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Posted: 11 November 2006 08:58 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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I sent this email to Sam, and when I found the forum, I thought I might as well post it here.

I've enjoyed reading your Letter to a Christian Nation. What I find particularly empowering about the direction you're going is the language used in making the argument against religion. If there's one thing theology has mastered, it is the command of language, and a mastery of language can easily win a debate even for the wrong side.

For example, in Orwell's 1984, the regime slowly modifies language over time to make debate about the merits of communist dogma impossible. I suspect that our language, or at least the language used by theists, is similarly shaped, although perhaps not intentionally, to make skepticism of dogma difficult to express. If there's one thing we've learned from Karl Rove, it's that vocabulary alone can change minds. (For example, polls show that people support "estate" taxes but oppose "death" taxes. Go figure.)

I'm writing to urge you to continue your work and pay special attention to language and vocabulary. Keep fighting the good fight.

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Posted: 11 November 2006 09:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Bouncing,

Your comments address one of the most important and most difficult tasks facing the athiest community. I might be worthwhile to compile a dictionary of perjorative terms.

Fanon addressed this issue by examing the word ‘black’ and how it was pervasivey used as a negative. Bad guys wear Black hats, evil people are Black hearted..etc. Imagine living in a culture where your identity was synonomous with evil.

Athiests start in the hole. We are defined by our lack of or objection to theism. Defining a term by what it is not implicitly states the other is legitimate. We are defined as lacking, missing, without or otherwise sufficient.

Another of the terms to which I take objection is the word ‘evil’. Evil is by definition a superntural state. Evil is commonly used to mean the opposite of good. The opposite of good is bad. The opposite of evil is pious.

We can’t expect to win arguments when the opposition can connotatively define the terms we use.

We have some useful terms in our arsenal. Theists love to use the terms moral and immoral. They detest the term amoral. Their claim is that since their views oppose immorality, it is moral. However, since it is dogmatically dictated behavior, it is not moral. It is amoral. There are no moral considerations to obedience.

So, let’s take back the language.

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Posted: 12 November 2006 12:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Let’s start by referring to ourselves as “brights” as Daniel Dennett does.

 

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Posted: 12 November 2006 08:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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[quote author=“Joad”]
Another of the terms to which I take objection is the word ‘evil’. Evil is by definition a superntural state. Evil is commonly used to mean the opposite of good. The opposite of good is bad. The opposite of evil is pious.

We can’t expect to win arguments when the opposition can connotatively define the terms we use.

We have some useful terms in our arsenal. Theists love to use the terms moral and immoral. They detest the term amoral. Their claim is that since their views oppose immorality, it is moral. However, since it is dogmatically dictated behavior, it is not moral. It is amoral. There are no moral considerations to obedience.

So, let’s take back the language.

I disagree. It’s easy to start using words like ethics, but when people talk about ethics, they’re usually talking about accounting transparency, nepotism, or conflicts of interest. Ethics is a civil code, whereas morality is a biological code. I would say the opposite of evil is not piousness, but altruism.

The biggest criticism of atheists is that we lack morality. Sam does a good job of dismissing this criticism not by attacking the abstract sense of morality, but by demonstrating what we all consider right and wrong is pretty universal, and the Bible isn’t really all that consistent with our absolute sense of morality anyway.

If we’re so much about evidence, we shouldn’t advance our agenda based on what all evidence tell us will be a failing argument.

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Posted: 12 November 2006 08:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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[quote author=“hampsteadpete”]Let’s start by referring to ourselves as “brights” as Daniel Dennett does.

Ok, I don’t think the brights movement is going to work.

Atheism needs to get better about marketing. The fallacy of the Brights Movement is that it assumes one loaded term (atheist) should be replaced with another easily loaded term (brights), which is considerably less accurate.

Atheism needs a marketing team. It has no idea how to present itself.

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Posted: 12 November 2006 09:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Fanon addressed this issue by examing the word ‘black’ and how it was pervasivey used as a negative. Bad guys wear Black hats, evil people are Black hearted..etc. Imagine living in a culture where your identity was synonomous with evil.

Short answer: Positive, neutral, and negative usages of the word “black” and the color are common in our culture. None dominates to the exclusion of the others.

Long answer: Our usage of “black” has various connotations, some negative, some positive and some simple, neutral statements of fact. We tell them apart by context, tone of voice, and character of the speaker. The Black Death was a great tragedy, but black pearls are beautiful. Blackening someone’s name is slander, but blackening the meat makes it black on the outside while still tender inside. We frequently use “black” just to describe the color of something (black bear, black bean, black berry) with no positive or negative implications at all. The color black in our culture also signifies authority. Judges, police, and clergymen, for example, wear black. “Being in the black” is an expression for a profitable business or economically stable person. Men’s formal clothes, tuxedoes or tails, are black. A blackbody is a theoretically perfect absorber of all radiation that falls on it. “Black” certainly has negative connotations in some usages, but it signifies dignity, authority, solvency, formality, and even perfection in other contexts.

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Posted: 12 November 2006 09:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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I like brights or maybe “really smart people” or “alphas’ or in the same them “world controllers”. Another route my be “the beautiful ones”.  The beauty is whatever flattering term you use must be true.

Try saying this in your best Richard Dawkins accent. “We brights try not to associate with those troglodyte* Christians in their trailer parks. Who can deal with their “holier than thou” sanctimonious rubbish. Could somebody get me a scone and a chai latte”


* a little gift to you Salt Creek

It was called the black death because one of the symptoms was the blackening of skin

[ Edited: 12 November 2006 10:29 AM by ]
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Posted: 12 November 2006 09:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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(For example, polls show that people support “estate” taxes but oppose “death” taxes. Go figure.)

In 1982, California voters passed an initiative, Proposition 6, that repealed the state’s inheritance and gift taxes. Let me repeat: the people abolished California’s inheritance tax. Polls of the sort that involve people getting out are voting are more significant to me than mere opinion polls of variable quality. The inheritance tax remains unpopular among Americans, even though most people never inherit anything. This generous attitude may proceed from the American sense of fair play and the idea that, if I really own something, then I may give it to whomever I please without the permission or participation of any third parties. If people support “estate taxes” by that name in a poll, it may be partly due to confusion with the similar sounding “state taxes.”

One of the weakest arguments against the inheritance tax is the claim that people have already paid taxes on the assets they have accumulated and therefore should not have to pay again. In so far as the assets are unrealized capital gains (in taxable accounts) and tax-deferred retirement accounts (IRAs), it simply isn’t true that they have already paid taxes on these assets.

One of the weakest argument in favor of the inheritance tax is the claim that it does no real economic harm because people can simply buy life insurance to pay the tax. The people who say this seem to enjoy the illusion that the Tooth Fairy will pay the premiums on those policies and that the premiums are low.

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Posted: 12 November 2006 10:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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[quote author=“frankr”]troglodyte* Christians in their trailer parks

If ever there was a wrong person to describe as a troglodyte, it would be the resident of a trailer park.

Troglodyte has something to do with “caves”, as I recall, including, as it were, Plato’s cave. You’re spelunking without a license, Frank. And without a headlamp.

You will likely fall into a pit.

http://www.inform-fiction.org/examples/Adventureland/Adventureland_2_6.html

http://www.ir.bbn.com/~bschwart/adventure.html

You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all different.
You are in a twisty maze of little passages, all different.
You are in a little twisty maze of passages, all different.
You are in a twisty little maze of passages, all different.

The maze where all of the passages are alike is a lot more challenging to navigate. To map it, you must make the rooms different by dropping things in them. If you drop treasures, you risk having the pirate steal them, so best to drop things that aren’t treasures. To map all the rooms, you will have to make several trips into the maze with more armloads of stuff. Of course, why should you bother? I’ve already given you the most direct route through the maze. And, yes, I have fully mapped both mazes. It’s a great time sink.

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Posted: 12 November 2006 03:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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Dear Sam,

I found your style, spirit and fervor Russellian, if I may say so. Please continue to walk in his footsteps and more - we need another voice of reason and extension of B. Ruissells noble thoughst into our days.

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Posted: 12 November 2006 07:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Bouncing,

I would say the opposite of evil is not piousness, but altruism.

The opposite of altruism is selfishness.

Evil is an absolute. There are no degrees. The theological meaning of evil
is an unredeemable act. Rejecting god is the epitome of evil.

We say that Hitler was evil. So, Hitler was evil when he ordered the Holocaust. But he was also evil when he fed his dogs or played with children. To label people as evil is to completely divorce them from their actions.

A person may commit an evil deed. We determine the evilness by the deed, not by the person.

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Posted: 13 November 2006 06:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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[quote author=“Joad”]The opposite of altruism is selfishness.

Evil is an absolute. There are no degrees. The theological meaning of evil
is an unredeemable act. Rejecting god is the epitome of evil.

We say that Hitler was evil. So, Hitler was evil when he ordered the Holocaust. But he was also evil when he fed his dogs or played with children. To label people as evil is to completely divorce them from their actions.

A person may commit an evil deed. We determine the evilness by the deed, not by the person.

Yawn. Plato made the same mistake. Evil as adjective (evil deed) doesn’t imply the existence of evil noun. I got it from Bertrand Russel praised by Lubo (and rightfully so).

The opposite of altruism is selfishness? Muddy waters.

The opposite of father is son. The opposite of son is daughter, or bastard. Philosophy is boring and un-productive. Good that Sam Harris steers clear from philosophy and frankr’s verdict “he is a philosophical leightweigth” is a complement.

Salt Creek. I am glad you know something about spelunking. Got a taste of it some thirty years ago. It was fun even without the modern equipment, which makes spelunking in Alpine caves less wet, less dark, less strenous experience.

T. O.

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Posted: 13 November 2006 06:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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[quote author=“Joad”]Evil is an absolute. There are no degrees. The theological meaning of evil
is an unredeemable act. Rejecting god is the epitome of evil.

Ok, see, this is what I mean by atheism is poorly marketted. You’re going to promote our agenda based on this: Evil and pious are antonyms. We’re not pious. You’re pious, and we’re evil. Join us.

That’s even worse than the “Brights” nomenclature.

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Posted: 13 November 2006 07:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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Am I the only one that thinks the Brights idea is a horrible idea?  It sounds so silly, who would want to be associated with that??  It sounds like a group for children.  What adult would agree to signing on to that…If harris, dawkins and dennett really buy into the “Bright” idea…I am scared.  How is it an accurate representation of free thinking?  What do they do as a group, simply exist?  Are they working toward any goals…and have you looked at some of the books on their list?? Wow…this group is creepy.

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Posted: 13 November 2006 08:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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[quote author=“MichaelLewchuk”]Am I the only one that thinks the Brights idea is a horrible idea?

Yes, I think the “Brights” movement is misguided in so many ways. The idea is to promote people with naturalistic beliefs, right? And what do they do? Come up with a word that they happen to like, with no evidence whatsoever that the word will actually achieve the stated goal.

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Posted: 13 November 2006 08:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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Bouncing,

I think we are reaching a consensus.
To state that theists are pious and athiests are evil is to simply acknowledge the status quo.

I am trying to point out that athiests are not evil because they are not pious. Athiests are not evil because evil is a non-existant supernatural condition.

So, I can say: Theists are in a supernatural world of piousness and evil. Athiests are in the natural state of reason. Join Us.

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