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An Argument for Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and (gasp!) Even Jesus PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Barbara Drescher   

The views I express in this post are not shared by everyone associated with the JREF, including James Randi himself, but they will not come as a surprise to anyone who has attended a panel on parenting in which I have taken part. What brought it to mind was not the season, but rather reminders that many atheists, including Richard Dawkins, have expressed the opinion that religion "clouds the mind" or otherwise keeps people from understanding science. Not only do I disagree with this view but I think it is a bit dangerous.

 

Dawkins has also speculated that exposure to fiction is harmful to children. Countless people have asked me for advice because they are worried that their nieces and nephews are being taught religion or pseudoscience or that their own children might be damaged by the bible camp that they were sent to by a former spouse. I have read angry, hate-filled comments from parents about keeping their children isolated from religious ideas. I have been accused of hypocrisy because my husband and I celebrate Christmas with a visit from Santa.  

 

This kind of dogma concerns me. Although well-intentioned, it will surely back-fire.  

 

Decades of research into intelligence and reason has, fairly recently, revealed one clear difference between an intelligent person and an intelligent person who consistently reasons well: open-mindedness. The more open-minded person is successful at a number of reasoning tasks in which the less open-minded person fails, probably because they maintain a level of humility and uncertainty in their belief set. We learn humility from occasionally being wrong.  

 

Religion is not a barrier to science literacy. Homeschooling children for the sole purpose of controlling the information to which they are exposed is a barrier to science literacy. Refusing to expose children to information which would provide opportunities for critical thinking is a barrier to science literacy*. This applies to everyone, not just fundamental Christians who reject evolution.  

 

Everything we learn requires practice and we learn the most from our mistakes.  

 

What's more, when the outcome is predictable, we learn nothing. Imagine if you played a game of "Memory" with transparent cards or played a trivia game with the answers in front of you or completed a set of math problems in which all of the answers were "50". You wouldn't learn anything except how to go through the motions, never fully understanding the concepts. You'd also lose interest.  

 

Asking a child to learn critical thinking when you only provide accurate information is like asking them to learn to sort socks when all of the socks are the same. How can you tell the good information from the bad if all you’re ever exposed to is accurate?  

 

Children learn to evaluate information by evaluating information of all kinds. They learn the most from evaluating information that turns out not to be true (refer to my recent posts on criticism and critical thinking for an overview). Games and exercises in books help, but they pale in comparison to real-life problems.  

 

Years ago a friend recounted an experience with her sister and an infant niece. She noted that her sister rarely spoke to the baby and that when she (my friend) did, her sister said, "I don't know why you're doing that. She can't understand you, you know." My friend was astonished, as was I. Children learn language by making connections between sounds and objects or actions. They cannot make these connections if they never experience them. The more you talk to a child, the sooner they will understand what you say. The more they need to communicate, the sooner they will learn to talk.  

 

A somewhat lost (in fundamentalism, anyway) Christian ideal that we can learn from is the ideal that testing one's faith should make it stronger. Indeed, if the belief is accurate, proper testing should demonstrate that accuracy. This is the core of scientific thinking; we become more and more confident of the accuracy of a hypothesis when it survives rigorous testing. When hypotheses fail, often the truth becomes obvious.  

 

Santa Claus doesn't make kids gullible. It gives them a long list of critical thinking exercises. Throughout the years they need to make a number of accommodations to maintain their belief (something they desperately want to do for fear that the gifts will stop if they stop believing):    

 

- How does Santa get to every child in the world?  

- Does Santa visit every child? What about children who don't celebrate Christmas?  

- How does Santa fit in the chimney?  

- How do the reindeer fly?  

- If elves make the presents, why are they sold in stores?    

 

And so on. You don't need to lie to accomplish this (although it's arguably lying by omission). Just keep turning the question back on the child. "How do you think he does it?" If the child says, "Magic," then ask why he has to deliver the presents at all. If he has magic, then can't he just make them appear? What are the limits of this magic and why are there any limits?  

 

Now think about when a child goes to Sunday school with a friend. Imagine Suzy comes home and asks, "If God loves everyone, why do bad things happen to kids?" If she says that she was asked to pray for someone with cancer, ask her how that prayer would help. Walk her through the logic and leave her with the problem that amputees don't grow back limbs when people pray. Let her chew on that one for a while.  

 

I do not want to minimize the evil that is done in the name of religion or religious beliefs, nor am I suggesting that anyone allow their child to be browbeaten or "brainwashed". I am not advocating the teaching of religious principles or outright lying to them in the case of Santa and the Tooth Fairy. What I'm saying is that we should not be afraid of information, good or bad, right or wrong. Instead, we should take the opportunity to provide our children with practice in critical thinking, practice evaluating information. Provide kids with real-life problems to solve.  

 

I'll end by telling you my own experiences in parenting. My husband and I have two boys. Ian is 11 and Connor is 14. Like most parents, we were terrified of doing it wrong. We still worry that our children will grow up to be ax murders, homeless beggars, or Republicans (just kidding, Mom & Dad). We can't help but try to mold people just like ourselves, with our beliefs and values. But most of all, we want our kids to be happy, healthy, good people when they grow up.  

 

When Connor was born, there were few day care options in our area that were not attached to churches and the highest quality day care centers were Christian. The religious leanings of a center played very little role in our decision and we told ourselves that it was not a bad thing to learn what the majority of people our kids will meet believe. This may seem like a justification and maybe it was, but I am very glad that we made it because they ended up at a Christian center and it is doubtful that we would have taught our kids the bible stories we learned as children.  

 

When the boys asked questions about what they'd learned, our answers were not angry rants about what is and is not true. Instead we framed our answers as, "Some people believe X and others believe Y" and encouraged them to think about the paradoxes and conflicts inherent in the teachings.  

 

There were limits. We were done with religious care centers when the summer camp they attended began teaching intelligent design. Even though our boys knew enough science by then (at seven and ten years old) to laugh at the idea that there was no big bang, the church had become more conservative and began to treat women as servants.  

 

It was not until Ian was about 7 that they asked us what we believe. It was then that they learned that we were atheists. It was then that they learned why we were atheists, but it was only then that they could understand our reasons.  

 

Over the next year there were many philosophical discussions about religion, but most occurred among our boys and their friends. At the age of 8, Ian first came to the strange conclusion that there was a God, but that he did not create the universe, nor did he act upon it. That lasted a week or two, then he gave up that idea in favor of the no-God conclusion. Connor loved the myth and poetry that religion offered, but once he realized that the myths of different religions conflicted and that the meaning of life could not be found in them, he let go as well. He still loves the stories, but he sees them as legends, myths, and traditions, not truths.  

 

Ian took another year to ask if Santa was real. This progression makes sense when you realize that he had more evidence. His grandfather, for example, saw a flash out the window of our airplane when we were on our way home from a vacation one Christmas Eve and our son was certain that it was Santa. Besides, if Santa wasn't real, where did all of the presents come from? Santa actually provides harder problems to solve.  

 

So both of our kids grew up with stories about Santa and both learned about Christianity. In school and through friends they learned a few things about other religions. Although we have always been concerned with the reasoning behind their beliefs, they were never pressured to adopt ours. We told them why we believed that people should be treated equally, regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation. We described why some people are threatened by scientific ideas and why they might feel obligated to oppose science and equality. We also told them why we disagree with those people.  

 

Today our boys are skeptics, atheists, and socially conscious kids. They are truly confused by their middle school peers – the bullying, the constant derogatory use of the word "gay", and the resistance to science that some of the kids display. Connor ran a popular Skeptics Club at the school last year and Ian is the vice president of the Gay-Straight Alliance started at his school this year. They can't keep their room clean or remember to brush their teeth in the morning, but they are intelligent, scientifically-literate humanists.    
 

 

*I'd like to note here that "teaching the controversy" is not something that I advocate. While I do believe that exposing children to "Intelligent Design" is a great way opportunity to teach critical thinking, doing so in a biology class lends credibility to it and treats the so-called theory as an equal to evolution. Instead, it should be introduced in the context of a lesson in psychology or pseudoscience.
 

 

 

Barbara Drescher teaches research methods, statistics, and cognitive psychology at California State University, Northridge. Her research interests include perception, attention, learning, and reasoning. At ICBSEverywhere.com, Barbara evaluates claims and research, discusses education, and promotes science and skepticism.

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written by beowulff, December 09, 2011
Religion is not a barrier to science literacy. Homeschooling children for the sole purpose of controlling the information to which they are exposed is a barrier to science literacy.

Surely, though, the religion is the motivation for the isolation and control.
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written by beowulff, December 09, 2011
something they desperately want to do for fear that the gifts will stop if they stop believing

Why would you want to purposely instill this fear into your children? And why would you tell them that beliefs matter for getting presents (instead of, say, behavior)? Is that really the lesson you want to teach them? That it's what you believe that's important in our society?

Also, what objection would you have if parents preferred to be honest about Santa and never treat it as anything other than a game of pretend, meant to be enjoyed by all?
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written by Lahurongirl, December 09, 2011
Very very well said. One of my proudest moments as a mother was seeing my son come to the conclusion that Santa could not exist. Was he mad? No. In fact as soon as he found out he said "Well we can't let Annabelle find out!! We still have to make sure she believes!" (His baby sister). I loved all the questions he asked and did use them as a chance to teach him. I also let him go to bible schools with friends and we have long conversations after. My job as a mom is to lead my kids to think critically about the world. I can't do tht without examples.

*I also feel the need to add that it is not my choice if my kids decide to believe in a god. I tell them I don't believe and tell them why. They tend to agree with me, but in the end it is their choice. I have found that having only an atheist view has scared my son about dying (not that I think religion helps this)and I actually wanted to lie to him about heaven. It was a rough patch but we got through it. I think this is a parenting issue that is not easy for anyone*
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written by William, December 09, 2011
It is important that children learn what others believe. How best to counter an argument than to fully understand the other point-of-view going in? Having foreknowledge of the irrationalist argument makes you the better prepared debater, leaving them with nothing but "yabuts".
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Religion is the main barrier to science literacy
written by Skeptico, December 09, 2011
"Religion is not a barrier to science literacy"? What are you smoking? Just from the last week I could cite Islam, Charles Darwin and the denial of science.

Or how about Dr. Coyne gets religious pushback.

How can you argue that religion is not the main (only?) reason these people won't accept science?
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Links - you'll need to copy and paste
written by Skeptico, December 09, 2011
Ugh - hyperlinks aren't accepted?

I'll try again:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/8931518/Islam-Charles-Darwin-and-the-denial-of-science.html

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/dr-coyne-gets-religious-pushback/

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Links won't post
written by Skeptico, December 09, 2011
Apparently links won't post in this blog. smilies/angry.gif Note to moderators - this is absurd.

You'll have to google those headlines to find the articles. Here's a brief piece from Jerry Coyne's article (the second one I tried to link to)

I am dispirited. I’ve just returned from a two-hour lecture and Q&A session at the Woodlawn Charter School, a public school run by the University of Chicago on the South Side of the city. Some of the high-school biology students are reading Why Evolution is True, and I gave a presentation on the evidence for evolution—with a tiny bit about why religion prevents Americans from accepting evolution, for I was asked to mention that topic—followed by an hour of questions.

Some of the questions were good, and some of the students really interested, but there was also a lot of religious pushback. One student, I was told, sat through the entire lecture muttering about how she shouldn’t be forced to listen to this stuff since it went against her faith. Another student’s “question” was to inform me that she was offended that I said that Adam and Eve never existed (I talked about the human bottleneck of 1200 people), and asked me how I knew that.

And the teacher who invited me told me she encountered stiff resistance from many of her kids about evolution—resistance based solely on their religious upbringing.




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Something that bothers me
written by Ryanpg, December 09, 2011
I am a skeptic - and a Christian.

Maybe your immediate reaction is to write a brief response to either claim; "no, you're not." Well, ok. Maybe at some point I will realize that I was wrong. Maybe you will, though admittedly conversion is a much more rare event for the athiest than the faithful. Maybe my seven word proclamation will inspired you to write an epic summary of every Dawkins and Hitchens argument you can recall. I've likely already heard them (I love Hitchens and Dawkins) and although I remain unpersuaded, I am already open to the possibility that I am wrong.

In writing this, I'm not looking for a debate (though I do enjoy a good one). I'm not addressing proselytizers, preachers, or apologists. These people ask for a fight, and should receive a good one. I am writing to appeal to my fellow skeptics. To say to the irreligious "be tolerant," and to the "believing" skeptic "be heartened," and to both; "be open minded." Yes, I call myself open minded and faithful (I can hear the chorus of "no, you're not" even louder now). There is a quiet kind of faith, whether it be from upbringing, psychological deficiency, or (gasp!) a true* religious conviction. I expect many "skeptics" may be hiding this kind of faith from their skeptical peers, while hiding skepticism from their religious peers.

This faith, this belief, this thought, this error, should be examined, considered, judged by the skeptic, and ultimately tolerated in others. Because the principle of tolerance, of "open mindedness," at this point in history where democratic and educated culture has largely overcome the past potential for institutionalized atrocities is the only realistic defense against fascism, fanaticism and fundamentalism. The many cases where abuse is found - the horrors of the Catholic Church, the influence on politics - should never be tolerated. Should be eradicated.

You may know to your bones that every whiff of religion is evil. I understand why (both logically and historically). I agree wholeheartedly that we must never again allow religious conviction to be used as justification for evil action. In the same way nationality, or racial prejudice must never be allowed to justify evil action. We must stand up for freedom from religious indoctrination. We must defend the right to criticize abuse and injustice. We must advocate science and reason as a path to the betterment of our species. We must defend freedom, even freedom to be "wrong." Freedom of belief (I don't just mean religious belief), the freedom to think, is the foundation of freedom to speak. And just as the kind of speech we must protect is often ugly, hateful and wrong, freedom of thought - no matter how misguided - is even more precious and more deserving of protection. When evil thought becomes action, and real injury to the unwilling or powerless is sustained, tolerance must end.

It is regrettable, that full enrollment in the ranks of the skeptics is predicated on being atheist. It is unfortunate that even if in all ways one is scientific, rational, logical, and open-minded, the unforgivable "sin" of faith is sufficient to cast out the believer. Disappointing that a modern belief in a mysterious, monstrous, or loving God is utterly intolerable among skeptics. Intolerable to the point of being suppressed or attacked whenever it's routed out. A witch trial comes to mind, also the lyrics of Jello Biafra in the DK song Chickenshit Conformist "[we] drive the bright people out of our so-called scene 'Til all that's left is just a meaningless fad."

So yes, I appeal to the religious, skeptic, or both; uphold the principle of religious tolerance, no matter how much it grieves us personally, as long as this tolerance does not violate the much greater principles of freedom to conduct ourselves and our households by our convictions without injuring others. On this point I think my "brethren" both Christian and Skeptic, have largely and almost completely failed.

So. Let my trial, conviction, and expulsion commence. At least I'm consoled by the knowledge that your responses will be intelligent, biting and funny - even if I'm the punchline and punching bag. ;-)

*Yes, true as in "from God."
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written by William, December 09, 2011
Thank you, Ryan. Well said.

Tolerance. Believe it or not, that's what Jesus taught.
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written by William, December 09, 2011
(Click my name to see the source article)

Jones quotes Sir Francis Bacon: “If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.”

That argument works on both sides. If you are SURE there is no God, you will end with doubts. Just as those who are SURE there IS a God.

Am I sure? No--I just believe. Choose to believe yourself, or not, but do not judge those who have a different point of view. In other words, be tolerant.
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Great Post
written by eagle0877, December 09, 2011
I came to this same conclusion myself when I explored the topic about teaching Santa Clause with my children. I know it is a lie and I know they will eventually figure it out but this will be their introduction to the world of Skepticism. I once believed in a god and in Santa and came to the conclusion neither existed and I know my kids will as well.

Great article
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I was planning to ignore comments, but I have no self control...
written by badrescher, December 09, 2011
@Skeptico,

How can you argue that religion is not the main (only?) reason these people won't accept science?


1 - I didn't. I argued that religion is not a major reason that people don't understand science.
2 - How can you argue that it is? What about all of the new-agers and other metaphysics believers?

You seemed to have missed the point of my message and focused, ironically, on the fact that I did not bash religion.

@Ryanpg

It is regrettable, that full enrollment in the ranks of the skeptics is predicated on being atheist.


It isn't. Perhaps your sample of skeptics is biased or perhaps mine is, but don't listen to the rabble who promote their conclusions rather than the importance of the process of critical evaluation itself. I loved your comment.

@William

Jones quotes Sir Francis Bacon: “If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.”


Brilliant.
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Thank you.
written by Ryanpg, December 09, 2011
@badrescher

Thank you.
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written by William, December 09, 2011
Barbara-

ryanpg:
It is regrettable, that full enrollment in the ranks of the skeptics is predicated on being atheist.

badrescher:
It isn't.


Unfortunately, I have to agree with Ryan on this. Just read the comments on other postings. It seems that the skeptical Christian is not accepted as being skeptical at all, simply because of our belief in a supernatural existence. There was quite a lively discussion on that very topic. I hope the tone has changed at JREF, and you are not dragged through the mud as the other blogger was.
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Tend to Agree
written by Michael Dawson, December 09, 2011
The other aspect is the question of what makes people attracted to religion? Familial and peer pressure is surely part of it, but so, as somebody once said, is the heartlessness of the world. If the world gets saner and nicer, we will continue to win against ancient dogmas.
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Religious Skeptics
written by badrescher, December 09, 2011
Although I completely agree that there are loud voices claiming that one cannot be a skeptic if one does not embrace atheism, these are only opinions, not definitions. I won't go into what's wrong with that claim here (you can visit my blog if you're interested in my reasoning on the subject), but I will say that being loud doesn't make one correct.

I know that the atmosphere in the community is very mixed and I was nervous about posting this. But I think that the leadership of the JREF has made it clear in recent years that their work is focused on promoting skepticism and scientific thinking through the evaluation of testable claims (which includes specific, testable claims associated with religious beliefs, but not the question of whether or not there is a God) and education about the process of doing that. They welcome believers of all kinds and invite speakers at events like TAM who hold a variety of beliefs, religious or otherwise. If I did not see that in the organization, I would rethink my association with them.

However, the forum and blog are open to public comment. Those with anti-theist views are angrier and louder than the rest of us.
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Thanks for this post
written by Loxton, December 09, 2011
Barbara, thank you for this post. I would only add, not only are the impacts of religion mixed and the benefits of exposure to diverse ideas real, but also: from a parenting perspective, much religious content is actually good. I have no choice but to speak to my kids from an atheistic perspective, because that is who I am; but that does not stop me from appreciating the great stories of the ancient world or the lessons they hold—nor does it stop me from sharing those stories with my family.

As well, I must thank Ryanpg for the insightful, compassionate comment. I'm afraid I have to agree that a sentiment has recently emerged amongst a subset of skeptics that the skeptics movement is (or should be) a clubhouse for atheists. To put this idea in perspective, though, it must be remembered that science-based skeptics was organized in the 1970s for the specific purpose of continuing work pioneered by people of faith (critical, science-based examination of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims); moreover, this new "skeptical" movement was needed because the existing atheist and humanist and freethought movements were not doing that science-based work. Nothing has changed, in that respect: distinct movements do distinct work. The hard work of science-based skeptical investigation remains a unique niche, and people of faith continue to advance that work.

What is to be done about the chilly climate toward pro-science skeptics who incidentally also happen to personally favor a religious tradition? This is an important diversity issue for the skeptical movement going forward. I and others continue to discuss the issue. It was raised on stage by JREF President DJ Grothe at the Amazing Meeting 9 conference, which I found encouraging. I blogged my responses to that discussion at Skepticblog. Although it can be difficult, I must say that skeptics who are also people of faith can help to keep the spotlight on religious diversity in the skeptical movement just by announcing themselves—as you have done here.
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@Skeptico
written by mariamyrback, December 09, 2011
There is a reason that links are firmly regulated. Remember Mabus? Well, that situation was SO ridiculous that I was spending most of my time on the back end of this site deleting his links. It's also easy for some of our other visitors to spam this site with commercial links, so we have a policy in place. Limiting the links keeps the blog from getting bogged down. Imagine if everyone was allowed to post 4-5 links along with their comment. No one would get any reading accomplished because they'd be constantly following links.

You can always reach me by email if you want to post more than one link pertinent to an argument though and I'll take care of it.
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written by MadScientist, December 09, 2011
"Religion is not a barrier to science literacy."

Unfortunately that is not what the evidence suggests. Given the choice between accepting a scientifically established fact and the contradictory religious nonsense, more than half of US citizens polled state that they will adhere to the nonsense. The catholic church also promotes its own unscientific version of evolution in which god controls things (that is not evolution as Darwin explained it nor was that ever the mainstream understanding of evolution). The list of instances where religion acts as a barrier to science literacy goes on and on; you may find trivial examples of religious people being scientists but that does not demonstrate that religion is not a barrier.
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written by Karl_Withakay, December 09, 2011
@Ryanpg

"although I remain unpersuaded, I am already open to the possibility that I am wrong."


How open? What would it take to convince you otherwise or just significantly doubt your position?

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written by mdw, December 09, 2011
"Children learn language by making connections between sounds and objects or actions. They cannot make these connections if they never experience them. The more you talk to a child, the sooner they will understand what you say."

Do you have evidence for this? Here's a story, from memory, and I think originally from "The Language Instinct" by Stephen Pinker.

There is an African tribe where the parents take great care over teaching their babies to walk. Westerners pretty much don't worry about this - the kid will walk when she's ready. And the kids don't seem any the worse off for this neglect - no kid of sound mind and body failed to walk eventually. This African tribe, however, don't bother to speak to their kids until the kid is able to hold up her end of the conversation. The kids still learn to talk just fine, by being around people who are talking to each other.
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written by Karl_Withakay, December 09, 2011
"It seems that the skeptical Christian is not accepted as being skeptical at all, simply because of our belief in a supernatural existence."


I wouldn't say that they aren't being skeptical at all, but I would argue that in my opinion they are likely not applying their skepticism to their theological beliefs.

We all have our skeptical blind spots (and don't fool yourself that you don't, whoever you are), but I don't think anyone should get a pass for belief in a supernatural deity anymore than for beliefs in UFO abductions, psychic powers, Big Foot, Sagan's Dragon, or denial of global warming.

The JREF is and should be no more a clubhouse for atheists than it is a clubhouse for people who do not believe in psychic powers, but I rarely see it argued that belief in Uri Geller's powers should be given the same respect and deference I see being requested of theistic beliefs.

"To say to the irreligious "be tolerant," and to the "believing" skeptic "be heartened," and to both; "be open minded.""


Tolerate people, but not the nonsense. Being open minded does not mean to be accepting of all beliefs and views, it means being willing to hear and consider all views and beliefs objectively without bias. I believe in being tolerant of people who have differing views, and I believe in giving their views objective consideration, but I do not have to respect those views or respect people for having those views If I don't find those views worthy of respect. I believe in being cordial about differences, but I don't believe in pretending those differences don't exist. I believe there is a time and a place for dickery, but in general agree with the sentiment of "don't be a dick."

Of course, dickery is often in the eye of the beholder.
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and...
written by Karl_Withakay, December 09, 2011
People have a right to their beliefs, of course, no matter how much anyone may disagree with them. That's part of what's nice about living in America, it at least it used to be...
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@MadScientist
written by badrescher, December 09, 2011
It is entirely unclear what evidence you meant to reference. A poll is not usually scientific evidence, nor is your opinion of what people will "choose" if polled. If you had cited a source, I might have been able to decode your comment.

Regardless, the scientific evidence does not suggest what you seem to think it does. While there is a negative correlation of religious belief to scientific literacy, the causal arrow (if there is one) is probably one-way and in the other direction (with scientific literacy reducing religious belief). In fact, political affiliation is much more closely related to acceptance and trust in science than religion.

And my argument is not about religious belief. It's about exposing children to claims and arguments of all kinds and providing them with practice evaluating information. It's about avoiding the practice of indoctrinating children and stifling their cognitive development by telling them only what YOU think is true and never providing them with an opportunity to think for themselves. It's about not being a hypocrite.
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written by lytrigian, December 09, 2011
I wouldn't say that they aren't being skeptical at all, but I would argue that in my opinion they are likely not applying their skepticism to their theological beliefs.


It's important to understand something about religious belief. Fairly often -- in the religious tradition to which I used to belong, VERY often -- the believer has some experience of the divine he considers to be convincing. Maybe it's subjective -- he'll acknowledge that. Maybe it's not repeatable -- he'll acknowledge that too. But he feels it happened nonetheless, and he does not feel it can be denied or ignored. Maybe he's extremely skeptical in all other areas of life, but because of these experiences -- in many cases, that would be in the singular -- he cannot do anything other than to believe.

It's entirely possible that most here who reflexively sneer at religion would be religious themselves, were they to have any similar experience. I'm sure most would deny it, but I've seen it happen. A decent humility would acknowledge that one is not necessarily immune, especially if there has been a total lack of such experience.

There may be other reasons for believing a religion that an individual considers sufficient, and perhaps even necessary. I'm just illuminating the one I consider to be the most obvious, having encountered it most often.

Of course toleration of a person who holds a particular belief is not the same as acceptance of that belief -- but it ought to be the same as acceptance of that PERSON. Too often, it is not.
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@Karl_Withakay
written by Ryanpg, December 09, 2011
[@lytrigian excellent comment]

"How open? What would it take to convince you otherwise or just significantly doubt your position?"

I already do doubt my position. Doubt is one of the foundations of my faith. I readily admit to that. Doubt leads me to constantly test my faith. Not against science or the argument of the irreligious, but against my own sense of morality. I try my best to discern my motives, and to measure my outcomes. I look for the psychological as well as spiritual origins of my beliefs and actions. I consider the evidence against my position. I read the opponents of my tradition, I do my best to associate with those who are smarter than me, and those who I respect but disagree with.

It's a challenging question and I'm glad you asked - but I think it's perilous to answer such a broad "what if" questions, so I'll refine it for you if you don't mind. "What would make me abandon my position?" I've come to the conclusion that the origins of my faith are so individualistic that they really can't be generalized to anyone else. My answer to my own question might be as inconclusive or individualistic as an atheist's response to "What would it take to convince you there is a God?" In fact, it may be the same answer. "Nothing, or some unforeseeable thing." The origins of my faith are in my upbringing, a handful of jarring "experiences of the divine," and a conviction that "just is" and also of course I believe "from God." So as an atheist might say (and I believe both Dawkins and Hitchens do), a [big component of my] belief in God is non-rational and therefor there is no convincing argument for it, or in my case, against it.

To be clear, I acknowledge there is a certain level of hypocrisy and conflict in my position (the latter I think a good thing). I have no tolerance for claims of scientific evidence of the "paranormal." I know most atheists will say my belief in God is equivalent to a belief in ghosts or crystals or whatever. It may be. The significant factor for me is in the claims made. When someone makes a scientific claim of miracles, paranormal activity, the historicity of an event, they call upon themselves the test of science and reason. If they fail, they lose credibility to those who understand the scientific process. Still they entitled to believe and express their nonsense. Right up to the point of interference with your right to do the same, or some real injury results. ["Real" in that there is no right to not be offended, for example.]

"Tolerate people, but not the nonsense." Reminds me of "Hate the sin but not the sinner." Neither really works for me. I mean a person is largely defined by their collected beliefs and experiences. I don't expect to be spared hearing the atheist's position, in fact I enjoy it and welcome it. As a skeptic, I love when my preconceptions are challenged. Of course, we all need a break from time to time, a time to gather with like-minded individuals, whether it be in a church or on a skeptic blog. I get that too. So I'm not here to make trouble. I'm working on tolerating the fact that people will disagree, and even believe foolish or harmful things.

"Being open minded does not mean to be accepting of all beliefs and views..."

I agree for the most part. But I think it's important to note the difference between acceptance and adoption. If we're not willing to accept that others are "wrong" and that they have a right to remain so, we're destined to become those "angry and loud" voices that convey much emotion and dilute the force of our reason with. I think the appeal to emotion is the cheapest form of rhetoric - so I personally try very hard - and often fail - to avoid it.

Here's the thing; I'm making no scientific claims, no attempts to convince you, I'm not even proposing a logical argument for the existence of God. I'm simply asking that my religious conviction not be a barrier to my participation in the skeptic tradition.

Note: I don't often identify myself as "Christian" publicly because I don't want to represent that title or for that title with all its connotations to represent me. At risk of exposing myself to further scrutiny - I also don't feel I do a sufficient job of representing the best in that title either. Once, in a discussion with some religious folks, I was asked with some incredulity "What are you?" I started my reply with "Well, I believe..." but was interrupted by the asker, "I said what are you, not what do you believe." Classic.
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@the_whole_wide_world
written by Ryanpg, December 09, 2011
Ugh... sorry for my amateurish overuse of quotation marks. :-)
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written by Skeptico, December 09, 2011
badrescher:


@Skeptico,



How can you argue that religion is not the main (only?) reason these people won't accept science?





1 - I didn't. I argued that religion is not a major reason that people don't understand science.


No you didn’t. You wrote:


Religion is not a barrier to science literacy


“Not a barrier.” Clearly the evidence shows that religion is a barrier, and a major barrier to science literacy. Read the links I provided. And they were just two of several in just the last week.


How can you argue that it is? What about all of the new-agers and other metaphysics believers?


What about them? I didn’t say religion was the only reason people don’t accept science. (Maybe the only reason in the links I provided, but not the only one period.)


You seemed to have missed the point of my message and focused, ironically, on the fact that I did not bash religion.


No, I focused on the false statement you made about religion not being a barrier to science literacy. I do note though that you have not responded to the information in the two links I provided. The ones that show religion being the main (if not only) reason those people won’t accept science.
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written by Skeptico, December 09, 2011
Caller X:

Who was doing science during the Dark Ages? Hint: it's on your list from last week.
Perhaps you've heard of Sir Isaac Newton? Gregor Mendel?
Here's a hyperlink, not related to anything above. Surprised you couldn't figure it out. Any Catholic priest could do it.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julia_Stiles


I haven’t the slightest idea what point you are trying to make, or what it has to do with anything I wrote.
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One more attempt
written by Skeptico, December 09, 2011
Even blockquotes won't work on this site. I'm going to post my comment one more time and then I'm done fighting the formatting / posting rules on this site. Here goes:

badrescher:

@Skeptico,

How can you argue that religion is not the main (only?) reason these people won't accept science?


1 - I didn't. I argued that religion is not a major reason that people don't understand science.

No you didn’t. You wrote:

Religion is not a barrier to science literacy


“Not a barrier.” Clearly the evidence shows that religion is a barrier, and a major barrier to science literacy. Read the links I provided. And they were just two of several in just the last week.

How can you argue that it is? What about all of the new-agers and other metaphysics believers?


What about them? I didn’t say religion was the only reason people don’t accept science. (Maybe the only reason in the links I provided, but not the only one period.)

You seemed to have missed the point of my message and focused, ironically, on the fact that I did not bash religion.


No, I focused on the false statement you made about religion not being a barrier to science literacy. I do note though that you have not responded to the information in the two links I provided. The ones that show religion being the main (if not only) reason those people won’t accept science.
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@Skeptico
written by Ryanpg, December 09, 2011
badrescher said:
"Religion is not a barrier to science literacy."


Skeptico said:
"No, I focused on the false statement you made about religion not being a barrier to science literacy. I do note though that you have not responded to the information in the two links I provided. The ones that show religion being the main (if not only) reason those people won’t accept science."


Perhaps we're splitting hairs. Would it be fair to suggest you might both agree that "Religion is not always or necessarily a barrier to science literacy?"
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@Skeptico
written by badrescher, December 09, 2011
My first comment obviously wasn't clear, so here's my reply: your argument is irrelevant because you have misunderstood the discussion. Attitudes toward science are not the issue. You are talking about politics and persuasion. I am talking about cognitive development. Furthermore, blog posts are not evidence even if your links were relevant (they aren't).
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Great post
written by vanadamme, December 09, 2011
I love this article, it's actually cleared up a few concerns I've had. Thank you.
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written by Able, December 09, 2011
popsaw said "Skeptics and atheists of true integrity would have nothing to do with pagan customs but still they continue year ofter year"
On this one I cant agree with you. I have a pretty good Halloween party every year yet I don't believe any of the participants believe in witches, goblins or ghosts. Same with holiday parties esp around Xmass. We dont sit around praying but heck, Its cold, dark and gives us a good reason to gather together for some grog.
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..., Lowly rated comment [Show]
..., Lowly rated comment [Show]
@Able
written by popsaw, December 10, 2011
written by Able, December 09, 2011
"popsaw said "Skeptics and atheists of true integrity would have nothing to do with pagan customs but still they continue year ofter year"
On this one I cant agree with you. I have a pretty good Halloween party every year yet I don't believe any of the participants believe in witches, goblins or ghosts. Same with holiday parties esp around Xmass. We dont sit around praying but heck, Its cold, dark and gives us a good reason to gather together for some grog."

My reply.
Do you not think it undermines ones position to soil thneir hands with the association of such woo?
Given your position, would you attend a psychics or homeopaths convention on the basis that they had free drinks afterwards and a nice party? I doubt Randi would as he is a man of integrity.
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@Barbara, an appology
written by Ryanpg, December 10, 2011
A day later I realize this was probably not the appropriate time to raise my concern. I'm sorry for steering the discussion away from your article and its excellent points. Particularly, that unexamined and unchallenged beliefs weaken critical thinking.

I'll make one more comment (below) and then stop. I think I've already overstated my point. Interested people can sift through my logorrhea.
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@Ryanpg
written by badrescher, December 10, 2011
No apology is necessary. Although you may have "overstated" a bit, your comment was relevant to my post and appreciated. Some of the discussion that followed is unfortunate, but expected in a diverse community.
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written by Able, December 10, 2011
Given your position, would you attend a psychics or homeopaths convention on the basis that they had free drinks afterwards and a nice party? I doubt Randi would as he is a man of integrity.

LoL! I get where you are coming from but I have been known to go to Time Share seminars just for the free food and gifts and to try and figure out the scam. So yeah, I would go to a psychics convention if the food was good and I could get some insight into their thinking.
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written by MadScientist, December 10, 2011
@badrescher:

1. We are not talking about scientific evidence for your position, we are simply talking about facts and evidence contrary to your claim that religion is not a barrier to the acceptance of science. You say a poll is not scientific, but that is simply not true and bureaus of census and statistics all over the globe would find your claim against polls rather bizarre. Even advertising firms would find your claim against polls bizarre.

2. Stating that there is a correlation between increased understanding of science and decrease in religiosity in no way supports your assertion of the "arrow of causation" and is entirely in accord with the proposition that religion is a barrier to science.

3. New-agers etc have little if anything to do with the argument; there is no one single source of resistance to science. Contrary to your belief though, religions do in fact remain a barrier to science.

4. If you want to see the polls, Google is your friend. Look up the Pew polls on Religious Beliefs and Public Attitudes. I think it's one of the later polls which asked if people would change their view of evolution and why.

5. How do you substantiate your claim that political affiliation is more closely related to acceptance of science? This sounds suspiciously like conflating correlation and causation.

6. Teaching children science is *not* indoctrination. Teaching them that religion is nonsense is not indoctrination (oh the poor persecuted religious majority!) Personally I see no reason to waste vast amounts of time teaching children about the gory details of religion simply to tell them it's all nonsense anyway. 2 hours should suffice to go through a litany of religious beliefs and show they are silly. If people don't care to expose their children to religion it's because religion is silly, not because they want to censor the children. You seem to be making arguments based on false premises (atheists are rabidly anti-religion and want to destroy religion and censor anything resembling religion - the truth is many atheists simply don't care about religion just as they don't care about whether or not their children are exposed to ancient Babylonian myths).
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written by Caller X, December 10, 2011
written by nash984954, December 09, 2011
The Four Basic Tenets of Science.
1)All things are knowable;


Right there you're just making stuff. Do you stand while you type? Because otherwise I can't figure out how you pull that stuff out of your ass.

You might also want to look into paragraphs. They're going to be a Thing. You can use them to make whatever it is you do actually readable.

written by Skeptico, December 09, 2011
Caller X:

Who was doing science during the Dark Ages? Hint: it's on your list from last week.
Perhaps you've heard of Sir Isaac Newton? Gregor Mendel?
Here's a hyperlink, not related to anything above. Surprised you couldn't figure it out. Any Catholic priest could do it.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julia_Stiles

I haven’t the slightest idea what point you are trying to make, or what it has to do with anything I wrote.


Were I you, I should keep that to myself, as it makes you look abysmally stupid.

written by nash984954, December 09, 2011
This is insane. No one is entitled to their opinion. People do say nonsense all the time, whether lies, true or fantasy, as in religious ideas, useless thinking is also done by people, by thinking itself, though useful as in daydreaming, but thinking things that just keeps a person ignorant and stupid is useless. People who have not read a book for 30 years, the last one being in high school, have no entitlement to speak, but unfortunaetly the bar is so low, that everyone accepts that the useless prattle that goes on and is accepted as discourse has people saying, I'm entitled to my opinion however illegitimate and illinformed is okay. And opinions without people even trying to get it right is being allowed and truth be damned is not reason for entitlement. People are justified in their entitlement to their "informed" opinion, that should be the standard, not that I can say whatever pops into my head and I'm entitled. Discourse has been destroyed by saying anyone can say anything they want to say howeever illinformed or stupid or distorted or whatever, as a right is insane.


Quite right. Let's load them onto trains and take them to the camps. Yes, I just compared you to Hitler (ooh, I lose the internet argument!). Deal with it. I could have made it a Soylent Green reference, but sometimes you just have to go old-school.

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Can I please correct something?
written by kdv, December 11, 2011
Dawkins did not speculate that "exposure to fiction is harmful to
children". In an interview about children's books in 2008 when
specifically referring to magic and fairy tales, he said those
were anti-scientific beliefs, and "whether that has a pernicious effect,
I don't know. ... whether that has a sort of insidious affect on
rationality, I'm not sure. Perhaps it's something for research."

"I don't know"..."I'm not sure" Open-minded/good, right? No, apparently
not, you cast his views into the "dogma" category.

Actually, he was contrasting books such as Harry Potter with the works of
Philip Pullman, for whom he had great praise. Pullman writes... guess
what? Children's fiction!

Sorry if putting in a bit of correct information stopped anybody from
learning to think logically :-)

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@kdv
written by badrescher, December 11, 2011
I think there's a misunderstanding about my use of the word "speculate". In this case, I mean nothing stronger than "hypothesized". I have heard/seen Dawkins discuss this on several occasions, sometimes with slightly stronger language than in the interview you quoted. Although he has always acknowledged that he does not have evidence and does not know, he has indeed speculated, which is why people keep asking him about it.

My mentioning it here is not a criticism of Dawkins, or at least not a strong one. He's not a psychologist and, although I feel that someone with his visibility should be extremely careful about what they suggest in these matters, I think that he has been careful. I do wish that he would actually do some research or consult psychologists, given that he has been asked about it many times over the years.
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written by Wolfman, December 11, 2011
Barbara,

I loved the article, and would like to communicate more with you on similar issues; I sent a PM to your forum account with my contact info (I didn't want to put it publicly here), and would appreciate if you could take a quick look :-)
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written by Marcus, December 12, 2011
My wife and I were thinking about this the other day. Our first child will be arriving any day now, and we were considering whether to go along wiht the whole Santa thing. We have yet to come to a conclusion (it's hardly the most pressing matter on our minds right now), but reading the article started me thinking. Part of the skill set of any good critical thinker is considering the source of a claim - if Randi said something was a scam, I'd likely believe him unless evidence to the contrary came up; if Ken Ham said the sun was going to rise tomorrow I'd adopt a wait and see attitude. The natural (and evolved) tendency of our communicative social species is for the very young to believe unconditionally what they are told by their elders, especially their parents. This tendency is one of the main reasons behind the highly inherited nature of religious belief - kids are told what is true by their parents at the age when parents are the source of The Truth, and rationalising that away later is hard.

This is where Santa begins to give me pause. I want my child to be a critical thinker, and I want him or her to have an ability to consider the source of information. I don't want the natural instinct of "Dad wouldn't lie to me" to be dissonant with my actual reliability as a source. If I wholeheartedly endorse the Santa hypothesis, regardless of the reason, then my child will have reason (assuming those critical thinking skills kick in properly) to believe I might be lying about something else, even if it's for good reasons.
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@Marcus
written by badrescher, December 12, 2011
We have to be careful to distinguish the developing brain from the developed brain. When we talk about cognitive development, we have a tendency to think in terms of outcomes (decisions and beliefs) rather than processes. What a child (or an adult for that matter) believes is not relevant. Why they believe it is. "Consider the source" is a task, not an epistemology, and when we list it as part of a process to evaluating claims, it's surface feature. We consider the source because we can't always see the evidence first-hand, but quality sources do not guarantee accurate information. Kids may believe parents unconditionally, but this is fallacious thinking since they are relying on authority. If parents wholeheartedly endorse a myth (which is not what I'm suggesting), kids will eventually learn that their parents can be wrong - a much more important lesson than memorizing a list of tasks.

What I am trying to say is that exposing children to Santa, etc. does not require wholeheartedly endorsing anything. I am not even advocating lying to your children. We didn't lie to ours (although we certainly omitted a lot). "Some people believe..." can be followed by a traditional explanation for something that perhaps we know is not true and we can include counter-evidence (or questions about problems in the logic) to provide them with even more to think about.

This is how we should approach everything, btw. For example, instead of saying, "Intelligent Design is a lie. The theory of evolution is the truth," we should provide kids with evidence for evolution and counterarguments against ID. This teaches them how we know what is true. If they can learn that, they can evaluate new information for themselves. Furthermore, where does insisting that we know the truth end? At what point do we admit that what we believe may not be true? Teaching kids how to think is mostly a matter of allowing them to solve epistemological problems for themselves.

It also allows them to develop humility, open-mindedness, and respect for others.
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written by William, December 12, 2011
One can still present the idea of Santa to children without lying about it. Keep in mind there really WAS a St. Nicholas. We put presents under the tree "From: Santa". Whenever the question of "who is Santa" came up, we told of the real life patron saint of children, as a past tense person. When they got older, and started to think of others (age appropriate, depending on the maturity), we told them who really provided those gifts. We NEVER told them anything magical about him--they picked that up from TV shows and peers.
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@Caller X
written by mariamyrback, December 12, 2011
I will ask you once to be civil in your arguments. Between this and your previous use of spam (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julia_Stiles ) This is your one warning. If you violate the rules again, your account will be banned.
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written by I-Wonder, December 12, 2011
An argument for... Jesus? Really? A rather shallow and opportunistic thesis. Right from your subject line you present a series of unsupportable, but titillating and attractive tautologies and build your case from there.
The cornerstone of your thesis, that religion is not a barrier to science, simply cannot stand, and yet it is nearly everything your piece rests upon. The second, remaining abutment is the astonishing assertion that exposing young children to con-men (even that it might be helpful if they were to become convinced by those con-men) outside of the supervision of their parents - while away all day at school, or while they’re off at Jesus camp for many days –is good. You assert that presenting children to these religious brainwashing experts is constructive; experts in brainwashing techniques that have been carefully honed, for thousands of years, to capitalize on innate human vulnerabilities. Are your children immune - yet – to the power of a highly convincing “experiential” delusion; delusions that master craftsmen in the art can elicit, within an “open-minded” child?……Really? The novel part of your thesis is analogous to the anti-vaxer’s pox party, whereby the deluded intentionally seek the needless infection of their children by a dangerous pathogen with the tragically naive conviction that this is the best way for them to develop resistance to that pathogen in the future; a pathogen which modern society has already developed a practical and effective preventative.
Yes, I think it would be wrong and counterproductive to shape my child to head directly to the conclusion that there is no God, or that all believer’s other conclusions were wrong, but that’s not what skepticism is about. Skeptical “doctrines” are about methods of reasoning, not the outcomes of reason. Skeptical methods, purposefully taught, are the vaccine. At our house, we were never afraid to expose our (now grown) child to believers, or their stories, but we did so on our terms, striving to provide him with a degree of vaccination, in advance, to match the age and the circumstance.
Finally, if you’re not able to present your young children with enough opportunities to try and to fail, when it comes to exercises in reasoning, without letting the adult, neighborhood, child-propagandist have a go at him, you have a serious creativity problem. We needn’t provide cover (or fodder) for the religious, in order to foster effective reasoning skills in our kids.
Now, if you want work with what’s left - to dismantle your grand theory and simply debate about parenting, visa vi celebrating Christmas and Santa Claus, well, that’s been done; and it is interesting. Your more expansive theory is not.
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Thank you, Barbara
written by Wolfman, December 12, 2011
For those disagreeing with Barbara, allow me to offer the following arguments to reinforce her thesis. As critical thinkers, one of the key criterion for evaluating a particular belief/ethic/practice is whether it can be consistently applied to all groups. For example, the Christian who criticizes people of other religions for preventing their children from learning about Christianity...but who then refuses to let their own children learn about other beliefs, also. It is hypocrisy, plain and simple.

Among atheists, it is generally easy to spot hypocrisy in others; but much more difficult to spot it when it arises in our own midst. We criticize Christians who seek to determine 'truth' for themselves, and only let their children learn what the parents think is 'right', excluding them from learning about anything else (evolution, atheism, other religions, etc.). And rightly so.

But these same atheists then turn around and, without batting an eyelid, argue that atheists should do exactly the same damn thing. "I know what is right, so I'm only going to teach that to my children, and exclude anything else."

Some may take it a small step further, and agree to teach them about other beliefs/ideas...but only from the atheist's (inevitably biased) perspective. If a Christian parent said that they'd teach their children about atheism or evolution, the atheist crowd would be all over them because obviously the Christian parents aren't going to present the information in a fair, unbiased manner; but somehow it's okay if we do the same thing.

It isn't a critical thinking parent's job to teach children what to think; it is the responsibility of the critical thinker to train their own children to likewise be critical thinkers. Being a critical thinker means developing the ability to evaluate different or conflicting claims, examine and evaluate the evidence for those various claims, and then reach their own rational decision as to what makes the most sense. If you raise your children in an environment where they're largely exposed only to one world view (or strongly biased views of anything that contradicts your own views), you aren't teaching them to be critical thinkers, you are teaching them to be mindless automatons who believe the same thing you do because they've never really had any other choice. If it was Christians doing this, we'd condemn them soundly...but of course, since it's atheists, and "we know we are right", it's okay.

Raising a child as an atheist, or 'protecting' them from beliefs/ideas that you think are wrong, doesn't create a critical thinker. And this isn't just a vague claim...I have quite convincing proof. Check out China (a country I've lived in now for 19 years). In China, children are pretty much born and raised as atheists. For most Chinese children, not only is there no religious indoctrination, but they are actively taught that all religion is false. China has the largest population of atheists of any nation in the world. (continued in next post)
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Thank you, Barbara (pt. 2)
written by Wolfman, December 12, 2011
(continued from previous post) And the vast majority of those atheists are just about as far away from being critical thinkers as you could imagine. The entire education system here is based on the principle of unquestioning acceptance of whatever your teachers/leaders tell you. You don't question, you don't disagree.

Furthermore, the idea that raising children without religious influence will result in them being atheists is just as demonstrably false; despite being raised in just about the purest atheist educational environment possible, Chinese adults are converting to religion in mass numbers (in fact, while religious belief in countries like Canada and the U.S. is shrinking, in China it is growing). Why? Its not because of religious indoctrination. It's because they were never taught how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence and come to a rational decision. They were taught to believe something simply because an authority figure (parent, teacher, etc.) told them it was true.

So, when they become adults and get out of that atheist educational environment, they're suddenly presented with religious figures presenting them with all sorts of claims...and lacking any critical thinking skills, lacking the ability to rationally evaluate the claims of those religious figures, they end up believing it.

I'm not saying send your kids to Jesus Camp and let them be brainwashed (nor, I believe, is Barbara). The parents should be involved in every step, and always be discussing everything with their kids. If the kids are interested to go and check out a particular church, not only should you let them go, but you should go with them. When you return home, talk with your kids about it. Ask them what parts they agreed with ("Love each other" seems like a good principle)...then ask them if one needs to be religious to act that way. Ask them what parts seemed puzzling, then explore it more together. Ask them what parts seemed wrong, and get them to explain why.

But in my opinion, any parent who claims to be a critical thinker, or who wants to promote critical thinking in their children, has a fundamental responsibility to let those children be exposed to different claims and belief, and then work together with their children on evaluating those claims. Let the children learn how to reach their own conclusions...not just believe things because that's what you've always told them is right, and they've never had the chance to learn anything else.
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written by Caller X, December 12, 2011
@Caller X
written by mariamyrback, December 12, 2011
I will ask you once to be civil in your arguments. Between this and your previous use of spam (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julia_Stiles ) This is your one warning. If you violate the rules again, your account will be banned.


Please to be defining civility. I haven't called anyone a name. More importantly, I'd be interested in hearing about the previous time I used spam. When have I EVER used spam? I'd really like to hear about that. Because that would be worth a million dollars. That, Mariam, is an "extraordinary claim". It's a claim that you CANNOT back up. Great power, great responsibility, all of that.

Additionally, how is A link, ONE link, posted ONCE, to a wikipedia article on Julia Stiles spam? It was open in my browser because I find her hot, so I copied and pasted the link, to show that it was possible so to do when a previous poster said your site would not accept links. Would a link to Randi or Penn&Teller be spam? I find Penn hot.

Your site provides, via an icon, a facility for posting links.

I think you have some 'splainin' to do. WHEN have I EVER used spam?

Awaiting your response.
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The oft-misquoted Dawkins
written by kdv, December 13, 2011
@badrescher

I think there's a misunderstanding about my use of the word "speculate". In this case, I mean nothing stronger than "hypothesized". I have heard/seen Dawkins discuss this on several occasions, sometimes with slightly stronger language than in the interview you quoted.


I've searched, and can't find any other direct quotes from Dawkins about this, everything I can find seems to be secondary (mis)quotes from the discussion I quoted. Based on that, even "hypothesized" seems a little too strong to me ... I would characterise his words as no more than raising a vague question, immediately followed by a disclaimer that he did not know, was not sure, and "perhaps" it might warrant investigation.

Now, if you have heard him express stronger views on this, that might well change my perspective, but since you haven't given, or referenced, any direct quotes, it's very hard to comment. However:

My mentioning it here is not a criticism of Dawkins, or at least not a strong one.


You did, I think, cast his comments as [well-intentioned] dogma, which I feel is somewhat unfair, given their very unassertive nature. [ And around a number of blogs, he was roundly abused for those comments ... imagine if he had actually ventured a hypothesis! ]

However what did make your comment give a really bad impression of Dawkins, whether intended or not, and which made me go investigating, then submit my initial reply, was your recasting his comments from their actual reference to "believing in magic and fairy tales" to "exposure to fiction". My initial reaction was : what a ridiculous thing to suggest! If I'd taken no further action at that point, my respect for Dawkins would have been considerably diminished, with or without comment from you. Then I decided that he'd never really seemed that stupid, so I decided to investigate, and ... well, you know the rest.

And I'd be very surprised indeed if you've seen or heard him speculating elsewhere that fiction may be harmful to children ... I came across to several quotes during my searches of him praising both children's fiction he read and enjoyed as a child, and that he's seen available today ( e.g. Pullman ).
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@Caller X
written by philosaur, December 13, 2011
Please to be defining civility. I haven't called anyone a name.


Allow me to be defining it for you:

ci·vil·i·ty   [si-vil-i-tee] Show IPA
noun, plural -ties.
1. courtesy; politeness.
2. a polite action or expression: an exchange of civilities.
3. Archaic . civilization; culture; good breeding.

Name-calling is but one of a myriad ways to be uncivil. Other ways might be:

...intimating that someone pulls his thoughts from his rectum,
Right there you're just making stuff. Do you stand while you type? Because otherwise I can't figure out how you pull that stuff out of your ass.

...telling someone that he looks abysmally stupid (subjunctive mood notwithstanding), or
Were I you, I should keep that to myself, as it makes you look abysmally stupid.

comparing someone to Hitler.
Quite right. Let's load them onto trains and take them to the camps. Yes, I just compared you to Hitler (ooh, I lose the internet argument!). Deal with it.


But it's that very incivility that makes the following so poignant and reveals the shmoopy sentimental heart beneath the gruff facade:

More importantly, I'd be interested in hearing about the previous time I used spam. When have I EVER used spam? I'd really like to hear about that. Because that would be worth a million dollars. That, Mariam, is an "extraordinary claim". It's a claim that you CANNOT back up. Great power, great responsibility, all of that.

Additionally, how is A link, ONE link, posted ONCE, to a wikipedia article on Julia Stiles spam? It was open in my browser because I find her hot, so I copied and pasted the link, to show that it was possible so to do when a previous poster said your site would not accept links. Would a link to Randi or Penn&Teller be spam? I find Penn hot.

Your site provides, via an icon, a facility for posting links.

I think you have some 'splainin' to do. WHEN have I EVER used spam?


Your obvious affinity for this blog is heart-warming. It's rare (and touching) to see a connection between a person and a website so passionate, and so...umbilical.

Just remember, in the event you *do* get banned, there are lots of other blogs you can tr-- post your lively responses to.
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written by Caller X, December 13, 2011
Did I miss that part where you admitted your accusation of spamming was wrong? Because I didn't see that part.


The JREF wishes the Forum to be a friendly and lively (if challenging) Forum for a mature audience and therefore will endeavor to ensure that civility will be the norm, however this does not mean that Members will be insulated from all insults and certainly not from challenges; the nature of the forum inevitably involves strong emotions and opinions which can result in heated exchanges. Having your views challenged is not considered unfriendly nor uncivil.
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@philosaur
written by Caller X, December 13, 2011
Ooops. Just noticed that you're not Maria(m). My bad. You used the sort of letters that Hitler would have used. What's up with that?
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@Caller X
written by mariamyrback, December 14, 2011
I didn't say you spammed more than once. That link which, by your own admission, had nothing to do with the subject at hand, was spam since it was irrelevant to the discussion at hand. As for a definition of civility, I think Philosaur did an excellent job of listing what qualifies as civility.

You have been around this blog long enough to know the rules. And in case you've forgotten, here they are again:

1) No Spam. It will be deleted from the blog and the account will be banned.

2) Please maintain civility. No direct profane name-calling. I understand that arguments get heated and I’ll allow occasional leeway if an apology follows but please don’t make a habit of it. If I have to warn you more than a couple times, I will be forced to ban the account.

3) Any threats of physical violence will lead to immediate, permanent banning, no exceptions.

As for what you quoted above, I have NO idea where that came from. I didn't write it.

Just keep it civil and don't post any other irrelevant links and we won't have any more problems.



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written by I-Wonder, December 14, 2011
Dogmatic habits of teaching and thought are to be avoided, and - especially in childrearing - it matters not in whose service, the naturalist or the religious. That proposition is not new.

Whether or not to engage one’s child in traditional cultural fantasies, like Santa Claus? Again, not new.

What is new is implied in the cheaply provocative title “The argument for…..Jesus” and spelled out in the first paragraph of the OP; that Ms Drescher does not think that religion clouds the mind, or keep people from understanding science; that those who disagree with her hold a view that is a bit dangerous. (Curiously, antithetically, Ms Drescher footnotes that she has no trouble drawing a defensive line somewhere-she is aware of the danger of teaching intelligent design in science classes, and the corrosive result of some religionist’s misogynistic leanings.) As to just when a parent should convey, to their child, something like certitude about their philosophy, a skeptic will draw that line, as we did, at the methods used by the religious to reach their unsupportable claims. I had no reservation whatsoever about making, in my role as a skeptic parent, positive assertions to my child about the values of free inquiry, reason, criticism and doubt. Unlike Ms Dresher, we proactively undertook to instill a skeptical life stance, especially in the face of supernatural claims, at the earliest possible age. I was not content to send them off with an “open mind” about whether enlightenment values are good or not, wait and see what wacky beliefs he came home with, then hope to use that as a learning moment for him as I helped him recover. That’s just lazy.

Dogmatism about conclusions should be suspect – mature skeptics would agree. However we can confidently provide qualitative messages about different reasoning methods. We must resist (and teach our kids to resist) the trendy, caustic notion that there are “different ways of knowing”, and that it’s wrong to judge those ways, qualitatively. We handicap our kids if we start them off otherwise.
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written by William, December 14, 2011
It is interesting seeing the conversation tone switch. Just look at the "vote" tally. +11 and -3 on the same idea. We should reconsider Ryan's proposal that the argument be "Religion is not always or necessarily a barrier to science literacy".

I think we need to understand, as previously stated, that learning a religion is not the same as being "indoctrinated". I learn about other religions because I want to better understand my own faith. As is with any skeptic, when presented with evidence that contradicts a tenet of my faith, I make a change. Despite the Catholic (capital C) church's best efforts, I do not believe in that Jesus is consubstantial with the Father in the sense they want me to.

I consider myself to be very literate in science. I accept the big bang as fact, and am very eager to learn if there are FTL neutrinos. The evidence is there that the universe as we see it is 14 billion years old--give or take a billion--and that life exists on planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. Any scientific discussion can be done to the exclusion of a belief in the supernatural.

So there you have it, evidence that religion is not a barrier to science. But I will admit there are people who let their faith get in the way of science. Those are the ones we need to reach out to.

I am a skeptic, and a Christian. Deal with it.
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Ignorance is a barrier to science
written by Wolfman, December 14, 2011
That's it, plain and simple. Yes, religion can be a barrier to science, if it encourages or leads to ignorance; but that's true of pretty much anything else. Plain fact is, there are leading scientists, including Nobel Prize winners, who believe in religion; and there are complete idiots and woos who believe in no religion at all.

If religion is a "cause" of scientific ignorance, then one would expect that in the absence of religion, scientific thinking would be more common. So, let's put it to the test...again, looking at China. China has the largest atheist population in the world, and the majority of Chinese children are raised with no religious beliefs whatsoever. So, if religion is a 'cause' of irrational thinking, or of rejecting science, we'd expect to see Chinese being more rational, scientific, and rejecting supernatural or non-scientific claims.

However, the opposite is actually true. In Canada and the U.S., where the majority of children receive at least some kind of religious indoctrination, religious belief is decreasing; in China, where the majority of children receive no religious indoctrination at all, the rate of religious belief is increasing. Furthermore, woo beliefs are rife. Even mainstream Chinese scientists and doctors promote and defend Traditional Chinese Medicine, with little or no scientific proof to support it; and a great many Chinese buy into TCM as a valid alternative to scientific medical treatment.

IGNORANCE, in any form, is a barrier to science. Religion doesn't hold any special status in this regard; certainly SOME religious beliefs could do so...but then, so could some non-religious beliefs.
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Ignorance is a barrier to understanding
written by I-Wonder, December 14, 2011
Of course the study of religion is not a barrier to understanding science. Please.

I, too, know a smart guy who is a Christian (I number among my heroes a couple of people who believe in some kind of God.) I, too, heard about a (totalitarian, political-theory-as-ideology) country with a lot of atheists. What do those anecdotes prove about cause and effect in social structures?

Religion can be a barrier to science? It's not religion's fault, it's how it's applied? For god sakes, must we really have this much trouble with semantics in order to agree that, in societies, scientific understanding retreats where religion advances? Or to agree that we should tell the truth about values of reason vs superstition to our kids?
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written by Wolfman, December 14, 2011
"For god sakes, must we really have this much trouble with semantics in order to agree that, in societies, scientific understanding retreats where religion advances?"

If you can present actual evidence for this claim, certainly. However, I'd point out by contrast that during the 19502-1970s, scientific understanding ADVANCED in Christian-dominated nations like Canada and the U.S. while it RETREATED in Communist nations such as the USSR and China. There is no demonstrable cause-and-effect to validate the conclusion that you have reached above.

It's not just an issue of semantics. You are reaching a definitive conclusion ("scientific understanding retreats where religion advances") without presenting evidence to support that assertion, and in denial of any evidence that contradicts that claim. If we were to get rid of all religion in the world tomorrow, I don't believe that the level of ignorance would even be mildly reduced...people would just find other nonsensical things to believe in.

Religion is a symptom of an underlying problem; not a cause.
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written by I-Wonder, December 14, 2011
Miss the dark ages much?

I should have not used the term cause and effect. That was careless, and it seems to have distracted you. I take it back. I was trying to say that those simple minded anecdotal analysis of complex social structures and transformations are not useful in understanding, in any way, whether religion is a barrier to understanding science. (Side note: In the US, between the 50s and the 70s, do you think comparing the arc of scientific understanding to the arc of religious cultural influence favors your position? Same for those graphs spread over the period from ’80 to today?)


Merely a symptom? That's hair splitting I'll regret getting into, but if you have to hold that view, plenty of "symptoms" are barriers to getting better. This is one of them.

If you will not stipulate that organizing principles of religion are concerned with the stifling of independent reasoning then I’m happy to concede defeat, by default, because I’m out of words.

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written by Wolfman, December 15, 2011
@ I-Wonder,

I was born and raised in Canada (and in a fundamentalist Christian family, to boot), a country where the vast majority of children receive at least some level of religious indoctrination. And I've spent the last 19 years living in China, a country where the majority of children are raised with little or no religious indoctrination.

What I've observed -- and is confirmed by numerous statistics on Chinese demographics -- is that there isn't even the slightest significant difference in the levels of gullibility, woo, and non-scientific thinking between China and Canada (in fact, if anything, China may come out on the poorer side of the comparison). To me, this makes it rather fundamentally obvious that there is no direct correlation between levels of religious indoctrination/belief, and openness to or understanding of science.

If there were such a correlation, I'd expect to find that countries that have lower levels of religious indoctrination would have higher levels of scientific intelligence; yet again, we have the contradiction that today in China, science is increasing and improving at the same time that religious beliefs are growing and spreading.

"If you will not stipulate that organizing principles of religion are concerned with the stifling of independent reasoning then I’m happy to concede defeat, by default, because I’m out of words."

Why would I stipulate to something that is blatantly untrue? Yes, it is true that the organizing principles of some religions are concerned with the stifling of independent reasoning -- just as, for that matter, the organizing principles of some atheist philosophies are likewise concerned with the stifling of independent reasoning. It would be ludicrous to argue that because some atheist philosophies stifle independent reasoning, that therefore "atheism stifles independent reasoning". It is likewise ludicrous to argue that because some religious beliefs stifle independent reasoning, that therefore "religion stifles independent reasoning".

There are, for example, Christians (and indeed religious leaders and entire churches) who believe entirely in evolution, who reject the Creation story, and in fact are more scientifically literate and knowledgeable than either you or I; yes, they believe in God, but they believe that God gave them reasoning ability because he intended them to use it. Is it accurate or logical to argue that religion "stifles their independent reasoning"?

If you simply want to argue that some forms of religious beliefs can stifle independent reasoning, or that "In some instances, religion can stifle independent reasoning", I'd agree. But that's not the claim you made. And I'd add that there are plenty of non-religious beliefs/philosophies that have exactly the same effect. China itself is more than adequate to demonstrate that simply removing religious indoctrination or belief doesn't even slightly impact a population's overall openness to science, or to critical thinking.
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written by I-Wonder, December 15, 2011
@Wolfman.
We’ll disagree, then. I think the curve of religiosity in China is a complex field of study, you think it is simple. (Hmmm, I have noticed that the burning of coal in China is increasing while religiosity is increasing…a coincidence??)

Maybe you’re mistakenly hearing something I’m not saying: that I think skeptics should primarily target the elimination of religion. I don’t. I want to start with proper habits of thought, which will eventually put adverse pressure on superstition– but that’s off-topic. Further, this isn’t a philosophy 101 course, so I think we can skip the pedantry and linguistic masturbation that makes these forums so awesome. When Ms Drescher proposed an argument for Jesus, and that religion is not a barrier to understanding science, etc. she did not use a paragraph of qualifiers when she used the word religion, nor do I, because it’s clear what we mean. I have no doubt that you can posit religions, or imagine possible religions that worship puppies, apple pie, or independent reasoning, but that’s obfuscation. Two novel questions are clearly on the table, is whether it’s a helpful proposition, in the service of personal growth, that kids should come home from school or Jesus camp believing in Jesus, so they can learn what it’s like to be wrong, now and then. I think that’s careless, lazy and unnecessary. Another; whether it’s easier to teach a room full of kids who are not religious, or a room full of kids who are religious, to explore and understand the natural universe, enlightenment-influenced habits of thought, like doubt, criticism and free inquiry. I vote for the former.
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written by I-Wonder, December 15, 2011
...Thats/that's...etc, oops
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written by I-Wonder, December 15, 2011
William, in referring to your modified faith you say: "So there you have it, evidence that religion is not a barrier to science. But I will admit there are people who let their faith get in the way of science. Those are the ones we need to reach out to."
Who claimed that the religious barrier was insurmountable? That’s too obviously wrong to have to qualify. Sheesh. I assume that, like me, you’re not here for an academic discussion, but to discuss how to change the world. As such, I think the question is clear; given a choice, would we prefer that society be organized around religious systems, or secular systems while we work and advocate for better understanding of science. I vote for fewer obstacles.
Also, congratulations to you on resisting the best efforts of Catholicism, one of the most powerful social forces on earth, and I’m sure that your newly formed Williamism helps you, individually, to sleep well at night. But the next time the Catholic Church helicopters in to an unsuspecting village somewhere in the developing world, I doubt you'll be consulted, which makes my point about what the word “religion” means to the peoples of the world. Do you think we’ll have an easier time teaching them about AIDS and condoms if we get there before, or after the Church sinks its teeth into that vulnerable society?
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written by ClareZ, December 15, 2011
I get a little frustrated by the broad brush that is painted over any segment of society on this forum. Has anyone ever seen the color grey?

Irish Catholic raised in a scientifically literate household and with a Mother Superior at our grade school who was a math genius. Evolution? Of course - it is obvious.

Although no longer a practicing Catholic, I can see that making assumptions about people based on their most obvious beliefs is usually short sighted. I obviously know many Catholics and they run the gamut from scientifically illiterate to brilliant scientists. And even in those two groups it is not easy bet on who can be more easily hoodwinked.

Now, about Christmas. A lot of people celebrate it because it is a happy, partly secular and wonderful winter celebration that captures the imagination. Yes. Imagination. That wonderful part of us that creates fairies and other fiction one also helps us picture what wonders there could be if we could just figure out a way. Imagination and fiction are important. As important as critical thinking. They go hand in hand.

Children generally are able to see that talking to a doll or stuffed animal does not make it real nor does pretending you are a princess or firefighter or anything else. The work of children is play and the tooth fairy, Santa Claus and all of the rest are FUN. They are FUN.

One year I thought snow was the greatest thing ever. Not long after it was a pain in the a** and hindered my getting to work. That is the difference between being a child and being a (somewhat grumpy) adult. After the age of five, I was pretty clear on what was real and what was pretend. You do not need to withhold the fun of childhood from children to make them better critical thinking citizens. Those moments are important and ultimately do help us all realize that some things are true and some are not and it is up to each of us to be aware.

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Examples?
written by I-Wonder, December 15, 2011
ClareZ, "I get a little frustrated by the broad brush that is painted over any segment of society on this forum."

Examples from this thread?
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written by Caller X, December 16, 2011
Effin' A. How do you solve a problem like Maria? That's from The Sound of Music. I won't post a link because that might be spamming. Wouldn't want to do that. It was a movie.

As for what you quoted above, I have NO idea where that came from. I didn't write it.


It's from James Randi's website. Perhaps you've heard of it? Here's a link:

http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/1324-a-note-from-your-volunteer-managing-editor.html

You'll want to pay special attention to the part after "Written by". You may see something you recognize.

Sometimes I long for the sweet release of Hitler.

Must... focus.. on .... Julia... Stiles.

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written by Caller X, December 16, 2011
Wow. Do I have egg (at least I hope it's egg) on my face.

What I should have said was: you mean you haven't read the site's Membership Agreement? Stupid Asperger's Syndrome!

That link which, by your own admission, had nothing to do with the subject at hand, was spam since it was irrelevant to the discussion at hand.


It was indeed relevant because the subject at hand was someone's assertion that the site didn't allow posting of links. So, again, when did I spam? Never, you say?
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written by William, December 16, 2011
@I-Wonder
The claim I support is that religion is not a barrier to scientific understanding. I am evidence of that. Insurmountable or not, my religion has not gotten in the way of my scientific understanding. When confronted with positive scientific evidence that contradicts my religious belief, it is Williamism that changes.

Can I change the world? Not alone. But I know that the JREF has the means to. What I am worried about is the JREF poo-pooing anyone's belief in religion. There are people--in this forum--who would call people such as me "stupid" for even having a religious belief. That will not win debates and encourage critical thinking.
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written by I-Wonder, December 16, 2011
“What I am worried about is the JREF poo-pooing anyone's belief in religion.”
The JREF won’t do that. James has made clear that he determined to avoid the emotions and complications involved with poo-pooing religion (posters here, with obvious exceptions, do not officially represent JREF). The JREF is, however dedicated to poo-pooing nonsense claims, such as weeping statues. Is that an attack on religion? The misguided will feel it is, but, rather it’s an attack on an extraordinary claim with made with insufficient evidence - and in the face of clear evidence to the contrary.

“There are people--in this forum--who would call people such as me "stupid" for even having a religious belief. That will not win debates and encourage critical thinking.”
I agree about name-calling, but here – especially - if you make a claim, that claim is fair game for straight forward critical analysis. Also, if you claim that it is reasonable to believe an extraordinary claim in the absence of extraordinary evidence that will draw criticism. The JREF is not about debunking UFOs, it’s about critical thinking as a toolbox to evaluate claims; that applies to UFOs, and to the ways one comes to believe something.

“……my religion has not gotten in the way of my scientific understanding. When confronted with positive scientific evidence that contradicts my religious belief, it is Williamism that changes.
I am concerned about this misunderstanding, which stems from the trend of too loosely defining the word religion, to include Williamism – a residual belief in some kind of kind of God. As for my definition, I think that if you’re not burdened by the fear of being “charged” with heresy, you’re no longer involved in religion. Your use of the word religion apparently covers the spectrum all the way from you, to systems that permanently bind followers to revealed truths, infallible interpretation, sacred texts, and dogma. I fear that will not only render the word practically meaningless in discussions like these about culture and society, it provides a kinder, gentler sort of cover, a false mantle of respectability for those most objectionable systems, the major systems at play in the world. By the way, if you’re willing to stay engaged in the Catholic Church and fight for evolution toward your view, I admire you and wish you success, but most liberal believers are really just interested in soothing the pain of their own cognitive dissonance by inventing their own personal god of the gaps, so they can sleep well at night; so they can continue to wear the socially acceptable label “Christian”, or “religious”. Well, conventional religion appreciates that you don’t bother them with your ideas for reform, while they can still count you as religious. It helps legitimize their views and shield them from criticism. In this way, to paraphrase Dan Dennett, such moderates are engaged in an unfortunate conspiracy of silence.
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