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Religion and the digital revolution

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William Crawley | 19:30 UK time, Friday, 24 August 2012

This week, in a special edition of Radio 4's Sunday programme, we'll explore the many ways the world wide web is changing global religion. From live-steaming communion services to Jewish dating sites, from virtual muslim pilgrimages to online monastic communities, from smart phones that hear confessions to podcasting evangelists.

The web has given a new voice to pro-democracy groups previously silenced by dictatorial regimes. It has allowed separated families to stay in touch. It has democratised education and changed the way we share new knowledge about the world and around the world. But it is also giving a platform to religious and political extremism. It has ushered in a new age of cyber-bullying and cyber-terrorism. And some brain scientists sat social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook can blunt our sense of morality and make users indifferent to human suffering.

Is the internet good for our souls (if you believe in such a thing) or a danger to our moral health? Tell us what you think.

Comments

Page 1 of 2

  • Comment number 1.

    "From live-steaming communion services"

    Jesus, have they got some religious exemption to do this now! What about the victims? Could they not get the insurance cover to do roasting? I have to say in no uncertain terms that I am against this. MPs should be speaking out against this.

  • Comment number 2.

     
    The corrosive influence of pornography on the minds of our young people is, IMHO, the most worrying aspect of the internet.

    How can anyone with daughters read this and not despair?

    I seem to recall that when Gary McKinnon's computer was seized by the authorities, one of the officers commented that it was the only time he had examined a computer's downloaded material and found no porn whatsoever.

    Having been a teenage laddie, I well remember being distracted by the lassies to the extent that I could think of little else. Now I've calmed down a wee bit I find most of my friends are women. Would that have been possible had I been exposed to what is now so easily available at the click of a mouse?

  • Comment number 3.

    2. Scotch Git,

    It is sad. I think it's despair-worthy for anyone with daughters or sons. Technology helps it along alright, but I think it might be the natural progression of 'boys will be boys.' Eve needs to hurl that apple back so hard it doesn’t return. There should be compulsory assertiveness classes for girls. Nothing is more courageous than the average woman walking the earth.

  • Comment number 4.

    marieinaustin -

    Eve needs to hurl that apple back so hard it doesn’t return. There should be compulsory assertiveness classes for girls. Nothing is more courageous than the average woman walking the earth.


    What makes you think that internet porn is just for the consumption of males? And what makes you think (or at least insinuate) that it only involves the exploitation of women?

    I think men are often sexually exploited (even if only in subtle ways), and it's perfectly acceptable to get away with it. There was a case at the Olympics of an American rower whose spandex supposedly revealed too much when he stood on the medal podium, and the media (such as the Daily Mail) had a good laugh about it. If that had involved a woman's anatomy, all hell would have been let loose! (I won't link to the story as I reckon the mods won't allow it, so you'll have to find it.) The rower in question took it all in good heart - but I guess he had no choice. But that is not the point!

    Sickening double standards.
  • Comment number 5.

    4. LSV,

    I do know the story you’re talking about. The mocking was immature, hurtful and offensive, and another progression down the road we’re on.

    I don’t think it’s quite double standards. Although it might seem that way, since I recently heard that men’s biggest fear is being laughed at, and that is what the rower suffered.

  • Comment number 6.

    Will mentioned several examples of the internet working positively for religion. But it is also possible to think of examples that work in the other direction. The internet is at least somewhat feared by regimes such as in China, who don't like people accessing all sorts of information out there and openly discussing things, criticising established ideas. The same is true to some degree for religion. A recent documentary on a conservative Jewish community in New York showed how they shunned the internet (as well as television) to avoid being exposed to what is out there. The same would go, probably still more so, for the Amish. And speaking from personal experience posting on various other religious forums, there are often strict rules in place that you can't argue to clearly against their religion, or you'll be banned.

    In general, religion does have a good deal to fear from the dissemination of knowledge and open, critical discussion of ideas. Which lead video blogger Thunderf00t to create the video below. It has a good deal of hopeful, wishful thinking in it, it is by no means a certain prediction of the future. But there certainly is something to it.

    The Internet: Where religions come to die
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Rqw4krMOug

  • Comment number 7.

    Peter Klaver (# 6) -

    In general, religion does have a good deal to fear from the dissemination of knowledge and open, critical discussion of ideas.


    Well I know of at least one theist who is not afraid of knowledge and open, critical discussion of ideas. In fact, it has been the experience of this particular theist that atheists tend to run a mile from critical discussion, hence their tendency to resort to ad hominem attacks and mockery without any evidential basis. This theist has also been kicked off R. Dawkins' website for ruffling a few feathers (hardly surprising given that RD has a tendency to run away from debate).

    Given that "knowledge" and "reason" only make sense within a theist worldview (and cannot possibly make any sense within a deterministic, materialistic paradigm), then theism is the last worldview that should fear knowledge. How can an intelligence based view of reality fear intelligence?

    I think that the internet is probably the worst thing that could ever have happened to the cause of atheism, which thrives on its appeal to authority (99% of scientists say this, so you better believe it, or else...) and its deep-seated fear of philosophical analysis. After all, who are the people who are so fanatically afraid of our children asking deep searching and challenging questions in the science classroom? Certainly not the advocates of intelligent design.
  • Comment number 8.

    It is disturbing to see children indoctrinated. I think if a child doesn’t wear the proper head or face-covering, genuflect, kiss the ground and have the same attitude and beliefs as the parent towards the parent’s life-long fear, be it his/her own parent or his/her God, the threat to the parent is too great. So the child has to go outside the home to grow. The parents or groups who previously recognized their own personal threat from any outside communication continue to do so with the internet.

    And it is disturbing to see children indoctrinated. The internet takes over where religion leaves off – as far as violence against women goes.

  • Comment number 9.

    Peter, I was going to make some other points about the internet and religion and then I watched the video you linked to. Some interesting points, but in the main I think he overstates his case, and that by quite some margin.

    Then there’s this:

    06:14 - screen caption “it (religion) only works in groups!”

    06:37 - commentary - “the efficiency of indoctrination (ehem:-) is significantly reduced when all the members are not localized in one place” - overlaid with the caption - “try this in a chatroom”

    and

    08:11 - commentary - “On a local level freethinkers may be a minority compared to a specific religion, but that minority has homogeneity worldwide. The bottom line is that freethinkers could be a minority everywhere, but still a major player on the world stage. Indeed by percent arguably only the Catholic Church is larger than those claiming no religion. And just to put that into hard context, the Thunderfoot channel alone currently has a Youtube footprint about four times larger than the largest religious denomination in the world.”

    Emmmm....

    Oh, and yes, the inclusion of the clip from the ‘Jesus Camp’ movie is a very good example of “crowd psychology” - no disagreements there.

  • Comment number 10.

    Peter Klaver (@ 6) -

    Further to my last response to your comment...

    In general, religion does have a good deal to fear from the dissemination of knowledge and open, critical discussion of ideas.


    Would you like to let us all know what this "knowledge" and these "ideas" are, that are such a threat to religion (by which I assume you mean theism). Do please enlighten us all.

    I would very much like to see how this mysterious "knowledge" is such a hammer blow to the affirmation of the existence and operation of a personal intelligence behind the universe.

    By the way... concerning Thunderf00t's YT videos: it might be worth viewing the rebuttals from Cartesian Theist. Here's one as an example. If this is what atheism is presenting, I, as a Christian, certainly have no fear at all!!
  • Comment number 11.

     
    #9

    Dot Gale,

    “On a local level freethinkers may be a minority compared to a specific religion, but that minority has homogeneity worldwide. The bottom line is that freethinkers could be a minority everywhere, but still a major player on the world stage."


    Another contributor to various BBC blogs maintains that PATRIOTISM = NATIONALISM = FASCISM and further maintains that those who agree are FREETHINKERS.

    In my experience people, with very few exceptions, believe what their parents believe.

    I wish I could remember who said this, but I think it bears repeating - "If you had been born where they were born, and if you had been taught what they have been taught, then you would believe what they believe."

  • Comment number 12.

    “In my experience people, with very few exceptions, believe what their parents believe.”

    Agree, but with a bit more than few exceptions.

    Imo, it would be equally disappointing to discover I’ve become a mere antithesis of my parents.

  • Comment number 13.

    Scotch Git

    I'm not sure I follow you.

    I was quoting from the video Peter linked to because it seemed odd to me that the maker should build a case about the decline of religion on the basis that the Internet undermined what we might call 'groupthink', and then proceeded to relish the increased influence of ‘freethinking’ due to worldwide homogeneity and larger Youtube footfall.

  • Comment number 14.

    Peter:

    I think Dot Gale has a point. We do have a tendency to confirmation bias, i.e. noticing, looking for and favouring ‘knowledge’, ‘information’, opinions, etc, that confirm our own beliefs, and filtering out, ignoring or undervaluing the relevance of evidence that contradicts those beliefs. Also, much of our reasoning is post-hoc and justificatory. It comes after a prejudice has ‘sunk in’.

    So we tend to search for studies and data that support our bias. We also tend to be more aware of our opponents confirmation bias than our own. Which is why, for you and me, LSV is a good example of someone who, instead of seeking the truth, seeks ‘evidence’ to confirm his own nonsensical beliefs.

    While this particular phenomenon is ancient, there does seem to be good reason to think that it is becoming more acute, as the media becomes more personalised and segmented Thus, many, or most, of our Facebook friends are also likely to be like-minded and we tend to read tweets by people who agree with us, or with whom we agree.

    Because we are exposed to the thoughts of people who are already much like us, we are at risk of being convinced that we are more ‘typical’ than we really are, and our views are more mainstream and justified than may actually be the case.

    Speaking from my own experience, I was brought up in an exclusively Protestant area of Belfast and went to ‘Protestant’ schools. I had no Catholic friends. Thus all my unionist, anti-Catholic prejudices were constantly being reinforced. I only changed when I was exposed to several counter-opinions when I attended Trinity College, Dublin. I think the internet is, at least to some extent, being used in the same way as a reinforcement tool. LSV, for example, is not going to read websites with detailed counter-arguments to theism. Thus it is easy for him to say that atheists run a mile from critical discussion when what he really means is that he runs a mile from engaging in such a discussion.

    When I taught Politics and Economics, I tried to impress upon students the idea that they should approach the internet, and indeed all opinions, critically and try to read a diversity of views, where possible.

    Remember that when the cinema first appeared it was seen by many as a great engine of democracy and enlightenment. Alas, it was largely hijacked by Hollywood to churn out pop corn to numb the brain. Yet, in Europe and among European directors in America, it can stimulate and challenge.

    The topic is discussed in an article by Peter Beaumont in yesterday's Observer.

  • Comment number 15.

     
    #13

    Dot Gale,

    Sorry for the confusion! I had watched the video and did realise you were quoting from it.

    My apologies for not making it clear that #11 was not directed at you specifically, but was merely a response to #9

  • Comment number 16.

    brianmcclinton @ 14

    Did you ever think that it is your confirmation bias which leads you to believe lsv, "seeks ‘evidence’ to confirm his own nonsensical beliefs"?

    Maybe his beliefs are sensible but your confirmation bias will not allow you to accept this because they are contrary to your possibly nonsensical beliefs. Could that possibly be the case?

    Furthermore, you suggest, "...we tend to search for studies and data that support our bias", when you really mean that lsv does this to confirm his beliefs. Is this what you are saying? It seems like it to me. Do you not do the same? If lsv is anything like myself he will read counter arguments and critically analyse them from his perspective and will make his own conclusions. I recently bought a book on archaeology and it I was an atheist I would have accepted the "we think", "it seems", "it would appear that", etc. which seemed to hold the narrative together. Coming from my perspective, I seen the book for what it was and that was a guess as to how we have come to be on this earth. Now, call it confirmation bias if you like but don't you atheists do the same thing?

  • Comment number 17.

    Scotch Git

    No worries.


    Brian/Peter

    Perhaps, especially if this conversation is to continue, it would be fair to explain that we have ‘crossed swords’ before. Until recently my screen name was peterm2, when, on a whim, and after some silliness with another poster I changed to Dot Gale. I had planned to change back more or less immediately but W&T has been relatively quiet, I haven’t been commenting much and names can ‘stick’.

    Anyway, with that cleared up, I’m significantly agreeing with Brian, who has explained his concerns well. Specifically, though, in terms of religion and the internet, I don’t see this mode of communication leading to religion’s demise.

    Practically speaking, support for ‘my’ view is only a click away, and not only that, but more concerning is that while the internet appears to offer a voice to all, there are in reality many ‘leaders’ - those with bigger budgets, more ‘fire power’, so to speak; those who can draw in the ‘hits’ based on a ‘name’; those who have the financial clout to promote themselves using a variety of media, of which the internet is only one, but one which is so easily accessible it’s frightening. In short, the internet doesn’t seem to have solved the ‘problem’ of following, rather it has made following easier, and ‘followers’ more plentiful - it’s even a sought after tag line on one well known site.

    Not only this, but I’m not convinced that the Internet has led to more critical thinking, and this isn’t just a problem of seeking out views to affirm my own, it also seems to be a problem of too much shallow information - we skim and scan and click and jump about (or a least we can do all these things) without ever having to think; we want quick fixes, we can have ‘friends’ we have never met, and ‘discussions’ which are merely continual restatements of our own position - I can make my point on the Internet without ever really having to engage with someone else; and, if I wanted to, I could even change my screen name to avoid scrutiny!!

  • Comment number 18.

    brianmcclinton (# 14) -

    We also tend to be more aware of our opponents confirmation bias than our own. Which is why, for you and me, LSV is a good example of someone who, instead of seeking the truth, seeks ‘evidence’ to confirm his own nonsensical beliefs.


    A rather ironic comment in the light of the rest of your post!

    I note the use of the word "nonsense". So much for evaluating opposing views, especially considering you failed to respond to my intellectual challenge to you on the Purdom thread. Running away from "truth", are you?

    LSV, for example, is not going to read websites with detailed counter-arguments to theism. Thus it is easy for him to say that atheists run a mile from critical discussion when what he really means is that he runs a mile from engaging in such a discussion.


    You couldn't be more wrong.

    I am willing to expose myself to any atheistic, humanistic or naturalistic argument, as I have done. Please bring them on. C'mon, where are they? What do you want to start with? Epistemology perhaps? (After all, that is what this whole debate revolves around.) Did I not challenge Peter Klaver to let us all know what this "knowledge" is that supposedly debunks theism. No reply.

    Who therefore is running away? Not me.

    You are talking utter rubbish, Brian. Your assumptions about me are completely deluded. Although you have occasionally said a few sensible things on the subject of politics, I have not seen any coherent arguments from you about theism. Just typical dogmatic assertions.
  • Comment number 19.

    PTS

    You ask Brian, "Did you ever think that it is your confirmation bias which leads you to believe lsv, "seeks ‘evidence’ to confirm his own nonsensical beliefs"?"

    I rather think that Brian's awareness of his own potential confirmation bias is written through his comments like letters in a bar of rock.

    Brian and I don't always see eye to eye, but I don't see the point of accusing him of a 'problem' he is already aware of.

  • Comment number 20.

    Dot Gale (# 19) -

    Brian and I don't always see eye to eye, but I don't see the point of accusing him of a 'problem' he is already aware of.


    It doesn't look to me like he is aware of it, or if he is, he is quite happy not to do anything about it. Hence...

    ...LSV is a good example of someone who, instead of seeking the truth, seeks ‘evidence’ to confirm his own nonsensical beliefs.

    ...

    LSV, for example, is not going to read websites with detailed counter-arguments to theism. Thus it is easy for him to say that atheists run a mile from critical discussion when what he really means is that he runs a mile from engaging in such a discussion.


    And from the Purdom thread...

    The curious thing is that Purdom was allowed to get away with this false distinction, Has William mellowed since he went to America? was he overawed by the experience.

    ...

    It is difficult to understand why a loopy theory like Young earth creationism was given such publicity in SS. I mean, I'm all for free speech, but when you DON'T interview an evolutionary scientist at similar length expounding on WHY that theory is so obviously true and not the other, something is wrong somewhere.

    ...

    Most of them anyway refuse to do it because they do not wish to give any kind of legitimacy to the creationist position by implying that there is a genuine controversy about the matter.

    ...

    Doing nothing to promote sane, sensible views can allow the daft, dangerous ones to prevail.

    ...

    ...their so-called wedge policy of pressurising public bodies and schools to promote their backward views as 'normal'.


    Such a brazen indulgence in prejudice from someone who is apparently so aware of his confirmation bias!!

    Yeah. Sure....

    (And to think that Brian accuses me - without any evidence - of not investigating opposing views, and yet he flagrantly justifies refusing to debate views that oppose his point of view, because "it would give them legitimacy"!)

    I would be very happy to give an account of why I think atheism is false - point by point from an entirely logical point of view. The trouble is that I have said it all before. But at least the exercise will prove to people like Brian that his accusation against me is completely false.
  • Comment number 21.

    Brian on confirmation bias;

    LSV, for example, is not going to read websites with detailed counter-arguments to theism.

    Of course, this works both ways (leaving LSV out of it). There are sophisticated proponents of traditional Christianity on internet that offer detailed counter-arguments to atheism, and who could run rings round your average 'theists are idiots' atheist. This feeds into Brian's larger point; whether theist or atheist the internet allows us to seek out others we agree with. One of the dangers with 'virtual community' is the potential absence of friction. Friction does wonders for the ego.

    Dot

    Just finishing 'How God Became King', do they have it in Kansas? If so, thoughts?

  • Comment number 22.

    Hi Peter (aka Dot):

    Thanks for realising that I was not exempting myself. LSV, however, is so blind to any logic that he only reads what he wants to read. He's got confirmation bias really bad.

    He also misrepresents what people say, which makes it difficult to have a sensible debate with him. I did NOT refuse to debate all views that oppose my own because 'it would give them legitimacy. That point was made specifically in reference to some scientists on the specific subject of YE creationism. They regard that view as on a par with the flat earth theory or astrology.

    My point was that not to expose the daftness for what it is might enable it to spread (to paragraph Burke, it only takes some arguments to remain silent for daft and dangerous ones to triumph).

    I have debated theism ad nauseam on this thread and have concluded that it is rather pointless in some cases because the god delusion is so ingrained that reason will never shift it.

    By and large, the majority of religious people believe what their parents have believed. So in this crucial sense, it is an accident of birth. NI is a paradigm example. I was born on the Shankill as a Presbyterian and, as I have said, in my youth a bigot where Catholicism was concerned. If I had been born on the Falls, I would have been an anti-Protestant Catholic bigot. And if I had been born in Tehran, my every thought would probably have been the same as the Ayatollah's.

    Breaking out of these positions is not easy, and constant exposure to differing views is probably essential. I'm not sure that this blog succeeds on that score. I suspect that there are enough on both sides to have our own confirmation biases confirmed.

  • Comment number 23.

    brian -

    He also misrepresents what people say, which makes it difficult to have a sensible debate with him.


    What is a "sensible debate" in your thinking? Clearly one which leads inexorably to one conclusion (which is also an unassailable premise): atheism.

    Hence your reference to the "god delusion".

    I am well aware that you were making a point about YEC, but I was drawing out the general principle that flows from it - and which justifies it. After all, you were approving of the stance of those who refuse to debate a particular subject. This clearly reveals your own closed-mindedness.

    So before you start accusing me of misrepresenting views, why don't you think about your own rather feeble grasp of logic?

    Your recent performance on this blog has been an absolute disgrace. Is this what "humanism" is all about: hurling unsubstantiated accusations at people?
  • Comment number 24.

    @2. Scotch Git,
    Thanks for the link. I've read that elsewhere, too.
    I understand the "boys will be boys" concept, but also believe pornography is damaging to relationships.
    Law enforcement folk often say that rapists invariably have pornography in their possession, but I think it's a rare male who does not.

  • Comment number 25.

    LSV:
    Listen. you DID misrepresent what I said. I stated quite clearly that some scientists refuse to debate YE creationism AND that, in my opinion, THEY ARE WRONG not to. You turned this round completely, claiming that I had said that I refused such a debate. So my accusation that you misrepresent what others say is not unsubstantiated. Also, when somebody twists (wilfully?) what you say in this manner, it makes it very difficult to have a proper debate with him.

    On YE creationism and the Giant’s Causeway, for all credible scientists, evolution is a fact and the universe is about 13.7bn years old. The earth itself is about 4.57bn years, not 6,000 years old, as Archbishop Ussher calculated from Genesis genealogy (a a dodgy process indeed). These facts are established in physics, chemistry, biology, geology and astronomy, to name only a few scientific disciplines.

    Astronomy tells us that some of the stars we see in the sky are billions of years old, a knowledge of erosion tells us that it took millions of years to create the 300-mile long Grand Canyon, and continental drift, or plate tectonics, shows us how the earth's continents have drifted over the Earth's surface over hundreds of millions of years.

    Archaeology, palaeontology, genetics and dendrochronology all prove that life is many many times older than 6,000 years. For example, dendrochronology tells us that trees still exist which were alive 11,000 years ago.

    As far as the Giant’s Causeway is concerned, thanks to physicists like Rutherford, radiometric dating is used to determine the age of rocks and minerals from the decay of their radioactive elements and it has been in widespread use for over half a century. There are over 40 such techniques, such as radiocarbon dating, each using a different radioactive element or a different way of measuring them. These radiometric dating techniques agree with each other and  present a coherent picture in which the Earth was formed and evolved over billions of years.

    Rocks are made up of many individual crystals, and each crystal is usually made up of at least several different chemical elements such as iron, magnesium, silicon, etc. Most of the elements in nature are stable and do not change. However, some elements are not completely stable in their natural state. Some of the atoms eventually change from one element to another by a process called radioactive decay. If the original element, called the parent element, is unstable, the atoms decay to another element, called the daughter element, at a predictable rate. This process tells us that the Giant’s Causeway was formed about 60 million years ago as a result of volcanic action. Three lava outflows occurred known as the Lower, Middle and Upper Basaltic. The hexagonal columns occur in the middle basalt layer, and the same formations can be seen at Staffa in Scotland (Fingal's Cave of Mendelssohn’s Overture fame). They also occur in the surrounding landscape of North Antrim  and many other parts of the world.

    The fascinating pattern that we see in the causeway stones formed as a result of rock crystallisation under conditions of accelerated cooling. This usually occurs when molten lava comes into immediate contact with water. The resulting fast cooling causes cracking and results in what we see today.

  • Comment number 26.

    @Dot Gale

    To me you'll always be PeterM :)

    Anyway:

    Not only this, but I’m not convinced that the Internet has led to more critical thinking.
    I'm sure it hasn't, but it would take more than a mass communication tool to do that. I think the internet has just thrown into sharp relief a bunch of things about human nature, and then some people have decided all those things are the internet's fault. For instance in Will's intro he says:
    And some brain scientists say social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook can blunt our sense of morality and make users indifferent to human suffering
    Indifference to human suffering is hardly confined to the internet, and I'm prepared to bet that if Facebook and Twitter were closed tomorrow, the indifference to human suffering would remain constant.

    That's not to say the internet doesn't bring its own problems to the table, as you say. Discourse and debate online is often coarse, abusive and pointless. Even on a heavily modded site like this one the heat to light ratio is absurdly high. (I hold my hands up in often helping to make it so.) Anonymity, distance and the absence of the normal checks and balances of social intercourse give every discussion the bear pit quality of Prime Minister's Question Time.
  • Comment number 27.

    brianmcclinton -

    Listen. you DID misrepresent what I said. I stated quite clearly that some scientists refuse to debate YE creationism AND that, in my opinion, THEY ARE WRONG not to. You turned this round completely, claiming that I had said that I refused such a debate. So my accusation that you misrepresent what others say is not unsubstantiated. Also, when somebody twists (wilfully?) what you say in this manner, it makes it very difficult to have a proper debate with him.


    OK, I read again what you originally wrote, and I acknowledge that I did indeed misrepresent you. I am sorry.

    However, does one mistake justify the comments that you have made about me on this thread? Does one mistake invalidate what a person has to say?

    You have made all sorts of dogmatic comments about both your and my position, which are without any kind of evidential support, and it's not unreasonable for the person accused to ask for an explanation, which is what I have done.
  • Comment number 28.

    grokesx

    Hopefully I’ll always be PeterM to me too! I’ve changed back to save any further confusion.


    LSV #20

    I haven’t read the ‘Purdom’ thread and therefore have no plans to comment on that; in fact, I wasn’t even aware until late last week that new threads were up and running.

    The particular comments in question, then, those in #19, relate specifically to #16 which were concerned with the notion that Brian was ignoring his own possible bias, while accusing others of the same; that you were the focus of this was neither here nor there in my thinking.

    I stand by my comments, however, that “Brian's awareness of his own potential confirmation bias is written through his comments like letters in a bar of rock”; this is clear from what he has written in #14:

    “for you and me”, Paragraph 2, which follows, “We do have a tendency to confirmation bias”, Paragraph 1; “We also tend to be more aware of our opponents confirmation bias than our own”, Paragraph 2; “we tend to read tweets by people who agree with us, or with whom we agree”, Paragraph 3; “we are at risk of being convinced that we are more ‘typical’ than we really are”, Paragraph 4; “Speaking from my own experience”, Paragraph 5; as I said, ‘bar of rock’.

    I wasn’t commenting on the degree to which Brian agrees with you or me, nor was I commenting on the accuracy of his presentation of you; rather, I was commenting on the fact that, according to his own words, his is aware of *everyone’s* “tendency to confirmation bias”.

    He may well think your views ‘nonsense’, he thinks some of mine ‘nonsense’; perhaps he is correct, perhaps he isn’t; but whether I like what he thinks of me or not, this isn’t the same as failing to recognise that he, like all of us, has a tendency to seek out views which affirm our own.


    Andrew

    It isn’t Kansas we have to be worried about, it’s the First Church of Oz - I’ve been to a few of their services and it’s not good!

    I haven’t yet read, or even considered reading, ‘How God became King’; don’t tell me, NT Wright had something to do with it - voted for God, or something?!

    I’m currently reading “Jerusalem the Biography’, by Simon Sebag Montefiore, hardly theology (nor confirmation bias) - there God is King precisely because God being King was our idea, but enthralling none the less.

  • Comment number 29.

    PeterM

    it’s the First Church of Oz - I’ve been to a few of their services and it’s not good!

    They don't have 'special singing' from the Lollipop Guild do they?

    I haven’t yet read, or even considered reading, ‘How God became King’; don’t tell me, NT Wright had something to do with it - voted for God, or something?!

    Not even considered! Maybe you don't need to read it, you're not far wrong. Wright didn't so much vote but proclaimed, no one knew that God was King until Wright told them. That said, it's quite good except for the politics. I care much for Wright's politics. Oh well, Horton on covenant theology next; what's that about confirmation bias?

    There's no place like home.

  • Comment number 30.

    I care much for Wright's politics

    Forgot the "don't".

  • Comment number 31.

    When someone self-confesses within a cliquish group (perhaps especially online), listen carefully because there’s a tendency (not always though) for them to turn self-congratulatory. For me, it happened in post 14 the moment it became “we’re this (bless our souls),” “he’s that (poor little self-unaware waif),” with the “he” being an unnecessarily specific example, imo. It weakened the whole post. And then the silliness about Hollywood clenched the deal. Did brianmcclinton intend to be so silly? I don’t know. My confirmation bias in parentheses tells me no.

    The worse thing about inaudible communication is there’s no pitch or tone. Unless you come out from behind the confessee’s partition and stay and post a good while, deadpan is impossible. Maybe satire courses should be compulsory now. Oh, excuse me, guess they already are over there. Hey ho, tra la la my popcorn’s ready.

  • Comment number 32.

    marie

    Right back at ya.


    Andrew

    I guessed as much.

    Horton who? Isn't that Dr. Seuss? I know, I know!

  • Comment number 33.

    brianmcclinton in relation to PeterM @ 19

    While it is quite possible that you are aware of your own confirmation bias, to use another person to illustrate the phenomenon as a "good example" and brand their view as, "nonsensical beliefs" is extremely judgemental and a bit like the pot calling the kettle black. @22 you say, "...I was not exempting myself. LSV, however, is so blind to any logic that he only reads what he wants to read. He's got confirmation bias really bad." That's a bit like saying that you have a small dose of confirmation bias but it's responding to treatment, however, lsv is riddled with it and there doesn't appear much hope for him. I just think that lsv shouldn't be everyones whipping boy. By all means bring up such phenomena but leave those who oppose you out of it.

    Other than that I am shocked at the Mail online item that ScotchGit posted @2. It leaves me wondering what type of society we will have in 20 years or so.

  • Comment number 34.

    PTS

    As you are addressing both Brian and me, or me via Brian, or some such, I'll try this one more time:

    Brian, among other things I have already quoted, writes, "Which is why, *for you and me*..." (emphasis added), in other words, the example is qualified.

    Of course Brian thinks bias is a problem particular to religious belief, it's part of the reason atheists call it *belief*; he thinks this of me, he thinks this of you... where's the big deal?

    Furthermore, his comments were in the context of what I said about the video Peter linked to - my point there was that the case made (that the Internet will be the death of religion on the basis that the Internet is an antidote to 'groupthink') contradicted itself in its conclusion regarding the growth of online Freethinking communities.

    From what I can see, Brian concurred with this with this assessment.

    And I don't think lsv is anyone's whipping boy, he can give as good as he gets, and I mean that positively.

    This has all been blown out of proportion.

  • Comment number 35.

  • Comment number 36.

    If we return to what Peter Klaver said (post 6), namely that religion does have a good deal to fear from the dissemination of knowledge and open, critical discussion of ideas  – as a non-believer I would say that knowledge is the worst enemy of religion because it is based in no small part on ignorance, and if the internet gives people greater access to the views of atheists, agnostics, sceptics, Humanists and freethinkers than otherwise, then it will provide a useful service in weakening the power of blind faith generally.

    Perhaps my ‘confirmation bias’ caveat applies mostly to those already irretrievably sunk into faith (eg. those theists who contribute to this blog) and not so much to more open-minded younger people.

    Certainly, non-believers have less access to the mainstream media than believers. Every newspaper has its weekly ‘Faith’ or ‘Religion’ column and the broadcast media have their ‘Thoughts for the Day’ or equivalent.
    There is no regular atheist column in any newspaper or atheist daily thought. In other words, ‘respectable society’ still doesn’t acknowledge the legitimacy of a valid secular world view.

    Also, non-believers don’t have churches all over the place at which to propagandise their critical outlook. We don’t have a ubiquitous physical presence in every town in the land.

    On the internet, however, there is more of a free-for-all and many secular websites, blogs etc., which act as a counterbalance to all the indoctrination that exists in ‘respectable’ society (and, alas, in too many schools!).

    So, provided that enough open-minded people read this secular material, on balance I think the internet probably does weaken religion. It won’t destroy it, but hopefully it will hopefully contribute to a more sceptical attitude.

    (LSV: thanks for the apology).

  • Comment number 37.

    Brian

    Does #36 make me a prophet, or you a self-fufilling one?

    :-)

    "irretrievably sunk into faith"

    Gotta love it! We call it 'irresistible'.

  • Comment number 38.

    I am a great fan of KISS… keep it simply straight
    My Boss commanded me to do the Great Commission. Therefore, anything that is a mass communications tool helps, including the Internet. And ultimately will lead to the distinction of the faithful and others. ‘The others’ problem has already being predicated in the parables of the Bridesmaids and the Sower.
    All I can do is my tiny bit for the Great Commission in the vast cyberspace to ‘the others’ which the Internet illuminates to me. ‘The others’ protestations whether in quantity or quality do not matter to me, only that my kind and I speak up and more for the Great Commission. My Boss, JC, was even kind enough not set ‘management by objectives’ benchmarks, he just set me free to talk away.
    Atheists, in particular, in my mind only try to re-instate the Forlorn Omission back into our lives.

  • Comment number 39.

    @Brian

    Perhaps my ‘confirmation bias’ caveat applies mostly to those already irretrievably sunk into faith (eg. those theists who contribute to this blog) and not so much to more open-minded younger people.


    Hmm, maybe, but I think it would be a mistake to assume that it's only the theists who suffer from confirmation bias and all the other cognitive biases that can trip us up while we think we are being rational. If you have even a passing acquaintanceship with the skeptic/atheist blogosphere, you will have heard of "elevatorgate", with each side accusing the other of groupthink, illogic, irrationality, as well as the hurling around epithets like gorillas throwing turds.
  • Comment number 40.

    grokesx:

    I was being a bit tongue in cheek in this remark. If you read above earlier, I did say that we all suffer, to a greater or less extent, from confirmation bias. But, as LSV suggests, my position is that theists suffer it more than Humanists, because the latter by definition have an open-minded, sceptical outlook.

    Theists tend to think they have all the answers to the mystery of the universe, whereas we Humanists (like proper scientists) don't. I don't know if there is a god or gods (depending on definitions); and I don't know if the universe had a beginning and will have an end. Theists, on the other hand, tend to 'know' the answer to such questions.

    I agree, though, that some non-believers can be very close-minded on many issues. There are 'dogmatic' atheists, but there are also undogmatic ones. Atheism is simply an absence of belief in the existence of gods. The certainty or lack of it about such a lack of belief varies from one atheist to another. It is quite wrong to suppose that we all share the same certitude. Not believing that something is true is not equivalent to believing that it is false: we may simply have no idea whether it is true or not.

  • Comment number 41.

    @ brianmcclinton (# 36) -

    ...as a non-believer I would say that knowledge is the worst enemy of religion because it is based in no small part on ignorance...


    To repeat what I wrote in post #10 on this thread (directed to Peter Klaver):

    Would you like to let us all know what this "knowledge" and these "ideas" are, that are such a threat to religion (by which I assume you mean theism). Do please enlighten us all.


    Any chance of a response to this?

    Perhaps my ‘confirmation bias’ caveat applies mostly to those already irretrievably sunk into faith (eg. those theists who contribute to this blog) and not so much to more open-minded younger people.


    On the question of the supposed closed-mindedness of theists (who are sunk into this mysterious thing called "faith" - a word frequently wrongly defined by the opponents of theism), here is my challenge:

    I am very willing to be convinced by any proof. So please provide the proof that, say, the philosophy of naturalism is true. Just present it here on this blog. If I am convinced by it, I will accept it. If I am not, I will say why I am not.

    So, instead of all this stream of assumptions about people with whom you disagree, allow me to call your bluff, and let's find out whether theists really are as closed-minded as you claim. As a Christian I am not in the slightest bit afraid of any atheist, "sceptic" or "freethinker". Present all the "knowledge" and "ideas" you like. I will assess them and respond accordingly.

    Please therefore respond to my challenge. Put your cards on the table.

    I'll be waiting...
  • Comment number 42.

    I’m becoming outright contentious from behind the confessee’s partition, for some reason. I should probably take a major break. First, re the internet:

    WWOWS - What Would Oscar Wilde Say? “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a..moniker..(mask), and he will tell you the truth.”

    The relation of the internet to politics is probably useful to - the internet to religion-

    http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev-polisci-030810-110815

    “Negroponte (1995) predicted that the Internet would lead to a world with much less social cohesion, as individuals stopped consuming mass-produced information from newspapers and televisions, instead reading personalized information sources (what he called the “Daily Me”). This claim suggested that the Internet might lead to greater political polarization and extremism.”

    I find preference falsification interesting.

    “For example, even in mildly authoritarian regimes, people may conceal their preferences for a different social order so as to avoid punishment. This means that people will lack information about others' true preferences and may in turn be reluctant to display their own true preferences.”

    “When people join together in homophilous groupings, this may make collective action more likely. Collective action, in turn, may mean that homophily is more likely to change people's beliefs—when people actively work together, they may become more likely to identify with each other closely. Homophily may also interact with preference falsification.”

    In this religious/political year, I love the author’s disclosure statement at the bottom: “The author is not aware of any affiliations, memberships, funding, or financial holdings that might be perceived as affecting the objectivity of this review.” :)

  • Comment number 43.

    PeterM @ 34

    Whether it has been blown out of proportion or not, I feel that anyone with a christian voice is increasingly being put down. The 'collective conscience' of theism, it seems, is to create a society where those with religious views, who would dare argue against the so-called scientific 'truth', are seen as so outrageous, superstitious, closed-minded and insane that they are rendered a pariah and shunned as dangerous to society.

    Andrew

    Is your post at 35 in anyway a response to mine at 33?

    brianmcclinton

    The internet may be another tool to weaken religion and belief but it can't weaken faith. Many christians even get these two confused never mind people like yourself, however they are different. Faith isn't something people gain by the intellectualising of information but in doing, following, being rewarded with communication from God and having the heart or spirit touched at the same time. A person cannot be rationalised out of faith. They may turn from faith but they can never deny they are witnesses of it. Maybe the internet will contribute to a weeding out of those who are without faith and eventually religion will be all the stronger for it.

  • Comment number 44.

    PTS

    You will see from my other comments that the point I was making, about the acceptance of everyone’s potential to bias, was quite a specific one.

    As I have already noted, there are a number of things which I was not commenting on.

    Likewise, with regard to your thoughts in #43, I was not commenting on opposition to the Christian voice, nor was I commenting on “so-called scientific ‘truth’”, or how “dangerous to society”, “those with religious views” may be.

    I made a single point about a single issue.

    I saying what you have said, however, you raise another potential problem in suggesting that the “christian voice” and those who “argue against so-called scientific ‘truth’” are one and the same.

    Christianity is not a battle against science.

  • Comment number 45.

    Brian

    If we return to what Peter Klaver said (post 6), namely that religion does have a good deal to fear from the dissemination of knowledge and open, critical discussion of ideas – as a non-believer I would say that knowledge is the worst enemy of religion because it is based in no small part on ignorance

    1. Of course religious belief only has something to fear from the dissemination of knowledge if knowledge is a defeater for religious belief. But that's usually the point at issue.

    2. With respect to ignorance that rather depends on what one is ignorant of; knowledge of which propositions are sufficient for someone not to be ignorant?

    PeterM

    You contribute here as part of making your 'calling and election sure'?

    PTS

    Is your post at 35 in anyway a response to mine at 33?

    Anything? No. You're yakety sax.

    The internet may be another tool to weaken religion and belief but it can't weaken faith. Many christians even get these two confused never mind people like yourself, however they are different.

    I wouldn't argue for PTS's position with a barge pole the length of Utah. The idea that 'faith' in Christianity is irrational just doesn't stand up. For starters read John's gospel, its emphasis on belief and words, and on truth. That's not to say that faith in Christianity is limited to belief but it is to say that it's not less than belief in understood propositions.

  • Comment number 46.

    Andrew

    #45

    I'm not sure what you mean; would you rephrase that one?

  • Comment number 47.

    PeterM

    Oh sorry. I had your #37 in mind; 'Gotta love it! We call it "irresistible".'

  • Comment number 48.

    PeterM

    I don't think we fully understand each other and sometimes I scratch my head wondering how you interpret me.

    My last post to you was done in a hurry and should have read, "The 'collective conscience' of ATHEISM, it seems, is to create a society where those with religious views, who would dare argue against the so-called scientific 'truth', are seen as so outrageous, superstitious, closed-minded and insane that they are rendered a pariah and shunned as dangerous to society." IT CHANGES THINGS SOMEWHAT.

    I didn't say you were saying anything, I was speaking about atheists.

    I dont see "Christianity as a battle against science", either. What I do see, however, is a continuous assault on Christianity from those who have SO-CALLED SCIENTIFIC "TRUTH". At least, I thought I had made that quite clear to you.

  • Comment number 49.

    Andrew

    That's right, I'm Yakety Sax. I'd forgot.

    Andrew, you didn't read my post to you properly or if you did, you didn't understand it. I didn't say faith was irrational -I wasn't even implying it. What I said was, "A person cannot be rationalised out of faith." Read what I say and stop reading into what you think I am saying. There's a good chap.

  • Comment number 50.

    LSV:

    You ask for IDEAS and KNOWLEDGE that are a threat to religion (#41). Well, of course, we should probably explain what we mean by religion, but I shall assume that you are referring to the monotheistic modern myths. Here are a few.

    We fear what we don’t understand and as we understand more so shall we fear less. This is bound to weaken religion, which is based on the twin pillars of fear (hell, punishment for sins, the saved and the damned etc) and ignorance.

    Astronomy informs us that we are not, as we once believed, the king of the universe and nor is the earth at its centre. The universe is about 13.7bn years old and the earth, a tiny planet which is about 4.5bn years old, is not static but revolves around the sun, which is only one star among billions. In short, the Biblical story of a three-storey, geocentric universe in which Hades is the basement, the flat, stationary earth is the ground floor and the firmament is the upper storey has been demonstrated as completely inaccurate. There is no heaven ‘above’ or hell ‘below’.

    Biology informs us that humankind is not the centre of living things but only one of countless organisms spawned by the evolutionary process and, like all living creatures, is mortal. Humankind has evolved over millions of years as part of nature and descended from other animals.

    Archaeology informs us that humankind is much older than biblical accounts imply. Fossils of animals in Jordan are 500,000 years old. Flint axes in Greece confirm the presence of humans there nearly half a million years ago. Archaeology also tells us that western man was not king of knowledge. Biblical stories of Creation, the Fall, the Flood etc, were not given by a God to a man called Moses but came down from earlier traditions in ancient Greece, Babylonia, Assyria, Sumer etc (e.g. the Gilgamesh epic). Similarly, tablets and other findings tell us that they all had their mythical gods and heroes. Israelites and Christians borrowed and adapted ideas, practices and stories from other peoples in the Near East.

    Geology informs us that man himself dates from one to 2 million years ago. Geologists have counted at least six million years’ worth of thin water deposits within the Green River shale in Utah, and rocks more than 3.5bn years old have been found in all continents. Meteorites and rocks from the moon often exceed 4bn years in age. So man is clearly a latecomer.

    Philosophy informs us that all the traditional ‘proofs’ of the existence of a god developed by theologians and religious thinkers in the past are fallacious and that most theology is, in the words of Hume, ‘sophistry and illusion’. Philosophy encourages a critical, sceptical outlook, whereas religion seeks uncritical acceptance. It also informs us that religious belief is not ‘rational’ but instead based on emotion. In general, philosophers don’t like the concept of belief but prefer terms which imply less dogmatism and certainty. As H.L. Mencken put it, “faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable”.

    Biblical criticism informs us that Holy books are in reality the imperfect writings of ancient clerics and teachers and are full of factual inaccuracies, reflecting their clearly human, not divine, origins. They are also full of divinely sanctioned massacres and slaughters, making a nonsense of their occasional pacifist sentiments.

    Sociology informs that religion is not itself a cognitive belief at all but an emotional belief, based on need. It may be the desire to bind a unified community together, create group solidarity, or establish central power. As society modernises and the individual becomes more free and equal, so religion declines. Also, some sociologists have discerned that we project our own values onto a god to ‘objectify them’ and that when we realise this truth, we seek to achieve these values in this life rather than an invented afterlife.

    Politics informs us that as society becomes more liberal and democratic, religion declines because it feeds on autocracy and theocracy. It is indeed a means of social control: ‘the opium of the masses’. When power is defused and we realise our own strengths, we reject clerical authority and power in favour of individually thought-out secular ideas.

    History informs us that many of the heroes of Holy books are pure inventions and had no basis in reality. The myths these books contain borrow and steal from one another: virgin births, miracles and resurrections are common to Egyptian, Greek, Middle and Near Eastern cultures.

    So, what's left, LSV?

  • Comment number 51.

    PTS

    Andrew, you didn't read my post to you properly or if you did, you didn't understand it. I didn't say faith was irrational -I wasn't even implying it. What I said was, "A person cannot be rationalised out of faith." Read what I say and stop reading into what you think I am saying. There's a good chap.

    Well you see, I quoted what you said and I addressed what I quoted; bifurcation of belief and faith. Faith without belief is irrational. That's not 'doesn't make sense' but rather, non-rational and non-intellectual. Faith as encounter or some such. See?

  • Comment number 52.

    PTS

    I know you meant Atheism. I know you were speaking about Atheists. My response was predicated on your linking my comment about proportion to the putting down of the Christian voice. I had not connected any of those things and therefore such a response to me is irrelevant.

    I'll say it again - my initial point about recognising bias was a point about recognising bias, nothing else - please don't link it with other things - that is what is clouding our communication.

    On science - the point is that when you use words like "so-called scientific 'truth'" you cast doubt on widely accepted science, and when you contrast this with the religious who argue against it, you *are* drawing battle lines.

  • Comment number 53.

    Andrew

    Any thoughts about making anything sure on this blog are to be treated with great care!

  • Comment number 54.

  • Comment number 55.

    @ brianmcclinton (# 50) -

    Thanks for your long response, which I read with interest.

    You say...

    So, what's left, LSV?


    I'll tell you what's left, Brian...

    What is left is for you to provide some evidence to support your assertions (some of which are straw man arguments anyway, such as paragraph 3, and your idea of biblical cosmology).

    You have just given us a trip down naturalism's interpretation of reality, but it's one thing to pass off dogmatic assertions as truth, it's quite another to support your assertions with evidence and coherent argument.

    Let's start with philosophy, given that this is the subject which defines everything else. All our presuppositions which drive our interpretation of reality are influenced by some kind of epistemological theory. In fact, epistemology is at the heart of this whole debate, because it is a debate about "truth".

    You say:

    Philosophy informs us that all the traditional ‘proofs’ of the existence of a god developed by theologians and religious thinkers in the past are fallacious and that most theology is, in the words of Hume, ‘sophistry and illusion’. Philosophy encourages a critical, sceptical outlook, whereas religion seeks uncritical acceptance. It also informs us that religious belief is not ‘rational’ but instead based on emotion. In general, philosophers don’t like the concept of belief but prefer terms which imply less dogmatism and certainty. As H.L. Mencken put it, “faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable”.


    The first three words of this paragraph would be an embarrassment to any philosopher. You say "Philosophy informs us...". What you mean is "Some philosophers argue that..." It reveals an incredible ignorance of philosophy to make such a sweeping statement. It might come as some surprise to you that David Hume is not the definitive mouthpiece of philosophy. In fact, if science followed his philosophy it would cease operation forthwith. Why do I say this?

    Hume claimed that the universality of cause and effect cannot be proven rationally. By extension this means that one of the cardinal assumptions without which science would be utterly useless - namely, the uniformity of nature - is pure guesswork and has no rational foundation. (According to Hume, we can only believe in this principle by force of habit - in other words, we accept the idea by faith!! According to the logical implications of his philosophy, science is based on faith, not knowledge).

    All conclusions drawn from scientific experiments are based on inference on the assumption of the uniformity of nature. For example, the simple experiment of dropping two objects of differing mass from the same height in a vacuum shows us that they fall at the same rate. We construct our hypothesis that this will happen (X), we set up the conditions (Y) and then we observe the result (Z). If X is true, the under conditions Y, Z appears. We produce the conditions Y, Z appears and thence we infer X. Now X is a hypothesis that describes a general truth about gravity, but if we take the strict Humean empiricist view, all this experiment tells us is that those two particular objects happened to behave in that particular way in that particular experiment. We cannot then infer anything about other objects falling in similar conditions elsewhere, because we cannot "know" that nature is uniform.

    What is also rather interesting is that if Hume is right, then there cannot possibly be any objection to religious claims, because if the laws of nature are not uniform, then literally anything could happen, and we would have no reason to object to any claim that appears to fly in the face of the known laws of nature.

    So your reference to Hume makes absolutely no sense at all. The philosophy of naturalism, on which your entire view of reality depends, cannot go further than Hume's radical empiricism, for the simple reason that an entirely material brain has no truth relationship with any aspect of reality beyond immediate sense experience. But, as I have argued, science depends entirely on a commitment to the uniformity of nature, because without it, no conclusions can ever be reached from experimentation.

    The idea that that there are principles of reality that we can grasp with our finite minds fits far more easily into the monotheistic worldview, which affirms that there is a rationality behind the universe, and which the universe obeys. This cannot be explained by the philosophy of naturalism.

    Continued...
  • Comment number 56.

    Continued from post #55 -

    There are very serious problems with philosophical naturalism, not least the claim that reason itself is merely an emergent property of our material brains. Nature is deterministic, and it doesn't take a great of intelligence to work out that reason can only function on the basis of free will. If I think as I do, simply because that is the way I happened to have evolved, and I am nothing more than a complex material organism, then my ideas are of no more significance than the colour of my skin or the shape of my nose. And the same, of course, goes for you. It is patently absurd to say that one conglomeration of atoms and molecules can be "right" and another "wrong". Matter just IS. Period. And to say that you could try to persuade me to change what evolution has caused in me, is in the same epistemic category as trying to "argue" my skin into a different colour. Naturalistic epistemology is therefore absurd in the extreme.

    But the objective validity of reason makes perfect sense within the theistic worldview, which affirms a mind - a rationality - behind the universe. In fact, even matter itself bears witness to the informational basis to reality - hence the work of the renowned physicist Anton Zeilinger (see my point here about it to Peter Klaver - which never got a reply, by the way).

    The claim that philosophy has debunked the idea of God is so far removed from the truth, that I would really like to see your evidence for this claim.

    More anon...

  • Comment number 57.

    Peter Morrow, post 9,

    " Some interesting points, but in the main I think he overstates his case, and that by quite some margin."

    As I said in the post where I posted the url, I do also think that part of his post (from an atheist perspective) is overly optimistic. Though the points you flagged up at 6.14 and 6.37 do seem legit to me, the church services I attended as a young kid were one big fest of collective non-think, everyone either listening silently or repeating in one voice bits that the pastor or priest said. Do you know of many atheist gatherings where non-believers sit around, silently listening to what someone like Thunderf00t says, only occasionally literally repeating some of his phrases?

    I feel there a bit of apples and oranges to the point you made.

  • Comment number 58.

    LSV, post 7,

    You holding up yourself as an example of knowledge and thinking going well with theistic belief might convince yourself, but I doubt if it would convince that many others on the blog here. While I wouldn't be surprised if some others (including a christian like peterJhenderson) drew the exact opposite conclusion.

    " ……………appeal to authority (99% of scientists say this, so you better believe it, or else...)"

    So an extremely broad consensus among scientists is now made out to be appeal to authority. Why do you even pretend not to be vociferously anti-science huh, when it oozes from your posts by the bucket load?

    post 10,

    For examples you could see what is at present my latest reply to you on the 'creationist with a PhD' thread that summarizes your pro-faith arguments gone bad just for the month of August.

    The Cartesian Theist YT clip you linked to was in response to a completely different Thunderf00t clip than the one I posted, doesn't appear to have any bearing on the discussion following the url I posted in post 6.

    post 18,

    "Did I not challenge Peter Klaver to let us all know what this "knowledge" is that supposedly debunks theism. No reply."

    As you may (should) have noticed, I don't post here on a daily basis. There are more important things in life than yet more slightly pointless rounds of intellectual fly squatting against you. Though I think I have always responded to your posts, as long as threads didn't get locked by the time I got to them.

    post 41, to Brian,

    "I am very willing to be convinced by any proof. So please provide the proof that, say, the philosophy of naturalism is true. Just present it here on this blog. If I am convinced by it, I will accept it. If I am not, I will say why I am not."
    Can you point out any regular here who has professed holding to philosophical naturalism? Or is it just your own straw man again, that you again have very valiantly disposed of?

  • Comment number 59.

    Andrew, post 21,

    "One of the dangers with 'virtual community' is the potential absence of friction. Friction does wonders for the ego."

    I wish there was slightly less friction among atheists, skeptics, etc. They seem to have a real nack for ripping their own communities apart lately. grokesx mentioned one bit that unfortunately is only one of several. Not much need for theists to combat the rising tide of atheism it seems, we seem exquisitely capable of doing ourselves in, hahaha. :D

  • Comment number 60.

    PTS, in post 43 to other Peter,

    "The 'collective conscience' of atheism, it seems, is to create a society where those with religious views, who would dare argue against the so-called scientific 'truth', are seen as so outrageous, superstitious, closed-minded and insane that they are rendered a pariah and shunned as dangerous to society. "

    What are your views on the abandoning of the idea of the fixed earth at the centre of the universe (that some lunatics still resist)? Advancing our thinking often involves throwing overboard old, wrong ideas to make room for better ones. Many would ave felt highly uncomfortable in their day with abandoning ideas that you would probably now agree are stupid, irrational, etc. Should we have clung to them forever because some new bits of scientific insight demoted people's preciously held ideas to the intellectual dung heap and they were deeply unhappy about that?

  • Comment number 61.

    Andrew @ 51

    I really don't think we understand each other. You say, "See?" No I don't see what it is you are saying. Speak plainly at least. Your understanding of faith is much different than mine. In fact, I would argue that it is belief without faith that is irrational, not the other way around. A person can believe what they want but they can only have faith in that which is true.

    You say you quoted what I said. Where? Do me a favour, copy and paste the quote you speak off.

  • Comment number 62.

    PeterM

    Where are you coming from?

    When I responded to part of brianmcclinton's post 14, at 16, it had nothing to do with whatever discussion had went on before, it was in relation to the way he referred to another contributor as having what he appeared to be saying was a form of bias greater than his own. That was the only issue I raised. I hadn't read the previous posts, nor had I looked at the article suggested by PeterKlaver.

    When you said, "I rather think that Brian's awareness of his own potential confirmation bias is written through his comments like letters in a bar of rock", I think it must have been like a rock from Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantysiliogogogoch because it seemed to me more like he was admitting to a milder strain of it than he thought lsv had. That was the main point I was making then. Nothing more or less.

    When you say I was, "...linking (your) comment about proportion to the putting down of the Christian voice", I wasn't. You seem paranoid to me at times. I wasn't referring to you at all in the original post. When I addressed brianmcclinton again @33, I was making him aware of your post @ 19 in order to make myself clearer. That's all. I was not posting directly to you. At your post 34, you assumed I was addressing brian and yourself at 33. I was only addressing brianmcclinton. Your post confused me as I was wondering what you were going on about as I hadn't been addressing you at all. My post at 43 is the first time I directly addressed you and this was to make a general point about the 'Christian voice" being continually marginalised. I wasn't accusing you of doing it.

    Your comments at 44 left me scratching my head and I stated that in my next post at 48. When I made the statement about "so-called scientific truth" I was making a distinction between that and scientific truth. When I do so, I am not drawing battle lines as you say in 52, I am distinguishing between that which is proven and that which is still theory. Surely, I should be allowed to do so without causing a war.

  • Comment number 63.

    PeterKlaver @ 59

    I think it was good that the idea of a fixed earth should have been abandoned. I feel strongly that all truth should be embraced. However, I do not believe that because Darwin and others produced a theory that seemed to suggest that God may not be at the centre of creation, that we should abandon all belief about God. Instead, I believe we should try to find out how religious truth and pure science fits together. Unfortunately, many want to flee from religion and not look for the connections and I don't really blame them. I accept that religion has been the worse advertisement for God but that doesn't mean that He doesn't exist. It may just mean that religion may be wrong. Maybe it will take both the creationists and the evolutionists to throw, "... overboard old, wrong ideas to make room for better ones." Maybe then we will get to the truth.

  • Comment number 64.

    In trying to predict whether the internet will be ultimately good or bad for the soul, I find preference falsification fascinating.

    Has it yet been determined that lying is death to the spirit?

    In Jennifer Egan’s book A Visit from the Goon Squad, people who were once young musicians fighting the piracy of their music soon become spouses and parents and eventually ‘sell their souls.’ In exchange for money, they social network, create false preferences, and ‘like’ people and products that few, excluding themselves, have even seen, heard or used, that barely exist.

    Jesus said, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” (What does that mean again exactly? The question is: ‘Do I, should I, really ‘like’ Jesus?’ What is one’s inner belief?)

    But who can stand against the tide of truths, now upon us?

    I read that economist Timur Kuran in Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification (which I’ve yet to read) writes - whenever people have tried to maintain a secret religion, they have usually abandoned their faith entirely in due time. Psychologically, it is difficult to maintain inner belief while publicly denouncing that belief.

  • Comment number 65.

    PTS,

    I ‘like’ your post 63. :)

    ---------------------------------

    *Disclaimer re 64: I’ve never been on Facebook. So it’s possible I don’t know what I’m talking about.

  • Comment number 66.

    PTS

    From #45

    The internet may be another tool to weaken religion and belief but it can't weaken faith. Many christians even get these two confused never mind people like yourself, however they are different.

    I wouldn't argue for PTS's position with a barge pole the length of Utah. The idea that 'faith' in Christianity is irrational just doesn't stand up. For starters read John's gospel, its emphasis on belief and words, and on truth. That's not to say that faith in Christianity is limited to belief but it is to say that it's not less than belief in understood propositions.


    *

    'Your understanding of faith is much different than mine.'

    Yes, I know it is. That's what I said.

    Brian

    Since we've been talking about confirmation bias; have you read up on the relevant counter arguments to your examples? Take the triple decker cosmology, for example. Have you read people like G.K. Beale and John Walton who have directly addressed the issue of Old Testament cosmology?
  • Comment number 67.

    PTS

    I feel no further need to clarify myself.

  • Comment number 68.

    marieinaustin

    Thanks for your comment above.

    You say you have never been on Facebook. What's this 'like' business all about then?

  • Comment number 69.

    PeterK

    This notion of Christians attending services with "everyone either listening silently or repeating in one voice bits that the pastor or priest said." deserves exploration.

    I can understand that this is the perception, and may often be the case. Interestingly, however, the church (plural) I am familiar with is one in which a lot of communication and interaction takes place: People meet in smaller groups to debate and discuss, they ask questions, are encouraged to read, they disagree, they make decisions collectively, they act democratically.

    The notion of repetition is interesting too - while not a common practise in my own experience of churches, even when it does take place it not a matter of merely repeating phrases. Sure, there might be a Prayer Book or a Creed, but again, these, historically speaking, have been discussed and debated - these are positional statements, not mindless repetition (or at least they don't have to be).

    As I've said though, the extracts from 'Jesus Camp' in the video are disturbing, and I'd guess that I'm as opposed to them as you are.

  • Comment number 70.

     
    #68

    puretruthseeker,

    Probably best not to ask. I hear they hurl virtual sheep at one another.

  • Comment number 71.

    Andrew

    Stop waffling and state exactly where I said "faith in Christianity is irrational" in the bit I asked you to repost. The bit that you said, "just doesn't stand up" will do. Admit it, it's not there and if anybody else who reads this can point it out I will welcome it.

  • Comment number 72.

    68. PTS,

    Although I do find it interesting, in a suspicious, skeptical sort of way, I don’t social network yet (…that I know of…). ‘Like’ doesn’t just belong to Facebook. ‘Like’ is on pinterest, flickr and news blogs, and ‘like’ (as in social networking) is even used in conversation now (which is my..true..preference -- I like to lo-tech hi-tech). It’s the same as ‘recommended,’ but maybe with more trails.

  • Comment number 73.

    PeterM @ 67

    I didn't think you would anyway. You just cause confusion by not reading my post properly, you lecture me and then kop off when you have been shown up without offering an apology. Nice.

  • Comment number 74.

    PTS

    'Stop waffling and state exactly where I said "faith in Christianity is irrational" in the bit I asked you to repost.'

    Since I didn't claim you said 'faith in Christianity is irrational' you've driven past your turn-off. Implications, words have them. Maybe you should look 'irrationalism' up. In a dictionary.

  • Comment number 75.

    PTS,

    You used to be able to ‘like’ stuff without signing in, but now you have to sign in, so I don’t like anything at the moment. Oh no: I do like stuff – on an art blog – I totally forgot. I haven’t been there in a while. There is something else I want to do, so I will be liking more in the future. But then ‘like’ probably won’t interest me anymore.

    Scotch Git,

    I don’t get the sheep reference.

  • Comment number 76.

    PTS

    Why is it that Andrew and I understand each other perfectly well, why is it that Brian understood my point perfectly well, and PeterK was able to reply to my points perfectly well, but somehow I'm guilty of misreading you, and Andrew is waffling?

    I had written a response to you, but decided not to post it. It concerned your comments in #16, the ones I initially responded to:

    "Did you ever think that it is your confirmation bias which leads you to..."

    and

    "you suggest, "...we tend to search for studies and data that support our bias", when you really mean that lsv does this to confirm his beliefs. Is this what you are saying? It seems like it to me. Do you not do the same? "

    That is quite obviously not the same thing as "it seemed to me more like he was admitting to a milder strain of it than he thought lsv had."

    The latter is a later explanation of the former. If you had clarified this earlier there would have been no misunderstanding - and *misunderstanding* is what is happening here, not 'lecturing'.

    Like I said earlier this has been blown out of proportion - as has the notion of me lecturing you and needing to apologise. I didn't lecture and have nothing to apologise for.

  • Comment number 77.

    Andrew

    Where did the, "idea that 'faith' in Christianity is irrational just doesn't stand up", come from then? Nothing I said implied it either. That's all in your head. You think you are smart with your quips and your dumb suggestions. Sort yourself out and stop being a troll.

  • Comment number 78.

    Peter Klaver (# 58) -

    Can you point out any regular here who has professed holding to philosophical naturalism?


    Oh no. Certainly I can't, because every contributor to this blog is a thoroughgoing supernaturalist, including you.

    (In other words, a stupid and ignorant question deserves a sarcastic answer).

    So an extremely broad consensus among scientists is now made out to be appeal to authority.


    Funny, but I thought science was about evidence, not "how many people believe something". If truth is based on majority opinion, then according to that logic atheism is false, since most people in the world don't accept it. (And poor old Galileo was obviously wrong to resist the consensus of his day!)

    Frankly it doesn't matter how many scientists affirm something. The only thing that will convince me is evidence (given that I am a freethinker, and not someone who just blindly repeats what is being preached to him). Since there is no evidence that the highly complex systems of life just "self-assembled" without any design input (which is how complex systems are normally constructed), then I don't believe the totally untested and untestable theory that characters like you are desperately trying to con people into accepting. If you want to call honouring and respecting evidence "anti-science" then you are more deluded than I imagined.

    In fact, co-opting science in the service of an ideological crusade, such as your anti-religion obsession, is actually "anti-science". It's a serious abuse of science, in fact.
  • Comment number 79.

    marieinaustin

    It's nice to like things. Maybe we should have a 'like' facility on this blog. It would be fun but I'm sure there are those who wouldn't like it.

  • Comment number 80.

    LSV,

    "Funny, but I thought science was about evidence, not "how many people believe something"."

    Small change there in what you said first and what you then made it into and wrongly attribute to me. Now you talk about numbers of people in general, whereas first it was about a near-unanimous consensus of researchers who have made a career out of learning to understand nature. And guess what, evidence is central to how they reach their conclusions. So you may even have been part right, it is about evidence. Pity that you then proceed to draw the wrong conclusion.

    "Since there is no evidence that the highly complex sys..........." YAWN!

    None that you have dared read, it having been presented to you on a silver plate so many times. See also Brian's posts on you being an extreme case of a mind closed to the things that run counter to what you already think and feel good about.

  • Comment number 81.

    PeterM

    From the start I was not addressing you. It was brianmcclinton I was addressing in response to a comment he had made to you about another poster. You appear to assume I was following your discussion. You were wrong, I wasn't.

    You claim, "The latter is a later explanation of the former", it wasn't meant to be, it was just another way of saying a similar thing. So saying the latter may have caused as much misunderstanding given that you thought I was speaking to you in some way.

    Let me say it again, I was not addressing you initially. You just read into that which was not there. I didn't cause the misunderstanding. You misinterpreted.

    Just to take the first thing you say you were initially responding to, which is, "Did you ever think that it is your confirmation bias which leads you to...". This was something I was putting to brianmcclinton specifically. It wasn't asked generally and it wasn't addressed to you. What made you think that a direct question to another poster required you to respond. I think you have been rather presumptuous on this occasion. I didn't want to involve myself in your discussion, all I was doing was commenting on a part of what brian had said - not what you said. Do I make myself clear?

  • Comment number 82.

    PTS, post 63,

    "Instead, I believe we should try to find out how religious truth and pure science fits together."

    Hmm, I think we were at the same point recently. It may be laudable of you in a way to seek consensus, but in my view that should not extend to the point where ideas whose time is up are given a non-deserved extension. In terms of ideas, I'm more in favour of a gardening approach, where weeds are removed and tossed onto the compost pile, so that they don't take up space and nutrition from valuable plants. The young earth idea is one that became ripe for ripping up a long, long time ago.

  • Comment number 83.

    PTS

    "What made you think that a direct question to another poster required you to respond."

    Nothing.


    "It was brianmcclinton I was addressing in response to a comment he had made to you about another poster."

    Interestingly, Brian didn't make his comment to me, it was a different Peter. (I was Dot Gale at the time.)

  • Comment number 84.

    Peter Klaver -

    See also Brian's posts on you being an extreme case of a mind closed to the things that run counter to what you already think and feel good about.


    Peter and Brian's definition of closed-mindedness:

    A refusal to submit to atheism

    Sorry, but I don't do fear and trembling before quasi-religious fundamentalists, "Popes" and such like. John Lennon was right: imagine we didn't have "religion" - at least the bigoted mindset associated with it, whether in its sacred or secular form.

    I am a freethinker and sceptic. Now where was that evidence again, that the (by far) most complex, the most intricate and the most sophisticated systems in the universe were just thrown together by mindless forces?

    Should I just blindly submit to the preachers (for fear of being damned to the hell of the "anti-science" accusation) or should I follow Heliopolitan's method of "starting with where we are now" and be a good empiricist? Yep, I think the latter. I start with where I'm at, I observe how complex systems come into being. The only evidence I have ever encountered is that the only complex systems for which we do know the origin, have been intelligently designed. Therefore on the basis of being honest with the evidence, I infer that the most complex systems (for which we cannot observe the origin) must have been designed (and designed by an intelligence far superior to that of man).

    And I can only infer on the basis of a sound and well tested presupposition (the intelligence cause of complex systems), and it would be totally dishonest and unscientific of me to infer on the basis of an idea that is untested (the idea that complex systems can be formed without intelligent input). If you want me to make an inference on the basis of the non-intelligence presupposition, then could you please direct me to the peer-reviewed paper which sets out the rigorous and successful testing of that idea. Please.

    So should I follow the empirical method, or just listen to a fairy story hurled from the atheist pulpit by angry evangelists like Peter and Brian? I guess I have a moral choice, and I choose to do the honest thing and follow the evidence.

    Phew. That was easy...
  • Comment number 85.

    It might go like this: “If you Like Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the Like button he confesses, resulting in salvation.”

    My point is that many-? most-? people would select whatever they feel is acceptable, because the internet can make people regress to university-and-dorm life. Would their dishonesty bother them, and would their selection eventually change their faith?

  • Comment number 86.

    Andrew

    How's your bridge?


    PTS

    You have called Andrew a troll; you have said I was lecturing you and owe you an apology; you have suggested Andrew sort himself out and implied, ("What made you think that a direct question to another poster required you to respond. I think you have been rather presumptuous on this occasion.") that I refrain from responding to comments on a public forum where there is regular ebb and flow with regard to communication.

    That approach makes one thing clear: it decreases the possibility of interaction.

  • Comment number 87.

    OR is it like Oscar Wilde said, and people reveal what they truly believe online, behind the mask.

    On Sunday, they act all nice and soft and say stuff that makes them feel guilty, and then during the week they practice unlearning, and being honest, and act out their repression - ha ha.

  • Comment number 88.

    PTS

    Where did the, "idea that 'faith' in Christianity is irrational just doesn't stand up", come from then? Nothing I said implied it either.

    I know you didn't imply 'the idea that faith in Christianity is irrational just doesn't stand up'. Your position is that it is irrational and it does stand up, or at least that's what I've claimed your position is; faith does not include belief: and I should add, that faith does not include belief does not entail that one can not have faith and belief, or that this is not normally the case. As I understand it your position is that belief is not a necessary condition of faith qua faith. Whereas I think belief - as is customary in Reformed theology - is necessary such that every instance of faith is necessarily an instance of belief.

    This is pretty much what I said back in #45. I expanded on irrationalism in #51: Faith without belief is irrational. That's not 'doesn't make sense' but rather, non-rational and non-intellectual. Faith as encounter or some such. I'll say a little more on this;

    A belief is a person holding a proposition to be true. If faith does not include belief then by definition someone that has faith does not in respect of that faith (verb) hold a proposition to be true. If faith does not necessarily include intellectual content (broadly attitude to propositions) then faith is irrational in the sense already given.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8CzsRfV4as

  • Comment number 89.

    Peter

    How's your bridge?

    Serene!

  • Comment number 90.

    Peter

    On second thoughts, I can see a goat in the distance.

  • Comment number 91.

    Andrew

    You say, "...or at least that's what I've claimed your position is..."

    That's right, you claim what my position is then argue against it.

    Enough said.

  • Comment number 92.

    LSV:

    Apologies for the delay, but I have been busy all day.

    First of all, I should say that, as this thread is about religion and the internet, I decided to take all the points I made in #50 from various websites, including humanistni.org, most of which I wrote.

    Sure, instead of writing ‘Philosophy informs us…’, I could have written “I think that philosophy informs us...’. But I assumed that you were well enough read to understand literary convention. If I have ‘an incredible ignorance of philosophy’, as you suggest, then I can only put that down to the failings of Prof Furlong and my other philosophy lecturers over 4 years at TCD.

    I have never thought that Hume or anyone else was the ‘definitive mouthpiece’ in philosophy, and I certainly didn’t suggest it. So once again you misrepresent what I said.

    Yes, I quoted Hume’s ‘sophistry and illusion’, the well-known phrase he used in the ‘Enquiry’, referring to any ‘volume of divinity or school metaphysics’: if it did not concern abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number or experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact or existence then it should be ‘committed to the flames’. But I do not think this is correct about moral thinking, which he relegated to emotion (sympathy). I think reason plays a bigger part in ethics than he imagined. So my philosophical naturalism is more subtle than Hume’s.

    I could also have mentioned Kant, who not only rejected all the traditional ‘proofs' of God’s existence but also claimed that the existence of a god was a matter of faith, not philosophy. Or similarly Kierkegaard, who believed that belief in a God is irrational and springs from ‘a leap of faith’. Or Quine, or Nagel, or Santayana, or...

    I think, my dear LSV, that philosophical naturalism is indeed the dominant ‘philosophy’ of the modern world, and certainly the philosophy adopted, whether consciously or unconsciously, by most scientists. Indeed, western philosophy has come full circle from the early Greek materialists like Thales, Xenophanes, Protagoras, Anaxagoras, Democritus and Epicurus, with a false diversion into the mystical mumbo jumbo of Christian philosophers like Augustine and Aquinas, to the modern secular era beginning with Bacon.

    As for the ‘rational’ universe, this is a rather anthropomorphic description. There is a certain order, as well as much randomness and chaos, but it obeys naturalistic laws, which is why miracles like raising the dead don’t happen. Nor is the universe so ordered that it won’t eventually extinguish itself.

    Nature does play dice. Some are healthy, while others are sick. Some die young, some live to old age. As this summer demonstrates, NI has an abundance of rain; many parts of Africa face continuous drought.
    There are, of course, explanations of cause and effect, but are they ‘rational’? In other words, we ‘mystify’ reason and make it ‘transcendental’. It describes what we want to be the case, rather than what is. Would a ‘rational’ god create such an ‘irrational’ world with so much injustice, poverty and misery, BY NO MEANS ALL OF IT OUR FAULT? As another philosopher, Nietzsche, put it, the only excuse for God is that he doesn’t exist.

  • Comment number 93.

    PeterM

    You seem to be twisting words. That's as bad as lying. I have no problem with you responding to comments or ideas I make but don't be like Andrew who has now admitted to deciding what my position is, then arguing against it. Stop reading into what you think I may be saying.

  • Comment number 94.

     
    #75

    marieinaustin,

    Me neither. I heard your fellow Texan Dr. Sheldon Lee Cooper mention it.

    Don't let 'em pull the wool over your eyes...

  • Comment number 95.

    PTS

    The whole point of the time I have invested in the vast majority of my comments on this thread has been an attempt to seek some understanding between us.

    I am not twisting your words; I am quoting them, telling you what I think they mean, and why I think they mean that - that is what conversation is.

    I am not paranoid; I am not lecturing; I am not making presumptions; I am not reading into what you might be saying; I am seeking a conversation.


    In a similar way, having read what he has written here, I suspect that Andrew values conversation. He didn't admit to deciding what your position is, he made a claim about your position. These are too different things.

    Ages ago I flagged up my view that this whole matter had been blown out of proportion, and I genuinely do not see what can be gained from any further comment on the matter. This is not an attempt to "kop off", merely that I think the time has come to draw a line under this part of our exchange.

  • Comment number 96.

    The problem is that you had a perception that I was saying more than I had said and since I have spelt it out rather than admit it, you want to wrangle out of admitting that you made a mistake. That's what it seems like to me.

    Regarding Andrew, you say, "He didn't admit to deciding what your position is, he made a claim about your position." If he was making a claim about my position then he was wrong too. It wasn't my position he was arguing against but a perception which he held about what he felt I was saying. Both of you have done this. I know my own position.

    You are right, this thing has been blown up out of all proportion but the only reason I am adding to it is that both of you have misrepresented what I have said, I have consistently tried to explain this, you both would insist that you are seeking understanding but will not listen when I explain and you both would claim that you are only responding to my position. You are not and I can't defend a position that is someone else's perception which I don't hold. Again, I know my position and both of you have created an argument on a false premise which I haven't put forward. Please accept this fact.

  • Comment number 97.

    PeterKlaver @ 82

    Who are we to decide when an idea's time is up? I would accept that 'mankind' has been innovative in trying to explain so much about our world and universe but I believe that only the surface of knowledge has been 'scraped'. There are so many things we do not know. In fact the more we come to know the more we realise how little we know. There is so much we cannot even get our heads around. Infinity being one of them and eternity being another.

    Your gardening approach is more like throwing the baby out with the bath water than de-weeding to give the so-called 'valuable' plants more space and nutrition. Maybe, due to things that we don't understand at this point in time, ripping the 'weeds' up may have a detrimental effect on these favoured plants of yours. Wasn't it in a parable concerning wheat and weeds that Jesus warned against such an action in the church? Maybe He knew something we don't. Maybe there is a relationship, an interdependence and a purpose that we should be tolerant of religion, some of which is false, and science, some of which if impure, until we are sure.

    The 'young earth' position as you see it is not right and I would agree with you on that but equally the evolutionist position, as I see it, is not right also. It may make quite good sense but to ditch the possibility of creation may leave us going down a very long dark tunnel without duracell batteries.

  • Comment number 98.

    @ brianmcclinton -

    If I have ‘an incredible ignorance of philosophy’, as you suggest, then I can only put that down to the failings of Prof Furlong and my other philosophy lecturers over 4 years at TCD.


    Oops. More humble pie to be eaten by muggins. I must try to get out of "response to Peter Klaver" mode when responding to other (rather more intelligent) atheists. I am sure the philosophy lecturers at TCD are no less competent than those at Kings in London.

    I have never thought that Hume or anyone else was the ‘definitive mouthpiece’ in philosophy, and I certainly didn’t suggest it. So once again you misrepresent what I said.


    I don't think I will apologise for that, even though you did not use those exact words. You were certainly approving of Hume's spiteful and ill-informed condemnation of theology, and I am sure you will agree that philosophy does involve drawing out logical conclusions from claims. If Hume's opinion about theology is really of no more consequence than my particular predilection for chicken curry, then what's the point of mentioning it? Quite obviously you referred to him for a reason, and, as mentioned, it's not as though he is making a peripheral point. On the contrary, he is making a sweeping statement that encapsulates everything you want to believe is true.

    As for misrepresentation, I would like to point out that you are not exactly immune to this failing, as follows (from post # 50):

    We fear what we don’t understand and as we understand more so shall we fear less. This is bound to weaken religion, which is based on the twin pillars of fear (hell, punishment for sins, the saved and the damned etc) and ignorance.

    Astronomy informs us that we are not, as we once believed, the king of the universe and nor is the earth at its centre. The universe is about 13.7bn years old and the earth, a tiny planet which is about 4.5bn years old, is not static but revolves around the sun, which is only one star among billions. In short, the Biblical story of a three-storey, geocentric universe in which Hades is the basement, the flat, stationary earth is the ground floor and the firmament is the upper storey has been demonstrated as completely inaccurate. There is no heaven ‘above’ or hell ‘below’.

    ...

    It also informs us that religious belief is not ‘rational’ but instead based on emotion. In general, philosophers don’t like the concept of belief but prefer terms which imply less dogmatism and certainty. As H.L. Mencken put it, “faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable”.

    ...

    Sociology informs that religion is not itself a cognitive belief at all but an emotional belief, based on need. It may be the desire to bind a unified community together, create group solidarity, or establish central power. As society modernises and the individual becomes more free and equal, so religion declines. Also, some sociologists have discerned that we project our own values onto a god to ‘objectify them’ and that when we realise this truth, we seek to achieve these values in this life rather than an invented afterlife.

    Politics informs us that as society becomes more liberal and democratic, religion declines because it feeds on autocracy and theocracy. It is indeed a means of social control: ‘the opium of the masses’. When power is defused and we realise our own strengths, we reject clerical authority and power in favour of individually thought-out secular ideas.


    Continued...
  • Comment number 99.

    Continued from post # 98 -

    I have never seen such a catalogue of straw man arguments together in one place. Well done. Quite an achievement!

    Let's have a look at these:

    1. "We fear what we don't understand..." - The idea that "religion" is based on fear. It is absolutely right to say that some religion is based on fear, but you are clearly not making a point about some religious views, but theism in general. This is nonsense. When I became a Christian at the age of nineteen (no, not the result of parental brainwashing) - I was not motivated by fear at all. In fact, one of the things that prevented me from accepting Christianity earlier was precisely my perception that it was a hellfire, fear based religion. I found it utterly impossible to respond to that. What changed, you might ask? Answer: the reality of the love of God.

    "This is bound to weaken religion, which is based on the twin pillars of fear (hell, punishment for sins, the saved and the damned etc) and ignorance." - Hell is an idea which is subject to considerable interpretation, so to assume that theism generally depends on this "fear" is clearly wrong. But is it not strange that humanists are quick to affirm the moral dimension to life, and yet appear to despise those who suggest that moral decisions actually have consequences - especially an ultimate consequence?! In fact, there is a certain kind of "fear" that is a necessary part of any moral system. Indeed society could not function without a certain degree of "fear" - otherwise we would have anarchy. So your general point about fear lacks credibility.

    2. "In short, the Biblical story of a three-storey, geocentric universe in which Hades is the basement, the flat, stationary earth is the ground floor and the firmament is the upper storey has been demonstrated as completely inaccurate. There is no heaven ‘above’ or hell ‘below’." - At least we agree on something! Of course, the biblical reference to heaven and hell does not concern the material arrangement of the cosmos. That idea is a case of assuming the philosophy of naturalism to be true (with its closed system) and then arguing against the biblical position on that basis. Begging the question, in other words.

    3. "It also informs us that religious belief is not ‘rational’ but instead based on emotion." Really?? Of course, it depends what you mean by "religious belief". Certainly the belief that there exists a rationality behind the universe can hardly be called irrational! And the belief that there is a causal connection between intelligence and complexity can hardly be called "emotional"! It's an entirely logical inference. What is "irrational" about it?

    In fact, I can't see how the philosophy of naturalism could be rational, given that the operaton of reason requires free will. This is impossible within a closed deterministic system of natural laws and forces. If we think as we do simply because that is how evolution has made us, then we are responding to phenomena instinctually and not rationally. The assessment of the veracity of ideas requires the ability to operate independently of the proverbial "what I had for breakfast", but this is impossible within a naturalistic theory of cognition (unless you want to resort to a "Natman-style" type of circular argument, such as "we can think, therefore nature must have done it"!).

    4. "It may be the desire to bind a unified community together, create group solidarity, or establish central power." - It is indeed true that religion can create the context for community. Nothing wrong with that, and it does not follow logically that something that can create group solidarity must therefore be false. If that were so, then we only need to find instances of humanism creating group solidarity to prove humanism false! Clearly there are humanist groups (I know that for a fact because I have perused your photos on the internet of your knees-up at Carlingford). So all we need to do is send someone round to Carlingford, see that you humanists are all getting on with one another, conclude that humanism creates a group dynamic, and that therefore proves that humanism as a philosophy is false!!

    Furthermore, you fail to take into account the phenomenon of solitary religion. Certain forms of monasticism is one example. And there are many Christians who do not attend church (I know what I am talking about - from personal experience). Also, there are many Christians who maintain their faith in God in cultures which are anti-Christian, and this prevents any kind of community life. Surely if faith in God was just a product of the herd instinct, or a method of creating community, then it would wither and die in those contexts. Often the reverse is the case.

    Continued...

  • Comment number 100.

    Continued from post # 99 -

    5. "...when we realise this truth, we seek to achieve these values in this life rather than an invented afterlife." - I really am amazed that this argument still rears its head. The idea that Christians are not interested in this life, but only in the life to come, is such arrant nonsense that I wonder whether to even bother trying to refute it. Any (even half-hearted) research on the matter will show it to be entirely false. In fact, it does seem rather ironic that humanists claim to be so concerned about the quality of life in the "here and now", but usually fail to protect the lives of those who are entering this world (I refer, of course, to the plight of the unborn). Is it not also interesting that Christians generally take a dim view of euthanasia - hardly the position of those who think so little of this life?!

    6. "Politics informs us that as society becomes more liberal and democratic, religion declines because it feeds on autocracy and theocracy. It is indeed a means of social control: ‘the opium of the masses’. When power is defused and we realise our own strengths, we reject clerical authority and power in favour of individually thought-out secular ideas."

    Are you perhaps suggesting that atheist states are not autocratic?! One only needs to think of Albania under Enver Hoxha, the USSR under Stalin, China under Mao, Cambodia under Pol Pot and North Korea under the Kim dynasty to realise that religion does not have a monopoly on authoritarianism. Atheism has a truly terrible record of human rights violations and unspeakable oppression - even of fellow atheists! I wholeheartedly agree that "religion" has a poor record when it is mixed with politics, but I would like to suggest that that has more to do with human nature - exploiting the prevailing philosophy of the day - than the truth or falsehood of the philosophy in question. (And I agree that that can apply to atheism as well. So the entire argument is irrelevant. We can both play at this "who causes the most suffering?" game. It's futile.)

    You say that religion is a means of social control and you encourage individually thought-out ideas. Actually you didn't really say that did you? Can you spot where I misquoted you? You actually wrote: "in favour of individually thought-out secular ideas". In other words, you have contradicted yourself, because you give the appearance of encouraging freedom of thought, but only as long as it's the "Henry Ford" type of freedom: "You can freely think any thought you like - and draw any conclusion you like - as long as it's secular!!"

    So what were you saying about "social control" again, Brian?

    In fact, it is quite ironic that you should talk about individually thinking things through, when you present a whole list of philosophers who have apparently debunked the proofs for the existence of God, as if to expect me to accept that "weight of reputation" as evidence.

    In the light of this, I rather like what Descartes wrote:

    A majority of votes is worthless as a proof, in regard to truths that are even a little difficult of discovery; for it is much more likely that one man should have hit upon them for himself than that a whole nation should. Accordingly I could choose nobody whose opinions I thought preferable to other men's; and I was as it were forced to become my own guide.


    To sum up: many of your points are certainly true about some aspects of religion, but their application to theism generally is completely unwarranted.

    I realise that there are still some points to clear up, such as biblical criticism etc... But that's enough for now.
 

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