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IEET > Life > Innovation > Vision > Galactic > Directors > Giulio Prisco

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Yes, I Am a Believer


Giulio Prisco
By Giulio Prisco
Turing Church

Posted: May 23, 2012

I frequently write and talk about things at the intersection of science and religion, spirituality and technology, and I am often asked if I am a believer. I used to give complicated, intellectual answers, but now I prefer giving a simple answer. My answer is YES, I am a believer.

I used to give answers like:

* Well…
* I guess I do. However…
* Not in a conventional sense. But…
* I am a scientist, and I subscribe to a materialist worldview. At the same time…

A few months ago, after giving a talk on Transhumanism and Religion at Manhattan College in NYC, a student asked me The Question. I answered “more yes than no,” but while saying so I was asking myself, why don’t I just answer yes.

I believe simple and important questions require simple and honest answers. Of course I know that reality is more complex than simple answers, but I believe the appropriate caveats and qualifications should come later. When others ask you simple questions that are evidently important to them, please don’t answer with a philosophy treatise. You can of course give them also a philosophy treatise, to read later.

If you are an American, you need to understand that Europe is another world. In the U.S., it is difficult for an atheist to be elected to public office. But here in Europe, intellectuals (I vehemently object to being called an intellectual, but that is what they call me anyway) are not supposed to believe. It is not kosher, it is not cool, it is not elegant, and it is not sophisticated enough.

Of course, what my previous “intellectual” answers really mean is: “I am not a moron like you, I have studied, I have a degree, I have read many more books than you, and therefore I don’t ‘believe’ like the rest of you little idiots.” This is not what I meant, but I realize that this is how elitist intellectualism sounds. So, no more of that.

Now when they ask me if I am a believer,  I give the simple and honest answer YES. At the end of my last talk at the 2012 conference of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, I said it loud and clear. The religion field of my Facebook profile now reads Christian, with some qualifiers and extras (I am still a free thinker).

I am perfectly aware that most Christian Churches don’t like free thinkers. I have no respect for authority, don’t do what I am told, think with my own head, have zero tolerance for bullshit, and my religious ideas are unusual and unconventional to say the least (see below), so they would never accept me as a member if I wanted to join. A few centuries ago I would have been excommunicated as heretic, and probably also burned at a stake. (in passing, Mormons seems more tolerant of personal revelation and creative theology).

So why do I say that I am a believer? One, because I am.

My beliefs

Long version: See my essay Transcendent Engineering published in the Terasem journal of Personal Cyberconsciousness.

Shorter version: See my Ten Cosmist Convictions, co-authored with Ben Goertzel, originally appeared in Ben’s A Cosmist Manifesto blog, published in Ben’s book A Cosmist Manifesto.

Very short version: The “manifest destiny” of our species is colonizing the universe and developing spacetime engineering and scientific “future magic” much beyond our current understanding and imagination. Gods will exist in the future, and they may be able to affect their past — our present — by means of spacetime engineering. Probably other civilizations out there already attained God-like powers. Future magic will permit achieving, by scientific means, most of the promises of religions — and many amazing things that no human religion ever dreamed. Future Gods will be able to resurrect the dead by “copying them to the future.” Perhaps we will be resurrected in virtual reality, and perhaps we are already there.

I have written a lot about these convictions, without calling them “beliefs.” But, following William James, since I am persuaded that these convictions are scientifically plausible, and they give me happiness and drive, I choose to hold them as beliefs. As I say in a note to the Ten Cosmist Convictions, I am not using “will”  in the sense of inevitability, but in the sense of intention: we want to do this, we are confident that we can do it, and we will do our f**king best to do it. You know that, if you really want to achieve a goal, you must firmly believe that you will achieve it.

Two, because I find militant atheists very annoying, and I am persuaded that religion can be a powerful and positive force.

New Atheists and New Believers

In a comment to George Dvorsky’s excellent article Why humanists Need to Make the Shift to Post-Atheism, my friend and sometime opponent Hank Pellissier praises New Atheists as “annoying, militant, pissed-off, in-your-face god-hating getting-rid-of-religious-dogma-and-repression atheists.”

I agree that New Atheists are annoying, and I will add that I find them bigoted, self-righteous, intolerant, humorless, and hateful (not to mention boring). I have no doubt that, if they were in power, they would behave exactly like the Inquisition that they claim to despise: they would oppress believers, send them to gulags, and probably burn them at stakes. A few months ago, in a Facebook debate, a militant atheist fascist proposed to send believers to forced therapy (yes, really). And History shows that, when militant atheists are in power, that is precisely what they do.

I must, however, acknowledge that often militant atheists have their heart and mind in the right place when they point out that religions have been directly responsible for many bad things. Besides atrocities like the Inquisition and holy wars, the bigotry, self-righteousness and hateful intolerance of organized religions (I am intentionally using the same words that I used against militant atheists) have caused a lot of suffering. For example many have suffered from forced religious indoctrination at an early age, and many have been mistreated and abused in religious schools. I think many militant atheists react to bad experiences with religion, and I understand them.

But religious beliefs in themselves are not responsible for the flaws of organized religions. What makes people suffer, is other people. I know that religions attract many sadistic and power-hungry sociopaths and thugs… like all other power structures. The visionary thinkers and mystics who create new religious organizations are usually good persons, but the thugs who inevitably end up working for them aren’t, and they often achieve power. A related problem is that (the thugs in) organized religions often support authoritarian and oppressive policies. This is the problem to solve, not the beliefs of billions of peaceful people all over this planet.

In my beliefs I find hope, happiness, meaning, the strength to get through the night, and a powerful sense of wonder at our future adventures out there in the universe, which gives me also the drive to try to be a better person here-and-now on this little planet and make it a little better for future generations. I hope to be resurrected, with my loved ones, by benevolent entities in the future. I wish to offer my beliefs to other people, because I am persuaded that others can find in them the same hope, wonder, and drive.

I think religions can be powerful forces for good, and help steer our species toward our cosmic destiny. In Religion for a Galactic Civilization, William S. Bainbridge says: “Religion shapes science and technology, and is shaped by them in return. It has become fashionable to assume that religion and science simply are opposed, and that science has been winning the battle over the past century. But much historical evidence indicates that religion of a certain kind was instrumental in the rise of science and modern technology. Religion will continue to influence the course of progress, and creation of a galactic civilization may depend upon the emergence of a galactic religion capable of motivating society for the centuries required to accomplish that great project. This religion would be a very demanding social movement, and will require extreme discipline from its members, so for purposes of this essay I will call it The Cosmic Order.”

To conclude with a proposal, I wish to see movements of New Believers, in all religions, who embrace their visions of hope and transcendent wonder but reject intolerance, oppression, and hate. Religion can, and should, be based on mutual tolerance, love and compassion. Jesus said: “love thy neighbor as thyself,” and added: “let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”


Giulio Prisco is a physicist and computer scientist, and former senior manager in the European space administration. Giulio works as a consultant and contributes to several science and technology magazines. In 2002-2008 he served on the Board of Directors of Humanity Plus, of which he was Executive Director, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Italian Transhumanist Association. He is often in Hungary, Italy and Spain. You can find more about Giulio at his Turing Church, RSS feed and skefi'a science/fiction, RSS feed.
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COMMENTS


Hmm… still no comments on this article.. interesting?

Well said in any case, (and it really needed to be said!)





If you’re ever in Flin Flon, I would be happy to buy you a beer or coffee or other beverage of your choice.

You make a crucial point in separating the faith of people from the institution that is intended to aid in the willing development of that faith from the people who misuse the institution to take advantage of that faith.

Taking things one step at a time. Faith is what it is. What a person believes can be subject to change by compelling argument, but should not be the subject of coercion. If ones faith causes damaging actions then the community needs to deal with the actions.

The institution of religion is inevitable. At the moment there are several institutions of atheism in the US and more elsewhere. These institutions will form their own rituals and understanding of what is the proper way to be an atheist. More organizations will appear as more people become atheists and don’t agree with the essential ideas of existing institutions.

There will always be people who take advantage of any position of perceived power to do evil. Evil in this instance being defined as action which lessens another being ability to be self-determined and to do good. A simple test of whether something is good or evil is to look at the results. Good will tend to produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness etc. Evil, not so much.  Scott Peck in People of the Lie suggests that evil is the result of refusing to admit fault, thus needing to cover it up with lies.

You will notice that evil and good is measured by results not by the source. That means that we can’t just make broad categorizations and think we’ve finished our work.

Thanks for the article Guilio.





Thanks CignusX1,

They are sharpening their swords I guess wink

I am still logged in! Hopefully the IT crew fixed whatever was the problem.





@Alex re “There will always be people who take advantage of any position of perceived power to do evil.”

This is very, very true (see the parallel thread on Peter’s article). We must never stop watching whoever is in power, in religious organizations and in politics, and kick them out at the first sign of evil.





“We must never stop watching whoever is in power, in religious organizations and in politics, and kick them out at the first sign of evil.”

Academic evildoers, too? or do they possess ‘diplomatic’ immunity?
is academia is some sense considered extraterritorial?

 

 





Hi Giulio,

I agree with you that it is plausible that there will at some time be (and may already be) sentient creatures with god-like powers - including possibly the ability to resurrect humans from the dead.

But how do you get from that point in the argument to the description of yourself as a “Christian”?

// David W.





I’m really trying hard to figure out what exactly makes you not an atheist, Giulio. Everything you’ve said regarding our potential (not inevitable destiny, as you’ve explicitly differentiated) to create godlike technology and thus deify ourselves is perfectly in line with atheism. Hell, even Dawkins agrees with you.

Dawkins is a militant atheist in that he opposes the vast evils religion (dogmatism, to be more precise; theistic religion is simply its most common manifestation) has wrought throughout history and continues to this day. You use this same label to refer to authoritarian fascistic political religions (again, the defining factor is dogmatism, not atheism) without differentiating between the two and I think the implicit conflation is disingenuous and contemptible. If this was not your intention, clarify.





Stefan, for you to suggest that New Atheists are inherently unscientific, anti-intellectual and irrational by providing some random quotes that strongly reek of being taken out of context is really quite laughable. And humorless? Have you guys BEEN to reddit?





What a great post! A very brave statement for the intellectual and transhumanist to admit being religious in our modern world which invariably makes us believe nothing (maybe aside from technological messianism) and no none. Many thanks also for your previous post debunking the myth that rationality doesn’t go in parallel with believing.

Speaking of so-called ‘New Atheists’ also find them unbearable, there are so many of them especially in the academia boasting about being atheists (read: atheist - smart, intelligent, knowledgeable, etc.) and at the very same time laughing and mocking out loud at religious calling them nothing but stupid. I guess that even Allain de Botton doesn’t applaud that. All in all, faith is always good, as it gives hope and helps us being better.





No, I don’t endorse them. I repudiate each of the adjectives used, I just wasn’t interested enough to make an issue out of it.
If you’re asking me whether I place little value in the “discipline” of theology (that is, assuming its axioms in the pursuit of new knowledge) then yes, I do.
I don’t endorse “sanctifying” any field of inquiry from peer review, nor do I know who of your New Atheist enemies does so.





@SHaGGGz re “I’m really trying hard to figure out what exactly makes you not an atheist, Giulio… Hell, even Dawkins agrees with you”

And in fact Dawkins is not (strictly speaking) an atheist. See here:

Richard Dawkins: I can’t be sure God does not exist

Somebody who is not sure if Gods exist or not is not an atheist, but an agnostic. I have no issue with agnostics, and I have a lot of respect for Dawkins.

A key passage in my text is: “have written a lot about these convictions, without calling them “beliefs.” But, following William James, since I am persuaded that these convictions are scientifically plausible, and they give me happiness and drive, I choose to hold them as beliefs….”

Re “You use this same label to refer to authoritarian fascistic political religions (again, the defining factor is dogmatism, not atheism) without differentiating between the two and I think the implicit conflation is disingenuous and contemptible. If this was not your intention, clarify. “

I condemn dogmatism, wherever it comes from. Authoritarian fascists are authoritarian fascists regardless of their religious preferences.

Quote: “A few months ago, in a Facebook debate, a militant atheist fascist proposed to send believers to forced therapy (yes, really).” This is the attitude that I am condemning.

Clearer now?





I’m sure such articles exist, but I don’t care enough to find any, nor do I have any interest in validating your subterfuge that implies that lacking scrupulous scientific evidence for a value judgment within a long-settled ontological context is epistemically equivalent to lacking scrupulous scientific evidence for highly extraordinary claims falling well outside a long-settled ontological context. Your claim that New Atheists are therefore “anti-scientific” when they display a similar lack of interest is quite the knee slapper.

I assumed you were being imprecise in your reference to “religious matters” and simply meant theology. Yes, anthropology of religion has many very interesting and deep insights it can give us into ourselves. In fact, one of your reviled New Atheist horsemen, Daniel Dennett, has a body of work providing just such insights, far more interesting than those coming from within the context of faith. And yes, such insights are not directly the obvious and boring assertion that “God does not exist”; rather, all of the points it makes are interesting precisely because the field makes no reference to such entities, the existence of which does not pass the rigorous muster of scientific discipline.





Giulio: Your assertion that Dawkins is not an atheist depends upon an irrelevant semantic point. In one nomenclature, that has atheism to exclusively mean one who positively asserts that they know that no gods exist, that would be correct. He, and most others who care enough to make finer grain distinctions, refer to that as a strong atheist, with weak atheist meaning one who lacks a belief in a god (both meanings can be inferred from the word “atheist”) and is synonymous with an agnostic. Nevertheless, this is a largely academic distinction. No serious atheist would consider themselves as having knowledge that is by definition beyond human ken, and these are surely not the New Atheists that have come up in this discussion. To mention something that should be obvious to anyone beyond the seriousness of a young earth creationist, merely to make a pedantic point, is simply not worth doing in everyday dialogue. Therefore, I submit to you that you are as much an atheist as I or Dawkins or any (respectable) modern atheist.

Yes, somewhat clearer. I didn’t seriously think that you thought the two were the same thing, merely that the way in which you wrote about them suggested they were, and thought clarification would be in order. I just wanted to call you out on it because this is one of the most common bits of subterfuge religionists throw at atheists and it should be made clear to all that the equivalence is absolutely without merit.

As for your other points regarding their alleged personality deficiencies, this is obviously a matter of taste. What your opinion of what is “too rude/harsh” is different from mine. However, I think getting pissed off about intolerable injustice and cruelty is more than justified.





SHaGGGz re Dawkins:

“There was surprise when Prof Dawkins acknowledged that he was less than 100 per cent certain of his conviction that there is no creator. The philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny, who chaired the discussion, interjected: “Why don’t you call yourself an agnostic?” Prof Dawkins answered that he did.”

Re “Therefore, I submit to you that you are as much an atheist as I or Dawkins or any (respectable) modern atheist.”

And I submit to you that you and Dawkins are as much New Believers as I wink (see my definition of New Believers above).

The point I am making is that our ideas may be similar or at least compatible, regardless of the labels that we choose to identify with.

Re “getting pissed off about intolerable injustice and cruelty is more than justified.”

Totally agree.





Giulio, thanks a lot for the excellent and personal piece.

I often had to mince my words, and we also probably felt the same uneasiness when somebody asked questions like - how can a rational person like you defend religions? Are you a hypocrite?

Personally I ended up thinking that personal views on religion, or on sacredness, cannot but be misinterpreted. They are so personal, so deeply entangled with our individual history, our experiences, and our world-view - that they simply cannot survive our in the open. People translate your words on religion into their (equally personal) terms, and pretty soon they find them weird and unacceptable - no matter what. So - now - when sombody confronts me on my religious beliefs, I reply that - my personal religious beliefs are irrelevant, and, by definition, they cannot make sense to anyone but me. This seems to be sufficiently satisfactory for most interlocutors.

We all need deep emotional commitment to our ethical visions, some fertile cultural substrate that defines our life in relation to other beings and our future. Certain religions provide such a necessary dimension, and we should indeed treasure these religious teachings, especially as technologies drive us away from our comfortable, traditional ways.

Just one question - of course you are free to answer with a “no comment”. I read that, somehow, you associate yourself to Christianity. I am curious to understand where do Christ’s existence, personal features, and teachings fit into your views. Or you merely approve Christian morals, without any commitment to the rest of its doctrine?





@Andre’ re “my personal religious beliefs are irrelevant, and, by definition, they cannot make sense to anyone but me. This seems to be sufficiently satisfactory for most interlocutors.”

This is a good point, and a good way to protect your mental privacy. If your objective is to be left in peace to believe what you want, I think yours is a useful attitude.

But many believers want to offer their belief to others, in the hope that others can find the same happiness. Of course believers who want to share their belief with others must find understandable ways to communicate it (which is not easy for the reason you say, it is really different for everyone).

Re “I read that, somehow, you associate yourself to Christianity. I am curious to understand where do Christ’s existence, personal features, and teachings fit into your views. Or you merely approve Christian morals, without any commitment to the rest of its doctrine?”

I just answered a similar question on Facebook, with: “I always thought of our ideas, taken to their ultimate consequences, as a suitable religion for our times, and I think we are saying exactly the same things that mystics said throughout history (we use very different words, but we are really saying the same things). Christianity is the religion I know better, and I can find our ideas in Christianity. Based on the little I know I find the “extensible” Mormon theology even more suitable than mainstream Christianity, but I don’t know enough about it yet.”

I think Jesus existed. But I believe in early Christianity there was a lot of internal fighting for power (recommended book). Since history is always written by the winners, we may never know the details of what Jesus really said, just the general flavor.

Jesus said: “love thy neighbor as thyself,” and added: “let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.” This is the important part of his teachings in my opinion. Christian theology is interesting, but I think it should be reformulated for our times (ref. my humble preliminary attempts in the article).

Was Jesus the Son of God? I don’t think this is a central issue. He certainly was, in the sense that we all are, and he may have been one of those persons in tune with the universe, more in tune with the universe than the rest of us, able to glimpse at veiled realities beyond our senses.





regarding “State Atheism” that Giulio refers to - I find the history quite interesting.

The French Revolution - 1789. The “dechristianization” of this era featured:
* confiscation of church lands
* removal of statues and other iconography from places of worship
* the institution of revolutionary civic cults, including the Cult of Reason
* the enactment of a law on October 21, 1793 making priests liable to death - 6,000-9,000 were coerced into marriage.

Mexico under Plutarco Elias Calles - 1917-1940 - his policies included:
* religious property seized
* expulsion of foreign clergy
* banning of Church primary schools, with a state “socialist” monopoly on schools

Albania
* all Catholic clergy expelled
* all religious property seized
* Catholic wedding prohibited

Soviet Union
* seizure of religious property
* ridicule and harass believers
* banning of religious writing

China 1949-late 1970’s
* houses of worship turned into secular buildings
* membership in the Communist Party denied to religious people

Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge
* religion absolutely forbidden, under pain of death

Mongolia
* eradication of Buddhist Lamaism

Cuba
* shutting down religious schools
* exiling priests

North Korea
* total abolition of religion

additional nations would be Poland, Czechoslovakia, and perhaps Tibet

——

Giulio dismisses all these attempts at state atheism as total nightmares, and many are indeed horror shows.
However, I believe the entire topic has to be analyzed much more carefully, with these questions:

1. were any state atheist policies beneficial to the public? Are any of these nations better off today? Why?
2. how do the atheist atrocities compare to religious atrocities?
3. are events in past history when policies are enacted, truly expected to always repeat themselves?
4. are militant atheists asking for “state atheism” or just for a secular society? with curbed benefits for religions?
5. what nations are truly “secular societies”? have their populations benefitted?
6. are “believers” - in this case, “transhumanist believers” - resistant to a “secular society”?  if so, why?
7. do the religious fear a “slippery slope” - that a truly secular society would lead to state atheism?  Is their fear justified?

My opinion is that policies can be agreed upon between the two parties - atheist/humanist/secularists and religious transhumanists.

Can we discuss policies?
For example, IMO a truly secular society would eliminate all religious tax benefits, and provide children with a secular education.

Are religious transhumanists opposed to the elimination of preferential tax treatment for religious groups?
Are they opposed to religious education (indoctrination) for the very young and impressionable? or in favor of it?





@David re “I agree with you that it is plausible that there will at some time be (and may already be) sentient creatures with god-like powers - including possibly the ability to resurrect humans from the dead. But how do you get from that point in the argument to the description of yourself as a “Christian”?”

I didn’t see your comment before, but I answered on Facebook. Pasted below:

I always thought of our ideas, taken to their ultimate consequences, as a suitable religion for our times, and I think we are saying exactly the same things that mystics said throughout history (we use very different words, but we are really saying the same things). Christianity is the religion I know better, and I can find our ideas in Christianity. Based on the little I know I find the “extensible” Mormon theology even more suitable than mainstream Christianity, but I don’t know enough about it yet.





@Hank re “how do the atheist atrocities compare to religious atrocities”

I guess torture inflicted by atheist or religious torturers feels just the same to the victim.

re “My opinion is that policies can be agreed upon between the two parties - atheist/humanist/secularists and religious transhumanists.”

Totally agree.

Re “Can we discuss policies?”

Sure, that is what I keep saying. Let’s stop criticizing what happens in the privacy of others’ heads, and let’s try to agree on practical issues and policies instead.

My answers:

“Are religious transhumanists opposed to the elimination of preferential tax treatment for religious groups?”

Answer: no.

“Are they opposed to religious education (indoctrination) for the very young and impressionable? or in favor of it?”

Answer: I am opposed to religious (or anti-religious) education in public schools. In the family, I am not opposed to parents telling children about their religious (or anti-religious) beliefs, but I am strongly opposed to extreme religious (or anti-religious) “indoctrination,” especially with physically or psychologically coercive means.

 

 





I believe… that many already forget that we do live in modern western secular societies, and precisely because we are not educated/educating as to the historical facts.

“Do Secularists Contribute to Social Divisiveness?” - Russell Blackford

http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/blackford20100310


“Is religious freedom self-contradictory?” - Russell Blackford

“There is no reason at all why groups with differing values cannot co-exist in the same society. All that is required is that neither attempt to coerce the other to live in a certain way.”

http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/blackford20100204


“Beyond the “New Atheism”?” - Russell Blackford

http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/blackford20100927


“Fundamentalism” - Russell Blackford

“Here’s how I see things: strangely enough, genuinely moderate religious people are not my enemies. They are usually good people, they are often on the same political side as me, and they are not stupid or dishonest. They may or may not have a view of the world that I find untenable. Many of them are more like deists or pantheists than believers in any traditional kind of providential theism, which means they have views that I consider a bit more plausible; some are not even deists, in that their “God” is more a metaphor than anything else. They may not agree with me on all moral issues, since they may have absorbed certain traditions, values, and culturally-transmitted intuitions that I treat with suspicion; yet, by and large, they are good people to socialise and work with.

In short, genuinely moderate religious people may make good comrades and allies on many issues. On others, we can agree to disagree with them. They won’t think of us as sinners, or imagine that we will burn in hell fire.”

http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/blackford20101011





Another quote from Russell’s “Fundamentalism.” Russell is a very committed atheist, but he is first and foremost an intellectually honest person:

“I would have left the issue at that, but I’m becoming concerned that - despite all the above - there is something at least a bit like fundamentalist atheism in the world. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Michel Onfray, Daniel Dennett, and so on are not examples of it, but you can see what I’m referring to if you look further down the food chain.

I do see people - usually pseudonymous - who appear to have swallowed down a quite precise body of inflexible atheistic doctrine, wherever they got it from. Never, their doctrine insists, call yourself “agnostic”, or anything else that sounds softer than “atheist”; always accept that the word “atheist” has only one possible meaning (usually, mere lack of belief in any deities ... I’m happy with this definition, but other definitions do exist). Treat all religious folks as liars or fools (of course, some are ... but many are far from it). Don’t just satirise religion and (as I like to do) question its right to special respect; feel free to treat even moderate religious folks offensively. Of course, some people will take offense if you condemn or satirise their ideas, but you should go beyond that: make sure you attack them personally if they try to engage with you, even in a reasonable and honest way.

Probably, “fundamentalism” isn’t the correct name for this. It’s not that these people have a holy book - as far as I know. But the phenomenon is out there, whatever we call it, and it can be ugly to watch.”





1. were any state atheist policies beneficial to the public? Are any of these nations better off today? Why?
Some of the initial soviet policies were beneficial to the public, then corruption set in and things were worse than before. This had little to do with the presence or lack of religion.  As to whether the nations are better off today, most of them are, and most of them once again allow religious activity. Again, I don’t think religion plays a big role in whether a country does well or not.


2. how do the atheist atrocities compare to religious atrocities?
They are all nasty

3. are events in past history when policies are enacted, truly expected to always repeat themselves?
This is an interesting question and really comes down to how well we educate ourselves honestly about past mistakes. The blaming of one group or another for problems will probably lead to the problems repeating themselves. An honest examination will reveal the true roots of the issue and make it possible to avoid it in the future.

4. are militant atheists asking for “state atheism” or just for a secular society? with curbed benefits for religions?
I don’t know that militant atheists have come up with a consistent manifesto. Opinions seem to range from live and let live to forced re-education for the religious.

5. what nations are truly “secular societies”? have their populations benefitted?
The countries that you point out as the most successful societies are the Nordic countries. They rate high in happiness, low in inequality, they are also low in religiousity and they all have established churches or the remnants of them. What makes them work is their tolerance of whatever their neighbour want to believe.


6. are “believers” - in this case, “transhumanist believers” - resistant to a “secular society”?  if so, why?
I’m not worried about secular society as described above. I fully expect that people who identify themselves as Christian will drop to about 10% of the population and then level out. The same for the other faiths.

7. do the religious fear a “slippery slope” - that a truly secular society would lead to state atheism?  Is their fear justified?
I don’t see the Nordic countries moving toward state atheism. I don’t see any truly rational government bothering with state atheism. It is far more work than the returns would justify.


Now that we have established that religion doesn’t matter in the realm of policy. Here is a video which demonstrates this in the specific area of population growth.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezVk1ahRF78&feature=plcp
Let’s get on with what does have influence on future policy; educated and intelligent discuss about the policies and issues at hand.

 





@ Alex - that’s a good video—I will feature it on IEET tomorrow - thanks





The last comment was one of Alex’s better ones.
What would be refreshing is for the religious to admit they are dealing in necessary fiction- then religion would be more appealing. One can say confidently how religion is a default
(or the default) when no genuine consensus on ethics exists save for agreements to disagree. “Thou shalt not kill” is generally accepted, but of course exceptions to the rule exist: “thou shalt not kill unless some third world nation has a resource you need and then clobber them.”
Or at least such is how it has been.

However that sort of thing can’t be said publicly because it gives the game away





@Hank

If I may amicably criticize your post - that “perhaps” in front of “Tibet” is a bit puzzling, to say the least. If you have not read the whole history of Chinese occupation of Tibetan territories - including juicy details about monks forced to copulate with each other before being shot -  I warmly advice you to make a small search on the Internet. The “secularization” of those mountains have not been pretty. And that “perhaps” would probably sound insulting for a few Buddhist monks, still living in a militarized, occupied territory.

- which brings me to my second observation. I noticed that you used two separate terms “secular society” and “atheist state” as moral alternatives (i.e. one is good, the other bad) of the same political commitment against traditional religious organizations. Can you please detail this distinction? To me that is anything but clear.

When does a secular society turn into an atheist state? Where is the line?
I imagine that - your ideal secular society would not just uniform the tax code and remove (certain) religious teachings from elementary schools. For example, could a high religious representative say that homosexuals are not welcome in their organization? I mean, all clubs have their rules of admissions. Religious have their rules too. Yet, something tells me that your secular society also would not allow public condemnations of homosexuality, from this or that religious group. Yes, homophobia is idiotic. But should it be also illegal? Who cares if someone in a funny dress gives a meaningless label to those who do not even want to be members of their club?
How about the public condemnation of those who work on Saturday? Allowed? Also, can people still wear a Kippah in a secular society? How about dressing codes, indeed? Would a chador be considered a legitimate piece of clothing? - and Burqua?

I remind you that, even if you feel like merely repressing religious expressions with financial fines - when those fines will not be paid, the religious culprit will be dragged to jail against his or her will, probably with violence. Would this be so different from those atheists states that simply skip the part where you receive a warning or a ticket?

I would honestly like to understand which religious expressions would be outlawed, and which ones allowed - according to your view.

Not all religions are the same, I think. Certain religious principles are particularly harmful when it comes to technological progress and the increase of everyone’s well-being. Other genuinely religious teachings, instead, represent a fundamental contribution for the ethical stability of a society. We should be able to separate the two aspects. That is why I would be much more in favor of a multi-religious society, rather than an a-religious one.





@Alex re “I don’t see the Nordic countries moving toward state atheism. I don’t see any truly rational government bothering with state atheism. It is far more work than the returns would justify.”

How could our good-mannered, sedate, democratic, enlightened countries turn into brutal and authoritarian police states? Sure it can never happen.

Well…

At the beginning of the 20th century, a European country was among the greatest nations, a world leader in literature, the arts, the sciences, philosophy, law, and social institutions, and culturally very advanced relative to the standards of the time.

Then… do I really need to continue?

Don’t ignore the lessons of history, and don’t assume we are very different from our grandfathers.





To put on an ingenue’s hat—all injured innocence—if religious organisations shouldn’t be taxed, then ought the poor be taxed? the poor need every cent they can get, for medical bills alone they need every cent.
If a house of worship can gain nonprofit status, then why can’t I start a Church of the Divine BS Artist and pay no taxes? my church’s slogan is:
‘We accept canned goods’.
What is wrong with that? it isn’t one bit more pretentious than any house of worship, any religious group anywhere at anytime. What is grating concerning religion is how clergy will never admit their professions are not merely callings but also businesses. Christ warned that many would come in His name, so the layman has to be cautious at all times with all pros in theology. Adam Smith’s caveat is how members of the same profession ..which includes religious orgs.. seldom gather together to not include some economic conspiracy against the public in their agenda. So what Hank and Nude0007 write has substantial validity.

What I say to priests is, I appreciate you for your succor and your charity provided to many families and individuals; yet I don’t trust you, I trust Christ. Jesus Christ can’t hurt anyone—he’s been dead for about 1,980 years.





“At the beginning of the 20th century, a European country was among the greatest nations, a world leader in literature, the arts, the sciences, philosophy, law, and social institutions, and culturally very advanced relative to the standards of the time.”

Germany contained social fractures in it which Scandinavia does not possess. If anything, the libertarian complaint is that Scandics are too peaceful and “don’t do anything.”
Don’t think you will have to worry about goose stepping nordics for a long long time- as in forever. More likely Hungary would go totalist than Scandinavia.





Andre - regarding Tibet, you failed to mention that Tibet was a feudal serfdom before the Chinese got involved.

Tibet was ruled in an alliance between nobles and lamas, presiding quite cruelly over peasants, utilizing imaginative tortures and execution procedures to keep the vast bulk of Tibetans in a Dark Ages existence, with one of the lowest per capita incomes in the world and one of the shortest lifespans.  I am not rah-rah about Tibetan Buddhism, at all.

When I visited China I asked a doctor I met on a train about Tibetans, and he replied, “they are superstitious; they believe in religion.”

There are many religions that value their doctrines far more than they value basic human rights. So, to answer your question, no, I don’t like that, I’d like the so-called “self-expression” of those religions curtailed. I don’t like hate-speech from pulpits, or religious persecution of gays and women, or cults brainwashing teenagers, or Pentecostals in Africa burning child witches. How could I? If you give religious people freedom to put into practice exactly what they believe, you will get exactly that kind of nonsense.

Michel Onfray is my favorite atheist, probably because he relates atheism’s history, and that’s my primary subject.

I believe in the future that we will live in a post-religious world, and I look forward to that.





@Intomorrow: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazism_in_Sweden





@Intomorrow re “If a house of worship can gain nonprofit status, then why can’t I start a Church of the Divine BS Artist and pay no taxes?”

Good point, but note that all those who answered Hank’s questions above (at the moment, Alex and I) said that churches should be taxed like all other nonprofits.





@ Andre - here’s an essay I wrote on Tibet years ago.

http://www.salon.com/1999/08/07/tibet_2/

China good?  China bad? Nothing is simple in Tibet.





@ Andre - more info on Tibet. What a wretch theocracy it was.

http://www.michaelparenti.org/Tibet.html

Until 1959, when the Dalai Lama last presided over Tibet, most of the arable land was still organized into manorial estates worked by serfs…
Drepung monastery was one of the biggest landowners in the world, with its 185 manors, 25,000 serfs, 300 great pastures, and 16,000 herdsmen. The Dalai Lama himself “lived richly in the 1000-room, 14-story Potala Palace.”

Young Tibetan boys were regularly taken from their peasant families and brought into the monasteries to be trained as monks… Tashì-Tsering, a monk, reports that it was common for peasant children to be sexually mistreated in the monasteries. He himself was a victim of repeated rape, beginning at age nine.

In old Tibet… thousands were beggars. There also were slaves, usually domestic servants, who owned nothing. Their offspring were born into slavery.  The majority of the rural population were serfs. Treated little better than slaves, the serfs went without schooling or medical care, They were under a lifetime bond to work the lord’s land—or the monastery’s land—without pay.

One 22-year old woman reports: “Pretty serf girls were usually taken by the owner as house servants and used as he wished”; they “were just slaves without rights.”

One 24-year old runaway welcomed the Chinese intervention as a “liberation.” He testified that under serfdom he was subjected to incessant toil, hunger, and cold.

The serfs were taxed upon getting married, taxed for the birth of each child and for every death in the family. They were taxed for planting a tree in their yard and for keeping animals. They were taxed for religious festivals and for public dancing and drumming, for being sent to prison and upon being released. Those who could not find work were taxed for being unemployed, and if they traveled to another village in search of work, they paid a passage tax. When people could not pay, the monasteries lent them money at 20 to 50 percent interest.

The theocracy’s religious teachings buttressed its class order. The poor and afflicted were taught that they had brought their troubles upon themselves because of their wicked ways in previous lives.

In feudal Tibet, torture and mutilation—including eye gouging, the pulling out of tongues, hamstringing, and amputation—were favored punishments inflicted upon thieves, and runaway or resistant serfs.

Since it was against Buddhist teachings to take human life, some offenders were severely lashed and then “left to God” in the freezing night to die.

In 1959, Anna Louise Strong visited an exhibition of torture equipment that had been used by the Tibetan overlords. There were handcuffs of all sizes, including small ones for children, and instruments for cutting off noses and ears, gouging out eyes, breaking off hands, and hamstringing legs. There were hot brands, whips, and special implements for disemboweling.

In 1895, an Englishman, Dr. A. L. Waddell, wrote that the populace was under the “intolerable tyranny of monks” and the devil superstitions they had fashioned to terrorize the people. In 1904 Perceval Landon described the Dalai Lama’s rule as “an engine of oppression.” At about that time, another English traveler, Captain W.F.T. O’Connor, observed that “the great landowners and the priests… exercise each in their own dominion a despotic power from which there is no appeal,” while the people are “oppressed by the most monstrous growth of monasticism and priest-craft.” Tibetan rulers “invented degrading legends and stimulated a spirit of superstition” among the common people. In 1937, another visitor, Spencer Chapman, wrote, “The Lamaist monk does not spend his time in ministering to the people or educating them. . . . The beggar beside the road is nothing to the monk. Knowledge is the jealously guarded prerogative of the monasteries and is used to increase their influence and wealth.”





“Good point, but note that all those who answered Hank’s questions above (at the moment, Alex and I) said that churches should be taxed like all other nonprofits.”

It was an oversight on my part, didn’t see that clause, didn’t even know nonprofits were taxed at all.

Wiki:
“Nazism in Sweden has been more or less fragmented and unable to form a mass movement since its beginning in the early 1920s. Several hundred parties, groups, and associations existed from the movement’s founding through the present. At most, purely Nazi parties in Sweden collected around 27,000 votes in democratic elections.”

27,000 votes? somehow the remote prospect of Scandia on the march is not something one would lose sleep over. When I was there, in all four Scandic countries, only the possibility of them boring someone to death was threatening.
And I have heard over ‘n over from Rightwing libertarians that the Nordic nations are effete; it is a prevalent argument Rightists of all stripes use against democratic socialism; that Scandinavian countries are “sleepy nanny-ist welfare states who depend on us to defend them”. They depend on us to defend them; so how are they a military threat if they aren’t nearly militarist enough to be interested in a big defense budget?
On the other hand, Scandinavians may be more racist than Germany. I got the very vague but still real message there that:
‘we are High Germanics, and don’t want outsiders here.’
However it may be more relatable to social cohesion than racism.





Anyone can start a religion from scratch, it has been done many times. The UFO cults particularly come to mind. The issue with the tax department whether CRA or IRS is that you are using the money to do religious education and work. They actually get upset if we start advocating for something like shelter and food for the poor.

Tax the churches on any money brought in that they can’t show goes toward work in the community. Just keep in mind that a lot of churches will be able to show that every dollar is used on ‘mission’ however you define it.

With the comment about Germany, I believe I mentioned that we need to learn history so we don’t repeat it. I know that there is some extreme nationalism in the Nordic countries. I didn’t suggest they were perfect, just that they seemed pretty secular and yet had a great tolerance for religion.





There’s about as much threat from Scandinavian fascism as there is from alien beings at Roswell. I’m more paranoid than Giulio (if he is paranoid in any way) but nordic Nazis are at the very bottom of the fear-list.





@Intomorrow re “nordic Nazis are at the very bottom of the fear-list”

I agree, but my point is that we should not assume that nice, tolerant and peaceful societies stay nice, tolerant and peaceful forever. Societies are chaotic systems, and we are not able to model them yet.

For very subtle reasons only understood (if ever) by future historians, a nice and friendly society can turn into a brutally oppressive police state in only a few years. It has happened in the past, and it may happen in the future.

This is one of the reasons why I often whistle-blow at intolerance related slippery slopes. We must be careful if we want to avoid the nightmares of the past.





“but my point is that we should not assume that nice, tolerant and peaceful societies stay nice, tolerant and peaceful forever.”


That is correct, and besides, as immigrants move into Scandinavia, the region will becomes more like AmeriMexico (America has now fused with Mexico to an undeniable degree) in its anomie. But to return—you never thought that would occur—to religion: something I would like Alex to know is that I like religion more than he thinks because, come to think of it, a church is similar to a mini-Scandic village, shall we say, they are peaceful; good music, etc. However aside from Unitarians, houses of worship will not much appreciate someone who attends church merely because he/she wants peace and music. A priest might respond:
“Peace and music is what you want? wait till the next Woodstock revival.”





...btw, the difficulty with futurism has not been its postulations, but, rather, its timeframes; there’s been Tim Leary and his tripping out, R. Anton Wilson flipping out, and FM predicting commuter traveling to planets by 2030, etc, etc. We tend to take cheerleading a bit too seriously.
So though it is IMO not only predictable but inevitable Scandinavia will go anomic as America has, it might not happen for another what used to be called a generation.





So the religion debate has moved over here, and I’m kind of wondering whether we’ve made progress.

Anyway my two cent’s worth on Giulio’s piece is as follows. There seem to be two issues here:

1. Do we need to give a yes/no answer to such an idiotic question?
2. If so, should it be yes or no?

And the answer to the first of MY question is a resounding NO, and if you want to call me an intellectual elitist for that then go ahead. I would simply answer with another question: believer in what? And if the answer is, “God,” then I will ask, “What do you mean by that word?” Yes, people may get annoyed with such a Socratic approach, but at least it has the benefit of (hopefully) making them a bit more aware of the sheer vacuousness of their asinine questions.

And in response to Stefan: yes, you did take my remark out of context, and furthermore by citing it as evidence in response to the following from Giulio - “I agree that New Atheists are annoying, and I will add that I find them bigoted, self-righteous, intolerant, humorless, and hateful (not to mention boring)” - you are implying (a) that I am an atheist, which I’m not (and I don’t even know what a “new atheist” is as opposed to an old one), and (b) that those thoroughly charming adjectives apply to me. I did think of a retort to that, but have decided against writing it basically on the grounds that two wrongs don’t make a right. But shame on you anyway.





By the way, here is the supposedly “unscientific” context from which Stefan Pernar removed my remark:

“Indeed correlation is not causation, but are you seriously suggesting that the experiences Hank, George and others (including myself) have reported do not demonstrate causation? If you scroll up to one of my earlier comments you will see that I made a careful distinction between the assertion “religion has done a great deal of harm, and continues to do so”, and “religion does more harm than good overall”. For the latter, I told Alex that I thought his call for peer-reviewed evidence, which I had already supported, was relevant. But if you are requiring peer-reviewed evidence to accept the former, then you are simply denying reality. Do you need peer-reviewed evidence to see what is in front of your eyes?”

If Stefan still thinks he needs peer-reviewed evidence to convince him that religion has done a great deal of harm throughout history and continues to do so, then he is indeed seriously in denial. Assuming he does not, then I await his apology.





And finally, since I am in ranting mode, in relation to New Atheists (whoever they are exactly) are bigoted, I shall simply point out that one hallmark of a bigot is a tendency to refer to other people as bigots.

And I’m getting thoroughly fed up of this kind of nonsense on this site. I’m beginning to think I might have better things to do.





Can you separate faith/spirituality from organized religion? it appears they influence the other too much to be able to separate them. I go with some of you on the positives religion part way, but it’s something along the lines of:

family will get you through all the problems you wouldn’t have if they weren’t your family.”

Faith/spirituality will get you through all the problems you wouldn’t have if you weren’t religious.
A church will help a homeless person out with food, a cot at a shelter, and a sermon, so the homeless person can feel better about being punished for being a sinner—punished by being homeless.

Yes, Alex, naturally there’s much more to it than the above, yet the above is a part of it. Believe it or not, IMO a house of worship is the very best place to be except since we accomodate ourselves to those we get along with, such can heighten our susceptibility to delusion.. if one associates oneself with people who expose us to memes we don’t actually want to accept, we risk internalising the memes. Though it may be rude, better to say in a house of worship,
“I’m not interested in your speciousness, but I like the Bach choir.”





There are many people who separate faith from religion and spirituality from religion. Faith at its simplest is trust, in this context, trust in God. You don’t need religion to experience faith. What religion does is bring people together to strengthen and direct that faith to accomplish more than sitting around chilling with God. Spirituality is more about connection and oneness with the OTHER. In Christian circles again, it is mostly about God, but also God’s Creation.  A long way round to saying that the separation is possible and common.

Your theology sucks.

People aren’t punished for their sin. The entire message of the gospel is that we are freed from punishment from our sin. Unfortunately the world is still broken and the rich still abuse the poor. Many of the ministries we are involved in have little or no religious content.

Worship is about connecting with like minded people, so yes, going to church to enjoy the music while disagreeing with the message would be counterproductive, but we’d still invite you for coffee. If people do want to come and just chill and take in the music, that’s not my concern. I don’t do tests after worship.





Peter if you are getting frustrated by the discussion, just step back from it. There is no prize for changing anybody’s mind. I have very much the same teeth grinding reaction to the discussion. I think the problem is that people aren’t reading posts to learn anything, but only so they can put up a rebuttal in the strongest terms. It isn’t an atheist/religious thing, it is just people who are expecting to “win” the argument. Stop trying to win and the frustration vanishes.





“People aren’t punished for their sin. The entire message of the gospel is that we are freed from punishment from our sin.”


Still, the wages of sin are death- not $8.00 an hour. Overall, you are connecting more and more.. your last comment filled in some pieces of the puzzle, all of the comment was on-target, because even though (you were probably going to reply with the following) the wages of sin are death, death can be transcended in some manner through Christ—anyone raised a Christian knows that.
And there’s one way to talk to Christians, IMO; two ways altogether: the first is to tell Christians how in one’s opinion Heaven is the prospect of space colonization; eternal life is scientific immortality.
The second way to talk to Christians is to think, without voicing such, that Heaven is the prospect of space colonization, eternal life is scientific immortality.. that is to say one agrees with Christians that eternal life and Heaven are real, without saying why.
My theology might suck, but futurism is what matters to me- and if Heaven is outer space; if eternal life is through science, so be it.





ah, more redundancies…
same old discussions, going nowhere, with rudeness

Enjoy this one, it might be the last.
These articles seem to only serve as a playground for fighting
I really am not interested in posting any more.





Hank my last comment wasn’t redundant? it wasn’t rude, was it? it was to communicate with Alex without being a trimmer.





Intomorrow—

I have always always valued your comments, I find you funny and insightful and it is a pleasure to have you here.

I am upset that Peter Wicks has decided that “he has better things to do.” I hold Peter in very high esteem, I find him a level-headed, fair, moderate, considerate, open-minded commenter, a great listener -
I think he is extraordinarily valuable to any thread and he has, IMO, improved the level of conversation immensely since he arrived.

It is disturbing to me that he has abandoned any thread out of frustration. He is also not, IMO, leaving the commenting to brighter and more polite minds.

I have written Peter on his personal email to converse there with him. I don’t blame him a bit for getting huffy. I admire his patience, I am far more hot-tempered and quicker to leave.

That’s what I am upset about. Peter leaving for any reason.. a very very bad sign in my opinion.  Not a good turn of events for IEET. But I don’t blame him. He doesn’t want to waste his time in ridiculous conversations with people who are, in my opinion… well, I’m going to shut up about that…





Pete is too honest;
I have been hiding one thing: IMO Christians (at least male Xians) want power/status far, far too much for being spiritual. The reason for not mentioning it before was: they probably have to want power, otherwise they very well might not be able to stay afloat financially; it is very difficult to make it—really make it—without compromising. Secular men are worse, at any rate.
Aside from that, I couldn’t abandon Christianity no matter what, it is stuck so deep in the subconscious nothing can remove it. For better and worse.





@Hank
Thanks for your kind words. I know you mean them sincerely. My previous comment was to some extent an expression of frustration: I had a look at this thread and was, frankly pretty appalled. It’s also true that after almost six months of sabbatical from the European Commission I’m wanting to get a bit more serious about finding some kind of gainful employment, and this is making me question some of my other habits. But don’t worry: I’m hanging in there for now!





@Alex
I basically agree that much of the frustration stems from trying to ‘win’, and then finding that one has failed to really have much in the way of influence over anyone else’s thinking. But it’s not only about trying to win. It’s also about wanting to be respected.

For example, when Stefan complains that I have “demand[ed he] accept [my]unsupported opinions based on just so stories and hear say claiming that [my] views are beyond peer review and the academic process”, either he’s right or he’s being thoroughly disrespectful. And not only to me, but to the other commenters who have provided direct personal testimony that he is implicitly dismissing as “just so stories and hear say”. As Hank says I have a longer fuse than most, but I’m not above getting my claws out when needed. As you’ve noticed.

On which subject: I still don’t think you’ve really grasped the point I’ve been trying to impress upon you for getting on for a year now, namely that scripture should be interpreted in light of our best guess at the intention of its (likely) authors, not with reference to what some imaginary deity might have intended or what we would like it to mean. If it’s hateful (and in some places it is), it’s hateful. Better to say so and reject it than to pretend otherwise.

For example, in reply to Intomorrow, after charmingly suggesting that his theology “sucks”, you then go on to say that “the entire message of the gospel is that we are freed from punishment from our sin”.

First of all, there is not one gospel but four, plus of course the non-canonical ones. Three of them basically tell the (at least partly fictional) story of Jesus’s life death and supposed resurrection. The fourth is more theological, and freedom from sin is indeed one of its main messages, but only one (it’s not “the entire message”), and the freedom comes with a caveat: you have to “believe”. Bonjour fundamentalism.

Besides, what’s so great about a message that says we are free from punishment for our sin? Is is like going up to someone on the street at random and saying they should be happy because I’ve decided not to kill them. we know why the concept of sin emerged: it’s a meme that has flourished because it has helped societies to flourish by promoting social cohesion. But it emerged during a time of our history when elites were oppressing the masses, even more than is currently the case. One of the ways in which the (especially Roman Catholic) church has retained its power throughout history is precisely by suggesting to people that their mortal souls are in danger, and then presenting themselves as the solution. Stefan wants peer-reviewed articles: how about just reading some history?





@Intomorrow re “abandoning Christianity”, I guess it depends what you mean by “abandoning”. Can you get those memes out of your subconscious? No, not entirely. Such would probably contravene the second law of thermodynamics. You’d need the Men in Black to come along with one of those zappy things. But there really is nothing to stop you declaring, to yourself and others, “I am not a Christian”.

By the way I had a fascinating discussion yesterday with an Ismaeli friend about religion and parallel legal systems (specifically in India). It’s made me realise just how much work we have to do - even in the EU - to properly remove religion’s claws from the functioning of the state, especially when it comes to marriage and divorce law.

Giulio likes to complain about bureaucrats and politicians, but at least we all get to vote. Too many people do not have a meaningful choice about what to believe, or pretend to believe. Which makes it especially sickening when people like Stefan demand peer-reviewed evidence in order to accept the blatantly obvious fact that religion is harmful.





Interpretation of scripture is very much dependent on who is reading it. ALL reading of scripture is interpretation. It is impossible to determine what the original writer’s intention was. We may think we understand, but we always read through the lens of our own bias. That is why it is so important to not only know scripture but to know ourselves.

Theology implies discussion of the intent of the scriptures. I am well aware of the variety of gospels canonical and non canonical, I have read and studied all of them. There are layers to the message of Jesus. There was the radical, the world is ending, give your money to the poor message. There was the believe in me message (essentially trust me). The fundies love to add to that simple command to trust all kinds of BS that does not appear anywhere in the gospel.

The problem you have with sin, is that you are working from a different definition of sin then what Jesus was using. The modern concept is that sin is the bad stuff we do. So if we don’t think we are doing bad stuff, sin is meaningless. For Jesus sin was the reason for the bad stuff we do. Sin was the broken relationships particularly with God. Having sin forgiven meant the possibility that we would be free from the bad stuff we do, even when we don’t want to. It isn’t as simple as that, but that is essentially the idea.

I have never argued that religious people haven’t done bad things. They have and do. So do scientists, atheists, doctors, garbage men and scout leaders. What the argument is about is whether religion is essentially bad with insufficient redeeming characteristics to make it useful to the world. That is less clear.

Stories of how religion has hurt individual people are balanced by stories of how it has helped individual people. I do read a lot of history, I am not convinced that a simple reading of history will answer the question anymore accurately.

Part of the issue is the tendency of people to pick their own examples to support their own viewpoint. Thus you pick on the Roman Catholic Church’s theology that I also don’t agree with. Leo picks on the Pentecostals that he doesn’t agree with. You even tend to pick the parts of my comments that you disagree with. It is human nature. My premise is that there is a lot to religion that you don’t address.

What I really want at this point to just drop the pissing contest. It may increase the hits, but I don’t know that it is helping IEET’s reputation much. Let’s get back to talking about the stuff in which our disagreement may produce new learning instead of new headaches.





Peter it is obvious to you that religion is harmful. It is not obvious to me. I think we should leave it at that and get on with the stuff we may be able to agree on.





Alex, if you want to drop the pissing contest then nothing is stopping you, except possibly your need to have the last word.

Stefan says that the discomfort I am experiencing is cognitive dissonance, which is ironic coming from someone who claims to want peer-reviewed evidence before believing things based on anecdotal evidence. Why on earth does he thing he knows me so well, based on a few comments over the Internet, to know what might be causing me “discomfort”? The arrogance is breathtaking.





@Alex re “The modern concept is that sin is the bad stuff we do. So if we don’t think we are doing bad stuff, sin is meaningless. For Jesus sin was the reason for the bad stuff we do. Sin was the broken relationships particularly with God. Having sin forgiven meant the possibility that we would be free from the bad stuff we do, even when we don’t want to.”

This is very a very interesting point. Is it a personal observation or part of the current academic understanding of these things? Please say more.

Re “What I really want at this point to just drop the pissing contest.”

I am afraid the only way to drop this pissing contest is starting another one on a different topic wink

Re peer reviewed evidence, one way or another

I am afraid no amount of “peer reviewed evidence” will ever change anyone’s mind on this and other hot topics. If there is a lesson to learn from these debates, it is that we adopt religious (and often political) positions mainly for their emotional appeal, and emotions are always stronger than weak (in the technical sense) rational analysis.





@Intomorrow re “Pete is too honest”
Yes and no. Contrary to what Stefan thinks I think I have an unusual tendency to see and also speak the unvarnished truth, including about myself, and this has certainly caused problems in my life. On the other hand I’m getting much better at being clear about what I want and not being quite so obsessed about accuracy, and in the mean time of course it can be an advantage. In this wonderfully complex society that we live in, and where the root to wealth tends to be via specialisation, it is better to focus on and hone one’s natural characteristics rather than to try to fundamentally change one’s personality.

At least that’s what I’m banking on smile





@Giulio re “we adopt religious (and often political) positions mainly for their emotional appeal”

Speak for yourself. I try to adopt my positions on religion and politics based on evidence and my own preferred ethical framework, which is (still) utilitarianism.





Guilio, email me at pastor_alex(at)live.com and we’ll chat away from the increasingly muddy ground.





@Alex - will do, I am giulio at gmail dot com. Or we can use the comment thread of the original post on the TC website.





@Peter re “I try to adopt my positions on religion and politics based on evidence and my own preferred ethical framework, which is (still) utilitarianism.”

Then the Socratic question becomes, why you prefer this particular ethical framework. But I don’t do Socratic questions, I prefer taking others’ “deep” positions as given and work from there.

So, from a utilitarian perspective:

Given that (as these discussion show) we will never agree on the right of people to believe what they want to believe, shouldn’t we drop this pissing contest and, as Alex says, get on with the stuff we may be able to agree on?





@Stefan re “The bottom line for me is that I am not interested at all in bouts of personal animosities. If we can not play by the simple rule of ‘I show you my academic evidence, you show me yours’ then what is the point?”

As I said a few comments above, no amount of academic evidence will ever persuade anyone to change their mind on this and other emotionally hot issues.

I love children and doggies because I love children and doggies, not because anyone has written academic articles on why it is right and proper to love children and doggies (I would probably find such articles too boring to read anyway).

I would not speak of personal animosities, but of strong emotional imprints. Some people in the anti-religion camp, especially Hank and nude0007 in the other thread, have openly and honestly admitted that they hate religion because they were harmed by religious indoctrination at an early age.

Similarly, I guess many of those who like religion had nice emotional imprints associated with religion, like apple pies at Sunday school and a nice community at the church.

I have neither because I didn’t go to church or Sunday school. I approached religion on the high intellectual scenic route through pristine mountain lakes, and I guess I should be happy to have avoided the swamps on the low road.





@Giulio: “And I submit to you that you and Dawkins are as much New Believers as I (see my definition of New Believers above).”

Sure, we can call New Atheists New Believers, as much as we can call cats dogs and monkeys coconuts. This is neither novel nor interesting. Dawkins is a science-oriented materialist open to the transcendent potential of human ingenuity. You are a science-oriented materialist open to the transcendent potential of human ingenuity. You are every bit as much an atheist as Dawkins is. Rebranding yourself as a “believer” because you want to distance yourself from the ill perception of being associated with a straw man conception of atheism is cute and all, but I just don’t buy it.

“This is one of the reasons why I often whistle-blow at intolerance related slippery slopes. We must be careful if we want to avoid the nightmares of the past.”

It’s good that you’re aware of historical trends and how they can go awry, but it’s a stretch to suggest that New Atheists are thus in the same position incipient Nazis or whoever were. Intolerance of intolerance is a good thing in the promotion of tolerance. The promotion of employing reason and evidence as opposed to faith and tradition to solve problems in an increasingly complex world is not tantamount to singling out segments of the population for scapegoating and subjugating.

@Pete: “Speak for yourself. I try to adopt my positions on religion and politics based on evidence and my own preferred ethical framework, which is (still) utilitarianism.”

Actually, Giulio’s right. We may sprinkle rational-sounding icing, but the cake is very much emotion-based. Without emotion to provide initial biases, reason gets us nowhere.





@Hank

I hope you have not left the topic yet out of discomfort. So you can, possibly, reply to my observations - if you feel like to. I start slightly off-topic - but I will return quickly to the main point.

I read all the information you posted me about Tibet, in particularly I read the personal account of your Tibetan experience. Thanks, I learned not a few negative facts about Tibetan history, facts I ignored. However, those facts do not change a comma in my uncompromising condemnation of what China did in that region. I have to say - I probably agree more with your empathic wife on this issue. By the way, I have also been there in Tibet, for a short time - but my impressions were rather different from yours, including the opinion I developed on Tibetan food.

However what bothers me the most is the inconsistency of your ethical views - or, better said, their uncommon convolution. You seem to imply (correct me if I am wrong) that, after all, since Tibet had always been just a feudal, underdeveloped, superstitious territory, the Chinese aggression was in fact a good thing. The genocide (Chinese sources report 80.000 Tibetans killed) and the whole list of unspeakable atrocities were somehow minor inconveniences on the path of progress.
If you think so - I mean, one can perfectly say that human suffering is irrelevant in his/her ethical judgments - I cannot understand why a priest brainwashing a teenager about chastity bothers you, or why a religious activist publicly denouncing sodomy should be stopped. The zealous priest, or the religious activists are just using words to spread their nonsense. They are not hurting nobody, nor raping their victims with a cattle prod. Yet, their mere presence disturbs you - as if they visually represent an obstacle to the mental liberation of our species. So, the Chinese army can, for a greater good, impose a military occupation on a peaceful territory and slaughter tens of thousands of people, but we cannot afford to tolerate a guy in costume publicly expressing his strange ideas about condoms. Something is not right here. Unless I really misinterpreted your ambivalence about the Tibetan issue.

I think you tend to mix all religious expressions - from witch hunting in Africa, to Christian soup kitchens - in the same, dark pot. And then you say that, since some of those expressions are obviously immoral, all religious expressions are intolerable. I think, on the contrary, that - not all religions are the same, and not all rituals, practices, beliefs, and principles are equally harmful. Differences do matter. And indeed some religious principles are the only justification for our contemporary, universalistic morals. This is why, I maintain - as I often repeated in my dialogues with Peter - that removing religions would not be a social, cultural improvement.





@SHaGGGz re “Intolerance of intolerance is a good thing in the promotion of tolerance.”

I agree, but intolerance of intolerance is not what I am condemning. I am condemning intolerance of tolerant, peaceful and nice persons who happen to religious believers.

My only non-negotiable point is that people should have the right to believe in whatever they want to believe, including the tooth fairy, as long as they don’t force others to follow.





@Giulio
I agree that my choice of utilitarianism as an ethical framework is emotion-based in the sense that it is an aesthetic preference, and aesthetic preferences are (partly) emotion-based. But that doesn’t mean that the positions I take on specific religious or political issues are based on their emotional appeal. If they are based on emotion at all they are based on the emotional appeal (to me) of utilitarianism, and a hopefully honest attempt to parse the evidence about what will actually lead to a better world (and, of course, what that means precisely - I admit that emotional considerations also come in there).

It’s interesting, though, that you say that we will never be able to agree on the right of people to believe what they want to believe. That’s about the one thing we DO all agree on. You’re confusing rights with the question of whether such beliefs might be harmful. When I say that religious beliefs are harmful I’m not denying anyone’s right to hold them, I’m just saying it would be better of they didn’t. I’m genuinely curious to know why you fail to make this distinction.

@Stefan
See my comment on the other thread. I think we’ve produced evidence aplenty that religion is harmful, it’s just been anecdotal and historical rather than “peer reviewed”. And please note, and be honest about having noted, my earlier remarks about what I mean, and what I don’t mean, by the phrase “religion is harmful”. I don’t necessarily mean that the overall balance is harmful. (See also my response to your comment about parasite ecology on Leo
Inge’s thread.)

@SHaGGGz
See my response to Giulio. Yes, emotion provides the initial bias (in my case my preference for utilitarianism, primarily, when it comes to ethical discussions), but this is a long way from saying that we adopt out positions on religion and politics based primarily on their emotional appeal. Do you?





@Stefan: You may not be surprised to learn that I found the articles you linked to lacking. And yes, it would help if you said more regarding your eyebrow-raising statement that Dennett’s work is “only taken seriously by the choir it preaches to.” Do you have any peer-reviewed, academic articles attesting to same?

May I suggest another way to approach the question of whether religion is, on balance, a positive force? No technology is inherently good or bad, but it has certain biases built in; an automatic assault rifle is morally neutral, but it has certain biases built into it. It’s likelier to be used as an instrument of war to kill humans than it is to hunt game or crack open walnuts. Let’s consider religion a cultural technology. What are its biases? How is it most likely to be used? What are the implications of using the logical structure of “faith” to guide policy decisions? To guide one’s personal decisions?





@Peter re “It’s interesting, though, that you say that we will never be able to agree on the right of people to believe what they want to believe. That’s about the one thing we DO all agree on. You’re confusing rights with the question of whether such beliefs might be harmful. When I say that religious beliefs are harmful I’m not denying anyone’s right to hold them, I’m just saying it would be better of they didn’t. I’m genuinely curious to know why you fail to make this distinction.”

I fail to make this distinction because, in the other thread, you object to my statement “The IEET respects the right of people to freely choose what to believe.” as “a bit too motherhood and apple pie.”

But my statement is crystal clear. Either:
“The IEET respects the right of people to freely choose what to believe.”
or:
“The IEET does not respect the right of people to freely choose what to believe.”
There is no third option.

You are, of course, free to consider others’ chosen beliefs as indirectly harmful, and to express this opinion as forcefully as you wish. I am only insisting on “The IEET respects the right of people to freely choose what to believe.” If we agree on this, then all the rest is open to discussion.





@Hank and Andre’ re Tibet:

I didn’t read Hank essay yet, and I have no special knowledge of things in Tibet. But based on the news and opinions that I catch online or on TV, I always had the impression that Tibet was a peaceful and basically happy land until it was occupied by a brutal invading army and subjected to an oppressive regime.

If this is correct (I repeat: IF this is correct), then I don’t need any further analysis to choose a side. I stand with the oppressed people, against the brutal invaders.





@Giulio: Then you are in agreement with mainstream atheists regarding this non-negotiable point. Stripping people of their right to believe in the tooth fairy is not what is being advocated.
So, given that your beliefs are indistinguishable from mainstream atheism, will you agree that you are an atheist, and that the only thing you are a “believer” in is the transcendent potential of human ingenuity?





@SHaGGGz re “Let’s consider religion a cultural technology. What are its biases? How is it most likely to be used? What are the implications of using the logical structure of “faith” to guide policy decisions? To guide one’s personal decisions?”

I think this is a good approach. One comment:

Following Marx, I am interested in understanding the world, but I am much more interested in changing it. So to me the important question is not “Is religion a positive force?” but “How to reform religion to make it a positive force?”





@Giulio: “So to me the important question is not “Is religion a positive force?” but “How to reform religion to make it a positive force?””

It seems to me that to ask the second question is to negatively answer the first.





@Pete: Then I guess it’s a matter of what we mean by “to base primary on.” I do inasmuch as is unavoidable, within the parameters of how the human mind is structured. Consciously, I try to justify my beliefs through reason as opposed to emotion, much like you.





@SHaGGGz re “It seems to me that to ask the second question is to negatively answer the first.”

No, trying to make something better does not necessarily mean that it is not good. My car works pretty well, but this doesn’t mean that I don’t wish I had a better one. I could certainly use a car that does more miles at the same cost.





@Giulio: Fair enough; your question would be better phrased as “...a *more* positive force,” but I’m getting a bit pedantic.
I’m beginning to wonder why you repeatedly refuse to answer my question. I’ve phrased it as directly as I can.





@SHaGGGz re “I’m beginning to wonder why you repeatedly refuse to answer my question. I’ve phrased it as directly as I can.”

I love this discussion, but I must confess that I am also doing some work on the side to put some food on the table wink

I will answer in the next break in 15 min or so.





No worries bruh.





@SHaGGGz re “I do inasmuch as is unavoidable, within the parameters of how the human mind is structured. Consciously, I try to justify my beliefs through reason as opposed to emotion, much like you.”

Yep, that’s about right.

@Giulio re “I fail to make this distinction because, in the other thread, you object to my statement “The IEET respects the right of people to freely choose what to believe.” as “a bit too motherhood and apple pie.”

Yes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t agree with it. The right of people to freely choose what to believe is a fundamental tenet of democracy and human rights. Should we then adopt the entire UN declaration as an official IEET position? Maybe we should also affirm that IEET Board members don’t beat their spouses or have sex with minors?





SHaGGGz re “given that your beliefs are indistinguishable from mainstream atheism, will you agree that you are an atheist, and that the only thing you are a “believer” in is the transcendent potential of human ingenuity?”

I assume this is the question you were referring to in the previous comment. I have answered it in the text:

“I have written a lot about these convictions, without calling them “beliefs.” But, following William James, since I am persuaded that these convictions are scientifically plausible, and they give me happiness and drive, I choose to hold them as beliefs. As I say in a note to the Ten Cosmist Convictions, I am not using “will”  in the sense of inevitability, but in the sense of intention: we want to do this, we are confident that we can do it, and we will do our f**king best to do it. You know that, if you really want to achieve a goal, you must firmly believe that you will achieve it.”

Also:

You say “only”?

I am a believer in the the transcendent potential of human ingenuity, and of our mind children based on software (cyber angels), and of who knows how many advanced civilizations out there.

Quoting the text again: “We will develop spacetime engineering and scientific “future magic” much beyond our current understanding and imagination. Gods will exist in the future, and they may be able to affect their past — our present — by means of spacetime engineering. Probably other civilizations out there already attained God-like powers. Future magic will permit achieving, by scientific means, most of the promises of religions — and many amazing things that no human religion ever dreamed. Future Gods will be able to resurrect the dead by “copying them to the future.” Perhaps we will be resurrected in virtual reality, and perhaps we are already there.”

Besides my using modern terms and a modern worldview instead of old ones, this is what the core religious cosmology says. Not just similar, but totally identical.

In both cases we have omnipotent and benevolent Gods (omnipotent in the engineering sense of “extremely powerful”, not in the abstract metaphysical sense), and resurrection in an afterlife. This is what religion says once you strip it of old normative prescriptions.

Why do I say “belief” instead of a less loaded term? Because these beliefs have a very strong emotional impact on me and others, which I consider useful. This is another defining feature of religion. Also, it is up to us to make all these things come true. When I play, I play to win. And winning requires a very strong, firm, perhaps irrational belief in your final victory, otherwise you probably lose. All athletes know that.





@Peter re “The right of people to freely choose what to believe is a fundamental tenet of democracy and human rights.”

Great, this is what I wanted to hear. Apologies for misinterpreting your position.





@Peter re “Maybe we should also affirm that IEET Board members don’t beat their spouses or have sex with minors?”

Well… I don’t beat my spouse but I had a lot of sex with minors when I was a minor myself.





@Giulio: “In both cases we have omnipotent and benevolent Gods (omnipotent in the engineering sense of “extremely powerful”, not in the abstract metaphysical sense), and resurrection in an afterlife.”

The part where you explicitly disavow subscription to believing in omnipotence of “the abstract metaphysical sense” is precisely the differentiating factor between the sort of atheistic “religion” that I count you, me, Dawkins, and other mainstream atheists members of, and the theistic religion that we are not members of. I recognize the nature of the wonderful potentials you describe, I merely submit to you that beneath the layers of superficial similarity between the two camps, your worldview is ultimately atheistic, in the sense that I’ve outlined (which is atheism as properly understood).





@Giulio That’s too much information! smile





@SHaGGGz - Interesting that, while we seem to agree on everything, we disagree on the labels that we choose to apply to ourselves.

A part of me says that labels are not important when there is agreement on the substance. So, feel free to label me as you wish, and I will do the same. One of my points is that self-defined atheists and self-defined believers can agree on many things, and I think this exchange confirms it.

But another part of me, following your previous comment on religion as cultural technology, keeps wondering which label—- atheist or believer—- is more useful (yes, I am a pragmatist at heart) to achieve our shared (I think) goal of making this planet a bit better and the persons in it a bit happier.

Labels are useful because they let you communicate better with other people who use the same label. They pay more attention to you if they think you are in the same camp.

So, since we seem to share a similar worldview, it makes sense that you try to communicate it to atheists, and I try to communicate it to believers.

I think this would be very useful because, at this moment, the majority of both believers and atheists reject our worldview. Most atheists think that our worldview is too close to religion, and most believers think that it is not close enough.





I have been thinking about Peter’s comment about religion as a technology and I actually like the idea. It’s adaptive purpose is to create, or allow access to, a state of mind in which community is more important than self and empathy is increased. Let’s leave aside discussion of whether a “divine being” exists for the moment.

The parts of this technology, greatly oversimplified, include meditation, the giving of alms/self sacrifice/helping the poor, gathering in a group, music and singing as an aid to creating a more cohesive community and to suppress the self in favour of the “sacred mind”.

That these activities occur in almost all religions around the world in one form or another suggests that there is a certain level of effectiveness. I’ve actually written about this in another article.

The ethical question is whether we suppress the technology because a large segment of the population misuses it? Automobiles have killed more people than wars, but we still build them and sell them. We just work on building safer cars and roads. Guns also kill a great many people even outside of armed conflict zones, yet we still manufacture and sell guns.

If we follow the technology analogy to its logical conclusion, we shouldn’t be abandoning techniques that have proven effective, but working on improving the technology so it is harder to misuse.





I don’t recall describing religion as a technology (Alex where do you get that from?) but I quite like the idea. I think this is one of the strongest arguments in favour of religion that I’ve come across so far (though it’s similar to comments André has made on other threads).

Ultimately my problem with religion is the extent to which it relies on delusional belief, more than the harm it does per se. I don’t mean by that that having accurate beliefs is in principle more important than whether you do good vs harm (I wouldn’t be a very good utilitarian if I did) but in practice Alex’s analogy with automobiles would be salient if it wasn’t for the delusional aspect.

I agree that the ethical question, or at least the ethical question that seems most relevant in the context of what we have been disagreeing about here, is about whether (and how hard) we should be trying to suppress religion because of widespread misuse.

We’ve agreed (at least Giulio and I have agreed, and I assume everyone else does!) that people need to be allowed to believe whatever they want. So no thought police. What they are allowed to proclaim is another matter, and is what were been discussing on Joern Pallensen’s hate speech thread. I think we more or less agreed that limitations on freedom of speech are only acceptable in fairly extreme cases (of course we have different opinions on exactly where the line should be drawn).

But there are other, softer repression techniques that could be considered. For example one could ban religion from being taught as truth in schools (the kids can and must be taught ABOUT religion, including the harm it can do, but should not be encouraged to actually believe it). Personally I would welcome IEET taking such a stance.

The other point that needs to be made is that, just as we no longer use horses and carriages to get around, we perhaps have an opportunity to move beyond religion in supplying the benefits that Alex (and André before him) has cited. This is not self-evident, because I’m inclined to agree that there is little that provides those benefits in such a well-integrated package as religion, currently.

In fact, though I get annoyed with Alex, principally for his obstinacy (and I’m sure that is reciprocated!), I think his version of religion is almost delusion-free. Where I cross swords with him, along with his IMO excessive tendency to leap to its defence (and Alex I know you dispute this), is the issue of how to interpret scripture. I still feel there is too much obfuscation in the way he interprets it so that the most grotesque teachings or stories become cautionary tales intended to actually mean the opposite. I can appreciate the intention, but still deplore the means, because it is still propagating dangerous memes, albeit with sugar coating. Remember that the subconscious mind does not understand the word “not”. Personally I think the Bible should be essentially abandoned, and replaced by a massively streamlined and modified version with all the crap taken out. In other words, build your communities around a scriptural tradition that is worthy of the devotion that you want to render unto it. And in the mean time, I still want to read more, “Yes, that part of scripture sucks” and less “but it doesn’t REALLY mean that”.





@Alex
“Its adaptive purpose is to create, or allow access to, a state of mind in which community is more important than self and empathy is increased. Let’s leave aside discussion of whether a “divine being” exists for the moment.”

So, let’s see, an idea that make the collectivity more important than the individual and without an explicit divine entity… hmm… communism, perhaps?

I think that giving such a collective connotation to religion is very arbitrary, and quite misleading. Even the three main monotheistic religions harbor very important individualistic doctrines. It is not just about singing songs together or doing community service. Mystics, eremites, cloistered monks existed as well, and elaborated a good portion of religious teachings.

If religious was really only about helping each other in mutual responsibility - well, people would just stick to communism instead. Communism delivers the same results without useless mythological fluff. Yet, I really do not think that this is what you have in mind.





For those stimulated by Giulio Prisco’s above article who are interested in learning more about the intersection of science and religion, see my following article on physicist and mathematician Prof. Frank J. Tipler’s Omega Point cosmology, which is a proof of God’s existence according to the known laws of physics (i.e., the Second Law of Thermodynamics, General Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics), and the Feynman-DeWitt-Weinberg quantum gravity/Standard Model Theory of Everything (TOE):

James Redford, “The Physics of God and the Quantum Gravity Theory of Everything”, Social Science Research Network (SSRN), Apr. 9, 2012 (orig. pub. Dec. 19, 2011), doi:10.2139/ssrn.1974708, http://ssrn.com/abstract=1974708 .





@André
The problem with communism is that it’s something imposed by the state, which in practice means an elite. This has always been the crippling contradiction at the heart of communism, as readers of Animal Farm (and history) know only too well.

But you do well to remind us of the dangers of Alex’s collectivist vision alongside the obvious benefits. I’m thinking now of the Nazi rallies. That was a secular religion if ever there was one, with all the bells and whistles (rituals, symbolism, spiritual highs). It had its fair share of delusion and superstition, of course, but what made it dangerous was the sheer capacity such collectivism (read: community-building) always has to promote groupthink and thus repress people’s natural decency (like I say on the other thread: we are an ultra-social species, we are not all bad unless tamed by religion). The truth is we need to strike a balance between collectivism and individualism, endeavour to avoid superstition in all it’s forms, and vigourously promote good, utilitarian values.





@Peter re “people need to be allowed to believe whatever they want. So no thought police. What they are allowed to proclaim is another matter… I think we more or less agreed that limitations on freedom of speech are only acceptable in fairly extreme cases (of course we have different opinions on exactly where the line should be drawn).”

I draw the line where free speech becomes incitation to violence (in an extended sense that includes administrative and financial violence).

I should be free to praise my favorite Gods, flags, political positions or football teams in the street, but I should not be free to tell others to go and shoot unbelievers, or to refer to unbelievers with words so hateful to be de-facto incitation to violence.





@Peter re “we need to strike a balance between collectivism and individualism”

I think collectivism is OK as long as we remember that society is composed by individuals. If something is good for individuals, in the sense that it makes things better for as many people as possible without making things unbearably worse for others, then it is also good for society.

But we should never make the mistake to consider society as an abstract entity above, and more important than, the individuals that compose it.





Families are between individuals and collectives:
a family is a group of individuals who operate as a unit—for better and worse.
Families benefit from religion most, family values and religious values are virtually synonymous—at least as far as organised religion goes.





There’s so much “hot stale air” here it could fill a zeppelin. Why not just read the article again, it’s self explanatory?





@CygnusX1 You are funny. When you can’t keep up with the debate you just resort to random insults, while simultaneously throwing pious shit at us about how we should be all peace and harmony.

I broadly agree with Giulio’s latest points.





I suggested community rather than collective since community in my understanding doesn’t consume individuals. That doesn’t mean that your points aren’t well taken. My main issue wasn’t in the brief simplistic definition of religion, but that religion utilize the same kinds of “technology” to achieve a similar purpose. The technology itself is value neutral. Moral or ethical value is added by the way in which the technology is utilized.





@Alex ...and also in which technologies are prioritised for development. That’s also important. Might be good to have some IEET policy positions around that: one thing I didn’t write in my article is that those in charge of public research problems tend to be hungry for good ideas about prioritisation.

(@CygnusX1 That’s called an IDEA by the way.)





@ Peter Wicks..

My, my, you are getting full of yourself aren’t you!

All I read here is arguments going round and round in circles, whilst you flip-flop between Religion is harmful/can be beneficial.

At least most others here have “mind” enough to choose an opinion and stick with it?





“whilst you flip-flop between Religion is harmful/can be beneficial.
At least most others here have ‘mind’ enough to choose an opinion and stick with it?”


Shouldn’t we examine both harmful and can be beneficial? Practically speaking, religions do aid in keeping many alive with shelter and food, even medical assistance, however grossly materialistic it sounds;
the negative is: we have quite enough delusive memes in our minds already- we do not need any more.

 

 

 





@CygnusX1
Like I said, we don’t have to like each other. But you’re confusing flip-flopping with seeing both sides of an argument. We could do with more of that here.

It’s not that I’m getting full of myself, it’s precisely that arguments are going round in circles, and it’s just far more work than it should be to get people to question their beliefs and actually learn something new. And you are one of the worst offenders. Except on the few occasions when we discuss the nature of consciousness or such issues, you seem completely out of your depth and quite unwilling to question your ideas. A bit of “flip-flopping” from you would be most welcome.

Or even better, actually come up with some creative thinking about how we can help IEET to be more influential. You want that, right?





@Intomorrow It seems CygnusX1 has difficulty with the idea that there may be two sides to an argument, and that it may be legitimate - even perhaps helpful?! - to point out both.

To be honest he never liked me from the time I first started commenting here. It’s been almost relentlessly negative feedback. Quite unpleasant really. For some reason he seems to regard me as a threat.





Fine, but if orthodox religions want to be accepted by the a-religious, orthodox faiths have to accept every offbeat religion which might, and certainly will, come along. Orthodox religions are every bit as ‘cultish’ as unorthodox faiths. Why are LDS crazier than Roman Catholics?
Why are Satanists considered hideous when the religious wars of the 17th century (merely for instance) between Catholics and protestants were more hideous than anything Satanists have so much as thought of doing?





@ Peter Wicks..

So now you are agreeing with what I said above, how novel?

Yes, I do believe my own understandings of human “rights and responsibilities” are sound, and so I do not need to question my values, (which are supported by my beliefs). I also believe that most other humans have more than enough “free will” to do the same.

Therefore rather than view the world of humans as divided between “us” and “them”, and thus assuming some “superior” attitude and position, I merely see individuals who have capability and autonomy to change their own minds, as only individuals can?

It is individuals that “collectively” make progress through unity - hold on, Giulio just said that!

“Unity through/in diversity” (Hinduism ethic) - the understanding and grounding for the future of Trans-Humanism.





@Peter re “But there are other, softer repression techniques that could be considered. For example one could ban religion from being taught as truth in schools (the kids can and must be taught ABOUT religion, including the harm it can do, but should not be encouraged to actually believe it). Personally I would welcome IEET taking such a stance.”

I would agree with this statement, but did you really have to use the word “repression”? What does it add? I will never agree with any statement that endorses repression.

Words _are_ important, because they carry emotions that color our perception of what is said. When I hear that word, I see thugs in uniform and body armor shooting peaceful people in the street. “Repression” is a dirty word, much dirtier than fuck and shit.

I will agree with your statement if you take that word out.





Soft repression techniques? and when they fail to work, will you move to harsher measures?

Actually educating kids about religion without any value judgement is a good idea. It will increase tolerance of differences. As soon as you add the value judgement you will lose the benefits. Keep in mind that atheists and secularists are in the minority, maybe 15% of the population if Wiki is to be believed, so then you are talking about enforcing your opinion on the majority. Keep in mind that all the scary stories and history lessons will be ignored and you will trigger the “conspiracy” response to the testing of “sacred” values.

If you want to start a major battle between atheists/humanists and the religious I would imagine this would be a very good methodology.

A better plan is to do a comparative religion class, and say nothing about good, bad or ugly and let the kids make up their own minds. This is an ethics site, so it behooves us to be ethical. Your education plan sounds very much like the kind of propaganda folks start cooking up just before they start rounding other people up. If you look a few comments up you will see something about learning from history. I suppose if a kid actually has the temerity to believe in a religion that they will fail the class and have to repeat it until they recant.

All this because you don’t like religion. Your opinion, no amount of selectively interpretive history and personal anecdotes make it other than opinion. Look at the struggle they have trying to get rid of tobacco and there is proof galore of the damages of smoking.

There are some problems you just don’t solve actively without creating bigger problems.





@Alex re “Soft repression techniques? and when they fail to work, will you move to harsher measures?”

Yes, this is the problem. When you start contemplating repression, you take the first step on the slippery slope toward fascism. Repression may start soft, but it always becomes hard.

re “Look at the struggle they have trying to get rid of tobacco and there is proof galore of the damages of smoking.”

I am a smoker who tries to respect others and practice old-fashioned good manners. Even before today’s smoking bans, I did not smoke around non smokers. I went out, by my own initiative, before smokers were pushed out by regulation.

I draw the line, and it is a very firm line, before any prohibition to smoke at home or with other smokers. I am afraid these prohibitions will come, and I will ignore them and actively fight against them.

I am aware of the damages of smoking. I would even consider trying to stop, but at this point I see smoking as a political statement in support of personal freedom against nanny-state zealots, and I will continue to make it.





@Giulio: Okay, so you agree that your views are indistinguishable from what is commonly referred to as atheism. To my mind, and many others, I’m sure,this makes you an atheist. I suspected that your choosing to label yourself a “believer” in the context of theology despite the demonstrated vacuity of doing so was based on a sort of realpolitik approach to using words to achieve desired ends, but I didn’t expect you to actually admit to as much. I now consider the question I’ve been pressing you on resolved.

Now, on to the value of said lexical engineering. Aside from my inherent aversion to misrepresentation, I question it because it plays to a mindset that is rapidly being obsoleted, but in so doing delays its obsolescence, perpetuating a malfunctioning technology and all its attendant downsides.

The essence of the technology of religion (@Stefan: I thank you for the kind words, but cannot take credit for them - I was familiarized to this line of reasoning through Kevin Kelly’s “What Technology Wants”) is to segment off certain propositions as beyond the pale of questioning. This is what it means to have faith - the knowledge claim is merely asserted into existence, there is no need for logical or empirical or otherwise justification. This epistemological structure obviously (is this even a contested point? do I need peer reviewed articles?) is very conducive to erroneous knowledge claims, as disconfirming evidence is automatically discarded without being given due process. Yes, I realize that this is not the only aspect of religious phenomena - rituals, symbols, mythologies and customs are also a part of it, but the key differentiating factor is this tendency to shroud propositions in the veil of the “sacred” and therefore beyond question (perhaps I should use the term “dogma” instead of “religion”).

When you choose to frame your broadcast in terms of advocacy of “belief,” even if it’s not at all an accurate representation of your views, simply because there is a larger installed base of receptive readers (though this is questionable, given that the demographic is really theist IEET readers) you attempt to conjoin the memeplex of transhumanism/extropianism with theistic religious belief. This memetic joining, if uncritically accepted by readers and thus successful, gives further fuel to the flippant dismissal of your views as “rapture for the nerds.” flippant precisely because you have now painted your transhumanist beliefs with the dogmatism that renders dogmatism unworthy of serious consideration. Why do you think this is a good idea?





@Giulio re my choice of words, sure we can try to find another word for it if you like, but as you know from my comments about interpretation of scripture I prefer to call a spade a spade.

@Alex I didn’t say that we should educate children about religion without any value judgement, nor do I agree that doing do loses it’s value as soon as we add the value judgement. It’s important to emphasise that values are a matter of choice, and not everyone needs to have exactly the same values, but there are certain (basically utilitarian) values that need to be widely shared if we are to indeed create a better world (or even merely avert disaster). So these should also be taught in schools, alongside and in conjunction with the information we give them about the religious memes that are currently knocking around.





@SHaGGGz re “your views are indistinguishable from what is commonly referred to as atheism”

I suggest that you forward this article to atheists to see if they agree with you on this point. Please let me know what they say.

re “you have now painted your transhumanist beliefs with the dogmatism”

Could you remind me of anything that I have ever written that supports dogmatism?





@Giulio: Sure, what’s the going rate? wink

The argument I was making is that you cloak yourself in the label of “believer” in the theological sense, the defining characteristic of which is dogma - a belief in a God in the “strong, metaphysical sense”. Even though you don’t subscribe to this belief, you apply to yourself its label.





@SHaGGGz continued

Religion means different things to different persons, and I think we have different interpretations. It is evident that you consider dogmatism and intolerance as the central, defining feature of religion. I consider cosmic visions of transcendence as the central, defining feature of religion, and dogmatism and intolerance as undesired secondary features, to be eliminated if possible.





Like I said and once again “hinted” at with the links I posted above.. Secularism and its history should be taught in schools, as well as understanding of social contract and personal responsibilities.

We take for granted our rights afforded by secular societies, to the point that most of us are oblivious to the fact that we actually do live with secular ethics? And to the point where we make exceptions towards fundamentalist minorities whom are clever enough to take advantage of our ideals of human rights as well as our own ignorance of these secular histories?

If you take time to actually read and understand what I am continually attempting to convey here, secularism law is the key to the “protection” and right to “free-thinking” afforded to the “individual”, by which they may be free to believe as they wish without fear of prejudice or intolerance, and by which they may “free themselves” from the “chains” of indoctrination, (as indeed “we” here already have?)





@Giulio: I recognize that words, especially ones dealing with high-level sociological phenomena, have fuzzy and porous borders. However, you crank those borders beyond the point of recognizability, where you assert with a straight face (with what amounts to) that you and Dawkins are both theists. Either words have at least some tethering to a stable meaning or they don’t.





@SHaGGGz re “the defining characteristic of [religion] is dogma - a belief in a God in the “strong, metaphysical sense”

Our comments crossed. I don’t consider belief in a God in the “strong, metaphysical sense” (if I understand what this means) as the defining characteristic of religion.

I consider belief in benevolent God(s), able to influence reality and resurrect us and our loved ones, as the defining characteristic of religion, and I think such belief may eventually be vindicated by science. If the universe does not contain God(s) at this moment, no big deal, we will build/become some.





@SHaGGGz
Indeed, and it goes to the point I made on the witch hunting thread: after a certain point these discussions often come down to semantics. I often find myself quoting definitions from Wiktionary, and probably most people think I’m being pedantic, but I also believe that we should strive to use words in roughly the same way in which the general public uses them. I haven’t really been following your exchange with Giulio in any detail, but at first glance I also find his claim to be religious unconvincing. (Dogmatic, yes - and Giulio, there is a difference between explicitly supporting dogmatism and actually being dogmatic - but not, from my perspective, in a recognisably religious sense.)





@Giulio: Okay. That’s a valid belief, and I and Dawkins agree with you. But that’s not what is typically meant by Capital-G God. Sure, we can build ourselves to be gods, maybe even engineer our way out of this particular universe, but we are still kids playing in the playground that He supposedly created. This is why Dawkins has no issue with the notion. It is a qualitatively different kind of thing to assert. You can choose to interpret the defining characteristic to be surface-level similarities such as resurrection of the dead that can be achieved through materialistic means without recourse to the supernaturalistic ontology that they traditionally rested upon, but this is a distortion of what is typically meant by theistic “belief.” It’s like saying you choose to call a cat a dog because they both have four legs. Yes, you could, but why twist yourself into a linguistic pretzel, confounding the meanings of words beyond their commonly accepted meanings?





@Pete: Yeah. Nobody wants to be a pedant, but semantics really do matter, especially in easily-cooptable culture war issues such as these. Let’s be clear by what we mean, and not retreat into ambiguities that can serve as shelter from precise scrutiny.





@CygnusX1

Re “If you take time to actually read and understand what I am continually trying to convey here”...it is a common frustration that people don’t take our ideas as seriously as we think they deserve. But the bottom line is that nobody owes anyone else their time and attention, certainly not on a forum like this. If you’re frustrated because people aren’t taking you seriously (and you obviously are), the best strategy is to try to find more effective ways to communicate. That’s what I’ve been doing (however much it may irritate you).

That said, minus the grammatically inappropriate question marks I broadly agree with your latest, including the fact that we are largely ignorant of our secular history and this gets exploited by intolerant and/or opportunistic religious minorities. Don’t quite agree though that secular law is THE key to defusing the power of bad religion. It is one of them, but I also think that the clearer the likes of us can be on the real nature, pros and cons of religion, the more we can help others use this “technology” in more appropriate ways and/or replace it with better technologies.

Ultimately, pissing contests aside I think the non-religious and the progressive religious need to work together to make this happen, and two of the things preventing us are non-religious people putting more emotional energy into fighting religion in general rather than focusing on the way it is misused, and progressive religious people putting more energy into defending it rather than finding better ways to use it. I’ve probably been guilty of the former on these threads, and it’s not dramatic, but I think there is a way to divide roles in a mutually supportive way.





And here we go again, around and around, back with the sophistry of arguing over semantics - a sure indication that there is no progress to be made here, and that the debate is beyond the scope and range of tedious polarized A-theistic posturing.

what is the meaning of “meaning”, what is this belief in “belief”?

hot air





@SHaGGGz re “That’s a valid belief, and I and Dawkins agree with you.”

I see that you agree with me, and this makes me happy.

You say that Dawkins is an atheist. But in the articles I quote he says that he is an agnostic who thinks there may be Gods in the universe. This sounds to me halfway between atheism and belief as these terms are commonly intended. So if you say that he is an atheist, why do you object to saying that I am a believer? The accuracy of the two statements is the same.

However, let’s do this experiment: Ask Dawkins if he agrees with:

“My beliefs (links in the article)

Long version: See my essay Transcendent Engineering published in the Terasem journal of Personal Cyberconsciousness.

Shorter version: See my Ten Cosmist Convictions, co-authored with Ben Goertzel, originally appeared in Ben’s A Cosmist Manifesto blog, published in Ben’s book A Cosmist Manifesto.

Very short version: The “manifest destiny” of our species is colonizing the universe and developing spacetime engineering and scientific “future magic” much beyond our current understanding and imagination. Gods will exist in the future, and they may be able to affect their past — our present — by means of spacetime engineering. Probably other civilizations out there already attained God-like powers. Future magic will permit achieving, by scientific means, most of the promises of religions — and many amazing things that no human religion ever dreamed. Future Gods will be able to resurrect the dead by “copying them to the future.” Perhaps we will be resurrected in virtual reality, and perhaps we are already there.”

If he agrees, I will not object to being referred to with the same label that Dawkins prefers to apply to himself.





@Peter re “Dogmatic, yes - and Giulio, there is a difference between explicitly supporting dogmatism and actually being dogmatic.”

So, could you remind me of anything that I have ever written that supports dogmatism or is actually dogmatic? Because I am unable to recall it.





@Giulio: We are retreading ground we’ve already covered. Yes, he describes himself as an agnostic, in the sense that he does not claim to be absolutely certain that a Capital-G God does not exist (a “de facto atheist,” in his own words), much like I and you and other intellectually honest atheists.

And yes, from what I’ve read of him, he has no issue with anything you’ve said. If he did, that itself would be a dogmatic assertion - on what could he claim to be certain that such engineering tasks are impossible in principle? Only deference to some sort of elan vital that puts humans outside the natural order, which would land him right back in theist territory.

The only possible bone of contention I can foresee at this point is the degree of certainty you claim to have in your belief that we will be able to resurrect the dead. I don’t know if current scientific understanding knows one way or the other whether the information of human minds of millennia past is irretrievably lost or accessible in principle through some sort of spacetime engineering. Obviously, though, this is a minor point.





So Dawkins now describes himself as an agnostic? Ha! - So then, he needs tear up his most “holy” critique, “the God delusion”, where he dismisses agnostics as no better than theists and describes them as “fence sitters”?

That’s fine, we can shuffle along and make room for yet another?





@Cygnus: Yes, he is as much an agnostic as any intellectually honest atheist is legally required to be. This does not invalidate any of his work. Your comment is a great example of how easily it is to misconstrue such murky matters, especially when they’re reduced to a soundbite treatment without the requisite clarifying exposition.

@Giulio, regarding your possible dogmatism: That depends on how certain you claim to be in your belief that all of the technologies you list will be developed. I don’t think current scientific understanding gives you a solid leg to stand on in asserting a positive belief in resurrecting long-dead humans, for instance. If you disregard this uncertainty and proclaim to know that this is possible anyway, then yes, you would be a dogmatist. This is different from saying you’re open to the possibility because we don’t know that it’s impossible, and will try your best to realize it.





SHaGGGz re “the degree of certainty you claim to have in your belief that we will be able to resurrect the dead… is a minor point.”

But it isn’t. It is one the cornerstones of what I am saying. I am unable to say anything precise about _how_ we will be able to resurrect the dead, but I see in modern science a lot of suggestive evidence _that_ we may eventually be able to do so. This is a very central part of my belief (or worldview, or whatever you want).

Re “If you disregard this uncertainty and proclaim to know that this is possible anyway, then yes, you would be a dogmatist. This is different from saying you’re open to the possibility because we don’t know that it’s impossible, and will try your best to realize it. “

I don’t see too much difference. Strictly speaking I cannot be sure that the Sun will rise tomorrow morning (it may go nova tonight when we sleep), but I am very confident that it will rise, so confident that I totally disregard the uncertainty and base my planning for tomorrow on this possibility.





@Giulio: One involves inductive extrapolation of evidence that stretches back all the way to time immemorial and involves very firmly established circumstances continuing to persist as we expect them to. Your uncertainty regarding its inexplicably going supernova tomorrow has about as much likelihood, given our current understanding, as you inexplicably sprouting gills tomorrow. We include the possibility as a formality, as a recognition that absolute knowledge does not exist, much like Dawkins giving such a nod to theistic agnosticism.

The other involves speculation as to the nature of reality at a very fundamental level, and our ability to manipulate it at this level, which, if it is possible at all, may not be likely for quite some time. The knowledge simply is not there; there is no currently available theoretical framework to tilt our expectations one way or the other, unlike our understanding regarding the sun spontaneously going supernova. How do you not see much difference to these two cases?





@CygnusX1 re “So Dawkins now describes himself as an agnostic? Ha! - So then, he needs tear up his most “holy” critique, “the God delusion”, where he dismisses agnostics as no better than theists and describes them as “fence sitters”?”

Given that, from the quotes above, he seems halfway between an atheist and a believer, I think he makes a political statement when he says that he is an atheist, a political statement in support of a secular society and against the interference of organized religions in policy and education.

I don’t need to be persuaded that the interference of organized religions in policy and education should be limited, because I am already persuaded of it.

But I am so fed up with the thought-policing attitude of militant atheists, and their bigot and hateful demonization of peaceful believers, that I also feel the need to make political statements.

I have a lot of respect for Richard Dawkins, but if he can make political statements, so can I.





@SHaGGGz re “How do you not see much difference to these two cases?”

In both cases I choose to disregard the uncertainty. And no, this is not a dogmatic position, because I am not saying that you should disregard the uncertainty, I am just saying that I do. Call it a lifestyle choice wink





@Giulio - Have you any plans to be in London any time soon?

I’d love to sign you up as lead speaker for a session on Ten Cosmist Convictions / Turing Church / Radical Futurism / <your choice here> at Humanity+ UK / London Futurists.

What you’re saying in this article (and in the articles you link to) deserves a wide hearing.

// David W.





@Giulio: But what is the basis for your disregarding it? Here we have a case in which you are equating the probabilities of two events with very different epistemic statuses, one with p approaching 1, the other a big question mark. You would not make this highly unusual choice for other, more everyday questions. What is your justification for shielding this particular question from the rigors of logic that pervade other areas of your life? This is starting to smell more and more like dogmatism.





@Giulio Well you are pretty dogmatic about bureaucrats and bankers, about the need to avoid the merest hint of though policing or “repression”, and (somewhat inconsistently) about the need to be undogmatic. Then again, we are all dogmatic about something, otherwise we would die.

@CygnusX1 Accusing me of sophistry because I highlight the importance of semantics is exactly the kind of unrelenting disrespect from you that I have been putting up with for over a year now. Since I like commenting on this site I intend to take action to prevent this happening in the future, if it proves necessary.





@Pete: Ooh, is that a thinly-veiled ban threat? raspberry To me, he just seems like someone who lazily retreats into “bah, it’s all semantics”-based generalized dismissal, either through a poor grasp of the topics at hand or unwillingness to see the discussion through once he realizes it has become unfavorable to his side. You seem to give him more consideration than he warrants.





@SHaGGGz re “Here we have a case in which you are equating the probabilities of two events with very different epistemic statuses, one with p approaching 1, the other a big question mark.”

This is not what I said. I said “In both cases I choose to disregard the uncertainty.”

I am not computing probabilities (besides plausibility in-principle), and I did not invite Mr. Bayes to this party. This is not a mathematical proof, but an aesthetic choice.

@Peter - touché. I am, indeed, dogmatic about the need to avoid the merest hint of though policing or “repression”.





@SHaGGGz and Peter, continued.

Actually, Peter’s apparent jumping off-topic with “you are pretty dogmatic the need to avoid the merest hint of though policing” is very much on-topic.

I cannot prove that thought policing is bad, and I am not interested in trying, because I don’t think such things can be “proven.” I don’t like thought policing, and others do. It is a personal value judgment and an aesthetic choice. I don’t want to live in a world ruled by thought cops. I will do my very best to live in a tolerant world, or die trying.

Similarly, a universe in which the future magic that I anticipate does not happen, is not a universe I am interested in living in.





@Giulio: You can claim that you “choose to disregard the uncertainty” but you don’t disregard it, really. You don’t live your life structured around the wild uncertainty of the sun’s rising tomorrow, you make plans for the future assuming that it will, as do other reasonable people.

Regarding you and thought policing: of course, you can’t logically “prove” the superiority of a value. We’ve all read our Hume. But you can provide arguments, given certain starting premises (such as a certain conception of what is worthwhile pursuit in human endeavor) and how thought policing serves, or has served historically, in the pursuit of such endeavors.

I don’t think this is similar to your making a dogmatic statement of fact, namely that the universe is in fact structured in such a way as to make resurrection of ancient humans possible, regardless of how you arrived at this supposed piece of knowledge.

One is the justification of values, which we all know are ultimately based on emotion, the other is a justification of fact.





@Peter re “I think the non-religious and the progressive religious need to work together to make this happen, and two of the things preventing us are non-religious people putting more emotional energy into fighting religion in general rather than focusing on the way it is misused, and progressive religious people putting more energy into defending it rather than finding better ways to use it.”

Well said! I think this is the way forward.

Our attitude to religion is largely an aesthetic choice, and that’s why nobody will ever be persuaded by arguments, however well constructed. At the end of the day, I like what I like, and you like what you like.

This does not mean that we cannot work together to ensure that religion is not misused but used well.





@SHaGGGz re “your making a dogmatic statement of fact, namely that the universe is in fact structured in such a way as to make resurrection of ancient humans possible”

I did not make this statement of fact. I said that a universe which is not structured in this way is not a universe I am interested in living in.

Back later.





@David re “Have you any plans to be in London any time soon?
I’d love to sign you up as lead speaker for a session on Ten Cosmist Convictions / Turing Church / Radical Futurism / <your choice here> at Humanity+ UK / London Futurists.
What you’re saying in this article (and in the articles you link to) deserves a wide hearing.”

Hi David, it would be a honor and a pleasure. Let’s schedule by email.





@SHaGGGz continued. The last part of what I wanted to say is missing (I was about to go out and typing too fast). Complete answer below:

@SHaGGGz re “your making a dogmatic statement of fact, namely that the universe is in fact structured in such a way as to make resurrection of ancient humans possible”

I did not make this statement of fact. I said that a universe which is not structured in this way is not a universe I am interested in living in.

Therefore, if the universe is not structured in this way at this moment,  I hope our descendants and mind children will appropriately re-structure it, and I intend to do my best to help if I am still around.

Otherwise, I intend to do my best to promote the ideas outlined in the article, in the hope that they can play a small role in setting humankind on a cosmic path to become godlike beings able to re-engineer spacetime.





“I did not make this statement of fact. I said that a universe which is not structured in this way is not a universe I am interested in living in.”

Now that’s the kind of dogmatism I like, and I see a parallel (perhaps even an equivalence) between this and my idea that we will be able to reverse/transcend the second law of thermodynamics. I just wish I could communicate this latter idea in ways that others can understand.





@Peter re “my idea that we will be able to reverse/transcend the second law of thermodynamics. I just wish I could communicate this latter idea in ways that others can understand”

Please keep trying.

The second law of thermodynamics says that, even if the fundamental laws of physics are reversible in time, information tends to become indistinguishable from noise, which makes reconstructing the past practically impossible.

This seems at odds with the fact that computation is energy-efficient only when information is conserved (it is destroying information that requires expending energy). It seems to me that the computation that is our universe should be fully reversible in practice, otherwise it would require energy from the outside.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reversible_computing





@Giulio: Okay, so upon closer inspection, your claim that we “will” be able to execute these technologies is really a statement of desire than a knowledge claim about the factual state of the universe. No dogmatism here. So, after all this nitpicking into subtle distinctions and layers of meaning, and that we’ve established that your ontological beliefs are indistinguishable from Dawkins’ (I use Dawkins here as a representative of atheism), you are in agreement that you are an atheist?

The info on reversible computing is intriguing food for thought, definitely useful in pondering your article in a more concrete manner.





@SHaGGGz - Let’s ask Dawkins. I am really interested to find out if he agrees that our ontological beliefs are indistinguishable, and I will be happy if he does.

I will never call myself an atheist, because I consider “militant atheists” as fascist thought cops.

I accept that there may be many parallel between my ontological beliefs and those of the more enlightened atheists (I have never said otherwise), and this also makes me happy.

Re reversible computing, I really wish I could find the time and the focus to write more. I talk about this for a few minutes toward the end of my talk at Salt Lake City (video and slides).





@Giulio:  Dawkins has acknowledged the possibilities of the technologies you outline here. And why not? On what basis would he object? Humans having a magical aspect to them that would render their “spirits” unable to be replicated technologically would very much be a belief inimical to the atheist, materialist worldview. Here, the product of a cursory Googling: http://www.acceleratingfuture.com/michael/blog/2010/02/richard-dawkins-on-the-singularity/

I don’t see why you think that to call yourself the atheist that you clearly are would be tantamount to aligning yourself with militant atheists. There are many atheists who do not align themselves with them, and who openly, passionately criticize them.

I also don’t see why you think that militant atheists are fascist thought cops. I would be interested in further exporing this, and what it is you mean by “militant atheists” and “fascist thought cops.” Do you consider these terms to be applicable to Dawkins?

I’ll check out the video, thanks.





@SHaGGGz re “I also don’t see why you think that militant atheists are fascist thought cops.”

A few months ago, in a Facebook debate, a militant atheist fascist proposed to send believers to forced therapy (yes, really). If this isn’t fascist thought policing, I don’t know what it is. I cannot think of any other definition.

I am not talking of a single episode, but of a widespread attitude. See also last quote from Russel above.

I appreciate Wagner’s music and Nietzsche’s writings, and many nazis appreciated them too. This doesn’t make me a nazi.





@Giulio: You’ve dodged my other questions.

Yes, what you describe is an instance of fascistic militant atheism. This is not what atheism is about, and I continue to question why you think that to recognize yourself as the atheist you are necessarily associates you with this fascism that is neither mainstream nor respectable.





@SHaGGGz re “your claim that we “will” be able to execute these technologies is really a statement of desire than a knowledge claim about the factual state of the universe. No dogmatism here.”

It is, as you say, mostly aesthetics and positive optimism (some call the latter wishful thinking), I never said otherwise.

However, I find in modern science (I am a theoretical physicist by training and, though I have done mostly other things since, I keep informed and read the scientific literature) sufficient reasons to indulge in my positive optimism. Wishful thinking, yes, but I consider it as _very plausible_ wishful thinking. Here, Dawkins may disagree.

Re “Humans having a magical aspect to them that would render their “spirits” unable to be replicated technologically would very much be a belief inimical to the atheist, materialist worldview.”

Totally agree, I often say the same thing.





@@SHaGGGz re “Do you consider these terms [“militant atheists” and “fascist thought cops.” ] to be applicable to Dawkins?”

Based on what I have read of Dawkins, no, I don’t.





@Giulio: Some might say your optimism, like that of Kurzweil, is misplaced or naive. But this is a matter of emotion, interpretation and taste, not one of ontology that we have been discussing here. I don’t know how closely Dawkins agrees with you regarding the likelihood of these technologies, merely that they are possible, which is what our discussion has been about. He is, very much like you, trying his hardest to disperse good memes and curtail bad ones. Seeing as how organized religion and the irrational, dogmatic thinking it gives rise to is a very influential and pernicious force in the world today, this is a laudable goal and I’m curious as to what you think makes him a fascist (if you do indeed think that).





Re Giulio’s example of “fascist militant atheism”: not only is it not what atheism is about, it’s not even what militant atheism is about. One can be evangelical about one’s atheism without suggesting that people should be sent to forced therapy, which is an idea that indeed justifiably sends shivers down the spine of anyone with a workable knowledge of history.

Re reversible computing, yes I’ll check out that link. This is a discussion that should definitely be continued!





@SHaGGGz re “Seeing as how organized religion and the irrational, dogmatic thinking it gives rise to is a very influential and pernicious force in the world today, this is a laudable goal and I’m curious as to what you think makes [Dawkins] a fascist (if you do indeed think that).”

Comments crossed. I don’t think Dawkins is a fascist, and I agree that some aspects of organized religion are a pernicious force in the world today.

But I consider thought policing and questioning the right of others to choose what to believe as even more pernicious trends, which lead straight to fascism.

OK time for some work, back soon.





@Giulio: I didn’t think you thought Dawkins was a fascist. It’s just that he is rightly described as a militant atheist, militant in the sense that he is passionate in his belief that religion (dogmatism) is a deeply pernicious force in the world and should be curbed. Militant does not mean what you apparently think it means. Perhaps you take it to mean militarist. This is what I take issue with. You are clearly an atheist, and you are clearly in agreement with the militant atheist agenda, it’s just that you have bought into the anti-Enlightenment propaganda that lumps this valid, civilizing pursuit with fringe, hateful and discredited social movements that do not at all characterize what the mainstream militant atheist movement is about. We do not advocate thought policing or stripping the right to religious expression, so long as this expression does not impinge on the free expression of others (as a rough approximation of what we want, look to the post-religious Nordic countries, which are not at all the nightmarish police states that you and others who misunderstand our aims think they would be). You would do well to disabuse yourself of your misconception because it does not serve the interests that we all here would like to pursue.





Very well put, SHaGGGz. And Giulio has less excuse than many, because he doesn’t seem to be sufficiently professionally, socially or emotionally invested no such “anti-Enlightenment propaganda” that he can’t perfectly well do without it. I think it’s much more difficult for many, and they really do, with some justification, see militant atheism as a threat - just as drug or sex addicts might see evangelical Christians as a threat. So we should not be surprised when we come across some pretty strong neurotic reactions (or, in the case of Pastor Alex, simply _resilient_ ones).

The truth is that there is no credible evidence for the existence of any kind of deity, so the only really rational choice is between atheism (which is an assertive application of Occam’s razor) or agnosticism (which recognises that absence of evidence isn’t actually evidence of absence). But Giulio’s concept of “soft rationality” is also important here. Theism has its uses, especially that of the type proposed by the likes of Lincoln Cannon, especially as an easier path (than direct agnosticism or atheism) away from harmful forms of religion. If it’s not entirely rational, that may not matter so much.





@Giulio

Re entropy, I somewhat take issue with the claim, in the Wikipedia entry you referenced, that “the phenomenon of entropy increase (and the observed arrow of time) can be understood to be consequences of the fact that our evolved predictive capabilities are rather limited, and cannot keep perfect track of the exact reversible evolution of complex physical systems”.

I think there is more to it than this. This explains why we experience uncertainty, but Indon’t understand why this uncertainty should necessarily increase over time. What seems to make it increase over time is that we know so much more about the past than about the future. But why?

I think much of this is going to depend on how you interpret quantum theory. The unitary operator might be time-reversible (it clearly is), but the effect of measurement most certainly isn’t: measurements lead to very specific (collapsed) forms of the state function AFTER the measurement, as opposed to much more generic forms before. Nobody really understand why this is the case.

Anyway I’d like to understand better the link between the reversibility of physics and that of computing. I always thought one had to expend energy to delete information because it DECREASES the entropy of the data storage device. Otherwise I don’t really understand how it works. Anyway these questions might well be relevant on understanding whether, and how, we might be able to beat the second law of thermodynamics. And that would be the disruptive technology to beat all disruptive technologies.





@SHaGGGz re “We do not advocate thought policing or stripping the right to religious expression, so long as this expression does not impinge on the free expression of others.”

Sounds very good, this is exactly the attitude that I prefer. You don’t need to persuade me, because I am already persuaded. I just wish that you could persuade also other militant atheists, who don’t seem to agree (ref. the _facts_ that I reported).

“You are clearly an atheist, and you are clearly in agreement with the militant atheist agenda.”

Whatever. In 15 min this “militant atheist” is going to church. It will put me in a good mood for the rest of the day.





@Peter re “I think much of this is going to depend on how you interpret quantum theory. The unitary operator might be time-reversible (it clearly is), but the effect of measurement most certainly isn’t: measurements lead to very specific (collapsed) forms of the state function AFTER the measurement, as opposed to much more generic forms before. Nobody really understand why this is the case.”

Quantum physics, as described by its equations, is both reversible and deterministic. The “collapse of the wavefunction,” which is not derived by the equations but is an artifact that we have to introduce in order to make sense of part of the experimental evidence, makes it non-reversible and non-deterministic.

Back to reversible computing, it can be shown that any irreversible computation can be embedded in a larger reversible computation. If our universe must be reversible because of energy-efficiency requirements, and if quantum physics (with collapse) is non reversible, then I guess it can be embedded in a reversible computation. And this reversible computation is Everett’s MWI framework: the evolution of the multiverse is fully unitary and deterministic.

(this is a hunch, not a widely accepted theory).





@Pete: Yes, people heavily invested in a world predominated by dogmatism, both true believers and those who cynically employ the dogmatic memeplex to manipulate the true believers into furthering the status quo and/or the manipulators’ interests, are justified in seeing the spread of Enlightenment values as a threat. Very justified, I would add, as these values have the potential to radically transform the way in which the world functions, and they and their ilk would likely lose the benefits the status quo confers them. I don’t quite know what to make of Alex, to tell you the truth… Actually, I feel I’ve been neglecting him in my discussion and shall return to him shortly…

I’m more conflicted about the kind of phenomenon Lincoln Cannon represents. There is definitely opportunity to further our transhumanist goals in advocating interpretations of religion that emphasize their TH-compatible aspects. However, I feel that the kinds of people who are open to such a radically liberal perspective really are not the kind of regressives we are worried about, and there’s a good chance they’ll sooner or later find their way to atheism anyway. Plus, I think Harris has a good point in saying that religious moderates give cover to their fundamentalist cousins.

As for physics and the reversibility thereof, I read an article recently that seemed to confirm your understanding that one had to expend energy to delete information. This has apparently been an assumed law in computer science for decades, but only very recently had someone formally proven it to be true.

@Giulio: I know I don’t need to persuade you because you, I, and mainstream atheism all share a subscription to Enlightenment values. What I do need to persuade you of is to be more diligent in distinguishing between us and fringe fascists, and that failure to do so hurts us all.

I don’t think I’ve called you a militant atheism, and you certainly could have legitimate tactical concerns that would prevent you from associating yourself with that movement, as do many atheists. But to insist that you’re not an atheist simply because of a misunderstanding of what militant atheism is about is simply untenable.





@Alex: “At the moment there are several institutions of atheism in the US and more elsewhere. These institutions will form their own rituals and understanding of what is the proper way to be an atheist.”

I don’t think I quite agree. You imply more equivalence between religion and atheism than is justified. Atheism is not “just another religion” as many theists assert, implying atheism is thus on the same epistemic level, making assertions relying on the same kinds of faith. There are no more “ways to be an atheist” than there are in ways to not believe in unicorns. It simply is not an issue of consequence in our lives. There can be different atheist organizations that differ in their conceptions of which tenets would be best to adopt in being a secular humanist, for example, but then “atheism” collapses into “philosophy” and is a separate issue. Likewise, there can be legitimate differences of opinion on militant atheist tactics and whether there are better ways to achieve our desired ends, but these are questions of tactics and sociology, not on how to best not believe in God.





I think this is the computer science principle I was referring to:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Von_Neumann-Landauer_limit





@SHaGGGz re “I think Harris has a good point in saying that religious moderates give cover to their fundamentalist cousins.”

Similarly, atheist moderates give cover to their fundamentalist cousins.

If you accept one of these two statements, you must accept also the other, because they are identical.

Re “There is definitely opportunity to further our transhumanist goals in advocating interpretations of religion that emphasize their TH-compatible aspects.”

This is one of my points. I am interested in furthering transhumanist goals, not atheist goals.





@Giulio: No, they absolutely are not identical. Religious moderates have much to lose by explicitly, publicly, forcefully and unambiguously condemning fundamentalism, because the potential for the erosion of the more moderate core is great, and they are wise to be wary of this reality. Atheists that embrace values of constitutional, liberal, human rights based democracy have nothing to lose by condemning the fringe dogmatists who not at all subscribe to this Enlightenment vision. In fact, they have much to gain, precisely because it disarms the kind of ignorance and/or sophistry that equates Enlightenment with fascism. Your comparison is therefore utterly without merit.

As for transhumanism being substantially separate from atheism, I challenge this assertion. Transhumanism is the inevitable logical consequence of Enlightenment values of freedom of inquiry and self-expression, which is why it is often called Enlightenment 2.0. It is directly at odds with dogmatism, just as atheism is. Your goals are transhumanist goals, which do not differ from atheist goals. That isn’t to say that there are no anti-transhumanist or bioconservative atheists, but their worldview is problematic and incoherent, much like one who claims to be a progressive Christian while also claiming to adhere to what his holy book tells him to do.





Tip: talking about reversible computing and entropy is a very good way to distract me from arguing about religion. However I will say this: Harris’s point, referred to above by SHaGGGz, is precisely what gives me my ethical “cover” to keep trying to wean Alex off his various attempts to defend his admittedly highly progressive version of theism. I’m less inclined to do this with Lincoln because he doesn’t insist on defending and justifying it, he just states it (while describing himself as “irredeemably Mormon”, which I find genuinely amusing rather than just boorish and irritating. But I should not overdo my criticism of people being boorish and irritating because I know I sometimes fall into that trap myself).

Anyway back to the REALLY interesting stuff. I think I basically share your hunch Giulio, and for practical purposes (e.g. how I think about my own futureS) I also tend to assume the MWI. What I’d still like to understand better is WHY one has to expend energy to delete information. I don’t dispute the (presumably well-tested) assertion that one does. But why? Is it because it is an irreversible process, because it involves decreasing the entropy of the data storage device, or both (e.g. because the two are equivalent). Irreversibility tends to be associated with increasing entropy, not decreasing entropy, and you don’t have to expend (useful) energy to increase entropy,  you just do it (e.g. light the match). The increase of entropy itself of course corresponds to a decline of useful energy, but does not require MORE energy to be expended.

I wish I was still 20 and could get my head around this kind of stuff re quickly and easily. Trouble is, when I was 20 I was still infected by those bloody religious memes. Maybe I should take one of those cognitive enhancement remedies that Hank write about from time to time. (Coffee has its limits.)





Re “atheist moderates give cover to their fundamentalist cousins”

Maybe SHaGGGz has already covered this, but religious fundamentalism is a FAR greater problem than any atheist fundamentalism now that the Soviet bloc has collapsed. This needs to be recognised.





@Pete: Ha, I didn’t know he referred to his Mormonism as rendering him irredeemable. That is indeed less irritating, like an alcoholic who recognizes he has a problem and needs help as opposed to one who is still in the denial stage. This public recognition of cognitive dissonance seems indicative of future atheizing progression.

Funny you mention the Soviets. I think that, ironically, their demise will only further hasten the decline of religion as a global force. An “evil empire” that explicitly renounced religion and actively oppressed it gave America a convenient way to demonstrate that atheism is obviously a morally pernicious force, while making religion all the more prominent back on home soil (let’s not forget that “In God We Trust” wasn’t the American motto until 1956).

Similarly, as the dinosaur cohort dies off and its dogmatic worldview along with it, American foreign policy becomes less likely to support aggressive foreign policy (I know religion isn’t the sole motivator here, but is an undeniable and substantial tool in justifying the jingoistic mindset that enables it), which in turn will give Islamist terror less of a reason for being. Two birds, meet your rocky nemesis.





@ SHaGGGz..

Despite the lengthy and artful way that you have manipulated and aligned Transhumanism as equivalent with atheism, and by way of convincing Giulio, (and perhaps even Dawkins?), that they are not self declared agnostics, but rather “moderate” atheists, you seem to be overlooking why agnosticism is yet even more compatible with Transhumanism/Posthumanism than is atheism, or “enlightement 2.0”, as you declare you it?

Example: Frank Tipler was an atheist yet is now Christian? Why indeed? Well, I would guess that he has decided his theosophy is now more aligned with his outlook, theories and goals towards the future?

In the same way the MTA may be more aligned with Transhuman thinking than any indoctrinated Abrahamic faiths, yet you still overlook the connections even here?

Transcendance, immortality, unity/joining/merging of consciousness, extension and perpetuation of Self identity, and progressive humanism ethics make these belief systems not entirely incompatible?





@Cygnus: I never denied that Dawkins declared himself an agnostic to the extent that intellectual honesty requires him and any atheist who cares about such a thing, merely that this is an uninteresting footnote that is brought up as a point of pedantry; he is a “de facto atheist,” words he also uses to describe him. Atheism and agnosticism are not two mutually exclusive camps. I’m not sure I entirely follow your argument of why atheism is less compatible with transhumanism than agnosticism (I sure hope your claim isn’t based on the misunderstood notion of atheism’s incompatibility with agnosticism, a notion I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve had to dispel in this thread).

I have neither the interest nor license to psychoanalyze Tipler’s spiritual trajectory. He could’ve had a stroke, for all I know.

I don’t overlook the connections; I’ve recognized they’re there, but expressed my qualms of embracing an ideology that, despite its looking remarkably liberal when compared to its more neanderthal cousins, is still carrying a lot of homophobic, racist, and otherwise lovely baggage by virtue of declaring itself a part of Mormonism. The question then becomes one of weighing costs and benefits.





(Cont..)

This is why this site should not shun “believers” whom express and show interest in Transhumanism, and instead should try to build bridges rather than burn them?

Most folks believe and hold “faith” in technology, (including theists), and are thus “techno-progressives”, even the pope, even the Amish, to degree can see the benefit in technologies?

Indoctrinated religious funda-mentalism is an obstacle towards any Trans-human future, yet agnosticism is not merely applied moderation nor merely a “stepping stone” towards atheism, and especially for all of the reasons that Giulio has stated here.





My point is that you are promoting atheism as “more” compatible with Transhumanism, when it clearly is not?

In other words, you don’t have to be an atheist to subscribe to Transhumanism or its goals, which are both wide and varied, and that a “free-thinking” Christian, (or other), may also subscribe to transcendant Transhuman goals.

I don’t believe that Dawkins is not an atheist, despite his own confusion, else this would make him merely a hypocrite?

Despite all the prime mover, “Chicken and egg”, and even intelligent design arguments, the God meme is firmly implanted into human minds, and most importantly, this “is” still yet the driving motivation in aspiring towards transcendant and Transhuman goals?

Outmoded indoctrinated religions will fade of course, (although they may not entirely disappear altogether), yet the future aggregated spiritual evolution may well be leaning not towards atheism but agnosticism?





SHaGGGz I wasn’t implying there was a religious content to the organization and “ritual” of an atheist organization. I was pointing out that it is human nature to gather and disagree, fracture and form camps. Atheists and humanists are not free from this irrationality.

I really am not interested in trying prove anything. If we are going to move forward, then learning cooperation will be a necessary component.





@Peter re “religious fundamentalism is a FAR greater problem than any atheist fundamentalism now that the Soviet bloc has collapsed. This needs to be recognised.”

I don’t disagree, but I am against all types of fundamentalism. Becoming fundamentalist in one direction does not reduce the problems caused by fundamentalism in the other direction, if anything it makes the problem worse. The only real alternative to fundamentalism is its opposite: live-and-let-live tolerance.

This does not mean, of course, that I am willing to tolerate intolerance. I affirm it as a general principle, but if fundamentalists of any flavor make my life miserable, I will fight them.





@SHaGGGz re “Religious moderates have much to lose by explicitly, publicly, forcefully and unambiguously condemning fundamentalism, because the potential for the erosion of the more moderate core is great, and they are wise to be wary of this reality.”

I totally disagree. If religious moderates want to promote the spiritual visions that they hold dear, they must explicitly, publicly, forcefully and unambiguously distance themselves from the fundamentalists, give up holy wars, and embrace civil rights and live-and-let-live tolerance.

Re “As for transhumanism being substantially separate from atheism, I challenge this assertion. Transhumanism is the inevitable logical consequence of Enlightenment values of freedom of inquiry and self-expression, which is why it is often called Enlightenment 2.0. It is directly at odds with dogmatism, just as atheism is.”

Freedom of self-expression includes freedom to believe in God(s), angels, tooth faeries and flying spaghetti monsters. Both fundamentalist believers and fundamentalist atheists (defined above by Russell Blackford, who is a very committed atheist and thus an unimpeachable source) are dogmatic and at odds with Enlightenment and Transhumanist values.

I think at this point we are both repeating ourselves. I am not going to concede some of your points, and you are not going to concede some of my points. Perhaps we should move to physics, reversibility and quantum.





@Peter re entropy, (ir)reversibility and all that.

The apparent paradox is: destroying information is what requires expending energy, increasing entropy is equivalent to destroying information, entropy increases - ergo the universe is not energy efficient (and where does the energy come from?)

This does not seem a very smart way to run a universe! I would expect our amazingly amazing universe to have “evolved” a way to run in an optimally efficient way instead.

Actually increasing entropy does not destroy information but hides it and spreads it around until it becomes (practically) indistinguishable from random noise.

I think this analogy may be relevant:

Pi (that number beginning with 3.14 that we studies at school) is statistically random. There is no statistical test that I know of that can tell Pi from random noise. Yet, Pi is not random at all because it is generated by a simple mathematical formula (the sum of an infinite series, which is very simple to write down). But you cannot tell that Pi is generated by a simple formula by analyzing it. I guess we tend to conflate different definitions of information and randomness.





@Giulio

I totally agree about fighting fundamentalism, although judging from your conversation with SHaGGGz we may still disagree about what constitutes fundamentalism. Maybe you draw the line between justified militancy and fundamentalism in a different place to us? I do think that militancy is far more justifiable when one has evidence (and/or Occam) on one’s side.

Re entropy, I still want to understand better what happens when I delete a file from my hard disk. Does the entropy of the disk go up or down? Are there different definitions of entropy such that it depends which definition you are using? If it goes up, why would I need to expend energy? Why would the fan need to burr?

I really need to understand better what is really going on in this (apparently) simple example in order to engage meaningfully in extrapolations regarding the universe as a whole. And currently I don’t, which is frustrating smile





@Peter re “we may still disagree about what constitutes fundamentalism. Maybe you draw the line between justified militancy and fundamentalism in a different place to us?”

I have given an example: the fascist atheist who proposed to send believers to forced therapy. This is not an isolated episode, I could provide many similar examples from online debates.

This blind, bigoted, uncritical, dogmatic and hateful certainty to have the Truth, that leads to proposals to violate the basic civil rights of those who don’t share it, is what I call fundamentalism.

Violating the basic civil rights of others who peacefully go through their lives without harming anyone, first and foremost the right to think with their own head, is never justified.





@Peter re defining fundamentalism, continued:

I am only interested in practical definitions of fundamentalism, not abstract and metaphysical. I don’t do thought policing, so I have no issues with what others think, but only with what they do (or say, if their words explicitly incite to action).

You can believe what you want, as firmly as you want, and dislike those who don’t share your convictions, but you cannot force (or propose to force) peaceful and tolerant others to share your convictions. There is where I draw the line.





@Giulio

I’m going to complicate things now, but in fact I think the example you give is neither fundamentalism nor justified militancy.

To me, fundamentalism is when you indeed insist on the Truth of some text, normally a religious or ideological tradition, putting faith in that tradition above an empiricist respect for, and openness to, evidence. It is thus the opposite of empiricism. It is by definition uncritical and dogmatic, and in a sense blind, but not necessarily bigoted in any emotional sense and certainly not necessarily hateful. You can be a very decent, modest, loving fundamentalist. I used to know many.

So what you are describing here is not fundamentalism. Militancy, certainly, and clearly unjustified: as I’ve written earlier, talk of forced therapy sends shivers down my spine as well. But not necessarily fundamentalist.

In fact this is one thing I think we may all have been overlooking somewhat: the fact that fundamentalism and bigotry are two different things. Perhaps correlated, perhaps not. The worst bigots may not be fundamentalists in the way that word is normally used. So we need to distinguish between two questions here: how certain should the atheists among us be of our/their atheism (I still haven’t really decided whether to put myself in that camp or not), and what attitude to take towards theists? Perhaps that’s what we’ve been missing?





@Peter re “To me, fundamentalism is when you indeed insist on the Truth of some text, normally a religious or ideological tradition, putting faith in that tradition above an empiricist respect for, and openness to, evidence.”

According to this definition, I have no issues with fundamentalists. I respect their right to choose their beliefs over evidence, if that is what really want. I only have issues, and many, with those who don’t respect the same right of others, and I use the term fundamentalist in this sense.

Re “In fact this is one thing I think we may all have been overlooking somewhat: the fact that fundamentalism and bigotry are two different things.”

I think you are right.

Re “So we need to distinguish between two questions here: how certain should the atheists among us be of our/their atheism (I still haven’t really decided whether to put myself in that camp or not), and what attitude to take towards theists? Perhaps that’s what we’ve been missing? “

These are indeed two different questions, in the sense that the answer to one is not necessarily strongly correlated with the answer to the other. My answers: 1) as certain as you want, 2) respect their right to choose. To the equivalent questions with atheism and theism reversed, I give exactly the same answers.





@Giulio Our last messages crossed.

The issue of practical vs abstract and metaphysical is actually important to me since, like you, I excel at the latter.

To me, the issue is not whether an idea (in this case definition) is “too abstract to be practical”, but rather whether it is _fit for purpose_. (That’s an expression I’ve got from my policy experience, I’m sure you’re familiar with it too.)

So if we were arguing with a fundamentalist bigot, then indeed distinguishing between the fine (and indeed somewhat “abstract”, though not really metaphysical that I can see) difference between the two would be pedantic and irrelevant. But that’s not what we’re doing. We’re having a dialogue on a thread that is read, if at all, by technoprogressive geeks like us, so we have an opportunity to get real precise.

And that’s what I’m really about on this blog: trying to bring my comfort with abstract and metaphysical/philosophical concepts to bear on issues that are, nevertheless, ultimately 100% PRACTICAL - because they will determine the quality of our future.





Our last last messages crossed as well. This is becoming like an intercontinental phone call smile





My answers are somewhat different.

To the first: don’t ever be _completely_ certain. It’s a recipe for bigotry and neurosis. But be as certain as you need to be to have a workable basis for living. Doubt can be paralysing.

To the second: respect the right to choose, yes, but don’t be shy to try to convince others of your point of view, when appropriate. “Agreeing to disagree” has its drawbacks, as those who have watched MiB3 will know smile





“I’m not just talking about propagating a part of yourself such as an “idea”, I’m talking about a person’s actual children. A genuine living, breathing version of that person and the one they love. A living, physical part of them that that they can raise, protect, teach, inspire, comfort, be comforted by,find joy in, love, and be loved back by. That is why I want to be a father.”


The above is an eloquent spiritual expression from Christian C.
Young people often have better hearts than their elders, but I prefer a less mystical philosophy—or shall we say a more philosophical mysticism smile
One attempts to balance the body, mind, and spiritual, one might not succeed yet one tries anyway.
And one can see where a Martin Luther came from: saying it is a personal matter between oneself and one’s Diety, or deity (lower case ‘d’), a matter which cannot really be mediated by anyone else.





@Peter re answers

“don’t ever be _completely_ certain. It’s a recipe for bigotry and neurosis. But be as certain as you need to be to have a workable basis for living. Doubt can be paralysing.”

Yes, this is a good formulation.

“respect the right to choose, yes, but don’t be shy to try to convince others of your point of view, when appropriate.”

I agree, with an emphasis on “when appropriate,” and perhaps “convince” is not the right world.

I wrote this article because I find in my beliefs aesthetic and emotional value, hope and happiness compatible with science, and therefore I want to offer these beliefs to others hoping that they can find in them the same good things.

But I am not really pushing to convince others, and I am not even much interested in winning arguments. It is more like “I find this good, take it if you also find it good, leave it otherwise.”

When is it appropriate to try to convince others? For example, when they ask. I will not knock at others’ doors like a salesman, but my door is open for who wants to come.





@Intomorrow - yes, it is a personal matter between oneself and one’s Diety, or deity (lower case ‘d’), a matter which cannot really be mediated by anyone else.





The discussion about when it is appropriate to convince other’s of one’s opinion, and how hard one should try to convince others of it (which I agree is not quite the same thing), goes to the heart of much of what we have been discussing here, and if we could come to a common view on it it might take much of the heat out of the discussion.

In this context, like Giulio I’m not particularly interested in “knocking at others’ doors like a salesman. Where I do intervene, though, and sometimes quite aggressively, is if I think people are harming others with their beliefs (sometimes they can do this just by talking about this, e.g. “I think Greece’s banks are about to fail!”), if they are irritating me by going about them irrespective of whether I asked them or not (i.e. as quid pro quo), or thirdly of I honestly think they need to hear it and care about them enough to be willing to deal with the resulting aggro.

To an extent, I think anyone who comments on this site is fair game: if you don’t want me disagreeing with you, then don’t state your beliefs here. Go somewhere else. And I will continue to attack beliefs that appear on this site and which I consider to be harmful. In general I won’t be doing it out of concern for the person I am arguing with (sorry!). I do give more personal advice occasionally, but only occasionally, since this is not really e purpose of this blog, and I generally make it clear when this is what I am doing. Otherwise you can assume I am basically just stating my own beliefs, like Giulio, and at the same time attacking beliefs I consider to be harmful. Very few beliefs are entirely value-neutral in my view.





@Peter - I challenge the assumption that we must “come to a common view.” The world is interesting because different persons have different opinions. I don’t force others to give up theirs, and I don’t let others force me to give up mine.

I totally disagree with some opinions expressed here and elsewhere, but I usually ignore them instead of replying. Where I do intervene, though, and sometimes quite aggressively, is if I think people are harming others (sounds familiar?), or proposing to harm others.

I know that thoughts and words can harm others, but I will insist on stating the obvious: sticks and stones harm much, much, much more.

So if A wants to use sticks and stones against B’s thoughts and words, I will always side with B, even when I disagree with B’s thoughts and words.

(note: hateful words that incite to violence are stones, but simple statement of belief are just words).





Peter, here are some thoughts on the (scoped) value of proselyting ideologies: http://lincoln.metacannon.net/2012/05/should-you-persuade-me-of-your-ideology.html

In summary, we should proselyte with love, critical thinking and ecumenicism for trust in a world of dynamic diversity, so as to combat the proselyting of dogmatic sectarianism and to motivate our efforts at realizing that better world.





@Lincoln, “the idea of innumerable worlds and heavens of varying kinds and degrees, within which all persons enjoy that which they’re willing to receive and maintain, not statically, but rather dynamically in eternal progression, worlds without end” is indeed a vision worth proselyting.

I prefer a soft, not very “militant” way of proselyting, based on making our ideas available and easy to find online for a first basic familiarization, and keeping many doors wide open for those who want to know more.





I agree, Giulio.





@Giulio

I think there are times when we indeed need to come to a common view. I don’t think we need to come to a common view or not on whether to believe in God (which I guess makes me a not very militant atheist, if I am one at all), but coming to a common understanding on why and how we should defend our point of view could be helpful. And even if we fail, the attempt to do so can be enlightening.

On the whole I agree about sticks and stones vs thoughts and beliefs, but then nobody on this site (unlike on your Facebook wall!) has been suggesting about sticks and stones. There’s been a lot of talk about fundamentalism and bigotry, mostly accusations levelled by those defending religion against those attacking it, but nobody has actually been suggesting any kind of physical violence as a means of forcing “correct” belief. So this is something of a straw man.

Beyond that, I don’t think we really have a different view on this issue. My only comment in response to Lincoln is that the “ecumenism” we employ and advocate must not segue into fudge and obscurantism. There is a balance to be struck between “all beliefs are ok” and “my belief is the only right one”. Both extremes are unhelpful.





I agree that the other extreme is also unhelpful, Peter.





What is aggravating is Christians responding to me saying Heaven is a myth with:

“Jesus was right about everything”, then the rote,
“Jesus was either exactly who He said He was, or He was the greatest fraud in history.”

Then you are expected to fall off your chair and say, “Wow! Really”, as if the greatest secret of all has been imparted to you. But the reality is somewhere in between Jesus being who He said He was and being the greatest fraud in history; it isn’t either/or, it’s shades of grey.
That’s the value of Luther, you can be your own priest and not have someone dump into you that which was dumped into them.
All the same I can accept the supposed existence of Heaven and Hell, if Heaven is space colonisation, while Hell is a state of extreme entropy. Excruciating pain would be an example of a Hellish state, extreme nervous system entropy

 

 

 


right about everything; Jesus is either exactly who He said He was or the greatest fraud in history.”

Then we are supposed to fall off our chairs (even though we’ve heard it many times before) and exclaim, “oh, really?, I didn’t know that!”

However it isn’t either/or, it’s shades of grey. Jesus was somewhere in between who He said He was, and the greatest fraud in the world.





Oops, was in a hurry and made a botch of the above.  50 lashes with a mouse cord.

The message is, nothing wrong with the hearts of most of the religious, it is their heads.
Far too many sheeple who accept for instance the subtle erosion of civil liberties since 9-11; the blind acceptance (or toleration of) such is comparable to uncritical acceptance of what kin and peers inform them concerning religion.





@Peter re “nobody [on this site] has actually been suggesting any kind of physical violence as a means of forcing “correct” belief.”

This is why I like this site and the people who discuss on this site! I react strongly to statements like “I’d like the so-called “self-expression” of those religions curtailed,” because when I hear such things I smell sticks and stones. From afar, yes, but history shows that we need to be vigilant and we should not ignore the smell of bad things from afar.

I think we all agree that everyone has the right to freely choose their belief, and that violence is not an acceptable means of forcing “correct” belief. (see caveats on “correct” below).

Re “I don’t think we need to come to a common view or not on whether to believe in God (which I guess makes me a not very militant atheist, if I am one at all).”

I totally agree and I don’t think there is such a thing as “correct” belief. It is a personal choice and a personal matter between oneself and the universe.

Re “There is a balance to be struck between “all beliefs are ok” and “my belief is the only right one”. Both extremes are unhelpful.”

How about: all beliefs are ok if they get us through the night without harming others, and I have chosen my belief as the right one for me.





@Intomorrow re “The message is, nothing wrong with the hearts of most of the religious, it is their heads.”

Why? Are you referring to the still popular misconception that religion is incompatible with science?

But in the links given in the article I show, to my own satisfaction at least, that even the most mystical elements of religion (e.g. miracles and resurrection) can be interpreted in such a way as to be perfectly compatible with science.





A master wordsmith who cannot be accused of being my friend says:

“I sometimes find that I am making arguments that have a certain kinship with some of the arguments at least some people of faith also make in defending their moral and cultural values from the more strident champions of scientism or objectivism. I believe that there is more to being reasonable than being scientific, and indeed I believe it is both unreasonable and unscientific to pretend that what makes moral, aesthetic, legal, ethical, and political beliefs reasonable (and most religious beliefs seem to be moral and aesthetic in character to me) is the same thing that makes scientific beliefs reasonable.” (link and more excerpts here)

This is part of what I have been trying to say, but he says it better.





@Giulio

I still think you are being both more and less relativist than I want to be.

More relativist in the sense that you almost seem to be dismissing the idea that some beliefs are more correct than others. So “the earth is flat” is just as correct as “the earth is round?” It’s one thing to admit, following Hume and others, that we know nothing for sure, and another thing inn practice to treat all beliefs as equally valid.

Less relativist in the sense that express very strong (dogmatic,  even!) opinions about, for example, how extraordinarily attuned we need to be to the mere wiff of repression. Certainly no hint there that you would ever be prepared to tolerate opposing (fascist, for example) beliefs as equally valid.

We all need to stand for something. When it comes to empirical matters, it’s best that we all have a healthy respect for evidence, and this is something I am prepared to fight for. When it comes to non-empirical matters, such as morality and ethics, I think it’s best that we recognise that our moral preference s are just that - preferences - but also that we align them as far as possible towards the goal of creating a better world, combined with the best available evidence about how to do it.

When it comes to theism we have neither falsifiability or verifiability, so we are not really talking about empirical truth. But as I said above, Few beliefs are, in my view, value-neutral. I certainly prefer enlightened theism over bigoted and simplistic atheism, but when I engage in these debates here at IEET on the whole I find myself weighing in on the side of the atheists. It seems to me there are enough religious people already, we don’t need even more of them. I live without much in the way of reference to any deity these days, so it is natural for me to side with others who live the same way.

And in the mean time, those stories I was told as a kid - about how I would go to hell if I didn’t believe - continue to have repercussions, which perhaps explains why I am so sensitive to the merest wiff, especially on what one expects to be a determinedly secular site such as this one, of religious scaremongering.





@Peter - the belief that the earth is flat is actually _more_ useful than the belief that the earth is round if you are building a small shack, because it gives the same result with simpler calculations. Not so if you are building a very long bridge.

But I see your point, that some beliefs are more _useful_ than others (I don’t know what “correct” means, and I don’t care much), in given circumstances. Actually, I feel that this is one of the arguments that I am making in support of my position (in other words, my line not yours:-)

I think we are all very sensitive to the merest wiff of whatever triggers our deep emotions. I didn’t take stories of hell seriously when I was a kid (not that I went to church much) and I always considered them as idiocies that the authorities said to stay in power. But even as a kid, I always had a very deep distrust in any form of authority, and that’s what triggers me.





I had a different upbringing to you, Giulio. Everything was ok as long as you believed, and behaved accordingly, otherwise there was trouble, and for whatever reason I DID take those stories seriously. And it went down really badly when I finally stopped going to church in my 20s. I still resent that.

“The earth is flat” is more useful to the shack-builder than “the earth is round” because it is simpler. If he know that the earth is round, he needs more information to know that it is sufficiently large for its curvature to be neglible for his purposes, so if he has no other need for this information (which could be simple curiosity) then it is cluttering his mind with useless information. But it remains the case that “the earth is round” is more _correct_, and it is information that he may find useful later.

If I understand you correctly, you are saying that theistic belief is useful, at least to some people (do you accept that it might be downright harmful for others, e.g. because of their upbringing?), because it motivates them, inspires them, and so on? But this is a very different kind of “use”. It has nothing to do with evidence or practicality: it as everything to do with emotion and motivation. And I am suspicious of beliefs that are useful in this way, because this is precisely the device used by any kind of snake-oil salesman.





@Peter re “If I understand you correctly, you are saying that theistic belief is useful, at least to some people (do you accept that it might be downright harmful for others, e.g. because of their upbringing?), because it motivates them, inspires them, and so on?”

Yes, this is what I am saying. Theistic belief is not the only thing that can motivate and inspire people, but it is certainly one of them. Lincoln says often that religion is very efficient as a means to inspire the “strenuous mood,” and I agree. I think at this moment we, as a society and a species, need a very strong dose of positive optimism and strenuous mood to embark on our cosmic journey.

I agree that a traditional religious upbringing can be harmful, but maintain that the harm is not caused by the belief itself, but by the people who do the upbringing. I say “New Believers” and “Religion 2.0” to exclude these people and the harm they do.





@Giulio

Causation is a multi-faceted thing. Sure I could blame my parents, but I find it difficult to see how this would constitute a “useful belief” in my case smile And the reality is that they brought me up in good faith, that is to say in accordance with their own beliefs. Which they get from their parents, and from the Christian / post-Christian society in which they were brought up.

In my previous comment I talked about resentment. I don’t actually find it very useful to focus on my resentments. It’s important to know that they are there, and to accept them (one doesn’t have to like them, but I find it’s counter-productive to try and get rid of them, hence my emphasis on accepting them), but beyond that it’s better to focus on what we want. On the other hand it’s good to recognise the subconscious motivations we have to for engaging in these debates in the way we do.

In this context, a more serious problem than religion per se (to the extent that we indeed regard it as a problem) is the fact that we don’t agree on what we want, or often don’t even know what we want. You have a pretty clear idea, and this is certainly one of the things I most respect about you. I’m getting there, but am a bit less far advanced (perhaps that’s why CygnusX1 perceives me as flip-flopping). But even if we all knew exactly what we wanted that doesn’t mean we would all want compatible things. And if what we want is incompatible then we end up with conflict, and the risk that we end up with something none of us want.

From this perspective I think the worst thing about religion is the extent to which it incites desires that are simply not founded in reality, and/or are brittle and inflexible. When one group of people want the restoration of the Caliphate, others are waiting for the Second Coming, others want Jerusalem to be for the Jews, while others see it as their God-given duty to wipe Israel off the map, you know you have a problem; and you also know that religion is doing much of the devil’s work.





I just realized that when I say that the harm is not caused by the belief itself, I am not expressing myself clearly.

Religious beliefs have a cosmic, visionary, metaphysical, theological core, plus “other things.” When I say “beliefs” I refer only to the cosmic core.

But often the “other things” are considered, instead, as integral parts of the beliefs, including normative lifestyle and social prescriptions like don’t eat meat on Friday, don’t eat anything on Ramadan, don’t do anything on Sabbath, don’t drink coffee (that was for Mormons), don’t have sex, don’t even think of gay sex, obey the authorities, kill adulterous women, put homosexuals in jail, kill all infidels in a holy war…

I wish to make it clear that I do not consider these normative lifestyle and social prescriptions, that can be harmful and often very harmful,  as parts of what I refer to as beliefs.





@Giulio

I think we’re converging. BUT, in the spirit of keeping our usage of words roughly in line with that of the world at large…...a belief is something you believe. Nothing more, nothing less. So when I say “beliefs can be harmful”, I mean beliefs can be harmful, not that their “cosmic core” can be harmful. Similarly, when I say “religion can be harmful” I mean the totality of beliefs and taboos that are associated with the common religions can be harmful.

Does this mean it is possible to extract some kind of “cosmic core”, or whatever you want to call it, from all the other crap that gets associated with religion, and call THAT religion? Again, it depends what you mean by “cosmic core”. I certainly believe that the major religious traditions are enormously rich insights, many of which indeed form part of the core of what I myself believe and value. But whether you like it or not, when you come out and defend religion (for example by posting articles with the title, “Yes, I Am a Believer”, you are actually associating yourself in people’s minds with the crap, as well as the core. You might consider this as a price worth paying, and I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but it is one that you at least need to be aware of if you want to avoid contributing to the problem.





Since this may be important: I meant “enormously rich IN insights”.





@Peter - It is not a price that I _want_ to pay, but I guess I can’t avoid paying it.

Yes, I want to extract some kind of “cosmic core” from traditional religions and transhumanist thinking, enhance it with practices of compassion, solidarity and love for all sentient beings, and call THAT religion. This is a good way of putting it.





The price is not fixed, in my view. There are ways to cut costs.

This debate certainly helps, because ultimately what you choose to call it is less important than the way you describe it, and I think we’ve hit on a formulation that describes it very, very well.

Likewise, you might tell me that by calling it “utilitarianism”, as I am tempted to so, or more generally by defending “utilitarianism” in discussions on ethics, I am also associating myself in people’s minds with a lot of crap, such as cost-benefit analyses that aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.

In any case it looks like the debate on religion will continue here at IEET, in which case I certainly intend to keep your formulation in mind. If that is indeed religion, then I too am a believer.





This is the unmangled version of yesterday’s comment:


What is aggravating is Christians responding to me saying Heaven is a myth with:

“Jesus was right about everything”, then the rote,
“Jesus was either exactly who He said He was, or He was the greatest fraud in history.”

Then you are expected to fall off your chair and say, “Wow! Really”, as if the greatest secret of all has been imparted to you. But the reality is somewhere in between Jesus being who He said He was and being the greatest fraud in history; it isn’t either/or, it’s shades of grey.
That’s the value of Luther, you can be your own priest and not have someone dump into you that which was dumped into them.
All the same I can accept the supposed existence of Heaven and Hell, if Heaven is space colonisation, while Hell is a state of extreme entropy. Excruciating pain would be an example of a Hellish state, extreme nervous system entropy.

What tips my ambivalence concerning Christians over to mistrust is agape love—it is virtually nonexistent. Christians, as everyone else, care about their own people, not others.
Smarm is to love as chicken shit is to chicken salad
, and no obfuscation can hide that.





@Giulio: ” It is not a price that I _want_ to pay, but I guess I can’t avoid paying it.”

No, you very much can. It has been clearly demonstrated to you that the beliefs you advocate in this article are those of a techno-optimistically tinged atheism. It has also clearly been demonstrated to you that calling yourself a “believer” in the context of theism is a misrepresentation of this. Yet you choose to resist the label of atheist because for some reason you are unable to separate the mainstream atheist movement that wishes to pursue all of the things you do, and condemn those that you do, from the fringe fascist dogmatist movement that you and mainstream atheism both deplore. I don’t know why you persist in choosing to believe this, but you do.

@Peter: “From this perspective I think the worst thing about religion is the extent to which it incites desires that are simply not founded in reality, and/or are brittle and inflexible. When one group of people want the restoration of the Caliphate, others are waiting for the Second Coming, others want Jerusalem to be for the Jews, while others see it as their God-given duty to wipe Israel off the map, you know you have a problem; and you also know that religion is doing much of the devil’s work.”

I would modify that slightly to say that the worst thing is how dogmatic religion fosters a cognitive mechanism that prevents one from recognizing the unreality of such desires, even as they have obviously deleterious effects. A cognitive mechanism that contains within itself a barrier to its own removal.

“If that is indeed religion, then I too am a believer.”

Sure, if we agreed to warp the established meanings of words, we could call ourselves believers. But we should ask ourselves, what are the externalities of this decision? Why not call ourselves a term that already exists and means the same thing but lacks the associated baggage that promotes worldviews antithetical to our goals?





ShaGGGz, whether you like it or not, you live in a world where “religious” and “faithful” and “believer” apply accurately to persons like me, who reject supernaturalism and dogmatism, yet who embrace and advocate trust in creative and compassionate posthumanity, both that which we hope to become and that which probably must already exist if our hopes are not vain.





@Lincoln: I know, and I have no problem with this. That was not what I objected to. I object to Giulio’s resisting a label that applies to him, for reasons that give credence to irrational propaganda that refuses to make distinctions beyond the subtlety of black and white, thereby ultimately undermining the very cause he purports to support.





@SHaGGGz: my position is basically identical to the position of Lincoln, so the same label should apply.

I do make distinctions beyond the subtlety of black and white. I said that my position is halfway between traditional belief and enlightened atheism. I use the terms “New Believer” and “Religion 2.0” to make the difference explicit. But, given the black and white polarization of “atheist” and “believer,” I am a believer, and I say so.

Also, I find believers interesting, and “militant atheists” boring.





@Giulio: I’m not familiar with the intricacies of Lincoln’s beliefs, but his subscription to Mormonism and its belief in a God in the “strong, metaphysical sense” is what separates him and you, and is also the black/white delineating line of theism and atheism. You meditate on the substantial similarities and compatibility between your belief and theism as such, but come to the wrong conclusion when you say that these similarities and compatibility therefore makes you a theist. Theist does not necessarily mean militant atheist, and your judgment as to the latter’s boringness (and wish to project a certain image of yourself) does not justify your twisting the meanings of words beyond their genuine meanings. In your taxonomy, Dawkins, I, and basically everybody here is a believer, which renders the term meaningless.





@SHaGGGz re “Theist does not necessarily mean militant atheist”

I guess wink





@Giulio: I know the outgroup homogeneity bias is a powerful cognitive confounder (or, in your case, “perceived” outgroup) but a cursory Googling would clear that right up.





Four issues from my perspective (in no particular order of importance).

1. @SHaGGGz you meant “Atheist does not necessarily mean militant atheist.” In his last comment Giulio was just making a joke about the typo.

2. I’m curious about Lincoln’s “...which probably must exist if our hopes are not vain.” I wonder if there might be a semantic issue here regarding the word “exist”. What does it mean, practically speaking, to say that your creative and compassionate posthumanity “already exists?” How does this concept/phraseology help us?

3. I think SHaGGGz’s point about externalities is crucial. It’s what makes this discussion worth having. I stand by my statement - “If that is indeed religion, then I too am a believer.” - but the word “if” is all-important. The question remains whether we SHOULD be using the word religion to refer to this given that in the so many people use it for something else?

4. Intomorrow’s point is also relevant. Not that I want to deviate this thread into a discussion about whether “agape love” really exists, could exist, should exist, what it means exactly and so on, but too much pious talk can be counterproductive, in exactly the sense that Intomorrow says it can: because it can so easily become inauthentic and “smarmy”. Not that theists are the only ones guilty of smarm, but I do think it’s a particular hazard with religion, or indeed with debates about ethics. Maybe we should all just take a break, from time to time, from trying to be so darn good. Have a reality check, get in touch with our inner demons from time to time. It’s all God’s creation, after all…





PS sorry the last sentence of point 3 is a bit garbled.





@Peter re “Maybe we should all just take a break, from time to time, from trying to be so darn good. Have a reality check, get in touch with our inner demons from time to time. It’s all God’s creation, after all…”

Very, very, very true. A little walk on the wild side every now and then, if it doesn’t hurt anyone else, can be stimulating and fun, and refresh one’s commitment to agape.





Garbled, Pete? why, happens to all of us.
Yesterday was Memorial Day, and I was in a hurry to join the festivities and messed up a comment real bad on the way to celebrate the holiday honoring war and dead soldiers—speaking of anachronism.. where my cynicism/skepticism derives from. A holiday more or less honoring death, injury, pain and destruction. Go figure.
Want to keep saying to Alex it isn’t religion which is a serious problem, it is the people involved. Religion is positive for, to put it bluntly, filling empty heads, absorbing their time; sure better for a Tim McVeigh to pray to a nonexistent Deity than to blow up a real building. IMO it always comes back to religion having existed for thousands of years and our being stuck with it. Beyond that it gets too complex & complicated, as in ‘family will get you through all the problems you wouldn’t have if they weren’t your family’.
Religion will get you through all the problems you wouldn’t have if religion didn’t exist—something along those lines.
IMO religious love (at its worst better than the outside world’s coldness) ends at the door of the house of worship when the congregation waves goodbye- they are naturally thinking of their own lives, their families.. who can blame them? they, we, are wired to care about our own families. I don’t dislike them for their smarm (call it “familial exclusivity” or some other lousy clinical designation), but as a guy I have to be careful; to paraphrase the Godfather, women and children can afford to make mistakes, men cannot.  One goes into caution-mode with the Raelians and cloning a baby. We have discernment, we go into caution mode when caution is justified. It is the same caution used when dealing with Ponds and Fleishman and cold fusion. Frankly, don’t know what to make of the Singularity. You are quite right, Pete, to occasionally mention the Second Law of Thermodymamics; mention it every day, it doesn’t get old smile
Anachronism now gets my back up all the time, think of the 19th century as being the mechanical century, the 20th as (just say) the electronic century. Since the 1920s, things have greatly progressed, but our energy sources are primitive. Chances are your city or town is powered by coal, what we were using at the dawn of Industrialism.





Not so much coal in Brussels: only 10% of electricity in Belgium is produced from coal. More than half is nuclear. And we don’t use coal for much else; by contrast we do use a lot of gas.

The real bottleneck, according to a report of the International Energy Agency that I read a few years ago, will be transport. Our transport solutions are still massively dependent on liquid fuel. Once the oil finally starts to run out (it has to some time, right?) we’ll make do with renewables for most things: they will finally start to become competitive even without government subsidies. But to keep our transport systems running without liquid fuel probably requires massive and urgent investment in infrastructure and technological design.

Come to think of it, all this may be a tad more important than whether or not we like to think of ourselves as religious…





@Peter re “Come to think of it, all this may be a tad more important than whether or not we like to think of ourselves as religious… “

And both believers and atheists can make a contribution to a good outcome.

By the way I find this recent news encouraging: Germany meets half its energy demand from solar, briefly





Indeed!
As long as we’ve still got the sun I guess we can work within the second law smile

Maybe we should just go back to worshipping the sun, like in the good old days.





@Pete: “In his last comment Giulio was just making a joke about the typo.”

I, uh… *defenestrates self*





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