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A fallacy of atheism
Posted: 05 October 2008 04:25 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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Theism, and its various expressions in different religions, is basically a belief that something more powerful is watching out over you. Associated with that is the idea that this powerful something will somehow care for and perhaps guide you, as well as sometimes punishing you.  Obviously, the original paradigm for that belief is the parent-child relationship that almost all of us have had. 

Some 80%+ percent of adult human beings will express the belief in some unseen god. That clearly suggests that theism is a common, even quite normal belief.  Little kids usually consider their parents omnipotent and omniscient, which they are from a small child’s viewpoint.  Somewhere during the course of human development, children gradually come to realize their parents are not all-powerful or all-knowing, that they make mistakes, are inconsistent and even pain inducing.  That slow realization shifts the burden of responsibility gradually to the children, which can be a very anxiety-inducing weight.  Some few children grow into adulthood accepting that weight, but by far the most shift some or all of that weight onto some unseen god.  Most of the time people who are adult theists remain that way throughout their lives, and adult atheists usually also remain non-believers.

Apart from the parent-child paradigm which we all experience in one form or another, the usual four major variables are at play in associating with that dependency -sustaining but comforting theism: genetics, conditioning, social environment and immediate external stimuli.  “Choice” is not one of those major variables, and even later in life it plays a modest role at best.  Theism is non-rational, more than irrational; it is not neurotic nor psychotic, it has about the same status as a knee-jerk reflex or fear of falling, both quite common human conditions. 

Rational, intellectual arguments against theism usually have about the same effect as arguing against reflexes or vertebrate phobias: little to none.  These arguments, elegant as they are, are orthogonal to the basic causes of theism, and they are largely futile.  This not to say reflexes and basic phobias cannot be modified over time, but only slowly and with repeated experiences. 

Maybe what appears to be a basic human “need” to posit some overseeing god as a replacement for fallible parents, and as a means of avoiding the fear of having to face an indifferent universe alone with all of the sense of inadequacy we have in so doing, can be assuaged with replacement beliefs.  That replacement is what happens sometimes with fanatics who endorse and subscribe themselves to some political ideologies; they’re replacing the comfort of theism with the comfort of that non-theistic ideology. 

What we have not developed, apart from some political ideologies (Fascism and Communism come to mind as examples) are more rational and less destructive beliefs.  Science is an admirable discipline; it does not, however, offer much comfort to the great mass of the human race.  Advocates on this forum such as the “Champion” of course offers with his beliefs solace, but he is motivated more by (1) the need to control and dominate others, and (2) some solace for himself, since absent his beliefs, he would have to face the unacceptable alternative that he is otherwise a rather pathetic and inconsequential human being who can demand no particular attention.  Articulate advocates of science and rationalism, such as Salt Creek here, do not obviously seek to control others, but they do not offer solace to themselves or others either.

I do not have an answer here.  I do suggest that we need as rationalists to take into account what seems to be a common and quite powerful need for almost all people to have some sense of the universe they inhabit that speaks to the frightened, gibbering ape in all of us.  Sarcastically attacking the idiocy of religion is certainly satisfying and fun.  We get various strokes of “atta boy” for doing so from our peers.  It is also I suggest fairly useless in changing the behavior of those whom we’re attacking.

One of my “heroes” was Carl Sagan. At least as a person, he exemplified an ideal as a rationalist, without being an attacking, sarcastic and angry person who dealt with others in a condescending manner.  I’ve also looked at the visible physical images of planets, stars and galaxies, realized the incredible distances and times involved, and felt awed. Maybe diminished, but “diminished” not in the sense of somehow of no significance.  I did not thereby have any sense of needing to posit some vast sentience that oversaw the whole thing.  Ah, but I wander off thread.

My point, if I have such a point, is that the challenge to rationalists is how to deal with a quite normal and common human need to feel significant?  What kind of a world view can be developed and articulated that speaks to some of the human emotional needs of all of us, without being condescending, demeaning, and condemning of those basic human needs? 

Religions speak to some of those basic needs, science does not do so as well. Can we as a species come to perhaps blend the more objective realities of science, with the non-pathological needs of most people to somehow “find their place” in the universe as we perceive it? 

If all we do here on this forum is attack religion, then in my mind we fail. A much more demanding and daunting goal is to begin to derive some basis of a worldview that includes what we call science and rationalism, and also includes those basic emotional human needs we all have to have some sense of significance in our quite brief existence. 

Dennis

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Truth, especially “moral truth,” is that elusive human creation whose exclusive apprehension is claimed by many, who then sanctimoniously condemn anyone else who does not agree with their particular apprehension, while denying that any question can be posed about their own apprehension.  I will try to avoid that tendency.  DEC

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Posted: 05 October 2008 05:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Dennis Campbell - 05 October 2008 08:25 PM

My point, if I have such a point, is that the challenge to rationalists is how to deal with a quite normal and common human need to feel significant?  What kind of a world view can be developed and articulated that speaks to some of the human emotional needs of all of us, without being condescending, demeaning, and condemning of those basic human needs?

The quite-normal and common human need to feel significant? I didn’t get the memo that said the universe promised me a sense of significance, and nobody’s paying me to baby-sit a bunch of theistic thumb-suckers.

What challenge to rationalists? To be thought ill of by a pack of spineless, conflict-averse, conciliatory goody-goodies? What is the prize at the bottom of the crackerjack box whose caramel-coated goodness speaks to some of the human emotional needs in all of us? Is it not a low-rent recapitulation of the Christian charge to deliver some simulacrum of perfect love?

What do some people do to indulge their cases of the “common human need to feel significant”? It wouldn’t happen to be writing reams of banal, wordy, didactic, over-intellectualized, pseudo-humanistic tripe, would it?

Frankly, repudiation of such self-congratulatory mental masturbation in the strongest terms is quite a high priority of mine, if I can be said to have a priority. I think it is sometimes called “tough love”; it’s what to do when, in the face of great need, we cannot afford a padded cell and three squares a day for everyone who thinks he needs it. And you want me to be kinder to a bunch of fricking bliss-ninnies while woulda-been concert violinists with early-onset arthritis are playing in subway stations for nickels and dimes?

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Posted: 05 October 2008 05:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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As usual, Salt Creek explodes with his own brand of lexical diarrhea, replete with fluidity but absent much substance.  He is so much enamored with his own written facility, which is indeed worth respect, that he ignores the issue(s) to which he’s responding.  SC does not want to control, in the sense of seeking conformity, he wants to dominate, in the sense of stifling responses.  In that respect, SC and the “Champion” share some commonality. 

Rationalists do not have a “mission,” that’s nonsense.  But if and as they’re interested in dealing with the reality of religion and theism, then I suggest they must also deal with the causes and consequences of theism as common human needs. 

Dennis

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Truth, especially “moral truth,” is that elusive human creation whose exclusive apprehension is claimed by many, who then sanctimoniously condemn anyone else who does not agree with their particular apprehension, while denying that any question can be posed about their own apprehension.  I will try to avoid that tendency.  DEC

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Posted: 05 October 2008 06:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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I’m new but I’ve been lurking here and RDF for a bit. 

One thing I have found very striking is the amount of time spent ranting about adherents of religion.  There are posters here (and there) who must have spent literally hundreds of hours cybergrumbling about how stupid Christianity is.

I understand skeptical agnosticism and once would have considered myself an adherent of such a stance. 

But I find it baffling to see the amount of energy spent on what might be termed antitheism rather than atheism.  How does that actively foster better society?

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Posted: 05 October 2008 06:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Dennis:

Salt Creek does not want to play ball with you.  He wants war, because he thinks he can win that war and annihilate the adversary - the evil, evil people who believe that everything has a purpose and has some ultimate meaning. Yesterday I saw him on the street ripping a blanket away from a baby, and slapping another because it was sucking its thumb.  He’s just a mean man, Dennis.  That’s the bottom line. Going back to one of my first posts, I think Tom Petty had him tagged when he sang “somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some.”  This apparently goes back to his childhood.  He was picked on, beaten up on the playground, and now he’s gonna take it out on people who have basically resolved their existential issues and found some measure of peace in life through faith. He needs your help, Dennis, to resolve some of these childhood conflicts.  He’s finally found a place where he can be the bully.  Please help him, Dennis. One of your fellow rationalists needs therapy, and lots of it.

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Posted: 05 October 2008 06:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Dennis Campbell - 05 October 2008 08:25 PM

My point, if I have such a point, is that the challenge to rationalists is how to deal with a quite normal and common human need to feel significant?  What kind of a world view can be developed and articulated that speaks to some of the human emotional needs of all of us, without being condescending, demeaning, and condemning of those basic human needs?

Religions speak to some of those basic needs, science does not do so as well. Can we as a species come to perhaps blend the more objective realities of science, with the non-pathological needs of most people to somehow “find their place” in the universe as we perceive it?

I think this is where we fail ourselves and sell ourselves short the most with religion. We are significant to each other, not to the cosmos or to nature or even to the earth, really, at least not in any kind of personal way. We’re only important to each other, to ourselves, as a species. Religion disconnects us from realizing this fact of reality and the implications, and deflects this sense of connection we should be nurturing amongst each other to fabricated gods and angels and such. I think that’s the primary psychological power religion has over believers. It cuts them off from their identity as human beings and replaces it with a memetic drug that provides an easy and intense “high” but has a relatively short term effect—makes many people into addicts dependent upon weekly fixes.

Byron

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“We say, ‘Love your brother…’ We don’t say it really, but… Well we don’t literally say it. We don’t really, literally mean it. No, we don’t believe it either, but… But that message should be clear.”—David St. Hubbins

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Posted: 05 October 2008 06:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Salt Creek, I did not say that somehow the universe gives a shit about our individual existence, in fact as far as I can understand it, it does not.  But we, as living sentient creatures, do care.  That’s an issue we might address, since that’s what religion purports to address.

Bruce, I have little idea nor concern as to what makes Salt Creek post as he does.  He is obviously a quite bright and articulate man, as I’m sure he’d agree.  If he needs therapy, it’s not going to be from me.  From what I’ve seen so far, he is basically on this thread so far, irrelevant.  That’s a loss, because he has rhe intelligence if not perhaps the evident personality integrity and balance to make a worthwhile contribution.   

Dennis

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Truth, especially “moral truth,” is that elusive human creation whose exclusive apprehension is claimed by many, who then sanctimoniously condemn anyone else who does not agree with their particular apprehension, while denying that any question can be posed about their own apprehension.  I will try to avoid that tendency.  DEC

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Posted: 05 October 2008 06:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Skeptic X.

I think that has been called an opiate for the masses.  Stalin?

Dennis

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Truth, especially “moral truth,” is that elusive human creation whose exclusive apprehension is claimed by many, who then sanctimoniously condemn anyone else who does not agree with their particular apprehension, while denying that any question can be posed about their own apprehension.  I will try to avoid that tendency.  DEC

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Posted: 05 October 2008 06:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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wahoo - 05 October 2008 10:00 PM

. . .
But I find it baffling to see the amount of energy spent on what might be termed antitheism rather than atheism.  How does that actively foster better society?

Does all human conduct need to foster better society? I suspect that for some around here, it’s almost therapeutic to read and then engage in conversation with curious people who’ve somehow managed to have become infected with a troubling yet amazing psychosis. Cheap entertainment? Sure, and it’s better than porn for some.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Posted: 05 October 2008 06:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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Dennis Campbell - 05 October 2008 10:25 PM

I think that has been called an opiate for the masses.  Stalin?

That was Marx.

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“We say, ‘Love your brother…’ We don’t say it really, but… Well we don’t literally say it. We don’t really, literally mean it. No, we don’t believe it either, but… But that message should be clear.”—David St. Hubbins

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Posted: 05 October 2008 06:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Skeptic X

Oops.  Well, they all look alike anyway?

Dennis

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Truth, especially “moral truth,” is that elusive human creation whose exclusive apprehension is claimed by many, who then sanctimoniously condemn anyone else who does not agree with their particular apprehension, while denying that any question can be posed about their own apprehension.  I will try to avoid that tendency.  DEC

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Posted: 05 October 2008 06:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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Homunculus,

Sure.

There are many mindless websites and blogs for those who wish to languish in frivolity.

But I don’t think Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins do what they do to offer entertainment. 

While not an atheist, I respect the efforts of people like Alonzo Fyfe at the atheist ethicist blog, who seem to be driven by a desire to improve society.  It seems that a lot of people here and RDF would impugn religion for its purported abusive effects on society, all the while treating those people who espouse it in an abusive manner. 

That does not do much to bolster the argument that removal of religion from society would be a positive development.

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Posted: 05 October 2008 06:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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homunculus - 05 October 2008 10:30 PM
wahoo - 05 October 2008 10:00 PM

How does that actively foster better society?

Does all human conduct need to foster better society?

The Stalinists and Jeebiz Phreaks certainly seem to think so. They should team up, but they compete instead. This town ain’t big enough for the two of them. Well, come to think of it, the Islamic state kinda combines the best of both those worlds.

Welcome to your nightmare. Onward Xian souljers.

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Posted: 05 October 2008 07:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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Dennis Campbell - 05 October 2008 08:25 PM

My point, if I have such a point, is that the challenge to rationalists is how to deal with a quite normal and common human need to feel significant?

Feed somebody.
Keep somebody out of jail.
Save a dog at the pound.
Teach a kid to read.
Stand up for someone being picked on.

Religions speak to some of those basic needs, science does not do so as well.

In The Accidental Mind:  How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams and God, David Linden said, “Our brains have become particularly adapted to creating coherent, gap free stories.  This propensity for narrative creation is part of what predisposes humans to religious thought.”  This is found in the left cortex.

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Posted: 05 October 2008 07:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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wahoo - 05 October 2008 10:50 PM

. . . I don’t think Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins do what they do to offer entertainment.

Of course, in order to be intellectually engaging, participants in these sorts of conversations need to enjoy themselves to some degree. Not all of us have the humanistic reserves of an Upton Sinclair.

And if Sam Harris ever feels the need to attempt to overtly edit or guide topics, I’m sure he’ll let us know.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Posted: 05 October 2008 07:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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Dennis Campbell - 05 October 2008 10:35 PM

Oops.  Well, they all look alike anyway?

The “opiate of the masses” idea is only the religious deflection aspect of what I wrote though—only half of the equation I postulated.

Byron

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“We say, ‘Love your brother…’ We don’t say it really, but… Well we don’t literally say it. We don’t really, literally mean it. No, we don’t believe it either, but… But that message should be clear.”—David St. Hubbins

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