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Are the “new atheists” intolerant fundamentalists?
Posted: 30 November 2009 10:09 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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Did you guys watch the debate on this website?

http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/harris-hitchens-dennett-vs-boteach-dsouza-wright-taleb/

I stayed up until 2 am so I saw the whole thing (almost: Dinesh irritates the hell out of me, so I just skipped over his stuff).

I expect the theists to come up with all kinds of inane arguments.  But I find it more disturbing when someone like Mr. Wright, a sort of Deist/agnostic, accuses “the new atheists” of being intolerant fundamentalists.  And why does he feel that way?  Because these “new” atheists want to annihilate every other point of view and will not tolerate different worldviews; they should allow people to believe what they need to in order to get through their lives.

There is so much wrong with that I don’t know where to begin.  First, no one is trying to ban religion.  No one is trying to force people not to believe.  The only thing the “new” atheists are doing is simply having a conversation in which the rules are that unreasonable arguments are not going to be treated as if they had merit.  It is simply conversational intolerance.  Second, not all opinions, beliefs and worldviews are on equal footing.  Some opinions are more reasonable than others.  Let’s not pretend that the belief that Woman was literally created out of the rib of Man is just as valid a belief as the belief that we sit on tectonic plates.  One is blind faith based revelation, the other is a scientific theory.  They are not of equal merit.  Why should we pretend that they are? 

I think we have a lot of work to do on our own atheist/agnostic brethren before we can have any hope of advancing our arguments to the believers.  I think the general idea of tolerance has gone seriously awry.  It is a good and wonderful thing to tolerate people of different cultures, races, ethnicity, religion, and treat them as merely human beings.  But to tolerate their beliefs and automatically treat them as valid, simply for the sake of tolerance of “respect”?  Sorry, beliefs are NOT entitled to respect.  People may be, but not beliefs.  That respect has to be earned - through reason.

Any thoughts?

[ Edited: 16 December 2011 03:22 AM by Nhoj Morley]
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Posted: 02 December 2009 12:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Yeah, that’s bullshit. We have tolerated religion for thousands of years and that’s long enough. Put up or shut up time.

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‘If ignorance of nature gave birth to gods, knowledge of nature destroys them’

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Posted: 04 December 2009 03:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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I agree about our fellow atheists.  Respectful discourse is part of a positive approach, but the idea that we have to silently respect these beliefs is just patently absurd.

If other non-believers are going to block the way by saying we “must let people have their opiate-beliefs to get through their day”—well, I want them to qualify that:  If it means we can’t force people to abandon their beliefs, ok.  I’m all for that.  But if it means keeping our mouths shut, the answer to that is “No.”

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Posted: 05 December 2009 03:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Well, in some ways, the older I get, and the more I see, the more pessimistic I become about persuading people.  Everything I see convinces me more and more that people are driven by emotion rather than logic.  It’s HARD to persuade people.  Harris, Dawkins, et al. are right.  Irrational ideas don’t deserve respect or consideration.  They should be called out for what they are.  It is way past time that we abandoned superstition and embraced reason.

But the world stubbornly resists logic and is what it is.

I’m not at all sure what to do about this.  I don’t advocate Harris and Dawkins and the rest caving in and embracing the theists.  But on the other hand, I know that when one makes effective, devastating, reasonable arguments against superstition and religion, theists get defensive and close their minds.  This means that despite the irrefutable logic of the “new atheists” they are making as many enemies as converts—and perversely, are even alienating some secular humanists who disagree with their tactics.  I wish like hell I knew a way around this problem, but I don’t.  People, being the irrational, emotional creatures that they are, invest themselves emotionally in their beliefs.  When this happens, they will employ every rationalization and justification and intellectually dishonest tactic in the book to cling to their beliefs.  Nowhere does this apply more than in religion.

I wish I did have a solution.  All I do know is that we have a long, hard road ahead before people turn to reason above comforting faith.

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Posted: 06 December 2009 06:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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I do not see any reason to force people out of their religion.  Why make it another division among people.  I see nothing wrong with the majority of Americans believing in God.  I see everything wrong with them trying to legistate their morals on the rest of us.

The best action is not to annoy them but simply demand a return to the separation of church and state.  I attended a convention on this desire to separate the church and state and many in the audience/hotel had admitted to being godless only in the last couple of years.  I never believed in God and never said much about it. 

We have seen what this religion has done to the Republican Party and the ugliness that this has caused even in families.  I have always voted for and with people who demand equal rights for all Americans and I have been eased quietly to the left.  Our churches were bought by President Bush 43 when he promised faith based grants. The ministers began marking ballots for their congregations and they should lose their tax status for that.

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Posted: 06 December 2009 03:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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I have become convinced that no amount of reasoned arguments will ever convince the de facto believers that they hold an irrational position. I think the best we can do is, 1) teach critical thinking skills to the young, and 2) raise consciousness in the general public (the spate of atheism books over the past few years serves that purpose well). Either that or hit them over the head with a dinosaur bone.

Ron

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Posted: 07 December 2009 02:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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It deeply frustrates me that atheists attack each other on the issue of how to deal with religion. Being tolerant (which really means giving them a pass) of religious ideology only empowers the fundamentalists and allows them to dominate public discourse. I was raised fundamentalist and was in fact a fundamentalist for most of my adult life and I believed that I had the right to shape public policy.  When I came to the realization that my faith had been ill founded and that I had been lied to all of my life by the people I trusted most (it took seminary to uneducate me), I was grateful for every little bit of info and public discourse I could find to help me wade through the years of brainwashing. When I read articles such as the one that is on Sam’s website (posted by Richard Wright—a “fair-minded”, open, liberal christian who does not take the bible literally—HA!), I could scream. The true battle for atheists are with the liberal christians. They are the intellectual support for fundamentalists. But when atheists cannot even support each other in the dialogue, then I despair of ever seeing people freed from the chains of religious dogma which I now enjoy.

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Posted: 10 December 2009 11:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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“Sandy” date=“1260126193”]I do not see any reason to force people out of their religion.  Why make it another division among people.  I see nothing wrong with the majority of Americans believing in God.  I see everything wrong with them trying to legistate their morals on the rest of us.

The best action is not to annoy them but simply demand a return to the separation of church and state.

The separation of church and state is not enough to protect us, Sandy.  When people go inside the voting booths, the separation of church and state cannot protect us from their beliefs, as we saw what happened when millions of our religious friends and neighbors voted to overturn marriage equality in CA and ME.  We should absolutely fight for the separation of church and state, but it is not enough.  We have to actually address religious beliefs - because people make decisions on our rights based on their religious beliefs.  And when people believe in God, when they believe that the Creator and Judge of the Universe talks to them through a book about how they are to live, he also talks to them about how WE ALL are to live and interact with one another.  So, I DO have a problem with people believing in God.  It is almost never a matter that affects only the believer.

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Posted: 10 December 2009 11:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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MrRon - 06 December 2009 08:37 PM

I have become convinced that no amount of reasoned arguments will ever convince the de facto believers that they hold an irrational position. I think the best we can do is, 1) teach critical thinking skills to the young, and 2) raise consciousness in the general public (the spate of atheism books over the past few years serves that purpose well). Either that or hit them over the head with a dinosaur bone.

Ron

I agree.  I think it is crucial that critical thinking be taught at an early age.  I did not take a critical thinking class until my senior year in college.  It needs to be a required class in high school, maybe earlier. 

And despite the backlash against the New Aheists, of whom I consider myself a disciple, I think we must not back down.  Not all ideas are reasonable.  I can think of only a few instances when unreasonable ideas should be tolerated.  I’m sorry, I will never be prepared to say that a reasonable idea is no better than an unreasonable idea, grounded in nothing more than faith, wishful thinking, and a desire for tribal identity.

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Posted: 10 December 2009 11:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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DanetteB - 07 December 2009 07:55 PM

It deeply frustrates me that atheists attack each other on the issue of how to deal with religion. Being tolerant (which really means giving them a pass) of religious ideology only empowers the fundamentalists and allows them to dominate public discourse. I was raised fundamentalist and was in fact a fundamentalist for most of my adult life and I believed that I had the right to shape public policy.  When I came to the realization that my faith had been ill founded and that I had been lied to all of my life by the people I trusted most (it took seminary to uneducate me), I was grateful for every little bit of info and public discourse I could find to help me wade through the years of brainwashing. When I read articles such as the one that is on Sam’s website (posted by Richard Wright—a “fair-minded”, open, liberal christian who does not take the bible literally—HA!), I could scream. The true battle for atheists are with the liberal christians. They are the intellectual support for fundamentalists. But when atheists cannot even support each other in the dialogue, then I despair of ever seeing people freed from the chains of religious dogma which I now enjoy.

Well said, Dannette.  Welcome to our oasis.  Nice to meet you,

Rami

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Posted: 11 December 2009 07:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Ron mkes the best and most important point. Teaching critical thinking skills to young people, children etc., I made a post and some inquiries about this recently on the Reason Project forum.

Until we start teaching children how to think, instead of what to think, such as religious dogma, this problem will never be solved.

It is much easier to ‘enlighten’ an adult, or raise the consciousness of someone already mentally mature. How we indoctrinate the sensitive and vulnerable minds of our children is a huge piece to the puzzle of the survival of our species.

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Posted: 11 December 2009 05:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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It’s good to be among friends.  grin

The best book out there on the inadequacies (i.e.—bankruptcy and complete and utter failure) of the education system is probably “The Age of American Unreason” by Susan Jacoby. I suspect many here have read it but I think she addresses the lack of intellectual thought in America (and the downright anti-intellectualism) and points it directly to our education system just brilliantly. I worked in the public school system here for a while and when I asked one science teacher if he taught evolution, he said, “no, thank god.” Didn’t want to deal with the controversy of even approaching the topic. The woman who did, it seems, was a christian who believed in intelligent design, thus never challenging the middle school kids she taught. She could sweep over the topic fairly generically and make them all feel good about their belief system. If the public schools aren’t going to teach real science, then we’re lost. Science is, after all, the catalyst for each new step of evolutionary development humanity has experienced.

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Posted: 12 December 2009 10:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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In the December 14 issue of The New Yorker, there’s fiction by David Foster Wallace titled, “All That.”

It brings home how impressionable young children are; how readily they believe in magic.  In this story there are two kind, intelligent, atheist parents.  Their little boy shows an early interest in religion.

http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2009/12/14/091214fi_fiction_wallace

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“The simple fables of the religious of the world have come to seem like tales told to children.”  - Nobel Prize recipient - Francis Crick

“It is time we recognized the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved.” - Sam Harris

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Posted: 12 December 2009 11:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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The problem may be more than intractable. We’re trying to use reason and logic to show that a God belief is indefensible, when reason does not even reside in the mind of the believer. “Reason 1.0” was replaced with “God 2.0” in the mind of the believer long ago. And with all the rationilizations over the years, the believers are now running “God 12.2 With Service Pack 3, Including the I.D. Add-on” - it’s incredibly secure and impervious to “attack” by anything remotely resembling reason. Hoping that reason will open the mind of a believer is like hoping that you can stop a tank with a sling-shot. Both the mind of the believer and the tank are impenetrable to those kinds of external stimuli.   

I make it a practice to watch as many “God debates” as I can. And it pains me to see beautiful logic and sound reason expounded eloquently by the atheist speaker be so casually whisked aside and diregarded by the “Amen” of a devout attendee in response to something (anything) said by the theist speaker. The Harris’s, Hitchens, and Dawkins of the world are not so much changing minds as they are making a place at the table for atheists (and that’s a good thing). They make it easier for those who were already agnostics\atheists to elucidate and validate their own thoughts on the matter. But, wish as we may, the believers who go to these debates aren’t exactly leaving as atheists. The Dan Barkers of the world are very rare - and even in those cases it’s a lengthy process of conversion - not a sudden insight.

I am currently in an ongoing debate with a theist friend. It is very frustrating. I have found that facts are irrelevant. Logic is what the thinker thinks it is. The desire to have an afterlife is overwhelmingly strong. Consensus is not to be refuted (the fact that 85% of Americans have a God belief). I am at my wits end. But I realize that it’s not my logic that is failing to make an impact, it’s that my logic is getting detoured before it ever has a chance to factor into her thinking. “God 12.2 With Service Pack 3, Including the I.D. Add-on” is truly efficient.

Ron

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Posted: 13 December 2009 10:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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MrRon - 12 December 2009 04:03 PM

I am currently in an ongoing debate with a theist friend. It is very frustrating. I have found that facts are irrelevant. Logic is what the thinker thinks it is. The desire to have an afterlife is overwhelmingly strong. Consensus is not to be refuted (the fact that 85% of Americans have a God belief). I am at my wits end. But I realize that it’s not my logic that is failing to make an impact, it’s that my logic is getting detoured before it ever has a chance to factor into her thinking. “God 12.2 With Service Pack 3, Including the I.D. Add-on” is truly efficient.
Ron

In a debate with an atheist or scientist, the theist says, “I know what the universe is and you don’t.  Trump!”  He imagines that arrogance wins over honesty and humility.  This is compounded by his inability to see his own arrogance.

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Posted: 13 December 2009 12:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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MrRon - 12 December 2009 04:03 PM

The Harris’s, Hitchens, and Dawkins of the world are not so much changing minds as they are making a place at the table for atheists (and that’s a good thing). They make it easier for those who were already agnostics\atheists to elucidate and validate their own thoughts on the matter.

I am currently in an ongoing debate with a theist friend. It is very frustrating. I have found that facts are irrelevant. Logic is what the thinker thinks it is. The desire to have an afterlife is overwhelmingly strong. Consensus is not to be refuted (the fact that 85% of Americans have a God belief). I am at my wits end. But I realize that it’s not my logic that is failing to make an impact, it’s that my logic is getting detoured before it ever has a chance to factor into her thinking. “God 12.2 With Service Pack 3, Including the I.D. Add-on” is truly efficient.

Ron

You’re quite right and I love the “God 12.2…” way of describing believers and their operating system. Logic will not change most adult believers and it really is futile to think you will change their minds (as I said, it took a seminary education to shift my thinking). But as you point out very well, having atheists speak out is a new thing and helps to prevent christians from defining reality. Christians believe all sorts of lies about atheists—about how unhappy and angry they are—that they’re nihilistic, etc. And these ideas are as firmly entrenched as their belief in god. When atheists speak up and talk about what they believe in and what value life has for them, it chips away at the reality they have created for themselves.

But most importantly, when atheists fight back in a public forum for reason and to get religious dogma out of the public domain it will hopefully embolden teachers to challenge their students more and to quite allowing their student’s faith to frighten them away from teaching them to think critically (although as a society we have much to do to even enable our teachers to teach critical thinking). Yes children are susceptible to belief in superstition but they are also adaptable to new ideas and accepting scientific information. Religion thrives in this country because we have a failed education system that does not educate and superstition is validated in the hallowed halls of learning. This is the place to start. All believers have doubts—but by the time they’re adults, they are too frightened to think any differently (not to mention that by the time they are adults, their whole life is built around this belief system). Children doubt and are only reassured because the adult believers in their lives lie and manipulate them.

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