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One Thought from CFI's World Congress PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

warforchildrensmindsI had the good fortune to attend The Center for Inquiry’s World Congress in Bethesda, MD. It was a great conference, chock-full of interesting speakers (one of them was AMAZING), and I left with new thoughts and ideas. Rather than give an overview on the entire conference, I’d like to focus on the one speaker who made me say “Huh, that’s interesting” more than any other. And that was Dr. Stephen Law.

He has written many books, but the one that he addressed primarily was The War for Children’s Minds. In this book, he discusses the realities of strict, religiously authoritarian parenting vs. more liberal “let us help you figure out who you are parenting.”

The results are refreshing and encourage discussion.

Kids brought up in religiously authoritarian households were told what to believe, and constantly pressured to maintain that belief. “THIS is wrong, THAT is right, and it’s that way because that’s what our family believes.” Morality was revealed to them, and enforced.

Kids from more liberal households were left to discover morality for themselves, with parental guidance. “Let’s figure out the right thing to do here. If you eat the last cookie, you’ll enjoy it, but that means your sister won’t have any. What should you do?”

And studies show that kids from a more liberal home exhibited more universally moral behavior than did those brought up in the authoritarian households. It seems (and this was the larger theme for this morning’s session) that most of us have a built-in moral compass that’s based not on revelation of god’s will, but on something within us. Call it genetics, call it the human spirit.. whatever you’d like. I’ve oversimplified this, but for this brief overview, it works.

The interesting thing is that religion had nothing to do with it. Authoritarianism is inversely correlated with moral behavior. Bringing the kids up with religion isn’t going to make them more moral, but doing so in a liberal fashion may. And the same is true for a secular upbringing.

And here’s the thing… while many groups associated with the JREF spend time attacking religion or at least pointing out the lack of facts in many religious claims, Dr. Law suggests that religion shouldn’t be our only focus. We need to spend more time fighting authoritarianism as well.

This made a lot of sense to me. I am a “tea pot” agnostic or atheist depending on how deep of a discussion we’re having. I don’t believe that there is a god, in fact, I can’t even define the term in a meaningful way. I do believe that there could be some divine creating force that I’m unaware of, but what I am aware of leads me to believe that there isn’t. As such, I often have a hard time in the company of hard-core atheists, as they seem unwilling to reconsider their opinions. I agree with their conclusions by and large, but not their position. They have reached the hard and firm conclusion that there is no god, and that if you think there is, you’re dead wrong. This strikes me as a very similar argument to those proposed by fundamentalist religious groups. And the reason is… they’re both authoritarian.

Authoritarianism is the antithesis of science and skepticism. If you’re arguing a point beyond the available evidence, you have crossed the line from skeptic to true believer. And I think that’s what skepticism (science) is most opposed to.

Or, perhaps I completely misunderstood. But at any rate, I’m motivated to read the book and find out more of what Dr. Law has to say. And that, in my mind, is the mark of a good conference. Thanks to Barry Karr (and Randi and Sean) for making my attendance possible.

 

 

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Conservatives for Abortion
written by StarTrekLivz, April 12, 2009
It has been shown in several studies that Conservatives, who claim to be pro-life, therefore have a lower incidence of use of birth control, with the result of a higher incidence of abortion.

http://atheism.about.com/b/2008/03/07/abortions-highest-where-religion-is-highest.htm

Dan Quayle, when running for Vice President, famously said that he was opposed to teaching children about contraceptives, birth control, and opposed to abortion. But when a reporter asked what he would do if his then teenage daughter was pregnant out of wedlock, he replied, "I'd drive her to the women's clinic myself." Apparently it makes a difference whether one is talking about others or ones own family ....
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Conservatives for Abortion?
written by Weatherwax, April 12, 2009
"Dan Quayle, when running for Vice President, famously said that he was opposed to teaching children about contraceptives, birth control, and opposed to abortion. But when a reporter asked what he would do if his then teenage daughter was pregnant out of wedlock, he replied, "I'd drive her to the women's clinic myself." Apparently it makes a difference whether one is talking about others or ones own family ...."

Could you provide a source for that quote? I remember him saying he would expect her to be responsible and raise the child herself. I could be thinking of a different occasion.
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written by flitzwald, April 12, 2009
Thanks for that insight. That's a book I'm definately going to read. Although being a convinced atheist myself, the antiproportional link between religiousity and morality presented by Hitchens or Harris always struck me as a little too simplistic.
Fundamental religiousity makes more sense as a symptom of an authoritarian society than vice versa.
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written by Mully410, April 12, 2009
Good post, Jeff. I also have a have a difficult time with absolutist atheists. Their position conflicts with my skepticism and critical thinking. I provisionally do not believe there is God/gods/god, however if presented with strong evidence I would be open to change my position. This is really the central core of science. All our conclusions are tentative/provisional until more, better and sometimes extraordinary evidence is produced.
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written by BillyJoe, April 12, 2009
There have been a number of threads in the forums promoting the view that god has been disproven but, when you get down to the nitty gritty, no one really believes that. Not even Richard Dawkins believes god has been disproven. He puts himself in category 7 out of 8 (but leaning towards level smilies/cool.gif, where level 8 is the absolutist's position.

BJ
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written by BillyJoe, April 12, 2009
...okay that smily was supposed to be an 8 followed by a )
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written by Blizno, April 12, 2009
I disagree completely.

To say that one who refuses to entertain fantastical notions without even the slightest evidence is an "authoritarian" could not be more wrong.

True atheism is simply the complete absence of belief in magical beings. This is a simple, humble, clear and necessary point of view that when there is zero evidence of gods or ghosts, one is unable to believe that such exist. To accuse it of "authoritarianism" is incorrect.

I don't believe in the Yeti. That doesn't make me an anti-Yeti authoritarian. If I ever see real, verifiable evidence of a Yeti, not anecdotes and shapes in the snow that could be anything, I will change my mind.

I don't believe that four-armed green warriors dominate Mars. That doesn't make me an anti-Martian authoritarian. To utterly deny any fantasy without valid evidence is simple common sense. The instant I see valid evidence of YHWY, I will be face-down on my prayer mat. Until then, I must believe that gods do not exist. Because I fight for the rights of children and those yet unborn to also question ancient fantasies, I am simply a caring human being. I am not an authoritarian.
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written by MadScientist, April 12, 2009
The hard-core atheists are right though. Why should they even say "I'll change my mind if you show me proof" when there *is* no proof to be had? It's an eternal delusion to say you'll be swayed by proof in this case. Consider the consequences - if you *do* see proof then you're already damned by a wretched supernatural creature and you're on the wrong side of Pascal's wager, and no respectable atheist would believe that.

I think you're confused about what constitutes being authoritarian. Telling someone they're dead wrong about something is not being authoritarian; there is much in the world that we are certain of. Telling someone 'X is right because I say so' or 'because some other authority figure which we do not question says so' - that's being authoritarian, and you will find such people anywhere on the planet believing (or not) in all sorts of sky fairies.

If all you can conclude is that the School of Ipse Dixit is no damned good, you're a bit slow; that has been known for centuries; the UK Royal Academy of Sciences in Isaac Newton's era had the motto "nulla in verba" because they recognized that authorities could be just as misleading as anyone else and they should not accept claims on words alone.
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Blizno
written by BillyJoe, April 12, 2009
True atheism is simply the complete absence of belief in magical beings. This is a simple, humble, clear and necessary point of view that when there is zero evidence of gods or ghosts, one is unable to believe that such exist. To accuse it of "authoritarianism" is incorrect.

You are arguing for what you call "true atheism".
Jeff is arguing against he calls "hard core atheism".
Here is the relevant quote from his article:

I often have a hard time in the company of hard-core atheists, as they seem unwilling to reconsider their opinions. I agree with their conclusions by and large, but not their position. They have reached the hard and firm conclusion that there is no god, and that if you think there is, you’re dead wrong.

In a nut shell you are arguing in favour of the position: "I do not believe in god" and Jeff is arguing against the statement: "I believe there is no god".

BJ
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Mad Scientist
written by BillyJoe, April 12, 2009
The hard-core atheists are right though. Why should they even say "I'll change my mind if you show me proof" when there *is* no proof to be had?

This is not Jeff's definiton of a "hard-core atheist".
Not only would a hard-core atheist not say "I'll change my mind if you show me proof", they outright say "There is no god".

I think you're confused about what constitutes being authoritarian.

The hard core atheist who says "There is no god" when he has no proof that there is no god, fits your definition of "authoritarian".

BJ
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written by Skemono, April 12, 2009
I'm sure there probably are some people out there who would say that no amount of evidence would dissuade them from their position that there is no god. But frankly, I'm pretty sure they're in the fringe minority even among atheists, and I'm not really sure why this is being brought up. Dawkins and PZ I'm pretty sure would accept the idea of a god if there were enough evidence to point to one. But there isn't any.

So then, who are these "hardcore atheists" that are being decried?
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written by DrMatt, April 12, 2009
No, only I fit the definition of authoritarian--because I'm right. smilies/wink.gif
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written by BillyJoe, April 12, 2009
So then, who are these "hardcore atheists" that are being decried?

I agree. "There is no god" is pure hyperbole.

BJ
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written by Kuroyume, April 12, 2009
But is there a god as described in the Judeo-Christo-Islamic religions? I think the current evidence (of several thousand years) puts it at about 99.(many many many nines)% against any definition proferred by this particular religious construction of a god. And, one must determine which god we're not believing in or think or don't think could possible exist. The god that is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent? There is no such god (there I said it). Why? It is a logical impossibility (outright contradiction in many ways) and goes directly against all observation of reality - even against what is supposedly fact recorded in their religious books. Some other god that hasn't been defined properly, that might exist but I'm not holding any proverbial breath.
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Kuroyume
written by BillyJoe, April 12, 2009
You are correct. We did not specify the god, and I guess we need to do this. All gods (maybe there are some exceptions) specified by religions are falsifiable. But god the creator of the universe is not. He who created something out of nothing. The Deist god in other words.

BJ
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written by Kuroyume, April 12, 2009
The problem with the Deist god (the god that creates the universe to run like 'clockwork' on its own and then goes away) is that, as you note, it is an unfalsifiable god. The worse problem is that whether it was a 'god' or some natural process, both of which may be beyond our comprehension and ability to evidence, assigning the process to some vaguely anthropomorphic being or generic lifeform doesn't change anything - it doesn't change what ocurred and its outcome. Ockham's Razor and all of that. To me, anyway, it just puts answers that we like into the 'mouth of the universe'. It embues purpose for the sake of our own satisfaction. In other words, by introducing such a concept we invite ourselves to follow a path of 'investigation' with pre-conceived notions of what we should find. It is the same situation that people like Erich von Däniken keep pursuing. They are looking for aliens and, therefore, find them in every nook and cranny. Interpretation is skewed and other hypotheses are dismissed out of hand ("humans could never do that").

It is a gift that humans have superb pattern matching skills. Without them, there would be no math or science. On the other hand, it is a curse that we have great pattern matching skills. With them, we interpolate and extrapolate patterns that aren't really there or not what they seem without further investigation and care.
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written by Blizno, April 12, 2009
"written by MadScientist, April 12, 2009
The hard-core atheists are right though. Why should they even say "I'll change my mind if you show me proof" when there *is* no proof to be had? It's an eternal delusion to say you'll be swayed by proof in this case. Consider the consequences - if you *do* see proof then you're already damned by a wretched supernatural creature and you're on the wrong side of Pascal's wager, and no respectable atheist would believe that"

Huh? You're putting words into the mouths of "hard-core atheists" without showing any evidence that they even exist.

"...It's an eternal delusion to say you'll be swayed by proof in this case..."
WHAT?!?
Whom are you talking about?

"...you *do* see proof then you're already damned by a wretched supernatural creature and you're on the wrong side of Pascal's wager, and no respectable atheist would believe that..."

How dare you speak for ANY atheist? You make the wildest imaginable misquotes and then you pretend to speak for me?
Who are you and why are you posting on the internet among people who are voicing serious opinions?
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Atheism
written by Blizno, April 12, 2009
There is a lot of trash on this thread being blamed on atheism.
I reluctantly find it necessary to define atheism so we are all discussing the same thing.

I'll start by deflating a few common misconceptions about atheism.

1. Atheism is not a religion. Atheism is nothing more than the absence of belief in gods, ghosts, trolls, goblins, tooth fairies and Santa Claus. It's just that simple.

2. Atheists do not "hate God". Since gods do not exist, it makes no sense to have emotion for something that is not there.

3. Atheists are at least as moral as anybody else.
Actually, statistically, atheists are more moral than those claiming adherence to religion, including Christianity. The percentage of atheists in prison is much less than the percentage of atheists in the general population. The percentage of Christians in prison is at least as high as the percentage of Christians in the general population.
That atheists are somehow free to ignore morality is a lie being pushed by the religious.

3. Gays, blacks, Muslims and even communists can no longer be publicly trashed, at least in the USA, but atheists are still fair game.

It's late and I'm tired. I'm going to stop writing now even though I could post pages about how atheists are being treated as if they're among the few enemies it's still OK to publicly hate and even attack.
Bye.
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written by Blizno, April 12, 2009
"written by BillyJoe, April 12, 2009
So then, who are these "hardcore atheists" that are being decried?
I agree. "There is no god" is pure hyperbole. "

"There is no Santa Clause" is hyperbole?
"There is no Loch Ness Monster" is hyperbole?
"There is no Martin the Martian" is hyperbole?
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written by Blizno, April 12, 2009
"Kuroyume
written by BillyJoe, April 12, 2009
You are correct. We did not specify the god, and I guess we need to do this. All gods (maybe there are some exceptions) specified by religions are falsifiable. But god the creator of the universe is not. He who created something out of nothing. The Deist god in other words."

Why is this "Deist" god you invoke not required to meet the same requirements as all other gods?
I don't understand why you're giving special treatment to one god above all of the many thousands of other human gods.
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Kuroyume
written by BillyJoe, April 12, 2009
The problem with the Deist god (the god that creates the universe to run like 'clockwork' on its own and then goes away) is that, as you note, it is an unfalsifiable god. The worse problem is that whether it was a 'god' or some natural process, both of which may be beyond our comprehension and ability to evidence, assigning the process to some vaguely anthropomorphic being or generic lifeform doesn't change anything - it doesn't change what ocurred and its outcome.

I agree with you.
But the point is that you cannot prove such a god does not exist.
By Jeff's definition, a hard-core atheist says: "There is no god". Such atheists do exist, even on the forums at JREF, but if you dig deeper, you nearly always find a soft-core atheist using hyperbolic language. They really do not have positive hundred percent proof that god does not exist.

Ockham's Razor and all of that.

Ockham's razor is actually irrelevant when it comes to the question of proof. Ockham's razor merely separates out the hypothesis with the least number of assumptions. Ockham's razor cannot actually prove anything.

BJ
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Blizno
written by BillyJoe, April 12, 2009
Okay you're tired but...

1. Atheism is not a religion. Atheism is nothing more than the absence of belief in gods, ghosts, trolls, goblins, tooth fairies and Santa Claus. It's just that simple.

Atheism has nothing to do with ghosts, trolls, goblins, tooth fairies and Santa Claus.

2. Atheists do not "hate God". Since gods do not exist, it makes no sense to have emotion for something that is not there.

Correction: Atheists do not say: "Gods do not exist". They say: "I do not believe that gods exist". There is a difference. The difference is that saying "there is no god" requires proof, whereas saying "I do not believe that gods exist" requires only that there is a lack of evidence that gods exist.

BJ

BillyJoe
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Blizno
written by BillyJoe, April 12, 2009
"There is no Santa Clause" is hyperbole?
"There is no Loch Ness Monster" is hyperbole?
"There is no Martin the Martian" is hyperbole?

There's quite a bit of similarity between gods and other entities such as the tooth faerie. But they are not identical. The difference is that we already know who replaces the tooth for a dollar, but we still do not know how something came from nothing.

BJ
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written by Kuroyume, April 12, 2009
I mentioned 'natural processes' and 'deist god' as two 'hypotheses' for the creation of the universe. Ockham's Razor applies when evaluating hypotheses (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam's_razor) . All things being equal, infering natural processes over some intelligent being is the more reasonable stance until evidence (not proof) directs us otherwise. As far as I am concerned (and it is just my reasoned opinion), there is no evidence that larger scales of the universe (or beyond, for which we have no point of reference) exhibit features of intelligent beings. Not stars, solar systems, galaxies, galactic clusters, or even the universe in general (except in our one very miniscule pocket of life on this planet).

We really don't have a 'theory on the creation of the universe'. What we have is a bunch of cosmological hypotheses on the state of the universe as it began based upon what we think happened at the very near times to its birth by careful (but imperfect for sure) extrapolation backwards in time. Some speculate a seed that loses symmetry and fractures while others speculate a collision of other universes (and so on). These are all hypothetical at this point. All we know is that there is good evidence for the so-called 'big bang' start to our universe (and there are several variations of that) wrought by the discovery and mapping of the cosmic background radiation as well as expansionary measurements of distant stars.

It is impossible to dismiss the general 'principle' of the existence of god or gods ("There is no god/There are no gods - period"). It is only possible to take them on in a case-by-case basis and do the reasonable thing - evaluate on evidential bases. So far, gods are batting a 0 out of 500 (in baseball terms). In the case of the Deist god, it has excused itself from the process altogether and taken refuge in unfalsifiability and untestability. Things which are unfalsifiable and untestable must be dismissed or else we enter realms which are not science or reasonable.
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Blizno
written by BillyJoe, April 12, 2009
Why is this "Deist" god you invoke not required to meet the same requirements as all other gods?

Because the deist god, unlike the theist gods, does not interfere with nature and hence is not accessible to scientific study.
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written by SinSeeker, April 12, 2009
“The whole Midwest is Lutheran. Even the atheists in the Midwest are Lutherans. The God they don’t believe in is Luther’s God” - Garrison Keillor.
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to Blizno
written by Kuroyume, April 12, 2009
Why is this "Deist" god you invoke not required to meet the same requirements as all other gods?
I don't understand why you're giving special treatment to one god above all of the many thousands of other human gods.


As has been noted several times, the issue with the Deistic god is that it creates the universe to work on its own without further intervention and then scurries off into complete obscurity. While the notion, created by those wishing to be more enlightened but yet under the auspices of religious mindsets, is a noble attempt at finding justification for the universe's existence, it fails to provide an ample hypothesis upon which to make an existential determination. Such a being has, in cliche, hidden its tracks and made a universe that works just like one that doesn't require us to impart its creation to such a being. Therefore my invocation of Ockhams/Occam's Razor in order to simply remove the being from consideration whatsoever. Again, unfalsifiable and untestable - the stuff of pure fantasy.
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Kurouyume
written by BillyJoe, April 12, 2009
I mentioned 'natural processes' and 'deist god' as two 'hypotheses' for the creation of the universe. Ockham's Razor applies when evaluating hypotheses. All things being equal, infering natural processes over some intelligent being is the more reasonable stance until evidence (not proof) directs us otherwise.

But, my point is that Ockham's razor, whilst singling out the hypothesis with the least number of assumptions, does not allow us to actually say: "There is no god".
For that you require evidence.
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written by BillyJoe, April 12, 2009
Therefore my invocation of Ockham's Razor in order to simply remove the being from consideration whatsoever. Again, unfalsifiable and untestable - the stuff of pure fantasy.

To make my position clear, I agree with this.
Because of the lack of evidence for his existence, I do not think the deist god is worthy of consideration, but this does not equivalent to saying "there is no (deist) god".
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As a matter of fact...
written by stifenlaso, April 12, 2009
I happen to have that book, and I'm reading it right now. Here's a quote I like a lot:

The noise and smoke generated by the battle over religion has tended to obscure a no less significant debate. I believe the really crucial dispute is not between the believers... and the atheists... -it's between the Liberals... and the Authoritarians. (p. 23)
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written by SinSeeker, April 12, 2009
Kurouyume says that “Ockham's razor … does not allow us to actually say: ‘There is no god’ .For that you require evidence.”

This old chestnut! Are you saying that I have to produce evidence that:
- The Easter Bunny does not exist?
- Martians do not exist?
- Sherlock Holmes did not exist?
etc.

Isn’t the burden of proof the other way around?
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written by Blizno, April 12, 2009
"written by BillyJoe, April 12, 2009
True atheism is simply the complete absence of belief in magical beings. This is a simple, humble, clear and necessary point of view that when there is zero evidence of gods or ghosts, one is unable to believe that such exist. To accuse it of "authoritarianism" is incorrect.
You are arguing for what you call "true atheism".
Jeff is arguing against he calls "hard core atheism".
Here is the relevant quote from his article:
I often have a hard time in the company of hard-core atheists, as they seem unwilling to reconsider their opinions. I agree with their conclusions by and large, but not their position. They have reached the hard and firm conclusion that there is no god, and that if you think there is, you’re dead wrong.
In a nut shell you are arguing in favour of the position: "I do not believe in god" and Jeff is arguing against the statement: "I believe there is no god"."

I am an "active" atheist, if I may coin that term.
I don't expect that we'll ever be able to prove whether gods do or do not exist.
However, gods are so obviously human inventions that unless any slightest real evidence for any gods can be found, I must assume that there are no gods and that there have never been any gods. I will assume that all claims of gods are false until anybody presents any evidence for their claims.
Therefore, the "ground state" must be that there are not and have never been any gods or fairies.
I would be thrilled to be shown to be wrong. What a triumph for human exploration it would be to find any real evidence of gods!
I'm still waiting.

I agree that Occam's Razor proves nothing. It does, however, put the argument, "How could there be this complex universe unless a god created it?", in the dumpster when one responds, "What then created the creator?"
If a creator is required to create this amazing universe, then something vastly more complex than that creator is required to have created the creator of our universe. Occam's Razor simply says that more complex answer is much less likely to be correct than simpler answer to the same question. It's a guide, not a rule.

"I often have a hard time in the company of hard-core atheists, as they seem unwilling to reconsider their opinions."

I suspect that your hard time is from their inability to be convinced by your arguments, not that they are incapable of changing their minds. I've never met a scientifically-oriented person who wouldn't be thrilled to find the universe profoundly changed. Every scientist I've ever met (I've spent decades in medical device R&D, so I've talked to quite a few scientists) would be thrilled beyond words to find that our present understanding of the universe was wrong (it's not). All scientists I've ever met would fight each other for the chance to study and document any new understanding. This bizarre fantasy that scientists want to keep science stationary could not be more wrong. All real scientists are motivated by the thirst for discovery.
Please note that I said "real" scientists, not Creationists or Intelligent Design Creationists.
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Sin Seeker
written by BillyJoe, April 12, 2009
Kurouyume
BillyJoe says that “Ockham's razor … does not allow us to actually say: ‘There is no god’ .For that you require evidence.”


This old chestnut! Are you saying that I have to produce evidence that:
- The Easter Bunny does not exist?
- Martians do not exist?
- Sherlock Holmes did not exist?
etc.

No, only that god does not exist. smilies/wink.gif
Yes, that's right, if you make the claim "there is no god" you have to be prepared to back this up with evidence.

Isn’t the burden of proof the other way around?

Nope. The burden of evidence is on those making the claim.

BJ
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written by Kuroyume, April 12, 2009
But, my point is that Ockham's razor, whilst singling out the hypothesis with the least number of assumptions, does not allow us to actually say: "There is no god".
For that you require evidence.


I agree. Note that I stated earlier that the absolute statement "There is no god/There are no gods" cannot be 'proven' ('impossible to dismiss', in a logical or reasonable sense). This is same for the statement "There are no unicorns" when the search space is unbound, as long as the definition of 'unicorn' does not contain contradictions or paradoxical implications. We must take each claim on testable, individual bases and within its definitions. If someone profers the statement "There are no real, live unicorns in my bedroom at this time", this is a testable claim and can be put to evidential testing (though the outcome may be inconclusive!). The search space is bound and the conditions are (a bit more) defined. Of course, now we must contend with semantics and definitions to be prim and proper (what exactly is a 'unicorn', what is a 'real unicorn', what is a 'live unicorn', what is a 'real, live unicorn', what are the exact bounds of my bedroom, what time is 'at this time', does your conception of a unicorn match mine or others, and so on). It can get boringly insidious even with something as simple as this!

The Deist god fails definition, which makes it impossible to investigate further. We can qualify it as 'the creator of the universe' but what quantities can we impart that can be measured to distinguish it from anything else and make it worthy of consideration? To explain further, what evidence can we look for that would be definitive in distinguishing a natural process from an intentional process enacted by an extra-universal being to look exactly like a natural process? At this point in time, unlike the Tooth Fairy, we don't have that 'reality-based' alternative theory which actually explains the process. On the other hand, we also have no reason to think that some intelligent being was involved just because we have no markers for distinguishment. On this, we must remain agnostic. But that doesn't mean that we should assume the Deist premise just because of its plausbility (no matter how remote).

As you note, BillyJoe, nowhere do I make the equivalence of Ockham's Razor and "There is no such thing". I simply apply it to two possible alternative hypotheses and see no reason to accept the one that invokes more complexity in light of the current evidence (!). Accepting or declining a hypothethis does not make it impossible to be verified. Yes, Sin Seeker, for the absolute statement, "There is no god" (or any variant), you would need to present evidence to backup your claim. But absolute negative statements are notoriously difficult in this regard as I explained.
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written by Kuroyume, April 12, 2009
Asking your apologies for rambling, I had one more consideration to present. Science is a process. The process is tied into several fields - logic, mathematics, and observation. The most crude rendering of this process is: observer phenomenon (observation), hypothesize on its causes (logic and mathematics), test to find the best hypothesis to explain the phenomenon (*key to science: objective observation through experimentation).

The one common problem with gods are that we aren't observing them and then going forward from there. Gods are hypotheses in themselves to explain observed phenomena. Humans have attributed some definition of 'god' or 'gods' to these observations over many millenia before the rigors of scientific study were even realized. The differentiating factor with the scientific process is that last step: objective testing. Humans have observed many things. Humans have offered up many explanations. Previous acceptance of these explanations has been based upon varying factors: authority, revelation, common sense, logic, and so on. But the last step added by the scientific process has given us a means to make more valid determinations of acceptance by putting the explanations through a gauntlet: objectivity. And, to be more realistic in our assertions, we have made the acceptance tentative upon the disclosure of more evidence.

I think that my point is that, to me anyway, the one sticking point with the existence of gods is that we are never observing them directly and then doing science. We are always infering them as hypotheses to explain natural phenomena. If gods did exist, then they should be observable. Otherwise, we are seeking something which can only be infered indirectly - a tenuous thing indeed.

Just some food for thought. smilies/smiley.gif
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written by Bruno, April 12, 2009
The comments section is veering off the main topic in a most predictable fashion. I'll try to paraphrase the tenet of the article: learning to think critically is as important for morality as it is for epistemology. To be told nothing but "such and such are the facts, period" leaves a child logically and factually challenged. To be told nothing but "this is right and that is wrong" leaves the child morally challenged. Critical thinking should apply not only to "is-es" but also to "oughts". Absolutism is dangerous for both.
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written by Kuroyume, April 12, 2009
Not really - though we have diverged to clarify points on some of the specifics. The topic was about learning to think critically with a bent on religious (and other) indoctrination spattered with a bit on agnosticism, atheism, and absolutism. Religious indoctrination is so insidious because its tentacles have been allowed to wrap around every facet of society for millenia, practically unabated. The premise is to fight authoritarianism - which is exactly how religion perpetuates itself. And my last post was directed at this, well, directly by showing that acceptance of explanations has changed from subjective to objective even if many haven't noticed. Humans have accepted 'proof' or 'evidence' based upon authoritative sources even after the development of the very successful process of scientific inquiry. Why is that? Because we are evolved from animals which succeeded on a hierarchical group structure, that's why. And yet we have at our disposal means to extricate ourselves from the tightening tentacles: science, reason, and critical thinking.

As the article speculates, the seeds of indoctrination and authoritarianism are sown by the parents and community. It is this familial and communal pressure that perpetuates ideas and ideologies from generation to generation. The seeds must be new seeds - seeds of inquisitiveness, critical thinking, and relativity. So, how do we swap them out decisively?
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written by The easter bunny's lucky rabbit's foot, April 13, 2009
written by MadScientist, April 12, 2009
The hard-core atheists are right though. Why should they even say "I'll change my mind if you show me proof" when there *is* no proof to be had?


Because anyone can say there is no proof to be had. Why should religious people say they will change their mind if you show them sufficient evidence that gods are a human invention*), when they don't believe there is such evidence in the first place? Because the entire issue is that people are fallible; they may, however unlikely they may think it is, be wrong.
No one that believes "X" also believes that there is proof to the contrary. Because it would be extremely silly to believe something you know and believe to be disproven. And that's why even though you might believe it to be an entirely hypothetical situation, you should be open to changing your mind if there is evidence against your beliefs.


*) I phrase it in this way because it's difficult to prove a negative such as "God does not exist". But there is ample reason to believe that gods are a human invention. (And interestingly, in that sense they can be said to exist and have influenced the world greatly.) Fields like anthropology and psychology may not prove that gods don't exist, but they may prove (in as much as empirical science proves things) that the concept of gods is an invention.
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written by BillyJoe, April 13, 2009
Kuroyume,

Our thinking about god is pretty much along the same lines.
I suppose the problem for me when someone boldly states there is no god, is the fact that, apart from needing evidence for any such claim, the question that the god hypothesis seeks to answer is the ultimate question about the origins of the universe itself. It is possible that we humans will never know the answer to the question of how something came from nothing. It is possible that we humans are as incapable of understanding the answer to that question as ants are incapable of understanding quantum theory. Given that, a little modesty is in order in my opinion. And, for the same reason, I do not accept that the question about about the existence of god is identical to the question about the existence of the tooth faerie for which, as you say, we have a verifiable alternative. And the infinite regress argument regarding god may, again, just represent the limits of what humans are capable of understanding.

Thank you very much for the interesting discussion.

regards,
BillyJoe
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Bruno
written by BillyJoe, April 13, 2009
I think possibly we all agree. smilies/wink.gif

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written by BillyJoe, April 13, 2009
No one that believes "X" also believes that there is proof to the contrary. Because it would be extremely silly to believe something you know and believe to be disproven. And that's why even though you might believe it to be an entirely hypothetical situation, you should be open to changing your mind if there is evidence against your beliefs.

You would be surprised to learn, then, that some religious people see it as test of the strength of their faith to have evidence that flies in its face. They actually bask in the warm satisfaction of having kept the faith in the face of such strong challenges.

BJ

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written by Thanny, April 13, 2009
I think Jeff misunderstands the hard-core atheist position, which I hold. It's not authoritarian in the least. There's no one dictating that position, which would be a prerequisite for such a label.

The simple fact is, I've made up my mind. This is something I do about many things. For example, I've made up my mind that the Earth will continue rotating and revolving around the sun for the duration of my life. I cannot be convinced otherwise without new information (such as that a huge planetoid is on a collision course, say). This is how rational people make decisions. Waffling constantly about reality-based issues where the facts are in is not being rational or open-minded.

I've seen many atheists say they'd change their mind if they saw proper evidence. In principle, I'd agree, but I cannot fathom what such evidence would look like. It would certainly have to be a display beyond the capability of humanity to reproduce (in person - our digital effects are too good to trust anything seen only on video).

But if I witnessed something truly awesome (in the original sense), why should I conclude it was caused by a deity? Why not some technologically advanced alien that evolved just like we did, somewhere else? It seems far-fetched, but certainly less far-fetched than a completely unevolved all-powerful eternal deity.

Hell, what if the only advanced thing this alien race could do was alter sensory input of a human brain remotely? That would allow them to do anything, from that human's perspective.

It's a somewhat more complicated train of thought than I've described here, but the upshot is, my current position is that there is no possible evidence for the existence of a deity. The only way I could end up not an atheist would be if something twiddled my neurons directly to make me believe. But then, that would no longer be me.

So I'm a "hard-core" atheist who cannot imagine what would make me change my mind. This does not mean I'm unreasonable. It means I've thought the matter through more than those who claim they'll change their minds when evidence becomes available, without ever specifying what such evidence could, in principle, look like.
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Dan Quayle and Abortion
written by StarTrekLivz, April 13, 2009
http://www.nytimes.com/1992/07...-view.html

I'm not able to find the "I'd drive ...." myself reference; it may be in a video clip somewhere, and it is possible that my memory is defective (I have strong memories of the comments and the shock from the Religious "Right"). Here is a link to NY Times that he'd support his daughter "regardless of choice" -- a choice he would cheerfully refuse others.
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Interesting but missed the mark I think
written by J.C. Samuelson, April 13, 2009
Although dictionaries only show usage, not definitions, a look at how the word "authoritarian" is currently used might be helpful:

Authoritarian (from Merriam-Webster):

1 : of, relating to, or favoring blind submission to authority
2 : of, relating to, or favoring a concentration of power in a leader or an elite not constitutionally responsible to the people

How being a "hard core" anything equates to being also authoritarian is a mystery to me. Not one of the so-called "New Atheists" is asking people to accept on blind faith (or their authority) that divine agency is a myth. Making a strong statement about the purported existence (or non-existence) of X does not mean one is an authoritarian.

With respect to the burden of proof concerning claims for or against, I would argue that it belongs to the claimant with the caveat that the burden becomes proportionately heavier depending on how extraordinary the claim is. In my opinion, those claiming the non-existence of supernatural beings have a much lighter burden of proof.

Just a couple random thoughts near lunch time.
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written by The easter bunny's lucky rabbit's foot, April 13, 2009
As written by BillyJoe, April 13, 2009:
You would be surprised to learn, then, that some religious people see it as test of the strength of their faith to have evidence that flies in its face. They actually bask in the warm satisfaction of having kept the faith in the face of such strong challenges.

I would not in the least bit be surprised, because evidence to the contrary is no proof to the contrary (either in a colloquial or formal sense). They don't believe the evidence proves them wrong; in fact they reinterpret the evidence to strengthen their belief by seeing it as a test, making it evidence for their position instead of against it.
Also, people are silly.
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Give it up, BillyJoe
written by tctheunbeliever, April 13, 2009
They've obviously missed the point.
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written by Willy K, April 13, 2009
I ASSERT THAT THERE ARE NO DEITIES....

Why? Two reasons.

#1 - There isn't the a single bit of evidence that any deities exist.
Wiktionary: Evidence - Facts or observations presented in support of an assertion.

#2 - There is overwhelming evidence to explain why many Humans believe there are deities.
This point is completely overlooked in discussions of whether any deities exist. It demonstrates why any effort to "disprove" the existence of deities is the ultimate wasted endeavor!

Overwhelming evidence I say? What evidence is that? How many studies of the Human mind have been published in the last two hundred years?

Every fraking study of the Human mind supports my assertion that every (ir)rational reason that a believer utters simply demonstrates their total ignorance of how the Human mind works!

smilies/tongue.gif
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written by Trish, April 13, 2009
I think this interal moral sense is exactly why people who are perfectly nice, kind, considerate folks who purport to believe the Bible is the basis for all morality & ethics shy away from the forms of "justice" that are prescribed by Old Testament law. They are moral in spite of, not because of, their attachment to the Bible [or Koran or whatever]
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written by Son of Rea, April 13, 2009
Carl Sagan would agree with your position of not claiming certainty regarding the existence or non-existence of something.

That's why he never claimed he was an atheist, only an agnostic.
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written by Kuroyume, April 13, 2009
I agree with you, Willy K. That was my point about what any 'god hypothesis' actual consists. It really isn't a description of what we should be looking for in a god directly for existential validity. It is all about what whe should be looking for indirectly as side-effects of a possible god (supernatural versus natural explanations of observed phenomena). Very weak position to start imho. How does one quantify a supernatural cause when science is specifically concerned with natural causes (those that can be observed, rationalized, and quantified into theories)? As others have proferred previously, the only evidence that can be ascertained here is evidence of phenomenal behavior that can *never* be explained naturally. Okay, we have mountains of subjective 'evidence' but not a shred of objective evidence of such types of phenomenal behavior. That tends towards a subjective explanation for gods - human belief rather than deific existential evidence.

Again, we are diverging from the article's premise about morality and how authoritarianism/dogmatism impede it rather than promulgate it. I realize that there is argument being pleaded here concerning stringent atheists and absolutism and authoritarianism. Yes, authoritarian systems have promoted and enforced 'atheistic' ideals in the past (Soviet Union under Marxism, e.g.). But the reasons were not because of evidential reasoning on atheism. Rather, they didn't want anything to impede their grasp on power. Any institution that could challenge their authority was a threat and they abolished religion to avoid such contention. Quite a different beast than some strawman 'absolute atheist'.

As an atheist who does not think there are really any gods - as provided by current evidence - I wouldn't consider myself authoritarian in even the slightest. I have just reached the personal conclusion, as has been noted already, that there is no evidence to support such a position that there are any gods or deities. That doesn't mean that I have logical 'proof' to validate the 'there is no god' proposition. To the contrary, I have evidence that there are no gods that have been described and good reason to think that any others that have similar attributes are not in the running to be evidenced. Quite a difference between logical arguments and overwhelming evidence and observation. So far, the evidence does not support any reason to entertain that gods exist. Logically, we can entertain all sorts of notions and reserve judgement to further logical arguments. As for me, I'm content in my reasoning. smilies/smiley.gif
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written by Willy K, April 14, 2009
written by Kuroyume, ...we are diverging from the article's premise...


Okay Kuroyume, back to the topic... smilies/tongue.gif

Authoritarianism is one of the cornerstones of religion. It arises from a basic pack/social animal behavior - the Alpha member of the pack. In the case of us semi-sentient Humans, when one of the group wants to be the Alpha member he (usually male) would, in the days before religions, threaten the other members of the group with physical violence. Of course there are other non-violent ways to assert dominance. But, as the groups grew in size, others came to realize that the Alpha couldn't kick all of their asses at the same time.smilies/wink.gif Well, the solution to that was for the Alpha to claim that he had a "greater power" to back him up. The "greater power" was the same one who made thunder/lightning and other natural phenomena that mystified and scared early Humans.

Religion is not, as the believers say, something that separates us from the animals, but instead it places more value on Humans animal behaviors than on Humans intellectual capabilities.

I consider religion to be the codifying of animal behavior. smilies/cry.gif
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written by Steel Rat, April 14, 2009
“Let’s figure out the right thing to do here. If you eat the last cookie, you’ll enjoy it, but that means your sister won’t have any. What should you do?”


Screw her! this is my cookie!!

Sorry, just being realistic.

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written by Steel Rat, April 14, 2009
Carl Sagan would agree with your position of not claiming certainty regarding the existence or non-existence of something.

That's why he never claimed he was an atheist, only an agnostic.


Atheism is simply a lack of belief in a god or gods. Agnosticism is simply waffling. Atheism isn't an absolute statement that there is no god, it's a statement that there isn't sufficient evidence, therefore no belief.
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written by Blizno, April 14, 2009
I echo the gratitude of others on this thread for a fascinating, civil discussion of a very divisive issue.

Back to "authoritarianism"; the authoritarians driving this emotional struggle are those trying to force their particular religious perspective down the throats of all.
We many atheists who are resisting these attacks are not authoritarian. We wouldn't even care about this issue if we didn't have to fight to remain free from religious domination.

As for the "burden of proof" discussion, all fantastical claims, such as gods, vibrating strings, colliding branes and the like, have the overwhelming burden of proof before they can be accepted or even seriously considered. Without such proof, or even strong evidence, everybody who is without strong bias must assume that there are no gods, there are only three spatial dimensions plus one time dimension and that we are here because that's how the universe happened to turn out. Gods not required.
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written by mglasco, April 14, 2009
Well Randi... I enjoyed hearing you and D.J. talk about Magic at the meeting. I'm an amateur magician myself, and it by and far turned me into the skeptic I am today. But like D.J. said, you really did help lead many of us here (including myself)... but I must also say that Penn and Teller were a huge influence on me growing up. I have not read The War for children's minds (yet), but I know others that have. Indeed it is refreshing to hear, even if many of us are going that route anyway, that we are doing something right.
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Re: Speaker Patricia Schroeder
written by LindaRosaRN, July 01, 2009
How on earth did ex-Rep. Pat Schroeder get invited to speak at this CFI event? This is most disturbing to anti-quackery skeptic activists. Schroeder is the celebrity who promoted the most vicious of pseudosciences known as "Holding Therapy" (aka Attachment Therapy, Rage Reduction, Compression Therapy, etc.) back in 1989 by writing the foreword for the book "High Risk: Children Without A Conscience" -- a book still in print. Schroeder, when contacted recently about this issue, still supports her position on this "therapy cult" that literally tortures adopted and foster children.
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written by BillyJoe, July 02, 2009
How on earth did ex-Rep. Pat Schroeder get invited to speak at this CFI event?
Maybe they're setting him up.
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