent of shackling all hearts and minds. This is what America calls you to do: to take part as equals in the never-ending public conversation about right and wrong. Win hearts and minds. It's the way you have to change the world, just like everyone else.

#66 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 12:13 PM:

Grrr. Imposing religious belief into public school really, really gets me. Imposing the degree of conformity that appears to be sought (so what's next?) by running a "different" family out of town is scary. Weren't we supposed to be beyond this sort of thing by now? I wonder how the teachers in this community feel, especially the science teachers. Some of my colleagues have been faced with milder forms of this sort of thing--we have a small group that makes a lot of accusations fly around about Christian kids allegedly unable to show their faith in school.

As a Left Catholic, stories like those about this Jewish family scare the heck out of me. Many of those same people who turn on Jewish people would then turn on Catholics if they could. Then they'd go after the Protestant left.

Tolerance is the key--but not a tolerance based on sufferance of those who are different--a tolerance based on the acceptance and understanding that different things work for different people, and that not everyone wants to go to Generic Evangelical Protestant Megachurch. Christianity is not primarily about intolerance of others, and those who make it so are hypocrites of the worst kind.

#67 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 12:28 PM:

It's all the religious, shoving their opinions into the public discourse. A pox on all of them.

Ever hear of an Xtian who wanted to put up a monument to the Beatitudes?

#68 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 12:29 PM:

And why does this discussion keep moving away from the fact that what Obama should have done was come out against it

Because he wasn't talking about the Dobrich case.

I'd like to see him speak up about the Dobrich case; I'd like to see if he has the nerve to go back to the faithholders he was addressing and tell them -- just as publicly as he spoke originally -- just as the secularists should not exclude the religious, the religious must be tolerant, and that the intolerance shown in this case belongs in [their choice of fundamentalist theocratic tyranny] and not in the U.S. (cf People for the American Way, which has been arguing for years that intolerance, even majoritarian religious intolerance of minorities, is neither historically based, nor constitutional, nor part of American principles. Also cf Roman Catholics for Religious Choice, who have noted that among all the things damned by the apostate Saul, abortion was not among them; et multiplex cetera.)

But I'm not going to demand that he tar all religious with the mark of intolerance because of what the f*ckheads do; that works for the Right because they can claim all non-conservatives are [choose your favorite leftist], but it doesn't work when most of the people in this country are not uncomfortable with religion. I would love to see the U.S. become uncomfortable with religion (or at least think it's in bad taste, as much of Europe seems to). I'll match my radical secularism against Patrick's any day, and point to at least one reason for mine that I doubt he has; I would love to see the prybar go in, bit by bit, until it splits the whackos off from those who actually follow the \teachings/ of Christ. So I'm not going to automatically assume that someone is showing nothing more than blind ambition when he tries to make connections between ]my[ side and those who still believe.

#69 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 12:37 PM:

Right Scorpio, "all the religious", like our hosts here. How dare they actually have opinions and, y'know, talk about them. In public even, as if they had the same rights as the rest of us.

#70 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 12:48 PM:

Greg London:

In your rush to condemn Israel, you ignore reality, including the consistency of your own post.

You write:

What matters is the "what's going on" the what really happened, the end results. And the end results is that 34 children were killed by an Israeli airstrike.

Note, however, the AP report:

Israeli said it targeted Qana because it was a base for hundreds of rockets launched at Israeli, including 40 that injured five Israelis on Sunday. Israel said it had warned civilians several days before to leave the village.

"One must understand the Hezbollah is using their own civilian population as human shields," said Israeli Foreign Ministry official Gideon Meir. "The Israeli defense forces dropped leaflets and warned the civilian population to leave the place because the Hezbollah turned it into a war zone."

Next:

Israel complains that Hezbollah is using Lebanese civilians as "human shields", but that doesn't mean it's then OK to kill the shield. The civilians remain civilians and aren't guilty simply based on their address.

So you're aware Hezbullah uses civilians as human shields. What you may not be aware of, is that using civilians as human shields, which Hezbullah does regularly - in this village reported above, clustered within 3-5 yards of a UNIFIL post that was hit a couple of days ago, etc. - the party that uses human shields assumes all responsibility for the deaths of their shields. No blame accrues, under international law, to the party that is forced by this tactic to kill civilians.

From the Fourth Geneva Convention, I quote:

Article 28
The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.

Article 29
The Party to the conflict in whose hands protected persons may be is responsible for the treatment accorded to them by its agents, irrespective of any individual responsibility which may be incurred.

Greg continues:

Israel has a beef with Hezbollah. And in fighting Hezbollah, Israel has declared that Lebanese civilians aren't important to them. Or at least not important enough to deal with Hezbollah in some other way.

Exactly the reverse of reality. According to the Geneva Convention above, Hezbollah, and by extension Lebanon (in whose parliament Hezbollah constitutes almost 20% of the seats), has declared that Lebanese civilians aren't important to them. Or at least not important enough to deal with Hezbollah in some other way, such as implementing UN Sec. Council Res. 1559 - which calls for the elimination of all private militias in Lebanon.

Greg continues,

Instead, Israel seems driven simply by a "score card" where dead Israeli's count a "1", dead Hezbollah count as "-1", and Lebanese civilians count as "0", and they're simply going about evening the score.

Evening the score? What score? Israel is doing what a state does: defending its civilian population. Their casus belli is sound: years of rocket attacks from Hezbullah in southern Lebanon, on civilian locations, towns and farms, in the north of Israel.

Meanwhile, Lebanon has not done what a responsible state should do: put down militias that are not part of its own military, even when they agreed to do so under UN Res. 1559.

Clearly, you do not feel Israel has the right to exist and conduct itself as a responsible state.

That is the unspoken undercurrent of 90% of the criticism of the State of Israel's conduct, both from internal critics (the academic Left and some ultra-Orthodox) and external critics.

They have waged a war of escallation with complete disregard for non-Israeli civilians.

On the contrary, the leafletting campaign has caused hundreds of thousands to flee the war zone. Further, the leafletting is only to Israel's detriment militarily, as it also warns their Hezbollah targets where they're going to bomb, so they have time to move their rocket launchers. But Israel's care for Lebanese civilians far outstrips, say, Lebanon's, or even the US' concern for Iraqi civilians.

It is an "action against interest", putting public morality above military necessity. And still Israel is blamed for being more moral than its neighbors, more moral than the US, etc.

Their tactics of telling Lebanese civilians to evacuate and considering them "militants" if they don't comply is little different than the stupidity and bullheadedness of Bush invading Iraq for the attacks on 9-11. And of course, neither can admit any mistakes. Both must continually change their excuses to keep up with an ever-changing reality.

As you evidently choose to do. You blame Israel for not being concerned with civilian casualties, yet also blame them for their activities undertaken to prevent civilian casualties (leafletting).

You cannot have it both ways.

#71 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 12:50 PM:

So, Avram, tell me -- why is Obama's opinion less worthy, then? And why are secular opinions less worthy?

I have not noticed our hosts shoving their opinions into law. I have not noticed that they are driving their neighbors out.

But of course, bashing the secular is the easiest shot in the world.

I suppose we should each visit a mirror.

#72 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 12:58 PM:

There is today no political party in America that is able to answer the attacks of the extreme right, and is able to defend the mass of the American people against the loss of basic rights, and continued economic attacks.

Let's assume this is correct. (I think it's basically right although overstated, but put that aside.) The question is what to do about it. And I think that, due to the history and structure of the U.S.'s political system, the only answer is to attempt to take over the Democratic party for those who are good on these issues. Third parties are going to hurt, not help. Nader's essentially deliberate election of Bush demonstrates that yet again. And, on the contrary side, the take-over of the Republican party by the extremist right from c. 1955 onward shows, technically, that (and how) it can be done.

So with that caveat, yes, the Democrats suck. Lamont is a good first step. Let's hope there are others.

#73 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:07 PM:

Scorpio, what the hell are you talking about?

#74 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:09 PM:

On the issue of Obama's speech, I'd recommend this piece by Michelle Goldberg on the Huffington Post. MG is a reporter who specializes in these issues, and just wrote a book about the rise of theocratic thinking in the U.S. Her point of view is a lot like Patrick's, although less angry in tone.

I will say though I really appreciate hearing this from serious Christians. At least for me (a Jewish secularist), I have to fight to feel that Christianity does not believe, as a woman was quoted in today's Times (also cited above) as saying, that "what the church is supposed to be doing, which is supporting the Republican way." From the same piece, one person -- lamenting the situation, granted, and in an article about someone opposed to it -- said:

You cannot say the word ‘Jesus’ in 2006 without having an awful lot of baggage going along with it. You can’t say the word ‘Christian,’ and you certainly can’t say the word ‘evangelical’ without it now raising connotations and a certain cringe factor in people. Because people think, ‘Oh no, what is going to come next is homosexual bashing, or pro-war rhetoric, or complaining about ‘activist judges.'

I try to fight against that, talk to my friends who are serious Christians and remember that that isn't what "Christian" means to a lot of people. But since there are millions of people in this country who are saying that is what it does mean, and should mean, I basically can't hear Christians oppose it too often. That's one of the reasons I read sites like this one (and Slacktivist). It's refreshing to hear Christians say that we shouldn't have a theocracy, and that Christ didn't stand for starting wars and cutting taxes on the rich.

...Trying not to offend here; forgive me if I spoke poorly. As I said, I know this isn't true. But it helps to hear it anyway.

#75 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:19 PM:

Well, Avram, the topic was Obama and his applause for the religious in public life.

You did not think I was entitled to an opinion that the religious are the problem, especially when they are flat-earthers or other kinds of -- illogical individuals. One guy I worked with was sure that if Kerry had been elected President, the Democrats would try to ban the Bible -- talk about a position that in 1) not sane 2) not unusual in the extremes of American fundamentalism.

Patrick maintained that he was denigrated for not liking to say "under God" as part of the Pledge -- while Obama feels that the use of public schools for prayer groups is a fine thing, and that saying "under God" is not -- pressure.

So all of a sudden, you comment that my thinking that the religious are a problem is a Bad Thing and worthy of your nastiness. It isn't, and I don't think our hosts appointed you to chastise me about their spirituality.

So should you be moved to apologize, that might be appropriate.

#76 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:35 PM:

I think the first and last word on this goes to none other than JC:

"34 but I -- I say to you, not to swear at all; neither by the heaven, because it is the throne of God,

"35 nor by the earth, because it is His footstool, nor by Jerusalem, because it is a city of a great king,

"36 nor by thy head mayest thou swear, because thou art not able one hair to make white or black;

"37 but let your word be, Yes, Yes, No, No, and that which is more than these is of the evil."

One may, I think, infer his opinion of coercing people to swear oaths, as well; if the act is "of the evil", surely coercing others to commit it is a greater evil. Why is this not more remembered by christians?

I'm not happy with Obama's words, but I don't expect saintliness from him, either, and he is after all a politician from a state with a large faction of conservative "christians".

#77 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:36 PM:

Patrick, I had exactly the same reaction as you when this story broke. That made concrete a lot of misgivings I had about Obama since he first became a candidate for senatorship. Remember his convention speech in 2004 and how careful he was to make it clear where he came from, that his father was from Kenyia, in other words, that he was different from those Blacks?

If that's the great white hope of the Democratic Party, somebody who makes excuses for fundies while Jewish families are driven from their homes, no wonder the party is going to shit.

#78 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:38 PM:

You did not think I was entitled to an opinion that the religious are the problem

Hmm.... my interpretation of what Avram wrote was that he did think you were entitled to an opinion because he took it seriously enough to craft a rebuttal. Avram seized on the word "all" in "all the religious" and pointed out PNH as a counterexample of a religious person who is not part of the problem. (i.e., disagreement with someone does not automatically imply that person is not entitled to an opinion.)

I note that you are now writing "the religious are the problem." It seems to me that Avram's was responding to "It's all the religious, shoving their opinions into the public discourse. A pox on all of them."

Now, you may have used the word "all" colloquially rather than as the universal quantifier Avram seems to have interpreted it as. If that's the case, mention it now would probably clear things up a lot.

Of course, I may have just misinterpreted everyone.

#79 ::: paperwight ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:40 PM:

I took the liberty of editing Obama's speech to remove the bits where he attacked secularists. For the curious, that's here.

As I say in the context of that set of edits, while much of Sen. Obama's speech was inspirational, there were passages in which he took gratuitous swipes at religio-phobic straw men who either do not exist, or exist in very small doses, and in either case, need not have been mentioned in this way by a Democratic leader who gets as much media attention as Barack Obama does.

Now, one might argue that these were just a very small part of a much larger speech, but if so why were they necessary at all?

#80 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:42 PM:

Shorter Jon Baker: I'm okay with the death of 600 civilians as long as I can convince myself Israel isn't to blame for it.

You might want to look here to see how utterly wrong you are.

#81 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:45 PM:

JC said "Now, you may have used the word "all" colloquially rather than as the universal quantifier Avram seems to have interpreted it as. If that's the case, mention it now would probably clear things up a lot."

Its use was more colloquial -- I suppose I could have attempted to specify denominations that elbow into the legislative arena, and I failed to do so; 'all' is the lazy way.

Heck, I think the laws forbidding polygamy are a result of religion entering the legislative process. How strange is that?

#82 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 01:56 PM:

I would really like it if someone would put up a billboard in Southern Deleware asking why the residents think they're any better than the people of Bosnia. Ideally with some pictures of burned-out houses. And "because we're Americans" or "because we only run offending religious and ethnic groups out of town, we don't kill them" as an answer doesn't cut it.

#83 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 02:04 PM:

What really depresses me here (apart from the Dombrich story, which I had already read with a sinking heart) was the absolutely natural and undiscussed way in which the equivalence being religious = being good and being atheist = being morally depraved is made.

#84 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 02:22 PM:

I'm pretty sure there will be a thread on Making Light fairly soon in which we can discuss Israel, Lebanon, and the rest of that situation. In this thread, please stop it, right now.

#85 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 02:30 PM:

On a different subject and for the record, I'm not very comfortable being cited as a "serious Christian," certainly not in the context of anyone's discussion of what "serious Christians" do and don't think.

There are in fact serious Christians in this conversation, and, for that matter, among the front-page posters to this weblog, but here in 2006 I'm way too out of charity with Christianity-in-the-world to merit any such appellation.

#86 ::: Annalee Flower Horne ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 02:36 PM:

Xopher, My parents did indeed send a note. Which is why I always found it fairly amusing when school staff would tell me, in their most threatening voice, "Well, let me just call your mother and see what she has to say about this note!"

"Go ahead," I'd answer. "Here, I'll call her myself." I mean what, did they think I'd forged it? That one got me in trouble more than once... apparantly, using the phone in the principal's office to call your mother about the fact that the principal keeps threatening to call your mother is wrong.

I was in a much more privilaged position than most people with this problem, though. First of all, my parents were willing and able to back me up. Many students--Pagans and Atheists especially-- are not so fortunate. I also live in an area (Washington, DC) where public opinion is on my side. And while the average person doesn't know a whole lot about Quakers, the history books have been quite kind to us. I don't have to explain on a regular basis that I'm not a satanist or assure anyone that I don't believe in blood sacrifice. Pagans get that crap all the time.

Which is why this crap annoys me so much. My family never played a round of Religious Freedom Bingo that we didn't win. Annoying as it was to have to play at all, I learned how to choose my battles, how to fight them, and how to laugh about my victories later. This family in Delaware? This isn't funny to them now and it's not going to get any funnier when their kids are in college posting in blog comment threads about it. A country that takes as much pride as America does in its freedoms should be ashamed and outraged that people can get run out of their homes on their soil. The bigots that family has the misfortune of calling neighbors aren't 'fighting the good fight' for their way of life; they're spitting on the constitution and exemplifying everything that's wrong with America.

#87 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 02:38 PM:

On a different subject and for the record, I'm not very comfortable being cited as a "serious Christian," certainly not in the context of anyone's discussion of what "serious Christians" do and don't think.... here in 2006 I'm way too out of charity with Christianity-in-the-world to merit any such appellation.

I guess that was me. Well, I apologize for using a label you wouldn't use yourself.

#88 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 02:42 PM:

Upthread, I was too harsh with Avram, for which I apologize. What I should have said immediately, rather than getting splenetic, was this: Obama's speech predated the emergence of the Delaware story. He's not responsible for the behavior of Kenneth R. Stevens and likeminded pinheads. And I'm not actually especially concerned about whether Obama rushes to the nearest microphone to condemn it. What's toxic about Obama's speech is that it plays right into the hands of the volkish self-pity of our bigots; it reassures those people who believe secular liberalism to be the author of their woes that, by golly, it is! Or, as David Bratman put it, better than me, in a post on his LiveJournal: "If conservatives aren't expected to denounce the quacks who get invited to Republican conventions, why should liberals have to adopt, as a starting point for discussion, the biased framework that Obama does? By speaking as he does, Obama is encouraging the yahoos in the belief that they're being oppressed."

#89 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 02:43 PM:

Stephen Frug: no apology necessary.

#90 ::: Ashni ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 02:57 PM:

I was raised Jewish, identify now as a Jewish Pagan. I got a lot of crap in school--swastikas on notebooks, people trying to convert me--in spite of the fact that there were no overtly religious groups there. (No need--there was maybe one other non-Christian besides me.) What happened to the Dobrichs was much worse, and absolutely vile. This sort of thing needs to be stopped, needs to be spoken out against, and I have no argument with anyone who says so. But there are other things that also need to be spoken about.

As an adult, I've heard a lot of people who identify liberals, people who I agree with about most things, denigrate "religious people" as a single unit. These are people who announce at dinner that All Religious People are anti-scientific bigots, and who sniff and change the subject when I mention that I'm religious and a scientist. These are people who write popular blogs (not this one, obviously). These people are real. They are loud, and they convince real religious people that they aren't welcome in left-wing circles. They don't convince me, but I'm stubborn.

Barak Obama's speech predates the Dobrich incident. He was trying to convince an audience of Christians that they should be focusing their efforts on getting people out of poverty rather than forbidding my marriage. I don't agree with everything he said there, but he was trying to do good work. And he has a track record of succeeding at doing good work. I voted for him as my senator, and I will vote for him again, if he runs again. If he runs for president, I will vote for him there too--and I'll write him to make sure he knows that he's representing gay Jewish Pagan scientists too. So far, he's done pretty well at it.

#91 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 03:02 PM:

Steven Brust has this exactly right:

There is today no political party in America that is able to answer the attacks of the extreme right, and is able to defend the mass of the American people against the loss of basic rights, and continued economic attacks.
What I would add is that there does appear to be a broad attempt in progress to repair this sorry state of affairs. Whether this has any hope of succeeding, or of doing any good in the long run, is a question on which I suspect Steve and I will disagree. But whichever one of us is right, it is going on, and it entails a lot more than just (for instance) Lamont vs. Lieberman, or (for another instance) the world of liberal blogs.

Steve dinged me for saying that Obama was engaged in careerism at the expense of his party. What party, asked Steve? The one that sold out to the Right on this, that, and the other thing? Yes, I would answer, that party, the one whose actual members, when polled on specific issues, invariably turn out to be more progressive, more class-conscious, more libertarian*, and acres more pissed off than the political professionals in charge of the organization. America is full of progressives who deserve better leaders. Maybe Steve is right that nothing will improve until liberal-minded Americans cast off the Democratic party as a hopeless cause, but in the wake of all the destruction we've seen since 2000 I just can't bring myself to sign up for another round of Leninist contradiction-heightening, of the argument that "we have to let things get worse before they can get better." Needless to say, though, I take Steve's criticism very seriously; it's an argument that deserves to be taken seriously.

--
* In the broad sense, not in the sense of wanting to sell the streets and privatize meat inspection.

#92 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 03:04 PM:

And while I'm catching up on the thread, let me say that Avram is exactly right here to object to having his "case-by-case" phrase taken egregiously out of context.

#93 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 03:05 PM:

Anna, I'm sorry, but I must have missed that equivalence. Who is making it here? I can't find it among the opinions on this thread, and the yahoos who ran the Dobrich family out of town did not do so because the Dobrichs are atheists and/or morally depraved, but because they are Jews. Someone should inform said yahoos that Jesus was a Jew. Oh never mind. I agree with you, making such an equivalence is depressing when it is made, and I am sure some "religious" folks do make it, but I don't see it here.

Jon Baker, you have made a case for the legal right of the state of Israel to defend itself. I do not think you can make a case for its moral right to kill Lebanese children, and I suspect that a good case can be made that Israel's heavy bombing is a tactical failure, i.e. it is not killing enough Hezbollah fighters to make a difference militarily, and it is inflaming the entire region. Please believe me when I say that criticizing Israel does not mean I support Hezbollah: I do not, nor, I would guess, does anyone who posts here. Sorry, this is off-topic and I will make no more comments about it.

Re Obama: as I see it, like most politicians, he wants to have it both ways. He wants secularists to support him while appealing to that segment of the evangelical community which has not succumbed to Bush-worship. I will give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume he does not recognize how much his pro-public worship stance provides political cover for the sort of "Christians" who would drive the Dobrich family out of town. But by now, someone has, I am sure, told him. He needs to see it, and to repudiate it, strongly, clearly -- at least, he does if he wants my vote.

What happened to the Dobrich family is against every principle this country adheres to and stands for. Every damn politician in the country should be on record against it, without exception, but Obama first, precisely because this is the topic he chose to differentiate himself from other Democratic politicians.

#94 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 03:14 PM:

I think the meme that all religions are as bad as eachother is at least as dangerous as the one that all political parties are as bad as eachother. It means arguing that the Dobriches are as bad as the nasty kinds of Christians who drove them out. Remember, they weren't arguing for the right to be nice progressive liberal secular humanists, they were arguing for their right to be Orthodox Jews.

Look how this thread has got sidetracked into arguing about Israel, because after all the people killing Lebanese civilians are mostly Jewish, and some of them may be using religion as a justification for nationalism. Funny, that.

Apart from all that, I find it in very poor taste for Patrick to be making threats of (antisemitic?) violence against people who disagree with him.

#95 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 03:29 PM:

Individ-ewe-al, you're full of it. Patrick made no threats whatsoever, unless you think telling someone he or she is full of shit is a threat....

#96 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 03:31 PM:

This is now my third try at this topic, and I will keep it short. I'd like to see more moments of:

This thing of darkness, I acknowledge mine.

from those who profess religions that are so frequently used to mistreat and abuse others rather than the more common "well, we're a different sort of [religion], not like them," which I suspect would be Obama's general response, were he asked.

#97 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 03:38 PM:

Lizzy, it wasn't the full of shit comment that worried me; that was perfectly normal rudeness. No, it was: these are people who would kill you and Until, you know, they cut your throat. Of course, Patrick doesn't mean that he would commit violence. He after all is a nice person entirely free of the taint of religious prejudice. But the nebulous they will do nasty things to you, you Jew, if you speak out of line. I am pretty certain Patrick didn't mean it that way, but it's an absolutely classic intimidation technique: you'd better watch out, there are nasty people out there who want to harm people like you. Therefore, emotionally it reads as a threat.

#98 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 03:48 PM:

Individ-ewe-al: Those qoutations are not threats by Patrick, but rather threats to Patrick (and the rest of us, yourself included, for when the revolution runs out of heathens, it will turn on "heretics").

Tolerance doesn't mean I have to let someone beat me , nor anyone else. As the Right is so fond of saying, what is wrong, is wrong. Oppressing someone because of their religion is wrong.

I, for one, won't stand for it in my house, and will do my damnedest to prevent it in my country.

So long as you accept a tolerance for that sort of abuse, to the point of telling those who oppose it they are wrong to see it for what it is; vicious and anti-american, you can get in line with Mr. Obama at the kissing booth.

#99 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 04:00 PM:

"Until those who wish for social progress are willing to admit that the Democratic Party is politically and morally bankrupt--basically Republicans with a leavening of hypocricy--I do not see any viable option for defending the Dobrichs of this world."

Steve, the US political system is at times terribly corrupting and at this time terribly corrupt. And yet it remains true that many Democratic leaders are moral and political powers, while few Republican leaders are, the Republican leadership apparently having been seduced by wealth and power. There may not be a "good", but there is a "better", and it's not the Republicans.

"In the wake of all the destruction we've seen since 2000 I just can't bring myself to sign up for another round of Leninist contradiction-heightening, of the argument that 'we have to let things get worse before they can get better.'" Amen! The type of transformation Steve advocates takes above all time and time we do not have. Does anyone here imagine that the USA would be anything like a liberal democracy if we have another generation of the sort of policy-making we are seeing from the Republican leadership? So let us work for the "better", even though it is not what we dream of.

#100 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 04:11 PM:

I just don't see how making nice to fundamentalists gets the Democratic party anywhere. No person who wants the US to become a theocracy will suddenly think, Hey, the Democrats are starting to come over to our side -- let's vote for them. There is no way they will ever stop voting Republican. We should stop trying to appease them, admit that we've lost them as voters, and concentrate on what the Democratic party does best -- rights for working people, education, health care, Social Security, etc. It's a good message, and I think more people are for it than against it.

And that's all I wanted to say, except I read the message before this one, and I have to say -- Patrick anti-semitic???? Oh, please.

#101 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 04:16 PM:

When some bigot calling himself Christian spouts anti-Semitism, my favorite response is:

"You know, Jesus was a Jew."

(Hear that, Mel Gibson?)

#102 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 04:17 PM:

I'm pretty sure that Avram understood that I wasn't making a "threat" against him, antisemitic or otherwise.

Also, you will look far and wide without finding a single place where I have claimed to be "entirely free" of any sort of prejudice.

#103 ::: Martyn Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 04:18 PM:

You don't have to be a-religious or even without a constitution to understand that what happened to that poor family is as wrong as it was when it happened to many other poor families of their religious persuasion, other and none in all sorts of places. I do seem to recall we had a war about that exact thing not so very long ago, and the good guys won.

I think.

Today I went to an historical reconstructions, Norsemen invading the north east coast of England in the ruins of a priory that has been ruined for several centuries longer than the USA has existed - its called history. Do you know how you could tell the Vikings from the Saxons? You couldn't. The last man standing in each melee used his power as the victor to bring the dead back to live. Now that's a power to be envied.

#104 ::: Kathryn from sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 04:25 PM:

"It's useful to know that our whims supersede not just civility, but the laws of the land." - PZ Myers

One has Law, Ethics, and Morality.

Morality- "do unto others"
One excuse I've heard for treating a variant of Christianity as the established religion was "Well, if I wasn't saved I'd certainly want people telling me how to be saved until I was saved." Fairly sure that particular person was lying for the sake of argument.

Or how about "what you do to the least of these you've done it to me"? Would they be happy yelling "jewboy" to Jesus?

Ethics- categorical imperative-
Are these people thinking they'll never live outside of their community? Perhaps yes.

Do they care about what example they're setting for other communities? For situations where only one Christian family lives in a town, say? Are they thinking about how well 'majority rules' is going to work in a world where 80% of people aren't Christians? Perhaps not. They're willing to set up rules as a majority they'd never be willing to accept as a minority.

Law-
looks like they're not so into the 1st Amendment ("Not just the law, also a good idea").

#105 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 04:26 PM:

Annalee Flower Horne: I wish I'd had your courage as a 14-year-old atheist who was ordered by a teacher to close my eyes and bow my head in school assembly (this was not in the US, natch). But then, my parents wouldn't have backed me. I had to wait till I was 18 before I told my father that I wouldn't participate in religious exercises.

This is a large part of the problem. Schools function to produce conformist citizens, but tell us that they exist to produce thinking citizens. Our leaders tell us that they believe in freedom, but don't do a bloody thing to promote it and a lot to restrict it. Our fellow citizens proclaim that they live in a free country, and persecute us if we step a millimetre out of line. There is a public declaration of liberty combined with a private suppression of that liberty in the name of , ahem, god and liberty.

Whether or not there is a god -- and I've seen as much evidence for one as I have for the Easter Bunny -- belief and unbelief should not be forced on people. Those who dominate society, however, increasingly want not citizens but subjects. And they're prepared to lie like hell in order to do it (this morning, for example, I read a letter in the AJC which complained that the US had fallen away from the Christian principles of Washington and Lincoln -- Lincoln!!!).

The case of the Dobriches is, very simply, one of religious persecution. That's against the principles of Washington and Lincoln (not to mention Jefferson and Franklin).

PNH: You might find Andrew Sullivan's distinction between 'Christians' and 'Christianists' useful.

#106 ::: Will "scifantasy" Frank ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 04:29 PM:

Lizzy, it wasn't the full of shit comment that worried me; that was perfectly normal rudeness. No, it was: these are people who would kill you and Until, you know, they cut your throat.

Speaking as the one apparently threatened--both "full of shit" and "would kill you" were to me directly--you're so far wrong that it's not even funny. Frankly, intimidation was not on my list of interpretations of either comment.

It's didn't "emotionally read as a threat," and wasn't about "a nebulous they". I wouldn't get killed for "speaking out of line." I'd get killed for being Jewish. Patrick was telling me I was being considerate toward people who would kill me if they got a chance. Now, whether I agreed with him or not was a different matter; but his point was that I was being too damn nice.

No, I didn't stop contributing because I was scared off, I was tired and went to bed. When I got up again the topic had moved on from my contributions. There was only one comment I saw this morning that I felt I might want to respond to, and even that one was hours old. Then I went out to brunch. But I'm back, and since someone's jumping to my defense when I'm not being attacked, I should probably decline. Politely.

#107 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 04:40 PM:

Greg: "From wikipedia"... I'd be a bit leery about citing Wikipedia as an authoritative source around here. Witness their entry on disemvoweling, the talk around it, and the current efforts to have the article deleted outright.

You will note the return of some familiar names, although you may not recognize them with all their vowels in place.

#108 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 04:51 PM:

Avram: Upon re-reading, I see you're right. I wasn't responding to you, but rather to various straw men (and, alas, actual men and women of my acquaintance) who argue that issues of church/state separation should always be decided on a case by case basis. I've heard the argument so many times that I shot from the hip without paying any attention to what you were actually saying.

My bad. Thanks for calling me on it.

#109 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 04:51 PM:

my own experience was being threatened by jocks for a few months in Utah for refusing to stand for the pledge. I finally got thrown out of that school and anyway, they never seemed to do more than Talk. And I have always been good at talking in a way that made people want to avoid me.

#110 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 05:03 PM:

Greg London, you can ignore the thousands of years of legalized - backed by the scientific and religious establishments - power imbalance between men and women, and pretend that all things are equal, and that men are inherently going to be fair when they stand to lose thousands of years of legal and societal privilege, voluntarily, and that that historic and persistent power imbalance doesn't matter.

(You can also make a straw man and lump the dealing of punishment into acknowledging the offense and call it all "justice", because no power in the universe can prevent you from doing that, either.)

How well did waiting for whites to give black Americans rights, and trusting all-white juries and justice systems to do the right thing voluntarily, work out? In the real world, not in the realm of the Platonic Forms?

How well did trusting the majority Churchstates of Europe to stop persecuting heretics and non-believers work out? Again, historically, not in some abstract world where everyone was on an equal societal footing and everyone did the fair thing voluntarily, even the people in power.

You don't get to tell me that I *didn't experience* sexual harassment, that something wasn't a threat, that it wasn't *meant* seriously - because unless you're gay, or unless you've been in some *extremely* abnormal situations for a straight guy outside of jail, you as a male have simply never experienced the same things I have. And if you're white, unless you've lived in a place where you're the ethnic minority, you don't get to say that blacks/Asians/Latinos haven't actually experienced discrimination, just because *you* didn't perceive it. --Or that Pagans/Jews/Buddhists/Moslems/atheists haven't experienced real religious discrimination in workplace/school/commerce. "Gee, I wouldn't mind if someone made me say 'under God'," "I wouldn't mind if a cute woman hit on me," - I've heard it all. You simply *don't*, as a member of privileged group/s, have the experience - or, critically - the social vulnerability, to understand it. So your opinion that someone else shouldn't be hurt or feel threatened by it, is irrelevant. Your lack of empathy and comprehension may not be, strictly speaking, your *fault*, but it is your problem.

#111 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 05:09 PM:

Terry, I agree that tolerance absolutely doesn't mean tolerating abuse. But there's a difference between Stevens and his crowd, who should be condemned in the strongest of terms, and Obama who merely made a speech that was insufficiently condemnatory of Stevens' cronies, and people like Avram and Will who are arguing that Obama has a point and doesn't have to be read as supporting Stevens. It is reasonable to disagree with them, it is not, in my opinion, reasonable to treat them as if they were as evil as Stevens himself. And it's never reasonable to use threats of violence as a rhetorical strategy.

#112 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 05:10 PM:

"I just don't see how making nice to fundamentalists gets the Democratic party anywhere."

To the extent that the Democrats can attract the less radical of fundamentalists--the majority, after all--, or at least discourage them from involvement in worldly politics, there's a huge advantage in doing so. There are a lot of fundamentalists who are quite liberal on things like feeding the poor, world peace, and so on; the scary ones, really, are a radical minority, though an extremely destructive and influential one. Aside from simple decency, to the extent that the Democrats can compromise with fundamentalists like Rev. Boyd, or at least get them to stop supporting the radical right, to that extent being nice to the fundamentalists is politically worth the trouble.

#113 ::: Will "scifantasy" Frank ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 05:13 PM:

It is reasonable to disagree with them, it is not, in my opinion, reasonable to treat them as if they were as evil as Stevens himself.

You really think that's what Patrick was doing? Huh.

#114 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 05:15 PM:

Will, thanks for your comment. I am heartened to know that you didn't feel threatened. I wasn't, as such, trying to defend you, but to make the general point that the kind of rhetoric I quoted leaves a very bad taste for me.

But your clarification helps, that really the rhetoric I'm uncomfortable with is a warning that it is dangerous to be too nice to certain groups of people. I still think the point could be better expressed, but I think I see the general thrust of the point.

#115 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 05:26 PM:

It was not my intention to accuse Patrick of being antisemitic. (And Patrick, fair point that you have not claimed to be entirely free of prejudice; my putting those words into your mouth was unjustly hyperbolic.) I'm accusing Patrick of behaving in a way that is reminiscent of how racists behave: referring in graphic terms to the terrible things that may happen to members of minorities. And it just so happens that the people who are disagreeing with him are Jewish (as am I).

It may well not matter, especially as the people who were the subject of these remarks don't object. When it's absolutely clear to everybody (including me!) that PNH is not antisemitic, the undertones of his comments are probably harmless. I just don't like threats of violence against people expressing a slightly different shade of opinion. And this context is a sensitive one where religious persecution is being discussed. That makes for an unfortunate combination of nuances, and I'm fully prepared to admit that I'm being over-sensitive.

#116 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 05:35 PM:

"there's a difference between Stevens and his crowd, who should be condemned in the strongest of terms, and Obama who merely made a speech that was insufficiently condemnatory of Stevens' cronies"

For the umpteenth time, Obama's speech was delivered before the events in Delaware came to light. The point of the original post was not to criticize Obama for being "insufficiently condemnatory" of that outbreak of bigotry.

This has been explained multiple times in the subsequent conversation, and not just by me. The fact that you still don't get it suggests that you aren't really reading the thread very attentively.

#117 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 05:36 PM:

Obama is a lawyer, by all accounts a brilliant lawyer (editor of the Harvard Law Review is a pretty tough gig to get, isn't it?). He's famous for being a remarkably effective public speaker.

He's also aligned with the "centrist" movement in the Democratic party - the one which holds that if all the crazy hippies are publicly enough marginalized the flyovers will realize we're really Serious People. The fact that polls show "crazy hippies" hold the same views as the majority of the country means nothing. We're not talking about the center of the nation's opinion. We're talking about the center of Sally Quinn's cocktail parties.

I find it very difficult to believe that Sen. Obama simply didn't understand that

"Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering the public square."

and
"Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation. Context matters," the Illinois Democrat said in remarks to a conference of Call to Renewal, a faith-based movement to overcome poverty.

and
At best, we may try to avoid the conversation about religious values altogether, fearful of offending anyone and claiming that -- regardless of our personal beliefs -- constitutional principles tie our hands. At worst, some liberals dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word "Christian" describes one's political opponents, not people of faith.

were going to be the big takeaways on his speech.

I think it's terrific that Obama has faith. I think faith is, in general, a good thing, although (as, you know, an american,) I think its role is to inform our political views and not to dictate them.

I think it sucks that he suggested that his strawman liberals don't have, fear, disrespect and avoid faith, and I think he might have mentioned that the evangelical leadership he wants to emulate are severely deficient in hope and charity.

#118 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 05:47 PM:

bellatrys: your anger is evident. Nevertheless, in a nation governed by the rule of law (leaving aside whether this is such a nation) you don't get to convict someone of a crime simply on your unsupported word as the alleged victim, despite your status as a member of an oppressed group and his status as a member of a privileged group (leaving aside whether those groups define so neatly). You have to go to court and prove your accusation under the law. That's all.

#119 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 05:54 PM:
It was not my intention to accuse Patrick of being antisemitic.
Oh, save it. Of course it was your intention; that's why you made the suggestion, plain as day. Do you think the people reading you here are fools?
I'm accusing Patrick of behaving in a way that is reminiscent of how racists behave: referring in graphic terms to the terrible things that may happen to members of minorities. And it just so happens that the people who are disagreeing with him are Jewish (as am I).

It may well not matter, especially as the people who were the subject of these remarks don't object. When it's absolutely clear to everybody (including me!) that PNH is not antisemitic, the undertones of his comments are probably harmless. I just don't like threats of violence against people expressing a slightly different shade of opinion.

Not just baloney, it's baloney on stilts. I of course behave in many ways that are "reminiscent of how racists behave." I note the possibility of bigotry-fueled violence; so do bigots. Obviously this means it's right to accuse me of the nastiest imaginable behavior and motivation. Also, I use adverbs, and wear shirts. Just like bigots. QED.

Do you really expect to be taken seriously with arguments this labored? If you're going to go around making accusations of this caliber, you really need to get better at backing them up.

#120 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 05:58 PM:

Avram:(and what the hell is a nation of supposedly free people doing with a pledge of allegiance anyway?)

BINGO!

Bingo!
Bingo!
BINGO!!!

#121 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 06:06 PM:

PNH:Also, note how this kind of nitpicking has completely displaced any discussion of what's been doing, and what's being done, to the Dobrich family.

Bingo yet again! This should be exactly what the discussion is about... Anyone wants context? THERE is your context... These people are being persecuted, yes persecuted, by a whole bunch of people who just want live their "way of life"??? When did we become the country where people flee persecution instead of fleeing FROM persecution?

#122 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 06:10 PM:

Individ-ewe-all, is this what you perceive to be a threat?

Or, maybe, don't get the point. Sail along on your cloud, happy in the belief that correctly-parsed logic is all that matters. Until, you know, they cut your throat.

I'm going to try one more time. Patrick is pointing out in this post that tolerating bigotry instead of actively, forcefully opposing it allows those bigots to become powerful, to the point where they will have enough power to kill you (and me, and him) and none of us will be able to stop them. I don't see how you can possibly contrue this at a threat from Patrick.

#123 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 06:12 PM:

Susan: I don't acknowledge the collective responsibility that I think is implied by your Shakespeare quote.

I don't accept that all Jews are responsible for what the Israeli government is doing today in Lebanon, nor that all Germans are responsible for the Holocaust, nor that all Muslims are responsible for 9/11. Similarly, as a Christian I don't accept responsibility for everyone who claims to be Christian. These goons in Delaware are simply wrong. They have not behaved as Christian people should. Their persecution of the Dobrich family, as reported, was unchristian and should be condemned by all Christians (and by all non-Christians).

#124 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 06:23 PM:

It used to be called the Flag Salute ... not that that changes its nature. When I got old enough to pay attention to what it meant, I decided it was a prayer. And it got followed, more than once, by an under-the-breath 'Amen'.

This week I'm hoping that if there is a 'rapture', that the neocons and the would-be theocrats get taken first, and shown what the world could have been like without their power games. The rest of us can wait as long as necessary for 'rapture', thnk you very much.

#125 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 06:24 PM:

Somehow it makes it worse that this is happening in Delaware. Original-colony, one-of-the-first-stars-on-the-flag, hooray-for-us-we-fought-in-the-Revolutionary-War, down-with-the-divine-right-of-kings, Bugs-Bunny-and-Yosemite-Sam-limping-down-the-road-playing-the-fife-and-drum Delaware. You'd think that Joe and Jane Average Delawarean would be acquainted with this funny old piece of paper called the Bill of Rights.

#126 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 06:25 PM:

It's interesting to watch someone assume that Avram doesn't understand what's being said to him.

I continue to favor broomsticks over baseball bats for their greater entertainment value, all other things being equal; though there's a lot to be said for a good baseball bat.

John Stanning, Bellatrys wasn't proposing to convict anyone of crimes. She was observing in advance that she'd show no respect for certain stripes of opinion.

Julia, thank you very much for keeping the argument staked in place.

#127 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 06:37 PM:

Susan:

>>This thing of darkness, I acknowledge mine.

> from those who profess religions that are so
> frequently used to mistreat and abuse others
> rather than the more common "well, we're a
> different sort of [religion], not like them,"
> which I suspect would be Obama's general response,
> were he asked.

Hmm. A few thoughts.

1) "those who profess religions that are so frequently used to istreat and abuse others": I don't know how many practitioners of those religions would agree with that assessment. It seems to me that for Evangelicals, they would think they're doing you the biggest favor by imposing their way of life on you - after all, it saves you from eternal damnation. And how terrific is that?

So they might acknowledge, and rejoice in that which you think of as "thing of darkness".

In other words, for them to make such an acknowledgement would be to deny what they are, change to the opposite of what they are. Don't expect it.

2) What I see, among Orthodox Jewish authorities, particularly of the "ultra-" vein, is more blaming Those Guys Over There for the thing of darkness.

E.g., blaming the war in Lebanon on World Pride, which has been trying to organize a gay parade in Jerusalem for mid-August. Yes, it's a blatant rub-the-noses-of-the-religious-in-how-we-oppose-them thing, to hold it in the religious city (J'lem) as opposed to the secular city (Tel Aviv or Haifa), but still.

What one hopes to see is introspection, which does happen at times, e.g. among the Modern Orthodox leadership after Yigal Amir shot Yitzchak Rabin.

#128 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 06:43 PM:

To retain the context of the Delaware case:

I should add, to (1) above, that's why we need laws to keep people from imposing their religion on others. When the whole town is one religion, or the whole state, that's where the First Amendment is crucial.

#129 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 07:19 PM:

Patrick, I would just like to note that I am saddened and disappointed to learn that you wear shirts.

#130 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 07:25 PM:

Following on my last remarks, it surprises me that no-one is preaching the virtues of tolerance to these people. It is not, in other words, only that there is prejudice, their clerics, apparently, do not oppose it. Has their pulpit gone crazy? Or...?

#131 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 07:33 PM:

Randolph, do you remember those people in Gretna, Louisiana, right across the river from the refugee center in New Orleans, who forcibly prevented those poor suffering people from crossing the bridge, lest they come into their town? I was watching the news for the next few weeks to see whether the churches and synagogues in Gretna would announce that they were going out of the religion business, but none of them ever did.

#132 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 07:35 PM:

But as a Quaker, my religion forbids me to take oaths whether or not I agree with their wording.

as someone completely unfamiliar with this, could you point to a short and sweet URL that explains?

#133 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 07:45 PM:

Greg, I can't give you a URL, but while I was looking for one I found a weblog called Quaker Quietist, which had a wonderful quote from Lucretia Mott:

I know the veneration there is for the Scriptures. Taken as a whole, it is far too high. Many are shocked at the idea of not believing in the plenary inspiration of the book from beginning to end. But, my friends, we must learn to read this as we should all books, with discrimination and care, and place that which belongs to the history of a more barbarous age where it belongs, and never take the wars of the ancients as any authority for war in this enlightened age. It has good and evil in it, and because men take it as authority, is one reason that truth has made such slow progress. Mark how it has been used to uphold the great crime of human slavery...Friends have had to suffer because they dared assert that war was wrong in every age of the world...

But we are learning to read the Bible with more profit, because we read it with more discriminating minds. We are learning to understand that which is inspiration and that which is only historical, for the righteous judgment that comes of the right spirit dares judge all things,--”Ye shall judge angels,” how much more the records of the ancients. It is time that we should learn to take truth for authority and not authority for truth...

#134 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 07:46 PM:

From religioustolerance.org:

"Throughout their history, Quakers have refused to take oaths. Their belief is that one should tell the truth at all times. Taking an oath implies that there are two types of truthfulness: one for ordinary life and another for special occasions."

(sorry, don't know how to blockquote!)

#135 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 07:54 PM:

Jon: Clearly, you do not feel Israel has the right to exist and conduct itself as a responsible state.

If you were any more full of crap with lines like that, you'd pop.

You blame Israel for not being concerned with civilian casualties, yet also blame them for their activities undertaken to prevent civilian casualties (leafletting).

No, you stupid fck, I blame Israel for KILLING CIVILIANS. And to hell with your gawdamn leaflets, because those worthless pieces of paper don't change the fact of who gave the order to drop the bomb that killed those civilians.

I think it was two days ago, your morally righteous Israelis just missiled a BUS FULL OF CIVILIANS EVACUATING THE AREA THAT HAD BEEN LEAFLETTED.

And while you hide behind your Geneva Convention lawyerism of how Israel is following the letter of the law, I don't hear ONE IOTA of remorse from your post about Lebanese civilians killed in legal righteousness by your Israeli army. They were warned, so they are legitimate military targets. So clearly YOU don't think Israel can do any wrong. It's all within the letter of the law, and that's all that matters to you, eh?

Nice humanity there.

Screw you and your immaculate righteousness.

#136 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 08:02 PM:

there will be a thread on Making Light fairly soon in which we can discuss Israel, Lebanon, and the rest of that situation. In this thread, please stop it, right now.

that's what I get for responding as I read, rather than reading everything and then responding. Anyway, never mind all that up above.

#137 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 08:06 PM:

it's an absolutely classic intimidation technique: you'd better watch out, there are nasty people out there who want to harm people like you. Therefore, emotionally it reads as a threat.

Oh, man, this is so messed up.

#138 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 08:21 PM:

Teresa and Mary: Thanks for both links. Read them both. I'm a little confused about oaths yet. But I think I'll ponder some more and let it sink in.

#139 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 08:32 PM:

Annalee, the wrong wasn't in using the phone, of course. It was that you stepped outside the power-over relationship that people like school principals tend to need for their self-esteem. Come to think, that's a very Quaker way to get in trouble, isn't it? I'm no Quaker (I believe in fighting back when attacked, and just had occasion to tell a friend that he was entirely justified in stabbing his brother with a switchblade, and that much as I disapprove of them generally, I was certainly glad he had one on that occasion), but everything I've learned about the Society of Friends has filled me with admiration. (Yeah, I know y'all are human and all like that. Nonetheless.)

Greg, I know that some religions that refuse oaths take it from the Sermon on the Mount (I think) where Jesus says "I say to you, do not swear at all," and no, he doesn't mean cussin', he means don't take oaths.

That's why they ask if you swear or affirm that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in court now. That wouldn't be good enough for me. I have no objection to binding myself to appropriate oaths, but that's one that I know I can't keep. Courts don't let witnesses tell the whole truth (even assuming that I, or any person, or even all humans collectively, knew the whole truth about anything).

#140 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 08:51 PM:

How well did waiting for whites to give black Americans rights, and trusting all-white juries and justice systems to do the right thing voluntarily, work out?

You keep changing your arguments. I'm not sure if you know it or not. But you do. The reason I'm saying this is because that line up there has absolutely nothing to do with what I said to you.

I never said an all-male jury should judge whether a woman has been sexually harrassed. What I was responding to was this:

Even the non-abusive men just don't *see* sexual harrassment of us - because it's not something that affects them personally.

What I said is that society, as taken from a random sample thereof, would act as jury to decide. And if your assertion that all men are forever unable to "get it" about women being harrassed, then you're saying in effect that when a woman brings a sexual harrassment case before the court, it will have to have an all woman jury, because men simply will not understand.

You never put any qualifications to your statement. None. The biases and prejudices are leaking through it like a sieve. Not a "some", not a "often", not a "from my experience", nothing. You made a bald-faced absolute statement that is laden with prejudice against men, and I'm simply telling you it's crap.

To return to your all=white jury handing out justice for the black man, what is true is that some whites are prejudiced and some are not. And some all-white juries condemned innocent black people. But if no white person were able to see racial prejudice and stand against it as wrong, then blacks would still be slaves by the simple math of population distribution. But the fact is that some whites "get" racial prejudice and get that it's wrong. Some whites even fought for racial equality. And so your "all white jury" argument fails to prove that all whites are prejudice. There is no other way to explain history of racial progress other than that some whites "get" racial prejudice is wrong.

You can then extend that to say that some men "get" that sexual inequalities are wrong as well.

If you want to say that no one will ever have the complete experience of what it means to be you other than you, fine. Go for it. If you want to say no man will ever have to complete experience of what it means to be a woman, fine. Go for it. If you want to talk about the direct experience, be specific in stating "experience". And maybe throw in a "complete experience" to allow for the men who have experienced prejudice some other way, because they're gay, for example, or black, or atheist, or whatever minority group may come up.

But to flat out say "Even the non-abusive men just don't *see* sexual harrassment of us" is a nice condemnation of the whole male gender that isn't supported by fact, history, or any reality based argument. Obviously some men saw it and understood it enough to fight against it.

Whatever anger you have at the male species as a whole is misdirected and based on misinformation you've convinced yourself is true.

#141 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 09:00 PM:

that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in court now

I think there's an unspoken 'to the extent that you know it' in there. Omniscience is not in fact expected by earthly courts.

#142 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 09:01 PM:

Sorry, bad editing. It should have been "construe this as," not, "contrue this at." The point is unchanged.

Susan, in my church we do our best to remember that we are all sinners, all fallen, and all on a journey, with a desperate need for God's grace and guidance. That's why, on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, the liturgy puts the congregation out there with the crowd, yelling "Crucify him!" and cheering as the soldiers pound in the nails.

I don't know where the pastors, ministers, and priests who minister to these folks in Delaware are.

#143 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 09:17 PM:

Gee, folks, if you're that pissed, have you considered *contacting* the Senator, and talking to him?

I know it's an odd thought, but there's evidence that he actually listens to people. he may not agree, but he seems to listen

That alone is good enough reason for me to contacted his office, and asked for some clarification, in light of the NY Times article.

Also, for those of you figuring it's time to dump Obama for this quote, take a look at his voting record and other quotes on major issues

I'm not pushing any particular point of view on Obama. I'd just like his speech to be taken in context for his record, and compared to other Senators. If you think all senators are lower than snakes, fine. But at least you'll be considering things in context.

#144 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 09:18 PM:

Greg London:

"No, you stupid fck, I blame Israel for KILLING CIVILIANS. And to hell with your gawdamn leaflets, because those worthless pieces of paper don't change the fact of who gave the order to drop the bomb that killed those civilians."
Since my godfather has informed me on numerous occasions that I'm a fckng civilian, I'll just sit back and listen.

Try to keep an eye on your wordcount if this thing turns into a thrash.

#145 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 09:20 PM:

Josh, we're disappointed because we've been inclined to think very well of Obama.

#146 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 09:34 PM:

Since my godfather has informed me on numerous occasions that I'm a fckng civilian...

I don't think I have any godparents -- nobody has ever told me about them if I do -- so I can't say I fully understand the purpose of them. But from what I do understand, it must be somewhat disconcerting to have your godfather speak to you in that manner.

Although I guess maybe the point of having a godparent in cases like that would be to make the child grateful for the parents she was born with.

#147 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 09:47 PM:

Michael Weholt, Teresa converted as an adult. I believe her godfather is none other than Yog (Jim Macdonald).

#148 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 09:47 PM:

As for the pledge thing, that has long been a religious issue. New York, bastion of liberalism, 1960 or thereabouts - my (Jewish) mother had to intervene with some of the old battleaxe Catholic teachers in her school, on behalf of JW students who refused to say the Pledge on grounds of idolatry.

In the Barnette case in 1943, the Supreme Court ruled that students could not be punished for refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Apparently, that idea didn't trickle down to everyone quickly.

#149 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 09:50 PM:

Teresa, what's a thrash?

#150 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 09:57 PM:

I think there's an unspoken 'to the extent that you know it' in there. Omniscience is not in fact expected by earthly courts.

Yes, but it doesn't matter what's unspoken. What matters is the wording of the oath.

In addition, I may not be allowed to testify to everything I know. The court may exclude certain testimony, and in fact that may prevent me from telling the truth at all (that is, creating an impression in the minds of the jury that matches what I believe myself). And if I'm never asked certain questions, I can't bring in the information even if it's relevant.

If I get an openminded judge, I'll agree to sign a paper attesting to the fact that I'm "under oath" as far as the law is concerned, and/or try to get hir to let me swear that I will "answer all questions asked of me truly and completely, to the best of my ability and as allowed by the court." That I would be willing to swear by Styx and the Daughters of Night!

If I get a narrowminded one, I expect I'll go to jail for contempt. May the gods stand between me and having to testify in court!

I have a much stricter idea of what "telling the truth" means than our legal system does.

#151 ::: Cathy ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 10:02 PM:

My probelm with Obama's comments is that there is a great deal of harm in requiring the Pladge, most of which falls on the religious. I'm sure as a lawyer Obama must have read the Jehovah's Witnesses Supreeme Court cases while in law school. I do not remember whether Barnette was the first case or the case overturning the earlier decision a mere three years later. Basically, a boy in Viriginia refused to recite the Pledge, as required by state law and got expelled from school and his parents sent to jail for contributing to the truancy of their son. The Supreme Court upheld the Virigina law, mostly relying on case law from anti-Mormon cases from the mid 1800s. This was interpreted as open season on JW's. There were lynchings and one man was even castrated. Causing the Supreme Court to reverse itself three years later as the apparant harm could no longer be ignored.

#152 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 10:16 PM:

Xopher: Michael Weholt, Teresa converted as an adult. I believe her godfather is none other than Yog (Jim Macdonald).

Ah. Thank you. I knew she had converted as an adult, but I was thinking Mormons did the godfather thing as well and so she was referring to some grizzled geezer out there in the Great Western Desert.

Although after I posted, I recalled the brilliant baptism scene from one of the Godfather movies (II?) where Michael Corleone is swearing to look after the spiritual life of his nephew, intercut with scenes of all the family's enemies getting whacked.

Which made me think godfathers are there for that purpose (looking after the spirtual lives of their godchildren, not necessarily having all the family's enemies whacked). I had been thinking they were for the purpose of taking over the raising of the child should anything happen to the birth parents. Though I suppose they could be there for that purpose as well.

#153 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 10:18 PM:

The Quaker sub-thread brought back to me this piece of a song which I learned in first grade at a Quaker school in Philadelphia (although I was not a Quaker):

"Will you swear on the Bible?" "I will not!" said he.
"For the truth is more holy than the book, to me."
Walk in the light, wherever you may be;
Walk in the light, wherever you may be;
"In my old leather breeches and my shaggy, shaggy lox,
I am walking in the glory of the light," said Fox.

(Fox being the founder of the Quakers.)

#154 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 10:51 PM:

That would be "George Fox," by the late, great mystic and songwriter Sydney Carter:

"If we give you a pistol,
Will you fight for the Lord?"
"But you can't kill the devil
With a gun or a sword!"
"Will you swear on the Bible?"
"I will not," said he,
"Truth is more holy than the book to me."

Old leather breeches,
Shaggy, shaggy locks!
Old leather breeches,
Shaggy, shaggy locks!
With your old leather breeches,
And your shaggy, shaggy locks
You are pulling down the pillars of the world, George Fox.

Many Quaker congregations have adopted the song, changing the ominous "You are pulling down the pillars of the world" to the more reassuring "You are walking in the glory of the Light". Typically, Carter didn't mind. He had a tendency to write songs that gave the impression that they were hundreds of years old--so much so that his publisher felt it necessary, at one point, to post a plaintive Web page explaining that "Lord of the Dance," far from being an ancient pagan hymn, was in fact the thoroughly-in-copyright work of their living author, Mr Sydney Carter.

#155 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 11:00 PM:

Michael, yes, I understand that godparents are (traditionally) supposed to take charge of the spiritual education of their godchildren.

#156 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 11:01 PM:

They're wrong, but they're not evil

Sorry, Mary, but people who long for a time when they could force and intimidate everyone into following their God are evil. No matter how 'nice' they seem to you. Ask the Dobriches about trying to 'reach' these folks.

#157 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 11:03 PM:

George Fox was also famous for drinking up everyone's fancy vodka. It's very little known that Sydney Carter also wrote the song that contains the lines

John,John, the Grey Goose is gone,
And George Fox is on the town-o!

#158 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 11:20 PM:

"But as a Quaker, my religion forbids me to take oaths"

"as someone completely unfamiliar with this, could you point to a short and sweet URL that explains?"

Greg, Matthew 5:33-37, which I quoted upthread--The Man himself said it, Quakers actually do it.

#159 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 11:29 PM:

The "Authentic" page for Lord of the Dance has a disparaging statement about Pagan adaptations of the song. But I kind of like some of the added verses in this one.

#160 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: July 30, 2006, 11:56 PM:

In my old leather breeches and my shaggy, shaggy lox

This sounds more like the Jewish version...

(sorry)

#161 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 12:01 AM:

Okay, getting back to the Dobriches -- no one seems to have pointed out that one reason this is happening is that the climate is favorable for it. It's become okay to show bigotry lately, for certain groups -- Muslims and gays, mostly, but anyone who watched the drowning of New Orleans on television might have come away with the idea that no one in power is going to stick up much for blacks either. Once the bullies see they can get away with it, they start coming out in force.

#162 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 12:44 AM:

my religion forbids me to take oaths whether or not I agree with their wording.

So, having chewed on it for a bit, the only thing I can figure is that Quakers take "oath" to mean a promise to do "something", and that "something" may or may not be right, or it may seem right when the oath is taken but may seem wrong when the something is to be done.

so, rather than swear to do something, the idea is to simply always do what is right?

Is that close? It feels like a completely foreign suit of clothes to me.

Almost instantly, I wonder if "doing what is right" isn't also an oath? So, I feel like I'm still missing something. Like, would my Courage vow be an oath? Because I'm having trouble not supporting that vow or taking that oath.

#163 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 01:04 AM:

Stings to be accused of bad reading comprehension! I was struggling to find a succint way of expressing the problem with Obama's speech and I didn't really get there. It's more like, he should have known that his speech, even if innocuous in literal content, would be twisted to support Stevens and his ilk, which I agree is different from "insufficiently condemnatory". And I do in fact agree with Patrick that arguing about the interpretation of the literal content of the speech doesn't really address his point.

However, there are ways of telling people that they haven't addressed your point without making violent threats against them. I gave an example to explain why I perceived Patrick's remarks as threats even though they were expressed in the neutral third person. That's not equivalent to arguing that racists use adverbs, Patrick used some adverbs, therefore Patrick is an eeeeevil antisemite.

#164 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 01:07 AM:

PNH - Cool. I remembered the song, but had never heard of Sydney Carter. I'll have to go dig up a copy...

Lisa Goldstein: What, you don't think that George Fox walked around with shaggy smoked fish on his head? What else could the song have meant? :)

#165 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 01:30 AM:

pretend that all things are equal, and that men are inherently going to be fair when they stand to lose thousands of years of legal and societal privilege, voluntarily

The level to which your statement implies a permanent and irreparable flaw in my own personal character is vulgar and insulting.

I would have you stand beside me as equals, and you condemn me because of my gender. I find fairness and justice to be most important to me, yet you accuse me of witholding priviledges because I'm a man.

I mean this in the fairest and most gender neutral way when I say this:

You stink.

#166 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 01:36 AM:

"However, there are ways of telling people that they haven't addressed your point without making violent threats against them. I gave an example to explain why I perceived Patrick's remarks as threats even though they were expressed in the neutral third person. That's not equivalent to arguing that racists use adverbs, Patrick used some adverbs, therefore Patrick is an eeeeevil antisemite."

You have now climbed down to what you imagine is the defensible position that you "perceived Patrick's remarks as threats." Yes, and the rest of us "perceive" you as promising free ice cream for everyone, and also a pony.

To quote the great D. West, your rhetorical technique here appears to consist of chopping off both your feet in the hope that your opponent will faint at the sight of blood.

#167 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 01:50 AM:

Teresa, I am not sure I understand your reference to Gretna. Gretna, though, was panic during and after the worst storm in living memory. What strikes me here is that this has been going on for two years in Georgetown--that's more than time enough for someone to say, "wait a minute, this isn't very christian, is it?" Heck, where are the higher authorities over those churches? Why doesn't the national synod or whatever raise a ruckus?

Which begs the broader question, of course. There many liberal churches--why don't we hear more from them? Is it because the media just don't run the sermons?

#168 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 03:21 AM:

As a kid I LIKED the pledge. But now that I know the history of the thing I try to make as many people as possible aware of the fact that the "Under God" phrase was added due to McCarthyism. Period. While I still sort of like the pledge itself, I bet if I was a teacher and I started the day with the original version I'd be fired pretty fast. The "under god" bit just smells like loyalty oaths and blacklists to me.

I'm probably closer to high school than most people on this board. I know how these things work, when some people may have forgotten through the veil of years.

“Having voluntary student prayer groups using school property to meet should not be a threat, any more than its use by the High School Republicans should threaten Democrats.”

Sounds harmless enough, yeah? Well I grew up in the bluest of blue states, good old CT. We had one of those in our school, a regular christian prayer group. Well some atheist kids wanted to start up an atheist discussion club. They were told that sure, they could do that... if they found a sponsor on staff. Do you think they had any luck? What do you think would have happened to the career prospects of any staff member who had agreed to sponsor such a club? I'm not saying they definitely would have lost their job, but I'm pretty sure they would have had reason to feel a little unsteady.

The end result is community funds and resources used to support meetings of only, in this case, Two religions (there was also a Jewish association). A few of the Wiccan kids considered trying, but they didn't want to cause any trouble.

When one group just assumes that they'll be allowed to gather freely on public grounds with the support of authority figures and another religious group knows that even trying would be an ordeal for everyone involved... then that is a threat.

#169 ::: Dan Lewis ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 03:41 AM:

Matt Austern said, Like Patrick, I think it's an example of a would-be Democratic leader advancing his own career at the expense of his party. It has made me think less of Obama, just as the same kind of stunt has made me think less of Lieberman.

His first sentence got a lot of play about the pathologies of the Democrat Party. The second sentence was good too. I was reminded of the Lieberman situation again when Josh Jasper defended Obama by telling us to look at among other things, his voting record.

The political victories the Democrats can muster now are mostly symbolic victories (the stem-cell vote was an exception, I suppose, although you could say that a firm Democrat caucus dividing the Republican caucus on this issue won a symbolic victory too). One that comes to mind is when Harry Reid shut down the Senate last fall to get the Phase II report on Iraq, so we could all find out whether the Bush Administration and its cronies misused the pre-war intelligence on Iraq. Where is the report?

Voting records provide a smallish defense for both Lieberman and Obama when votes are so partisan and the Republican majority writes all the legislation. The court of public opinion is what counts at the moment, especially as a means of regaining a divided government in November. And Lieberman just kills the Democrats in the court of public opinion, BS rating and endorsement from national NARAL or not.

Obama may have a certain interfaith or ecumenical streak in his own thinking, but he gave a symbolic victory to the right by criticizing secularists from the middle. Seems I once heard a proverb about a plank, a speck, and an eye that is germane. Earnest or not, Obama's aim was off here.

#170 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 05:10 AM:

Let's try this a different way. My original contention was that it's inappropriate to use threatening language in this context, even if your intentions are pure. So arguing, but Patrick isn't antisemitic! is talking across me altogether. But the argument about intentions cuts both ways; I may not have intended to make serious accusations against Patrick, but I was unclear enough that I appeared to be, and for that I apologize.

However, the argument that a reasonable person would not read Patrick's remarks in this context as threats does address my objection directly. Will made the argument kindly, Patrick more directly, and I can see that the consensus is against me on this. So my "I perceived" was a clarification of the view I expressed when I first joined in this discussion, not an attempt to dilute my argument so much that nobody could disagree with it.

As to the actual substance of the argument, I am no longer as convinced as I was that the remarks in question were obviously threats. I'm still uncomfortable about that kind of language but I have taken on board the clarifications which suggest I'm over-reacting.

#171 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 05:54 AM:

bellatrys writes, in her original contribution to this thread:

Even the non-abusive men just don't *see* sexual harrassment of us - because it's not something that affects them personally.

I bet when you say this to apparently non-abusive men, they suddenly come out with personal abuse, right?

#172 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 06:01 AM:

Lisa Goldstein said: "Okay, getting back to the Dobriches -- no one seems to have pointed out that one reason this is happening is that the climate is favorable for it. It's become okay to show bigotry lately, for certain groups -- Muslims and gays, mostly, but anyone who watched the drowning of New Orleans on television might have come away with the idea that no one in power is going to stick up much for blacks either. Once the bullies see they can get away with it, they start coming out in force."

In my opinion, this is a key point. We can't understand these things in isolation. The attacks on our freedom come at the same time as attacks on your living standards, and at the same time as, let us just say, international events motived by naked drive for profits, and at the same time as the complete collapse of the Democratic Party.

I am perfectly aware that many of you feel that the Democratic Party can be "rescued" and made to serve the interests--or at least the policies--of the rank-and-file members of that party. Someone even brought up how the most reactionary elements of the Republican Party took over that party as an example of how the most progressive forces of the Democratic Party could take over.

The implication here is that it is a contest of ideas and influence: The Christian Right did a good job on organization and tactics, and got their views accepted. Now the "left" must do a similarly good job on organization and tactics. This implies a struggle of ideas happening in isolation--it is all ideas, and real world events are relegated to the status of examples that can be brought in to support this or that point of view.

In my judgment, this is backward. The victory of the most reactionary forces in the Republican Party, the feeling among the most backward sections of society that they can now raise their heads and act on their ignorance without shame, and the dismantling of even token opposition from the Democratic Party are part of the same process.

The unprecidented level of profits among a tiny minority (Warren Buffet is able to give 31 billion to charity!), is not a sign of the health, but of the extreme sickness of capitalsim. Behind these battles of ideas lie a teetering and thoroughly rotten economic system that is forced to use the most barbaric military methods to sustain itself throughout the world because it no longer has the economic clout to force its will on weaker nations that way.

Take over the Democratic Party? I beg to submit that these leaders of whom you are so contemptuous are more in touch with reality than those who dream of taking it over. The key to reformism is that it accepts as eternal that which it wishes to reform. In my opinion, that "eternal" thing--capitalism--has no reforms left to give, no matter how many decent, right-thinking people wish it to. And with nothing left that it is able to accomplish, the Democratic Party's very existence as become irrational, and those who still cling to it, crying that to step outside of the two-party system is an unrealistic dream are themselves the unrealistic dreamers.

#173 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 07:16 AM:

While the treatment the Dobriches received is appalling, a single case is not proof of a worsening trend. Are things worse for Jews in the US in general than they were 10, 20, 30 years ago?

The coverage I've read suggest that there is more religion in schools, but in the case of the Dobriches it appears that the religion was always there, and the Dobriches finally got tired of it.

#174 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 07:47 AM:

Teresa, if you're inclined to think well of him, try talking to him. If enough of us do it, there's the chance he'll respond somehow.

I've seen suggestions back and forth in this thread that Democrats are no different than Republicans, or not sufficiently different. Steve Brust made that suggestion.

"Until those who wish for social progress are willing to admit that the Democratic Party is politically and morally bankrupt--basically Republicans with a leavening of hypocricy--I do not see any viable option for defending the Dobrichs of this world."

It's a nice option to give people without actually engaging the Democrats in question. It leaves a clear moral high ground that you never have to get off of and say you tried to work with the people you're condemning before you condemn them.

I'm not saying that talking to him *will* work, but what sort of political view is it that refuses to exert it's self when someone they respect does something wrong?

Are Democrats basically Republicans with a leavening of hypocricy? I don't agree. Roe V. Wade and the federal marriage amendment are important distinctions, as are the other areas of political divide between Democrats and Republicans. They affect me and people I care about.

Looking at Obama's voting record shows that he overlaps with my opinion on these issues in a lot of areas. If his vote, and all of the votes of the Democrats in the USA were replaced with votes more in line with Bush's desires, Steve's implication is that things would be no different.

We're in the business of speculation, right? Let's speculate about a future of America with only one party in power - the current crop of Republicans. Would that world be different from today? [insert gratuitous It's a Wonderful Life joke]

That's what I'm getting at when I maintain there is a substantial difference. I don't like the current crop of Dems. But I know they're doing *something* different.

#175 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 08:10 AM:

Let's try this a different way. My original contention was that it's inappropriate to use threatening language in this context, even if your intentions are pure.

Patrick wasn't using "threatening language;" he was using a common rhetorical device along the lines of "ignore this at your peril."

#176 ::: Evan Leatherwood ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 08:22 AM:

The bigots of southern Deleware should be read this beautiful letter from George Washington, written in 1790 to the congregation of Touro synagogue in Rhode Island:

"To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport Rhode Island

Gentlemen:

While I receive with much satisfaction, your Address replete with expressions of affection and esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of answering you, that I shall always retain, a grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced in my visit to Newport, from all classes of Citizens.

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past, is rendered the more sweet, from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security. If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good Government, to become a great and a happy people.

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of con-science and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.

For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support. It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favor-able opinion of my administration, and fervent wishes for my felicity.

May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.

George Washington"

That religious tolerance could be expressed so perfectly and succinctly 200 years ago and be so forgotten today proves to me that certain forms of Christianity in America survived the 20th century like bacteria survives an antibiotic, and have mutated into weirder and stronger strains.

#177 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 08:34 AM:

Rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's:

If the votes in the Senate go as expected next month, on the peak of Mount Soledad in the City of San Diego there will be a spot of land topped by a twenty eight foot Cross that will be guarded by American soldiers. On this site there may be services given by military chaplains, that will extol and proselytize the religion symbolized by that cross. This will be a benchmark in the transformation of this secular country into a Christian nation.

* arodb's diary :: ::

There are two bills that are making this happen, the first, H.R. 5683, to federalize this land and put it under control of the defense department passed the house last week and will be voted on by the Senate in the next couple of weeks. This was not a partisan bill, as over a hundred Democrats in the House voted for it, (Link to the bill lists them) and many Democratic Senators, including my two from California support it.

The second is a regulation to allow evangelical Chaplains to proselytize anytime, anyplace, even to audiences that are compelled to attend. This was inserted by the House in the Defense appropriations bill, that has just been approved by the Senate committee. Having heard nothing about any Senator taking a stand, I can only assume it is in the Senate version also.

http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2006/7/29/184625/570

#178 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 08:42 AM:

I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance about six months after moving from Canada, when I thought about it and realized, no, of course I didn't pledge allegiance to a country I didn't even particularly like (Sorry. I was an angsty kid). I never got called on it--but now the NC legislature's made it mandatory to say the pledge in public schools, and it makes me nervous. No particular student is required to say the pledge--it just has to get said--but, well, see what happened in Virginia.

Greg London: the idea of not swearing oaths is to simply do what you say that you are going to do. If you swear an oath to do something, that implies an oath is binding in a way that "Okay, I will" isn't; the idea is that "Okay, I will" should, by itself, be binding.

#179 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 09:06 AM:

Somehow it makes it worse that this is happening in Delaware.

Look at a map and Delaware seems to be Mid-Atlantic, maybe even a stray bit of PA or MD.

Actually, southern Delaware (and the Delmarva peninsula in general) is pretty much a bastion of the Old South. As the NYT article implies, it is changing due to the development of the Delaware and Maryland beaches and the influx of Hispanic immigrants to work in the agriculture industry.

It is not surprising (or new, alas) that minorities, especially Jews, are treated badly when they disturb the cozy status quo (as the Dobriches did by opposing a Christian curriculum in the schools).

The fact that something bad has been going on for a long time does not excuse or justify it, of course.

#180 ::: Eleanor ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 09:19 AM:

Stephen Frug and Patrick, I didn't know that song, nor that it was by Sydney Carter, but I did instinctively try to sing it to the tune of Lord of the Dance before I realised it didn't work.

How I learned about Sydney Carter: A net friend and I were discussing hymns on instant messenger one night. We didn't seem to know any of the same ones. She told me she liked Simple Gifts and sent me a link to a midi. I said "Oh, that's Lord of the Dance!" She hadn't heard of that, so I looked for a link and found an Australian newspaper article about Sydney Carter. He had died that same day. True story.

#181 ::: Chryss ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 09:31 AM:

I'm getting ill and have to lie down. This is sh*t that happened to me when I was growing up in rural Illinois--in the EIGHTIES. Apparently we haven't learned crap. Apparently targeting someone for his/her "different" religion "is our way of life and we're not giving it up."

I am completely sick of the universe right now. Excuse me as I hurl.

#182 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 09:31 AM:

I'm neither Pagan nor Quaker, but Xopher and Annalee's comments make deep emotional sense to me. The idea of compelling children to swear oaths they don't understand squicks me a whole lot too. So, I agree with the original post that Obama is wrong and dangerously wrong to minimize that.

It took me a while to realize that because I got distracted arguing about meta-issues and making myself unpopular. But yeah. Very much convinced here.

#183 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 09:44 AM:

First, to Teep, who claimed that "In public spaces, supported by public money, it ought to be freedom FROM religion." Firstly, the concept of freedom of religion is an issue of freedom of religious thought. That means that when it is an issue of religious thought, it must be treated equally. If, Christmastime, a group of atheists want to put up an exhibit about evolution in a public space, should Christians be prevented from putting up an exhibit of the birth of their god?

Freedom of religion is a guarantee that no one will be told what to believe. That means that you won't tell me what is and is not true, and I will not tell you either. The government should be completely neutral. And neutral, here, does not means forbidding everything; it means making sure everything is allowed. As long as religion and science both talk about origins _and meaning_, they are both "religious thought". Of course, according to you, both should be forbidden in public spaces.

Now we need to ask the important question. This question is not about mocking a Jewish boy. The issue isn't about a community running out a family because of what they believe. I heard a story growing up about prayer in school that could, I think, really clarify the issue:

Where my mom went to school in Columbus, Georgia, they had a daily prayer led by a student. Each student had a turn. It was up to the student to decide what prayer they wished to say. My mother heard Christian prayers and heard people recite poetry meaningful to them. When it was her turn she said the Shema, a Jewish prayer. She found it meaningful, and a wonderful display of tolerance and religious belief. She has generally lived a happy life since.

Where my dad went to school, they had a similar system. A student was selected to say a prayer, and every day, my father felt uncomfortable with the prayer. Every day a kid got up and said a Christian prayer, and most of the kids saying it along. My father didn't participate, and didn't protest, and every day in his grade school my father was uncomfortable. He went through this for years in school, and he survived. He wasn't driven from his home in New Jersey, and wasn't ridiculed for being Jewish. He has generally lived a happy life since.

What is the difference between these situations? The easy answer is that one was established and the other was chosen. If you were paying attention, one was up to the students, and the other seemed imposed. But when you look at the issue, the difference is more subtle - who the children are, what the community feels, if the teacher wants to deal with students doing their own thing, and literally thousands of other variables, including whether the people on the school board were happy with their marriages when they were discussing the issue.

So really, we can be honest - there is no difference between what my mom and my dad went through. They are both what occurs when we allow people to express religious sentiments in a public forum. The solution is to question carefully exactly how far we need to go in forbidding this type of display so that it is impossible to lead to abuse. There is nothing inherently wrong with children being uncomfortable with the displays of other religions. If this is where the issue stopped, freedom of religion would never be an issue.

But freedom of religion isn't about public displays or even about use of publicly funded religious action - it is about coercion. If I'm not being coerced, it isn't violating my freedom of religion. The institution of "Freedom Of Religion" in this country is all a safeguard to prevent that coercion. We need all of it, because the consequences otherwise are so horrifying that they tend to cause societies to crumble, wars to occur, and progress to grind to a screeching halt. But we should still keep in mind that the thing we are trying to prevent isn't religion, or religious displays, but religious coercion.

A family being told that they should leave to practice their religion elsewhere scares me. The only thing that mitigates that fear is that there is serious debate elsewhere in the country about whether a copy of the Ten Commandments should be put up - something clearly harmless by itself. I just wonder, do people remember what the walls of separation of church and state which we are defending so valiantly are designed to protect?

#184 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 09:51 AM:

When my daughter was in first grade, one of the older kids in school told her that she was "going to go to Hell" because she didn't have a father. The school refused to do a thing about it, said they "didn't see it as a legitimate problem." My daughter was upset about it for a really long time.

It seems to me as if the Fundie Hate Machine has seriously damaged the ability of normally rational people to perceive the biases and bigotry that is invading their own speech and actions; it's like being slowly drowned in a pool of body-temperature piss where you can't even tell anymore that your head is underwater.

#185 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 10:04 AM:

And neutral, here, does not means forbidding everything; it means making sure everything is allowed. As long as religion and science both talk about origins _and meaning_, they are both "religious thought". Of course, according to you, both should be forbidden in public spaces.

Egads. You've completely stood this thing on it's head and rendered it into complete nonsense. The level of nonsense is enough that the above needs to be addressed on a sentence by sentence basis.

And neutral, here, does not means forbidding everything; it means making sure everything is allowed.

Sure, and from a theoretical point of view, "Separate But Equal" should give equal education to black children and white children alike. If you haven't noticed, reality is far flung from your theory.

As long as religion and science both talk about origins _and meaning_, they are both "religious thought".

And you are a complete and absolute moron. The only people I know who argue that line of crap are the idiots who think evolution is based in religious belief, and so is no different than creationism. Or you might be arguing the equally imbelcilic idea that intelligent design is legitimate science on par with evolution, rather than to speak of the reality that it was an idea created by a couple of religious extremists looking for a way to get around the Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) decision that said creationism cannot be taught in public schools.

Listen very carefully: science doesn't talk about meaning. Science talks about causes. The realm of meaning is a purely spiritual pursuit. Until you can get the difference, you're talking gibberish.

Of course, according to you, both should be forbidden in public spaces.

You know, you really shouldn't play with matches when your entire argument is straw.

#186 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 10:13 AM:

Suzanne: The best response I've found to fundies who tell me I'm going to Hell is to enquire if they're going to Heaven, and if the response is in the affirmative say "Then I'd be happy to go to Hell, since you won't be there."

#187 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 10:14 AM:

Um, you know, Greg, if you took out the insults, you'd have a pretty strong argument there. Mind if I take a shot at it?

As long as religion and science both talk about origins _and meaning_, they are both "religious thought".

Science deals with causes, not meanings. Your argument provides cover for those who would attack science by insisting that creationism be taught in schools. This is a very dangerous position, and you ought to reconsider it.

There. Is that all right?


There. That okay?

#188 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 10:36 AM:

Lizzie: nobody here, but:

The perception of liberals as atheistic, religion-hating, anti-American, and morally depraved is a problem, no question.

Oh yeah. And mostly, I have seen these things go together.

#189 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 10:38 AM:

Before jumping on bellatrys, please look at this article, reading all the way to the bottom...since it does not bash anyone.

http://colours.mahost.org/org/maleprivilege.html

#190 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 10:40 AM:

When Science discusses cause, it functions as science. But this is where one needs to be careful - in my experience, and the experience of many people I have talked to, absolutely no time is given to the issue of what types of questions science does not answer. And as long as it is portrayed as it currently is, it is problematic.

(I thought that this point might be clear by emphasizing the fact that I have a problem with science addressing _meaning_ as opposed to causes. I was attempting to say something fairly specific, which I will try now to clairify.)

In fact, I think that given your position, you would be on my side. The fact that evolution advocates (ie anti-creationist advocates) give no thought to the way that things like evolution are taught gives the religious right the perfect opening to claim that you are advocating a godless society where anything is acceptable.

Now let's deal with details - when children are taught about the scientific method, why is the word "falsifiable" never mentioned? Why are children never told that science cannot address issues where there is nothing testable? Why don't we address any of the most important differences between science and religion, instead of focusing on the one thing that currently causes conflicts?

I'm sorry that I didn't make my position clearer on this. I'm even sorrier that I put the two points together in that post, because I really meant this as an aside, and wanted to hear something about what people thought about the second half. An Mr. London, I really am disappointed in you invective, not so much because it was unwarranted and intended to show you could quote a couple cute facts, which I think it was, but because it managed to be neither original nor amusing.

#191 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 10:41 AM:

If, Christmastime, a group of atheists want to put up an exhibit about evolution in a public space, should Christians be prevented from putting up an exhibit of the birth of their god?

I believe the correct response to this is, "mu."

How is putting up an exhibit about evolution an act of religious expression? Whether a group of atheists are able to put up a science fair project in a public space tells me nothing about the extent of religious expression. If the display is truly about evolution, then religion doesn't come into it at all. (e.g., evolution neither affirms nor denies the existance of a supreme diety.)

I take your point that what we are really trying to prevent is coercion and that the point of the separation of church and state is to allow all religions to thrive. However, I think the "but science is really a religion" argument is counterproductive if the goal is to prevent religious coercion.

#192 ::: Jeffrey Smith ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 10:52 AM:

David Manheim: Now let's deal with details - when children are taught about the scientific method, why is the word "falsifiable" never mentioned? Why are children never told that science cannot address issues where there is nothing testable? Why don't we address any of the most important differences between science and religion, instead of focusing on the one thing that currently causes conflicts?

How do you know that no children are ever taught this?

#193 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 10:55 AM:

JC: You said something about putting up an exhibit in a public place dealing with a religiously sensitive issue specifically around the holidays.

Now, what were you saying? I could barely make it out over the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance / Godel Escher Bach reference. Ah yes, that's where we were.

The question is all about where the slippery slope starts. If you want to draw lines, be careful where you do so - the phrase "case by case basis" has already been abused enough in this thread, but it's not hard to see how this type of act will be interpreted. When we want to get rid of the bad side of freedom of expression in the form of the probability of religious coercion, we need to be careful to be evenhanded.

Of course, this ties in to the distinction made between science as meaning and science about causes. (Maybe that is why I had the two separate points bundled together before, but I'm not sure what I was thinking about. Short term memory isn't a strong suit.)

#194 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 11:16 AM:

The fact that evolution advocates (ie anti-creationist advocates) give no thought to the way that things like evolution are taught gives the religious right the perfect opening to claim that you are advocating a godless society where anything is acceptable.

The "fact" is this is complete alarmist crap. Evolution doesn't advocate a godless society. It advocates that natural processes could create life on Earth. That morons will take the idea that their story of "God creating the world and Adam and Eve in a couple days" might be little more than myth and conflate it with your alarmist notion of a Godless society where anything is acceptable is a result of being a moron, not of anythign that evolutionists have done.

Teaching the science of meteorology is to try to understand how natural processes affect the weather. If your belief in Rain Gods (tm) is threatened by meteorology, that's your problem. But the rest of us have a morality that isn't based on Rain Gods telling us what to do.

The only people who would even THINK of saying that "Godless" must equate with an "anything is acceptable" amoral world are those whose religions are based wholly on a God telling them what is right and what is wrong and who cannot develop a moral system on their own. And this would be idiots who are so attached to their literal interpretation of one religion's bible that to think maybe it is just a metaphoric story is to question the validity of God at all.

Studying evolution doesn't affect God or morality any more than studying meteorology. The only difference is whose God is affected.

Screw your cries of invectives. You are arguing complete and total horseshit.

Now let's deal with details - when children are taught about the scientific method, why is the word "falsifiable" never mentioned?

Do you just make this crap up as you go along? Or do you have a play book you're working from? Otherwise, where do you get the idea that falsifiability is never mentioned?

Why are children never told that science cannot address issues where there is nothing testable?

When did science ever claim to children in a textbook that it can explain all and everything? When did science ever make a claim via a children's textbook that it had a monopoly on spirituality or morality or values?

Unless you can point to a public school textbook that claims that science answers all questions, you're fighting non-existent problems.

Why don't we address any of the most important differences between science and religion, instead of focusing on the one thing that currently causes conflicts?

I'm sorry, didn't you say the following in your previous post:

As long as religion and science both talk about origins _and meaning_, they are both "religious thought".

So, it would seem that you are the one who has some serious need of addressing the most important differences between science and religion, because that right there seems to indicate you can't even tell them apart.

#195 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 11:22 AM:

You said something about putting up an exhibit in a public place dealing with a religiously sensitive issue specifically around the holidays.

Actually, I believe you did. I did not since my point was that you needed to demonstrate the validity of your implicit assumptions if you choose to argue down this path.

I note that you've yet to do this.

BTW, I will appreciate it very much if I may be responsible for only my own words, thank you.

Furthermore, I (as well as Steven Brust) pointed out that arguing down this path is likely to encourage rather than discourage religious coercion.

I note that you've also yet to respond to this.

(I will also note that I've said nothing about any "slippery slope" or doing anything on a "case by case" basis so, for now, I will be happy if no one associates either of those arguments with me.)

#196 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 11:30 AM:

science as meaning and science about causes.

You are wrong in so many ways that I don't even know where to begin. Here's a basic start:

(1) Advocating evolution does not require atheism.

(2) Advocating science does not require godlessness, amorality, meaningless, or a spiritual-less world.

(3) Science does not claim to explain everything and all realms.

(4) science does not claim to explain that which isn't falsifiable or untestable.

(5) science is not religion.

This is not a problem of the "one thing that currently causes conflict" between science and religion. This is mostly a matter of you having no clue what science is versus what religion is, conflating the two in numerous ways, and then making arguments about science that really have nthign to do with science.

#197 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 11:54 AM:

came after a school board meeting in August 2004 on the issue of prayer

I was just reading through this again and noticed the above. A school board meeting is not the sort of channel to resolve something like this. I'd say that scenario is one step down from wikipedia. The structures encourages mobs, not solutions. Some people will see the problem as a threat, and a public board meeting is a perfect place for them to carry "Jesus saves" signs, and scream at the Dobrichs'.

This isn't to say the Dobrichs' were in the wrong, more of an observation that some venues are structured towards finding solutions more than others.

#198 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 12:19 PM:

David Mannheim: On that reading (meanings versus causes), everything is religion. Is there a reason not, for instance, to require that grammar classes acknowledge how much the very categories of words shape our sense of meaning, and to give equal time to languages that have no nouns (such as Navajo) or no tenses (such as Chinese)? For that matter, if we assume that the culture of a deeply religious people is presumably religious too, might the refusal to make Ebonics part of the standard curriculum be a form of religious persecution?

Basically, where does this stop, except where it happens to be convenient for you?

#199 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 12:31 PM:

If I'm not being coerced, it isn't violating my freedom of religion.

Another grain of truth packaged in complete nonsense.

The problem with this little litmus test of yours is that if you happen to hold the same views that happen to be legally enforced through pain of death, then you are not being coerced and your freedom of religion is not being violated. Great.

The only thing you seem to have missed is that if you happen to be, say, Christian in a country that enforces Christianity through punitive law, then it isn't your religious freedom that makes a damn bit of difference, is it?

So, coercion is not the objective and reliable test for freedom of religion. Because the one little piece that you're missing is that it's freedom of religion for all, not just the group that happens to be in power.

You also seem to have collapsed personal expression with govenment endorsement. No one has ever said you can't pray to the God of your choice in school. What is at issue is to have the government endorse a particular God, or even a particular channel of communication, such as prayer, and disregard all other Gods and channels.

The school doesn't have a religion. It is a building, a structure. The teachers may have a religion, but they are not being prohibited from exercising their religion on their own time. What is being demanded is that no teacher, no principle, and no government, use school as a way of indoctrinating or endorsing one religion over another.

School time shouldn't be used to "out" the atheists and minority religions. Because with any right, it's the rights of the minorities that need protection, not the majority.

#200 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 12:32 PM:

OK, let's start with the issue that everyone is having with my understanding of the way science is taught in schools: I've been in them more recently than almost everyone who has criticized me of it, and the first I saw it mentioned was when I went to college and picked up a book by Popper. I have not, however, based this on only my personal experience. I was interested to know what others learned about the applicability of science, so _I asked them_.

I discovered that there was one person that I talked to that knew what it meant for a theory to be falsifiable. Out of at least a dozen, all of whom are my age, all of whom went through this country's education system. It's not a peer reviewed journal, but my anecdotal evidence beats your claims that it's being taught until you can show me otherwise. (I did point this out when I said previously that I was basing what I said "in my experience, and the experience of many people I have talked to" )

In addition to these facts, science should not be making statements about meaning. Scientists tend not to. Anyone with any background in philosophy of science understands why this is true, and why science cannot make statements about meaning.

And therefore, to draw a conclusion from this - it's not so amazingly unreasonable for religious people and their ministers to feel threatened by what is being taught to their children. The children are being bombarded by all of the things that technology and science do for them, and how wonderful they are, and are never told that they do not replace religion.

You can claim that science never intended to replace religion, but you'd have trouble showing it. Most people now feel that there is a tension between religious belief and rational thought. They are supposed to be opposites. That means that to teach science properly, you need to clarify the point that there are questions that science cannot answer.

More specifically, to Mr. London, who seems rather antagonistic, your 5 point plan doesn't help. Your personification of science confuses the issue - science does not talk. Your claim that advocation of one side or the other does not require opposition to the other are irrelevant. We are discussing what happens - and in fact, advocates of one side tend to be antagonistic of the other, and scientists do not need to claim something that is widely, if incorrectly, assumed to be true.

Most scientists may profess religious belief, but if the public impression is that they all oppose religion, then to resolve this destructive tension, it needs to be stressed that the problem is rarely with those who understand. If you think that the fact that you understand that science isn't religion is enough, you are fooling yourself. Georgetown stands as a testament to the fact that we do have stupid bigots that don't understand the issues. That, and not any fundamental tension, is causing problems.

PS. Mr Baugh - science addresses causes. That is why we have falsifiable hypotheses, because that can clarify what is a cause, and what is not. Science cannot, for that reason, address meaning. Everyone who looks at the issue agrees that science as we have formulated it cannot address what _should_ happen, only what _will_ happen.

Other tahn that, I have no idea what you are saying? I don't know why you think I am espousing some sort of cultural relativism, which I tend to find rather repellant.

And I really hope I haven't misspoken - the barrage of criticism comes in rather fast around here.

#201 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 12:46 PM:

David Manheim, your little imaginary thought-experiment (... Christmastime, a group of atheists want to put up an exhibit about evolution in a public space) makes no sense to me. It implies that 1) people who accept the principles of evolution are necessarily atheists, that 2) an exhibit about evolution would be directly intended as an anti-Christian message, and 3) there is some kind of inherent and obvious contradiction between Christian thought and accepting the principles of evolution. You provide no evidence to back up any of this. In my experience, none of these implied statements are true. Moreover, even if in a specific case 1) and 2) were true, this would not say anything about the truth of 3).

Are you seriously suggesting that accepting the principles of evolution leads to "godlessness"? Hoo boy.

#202 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 12:57 PM:

Lizzy: No, I'm not suggesting any such thing. I'm suggesting that an easy way to get a rise out of christian fundamentalists would be to put up a display about evolution next to where the manger scene always is placed.

And a hypothetical is necessarily intended to illustrate a point. As such, I think that without any of your triplet of implications, I can leave the example as it stands.

#203 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 01:02 PM:

my anecdotal evidence beats your claims that it's being taught until you can show me otherwise.

No. You obviously didn't read the course about logical arguments. The person making the claim must provide the evidence. You made the claim that falsifiability isn't taught. Now you get to provide the evidence. All we've done is point out the lack of evidence.

You can claim that science never intended to replace religion, but you'd have trouble showing it.

Again, you've started with the assumption that science does intend to replace religion and that we must prove it does not. If you wish to state science intends to replace religion, you must prove it through evidence and logic.

That some poeple feel science is attempting to replace their religion is a different problem. But if you're going to talk about them, you need to talk about them, and stop saying crap like that line above.

Your personification of science confuses the issue - science does not talk.

Right, but you just said that I'd have a hard time showing that "science never intended to replace religion". So either you're also using science as a personification that walks around talking about how it's going to replace religion, or we're both using the term "science" to mean the human activity. More likely the latter. But then that means your complaint here is just a load of bullocks.

Your claim that advocation of one side or the other does not require opposition to the other are irrelevant. We are discussing what happens - and in fact, advocates of one side tend to be antagonistic of the other, and scientists do not need to claim something that is widely, if incorrectly, assumed to be true.

Right. So, morons like you incorrectly assume to be true the idea that science is out to replace religion. And scientists do not need to claim this, or state this. Morons can just make the shit up. And because scientists don't drop everything they're doing to teach these morons the basic principles of science, that inaction actually proves that scientists are advocating the destruction of religion.

See. The problem is your use of language is slipshod and almost useless. You say stupid crap like "religion and science both talk about origins _and meaning_, they are both "religious thought".". And when corrected, you start slopping around the ideas and words and fail to grasp the differences when you change your words.

If you wish to talk about "science", talk about "science". If you wish to talk about "religious nuts antagonistic view of scientists being out to destroy his religion", then talk about some religious' nuts antagonistic view of science. But don't change your tune from one to the other without some acknowledgement that what you said about "science" before was really about some "religious' nuts view of science".

if the public impression is that they all oppose religion, then to resolve this destructive tension, it needs to be stressed that the problem is rarely with those who understand.

The thing is this: the idea that science is not anti religion has been around for some time. Generally, it comes out everytime there is a public debate about religion in school. Some cross section of the public understands this. But that you throw the whole public into a group that views science as anti-religion is to ignore reality and replace it with your own version.

And again, you've changed topics. What was "science" is now "public perception of science".

If you think that the fact that you understand that science isn't religion is enough, you are fooling yourself.

If you think you haven't changed topics from making broad statements about science itself to trying to say this is about public perception of science, or that no one's noticed, you're are fooling only yourself.

science is not the same as religion. that morons don't get that is a different problem. If you want to talk about science, fine, lets talk about science. If you want to talk about what some moron thinks science is, then make it clear that you're talking about some moron's perception of science, not science itself.

#204 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 01:02 PM:

I think this is a hijack. Mr. Manhein, what happened in Georgetown was ugly anti-semitic bigotry, somthing Christian history and tradition is unfortunately replete with, and as far as I can tell it had nothing to do with the teaching of evolution or science in general.

You suggest that religious people feel threatened by the way science is taught. You may be right about some people, though I am a church-goer, and I in no way feel threatened by science. But none of this has anything to do with what happened to the Dobrich family.

#205 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 01:10 PM:

I'm suggesting that an easy way to get a rise out of christian fundamentalists would be to put up a display about evolution next to where the manger scene always is placed.

You'd also get a rise out of any evolutionists who has a minimal grasp of what evolution is, i.e. not a religion.

Gah. Lizzy's right. This is a hijack.

#206 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 01:15 PM:

You can claim that science never intended to replace religion, but you'd have trouble showing it. Most people now feel that there is a tension between religious belief and rational thought.

With the exception of a few people like Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers, most scientists make no such claim. Most scientists, like most people, are religious. The main publicists of the claim are religious fundamentalists. They constantly harp on their belief that evolution equals atheism, for example.

The "tension" they feel between religious and scientific thought is that science makes factual claims that conflict with a literal reading of the Bible: the Earth is billions of years old, life evolved, humanity evolved, different societies have different moral codes, and so on.

For some reason these facts make them nervous, and make them worry that other religious people less steadfast than they will be seduced away from Biblical literalism. Censorship and repression so often begin with the appeal (hidden or blatant) to protect some weaker vessel or other. It is never the speaker, it is never the listener, it's someone else either innocent or weak of will: "Do it for the children!"

#207 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 01:16 PM:

I'm going to continue my own comment -- none of this has anything to do with what happened to the Dobrich family. UNLESS you are saying that because they reject the theory of evolution and resent the way "science" is being taught to their kids, the bigots of Georgetown, Delaware chased the Dobriches out of town. It sounds like you are suggesting that there is a cause and effect relationship here. It sounds like you wish to claim that the bigotry in Georgetown was somehow caused by teachers of science whose insensitive framing of scientific issues threatens the faith of Christian conservatives.

Have I got it right?

I'm trying not to be rude. I really am.

#208 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 01:23 PM:

Sorry. Clarification. In the following sentence from my previous post -- UNLESS you are saying that because they reject the theory of evolution and resent the way "science" is being taught to their kids, the bigots of Georgetown, Delaware chased the Dobriches out of town -- the "they" in boldface refers to the bigots, not the Dobriches.

#209 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 01:24 PM:

Let's put this whole discussion back into context -
and I apologize that I responded to Teep. It was clearly a mistake. However, what's done is done.

I was, in response to his points, pointing out that the religious right isn't crazy to feel threatened. I'm sorry if I was unclear about the fact that I was discussing the perception of science, but I think that since in response to Teep's claim that the Religious are trying to "muddy the waters," it was not so unclear - unless someone wants to admit to not reading the original post, and to taking the entire discussion out of context.

This wasn't intended to be about the Dobritch Family, it was in response to a specific post. I'm sorry if the discussion wandered too far.

And Mr. London, please attempt to calm the antagonism. I'm sorry if you don't like what I say, but if you actually believe I'm stupid, it's simply not nice to call me a moron, especially in a public forum. Some might even think it was flaming.

However, with the risk of feeding a flamer, I'll respond to a couple of points:

You said I had no evidence, only claims. I provided evidence. It's anecdotal, and therefore weak. You sir, have provided naught but claims, with no evidence whatsoever.

I dislike being told what I think. I would appreciate it if you would stop assuming I disagree with you on the status of science as opposing religion. I'll say this as plainly as I can: I AGREE WITH YOU. I hate saying it, now that I've been repeatedly insulted, but I do.

(My point is that it's not useful to leave this issue of what science does ambiguous, because in the current climate, it forces moderate Christians to make a choice instead of reconciling the two sides. I know that some already understand this, but given how well radical Christians seem to be doing at the polls, it isn't enough.)

PS. My name is spelled correctly on each of my posts. You can copy it from there if you need to. One M at each end, and one N in the middle.

#210 ::: law ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 01:24 PM:

Greg, I agree with every point on your list, but you're preaching to the choir, and the choir here would not have chased the Dobriches out of town.

Lord knows how he found Speculations (a writers' bulletin board) or why he thought it was a good idea to post there, but currently there's one person proseltyzing in one topic who would disagree with every point you list. And has done so, in numerous posts.

Whether or not some of the statements David made were true (or even phrased very well) they are *believed.* I have been corresponding with a member of the religious right who sincerely believes that an acceptance of evolution is "advocating a godless society where anything is acceptable." He's said this. Several times. I think he's dragged in Hitler a few times. It's very sad.

But I don't think he's an isolated case. I think we do have to respond to this belief, and not just snort and say, "Well they're morons and they're wrong," as though that fixes everything.

#211 ::: BigHank53 ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 01:25 PM:

The only component of fundamental religious belief being seriously threatened by science is biblical inerrancy. And the sooner it's gone, the better.

Now, religion as a social institution is definitely under some heavy pressure from technological progress. Once someone has seen what tetracycline can do it's real hard to convince them that prayer holds all the answers. I don't have any real problem with people who want to live in the cultural equivalent of the twelfth century, but I don't want to go along for the ride.

#212 ::: sara_k ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 01:52 PM:

As a child in Kenya, I knew of no pledges but we did sing hymns during school assembly every morning. It wasn't until I was thrown into christian elementary school in North Carolina that I found out that there were three required pledges (to the American flag, christian flag, and bible) every morning and I was expected to take my turn leading the class in recitation. I was shocked! And humiliated by my teacher in front of the class because I didn't know any of the words. My mother did sigh and ask me if I could "maybe. try to remember the words and at least be polite" and then went to many parent-teacher conferences to speak for me. I was happy to finally make it to christian boarding school where there was overly long gossipy prayer on request before class but at least no pledges.

I also live in the DC area and every year file letters with the schools my children attend stating that my children will not participate in the pledge and I expect that this choice will be respected. Most years we have no problems but my son was in one class for 3 years (6-8 years old)with a teacher who several times asked him to defend the decision that my husband and I made. He once told her that he couldn't say the pledge because it wasn't true and she responded that if you say it often enough it will become true. Such logic from a teacher! This teacher also required all children to stand for the pledge, made a big deal out of picking leaders and pointing out the abstainers, and required any child without a filed letter to say the pledge including non-American students. It is, in my mind, a form of oppression and harassment; it is an attempt to make us all the same in thought, word, and deed. And that seems un-American to me.

#213 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 01:58 PM:

In making our political and social arrangements with each other, the nub and the rub come when we need to decide on not just what to do/not do but on what basis we should or should not do it. In a secularist view of governance, sectarian religious arguments have absolutely no place in formulating public policies and prohibitions--that is, they have no standing in public debate. We might agree that the protection of human life is a paramount social value, but a definition of "human" based on, say, possession of an "immortal soul" is going to lead to extensions of the core value in directions that will conflict with the understanding of those for whom, say, a zygote is not a full human person. It's not beliefs or values that are to be prohibited in the public sphere (neither can be compelled, after all) but particular kinds of arguments about them and even, eventually, particular epistemologies.

"Freedom of/from" are fundamentally political questions, and in the case of "freedom of religion" especially, the distinction between public and private spheres is crucial. Politics governs the public sphere--the intellectual and rhetorical commons that we all must share. What is visible in the public view inevitably has its roots in the private (individual psychology, religious belief, degree and sophistication of intellect, etc.), but the deeper into the private those roots go, the less relevant they are to the rest of the occupants of the public forum. (*Practical* politics, of course, uses our understanding of individual, private matters all the time, to make alliances and exploit weaknesses or idiosyncracies of other players--standard primate behavior.)

To bring this back to the Dobrich family, part of the problem they faced (on top of knuckle-walking anti-semitism and a kind of monkey tribalism) was their neighbors' insistence on conflating public and private matters. And I have to agree with Greg London that school boards seem to be institutions optimized for expressing and amplifying this kind of foolishness. (Remember what Mark Twain said about how God created them.)

#214 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 02:06 PM:

law,

The "morons" wasn't an attempt to fix everything. But to point out that the proposed problem is crap.

This is more important than anything, because it essentially comes down to how the "problem" is framed. Do you allow knuckleheads to frame the problem in terms of "evolution (and therefore science) requires atheism" or do you keep beating them with a vocabulary stick that science and religion are two different things?

Science says nothing about meaning. Science says nothing about religion. A study in causes is not a study in meaning. You cannot let some idiot conflate the two. If they do, they've framed the argument in their perspective and you've lost.

Which isn't to say they will accept your frame that religion and science are different. But you don't have to convince everyone of reality, but you need to convince enough to win the vote. And at some point, when it becomes obvious that they won't change their language, then it is clear that they suffer from deeper issues than a simple dictionary will fix. i.e. basically, they're a moron who refuses to address the real problem, who uses sloppy language to hide sloppy arguments, and nothing will change them.

Calling them morons won't convince the unconvincable. But maybe it'll flag them so the unconvinced middle isn't taken in by their smoke and mirrors.

#215 ::: law ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 02:33 PM:

Calling them morons won't convince
the unconvincable. But maybe it'll
flag them so the unconvinced middle
isn't taken in by their smoke and mirrors.

Oooo, I hope so. I'd say "From your keyboard to God's ears," but I'm an atheist. :-)

I guess what frightens me is something that Lisa pointed out above: "...one reason this (the Dobrich situation) is happening is that the climate is favorable for it." In other words, right now it's okay to be a moron. Will the unconvinced middle turn away from them as long as that's the case? Are they even listening to the debate?

#216 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 02:53 PM:

DaveL: I was going to do this via Email, but .bar isn't a TLD.

You skipped from "Most people" in my post to "Most scientists in yours. That should clear up the confusion. I'm not making an argument about who is right, I am making a point about the public perception.

PS. The big problem, which doesn't contradict the Bible, that you mentioned is that "different societies have different moral codes" - it doesn't conflict with the literal reading of the bible, but it sounds suspiciously close to an endorsement of moral relativism, which they feel (rightly, I think,) is very dangerous to their belief system, even if they don't accept the bible as the literal word of god.

#217 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 02:59 PM:

Will the unconvinced middle turn away from them as long as that's the case?

Or will some wholly unjust situation spur the nation to right the wrong? I keep thinking about the three civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi in 1964 as having a galvanizing effect on the country to fix it.

Or maybe someone, Obama even, might come forward and speak for the principle of religious tolerance, and enroll a large swath of the country behind him. Were he to talk of his religious beliefs and say that he has added to that the extra benefit of tolerance, then it should be clear to most religious people that tolerance is not anti-religios.

If history has a pendulum effect, I think it's because the world hits an extreme position, and it galvanizes the people to realize they've gone too far in a direction. Whether we're oscilating and bouncing further and further out of control or zeroing in on a balanced position, is a discussion for another thread.

#218 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 03:11 PM:

You skipped from "Most people" in my post to "Most scientists" in yours. That should clear up the confusion. I'm not making an argument about who is right, I am making a point about the public perception.

Indeed, my point was to describe where the impression "most people" have comes from. It is not scientists saying (e.g.) "evolution disproves God," but rather religious people saying "scientists say evolution disproves God."

I agree completely on the reaction many people (not just religious ones) have to the idea of moral relativism (or anything that reminds them of it).

#219 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 03:34 PM:

law, you could say 'aché' (ah-SHAY), which means "power" but is used to mean "power to that," that is, "may it be so," which you could also say. Or 'so mote it be', which is Wiccan. Only the deeply irreverent acronym it to "SMIB," pronouncing it with a Road Runner accent.

#220 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 03:40 PM:

It is not scientists saying (e.g.) "evolution disproves God," but rather religious people saying "scientists say evolution disproves God."

DaveL: you're missing the very necessary 'some' in three places: some scientists, some religious people, "some scientists". Because not all members of each group are saying those things.

#221 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 03:42 PM:

Individ-ewe-al:

There are places in the USA where certain Christian sects take the Biblical injunction, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," seriously. (Yes, -I'm- quite aware that that passage should have used the term "poisoner" not "witch.")

To the best of my knowledge, homicide has not yet been attempted, but death threats HAVE been made and religious ceremonies have been interrupted.

If you wish an education on this matter, I refer you to the archives of www.witchvox.com.

Jews aren't the only ones being threatened, and the more secure the bigots doing this feel, the odds someone is going to be harmed by them increase.

As a member of a religious minority, this does not make me happy.

Blessed be.

#222 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 03:44 PM:

Yes, in fact, the religious right is crazy to feel threatened. It's not crowds of people like the Dobriches forcing evangelical or fundamentalist Christians to move; it's the other way around. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it wasn't members of the Black Congressional Caucus and NAACP helping local black people drive back white refugees out of fear they might be meth freaks and rapists; it was the other way around. It isn't P.Z. Myers and two friends generating thousands of auto-complaint letters to the FCC and creating entirely bogus complaints about TV shows; it's the Family Research Council and the like. It isn't atheists or even believing progressives invited to consult on the selection of Supreme Court justices; it's people like James Dobson.

President Lincoln said of the slaveowners that they would feel persecuted until their views were not only tolerated but celebrated - they must be not just accepted, but crowned as correct by all, because the very existence of dissent struck them as a threat. The religious right today has that same problem. Filled with the vision of the world as it might be, every knee bowed and every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, they see any silent tongue or unbent knee as a challenge to the possibility of comprehensive holiness. But that's their problem. Not all kinds of Christians think that. Not even all kinds of evangelicals and fundamentalists think that - lots are quite capable of dealing with the reality of being, on the human and civic level, some people among many, entitled to all the rights and protections others are, but no more, and in particular no more because they're uniquely correct.

#223 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 03:57 PM:

OK, "MaChSheFA," spelled Mem, Ches, Shin, Fey, Hey, is a hebrew word that was supposedly translated into latin meaning poisoner. I have seen that that word actaully suffers from linguistic drift - it originally meant witch, and then started to mwan one who dispensed drugs, which turned into poisoner. (I don't speak/know latin so I can't confirm this.) The original Hebrew, however, clearly means one who practices "Kishuf" or magic. This is clear from Jewish biblical commentators living from 1000-1300 AD, who discusss the issue. I don't have books with me, but can find the source later, if asked nicely.

I found this, which says: "Weyer argued that the biblical phrase "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" was in fact an error in translation and should have read "Thou shalt not suffer a poisoner to live." Poisoners actually harmed others and could be found guilty in a court of law:" Which was quoting from: Johann Weyer, Witches, Devils, and Doctors in the Renaissance: Johann Weyer, De praestigiis daemonum trans. by John Shea( New York: Medieval Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1991) from the 15th century. That seems like a source to me.

#224 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 04:05 PM:

Lori, thanks for that comment. Definitely, in discussing the shameful treatment of the Dobriches, we should be aware that tragically, this is not at all a one-off incident and there are far too many examples of people being persecuted for their religion.

Valuable and horrifying though your comment is, I am not quite clear why you have addressed it to me specifically? Did I give the impression that I only care about / am only aware of prejudice against Jews, and not any other kinds of religious persecution? That is most certainly not the case, and I'm very sad that anyone coule imagine I am like that.

#225 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 04:44 PM:

Most scientists, like most people, are religious.

Is that actually true? I've personally known many fine scientists who were religious, and I'm aware that they are not hard to find. But the statistics I can find (and here) suggest that they're a largish minority, not a majority, in the US; scientists here are less religious than my personal experience would have indicated. Worldwide, the story may be different, though off the top of my head I'd expect more secular societies than ours to have fewer religious scientists rather than more.

These two surveys by the same researchers in successive years seem to give significantly different numbers, possibly because of the different populations sampled; the NAS scientists believed in God less often than the random sample from "American Men and Women of Science". Some commenters suggest that they're underestimating religious belief because of the wording of the questions, but it certainly doesn't paint a picture of an overwhelmingly religious scientific workforce.

#226 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 04:59 PM:

...American doctors, though, are much more religious than American scientists (though, interestingly, biologists were one of the least religious disciplines in the Larson and Witham surveys).

#227 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 05:02 PM:

For the umpteenth time, Obama's speech was delivered before the events in Delaware came to light. The point of the original post was not to criticize Obama for being "insufficiently condemnatory" of that outbreak of bigotry.

Actually, in one of those great ironies, Obama's speech was the same day as this article in Jews on First! covering the issue--June 28.

#228 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 05:05 PM:

Incidentally, I will also note that I was off-put by Obama's pandering to the "Leftist hate god" crowd in his big speech in 2004, for which I was criticized for being overly sensitive. ("We worship an awesome God in the Blue States...". Well, no, I don't. But thanks for excluding me.)

#229 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 05:36 PM:

David Manheim, 'kishuf' is only malevolent magic. It's withering crops and wasting cattle. It's still ignorant to translate that word as 'witch'. 'Evil Sorceror' might be better. The KJV used the w-word because KJ himself was a fanatic about finding and exterminating witches.

Lori, unfortunately homicide has indeed been committed. One of ours was supposed to give a talk on Wicca at the local library (I think this was in Iowa, but it's 15+ years ago and I'm not sure). On the day he was supposed to appear there, he was found hanging in his garage with his hands tied behind his back.

The police ruled it a suicide and dropped the case. Which explains why you haven't heard about the killings.

#230 ::: Baylink ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 06:00 PM:

I see that Will Frank's opinion isn't real popular, and perhaps I'm underinformed, but I agree with it, or at least parts of it.

Certainly this is a Zero Tolerance issue, and as I've noted a couple places around the web, I have zero tolerance for Zero Tolerance.

Conversely, I have little tolerance for fence-straddling politicians as well. I would support more quickly someone who said what they meant, and meant what they said, and they meant that -- even if I didn't agree with everything they thought -- than someone who wants everyone to like him.

#231 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 06:01 PM:

I'm certainly not going to defend murder, but if the question is about accurate translation, let's look at some sources.

In 1100 or so, Rashi, who is the preminent Jewish biblical commentator of any period, wrote based on the Talmud (Which I should look up, but have not yet, it's Sanhedrin folio 67,) that the commandment applied both to men and women, but mostly women practiced it, explaining why it is in feminite form ("Machshefa", not "Mechashef").

It may be that there is some source for saying that it refers only to "malevolent magic," but I don't know what it is, so I'll ask the audience. Anyone?

#232 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 06:08 PM:

Hey, Kevin, don't forget "We coach Little League in the Blue States"! I mean, I don't even like baseball. How dare Obama pander to the baseball-liking, kid's-sports-coaching crowd.

#233 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 06:34 PM:

David Manheim: Now let's deal with details - when children are taught about the scientific method, why is the word "falsifiable" never mentioned? Why are children never told that science cannot address issues where there is nothing testable? Why don't we address any of the most important differences between science and religion, instead of focusing on the one thing that currently causes conflicts?

As an editor of, you guessed it, science textbooks (among other things), I assure you that we discuss how hypotheses are generated, tested, refined, and tested. We look at how data can be used to support a prediction, and what it means to have a scientific theory that can be tested.

Most science curricula look at the difference between a fact and a theory sometime in or before middle school.

Here's a sampling of material from Sciencepower 9 (McGraw Hill Ryerson, written by Wolfe et al):

In science, a theory is accepted only if it can explain known facts, and lasts only as long as it continues to explain new observations." (page 10).
How has this body of knowledge called science been accumulated? It all starts with curiosity, with someone asking "how?" or "why?" ... The most valid answers are found by using a logical, step-by-step process. As more and more curious individuals have sought answers and communicated their methods and results with each other, they developed an orderly process of asking and investigating scientific questions. [ There's a diagram of an observation-based model for scientific inquiry in the margin here.] s

As you have seen, science includes an accumulated body of knowledge. Science is also, however, a unique method of thinking of inquiry that allows us to find answers to questions about the world around us. (page IS-3)

The introduction continues with a list of the sorts of questions to which one might apply a scientific inquiry process including why a falling leaf seems to glide from side to side, why a seed seems to twirl its way down and why a walnut just goes plonk, indeed why anything falls down.

(I didn't work on this book; I just happened to have it handy. It's pretty typical of its ilk, though.)

I'm guessing that the authors and editors didn't use "falsifiable" because this is a book for a ninth-grade readership, and they couldn't be certain that, at the beginning of the year when this concept was introduced, everyone's reading is up to too many polysyllables. They didn't look at questions science can't answer because that's not considered good pedagogy. You provide positive examples, and as students themselves propose less useful examples you explain why they won't work as scientific questions and try to guide students to produce more testable questions themselves.

We don't discuss the differences between science and religion for the same reason we don't discuss the differences between science and history. They're different disciplines. You can't define something by stating what it isn't.

#234 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 07:03 PM:

OK, "MaChSheFA," spelled Mem, Ches, Shin, Fey, Hey, is a hebrew word that was supposedly translated into latin meaning poisoner. I have seen that that word actaully suffers from linguistic drift - it originally meant witch, and then started to mwan one who dispensed drugs, which turned into poisoner. (I don't speak/know latin so I can't confirm this.) The original Hebrew, however, clearly means one who practices "Kishuf" or magic. This is clear from Jewish biblical commentators living from 1000-1300 AD, who discusss the issue. I don't have books with me, but can find the source later, if asked nicely.

The whole "thou shalt not suffer a witch (poisoner) to live" was explained to me by a Jewish friend (who speaks fluent Ancient Hebrew), and her mother (a lawyer who also both spoke and taught Ancient Hebrew). They said the wording was a matter of context. The wording was supposed to portray a concept: the worst human being imaginable. Poisoners filled that role at one point. In the medieval period, witches were considered the worst human beings possible, so they became the noted villain of the moment. If it were to be translated into English today, and the context preserved, it might say "thou shalt not suffer a child-raping pedophile to live," or if *I* were to write it, "Thou shalt not suffer a Bush to live." ;-)

#235 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 07:29 PM:

jennie: I'm guessing that the authors and editors didn't use "falsifiable" because this is a book for a ninth-grade readership, and they couldn't be certain that, at the beginning of the year when this concept was introduced, everyone's reading is up to too many polysyllables.

Or because they worried about kids mistaking the two meanings of falsify, and thinking that things have to be fakeable to be scientific. I've seen enough adults make that mistake.

#236 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 07:33 PM:

Avram, you may well be correct. I suspect, in any case, that the authors and editors chose to worry about ideas rather than vocabulary in this instance.

#237 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 07:47 PM:

Mr. Oleander: I don't know why they said that, and I'm certainly not fluent in Biblical Hebrew(1), but after a few years in Yeshiva, I'm wondering where that translation came from - especially since the Talmud specifically says that the other types of witchcraft (which involve summmoning spirits) are included in the prohibition of Kishuf.

(1)As evidenced by the fact that I mispelled Machshefa. It's with a Chaf, not a Ches.

#238 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 08:14 PM:

DaveL: you're missing the very necessary 'some' in three places: some scientists, some religious people, "some scientists". Because not all members of each group are saying those things.

Of course.

I've personally known many fine scientists who were religious, and I'm aware that they are not hard to find. But the statistics I can find (and here) suggest that they're a largish minority, not a majority, in the US

I've heard (no cite, alas) that it's possibly a majority, but /shrug. The polls you cite are return-envelope surveys, which are statistically meaningless (because there can be selection bias in either direction). I don't doubt, however, that the percentage of believers among scientists is lower than in the population at large, as scientists are generally better-educated and polls show an inverse relationship between education and belief.

This is all off-topic for the Dobrich and Obama discussions, though. Perhaps Obama meant exactly what he said, or perhaps he is already being "handled" in anticipation of a run for higher office. Either possibility is disturbing.

#239 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 08:47 PM:

Jennie: Going back to what I said originally on this, people don't know that science only deals with a certain class of question.

I don't know whether it is taught in schools, though algebra is, and most of the people I know don't know how to factor an equation. I know, however, that there is an assumption (mistaken, of course) that science does deal with questions of faith, because I see people claiming so, frequently.

I would be surprised if a 9th grade science textbook didn't deal with how a hypothesis is formed. But if that is all we have to go by, modern cosmology isn't science, nor is most geology, biology, or meteorology - they don't make testable predictions where we can ever see the answers (or they do, but everyone knows that they are wrong most of the time.)

The observation based model being taught in that textbook was discredited about 50 years ago, (when the falsifiability criteria was first seriously discussed) and while it's easy to explain, and 9th graders can understand it, so is phlogiston. But we don't teach it because we don't think it's true.

And nowhere does it say there are questions science doesn't answer. My eighth grade geography textbook ("World Geography" by Baerwald and Fraser) delineates clearly that it discusses places, people, and environment. By implication, it does not discuss anything else. "Questions about the world around us" is not a limited category, ergo science deals with everything. Is that not a far inference to make?

#240 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 08:48 PM:

Spellcheck didn't catch it, and I previewed too quickly. 4th to last word: fair, not far.

#241 ::: teep ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 09:30 PM:

Mr. Manheim wrote: in response to Teep's claim that the Religious are trying to "muddy the waters," it was not so unclear

Actually, sir, your series of posts provided a very good example of just the thing I was talking about wrt muddying the waters. Thanks! Couldn't have done it better myself.

Mr. Manheim continued: If, Christmastime, a group of atheists want to put up an exhibit about evolution in a public space, should Christians be prevented from putting up an exhibit of the birth of their god?

I don't understand the question. Evolution isn't my God and Darwin, quite frankly, talked rather a lot about the wonders of domesticated pigeons. I don't go the the church of evolution and I don't believe in it any more than I believe in gravity or the speed of light.

As far as displays, neither Christians nor atheists nor anyone else should be prevented from putting up an exhibit of their choosing (subject to homeowner covenants, zoning, decency laws, etc.) in their own front yards, in vacant lots that they've rented from the city with their own money, in yards that they have paid nonbelievers to rent to them, or in any other space that they have acquired legitimately and WITHOUT THE AID OF THE GOVERNMENT.

If the BELIEF of a group is that freaking important, they can darn well fund their outreach efforts out of pocket.

Mr. Manheim wrote: Freedom of religion is a guarantee that no one will be told what to believe. That means that you won't tell me what is and is not true, and I will not tell you either.

Y'know, I'm okay with that. I don't go door-to-door on Saturdays and try to talk to people about what they ought to believe. The chore of converting folks who don't think like me is not a part of my belief system. Care to take a guess as to whose belief system DOES contain that charming little geas?

Mr. Manheim says: As long as religion and science both talk about origins _and meaning_, they are both "religious thought".

No, they're not. Don't be silly.

#242 ::: John Aspinall ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 09:35 PM:

I can't decide whether David Manheim is just a troll, albeit one of the most well mannered ones, or whether he really believes the nonsense that he spouts.

..modern cosmology isn't science.

Here in the real universe, the many testable predictions of modern cosmology are predictions about the the expansion of the universe, the abundance of light nuclei, and the spectrum and anisotropies of the cosmic microwave background.

And that's just from typing the obvious search strings into Google. I mean really....

#244 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 10:05 PM:

I dislike responding to those who engage in ad hominem attacks in lieu of discussing points that I made, but there is a tendency to partially quote a longer comment I make out of context, so... (See, I too can open with an insult!)

In it's slightly larger context:
"if that is all we have to go by, modern cosmology isn't science"

Implying that the definition is insufficient, and cosmology is just fine. How is the definition insufficient? I'm glad you failed to ask because you missed the point... (And I would be less sarcastic, but I am a bit annoyed that you called me a troll, and then quoted me out of context.)

"A theory is accepted only if it can explain known facts, and lasts only as long as it continues to explain new observations... an observation-based model for scientific inquiry"

Cosmology doesn't answer all the questions or fit all of the facts. We don't have a grand unified theory yet, and despite that, science works. Modern cosmology is an impressive patchwork a various hypotheses, many of which are mutually incompatible, all of which rely to some extent on things other than observations.

It's science. Really. If you don't believe me, you missed your own point (and I wouldn't put it beyond you, but somehow I doubt you're quite that thick.) So the problem lies, via logical inference, in the formulation of what science is.

And teep, now that you are here to answer the question I posed, please go back and look at the dozen attacks that others have so thoughtfully mounted on your behalf, and how I answered them. If you still have new questions, please ask them.

Once again, I'm really not against Science. believe me, or read my posts more carefully. Either way.

#245 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 10:07 PM:

Mr. Manheim,

I quoted the questions to which I responded in my first post.

You asked why children are not taught about "the scientific method."

I responded with an example of what ninth graders are taught about the scientific method. I'm sorry it's not to your liking.

Admittedly, what ninth graders are taught of the scientific method is a stripped-down version (the "lies to children" version, if you will). As students learn more about science the models they are taught are refined and re-shaped, just as the models they use to try to understand osmosis or cellular respiration or acid-base equations are extended, refined, and re-shaped.

Furthermore I quoted from the introduction and first chapter of a book for a full-year course, because I was short on time. The (you-say-outmoded) scientific method, including the notion that theories can be falsified underscores many of the activities in the book.

You asked why children are not taught about falsification as it relatiost to scientific theories. I responded with an example in which ninth-graders are informed that scientific theories stand as long as they continue to explain all the observations. This is a not-bad ninth-grade explanation.

In Teachers' Manuals, we go into further detail on how to explain to students that some questions are not questions that science can answer, and other questions are questions that science has tried to answer, but that it hasn't yet come up with answers to. We tend to focus on it mostly in chapters dealing with theories of origins and evolution, because that's where teachers receive the most challenges from students and parents who find that the current theories challenge their religious beliefs.

One can find examples of such lies-to-chidren teaching in most textbooks and most disciplines. If you ask a geographer what geography deals with, you'll probably get a more complicated, comprehensive answer than the one in your eighth-grade textbook. The same happens in most disciplines, including my own: we don't teach ninth-graders much in the way of historiography at all, beyond the difference between a primary and a secondary source. We learn by steps and stages; this is a fundamental of paedogogy.

The question "why don't people know X?" is not the same as "why aren't people taught X?" I don't know why people don't understand that science is not religion. I do know that the textbooks do not present it as religion; they don't say that science explains things perfectly or tells people how to live or get along in communities.

They also provide no guarantees that the material they cover will be well taught or that students will understand it.

#246 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 10:38 PM:

I would be surprised if a 9th grade science textbook didn't deal with how a hypothesis is formed. But if that is all we have to go by, modern cosmology isn't science, nor is most geology, biology, or meteorology - they don't make testable predictions where we can ever see the answers (or they do, but everyone knows that they are wrong most of the time.)

Realizing that you do (as you said later) think that cosmology is a science [good...], I'm still puzzled by what "they don't make testable predictions where we can ever see the answers ..." bit means. Are you saying "they don't make testable predictions [very wrong], but they're still science"? Which is paradoxical, to say the least.

#247 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 11:11 PM:

Given that further up one of these threads someone pointed out that weather prediction is fairly good these days, I would say that meteorology is a science. If having the weather match the forecast doesn't count, what does?

I do wish that someone would bash these christianists (they are not Christian by the standards I was taught) over the head with Alex Dobrich's statement about being called a 'Jew boy' and how much he didn't want to leave the house they'd been living in. And remind them that Jesus was in fact a Jew, and so were most of the first generation of followers (something like 'I was hungry and you didn't feed me' might get through).

#248 ::: John Aspinall ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 11:20 PM:

At the risk of being accused of not reading carefully enough, I believe Mr Mannheim is now quoting himself out of context.

Here's the complete paragraph.

I would be surprised if a 9th grade science textbook didn't deal with how a hypothesis is formed. But if that is all we have to go by, modern cosmology isn't science, nor is most geology, biology, or meteorology - they don't make testable predictions where we can ever see the answers (or they do, but everyone knows that they are wrong most of the time.)

Mr Mannheim asserts that modern cosmology doesn't make testable predictions. (Or perhaps it does, he inserts parenthetically, in what I can only interpret as an attempt to muddy the waters, but everyone knows it is wrong.) The attempted reasoning looks like:

Cosmology doesn't make testable predictions
AND
if all we can go is 9th grade textbooks
THEN
Cosmology isn't science.

My attempt to boil down the argument left off the second antecedent. But that's irrelevant -- my beef is with the first antecedent. Mr Mannheim claims cosmology doesn't make testable predictions. And that's bull. (Or perhaps he doesn't. Which still makes it bull.)

In the followup post, Mr Mannheim asserts:
Modern cosmology is an impressive patchwork [of] various hypotheses, many of which are mutually incompatible, all of which rely to some extent on things other than observations.

Now that's a one-size-fits-all condemnation of just about any scientific discipline. Replace "cosmology" with whatever irks you today, and you've got a ready made sound bite. Unfortunately, most of the audience isn't buying it.

So here's the deal, Mr Mannheim. If you are the genuine article (i.e. not a troll), and if you want to be taken seriously in your unorthodox perceptions of science, you need to get specific. Tell us, for instance, why the multi-year study of the cosmic microwave background was not, as most cosmologists would say, a successful test of the big bang theory.

#249 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 11:25 PM:

David Manheim was around last winter, in the thread 'Opting out of education'. Not a troll; although he sometimes sounds trollish.

#250 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 11:28 PM:

DaveL: Not to be (overly) snarky, but when you claim your anecdotal evidence is more accurate than other peoples experiences (because you think it more timely), you pretty much lose the right to discount return envelope surveys.

Now, to reach to personal (but relevant anecdote) I have a friend who teaches kindergarten. She teaches her kids about science (though perhaps a trifle simplified).

Hypothesis, observation, conclusion.

And she points out that if the facts don't match the data, that's not wrong, that's part of the way the system works.

#251 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 11:36 PM:

David Manheim, I don't think you're a troll, but you have certainly confused me. I'm trying to figure out what your point of discussion is. I accept that you are not anti-science.

Do you wish to discuss whether or not science claims the authority of religion in matters of faith?

Do you wish to discuss the shortcomings of how science is taught in American schools?

Do you wish to discuss how science is misunderstood by people who are afraid of it?

Do you wish to discuss freedom of religion? You say that freedom of religion is a guarantee that I won't tell you what to believe. I disagree. I can tell you whatever I like -- and you can tell me to stick it where the sun doesn't shine. I say, freedom of religion guarantees that the government cannot tell you, me, or anyone else what to believe, and that you and I cannot use the mechanisms of government (such as school boards) to do so. We can talk about that.

If you could narrow down your subject, perhaps we could have a more constructive conversation. Would you care to try? Or are we all done...?

#252 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: July 31, 2006, 11:50 PM:

Man, this got long overnight. Patrick, I want to thank you for this post. My family has personal experience of what this kind of crap does.

There is no substitute for the secular commons. There is no way that elevating a religion to any public status can do anything but inspire and justify persecution on every daily level. There is no good-hearted, inclusive way to allow God in the classroom.

My kid was beaten every day for months because he said in the second-grade classroom that he was an atheist. His well-meaning teacher tried to make it better by having a religious discussion: it blew up in her face -- the beatings got worse.

My students, on seeing Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, informed me that I had killed Jesus.

There's a reason people indulge in propaganda -- it's because it works. You can get small children to beat each other over ideology. You can turn students against their teachers over religion.

And Mr. Obama is wrong about the Pledge, too. While singing carols never bugged me much as a kid -- it was playing at Christianity for the sake of a neato holiday -- the Pledge was a daily affront to which I had to make a new adjustment every morning. Would I skip the words? Skip the Pledge? Would I confront the teacher today? Would I just swallow the insult? The adjustment I came to, and passed to my children, is entirely unsatisfactory.

When you visit your friend's church, you stand when they stand, you sit when they sit, you're respectful at all times, because you are a friendly visitor there, but there is no rule that says you have to pray, or say "amen," or sing the songs if the words do not reflect your worldview. But if you apply this same politeness principle to the daily Pledge of Allegiance to the symbol of your country, you're taking the role of friendly visitor in your own country. This is not acceptable, it has not been acceptable since they slipped the damned words in there, and it will never be acceptable.

#253 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 12:07 AM:

Wow. Totally off-topic, but I thought you might like to know -- a statement has just been read out on Cuban TV/radio that for health reasons, Fidel Castro has "temporarily" reliquished his role as leader of the Cuban goverment (what is he? Prime Minister? President? I don't remember) to his younger brother Raoul...

#254 ::: Urnamma ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 01:29 AM:

Stumbled upon this. It's an interesting discussion.

I'm worried about some of the sentiment though. We probably ought to remember that militant secularism killed more people in the last one hundred years than, well, any other ideological mindset ever has, ever. EVER.

I say this not as some sort of whackjob (though I am a Catholic), but rather to make sure we all remember that the problem here is ideology, closed-mindedness, and stupidity, not religion.

Am I the only non-mainstream person here? Everyone seems to be a democrat. Anyway, interesting discussion 

#255 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 01:42 AM:

requiring the pledge fo allegiance in school (and prayer in school) is such a trasparent way of indoctrinating kids with the skill of compliance to authority, that it's amazing it keeps working.

You will say the Pledge of Allegiance.
And the beatings will continue until moral improves about it.

I mean, it just seems so obvious. Sometimes I don't get that people don't get it.

sigh.

#256 ::: Urnamma ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 01:43 AM:

Oh, and just to note, the pledge of allegiance is offensive to some of us. Not just the God part, but pledging allegiance to a State in general. Though, I do find it rather amusing that the pledge was originally thought up by a socialist ;)

#257 ::: Urnamma ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 01:45 AM:

Hah! Greg, fine minds apparently think alike. The pledge is our own 'Two Minutes Hate' :)

#258 ::: Dan S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 01:45 AM:

David Manheim -

While it may be neither here nor there, the arguments you are making seem as if they derived from the same sources as some of the more sophisticated creationist arguments - which may mean that you have internalized some of their ideas, or that they have misunderstood/ twisted certain philosophy of science concepts for their own uses, or whatever. Certainly part of it is because you're trying to present the situation from a ~ fundamentalist (not the best term, but I'm rushing) perspective, as an attempt to understand their behavior and be proactive an' all - definitely a worthy goal - but in a few cases it seems like something else?

For example:
""if that is all we have to go by, modern cosmology isn't science"
Now, of course, one argument I've often seem made by the more sophisticated creationists is that the historical sciences aren't real science, because nobody saw it (whatever it might be) happen, you can't make predictions, or test hypotheses, etc., etc., etc. In fact, I too at first took your statement to be making this kind of claim, and only realized otherwise when I read it a second time - that you were saying the definition is insufficient.

But of course, this isn't true. While I'm no philosopher of science, my understanding is the basic model still applies. We may not be directly observing the things being studied, as they are too long ago, too far away, too tiny or too vast - but we observe clues, traces, etc. (do I have to break out the Law&Order analogy?). We may not directly observe continents drifting around and slamming into each other due to plate tectonics hundreds of millions of years ago, , but we can observe various things - distributions of fossils (and living creatures), paleomagnetism, modern-day sea-floor spreading, etc., etc., make hypotheses to explain what we see (as Wegener did for a rather limited version of this data set), test these hypotheses, etc. The same is, of course, true for evolution.

You follow this up, though, with a very odd statement:

"[quoting] A theory is accepted only if it can explain known facts, and lasts only as long as it continues to explain new observations... an observation-based model for scientific inquiry"

Cosmology doesn't answer all the questions or fit all of the facts. We don't have a grand unified theory yet, and despite that, science works. Modern cosmology is an impressive patchwork a various hypotheses, many of which are mutually incompatible, all of which rely to some extent on things other than observations."


Now yes, you're trying to show that science is being presented poorly, and oftentimes that is true, in various ways - if often, out of necessity, as the "'lies to children' version," as jennie puts it; like the idea that a bunch of early adolescents are predictably going to have a detailed, logical, and philosophically astute debate over ID creationism that will lead them to a better understanding of science, the idea that, say. 9th grade biology should delve deeply into Popper seems . . . idealistic, at best.

But the definition you quote isn't even that bad, and does not match the rebuke you give it!
A theory is accepted only if it can explain known facts, and lasts only as long as it continues to explain new observations."

Nothing here even about answering all the questions or fitting all the facts. You might say, well, this is a pedantic quibble that completely misses the implied (or reasonably implied by kids) 'alls' - but again, a frequent creationist refrain is that evolution doesn't answer all the questions, etc. Are you saying this is where this view comes from, or at least is inadvertently encouraged by?

But enough of my fairly paranoid concern that you might be a very good cryptocreationist - after all, you essentially deny such a thing in various comments, including @10:05 (although, doing my part to lower the level of discussion, I would be curious to know whether you feel the modern theory of evolution is, in essence, the best explanation of the evidence that we currently have, and that - while it's certainly not complete or flawlessly correct, and while we can certainly expect surprises in the future - it is not unreasonable to assume that it almost certainly is correct, in broad outline.).

If I understand correctly, your hypothesis re: science education (the religion/society comments, well that's a whole 'nother comment) seems to be that the perception by some people that science threatens their beliefs is fostered by the way science is presented in school, etc.

Now, certainly k-12 science education can often be kinda sub-par, even considering the real constraints imposed by developmental factors and other pedagogical concerns (and don't get me started on education funding, etc!). Certainly mosytpopular presentations do very little to shed light on the actual nature of science (with some notable or at least well-meaning exceptions). And certainly poll after poll seems to show that most Americans are breathtakingly scientifically-illiterate, not just in terms of basic facts, but in terms of any concept of science as a process. No doubt a better awareness of what science was would clear up the matter for some people.

But I'm not sure your hypothesis quite holds up. If someone printed out the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of pages of evolution-creationism debate fun, for example - whether online, in letters to the editor, in school board meetings, in magazines and books and etc. - you'll come across certain pro-science arguments again and again and again.

They include things like:
• Evolution isn't "just" a theory, since when scientists say "theory" they mean something different from the everyday usage . . ..
• Science can't say anything ultimate purposes, ultimate meaning, etc. . . .
• Science cannot prove or disprove that God exists; that's not its job. Many religious people - and entire denominations - are able to reconcile religious belief with modern scientific findings.

And so on and on and on. While else it does, I have to note that it seems to have almost no effect on creationists. The biggest concession I ever saw - and I was jaw-on-the-ground shocked - was when a blogger who's a YEC (young earth creationist) agreed both to stop calling 'em "Darwinists," and that abiogenesis was not considered part of the theory of evolution. The major creationist site Answers in Genesis has posted a list of bad arguments (along the lines of 'don't mention these pieces of evidence for creation that turned out to be completely, undeniably, unfounded') but it comes across, at least to me, very much like that - arguments that shouldn't be used because science advocates can smack 'em down too easy, and it makes creationism look bad.

It seems odd that addressing these concerns at any length seems to have no effect, although I suppose one might argue that once such an impression is created, reassurances by those considered, at least ideologically, to be the enemy are likely to be pretty ineffective. All the same . . .

I would think the perception that there is a conflict between religion and science owes a lot - though not everything - to the fact that there is an massive, highly organized and persistent attempt to convince people that this is in fact the case, and while we do need to emphasize that there isn't, I think this would have rather a marginal effect. Which, to be fair, isn't much more than you claim.

I see a lot of this stemming, as DaveL pointed out, from the fact that science is, unfortunately, a real threat to certain groups - in this country, almost entirely Christian - whose specific religious beliefs rest on a strictly literal reading of Genesis: a earth created by God a few thousand years ago, Adam&Eve as real people in a Garden of Eden,a worldwide Flood & Noah's Ark, etc. (ID creationism is a pr and political strategy, not a mass movement: not only are some of its major people remarkably coy about such questions, when it comes to the folks back home, they mess up almost every time and let the Jesus out of the bag). As such, they have enormous and unavoidable problems not only with evolution but with most of modern geology, astronomy, physics, cosmology, archaeology, and even linguistics. (See TalkOrigins' marvelous little Index to Creationist Claims to get a feel for the breadth of creationist objections).

Evolution gets singled out because it's the perfect lightning rod for all sorts of concerns, including the fear that if we tell the kids they're just animals, they'll act like them (which generally means not acting like animals, but we get the point - teh sex, mostly, but general morality and etc. too.

I know, I know, this is OT - hang on one moment while I try to shake this bee out of my bonnet . . .

A few short responses to the 'it's ok as long as there is no [obvious] coercion claim: are public schools really the place to make students holding non-majority religious beliefs feel like outsiders? There may well have been no obvious state coercion in the Dobrich case - does that make it alright? And what about the Establishment Clause, which, whatever you might think, has been found by the Supreme Court to apply to these sorts of situations (one might feel this is mistaken, but that is, in fact, the issue, in terms of legal stuff).

"But we should still keep in mind that the thing we are trying to prevent isn't religion, or religious displays, but religious coercion."
Here you are, of course, reinforcing the idea that secularists are trying to prevent religion, which is, of course, not the case. Why do this?

"And neutral, here, does not means forbidding everything; it means making sure everything is allowed. As long as religion and science both talk about origins _and meaning_, they are both "religious thought"."

In other words, they're not, right? Since they don't.

"What is the difference between these situations? The easy answer is that one was established and the other was chosen."
Or that your mom was a different person than your dad - (although it's possible the situation your mom was in may not, in fact, have been an Establishment Clause violation - did they have to pick a prayer, specifically? - although I'm no expert). Whether or not it was your intention,, there certainly is a organized effort in this country that presents a very distorted image of the actual state of religious freedom in school ("students can't pray," etc).

"The issue isn't about a community running out a family because of what they believe."

Here - I think this point was made above - it bloody well is the issue. This isn't about some hippy-dippy 'everybody has a chance to read a special prayer or poem or whatever' - it's about a case where government officials attempted to use public schools to push certain religious beliefs (the legal issue), and much of a community decided that "“We have a way of doing things here, and it’s not going to change to accommodate a very small minority . . . If they feel singled out, they should find another [public] school or excuse themselves from those functions. It’s our way of life.”"

And indeed, did their best to make sure that that very small minority would go stop disturbing their precious way of life.

It's simple. This isn't some complicated case about exactly what might be allowable in what public school-related setting (Ms. Dobrich's original request, the article says, was more inclusive prayers!. This is about public school officials and a community (surely not all, but enough, and enough silent) that decided that the Jews could
shut up
convert
or
get out.

This is about public school officials and a community that decided it was going to function according to a kind of Christian dhimmitude, where nonbelievers would be permitted, but as second-class citizens. This is about public school officials and a community that decided to make a mockery out of the best traditions of our country, from the example set by Roger Williams and William Penn, pre-US, to the values expressed by the lines in the Constition that read
"The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
[The Affirmation bit, as I understand it, being put in there specifically as a reasonable accommodation, so to speak, for Quakers]
or by the non-Jewish folks early in the 19th century who spent years fighting in the Maryland legislature for Jews to be allowed to hold state office (this being before the Bill of Rights was held to mostly apply to the states as well).

Jeez.

#259 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 02:21 AM:

I don't know any Hebrew, but I can chime in on the translations of Exodus 22:18, at least as given on websites.

St. Jerome has, "maleficos non patieris vivere" -- "You (pl.) will not suffer maleficuses to live." Lewis and Short say that "maleficus" means any wicked, criminal person, but that it can also mean specifically "witch". (Cf. the well-known witch-finding manual Malleus Maleficarum, "Hammer of Witches".)

In the Septuagint, the verse is short and sweet: "Pharmakous ou peripoiesete." I suspect "pharmakos" of being the word mentioned above that started out as "witch" but drifted to mean "drug-dispenser" or "poisoner". The verb there is odd: Liddell and Scott give "peripoieo" as meaning "preserve, save, store up." Perhaps there is some other usage here they're not reporting.

#260 ::: Dan S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 02:35 AM:

"Mr Mannheim asserts that modern cosmology doesn't make testable predictions."

And not just modern cosmology, but also "most geology, biology, or meteorology."

Not that some of the predictions they make aren't testable (at least "where we can ever see the answers ")- none are.

I don't see how this isn't absurd. David (ach, your name is getting mangled), could you please explain this statement? I'm especially interested re: geology and biology.

Of interest might be the TalkOrigins' Index response to Creationist Claim CA210: "A true science must make predictions. Evolution only describes what happened in the past, so it is not predictive."

These are really just thumbnail responses, though.
______

I don't have any k-12 science textbooks on hand - except for one 8th grade earth science one that's part of a series, and doesn't have intro material - but in terms of recommendations:

"Science cannot answer all questions. Some questions are simply beyond the parameters of science. Many questions involving the meaning of life, ethics, and theology are examples of questions that science cannot answer. Refer to the National Science Education Standards for Science as Inquiry (pages 145-148 for grades 5-8 and pages 175-176 for grades 9-12), History and Nature of Science Standards (pages 170-171 for grades 5-8 and pages 200-204 for grades 9-12), and Unifying Concepts and Processes (pages 116-118). Chapter 3 of this document also contains a discussion of the nature of science."

Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science - from the National Academy of Sciences

#261 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 02:44 AM:

Dan S, you are my hero of the day. That was masterful summation. Thank. To it I can only add...

It was not bad teaching of science that made the wicked people of Delaware decided that they needed to drive out the Dobriches, or that they could.

There's a lot of urban legend in many subcultures about what science does, what scientists say, and so on. This is another duty upon each subcommunity: check the rumors against the facts, and teach as truth only what you can verify.

#263 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 02:57 AM:

Greg, you wrote
The "what's going on" is that Israel just killed 34 children in a single airstrike. Yahoo reported it here.

Or maybe not. It seems that Israel hit the building at 1 AM, and it collapsed at 8 AM. Either that was a very slow bomb ("I am a 7-hour bomb. 6:59:59. 6:59:58. . . .") or something else (like maybe the munitions dump Hezbolla was hiding in the building) exploded.

#264 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 03:03 AM:

I have no doubt whatsoever that some children feel some degree of oppression at being made to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I did.

I have even less doubt that many children feel more oppressed at being forced to memorize the multiplication tables.

I don't think we should let the children define "oppression".

#265 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 03:24 AM:

We probably ought to remember that militant secularism killed more people in the last one hundred years than, well, any other ideological mindset ever has, ever. EVER.

I happen to know what Urnamma's going on about because I've been exposed to this claim before. See, it turns out that the claim is based on the idea that every murder of the twentieth-century was actually perpetrated by Stalin, and that Stalin orchestrated and continues to orchestrate every (choose from a menu of left-wing, communist, socialist, atheist, secular, whatever you're on about today) movement in the world, and so therefore every movement and person that can be described by a word from the menu is complicit in every murder of the twentieth century.

The very phrase "militant secularism" is dishonest.

Oh, and Francis Bellamy's Pledge was really quite different from what we subject our children to now:

'I pledge allegiance to my Flag and (to*) the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.'

From this page. Bellamy's own words about the pledge are quoted towards the bottom.

#266 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 03:30 AM:

Seth, I don't think that the pledge and the multiplication tables are the same kind of thing. I mean, we weren't taught "In God's name, five times three is fifteen. Fifteen divided by three, by God, is five. Under God, fifteen is divisible by itself, one, five and three."


If we had been, I don't think I'd have made it to calculus.

#267 ::: Per Chr. J. ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 04:11 AM:

Regarding public displays of faith (or non-faith), when one of the Muslim congregations in Oslo applied for a noise pollution licence or somesuch to have a muezzin (well, we do have church bells from before, don't we), something called the Heathens' Society (not Pagans, but hardcore-atheists, as opposed to the much larger Humanist Society) applied for the right to have a man shout from the rooftops twice a day: "There is no God. Think for yourselves."

Don't know if anything came out of it. I believe they also said that they couldn't bother to do it more than once or twice, anyhow.

P.C.

#268 ::: Per Chr. J. ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 04:18 AM:

Regarding the Soviet Union, there are those that have argued that Bolshevism and Stalinism was rather religion-like in quite a few aspects. So there are different analyses in this case also.

#269 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 06:52 AM:

Lucy, I'm not sure what point you're making about Stalin; but if you want to compare the body count from non-religious versus religious causes, then besides Stalin's contribution on the non-religious side you have to count the pre-Stalin pogroms, the Holocaust*, Pol Pot, the Cultural Revolution, Rwanda/Burundi, and so on. Maybe Ghengis Khan would get a line in the list too. I don't know how the total comes out, but religion certainly can't be exclusively blamed for the world's ills.

I agree with Urnamma that that the problem here is ideology, closed-mindedness, and stupidity, not religion. As I've said here before, the persecution of the Dobrich family, as reported, was unchristian and should be condemned by all Christians.

* Whether or not Hitler was, or claimed to be, a Christian, his persecution of the Jews - and others, especially the Roma people (Gypsies), Poles and homosexuals - was racist, not religious.

#270 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 07:18 AM:

So far as how things are for Jews in the US just now, this plus the Dobrichs has me twitching slightly.

So far as the Pledge of Allegiance, prayer in schools, and feeling oppressed goes, I think the effect of the Pledge and such on me was bad. I think I was somewhat depressed even as a kid, and being required to say words about important matters when it was obvious that no one cared whether the words corresponded to anything left me feeling that I was surrounded by people who didn't care about anything important. No doubt it would have been more crazy-making for me if they *had* tried to control my loyalties and emotions, but I didn't think of that. I didn't oppose them--it didn't occur to me to do so.

I agree that writing to Obama about the important of preserving secular space is worthwhile. It's disappointing that he doesn't have good instincts about everything, but I became fond of him because he was the only one who had much to say about civil liberties at the Democratic convention. At least there's a starting point with him, which is more than you can say for a lot of politicians.

I'm new at this being interested in practical politics thing, but isn't there something to be said for supporting the politicians who aren't godawful?

I voted for Kerry. I'm a libertarian, and I knew he wasn't going to end the war on drugs or do open immigration. There wasn't any strong reason to think he'd get the US out of Iraq. I also knew he wasn't George Bush and at this point, I'd be grateful for getting back to politics as usual and having a president who at least isn't as likely to start new horrors.

#271 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 07:23 AM:

DaveL said: I've heard (no cite, alas) that it's possibly a majority, but /shrug. The polls you cite are return-envelope surveys, which are statistically meaningless (because there can be selection bias in either direction). I don't doubt, however, that the percentage of believers among scientists is lower than in the population at large, as scientists are generally better-educated and polls show an inverse relationship between education and belief.

Very minor comment: such polls are not automatically meaningless, if you're careful to account for unreturned envelopes. If 50% of the surveyed people respond, and half of those say Yes, then you can, at a minimum, argue that the Yes fraction of the total group is at least 25%, but less than 75%.

Whether these religious-question surveys are doing that, I don't know; it's almost guaranteed that news reports summarizing them won't go into such (important) details.

#272 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 07:30 AM:

Avram:

Hey, Kevin, don't forget "We coach Little League in the Blue States"! I mean, I don't even like baseball. How dare Obama pander to the baseball-liking, kid's-sports-coaching crowd.

If there were a) an organized movement trying to convince swing voters that liberals hate baseball, b) people who don't claim to play baseball every week hate America, c) widespread polling showing that Americans distrust people who don't like baseball, and d) people being hounded out of their homes because they don't like baseball, then I'd probably feel excluded by Obama pandering to the pro-baseball crowd.

#273 ::: hamletta ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 08:38 AM:

Kevin, you're being ridiculous. You're taking fragments of that speech utterly out of context. They were part of a whole section about the ridiculousness of the blue/red state business.

Or do you honestly believe there are no churches in blue states? That there are no gay people in red states?

Oh, and to whoever said Obama is in with the centrists, I assume you mean the DLC, in which case you're very wrong.

I honestly do not understand the need to demonize the junior senator from Illinois. How such a soft-spoken man can inspire such vicious rhetoric, to the point where people flat-out lie about his vote on the Bankruptcy Bill so they can rail about his perfidy is beyond me.

Here's an interview he gave over at Street Prophets after the speech, where they talk about some of the iffy phrasing.

I really don't see how you can tie what happened to the Dobriches to mandatory pledge recitals, as odious as they are. There's a hell of a lot more going on when people suddenly see fit to run people out of town who've lived there all their lives. To pluck Barack Obama out of a cultural line-up that includes Dobson, Robertson, and Falwell seems a wee bit of a stretch.

#274 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 09:23 AM:

If there were a) an organized movement trying to convince swing voters that liberals hate baseball, b) people who don't claim to play baseball every week hate America, c) widespread polling showing that Americans distrust people who don't like baseball, and d) people being hounded out of their homes because they don't like baseball,
... would we be surprised?

It's much the same thing.

#275 ::: the angry black woman ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 09:26 AM:

Sistah Souljah moments?

#276 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 09:26 AM:

OK. There is a problem, in that there have been questions about various things I have said, and people asking what I think about them, and as I respond, the discussion has gotten wider and wider. That means that my responses, while addressing certain points which other have raised, seem to blend together and have caused a complete confusion about my original points. I'll try to lay them out here, in a more methodical manner. If you have questions, please refer to what point they are on, so I can keep this clear.

A)

1) The popular perception of science is that it is opposed to religion. This perception also seems to imply that science answers a class of question that it cannot.

2) One of the reasons that this occurs is because at no point in a normal education (and I have talked to people leaving NYU and Columbia with science degrees) does anyone ever discuss the fact that according to modern philosophy of science only certain types of questions can be answered - and almost all religious ones are thereby excluded.

2a) You can blame whomever you wish for this, including the students for not taking the correct electives. But the perception exists and is not dealt with.

2b) It may be in the books. But if it's seen as important, it would be stressed. It's not, and people continue to be misled. (This, I think, is what dan was responding to "Now, certainly k-12 science education...")

2c) This leads to the silent majority of Christians feeling like they are being attacked.

2 - Side note) The state of education in the USA is miserable. I had to point that out. I understand it. It helps nothing, because the enlightened few who understand the questions despite the education lose the debate.

3) If you use the definition of science that most people (who remember what they were told in 9th grade) would use, you end up saying that most science isn't science.

3a) As an example, modern cosmology says the big bang happened in such and such a way, and that's outside of what those 9th graders were taught about what type of question science can handle. Similarly, how rocks were formed isn't a testable hypothesis. Meteorology rarely fits all the facts. They are, in everyone's mind, science.

3b) This inevitable leads to the conclusion, once again, that science is supposed to answer all questions.

4) I believe that evolution is the best scientific hypothesis we have been able to find, and will stand largely unchanged. It describes approximately how life can to be in its current state.

4a) Basically the same applies to most of modern science, with the caveat that I have not looked into it, and am accepting it as reasonable that those who did were as successful as is reasonable to expect.

4b) Excluding large segments of modern economics. Sorry. That’s another discussion.

B)

1) My original main point. There is a slippery slope involved in anything religious.

1a) Very little that happens which arouses a response is bad in itself. Bible reading groups in schools are not bad. Kids being uncomfortable about the pledge of allegiance is not bad. Kids needing to be excused from saying it, especially when it causes them to have to register their complaints, may even be a good thing for the kids.

1b) Kids being forced to do anything against their faith is bad. Mostly it's a very minor bad, but occasionally it's bad enought that the courts should get involved.

1c) Mostly, when it's bad, people do involve the courts. Properly. And it tends to work. (Yes, overly litigious society, etc.)

2) What happened to the Dobrich family is deplorable, and the people who did it are small minded bigots.

2a) We all disapprove.

2b) This has little to with points in (A). It is therefore a tangent.

C)

1) Despite the fact that Wicca is not witchcraft as is classically understood, the bible is translated to the word "Witch"

2) The translation, given all the press it receives, is a remarkably good one. The original Hebrew, despite what apologists may say, means a female practitioner of (Some types of magic, probably all types).

#277 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 09:45 AM:

A "silent majority" of Christians are not threatened by science. The Roman Catholic church is the largest Christian church, both worldwide and in the US, and is A-OK with evolution, astronomy, cosmology, geology and paleontology.

A noisy minority of mainly American fundamentalist Christians are threatened by science, because their absurd beliefs are demonstrably, factually wrong. Science does indeed address questions like "Is the story of Noah literally true?" or "Did man exist alongside the dinosaurs?". This is not a problem for science, but for wingnut Christians.

#278 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 09:57 AM:

David Manheim, I dispute the actual truth of your initial claim:

The popular perception of science is that it is opposed to religion.

As Niall says, there's a noisy majority that insists it's so, but I genuinely don't think that they represent anything close to a plurality, let alone a mjority.

What I hear, when I do my "perch quietly somewhere folks are talking and just listen" thing and science subjects come up, is conflicted. Well, no surprise there. Most people worry about things that sound like nasty new weapons. Most people like life-saving technology, though in recent years one hears more concerns about things like "but will it actually do a better job than the old one" and "what'll the insurance company say". Most people like improved quality in video and audio gear. Most people don't like the virtual impossibility of home repairs on so much, and aren't sure where the line between science and industry is on that one. Lots of people will stop to admire a particularly nifty picture from space or the bottom of the sea.

Basically, they like things that seem to improve life, don't like ones that threaten it, and wonder a lot how anyone learns enough to make sensible decisions about its cutting edges. Which is to say, it's much like any field in that regard.

I can be convinced on this matter, but the assertion by itself isn't doing it.

#279 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 10:32 AM:

I'm going to go out on a limb here...

Margaret MacMillan argues in Paris 1919 that the whole evil postwar mess in Germany, the stab-in-the-back theory and all the rest, got a chance to flourish partly because most Germans never had to face their conquerers. The armistice came in time to keep troops out of most of Germany, and there was never a large Allied force in Germany after the war for peacekeeping or reconstruction or anything. She feels that a significant factor in the better outcomes after World War II is the reduced room for illusion when you have both wartime damage and the guys who inflicted it right there in front of you.

I put this in the general category of "plausible, though not proven," though I do see the second part raised more and more in discussions of why Iraq war planning sucked so much in 2003, and the first part connects pretty simply to it.

Back home, we have communities who claim to feel threatened by this or that and use it as an excuse to persecute their neighbors and demand special privileges. In fact, they almost all do enjoy substantial privilege, both in direct largesse and in lax enforcement of standards brought to bear on others.

It is possible that what they need to come to terms with reality is some real persecution, or at least the removal of benefits they claim to object to. If they feel threatened by modern science, fine, make 'em quarantine zones and pull out modern medicine, to begin with. Let them arrange their communications without all this nasty immorality-promoting frippery. Pull broadcasting licenses and give them to people who feel okay with their position in the body public. And so forth and so on.

In truth, I wouldnt' be in favor of that, not least because the people who'd suffer most would be the innocents who couldn't choose to be there or leave anyway. But I wish there were more practical ways of demonstrating, "You are being a hypocrite, and you are in denial about just what's making your position possible," in hard and firm style.

In any event, we need a civic politics in which "tough, you can't have it" is the answer to more demands for special privilege and to fewer for protections for the entire citizenry.

#280 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 10:32 AM:

David Manheim: From your "A" section:
3) If you use the definition of science that most people (who remember what they were told in 9th grade) would use, you end up saying that most science isn't science.

3a) As an example, modern cosmology says the big bang happened in such and such a way, and that's outside of what those 9th graders were taught about what type of question science can handle. Similarly, how rocks were formed isn't a testable hypothesis. Meteorology rarely fits all the facts. They are, in everyone's mind, science.

Man, I'm still confused. Being charitable, I'll assume that you really do think cosmology, biology, geology, and meteorology are sciences, and that the problem is in a mismatch between how science is defined for 9th graders (i.e., most students who aren't scientists) and how those sciences are done. But you don't define what you mean by the latter, and don't say what, exactly, is missing from the 9th-grade definition that does make cosmology a science.

Then you go on to say that "how rocks were formed isn't a testable hypothesis" (and imply that cosmology is similar) -- and you said something very similar earlier -- which is completely wrong.

I'm beginning to wonder if you might suffer from the misconception that only physics or chemistry "experiments in a laboratory" qualify as science. "Testable predictions" means predictions about what you will or won't see if you make a specified type of observation or measurement. The observation/measurement can indeed be a carefully set up laboratory experiment; it can also be analysis of trapped air bubbles in an ice core, precise timing of an eclipse, presence of fossilized soot in the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary layer, correlations between DNA sequences in putatively related animals, relative amplitudes of distortions in the cosmic microwave background, et cetera ad nauseum.

#281 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 10:36 AM:

David Manheim in re religious overreaching in schools:

1c) Mostly, when it's bad, people do involve the courts. Properly. And it tends to work. (Yes, overly litigious society, etc.)

I really don't think so. Legal remedies are extremely expensive in both time and money and sometimes more--look at what happened to the Dobrichs-- and people are generally slow to use them.

The US is a somewhat litigious society, but how many people do you know who've initiated a lawsuit? How about lawsuits over matters of principle rather than fairly well-defined money issues?

#282 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 10:38 AM:

Dan S.

There's a lot of urban legend in many subcultures about what science does, what scientists say, and so on. This is another duty upon each subcommunity: check the rumors against the facts, and teach as truth only what you can verify.

Thank you!

TANGENT ALERT

Okay consider yourself warned.

One of the points I was trying to make in passing is that most subjects are taught to the level of only a rudimentary understanding in schools—as people learn more and specialize more they find more and more questions that aren't answered by the lies-to-children version, and often they gnash their teeth at the ignorance of their teachers for teaching them things that were OMG wrong!, and ask "but why do they not teach people that:

  • Nouns are words or phrases that represent substantive notions and can take articles or attributive adjectives that act as the heads of noun phrases. The class of nouns includes but is not limited to words that represent people, places, things, ideas, and emotions.
  • OR

  • A work of fiction can serve as a primary historical source, and be more reliable than a work of non-fiction.

  • OR
  • Split infinitives are a sign of Bad Writing.
    OR
  • Arithmetic isn't what mathematics is about. [Not being a mathematician, I'm not sure what mathematics is about, but my mathematician friends have bewailed the popular perception that mathematics = arithmetic often enough for me to have gotten the message.]

  • OR
  • You can too have parallel fifths and thirds in a composition [for certain very specific reasons, granted]
  • I could come up with more lies to children that permeate the popular consciousness (okay, maybe the music analogy is a bit far-fetched, but I come up against the grammar ones all the time.) In all cases above, the lies represent stepping stones.

    I believe that one of the true tasks of education is not to avoid lies to children, but to convince kids that getting beyond the baby steps is worthwhile, interesting, and cool.

    END OF TANGENT

    #283 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 10:47 AM:

    an organized movement trying to convince swing voters that liberals hate baseball

    and mom and apple pie.

    #284 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 10:47 AM:

    Anyone familiar with the history of geology will have run into the concept of natural theology, and the idea that God can be understood through His works.

    Any faith, in anything, has its moments of awe; any vocation of study, which category includes the practices of science, have too their moments of awe. (Even if, in this fearful age, the words used are much closer to "hey, cool!" than to a frank acknowledgment of awe.)

    That awe is, in the actually religious and the actively scientific, a very considerable common ground; a basis of discourse, common purpose, and a foundation of agreement.

    So, too, is a respect for truth; truth and facts are not at all the same thing, but the human brain has only got the one category, and the practical overlap is wide.

    Live, healthy, muscular religion, the kind that is the product of the active faith of its believers, takes comfort from its uncertainties, for that is where the awe resides, and comfort from facts, for in facts reside the certainty of judgment which permits action free of doubt.

    Demanding religious respect for xenophobia, for cowardice, for threatened, implicit, or actual political violence, for the kind of weak-kneed, flabby hearted, shrunken-livered demand that an entirely fictitious supremacy of character be cringingly acknowledged by all as a sort of hapless and ineffectual stopgap to avoid devouring doubt, none of these do any manner of faith aught that could be called good.

    It says poor things of Senator Obama's judgment and the practice of his own faith that he could so readily become confused on this point.

    #285 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 11:16 AM:

    Okay, a few questions here from a rather curious Australian. I'd be interested in finding out the answers to these.

    1) Is the history of the Pledge of Allegiance taught in schools? If so, do any of these units mention the successive alterations which have been made to the pledge over the years, including the addition of the words "under God" in 1954?

    2) Is a "civics" unit on the history and nature of the US Bill of Rights part of the school curriculum in Delaware? If so, is it a compulsory unit, or an optional one?

    3) Has there been any movement from those who actually follow the teachings of Christ to distinguish themselves from the sorts of "Christians" who appear to be on display in a certain town in Delaware, as well as rather vocally in the media and in the international perception of the US? I'd appreciate links, if possible - and if there's any evidence of a wider movement on the part of the people who follow the teachings of Christ, I'd be very interested in hearing about it.

    4) Does anyone else have the problem where they get sidetracked by references to this and that within the thread, and wind up somewhere completely unexpected? (In this case, I'm sitting here with my brain broken, looking at this post by Keith Thompson, having got there from the comment about Wikipedia in this thread, then following the historical link back to Making Light. Brain breakage caused by attempting to parse the vowel shifted version of what is said, because my poor Aussie brane reads it as a sort of bastard cross between a cockney English, New Zealand and South African accent, and the language module overloads).

    5) Could someone please explain to me how the heck accepting a scientific theory (eg evolution) as a workable explanation for how things are observed to be became equated with extremist atheism (ie denying any possibility of existence of a supreme being)? I think the Australian educational system missed a step in the argument somewhere.

    6) Comes to that, could someone please explain how it happened that science and religion somehow wound up in an adversarial situation in the US of A?

    Finally, a big Thank You to Patrick, for the link to the Sydney Carter stuff. It gives me somewhere I can get new copies of the first three books of "In the Present Tense" as well as another two books I wasn't even aware of!

    PS: Rather than flood the thread, if people want to send their answers to me via email (megpie71 at yahoo dot com dot ay you) I'd really appreciate it.

    #286 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 11:27 AM:

    Lizzy L: Fidel is President of the Republic and of the Communist Party.

    #287 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 11:31 AM:

    Meg --

    Once you accept an absolutist anything, conflict can only be resolved by one thing winning completely and one thing -- all other things -- losing completely.

    So, if you have as an axiom the absolute truth of some particular literal reading of the Bible, say, either everything about your faith is wrong, incorrect, a snare and a delusion and the entrapment of Satan, or the thing -- such as evolutionary theory -- which contradicts that reading is absolutely, utterly wrong.

    There isn't any third category, and that's what produces the adversarial situation in a whole lot of cases, including science and religion.

    And yes, I think accepting anything as a flat absolute is highly unwise, but once you've got it as an axiom that the only way to be good is to believe absolutely, getting rid of that axiom is way traumatic, so much so that most adults don't even when faced with overwhelming evidence.

    #288 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 11:38 AM:

    John Stanning:

    The characterization of all the massacres of the 20th century as being "secular" is dishonest because it's a statement that these things were done in the name of secularism, and that they were done to enhance and consolidate the power of secularism -- and they weren't. Every single one of those historical events exists outside the religious/secular divide -- they're about something else.

    This kind of dishonesty is rife in the discussion of religion in public life. The opposition of "religion" versus science is another example. Another is the identification of religion and ethics -- saying that you can't have one without the other.

    And the point of this kind of dishonesty is to deflect the conversation from the reality of the role that religion plays in public life. Every time religion is allowed any active role in common public life, it leads to the kind of persecution Patrick referenced at the beginning. And it doesn't stop with name calling: it proceeds to discrimination, harrassment, beatings, and further. If you object that religion has always played a role in the public life of the US, please remember that religious harrassment has also always played a role in the public life of the US. I've experienced it personally: my children have experienced it: my ancestors have experienced it. We've experienced it as Jews, as atheists, and as bystanders too.

    #289 ::: Jude ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 11:41 AM:

    I'd like to thank Patrick for making a point of mentioning that this was happening in southern Delaware in the subject line. I'm not saying that anti-Semitism doesn't happen in northern Delaware (there have been instances of grafitti and the like around northern DE in the past couple of years), it's just that north of the C&D Canal, people tend to be more... (civilized? cosmopolitan?) polite. Southern Delaware is like unto a completely separate state.

    I'm so desperately ashamed of my native state, and that's never happened before. I want to kick every last lawmaker in the state into standing up and condemning what's happened to the Dobriches. I can hardly wait to go visit and find out what's been going on from the side of the Jewish community in Lewes and environs (have friends involved there).

    #290 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 11:42 AM:

    Mr. Erwin: (about A-3) I don't know why this is unclear, especially since I thought I had clarified it. I'll try to start with background information, then go on to specific points you raised.

    I said that many people believe that science is supposed to answer all questions. I think that, whether or not you agree that it is a majority or a large minority, it's certainly not only the people who don't want evolution taught.

    The reason that we have this problem is because there is a mismatch between what people are told about what science does, and what science actually does.

    Children are told science makes observations and then formulates theories, which they then use to predict things they have not yet observed. They then go the their classes where a detailed cosmology is presented, and they are told many details about exactly how the Big Bang (or rock formation, or how the dinosaurs died) occurred.

    They are not told that the reason we beleive that the big bang occured is because of cosmic background radiation. They do not know how we tested it. I understand taht much of the evidence is beyond what they can currently understand, but that doesn't stop it from lending credence to the view that science can answer all questions.

    Now, to answer yor questions, I'll quote.

    "Man, I'm still confused. Being charitable, I'll assume that you really do think cosmology, biology, geology, and meteorology are sciences, and that the problem is in a mismatch between how science is defined for 9th graders (i.e., most students who aren't scientists) and how those sciences are done." (Your last post)

    Now, From my previous post (A-4 to 4a): "I believe that evolution is the best scientific hypothesis we have been able to find, and will stand largely unchanged. It describes approximately how life can to be in its current state. Basically the same applies to most of modern science, with the caveat that I have not looked into it, and am accepting it as reasonable that those who did were as successful as is reasonable to expect."

    Now, why is it charitable to assume that I think these are sciences? It is obscured? I'm really tring to be clear.

    Next point:
    "But you don't define what you mean by the latter, and don't say what, exactly, is missing from the 9th-grade definition that does make cosmology a science." (Your last post)

    " 'A theory is accepted only if it can explain known facts, and lasts only as long as it continues to explain new observations... an observation-based model for scientific inquiry'

    Cosmology doesn't answer all the questions or fit all of the facts." (My post yesterday starting "I dislike responding to...")

    That should be clear.


    "Then you go on to say that "how rocks were formed isn't a testable hypothesis" (and imply that cosmology is similar) -- and you said something very similar earlier -- which is completely wrong." (Your last post)

    I'm sorry, I was attempting to refer back to the previous definition. It wasn't clear, and I'm sorry. I understand that most of the theory underlying it is testable, and tested. But it's not what is presented in class.

    "I'm beginning to wonder if you might suffer from the misconception..."

    I'm beginning to wonder why people continue to assume I'm anti-science, since I have denied it. See my quote earlier, "the same applies to most of modern science..."

    "...that only physics or chemistry "experiments in a laboratory" qualify as science. "Testable predictions" means predictions about what you will or won't see if you make a specified type of observation or measurement. The observation/measurement can indeed be a carefully set up laboratory experiment; it can also be analysis of trapped air bubbles in an ice core, precise timing of an eclipse, presence of fossilized soot in the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary layer, correlations between DNA sequences in putatively related animals, relative amplitudes of distortions in the cosmic microwave background, et cetera ad nauseum."

    No argument here. Of course, this has nothing to do with the perception of the group I was talking about. The section you are referring to did start "The popular perception of science..."

    #291 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 11:50 AM:

    David Goldfarb: the word maleficia is used today by some Witches to mean baneful magic—that is, magic intended to cause harm to others. The prohibitions against it go back to the very beginning of modern Wicca (i.e. to 1939 or so): "An it harm none, do as thou wilt," which is known as the Wiccan Rede, gives it as advice. I (and many others, including everyone I've taught and everyone downline from them) am specifically oathbound never to do maleficia.

    I'm pretty sure that no one here thinks modern Witches are the kind the OT wants the Israelites to kill, but I don't think it's possible to get that word out often enough.

    Dan...*bows, continuing into a full prostration, forehead touching floor and hands upturned*

    Per, as both a Pagan (worshipping post-agricultural gods) and a Heathen (worshipping the preagricultural and wild-place gods), and quite religious about both, I must say I wish people wouldn't use the word 'heathen' that way. But I'd certainly support the activity you describe! My religion doesn't do a whole lot of shouting in public (there's a tradition of secrecy, for one thing, and also it's designed to be practiced among cowans (non-practitioners)), but if it did I might shout "There is no god named 'God'. There are more gods than the stars, and they want you to think for yourself!"

    As to your point about Stalinism, it was both religion-like (one need only utter the name Lysenko) and science-like (in that people had a purely evidence-based and quite predictive belief that if they did anything Comrade Stalin didn't like, they would be killed).

    John Stanning, there was a distinctly Asatru tinge to Nazism. The Pagan movement in Europe has tended to be tarred with that brush. I don't think the fact that Asatru is the second-most common conversion religion in US prisons (after Islam) is a coincidence either. See, even Pagans can be bad folks. (And btw I have friends who are Asatru, and they have no patience for racist ideology in any form...or they wouldn't be my friends.)

    I don't see how you can claim that Hitler's persecution of homosexuals was racist in nature. I'm not sure what it was, but racist it was not. Well, unless you mean in an "every Aryan sperm is sacred" kind of way, but that's not the commonly-used definition of 'racist'.

    jennie, I object to a couple of your things that should be taught and aren't. Split infinitives can be used to boldly write what no one has written before. And while parallel fifths are generally frowned upon, I've never heard the slightest objection to parallel thirds. Did you mean fourths, maybe?

    #292 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 11:54 AM:

    David Manheimi said: I would be surprised if a 9th grade science textbook didn't deal with how a hypothesis is formed. But if that is all we have to go by, modern cosmology isn't science, nor is most geology, biology, or meteorology - they don't make testable predictions where we can ever see the answers (or they do, but everyone knows that they are wrong most of the time.)

    So you think we don't understand you because why?

    It's hard for me to understand falsifiability the way it's usually presented - and I have had college level science classes, and not in the dumbed-down versions. I seriously doubt that a ninth-grade student, or someone with no science background or a poor general education, will understand it any better. You start with concepts that can be understood at the level you're teaching; you don't dump the entire load, most especially the high-end theoretical stuff, on the beginners. (Think about your history classes: they got more depth and detail as you progressed from elementary school into college - mine did, and I don't think yours were much different.)

    #293 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 11:54 AM:

    (This post has nothing to do with my ongoing discussions in this thread. I have learned that quotes get me into less trouble.)

    Mrs. Kemnitzer: "Every time religion is allowed any active role in common public life, it leads to the kind of persecution."

    What? The US was founded becasue of the desire for specific religious pratices. We have society based on the influences of religion. Hell, out freedom of religion is based on religious ideals. Let's try a sample.

    To quote John Adams: "The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God and that there is no force of law in public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If 'thou shall not covet' and 'thou shall not steal' are not commandments of heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free."

    Nothing but bigotry and hatred. What about this one (you may recognize it. It mentions that damn god person again.)

    "When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

    #294 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 11:58 AM:

    Seth Breidbart said: It seems that Israel hit the building at 1 AM, and it collapsed at 8 AM.

    I believe this should read "the IDF stated", not "it seems". Eyewitness accounts indicate that the 1AM attack buried the inhabitants in the rubble, even if the house remained "precariously standing" afterward.

    Half a world away, we can only speculate as to what really happened but I presume that a later investigation will provide more complete understanding. I hope that people are paying as much attention then as they are now.

    #295 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 12:03 PM:

    Mr. Evans:
    My name. Why?

    Now. I'm assuming that you don't understand me because I get asked questions I've answered. Repeatedly. It's like a theme.

    My problem is with popular perceptions. I'll say it again. My problem is with popular perception. Yes, falsifiability is a hard concept. It's also not really taught.

    Of course, when issues are important, they get hammered into peoples heads, whether they are ready or not. The fact that science isn't against religion is something that is causing such contentious issues that it should be one of those things.

    We teach that evolution happens before they understand how. We should teach what science is and isn't before they understand why.

    #296 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 12:05 PM:

    Wikipedia Def : Sister Souljah moment

    In United States politics, a Sister Souljah moment is a politician's public repudiation of an allegedly extremist person, statement, or position perceived to have some association with the politician. Whether sincere or not, such an act of repudiation can appeal to centrist voters at the risk of alienating some of the politician's allies.

    HTH.

    #297 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 12:11 PM:

    Lucy: sorry, you're right. I read into your post something that wasn't there. The point I was making was that just as many people have been killed for non-religious causes - for causes that were, as you said, outside the religious/secular divide - as have been killed in religious wars; but that wasn't a proper response to what you said earlier.

    #298 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 12:13 PM:

    Lucy, it's common enough for people to say that religion is a basic problem, and that if there were no religion people would behave better.

    The history of totalitarian Communism is a handy counter-example. Totalitarian Communism was explicitly atheist.

    To my mind, religion is not the problem, though some religious people are definitely a problem. Atheism is not the problem, though some atheists are definitely a problem. I *think* agnosticism is safe, but I don't think agnostic government has been sufficiently tested to be sure. The totalitarian impulse is the problem, and it can make use of a fairly wide range of ideologies.

    As for whether religion in active public life is *always* a problem, I really don't know. Sometimes it looks like a pretty minor problem.

    #299 ::: SKapusniak ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 12:14 PM:

    Apologies in advance, but the follow completely irrelevant question has been bugging me ever since I first saw the title of the thread, and the pressure has now become to great...

    'So, Barack Obama may be able to kiss your ass, but can he also kiss your shiny metal ass?'

    ...hopefully with that now off my chest, I can finally get some work done. Carry on.

    #300 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 12:14 PM:

    Seth and Fungi, wrong thread for discussions of Israel vs. Hezbollah, as Patrick has indicated.

    #301 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 12:30 PM:

    David Manheim, your posts read like you want it both ways. If you could possibly make it clearer what *you yourself* think, and stop telling us what you think everyone else thinks, maybe it would help. Just saying. And when you say that meteorology, cosmology, etc are not sciences because you can't see the results of the predictions, then cite them as science, you are, um, *really* unclear.

    What you *seem* to want sounds to me like handing kids calculators before they've learned basic arithmetic. Yes, they'll get answers, but most of the results will be nonsense.

    "Basic research is what I am doing when I don't know what I am doing." - W. von Braun

    #302 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 12:33 PM:

    David Mannheim wrote:
    The US was founded becasue of the desire for specific religious pratices.

    No, many people came to this continent because of the desire to practice a specific religion that was unpopular where they came from, be it Catholic, Quaker, or specific Protestant sect. And oh, yes, a few Jews; according to Wikipedia, there were over 2000 here in 1776.

    This country, the United States of America, was founded by a handful of Deists and Freemasons, with an atheist or two thrown in. That's why the Declaration says "Nature and Nature's God". I've always thought of that wording as proto-Pagan. They delibrately left out any mention of JC in either the Declaration of Independence or the Consitution.

    #303 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 12:39 PM:

    Xopher, I wasn't aware that someone had been murdered...but they ruled it ***suicide***!

    I sat here for about five minutes after reading your post with cold chills playing all over.

    To the best of my knowledge, all my Wiccan and Pagan friends adhere to Hippocrates' Rule: "First, do no harm."

    #304 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 12:50 PM:

    After catching up with nearly a day's worth of comments on this thread, I have to say: Dan S. and Graydon, you have made the most light here, and I'm grateful for it. (No, I'm not dissing everyone else -- I just like the tone and the reasoning in your posts.)

    Graydon said:
    Live, healthy, muscular religion, the kind that is the product of the active faith of its believers, takes comfort from its uncertainties, for that is where the awe resides, and comfort from facts, for in facts reside the certainty of judgment which permits action free of doubt.

    Demanding religious respect for xenophobia, for cowardice, for threatened, implicit, or actual political violence, for the kind of weak-kneed, flabby hearted, shrunken-livered demand that an entirely fictitious supremacy of character be cringingly acknowledged by all as a sort of hapless and ineffectual stopgap to avoid devouring doubt, none of these do any manner of faith aught that could be called good.

    This thread and the Open Thread debates about Israel and Lebanon (which really should have a thread all their own) often make me despair of all religions -- including "secular" cults of personality a la Stalin, Mao, etc. It would be heartening to think that humans can sustain "live, healthy, muscular religion" even now, and I suppose it's not only possible but happening here and there. I just can't see much evidence for it in the worst-case scenarios playing out on the daily news.

    #305 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 01:07 PM:

    Mr. Manheim, let's trade quotes, to wit:

    An alliance or coalition between Government and religion cannot be too carefully guarded against......Every new and successful example therefore of a PERFECT SEPARATION between ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance........religion and government will exist in greater purity, without (rather) than with the aid of government. [James Madison in a letter to Livingston, 1822]

    MASSACHUSSETTS, or more properly, what was then called New England, was founded on a specific view of Protestantism, and it bred different types (Rhode Island. Others were settled by people with yet different kinds of Christianity (Pennsylvania and Maryland). Not to mention all the colonies founded by non-english folks (Neuw Amsterdam, anyone?) And that's only a thin cover of the religious complexities on the ground.

    And yet another quote:

    They [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: and enough, too, in their opinion.

    -Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush, Sept. 23, 1800

    #306 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 01:18 PM:

    Not that Lucy Kremnitzer is incapable of taking care of herself, rhetorically and otherwise, but I'd point out that the phrase "common public life" in the context of a discussion like this one has a fairly specific meaning--in fact, "common" and "public" almost constitute a redundancy. I take the phrase to indicate the realm of the not-private, the not-merely-personal, the what-we-can-agree-on-as-bases-for-action-in-our-shared-endeavors.

    In a secularist polity, *all* religious belief (and perhaps even most philosophy-of-values belief) belongs to the private realm. For example, I sometimes describe myself as a secular materialist. The first half of that phrase indicates a political stance and is necessarily public; the second half indicates my working metaphysic and is private (though obviously not secret). In fact, most of the time (in discussions of political systems) I just say I'm a secularist, because my particular understanding of the workings and (lack of) meaning of the universe is nobody's dirty business but my own (and is in any case a tough sell to those whose emotional configuration is very different from mine).

    The fact that people can agree on values and working models of behavior, even though they might come at them from different directions and with different sets of assumptions is, um, a blessing, if not a flat-out miracle. And there are always gray areas: where the most strongly-held values and the most fundamental epistemological machinery runs. And where the snake-brain synchs up with the monkey-tribe social wiring: you smell wrong; you're not from our band; we throw turds at you.

    #307 ::: Varia ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 01:19 PM:

    David Manheim:

    (your quotes in italics)

    1) The popular perception of science is that it is opposed to religion. This perception also seems to imply that science answers a class of question that it cannot.

    I don't stipulate this. Being a scientist and having a preference for facts over hand-waving, I would like to see any real data supporting this besides your vague descriptions of conversations with a range of people. I talk to a range of people too, and they don't say this. I think my data is at least as valid as yours. But even were it true, this next bit is so clearly crap that it renders it irrelevant:

    2) One of the reasons that this occurs is because at no point in a normal education (and I have talked to people leaving NYU and Columbia with science degrees) does anyone ever discuss the fact that according to modern philosophy of science only certain types of questions can be answered - and almost all religious ones are thereby excluded.

    No-one? No normal education? You make sweeping statements based on your self-selected sampling of conversations over the years? Are you acquainted with any normal method of gathering statistics, including the methods that correct for various types of sampling bias?

    Any "normal" education that involves a single laboratory experiment (and I did them in middle school, don't know about you) introduces the idea of hypotheses tested by observable facts. We did them in biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, and even in psychology. Whether or not your average high-schooler can define "falsifiability", a basic scan of the history of science shows that it is a history of people getting things wrong and learning from it.

    But again, even if I were to stipulate that you are correct, and I don't, because you haven't given a shred of real data and my anecdotes are at least as meaningful as yours, your final conclusion is again so clearly crap as to make it irrelevant.

    2c) This leads to the silent majority of Christians feeling like they are being attacked.

    No. No, no, no. You can shout this one from the rooftops and it's still a completely unjustified leap. Even supposing that most people don't understand the fields which science studies (all fields involving observable, testable facts), even supposing that most Christians feel like they are attacked (another hand-waving jump of the stats, by the way) the idea that that misunderstanding alone would lead them to feel attacked is laughable. The evangelical christianists I am acquainted with, and the evangelical christianist screeds I sometimes get stuck reading online, don't have a thing to do with science supposedly overstepping its bounds. Those people (and I will speak only about them, because they're the only ones I have experience with) feel attacked because people are having sex before marriage. They feel attacked because black people can walk down the streets and they don't like that (I grew up in South Carolina). They feel attacked, first and foremost, because they are inculcated from birth in a culture of victimization. Without any evidence, without a shred of discrimination against them, they are constantly told that the world is out to get them, that they need to band together, vote Republican, and keep down the negra, the Jew, and the commie homosexual sluts walking the streets.

    In my opinion, they're told that because it serves the powers that be to keep them scared, bigoted and angry. Every single science textbook in the world can proclaim "We Deal In Observable Facts Only and Do Not Speculate on Metaphysical Realms" till the cows come home and it won't make a damn bit of difference.

    #308 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 01:25 PM:

    Nancy --

    Once you can legislate on the basis of morals, you get a contest to see whose morals will be legislated.

    Same thing with piety; it changes the terms of the competition between ideas from "do I (perceive that I) have a better life?" to "can I get my ideas enforced by the power of the state?"

    Lucy's right that in as much as it is possible to use the power of the state to make people conform, to that extent such power will be used.

    #309 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 01:30 PM:

    Graydon Once you can legislate on the basis of morals, you get a contest to see whose morals will be legislated.

    Which is silly, when clearly my morals should be legislated.

    #310 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 01:34 PM:

    Let me rephrase that.

    Clearly my morals (but not my syntax) should provide the basis for all legislation.

    We'd have better bike paths and better chocolate. It would be a truly just society.

    #311 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 01:34 PM:

    It does seem pretty obvious that jennie's moral's should be legislated.

    #312 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 01:36 PM:

    Let me rephrase that.

    Clearly jennie's morals should provide the basis for all legislation.

    #313 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 01:45 PM:

    Is there an echo in here?

    #314 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 02:10 PM:

    Is there an echo in here?

    #315 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 02:11 PM:

    Echo in here?

    #316 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 02:12 PM:

    In here?

    Here?

    #317 ::: Will "scifantasy" Frank ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 02:14 PM:

    Is there an...never mind.

    Personally, I wouldn't want my morals to get anywhere near legislation. I mean, legislation has to be well-defined and clear, even if it can be interpreted. My morals are nowhere near that rigid. Or even understandable. I have Heisenberg morals...whenever I try to define them, they seem to change on me.

    #318 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 02:38 PM:

    Oh, I'd only feel comfortable if people based their legislation on the principles that I can clearly articulate.

    Lessee:

    Chocolate is Good (unless one is allergic or doesn't like chocolate, or is sensitive to sugar, in which case one should donate all one's chocolate to jennie, who will see that one is no longer burdened with it, and distribute it to the masses based on the needs or desires of the masses. If none of the masses want it, jennie may dispose of it as she sees fit—probably in the form of chocolate truffles at meetings.)

    Chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa solids is Very Good.

    Dark Chocolate is Very Good.

    Ambriel Organic Fair Trade Dark is Very Very Good.

    Hershey's is an Abomination.

    Bike Paths are Good.

    Bike Paths should not feature Inconvenient Obstructions, such as highways.

    Hats are Good. So are bare heads. In fact one should be able to bare any part of one's body that one likes, taking due care to avoid frostbite or sunburn.

    Ummmm....Cats are Good too.

    And Books.

    Elevators not so much, but they are permitted. Elevators in which one is subjected to renditions of Yesterday arranged for glockenspiel and triangle are an Abomination, and not to be tolerated.

    Lessee ... have I forgotten anything?

    Oh yes:

    A Just Society is one that works to increase everyone's choice space to the greatest degree possible, while making it possible for everyone's basic needs to at least be met and for jennie to have lots of good dark chocolate.


    #319 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 02:41 PM:

    A brief digression, because I'm not sure Greg's question about the Quaker oaths has been cleared up, and I want to have a go at it myself. The point, as I understand it, is that an oath is defined as a promise made while inviting consequences if it is not kept. "I swear to God" that I will do something and thereby invite God to punish me if I don't. (Or you can swear on the Bible, or on your mother's grave, or whatever.) So a Quaker can happily promise to get you a six-pack from the 7-11 later; what (s)he can't do is guarantee the promise by inviting retribution if it isn't kept - that is, swear an oath. Because, as people have pointed out, that would mean that the promise alone was worthless. Sidney Carter's hymn makes the point very well.

    Apologies if everybody understands this already.

    #320 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 02:50 PM:

    Varia: OK, I'm having some problems with your points. Maybe you could clarify.

    I could ignore the fact that you misrepresented what I said, but I'd like to point a few things out.

    I never said "no-one". I have said that my anecdotal evidence is the best I have, and I don't think that any harder evidence, in the form of properly conducted surveys about the issue, exists.

    I never said that high schoolers were not shown how scientific expirements work. I did say that given what they were taught, a disconnect exists between what they are told science says and what they could reasonably infer is the domain of scientifically testable hypotheses. If you don't agree, please explain why.

    Now for the attack on my conclusion. Why would I be interested in what fundamentalists christians believe? I don't. I made a statement about the larger group of religious, but not fanantical, christians. These are the ones who are told by their more religious brethren that modern science is against all faith. Well know scientists like Dawkins repeatedly making statements such as "Certainly I see the scientific view of the world as incompatible with religion" are part of the reason why.

    Another reason, however, is that people don't understand why Dawkins is wrong. And that's why this is important: if we teach correctly what science can and cannot do, the moderate christians will not think that evolution is a step towards eliminating faith - which is exactly what the religious right want them to believe.

    #321 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 02:51 PM:

    Things that did not cause the persecution of the Dobriches:
    - The Parlous State of Current Day Scientific Education
    - Anything worthy of the name "Christianity"
    - Patrick having robust arguments with people he considers too fluffy-liberal
    - The war in the Middle East
    - Chocolate

    Things that might well have contributed to the persecution of the Dobriches:
    - Sheer unbridled bigotry
    - Fundamentalists trying to find any loophole that will allow their so-called Christianity to worm its way into public life and public education
    - The political elite favouring said fundamentalists and their unconstitutional tactics
    - Democrats and moderates, typified by Barack Obama, being the good people who allow evil to prosper by doing nothing.

    Things whose placement is arguable (but are bad for other reasons anyway):
    - Making schoolchildren recite the Pledge of Allegiance

    #322 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 02:58 PM:

    David Manheim: You went through this whole 'but you misunderstood my argument' bit last winter with the 'Opting out of education' thread: same tune, different words. Or possibly a different verse of the same song.

    #323 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 03:03 PM:

    I'm having a hard time with David Manheim, either because he's rather loose with what he means versus what he says (making it damn difficult to communicate)* or because he's an rare form of troll. I haven't been able to figure which it is.

    If he isn't a troll, one consistent issue is that he continues to make blanket statements such as "science is not taught in school" when he really should be stating that he has anecdotal evidence such as "the people I talked to said science wasn't taught to them in schools".

    That he holds anecdotal evidence as solid proof until someone disproves him doesn't help. In any event, I can't make heads or tails of it. And best wishes to those who try.

    *you keep using that word "science", I don't think it means what you think it means

    #324 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 04:29 PM:

    In my completely anecdotal, non-statistical belief based on what I know of my friends/ have talked about with them, the Christians that I know feel more threatened by the Christian fundamentalist takeover of the government of America than they do by science.

    #325 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 05:32 PM:

    Mr. London: I've tried, repeatedly, to make my points clear. I'm sorry that for some reason you thnk that I am trolling* I've also asked you to tone down the insults**. I'm sorry if either point wasn't clear to you, but I'd like to add a third.

    There is a difference between you misunderstanding what I said and me being unclear. I'm not a writer, I may be having trouble expresing myself. Decide which it is. It sems to me, however, that you said that I was unclear after not reading what I said closely, and mistook what exactly I was discussing, despite the fact that it was addresed in response to a specific comment which I'm now fairly sure you hadn't read. I emphasized that if science was purporting to explain meaning, it was religious thought. I think, after rereading my post, that that was actually not particularly unclear.

    Others, asked for clarification instad of insulting me. I have tried doing so. I even went through and pointed out where I had addressed the points people were raising at one point. I think I was sucessful clarifying what I was saying with most of the people here. Maybe I'm wrong, but I tried, and was mostly civil doing so.

    * Of course, I'd like to know what provoked that specific accusation, especially since (and maybe I've managed to miscommunicate again) I thought I made clear that this entire argument was over a quickly written side point.

    ** Maybe I'm wrong about this as well, but I was under the impression that talking about me like I'm not here is considered rude. Even online. And if you didn't think I was still reading the thread, maybe you shouldn't have addressed me in your footnote. Snidely.

    #326 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 06:01 PM:

    The biggest problem I keep seeing is that people keep interpreting David Manheim's belief-as-to-what-the-public-percieves with David Manheim's (different) personal-opinions-on-the-same-topic.

    It's like someone perceiving and trying to describe what they believe to be a fashion trend ("I don't wear one myself, but from what I've seen, it seems hats are in!") being constantly told "But you don't wear a hat."

    Of course, what seems to be tripping things up is the question of *why* he feels there is this public perception of science, with only anecdotal evidence on his side, and only anecdotal evidence refuting his view (Or did I miss something? I confess to occasional skimming). Also, the question of whether this percveption is more or less important than myriad other facets in the debate between and among Christians, Christianists, people of myriad other faiths, atheists and people-who-may-be-any-of-the-above-but-are-also-scientists. (Sorry about the laboured last category, but any other phrasing I could come up with in fifteen seconds lumped scientists in with the religious views -- which under the circumstances seemed to imply something problematic.)

    Personally, David, I disagree that this perception of science as "threat to religion" is all that pervasive -- although I do not live in Kansas or other places where creationism and ID have had strong footholds. I do think that outside some particular locales, it's mostly a loud minority trying to claim it's so. Graydon and others have described the particular mindest of that particular group and why they feel they have a huge stake in making themselves heard and crushing this challenge to their belief.

    ___________

    But all this seems to have obscured a question I am curious about. Has anyone here asked Barack Obama to make a statement about the situation with the Dobrich family, or seen a public statement?

    #327 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 06:06 PM:

    Nancy:

    it's common enough for people to say that religion is a basic problem, and that if there were no religion people would behave better.

    I might have missed it, because there are 325 comments on this thread before this one, but as far as I can see, nobody here said that nobody should be religious. Religious indivuals, even religious communities (like meetings, churches, fellowships, congregations, study groups) are not what we're talking about here at all. We're talking about allowing some religious folk to turn the common spaces -- schools, courts, municipal spaces -- into religious arenas, and what that does, inevitably, to religious freedom, tolerance, and public dialog. Clearly, as an atheist, I have doubts about the veracity and usefulness of religion, but those doubts are not the point and never are the point. I've seen plenty of good people doing admirable things and giving religious inspiration as their motivation and guidance in doing those things -- just as I've seen plenty of good people doing similar admirable things and not giving any such explanation for their actions.

    Let me say this again: religion is only a political problem when it is allowed to function in the common public sphere -- that is, when it becomes part of politics.

    To my mind, religion is not the problem . . .(excuse the snip) The totalitarian impulse is the problem, and it can make use of a fairly wide range of ideologies.

    Some things are generalizable all to hell and gone, and some things are not, and some things are but you miss the point when you do it. This is one of those times.

    It's not helpful to lump all bad things into one category and then act like you know what's going on. Each bad thing needs to be looked at full in the face and honestly, its roots and causes understood for themselves. And religious persecution has at its root (among other things) the very specific condition of the place of religion in public life, which is something that can be addressed.

    #328 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 06:10 PM:

    Oh, yeah, I forgot: Russell, thank you, even though you gave me an extra R. (There are people named Kremnitzer, but they aren't me. It turns out Kemnitzer comes from the Sorbian for "stony brook")

    #329 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 06:25 PM:

    Xopher, I've often wondered what would happen if I were a witness in court and (when a lawyer cut me off and said to just answer "yes" or "no") I asked the judge whether I should violate my oath.

    #330 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 06:28 PM:

    People haven't answered Meg's questions -- perhaps they're just emailing her, as she suggested. But I'd like to see other people's takes on some of these, and, hoping to spark this, will offer my own.

    1) Is the history of the Pledge of Allegiance taught in schools? If so, do any of these units mention the successive alterations which have been made to the pledge over the years, including the addition of the words "under God" in 1954?

    I can't say for certain, since I went to private schools, but I rather doubt it. Private schools -- particularly liberal ones, such as I attended -- would seem to be more likely to cover this, and mine certainly didn't. My guess is that you could probably dig up some history teacher somewhere who's mentioned it, but I very seriously doubt it's done in any widespread way. (Contrary evidence welcomed, of course.)

    2) Is a "civics" unit on the history and nature of the US Bill of Rights part of the school curriculum in Delaware? If so, is it a compulsory unit, or an optional one?

    I can't speak to the Delaware schools. I feel fairly certain it wouldn't matter, however, as there are a lot of twisted curricula out there -- things which teach blatant falsehoods such as the idea that the U.S. was founded as a "Christian nation" -- that offer a distorted view on the history & nature of the US Bill of Rights. So even if there was such a unit, the local schools would probably teach a distorted version such as what they did was okay.

    3) Has there been any movement from those who actually follow the teachings of Christ to distinguish themselves from the sorts of "Christians" who appear to be on display in a certain town in Delaware, as well as rather vocally in the media and in the international perception of the US? I'd appreciate links, if possible - and if there's any evidence of a wider movement on the part of the people who follow the teachings of Christ, I'd be very interested in hearing about it.

    My sense is that there are quite a number of individual Christians who do this (see, e.g., this recent NY Times story), some Churches, and probably some small organizations here and there (you can find organizations promoting almost anything somewhere in the U.S.). But I have not seen any signs of anything which would deserve the term "movement."

    5) Could someone please explain to me how the heck accepting a scientific theory (eg evolution) as a workable explanation for how things are observed to be became equated with extremist atheism (ie denying any possibility of existence of a supreme being)? I think the Australian educational system missed a step in the argument somewhere.
    6) Comes to that, could someone please explain how it happened that science and religion somehow wound up in an adversarial situation in the US of A?

    These two are deeply connected, and I suspect that you'd have to write a book to answer them. But I think that the former is a big factor in the latter; and that the answer to the former has to do with the specific historical nature of American fundamentalism. Not too useful an answer, but it's the best I have the energy & heart for.

    #331 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 06:31 PM:

    I'd just like to note that there is a line between

    "Why is it that when they insult us they get away with it, and when we do, we're tarred? I'm not going to play their game anymore."

    and

    "No really, whatever you think you're trying to do or what ideological stance you use to justify it, you're flaming your opposition."

    Some people here have crossed it.

    Some of the people doing so have been making very good points.

    However, to me, calling someone a moron doesn't make them look bad, or look like a moron, even if they are a moron, and the ease with which their remarks are demolished proves it. It makes the person using the word look bad, and worse, it obscures the good points they're making along the way.

    Demolish your opposition, yes. Call horseshit if they try to apply rules to you that they won't follow themselves. Expose their hypocrisies to the air.

    But your points stand better unadorned with cruel words.

    I've done it both ways -- and almost invariably, the non-insulting version works better.

    (No, this is not directed at one person, though the example word may make it seem to. By now, it's applicable to several people on several sides of several debates.)

    #332 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 06:34 PM:

    LK: Oops, sorry. Even after a couple decades of practice I can't proof worth a damn on a screen.

    #333 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 06:55 PM:

    jennie --

    Remelted Hershey's (reborn in the fires, as it were) mixed with almonds and dropped onto waxed paper is an acceptable edible -- or mixed with Rice Crispies, or with peanut butter chips and rice crispies. The remelting really does something good to it.

    #334 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 07:22 PM:

    Those on the religious right seem to feel that science is their enemy, and that the continued development of science threatens the continued viability of religion.

    The question is, why do they feel this way?

    I think there are many reasons why a theist might consider science a threat to his belief system, but the most important reason is that it IS.

    The more Man learns about the nature, the smaller and smaller the role relagated to the gods, or to God. Is there truly anyone here who knows so little of history that he'd argue with this?

    Where are we now? Now we have reached the point where, in order to find something that is squarly within the domain of religion, we need to dig down to "meaning," which is only closed to science because no two people can agree on what the question is. And you truly wonder why the theists are hostile to science?

    What they perceive as a threat, IS a threat. When they say science threatens not only their religious beliefs, but also the basic structure of society, they're right about that too--a clear, scientific understanding of society will reveal its irrationalities and contradictions. The more people are aware of these, the shorter the time until these irrationalties, and the society that upholds them, is swept away. Whatever the cynics may say, Man does have this annoying habit of not only learning things, but then applying what he learns.

    They trumpet backwardness, ignorance, and superstition against culture, knowledge, and rationality because the latter is truly a threat to the former, as well to all the structures that sustain them.

    I know that many dear friends of mine are both social liberals (in the best sense of the word) and theists. It is my view that these people, however well-meaning, are inconsistant thinkers. It is my opinon that, as the crisis of society deepens, either their liberal views or their idealist conceptions will have to go. It is my fear that it will be their liberal attitudes. I would very much like to be wrong.

    #335 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 07:22 PM:

    Russell, really, I don't mind: I was just correcting to be polite.

    #336 ::: hamletta ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 07:25 PM:

    But all this seems to have obscured a question I am curious about. Has anyone here asked Barack Obama to make a statement about the situation with the Dobrich family, or seen a public statement?

    Gee, I didn't know Harry Belafonte lived in Delaware.

    Has there been any movement from those who actually follow the teachings of Christ to distinguish themselves from the sorts of "Christians" who appear to be on display in a certain town in Delaware, as well as rather vocally in the media and in the international perception of the US?

    Le sigh. I can't decide if it's the wrong question, or what. Look: Most Christians try to live the Word the best way they know how. To go about saying, "Those guys are wrong; we're not like them" is to 1) define oneself as what one is not; and 2) judge, which is generally frowned upon in the faith.

    The National Council of Churches and its constituent denominations all have governmental affairs offices that lobby the government to pursue more just policies in matters like poverty and war. You just don't hear about 'em, cause the cable squawkers are too busy milking Jerry Falwell and Bill Donohue for sound bites about teh gay.

    The NCC's biggest media splash of late was the pray-in they held when Congress was passing the budget. You know, the one that slashed school lunches and taxes both. They managed one dinky article in the bowels of the WaPo.

    And the fact remains that the majority of Christians, liberal and conservative alike, look askance at the accumulation of worldly power as a way to live one's faith. Rev. Boyd is not a complete anomaly. Even among mega-churches, the ones that preach Christian = Republican are a minority.

    If you look over the past few years: Schiavo, Dover school board, SD abortion ban, the minute the nutters get their way, they inherit the wind. They just don't have the popular support their outsize voice would indicate.

    #337 ::: hamletta ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 07:29 PM:

    I would very much like to be wrong.

    Well, have a beer, because you are! Happy day!

    Look, you really don't know squat about religion, because otherwise you wouldn't say anything that pig-ignorant. Enemies don't get any easier to love if you know what makes them tick.

    #338 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 07:31 PM:

    Look, you really don't know squat about religion, because otherwise you wouldn't say anything that pig-ignorant.

    Oh. Well, okay. That's a relief. Thanks for setting me straight.

    #339 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 07:34 PM:

    Individ-ewe-al, in terms of "threatening language": Suppose a friend of mine, who would never hurt me (and would defend me if it came to that) chose to inform me that a certain neighborhood wasn't safe and I should avoid going their. Would you consider that a threat? By him?

    Suppose he used to live near there (so he knows about it), but he moved 5,000 miles away with no intention of ever returning. Now is him telling me about the neighborhood a threat?

    #340 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 07:40 PM:

    I disagree with Steven, in that I think most religions are science-proof, and most theists are not hostile to science. I think science is only a threat to particularly stupid religions. A religion like Roman Catholicism has a long history, and has long since evolved so as to be completely immune to science.

    Here's Augustine disavowing Biblical literalism around 400 AD.

    #341 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 07:44 PM:

    Enemies don't get any easier to love if you know what makes them tick.

    Every Buddhist teacher I've read or heard would disagree with this statement. As would I — to me, knowing what makes an "enemy" tick is the only way I can manage to love them.

    #342 ::: Will "scifantasy" Frank ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 08:07 PM:

    Enemies don't get any easier to love if you know what makes them tick.

    Spoken like someone who has never tried to love an enemy, or for that matter, try to understand one's perspective.

    Can every enemy become a friend if you understand him or her? No, not at all. Can some? Sure.

    Can religion and science not be at odds with each other? Well, I believe so, anyway. But maybe I have to.

    #343 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 08:34 PM:

    I'd like to Thank Mrs. Rose. Capital T.

    Then I'd like to point out Mr. Brust's arguments as exactly why theists feel atheists are opposed to their way of life, and the idea of religion in general.

    A more public, more wel known such thinker is Richard Dawkins, the noted evolutionary theorist. It should surprise no one that the living person who I would think is most closely associated with Evolution, for good reason, is also the single most anti-religious person (whom I can think of) in the public eye.

    You may dislike my assumption based on anecdotal evidence that moderate christians feel this way, but I'm in Atlanta for the summer, and down here, in the republican stronghold of Georgia, it sure seems that way. Maybe in Kansas they feel differently. I don't know, and have not checked. If I run into any bored sociologists, I'll ask them to check it out.

    #344 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 08:42 PM:

    David Manheim: I note your elision of 'I think' to 'is' above. I wonder how many of the good Christians down here in Georgia know who Richard Dawkins is. I wonder, furthermore, how many of them are as obsessed with seeing evolution as some sort of anti-religious conspiracy as you appear to be.

    Of course, many of the good Christians down here have no trouble assuming that many of their fellow human beings are inherently inferior.

    #345 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 08:58 PM:

    You may dislike my assumption based on anecdotal evidence that moderate christians feel this way, but I'm in Atlanta for the summer

    Oh, puppy barf. That is going to be convincing to no one. Some here will dispute it because such "evidence" is unscientific in both how it was gathered and how it is interpreted. Others will dispute it because the experiences they have had say the opposite. Others will dispute it because the shifting ground of your arguments makes everything you say suspicious. Others (like me) will dispute it because the sheer numbers who believe a given thing at a given point in time is not meaningful, without an understanding of the social forces driving that belief, the social forces opposing it, the role it plays in society, where it fits into the movement of history, &c &c. But NO ONE is going to be convinced by it. So, uh, maybe you want to think about dropping it?

    If you have an argument, I'm not sure what it is. Who should be doing what differently, and why?

    Note: In my long post above, I included the line, "And you truly wonder why the theists are hostile to science?" That was sloppy. My apologies. Obviously, not all theists are hostile to science; I was referring to those who are.

    #346 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 09:31 PM:

    Social forces?

    Way down at the bottom, it's a contest between fear -- this is more complicated than I can handle (and it is, and getting more so, and it always has been, so burning the cities and grubbing for roots in the dark won't make it better), what if it hurts me? what do I do? -- and delight -- woo! neat things! What a world, that has such creatures in it! and so on.

    You can be a dogmatic nincompoop and do good science; you aren't going to revolutionize science, but someone has to count the nine-tined sticklebacks every spring for forty years on Baffin Island. Science -- like everything else -- is no guarantee of character.

    Thing is, the fear lives in the brain, along with the obviously inadequate model of the world, the impulse of delight, and the capacity for awe; reason does not drive out fear.

    (Driving out fear is the wrong approach, but that's another tangent.)

    Given a brain that is wired to be infested with gods, a belief in magic -- that the direct application of the will can have affects on the material world -- and a conviction that social isolation constitutes a sentence of death, one must live in the world.

    One must, further, live in the world knowing that not all events permit time for thought, and that the best analysis of the future is hopelessly imperfect.

    Given all that, rationality, scientific method, and so on, isn't adequate; the questions of reflex and society and trust, however much they have material causes and material answers are not lived, could not be lived, as rational things by individual people.

    So, eventually, there's the -- implied or explicit -- question of choosing a shape, and pouring yourself into it by the choices of your life. Some of the containers, and some of the funnels, are religious, or religiously influenced; some are not. All must attempt to handle heuristically a vast indifferent world literally beyond human comprehension.

    I would suggest that the important question is not "religious or not?", but "Is this a shape of fear, or a shape of delight?"

    #347 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 10:02 PM:

    Way down at the bottom, it's a contest between fear ... and delight

    Well, no, I don't think it is.

    Given a brain that is wired to be infested with gods, a belief in magic...

    Yes, certainly, if I'll just swallow THAT whale, I should have no trouble with the gnats that follow. You could at least have offered some garlic powder.

    I would suggest that the important question is not "religious or not?", but "Is this a shape of fear, or a shape of delight?

    I'll try not to be snide. I think your analysis is unscientific. I think, when dealing with mass social phenomana that can have devestating effects on the lives of millions, a scientific understanding is important.

    #348 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 10:21 PM:

    I get just about as annoyed at the evangelical atheists (the ones who think it's the Only Right Way) as I do about the evangelical any-form-of-religionists (the ones who think it's the Only Right Way). Both are obnoxious and both are missing the point that they are not allowed to dictate to others how, or what, to believe, any more than the rest of us are allowed to do it to them.

    Has the NCC said anything on the Dobrich affair?)

    #349 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 10:23 PM:

    P J, Judy Harrow has called that "One True and Only Wayism," and the Christian, Atheist, and Pagan stripes of it are only slightly different.

    #350 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 10:26 PM:

    Scientific understanding is extremely important, but the scale of scientific understanding is statistical.

    Statistical understanding isn't worth much in the time frames of personal scale, or social scale, decisions, which is where most of us make most of our decisions. (Statistical understanding is tremendously useful on the scale where policy decisions are made, but those are a different creature.)

    The basis of those personal decisions can't be entirely on that statistical scale for, at least, logistical reasons -- there's a great sfnal idea in that for anyone clever enough to figure out (in a way that could be widely believed) the society that'd result if anyone ever managed to build the kind of cybernetic support necessary to change that -- so it has to include some number of irrational elements, choices of axiom, choices of self-image, choices of belief.

    It does not matter if those choices are religious or not; it matters if those choices produce conduct that expects submission or co-operation.

    Darwin's god, the god of natural theology, the idea of gods in general, aren't the problem. The problem is the conviction of axiomatic worth, or axiomatic correctness, whether it derives from religious belief, class privilege, or just plain meanness.[1]

    And yes, brains are wired to be infested with gods; surely you encountered all the write ups of the physiological mechanism that produces the "tunnel of light" near-death experience? There's a similar one, not as well established, for religious awe.

    And if you want to argue against a widespread belief in magic as defined -- material change through the direct application of will -- you're going to have to explain how consistently irrational people are about the value of willpower in altering their material state. That's precisely what a personality cult is (or the various "sure thing" scams are), after all, and those are not rare.

    [1] I'm a radical egalitarian; no one is intelligent, no one is special, no one is important, and everyone has work to do.

    #351 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 10:34 PM:

    Steven: you're wrong. I've always been a liberal, but I didn't become a liberal of the fire-breathing revolutionary variety until I went back to church. The Gospels are full of incendiary remarks like "Give away everything you have to the poor and follow me." My God said that. Why then can I not be a theist and a social liberal?

    Now I'm going to take issue with your terminology. (Not just yours, but I think it's the reason for your fulminations against all theists, rather than just the scared selfish mean ones.)

    The problem is that liberals and Pharisees worship two different gods. Ours is loving, generous, and forgiving; He gave us a world full of wonders and turned us loose to find out how it works, because the more we know, the closer we are to Him. (I'm thinking in particular of the Burgess Shale.)

    Their god is small, petty, mean, inconsistent, and selfish. If a Pharisee puts a foot wrong, ZZZZZOT!! That's why they hate and fear the world. Dictators like their dinky little god don't want people to think for themselves. (Stalin springs to mind, also the GWBer.)

    I'm a liberal Christian. I consider curiosity a gift of the Holy Spirit. Therefore science is also a gift of the Holy Spirit. And any faith which can be destroyed by learning is not a faith at all.

    #352 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 11:03 PM:

    Xopher: no argument on that from me.

    TexAnne: The NRSV in Genesis has God letting Adam name the animals, to see what names they get (2:19). I guess the Pharisees missed that bit also: it might mean that fun is okay! I marvel at the grey, miserable view of the world they seem to have. How can they stand living with it?

    #353 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 11:06 PM:

    Amen, TexAnne. I'm a solo-practicing Wiccan, but I agree with what you just said. Faith and science are two very different things that should not be opposite ends of a magnet.

    Thanks.

    #354 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 11:20 PM:

    If, Christmastime, a group of atheists want to put up an exhibit about evolution in a public space, should Christians be prevented from putting up an exhibit of the birth of their god?

    First, there's a major failure of parallelism implied. It's OK for anybody to want to do anything; the contradictory position is the existence of thoughtcrime.

    Even if we're discussing actions, that sounds like a trick question. If there's a fossil exhibit at the Science Museum, that doesn't make a religious exhibit in the lobby of City Hall acceptable.

    #355 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 11:56 PM:

    Nancy Lebovitz said "As for whether religion in active public life is *always* a problem, I really don't know. Sometimes it looks like a pretty minor problem."

    My perspective on that one is as follows: Religion in active public life need not be a problem, provided that the person who is involved in said active public life is willing to concede that it doesn't need to be dragged overtly into *everything*.

    Steven Brust said: "The more Man learns about the nature, the smaller and smaller the role relagated to the gods, or to God."

    I'd argue against that on a purely personal note. As a pantheist, I believe that the more we know about the nature of the universe, the more we know about the nature of what we refer to as "God", because as far as I'm concerned, the three letter term "God" is just a shorthand version of "life, the universe and everything". However, I'm also well and truly aware that my beliefs are in the minority - more people prefer to believe in the big beard in the sky.

    Of course, these two tie together in my world view, simply because I don't believe that religion needs to be brought into everything, because it's already there. Even sitting and typing this post in a notepad window for me is an act of worship. Sitting and enjoying a sunbeam on my legs at the same time just makes it moreso. God is. I am. I am a part of God, and God is a part of me, and where's the problem here?

    On the other hand, you're all part of God as well, and we are all connected in God. The wrong I do to another person is a wrong done to God, and to myself as well, which I suppose means that public morality becomes sheer spiritual self-interest. Admittedly, I can't see the problem there, either. I figure that if you make doing the right thing easier, or more beneficial, than doing the wrong thing, more people are going to do the right thing, more often.

    #356 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2006, 11:58 PM:

    hamletta said: "The National Council of Churches and its constituent denominations all have governmental affairs offices that lobby the government to pursue more just policies in matters like poverty and war. You just don't hear about 'em, cause the cable squawkers are too busy milking Jerry Falwell and Bill Donohue for sound bites about teh gay."

    Oh good. It's just that it's starting to happen over here in .au as well, and I sorta feel sorry for people like my Dad, who try to live by the teachings of Christ, when they're tarred with the brush aimed at the sorts of people who appear to have misread the line about "serving God and Mammon", if indeed they checked anything outside the first five books of Moses at all.

    #357 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 12:13 AM:

    Lucy,

    My students, on seeing Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, informed me that I had killed Jesus.

    When someone tried that on me as a kid, I asked him why. He said because I was Jewish, and all Jews kill Christ. I pointed out that meant that Jesus committed suicide.

    His head exploded.

    #358 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 12:14 AM:

    jennie -

    If Hershey's is an abomination, I volunteer for the position of sin-eater.

    #359 ::: Urnamma ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 12:16 AM:

    To clear up my earlier comment. I talk not of Stalin, but of all purportedly Atheistic ideologies that lead States in the twentieth century. (And yes, Nazism was indeed officially Atheistic [despite the silly beliefs of some of the major officials], and Hitler himself said on many occasions that the Catholic Church was next on the chopping block)

    "National Socialism is Marxism made workable" - A.H., 1937.

    But anywho, the problem seems to be with States, not with religion or ideology. The ability to enforce one's ideological system is what is at fault here. Both Liberals and Conservatives want to push ideology down the throats of the commonweal. Don't believe me? Whether we legalize gay marriage or not, we're still legislating someone's belief system and enforcing it on everyone else. If that sounds like I think that the State shouldn't be involved in marriage in the first place, you're correct.

    The belief that secularism was at fault for massacre is emphatically NOT dishonest. I suppose that the Soviets and Chinese never intended to dynamite churches in the name of a secular ideology, it must have been something else.

    Don't get me wrong, the Jewish side of my family has had quite a bit of torment. We were cut to shreds by both Communists and Nazis, though at last count the marxies were winning about 2 to 1.

    And Atheists haven't been executed for following their beliefs any time in the last hundred years, last time I checked.

    Anyhow, my point is being lost in clarifications. If anyone is allowed to legislate their belief system (and Democracy is just as big a culprit as any other ideology), then everyone who dissents will be punished, whether in a benign way or being shot in the back of the head and having one's family billed for the bullet.

    There is only one moral principle we all need to believe in order to forestall this.

    "Your right to swing your fist around ends at my face."

    #360 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 12:21 AM:

    Lucy, I didn't say (or mean to imply) that the Pledge of Allegiance and the multiplication tables are "the same thing". My point was that they both make (some) children feel oppressed, and (implied) therefore "makes children feel oppressed" is not a marker for stuff that shouldn't happen.

    #361 ::: paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 12:22 AM:

    Seth, I just wish you had videos. My head sort of exploded over something i worked out as a thought problem when I was a freshman in college, and then I ceased being a Southern Baptist (it was the thought and no explanation for, "if the Jews are God's Chosen People, why do they have to profess faith in Christ to go to heaven?" I sort of walked out of the whole thing at that point because I couldn't get a satisfactory answer. I have many good Jewish friends and my pastor just kind of beat around the bush about it which just iced the cake on the question.)

    #362 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 12:27 AM:

    Steven Brust said: The more Man learns about the nature, the smaller and smaller the role relagated to the gods, or to God. Is there truly anyone here who knows so little of history that he'd argue with this?

    I don't appreciate the contention that only someone who knows very little about history would disagree with your first sentence.

    Speaking of history, I find the history of the 20th century to be an excellent argument for the concept of Original Sin. (No, I am not a Biblical literalist, so please, no one ask me about apples.) My favorite description of that concept comes from The Gethsemani Encounter: A Dialogue on the Spiritual Life of Buddhist and Christian Monastics. To quote: "The notion of original sin is an attempt in Christian theology to name what goes awry when people have right intentions, they think, and yet things do not quite work out. In technical Catholic language, original sin is the weakening of our intellect so that we cannot see clearly what is good, and the weakening of our will so we cannot do well what we know to be good. ...We also experience original sin in terms of social systems of sin that are beyond our power to control and in which we are inevitably involved... Original sin is one Christian way of trying to name the sense that both in our own personal lives and in society, something has gone awry in a way that our own efforts, both personal and collective, are not able to overcome."

    Steven, you appear to have faith that what you call a "clear, scientific understanding" of society will in some unspecified way remove the "irrationalities" of human society. Frankly, I see no reason why one should believe this. I in no way wish to discard science, but I don't think it can do what you want it to.

    #363 ::: Jenny (non-chocolivore) ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 12:28 AM:

    The Guardian has recently published two interesting articles by Karen Armstrong about religious fundamentalism. Links here:
    (about fundamentalist movements in Islam)
    and
    (about hostility to science among fundamentalists in the US)

    I was particularly struck by a point which Karen Armstrong makes in the first article: that, although one tends to imagine fundamentalists as insisting on rigidly traditional forms of religious thinking, in fact the theologies of modern fundamentalist movements are often distinguished by being wildly heterodox. (She takes issue with the term ‘fundamentalist’ for this reason). This certainly seems to be true in the case of beliefs about the Rapture, a recent invention with little basis in scripture. I don't know how far people teaching about the Rapture actively declare their departure from previous beliefs in Christian eschatology, or whether the lack of a historical sense in the movement is part of its very nature.

    Seth:
    >'I pointed out that meant that Jesus had committed suicide.

    His head exploded.'

    Hilarious...

    #364 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 01:22 AM:

    seth,

    My point was that they both make (some) children feel oppressed, and (implied) therefore "makes children feel oppressed" is not a marker for stuff that shouldn't happen.

    well, the whole reason that marker was there, was that barack obama used "does not make children feel oppressed" as a valid argument for compulsory pledge of allegiance. & people pointed out that not only is that a wacky justification, it's not true.

    meg,

    if indeed they checked anything outside the first five books of Moses at all.

    ok. well, as long as everyone's standing up & taking umbrage on behalf of their own religious beliefs, that's my pet peeve. (i've brought it up on this site before, i think it was among my first posts.)

    i can't stand it when liberal christians (or, well, anyone else) use "the old testament" to mean, "everything Wrong With Christianity." cause that's my testament. & i am not what's wrong with christianity.

    it is true that my view of the five books as not being about an angry, stupid god is coloured by my people's traditional interpretation of the text (i was taught, for instance, that "an eye for an eye" means & has always meant monetary damages).

    but it is even more true (in my opinion) that your view of the five books as being about an angry, stupid god is the result of a deliberate slander on the part of the church. the earlyish christians needed to compare their religion unfavourably with the jews' religion, & their book unfavourably with the jews' book. it continues, less consciously, to this day.

    revelations isn't in the five books of moses. jews aren't even sure if we have a hell.

    i know people, when they use the "old testament" shorthand, are not thinking of jews. but maybe you ought to think twice before you throw it around, anyhow.

    #365 ::: Dan S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 05:15 AM:

    Hey, compliments! cool - thank you. Although - Jennie, that comment you liked (me too) : " There's a lot of urban legend in many subcultures about what science does . . ." was by Bruce.

    And I would definitely vote for you if you ran on a chocolate/bike paths platform . . .

    ________

    David M: "A more public, more wel[l] known such thinker is Richard Dawkins, the noted evolutionary theorist. It should surprise no one that the living person who I would think is most closely associated with Evolution, for good reason, is also the single most anti-religious person (whom I can think of) in the public eye."

    I'm not sure why this shouldn't be a surprise, or what you're trying to say here - that his anti-religious stance brought him notoriety? that it made him stand out in the public mind? Or that of course we should expect evolutionary theorists to be anti-religious? (I've seen polls showing that evolutionary biologists have a pretty low level of traditional belief compared to the general population - although don't forget the polling issues discussed above - but this is a far cry from Dawkin's very public and antagonistic stance.

    It's interesting to note that until his recent death, the person who was probably the "most closely associated with Evolution" for the US public was Stephen Jay Gould, who promoted the principle (and originated the term) of non-overlapping magisteria, or NOMA:

    "The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty). To cite the arch cliches, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven."

    Additionally, I strongly suspect Gould and Dawkins - while unquestionably A-list celebrities in the world of popular science - probably have less overall name recognition combined than Kathy Griffin, whose reality show is named "My Life on the D-List" (now, if Dawkins was on Bravo . . .).

    Besides evolutionary biologists, etc, most people who've heard of Dawkins will likely fall into two groups: science fans, basically - people who think science is cool - and people who find out about him by consuming creationist materials.

    "Well know scientists like Dawkins repeatedly making statements such as "Certainly I see the scientific view of the world as incompatible with religion" are part of the reason why."

    For "scientists like Dawkins" - you mean Dawkins. And PZ Myers (although I've only heard him go maybe this far once, at best - and who, incidentally, links to this post over here). And . . . um . . . well . . . hmm . . .

    "Another reason, however, is that people don't understand why Dawkins is wrong. And that's why this is important: if we teach correctly what science can and cannot do, the moderate christians will not think that evolution is a step towards eliminating faith - which is exactly what the religious right want them to believe."

    This is certainly well-intentioned, and quite logical, and I can't say that it wouldn't work this way in some cases, although whether moderate Christians even do tend to think that evolution is a step towards eliminating faith, as a group, is probably an open question. Color me doubtful, though. I suspect you're over-rationalizing, overestimating the degree that these kind of beliefs and decisions are governed by carefully reasoned, logical thought. Kinda like thinking that folks always vote based on careful consideration and in-depth study of candidates' positions, records, etc., and therefore the best way to win voters is with a sober, dispassionate presentation . . .

    Although I certainly think this is one confusion about science (or what science claims) that we should in the interests of clarity try to clear up, as we constantly attempt to do in the evolution-creationism debate. Time, and time and time again. Honestly, I think it's like Dawkins. If he - or whatever impression is created by a failure to stress what science can't do - didn't exist, people would have to invent 'em, if required by their beliefs. I'd guess this is more of a symptom - or at best, minor contributing factor - than an underlying cause.

    I'm not saying it isn't worth doing, but maybe not for this reason, or at least not with the expectation of any major payoff . . .

    OK, back to bed. Maybe more later.

    #366 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 05:40 AM:

    Miriam Beetle said:

    i can't stand it when liberal christians (or, well, anyone else) use "the old testament" to mean, "everything Wrong With Christianity." cause that's my testament. & i am not what's wrong with christianity.

    it is true that my view of the five books as not being about an angry, stupid god is coloured by my people's traditional interpretation of the text (i was taught, for instance, that "an eye for an eye" means & has always meant monetary damages).

    but it is even more true (in my opinion) that your view of the five books as being about an angry, stupid god is the result of a deliberate slander on the part of the church. the earlyish christians needed to compare their religion unfavourably with the jews' religion, & their book unfavourably with the jews' book. it continues, less consciously, to this day.

    Firstly, I'd like to apologise for any unintentional insult I may have rendered. I most sincerely did not mean to cause such, and I thank you for raising this matter so I'm aware of it. I don't like to insult people unintentionally.

    However, I would take issue with a couple of statements you've made.

    Firstly, I did not make any comments as to the nature and capacity of the deity represented by the first five books of the Bible. I was not slinging rocks at the deity so mentioned in any way, shape or form. My targets were intended to be the so-called Christian believers who display less familiarity with the gospels of the Christ than they do with some of the more obscure passages in Leviticus and Genesis which they can twist to represent "support" for their cause.

    I also intended no slur whatsoever on the traditional beliefs of the Jewish people. I'm well aware that modern Jewish practice is not the same as that laid down in ancient times, and also that one of the teachings of Christ was that his followers should keep to the Judaic law. But his teaching was that they should keep to the whole of the law, not just the bits that they like.

    Finally, I don't hold to the view that the god of the first five books of the bible is (to quote yourself) "an angry, stupid god". I may not believe in this deity, or worship this deity, but I do respect all deities. The angry, stupid ones are the followers who cherry-pick through certain passages to find excuses or support for their own prejudices.

    PS: On the subject of "an eye for an eye" - I was taught it was a very strict *limitation* on how far you could go with revenge. It put an end to "you spat at my wife, so I'll hit you in the face"; "You hit me in the face, so I'll cut your hand off"; "You cut my hand off, so I'm going to kill your wife and children" sort of escalations, which was a good thing, in a tribal context.

    This went hand-in-hand with "vengeance is mine, saith the Lord", because that removed the vengeance a step from the personal vendetta. You had to take your grievances to the priests at the temple, and they were the ones responsible for meteing out the punishment - so justice was seen to be done, and the matter could be declared to be ended.

    #367 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 08:05 AM:

    *Yawn* Good morning, everyone!

    Scientific understanding is extremely important, but the scale of scientific understanding is statistical.

    I don't know what you mean by this. Science is filled with epiphany, with quantitative leaps in understanding along with the more steady, day to day accumulation of data. I think the difference between evolution by natural selection and the creation of a universe by god cannot be called "statistical." If I'm missing your point, please explain.

    Statistical understanding isn't worth much in the time frames of personal scale, or social scale, decisions, which is where most of us make most of our decisions. (Statistical understanding is tremendously useful on the scale where policy decisions are made, but those are a different creature.)...The basis of those personal decisions can't be entirely on that statistical scale for, at least, logistical reasons -

    Again, I'm not sure what you're saying. If you mean, "We don't use strict scientific method when deciding if we should ask this lady out on a date," I'd have to agree, but I don't see how it is relevant to this discussion. If you are suggesting we reject scientific method when trying to understand how to make society better, I must not only disagree, but point out that this is exactly the method of the Christian Right. If you are saying something entirely different, I'm missing it.

    It does not matter if those choices are religious or not; it matters if those choices produce conduct that expects submission or co-operation.

    I am aware that pragmatism is the dominant mode of thought in American society, but I have rarely seen it expressed so blatently. It doesn't matter if a choice is based on an accurate understanding of the world as it is, so long as the results are to our liking? I am twitching to go into this one in great detail, but I fear this post is going to be long and borning anyway, so I'll wait for more provocation. For now, I'll just say that in my opinon, it matters very, very much if we understand our world as it actually is.

    Steven: you're wrong. I've always been a liberal, but I didn't become a liberal of the fire-breathing revolutionary variety until I went back to church.

    I can hardly dispute your personal experience; you ought not to expect me to change my opinons based on your personal experience. Nevertheless, I must point out that I didn't say, "No one can remain a liberal or become a liberal through belief in God." I said that it creates a contradiction, and I think this contradiction will become sharper as the social crisis deepens.

    God" is just a shorthand version of "life, the universe and everything"

    I would never think to even try to take that from you. Generally, "God" refers to nature endowed with consciousness. If you limit your belief to objective reality, and call that God, how can I argue?

    I don't appreciate the contention that only someone who knows very little about history would disagree with your first sentence.

    I'm sorry you don't appreciate it. Are you suggsting I change my opinion so as not to offend you? Or that I may keep my opinion, so long as I don't have the bad taste to express it around you? Or was that merely a way of saying you think I'm wrong? If the latter, I respect that, but you haven't said anything to make me reconsider it.

    My "faith" in the scientific method appears to be born out by general, long-term improvement in the human condition. Is it your claim that this scientific method is bound to fail when applied to social problems? If so, you are not alone. I will be happy to discuss that, because in many ways, it is exactly at the heart of the dispute--both between me and some here, and against the Christian Right. I won't go into it, though, until I'm sure that's your contention.

    #368 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 08:28 AM:

    Scorpio:

    Remelted Hershey's (reborn in the fires, as it were) mixed with almonds and dropped onto waxed paper is an acceptable edible -- or mixed with Rice Crispies, or with peanut butter chips and rice crispies. The remelting really does something good to it.

    Nope. I'm afraid it's still an Abomination—too much sugar, too much palm oil. Hey this is my moral universe, and I'm a rigid, dogmatic moral entity, at least on matters relating to chocolate.

    Of course, because I also believe in choice, if anyone chooses to eat Abominations, with or without almonds or other stuff, I won't stop them, nor will I suffer them to be persecuted for their preferences, or compel them to eat Green&Black's. That would be Bad. And this way there's more Green&Black's for me.

    Bruce my apologies for attributing your sensible words to Dan S.

    Dan S.: Thank you. I will have my posse contact you when I make my bid for benevolent dictatorship. This won't happen until I find a congenial venue for my subsequent period of exile.

    Margaret Organ-Kean, you are welcome to eat as much Abominable material as you can stomach.

    Oh, also? Add to the list of Abominations: People who water their concrete walkways in very hot weather. What is with that?

    #369 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 09:02 AM:

    Steven, it's true that my experience is unlikely to change your opinions. You did, however, appear to be asking to be convinced, and my experience is all I have to do that with.

    First you said, "I know that many dear friends of mine are both social liberals (in the best sense of the word) and theists. It is my view that these people, however well-meaning, are inconsistant thinkers. It is my opinon that, as the crisis of society deepens, either their liberal views or their idealist conceptions will have to go. It is my fear that it will be their liberal attitudes. I would very much like to be wrong."

    And then you said, "Nevertheless, I must point out that I didn't say, "No one can remain a liberal or become a liberal through belief in God." I said that it creates a contradiction, and I think this contradiction will become sharper as the social crisis deepens."

    I took your mention of "idealist conceptions" to mean "belief in God." Your first comment seems to imply "either God or liberalism, but not both." Your second comment leaves out the part about "one of these two has to go." It looks to me like you're the one with contradictory ideas.

    But all of this wasn't even my point. My point was the later bit about how my god and the Pharisees' god aren't the same, and how that weakens your denigration of theists' logic. Pick on the Pharisees, by all means, but leave real Christians out of it.

    OTOH, if I've misread you, please correct me.

    #370 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 09:03 AM:

    Dan: Thanks for the response. I think that both parts of your critique boil down to one: you think, along with many others, that people like Dawkins don't hold much sway over public opinion. I've been thinking about something parallel to this for a while, and would like to go on a small tangent to explain why I think you're mistaken.

    Philosophy as a discipline seems like a rather useless field. The majority of the world doesn't know who Edward Westermarck is, but somehow the notion of moral relativism is abhorrent. Sometimes (and, I think, frequently) the results that philosophers and historians find are not important because they directly influence the masses, but because they do so indirectly.

    I think a similar dynamic occurs in the domain we were discussing. I would argue, in fact, that Gould and NOMA prove my point, instead of the opposite. The fact that he had such beliefs is what allowed what is currently a majority of the American people to reconcile religion with science. You may claim that the fact that leading intellectuals are now openly dismissive of religion has no effect, but the people who formulate theological treatises are certainly aware of them. And the hoi polloi may never hear the name Richard Dawkins, but when they are told that scientists are godless, and atheism and Darwinism are one and the same, they know who to listen to. And those people, whichever side of the debate they are on, will know exactly who Dawkins is.

    #371 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 09:05 AM:

    Off-topic:

    jennie writes:

    'Oh, also? Add to the list of Abominations: People who water their concrete walkways in very hot weather. What is with that?'

    Well it depends, rather.

    First, I think it's a always waste of water.

    Second, I've heard of people watering concrete walkways next to the house as a method of cooling the house (evaporation). Doesn't work in humid climates. Not sure it works in arid ones.

    Third, some people can't or won't figure out how to set a sprinkler so it doesn't do this. I don't know why they can't wrap their brains around this.

    I'm sure this relates in some fashion to the topic at hand, but I don't want the responsibility for starting that thread.

    #372 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 09:17 AM:

    I took your mention of "idealist conceptions" to mean "belief in God." Your first comment seems to imply "either God or liberalism, but not both." Your second comment leaves out the part about "one of these two has to go." It looks to me like you're the one with contradictory ideas.

    I'm utterly baffled. I think this is one of those places where you are going to have to lead me, step by step, to your conclusion, because every time I look at those two statements you quote, I see them as saying the same thing.

    Idealism (you are correct in what I mean by it) and social liberalism, in my view, are contradictory in this period. I think that this contradiction is going to become sharper as the social crisis deepens, and force believers to choose. It looks to me like that is what I said in both of the passages you quote.

    Hmm...maybe the confusion comes from the phrase,"remain a liberal." In case that is it, let me explain. I do believe it is possible to remain a liberal and a theist in the abstract; that is, at times, and for a while. I also believe it is going to be increasingly difficult to remain a liberal and a theist in the near future, if the social crisis deepens in the way I expect it to.

    Does that help at all, or I have just flat missed your point?

    #373 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 09:37 AM:

    I don't see any connection or contradiction whatsoever between theism and liberalism, in theory or in practice, and I fail to see how any deepening social crisis could affect either one.

    #374 ::: David Manheim ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 09:39 AM:

    Off topic.

    OK, so the thing that bothers me about watering is that people do it during the day at all. It's more effective at night, or early morning, because of the way plants use the water, and what watering does to them.

    And, if you were worried, concrete grows just as well if you water it at night.

    #375 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 09:48 AM:

    Hmm...maybe the confusion comes from the phrase,"remain a liberal." In case that is it, let me explain. I do believe it is possible to remain a liberal and a theist in the abstract; that is, at times, and for a while. I also believe it is going to be increasingly difficult to remain a liberal and a theist in the near future, if the social crisis deepens in the way I expect it to.

    Aha! Yes. And that's why I brought up my experience in the first place. Being a Christian is making me a better liberal. I am utterly unable to imagine a circumstance in which I would be forced to choose between theism (believing in my god) and liberalism (doing what he wants me to do).

    I'm baffled too. What do you expect to happen that would require a choice?

    #376 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 09:49 AM:

    Seth, lots of people have already convinced me that I was wrong to see a threat where none existed. I hope it's not to much of a derailment to explain that your analogy, far from helping me to see my interpretation is wrong, speaks to exactly why I made the error in the first place.

    I'm female. I'm constantly getting told that certain neighbourhoods aren't safe and I should avoid them, or that it's dangerous for me to go out alone after dark, and all the rest. And sometimes, it's unquestionably a threat. For example, when I took a taxi back to my hotel from a wedding reception in a strange city, fairly late at night, and the taxi driver took it upon himself to warn me that he wasn't sure I should be going to the address I'd asked for, it's not at all a safe neighbourhood, and there are lots of bad people out there, and of course a woman on her own is really vulnerable, and he hoped my room could be locked from the inside, while all the time he was leaning in very close and all but touching me and gazing at my chest in a slightly unfocused way... he was threatening me. I'm sure he would have sworn blue that he was just expressing friendly concern and not trying to dominate me at all, but you could only believe that if you regarded the words in isolation and ignored the body language and the situation. That kind of thing happens all the time to me and to most of my female acquaintances.

    So what it boils down to is that the difference between reminding me that I'm vulnerable just to enjoy my discomfort, and well-intentioned if rather ignorant concern, is how well I know the person giving me that sort of warning. In your example you're talking about a close friend you know would never hurt you, and it's true that such a person could say anything without scaring me. But that sort of warning definitely can be extremely threatening, depending on the context which is rather lacking in a blog discussion thread.

    #377 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 09:52 AM:

    Jenny the non-chocolivore, I recognize your name and I'm guessing you're from the UK... Do you have a sister named Sophy and did you both play in Schools Challenge many years ago? Whether or not you are the person I think I know, Karen Armstrong rocks and thank you for the very pertinent link to her column.

    #378 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 10:10 AM:

    OK, so the thing that bothers me about watering is that people do it during the day at all. It's more effective at night, or early morning, because of the way plants use the water, and what watering does to them.

    My understanding is that watering in the late evening or at night is contraindicated because so doing increases the risk of fungal infestations.

    #379 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 10:14 AM:

    Most of Dawkins' impact on public discourse is the use fundies make of him. If they didn't have him or someone like him, they'd invent him, so that's a wash. For a smaller number of people, he's a constant reminder that materialism is a viable philosophy.

    On that score, I find him immensely heartening.

    #380 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 10:28 AM:

    I don't see any connection or contradiction whatsoever between theism and liberalism, in theory or in practice, and I fail to see how any deepening social crisis could affect either one.

    Evidentally my first post on this subject was not clear. Permit me to try again:

    The more Man comes to understand nature, the less room is left for God to operate in, hence science, which seeks to understand nature, threatens belief in God.

    This same scientific method, when applied to social problems, will reveal the absurdities that lead to injustice, poverty, war.

    This understanding, more and more, comes to threaten those who have something to lose by the dstruction of certain cherished instituions of our society (the free market, private ownership of production).

    Those who have something to lose will more and more come to oppose science, and give intellectual and even material comfort to the most backward elements who fight science--ie, the religious Right. This is why the most ignorant citizens of Southern Deleware are able to raise their heads and act on their prejudice without fear.

    Liberalism wishes to see a kinder, more gentle society without removing those institutions I mentioned above--those institutions that, in my opinion, *cause* exactly the problems they hope to alleviate.

    As attacks on science ("intelligent design," &c) escalate, science will be required to defend itself, which defense will necessarily bring its conflict with religion (see above) more and more into the open. This will heighten the strain in those who do not wish to reject religion, but *do* wish to reject the backward elements who defend it.

    While I do not expect you to agree with me, Naill, have I made my position more clear?

    #381 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 10:30 AM:

    hey, just learned a new term, bright is a movement created in 2003 to describe people who have a naturalistic worldview.

    #382 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 10:33 AM:

    It may be that there is some source for saying that it refers only to "malevolent magic," but I don't know what it is, so I'll ask the audience. Anyone?

    Try here, in the links under "Topics covered in this section.

    Short form:
    Exodus uses "m'khashepah", more accurately translated as "woman who uses harmful magic" or "evil sorceress". (Hebrew)
    Deuteronomy uses a bunch of words, which refer to specific types of harmful, necromantic, and divinatory magic. This includes "m'khaseph", the masculine of the above. (Hebrew)
    Galatians says "pharmakia", which refers to either using poisons to murder or to spreading "evil" in society--a metaphorical extension, clearly. (Greek)
    And for Revelation, the web page doesn't give the original word and offers the opinion that various translators "simply selected their favorite evil" in translating a passage about those types of sinners who will go to Hell. (Greek)

    #383 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 10:40 AM:

    The more Man comes to understand nature, the less room is left for God to operate in, hence science, which seeks to understand nature, threatens belief in God.

    That metaphor only works if the space that holds science and God is finite, and if the percent of that space mapped by science is nearing 100%.

    And the problem with knowing whether it is finite or not or knowing what percentage is not know, is that it's somethign that science can never know.

    Science only knows what it observes. And observation is inherently always a subset of all reality. There is no way for science to ever "know" that it "knows everything", because there is never any way for science to know it has observed everything.

    Or, in short, the idea of science "squeezing" God out of the picture requires a faith in the power of science that science doesn't claim.

    #384 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 10:54 AM:

    Yeah, Greg, but so far as explanations for the operation of material world, science is winning, hands down.

    #385 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 10:55 AM:

    That metaphor only works if the space that holds science and God is finite, and if the percent of that space mapped by science is nearing 100%

    And the problem with knowing whether it is finite or not or knowing what percentage is not know, is that it's somethign that science can never know.

    Over the course of ten thousand years or so, as knowledge of nature has increased, the space occupied by nature-endowed-with-conscouness, ie,god, has shrunk. It requires no belief in "finite knowledge" to recognize this, merely a cursory study of history.

    I see no reason to expect this process to end. Will God ever shrink to nothing? I believe so, but that's another issue, and needn't be addressed to make my point.

    #386 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 10:57 AM:

    This understanding, more and more, comes to threaten those who have something to lose by the dstruction of certain cherished instituions of our society (the free market, private ownership of production).

    This I don't understand at all. Are you saying that religion cherishes private ownership and free market and that science will somehow show these ideas to be "wrong"?

    If so, (1) the value judgement of "wrong" is no longer in the realm of science. Science is a study of causes, not an aggregation of moral judgements and (2) I question the certainty that "bright" people would automatically conclude that private ownership and free market is wrong. Maybe something to be controlled, but not wiped out.

    #387 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 10:58 AM:

    Steve,

    If we can only get God small enough to drown in my bathtub, I'll be happy to let him go on doing his thing.

    #388 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 11:00 AM:

    I'd say 'reason' where Steve says 'science'.

    #389 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 11:00 AM:

    The more Man learns about the nature, the smaller and smaller the role relagated to the gods, or to God.

    You know, it doesn't have to be that way. Just as an example, I firmly believe plants that don't get the right amount of water and sun and whatnot die. I also believe the crops won't grow if the Goddess doesn't couple with the God in spring. These two things aren't contradictory; they live in different spheres. I don't have to pick whether the sun's a ball of fusioning plasma or the chariot of Apollo. It's both.

    Insert disclaimer about the plural of "anecdote" here.

    #390 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 11:03 AM:

    Will God ever shrink to nothing? I believe so, but that's another issue, and needn't be addressed to make my point.

    Yes it absolutely needs to be addressed, because it reflects your complete misunderstanding of what science is and is not. If your premise is flawed, your conclusions cannot be guaranteed.

    Whatever you're calling science, isn't. Where you think science fits in the world, doesn't. How you think science and religion relate, ain't.

    Given your flawed premises, sure, I'd agree with your conclusions that the war between science and religion are sure to come. But your premises are flawed, and if you un-flaw them, you no longer reach the same logical conclusions that you did before.

    You can't hand wave this away by saying "never mind my premises" or that they needn't be addressed to make your point. That IS the point. Bad premises can give bad results.

    #391 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 11:03 AM:

    If we can only get God small enough to drown in my bathtub, I'll be happy to let him go on doing his thing.

    God can't be under that rock, Lulu snake is under that rock.

    #392 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 11:07 AM:

    Whatever you're calling science, isn't.

    Oh. Well, that's convincing.

    #393 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 11:22 AM:

    Whatever you're calling science, isn't.

    Oh. Well, that's convincing.

    I gave an actual argument as to why. You choose to ignore it. If you wish to argue by repitition, fine. I'll tell you again from yet another angle.


    Over the course of ten thousand years or so, as knowledge of nature has increased, the space occupied by nature-endowed-with-conscouness, ie,god, has shrunk. It requires no belief in "finite knowledge" to recognize this, merely a cursory study of history. ... I see no reason to expect this process to end.


    You've over extended your metaphor. Over ten thousand years, all science has done is find all the natural processes that can be explained without the need for God. That's where the process ends.

    But instead, you've extended the analogy to the point where science will continue beyond the material plane, the observable plane, to the point where it enters non-observable planes, spiritual planes, and eradicates god while she's watching Oprah.

    Science may continue to expand its understanding of natural process and be able to explain them without invoking God. But science is limited to the observable, and God isn't observable unless there's a commercial on and she feels the need to intervene.

    Science cannot go into God's house and prove she doesn't exist. Science can only show that something attributed to God can actually be explained by some natural process.

    These are basic limitations that science imposes on itself by way of how it requires itself to know things. If you do not understand these premises, you do not understand how science works on a fundamental level.

    In short, whatever you're calling science, isn't.

    Whether that convinces you or not, is a separate matter.

    #394 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 11:22 AM:

    The more Man learns about the nature, the smaller and smaller the role relagated to the gods, or to God.

    I don't get this, either. Does understanding how a rainbow works make it less wonderful? Aren't the facts of how it works something amazing? Isn't that amazement at how it all works an aspect of what C.S Lewis called Joy -- and if not, why not? I think a better understanding of how the observable world works makes god (by whatever definition you might use) bigger rather than smaller. YMMV, but I see no conflict, and Gould is right about non-overlapping magisteria -- understanding how a rainbow works should take away nothing from your appreciation of it aesthetically or symbolically. Does your heart not still lift at the sight, even if you know exactly how it happens?

    #395 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 11:26 AM:

    or, to put yet another way, proving God doesn't make it rain* doesn't prove that God does not exist.

    *substitute whatever natural process you wish.

    #396 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 11:26 AM:

    Does understanding how a rainbow works make it less wonderful?

    No.

    Aren't the facts of how it works something amazing?

    Yes.

    Isn't that amazement at how it all works an aspect of what C.S Lewis called Joy?

    You leave my wife out of this.

    #397 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 11:49 AM:

    Jumping very late into a fascinating thread--

    Greg: Saying that science can explain everything except natural processes and observable reality is an argument for non-overlapping magisteria if you already believe there exist non-natural processes and non-observable realities (or possibly observable unrealities.)

    If you don't, then that argument says science explains everything except for an empty set.

    If you (generic you) are going to argue that you still need a god to take care of the non-material world, you need first to argue that there is a non-material world, or at least explain what you get out of choosing to believe in one.

    #398 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 11:50 AM:

    Meg Thornton scriv: As a pantheist, I believe that the more we know about the nature of the universe, the more we know about the nature of what we refer to as "God", because as far as I'm concerned, the three letter term "God" is just a shorthand version of "life, the universe and everything".

    And other cool stuff.

    Because of the associations with that threeletter shorthand, I'm uncomfortable using it, but otherwise: we are the chorus and we agree, we agree, we agree.

    In fact my spiritual explorations in that vein have led to what I call Radical Pantheism, which I've spoken of here before. It's simply the belief that the Divine (whatever you call it) is identical with the universe (the whole thing), and that because learning to know the diety/dieties is a spiritual activity, any act of honest scientific exploration can be a spiritual act, if the person doing it chooses so.

    Radical Pantheist proverbs include "The laws of physics are the Divine Mind," and "Mathematics is the Divine contemplating itself." The central Radical Pantheist virtue is Doubt, which includes, but is not limited to, the virtue of Humility as conceived in Christianity (which is quite similar to what Wiccans—in my tradition, anyway—call Pride). If you continually doubt that you're right, you're more likely to BE right than someone who never doubts.

    This would be a book if I didn't have to earn a living.

    Urnamma: Nazism was indeed officially Atheistic [despite the silly beliefs of some of the major officials]

    What "silly beliefs" are you referring to? Surely not belief in and worship of the Norse Gods (or Æsir), which is called Asatru? Now, they may have believed that "Aryans" (not that they had any relationship to the real Aryans of India) were the true descendants of the Sieglings, which is as silly as Identity Christianity (which, among other silliness, includes the idea that White Americans are the Lost Tribes of Israel, and that the modern Jews are fakes). That IS silly. But belief in the Æsir is not "silly." It's a religion, that's all.

    And also, you're confusing secularism with official Atheism. Atheism may not be a religion, but it acts as one when it tries to stamp out (other) religions. Secularism, on the other hand, is the idea that all official acts of the state have to be impartial toward all religions, and that therefore the public square needs to be free of any state-sponsored or state-sanctioned displays of religion.

    Secularism has never, to my knowledge, been responsible for the destruction of private property in private space. I have to say that I certainly would have been more than willing to take a sledgehammer to that asshole Judge's (can't remember his name) big rock with the 10 Commandments on it, but that was a deliberate public-square provocation.

    Steven Brust, I would just like to point out that consciousness is not a prerequisite for being worthy of worship. I'm not sure whether the universe is conscious or not, but I worship it, and would even if I were certain that it is not.

    By the way...you aren't certain that it is not, either. Not if you are a scientist. You can say that there's no good evidence that it is, and I'd agree with you. But then I'd tell you that some pretty decent results can be gotten by assuming that it is in the right context, and that those specific results are very hard to get in other ways.

    We all know light isn't a particle. We all know it isn't a wave. We all know it's sort of a wavicle. That doesn't mean that taking the operational assumption that it's a particle doesn't get the best result in some contexts. So too with the Universe and God. Did one create the other? Does sunrise cause dawn, or the other way around?

    In your later post, you say The more Man comes to understand nature, the less room is left for God to operate in, hence science, which seeks to understand nature, threatens belief in God.

    This is true only for very traditional, old-fashioned beliefs in God, which I expect is what you're talking about. But as our understanding of Nature changes, so can our understanding of God. OK, so God doesn't make the rain fall; so he set up the chaotic weather systems of this planet instead. The chaotic weather systems are the natural consequence of the astronomical history of this planet? Well, God did that. And so on back to the Big Bang, an event no one can account for in terms of causality (last I heard).

    I say the heck with it. Let's start worshipping the Universe right now. Why wait to be forced into a corner by advances in science? :-)

    jennie, what would be Your Holiness' position on Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Chips? I humbly ask this, only because it is them I use, melted and retempered, to coat my homemade chocolates.

    #399 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 11:58 AM:

    Greg, that "bright" page says the person's worldview is free of supernatural and mystical elements. Why on Earth would a naturalistic worldview have to be free of mystical elements? Supernatural, OK, but mystical?

    I think I have a pretty naturalistic worldview, in my rationalist mode. But even then I value my mystical experiences, even if I cannot have them in that mode (that being the nature of mysticism).

    I don't have time to read all about it now. I'm just saying it's odd.

    #400 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 12:00 PM:

    Steven Brust: Over the course of ten thousand years or so, as knowledge of nature has increased, the space occupied by nature-endowed-with-conscouness, ie, god, has shrunk. It requires no belief in "finite knowledge" to recognize this, merely a cursory study of history.

    Your argument would be far more interesting if it were presenting with some supporting evidence. Y'know, actual facts. Examples of characteristic religious beliefs over the time span in question, and maybe a decent metric by which we could measure "the space occupied by nature-endowed-with-conscouness".

    One could argue that said space has grown dramatically over the past few centuries, as our knowledge of the size of the universe has grown. Likewise at the micro-scale -- if you believe that a divinity undergirds all physical processes, then that divinity now has to handle things all the way down at the sub-atomic level. It seems like a lot more work to keep every quark in a flower going then it does to just treat the flower as a single object.

    #401 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 12:02 PM:

    Greg London said:
    That metaphor only works if the space that holds science and God is finite, and if the percent of that space mapped by science is nearing 100%.

    And the problem with knowing whether it is finite or not or knowing what percentage is not know, is that it's somethign that science can never know.

    Science only knows what it observes. And observation is inherently always a subset of all reality. There is no way for science to ever "know" that it "knows everything", because there is never any way for science to know it has observed everything.

    This is, in a sense true; however, I think that Steven has a point, in that most people have tended to associate God with the "subset of all reality" which they observe. That is, people have, historically, wanted to explain themselves and the (observed) world around them -- plants, animals, landscape, the heavens, weather, their own bodies and behavior, family, society, politics, human history -- by recourse to God (or gods, or kami, or whatever).

    You can postulate infinite realms of immaterial, undetectable existence (and this is one of the things that religions do), but to the extent that science displaces God in explaining the observable natural and human world, it is doing so in the finite ream that people care about most.

    #402 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 12:05 PM:

    Greg, most secularists I know find the "brights" somewhat embarassing. Kieran Healy sums it up nicely -- it sounds like something the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons would be a part of. "It's almost as bad as the dreaded Mensa, the organization for highly intelligent people who are nevertheless not quite intelligent enough not to belong to it."

    #403 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 12:33 PM:

    The sensations of awe and delight being discussed here could translate into the SFnal "sense of wonder". And Liz, interesting post about "Original Sin" -- it sounds a lot like what others call the "monkey brain" or "hardwiring" in humankind, which changes it from the kind of dour dogmatism I had thought it was, in my general ignorance of religion(s). What's the Buddhist equivalent? (You mentioned that the book or article was about both Catholic and Buddhist ideas): Karma or dharma or such?

    It's always interesting when religion or science tackles that bubbling stew of emotions underlying Reason (a lot of which are on display in this thread) and comes up with real insights.

    #404 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 12:42 PM:

    It's always interesting when religion or science tackles that bubbling stew of emotions underlying Reason...

    Faren, you just reminded me of that scene near the end of Forbidden Planet when Morbius is forced to realize where that Monster came from that had been causing so many deaths. It used to be I'd groan upon hearing the Captain remind Morbius that we all have a nasty primitive inside of us, and that's why we have laws and religion. Then, one day, I realized he was saying that we created not just laws, but religion too, to control our own behavior. Pretty subversive for a Fifties movie...

    #405 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 12:46 PM:

    Your argument would be far more interesting if it were presenting with some supporting evidence. Y'know, actual facts. Examples of characteristic religious beliefs over the time span in question, and maybe a decent metric by which we could measure "the space occupied by nature-endowed-with-conscouness".

    Mea culpa. You're right. I ought not to assume everyone is familiar with this stuff.

    The best information I've seen (my mother was an anthropologist, which accounts for a lot of it) indicates that the earliest religeous beliefs saw gods in everything--each object was, in a sense, divine. Later, as knowledge of nature increased, these gods became more general--A god to represent trees, rather than a god in each and every tree.

    The creation of gods to respresent abstract concepts--mercy, beauty, death, war--appears to have been later. Certainly, the transition to one God was much later, and represented a signifcant advance. Since then, that God--once responsible for not only creation, but directly responsible for each and every action, that, "sees every sparrow fall," and even interrupted himself from time to time to pass miricles, has been relegated to just starting the whole thing up. And, more recently, even *that* has been taken from him, so that now his domain is limited to "things outside the realm of science," whatever that means.

    Naturally, individuals can be found whose beliefs stop at nearly every stage of this--we all know pantheists of one stripe or another. But I think this expresses, though in a much oversimplified form, the general encroachment of science on religion.

    I hope that helps.

    Xopher: If it isn't conscious, why does it care if you worship if? If it doesn't care, why do you do so? Seems a bit silly, doesn't it, to worship something that is utterly indifferent to this practice?

    Greg: Thank you for taking the trouble to present an argument; I appreciate it. I hope my above remarks to Avram will provide my answer to you as well. If not, I'm happy to try again.

    #406 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 12:49 PM:

    Xopher, I think I'm right in saying that Asatru (not sure how to put in the accents) is a recent, post-WWII revival of ancient Norse paganism; Nazis can't have been Asatru adherents as such. Anyway, the Nazis looked back to the Norse and Germanic hero myths - as in Wagner's operas - not in a religious way, but as some sort of example or role model.

    Secularism has never, to my knowledge, been responsible for the destruction of private property in private space.
    French Revolution?

    #407 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 01:00 PM:

    jennie:

    I was ready to go along with you, and gladly proclaim you the moral arbiter of the universe, until you said this:

    Cats are good.

    This is not true. I know this for a fact, because every time I enter a home with cats, they wait until I sit down, then they come running, jump onto my lap, shove their tails up my nose, deposit dander and hair all over my clothes, cause my eyes to water and swell closed, my skin to become red, itchy and bumpy, and my breathing to become labored, and then run off, laughing maniacly, if silently.

    I hereby form an alternate moral system, identical to yours, except for this one point: "Cats are evil, dogs are good."

    #408 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 01:05 PM:

    in which case one should donate all one's chocolate to jennie, who will see that one is no longer burdened with it

    See, already I'm having trouble with you running the universe. Clearly all chocolate belongs to me.

    #409 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 01:05 PM:

    Avram,
    Your argument would be far more interesting if it were presenting with some supporting evidence. Y'know, actual facts. Examples of characteristic religious beliefs over the time span in question, and maybe a decent metric by which we could measure "the space occupied by nature-endowed-with-conscouness".

    Well, partly for the sake of argument: prior to the 17th Century and the development of Newtonian physics, it was not uncommon to suppose that the motions of the Sun, the Moon, and the planets (and the daily motion of the stars) were orchestrated directly or indirectly by God (e.g., angels in charge of moving different heavenly spheres). And, of course, some religions have postulated very concrete means of godly guidance: the Sun is transported by a boat or chariot, driven or piloted by a particular god, and so forth.

    The 17th and 18th Centuries saw the rise of the Clockwork Universe view: the idea that God was remote from the daily workings of the heavens, which ran unattended, and was merely involved in setting up the intial conditions.

    #410 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 01:06 PM:

    Greg: Saying that science can explain everything except natural processes and observable reality is an argument for non-overlapping magisteria if you already believe there exist non-natural processes and non-observable realities (or possibly observable unrealities.)

    er. is that "except" in the right spot? Think I need to sort that out first, since it might completely flip what you're saying.

    #411 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 01:10 PM:

    "Cats are evil, dogs are good."

    Of course, Juli, although I wouldn't call my Jefferson (thus named because he was rescued on July 4th, 1998) evil. More like, ethically challenged. I usually just call him the Bad Cat.

    #412 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 01:15 PM:

    "God" is just a shorthand version of "life, the universe and everything".

    I like that.

    It's what most religious people believe, or know that they ought to believe. Most religions say that to be a good practitioner, your religion should pervade your life: everything you think and do should be thought and done according to the principles of Buddhism/Islam/Christianity/etc. Most of us mortals, naturally, are not very good at achieving this in practice.

    From a Christian viewpoint, George Herbert's poem "The Elixir" expresses it well:
    Teach me, my God and King,
    In all things Thee to see,
    And what I do in anything,
    To do it as for Thee.

    #413 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 01:19 PM:

    Juli Thompson said:
    This is not true. I know this for a fact, because every time I enter a home with cats, they wait until I sit down, then they come running, jump onto my lap, shove their tails up my nose, deposit dander and hair all over my clothes, cause my eyes to water and swell closed, my skin to become red, itchy and bumpy, and my breathing to become labored, and then run off, laughing maniacly, if silently.

    I hereby form an alternate moral system, identical to yours, except for this one point: "Cats are evil, dogs are good."

    Heretic! ;-)

    Actually, I seem to recall reading a suggestion (in a Desmond Morris book about cat behavior?) that cats tend to head for poeple who are allergic to them because such people are less likely to do disturbing and threatening things like leaning forward and staring directly at the cat. So you're probably trying to avoid attracting the cat's attention, and the cat therefore sees you as nonthreatening and safe....

    #414 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 01:21 PM:

    From a Christian viewpoint, George Herbert's poem "The Elixir" expresses it well

    I've always preferred: Dear Lord, help me to be the man my dog thinks I am.

    #415 ::: Jenny ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 01:23 PM:

    Individ-ewe-al:
    Crikey! My mispent youth is catching up with me :-)
    Please could you email me? I can't find your address on your website. Very curious to know who you are...

    #416 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 01:25 PM:

    Greg: er. is that "except" in the right spot? Think I need to sort that out first, since it might completely flip what you're saying.

    Sigh. I do read the preview screen, I really do...

    Saying that god can explain all the things that aren't natural processes in observable reality is an argument for non-overlapping magisteria only if you already believe there exist non-natural processes and non-observable realities (or possibly observable unrealities.)

    If you don't, then it relegates god to overseeing an empty set, and leaves the entire set of Things Wot Exist for science.

    And overseeing nothing at all is a pretty small responsibility for something as big as a god.

    #417 ::: Jenny ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 01:32 PM:

    Oops, 'mispent' is not a word in the English language, correct to 'misspent'.

    If 'mispent' did exist, it should be a way to describe a serpent with a bad attitude...

    #418 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 01:41 PM:

    Saying that god can explain all the things that aren't natural processes in observable reality is an argument for non-overlapping magisteria only if you already believe there exist non-natural processes and non-observable realities (or possibly observable unrealities.)

    Any god worth the name can explain everything, both natural and supernatural (see above).

    Any scientist worth the name knows that there exist both non-observable realities and observable unrealities - what else is quantum theory about, let alone imaginary numbers?
    Furthermore, any scientist would be very brave to say that nothing exists except what we can observe and measure today.

    There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

    #419 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 01:43 PM:

    Stephen Brust asks Xopher: If it isn't conscious, why does it care if you worship if? If it doesn't care, why do you do so? Seems a bit silly, doesn't it, to worship something that is utterly indifferent to this practice?


    Um -- not that I can answer for Xopher, but really, why SHOULD anything care if I worship it? Unless I'm bargaining for a response, which seems rather presumptuous.

    #420 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 01:49 PM:

    re: Steven's question to Xopher...

    As I understand it, worship is meant to change the worshipper, not the worshipped. Those people who engage in worship don't worship god because he/she needs it, but because the people do.

    #421 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 01:51 PM:

    Adamsj said: Yeah, Greg, but so far as explanations for the operation of material world, science is winning, hands down.

    I believe the correct response to this is... Duh.

    Steven said: Since then, that God--once responsible for not only creation, but directly responsible for each and every action, that, "sees every sparrow fall," and even interrupted himself from time to time to pass miricles, has been relegated to just starting the whole thing up.

    I believe the correct response to this is -- no. Or possibly, sez who? The trouble with this description of God -- the trouble with most descriptions of God in discussions like this -- is that they tend to be white-bearded bobbleheads to be knocked down in the course of the discussion. Steven, with all due respect, most theists find it painful and ridiculous to talk about "God" as if "God" were simply one of a string of concepts in the history of ideas which human beings have created in the course of their intellectual evolution. To us, God is not a concept, an "idea," a human construct that can be approached anthropologically. We can, many of us, talk about God that way -- but it's like having a discussion about a symphony score when you have an orchestra in front of you. At some point you have to put down the paper and listen to the music.

    And my objection to your comment about history (The more Man learns about the nature, the smaller and smaller the role relagated to the gods, or to God. Is there truly anyone here who knows so little of history that he'd argue with this?) was because I found it insulting. You are saying that anyone who would disagree with your interpretation of the history of the idea of God is an ignoranamus. It's not a good way to engage people in a discussion.

    Greg, I don't agree that God isn't observable, but I will assume you mean, directly observable through methods and processes of science, as far as we know. (Though there have been some very interesting neurological experiments which suggest that our brains are set up physiologically to experience satori -- the transcendance of self.) That I can agree with. Do you mean that?

    #422 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 01:55 PM:

    Greg London: You might want to read Michael Shermer's essay on how the whole "Bright" movement failed, and in a big way, to do what was intended when it was coined.

    #423 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 01:59 PM:

    Any scientist worth the name knows that there exist both non-observable realities and observable unrealities - what else is quantum theory about, let alone imaginary numbers?

    Yes, but no one claims that the imaginary numbers work by the grace of god and are outside the domain of mathematics; and quantum interactions are natural processes-- not directly observable, but inferrable from the observations we can make.

    Any god worth the name can explain everything, both natural and supernatural (see above).

    Well, yes-- but for the natural world, it's a redundant explanation; if you assume a god, you have to assume that either she spends a lot of time sitting on her hands, or that she micromanages processes that work just fine by themselves. God is a concept with too much explanatory power to be of much use explaining anything.

    #424 ::: Dan S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 02:00 PM:

    "Will God ever shrink to nothing? I believe so, but that's another issue . . ."
    I'm not sure how god-space, so to speak, could ever shrink to nothing. Certainly supernatural entities often serve as an explanation for natural phenomena, but that's far from the only reason we have them around. No matter how much we can explain scientifically, as David, Janet and Greg has pointed out, by definition there are some answers science can't give (and many that it technically could, but that we are unlikely to get). God can always be one step further, or one step up. (if I wasn't an atheist, I'd probably believe in a rather ludic God, the kind that might well delight in a sort of enormous game of running hide-and-seek).Whether people find this convincing might be a different matter - that might be what you mean? - but I'd tend to agree with Graydon of the marvelous comments that our brains are 'wired for belief,' although I'd be interested to hear a counterargument.

    I don't know about the near-future scenario you do suggest, but it is interesting to note that there is what looks like a growing political opposition to science. Certainly there's a general Republican* war on science, as part of the wider War on Expertise, but part of that has been more altering/ suppressing/ etc. inconvenient findings. Lately there seems to be more of an attack on scientists themseleves. In the last few weeks, for example:

    There's been Peggy Noonan, on the WSJ Op-ed page, who starts off bemoaning the fact that "the world's greatest scientists" can't come together to find answers about global warming. Of course, since Peggy's questions are along the lines of '"Is global warming real or not? If it is real, is it necessarily dangerous?" this actually means 'why can't they find the answers we want?'
    (Indeed, she shows her hand with "how sad and frustrating it is that the world's greatest scientists cannot gather, . . . and come to a believable conclusion"!) But from there she goes off in a very . . . interesting direction:

    ". . .And yet they can't. Because science too, like other great institutions, is poisoned by politics. Scientists have ideologies. They are politicized. . .
    [Projection alert! projection alert!]

    . . . If global warming is real, and if it is new, and if it is caused not by nature and her cycles but man and his rapacity, and if it in fact endangers mankind, scientists will probably one day blame The People for doing nothing.

    But I think The People will have a greater claim to blame the scientists, for refusing to be honest, for operating in cliques and holding to ideologies. For failing to be trustworthy."

    [Hopefully she won't end up drinking with Mel Gibson, or no doubt we'll be hearing about Jewish science . . .]

    Two days before, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA, and why, oh why does he has to represent my state?!) told C-Span viewers that:
    "Well, I think [a caller] speaks for a very broad swath of the American Public who sees [embryonic stem cell research] as morally repugnant, who sees this as, ahh you know, science unchecked, just going out there and doing things because we can do them. I mean, I found it remarkable that one of the, of the, uh the doctor that was on before us said that, you know, we, we limit certain studies to animal studies. Well, the principle reason we limit certain studies to animal studies is not because we have a moral objection to it, it's because we're afraid that we could, uh, that, that the research being done could actually harm humans, and so we want to test them on animals first, not because science feels any moral compulsion.

    In fact, science, most scientists unfortunately, those that certainly are advocating for this, and many others feel very little moral compulsion. It's a utilitarian, materialistic view of doing whatever they can do to pursue their desired goals."

    Certainly scientific findings can be very inconvenient for the folks in power - in this case, especially so with the current GOP coalition, since it has to both come through for industry and keep the religious right happy. And certainly the whole reality-based mindset, freely practiced, is a problem for those who favor an unquestioning populace that happily follows the cult of Gut Feelings and Strength of Will (speaking of "material change through the direct application of will"). But I'm not sure I see either the wider social changes you suggest (which puts me in mindof the kind of a socialist-scientifc utopia where everything is very clean and well-lit) or that science advocacy will necessarily have the effect of forcing people to pick sides in such a way. Although this does make me imagine Science launching cross-border attacks into Religion in a futile and counterproductive attempt to weaken the threat of anti-science fundamentalism . . .
    _________
    Incidentally, in Kansas yesterday, Anti-evolution forces lose power in state primary.

    #425 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 02:12 PM:

    Lizzy L: Adamsj said: Yeah, Greg, but so far as explanations for the operation of material world, science is winning, hands down.

    I believe the correct response to this is... Duh.

    If not for explanatory power, then why?

    There must be some other way in which having a god adds to your understanding of the material world-- something worth going to the trouble of justifying why God hangs around being unnecessary. Or else you must perceive some non-material domain in which a god can operate (though I'm not sure how you would perceive a non-material world with a material brain and sense organs.)

    Or both, I suppose. Which?

    #426 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 02:31 PM:

    And my objection to your comment about history (The more Man learns about the nature, the smaller and smaller the role relagated to the gods, or to God. Is there truly anyone here who knows so little of history that he'd argue with this?) was because I found it insulting. You are saying that anyone who would disagree with your interpretation of the history of the idea of God is an ignoranamus. It's not a good way to engage people in a discussion.

    Ummm...well, you see, I hadn't really thought there was any such person, hence I figured there was no one to insult. Do you disagree with the broad outline I expressed a couple of posts above? If so, in what way was I incorrect?

    Steven, with all due respect, most theists find it painful and ridiculous to talk about "God" as if "God" were simply one of a string of concepts in the history of ideas which human beings have created in the course of their intellectual evolution. To us, God is not a concept, an "idea," a human construct that can be approached anthropologically

    Quite. And by the time I was 15, I was done with taking pleasure in outraging believers for the sake of doing so. But I feel this issue is the submerged rock against which the ship of the liberal intelligencia is liable to batter itself to pieces. I cannot, in conscience, adopt the attitude that, "these are all opinions, of which one is as good as another" when I believe that such is not only NOT the case, but it is DANGEROUSLY not the case. I argue for my position because I believe it is both correct, and important.

    #427 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 02:32 PM:

    LIzzy L. said:

    Adamsj said: Yeah, Greg, but so far as explanations for the operation of material world, science is winning, hands down.

    I believe the correct response to this is...Duh.

    That's a pretty good summation, if "Duh" stands in for all the stuff outside the material world.

    I had a dream last night about you, my friend

    I had a dream--I wanted to sleep next to plastic

    I had a dream--I wanted to lick your knees

    I had a dream--it was about nothing

    #428 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 02:39 PM:

    If it isn't conscious, why does it care if you worship if? If it doesn't care, why do you do so? Seems a bit silly, doesn't it, to worship something that is utterly indifferent to this practice?

    Oh, not at all! Leaving aside the point that an unconscious entity isn't necessarily indifferent to what you do to it, because that gets into definitional trouble real fast, there's the benefit to ME in worshipping. For example, the part of the universe right near me is subject to great variations in temperature during the course of a year; by staying in tune with those, I adjust to them better. It's helped me deal with the current heat wave, for example. Instead of griping and complaining, I've just dealt with it.

    Actually, worshipping an indifferent entity has lots of benefits. Motivates you to get it right; you don't believe that "God will fix it" (though if you're Dorothea Sölle you believe "God has no other hands but ours," which sounds damn good to me). Sekhmet will kill you if you go out in the desert without a hat (and she won't care whether you just forgot it, were robbed of it, or are deliberately defying her); this is a very practical, useful thing to believe, in Ancient Egypt, where they were entirely without Jim Macdonalds to tell them what to do.

    And parts of the Universe are conscious. Me, for example. Being part, even as femtoscopically tiny a part as I am, of an amazing and marvelous whole...makes me joyful. Goshwow joyful. And also, seeing the Divine acting in everyone else makes me less inclined to maltreat them.

    Moreover, if the nice big chunk of unconscious, yet marvelously complex and efficient Divine reality near me were worshipped more widely, perhaps we'd have a chance at rescuing it (Her, in my view) from a disaster that will change Her so much that we can't live on Her any more.

    And now I see that Janet and Sarah have each entered excellent (and shorter!) responses to the same question. Oh well.

    John Stanning, I'll look into that, but I believe the word is what's new, not the practice. I believe it's Old Norse for "follower(s) of the Æsir." So it's not as if the worship of Norse Gods suddenly popped into existence then. They just started calling it that.

    But I'll check and correct if I'm wrong.

    #429 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 02:45 PM:

    And overseeing nothing at all is a pretty small responsibility for something as big as a god.

    Ah, I get it now. I had to read that about six times (getting interrupted three of those times), but I got it.

    I believe what you're talking about, though, I'm a little frazzled by this point, is no longer a matter of science. It's a question of ontology. And we were talking about science, not ontology, so I responded to science. If you want to discuss ontology, just take this thread and multiply by at least one, maybe two, orders of magnatude. I'd be quite happy to discuss it, but experience tells me that this little thread of confusion is nothing compared to what you'll get if you step into that topic.

    As for God and the various natural processes which we thought were controlled by her, but turns out science shows she doesn't: Yeah, science figures out causes. And if the thing can be understood without invoking God, then that means God didn't "lose" control of making rain, we erroneously assigned cause to God when meteorology explains it.

    In other words, crediting God with something she doesn't actually do probably isn't something she expects of humans.

    "Those humans thought I made it rain for thousands of years. Now they've got meteorologists that figured out the whole thing is on autopilot. Shoot, now they won't worship me for making it rain when I never actually did that."

    Ya know what I mean?

    So the notion of God getting "squeezed out" of natural processes isn't likely a problem with God. It's a problem with humans who are attached to the idea that God makes it rain.

    #430 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 02:48 PM:

    the notion of God getting "squeezed out" of natural processes isn't likely a problem with God. It's a problem with humans who are attached to the idea that God makes it rain.

    Or, to quote the immortal words of the great Bono: "The God I believe in isn't short of cash, mister...."

    #431 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 02:53 PM:

    the notion of God getting "squeezed out" of natural processes isn't likely a problem with God. It's a problem with humans who are attached to the idea that God makes it rain.

    I guess my real question is, if God doesn't have observable effects on the material world, what's she good for?

    (And in 'the material world,' I include all the things that we humans do with our physical brains: emotion, aesthetic appreciation, sensawunda, all that good stuff.)

    #432 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 02:59 PM:

    And we were talking about science, not ontology

    Or, to put another way: it is quite reasonable to draw conclusions about how nature works without taking a position on whether the world actually exists independant of our thoughts.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, I disagree.


    #433 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 03:01 PM:

    Greg: Thank you for taking the trouble to present an argument; I appreciate it. I hope my above remarks to Avram will provide my answer to you as well. If not, I'm happy to try again.

    Ah, this and the line below it put a different spin on things:

    the earliest religeous beliefs saw gods in everything--each object was, in a sense, divine. Later, as knowledge of nature increased, these gods became more general--A god to represent trees, rather than a god in each and every tree.

    Over the course of ten thousand years or so, as knowledge of nature has increased, the space occupied by nature-endowed-with-conscouness, ie,god, has shrunk.

    God hasn't shrunk. It may seem like a minor linguistic quibble, but it points to a misuse of language that leads to false conclusions and general confusion in discussions such as this.

    God hasn't shrunk. God hasn't been pushed out of all the physical things that people once thought she inhabited. She was never there.

    The proper wording to your statement is this: The places people thought God inhabited has shrunk.

    God hasn't changed because of science. She isn't a vampire that disintegrates when the light of science touches her. She's exactly where she was before DNA was discovered. She's exactly where she was before we figured out the Earth was round, or that the Earth wasn't the center of the universe. She is now exactly where she was before we discovered she didn't make it rain.

    You portray science as chasing God out of the natural world. And that is fundamentally flawed.

    #434 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 03:12 PM:

    I guess my real question is, if God doesn't have observable effects on the material world, what's she good for?

    The only answer to your question that I have is another question: What is the sound of one hand clapping?

    If spirituality is not a study of material things, of causes and effects, of "doing" something, then does it still exist? Or is it nonsense like the sound of one hand clapping?

    You've now entered the realm of ontology and the study of existence. Please keep arms and legs inside the ride until it comes to a complete stop. Enjoy the ride.

    #435 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 03:13 PM:

    The proper wording to your statement is this: The places people thought God inhabited has shrunk.

    I stand corrected.

    #436 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 03:26 PM:

    Too overstimulated to offer more than notes toward a response.

    "Wired for satori"--reverse the causal polarity on that one: one of the things our brain-wiring can produce is satori. Which leads to:

    A non-exhaustive list of things-we-seem-to-always-do: music; recreational and/or non-reproductive sex; pattern-finding (or -making); religion-like belief systems. This last seems to be at least in part a special case of the preceding item, perhaps in conjunction with some version of the above-mentioned wiring.

    Terms that keep popping into my head as I read these posts: overlaid function, excess capacity, epiphenomenon, tertium quid, chimaera of language.

    There are things we have words for that we don't have things for.

    #437 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 03:26 PM:

    Ellen: don't know if you ever read the Narnia books -- there's a scene in it where the Pevensey children meet someone who, they are informed, is a fallen star. One of the children (I'm telling this from memory now, so I may not have it quite right) questions this by saying something like, "Sir, in our world a star is a flaming ball of gas." The being (who looks just like an ordinary human being) says, "Even in your world, that's not what a star IS, that's only what it's made of." Leaving aside scientific accuracy and the fact that this is a children's book written in the 1940s, this answer pretty much delineates for me the problem of saying that "All there is" is material.

    But to answer your question, I think God does have observable effects on the material world. She made it, for one thing, and She sustains it, all of it. But does God make it rain, or make the heat wave that is currently tormenting the East Coast, or did God make Katrina? Yes, in the absolute, and no, in the relative.

    Does a dog have Buddha nature?

    With regard to worship -- my own belief is that God doesn't "need" worship; human beings need to worship. It's hard-wired into us. If we don't worship God, we worship trees and rocks, we worship other people, we worship money, we worship our possessions, we worship political ideas, we worship the constructs of our own fallen imaginations, some of which we confuse with God... That's why the first commandment is "You shall have no other gods before Me."

    #438 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 03:32 PM:

    Oh, and Greg London -- beautiful post.

    God hasn't changed because of science. She isn't a vampire that disintegrates when the light of science touches her. She's exactly where she was before DNA was discovered. She's exactly where she was before we figured out the Earth was round, or that the Earth wasn't the center of the universe. She is now exactly where she was before we discovered she didn't make it rain.

    Thank you.

    #439 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 03:35 PM:

    If spirituality is not a study of material things, of causes and effects, of "doing" something, then does it still exist? Or is it nonsense like the sound of one hand clapping?

    Now I'm the one who's confused by phrasing. I don't think that you're saying nothing nonsensical exists; I'm sure we could both point to a lot of very real examples of nonsense.

    Certainly spirituality exists in the sense that many people claim to have spiritual perceptions or experiences, and I don't think they're all lying about it. Whether the things they perceive are real, or just wishful thinking or a side-effect of other mental processes, is another question altogether.

    #440 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 03:45 PM:

    You go, Ellen! I've got your back!

    #441 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 03:46 PM:

    From the NY Times today:

    Conservative Republicans who pushed anti-evolution standards back into Kansas schools last year have lost control of the state Board of Education once again.

    The most closely watched race was in western Kansas, where incumbent conservative Connie Morris lost her GOP primary Tuesday. The former teacher had described evolution as ''an age-old fairy tale'' and ''a nice bedtime story'' unsupported by science.

    As a result of Tuesday's vote, board members and candidates who believe evolution is well-supported by evidence will have a 6-4 majority. Evolution skeptics had entered the election with a 6-4 majority.

    Thought you'd all like to know.

    Um, Ellen: the idea that spiritual experiences are "wishful thinking" is not sustainable by research of any kind. And I don't see how you can claim that spiritual experiences "aren't real." The most you can say is that they aren't what the people who experience them say they are. I think what you mean is that spiritual experiences aren't "real" in the way that my chair is real. But if you are willing to admit a sense of wonder into your reality, I don't see how you can object to Teresa of Avila.

    #442 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 03:47 PM:

    If spirituality is not a study of material things, of causes and effects, of "doing" something, then does it still exist? Or is it nonsense like the sound of one hand clapping?

    False opposition. It's possible for something not to be a study of material things, etc., without it being nonsense.

    Spirituality is about what it is to be a human being. Human beings are material things, yes, but spirituality is to the material human as mind is to brain.

    #443 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 03:54 PM:

    Lizzy:

    I read and reread and desperately loved the Narnia books, but I haven't been able to go back and read them since I learned they were religious allegory, and in fact I've blocked most of them out of my memory entirely. All I really remember is that Susan was barred from returning because she'd become too invested in conformity (lipstick and invitations, I believe.) At nine, I took that to mean that the theists wouldn't get in. Someone should probably have warned me that reading those books as a refuge from religious persecution was just setting myself up for terrible heartbreak.

    "Even in your world, that's not what a star IS, that's only what it's made of." Leaving aside scientific accuracy and the fact that this is a children's book written in the 1940s, this answer pretty much delineates for me the problem of saying that "All there is" is material.

    I'm trying really hard to see the distinction there, and I don't think I'm quite getting it. Do you mean that a really complete definition of, e.g., a star, includes all the associations it has, the things it symbolizes, all the baggage it's picked up? That's true enough, certainly. But I don't see that cloud of associations as being outside the realm of material existance and cause-and-effect-- I mean, all the poetry and myth that goes with stars was created by humans, using material brains, working within the material world. Consciousness isn't an argument for some ill-defined mystical ectoplasmic other realm.

    But to answer your question, I think God does have observable effects on the material world. She made it, for one thing, and She sustains it, all of it. But does God make it rain, or make the heat wave that is currently tormenting the East Coast, or did God make Katrina? Yes, in the absolute, and no, in the relative.

    And there you just lost me completely. How would any of those things have gone down differently had God been definitely not involved.

    With regard to worship -- my own belief is that God doesn't "need" worship; human beings need to worship. It's hard-wired into us.

    I'd certainly believe that, though I missed out on that bit of hardwiring-- I left the Unitarians because they were too woo-woo and spiritual for me.

    #444 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 04:09 PM:

    Certainly spirituality exists in the sense that many people claim to have spiritual perceptions or experiences, and I don't think they're all lying about it. Whether the things they perceive are real, or just wishful thinking or a side-effect of other mental processes, is another question altogether.

    Again, you are asking a question of ontology. Is a thing "real", does it "exist", if it is only accessed through personal experience?

    Because personal experience of the mind isn't subject to material inspections, is it?

    You seem ready for the next koan:

    Monk: What is God?
    Master: Six pounds of flax.

    #445 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 04:11 PM:

    Ellen

    The UUs *have* gotten woo-woo and spiritual (this varies among congregations, of course). I grew up in a UU church, (Mom's a minister) and the denomination's changed a lot since I was a kid and even more since the rationalist Jeffersonian and W.E. Channing history of the church.

    #446 ::: Dan S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 04:13 PM:

    I can't stand the term "Bright." Given that it was suggested as a neutral, non-loaded term, it's an almost unbelievably tone-deaf choice.

    It's like a chewy core of casual, unintended arrogance wrapped with sickly-sweet pink cotton-candy cuteness. Defintely an Abomination. (Except that I was just reading Barbara Hambly's Windrose Chronciles, so that whole discussion is making me think of bizarre chocolatey organisms blundering into our reality from another universe.

    Hmm. Yum?

    ____
    " If it isn't conscious, why does it care if you worship if? If it doesn't care, why do you do so? Seems a bit silly, doesn't it, to worship something that is utterly indifferent to this practice?"

    Why admire a sunset?
    ___
    Juli - I'll second Peter's advice (I'm pretty sure it's Desmond Morris too, but it's too hot to go upstairs and check. Or, really, move at all). You might be best off - moving quickly and abruptly - as said, craning yourself forward and gazing right at it, while exclaiming loudly about what a nice cat it is . . . Think of the kind of big boisterous, back-slapping person that makes little quiet folks look around for a place to hide . . .

    Either that, or they're really amusing themselves . . .

    "Cats are evil, dogs are good."
    Well, cats are solitary hunters while dogs are pack hunters . . . prob'ly explains a lot, like why one never is greeted at the door by a cat looking ashamed and regretful because it did something Bad. Or why our cat clearly thinks scratching the furniture is only wrong if you get caught.

    Although really, he's a very nice and sweet-tempered cat, and certain vets who insist on mild sedation as a condition for seeing him* are just entirely unreasonable and completely overreacting. He just gets a little . . . frightened, that's all . . . : )

    Jefferson, what an appropriate name - not a ginger tom, by any chance?
    _______

    David: "I think that both parts of your critique boil down to one: you think, along with many others, that people like Dawkins don't hold much sway over public opinion. I've been thinking about something parallel to this for a while, and would like to go on a small tangent to explain why I think you're mistaken. [discussion of indirect influence]"

    I think this is a fascinating and useful observation, but not necessarily in this case. As mentioned above, if he didn't exist, Dawkins would probably be invented (at least by the antiscience/anti-modernity fundies), since this is a lot bigger and older than than him; we're talking major, longstanding ideological stuff. Whether or not this was inevitable or not (I expect so - everybody could have been impecably polite, respectful, and very clear on boundries as they proposed or propagated ideas that ripped apart traditional conceptions in a way that was utterly inacceptable, and quite clearly potentially deadly, to a certain kind of religious mindset, but it wouldn't change what they were doing), but by this point, I doubt that it matters. Dawkins, at least for antiscience folks, is simply filling a pre-existing space.

    It's like the abortion issue, perhaps (although this is a very poor analogy) - prolife ideology has this idea about frivolous, selfish women running around having abortions for petty reasons of minor personal convenience. This of course tends to tie in with wider ideas and anxieties about sex, gender, and society. If a major pro-choice figure seemed to support this, it wouldn't help, and might move some undecideds (to simplify a very complex situation) - but it really doesn't matter all that much. It's not really a question of (nor does it require) real world support - obviously this is the way it is.

    Of course, the reality that this is largely nonsense is generally seen as having a major potential to change people's views (and probably explains why the SD abortion ban seems likely to be going down, once people have to consider real life). But I think this has a lot to do with the nature of the abortion debate, and isn't necessarily transferable to the science issue.

    And of course, when you talk of ideas of science being opposed to religion, or I label folks of anti-science, we're not really talking about science in general - which most folks are completely fine with, and are happy to benefit from - but very specific (if extremely important) parts of science. Of course, science doesn't work like this, but people do.


    Just to drag up the ed discussion again - like some folks have said, not using every aspect of science as an example of the scientific method can be a very practical thing. For example, eighth grade science class often involves earth science - but you're trying, for example, to get the students to master the idea of the rock cycle. Trying to cover exactly how we know all this as well, all at the same time . . .

    Now, taken too far, this encourages the idea that science is a dull, dusty collection of textbooks to be memorized, a set of authoritative facts to be handed down, rather than an ongoing process of discovery where the entire landscape can change due to a single discovery, where each fact was dug out by real human beings building on previous research, and where models are approximations, best guesses, capable of being overturned. (A way of thinking that some might find threatening in itself).

    But without going to far into science ed. issues - which I don't have any special expertise in - you do run into the problem that most general courses are intro/ survey courses - a mile wide, and an inch deep (although they have other aspects as well). What science education should look like . . . . now that's an fun issue (I'm a big fan of inquiry-based learning and all that sort of good stuff, as long as it's within a sensibly balanced framework).

    Urgh. Too hot to think. Anyway, I have an 8th grade science text here -Holt Science and Techology Short Course F: Inside the Restless Earth - and it discusses plate tectonics in terms of hypothesis and observation and etc.

    #447 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 04:14 PM:

    Lizzy: Um, Ellen: the idea that spiritual experiences are "wishful thinking" is not sustainable by research of any kind. And I don't see how you can claim that spiritual experiences "aren't real."

    Of course they're real in the sense that people really do experience them-- I just don't think they're triggered by a sensory experience of something existing in the world. They're as real as any emotion-- or any hallucination.

    The most you can say is that they aren't what the people who experience them say they are. I think what you mean is that spiritual experiences aren't "real" in the way that my chair is real. But if you are willing to admit a sense of wonder into your reality, I don't see how you can object to Teresa of Avila.

    Because I'm not willing to concede that a sense of wonder requires a suspension of my usual criteria for assessing the world around me, or that it requires any sort of belief in processes not potentially explicable (if not explained) by materialistic explanations.

    The universe is full of Really Cool Shit, absolutely. Human brains are designed by evolution to appreciate Really Cool Shit, for a variety of reasons. I don't perceive my own perceptions of wonder and awe as resulting from anything except me using my brain as it was designed; and the experiences that many people call 'spiritual,' I've always perceived as intellectual, or emotional, or aesthetic. I don't see the need to add another axis-- certainly not to add another realm in which the rules of this universe don't apply.

    Many people do feel that need, obviously, and I don't think I'm ever going to get it. As I said upthread, I don't have the wiring. Whatever brain chemicals y'all are on, I don't have the receptors.

    John: Spirituality is about what it is to be a human being. Human beings are material things, yes, but spirituality is to the material human as mind is to brain.

    By that (very vague) definition, how does spirituality differ from neurology? From cognitive science? Evolutionary psychology?

    #448 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 04:21 PM:

    If spirituality is not a study of material things, of causes and effects, of "doing" something, then does it still exist? Or is it nonsense like the sound of one hand clapping?

    False opposition. It's possible for something not to be a study of material things, etc., without it being nonsense.

    I think you took a partial statement out of context. I would not say Zen is nonsense.

    For some things, the truth of the thing is a wholly personal experience, which means for such things there are no true answers for me that will neccessarily be true for someone else. I can only ask the question that will let them find what is true for them.

    I believe the above piece you quoted was a reference to someone else's possible answer that anything non-material is nonsense. Certainly, some think this way, and that is their answer.

    #449 ::: Dan S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 04:23 PM:

    "There are things we have words for that we don't have things for."

    Oh, bella, bella!

    (I could quibble, but no . . . that's too cool.)

    #450 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 04:27 PM:

    Ellen, God is always involved, everywhere, with everything. The very Universe is just the breath of God. I understand that you don't want mystical language, but that's like saying "Talk about string theory but leave out the equations." Mystical language (or, of you prefer, poetry) gets closer to the reality of God than anything else. And it's imprecise and frustrating because God is not a thing, and we are used to using language to talk about things. There is no mystical ectoplasmic other realm. This world, the one with us in it, with the rocks and trees and hurricanes, exists as it is, and as Hopkins tells, it is "charged with the grandeur of God." And the grandeur of God is as real as the rocks and trees -- indeed, some would say, more real. But there's that mystical language again.

    With regard to what happened to Susan in the Narnia books -- although Lewis certainly had trouble with seeing women as fully people, the point he was making holds, which is, when people allow trivialities to possess them, they cut themselves off from spiritual connections. As a feminist I wish Lewis had chosen a different way to make the point (a boy obsessed with sports? a grown man obsessed with politics?) but he was who he was....

    #451 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 04:28 PM:

    Dan S... Actually, Jefferson is a black & white whiner who's got to be part siamese and who actually comes to you when you call. (He does respond to he name "Bad Cat".) We originally thought of calling him Ben Franklin, but the kitty was too skinny for that to suit him.

    #452 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 04:33 PM:

    Thank you for your explanation, Steven, since I do understand your points now, although I only partly agree.

    Steven Brust writes: The more Man comes to understand nature, the less room is left for God to operate in, hence science, which seeks to understand nature, threatens belief in God.

    I agree that this is true as far as unsophisticated notions about God directly doing stuff in the world are concerned, and while I was citing the RC Church earlier as an example of a religion immune to science, I should probably point out that there are lots of unsophisticated Catholics out there who believe in miracles at Lourdes, secrets of Fatima and the Sun dancing in the sky over Medjugore. We had a rash of moving BVM statues here in Ireland a few years back. This kind of silliness, like belief in the flood or a six thousand year old Earth, is indeed open to refutation by science.

    But, and it's a big but, the RC God long ago vanished into an infinitesmal space as far as the theologians are concerned. You could explain the motion of every particle in the Universe since the Big Bang, you could scientifically explain and reproduce in the lab every religious or numinous experience, and an RC theologian wouldn't bat an eyelid. You could leave no space for their God in the Universe, or in an infinity of parallel or cyclical Universes, and they just wouldn't care. I mean it: they are immune.

    So all science can do is force the ignorant, the poorly educated, the unsophisticated believer to adopt some more sophisticated theology.

    This same scientific method, when applied to social problems, will reveal the absurdities that lead to injustice, poverty, war.

    This understanding, more and more, comes to threaten those who have something to lose by the dstruction of certain cherished instituions of our society (the free market, private ownership of production).

    Here I think I detect a creed of your own, but I'd need Ken McLeod to classify it from this evidence.

    I will just note that I think the opposite is true: empirical observation has in recent years shown that free markets and private ownership are superior to the alternatives, with the usual caveats about social justice and necessary government functions.

    Those who have something to lose will more and more come to oppose science, and give intellectual and even material comfort to the most backward elements who fight science--ie, the religious Right. This is why the most ignorant citizens of Southern Deleware are able to raise their heads and act on their prejudice without fear.

    Although I don't agree that capitalism is to blame, it is certainly true that the current criminal gang running the US are hostile to science, cf global warming, that fraudster appointed to NASA and his "theory" of the Big Bang and so forth.

    Liberalism wishes to see a kinder, more gentle society without removing those institutions I mentioned above--those institutions that, in my opinion, *cause* exactly the problems they hope to alleviate.

    I've heard that opinion before, but not often in the last 15 years. The radical left has more or less evaporated here in Ireland with the disappearance of mass unemployment and emigration, brought about by liberal reforms.

    As attacks on science ("intelligent design," &c) escalate, science will be required to defend itself, which defense will necessarily bring its conflict with religion (see above) more and more into the open.

    I agree that powerful interests are aligning themselves in America with the stupidest religions on the planet to fight science for short term profit (and souls, presumably), but I don't think this is caused by capitalism in itself, nor do I think capitalism is failing, nor do I think science standing up for itself will outrage ordinary religious people.

    I think this official attack on science is caused by bad government, and can be remedied by better government.

    Step 1: Vote the Republicans out.

    #453 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 04:40 PM:
    As a feminist I wish Lewis had chosen a different way to make the point (a boy obsessed with sports? a grown man obsessed with politics?) but he was who he was....

    This, I think, gets down to the nub of it.

    A grown man obsessed with politics is someone who cares, intimately and personally, about the fate of other human beings, right here and now, in the only world that is.

    If spirituality leads someone to such concern, good for them, but I don't need it to get there.

    I've had transcendant feelings myself, sometimes when sober, and you know what? As near as I can tell, they're a product of the material world and the physical body.

    That's amazing and wonderful and mysterious enough, without any supernatural frosting.

    #454 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 04:40 PM:

    how does spirituality differ from neurology? From cognitive science? Evolutionary psychology?

    Following is clipped from Wikipedia on spirituality. It makes sense, though I can't check the reference because the full-text article is behind a profit-wall:

    - quote -

    Due to its broad scope and personal nature, spirituality can perhaps be better understood by highlighting key concepts that arise when people are asked to describe what spirituality means to them. Research by Martsolf and Mickley (1998) highlighted the following areas as worthy of consideration:
    ~ Meaning – significance of life; making sense of situations; deriving purpose.
    ~ Values – beliefs, standards and ethics that are cherished.
    ~ Transcendence – experience, awareness, and appreciation of a "transcendent dimension" to life beyond self.
    ~ Connecting – increased awareness of a connection with self, others, God/Spirit/Divine, and nature.
    ~ Becoming – an unfolding of life that demands reflection and experience; includes a sense of who one is and how one knows.
    _____
    Martsolf D.S. & Mickley J.R. (1998) "The concept of spirituality in nursing theories: differing world-views and extent of focus" Journal of Advanced Nursing 27, 294-303

    - unquote -

    So, how does spirituality differ from neurology, cognitive science or evolutionary psychology? It's just not in the same space. How does music differ from the physical analysis of a violin?

    #455 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 04:40 PM:

    the experiences that many people call 'spiritual,' I've always perceived as intellectual, or emotional, or aesthetic. I don't see the need to add another axis-- certainly not to add another realm in which the rules of this universe don't apply.

    If you wish to have a "non-woowoo" access to spirituality, it might be something like "how you relate to the eternal, infinite universe". Which isn't the same as measuring it or observing it, but how you feel about it, or rather, how you feel about yourself being part of it. That in and of itself may be too woo-woo for you, depending on exactly what you mean by woo-woo. But I digress.

    If you've ever read Hitchhiker's Guide, there's a great scene about this device which lets people see themselves in relationship to the entire universe, and the effect is that it drives everyone insane because they see exactly how insignificant they are compared to the infinite universe. And so the solution is to ignore that relationship as much as possible. That appears to be Douglas Adams's spirituality.

    Luckily that isn't the only spirituality available. Some folks don't have a problem with the infinite and eternal and can actually embrace it.

    But if your experience is that this is just woo-woo, then that's your truth and your spirituality. It's one of those things that has no single right answer, but is a matter of each person finding their truth.

    #456 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 04:41 PM:

    With regard to what happened to Susan in the Narnia books -- although Lewis certainly had trouble with seeing women as fully people, the point he was making holds, which is, when people allow trivialities to possess them, they cut themselves off from spiritual connections.

    Oh, no, I wasn't unhappy that Susan was shut out. I was overjoyed: the people who cared about Important Things got Narnia, and the people who cared about lipstick-- and, by a chain of associations that made perfect sense to me at the time, God-- didn't. Then I found out the book was a religious allegory, realized that Lewis meant Narnia, like everything else, for the theists only, and haven't picked up the books since.

    Possibly I overreacted, but the sense of betrayal still hasn't faded twenty years later, and I don't expect to ever go back to them.

    Ellen, God is always involved, everywhere, with everything.

    If you're just pointing to everthing in the universe and saying "Yup, God's there, too," then what's the point? I mean, if there are equal amounts of god in everything, then god's presence doesn't distinguish anything in the universe from anything else-- it's like just adding zero to every term in an equation. Or like adding infinity, I suppose. But in either case, where does it get you? What can you perceive, or do, with the god-goggles on, that wouldn't work equally well if you filtered all the god out?

    #457 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 04:45 PM:

    I just wanted to add that lipstick has done a lot more for me than prayer ever has.

    #458 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 04:45 PM:

    Okay now. Deep breath time.

    Greg and Lizzie--kudos to you and good to keep on trying.

    Steven and Ellen--please listen to what I have to say here.

    It is your right and your choice to make the choice not to believe. As a believer, I think that is entirely correct, not just by the First Amendment of the Constitution but by what is good and right and true. A coerced faith or a coerced belief is not a true one, and you must go with what is correct for you.

    However--and this is a monstrously HUGE "however"--I start taking offense when Steven goes out and specifically excludes me, as a believer, from participating in liberal thought and furthermore, saying that future crises will push me out of the catagory of liberal (or progressive) political thought--now those are fighting words and reek to me of intolerance of the very self-same sort that this thread started out condemning.

    My faith is not so weak that I am dependant upon science to prove any aspect of it. My understanding and acceptance of scientific thought is not so small as to demand that it match up to the allegorical creation stories in my religious book. Nothing about my faith denies science, nor should it, unless I am so small in my faith that I fear new scientific discoveries will discredit it. I lack that fear. I'm not inclined to stick my God in a box, because that God doesn't need to be in a box.

    I think there is a lot of truth to the concept that many of us are hardwired for belief, while others may not be. Either that, or a lot of people are simply whistling in the dark, which I don't think is the case either.

    I for one find the message of the Old Testament prophets in response to the consumerist, hedonistic and unjust society they lived in to be appropriate for today--especially since a large component of this message was, basically, stop acting unjustly, stop ripping off the poor and oppressed, and do what is right. In a rather morbid way, those writings are chronicles of the classic rise and fall of any empire, and how it goes bad.

    #459 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 04:46 PM:

    Oh, and Greg London -- beautiful post.

    God hasn't changed because of science.

    Thank you. Thank you.
    I'll be here all week.
    Don't forget to try the mushroom ravioli.

    ;)

    #460 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 04:53 PM:
    I start taking offense when Steven goes out and specifically excludes me, as a believer, from participating in liberal thought and furthermore, saying that future crises will push me out of the catagory of liberal (or progressive) political thought--now those are fighting words and reek to me of intolerance of the very self-same sort that this thread started out condemning.

    Actually, that's not what he said. He said that there was a contradiction between spiritual belief and progressive thought and, further, that the historical events which he expects would make those contradictions more acute. That's a fundamentally optimistic view, I'd say, as it allows for two other possibilities: Bear the contradiction. Abandon the supernaturalism.

    #461 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 05:15 PM:

    Thank you, Adamsj, exactly.

    For various of you who are offended: Just what sort of game do you imagine we're playing here? Do you think it's "Jump On Jesus?" Or, "Let's Make the Religous Squirm Because It's Fun?"

    I am NOT bringing this stuff up because I think everyone ought to agree with me just because I'm so cute. Or even because I'm right.

    They drove a Jewish family out of Southern Delaware. Anti Gay marriage bills have been passed, supported by leading Democrats. There is a war in Afghanistan in which US soldiers are raping children. Our basic freedoms are under attack.

    In discussing this upstream, and what to do about it, various people kept showing shock and amazement that so many people felt that science conflicted with religion, and wondered why they believed that. I have given my answer, which I've given in the context of trying to come to an understanding of what we do about these problems.

    You are more than welcome to disagree with me; such disagreements may advance the discussion.

    But do you honestly think I am going to refrain from addressing these issues in the clearest, most precise and honest way I am capable of, because it might hurt your feelings?

    I don't need this. I have books to write. Ye flipping gods.

    Oh...sorry. Had a Jerry Pournelle moment there. I'm fine now.


    #462 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 05:22 PM:

    Ye flipping gods.

    AHA!!! A cryptotheist in our midst! Not only that, a cryptopolytheist!

    Hmm. Actually, a cryptotheist might not be a clandestine theist, but someone who believes that God/the gods/the Goddess is/are hidden or secretive...not sure.

    #463 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 05:41 PM:

    Don't forget to try the mushroom ravioli.

    ;)

    What kind of mushrooms? Inquiring minds want to know.

    #464 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 05:42 PM:

    From some of the explanations suggested here (particularly by John Stanning and Greg London), it sounds as though "spirituality" might be best understood as a department of aesthetics (and perhaps as a precursor to ethics), a kind of appreciative (as distinct from analytical) metaphysics. I suspect that for most non-materialists, the term is intended to point to the realm of the supernatural, but I get the feeling that such folk who have otherwise more or less modern worldviews find themselves backed into an epistemological corner. I absolutely sympathize with the subjective certainty that arises from some kinds of experiences, but those of us possessed by the skepticism gene (or meme or demon or hardwiring or whatever) are constitutionally unable to really get it. And my charismatic-Catholic brother cannot imagine that I really, really, absolutely and completely cannot believe in the spiritual world he accepts utterly.

    #465 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 05:43 PM:

    Ye flipping gods.

    AHA!!! A cryptotheist in our midst! Not only that, a cryptopolytheist!

    Hmm. Actually, a cryptotheist might not be a clandestine theist, but someone who believes that God/the gods/the Goddess is/are hidden or secretive...not sure.

    And here I thought he was referring to the tutelary deities of McDonald's or Wendy's.

    #466 ::: wolfa ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 06:05 PM:

    It is your right and your choice to make the choice not to believe.

    I didn't make a choice not to believe in any relevant use of the word choice. That's an unfair description of atheism (read broadly): we see all this evidence for some sort of god and we choose not to accept it for some obscure reasons.

    #467 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 06:05 PM:

    Hmm. Actually, a cryptotheist might not be a clandestine theist, but someone who believes that God/the gods/the Goddess is/are hidden or secretive...not sure.

    No, cryptotheists believe Tbq has been rot13'd.

    #468 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 06:21 PM:

    Ellen, your comments are very interesting, especially when you talk about "god-goggles." I was brought up in a completely secular, agnostic family, and for me, it felt like everyone around me was wearing goggles. Why couldn't they perceive that numinous aspect of the universe which I could perceive, so clearly? Dunno.

    I didn't say "there are equal amounts of god in everything." I don't talk about God this way. And I have the feeling that right now, at least, the kinds of questions you ask are not ones I can answer. Perhaps another thread...

    Adamsj, there's another possibility in the future of Steven's worldview: Wait and see. Perhaps the contradiction is, like a koan, resolveable in a way we are as yet unaware of. As for your response to my example -- A grown man obsessed with politics is someone who cares, intimately and personally, about the fate of other human beings, right here and now, in the only world that is -- not necessarily. The key word is obsessed. In one translation that I have read of the Koran, Iblis (Satan) is called The Obsessor. A man who cares intimately and personally about the fate of other human beings may be involved in politics, or he may be serving in a soup kitchen, or praying in a monastery, or working in a hospital. I don't mean to diss political action, I mean to highlight the danger human beings are in when they become obsessive. Obsessiveness has a way of corrupting that very caring you speak of. History is filled with examples of well-meaning zealots whose causes devoured them.

    Steven, you are welcome to channel Jerry Pournelle as far as I am concerned, as long as you don't do it too often... Don't know how Teresa feels about it, though. However -- "I don't need this. I have books to write."?!!! I will say to you what I would say to Mr. Pournelle were he to say such a thing: You can leave any time you like. Here's your hat.

    And while I respect your right to jump up and down and yell, I am not sure how you get a connection between "science is under attack" and "US soldiers are raping children in Afghanistan." It is, and they are, God help us all, but do you truly believe that "science" or "history" in some imagined future will keep soldiers from raping children, or the US out of war? Perhaps you do.

    #469 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 06:25 PM:

    Clarification to Ellen: it felt like everyone around me was wearing goggles which obscured their vision.

    #470 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 06:31 PM:

    Don't know how Teresa feels about it, though. However -- "I don't need this. I have books to write."?

    Uh...Teresa would laugh. That was a joke. It's...oh, never mind; an explanation would ruin it. I probably shouldn't have left it out there where so many people could interpret it seriously. My apologies.

    I am not sure how you get a connection between "science is under attack" and "US soldiers are raping children in Afghanistan."

    I am no longer prepared to accept the possibility, in this case, that I am that poor a communicator. I can only assume you haven't read any of the posts where I anwered that question. I'll not answer it again. I don't need this. I have books to....er...never mind.

    #471 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 06:40 PM:

    meg, way the heck down here,

    i apologize. i was taking your bad people>like the old testament, & running with it to generalities of speech that i have encountered. & then putting that in the most simplified, some would say hyperbolic, terms.

    leviticus, yes, i can see what you're saying. it is difficult & requires interpretation. & i think you got what i meant you to get, which is don't drop the phrase "old testament"/"five books of moses" in with a wink (especially a disparaging one) & expect everyone to be on the same page as you.

    #472 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 06:50 PM:

    A joke -- uh, okay. Sorry. I am occasionally humor-deficient.

    #473 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 06:57 PM:

    Lizzy:

    I didn't say "there are equal amounts of god in everything." I don't talk about God this way. And I have the feeling that right now, at least, the kinds of questions you ask are not ones I can answer. Perhaps another thread...

    Well, the next question would have been "If God is present in all things but not equally distributed, how do you tell where she is most highly concentrated?" So, yeah, maybe another thread, if that's not closer to the mark.

    Greg: Luckily that isn't the only spirituality available. Some folks don't have a problem with the infinite and eternal and can actually embrace it.

    But if your experience is that this is just woo-woo, then that's your truth and your spirituality. It's one of those things that has no single right answer, but is a matter of each person finding their truth.

    Why do you assume that comfort with the infinite and eternal must needs be spiritual? The universe is very big and doesn't care about me, yes, but it seems very silly to take it personally. It would be like getting bent out of shape because there's too much hydrogen, or something.

    #474 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 07:10 PM:

    If you're just pointing to everthing in the universe and saying "Yup, God's there, too," then what's the point? I mean, if there are equal amounts of god in everything, then god's presence doesn't distinguish anything in the universe from anything else-- it's like just adding zero to every term in an equation. Or like adding infinity, I suppose.

    Well, for one thing, Buddhism has been spending several millenia now addressing just that question. And for another, one of the answers is that to frame it in terms of equations - as something that can be measured - is to misunderstand it entirely. That is very emphatically not the point.

    But in either case, where does it get you? What can you perceive, or do, with the god-goggles on, that wouldn't work equally well if you filtered all the god out?

    I think the answer to that is very much like the conversation I once tried to have defending minimalist abstract art - I can explain it, but not to a cynic.

    And it also seems worth noting that the question feels very much in the vein of the one that goes, "Why do you read all that fantasy stuff? It isn't real." At a certain point, if you don't Get It, you're just not going to be convinced.

    (In any case, the question of how compatible liberal ideas are with theism is, perhaps, more complex than this discussion has so far allowed; certainly a breed of rationalism has been used before to justify all kinds of regressive nonsense, and there are good arguments to be made that progressive values like "justice" and "equality" are breeds of irrational absurdity that require a variety of dare-I-say-it faith to entirely embrace.)

    #475 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 07:13 PM:

    Steven wrote:

    For various of you who are offended: Just what sort of game do you imagine we're playing here? Do you think it's "Jump On Jesus?" Or, "Let's Make the Religous Squirm Because It's Fun?"

    I am NOT bringing this stuff up because I think everyone ought to agree with me just because I'm so cute. Or even because I'm right.

    Unfortunately, Steven, I've spent too much time having folks on the atheist/agnostic/unbelieving side do just that, with exactly the sort of arguments you present, that I do end up seeing it as "Let's trash those religious folks who don't agree with me that All Religion Is Bunk" because that ends up being the upshot of the argument. Ironically, often it's the atheist who wants to exclude the believer from any possibility of rational thought, not the believer in these cases.

    What part of my statement that I see no conflict between religious belief and science unless my religious belief is too small to deal with scientific analysis do you NOT UNDERSTAND? Or is it simply that you choose not to understand, or that you are so traumatized by the intolerance among some believers that you think we're all the same?

    Quite frankly, sometimes I feel that atheists can and do exhibit the same degree of intolerance that they accuse believers of exhibiting. It is a form of intolerance that exhibits a patronizing attitude by the atheist that all people of faith are the same and that we'll be reacting in the identical, knee-jerk fashion. It is the same kind of intolerance as is shown by the right-wing fundies.

    They drove a Jewish family out of Southern Delaware. Anti Gay marriage bills have been passed, supported by leading Democrats. There is a war in Afghanistan in which US soldiers are raping children. Our basic freedoms are under attack.

    And this is an exact example of how atheists start painting all believers with the same brush. You seriously think that I disagree with your worries about these four statements because I'm a believer? You seriously think that I approve of all of these actions because I'm a believer? You seriously think that because I'm a believer, at some point I'm going to turn into a robot and follow the repressive party line?

    Good grief.

    Let me repeat these words. My religious faith is not threatened by science. I am now and always have been a leftist, progressive, political thinker. I will only leave the left and progressive side if it represses my civil liberties, because those fundamental civil liberties are supported by my faith.

    I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment and strongly support the separation of Church and State because I sure as h*ll don't want to see ANY religion in charge of the state. It's a bad combination, for religion and state alike. The ignorant yayhoos who bully Jewish, Muslim and atheist kids out of their schools should be revealed and held forth as the bigots they are, and be slapped with a tough lawsuit that makes them regret their actions. All state marriages should be civil contracts blind to the gender of the participants, with age and coersion restrictions the major limit, and if you want the blessing of whatever faith that floats your boat or not, the state shouldn't be involved in that area. We screwed up in managing the whole Al Qaeda thing, and we're gonna pay for it. Correction: we are starting to pay for it with the loss of our civil liberties.

    If you want to respond that you've already answered the question and that you honestly can't grok the concept that people can't be progressive/liberal/Left and people of faith at the same time, well, I guess you'd better ignore the entire Religious Left movement and go write some books, because you're as closed-minded on this subject, then, as any fundamentalist right-wing Christian. As someone who *has* been through that particular wringer(the fundy Christian one), it saddens me to see that atheists can and do exhibit the same type of intolerance.

    #476 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 07:18 PM:

    Steve: I, our hosts, and no small number of the people who inhabit the place, don't see the conflict you see.

    Any more than we see that Stalin inevitably follows from Marx. I know there are those who think all efforts at socialism lead to the Gulag.

    I also know a fair number of people who argue that sincere following of Jesus leads to socialism.

    One can argue that both are correct. One can also argue that both are wrong. There is textual, and empiric evidence, to support both positions.

    I think (just me) that stating, as a categorical fact, that the beliefs of some Christians (and I am not going to do as someone up thread did, and define them as not being, "Real" Christians) are human enough to think the system of belief they have is the one and only way to see the workings of the world; and that, like the "historical imperative, it leads to inevitable chains of events in the world, and they need to make man over in their image to bring that happy say to pass.

    I honestly think that has nothing to do with religion/ideology/politics, per se, and has to do with the quirks of human nature, and that happens to be the pathology those people chose to accept.

    Will I, if some of the trajectories of the present increase have a breaking point with those who say "Christianity demands thus" of all the citizens?

    Yes.

    Will that affect my religious beliefs? Nope. My beliefs are independent of them; and allow me to be liberal, progressive and spiritual, all at once, and with no dissonance (though at times a sense of failure, that I have failed to live up to my ideals, but that's another issue altogether).

    #477 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 07:41 PM:

    The universe is very big and doesn't care about me, yes, but it seems very silly to take it personally. It would be like getting bent out of shape because there's too much hydrogen, or something.

    Ellen, this is how you relate to the thing that is the infinite Universe and the thing that is infinite time. Spirituality would be how you relate to the eternal, timeless, infinite, which is not a thing. I really don't know how to explain it, just that you have an inherent "thingness" in what you're saying that would tell me you're not in the spiritual realm.

    The other thing, which I tried to point to earlier, is that it isn't about getting to a "truth" for all, but rather the truth for you. What spirituality is to me may be different to you.

    Obviously, this is a tricky idea to communicate. folks have been trying for thousands of years, and still havent been able to put it in a can.

    #478 ::: Jenny ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 07:42 PM:

    Niall McAulay, a while back, mentioned moving statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
    I have personally witnessed this.

    Or rather, I am a rationalist, so I believe that what I saw was most likely some form of optical illusion. But I do not know what the scientific explanation is, and if I had seen it with a conviction that miracles could take place, I'm pretty sure I would have been convinced by it. (So in a sense, my conviction that what I saw must have been a trick of the eyes is also based on a kind of faith in science...)

    This was about 6 years ago in Ballinspittle in County Cork. I was with 4 fellow students from a summer school (some of whom were Christians, some, including me, atheists). We went to see the shrine at twilight. The statue in question was at the top of a small rockery in a grotto, above eye level, I guess maybe about 10-12 feet above the ground and 20 ft away (very approximately, I can't really remember the distance). The statue's face was quite brightly lit, making it stand out against the otherwise dimly lit background. If you focussed on the face, after a short while (maybe half a minute or so) it would appear to start to turn slowly from side to side. The movement was very definite, smooth and regular. There was also something slightly wrong about the movement, it made your eyes feel strained/ disoriented; this is one reason why I think the explanation lies in some kind of optical illusion, maybe based on the specific lighting conditions.

    I did know about the reported miracles of the statue when I witnessed this, but was very, very surprised to actually see it myself. There were 5 of us present, 4 of whom reported seeing the same thing, and one person couldn't see anything.

    There were also some local kids who were getting very excited, claiming they could see all sorts of other things such as the Virgin smiling and weeping; there seemed to be a certain amount of imaginative interpretation going on...

    We were so astonished by seeing the apparent head movement that we went back the next day. At midday the statue did not appear to move, but the same effect appeared again at twilight the next day.

    Curiously, it didn't even cross my mind at the time that it might be possible to try to get nearer to the statue and check if it was actually moving. Perhaps a good thing, since the conflict between scientific curiosity and not committing sacrilege could have been quite frustrating. This was also in the days before camera phones, so we had no way to attempt to video it.

    I've always wondered what could have caused the effect I saw. If anyone knowledgeable about optical effects has any theories...

    Here's a BBC report with a close-up picture of the statue

    and
    here's the only picture I can find online that shows the layout of the whole shrine.

    The writer of the essay in the 2nd link, which I only found just now while looking for a picture of the shrine, seems to have managed to replicate something similar to the effect with brightly lit faces on a black stage. Hmmm. Interesting. I'm not sure I agree, though, with his assertion that the phenomena was based on people's willingness to see something - or at least, if I was willing to see it then this was entirely unconscious: I was gobsmacked!

    #479 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 07:50 PM:

    modern worldviews find themselves backed into an epistemological corner. ... those of us possessed by the skepticism gene (or meme or demon or hardwiring or whatever) are constitutionally unable to really get it. And my charismatic-Catholic brother cannot imagine that I really, really, absolutely and completely cannot believe in the spiritual world he accepts utterly.

    Ooh, ontology, now epistimology, can I have a glass of water to go with my can of worms?

    I think that the idea of spirituality doesn't neccessarily exclude the scientific method for "knowing" things. What it does say is that there is a certain form of knowledge that is based on personal experience.

    While science is based on material measures and is restricted to material causes and effects, the knowledge of spirituality is based on personal experience and is limited to personal experience.

    Love is something you've experienced, so in that realm of experience, it is something you "know". It isn't somthing you know materialisticly, but you can know it spiritually.

    That doesn't back a materialistic person into an epistimological corner. It lets them play in their part of the field. But it defines another field that spiritual folks can also play in. The only corner pushing that might occur is againt a materialistic person who believes that materialism is the only field of knowledge.

    But otherwise, they're not mutually exclusive.

    #480 ::: Jenny ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 07:52 PM:

    phenomenon, I mean - there was only one - I don't seem to be able to post without typos today!

    #481 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 07:53 PM:

    Jenny, with a single distant brightly lit object against a dull background, it's hard to tell if it's moving or you're moving. If you are swaying slightly (and you probably aren't completely motionless) and your brain misinterprets that as the object moving, it can look wierd.

    Lots of UFO reports turn out to be Venus for that reason, a brightly lit object which seems to follow people and cars around.

    I only saw the Ballinspittle statue in daylight, but a friend who stayed to wait for twilight in the local pub reported that much swaying could be expected among statue watchers that night.

    #482 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 07:56 PM:

    Greg: I really don't know how to explain it, just that you have an inherent "thingness" in what you're saying that would tell me you're not in the spiritual realm.

    You know, I think if have any spirituality in me at all, it must be tied up in 'thingness.' At least, getting down to things, specific, solid things, is always the most laborious part of any sort of reasoning for me (INTP; I process everything into abstractions before it has a chance to register), and I value specificity in a way that I really don't value the kind of abstracts that you're talking about. They always feel like a cop-out to me, or at least like a starting point, while details and close observation are an achievement.

    So, maybe that's my truth; maybe non-thing-based spirituality is just never going to make sense to me.

    #483 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 08:00 PM:

    I'm an atheist (the online quizzes always put Humanist first) but I had a Near Death Experience. It didn't come from god; it was collected from bits of my brain.

    The Washington National Cathedral has stained-glass windows all over, but there's one that has a pinkish color in it that on many afternoons highlights the face of the Jesus statue so it looks like flesh. Nice planning.

    #484 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 08:06 PM:

    Let me repeat these words. My religious faith is not threatened by science.

    I believe you. I have never doubted this. I know more people who simultaniously have religious faith and belief in science than I know who have one but not the other. I have been contending that science is a threat to religion in spite of the contrary opinions of the faithful. I cannot say it more clearly than that. I understand and respect that many people believe in God, and in science, and in the tenants of liberalism. I contend that will not be able to do so indefinately, with the social pressures that will come to be exerted in the coming perioid.

    And this is an exact example of how atheists start painting all believers with the same brush. You seriously think that I disagree with your worries about these four statements because I'm a believer?

    I most certainly do not. Until proven otherwise, I assume everyone who inhabits this blog agrees that these are horrible things; that is exactly why I willing to speak about them here.

    Nor do I believe that these atrocities are carried out only, or even primarily, because of religious beliefs. They are signs of the naked, brutal drive for profit in a decaying social system. The gain in power of the extreme Christian right is another such sign. Liberal theists are not responsible for any of this.

    My contention is very simple: The reason so many on the Christian right feel that science threatens their beliefs is because it does. They are not crazy, merely reactionary. Science, in my opinion, does conflict with relgion, no matter how many sincere and intelligent people hold them both at once.

    In other words: I am not saying you don't simultaneously embrace religion and science; I am saying you are incorrect to do so. I am further saying that this is part of a much larger process that is going to force ideologies to their most extreme positions. The Christian Right has resolved that conflict: they have already advanced to the logical conclusion of their positions.

    Steve: I, our hosts, and no small number of the people who inhabit the place, don't see the conflict you see.

    You know, Terry, what with one thing and another, that much has become clear to me.

    Will that affect my religious beliefs? Nope. My beliefs are independent of them; and allow me to be liberal, progressive and spiritual, all at once, and with no dissonance

    I'd say, "Your lips to God's ear," but, under the circumstances, some might question my sincerity. I understand that you believe your ideas sprang from your own mind (aided, no doubt, by whatever study and thought you engaged in in forming your conclusions) and nowhere else, and that you resent the notion that your carefully wrought opinions, attitudes, and beliefs have their precise social origins. And I understand that you disagree with my position that behind these ideas lie material forces--that ideas such as religion in all its manifestations, science in all its branches, liberalism in all its shadings--serve definate social ends.

    But if we can become clear, at the very least, on exactly where our differences lie, maybe we'll have accomplished something worthwhile; and maybe, at some point in the (not too distant) future, one or the other of us, if not both, will have cause to remember this conversation, and perhaps reevalutate someting in light of it, and so make a better decision in a very difficult time.


    #485 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 08:11 PM:

    I don't see the use of the label spirituality. Love exists, awe exists, sensawunda exists, despair exists. Internal mental states, emotions. These are not connections to the Universe, they are reactions inside my mental models to inputs from the Universe.

    Stick an electrode in the right patch of brain tissue, and I'll be silent, on a peak in Darien, too.

    Labelling this stuff as spiritual seems to me to do nothing except invite confusion with supernatural meanings of the word.

    #486 ::: Jenny ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 08:14 PM:

    Niall, that's very interesting, presumably some of us fidget/ sway around more than others, so that might explain why some people saw the motion and others not. I'm pretty sure I was sober at the time but I wouldn't want to swear it on oath, it was a very good holiday...

    #487 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 08:21 PM:

    Religious people inclined to attack Steven as yet another anti-religionist from the Evil Atheist Conspiracy should note that he is in fact the Atheist Conspiracy of Evil, and the we in the Evil Atheist Conspiracy do not necessarily endorse his opinions.

    Splitter!

    #488 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 08:27 PM:

    Religious people inclined to attack Steven as yet another anti-religionist from the Evil Atheist Conspiracy should note that he is in fact the Atheist Conspiracy of Evil, and the we in the Evil Atheist Conspiracy do not necessarily endorse his opinions.

    Rot in oblivion, heretic!

    #489 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 08:34 PM:

    ;-)

    Okay, pass the popcorn. Who wants to take bets on how long it takes Steven to call Niall a lumper?

    ;-)

    #490 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 08:42 PM:

    Niall & Steven: Clearly, you two are the splitters.

    Sincerely,
    General Secretary
    Conspiracy of Evil Atheists

    #491 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 08:57 PM:

    Niall & Steven: Clearly, you two are the splitters.

    Lumper.

    #492 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 09:16 PM:

    Re: spirituality.

    Isn't anybody here old enough to have done acid back in the day? Not to be dismissive of anyone's own experience or worldview, but one dose Occam's-Razored my notions of the source of the numinous way down. If I start with neurochemistry, I don't need to resort to metaphysics. But hey, lucky me, lucky mud.

    #493 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 09:24 PM:

    And the Atheist Evil Conspiracy will triumph over them all!

    #494 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 09:27 PM:

    Last year, did anybody catch the episode of House where Hugh Laurie's irascible doc outright declares that this is the only life there is, this is not a test or a rite of passage, I was impressed because it takes courage to have a popular show where hte main character is an atheist. Mind you, he doesn't make us non-belivers look like a happy bunch.

    #495 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 09:29 PM:

    Oops. Not non-belivers. Non-believers.

    #496 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 09:33 PM:

    I'm a lumper, not a splitter.

    #497 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 09:38 PM:

    Terry Karney: do you have a link for the Michael Shermer essay on the whole "Bright" business?

    Thanks!

    #498 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 09:45 PM:

    Dan Lewis I was reminded of the Lieberman situation again when Josh Jasper defended Obama by telling us to look at among other things, his voting record.

    For shits and giggles, try comparing Lieberman to Obama.

    #499 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 10:12 PM:

    Making Light is clearly becoming the place where I argue philosophy with my favorite authors. Abortion with Tim Powers, and now science and religion with Steven Brust. What next, free will with Neal Stephenson? The nature of consciousness with Gene Wolfe?

    #500 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 10:16 PM:

    For shits and giggles, try comparing Lieberman to Obama.

    OK, here we go: I think I agree with half of that. I wouldn't call Obama a giggle.

    #501 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 10:20 PM:

    Well, I certainly can't deny being in good company, Avram.

    #502 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 10:40 PM:

    This does rather go on a bit....

    • Scientific understanding is extremely important, but the scale of scientific understanding is statistical.

    I don't know what you mean by this. Science is filled with epiphany, with quantitative leaps in understanding along with the more steady, day to day accumulation of data. I think the difference between evolution by natural selection and the creation of a universe by god cannot be called "statistical." If I'm missing your point, please explain.

    Process of doing science stuff -- which is outright quirky -- isn't scientific understanding. Scientific understanding is the stuff that says "within this margin of error, thus and such is going on".

    So if I'm talking about the evolution of a population of Galapagos finches -- some really cool stuff was recently published about this, concerning the rapidity of a beak size change in response to changing seed abundance due to prolonged drought -- I can't say squat if what I've got is one finch; I need a statistically significant number of finches, and to control for other factors, and to test the available correlations mathematically -- fundamentally, statistically -- to find out how much I can trust those correlations to reflect what is actually going on, rather than a transitory blip in the data.

    The process of how I figured out what to count, and how to count it, and the right way to control for other factors when dealing with a population of skittish wild birds for eighteen days out of a year aren't the scientific understanding part.

    Scientific understanding can lead to all manner of excellent and wondrous things -- Afrotheria, or Whippomorpha, clades unsuspected from bones and found in the least unlikely histories of genes; the fab techniques responsible for the VLSI chips that make the computers we're typing on work; modern medicine; real time laser mass spectroscopy and all its diverse industrial consequences, and so on at great length.

    What it cannot do is tell you much about an individual anything. A rock gets is meaning from the bedding plane and thickness and the other layers of rock associated with its horizon; the one rock by itself can't be a part of geology. There isn't any possibility of statistical inference, of being able to quantify the degree of uncertainty properly associated with one's conclusions.

    Same with the single, small beaked finch, or the one place that is having a hot summer this year; you can't do science with single data points. (part of what makes paleontology so difficult.)

    Even in a case where there's a lot of data points -- the number available to the materials scientists running quality control for Anchor Hocking's borosilicate glass production line, frex -- they're still not sure about the individual sugar bowls; it's just overwhelmingly like that the sugar bowl you just picked off the shelf is the right thing, and won't shatter randomly from differential stress.

    • Statistical understanding isn't worth much in the time frames of personal scale, or social scale, decisions, which is where most of us make most of our decisions. (Statistical understanding is tremendously useful on the scale where policy decisions are made, but those are a different creature.)...The basis of those personal decisions can't be entirely on that statistical scale for, at least, logistical reasons -

    Again, I'm not sure what you're saying. If you mean, "We don't use strict scientific method when deciding if we should ask this lady out on a date," I'd have to agree, but I don't see how it is relevant to this discussion.

    Well, because the individuals taking part in this discussion are -- or were, I think, back there somewhere -- talking about the opposition, perceived or actual, between science and religion in the context of the degree of justification which can be postulated for various acts of xenophobic intolerance up to and including threats of violence.

    No one has gone out and come back with anything like rigorous data; nothing like facts. This is all the personal -- the highly philosophical -- not the statistical; there are no error bars in this conversation anywhere, and so while it might be about (in part) (perceptions of) science, science is not what it is.

    If you are suggesting we reject scientific method when trying to understand how to make society better, I must not only disagree, but point out that this is exactly the method of the Christian Right. If you are saying something entirely different, I'm missing it.

    As a matter of policy? Of course not.

    As a matter of, how do people understand their place in society, and how do people choose who to trust, and how do people construct legitimacy of authority, well, scientific study can measure those things; it can't create those things, and that's where the individual, very small, certainly grievously wrong or outright missing in patches reality models come into it.

    • It does not matter if those choices are religious or not; it matters if those choices produce conduct that expects submission or co-operation.

    I am aware that pragmatism is the dominant mode of thought in American society, but I have rarely seen it expressed so blatantly. It doesn't matter if a choice is based on an accurate understanding of the world as it is, so long as the results are to our liking? I am twitching to go into this one in great detail, but I fear this post is going to be long and boring anyway, so I'll wait for more provocation. For now, I'll just say that in my opinion, it matters very, very much if we understand our world as it actually is.

    My point is that choice based on an accurate understanding of the world is, on a personal scale, utterly impossible.

    No one human being can possible understand any significant fraction of the world around them.

    Whole large bunches of human beings, building progressively better extelligences, can take a significant shot at building an accurate model of the world around us, but even really crucial individuals from the point of view of that process do not themselves comprehend the model.

    Their own bits of it, at least more than the others around them, but the whole is entirely beyond human comprehension on an individual scale.

    So any one individual person has a choice, a whole sheaf of choices, really, about how to decide who to trust about the model, but those really do split between submission or co-operation.

    (The human trick is ganging up on problems, right? East African ground ape intensely specialized to co-operate in groups. So we've got an arms race in the family between mechanism of group action in almost exactly the same way genes have an arms race between organisms.

    The core choice in that arms race is between co-operation -- risk amelioration through diversity (more options, no matter what comes along) and sharing (since, in the awful future where all harm lies, I'll need your help just as much as you need mine now, or vice-versa) -- and submission -- risk amelioration through shoving it onto one's underlings (you're always better off than somebody, no matter what comes along) and hierarchy (since, whatever else it does, hierarchy does reduce uncertainty).)

    If you co-operate, your core assumption is that other people co-operate, too; they might be mistaken, they're certainly biased, but they're doing their best, in their climb up the range of knowledge, to mark the trail carefully and be honest about what they find.

    Sometimes this is really hard to do, because that particular bit of the range of knowledge is dangling over a precipice, and the route there involves a lot of pitons; the question of whether Homotherium was a weak-loined ambush predator or a lion-sized cheetah is kinda like that, because the data is just plain sparse. (Saber-toothed it surely was, but there are limits to what can be wrung from dry bones.)

    Sometimes this is pretty easy, because multiple lines of evidence all get to more or less the same place; evolution and global warming both do this, no matter how offended anyone's immediate intuition might be.

    If you are after submission, your ability to co-operate is always constrained by a concern for position. (Long(er) digression about how social position is inherently contextual, and trying to treat it as inherent, fixed, or absolute makes a huge mess, suppressed.)

    So, here we are, anecdotal individuals; how do we make choices about what we believe and who we trust?

    My answer to that is I don't care, so long as their choice comes down to co-operation over submission.

    That way, I can get science and the settled peace and a common universe of discourse in the darkest bits of the Venn Diagram to rule them all.

    No amount of being right will ever save me from not being able to co-operate with neighbour or colleague or the chance-met stranger on the road.

    #503 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 11:37 PM:

    Steve: I'd say, "Your lips to God's ear," but, under the circumstances, some might question my sincerity. I understand that you believe your ideas sprang from your own mind (aided, no doubt, by whatever study and thought you engaged in in forming your conclusions) and nowhere else, and that you resent the notion that your carefully wrought opinions, attitudes, and beliefs have their precise social origins. And I understand that you disagree with my position that behind these ideas lie material forces--that ideas such as religion in all its manifestations, science in all its branches, liberalism in all its shadings--serve definate social ends.


    No, I don't doubt your sincerity.

    I do see some of the disconnect we have. I don't think my beliefs came to me from the people who reared me, those who trained me (which included no small number of priest and nuns) the culture in which I grew up as well as the things I saw, read and underwent.

    I happen to believe all of those things (and no small part of science, and certainly education about science) serve social ends.

    To divorce my spirituality from religion (which I did some time ago, for reasons that are related, tangientally, to what we are dicussing) I think religion has to serve social ends, or it is empty of meaning, but a clanging cymbal.

    I happen to think (based on my reading, beliefs, understanding, etc.) that the social ends religion ought to be serving are fundamentally progressive, and even socialist.

    But if we can become clear, at the very least, on exactly where our differences lie, maybe we'll have accomplished something worthwhile; and maybe, at some point in the (not too distant) future, one or the other of us, if not both, will have cause to remember this conversation, and perhaps reevalutate someting in light of it, and so make a better decision in a very difficult time.

    All in all, I don't think that's either unreasonable as grounds for the discussions we've been having, nor an unlikely result.

    #504 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2006, 11:50 PM:

    Individ-ewe-al, I'm aware that there can be a threat involved; it depends on context.

    A man walks into a store and tells the owner "Nice business you have here. It would be a real shame if it burned down. Fires happen, you know." Is that a threat?

    Consider the following cases:

    1. He works for the mob. Obviously a threat.

    2. He's the city Fire Inspector, and in the next paragraph he warns the owner about storing empty cardboard boxes, rags, etc. Obviously not a threat (of arson, at least; maybe to fine him if he doesn't clean up).

    3. He's a saleman for Joe's Fire Extinguishers.

    #505 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 12:18 AM:

    David Neiwert (I think I spelled that correctly) at Orcinus has an interesting post about the recent dreadful killings in Seattle. He goes on to discuss hate crimes in general, and quotes from someone else who points out that people who commit hate crimes generally believe that they are accurately expressing what the rest of society secretly wants to do but dares not. It follows that one thing which deters more hate crimes is clear generalized social disapproval, loudly expressed.

    If one put what happened to the Dobrich family in the same category as a hate crime, psychologically anyway -- probably not legally -- and if the person quoted above is correct, what should have occurred to deter more such behavior is lots and lots of loud, obvious general social disapproval in all appropriate venues (TV stations, newspapers, pulpits, politicians, etc.) I wonder if it did...? Yes, I know, some time spent googling would probably tell me. Not gonna happen. But I just thought I'd throw it out there.

    #506 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 12:47 AM:

    Xopher said: "[Radical Pantheism is] simply the belief that the Divine (whatever you call it) is identical with the universe (the whole thing), and that because learning to know the diety/dieties is a spiritual activity, any act of honest scientific exploration can be a spiritual act, if the person doing it chooses so."

    As well as a whole heap of other stuff I agree with.

    I'd argue that arguing about whether or not the gods exist is largely futile. We're not going to find out the answer to that one in any realistic sense. If some people need to create a big beard in the sky to explain why they're complying with social rules, fine. If others don't, also fine. Maybe the noise of the Big Bang will eventually be decoded, and will come out to something like "let there be light" or similar. Maybe it won't. The rent still needs to be paid, you still need to eat, and the parking inspectors are still going to be there with the tickets, either way.

    However, there is a role for gods in human society - they're part of the glue we use to bind together our cultural "Make A Human Being" kits. They provide a shorthand answer for big questions like "why is killing other people wrong?" or "Why do we do things differently to those other people?", or even "why does the parking inspector put tickets on the car when we park there?" - it's a lot easier to just say "Because the gods said so" than it is to sit down and work through the whole question from scratch. Since time for thinking is one of those things that people have always been short of (for reasons which have altered down through history, but which can tend to be summed up as "surviving") it's been easier down through the millennia to just resort to the shorthand.

    What we appear to be seeing in these latest generations is the latest in a line of cultures which have decided to try and decipher the cultural shorthands they use, and figure out what we *mean* when we say a word like "god" or "society", or even "culture". Once we get those easy ones sorted out, we can move on to the really tough stuff, like "parking ticket".

    Greg London said: "As for God and the various natural processes which we thought were controlled by her, but turns out science shows she doesn't: Yeah, science figures out causes. And if the thing can be understood without invoking God, then that means God didn't "lose" control of making rain, we erroneously assigned cause to God when meteorology explains it."

    Or alternatively, we use meteorology to explain how the gods make it rain. Which is another way of looking at it. Doesn't mean the prayers for rain are anything more or less than what they were (an expression of hope that cause and effect will be violated for one particular person/area) and it doesn't make the people who said "the gods make it rain" any more wrong than the people who say "it's a meteorological phenomenon which can be explained thusly".

    #507 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 01:06 AM:

    Xopher, what is this concept of "prerequisite for being worthy of worship"? Choosing to worship is an individual decision, and any prerequisites thereof are based on that individual. There being a lot of individuals, I think it's close to meaningless to assert either that somebody worships something with Property X or not everybody worships something with Property X.

    #508 ::: Dan S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 01:47 AM:

    I wouldn't call it a hate crime, but it shares with hate crimes the very thing that's generally seen as making them hate crimes - that is, being an act that is intended/serves to intimidate a community/group/etc. For example, we can read the social message of cross-burning clearly enough to know that it isn't simply a combination of trespassing and arson utilizing religious symbols. (And of course, this is really a dual message, directed in two ways - both at the group being terrorized (which is, in the broadest sense, what hate crimes are) and at the wider/ dominant society, to whom it says that this really is proper, correct, etc. behavior. How people should be acting, and as mentioned, how they really want to be acting - but needing someone to act in their stead .

    Definitely lots of social disapproval, but I don't know if generalized disapproval would work with the folks from Delaware who don't see anything wrong with what they did. - Although I do think it would have a general deterrent effect, being a clear statement that this sort of thing just isn't socially acceptable. After all, mechanisms to ensure social conformity can work, to a degree, both ways.

    With these guys, though - for starters, they might well have the increasingly common conviction that Christians are being harshly persecuted. On top of that, though - I'm trying to dig it up, but on a comment thread somewhere - maybe in scienceblogs - there was a very interesting discussion of Southern Delaware in a social and historical context. As DaveL pointed out fairly early in the thread, the NY Times brings up both a recent influx of Hispanic immigration and recent beachfront development, while this expanded on a longer-term and ongoing history of mixed feelings and resentment towards at least relatively privileged and more cosmopolitan populations which came to vacation and build summer homes and etc. (The 'our wallets need you, but we don't want you'' dynamic).

    Like people have pointed out, I'd guess the folks who really need to try to waken some feelings of shame in these numbskulls are members of their community, either in the limited or broader sense.

    ________

    I'm staring at Graydon's post with my eyes doing that slightly creepy pupils-turning-into-hearts cartoon effect; two vague connections:

    The discussion of scientific understanding
    "What it cannot do is tell you much about an individual anything. A rock gets is meaning from the bedding plane and thickness and the other layers of rock associated with its horizon"
    strikes me as somewhat akin akin to C. Wright Mills' idea of the sociological imagination:
    " . . . describing the ability to connect seemingly impersonal and remote historical forces to the most basic incidents of an individual’s life. It suggests that people look at their own personal problems as social issues and, in general, try to connect their own individual experiences with the workings of society. . . .Mills maintained that people are trapped because ‘their visions and their powers are limited to the close-up scenes of job, family [and] neighbourhood’1, and are not able to fully understand the greater sociological patterns related to their private troubles."

    The submission/cooperation divide reminds me of good ol' Lakoff's stuff re nurturant parent/strict father models . . . I'd tend to think that the submission framework of group action may be particularly well adopted to environments that are predictably challenging, high-risk , and resource poor (among other things), as opposed to the cooperation one, which may be better suited for unpredictably challenging ones . . . but of course, right or wrong, this is very much a cooperation mindset - "risk amelioration through diversity"

    Being me, I want to wave that around as a slogan. Granted, I'm also waiting for the chance to call someone a "weak-loined ambush predator."

    ________
    "Lumper."
    Who knew that lumpers could cause so much harm . . . ?

    #509 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 01:48 AM:

    Seth,

    I knew one fire inspector from whom I would've taken that as a threat--actually, a request for a bribe, but still.

    #510 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 01:53 AM:

    maybe non-thing-based spirituality is just never going to make sense to me.

    I recall a scene in a story where two characters are having a discussion about experiences versus material observations and one was having quite a hard time trying to convey the idea of experience to the other. Then she asked a simple question.

    Can you wiggle your ears?
    Yes.
    Good. Now, can you explain to me how you do it so I can repeat it myself?

    I think we're in that realm where Satori cannot be explained, and it is impossible to give directions as to how to get there. It really is something you have to figure out for yourself. And however you wiggle your ears, that's just how you do it.


    #511 ::: Dan S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 02:00 AM:

    Incommensurable paradigms . . .

    #512 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 02:08 AM:

    The reason so many on the Christian right feel that science threatens their beliefs is because it does.

    Sigh. I really wish you'd correct this misuse of language and attribute cause where it belongs. Science does not threaten the Christian right's beliefs.

    Some christians may feel threatened by science, but science doesn't threaten religion.

    Now, if someone has a religious belief about some material process, such as how it rains or why a hurricane hit a particular area of coastland, then yes, that particular belief may be something which science says it has a natural explanation for.

    But I would assert that most of those on the christian right do not have religious beliefs about material processes. The one main counter example is creationism versus evolution. But most other religous beliefs are about value judgements, not physical processes.

    Christian right pro-lifers have a religious belief about when a "soul" enters an embryo, and therefore have a moral judgement about abortion. But they don't have a religious belief about a physical process. Ensoulment is a purely religious phenomenon. And science says nothing about when that might occur.

    Christian right folks also have religious beliefs about sex which has nothing to do with the cause and effect of the physical process of sex, but everything to do with a moral judgemetn they've attached to having sex that says it's bad. Science says nothing about the morality of sex.

    Other than creationism, every christian right religious belief I can think of is a value judgement attached to something, and science makes no value judgements on something, it only explains the causes and effects of a process.

    The only exception to this that I know of is creationism, which is a religious belief about a physical process, which science proves is incorrect.

    so, for the most part, I think science does not threaten christian religious beliefs other than creationism, because all the other beliefs are value judgements, of which science makes no such judgement.

    #513 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 02:18 AM:

    Stephen Frug: So far as I know it is only available in print. I picked his (so far as I know) most recent collection of essays as casual reading for some 40,000 miles worth of airplane travel.

    He was one of the coiners of the term, and it went over like a lead balloon.

    I'll dig up the book, and see if I can find an online version, elstwise I shall give you the publishing info, and you can buy it/check out from a library.

    #514 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 02:21 AM:

    Graydon summarized thusly:
    So, here we are, anecdotal individuals; how do we make choices about what we believe and who we trust?

    My answer to that is I don't care, so long as their choice comes down to co-operation over submission.

    That way, I can get science and the settled peace and a common universe of discourse in the darkest bits of the Venn Diagram to rule them all.

    No amount of being right will ever save me from not being able to co-operate with neighbour or colleague or the chance-met stranger on the road.

    Applause.

    cooperation is the goal.

    #515 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 03:12 AM:

    Erk. My head hurts now.

    1) What has happened to those people is fucking appalling. And Obama needs a smack.

    That's the important bit.

    2) Steven, you're pretty much summing up Durkheim's Elementary Forms of Religious Life with that view of religion. Functionalistic, Social Evolution, British Social Anthropology.
    Animism, Polytheism, Monotheism, Atheism.

    Which fits, if your mother is/was an anthropologist and you're about the age I remember you to be. Durkheim's fallen from grace, rather, in the intervening years, though. For... reasons the length of this thread would not thank me for going into, but I can dig some stuff up and link it if you like. But basically you have to swallow social evolution to swallow Durkhien whole, plus there's the fact that he was an armchair anthropologist, and most of the data he was relying on is plain wrong. Even before he squished it all into a pyramid shape.

    Anyway. Whether some forms of Christianity and science are on a collision course in the US is none of my meat, but I'm going to stick pretty heavily on 'religion' and science, because saying "religion" is like saying ... "people". WHICH religion?

    (I am not even going to start with who counts as Christian. Cause that's the history of Protestantism right there, that is, that argument. Me I believe this, and that'll do me. There is, I will note, nothing in there that contradicts science, or even competes with it.)

    Anyway, argh. Comparative Religions is also a Social Science, and you're offending its precepts when you say "religion". You must first find a thing called "religion" before you can point to it, and there is no such critter. And if you say "sciences are a threat to religions", well, the sciences are thriving and religiosity is on the rise worldwide, and has been for some time, so I don't know what metric you're using. I'm not saying you have no case, I just want to see you make it. Historically, religions tend to be flexible little buggers, though. They change, they wax and wane, but I don't see "science" killing them off.

    *forces herself to stop there before this is an essay*

    Did I mention, what's happened to that family is an abomination?

    #516 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 06:30 AM:

    Sigh. I really wish you'd correct this misuse of language and attribute cause where it belongs. Science does not threaten the Christian right's beliefs.

    I understand that we disagree, but it is not misuse of language in this case.

    You: Science is no threat to religious belief, Those who think it is are mistaken.

    Me: Science is a threat to religious belief. Those who think it is not are mistaken.


    #517 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 06:33 AM:

    Greg, the claim that science challenges Christian Right views is a pretty specific one, and I think the facts are there for it. It's true that science has nothing to say about how we choose to define the quality of individual human ensoulment. But it does speak to the age of the Earth, the reliability of Biblical history, whether a particular behavior occurs in nature, and a lot more.

    #518 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 07:50 AM:

    To throw my two cents in -- of course the Christian Right is challenged by science. They're a movement to legitimize establishing social hierarchy on the basis of class, gender, and race through disguising xenophobia, racism, and misogyny as moralizing piety, and the stability of their resulting submission-based social structure is heavily dependent on unquestioned counter-factual absolutes.

    Anything -- not just science, anything, such as the traditions of public-sphere journalism -- that supports questioning axiomatic assertion is their enemy, whether it wants to be or not.

    #519 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 08:29 AM:

    Seth asks, Xopher, what is this concept of "prerequisite for being worthy of worship"? Choosing to worship is an individual decision, and any prerequisites thereof are based on that individual. There being a lot of individuals, I think it's close to meaningless to assert either that somebody worships something with Property X or not everybody worships something with Property X.

    My statement was in response to Steven's assertion that it's silly to worship something that isn't conscious. I was speaking out of my own experience. Also, as long as some people (and I know of at least one) don't have consciousness as a prerequisite for worship, that means that globally it is NOT a prerequisite in an absolute sense. I was challenging Steven's assumption that it is.

    #520 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 08:47 AM:

    I am not saying you don't simultaneously embrace religion and science; I am saying you are incorrect to do so.

    Let me paraphrase to make sure I have this right: It is incorrect to believe in both science and God. Is that right?

    Because if it is, you've got a lot of bloody nerve, sir. Who precisely are you to tell people what to believe, again?

    And just to be perfectly clear, that statement has always been just as wrong from the other direction--that one should believe in God but not science--as it is from what I presume to be yours, that one should believe in science but not God. I am not saying you're wrong because you're an atheist; I'm saying you're wrong because you're establishing a false dichotomy.

    I am further saying that this is part of a much larger process that is going to force ideologies to their most extreme positions.

    Why? This is not a snarky question, but if you're going to make statements like that you need to provide support.

    Given that you have, in this thread and in your offline life, many examples of people who are believers in both religion and science, what makes you assume that the two are incompatible? Why is it that the "logical conclusion" of (say) my beliefs can't be that science has its place and God has hers and the two will live happily ever after? Because, you know, that's what's happening for a lot of folks, and refusing to acknowledge it is just as narrow-minded as the belief in the face of all available evidence that God created the world on October 23rd 4004 BC.

    I understand that you believe your ideas sprang from your own mind (aided, no doubt, by whatever study and thought you engaged in in forming your conclusions) and nowhere else, and that you resent the notion that your carefully wrought opinions, attitudes, and beliefs have their precise social origins.

    You know, I'm starting to get insulted here. You have had multiple people tell you in so many words that they are believers in both religion and science and that they see no contradiction between religion and liberal thought. Your sole response appears to be "Well, you were brought up badly and you're going to have to give up religion if you want to keep being rational and liberal."

    Why is the mere belief in God(s) going to corrupt my reason and compassion? Keeping in mind that I'm not even a Christian, let alone a fundamentalist one...

    #521 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 08:47 AM:

    Greg London said:
    Christian right folks also have religious beliefs about sex which has nothing to do with the cause and effect of the physical process of sex, but everything to do with a moral judgemetn they've attached to having sex that says it's bad. Science says nothing about the morality of sex.

    Other than creationism, every christian right religious belief I can think of is a value judgement attached to something, and science makes no value judgements on something, it only explains the causes and effects of a process.

    Bruce Baugh said most of what I was thinking of saying, but I'll add a couple of comments:

    I would argue that a significant number of people in the Religious Right do hold (or have held) religious beliefs about causes. For example, "AIDS is God punishing homosexuals for their sins." Scientific research which reveals the viral cause, which reveals that it can and does spread to women via heterosexual contact, and that it can spread via blood transfusions, challenges this belief. (Insert any number of past and present beliefs about the divine causes of plagues, earthquakes, hurricanes, building collapse, etc.)

    And science can, for example, speak to the efficacy of policies dealing with sexual behavior. If careful research shows that a policy of sex education and supplying contraception reduces the number of teen pregnancies, abortions, and STDs, then that's a challenge to religious arguments that only abstinence and ignorance (i.e., no sex education) can prevent these things.

    #522 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 08:51 AM:

    Margaret Organ-Kean:

    The sidewalk-waterer was standing on the concrete walkway a good two metres away from his house, training his hose on the concrete as the water ran in sheets down the concrete to the kerb. After the city has advised people to please conserve water and power, if they can.

    That this individual was watering concrete was silly and wasteful. That he was doing in the heat of the afternoon during a very hot summer when resources are under a lot of strain was abominable.

    Xopher:
    Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Chips are Acceptable in my eyes. Also in my mouth. But you really should try Ambriel someday. It was a revelation to me.

    Juli Thompson:
    I hereby form an alternate moral system, identical to yours, except for this one point: "Cats are evil, dogs are good."

    Splitter! Heretic!

    ahem

    Sorry about that.

    In the interest of extending the choice space, I am prepared to allow both cats and dogs to be morally neutral, and declare cruelty to either to be an Abomination.

    Marna:
    Yes, what happened to the Dobriches is Abominable, and would not happen in a Just Society.


    #523 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 08:56 AM:

    Because if it is, you've got a lot of bloody nerve, sir. Who precisely are you to tell people what to believe, again?

    Um...someone who believes strongly in his opinion, and simultaneously considers that opinion important enough to argue for in the context of this discussion. Who are you?

    You know, I'm starting to get insulted here.

    Yes, well, I'm starting to get irritated at people who don't bother to read posts, and then repeatedly ask questions that have already been answered. My irritation carries just as much weight as your offense; that is to say, none.

    #524 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 09:14 AM:

    Um...someone who believes strongly in his opinion, and simultaneously considers that opinion important enough to argue for in the context of this discussion. Who are you?

    Someone who sees your opinion as flatly contradictory to her experience and to the experiences of many other people.

    Yes, well, I'm starting to get irritated at people who don't bother to read posts, and then repeatedly ask questions that have already been answered.

    Having gone back and read everything you've posted in this thread so far, I see no answers. I see lots of places where you state that there's a contradiction between reason and religion, but nary a one where you explain why this is necessarily the case.

    Hence, I would greatly appreciate it if you would indicate specifically which posts you think explicate your reasons for this belief, that I might read them again in that light. The closest I'm getting are things about contradictions in society and the idea that a scientific explaination for a given phenomenon precludes a godly one--and since the latter, at least, is quite wrong, that can't be it.

    Feel free to snip the entire relevant content of this post and reply that you've answered already. That seems to be a favorite tactic; who am I to deny it to you?

    #525 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 09:33 AM:

    Interesting... Considering the passion of the thread's exchanges about Religion, I have to wonder how Liberals and/or Democrats got this reputation for being against Religion and Faith. Maybe it's because we're more likely to be inclusive of other faiths (or lack thereof), which of course the Swiftboaters turn into libruls-hate-Xmas.

    #526 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 09:42 AM:

    I understand that we disagree, but it is not misuse of language in this case.

    Yes it is a language problem because you don't use qualifiers to your statement to show there is any limits to which science threatens religion. generally speaking, when a person makes an unqualified statement such as, oh, I don't know, "men can't be feminist", it's an absolute statement that applies to all men, all the time, regarding any piece of what is defined as feminism.

    If you insist on "science threatening religion" style wording, you need to put the word "some" in at least one place. And you need to qualify what category regarding religion.

    "science threatens some religious beliefs". Not all. Some. Because otherwise your statement is taken to mean that a scientist cannot have religious beliefs, and that is simply wrong. I'd also add the "beliefs" bit, because science isn't attacking the idea of religion per se. It would only threaten the religioius beliefs held by people around the causes of physical processes. such as creationism, rain gods, and the like.

    If you insist on using inflammatory, fine. But I'll take that to mean you're more interested in being inflammatory than in the truth. If you're really concerned about the "war" between religion and science, then you'd be interested in being part of the solution, not fanning the flames with misleading and easily misunderstood absolute statements. Science isn't the only cause of that problem. People being insistent on framing the issue a certain way also add fuel to the fire.

    You said in an earlier post: The implication here is that it is a contest of ideas and influence: The Christian Right did a good job on organization and tactics, and got their views accepted. Now the "left" must do a similarly good job on organization and tactics. This implies a struggle of ideas happening in isolation--it is all ideas, and real world events are relegated to the status of examples that can be brought in to support this or that point of view.

    If you want to talk about doing a good job of organization and tactics and win the struggle of ideas, stop saying absolute, unqualified statements about science that aren't true. "Science threatens religion" is a bad tactic and a bad idea that will only inflame the struggle. The only struggle is between (1) science and (2) religious beliefs about physical processes. If you don't want to clarify that, then you are part of the very problem you identified.

    #527 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 09:54 AM:

    Right do hold (or have held) religious beliefs about causes. For example, "AIDS is God punishing homosexuals for their sins."

    That's a moral judgement first and foremost. I think if you asked any Christian right person whether medical research could find a cure for Aids that they would say "no, God makes AIDS and there's no cure for God". I think they believe a god-of-the-shadows at cause, but that the process of AIDS itself is purely chemical.

    Were science to find a cure for AIDS, that wouldn't neccessarily change the Christian right's view that AIDS was God's punishment and homosexuality is wrong.

    Creationism is the only belief I know of where christians are threatened by Science pushing out the god-of-the-shadows himself. There is no moral judgement attached to creationism. Creationism is simply an assertion of god's existence because he caused life on earth. If life on earth is shown to be caused by natural evolutionary processes, then the God of the Shadows is displaced and christian rightists may feel threatened by that.

    But they have no moral judgemetn about creationism. It's simply proof of God's existence. "God exists because life is too complicated to happen naturally." If you take away that proof, you take away some of their evidence of God's existence, and then they're threatened.

    ANd they're threatened because they relate to religion and spirituality as something that is a truth for all people. I've been saying all along that spirituality and religion is a personal truth, a personal experience, and what may be true for one person may not be true for another.

    So, the problem, fundamentally, isn't that science is threatening religion. It's that they have a universal-truth-for-all view of religion, and when science shows something isn't true for scientists, it's no longer true for all, and they're threatened. Science doesn't need to change anythign it's doing. Christian extremists need to reevaluate their view of what religion is.

    Which is again why I have issue with the idea that "Science threatens religion" assigning the cause of the problem in the wrong place.

    #528 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 10:16 AM:

    There's been a lot of back and forth on why the Christian right believes science threatens (their) religion. Having had interminable discussions (even more interminable than this one) with Christian Fundamentalists on this issue, the problem is that they believe in Biblical Inerrancy and (sometimes) Divine Authorship.

    So, if you concede that science is right about the age of the Earth and the Bible is wrong, then you concede the Bible isn't Inerrant. If the Bible isn't Inerrant then there could be problems not just with the "science" parts but also with all those "values" parts Greg London is talking about.

    Most parts of Christianity don't believe in Inerrancy or Divine Authorship, and recognize the symbolic nature of many Biblical stories, so a 4 billion-year-old Earth elicits a /shrug.

    To the Fundamentalists, it's all of a piece, and they are willing to argue ad nauseum about how the Bible doesn't really say that pi equals 3, because everything supports everything else: their belief system is a house of cards.

    This doesn't mean that the average Christian rightist has necessarily internalized the details of this position, but the leaders of the movement have, and consequently told their followers that science is threatening religion.

    Of course (and this is getting too long, alas), science threatens religion in other ways, by causing social change. Vaccination eliminates plague, previously a manifestation of God's wrath; is it then surprising that the anti-vaccination movement is heavily populated by the Christian right (and minorly by the New Age left, but that's a different story)? The inventions of reliable birth control and safe abortion change sexual mores and eliminate the moral conflation of sex=death; is it then surprising that the Christian right latches on to AIDS as a punishment from God, the only sex=death we've still got?

    On a related-but-undigested note, did anyone else notice that Pat Robertson is now a believer in Global Warming?

    #529 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 10:20 AM:

    How much of this distress at the idea that science threatens religion is about people's own beliefs being threatened and how much is about the idea that it's bad politics to say so? I've got a lot of sympathy for the first--it's never easy or pleasant to feel that one's beliefs are being threatened, or even that someone is threatening to threaten them--but the second feels a bit threatening toward me. Not toward what I think, but toward whether I'm welcome as a visible political participant.

    #530 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 10:31 AM:

    Carrie S:Someone who sees your opinion as flatly contradictory to her experience and to the experiences of many other people.

    Indeed. I would even say most other people. I nevertheless hold the opinion. This is not the only minority opinion I hold. I have become used to it.

    My opinion concerns your beliefs. You take your beliefs seriously, and when I say, "You are holding in your mind two contradictory ideas," you quite naturally take it personally.

    But let me lay down some assertions:
    1. Science and idealism (the belief in a non-material world) are contradictory.
    2. It will become vital over the next period to understand, scientifically, everything we can about society in order to have a chance to change it.
    3. This discussion--what were the conditions under which a Jewish family was driven from their home, and what does it mean socially, and what is to be done about it--centers around exactly these issues: a scientific understanding of how society functions, and the objective role of idealist thought in this period.

    Given those assertions (at this moment, I am not attempting to justify them, I merely state that I believe them), how am I to procede? If you are suggesting that I refrain from arguing forcefully for my positions on these critical questions for fear of insulting someone, I must respectfully decline.


    The closest I'm getting are things about contradictions in society and the idea that a scientific explaination for a given phenomenon precludes a godly one--and since the latter, at least, is quite wrong, that can't be it.

    Ahhh...substance. How pleasant. May I request that, next time, you state that you disagree with my reasoning, or even say that I'm a total fucking idiot to believe what I believe, rather than assert that I've never addressed the issue? I thank you. My blood pressure thanks you.

    I believe what I said was not that a scientific explanation precludes one based on the belief in the supernatural, but rather, contradicts it. More precisely, I said that as Man's understanding of nature has grown, the space left for God as shrunk. To Adam (I believe it was) I'll add that I see "God" as an idea, created by Man primarily to explain the unknown, so when I say, "The space for God has shrunk" I mean that Man's understanding of nature has reduced the grey, fuzzy areas that cry out for a supernatural explanation.

    A few people have remarked that we are always learning more, therefore the unknown will always exist. True, but beside the point. The unknown that begs for a supernatural explanation has not grown, nor will it grow. I suddenly have an image of a physicist saying to a colleage, "We have discovered the existence of a new subatomic particle. We know almost nothing about it. It must be God."

    Because of the above historical trend (detailed a bit more in the post stamped August 2, 12:46 PM, and elucidated by others), which I feel will continue and cause "God" to shrink futher, and simultaneously because of my conviction that there is no non material world, and that those who believe in one are, quite simply, wrong, my position is that scientific understanding of nature conflicts with any form of relgious understanding of nature.

    Some of the remarks I've seen on this are interesting: I worship, but it is for me; I don't expect it to influence anything outside of myself. And: God is life, the universe, and everything. And, spirituality deals with personal experience that is unrelated to any real-world phenomana.

    And so there it is: What once was all-powerful, mighty god, or sets of gods, who controlled the course of the stars and planets, now is something that is not even influenced by worship, and cannot be said to actually do, well, anything.

    But with the above forms of spirituality I have no argument. They do not require a belief in a non-material world; they do not suggest that nature is endowed with consciousness; in many cases they boil down to a love of ritual for its own sake. Hell, that's fine. I love ritual. You should see all the rituals I need to go through just to prepare myself to get some work done. But, for most purposes, I do not think this can be called "religion."

    I've strayed from the topic, and I'm not even sure if I've answered your question. Scroll back....

    Okay. You asked for my reasons for believing that there is an inherent conflict between reason and religion. I hope I have answered it. If not, I'll take another swing at it. If something else I said strikes you as either unsupported assertions, or the ideas of a total fucking idiot, I'll attempt to address it.

    #531 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 10:53 AM:

    "Religion: n. 1. The expression of man's belief in and reverence for a superman power--recognized as the creator and governer of the universe. 2. Any particular integrated system of this expression: the Hindu religion. 3. The spiritual or emotional attitude of one who recognizes the existence of a superhuman power or powers. 4. Any objective attended to or pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion: A collector might make a religion of his hobby. 5. Obselete Sacred rites or practices."

    -- American Heritage Dictionary, (c) 1981

    When I refer to "religion" I am using definitions 1-3 above.

    #532 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 11:02 AM:

    Was Odin thought to have created the Germanic conception of the Universe? Maybe he was supposed to have bumped off his predecessor, who may himself have created the universe, or stolen it from his predecessor, who himself... ad nauseam, and yes, it is turtles all the way down.

    #533 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 11:09 AM:

    C: Someone who sees your opinion as flatly contradictory to her experience and to the experiences of many other people.

    S: Indeed. I would even say most other people. I nevertheless hold the opinion.

    Ah, so you're expressing your dogma. Well that does explain some things.

    #534 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 11:17 AM:

    But with the above forms of spirituality I have no argument. They do not require a belief in a non-material world; they do not suggest that nature is endowed with consciousness; in many cases they boil down to a love of ritual for its own sake. Hell, that's fine. I love ritual. You should see all the rituals I need to go through just to prepare myself to get some work done. But, for most purposes, I do not think this can be called "religion."

    Oh, right. Sorry Steven, but that's pure logomachy. Confronted with religions which embrace science, you deny that they are religions.

    And going back to a 1981 dictionary doesn't support your cause in any respect. As far as I know many branches of Buddhism don't believe in any superhuman power that they recognize as the creator and governor of the universe. Your definition excludes Buddhists; it's about as narrow a definition as I've seen aside from the Xian Right, who believe that only their rigid, almost fascist brand of evangelical Xianity (I won't dignify it by spelling out the name of a better religion) is the only thing that counts as "religion."

    I haven't been pissed off at you until now. But now you're trying to exclude me and my co-religionists from the definition of 'religion' because we're counterexamples to a false belief you want to hold onto (can you say 'evangelical atheism'?). That's BULLSHIT, Steven. And justifying it with an out-of-date dictionary doesn't strengthen your case any.

    Please apply more scientific principles. Your hypothesis, fond as you are of it, has been disproved. Modify your hypothesis, not the data. You're being UNSCIENTIFIC and it's really beneath you.

    #535 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 11:19 AM:

    Ah, so you're expressing your dogma. Well that does explain some things

    I can only say: wow. Some here accept the existence of a being or beings with super-human powers; these people have beliefs. But because I hold that this belief contradicts the discoveries of science, I have a "dogma."

    I can only say: wow.

    #536 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 11:21 AM:

    Oh, bother. You can tell when I'm mad: I don't proofread well enough. Take out one of the two "only" phrases in my third paragraph.

    #537 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 11:24 AM:

    Dogma? He's giving a reasoned account of why he disagrees with people about the existence of their imaginary friends.

    Perhaps I'm not one to cast stones on this, as just the other day I commended my daughter for buckling in her imaginary friend in the the shopping cart, but I expect her to grow out of believing her friend exists (though I hope not the buckle up part).

    People like stories to explain what they don't know. God, in all the varieties, is a good one--it's lasted a long time, hasn't it?

    But it's just a story, and I think there are better ones to tell than:

    Jesus is big
    Jesus is strong
    Jesus'll kill you if you don't get along

    Jesus can swing
    Jesus has skills
    Go on and try him if you don't believe he will

    #538 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 11:32 AM:

    My opinion concerns your beliefs. You take your beliefs seriously, and when I say, "You are holding in your mind two contradictory ideas," you quite naturally take it personally.

    I take it personally because I keep saying, "No, it's not contradictory for me," and you keep telling me I'm deluded. I do get peeved when people refuse to take me seriously--it's a consequence of the way my mother treats me, I fear.

    1. Science and idealism (the belief in a non-material world) are contradictory.

    What part of "No, they aren't" is confusing you?

    I'm going to try it again, because it seems to have fallen into the depths the first time.

    I believe quite firmly that the sun is a large ball of plasma, 98 million miles from the Earth, which generates energy by means of fusion. I believe just as firmly that the sun is the God, who is reborn every year and ensures that life will continue by coupling with the Goddess. The one is irrelevant to the other; they don't exist in the same sphere. They don't need to exist in the same sphere. The ball of plasma is irrelevant to the God; the God is irrelevant to discussions of solar flares. Yes, it requires switching contexts from time to time, but that's sufficiently little effort that I'm willing to do it.

    I realize you don't agree with me, but does that explain why I find it insulting to be told I can't be both religious and rational? You're telling me, in essence, that I'm too inflexible to do the context-switching when required--that I'm necessarily going to bring the Oak King and the Holly King to every discussion of UV radiation.

    2. It will become vital over the next period to understand, scientifically, everything we can about society in order to have a chance to change it.

    I disagree with this premise, but as it's tangential I'm not going to get into it; all I can say is that being able to precisely calculate on paper the effects of water temperature, solid-liquid interaction, wind direction and inertia does not make one a good surfer.

    3. [This thread] centers around exactly these issues: a scientific understanding of how society functions, and the objective role of idealist thought in this period.

    It does? I thought it centered on the fact that some people in Delaware are schmucks and that the behavior they exhibited should not be tolerated no matter what motivates it. I assure you we'd be just as ticked if it had been a family that eats meat being driven out by a town full of vegetarians.

    If you are suggesting that I refrain from arguing forcefully for my positions on these critical questions for fear of insulting someone, I must respectfully decline.

    Actually, I am suggesting that you refrain from telling someone that what they believe is necessarily delusion because it's incompatible with what you believe. You tell me that I'm going to have to choose between science and religion; I say that I have to know in what context, because depending on the context I have chosen: whatever's right for the discussion at the time. If you can't do that context-switch (and I find it hard to believe you can't, since you're an author), that doesn't change the fact that I can and regularly do.

    I believe what I said was not that a scientific explanation precludes one based on the belief in the supernatural, but rather, contradicts it.

    And I say that that doesn't matter. Yes, the sun as ball of plasma contradicts the sun as chariot of Apollo. So? It's the rare conversation indeed in which both are relevant. I can imagine such contexts ("Oh Apollo, mitigate thine ultraviolet rays, for we thy children are sunburnt...") but I don't run across them too often.

    ...[W]hen I say, "The space for God has shrunk" I mean that Man's understanding of nature has reduced the grey, fuzzy areas that cry out for a supernatural explanation.

    And see, that's where the problem is. I don't believe in the supernatural so I can eff the ineffable; I believe in it because it's there for me. Science doesn't stop it being there. To use someone else's example, knowing how a rainbow is formed doesn't make it any less of a delight to see one. Knowing the properties of ectoplasm wouldn't make ghosts any less scary; knowing why mushrooms grow in rings doesn't make the sight of such a ring any less numinous (which is not the right word, but it's the closest I can get). I don't have to pick. If you do, that's fine, but I'd be quite obliged if you'd stop assuming we all share that requirement.

    Because of the above historical trend...which I feel will continue and cause "God" to shrink futher, and simultaneously because of my conviction that there is no non material world, and that those who believe in one are, quite simply, wrong, my position is that scientific understanding of nature conflicts with any form of relgious understanding of nature.

    And if you were right that you can't have both at the same time, you'd be correct in your reasoning.

    Okay. You asked for my reasons for believing that there is an inherent conflict between reason and religion. I hope I have answered it. If not, I'll take another swing at it.

    Well, you've answered it based on a premise I think is incorrect, and I suspect that's the best we're going to get. :)

    #539 ::: Scott Harris ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 11:33 AM:

    Very interesting thread. Before I chime in about the whole science vs. religion thing, let me stipulate to two things from the original post: 1) The Dobrich case is an utterly awful and ridiculous situation. The school district in question deserves to have all kinds of shame and ridicule heaped upon it, as well as judicial relief and monetary damages. 2) Having read the entire text of Obama's speech and his follow-up blog interview, I am not convinced that his intent was to give aid and comfort to the (radical right-wing theist) enemy, even if sound bites from it can be used in that manner. Given his personal faith, I suspect that this has less to do with pandering to the Republican base, and more with almost naively expecting to be able to have a reasoned and nuanced national discussion on the topic, which may doom him to be the Adlai Stevenson of our generation. Of course, it would be great if he'd directly address the Delaware situation, as really lots of different people should.

    That said, it seems to me that some people in this thread, particularly Steven and Carrie, are talking past each other to a degree. I don't know if my formulation on the 'battle' between science and religion will make any more sense to either of you, but I'll make an attempt. First I'll summarize the arguments thus far.

    Steven avers that there is an essential conflict between religion and liberalism. His reasons for this appear to be

    proposition 1) that there is an essential conflict between science and religion, and

    proposition 2) that the continuing study of science will promote liberal social thought, so that

    conclusion 1) holding on to religious or at least theistic thought will hamper the advance of liberal thought and people holding both types of view will eventually have to choose between them.

    Carrie contends that since she and many people she knows seem to have no problem holding scientific, religious, and liberal thoughts at the same time, this seems like nonsense.

    Steven's response to this is that she and her acquaintances must therefore be experiencing cognitive dissonance, whether they know it or not, since the scientific (liberal) and religious viewpoints are inherently logically opposed, and this will become more and more apparent as a growing social crisis highlights and polarizes such differences in ideology.

    Steven's primary reason for saying that science and religion are in conflict is basically the idea of the God of the Gaps. As science provides naturalistic (i.e., not requiring the intervention of any conscious or divine force) explanations for ever more phenomena, the 'space' remaining for God to have any influence is ever shrinking, and therefore any theistic religion is irreducibly under threat from science.

    Carrie contends that she sees natural phenomena as *both* the result of natural laws amenable to scientific explanation *and* the direct actions of what she thinks of as (quite a pantheistic, immanent, all-encompassing) God.

    I'm going to say right off the bat that Steven's arguments are flawed, but that Carrie has not squarely hit on those flaws. However, Steven's arguments are only flawed when one attempts to apply them to *all* religious people; they are perfectly valid for a certain subset, some of whose actions resulted in the original post.

    It goes back to Gould's idea of non-overlapping magisteria. It's a nice idea, but falls down when you look at how many religions do in fact place extreme importance on their explanations of natural phenomena, most especially when they insist on a literal rather than an allegorical interpretation of their holy books.

    So, in other words, science and religion need not be in conflict, but when they are it's most often religion picking the fight. This is true even if religion sees it as defending turf it's always handled, since Steven is correct to note that many (not all) religions have historically placed importance on the how and why of the natural world as well as on moral and spiritual concerns.

    'Attacks' from the other side, e.g., scientific theorists such as Dawkins claiming that science proves all religions are bunk, are much less common. I would also contend that they stem from a misunderstanding of science and what subjects it can address.

    What I want to say is that Gould's magisteria do in fact frequently overlap, but that it is always a case of religion treading in the realm of natural phenomena. Science functionally *cannot* likewise invade religion's magisterium of moral and spiritual values, or it ceases to be science.

    I say this because science by its very nature is descriptive, not normative. Regardless of what observation and experiment can show us about *how* the world works, they can never tell us if it *should* work that way, nor what the right thing to about it might be. This is the point at which pathological memes like social Darwinism fall down; even if 'survival of the fittest' were a good formulation of how natural selection works (it really isn't), *that in no way implies* that we should consciously make rules for our society that follow the same principle.

    I'll go further - this applies even to the social sciences, including psychology. We can have theories of moral development, without ever demonstrating that one of Kohlberg's stages or one set of values is better to hold than any other. We could have theories of cultural development that explain which patterns will result in a society's decline and fall, without being able to say that one society is better than another or that certain patterns are wrong. We could have solid economic theories about the distribution and growth of wealth, but such theories would never in themselves tell us whether it was *better* to redistribute that wealth or let it be concentrated in the hands of a few.

    All such value judgements require a set of values to first be defined, which is the province of philosophy or religion, not science. Certainly, social science might eventually tell us exactly how our society should work in order to grow, prosper, and maximize the happiness of all - but it would not be science that told us to seek such utilitarian ends, only the means to get there.

    *Even if* neuroscience eventually facilitates the creation of a good account of utility by determining what experiences actually make people most happy and satisfied through direct observation of brain states, the decision to try to apply that knowledge as Bentham would advise is a value judgement, opaque to the process of observation and hypothesis. Science could tell us, "If you want everybody to be happy, you should do such and such", but never "You should want everybody to be happy". The same with aesthetics; we could come up with a good neurological account of why people find certain images or music to be beautiful, but never replace an individual's actual reaction as the true arbiter of aesthetic experience. De gustibus est non disputandam - if you just don't like chocolate ice cream or the Mona Lisa, no scientific theory can prove you wrong and say that you do; only that the majority disagrees with you.

    Since science *cannot* properly invade the philosophical/religious magisterium of the moral and spiritual, the question then remains whether religion *necessarily* seeks to invade science's magisterium of explanations of the observable world. I think the evidence is clear that many religions do this, but not all, and even ones that have done so in the past are frequently capable of adjusting themselves so that they are not left with a mere God of the Gaps. If you consider Buddhism to be a religion, originally it was not concerned with explanations, at least not of anything except certain subjective states. Even more theistic religions have certainly adapted themselves to match Gould's non-overlapping formulation in many cases. Yes, there are the fundamentalists and the literalists, but even so I think Steven's conflict between science and religion becomes a some but not all proposition.

    There are a couple of other flaws in the argument that I will point out at less length.

    That the study of science will necessarily promote liberal views in society seems to assume facts not in evidence. Certainly, there are social scientists who seem to derive more or less conservative rather than liberal views from their observations. As a dyed-in-the-wool liberal myself, I tend to think they're misguided or just plain wrong, but I also think the social sciences are still in their infancy in many ways, certainly too undeveloped to determine where their conclusions will fall on the right-left spectrum. Note too that any policies to be developed from those conclusions will depend on the ends we decide to seek as much as on the means suggested by scientific theories.

    Steven also seems to assume that religious thinking will eventually be incompatible with liberal thinking, in and of itself. This seems strange; I don't see an argument that says, *even if* being religious meant rejecting any kind of scientific world view, that a particular religion could not promote liberal values for its own reasons.

    In fact, I see strong evidence that *some* religions and denominations in the real world promote tolerance, social justice, peace, and other liberal values as core memes. They just don't do it for any scientific reasons. That being the case, I fail to see why even a major schism between science and *all* religions (which I don't see happening anyway) would necessarily result in those groups changing their tunes about liberalism versus conservatism. Quakers, for example, are probably going to continue to believe in peaceful resolution of conflicts and doing right by everyone, regardless of what they think of evolution or the Big Bang.

    Finally, even if Steven were right in saying that there were essential logical contradictions between scientific thought and *all* religious thought (which neither Carrie nor I concedes), it does not follow that people will eventually have to choose between them. In this case, we actually have some rather good, scientific evidence on the topic.

    Studies on cognitive dissonance have shown that people, by and large, are capable of holding *clearly* contradictory thoughts rather easily and for long periods of time, as long as they are not constantly and immediately confronted with those contradictions (in which case some people get more uncomfortable than others). If people can find *any* kind of explanation or rationalization for the source of such dissonance, whether it be Carrie's analogy of wave/particle duality or Gould's non-overlapping magisteria, then cognitive dissonance generally doesn't bother them at all.

    So, I predict that while it is possible that more people will be moved to seek such explanations/rationalizations in the future, it is unlikely that many will abandon one or the other set of beliefs. Certainly it will not become *necessary* for everyone to jump to one side or the other of an imaginary science/religion line.

    And now I should jump to the other side of the working/not working line...

    #540 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 11:34 AM:

    adamsj, I don't buy the 'dogma' line either, but your daughter could grow out of believing in her imaginary friend...or out of the ability to perceive the spirit-being who has befriended her! (Who, incidentally, doesn't need to be buckled in, but is helping your daughter remember that SHE does.)

    Won't you feel silly if science develops a scanner that can detect such beings, or a device that allows us to use child-mind to perceive them, and they prove to be real, and benevolent?

    Actually, you shouldn't: you're applying the best data you have and drawing a very reasonable conclusion, and that's not wrong to DO even if the conclusion itself proves not to match data subsequently collected. It wasn't unreasonable to believe in Newtonian physics for a really long time, and no one who did should have been ashamed when that time ended.

    As for me, I won't feel silly either way. I believe as you do, really. But like a good Radical Pantheist Doubter, I'm open to being wrong. Like every good scientist.

    #541 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 11:43 AM:

    Scott: Thank you, you said all that much better than I did. :)

    However, the particle/wave thing was Xopher, not me.

    #542 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 11:45 AM:

    Carrie S., I think the main problem is that Steven has an underlying belief, common in our culture, that one has to have the same beliefs all the time, and that religious beliefs are factual rather than operational in nature.

    We (you and I) have more beliefs of both kinds. My own religious beliefs are chiefly operational (ought-to-dos as opposed to how-things-ares). And when I cast a circle, I change my beliefs. Outside circle the gods are anthropomorphic metaphorical constructs we humans use to bring the great forces into comprehensibility; inside circle they're people (in the very strongest sense) who I can talk to, who are present but invisible when I call them, and some of whom are my personal friends.

    People who haven't mastered the art of changing consciousness at will don't usually understand it. And people whose birth religion professes to be history and modern fact, and to be true in the same sense that 'Mount Everest exists' is true, tend to keep their rigidity even when they change their beliefs.

    I'm thinking not so much of Steven, whose religious background, if any, I don't know, but of guys like my dad, who was a rabid Baptist and converted to an equally rabid atheism. He's mellowed out some now.

    #543 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 11:49 AM:

    Oh, right. Sorry Steven, but that's pure logomachy. Confronted with religions which embrace science, you deny that they are religions.

    (Pause while I look up "logomachy" so I can prentend I knew what it meant all along)

    (Er...it isn't in my dictionary; I'm going to have to fake it)

    Confronted with religions that do not require the belief in the supernatural or a non-material world, I deny they are religions. This is wrong...why?

    ((Later: Okay, I can see why you believe it is limited))

    And going back to a 1981 dictionary doesn't support your cause in any respect

    Has the definition changed so much so fast? Interesting. What was it I said about God shrinking?

    Please take a deep breath and count to ten, then swear at me and burn my books. Okay? Let's go on.


    I am sorry if my dictionary was not written according to your wishes. My only other dictionary is an OED, that is even older, so I doubt it will help.

    How about this as a proposal: Read everything I have written on the subject of religion in this thread, applying the definition of religion I cited above. That is the only definition of religion I know, and it is exactly the one I was using. My total knowledge of Buddhism is the miniscule amount one can glean about Zen from a few years of Japanese karate; I don't think this qualifies me to speak intelligently on the subject.

    If you want, for the purposes of this discussion, you can find another word that fits with the definition of "religion" I cited above, and, if I can stomach it, I'll use it instead.

    But I'm sorry. Everything I have said about "religion" is about "religion" according to the only meaning of the word I know--which I cited.

    *later, before posting* Okay, that isn't fair...I AM going to look it up in the OED; volume VIII, POI to Ry.

    Good grief. Columns of it...

    Starts with: 1. A state of life bound with monastic vows. 2. A particular monastic or religious order or rule. 3. Action or conduct indicating a belief in, reverence for, and desire to please, a divine ruling power. 4. A particular system of faith and worship 5. Recognition on the part of man of some higher unseen power as having control of his destiny, and as being entitled to obedience, reverence, and worship; the general mental and moral attitude resulting from this belief (that may be what you're after) with reference to its effect on the individual or the community; personal or general acceptance of this feeling as a standard of spiritual and practical life (that better?) 6. A devotion to some principle; strict fidelity or faithfulness;conscientousness; pios affecton or attachment... (that should be good for you as well)

    Okay, it goes on. But that should leave you feeling better.

    Now...when I speak of "religion" I refer to definitions 3 and 4 and the first part of 5 above.

    I say this not to wiggle out of anything, but to clairify my stand, that there be no confusion.

    All right?


    #544 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 11:52 AM:

    Anecdote:

    My 8th-grade science teacher refused to teach us the theory of evolution, because it "goes against what it says in the Bible." But I don't recall him saying that science denies the existence of God. I don't think he would have become a science teacher if he believed that.

    #545 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 11:57 AM:

    I read Obama's speech, which seemed like pretty generic preaching to the choir that I'd expect from any politician. I think it's exactly as fair to juxtapose the story of the thugs hassling some Jewish kid in Delaware with that speech as to juxtapose the story of some Jihadis torturing captured American soldiers with a politician's speech trying to find common ground between mainstream America and Muslims. Yep, you can exerpt stuff from that speech that can be twisted to somehow support the horrible story you're telling. But it's clear to everyone that Obama and nearly all of his audience would be horrified at that story.

    #546 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 11:58 AM:

    Pause while I look up "logomachy" so I can prentend I knew what it meant all along

    logos: Greek, "words, speech, discourse"
    -machy: Greek suffix, "battle, war, contest"

    Hence, "fighting over words".

    It's also possible Xopher misspelled "logomancy", which would mean "magic with words", but I could just be projecting that because I thought at first that's what he'd written. :)

    #547 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 12:04 PM:

    Serge wrote:

    Interesting... Considering the passion of the thread's exchanges about Religion, I have to wonder how Liberals and/or Democrats got this reputation for being against Religion and Faith. Maybe it's because we're more likely to be inclusive of other faiths (or lack thereof), which of course the Swiftboaters turn into libruls-hate-Xmas.

    Exactly. Precisely. Too many people (and that includes atheists as well) equate faith/religion with lack of inclusiveness/tolerance. We don't participate in the Five Minute Hate, so we are insufficiently religious, which means we ain't Christians.

    Shrug. Try telling that to most of the members of my predominantly-liberal parish, many of whom started abstaining from Communion during 2004 when the yayhoos tried to administer the litmus test, until our parish priest went out there and told us he was in no fricking way about to support any litmus test about abortion/homosexuality. One of my fellow liturgical ministers, who knew many of these people, told me that these were cradle Catholics of *all* ages.

    adamsj wrote:
    How much of this distress at the idea that science threatens religion is about people's own beliefs being threatened and how much is about the idea that it's bad politics to say so? I've got a lot of sympathy for the first--it's never easy or pleasant to feel that one's beliefs are being threatened, or even that someone is threatening to threaten them--but the second feels a bit threatening toward me. Not toward what I think, but toward whether I'm welcome as a visible political participant.

    If anyone's beliefs are being threatened in this discussion, it's becoming apparent to me that it's the atheist side of things that seems to feel threatened. For me, I'm just sick and tired of the atheist assumption that of course a rational person would accept the dogma that they do, and if I insist on continuing to be a person of faith, then I'm not a liberal and a tolerant person and I'm really just like those Christian Right sorts.

    You know, it's hard enough for us Christian Left sorts to take the fight to these Christian Right sorts if we have to continually play this belief game with those who are otherwise aligned with us politically. Now if this is the dichotomy that Steven is talking about (I know it's not), then at some point, it will come to the point where those of us who make up the liberal, Christian Left are going to turn to those nonbelievers who keep on saying we can't be liberal and Christian and say:

    "What is more important to you? The fact that we share this fundamental ideology about what society is, what society should do, and what constitutes acceptable political behavior, or the fact that we believe and you don't?"

    Because if the answer is the latter, then you need to get out of our way and let us deal with these folks. Another reason the Christian Left has been so ineffective is that we end up having to fight both our fellow religionists AND our fellow political compatriots who are so scared of our fellow religionists that they feel they've gotta stuff us all in the same box. Stop knifing us in the back, dang it, you don't think the Right isn't profiting from this behavior?

    Steven wrote:

    1. Science and idealism (the belief in a non-material world) are contradictory.

    Then how can you hold any sort of belief system about politics and which set of belief systems is more correct than the other? Are you going to then argue in favor of economic rationalism as the driving factor in human society? Which set of assumptions (which are, after all, a form of idealism and belief) are you going to decide is the correct set?

    2. It will become vital over the next period to understand, scientifically, everything we can about society in order to have a chance to change it.

    And what set of values will you apply? Economic rationalism a la Libertarianism? Marxism? Social science is a squishy science, Steven. I say this as a former political scientist and as someone who's gotten a Master's in an applied social science realm (one way to look at special ed, I guess). Where will you get your underlying presuppositions, if not from a basic idealism that defines how the world works from your perspective?

    3. This discussion--what were the conditions under which a Jewish family was driven from their home, and what does it mean socially, and what is to be done about it--centers around exactly these issues: a scientific understanding of how society functions, and the objective role of idealist thought in this period.

    Wrong. It does not. Depending upon your presuppositions, this discussion leads to either of two conclusions--the behavior was right or the behavior was wrong.

    I don't feel driven to do a scientific analysis of a behavior that I know full well was wrong, was abusive, and is a blatant example of what the Founders of our country worried about in the Federalist Papers--the tyranny of the majority. By the official contract which is supposed to guide our daily lives in this country--the Constitution of the United States--the rights of these people were violated. Period. It needs no rationalist examination, it needs no scientific understanding of how society functions (because such understanding can cut either way), and it needs no consideration of the "objective role of idealist thought in this period."

    You see, Steven, I'm an idealist. My idealism extends not just to my religious faith, but to a strong regard for the principles embodied in the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence. and what they stand for. Those principles are not necessarily quantifiable, and they don't necessarily fit all the tests which make social science research replicable and verifiable.

    What happened to the Dobriches was wrong. It was wrong by the basic principles set down in the Old and New Testaments that those alleged Christians are supposed to support. It was wrong by the basic principle set down in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. It was wrong, wrong, wrong.

    Now if you want to keep on stumbling over the ideals set we share--a set of beliefs about what the United States stands for--and saying nyah, nyah, nyah, because you believe in God you'll make the same choice as those yayhoos eventually, then all I have to say to you is get the heck out of my way, and stop interfering. You're a gadfly and a distraction, and all you do is contribute to the victory of these sorts.

    On the other hand, if you want to agree to disagree about religious faith, and stand with me in opposing this wrong behavior, then you're more than welcome to do so.

    #548 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 12:06 PM:

    Xopher: Yeah, I think that's exactly the problem. Heck, it was even a problem for me till fairly recently. Not in the sense that I didn't have the different beliefs, but in that I felt like I ought not to. And then I realized that the context-switch happened pretty much unconsciously whenever required, and I was fine. :)

    inside circle they're people (in the very strongest sense) who I can talk to, who are present but invisible when I call them, and some of whom are my personal friends.

    I wish I could say that. I also wish I knew any local pagans who weren't convinced Silver RavenWolf was the be-all and end-all of pagan thought. And that I had a Siamese cat and a million dollars. (Hey, while I'm wishing I might as well go whole hog, right?)

    #549 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 12:10 PM:

    Steven, I don't know where I got the word 'logomachy'. I use it to mean "manipulating the terms in which an argument is conducted in order to make it more difficult for the opposing side to establish, or even express, their points."

    I see that you didn't actually mean to do that. But why are you excluding all the other definitions in the OED? But OK, all the stuff about "all religions" is called into question if you only meant the faith-based Abrahamic ones, which admittedly account for the bulk of the world's religious.

    I still don't think you're right, and I think that you fall into error through not realizing that a) people really can change beliefs according to context, and b) people really don't CARE that much about the how-things-are beliefs of their religions. Only a few crackpots do. Mostly they care about the ought-to-do beliefs. Not that people haven't killed each other over those, and I'm not just talking about the big stuff like burning the dead, but things like whether you cross yourself with two fingers or three.

    That kind of shit we've had enough of. But no matter what science does or doesn't do, I expect the Society of Friends to keep on doing good work, and liberals to work alongside them, with no sense of conflict whatsoever.

    Upshot:Qualify 'religion' with 'faith-based Abrahamic' and you're still not completely right, but you're further along. Yeah, science is a threat to the beliefs of the Xian right, because they believe that science is against God. Therefore the worst thing science can do to the Xian right is to show that it is NOT against God!

    Go, Science!

    #550 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 12:13 PM:

    Btw, the subtitle of my imaginary book Radical Pantheism is Toward a Reality-Based Spirituality. I mean it to be a religion for people who won't give up one iota of scientific principle and data-based belief.

    #551 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 12:13 PM:

    I'm a big fan of science and rationality, but I don't think it rules out a non-material world. Where is this conversation taking place?

    I'm not alluding to the internet. I mean the shared space inside our heads. When you read a good book and it takes you away, where do you go?

    #552 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 12:14 PM:

    "The sidewalk-waterer was standing on the concrete walkway a good two metres away from his house, training his hose on the concrete as the water ran in sheets down the concrete to the kerb. After the city has advised people to please conserve water and power, if they can.

    That this individual was watering concrete was silly and wasteful. That he was doing in the heat of the afternoon during a very hot summer when resources are under a lot of strain was abominable."

    Oh, my. I can't even begin to fathom that. Maybe he was washing the walkway? That's about all I can think of. It's not any excuse for wasting water (sidewalks are swept, not washed), but it might have been what he thought he was doing.

    #553 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 12:18 PM:

    Carrie S.: Silver RavenWolf, ewwwwww! Gag me with a wand. I just wish she'd Go Away, in every sense. (No, I don't do magic to make her go away, because that would be maleficia.)

    #554 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 12:22 PM:

    I'll have to read your post more carefully, Scott, but one quick nit (about which I was unclear):

    I believe a scientific analysis of society will lead to revolutionary, not liberal views. I believe that liberals, by and large, have attitudes with which I'm sympathetic. Hence the worry for the sustaining of these attitudes.

    #555 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 12:22 PM:

    Oh, and Carrie S...you'll get there. Keep treating them as real, and they will be. Inside circle, where such beliefs belong.

    Have you drawn down? (If that's not too personal a question.) I know the gods became much more personal (i.e. like people) to me once I started doing that.

    About washing the pavement, the only way I can understand that is if there were big smears of dogshit on the sidewalk. If not...jennie should have called the cops.

    #556 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 12:27 PM:
    If anyone's beliefs are being threatened in this discussion, it's becoming apparent to me that it's the atheist side of things that seems to feel threatened.

    Ah, me. Yes, I feel a bit threatened by being a member of a hated minority. I also feel a bit threatened by the amount of religious propaganda in the guise of children's books that my relatives continue giving my three-year-old.

    That's not my beliefs being threatened, of course, but my freedom of thought.

    For me, I'm just sick and tired of the atheist assumption that of course a rational person would accept the dogma that they do, and if I insist on continuing to be a person of faith, then I'm not a liberal and a tolerant person and I'm really just like those Christian Right sorts.

    Two parts to that statement. I certainly don't think all belief in the supernatural is irrational. I'd say most of it is rationally reasoned from bad premises, mostly learned during childhood and reinforced by peer pressure.

    I also don't think--and I'll go further and say that no one in this thread has said that he or she thinks--that religious people and left-wing thought can't go together. Heck, one of the worst human beings (technically human, at least) I know is a militant atheist, a right-winger who believes in every "scientifically-based" racist and sexist claim ever published. He's a real piece of work. I also know lots of religious people who are liberal and beyond, some even to the left of me (which takes some doing).

    What I do think is that belief in supernatural forces is unbased in reality and corrosive to rational thought generally. That doesn't mean that it'll do any particular person any particular amount of damage--some people have stainless steel traps for minds (Augustine comes to mind), while others have those shiny new sodium/lithium alloys. And if rationalism is pure, clean water, then that guy I mentioned above has rust and erosion covering his entire inner skull.

    "What is more important to you? The fact that we share this fundamental ideology about what society is, what society should do, and what constitutes acceptable political behavior, or the fact that we believe and you don't?"

    Because if the answer is the latter, then you need to get out of our way and let us deal with these folks.

    Please, be my guest. Go deal with the right-wing theocrats. Don't let me stop you. Let me hold your coat.

    #557 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 12:32 PM:

    Silver RavenWolf, ewwwwww! Gag me with a wand. I just wish she'd Go Away, in every sense.

    Eh. I think she's OK as a sort of starter kit for teenagers. But insert quote here about putting away childish things. I have yet to meet a pagan in my area who's done that--most of 'em are too busy complaining about the hex some Bad Person cast on them. I'm sure you know the type.

    Have you drawn down? (If that's not too personal a question.) I know the gods became much more personal (i.e. like people) to me once I started doing that.

    I have not. I was with a coven in California that required a rather long ethics/magic class before you could serve as priest(ess), but I left the state before completing the class. Since then it's been hard for me to feel good about ritual; about the time I start chanting I start feeling silly. It's vexing.

    #558 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 12:36 PM:

    Xopher: People who haven't mastered the art of changing consciousness at will don't usually understand it.

    More than that-- I think most people who haven't experienced the state of conciousness that you experience inside the circle have a very hard time imagining the appeal.

    Speaking just for myself: I have no evidence that gods exist. While I suppose I have no solid evidence that they don't exist-- just that, if they do, they've never signalled their existance to me-- I also don't have any problems that I could solve, or make solvable, by assuming the existence of gods, at least not without creating much more vexing problems. I have no motivation to want to believe.

    Being told that if I just mastered the right neurochemical on-switch, I'd be able to see gods is kind of like being told that if I just hit myself over the head with a hammer a few times, I'd be able to see the sense in the Republican party platform. It may well be true, but it doesn't begin to answer the question of why I would want to do such a thing.

    #559 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 12:37 PM:

    Terry Karney: The publishing info of the book it was in would be just great. Thanks!

    - SF

    #560 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 12:38 PM:

    I also don't think--and I'll go further and say that no one in this thread has said that he or she thinks--that religious people and left-wing thought can't go together.

    Steven Brust, 1 August, 7:22 pm: It is my opinon that, as the crisis of society deepens, either their liberal views or their idealist conceptions will have to go.

    Technically, you're correct that he said they can go together. He also says in so many words that they can't stay together.

    #561 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 12:39 PM:

    I think SRW is too light on ethics. But then I think that of Starhawk too. SRW gives spells for hexing your ex-bf and stuff like that. BAD way to start out. Leads to whining about other people hexing you.

    Where do you live now?

    #562 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 12:46 PM:

    We're all struggling in a morass (or some metaphor like that) of differing and often contradictory definitions. Those dealing with "religion" in the 1981 dictionary overlook many of its other aspects that have been under discussion -- the numinous, sensawonda (SFnal, aesthetic or accepting of "miracles"), even some kinds of pantheism -- and as for "god"...! We've discussed that concept as a Him or Her, "the beard", a lawgiver, or a delusion on the one hand, and (on the other) a universal essence, an impersonal force, or a Something that dininishes our importance, etc.

    This leads to a lot of arguing at cross-purposes, as well as some really interesting discussions. (When anyone gets into a snit and gets snarky, I tend to start skimming.)

    Nothing's really either/or, of course. Lizzy, you seem to talk about both the "universal essence" sort of god and the one we've made in our image. It seems more like the latter towards the end of this: If we don't worship God, we worship trees and rocks, we worship other people, we worship money, we worship our possessions, we worship political ideas, we worship the constructs of our own fallen imaginations, some of which we confuse with God... That's why the first commandment is "You shall have no other gods before Me." A lot of those things are indeed lousy objects of worship, but I don't like that commanding "Me" -- shades of the angry Beard, there!

    As someone who's been deeply suspicious of all Organized religions for a long time, I'm heartened by the "leftist/liberal" Christian postings here -- they show how false the "science vs. religion" divide can be, if only for some folks.

    In sum, I guess the thing that really bothers me is impassioned absolutism of all sorts (and no, I don't think that makes me a wretched wimp, heretic or ignoramus, though YMMV!).

    #563 ::: Scott Harris ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 12:51 PM:

    Carrie, Xopher - sorry for misattributing the wavicle analogy, but I thought it was a good shorthand for what Carrie was saying about seeing the world both ways at once.

    Steven - saw your post about defining religion. Hm.

    Okay, let's back up the definition of religion for purposes of discussion to *theistic* religions - those that consider it an important article of faith that there exists one or more real superhuman entities of some description that deserve the name God, Goddess, Gods, etc.

    That still leaves a lot of room for accommodation with the scientific worldview. If you think of God as Creator, there's always the concept of the Prime Mover, setting everything in motion from the beginning, which can't be falsified using observational data, rendering it outside but not contradictory with science.

    Or if you prefer the pantheistic view, 'life, the universe, and everything' can certainly be regarded as a superhuman entity, possibly deserving veneration, and it's not necessarily incoherent to think of it as in some ways conscious by thinking similar to Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis. Another take on this is Tipler's Omega Point version of the Eschaton; there's certainly enough wiggle room within the strangeness of current cosmological and quantum theories to sort of bang your religion and your (admittedly sometimes fuzzy) science together in many different ways.


    I've also known neo-pagans and Wiccans to look at 'belief' in gods and goddesses as a means of accessing higher states of consciousness rather than being so much about the observable material world. Pragmatically, they have always seemed to me to get pretty good results. This can fit the "higher unseen power" definition quite well without contradicting science at all, although the objective study of subjective states is still a rather difficult field for science to tackle well. Heck, after reading Alvin Schwartz's _Unlikely Prophet_, maybe I'll take to creating/worshipping Superman as a tulpa, although probably not.

    The main issue I had with your argument, though, was with the idea of science eventually being used to define our societal values, when I don't think it's really suited for that.

    Now, I don't think religion is the only source of morals and values, by any means - in fact I find the fundamentalist assertion that the only way anybody could possibly know right from wrong is by divine fiat and fear of divine retribution to be rather offensive, frankly.

    We really need to consider philosophy as a separate entity, and perhaps go back to the original definition of science as natural philosophy - which neatly defines science as only dealing with the natural world, whatever that includes. There are then other forms of philosophy that deal with other things, such as aesthetics, morals, metaphysics (although that one has some strange intersections with natural philosophy physics), etc.

    Now as to whether philosophy and religion are necessarily in conflict - I don't think so. However, there are some very good philosophical arguments against certain specific forms of theism. If you rigidly define your God in terms of attributes such as being the Creator, but also being a person, or possessing qualities such as omnipotence (problematic in itself - can He create a rock He can't lift, etc.), omniscience, and omnibenevolence, as some theologies have in the past, I suspect you paint yourself into a corner where said definition can be logically deconstructed. However, many theologians are more savvy than that, and there can be interesting intersections where philosophy and theology agree with each other, or are even one and the same.

    #564 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 12:59 PM:

    1. Science and idealism (the belief in a non-material world) are contradictory.

    Ok, I don't think you're palming a card or anything, but I think you're wrong.

    There's nothing wrong with either of the definitions of religion you used.

    I collect definitions of religion. It's one of those things that gets harder the more you study it.

    I'm fond of this one:

    "A set of beliefs and/or actions to regulate and approach reality, expressed in: (a) doctrine, (b) philosophy, (c) myth, (d) symbol (e) ethic, (f) ritual, (g) matter, (h) experience and (i) social organisation, in some way related to spiritual qualities, phenomena or entities."

    Except for not liking "spiritual" much. Too vague.

    Tillich's is mostly good for writing grant apps: religion is "the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern”. You can fit a lot in there.

    Seriously, I am not being a smartass. This thing which is simple to you is really complex to me, and I'm trying to say that without getting unspeakably long winded.

    But I'm not sure it matters. I'm beginning to think the problem is a lack of definition for 'science'. Because I don't know what you mean by that and it feels like a reification.

    Which I apologise for the ten dollar word, I'm stuck thinking like a social scientist here and I don't know a smaller one: discussing an abstract as if it were concrete. "Society". "The Family". "Religion". Those are reifications.

    My understanding is that "science" is the body of knowledge and techniques for acquiring knowledge that meet the criteria of being testable, falsifiable, repeatable.

    Are we, as King Richard said to Robert De Vere, on the same page?

    Ok, why do I not think that either idealism or religiosity are contradictory to that?

    Because my understanding of science does not rule out the existence of things which it can't approach, or define that as a threat to science, and because religions are not generally primarily, and are never solely, explanatory.

    MAGIC and science, THOSE are incompatible. Mechanistic "make the material world verifiably change on command" magic, I mean, I'm not Pagan-bashing here.

    A religious system, loosely, comprises a cosmology, a description of reality, which to be a religion contains some supernatural aspect (except Shinto. That's a special case.) and an axiology, a statement of what we're supposed, as humans, to DO about it. In most cases, the second one is the most important by far.

    Scientific knowledge can either compete with the first or enhance it. Usually it enhances it. Religious cosmology isn't a Just So Story, unless you're a US Creationist of a certain stripe. (I mean, *I* am a creationist. For values of creationist that are perfectly happy to accept any and all scientific data about HOW, exactly. My creationism is about WHY.)

    It can enhance the second, but it's not very strong competition for it. Secular value systems are, but as of now they're not gaining very much ground.

    Canada Census numbers, 1981-2001

    There's no strong anti-religious trend there, except that Christianity is losing ground. The others are gaining. So is the non-religious category, but not at a rate that accounts for the drop in Christianity.

    #565 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 01:00 PM:

    I think SRW is too light on ethics. But then I think that of Starhawk too.

    Really? Starhawk strikes me as being all over ethics...or maybe I mean morality. Or possibly moralizing. :)

    SRW gives spells for hexing your ex-bf and stuff like that. BAD way to start out. Leads to whining about other people hexing you.

    Yes, it certainly does.

    Where do you live now?

    Pittsburgh, PA, with a faintly-possible relocation to Toronto in the not-too-distant future. That is, if it happens, which is unlikely, it'll happen soon.

    #566 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 01:02 PM:

    I contend that will not be able to do so indefinately, with the social pressures that will come to be exerted in the coming perioid.

    Steven, I'd like you to be more specific on this. Exactly what do you expect to happen that will require people to choose between theism and liberalism? If you've already answered it, sorry, I missed it--just give me a link, in that case.

    On the subject of your having books to write: hey, what a coincidence, I've got money to spend! Get crackin'!

    #567 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 01:08 PM:

    Ellen, you may be surprised to learn that I don't think you should. If you don't feel a place in your life where spiritual fulfillment is missing, why do all the work of learning a new skill to get it? If you're spiritually fulfilled by whatever it is that you do, whatever you call it, then you don't need a change.

    I encourage Christians who find spiritual fulfillment in Christianity to stay with it as well. I believe that everyone has different spiritual needs, and religion happens when a group of people have similar enough needs that they can fulfill them better as a group than they can on their own. (Unfortunately dogmatism tends to crowd out mysticism as the generations go on, because dogmatism, while clearly worse IMO, is also clearly more stable.)

    I'm sorry that you think seeing gods (btw, I've only seen one, and that was pretty dubious from an outside-circle POV) is as repellent a concept as being a Republican. I have friends who can't stand chocolate (no, jennie, I won't turn them in to the Heresy Squad) too. I have others who are quite happy alone and can't imagine having a long-term relationship, or wanting one. I have one friend who wants to be a Jesuit.

    I am friends, as I say, with all these people. We don't have to agree to be friends; I don't try to get people to stop eating meat or go on low-carb diets either (well, I have been guilty of that last bit of proselytizing...mea culpa). If your spiritual path (or lack of same if you prefer) is satisfying to you, then amen, aché, so mote it be.

    If your attitude was more like mine to learning to play poker, or becoming a baseball fan, that is, things I have nothing against but that don't interest me at all, I might say (by way of explaining why I do these things, not to attempt to persuade you to do them) that my spiritual practices have been of practical use in my everyday life.

    One example: I'm extremely sun-sensitive, and years ago I went through a period when I was becoming positively phobic—I didn't want to leave the house in daylight at all. I resolved that problem by beginning to worship Ra. Each day upon leaving the house I uttered a prayer of gratitude for the day.

    The phobia almost vanished, though it took some time, and I still struggle with it sometimes. To this day upon leaving my house in the morning I say "I come forth by day into the brightness of the morning. I come forth by day into the world which you have made new, o Ra." This puts me on good terms with the day, and I have a better attitude toward the morning. I even walk faster!

    #568 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 01:08 PM:

    Can anyone out there dragoon Paul Park into this discussion? He has some interesting things to say about religion and faith in an interview I've been transcribing for Locus.

    #569 ::: Scott Harris ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 01:09 PM:

    "I believe a scientific analysis of society will lead to revolutionary, not liberal views. "

    Hi, Steven. Love your books, btw.

    The problem is that a scientific analysis could tell us how revolutions occur, or how to best foment one, or how society might be structured after the next one, or even that they are an inevitable consequence of the dialectic. What it cannot do is tell us if they are a good thing, or if we *should* attempt one.

    That sort of conclusion involves a value judgement that people need to derive from some other type of thinking, whether it be cultural inculcation, inborn prejudice, philosophy, or religion. Not that it isn't conceivable that some very commonly held social value ("we should strive for a good and just society according to the following simple standards") could combine with a set of scientific findings ("according to human psychology and the realities of economics, such and such a level of material wealth and equitable outcomes could be derived in this way") to form the basis for an actual revolution in our society. That would be great, quite frankly.

    However, we need to be very careful we are correct about what values people hold. I can equally well conceive of the social sciences being used by some would-be Big Brother to devise a horribly stable form of totalitarianism, for example. Same science, different application, due to different values.

    #570 ::: Greg Ioannou ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 01:12 PM:

    Greg London wrote: If you wish to have a "non-woowoo" access to spirituality, it might be something like "how you relate to the eternal, infinite universe". Which isn't the same as measuring it or observing it, but how you feel about it, or rather, how you feel about yourself being part of it. That in and of itself may be too woo-woo for you, depending on exactly what you mean by woo-woo.

    I have no idea what woowoo means, and only a hazy abstract understanding of the experience of spirituality. (Similarly, I've read descriptions of how people who walk on hot coals or lie on beds of nails feel as they do so, but have never experienced either myself, and understand their descriptions only abstractly.) But the whole notion on "how I relate to the eternal, infinite universe" pretty much encapsulates one of my problems with religious belief of any sort: It comes up with answers based on too little information. We do not know for a fact that the universe is eternal, and there is some evidence that it may not be. Likewise, the universe may or may not be infinite. It is big, and it will last a longish time, but we just don't know enough to say much more than that. How do I related to that? I'm curious to know how things actually work. Trying to understand how the universe actually works is endlessly fascinating. But coming to any sort of understanding by starting with assertions that the universe is by definition infinite and eternal just closes off intellectual possibilities, as far as I can see. Is a universe that is fairly big but finite, and will last quite a while but at some point come to an end, somehow less fascinating? My experience of religion is that it comes up with answers to big questions based on far too little actual information. I've never much seen the point.

    Interesting discussion, though. Has made me rethink visiting that part of Delaware on my vacation. Of course, are any other areas on the east coast that have decent beaches and are within comfy driving distance necessarily any more politically appealing?

    #571 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 01:14 PM:

    Carrie S., it's Starhawk's position on Binding spells that I consider ethically challenged. But this is getting seriously OT.

    #572 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 01:29 PM:

    But this is getting seriously OT.

    Yes. Therefore, might we move it to email? I am cschutrick (usual thingie) yahoo (usual thingie) com. I can't check that address till I get home, however, which will be ~4:30 EDT.

    #573 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 01:32 PM:

    I don't like that commanding "Me" -- shades of the angry Beard, there!

    Faren, if you think of the presentation of the ten commandments as one part of long relationship over time, it becomes easier to understand. The commandments were presented to the descendents of Abraham during a time when they were surrounded by polytheists, were not far from polytheism themselves, and had just been through a major culture-changing experience (exile, release, wandering through the desert, encountering their deity). In order to survive what was happening to them, to come through it intact as a people, with their relationship to Yahweh intact as well, they needed rules written in stone, clear guidelines that would keep them together and help them maintain their cultural identity as God's chosen people. There was, in short, a reason for the form of the presentation.

    Remember, also, that when you read the Jewish Scriptures, the Tanakh, you are encountering a story written by different people, from fragmented texts written in at least two different languages, about a history that covers at least 1000 years, all of which was originally not written down at all but maintained in an oral tradition. I find the more I learn about the Bible (Old and New Testament) my appreciation for it becomes more sophisticated and mature, instead of falling unconsciously into rebellious child response. (God: "Don't do that!" Rebellious child: "Screw You! I can do what I like -- You're not the boss of me."

    Carrie S., I was a loose participant in (as opposed to a member of) a Buddhist community for over a decade, and was never comfortable with chanting. Singing, on the other hand, completely opens my heart.

    #574 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 01:41 PM:

    Xopher:

    I have friends who can't stand chocolate (no, jennie, I won't turn them in to the Heresy Squad)

    That's fine. For is it not written Chocolate is Good (unless one is allergic or doesn't like chocolate [emphasis added], or is sensitive to sugar ....?

    Wherein we see in the text that not liking chocolate is clearly not a heresy?

    #575 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 01:45 PM:

    Scott Harris,
    Dang, I was going to reply to Steven Brust on this topic, and then you went and said most of what I was going to say (and quite well), so... well, what you said.

    One additional comment on Steven's statement:
    I believe a scientific analysis of society will lead to revolutionary, not liberal views. I believe that liberals, by and large, have attitudes with which I'm sympathetic. Hence the worry for the sustaining of these attitudes.

    This is, in essence, a form of wishful thinking. I don't mean that it's necessarily wrong, or naive, but where you think a scientific analysis will go and where it actually ends up going are two different things. (Remember the prominent physicists who, at the end of the 19th Century, believed that physics was mostly done and that there was little left to discover.)

    Given A) the distinctly unscientific state of current social/political analysis; B) the sheer bloody complexity of the subject being studied; and C) the fact that the subject being studied changes drastically on short timescales[*] -- I guess I'm not as sanguine as you are that we'll very shortly have a complete scientific analysis of society on hand, and that it will have certain known characteristics.

    [*] I study galaxies, which are moderately complicated systems. But they're not as complicated as present-day societies, and if I compare my measurement of a galaxy with those someone made 50 or 100 years ago, I can be pretty confident that it's still the same thing, basically unchanged and operating under the same rules.

    #576 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 01:54 PM:

    Steven, I'd like you to be more specific on this. Exactly what do you expect to happen that will require people to choose between theism and liberalism? If you've already answered it, sorry, I missed it--just give me a link, in that case.

    It obvious that I haven't answered it nearly well enough. Thank you for asking in such a courteous way.

    I believe that as the economic crisis of world capitalism deepens, the most reactionary right-wing elements will raise their heads. Officially, attempts by the state to restrict human rights. Physically, gangs and mobs will be used to intimidate anyone who tries to fight back. Idealogically, all of the most backward philosophies will be used to justify these attacks.

    To fight against the official attacks requires, in my judgment, the political independance of the working class, with a clear socialist program.

    To fight against the physical assaults requires the working class to be organized its own defense.

    To fight against the ideological attacks requires a rejection of all forms of backwardness and superstition, in which class fall (trying to chose words carefully): belief in a non-material world, all forms of pseudo-science, and all idealogoies that deny the objectivity of material reality.

    It is a question of polarization.

    One can sustain reformist views up to a point: but if the question comes down to: support capitalism in its most brutal, reactionary form, or support the overthrow of capitalism, how will the reformists chose?

    One can support non-violence up to a point: but when fascist (which word I use advisidly, in its scientific meaning) thugs and goons are attacking, non-violence ceases to be an option. One must fight on one side, or the other. Which way will the pacifists go?

    I know it is far from obvious that a "crunch" of the same kind must necessarily proceed in ideology, even if you were to accept my premises. But, without going on forever, I will simply say that my own study of history has convinced me that it will.

    #577 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 02:03 PM:

    C: Someone who sees your opinion as flatly contradictory to her experience and to the experiences of many other people.

    S: Indeed. I would even say most other people. I nevertheless hold the opinion.

    G: Ah, so you're expressing your dogma. Well that does explain some things

    S: I can only say: wow. Some here accept the existence of a being or beings with super-human powers; these people have beliefs. But because I hold that this belief contradicts the discoveries of science, I have a "dogma." I can only say: wow.

    A: Dogma? He's giving a reasoned account of why he disagrees with people about the existence of their imaginary friends.

    Steve, religious beliefs about the material world, held in the face of material evidence to the contrary, is dogma. That you have some belief that people are a certain way, even in the face of people telling you of specific examples where that is not true, and that you insist on holding to that belief with the "reason" is "because that's what I think", is to hold a belief in the face of contradictory material evidence. Dogma.

    You're not talking about some supernatural belief. You're talking about how you say people are, how they react, how they behave. ANd people say whatever you're saying isn't true for how they behave, react, or are. They are evidence to the contrary. And you choose to ignore it. therefore, dogma.

    Belief in rain gods in the face of meterological explanations is dogma. Belief in creationism in the face of evolutionary explanations is dogma. Belief that people behave a certain way in the face of actual examples where that isn't true, is dogma.

    Don't cry that I'm treating you different than any other belief. You're getting the same treatment as everyone else.


    adamsj: the "reason account", as far as I can tell, is "because I said so" or "because that's what I believe", which isn't a "reason" in terms of "reasoning".

    #578 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 02:07 PM:

    What it cannot do is tell us if they are a good thing, or if we *should* attempt one.

    It sounds like you are asking for a system of morality that stands above society. Since morality is a product of society, that seems a bit tricky.

    Within the context of this society, that is "good" which leads to the political, spiritual, and economic emancipation of Man from domination by other men, or by the blind forces of Nature.

    #579 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 02:14 PM:

    adamsj, also note that it wasn't in reply to "imaginary friends". The statement was this:

    I am not saying you don't simultaneously embrace religion and science; I am saying you are incorrect to do so.

    (emphasis added by me)

    So, Steve claims that you are "incorrect" to embrace religion and science, and despite many, many examples to the contrary, numerous explanations as to how science and spirituality are not mutually exclusive or contradictory, he stands by his statement. Because he says so.

    So, this isn't about imaginary friends. And there has been no reasoned account as to why science and religion must contradict each other, must be mutually exclusive. He has simply stated that this is the way it must be. Because that's what he thinks.

    There may be reasons to state that science is mutually exclusive with certain strains of particularly extreme and dogmatic religions. But to state science excludes all religion is to give science more power than it has.

    The simple logical reason for this is that science cannot prove the non-existent of a thing simply because it cannot observe it. Steve appears to be taking the cat-in-the-hat approach in that if he looks everywhere God isn't, and God doesn't then appear before him, then he has proven God doesn't exist.

    This isn't science. He keeps using that word, but it ain't science. It is a logical fallacy, so it doesn't qualify as a logical argument or a reasoned account. He has given an explanation, which doesn't hold water, and that's it.

    #580 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 02:16 PM:

    Steven,
    To fight against the ideological attacks requires a rejection of all forms of backwardness and superstition, in which class fall (trying to chose words carefully): belief in a non-material world, all forms of pseudo-science, and all idealogoies that deny the objectivity of material reality.

    Leaving aside the question of whether what you describe is at all plausible -- why does fighting against the ideological attacks require such a rejection? Why not, to put it cynically, mobilize "backwardness and superstition" in your favor?

    I think there's a flaw in your assumption that religion (i.e., "belief in a non-material world", etc.) cannot advocate liberal goals and ideals -- or even advocate radical/revolutionary ones.

    Consider this from the 14th Century English priest and wandering preacher John Ball, one of the leaders of the Peasant's Revolt of 1381:

    "When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty."

    I think this qualifies as direct religious advocation for revolutionary goals -- certainly by the standards of 14th Century England.

    #581 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 02:17 PM:

    So, Mr. Brust, your only acquaintance with Buddhism is...Karate?

    Oh, dear.

    One - Buddhism doesn't have a Supreme Deity. We don't worship anyone or anything at any time...and that includes the Buddha.

    Two - Buddhism is a practice not a belief system. Meditation, that is observing and taming the mind in order to reach Enlightenment, is the core of this practice.

    Three - all sentient beings have the potential to realize Enlightenment.

    Four - Buddhism does not exact blind obedience. One of the things Buddha said is "Question everything, including my teachings."

    May all beings be happy!

    #582 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 02:23 PM:

    Steven--

    It makes me nervous to think that the only answer to a Theocracy that makes religion into the State is a Socialism that makes the State into a religion--even if that religion is a strictly atheistic, materialist one.

    #583 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 02:25 PM:

    That you have some belief that people are a certain way, even in the face of people telling you of specific examples where that is not true, and that you insist on holding to that belief with the "reason" is "because that's what I think", is to hold a belief in the face of contradictory material evidence. Dogma.

    I claim they will not forever be able to sustain these two beliefs because they are contradictory and can only be reconciled temporarily. They claim they hold them at present. You claim this makes me a dogmatist. I claim it makes you a poor reader.

    Don't cry that I'm treating you different than any other belief

    Hmmm. I just did a "find" on this thread, and didn't see anyone else who had his beliefs called "dogma."

    But I'll try not to cry about it. Is it okay if I get a little, you know, sniffly?

    #584 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 02:26 PM:
    material evidence to the contrary

    I haven't heard any yet. It's hearsay at best, with an original source who can't be produced.

    #585 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 02:31 PM:

    Actually, he's not saying "people behave a certain way" but that, given certain conditions which he expects, people will, for the most part, behave in one of two ways.

    That's actually offering up a possibly testable prediction--not mere dogma.

    My personal opinion about the predictive power of the social sciences (including Marxist varieties thereof) is that it's overstated, but that doesn't mean I'm against the effort.

    #586 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 02:31 PM:

    It makes me nervous to think that the only answer to a Theocracy that makes religion into the State is a Socialism that makes the State into a religion--even if that religion is a strictly atheistic, materialist one.

    Well, ignoring the remark about making the state into a religion, which I consider about as accurate as suggesting that Buddhism requires human sacrifice , you can always hope I'm full of shit on this, and it'll never come to that.

    Now that I think of it, I'll bet you're pretty well convinced of that anyway. :-)

    #587 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 02:33 PM:

    "how you relate to the eternal, infinite universe". Which isn't the same as measuring it or observing it, but how you feel about it, or rather, how you feel about yourself being part of it.

    It comes up with answers based on too little information. We do not know for a fact that the universe is eternal,

    As I told Ellen, and tweaked my definition to reflect that, strike out the word "universe", and that's probably closer. You're taking it to a material meaning. It's more like "how you relate to the eternal, and to the infinite". It isn't that the physical universe is infinite or eternal, but the idea of relating to all of space (whatever its size) and all of time (for however long its been going) all at once. Like if you were to put yourself into that Hithchiker's Guide machine, you'd be presented with all space and all time and then you'd experience how you relate to it.

    And spirituality, with as little woo-woo as possible, is finding this all-space-all-time-all-at-once concept (because you may not be aware of it and may have to learn it), and finding your relationship to it (do you deny it, embrace it, don't care about it, indifferent to it).

    Other folks may have more to their spirituality, but this with the as-little-woo-woo-as-possible version.

    #588 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 02:42 PM:

    What I do think is that belief in supernatural forces is unbased in reality and corrosive to rational thought generally. That doesn't mean that it'll do any particular person any particular amount of damage--some people have stainless steel traps for minds (Augustine comes to mind), while others have those shiny new sodium/lithium alloys. And if rationalism is pure, clean water, then that guy I mentioned above has rust and erosion covering his entire inner skull.

    I've been reading this thread much like a bright 8-year-old listens to a room full of adult geniuses, but really, I couldn't let this one go by. Such smug superiority! Such utter certainty!

    Let me return the favor: I think that people who cannot see beyond the material are like unto infants, who must be sustained by the adults around them until they reach adulthood themselves. True, some do not ever reach it, but it does not do any particular amount of damage, as the Creator has arranged it so that they can be functional parts of society without ever impinging their damaged consciousness on the larger part.

    Do I believe this? Nope. Just saying, though...

    And Mr. Brust, no offense, but some of us are sitting here patiently waiting....GET THEE TO THY BOOKS, SIR! I NEED MY FIX!

    #589 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 02:44 PM:

    Leaving aside the question of whether what you describe is at all plausible -- why does fighting against the ideological attacks require such a rejection? Why not, to put it cynically, mobilize "backwardness and superstition" in your favor?

    Hmmm...unite the working class and all other progressive forces on the basis of racism, sexism, homophobia, belief in the occult, rejection of Darwinism and all the rest of modern science, pseudo-science, sexual repression, giving one's life over to Jesus....

    Maybe its just me, but I'm seeing some problems here.

    #590 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 02:46 PM:

    he's not saying "people behave a certain way" but that, given certain conditions which he expects, people will, for the most part, behave in one of two ways.

    cripes. I just quoted exactly what he said that was being contested. I am not saying you don't simultaneously embrace religion and science; I am saying you are incorrect to do so.

    and I keep bringing it back to the simple explanation of science. Science does NOT demand an exclusion of any and all realms outside of its observation. Science does not demand that Buckaroo Bonzai's 8th dimension cannot exist because it can't observe it. Science does not say that supernatural planes cannot exist because it can't observe it.

    Steve says that's what science means. But that isn't what science means. How many times do we need to run around this pole?

    Some believe in hard atheism. But that is a belief. It cannot be proven. You cannot prove there is no life on any other planet simply because you haven't observed any yet. Science is an epistomology, a study of how you know things based on observation. Science is not an ontology that claims things do not exist unless the are being observed.

    Tree falls in unpopulated forest. It still makes a sound. Observation provides KNOWLEDGE. But observation isn't the criteria for the EXISTENCE of a thing. Things don't come into existence as you observe them and disappear when you stop looking at them, measuring them, interacting with them.

    Science will always have to contend with the fact that it will know and observe only a tiny fraction of everything that exists. Steve is claiming science knows everything and what it doesn't know, must not exist.

    What he keeps calling science is an ontological belief that observation defines existence. And that aint science.

    #591 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 02:50 PM:

    Emma,

    What certainty? I said specifically that some people aren't harmed by what I consider destructive ideas. I didn't make any statements about who would be or who wouldn't be, and even gave two examples (too hastily, I might add--I thought Thomas Aquinas and wrote Augustine) of things not working as one would expect if there were any certainty involved.

    The first time I read The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, I took it to be a flat-out rejection of supernaturalism and a straight-up endorsement of materialism. Imagine my surprise to discover that Philip K. Dick actually believed in that stuff! But then, he also wrote the postscript to A Scanner Darkly, so I think he may have written truer than he thought.

    I can tell I'm going to have to learn the words to Imagine to sing to my daughter at night.

    #592 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 02:54 PM:
    I just quoted exactly what he said that was being contested. I am not saying you don't simultaneously embrace religion and science; I am saying you are incorrect to do so.

    I don't get "people behave in a certain way" out of that, so I assumed you were going back to the original disputed statement.

    #593 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 03:04 PM:

    Hmmm...unite the working class and all other progressive forces on the basis of racism, sexism, homophobia, belief in the occult, rejection of Darwinism and all the rest of modern science, pseudo-science, sexual repression, giving one's life over to Jesus....

    Maybe its just me, but I'm seeing some problems here.

    Er, well, I was quoting your term "backwardness and superstition" in a somewhat ironic sense. What I really meant, of course, was "religion" in general, which you had characterized with those words.

    To put it another way, you seem to be again conflating "religion" with "conservative, repressive Abrahamic religion." Now, I'll agree with you that the latter isn't going to do much to unite the working class, etc. -- but the latter is a small subset of all possible religions, even if it's numerically still important today. The idea that you cannot have religions which are progressive, even revolutionary, seems to me false. I pointed to a 14th Century Christian example (John Ball); a 20th Century example would be Liberation Theology. (And I don't see why you couldn't have, for example, revolutionary pagans, in addition to the obviously liberal/progressive pagans who've been posting to this thread....)

    #594 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 03:06 PM:

    I think I said something about "how you say people are, how they react, how they behave", as in people "embrace" science and religion, but they shouldn't because to do so is incorrect. The material evidence to teh contrary has been countless mentions of actual buddists, spiritual scientists, etc. And the logical argument has been explaining the difference between (1) Steve's definition of science being an ontological belief in the non-existence of that which is not materially observable and (2) science's definition of science being an epistemological belief that knowledge comes through material observation. Which is another way of saying that hard atheism is an ontological belief in the non-existence of the metaphysical, whereas science is simply the pursuit of positive knowledge through material observation.

    As long as these two vastly different concepts are conflated, Steve is using teh term "science" to mean something it is not, and we'll keep going in circles.

    #595 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 03:08 PM:

    Science does NOT demand an exclusion of any and all realms outside of its observation.

    Yeah, you think my view of religion is too narrow. I feel the same way about your view of science.

    What he keeps calling science is an ontological belief that observation defines existence

    Observation defines existence? That is at the opposite pole of my beliefs. You really don't read very well, do you? In order for something to be observed, the first requirement is that it exist. In order for there to be a thought, there must be a brain to think it. The universe would go on very nicely without anything to observe it at all, thank you very much.

    #596 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 03:08 PM:

    Hmmm...unite the working class and all other progressive forces on the basis of racism, sexism, homophobia, belief in the occult, rejection of Darwinism and all the rest of modern science, pseudo-science, sexual repression, giving one's life over to Jesus....

    Oh, please. If what you mean is "fundamentalist Xtianity of the type currently practiced by the idiots in charge of our country is incompatible with reason," feel free to say so; I even agree with you. But since (for just one example)my religion has no use for racism, sexism, homophobia, rejection of Darwinism, pseudo-science or sexual repression, cares about Jesus only insofar as he's a pretty nifty guy who has a lot of idiot followers, and is pretty likely to greet scientific explainations of "occult" phenomena with "Oh, is that how it works?", kindly refrain from painting all religion with your extremely broad and horribly insulting brush.

    Your problem is that you've confused "religion" with "fundamentalist Abrahamic idiocy". And despite the fact that I don't care for your books, I echo the urgings to return to writing them; you may be a fine novelist, sir, but you're a lousy debater.

    #597 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 03:19 PM:

    Greg,
    and I keep bringing it back to the simple explanation of science. Science does NOT demand an exclusion of any and all realms outside of its observation. Science does not demand that Buckaroo Bonzai's 8th dimension cannot exist because it can't observe it. Science does not say that supernatural planes cannot exist because it can't observe it.

    Agreed. However, science does say that it's more rational to not believe in such things -- or, more precisely, to not accord them the same degree of belief or acceptance. It's the principle of parsimony (aka Ockham's Razor): do you need to invoke the existence of supernatural planes in order to explain the world we observe? If not, then they don't have the same validity as, say, electromagnetic fields.

    (There's an interesting in-between case for mathematics: you can have mathematical concepts and structures which are, logically and mathematically, valid, but which don't apply to the real world. There are many different type of non-Euclidean geometry, for example, but only one [Riemannian geometry] applies to our world, via Einstein's General Relativity.)

    #598 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 03:25 PM:

    Hmmm...unite the working class and all other progressive forces on the basis of racism, sexism, homophobia, belief in the occult, rejection of Darwinism and all the rest of modern science, pseudo-science, sexual repression, giving one's life over to Jesus....

    Oh, please. If what you mean is "fundamentalist Xtianity of the type currently practiced by the idiots in charge of our country is incompatible with reason," feel free to say so; I even agree with you. But since (for just one example)my religion has no use for racism, sexism, homophobia, rejection of Darwinism, pseudo-science or sexual repression, cares about Jesus only insofar as he's a pretty nifty guy who has a lot of idiot followers, and is pretty likely to greet scientific explainations of "occult" phenomena with "Oh, is that how it works?", kindly refrain from painting all religion with your extremely broad and horribly insulting brush.

    I quoted the entire mess so I could ask you, politely, to point out where I said, "all religion." That reply was quite specifically to someone who advocated, in so many words, organizing the most backward ideologies in favor of social progress. I listed the most backward ideologies, and said nothing like "all religions" nor anything that can be interpreted that way by any reasonably objective reader.

    In other posts, where I did speak of "all religions" I did not refer to them as backward, or ignorant, or use any other term more forceful than "incorrect."

    You, madam, have become so outraged at our differences, that you are putting words into the mouth of someone who doesn't even look like me and then attacking me for them. Kindly refrain.

    #599 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 03:27 PM:

    Observation defines existence? That is at the opposite pole of my beliefs. You really don't read very well, do you? In order for something to be observed, the first requirement is that it exist. In order for there to be a thought, there must be a brain to think it. The universe would go on very nicely without anything to observe it at all, thank you very much.

    sorry, shorthand must have been too much for you. You are saying, based on your assertions that science is squeezing God out of the picture, and based on a denial of any nonphysical plane that science cannot enter at will, that nothing exists unless it can be observed. That is an ontological assertion of existence, not a epistomologica assertion of how you can know something.

    You did also say it is incorrect to simulataneously embrace religion and science, which would means that they are mutually exclusive. If there exists realms which cannot be observed, your argument against simultaneous science/religion embrace is incorrect. Because one's religion could be based completely in beliefs of the unobservable realm and not conflict with any observable knowledge discovered by science. And if science limits itself to knowing by observing, then it says nothing about the non-existence of a thing it hasn't observed.

    The only way to say simultaneous science/religion embrace is wrong is to say that science determines that any unobservable realm is not only unobservable but also must not exis. Which isn't science.

    You're preaching hard atheism, not science. You're claiming that no gods and that nothing spiritual exists. But science cannot prove that. Rather it is your belief that nothing spiritual exists, that simultaneous religion/science embrace is 'incorrect'.

    #600 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 03:30 PM:

    Oh. Don't know why this was so hard to figure out. When Steve says "science" he actually means "aetheism". And that actually fits almost everything he's said so far.

    To embrace atheism and religion simultaneously is incorrect.

    atheism threatens religions beliefs.

    and so on and so forth.

    #601 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 03:34 PM:

    This is the core of Buddhist teaching:

    Suffering exists
    Suffering arises from attachment to desires
    Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
    Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path.

    And the Eightfold Path is:

    Wisdom:

    1 Right View
    2 Right Thought

    Morality:

    3 Right Speech
    4 Right Action
    5 Right Livelihood

    Meditation:

    6 Right Effort
    7 Right Mindfulness
    8 Right Contemplation

    The main thing my teachers have stressed is compassion for all sentient beings.

    #602 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 03:34 PM:

    Out of curiosity, are you an atheist, Steven? Sorry if you already answered this question.

    #603 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 03:34 PM:

    Addendum:

    It may be that the confusion came in from "giving one's life over to Jesus." If so, I did not mean that to refer to all Christianity, but only to that specific brand of evangelical charistmatic Christianity that uses that term.

    And that, yes, I do consider one of the most backward, dangerous forms of ideaology.

    Does that help?

    #604 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 03:44 PM:

    Changeup!

    #605 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 03:45 PM:

    Lori, that's very succinct and cool.

    #606 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 03:46 PM:

    Out of curiosity, are you an atheist, Steven? Sorry if you already answered this question.

    I am a materialist. I do not believe in any non-material world, nor any being that exists outside of the laws of nature. I believe that matter is primary to thought. I believe that for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows. I believe there is a broken light for every heart on broadway. I believe in high fiber, good scotch, opening your presents Christmas morning instead of Christmas eve. I believe in love at first sight. I believe Ambrose Bierce died for our sins. I believe the second "Pirates" movie was a travesty, yet I believe Johnny Depp is brilliant. I...


    Ummm...yes, I'm an atheist.

    #607 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 03:50 PM:

    *sigh*

    SB, 3 Aug 1:54: To fight against the ideological attacks requires a rejection of all forms of backwardness and superstition, in which class fall (trying to chose words carefully): belief in a non-material world, all forms of pseudo-science, and all idealogoies that deny the objectivity of material reality.

    Note that there is no discussion of any particular religion here; in fact it says "all forms". No qualifiers, no mention of any belief system which may be an exception; "all forms" of "belief in a non-material world", "pseduo-science" and "[denying] the objectivity of material reality".

    PE, 3 Aug, 2:16: Why not, to put it cynically, mobilize "backwardness and superstition" in your favor?

    PE does not say, "Why not mobilize fundie Christianity?"; he says, "Why not mobilize 'backwardness and supersitition'", which Steven had just defined in his very broad terms, q.v. above.

    SB, 3 Aug, 2:44: Hmmm...unite the working class and all other progressive forces on the basis of racism, sexism, homophobia, belief in the occult, rejection of Darwinism and all the rest of modern science, pseudo-science, sexual repression, giving one's life over to Jesus....

    I beg you, tell me how I'm to interpret this chain of reference in any way other than "all religion has these qualities"? Especially in light of the many other instances in which it has been made clear that you think of all religion as if it were fundie Abrahamic idiocy?

    You don't get to redefine your terms in the middle of the debate, you don't get to claim you didn't say things you manifestly did say, and you don't get to make pious mouthings of having been referring only to the bad examples when you made no attempt to actually draw any distinction.

    And that is the end of that, at least for me. I'm not putting any more effort into arguing with a fundamentalist whacko.

    #608 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 03:51 PM:

    Adamsj,
    The certainty part is not that you graciously admit that "some" superior intellects can survive the corrosive influence of religious thought; the smug certainty is implied in your making a statement so clearly contradicted by the very words of those you are disputing! The religious people in this thread have all proven themselves to be intelligent, educated, and of liberal-to-radical political bent; which ones are undamaged?

    Mind you, being in this site at all is self-selective. But it does imply by sheer numbers that the rusted-to-shiny ratio is not what you think it is.

    #609 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 03:59 PM:

    I believe the second "Pirates" movie was a travesty, yet I believe Johnny Depp is brilliant.

    Thanks, Steven. I was beginning to think my wife and I were the only people who didn't care much for it. In fact, we were bored and kept looking at our watches to see how much was left.

    By the way, the whole thread makes me want to dig up my copy of To Reign in Hell and read it again.

    #610 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 04:02 PM:

    Carrie S.: I realize you don't agree with me, but does that explain why I find it insulting to be told I can't be both religious and rational? You're telling me, in essence, that I'm too inflexible to do the context-switching when required--

    I think (I could be wrong, but that's a common theme here), the last bit, i.e. context-switching, is what Steve is talking about. He believes that the need to flip from one context to another is dissonant, and that at some point the conflict will come to a head, and one context, or the other, is going to have to go.

    Now, where you and I differ is that I don't think there is ever a contextual basis for my, overlapping, religious faith, and my belief in science. They simultaneously exist to the edges of my being.

    #611 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 04:04 PM:

    I quoted the entire mess so I could ask you, politely, to point out where I said, "all religion." That reply was quite specifically to someone who advocated, in so many words, organizing the most backward ideologies in favor of social progress. I listed the most backward ideologies, and said nothing like "all religions" nor anything that can be interpreted that way by any reasonably objective reader.

    Well, as I explained, that wasn't exactly what I was advocating.

    The reason I used those terms (and put them in scare quotes to indicate I was being ironic in referring to religion in general as "backward") is because you defined "all forms of backwardness and superstition" as including (but not being limited to): "belief in a non-material world, all forms of pseudo-science, and all idealogoies that deny the objectivity of material reality."

    And because your post was specifically an attempt to answer TexAnne's question: "Exactly what do you expect to happen that will require people to choose between theism and liberalism?"

    So I interpreted that part of your post as meaning that anything involving "belief in a non-material world" -- including "theism" -- was a "backward ideology" that would have to be rejected. This isn't all religions, true; but it certainly seems to cover an awful lot of them, and a lot more than just the conservative/reactionary strain of Christianity.

    So... do you think that something like Liberation Theology, which is theist and involves belief in a non-material world, is a "backward ideology"?

    #612 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 04:07 PM:

    Greg: Science does not say that supernatural planes cannot exist because it can't observe it.

    Peter: Agreed. However, science does say that it's more rational to not believe in such things -- or, more precisely, to not accord them the same degree of belief or acceptance. It's the principle of parsimony (aka Ockham's Razor): do you need to invoke the existence of supernatural planes in order to explain the world we observe? If not, then they don't have the same validity as, say, electromagnetic fields.

    YES, thank you.

    Greg, for Steve's "science," I think the right reading is not "atheism," but "a scientific mindset, which admits observation and logical inference as valid reasons for holding beliefs about the universe."

    Beliefs in the supernatural or the spiritual may be made to fit into the gaps of the material world, or to overlay it without materially altering it, and those beliefs might not contradict the findings of science, but they're still only motivated by introspection-- not by any external evidence or chain of reasoning that reasonable people can agree on.

    Science doesn't say the supernatural planes don't exist-- it says they don't need to exist in the same way that gravity needs to exist.

    #613 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 04:12 PM:

    I am a materialist. I do not believe in any non-material world, nor any being that exists outside of the laws of nature. ... Ummm...yes, I'm an atheist.

    Got it. Thanks.

    So, I think that there's a conflation going on between your personal subscription to materialism and what the word "science" means. According to an online dictionary, science is (a) The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena. (b) Such activities restricted to a class of natural phenomena. (c) Such activities applied to an object of inquiry or study.

    I'd just point out the "observation" and "explanation of phenomena" basically mean "knowledge through observation". And that (b) basically makes it clear that science is restricted to a class of natural phenomenon.

    It says nothing of the supernatural or metaphysical.

    Well, except down at definition 5, which says "Christian Science", which I think we both agree is a misuse of the term science. Christians believe in God. But thus far, science hasn't proven he exists. Atheism and materialism is the belief in the non-existence of God, but science cannot prove he cannot exist, only that he isn't needed to explain some natural phenomenon.

    If you start from there, and allow science to be the simple accumulation of knowledge through observation, then christian science and atheist science are removed from the various meanings of "science". Then science no longer is a threat to religion (or atheism).

    If you put your belief in atheism in with science, then of course it will threaten religion. But religious folks have responded by putting religion in with science and creating "Christian science", "Intelligent design", and other such variants. And everyone will end up fighting to create science in their own belief's image.

    Rather than go down that path, would you be willing to withdraw atheism from the meaning of science and let science be a much simpler meaning of "the accumulation of knowledge through observation"? This would then allow both atheism and religion to coexist with science. Beliefs relating to the supernatural (either the existence or non-existence) would be moved out of the definition of "science" and would be held in a person's belief system.

    Otherwise, I think with completely different premises of science, we'll never be able to agree on much of anything.

    What do you think?

    #614 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 04:13 PM:

    By the way, the whole thread makes me want to dig up my copy of To Reign in Hell and read it again.

    I was thinking the same thing. I have a spiffy hardcover edition with multiple signatures (author, illustrator, maybe one more?) that I got at some con or other way back when it was first published. I didn't personally collect the signatures; they came with the book. Some sort of limited edition?

    This is the only one of Steven's books that I've managed to read, though my friends keep recommending a whole bunch of others. One of these years....

    #615 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 04:21 PM:

    The reason I used those terms (and put them in scare quotes to indicate I was being ironic in referring to religion in general as "backward") is because you defined "all forms of backwardness and superstition" as including (but not being limited to): "belief in a non-material world, all forms of pseudo-science, and all idealogoies that deny the objectivity of material reality."

    Okay...scrolling back--yep, I swapped definitions in mid-stream. My apologies. My sincere apologies.

    That also explains how you could have made a proposal that struck me so far out into space that I sat there staring at it with my mouth open for a while before I could even begin to reply.

    Okay.

    Carrie S: You were right, and I was wrong. My statement was easily and naturally interpreted to mean that I considered all forms of religion backward and ignorant. In fact, I do not hold that position.

    I prefer my crow medium rare.

    #616 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 04:39 PM:

    Peter: thanks for taking the words "liberation theology" right out of my mouth.

    Steven wrote: when fascist...goons are attacking, non-violence ceases to be an option. One must fight on one side, or the other. Which way will the pacifists go?

    Now we're getting somewhere. You seem to be assuming that all theists are pacifists, which is manifestly not true. All liberals are not pacifists, either. I understand your argument--that's not the problem--but I still don't see why a theist can't fight fascist goons.

    #617 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 04:40 PM:

    Greg: Science does not say that supernatural planes cannot exist because it can't observe it.

    Peter: Agreed. However, science does say that it's more rational to not believe in such things -- or, more precisely, to not accord them the same degree of belief or acceptance. It's the principle of parsimony (aka Ockham's Razor): do you need to invoke the existence of supernatural planes in order to explain the world we observe? If not, then they don't have the same validity as, say, electromagnetic fields.

    Ellen: YES, thank you. for Steve's "science," I think the right reading is not "atheism," but "a scientific mindset, which admits observation and logical inference as valid reasons for holding beliefs about the universe."

    Ellen,

    Do you remember when I warned about the problems of discussing ontology and epistomology? This is that exact problem. Mainly it is a problem of the ideas of ontology and epistomology being vaguly understood by the people having the debate, and the ideas getting mixed one for the other. It isn't wrong or bad, it's just that they're tough nuts to crack. You mixed terms when you said "scientific mindset" and "reasons for holding beliefs".

    Science says nothing about beliefs. Science says nothing about the spiritual. Science says nothing about value judgements. Science only finds cause and effects for natural processes.

    Peter did somethign similar when he said this: "do you need to invoke the existence of supernatural planes in order to explain the world we observe? If not, then they don't have the same validity as, say, electromagnetic fields."

    "validity" is really sloppy word, that could mean epistomological or ontologocial or other meanings. It could mean something simple like "scientifically valid", but science doesn't say anything about the validity of what it can't observe. It could have ontological tones such as 'supernatural planes don't exist', but again science doesn't say anything about existence. Or it coudl say something epistomological, such as knowing the cause and effect of something, which, by default, the supernatural cannot be observed by being super-natural.

    Peter's phrase "to explain the world we observe" is science, an epistomology (study of knowledge or explanation) based on observation. Once you define the set you are talking about to be science, you are no longer talking about the ontology (existence) of the unobservable, super-natural, meta-physical.

    Peter again mixes the two when he says "science does say that it's more rational to not believe in such things". If "rational" is meant to be the scientific study of a thing, then this is tautological (circular reasoning) again. Science says its rational to use science because science is rational. Well, yeah. Except that circular logic is limited to epistomology, the idea of how you know something, not the existence of a thing.

    It doesn't prove the non-existance of the supernatural, only that what you know (cause and effect) is based on observation.

    Mostly, this is all an exercise in conflating the idea of what we know with the idea of what exists. Almost everything you've said above is basically saying if we can't know the causes and effects of something then it must not exist, isnt as valid, isn't rational, isn't scientific, isn't observable.

    And yes, I undertand Occam's razor and parsimony and the scientific method and all that. But those are all requirements for knowledge (epistomology), not existance (ontology).

    #618 ::: Scott Harris ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 04:51 PM:

    Steven Brust wrote: I believe that as the economic crisis of world capitalism deepens, the most reactionary right-wing elements will raise their heads. Officially, attempts by the state to restrict human rights. Physically, gangs and mobs will be used to intimidate anyone who tries to fight back. Idealogically, all of the most backward philosophies will be used to justify these attacks. To fight against the official attacks requires, in my judgment, the political independance of the working class, with a clear socialist program.

    Well, I certainly hope that things will not come to this pass, and if they do, I'm not 100% certain what the ideology of a revolutionary party will be or if it will be traditionally socialist. Do you have a particular flavor of socialism in mind, btw? Is this straight Engels and Marx, or some later synthesis?

    To fight against the physical assaults requires the working class to be organized its own defense. To fight against the ideological attacks requires a rejection of all forms of backwardness and superstition, in which class fall (trying to chose words carefully): belief in a non-material world, all forms of pseudo-science, and all idealogoies that deny the objectivity of material reality. It is a question of polarization. One can sustain reformist views up to a point: but if the question comes down to: support capitalism in its most brutal, reactionary form, or support the overthrow of capitalism, how will the reformists chose?

    Presumably, according to their own self-interest as they understand it, and according to whatever principles they may have. I would think, if things do get really bad, the thing to do would *not* be to look for ideological purity in the members of the necessary countermovement, but rather to organize and unite all the multifarious groups which are in line to get screwed over by the right-wing attacks.

    If Sally is up in arms because the fundies are going to take away women's choice and Johnny is with us because he's flamboyantly gay and knows what's in store for him if we lose and Fatima is worried because she figures even the most assimilated Western Muslims are targets and Samuel supports us because as a Quaker or an Orthodox Jew his conscience tells him the reactionary elements are wrong, wrong, wrong, am I going to care that some of them may believe in a personal God and some may not? Hell, I'm not going to much care if some of them are free-market libertarians who don't cotton to encroachments on civil liberties and others are radical communists who believe we should ultimately all live on farms together and abolish private property entirely. I don't even mind if only some really want a revolution, while others just want some concessions and a gradual return to the old status quo - that's pretty much how we got the US, anyway, when it become clear that King and Parliament weren't ever going to fully redress all grievances.

    The time to purge the Mensheviks, if you really must, is *after* the revolution has been successful. In the meantime, you need all the help you can get.

    One can support non-violence up to a point: but when fascist (which word I use advisidly, in its scientific meaning) thugs and goons are attacking, non-violence ceases to be an option. One must fight on one side, or the other. Which way will the pacifists go? I know it is far from obvious that a "crunch" of the same kind must necessarily proceed in ideology, even if you were to accept my premises. But, without going on forever, I will simply say that my own study of history has convinced me that it will.

    Some pacifists (esp. the religiously motivated) will probably die rather than raise a hand in anger. Others will reluctantly take up arms when it becomes clear self-defense. I doubt any will join in on the side of the right-wing reactionary forces you fear, so to the extent that they all at least delay, annoy, and perhaps even turn public opinion against those forces, they'll do some good.

    Again, thinking of the famous Buber quote about the Holocaust ("First they came..."), these are the times for building coalitions, not worrying about ideological divisions among potential allies.

    It sounds like you are asking for a system of morality that stands above society. Since morality is a product of society, that seems a bit tricky.

    No, I am stating clearly that science can not produce normative statements, only descriptive ones. Science may someday be able to predict how a new society will work, but it is a value judgement as to whether that new society would be better or worse than what we've got. And value judgements are not falsifiable...

    Within the context of this society, that is "good" which leads to the political, spiritual, and economic emancipation of Man from domination by other men, or by the blind forces of Nature.

    I tend to agree with that particular set of value judgements, but I don't think you can really say they were derived using the scientific method.

    Note that I'm not saying science can't determine what the majority of people want and would support; or even that science couldn't figure out what would make the greatest number of people both happy and free. It's just that it's not science, but some kind of moral philosophy that tells us those are worthy goals.

    Hmmm...unite the working class and all other progressive forces on the basis of racism, sexism, homophobia, belief in the occult, rejection of Darwinism and all the rest of modern science, pseudo-science, sexual repression, giving one's life over to Jesus....

    Come now, this is unworthy of you. Surely you realize that Peter was ironically using the term 'backwardness and superstition' as you did in the post he was replying to:

    To fight against the ideological attacks requires a rejection of all forms of backwardness and superstition, in which class fall (trying to chose words carefully): belief in a non-material world, all forms of pseudo-science, and all idealogoies that deny the objectivity of material reality.

    He's saying why not let the ones who believe in a non-material world (which includes many mathematicians), pseudo-science, and postmodernism in on the fight, not advocating that we try to recruit direct from the enemy's camp. Heck, if nothing else people who believe in Heaven should make for good cannon fodder, right? But I kid.

    Seriously, there are plenty of Christians who are more concerned about helping the poor than policing other people's bedrooms, who are anything but radical capitalists. Indeed, there are quite a few who take statements from Jesus, 'eye of a needle' and all that, seriously enough that they're out and out Socialists. Why would you not want them in your corner?

    I listed the most backward ideologies, and said nothing like "all religions" nor anything that can be interpreted that way by any reasonably objective reader.

    Again, not playing fair. He was responding to a post in which you described *all* belief in non-material things as part of what you meant by 'backwardness and superstition'.

    Basically, you've got to deal with the observable fact that there are plenty of people whose religion actually *tells* them to support liberal and even revolutionary causes, and plenty more for whom the two are not inextricably linked but also not in any way opposed. The likelihood of this entire population deciding under pressure that they'll support either

    1) a homophobic, racist, hypercapitalist, sexist, Atwood novel-worthy form of reactionary fundamentalist Xtianity, or

    2) an ideologically pure as snow, secular humanist, Socialist Revolutionary Party,

    is slim to none. There are plenty of groups that aren't going to give up their religion, but likewise aren't going to have the *option* of joining group #1. They won't disappear. If we're lucky, they will ignore their differences with group #2, godless Commies though they may be, long enough to prevent group #1 from truly taking over.

    Even if there is no such coalition, however, I can't see such groups *not* defending themselves at some point in the process. Yes, Buber didn't do anything while the other groups were tagged, and then it was too late, but by that very token, I can assure you that story gets *wide* circulation among liberal churches and synagogues.

    Anyway, I seriously doubt things will come down to a nice clean battle between Rational Good Guys and Irrational Bad Guys, if only because nobody can agree on their definitions of either reason or morality.

    #619 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 04:52 PM:

    I'm going to skip forward past the last handful of posts and ask a basic question.

    The original supposition wasn't that science and religion were opposed. It was that religion and liberalism were opposed, and that science was the necessary tool for figuring out how to create the world the liberals wanted. It was loudly implied that the love of the current system, or at least its working parts, was blinding liberals (Particularly, for some reason, religious liberals) to finding the means to take down this world, revolt, and make a new, better world.

    Leaving aside the success rate of real human beigns in revolution in the past, I have to ask. How does a religion whose tenets include "Feed the poor, tend to the sick and the imprisoned, succour those in loss", and "Whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done to me" and a loud message to treat all people, rich and poor, whore and tax collector, male and female, as companions and fellow travellers, not as enemies or lesser things (And, in some passages, outright advocates giving away every bit of income one doesn't actually need to survive to those who don't even have that) actually *oppose* the kind of social change we need? How does a religion that presses its members to live a better life and to fulfill all the above, not imply that it would like to push for a vast overturning of the current systems that keep the poor poor, the ill untreated, makes neighbours into enemies?

    Waiting to be excoriated by Steven now...

    #620 ::: Brian Ledford ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 04:55 PM:

    Greg london said:

    "Atheism and materialism is the belief in the non-existence of God, but science cannot prove he cannot exist, only that he isn't needed to explain some natural phenomenon."

    I think the usual take is any natural phenomenon. Also I think it's better to say that science is by definition atheistic (no supernatural explanations alowed), but individual scientists may or may not be atheists when they are not doing science.

    It's somewhat akin to catholics and the catholic church. It's fair to say the catholic church condemns same sex marriage and is hostile to homosexuality. This doesn't mean all catholics do the same, nor would it be right or fair to accuse one of prejudice. But I don't think you can claim that the Catholic Church isn't hostile to GLBT people because some large number of catholics isn't. unless one of them is the pope, maybe.

    And I think science is kinda the same way - as a body of knowledge, it is hostile or dismissive of nonmaterial explanations. Individual scientists will vary, obviously, in their acceptance of nonmaterial orthogonal sources of knowledge when they aren't doing science.

    #621 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 04:56 PM:

    Steven, there seem to be a lot of massive, unjustified assumptions underlying your position, if you'll excuse me saying so.

    First, this story about "the general encroachment of science on religion". You're assuming that believing in a few gods of abstract concepts is less religious than stereotypical primitive animism, and believing in a defined pantheon is less religious than that, and believing in one god is less religious than a pantheon, and believing in an omnipotent, infinite God is less religious than believing in a god who is like a big chief only even more powerful, and believing in a God who is beyond human comprehension or definition is less religious than believing in an omnipotent creator.

    The progression smells wrong to me anyway. It's somewhat true of a nineteenth century Euro-American Protestant conception of religion, but that's a very narrow view of world history. Also, I don't think the world has been getting gradually more scientific in the linear way your story implies.

    The assumption I find really bizarre, though, is that science and atheist materialism inexorably lead to radical socialism, while religion (any religion) is inherently capitalist in the worst possible senses of the term. I'm really not seeing the connection here at all!

    In short, if you define science as: the conviction that materialism explains absolutely everything, and religion as: the conviction that there is no natural law but everything is directly dependent on a supernatural old man in the sky, then yes, science is a threat to religion. But that's a lousy definition of even Abrahamic monotheism, let alone religion in general. It's also a lousy definition of science, frankly.

    #622 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 04:58 PM:

    Emma, I live in Arkansas. It's a lovely place with many virtues, not the least of which is that so much of my family is here. And speaking of my family.

    #623 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 04:58 PM:

    Now we're getting somewhere. You seem to be assuming that all theists are pacifists,

    I am?

    Er...no. Most theists I know are certainly not pacifists. That was a list of examples, not a set of identical things.


    #624 ::: Scott Harris ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 05:06 PM:

    Quick note:

    I must have had a brain fart in the previous post. Please mentally replace all references to "Buber"" with "Niemöller".

    And Lenora's got it right, to my mind. But then, I was raised Unitarian, and in a Fellowship rather than a Church at that. Not too big on the Bible reading these days, and while a lot of fellow congregants were kind of iffy about that whole God thing, the vast majority were *very* committed to the aspects of Yeshua's message Lenora notes.

    Yes, it's a very leftie version of organized religion (or is that disorganized religion? Nah, too many committees)to grow up with, but it at least demonstrates that, well, there *are* leftie version of organized religion. I *guarantee* you that if the UUs are not at the forefront of any Revolution in the near future, they'll at least be setting up a new Underground Railroad for those who are...

    #625 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 05:07 PM:

    Scott: I am a Trotskyist sympathizer. Someday, Scott, we may find ourselves in a thread where it is appropriate to discuss the theory and practice of building a vanguard party. Not here and now.

    Come now, this is unworthy of you. Surely you realize that Peter was ironically using the term 'backwardness and superstition' as you did in the post he was replying to:

    No I didn't, but I should have. I have no excuse.

    #626 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 05:12 PM:

    Greg: (God) isn't needed to explain some natural phenomenon."

    Brian: I think the usual take is any natural phenomenon.

    I agree that "any" is more complete than "some", though I think both are correct.

    I think it's better to say that science is by definition atheistic (no supernatural explanations alowed),

    er, well, "no supernatural explanations" means no supernatural to explain the natural, which means no supernatural knowledge, which means knowledge is only about observable causes and effects.

    That isn't the same as atheism, though. Atheism is the belief in the non-existence of God. Science is silent on the existance of anything it cannot observe. If I had to put a term to it, science is agnostic, but it is really a matter of knowing the causes and effects of something through observation tells you nothing about the existence of anything that hasn't been observed.

    Atheistism believes that the supernatural doesn't exist. Science can't know that because it can't observe it because the supernatural is, well, beyond natural.

    #627 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 05:15 PM:

    Scott, I'm really enjoying your contributions to this thread, and your post about how people with different ideologies can all work for the revolution is particularly incisive. But I have to be pedantic and point out that the famous comment about speaking out for all oppressed people was made by Martin Niemöller, not Martin Buber. Buber was Jewish, very much so, and it would not make sense for him to talk about not being Jewish!

    Carrie, I agree that Steven is a better novelist than a debater. I think that's a lot to do with the fact that, when writing novels (if you are good), you can set things up so that the world really does operate according to your cherished principles.

    Dan S, that description about pupils turning into hearts is beautiful; it exactly defines my reaction to Graydon's really enlightening comments. So thanks to Graydon for explaining complicated things so well, and thanks to you for finding a way to express how cool that is.

    #628 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 05:20 PM:

    Steven,
    Okay...scrolling back--yep, I swapped definitions in mid-stream. My apologies. My sincere apologies.

    That also explains how you could have made a proposal that struck me so far out into space that I sat there staring at it with my mouth open for a while before I could even begin to reply.

    Wow. In retrospect, I can see why that would cause no small amount of mental whiplash. I should perhaps be a bit more careful with my ironic quotations.

    Apology accepted, of course. For what it's worth, I think you're an interesting and gracious disputant, not a fundamentalist whacko.

    (And I'd certainly be motivated to go re-read To Reign in Hell, if my copy weren't buried in storage back in Wisconsin. Curse.)

    #629 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 05:30 PM:

    I suppose I was moved by a higher power to quote David Byrne recently, as he's shown up mentioned somewhere else today.

    #630 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 05:42 PM:

    Adamsj, my sympathies. I have a slightly similar problem, which is a family mostly composed of lovely, kind, pleasant, I'll-back-you-to-the-wall-in-a-fight right wing republicans. You know that cliche about "a pregnant silence"?

    #631 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 05:47 PM:

    If any observable phenomenon is a legitimate subject of scientific investigation, then the only religions that can never conflict with science are those which either propose immaterial entities that never have an observable effect on anything, including mental states, or those that are fully materialistic (e.g. awed atheism).

    This seems so clear to me that I must be missing something.

    #632 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 06:06 PM:

    Tim, you left out the distant possibility of one that actually delivers on physical miracles.

    #633 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 06:12 PM:

    the only religions that can never conflict with science are those which either propose immaterial entities that never have an observable effect on anything, including mental states, or those that are fully materialistic (e.g. awed atheism).

    This seems so clear to me that I must be missing something.

    No, that sounds about right. I might tweak your wording to take "propose immaterial entities that never have an observable effect on anything" and replace it with "propose entities that have never been observed", since it would seem legitimate to say that belief in the "unmoved mover" (Plato?), or the Tao or "way" of the universe, or similar spiritual paths, would be compatible with science. You might be able to argue that God kicked off the big bang and sent various spirits to earth in human form long ago, but has since left us to our own free will, and still be compatible with science. At least I wouldn't have a problem letting them join the club.

    The other thing is that science doesn't give you moral judgements, either, so ideas such as to the moral response to crime and punishment might be considered a religion, or not. But it isn't a matter of science to assign this as "good" and that as "bad", or this as "holy" and that as "evil". That may be what you call your personal morality or philosophy or religion.

    But yeah, that's pretty much it.

    Satori has been described as one of those things that monks take years and years to try and achieve, and then when they finally "get it", it's so painfully simple that all it takes is something like saying "God is six pounds of flax" to make it click.

    #634 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 06:15 PM:

    hm, make that "observed" as in some scientific, repeatable, quantifiable, controlled definition of observed.

    just to clarify that if only one person sees and talks to the burning bush, then that isn't scientifically "observed".

    #635 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 06:30 PM:

    Tim: There are religions that propose immaterial entities winding the clock (or triggering The Explosion), and intervening no further after the Universe appears. There are also religions that propose immaterial entities exerting influence on other immaterial entities (souls) that have some connection with the behavior of material bodies.

    Science can study and attempt to predict human behavior without trying to prove or disprove the existence of souls.

    FWIW, Stephen Hawkings, a scientist, tackles Einstein's question "Does God Play Dice," in the link I cited above. He concludes:


    Thus, the future of the universe is not completely determined by the laws of science, and its present state, as Laplace thought. God still has a few tricks up his sleeve.
    It's true that Hawkings might have substituted "Nature," or "the Universe" for the word "God," but he didn't.

    I'll cop to attempting to argue, here, that science and religion are not mutually exclusive by appealing to a higher authority: a scientist who's smarter than I am and seems to feel that way.
    We could probably Google up a bunch of other essays from brilliant scientists, some who see a conflict between science and religion and some who don't.

    #636 ::: Scott Harris ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 06:30 PM:

    Steven - that's fine by me; I look kind of like Trotsky some days. Or Lenin, if I shave my head... but anyway, the only part of 'forming a vanguard party' I really wanted to discuss this thread was the part where I don't think it's necessary to exclude those who come to the same conclusions about social justice from different premises than oneself.

    Frankly, I wouldn't be able to fully support any party whose ideology didn't allow for the existence of a plurality of political viewpoints after the Revolution. I'd ally with them, sure, but be on the lookout for ice picks afterward. ;-)

    Individ-ewe-al - Yeah, that was a big boo-boo; have no idea what was behind it, either, or what my inner Freudian is trying to tell me. Probably something about my barely-existent Jewish identity or something...

    All - science is a method of explaining things, one of whose rules is basically not to look for supernatural explanations for natural phenomena. Another way of looking at it is that if you can analyze something using the tools of scientific inquiry, it's not truly 'super'natural. It is not useful for explaining things outside the realm of natural philosophy entirely, such as aesthetic and moral judgements - even if we take natural phenomena to include neurological states and social dynamics.

    I would also note that it doesn't help us with epistemological problems such as the problem of inference, since the scientific method itself is premised on some specific epistemological assumptions.

    #637 ::: Joyce Reynolds-Ward ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 06:32 PM:

    Wow. Go away to ride the horse, and come back to...

    Okay, looks good. Folks, I'd like to keep it up longer, but it looks like we might be winding it up here, and I will be away from my computer for the next few days, so I'm politely bowing out, with these last few comments:

    Steven: believe or not, there are Christian Trots out there. They're pretty hard core on the Liberation Theology front, too.

    Scott: thank you for the very articulate comments. One of the things I've discovered in my occasional chats with moderate to liberal Muslims is that as a liberal Christian, there are times when I have more in common with these folks than the fundies of both our faiths.

    Leonora: that's exactly the sort of faith I try to follow.

    Have fun, folks.

    #638 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 06:38 PM:

    Tim, you left out the distant possibility of one that actually delivers on physical miracles.

    I thought of that, but any reconciliation with science would be tentative, like all scientific knowledge, and so in principle it would still be vulnerable to contradiction.

    The other thing is that science doesn't give you moral judgements, either

    Neither does religion. If you can't demonstrate that not only does God exist, but that you have correctly divined her will, your moral judgments are no more convincing than anyone else's.

    It's true that you can't derive "ought" from "is", but you can't get to "ought" by any foolproof method. The best you can do is accept as few axioms as possible (maybe just the Golden Rule?), and derive the rest.

    #639 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 06:51 PM:

    There are religions that propose immaterial entities winding the clock (or triggering The Explosion), and intervening no further after the Universe appears. There are also religions that propose immaterial entities exerting influence on other immaterial entities (souls) that have some connection with the behavior of material bodies.

    An immaterial entity affecting the material world is a contradiction in terms. Even if one got past that, either the entity leaves traces (in which case it's amenable to scientific inquiry) or it doesn't (in which there's no difference between it existing and not existing).

    science is a method of explaining things, one of whose rules is basically not to look for supernatural explanations for natural phenomena.

    It's only a rule in the sense that it's a consequence of preferring explanations to non-explanations, which I would consider to be the fundamental scientific attitude.

    It is not useful for explaining things outside the realm of natural philosophy entirely, such as aesthetic and moral judgements

    I don't see any reason why science can't, in principle, explain aesthetic and moral judgments. Justifying them is another matter.

    #640 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 06:54 PM:

    and I keep bringing it back to the simple explanation of science. Science does NOT demand an exclusion of any and all realms outside of its observation. Science does not demand that Buckaroo Bonzai's 8th dimension cannot exist because it can't observe it. Science does not say that supernatural planes cannot exist because it can't observe it.

    Well, actually, science doesn't make any demands at all. It just is. It's the study of what is. We make demands on ourselves and each other. Steven believes, based on evidence that you don't accept, that science and religion are such contradictions that at some points, given enough pressure from various socio-economic factors, those contradictions will become so intense that you have to choose one of them, in the same way that, under certain circumstances, you might have to choose to go east or west, even though for most of your life you've been going north, right in between the two choices. (Sorry for such a weak analogy.)

    We know where Steven's getting his theories and evidence. I know a lot of very serious critiques of same. However, anectdotal evidence doesn't cut it, anymore than anectdotal evidence proves that shark cartilege cures cancer.

    I don't remember where I heard it, but it struck me as incredibly informative at the time: no one by themselves is a statistic. You can say that you can believe in both the rational and irrational worlds without having them come into contradiction with each, and you may well be right. Nobody's a statistic, and there are surely people like that. If Steven's right, though, then many of the people who claim that they, too, can do that are incorrect. It is a comfortable, safe middle road. Which is why, I think (channelling Steven which cannot be an entirely safe thing to do) Steven says that while it is possible to believe in both worlds, it is wrong to do so. It actively discourages a necessary movement towards rationality and materialism.

    I'm not a communist, by the way, though I am interested in a lot of their ideas. I might be an anarcho-syndicalist, or a socialist, or a mutualist, or... I really don't have the taxonomy of the radical left down. But I totally agree that capitalism is now a means of oppression, and that it must be brought to an end. The actual doing of it, though, worries me. The state sure doesn't seem to be withering away on its own. Darn it.

    #641 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 06:58 PM:

    the only part of 'forming a vanguard party' I really wanted to discuss this thread was the part where I don't think it's necessary to exclude those who come to the same conclusions about social justice from different premises than oneself.

    I had wanted to not get into this--it isn't appropriate for this thread--but...

    No, I disagree. The Mensheviks and Bolsheviks agreed about social justice. The Mensheviks wanted to turn power over to the bourgiousie. The Bolsheviks wanted all power in the hands of the working class and poor peasants.

    Today, many groups agree on social justice. Most of them want to turn the people's sense of outrage into support for the Democratic Party. Others insist on a complete break with the Democratic Party and the political independance of the working class.

    If the Trotskyist analysis is correct, the former will result in catastrophe. An alliance based on agreement of program and perspective is one thing; merely agreeing on what the problem is, is not sufficient.

    #642 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 07:03 PM:

    It is rather irritating when people feel they must explain me to others.

    It is far more irritating when they prove correct.

    Hey, Lydia.

    #643 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 07:08 PM:

    G: Science does NOT demand an exclusion of any and all realms outside of its observation. Science does not demand that Buckaroo Bonzai's 8th dimension cannot exist because it can't observe it. Science does not say that supernatural planes cannot exist because it can't observe it.

    L: Well, actually, science doesn't make any demands at all. It just is. It's the study of what is.

    Well, no. Science is not the study of what "is". Again, that's ontology. Science is an epistomological pursuit in acquiring knowledge through material observation. And that pursuit of knowledge of cause and effects through material observation does not demand the non-existence of the non-observable.

    it is possible to believe in both worlds, it is wrong to do so. It actively discourages a necessary movement towards rationality and materialism.

    Odd that you get pedantic about science "demanding" something, but you close by saying there is some sort of "necesary movement" towards materialism. Who made materialism a necessity? Because I didn't get that memo.

    #644 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 07:10 PM:

    Science doesn't say the supernatural planes don't exist-- it says they don't need to exist in the same way that gravity needs to exist.

    One of the fundamental rules of the scientific method is that you can't prove a negative. Science doesn't actually have a damn thing to say about god and the devil, heaven and hell, ho-hos vs. twinkies because you can't define a replicable experiment proving their existence. Lots of things exist that we know nothing about. Maybe someday somebody will find proof of God or magic or little green men, but personally I ain't counting on it.

    I think, though, that phrasing things as "science doesn't require" such and such is a misleading statement. The things you mention are entirely outside the realm of science. Science deals with the measurable, material world. It has absolutely nothing to say, positive or negative, about the invisible world.

    #645 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 07:24 PM:

    One of the fundamental rules of the scientific method is that you can't prove a negative.

    That's what I was saying about Buckaroo Bonzai's 8th dimension. Science does not demand the unobserved dimension must not exist.

    phrasing things as "science doesn't require" such and such is a misleading statement.

    When I said "Science does not demand (blah)" that was a bit of shorthand for

    "Embracing the epistomology that knowledge of cause and effects is acquired through material observation does not demand you also embrace (blah)"

    I think I defined science to be that pursuit of knowledge at one point, but it gets to be a mouthful if I have to say the whole thing everytime, so I just say "science".

    #646 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 07:33 PM:

    Odd that you get pedantic about science "demanding" something, but you close by saying there is some sort of "necesary movement" towards materialism. Who made materialism a necessity? Because I didn't get that memo.

    One is an ontological (or, if you prefer, epistemological) statement, that is, a statement about the state of the physical world. The second is a statement about human behavior. The first is not goal-directed. Value judgments, such as "mosquitoes are bad" or "poverty is evil and unnecessary" are products of human thought, not scientific observation. One can, of course, measure the spread of disease via blood-sucking insects, or the death toll of people below the poverty line vs. wealthy people, but that's still just data. The universe doesn't care about dead people, or poor people. They're just phenomena. We're the ones that think that these things are a bad idea and should be stopped. Hence, "necessary" for the second concept.

    #647 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 07:34 PM:

    It is rather irritating when people feel they must explain me to others.

    It is, I confess, an incredibly bad habit of mine. I'm glad I didn't get it too wrong.

    Nice to see you 'round.

    #648 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 07:41 PM:

    Greg: Science does NOT demand an exclusion of any and all realms outside of its observation.

    Well, no. But if science is the epistomology that knowledge of cause and effects is acquired through material observation, then anything that's outside the observation of science is outside the observation of, well, me. If non-material observation if possible, I don't have the wherewithal for it; my brain and my senses are limited to the material world. There may well be realms and realms that are inaccessible to science, but there's no way for me to access them, and no way for them to affect me. So taking their possible existence into account when making decisions is pretty pointless.

    Tim: If you can't demonstrate that not only does God exist, but that you have correctly divined her will, your moral judgments are no more convincing than anyone else's.

    And even if you can-- why are God's moral judgments more convincing? Even if there is a will or an intelligence maintaining the universe, why should her ideas of how humans should behave trump yours or mine?

    #649 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 07:47 PM:

    Lydia writes One of the fundamental rules of the scientific method is that you can't prove a negative.

    I must have missed that class.

    #650 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 07:47 PM:

    Greg, I see what you're saying about science not demanding the non-existence of the invisible world. The reason I don't like that phrasing is that science (temporarily being defined as that pursuit of acquiring knowledge about the universe based on observation and replicable experimentation) really doesn't have a position on anything _but_ the material world. If God pops up while we're poking around, he's gonna stop being supernatural, and become just one more phenomena that we can study because to find him with the tools we have, he'd have to be consistent and predictable. Which isn't exactly the way with gods.

    I don't quite agree with Steven about the inherent conflict between god and science, but I understand where he's coming from much better, now. Science has nothing whatsoever to say to religion. Neither positive nor negative. They don't occupy the same space. I prefer Gould's NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria somethingorother). Unfortunately, religion spends entirely too much time and energy making statements about the physical world.

    I may have more to say on this later. Far as I'm concerned, religious experiences are nothing more, and nothing less, than brain chemistry. The same goes for love, hate, schizophrenia, genius, hallucinations, and poetry. The brain is a strange thing, wonderful and incredibly tricksy. I'm rather fond of it in concept, though I'm kinda fed up with my own brain because it didn't come with a manufacturer's warranty, and there is definitely a problem with the overall construction and design.

    #651 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 07:52 PM:

    I would like to offer an analogy through which the puzzled materialists among us (Ellen? Steve?) might be able to understand how it is that others of us on this thread, while otherwise appearing entirely rational, are willing to talk about non-material beings (like God) and are not disturbed by the contradictons previously discussed.

    I don't know how many of you are familiar with Chinese medicine. You may have had acupuncture, or taken Chinese herbs. It is incredibly complex, very sophisticated, several thousand years old, and makes very little sense in terms of Western medicine. But it works. When I broke my leg I went to the ER, got a cast, did all the appropriate Western things; when I had an inexplicable condition which Western medicine could not even diagnose (having to do with fatigue, pain in the kidneys, constant cold, loss of weight, other symptoms...) despite its best efforts, I finally went to an acupuncturist, and after some months of treatment with herbs and needles, the condition went away.

    Western medicine does not recognize the theoretical basis for why acupuncture works -- if you talk about energy meridians, channels, points, qi, wind, etc. to Western doctors, they roll their eyes. No Western doctor will believe that you can get any information about a patient's condition by examining the shape, color, and ridges on his or her tongue. Think of them as parallel information systems. However, Western medicine's inability to explain Chinese medicine in Western terms does not affect Chinese medicine's ability to treat disease. Certainly not all claims made for TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) are true, but hell, neither are all claims made by WM. Yes, sometimes TCM fails completely. We are not going to talk about all the ways WM fails -- except perhaps to point out that 25% of all illnesses treated in hospital are iatrogenic. Not a great track record. My point, both systems work within some values for "work," and so far, at least, they have entirely different, internally consistent ways of explaining the healing process. You cannot explain TCM by appealing to WM. Will they at some point in the future find a meeting point, so that WM doctors will start to examine patients' tongues, prescribe traditional Chinese herbs, and talk about things like kidney heat and harmonizing the spleen? Only if those Western doctors (there are some, I have met a few) also study TCM. (By the way, if any traditional Chinese medicine practitioners are reading this, I apologize for any gross mis-statements I may have made about TCM. Feel free to correct me if you think it necessary.)

    Does this help? (Please don't think that I am suggesting that Chinese medicine is somehow "spiritual" -- that's not what I mean at all. My point is about different information systems looking at the same phenomena.) Or have I muddied the waters...?

    #652 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 07:53 PM:

    Stephen Frug:

    Science Friction
    Michael Shermer
    2005

    Owl Books
    2006
    ISBN 0-8050-7914-9
    $16.00 US
    $21.95 Can

    (which means they are making a killing in Canada, given the present exchange rate)

    #653 ::: Steven Brust ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 07:57 PM:

    Early on, I used the word "theists." I should probably go back to that.

    #654 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 08:01 PM:

    Steven: Liberalism wishes to see a kinder, more gentle society without removing those institutions I mentioned above--those institutions that, in my opinion, *cause* exactly the problems they hope to alleviate.

    Niall: I've heard that opinion before, but not often in the last 15 years. The radical left has more or less evaporated here in Ireland with the disappearance of mass unemployment and emigration, brought about by liberal reforms.

    Niall, I do believe that mass unemployment and emigration haven't vanished, they were just relocated. As soon as the Congo will consists of well-off suburbia and the number one cause of death will not be malaria brought on by starvation, poor sanitation, and inaccessibility of health care, I will be inclined to reavaluate liberal reforms.

    (Oh, and it would help a great deal if they could stop my job being outsourced to India, too. Not that I begrudge the Indians their chances, but it dawned on me that the reason my job relocates there is that a vast reservoir of utter poverty coupled with the inability of Indians to relocate here makes it possible for some already obscenely wealthy people to cut the wages of people like me to a tenth of what I earn now. Presumably so that they can then donate their extra eranings to the Labour Party to obtain a peerage.)

    #655 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 08:11 PM:

    Lizzy: I think I see what you're trying to say, but I don't think the analogy really holds up-- unless you're claiming that Western medical science will never be able to explain, within its own theoretical framework, how TCM works?

    Because the theoretical differences don't appear to be irreconcilable: both systems are still working on the same domain. The TCM practicioner gives you herbs, a Western doctor gives you pills, but it's getting chemicals into your bloodstream either way. Both physicians are manipulating the same body.

    Whereas spirituality is explicity outside the domain of rational explanation-- not a separate approach to the same matters, but an entirely other realm, somehow congruent with this one.

    #656 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 08:15 PM:

    When I pointed out to Steven earlier that many religions are immune to refutation by science, I hope no-one thought that I think that's a positive feature.

    Science doesn't need to address things which can be dismissed with simple logic.

    #657 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 08:23 PM:

    Steven said: I believe that as the economic crisis of world capitalism deepens, the most reactionary right-wing elements will raise their heads. Officially, attempts by the state to restrict human rights. Physically, gangs and mobs will be used to intimidate anyone who tries to fight back. Idealogically, all of the most backward philosophies will be used to justify these attacks.

    If this happens in my lifetime, be assured that I will fight back, and that any attempt by a right-wing Christianist state to use the gospels as justification for intimidation, oppression, and denial of human rights will meet with contempt and complete disbelief from me and my co-religionists. (Don't know if that makes you feel better...)

    Allow me to point out that if the above happens, the state is equally likely to use some tortured version of "science" to enforce its will. Anyone remember Eugenics? It has an ugly history in this country.

    #658 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 08:31 PM:

    Greg: Science does NOT demand an exclusion of any and all realms outside of its observation.

    Ellen: Well, no. But if science is the epistomology that knowledge of cause and effects is acquired through material observation, then anything that's outside the observation of science is outside the observation of, well, me.

    substitute "an exclusion" with "the non-existence", and I think that fixes poor wording on my part.

    Ellen: If non-material observation if possible, I don't have the wherewithal for it; my brain and my senses are limited to the material world.

    Ah, well, some would disagree. There is a concept that points to the difference between "brain" and "mind". Your brain is neurochemistry and neurons and chemical reactions. Your mind is conscious and feeling and experiential. If you wish to object and pull all experiences of the mind back to neurochemistry, that's your truth. A koan-like response to that might be to swing a stick at your head, watch you duck, and tell you I was being nice to you. And maybe you'll get it, maybe not.

    There is a "you" that is not your body, and not your brain cells, and not your flesh and bones. There is the "you" that you call "I". The you that has an identity. That is beyond the physical. It is purely physical reactions, but the experience of identity is more than that. You don't feel like a bunch of cells and neurons and neurochemistry going on in your brain. You feel like an identity of the mind. And you feel the urge to duck as the stick approaches your head. Chemistry can explain it. But that doesn't mean you didn't feel the experience as well.

    So while your brain and senses may be limited to the physical world, your mind is not. You cannot measure the experience of happiness materially. You can hook the brain up to an EEG and inject tracers and watch the chemicals fly and neurons fire, but that is not the experience of the happiness.

    Now, either you take that on or not. It either fits you or it doesn't. But for me, the alternative is to reduce all experiences of mind to brain chemistry, push identity out of the picture completely, and end up in flatland.

    Been there. Done that. Didn't work for me. it required a level of continuous self-distraction that got too tiring. So I quit trying.


    Ellen: There may well be realms and realms that are inaccessible to science, but there's no way for me to access them, and no way for them to affect me. So taking their possible existence into account when making decisions is pretty pointless.

    The minimal woo-woo version of spirituality allows you to access the experience of identity, and the experience of identity in relationship to all-space-all-time-all-at-once.

    I can't measure it or show it to you, but I can tell you the experience I had when I quit trying to explain identity away as being nothing more than an illusion of the material was awesome. The 'I' that was 'me' suddenly felt at home in my own skin, completely grounded, and a whole lot more ease.

    And maybe that's too woo-woo to hear. Don't know. But it's true for me. And the difference it made for me was far from pointless. And yet, you would be unable to detect it in an MRI or an EEG or a blood test.

    #659 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 08:54 PM:

    Anna writes: Niall, I do believe that mass unemployment and emigration haven't vanished, they were just relocated. As soon as the Congo will consists of well-off suburbia and the number one cause of death will not be malaria brought on by starvation, poor sanitation, and inaccessibility of health care, I will be inclined to reavaluate liberal reforms.

    Perhaps if the same reforms were applied in the Congo, and to trade between the Congo and the EU and US, you'd have a point.

    Oh, and it would help a great deal if they could stop my job being outsourced to India, too.

    Would you be OK with outsourcing to the Congo?

    #660 ::: Greg Ioannou ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 08:58 PM:

    Ok, now I'm totally befuddled. I couldn't read To Reign in Hell, partly because of how religious it seems to be. And Steven turns out to be approximately as staunch an atheist as I am. Huh?

    Greg: As I told Ellen, and tweaked my definition to reflect that, strike out the word "universe", and that's probably closer. You're taking it to a material meaning. It's more like "how you relate to the eternal, and to the infinite".

    I knew what you were talking about here until you took out the noun and tried to convert the adjectives to nouns. Now you've left me in some incomprehensible grammatical limbo.

    #661 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 09:03 PM:

    Apropos of nothing in particular, a great quote from Lenny Bruce, courtesy of Avedon: Take away the right to say "fuck" and you take away the right to say "fuck the government."

    I'll go away now...

    #662 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 09:33 PM:

    you took out the noun and tried to convert the adjectives to nouns. Now you've left me in some incomprehensible grammatical limbo.

    Try "all-space-all-time-all-at-once".
    There's a machine in Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy somewhere that did this by using a piece of cake and extrapolating the rest of the universe. Than all you have to do is not go insane.

    #663 ::: Brian Ledford ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 10:04 PM:

    not that it's especially relevant, but you can prove a negative just fine if you set your experiment up right. The Michelson-Morley ether experiment is probably the best example. I suppose that you could argue that the ether still fills the universe but that it doesn't interact with anything and is not detectable, but that seems a bit perverse.

    #664 ::: Greg Ioannou ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 10:07 PM:

    Extrapolating the universe from a piece of cake is no problem. It has basically the same dimensions -- (length, breadth, depth, duration, etc), is infinitely complex if examined closely enough, but is on a somewhat different scale. "All-space-all-time-all-at-once" sounds like it can comfily be expressed mathematically. A sentence with adjectives but no nouns is what makes for insanity.

    #665 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 10:19 PM:

    Carrie S,

    Let me paraphrase to make sure I have this right: It is incorrect to believe in both science and God. Is that right?

    Because if it is, you've got a lot of bloody nerve, sir. Who precisely are you to tell people what to believe, again?

    Are you claiming that stating any belief to be incorrect is wrong? Do you believe that?

    Do you see the contradiction here?

    #666 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 10:27 PM:

    *nabs comment 666*

    #667 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 10:43 PM:

    Breadth? I would have thought it'd have caketh.

    #668 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 10:46 PM:

    I suppose that you could argue that the ether still fills the universe but that it doesn't interact with anything and is not detectable, but that seems a bit perverse.

    And exactly analogous to the supernatural. As was said 'way upthread, the explanatory power of "god" has been contracting. Today, we're left with "a sense of the divine that permeates all of reality."

    Which is why the luminiferous aether was abandoned: M-M didn't prove that the aether does not exist: it proved that IF it existed, it does not interact with the observable universe in any meaningful way.

    And as such, the hypothesis can be abandoned.


    #669 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 10:51 PM:

    Thus spake Steven: I believe that as the economic crisis of world capitalism deepens, the most reactionary right-wing elements will raise their heads. Officially, attempts by the state to restrict human rights. Physically, gangs and mobs will be used to intimidate anyone who tries to fight back. Idealogically, all of the most backward philosophies will be used to justify these attacks.

    To fight against the official attacks requires, in my judgment, the political independance of the working class, with a clear socialist program.

    To fight against the physical assaults requires the working class to be organized its own defense.

    I would love the working class to become politically independent. Hey, it might even happen. But I don't see any scientific evidence for this future over any other. What you seem to be saying is that something wonderful will happen some time in the future, and that if we act a certain way it's guaranteed. In other words, a kind of religion.

    #670 ::: Scott Harris ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 10:58 PM:

    Well, no. But if science is the epistomology that knowledge of cause and effects is acquired through material observation, then anything that's outside the observation of science is outside the observation of, well, me.

    Things that I would consider outside the observation of science include:

    1) Your preference for a particular flavor of ice cream - not the mere fact that you prefer it, or even the particular firing sequence of neurons responsible for it in terms of brain function, but your actual experience of liking one better than the other and feeling that *of course* it's better.

    2) A value judgement such as saying that you shouldn't gossip about friends - not the psychological factors that lead to that judgement (a proper subject of psychology), but it's correctness or falsehood.

    3) The qualia (actual experience) of just about any sensory experience or memory - what blue looks like to you, as opposed to what wavelength of light it represents.

    I suspect you are quite capable of observing any and all of these.

    If non-material observation if possible, I don't have the wherewithal for it; my brain and my senses are limited to the material world.

    So, your brain is incapable of generating mental images and memories? You never get a song stuck in your head that's not actually playing on a nearby speaker? You don't have feelings about things, or thoughts concerning abstract concepts? You can't understand mathematical relationships unless represented by concrete examples actually physically present before you, and therefore are incapable of algebra, calculus, or the concept of transfinite numbers?

    There are lots of things that it makes sense to think of *as* things that are not material objects... although I tend to agree that they don't include invisible people wandering around among us or looking down on us from the sky.

    #671 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 11:11 PM:
    Lydia writes One of the fundamental rules of the scientific method is that you can't prove a negative.

    I must have missed that class.

    Huh. I learned it in 7th grade science class, in a parochial school, no less. (Protestant parochial, not Catholic. I didn't get stuck with the Catholics and their nuns until high school. Strange experience, what with being a fundamentalist minister's daughter.)

    #672 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 11:44 PM:

    Terry Karney: Thanks! I'll check it out (from the library, probably.)

    #673 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2006, 11:47 PM:

    Carrie S.

    Someone who sees your opinion as flatly contradictory to her experience and to the experiences of many other people.

    Opinion cannot be contradictory to experience, they aren't in the same space. Belief can be contradictory to experience.

    My opinion is "he's ugly." I don't care if your experience is that anywhere he goes thousands of people worship his physical beauty, that doesn't contradict my opinion. It just says that a lot of people disagree with me (as usual).

    My belief is that "dropping a brick on your foot doesn't hurt very much." That can certainly be contradicted by someone's experience.

    #674 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2006, 12:04 AM:

    Dan S: did the NYT article make any link between southern Delaware and what's becoming more accepted as the primary cause of the Salem witch hysteria? There have been some very convincing arguments that it was an economic and social conflict, with the viciousness coming from people who were seeing their control fade.

    Steven: I believe a scientific analysis of society will lead to revolutionary, not liberal views.

    This strikes me as being as disconnected from reality as most of the religions discussed. It is also antithetical to the spirit of scientific inquiry; conclusions are the end of research, not the start. I could even call it religious (and/or the basis of some really dreadful SF); I don't \think/ anything heavy will fit through a cable line....

    and to get myself in trouble with ]both[ sides:

    Carrie/Xopher: I can understand to some extent the idea of drawing a circle (real or metaphorical -- I don't need to get into details of anyone's practices) and assuming a different mental state inside it. The most tactless way I can put the questions this raises are "Does the physical world stop influencing you inside the circle?" and "Even if so, what good does it do you, when you have to come out of the circle and live in the physical world?" I can see some answer for the second in people who don't have the benefit of some practice offering an access to a world beyond one's own skin while not requiring belief (I've been through phases of change ringing, hang gliding, and skydiving, and music has been a major thread most of my life), but it seems to me that this is a splitting of self that does not lead to a whole life. (That's a very weak formulation; perhaps I could as well say that the schizoid squicks me?) Taking Xopher's later point about sun phobia: is a fiction \really/ the best way to deal wi