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Randi on Religion and the JREF PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

My recent article about Denny's has once again called into question the JREF's stance on Atheism. Rather than go through the issue again, I'm going to post two past Swift articles, one today and one tomorrow, that demonstrate how skepticism - as the JREF sees it - can be a big tent.

On July 25th, 2003, six years and one day before I published my Denny's article, James Randi had this to say about religion. You will note that he says that atheism is normally outside the matters that the JREF handles. - Jeff Wagg

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Why I Deny Religion, How Silly and Fantastic It Is, and Why I'm a Dedicated and Vociferous Bright - by James Randi

I've reached the point where I just have to unload on this subject that until now I've felt was just outside of the matters that the JREF handles. Since religion shows up as a part of so many arguments in support of other fantastic claims, I want to show you that its embrace is of the same nature as acceptance of astrology, ESP, prophecy, dowsing, and the other myriad of strange beliefs we handle here every day. Previously, I've excused myself from involved discussions of this pervasive notion, on grounds that it offers no examinable evidence, as the other supernatural beliefs actually do - though those examinations have always shown negative results. Religious people can't be argued with logically, because they claim that their beliefs are of such a nature that they cannot be examined, but just "are."

Rather than argue or try to reason by their standards, I'll settle for pointing out, briefly, how unlikely, unreasonable, bizarre, and fantastic their basic claims are, dealing for the most part with those I'm more familiar with, from personal experience.

I frequently receive criticisms from offended believers in psychic matters and religious dogma, accusing me of being one of those dreaded "materialists," or of being unable to accept the wonders they choose to embrace because I'm "locked into" a world-view that accepts only the "unyielding" and "orthodox" scientific version of how the world works. These words in quotation marks are taken directly from recent scoldings I've been offered.

First of all, the word "unyielding" cannot possibly be applied to the genuine scientific view. My favourite concise definition of science, one which I admit I invented, is:

Science is a search for basic truths about the Universe, a search which develops statements that appear to describe how the Universe works, but which are subject to correction, revision, adjustment, or even outright rejection, upon the presentation of better or conflicting evidence.

Science is a discipline that yields frequently while attempting to closely approach that elusive goal called "truth," but knowing that any conclusion it can arrive at is merely the best one of the moment. Any statement - s = ut + ½at2, for example - is "true" when applied to cannonballs dropped from leaning towers; however it does not accurately describe the interaction of very small or very large objects such as electrons or galaxies. That doesn't make it "wrong," it merely makes it limited. More comprehensive statements such as relativity or quantum concepts, better describe a larger spectrum of physical interactions, but buried in those more advanced statements we can find the former simpler one - which I trust my reader recognizes as one of those given us by the chap named Newton.

The structure of Science itself is also in a constant state of development; ideally, it does not have an "orthodox" state into which it settles down comfortably and complacently. It only takes something like a new statistical standard or an observational innovation to change its approach to any event or decision with which it was formerly - tentatively - satisfied, but the true scientist does not regret nor refuse such improvements in approach or technique, rather embracing them and adjusting to the new-and-better understanding of the world that is now available. Religion, in contrast, is repelled by honest doubt, preferring naïve, unquestioning acceptance.

It is the willingness to adjust that provides a genuine glory to Science, in my amateur opinion. It is in distinct contrast to the axioms of religions, which proudly flaunt their inflexible "truths" to demonstrate that they "know" certain things with certainty. Yet, the Earth is round, not flat, nor is it the center of the Universe; those revelations were promptly accepted, absorbed, and applied by science - as primitive as it was at that moment in history - and no pain was felt by those who incorporated it into their world-view, though in many cases there must have been some discomfort and surprise, followed by delight.

"Eppur, si muove." Even if he didn't say it, I'm sure he wanted to....

Yes, I'm a materialist. I'm willing to be shown wrong, but that has not happened - yet. And I admit that the reason I'm unable to accept the claims of psychic, occult, and/or supernatural wonders is because I'm Iocked into a world-view that demands evidence rather than blind faith, a view that insists upon the replication of all experiments - particularly those that appear to show violations of a rational world - and a view which requires open examination of the methods used to carry out those experiments. The decision to be a materialist is my own, I made it after many years of consideration of what I observed, and after reading Bertrand Russell and others. Since it was not a mere reaction to incoming information, but the result of examining that information, I'm proud of my decision.

(Aside: I'm proud of being an American, a skeptic, and a bright. I only take pride in those things that I accomplished, not those that I was born with or was given. I chose to be an American, and I earned that distinction, I became and remain a skeptic though it was difficult and still gives me problems, and being a bright is flying in the face of those millions who label me inferior because I'm not superstitious like they are. I don't care; I know and accept the real world.)

As a child, I was told to believe that savages were doomed to boil in molten sulfur if they did not accept the "merciful" deity that was described to me, even if they had no opportunity of knowing about him/it! That deity, from what I was told, suffered from many serious defects that I was told to avoid. He/it was capricious, insecure, jealous, vindictive, sadistic, and cruel, and demanded constant praise, sacrifice, adulation, and ego-support, or the penalties could be very severe. I found, early on in my observations, that religious people were very fearful, trembling and wondering if they'd committed any infractions of the multitude of rules they had to follow. They were - and are - ruled by fear. That's not my style.

But it was the incredible stories I was told, that really made me rear back in disbelief. For examples, they told me, some 2,000 years ago a mid-East virgin was impregnated by a ghost of some sort, and as a result produced a son who could walk on water, raise the dead, turn water into wine, and multiply loaves of bread and fishes. All that was in addition to tossing out demons. He expected and accepted a brutal, sadistic, death - and then he rose from the dead.

There was much, much, more. Adam and Eve, they said, were the original humans, plunked down in a garden to start our species going. But I didn't understand, and still don't, that they had only two children, both sons - and one of them killed the other - yet somehow they produced enough people to populate the Earth, without incest, which was a big no-no! Then some prophet or other made the Earth stop turning, an army blew horns until a wall fell down, a guy named Moses made the Red Sea divide in two, and made frogs fall out of the sky....

I needn't go on. And that's only a small start on one religion! The Wizard of Oz is more believable. And more fun.

I keep hearing, from the parapsychologists, the religious, and the occultists, about this unwillingness they point to, a reluctance by certain skeptics to consider the evidence. There may well be skeptics out there who match that description, but I don't know of any. I've heard that the skeptics' postulated refusal to believe, parallels and even exceeds the dedication of the most ardent reincarnation enthusiast, spoon-bending buff, or UFO devotee. I've also seen attempts to delineate the more or less nonrational bases that underlie such extreme positions.

It's said, quite correctly, that the human mind needs to form an understandable picture of the universe in which it lives; pattern-seeking is a basic survival technique hard-wired into us. We also seek to have an understanding of our own existence, and we often find that adopting what can be described as a religious or a "religious-metaphysical" world-view seems to make it easier to make sense of the perceived riddle of existence. I find that skeptics, generally speaking, eschew belief in metaphysical, untestable, unscientific hypotheses, but credophiles prefer to believe that - when pressed - we skeptics will confess to having adopted at least some degree of metaphysical outlook. This can only be the credophiles' desperate attempt at wishful thinking, a declaration that they cannot believe that not everyone is credulous. It's just something they can't relate to, nor accept.

Here is how the credophiles see us skeptics, and how they try to make themselves appear rational, in contrast to our giddy ways: They will admit that many of them have adopted unorthodox religious positions - and they may include in that list such obvious and ridiculous straw-men as Theosophy and Scientology, just to show that they're not totally bereft of common sense. They say that while many skeptics disclaim any religious proclivities, yet, they add, upon careful examination, they too may often be seen to have a profound belief in what the credophiles see as the "metaphysical doctrine" that they call, "materialism." This doctrine, they say, denies the existence of such entities as minds, souls, and spirits, and asserts that the physical universe constitutes the entirety of reality. They point out that as materialism cannot be said to be scientifically or philosophically proven, this embrace on our part may be due to a reaction to certain events and trends in the history of science.

This is a cart-and-horse inversion, in my opinion. To digress momentarily, let me provide here a view and an approach that I have given before. Readers will be aware of the million-dollar prize that is offered by the JREF. Many - a majority - of the applicants for that prize challenge us to disprove their claim(s). We point out that we make no claims, and we only require them to prove theirs; we do not, and will not, attempt to disprove that which they claim is true. Similarly, skeptics do not attempt to prove materialism. It is simply the best, most logical, reasonable, explanation of the universe. That's using parsimony. And materialism can be tested - a feature the credophiles often say is not acceptable nor necessary within their supernatural world-view.

Skeptics do not allow the invention of convenient but untestable situations or entities to establish a claim, nor do they accept that mental or spiritual properties can be ascribed to physical matter, which is the origin of the idea of holy relics and locations. Buddha's tooth, the Shroud of Turin, Lourdes, the Black Stone of Mecca, are examples. Aristotle, upon whose teachings much of Christianity is based, taught that there were "crystalline spheres" that carried the planets and stars on their celestial voyages, and that they were associated with incorporeal, undefined "movers" that provided the forces that kept them in motion. He thought that these "movers" were spiritual in nature, and that the relationship of a mover to its sphere was like that of a soul to its body. This view was amplified by later interpreters of Aristotle such as Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century who taught that baser matter was likewise conceived to have psychological properties.

Aristotle wrote that a terrestrial object fell to the ground due to its "aspiration" to reach its "natural place." This animistic view of the universe is also found in the work of William Gilbert, the English physician. He endorsed the ideas of the Greek philosopher Thales, who attributed magnetic attraction to the action of a "magnetic soul" in the naturally magnetic mineral known as lodestone, the attraction brought about by the emission of a "magnetic effluvium" by the mineral. Gilbert also believed that the Earth itself had a magnetic soul. In its position so near the Sun, he said, the Earth's soul perceived the Sun's magnetic field, and reasoned that its one side would burn up while the other would freeze, if it did not act, thus it chose to revolve upon its axis, and then decided to incline its axis at a slight angle in order to bring about the variation of seasons.

Do not err by condemning Aristotle and Harvey as poor thinkers; they were not. Other matters they wrote about were well handled. It's likely that if they'd had access to the improved knowledge that was developed after their period of existence, they would have accepted and celebrated that input; they were scientists, though the strict discipline of that profession had not been arrived at when they declared their conclusions. The fact that these fantastic animistic views of the matter constituting the Universe have now vanished as a result of scientific advances, must not lead us to disdain the ideas of the ancients; they did the best they could, and because of the freely-created inventions of their religions - virgin birth and loaves-and-fishes stories always spring to mind - they found no difficulty with their arguably less fanciful assumptions. However, it seems high time for the paranormalists, occultists, and religious enthusiasts of today to accept that their own assumptions are also no more, and no longer, acceptable. We need to grow up.

Religion is behind so many of the major tragedies of humanity. A new book by Jon Krakauer is titled, "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith." The current perception of Islam as a particularly militant religion - officially fanned and embellished to justify our presence in Iraq, in my opinion - invokes horrid memories of the Branch Davidian cult fiasco and the Aum Shinricko nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway of a few years ago, and of the 1978 "doomsday" suicide of the faithful in the Jim Jones' People's Temple sect. These are just a few dramatic instances of the effects of religious zeal that made the more conservative believers recoil and perhaps even doubt - momentarily - the wisdom of their faith.

It need not have taken such sudden, bloody, high-profile events to call our attention to this problem. Other more pervasive, ongoing situations to which we seem to have become accustomed because of their constant presence in our lives, should command equal alarm. The Israeli-Palestinian tragedy, the Catholic-Protestant war in Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka's Tamil-Sinhalese feud, and the Hindu-Muslim atrocities that daily take lives and bring terror and agony to so many, are only continuations of the ages-old confrontations between varieties of religious delusions. Desperate efforts to sustain - by any means - the rule and power of in-place religious systems that insist they have The Way to salvation and eternal life, as so well demonstrated in the bloody Catholic Inquisition that released us not too long ago, illustrate equally well that so much of our conflict is a direct result of the presence of religion. And, in cases of such minor events as local elections, the religion card can and often is played, with great success. We cherish our mistakes, and we defend them. Often to the death.

And the attitude that superstitious beliefs such as religion are harmless, is quite wrong. Richard Dawkins recently observed, in www.thehumanist.org/humanist/articles/dawkins.html:

I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate. Faith, being belief that isn't based on evidence, is the principal vice of any religion. And who, looking at Northern Ireland or the Middle East, can be confident that the brain virus of faith is not exceedingly dangerous?

I have always differentiated between "blind faith" and "evidence derived faith." From now on, I'll use the word "faith" and not insert "blind." Rather than "evidence derived faith" I'll use "confidence." I have confidence in the rising of the Sun tomorrow - or, more correctly, the turning of the Earth to face the Sun! - and I have faith that George W. Bush will eventually cease appealing to a deity or invoking prayer in every one of his public appearances....

The credophiles try to establish a parallel between science and religion. This is a useless pursuit; these ideas are exact opposites of one another. No, as Dawkins also writes, "Although it has many of religion's virtues, [science] has none of its vices. Science is based upon verifiable evidence."

We find religion in so much of our history, our philosophy, our everyday lives, and our legal system. Miscegenation was banned based on Biblical rules, slavery was justified by the same book. It's convenient to have an ancient set of rules to back up odious actions and behavior, especially when it can be argued that a certain amount of "interpretation" - though never outright denial! - is necessary for them to properly be applied to any given situation. In that regard, I reject the tired arguments that try to excuse perfectly obvious errors and blunders of religion by insisting that "it doesn't really mean that." It means what it says, and no amount of alibi-ing and explaining will convince me that they didn't intend the faithful to actually believe that the Universe was created in seven days. Make up your mind: either it's right, or it's wrong.

Spare me the argument that we owe so much of our art and culture to religion; that's a misattribution. The great architecture, paintings, music, and sculpture that poured forth in adulation of saints, deities and their offspring, and the blessed deceased, were commissioned, sponsored and paid for by those who offered them as sacrifices, penance, homage, and public relations. Those offerings were items of insurance, appeasements, and bribes, to neutralize transgressions or to obtain a better position on line. They were prompted by fear. I agree that we're better off for the wealth of creative work that we're able to share as a result of this apprehension, but I often think of how much better it could have been if the work had been directed to, and designed for, our species - rather than for mythical beings in the sky or under the ground.

Well, I thank the mythology for giving me Handel's "Messiah," but that doesn't make up for the suffering, grief, fear, and the millions of dead that need not have been....

Consider: a man believes - beyond any doubt - that his god is the only god, is all-powerful and all-knowing, has created him and the entire universe around him, and is capricious, jealous, vindictive, and violent. That same god offers the man a choice between burning in eternal agony in a fully-defined hell, or living forever in a variety of paradises - some of which involve streets of gold and others an ample supply of virgin delights. Is there any choice here? Will the man fail to carry out any command or whim of this deity? How can we doubt that religion is a compulsory system that absolutely rules its adherents? It's a tyranny, a trap, a disaster of infinite size and scope. I'll have none of it.

Examine the notion of a "loving god." This god only loves you if you follow the rules. No questions, no doubts, no objections, are allowed. "Because I said so, that's why." He/she/it loves you as a farmer loves a draft-animal; you're useful, you obey, and you're docile. If you stray, your firstborn will be murdered, if you don't follow a capricious order, you're a pillar of salt. This is "love"? If so, I'll take indifference.

Unlike the religious, who have it all cut-and-dried, predigested and served up to them, I'm willing to be shown. But I will not entertain the argument of threats and fear, I will not fall for the "we don't know everything" throw-down, and I haven't the time to argue the endless anecdotal tales of which the faithful are so fond.

What do I believe in? I believe in the basic goodness of my species, because that appears to be a positive tactic and quality that leads to better chances of survival - and in spite of our foolishness, we seem to have survived. I believe that this system of aging and eventually dying - a system that is the result of the evolutionary process, not of conscious effort - is an excellent process that makes room for hopefully improved members of the species, in an increasingly limited environment. I believe that if we don't smarten up and get a sense of reality and pragmatism, our species will do what they all eventually do: it will cease to exist, prematurely. I also believe that we will get smart, because that's a survival technique, and we're really pretty good at that....

I also believe in puppy-dogs and a child's sparkling eyes, in laughter and smiles, in sunflowers and butterflies. Mountains and icebergs, snowflakes and clouds, are delights to me. Yes, I know that this perception is the result of hard-wiring in my brain, along with the added input of experience and association, but that does not subtract a bit from my appreciation of phenomena. I know that others, both of my species and not, may not share my awe and acceptance of these elements that so please me, because they have different needs and reactions. A cloud is a mass of condensed water-vapor in the atmosphere, I know. But it can be a sailing-ship, a demon, an eagle, if I allow myself to be a human being, and though many will doubt it, I frequently do.

Author Krakauer, in his book "Under the Banner of Heaven," dealing with the premise that violence and fanaticism can be found readily available in religion, writes:

Although the far territory of the extreme can exert an intoxicating pull on susceptible individuals of all bents, extremism seems to be especially prevalent among those inclined by temperament or upbringing toward religious pursuits. Faith is the very antithesis of reason, injudiciousness a critical component of spiritual devotion. And when religious fanaticism supplants ratiocination, all bets are suddenly off. Anything can happen. Absolutely anything. Common sense is no match for the voice of God . . .

"Faith is the very antithesis of reason, injudiciousness a critical component of spiritual devotion." That says it all.

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Not all religions are created equal, Lowly rated comment [Show]
Oh, yes they are. It's only a question of degree.
written by Metatron, July 28, 2009
We don't need to be playing the "My religion isn't as evil as yours" game here, I think.
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written by MadScientist, July 28, 2009
@stifenlaso: By that argument, the catholic church also gave us Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, and Stalin.

The religious people whom I meet who claim to be skeptical often have an ulterior motive - namely to be skeptical of other cults. I have heard these sorts of statements so many times:

"Oh, those people in religion X don't realize they won't be saved."

"Religion X believes in this nonsense Y; they're so stupid they can't see that Z (a different religion's nonsense) is the truth"

My favorites go something like: "Haha, did you see how Religion X and Religion Y were debating topic Q? It's so stupid; they're both wrong because Z is the truth!"

It is comical and yet terrifying what nonsense people believe in.

When I say another cult, I do not limit that word to other religions - I really do mean cults. For example astrology is a cult belief and its adherents are members of the astrological cult by definition. Although the catholic church does believe in astrology despite their claims (look at the christmas stories for example), the church poo-poos other brands of astrology such as Chinese astrology and of course anything based on the good old Zodiac. The same is true of numerology; the catholic church simply loves it but poo-poos Jewish, Chinese, and any other non-catholic numerology. Whenever the catholic church issues yet another edict against astrology (meaning other people's astrology) because according to the catholic religion it is nonsense, I just fall over laughing.
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@stifenlaso
written by Bruno, July 28, 2009
That's the point innit? The outcome of religion is pretty random. I don't think anyone would think science to be a good thing if one had to sift through centuries to find redeeming examples of scientists who happened to be right for no better reason than personal disposition. That's the difference between objective and subjective truths. The objective ones remain the same regardless of who observe them (hence the emphasis on independent replication) whereas subjective "truths" hinge on the individual and can't therefore be trusted to be true outside the head of the individual.

@Randi: Timeless piece of wisdom. Jeff, thanks for re-posting.
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written by ianmacm, July 28, 2009
JREF can trace its origins back to the psychic boom of the 1970s, when the media was often uncritical about spoonbending, drawing duplication and the like. Claims of this kind can and should be tested under strict conditions. This is a separate area from expressing pro and anti religious sentiments, particularly if they lead to non-testable questions like "Does God exist?" The histories of atheism and sceptical inquiry are intertwined, but is important not to see the two areas as interchangeable.
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written by Piece of Lint, July 28, 2009
Adam and Eve, they said, were the original humans, plunked down in a garden to start our species going. But I didn't understand, and still don't, that they had only two children
I think you'll find they had quite a few more children, starting with Seth. I don't care to remember the names of the rest, but I think there were even a few females.

This view was amplified by later interpreters of Aristotle such as Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century who taught that baser matter was likewise conceived to have psychological properties.
I always wondered where renowned philosopher-of-mind David Chalmers got that nutty idea; maybe he stole it from Thomas Aquinas.

Spare me the argument that we owe so much of our art and culture to religion; that's a misattribution.
I do not think it is a misattribution, really. I think, based on my understanding of evolution, history and anthropology, that in the times long past religion provided a culture with an adaptive advantage. Memes spread under the same rules as genes. For all its problems, religion has a unifying force on a society, which fosters cooperation. This has good effects and bad (such as cooperation in killing everyone that has opposing beliefs). As some have said of primitive times "life was nasty, brutish and short", and in those circumstances the advantages weighed up to the disadvantages.

But let it be noted that we do not live in those circumstances today. Past results are no guarantee for the future. So, whether we attribute such past benefit to religion or not, there is no reason to keep religion today.
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Atheism and Skepticism
written by AZAtheist, July 28, 2009
I'm the organizer for two Meetup groups in Tucson: Skeptics of Tucson and Tucson Atheists while I have a lot of members that belong to both groups, some Atheists aren't members of the Skeptics and vice versa. I see the groups as separate with different missions. The Atheist group is more about social support and activism in regard the the narrow subject of the separation of the church and state. On the other hand, the Skeptics of Tucson group is more about science, logical fallacies, and critical thinking. Some meetings are educational while others delve into specific subjects where more application of critical thinking is needed, such as psy and antivax. I have a Venn diagram that I'm fond of. It shows skepticism as the bigger area almost containing Atheism and Humanism. In other words not all skeptics are Atheists but skepticism forms the foundation of Atheism.
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I think Randi confirms the point...
written by Gazcam, July 28, 2009
@Jeff – thank you for posting this. It’s a very interesting read which I hadn’t seen before, and clarifies, beyond all doubt, Randi’s views (if indeed, this was in need of clarification). However, the controversy was sparked by your disclaimer which preceded yesterday’s article. This comprised (i) that the JREF is not an atheist organisation, and (ii) that there are members of the JREF who are religious believers.

In defense of the first point, you state, “You will note that he says that atheism is normally outside the matters that the JREF handles”. Actually, that isn’t what says. Read it again: he doesn’t say that atheism is normally outside the matters that the JREF handles, he says that
I've reached the point where I just have to unload on this subject that until now I've felt was just outside of the matters that the JREF handles

That is, "until now" ,until 2003, he felt that it was outside the matters JREF handles. It’s 2009 – for 6 years, Randi has not held this view. He now classifies religion has being no different to any other form of woo-woo which the JREF applies itself:
Its embrace is of the same nature as acceptance of astrology, ESP, prophecy, dowsing, and the other myriad of strange beliefs we handle here every day

That is pretty unequivocal. Is not to say that the JREF will actively go out to disprove religion – this would be preposterous: you can’t prove a negative: the JREF should not try to disprove religion, nor more than it should try to disprove celestial teapots, or fairies at the bottom of the garden.
we do not, and will not, attempt to disprove that which they claim is true.

But that is NOT to say that religion is beyond the JREF’s remit, and your disclaimer is incompatible with Randi’s stated position of the JREF.

As to the second point, I really question whether this is true, that there really are religious believers amongst the members of the JREF – are you really going to stand by that statement? I expect that this was an olive branch to the religious to avoid offending their sensibilities. This is the unwarranted pandering to religious sensibilities that Dawkins points to, and states how it has allowed religion to survive. But this pandering must stop. As Dawkins puts it: “I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world's great evils”. Randi cites numerous religious conflicts that we passively encourage by our inaction and fear of causing offense. Faith is a means to perpetuate a myth, with retains power to those who yield it, and maintains those who follow it in servility. It is precisely with the JREF’s remit to question it, as Randi has clearly done, and if, as you claim, there are members of the JREF who are religious apologists, then perhaps they should recognise this conflict and inconsistency, and question their own position.

Your disclaimer was inappropriate. It was inconsistent with the principles of the JREF. You should retract it, and get on with the worthy cause of debunking ALL myths, without apologising for doing so.
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Science and religion are NOT compatible
written by Gazcam, July 28, 2009
I have a Venn diagram that I'm fond of. It shows skepticism as the bigger area almost containing Atheism and Humanism. In other words not all skeptics are Atheists but skepticism forms the foundation of Atheism

Please could you add to your Venn diagram another circle: ‘hypocrites’, since to be a skeptic and apply critical thinking on all things, except religion, is simply to apply double standards. If you can show me how critical thinking – an unbiased evaluation of all available evidence, and reappraisal of the working model as new evidence is presented – can reasonably lead to faith-based religious belief, then I will happily take back that statement, and applaud loudly as you pick up the million dollars yourself, since you will have demonstrated to the world that supernatural forces really do exist! The scientific method is incompatible with religious belief. I don't think I can put it any more clearly or eloquently than James Randi does:
I want to show you that its embrace is of the same nature as acceptance of astrology, ESP, prophecy, dowsing, and the other myriad of strange beliefs we handle here every day

Accommodationism only allows these ancient fairy tales to perpetuate, and you should challenge their claims in precisely the same way, and for precisely the same reasons as you challenge the psychics, the astrologers and the homeopaths.
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Science is incompatible with religion.
written by Gazcam, July 28, 2009
@ianmacm

JREF can trace its origins back to the psychic boom of the 1970s, when the media was often uncritical about spoonbending, drawing duplication and the like. Claims of this kind can and should be tested under strict conditions.


Religion makes equally testable claims. If the null hypothesis is 'no God', then you can seek to test the alternative hypothesis, 'God exists', and accumulate supporting evidence. You cannot of course disprove God (just like you can't prove any negative - it's not how the scientific method works), but if it were true, then it is conceivable that under the strictest of test conditions, you could provide sufficient evidence to convince even the most hardened skeptic that God exists. It's just that such evidence in all probability doesn't exist. But we shouldn't confuse the infinitessimally small likelihood of such an experiment actually producing a positive result with the idea that the hypothesis is untestable.

Furthermore, theism makes claims which are testable, without actually testing directly whether there is evidence to support that God exists: a critical aspect of theistic belief is that a supernatural being intervenes on the believer's behalf, responding to offered prayers. This can, and has been tested: here are the results of a Cochrane Database meta-analsys of 10 such studies on the effects of intercessory prayer for the alleviation of ill health., reported by Review by Roberts et al. in 2009 (full reference: Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009 Apr 15;(2):CD00036smilies/cool.gif
Ten studies are included in this updated review (7646 patients). For the comparison of intercessory prayer plus standard care versus standard care alone, overall there was no clear effect of intercessory prayer on death, with the effect not reaching statistical significance and data being heterogeneous (6 RCTs, n=6784, random-effects RR 0.77 CI 0.51 to 1.16, I(2) 83%). For general clinical state there was also no significant difference between groups (5 RCTs, n=2705, RR intermediate or bad outcome 0.98 CI 0.86 to 1.11). Four studies found no effect for re-admission to Coronary Care Unit (4 RCTs, n=2644, RR 1.00 CI 0.77 to 1.30).Two other trials found intercessory prayer had no effect on re-hospitalisation (2 RCTs, n=1155, RR 0.93 CI 0.71 to 1.22)

The conclusion is that there is no evidence to support that prayers are answered in response to ill health. Of course, that doesn't prove that God exists or not, it simply shows that there is no evidence to support one of the central claims of theism, that God answers prayer and intervenes on the individual's behalf. Believers could of course protest (as they surely will, since evidence does not sway the faithful) that their God will not be tested in this way, and may have actively intervened to skew the results (or perhaps passively sat on his hands to allow people to die, so as to avoid detection - nice!), but therein is the incompatibility of science and religion. As a scientist, I proceed in an atheist manner, that is, I assume that my experimental results are subject to natural laws, and no supernatural force will intervene to affect the outcome. Science is incompatible with religion, and there is no seperation in testing religious sentiments from any other unsubstantiated claims of supernatural forces.
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written by BjartesF, July 29, 2009
I completely agree with Gazcam and fail to see how Randi's article goes to "demonstrate how skepticism - as the JREF sees it - can be a big tent". The way Randi describes it, "skepticism" is a mindset that is fundamentally at odds with accepting claims about reality on faith. Here is something I wrote on Jerry Coyne's blog:

The more I listen to accomodationists like Mooney, Nisbet, Scott etc. the more I come to realize that I’d be perfectly happy to watch their watered-down version of “science” – the kind that is perfectly compatible with holding unshakable beliefs for bad reasons, and needs to be communicated by appealing to something other than your honestly held reasons – wither and die. After all, they have already stripped it of everything that made it worth promoting in the first place.

To me the very core of science is critical thinking as well as intellectual honesty, and the core of critical thinking is simply insisting on good rather than bad reasons for believing. In order to believe in God religious people have no choice but to rely on bad reasons (dogma, tradition, authority, revelation etc.) because no other reasons are available (and no amount of special pleading is ever going to turn the cosmological or teleological argument – or any of the other familiar arguments – into good reasons for believing in God). The day that “science” no longer required us to prefer good reasons to bad reasons was the day that science died. When the accomodationists make the argument that portraying science and religion as incompatible is going to turn people away from science, what they are in effect saying is this:

If you force people to either follow the good reasons or the bad reasons, they will go with the bad reasons.


If there is no conflict between this mindset and what the accomodationists are advocating, they are free to call what they’re advocating “critical thinking”, but let’s not pretend we are still talking about the same thing.
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written by Gazcam, July 29, 2009
I completely agree with Gazcam


Thanks BjartesF - I was beginning to think I had logged on to the wrong site! I'm interested in critical thinking, not just when it suits.
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Not equal, again
written by stifenlaso, July 29, 2009
We don't need to be playing the "My religion isn't as evil as yours" game here, I think.


Precisely the kind of prejudice I was talking about: "All religions are basically the same". (BTW, I don't have a "religion", as you seem to believe. Another prejudice, perhaps?).

Let me explain. I may be wrong, but it seems to me the majority of JREF's readers and posters come from USA. All I'm saying is:

- That USA has developed a very interesting, irrational and extreme brand of religion (which has succesfully used a lot of marketing to "colonize" most of the "third" world);
- Which cannot be used as a paradigm of "religion" itself (in fact, it's very hard to define "religion", as a cursory review of the anthropological literature will demonstrate);
- But which, at the same time, explains why most of the people exposed to that brand of religious experience react either with blind faith or justified indignation,
- And that both reactions preclude rational discussion and generally end with angered name-calling.

In my experience, every time I try to bring up other aspects of religious thought that would contradict the "all religions are equal" idea, the answer is "you're wrong -and surely you're trying to defend religion because you yourself are religious" (i.e., irrational). I have not yet found the curious and intelligent "atheist" (or whatever) capable of saying "Hm! that Nicholas of Cusa sounds interesting... Will read more about it and give it some thought".

By that argument, the catholic church also gave us Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, and Stalin.


Franco, no doubt about it; Mussolini, may be. As to Hitler and Stalin (who was an atheist), I don't see the relationship. Anyway, that's not my point. All I'm saying is: "religion" is Intelligent Design (sic) -and also Nicholas of Cusa; is Jerry Fallwell and Nagarjuna, is the Bible Belt and the Left Hand Path, it is Deism and Taoism.

Finally, a word about "cults". As I see it, superstition (literalistic interpretation of the "Book", amulets and magical devices...) is not the essence of religion but its distortion; much as scientism is not science but magical thinking posing as science. Both have a common characteristic: fetishism, the attribution of human powers to inanimate objects. Both are easy to pinpoint because they make people arrogant, self-righteous and less "open to experience" (which is a well known psychological trait).

(Sorry for my bad English, it's late and I'm ver tired...)
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One more thing:
written by BjartesF, July 29, 2009
I frequently hear the argument that skepticism is not the same as atheism (Who said it was?), which is certainly true. We don't have a separate word for "not believing in ghosts", but if we did skepticism and "a-ghost-ism" would not be the same thing either. Lacking one particular delusion obviously doesn't make you a skeptic, but that does not in any way imply that there is no conflict between skepticism and belief in ghosts (or to be more precise: the method of thought that would lead a person to believe in ghosts). In the same way a lack of faith in god(s) does not automatically lead to critical thinking, but critical thinking - if applied consistently - does indeed lead to a lack of faith in both gods and ghosts.
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So many circles
written by Gazcam, July 29, 2009
@BjartesF

aghostism! I love it! smilies/cheesy.gif Turning back to that Venn diagram, there are lot of circles which fall within the superset of 'skepticism': a-homeopathy-ism, a-tarot-ism, a-dowsing-ism, atheism... But they are subsets, and all fall entirely within the superset of skepticism. If you try to move any of those circles outside the boundary, then all you end up with is accommodationism.
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Atheism is definitely within the scope of JREF
written by dmitrybrant, July 29, 2009
Well, the key word from Randi's article is:
until now I've felt [atheism] was just outside of the matters that the JREF handles

So...
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Not sure I understand your point, stifenlaso
written by TK2009, July 29, 2009
@stifenlaso:

I understand your argument to be that not everybody who is religious believes that "his god is the only god, is all-powerful and all-knowing, has created him and the entire universe around him, and is capricious, jealous, vindictive, and violent". However, I do not understand the importance of this argument, and in particular how it undermines Randi's core message (at least as I understand it) that faith cannot be accepted as a credible basis for action.

Were you just making the limited argument that some religions are worse than others, or were you trying to make a broader point that I seem to have missed?
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written by Piece of Lint, July 29, 2009
Does a person's own experience count as evidence?
There are those who claim to have intense religious experience. Granted, descriptions of such an experience seem suspiciously like what you might get from trans-cranial magnetic stimulation of the temporal lobe. But it is also inherently an unsharable experience. Should that discount it as evidence for a person's own consideration?
I would hazard to say that people's belief in God is not incompatible with skepticism provided they had such direct personal experience (and their claims of "god" do not go beyond what the experience supports). There is, of course, reason to be skeptical of your own perception (cue optical and aural illusions), but you can't go through life treating everything as a hallucination either. On the other hand, if the evidence for artificially generating such experience is well-known, that should give cause for doubts about the validity of such experience; but it isn't that well-known yet.
In any case, imo, the issue is not quite as clear cut as it may seem to some.
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It's the 21st, not 14th century!
written by Gazcam, July 29, 2009
@Piece of Limit

I'm not sure I could disagree more strongly with your posting. Science is there to protect us from our own intuitions, and our hard-wired tendencies to see patterns in random noise.

Does a person's own experience count as evidence?


As evidence? No, no and no again! That is not to discredit or disregard at a subjective level anyone's personal experience. People can genuinely experience all sorts of weird and wonderful things, and for all sorts of reasons. But the plural of anecdote is not data! Science allows us to test our assumptions as to what may drive those experiences, and to this date, it has not supported supernatural explanations. It doesn't get any more clear cut than that, and if you can show otherwise, wave to me smugly as you collect Randi's million dollars. We construct a representation of the world around us, and sometimes that model is wrong. We can be misled and deceived by our own limited physical capabilities, by our own inherent biases, or by the ambiguity of the environment around us. Our brain attempts to make sense of these possibilities and construct a parsimonious interpretation, which is our subjective intuition. The only way to rationally and objectively test these interpretations is to subject them to rigorous and controlled scientific testing. The scientific method has underpinned modern humanity's progress, and relieved us from superstition - don't turn your back on it now!
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Slow down, just for 1 minute, Lowly rated comment [Show]
Well...
written by stifenlaso, July 29, 2009
My point is: "religion" is not a discrete and obvious category. On the contrary, is a very problematic one; so to affirm that "religion is a compulsory system that absolutely rules its adherents... a tyranny, a trap, a disaster of infinite size and scope" and so on, based on a single kind of religious experience, is a terrible mistake (born of ignorance of the varieties of religious experience).

For instance, "religion" does not entail "god"; there are religious systems without any god (non-theistic). Then again, the Christian notion of "God" has nothing in common with the Hindu "devas", which is usually translated as "gods". Not all religions have "dogmas" or "unquestionable truths"... And so on...

I'm not talking about "better" or "worse" religious systems, though I definitely think some are indeed better than others in terms of their ethical consequences. I'm saying that before condemning all religions one should do some research on what religion actually is and has been; and that Christian Fundamentalism is not, and should never be considered, the paradigm of religion.

As to belief and faith, things are a little more complicated than "faith = bad, evidence-backed confidence = good"; and had been so ever since Hume -and more so since Popper. There is no clear-cut distinction between faith and evidence-backed belief (except for the easy and clearly absurd cases Randi mentions). To be "rational" is not to build every belief upon the (supposedly) solid rock of "hard evidence"; it is to be open to discuss the meaning and importance of this evidence. Rationality lies in being open to criticism, not in "keeping close to the facts". So, there has been rational discussion in the history of religion (although, I admit, not very frequently).

In fact, you can even argue that science presuposses some kind of "blind faith"; in fact, Hume did something of the sort, as I'll explain with the same example he used (which is the one Randi mentions, I guess without knowing it, for he arrives to a ver different conclusion). (For a very good introduction to Hume, see here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hume/)

We certainly "have confidence in the rising of the Sun tomorrow". But why? Because it has risen yesterday, the day before, and so on, for thousands of years (to my knowledge).

But think of it carefully. As of today, all I know is the sun has never failed to rise. It has done so yesterday, the day before, and so on. But that does not authorize me to say that "I'm certain the sun will rise tomorrow". All I can say is: "If things keep on going on like this, then the sun will rise tomorrow". The condition "if things go on like this" is essential to go from "the sun has risen day after day" to "the sun will rise tomorrow".
But how can I be sure that "things will keep on going like this"? Because they have, in the past. And here I'm biting my own tail: the only reason I can say that things will keep on going on is that they had been going on in the past. To demonstrate this conclusion I have to accept it first; which, of course, is absurd. I have to blindly trust the Universe obeys some laws before I can even set on to discover them. (THis fine piece of philosophical argument is called "HUme's paradox").

This is not to say knowledge is "relative" and "science and religion are the same, both based on faith". Just to show that thing are a bit more complicated than we care to think.
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testing, testing...
written by Gazcam, July 29, 2009
this is a test - as my posts appear to be being moderated...
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@Gazcam
written by JeffWagg, July 29, 2009
Again, you have misrepresented my position. Please read what I've written more carefully. I did not address religion in my disclaimer. You equate "god" with "religion" for some reason, and that's imprecise and incorrect. I specifically stated that the question of god's existence is outside the realm of the JREF.

I know for a fact that there are JREF members who believe in "god," whatever that means to them, and I know some that some of them go to church. Martin Gardner is the classic example. I don't know about his church attendance, but he certainly believes in some form of deity. When questioned about this, he says "It gives me comfort to believe so." That belief is HIS business... his personal experiences, which I have not had, brought him to that conclusion. He admits he has no evidence for his claim, but he's also not making one for anyone but himself. And if you don't think Martin is a skeptic, well... I don't know what to say.

You also state that "the plural of anecdote is not data." No one is claiming that it is! I specifically stated that one man's experience is not evidence.

AZAtheist has it right. I know him well, he's clearly an atheist and yet he can see how there's room in skepticism for those who haven't come to exactly the same conclusion that he has.
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written by dmitrybrant, July 29, 2009
@stifenlaso
All I can say is: "If things keep on going on like this, then the sun will rise tomorrow". The condition "if things go on like this" is essential to go from "the sun has risen day after day" to "the sun will rise tomorrow".
We know that the Sun will rise tomorrow not because "it rose yesterday," but because we have a firm understanding of planetary motion and gravity in our solar system. The assumption that the laws of physics will be the same tomorrow as they are today is not based on faith. The theory of gravity and newtonian mechanics is tested and re-tested every day in middle school science classrooms.

The assumption that the laws of physics were the same millions of years ago is based on a sort of faith, but it's still backed up by some amount of cosmological evidence. It is certainly not the same "faith" as the religions boast.
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@dmitrybrant
written by JeffWagg, July 29, 2009
"Until now" meant until he made his own personal feeling known in that article.

Why is the label "atheist" so important for an organization?

Here's an analogy. The JREF has often been critical of the idea of "Bigfoot." We have featured articles on why the evidence presented was bogus, and how it's unlikely that such a creature exists. Does the JREF as a position NOT believe in "Bigfoot?" No. We have never seen any evidence for Bigfoot, so we doubt its existence, but if someone came to us and said that they saw Bigfoot, but alas have no evidence to prove it, we can't do anything with that. We might wonder if they were somehow deluded or had a prank pull on them or whatever, but we can not claim that they were mistaken, because we have no evidence to back up that claim.

And yes, such folks would be welcome at the JREF. This is about inquiry, not conclusions.
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written by latsot, July 29, 2009
non-testable questions like "Does God exist?"


Why on earth would you imagine that this is not testable?
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The troll appears again...
written by Gazcam, July 29, 2009
@truth6413

I'm responding to you only once - I realized yesterday that you are a troll, and I'm not feeding you again. This is my one and only reply to you, and I implore others not to allow you to derail the thread, as is your clear intention. Feel free to continue the conversation in a vacuum.

I'm not an expert in cosmology. I'm a neuroscientist if you want to know. If you ask me a question about neuroscience, and if it's in my field, I'll answer. But the essence of knowledge is knowing how little you know, and being willing to say so when this is the case. If you ask me a question about cosmology, the appropriate and only answer you'll get from me, is that I don't have sufficient knowledge to answer that. I certainly won't pretend to know what caused the earth to come into existence. There are scientists who study this, and have hypotheses which they are attempting to test scientifically. I give their ideas some credence, not because I have the expertise required to critique them, but because I have an understanding and respect for process, the scientific method, by which they have arrived at their conclusions.

Now, compare that to your position, as a Creationist. I imagine that, similar to me, you have no expertise in Cosmology. Yet, instead of accepting your ignorance on this matter, you invent a fantasy. A God, who does all the intellectual work for you. No need for any further explanation! A 'sky-hook', as Dan Dennett calls it. You have nothing to say on the process by which this was brought about, nothing to say on where the Creator comes from, and nothing to say about how your one and only source of this information, an ancient book from a backward age, is entirely contradictory with the fossil record. And certainly no evidence for any of your fantasies.

If you suggest that as an atheist, I have no definitive answer to the origin of the universe, and that this in any way strengthens the fantasy that you hold, then this is not an appropriate topic for discussion, since I can't reason you out of a position you didn't reason yourself into.

The only way you can strengthen your case for Creationism, is to provide evidence for it. I look forward to hearing it...

If you go beyond this deistic position, and attempt to argue a theistic philosophy, then you have so much more evidence to produce. I would say that I look forward to hearing it, but since I know that you'll have none, then I'll simply anticipate your further attempts to derail the discussion.
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written by jdodd74, July 29, 2009
@latsot

Can you propose a protocol that could successfully test for the existence of god?
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written by stifenlaso, July 29, 2009
The assumption that the laws of physics were the same millions of years ago is based on a sort of faith, but it's still backed up by some amount of cosmological evidence. It is certainly not the same "faith" as the religions boast.


Of course it's not the same, as I said myself. But its not "hard evidence" either, because there is no such thing as "hard evidence".

The assumption that the laws of physics will be the same tomorrow as they are today is not based on faith. The theory of gravity and newtonian mechanics is tested and re-tested every day in middle school science classrooms.


This is a mistake. To test anything we must take for granted the universe will "behave". For instance, to measure an object I must suppose the ruler does not change its size in the meantime. It may be a good idea to take this for granted (in the sense that I don't have a good reason to doubt it); but I cannot demonstrate it, because to do so I would have to compare that ruler to yet another one, and so on.

By the same token, I must take it that the Universe behaves the same here in this classroom that it does there and everywhere. But I cannot prove it, for it would force me to take yet other things for granted, and so on. This is why scientific testing and research is so difficult: every measure requires a lot of other observations and measures, which in turn depend on it. To plot the course of Venus I have to take for granted the laws of optics do apply to my lenses and to the planet, and vice versa.

Sorry: there's no way to avoid Hume's paradox!
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@Jeff
written by dmitrybrant, July 29, 2009
We have never seen any evidence for Bigfoot [God], so we doubt its existence, but if someone came to us and said that they saw Bigfoot [God], but alas have no evidence to prove it, we can't do anything with that. We might wonder if they were somehow deluded or had a prank pull on them or whatever, but we can not claim that they were mistaken, because we have no evidence to back up that claim.
I'm by no means suggesting that the JREF be labeled an atheist organization. But then again... what's the harm?

Take your analogy, and replace the word "Bigfoot" with "God". That's the definition of atheism! An active disbelief in a god would be antitheism, which is not the issue.

The JREF should put "god" through the same scrutiny as "bigfoot". Only then will it be self-consistent.
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Technicality
written by StarTrekLivz, July 29, 2009
Stalin (Lev Vissarionovich Dzugashvili) was Orthodox. For a while he was a student at a seminary in Georgia. His mother gave embarassing interviews to Pravda and Izvestiya on how sorry she was he did not complete his studies and be ordained -- why he could have become a Bishop, maybe even Patriarch!

Though the jist of the comment remains true, and the Orthodox Church has a sad history of alliances with the State to the harm of all, and justifications for pogroms against Jews and Protestants. And under Putin, they seem to be reviving this tragic behavior. Religion allied with state power is dangerous to all the rest of us (and generally not good for the religion, either).
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@dmitrybrant
written by JeffWagg, July 29, 2009
The JREF DOES treat Bigfoot and God the same way. That's the point. Show us your evidence for god, and we'll take a look. Same for bigfoot. In the meantime, we can't ever say with certainty that neither exist. Add in definitional problems (what is god?) and it just becomes a non-issue. The JREF assumes the null hypothesis... but note the word hypothesis there. Hypothesis don't not mean "firm belief." Atheist organizations have a firm belief that there's no god, and that is outside of what the JREF deals with.

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Time to hold your hands up Jeff
written by Gazcam, July 29, 2009
Following from your statement yesterday Jeff, which led to your need to attempt to clarify the position today:
Before we get started, I have to say once again... the JREF is not an atheist organization. Our staff and membership are composed of both believers and non-believers, and the question of whether there's a "god" is not addressed by the JREF directly

Shall I expect then Jeff, that on your next reporting of a bogus bigfoot sighting, you prefix your report with the following:

"Before we get started, I have to say once again... the JREF is not an anti-Bigfoot organization. Our staff and membership are composed of both those who believe that there really is a new species of bipedal hominid lurking in the forests of the Pacific Northwest region, and those that will continue to treat it as an elaborate hoax along the lines of the Loch Ness Monster, until compelling evidence is produced. The question of whether there's a "bigfoot" or not is addressed by the JREF directly".

This is what would be required to preface all your future articles if you are not to be treating religion as a special case.

I wish you'd just admit your mistake - we all make them. You were
clearly
pandering to sensibilities of the religious, in order to avoid causing offence to their beliefs. Any attempts to defend this just dig the hole deeper. I'm sure we've all done this at one time or another (I include myself), but we should take up Dawkins' challenge, and end this exclusion of religious superstitions from open, unapologetic, critical scrutiny, and not fence off their beliefs as being in any way separate from other supernatural claims.

Come on Jeff, admit your mistake!
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Time to take something positive.
written by Gazcam, July 29, 2009
@Jeff - I overlooked a couple of your responses. Just seen them now:

"Until now" meant until he made his own personal feeling known in that article.


Let me insert your interpretation to Randi's quote, and see if it changes anything at all:

“I've reached the point where I just have to unload on this subject that until now, [when I'm making my own personal feelings known], I've felt was just outside of the matters that the JREF handles.

So what's the difference? He didn't see it as within the JREF's remit, until 6 years ago in 2003, when he made is own personal feelings known, and now he does. What are you suggesting, that the personal feelings of James Randi are incompatible or somehow unrepresentative of the views of the James Randi Educational Foundation? I think you may be due a chat with your boss!

Again, you have misrepresented my position. Please read what I've written more carefully.

Don't get flippant with me - this is a legitimate discussion with a representative of the JREF. Have the good grace to pursue it appropriately.

I know for a fact that there are JREF members who believe in "god," whatever that means to them, and I know some that some of them go to church. Martin Gardner is the classic example. I don't know about his church attendance, but he certainly believes in some form of deity. When questioned about this, he says "It gives me comfort to believe so." That belief is HIS business... his personal experiences, which I have not had, brought him to that conclusion. He admits he has no evidence for his claim, but he's also not making one for anyone but himself. And if you don't think Martin is a skeptic, well... I don't know what to say.

Then there are also probabaly
some
JREF members who believe in Bigfoot, ESP, prophecy, telepathy, homeopathy, acupuncture..., etc etc... They may similarly have no evidence on which to base their fantasies. Will you be offering your disclaimer to each of these groups before being critical of their specific fantasy? No, I doubt it. So please stop digging the hole deeper. In your contortions to defend your disclaimer, you are weakening the credibility of the organisation you represent.

It was a mistake on your part. Please acknowledge it, and move on. We can all then take something positive, which is that some peoples woo-woo fantasies are so strongly held, that even us skeptics feel some reluctance in challenging them, sometimes to the extent that we offer olive branches to accommodate their superstitions. But we should recognize this in ourselves and aim to avoid it, since by doing this, we help to perpetuate these myths, and when that is applied to religion, that's a very dangerous thing to do, since it leads to so much conflict, violence and suffering in the world.

AZAtheist has it right. I know him well, he's clearly an atheist and yet he can see how there's room in skepticism for those who haven't come to exactly the same conclusion that he has.

I'm all for accepting that we can reach different conclusions, it’s the process that we reach those conclusions that is at issue. If the JREF represents a society of common interest, however loosely held together, then we have to agree on what binds us. My understanding is that this is the application of critical scrutiny to ANY and ALL claims for supernatural forces, and we make no reservation or apology or disclaimer in doing so.
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@Gazcam
written by Piece of Lint, July 29, 2009
I think we may be using different definitions of "evidence". I'm not attaching a notion of objective validity to the concept. Evidence in my understanding can be wrong and misinterpreted. Which is why corroboration of evidence is so important for science. If a hit and run occurs, and a person says "it was a red car", that's evidence, if then two other people say "no it was a blue car", that is more (and, all things being equal, better) evidence.
I'm certainly not saying that if someone has an experience of god (or any experience for that matter), that this should be accepted as unerring and true. But merely that she has a reason to take it into consideration when she forms beliefs, and it should be weighed according to the rest of her experiences in life and the knowledge she accrued. But if these factors don't include the knowledge/experience of your brain tripping you up, then you can quite reasonable come to a false conclusion; even if you're skeptical. Skepticism is no guarantee for reaching true conclusions, even though it helps tremendously.
There is the additional problem that this kind of experience is inherently subjective and not repeatable. You can't test it any more than whether you really dreamt what you dreamt last night. In terms of science it falls more into the category of history than physics; the story has to be pieced together from the evidence there is. And that makes it more difficult if you don't have the right pieces of the puzzle.
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@Jeff
written by dmitrybrant, July 29, 2009
It seems that there may be a misunderstanding of the actual term "atheism" here.
Atheist organizations have a firm belief that there's no god, and that is outside of what the JREF deals with.
I really doubt you'll find many atheists who have a "firm belief" that there is no god. I certainly don't. If they do, they are as misguided as people of the polar opposite religious conviction. No matter how much I doubt the existence of a god, I'll always have a little door open for new evidence that might suggest such a being. That's just good science. But I still call myself an atheist, just to avoid confusion.

I don't mean to speak for all atheists, but I think the basic foundation for atheism is that the universe can be explained without the need for a god, and that such an explanation is inherently simpler than one requiring a god. Therefore, any invention of a god (on top of our ever-improving body of science) is superfluous.

Atheists generally don't "disbelieve" in a god. That would be antitheism. In order for me to disbelieve in God, he/she would need to exist, which has not been shown to be true.

Am I "certain" that there is no god? Of course not completely, since that would be unscientific. But I am as certain that there is no god as you are that there is no Bigfoot, or that homeopathic medicine has no effect over placebo.
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The difference
written by Raindoggy, July 29, 2009
Religion has an explaination for everything. If there is a gap, insert (god, karma, psychic vibrations...)

Science does not have an explaination for everything. If there is a gap, science tries to find out. Science seems to be the mode that is more comfortable with the unknown.

@stifenlanso. Hume's Paradox (I am assuming you mean the cause and effect paradox)is conquered by the fact that all scientific claims are tentative, pending the introduction of new evidence. Did you not read the artical?
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@Jeff
written by TK2009, July 29, 2009
My last attempted post was edited out... Jeff, I don't understand why the JREF is in the business of "assuming" anything, be it the null hypothesis about God, bigfoot, or something else. The JREF should adopt the null hypothesis only the basis of all available evidence. Does the JREF assume the null hypothesis about dark matter? I imagine not, despite the absence of direct evidence, because there is a credible theory of its existence. By the same token, I understood that the JREF does not merely "assume" the null hypothesis about bigfoot, but adopts the null hypothesis based on a lack of credible evidence or a credible theory of its existence (e.g., there is a reasonable argument that if bigfoot did exist, it would require quite a large population, making the lack of evidence quite unlikely if it did exist). So why does the JREF treat God differently and simply assume the null hypothesis without applying logic and reason to the available evidence (e.g., the striking fact that all miracles stopped happening once it became possible to actually record them)?

I also agree with Gazcam--the tone of your messages seems very flippant, as if you don't want to participate in a debate that you created with the last postings. (Maybe this is because this issue arises again and again in the JREF and I do not know that history, but as a newcomer I am surprised at these responses.)
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written by sailor, July 29, 2009
The JREF should put "god" through the same scrutiny as "bigfoot". Only then will it be self-consistent.
The error in this logic is bigfoot is somewhat tangible and testable. God is a whole set of cultural and individual ideas. Any particular godly claim may be tested, and the likelihood of the existence of a specific god may be considered, but new god concepts come up, so no GENERAL attitude towards religion should be taken. In any case not all religions have gods, or even need paranormal beliefs. Consider a Buddhist who considers reincarnation to be the recycling of matter into other forms and karma to be wholly naturalistic.
I would be very against science departments making atheism a condition of joining, similarly JREF. What matters is whether the person can keep their religion personal, and not let it interfere with their perception of external reality, however much it may shape their internal space.
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@raindoggy
written by stifenlaso, July 29, 2009
Religion has an explaination for everything. If there is a gap, insert (god, karma, psychic vibrations...)


Once again, not all religions do this. In fact, some religious traditions shy away from this simplistic explanation; they say religious (or spiritual) experience is the contemplation of the ultimate Mystery, which cannot be explained but only partially experienced. There is no dogma, only tentative and always incomplete experience and perennial learning. Just like science.

Hume's Paradox (I am assuming you mean the cause and effect paradox)is conquered by the fact that all scientific claims are tentative, pending the introduction of new evidence.


Indeed. It follows that scientific claims are never "certain", only very, very plausible because they have survived many tests. We can never know if they are "true"; but we can definitely know if they are wrong (once they fail).
Which of course shows that there is no such thing as "justified belief"; we can never justify any belief because no amount of justification will prevent it from failing in the crucial test yet to happen, and no amount of "induction" will grant us the truth of a universal proposition. I can only say that "all the swans I've seen so far are white"; but no amount of swan-watching will grant the truth of "All swans are white".

We advance by making conjectures and subjecting them to test and criticism, not by "justifying" the "truth" of our theories; by saying to ourselves "Let's say all swans are white" and then, actively looking for the non-white ones. So there's something akin to faith in science, if by "faith" we mean "confidence in a theory which is not completely justified by evidence". See?

Sadly, a lot of people have a very simplistic idea of "science", "belief" and "justification". An excelent introduction would be Alan Chalmers' "What is this thing called science?"
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Look around you for evidence....
written by Willy K, July 29, 2009
It seems to be a huge waste of mental resources to "debate" whether a supernatural deity exists or does not. The believers almost always demand that the skeptics "prove" non-existence while maintaining that their "faith" is proof of existence.

I think a more promising line of inquiry would be "Can scientific methodology be used to ascertain WHY a majority of humans believe in the supernatural?

I'm quite sure that the evidence for these beliefs ALL reside in the human mind.
(My definition of the word "mind", a "mind" is NOT a non-corporeal entity separate from a brain, a "mind" is a biological computer that is self aware.)

The complexity of a project that tries to make a comprehensive theory of how the human mind works would be a huge challenge. I would love to see a international consortium similar in concept to CERN or the WHO tackle this project. smilies/grin.gif
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@Willy K
written by Alan3354, July 29, 2009
I don't recall where I heard it, but
If the human brain (or mind) were sufficiently simple that we could understand how it works, we would not be able to.
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@truth6413
written by BjartesF, July 29, 2009
Its almost humorous how you bash religion yet you think atheism has no absurd inconsistencies. You called JREF hypocrites, yet you are the one who needs to remove the 2X4 from your retina. I'll present it once again-
"I would like for any atheist to present ANY theory they believe best explains how this universe (matter)came into existence. And "I dont know" is not a theory."


Aaah! Our old friends the god of the gaps and reversing the burden of proof! Atheism is not an attemt to explain anything at all, but a rejection of one particular non-explanation. We don't have to know for sure how the universe began (although there are some exiting hypotheses involving a random quantum fluctuation giving rise to a bubble of false vacuum which eventually became our universe) in order to conclude that divine creation is not a satisfactory explanation (or indeed an explanation at all) since all it does is to introduce an even greater problem (i.e. the creator himself). There are no "absurd inconsistencies" involved in not accepting such a flawed non-explanation. An "atheist" is simply someone who views God the same way most religious believers view fairies, not to mention the other gods of competing religions.

Just because science cannot answer everything, does not make religious answers correct by default. A lack of knowledge does not turn into gods. The fact that science cannot (yet) answer some particular question simply means that the answer is currently unknown; not that we have to settle for an unscientific answer.

The God hypothesis in all its forms has to start from the premise that something (even something stupefyingly complex and statistically improbable in all the same ways in which life on earth is improbable) could either arise spontaneously or exist from eternity without, itself, requiring any explanation to account for its existence. The special pleading lies in arguing that this "something" just had to be God and not the universe itself (in some form).
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written by Willy K, July 29, 2009
written by Alan3354, July 29, 2009 I don't recall where I heard it, but
If the human brain (or mind) were sufficiently simple that we could understand how it works, we would not be able to.

@alan3354
Alan, understanding how the Universe, as well as how the Human mind works, will take the COMBINED effort of millions of people and many years. A single Human can't understand it all. To paraphrase what Richard Feynman said about Quantum Mechanics, "If you think you understand it... you don't understand it."

@truth64 whatever
Off the meds again I see. smilies/tongue.gif
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@Gazcam one last time...
written by JeffWagg, July 29, 2009
If I had made a mistake, I'd admit it. The fact is, the JREF is often thought of as an atheist organization, and I'm often called upon to clarify that we're not. Bigfoot does not present such a problem. The dissent over the topic is evidence enough that the JREF includes believers and non-believers alike. I could have left the disclaimer out, but then Gazcam and others wouldn't have had the chance to clarify this issue.

As for being "flippant," I don't see how pointing out that I'm not saying what you're claiming I said is being "flippant." What you call "contortions," I call clarifications.

Gazcam, I'm sorry... you simply misunderstand where I was coming from, or what I mean. You have now stopped asking for explanations and demanded that I stop "digging a deeper hole, etc." I can't see the point in continuing a discussion where you've already made your conclusions.

There is some irony in being accused of "pandering to religion" in an article critical of a business who is doing just that. It's also ironic that I'm being accused of pandering to atheists.



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written by Alan3354, July 29, 2009
My personal preference is to worship the Sun as god. The Sun gave us all the energy and life on Earth, and it continues to keep us alive.

Plus, when the Sun goes down, we can do whatever we want. smilies/grin.gif
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...
written by Kuroyume, July 29, 2009
At some point every atheist has to admit that life arose from non-life.


At every point, anyone with a modicum of reason heralds the admission! That is the entire premise you so baldly dash. Life arose from non-life (YES!!!!!!). Life is chemistry. Non-life is chemistry. What part of the equivalence evades your understanding? Life is just a hyper-extension of the basic chemical interactions that *we* (humans) understand very well. The chemical interactions that evolved into complex life interactions are a bit less understood - but not mystical or unanswerable by any means (and not requiring the default grunt of "god did it"). There is nothing in the brilliance of living organisms that eludes the understanding of physics and chemistry except the complexities. And the complexities are many folds times those of 'god did it' - so they will require time to unfold.

I'd love to use a few hundred pages to explain why these things are difficult (history and loss of evidence, we don't time-travel, the universe doesn't put the answers in our laps - like religions, complexity is a very difficult thing to unravel) but alas...

I'll just leave you with one example (which I've overextended often enough that those familiar can stop here and move on). In the 1940s, with the advent of complex decryption machines (such as Enigma) some computer scientists started to extend the older Babbage idea of a computation engine towards an 'artificial intelligence' (Turing machine). At the time, the claim was that we might have computers indistinguishable from humans in intellect within 10 years. That never occured because their premises were flawed (that they could encode brain activity into simple rigorous logical procedures). 60 years later and we're no closer because we've determined that: A) one cannot separate the brain from the organism (Rodney Brooks and COG) - B) that there are specialized areas and neural centers in the brain - C) the neurons are magnitudes more complex than the simplistic neural models used in neural networks - D) that feedback, memory, instinct, and other facets are interconnected and driven by electro-chemical (and possibly quantum) stimuli both within and without. In other words, the human brain is *frigging* complex - quintillions of bits of data and interactions. It is so far more complex than what the original AI experts thought that it would cause them to spontaneously combust if they had to consider it. But that doesn't mean that we should then glaze over and chant 'god did it'. Just because something is currently inexplicable and complex doesn't justify putting it directly into a vague category of metaphysical supernaturalism (id est: god). And without any objective evidence of metaphysicalism or supernaturalism, this is the least reasonable course to take.

Have a great life and stop being an a-hole. smilies/wink.gif
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written by Skeptigirl, July 29, 2009
written by Alan3354, July 29, 2009
I don't recall where I heard it, but
If the human brain (or mind) were sufficiently simple that we could understand how it works, we would not be able to.
So by that twisted logic, a complicated brain should be able to understand how it works. I think you underestimate the progress of neuroscience.
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written by Skeptigirl, July 29, 2009
written by sailor, July 29, 2009
The JREF should put "god" through the same scrutiny as "bigfoot". Only then will it be self-consistent.
The error in this logic is bigfoot is somewhat tangible and testable. God is a whole set of cultural and individual ideas. Any particular godly claim may be tested, and the likelihood of the existence of a specific god may be considered, but new god concepts come up, so no GENERAL attitude towards religion should be taken. In any case not all religions have gods, or even need paranormal beliefs. Consider a Buddhist who considers reincarnation to be the recycling of matter into other forms and karma to be wholly naturalistic.
I would be very against science departments making atheism a condition of joining, similarly JREF. What matters is whether the person can keep their religion personal, and not let it interfere with their perception of external reality, however much it may shape their internal space.
By this logic we really need to test every single individual genome before we can draw any conclusions about evolution theory.

Or perhaps you prefer the option of moving the goal post whenever the latest god belief is discredited?
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written by Skeptigirl, July 29, 2009
written by dmitrybrant, July 29, 2009
I really doubt you'll find many atheists who have a "firm belief" that there is no god.
Our numbers are increasing. It takes time for people to recognize overwhelming evidence when it involves a paradigm shift. smilies/wink.gif
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Feeding the troll...
written by Brownian, July 29, 2009
Truthie Troll wrote:

Your "random quantum fluctuation giving rise to a bubble of false vacuum" is something that would make even L Ron blush.


Except that empirical observation has shown that such things can happen. Clearly you didn't bother to read up on Hawking radiation as I suggested to you earlier. If you had, you wouldn't have made such an asinine comment.

As for life arising form non-life, you'd do well to review some of the research with protobionts, which are self-organising non-life thought to be potential precurors to actual cells. If you don't know how to read scientific literature, then pick up a first year biology or cosmology textbook. Ask a librarian to help you if you find even that daunting. (And please spare us the lie that you've done the research--everything you write betrays you.)

You've been flogging the 'non-theists make up stuff just like theists do' canard, but the vital difference is that we've got empirical evidence behind these hypotheses. Do we have all the answers? No, not yet. But we get closer every year, and we're honest about what we do not know, in sharp contrast to you.

It is for this reason that you remain a troll, despite your claims to the contrary.

A science teacher? Ha! With your constant goal-post shifting and question-begging, what you do is the very antithesis of science.
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written by Skeptigirl, July 29, 2009
written by Piece of Lint, July 29, 2009
I think we may be using different definitions of "evidence". I'm not attaching a notion of objective validity to the concept. Evidence in my understanding can be wrong and misinterpreted. Which is why corroboration of evidence is so important for science.
There are a number of people in JREF who hold the position that if one 'experiences god' this is evidence. I am not one of them.

It is evidence of an experience. To be evidence of a god, one needs more than personal experience.

IMO, the confusion is over blurring which is the evidence and which is the conclusion. You could find a number of ways to verify that the person had 'an experience'. But you would no more find evidence that experience was triggered by an external source than you would find evidence a schizophrenic's hallucinations were real. Do we say that a schizophrenic's hallucinations are evidence of what the schizophrenic concludes he/she is hearing?

If I wrongly conclude I see a dog in the distance and when I get closer I see it is really a rock, is the rock evidence of a dog? Does the evidence change because I concluded something incorrect about it? Schrödinger's cat maybe, but for the usual evidence drawing a false conclusion about it doesn't change the evidence. That is because the evidence and the conclusion are not one in the same.
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written by Skeptigirl, July 29, 2009
written by jdodd74, July 29, 2009
Can you propose a protocol that could successfully test for the existence of god?
Define god and we'll see.
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written by Skeptigirl, July 29, 2009
written by JeffWagg, July 29, 2009
I know for a fact that there are JREF members who believe in "god," whatever that means to them, and I know some that some of them go to church.
AZAtheist has it right. I know him well, he's clearly an atheist and yet he can see how there's room in skepticism for those who haven't come to exactly the same conclusion that he has.
Of course there is room for all. But it isn't people that are the issue here. It is a principle.

I agree the JREF is not an atheist organization. But for a different reason. I see no reason to elevate atheism into being part of the mission of the JREF. The focus is not on god beliefs, it is on promoting a rational world view.

I personally don't find god beliefs compatible with a rational world view. But I am certain there are many JREF members who don't find my political beliefs compatible with rational world view either. I happen to think I can support my political conclusions on a rational basis, while god believers cannot. But the point is, we don't all agree with the same conclusions even if we all agree using the scientific process is the best way to approach the evidence.

JREF can really only support the process, the critical thinking, the rational approach. It would not be scientific to think there was one certain set of conclusions and the JREF organization was the definer of those truths.
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written by Skeptigirl, July 29, 2009
written by Gazcam, July 29, 2009
this is a test - as my posts appear to be being moderated...
Twice I tried to post and it was lost in some moderator Neverland. Jeff W said he had no clue what auto-mod program was responsible, nor did he know where the posts went. The only different thing about the posts were a number of links were in both of them.
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written by Skeptigirl, July 29, 2009
written by NickyCee, July 29, 2009
...If you genuinely care about this issue and are willing to invest a few hours into better understanding it, I ask you to please read the following two books: "The Case for Christ" by Lee Strobel, and "There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind" by Antony Flew. Most of the questions/comments in Randi's article and this comment section are addressed in these books.

If you really want to understand more about this very important issue, get these books........
Always the assumption, if we only knew 'X'. There is overwhelming evidence gods are fictional characters. That conclusion is more often than not the result of careful consideration and much knowledge about god beliefs.
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written by Skeptigirl, July 29, 2009
written by Piece of Lint, July 29, 2009
I would hazard to say that people's belief in God is not incompatible with skepticism provided they had such direct personal experience (and their claims of "god" do not go beyond what the experience supports). There is, of course, reason to be skeptical of your own perception (cue optical and aural illusions), but you can't go through life treating everything as a hallucination either. On the other hand, if the evidence for artificially generating such experience is well-known, that should give cause for doubts about the validity of such experience; but it isn't that well-known yet.
In any case, imo, the issue is not quite as clear cut as it may seem to some.
I'm skeptical. No one seems to have these religious experiences who wasn't first indoctrinated in the god belief. That and a whole lot of other overwhelming evidence says people con themselves into believing they had a god experience. It is very clear.


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Yawn..
written by BjartesF, July 29, 2009
I could not agree more with your statement that "atheism does not make an attempt to explain anything". Thats because it cant. Your "random quantum fluctuation giving rise to a bubble of false vacuum" is something that would make even L Ron blush. You say atheism has no inconsistencies, I will list just one of many: spontaneous generation. At some point every atheist has to admit that life arose from non-life. There is no way to squirm out of it. Also- I can reverse your statement: Just because true religion cannot answer every question does not make the atheist correct by default. (I sincerely thank you for assisting me with that verbage. Its what I have been trying to convey to gazcam and alan and willyk for some time now) cheers, my friend


= The tu quoque fallacy
It seems Gazcam was right.
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written by Kuroyume, July 29, 2009
I'm skeptical. No one seems to have these religious experiences who wasn't first indoctrinated in the god belief. That and a whole lot of other overwhelming evidence says people con themselves into believing they had a god experience. It is very clear.


Unfortunately, drugs or other forms of chemical-inbalance inducing activities (fasting, meditating for days, being on mountains in oxygen deprivation) seem to contribute to these types of experiences.

As the entire argument goes: personal experience is subjective (no matter how realistic it appears to the observer). We are or should only be interested in objective evidence. And, of course, to drive home the point - no matter how many 'personal experiences' are involved. Subjective numbers are irrelevant. Objectively arrived at conclusions are.

I'm on the fence. Not that I think that JREF promotes a sort of fence-sitting agenda but they are in the business not to make blatant statements until evidence can be provided conclusively one way or the other. It is sort of the negative argument approach - well, there could be but we won't think so until evidence is provided. As Jeff tried to put it - they don't overtly state that Bigfoot doesn't exist but that there is no evidence to support that hypothesis. It does leave the door cracked slightly open for the possibility that positive evidence may arrive. Typically, I'm more of the 'show me' mentality. I'll believe it when the evidence overwhelmingly supports it.

Going off on a (relevant) tangent, I saw a show last night on religious artifacts mainly associated with Israel and how the 'black market' was inundated with them. Many of them appeared authentic but were later found to be 'authentic artifacts with fraudulent inscriptions'. The most famous is the James Ossuary, among others. My point is that, according to P.T. Barnum, "There's a sucker born every minute". We should be rather sensitive to this with the many such occurences such as Uri Geller and the Stanford Research Institute - and one main reason that JREF exists. It is easy to fool people, even experts, when they are looking for (focusing on) particular attributes but not looking for others - such as deception and forgery.

In that regards, my philosophy is to be overtly critical until there is enough evidence that being critical seems admonishing. Yes, I'm being a Randi-like curmudgeon. There have been so many 'false alarms' that I no longer hear the boy crying wolf. I want evidence of the wolves. Religion has cried so effusively that I no longer hear any of it - but there are those who take the stance that we must not judge by these false alarms and be ever vigilant. So, while I sympathize with Jeff's argument, I must admit that it tends towards the beneficial side. This is the difficult endeavor of evidencing negative conclusions - either you continue to allow for possibilities despite continual failure or you just simply take the perponderance of evidence (lack thereof of course) and make a conclusion. One must arrive at a conclusion when some amount of evidence is available but what is that amount.
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written by ianmacm, July 29, 2009
It is unlikely that JREF would qualify for charitable status if its mission in life was to bash religion in the style of Richard Dawkins. While this type of criticism always goes down well with people who already are atheists, it is often seen as preaching to the choir. All of this is a long way from claims that actually can be tested, like the one that Connie Sonne made about dowsing for numbers.
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written by Skeptigirl, July 29, 2009
written by Kuroyume, July 29, 2009
As the entire argument goes: personal experience is subjective (no matter how realistic it appears to the observer). We are or should only be interested in objective evidence. And, of course, to drive home the point - no matter how many 'personal experiences' are involved. Subjective numbers are irrelevant. Objectively arrived at conclusions are.

We use subjective evidence all the time in medical research. This is not about subjective vs objective evidence. It is about the totality of the evidence which overwhelmingly supports the conclusion: experiences people believe are god experiences are not.

I'm on the fence. Not that I think that JREF promotes a sort of fence-sitting agenda but they are in the business not to make blatant statements until evidence can be provided conclusively one way or the other....

You might consider a different approach which was mentioned above. What best explains god beliefs? Follow the evidence rather than trying to fit the evidence to the conclusion.

... There have been so many 'false alarms' that I no longer hear the boy crying wolf. I want evidence of the wolves. Religion has cried so effusively that I no longer hear any of it - but there are those who take the stance that we must not judge by these false alarms and be ever vigilant. So, while I sympathize with Jeff's argument, I must admit that it tends towards the beneficial side. This is the difficult endeavor of evidencing negative conclusions - either you continue to allow for possibilities despite continual failure or you just simply take the perponderance of evidence (lack thereof of course) and make a conclusion. One must arrive at a conclusion when some amount of evidence is available but what is that amount.

There have been thousands of mythical gods in recorded history and in modern times, and not a shred of evidence for any real gods. Testing the hypothesis people make god beliefs up was done and the hypothesis was confirmed when the Cargo Cults were observed.

Unless you are trying to fit the evidence to the conclusion, there is more than enough evidence gods are fictional beings.
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@Truthie Troll
written by Brownian, July 29, 2009
First of all, I find it humorous that any dissent is considered being a troll.


I told you why you're a troll. You're a one-note piano, regardless of the topic at hand, and you refuse to consider any arguments that contradict your world-view. Have fun with the persecution complex. Playing the 'dissenting voice' martyr won't actually earn you Jesus points, or are you as bad with theology as yo9u are in every other field you've tried to engage in here?

If you think I visit this site to proseltyze you are sadly mistaken as I have better things to do with my time. But I digress.


I told you in our last ocnversation why you're here. You're not proselytising; you're masturbating. Learn to read.

Your "protobionts" theory is just another lame attempt to get around the fact that LIFE cannot possibly arise from non-life.


It's evidence. Or don't you teach your science students that?

Why dont you submit this for the 1 million dollar challenge? Heck, I'll even throw in a few grand to see that life can originate from the inanimate. You pathetically use the factor of time to justify your pseudo-science.


My theory? I thought you 'evaluated the evidence'. This is a current field of research, and research takes time. Just another data point that you haven't a clue what you're talking about, and if you do indeed teach science to children, you should be fired for incompetence.

Laws are laws


What laws are those? Life cannot arise from non-life? Because you say so? You're barely literate as it is. I'll rely on research and evidence to tell me what are laws and what are not, not the word of the likes of you. Read a biology or cosmology textbook. Hell, read any textbook. One with Dick, Jane, and Spot would be a good start for you.

my friend


That's not the least accurate thing you've written, but it comes close.
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I think Jeff is one.
written by weirdloser, July 29, 2009
One of the believers. He lists his religion on MySpace as "other." Alison too.
Another clue from In Defense Karma(http://www.randi.org/site/inde...karma.html)
if we think of "goodness" as a force, exercising that force is liable to increase it.


A guess. Anybody know? Should I care?
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written by TK2009, July 29, 2009
I have to admit that after spending some time trying to piece things together, I haven't come to any real conclusions on where the JREF stands on the issue of religion.

Two days ago Swift posted an article whereby the author was very clearly criticising one particular religious group (seemingly expressing hope that Scientologists would lose a high-profile member), raising questions by some as to why the JREF does not apply the same approach to other religious groups (or religion generally). Based on many follow-up comments, Jeff yesterday argued that the JREF does not formally take a stand on atheism, and posted Randi's article for support (which to me actually showed the contrary--that Randi believed he could no longer remain silent on religion).

If Jeff was intending to draw a distinction between the JREF position on atheism (as he has explained several times, it apparently does not take any such position) and its position on specific religions (which can be subject to scrutiny, as the Randi article seems to indicate), I think the mistake lies in the introduction to the Randi piece. To me at least, the Randi piece seems tangential (at best) to the issue of whether the JREF should take a view on atheism. On the contrary, it seems to instead address the issue of how to address specific religions.

So correct me if I am wrong, but to let me draw some conclusions from this, my understanding is that: (i) the JREF is willing as a foundation to treat specific religions like other kinds of woo, but (ii) the JREF will not take a stand that religion as such is woo because it covers too many concepts, and there is no clear proof that all such concepts are false. We can then expect to see articles poking fun at Christians, Jews, Muslims and other kinds of defined religions (like we saw with the Scientology article), but nothing that singles out the indistinct concept of religion as such?

I believe I see this distinction, but does it not also mean that the JREF should stop ridiculing the indistinct concepts of the supernatural and paranormal for the same reason? Perhaps it will be said that the supernatural and paranormal can be ridiculed because there is a limiting definition and everything falling within that definition are worthy of ridicule. However, I suspect the same may be said for religion (according to the Oxford Concise Dictionary, the first definition of religion is "the belief in a superhuman controlling power, esp. in a personal God or gods entitled to obedience and worship").
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Yes, time to draw a line here Jeff
written by Gazcam, July 29, 2009
If I had made a mistake, I'd admit it. The fact is, the JREF is often thought of as an atheist organization, and I'm often called upon to clarify that we're not. Bigfoot does not present such a problem.

Bigfoot may well be considered a niche issue, but there are plenty or pro- and anti-UFO sites out there; there are plenty pro- and anti-alternative medicine sites out there. Yet, I'm sure you won't feel the need to preface your postings on these subjects with a disclaimer that this site is not specifically an anti-UFO or an anti-alternative medicine group. I'm sure you would see such clarification as unnecessary to the JREF's purpose. I also presume you won't feel the need to point out that JREF includes amongst its number people who believe in such concepts - again, I'm sure you would see this as pandering to such groups. Whilst the JREF will continue to apply itself to any such claims from these groups, as from theistic groups, your special treatment of religion is a betrayal of the principles of the JREF. If you refuse to acknowledge and retract it, I ask only that you refrain from similar sops to the religious in future.
The dissent over the topic is evidence enough that the JREF includes believers and non-believers alike.

You surely can't believe this to be a substantive argument in favour of your case?? You're taking the fact that Creationists and all sorts of other deluded folk frequent and troll this site as justification of your position?? That's scraping the barrel my friend, and yet another contortion that you're now prepared to undertake to avoid the obvious conclusion that you unequivocally made a special case of religion, and were called upon it.
Gazcam, I'm sorry... you simply misunderstand where I was coming from, or what I mean. You have now stopped asking for explanations and demanded that I stop "digging a deeper hole, etc." I can't see the point in continuing a discussion where you've already made your conclusions.

No, you're right. I also draw a line here, since I can't see the point of a discussion when you fail to acknowledge what I think will be a glaring inconsistency to everyone else: you undoubtedly made a special case of religion by distancing the JREF from atheism, and aligning some of it's members with superstitious religious belief. You make no attempt to do this for any other supernatural claim, and the inescapable conclusion is that you are prepared to give religion (or at least some religions, not Scientology I see) a special pass from unfettered scrutiny. As a defence, you posted an article from Randi, which, contrary to your purpose, actually confirmed that whilst he "used to" think of religion as separate from other unsubstantiated claims, but has not done so for the 6 years since 2003 when he posted that article. I remind you of how unequivocally Randi sees religion, and its equivalance to other forms of woo:
Its embrace is of the same nature as acceptance of astrology, ESP, prophecy, dowsing, and the other myriad of strange beliefs we handle here every day

You then have the audacity to dismiss the very article of Randi's that you re-posted as merely reflecting Randi's personal views:
"Until now" meant until he made his own personal feeling known in that article.

Randi's personal views!!! What? Do my eyes deceive me, or do I read that correctly, from the Communication and Outreach Manager of the James Randi Educational Foundation that these are merely his own personal views??? Do I detect a power struggle at the JREF? Perhaps you might like to change just one letter of the JREF, to become JWEF, the Jeff Wagg Educational Foundation? Can I propose as your mission statement the following: an educational resource on the paranormal, pseudoscientific and supernatural..., well, we say supernatural, but of course it's a big tent, and all sorts of views are permissible, and everyone's opinion just as valid as the next, I mean, we wouldn't want to offend, and if you think there are fairies at the bottom of the garden or god(s) who answer prayers, your views are welcome here, as there are others who think likewise, hey it's a broad church, oops, didn't mean to offend anyone there who visits a non-church based religion, it's an equally broad synagogue/mosque."
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In Conclusion...
written by Gazcam, July 29, 2009
(sorry, this wouldn't fit in the last post due to word length limits)

I have to conclude Jeff, that as a new member to this site, I'm disappointed by your responses. I don't think disclaimers and olive branches to any particular superstitious group, have a place in critical scrutiny, which should be unapologetic and unrestrained in applying its approach equally to all unsubstantiated claims, and not feel the need to build bridges to certain groups such as the religious, and prefacing postings with statements that there are religious believers amongst the JREF, without feeling the necessity to do so for ANY other group is clearly an example of doing so.

This to me is an important issue, as it is one of the main mechanisms that perpetuates dangerous and destructive ideas like religion, and inhibits people from speaking out against it, for fear of doing so. The JREF is a beacon of skepticism and rationality, and if people get the (false) impression that even the JREF are restrained in their dealings with religion, as your disclaimer clearly gave the impression it is, then that has important consequences. The US is dominated by religious superstition, as are it's violent and apocalyptic enemies. The time has come to confront religion, and not treat it with the unwarranted respect and free-pass it has enjoyed for far too long. I regret the fact that you don't feel able to acknowledge this, and use it as an opportunity to learn from the mistake, as we all learn from our own mistakes - none of us are infallible.

What originally drew me to this site was the 'Randi speaks' postings, which I enjoy very much. I understand these have become less frequent since he is battling his illness. I wish him well, and look forward to further postings, since I enjoy his unapologetic, unconstrained style. You would do well to learn from your mentor.
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written by popsaw, July 29, 2009
Just a quick factual correction from the article..
Adam and Eve, they said, were the original humans, plunked down in a garden to start our species going. But I didn't understand, and still don't, that they had only two children, both sons - and one of them killed the other - yet somehow they produced enough people to populate the Earth, without incest, which was a big no-no!
Incest was not forbidden until the mosaic law.
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written by ianmacm, July 29, 2009
The point that Jeff Wagg was trying to make with his "olive branch" statement is that JREF is not an atheist organization. There are plenty of these, and people are free to join them if they wish. JREF would risk losing its 501(c)(3) status if was seen as a political or religious pressure group rather than a non-profit. Some of the comments here have been unnecessarily bad tempered, and have used ad hominem rather than serious debate. JREF cannot be seen as an atheists-only club. End of.
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@ianmacm
written by TK2009, July 30, 2009
I can understand this point (although I don't know enough about US legal requirements to verify if it is legally correct--if it is true, should the JREF also avoid posts on scientology like the one posted two days ago?). If this is the real reason, however, I think it would have been best for Jeff to just say this. (I for one would then have liked to see a good-natured debate about the extent to which the JREF can question religion, as per the scientology message and the Randi message above, and maintain its tax exempt status.)

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Time to get forceful
written by Gazcam, July 30, 2009
@ianmacm

It is unlikely that JREF would qualify for charitable status if its mission in life was to bash religion in the style of Richard Dawkins.


What, you mean like the charity, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Should you like to contribute to this fine charity, I note below its charitable status, and an address to which you can post your contribution, perhaps attached with a little note saying, 'sorry Richard, made a bit of idiot of myself there'.
US taxpayers. RDFRS is exempt from Federal income tax under section 501 (c) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions are deductible under section 170 of the Code. We are also qualified to receive tax deductible bequests, devises, transfers or gifts under section 2055, 2106 or 2522 of the Code. You may make a donation online through PayPal below or by sending a check via regular mail to:
The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
11605 Meridian Market View
Unit 124 PMB 381
Falcon, CO 80831

Or perhaps you were referring to the fact that such an organisation would not achieve chariatable status in the UK? If so, would it help if I refer you to the Registered Charity Number 1119952? You can contribute to this, if you feel like paying a penance for your comment, here:

The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
Suite 184
266 Banbury Road,
Oxford 0X2 7DL
Great Britain


Feel free to withdraw that comment at your leisure, ianmacm!

While this type of criticism always goes down well with people who already are atheists, it is often seen as preaching to the choir. All of this is a long way from claims that actually can be tested, like the one that Connie Sonne made about dowsing for numbers.

It really infuriates me when even skeptics regurgitate this nonsense about Dawkins being 'strident'. It comes back to this issue, central to this thread, of treating religion with kid gloves. Anyone who actually confronts it critically, as they would any other concept, is seen as being aggressive, since they appear in sharp contrast to the usual softly, softly approach; that religion is a 'personal' thing, that is no one else's business but their own. If only that were the case!!! If only they'd keep it to themselves!!! It's anything BUT personal - it's right in my face! The religious want to affect every aspect of every individual's life: the food we eat, the days we eat it on, the type of people we marry, when we will have sex, in what position and with what gender, what aspects of society women will be precluded from, how we will grow our hair, what other superstitions we're allowed to indulge in, the unelected positions they will occupy in our legistlature, the money they will retain from contribution to our taxation, the wars we should unquestionably fight, the land that belongs to us by birthright... the list goes on and on. Surely, any group who seeks to have this level of power and influence must accept a rigorous, unparalleled level of scrutiny, and when their ancient fantasies fail to stand up to even the most child-like level of inquiry, should not be surprised by the ridicule they are clearly due. And yet, Dawkins is quite restrained and reasonable in the points he makes about religion. As Dawkins has pointed out, political correspondents, restaurant critics and theatre critics for example, are frequently infinitely more vicious in their treatment of their subject matter. Yet no public outcry, no distancing of other more 'level-headed', 'fair-minded' critics, or suggestion that they are damaging their cause.

Religion is an evil concept, and we, as rational-minded people have a duty to stand up to it. It justifies actions that would be unconscionable without recourse to its ancient, contradictory texts. It perpetuates servility. It defines international conflict. It makes reasonable people say and do unreasonable things. It hinders science and medicine. It offends our very nature, as being born immoral and sinful, requiring redemption from the day we are born with original sin. As Randi says, it is the antithesis of reason. We owe our support to those who risk their lives (and make no mistake that this is precisely what they do) in their willingness to speak out against this dangerous, backward dogma, a vestige of our ignorant and brutal past. I encourage all at the JREF to apply their critical thinking to religious fantasies, unfettered by social niceties, as least as firmly (if not more so, given it's implications) as they do to any other woo-woo.
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written by ianmacm, July 30, 2009
"Religion is an evil concept" is not the sort of language that wins many arguments. This thread has wandered off topic due to the strong views held in this area. My main interest is claims that can be tested in an experimental environment, and this an area where JREF excels. Bad tempered attacks on religion may help people to get their feelings off their chest, but do not prove or disprove the existence of ESP, Bigfoot, UFOs and so on.
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Beautifully avoided ianmacm
written by Gazcam, July 30, 2009
ianmacm wrote:
"Religion is an evil concept" is not the sort of language that wins many arguments. This thread has wandered off topic due to the strong views held in this area. My main interest is claims that can be tested in an experimental environment, and this an area where JREF excels. Bad tempered attacks on religion may help people to get their feelings off their chest, but do not prove or disprove the existence of ESP, Bigfoot, UFOs and so on.


Nice evasion of the charity status of the Richard Dawkins Foundation - have you paid your donation to make up for your error yet? My apologies that you feel this has gone off topic, but if you scroll up to the top, you'll find that this thread is about where the JREF stands on religion, and Jeff's attempts to position Randi outside the discussion, which, in the opening sentence of Randi's article, spectacularly back-fired. I'm sorry that isn't your main interest. As for me being bad tempered, I'm perfectly calm, but thank you for your concern. And you win arguments by showing your statements to be unchallengeable by your opponent. I see you didn't challenge the statement, just its tone...
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written by ianmacm, July 30, 2009
I am not an expert on charitable status, and if Richard Dawkins has registered charities then fine. The claim that Jeff (about whom I know little and have never met) attempted to poison Randi is unfair. It will be interesting to see what Randi has to say about all of this when he is well enough. Jeff's main concern was not to present JREF as a club with the words "If you're not an atheist, dont bother coming in" above the front door. Plenty of issues like ESP can be discussed without doing this. Science is about testable and falsifiable hypotheses, and it is generally agreed that God does not fall into this category. Transistor radios work for believers and atheists alike, which is why it is a pity to see so much ill will being generated here.
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written by Gazcam, July 30, 2009
then fine.

Well, if that's your retraction, I'll take it, though I really think you ought to have made a little more effort, given the enormous gaff! smilies/cheesy.gif

The claim that Jeff (about whom I know little and have never met) attempted to poison Randi is unfair.

Look, he posted an article that was meant to demonstrate Randi's view, and then when it was pointed out to him that he did the exact opposite, he dismissed it as being simply Randi's personal feelings. Now who was the more unfair?

Jeff's main concern was not to present JREF as a club with the words "If you're not an atheist, dont bother coming in" above the front door. Plenty of issues like ESP can be discussed without doing this.

And you don't seem to appreciate the relevance of him not prefacing all his other postings with the equivalent disclaimer, for those who believe in UFOs, or ESP, or telepathy, etc, etc. Those issues are (rightly) critiqued without such disclaimers. Can you seriously argue that this is not treating religion differently, as a special case? My purpose is in pointing out the broader implications of this.

Science is about testable and falsifiable hypotheses, and it is generally agreed that God does not fall into this category.

Religious notions about god(s) make testables claims. In an earlier posting, I've cited a 2009 scientific publication from the Cochrane Review database, which reported a meta-analysis of 10 such studies on the power of intercessory prayer for the alleviation of ill health (which of course finds no effect). How was this not testable? That's like saying you can't test engineering: as soon as you define what you mean by engineering, it makes testable claims, as does medicine, as does cosmology, as does any other broad concept, which then requires definition. If the claims that a field makes (e.g. phrenology) are found to be false, then the field dies since the premise which holds it together is destroyed - we no longer think this is how the brain works. Can you test phrenology - yes, of course you can, by the claims it makes.
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written by ianmacm, July 30, 2009
There isn't a lot more that I can say about this, since it is now time for Randi himself to comment on this brouhaha. Get well soon.
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and you can't get away with that either!
written by Gazcam, July 30, 2009
There isn't a lot more that I can say about this, since it is now time for Randi himself to comment on this brouhaha. Get well soon.


Nice exit strategy, but I even have to take you up on this! Whether Randi agrees with me or with Jeff is besides the point. Science and reason is not about having leaders who dictate the truth, or followers who obey them. My points remain valid with or without Randi's blessing. This is yet another area where science and religion depart: in science, there are no unquestionable truths, and no high-priests who impart them yet these concepts define religious superstitions. I'd welcome Randi's views, but for or against, would not end the issue.
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@kuroyume, Lowly rated comment [Show]
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written by BjartesF, July 30, 2009
I don't think anybody is suggesting that the JREF should specifically define itself as "atheistic" (any more than it is defined as "aghostistic"). The JREF should be about promoting a skeptical mindset and there is no need to specify every conclusion that follows from this mindset separately. The question is whether or not the approach to reality that the JREF is advocating is perfectly compatible with the kind of approach you have to ressort to in order to believe in God. If the answer is yes, then please say so and let's not pretend we are all trying to promote the same thing.

I basically agree that the proposition "God exists" is untestable (God himself, if he existed, could of course reveal himself to the world at any moment, but how would we know that the revealed entity was really God and not an alien or, for that matter, the devil?). The same is equally true of the claim that ghosts exist (Ghost are not believed to be physical entities). Now, I am obviously not able to read other people's minds, but if I claimed to believe strongly in ghosts without offering anything even remotely resembling a compelling reason, I am inclined to suspect that most of the people commenting on SWIFT would not se me as a fellow "skeptic" even if my beliefs were 100% untestable, nor should they. Just because some far-fetched claim happens to be untestable doesn't make it any more likely to be true.
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let's take that a little further...
written by Gazcam, July 30, 2009
@BjartesF. Great points, eloquently articulated.

I'd like to develop the idea with you however whether, 'God exists' is untestable. I agree with you, clearly it isn't, because it isn't a sufficiently defined question. 'Ghosts exist' is equally insufficiently defined to be testable - it begs the question of what do you mean by ghosts, and how have you arrived at what you postulate to be a ghost. But as soon as the faiithful begin to flesh out those concepts, don't they frequently become testable? It's for the ghost-believers for define this, but for illustration, if claims are made that ghosts have, or can have, a visible form, or their actions can be seen/heard, or they can communicate otherwise unknowable information via a human medium, all of those are testable predictions, which under appropriately controlled conditions, could conceivably produce evidence to refute the 'no ghost' null hypothesis, and in favour of (though of course not proof of) the alternative hypothesis, 'ghosts exists and do X, or have X properties'. As skeptics, we are 99% certain (1% always left open for the possibility, along with celestial teapots, that new data will unexpectedly emerge), that the results of these experiments would be negative. But the claims of those who espouse faith in ghosts are no less testable because of their improbability. The same is true of the god(s) hypothesis: simply stating that there is/are god(s) is too facile to be of scientific value. A deistic position would be more difficult a position to test, since by definition, after having popped the universe into existence, there would be no further engagement between this supreme being and his product, and no evidence to test (at which point, it becomes a useless proposition, since it takes us no further forward, and only begs the much bigger question of what created the creator). But presumably, there are few church-goers who believe this deistic view, or surely they would not bother going to a church to praise/thank/beg forgiveness from a god who isn't listening. Most believers, I imagine, go far beyond simple world view of deistic initiation, and begin to make testable claims of their god's impact on the earth. At that point, that influence becomes measureable and testable. It is for them to define these claims which characterizes their god(s), and would thereby allow them the opportunity to produce evidence which would be in support of his (her?) existence. Of course no piece of evidence would prove this, just as no piece of evidence would prove anything in science, only generate data in support of a particular current model, but they could conceivably begin to accumulate evidence which cannot be explained by the existing natural laws, and would be commensurate with the existence of a supernatural power, in terms which they define, and would be entitled to call god, if they so choose. The 'god is not testable' argument I think is often used to prop up the 'non-overlapping magisteria' argument. But the claims that religious believers make, and if supported could be viewed as evidence in support of their god hypothesis, are indeed often testable. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on it.
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Where's number two?
written by Gazcam, July 30, 2009
My recent article about Denny's has once again called into question the JREF's stance on Atheism. Rather than go through the issue again, I'm going to post two past Swift articles, one today and one tomorrow, that demonstrate how skepticism - as the JREF sees it - can be a big tent.


Did you have second thoughts Jeff? smilies/wink.gif
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@Gazcam
written by BjartesF, July 30, 2009
Thanks smilies/cool.gif
I certainly agree that any claim about real world effects of divine interventions, such as the alleged effects of intercessory prayer, would in principle be testable, and has indeed been debunked. In my experience most people who call themselves "skeptics" are willing to concede (and I am pretty sure Jeff does too) that whenever religion makes testable claims about empirical reality, those claims are free game.

I only limited myself to the non-specific claim that "God exists" because that is the kind of unfalsifiable claim that is most frequently portrayed as "beyond the skope of science and skepticism" (hence skepticism does not imply "atheism"). The argument I am trying to make is that there is indeed a real conflict between the scientific approach to reality and the kind of approach you have to resort to in order to believe in a supernatural deity of any kind. To me insisting on good reasons is such a central part of skepticism that you cannot start relaxing this criterion and still call whatever's left "skepticism".
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hear, hear
written by Gazcam, July 30, 2009
I only limited myself to the non-specific claim that "God exists" because that is the kind of unfalsifiable claim that is most frequently portrayed as "beyond the skope of science and skepticism" (hence skepticism does not imply "atheism").

Yes, I agree, though I'm just trying to expose that for what it is, which I think is a smoke and mirrors cloak with the faithful often use and goes unchallenged. People rarely make the claim, 'God exists' without at least offering some form of further characterization. The statement in itself, "God exists" is fairly meaningless, unless they begin to define god, and with those definitions, often come testable claims. We shouldn't allow the faithful to hide behind this defence, since it creates a false distinction between religion and science, and is rarely a reflection of their view, which almost always entails some (testable) impact on empirical reality.

In terms of your point about distinguishing between the scientific approach to reality and the approach required that would make a religious belief permissible - spot on, couldn't agree more. You make the argument very well I think.
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@Skeptigirl
written by Kuroyume, July 30, 2009
...Unless you are trying to fit the evidence to the conclusion, there is more than enough evidence gods are fictional beings.


Oh, I agree completely. When I said that I'm a 'fence-sitter' it was not in relation to whether I believe in religion or gods (I'm an atheist and haven't had a drop of the 'blood of christ' cult for over twenty years). smilies/wink.gif It was about the JREF stance and how they approach these issues. Yes, it does appear that they are taking a bit of a silly stance; on the one hand attacking paranormal and supernatural claims and on the other being respectful of religion.

I'd say, respect the person's delusion but attack the delusion itself (which is in line with their framework). Again, we can't use subjectivity to obtain the conclusions. The evidence you mentioned (so many gods without any peep from them and all personal experience) is enough relegate religion to delusion.

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Second article
written by TK2009, July 30, 2009
I for one have also been eagerly awaiting the second article, hoping that it would clear up a lot of confusion in my mind as to how the original post was meant to show that skepticism "can be a big tent" (which I understood meant, in context, that skepticism can include God-believers).

@Jeff, I really hope you haven't given up on this subject just yet.

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@Kuroyume
written by CasaRojo, July 30, 2009
"I'd say, respect the person's delusion but attack the delusion itself"

Hate the delusion, love the deluded? ok.... think I'll just try and avoid the deluded for a bit longer though.
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Respect
written by Alan3354, July 30, 2009
There's no more reason to respect a person's belief in god(s) than a person's belief in the Tooth Fairy.
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written by Duaner, July 30, 2009
Hi,

I'm new to the active part of the JREF but long-time reader. Recent posts have made me come out of the shadows, so to speak.

In the first topic where Jeff Wagg spoke of the JREF's having staff both theist and non-theist, many people went up in flame about how hypocritical he was, how blasphemous(!) it was to accept believers as co-workers instead of treating them as cannon fodder.

You see, the arguments brought (and the wording in which they were written) often has the same angry tone as that of the religious/political community a few decades ago. For example, as Gazcam said:

Religion is an evil concept, and we, as rational-minded people have a duty to stand up to it.

Replace the word "religion" with "atheism" or "communism" and you have a perfect example of how anyone can make the mistake of being far on the right-wing of an idea. This kind of close-mindedness makes me sad. We have so many obtuse people claiming they are right and that all the others are wrong, we don't need to add skeptics and atheists to the lot.

That said, I believe Jeff was right on the stance of the JREF; they are not an "Atheist" organisation. It is not their goal, their reason-to-be. They are a "Skeptical" organisation, they want to test claims, to debunk what is debunkable. They are an Educational Foundation. As such they cannot start to be completely close-minded, they have to maintain their credibility for everyone, not only to absolute atheists. Rejecting completely all non-atheist is a losing strategy for the JREF. We need new members, freshly out-of-the belief skeptics. We won't bring in many soft-believed people if we start up with a "First of all you are wrong, poor dummy". We have to accept that others are still working their way toward becoming real skeptics.

In closing, atheists CAN be non-skeptical. It is (so it seems) a fundamental right to be close-minded. I believe all of the believers in woo-woo are. They have to be to maintain their illusion. But to think atheists (or any other group/people) is above this is simply hard to believe. We all are humans first.

Whoa, long post. If I seem to have misunderstood something, let me know.

See ya'll smilies/smiley.gif
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@Gazcam
written by PBall, July 30, 2009
Whether Randi agrees with me or with Jeff is besides the point. Science and reason is not about having leaders who dictate the truth, or followers who obey them. My points remain valid with or without Randi's blessing. This is yet another area where science and religion depart: in science, there are no unquestionable truths, and no high-priests who impart them yet these concepts define religious superstitions. I'd welcome Randi's views, but for or against, would not end the issue.


So, in your own words, what Randi thinks about the stance of the James Randi Educational Foundation is not important?
I think you tripped on that one. You are not in a crusade against the world (pun intended). It seems to be you against all.
I expect you admit you made a mistake on that one (as it seems very important to you that people admit their mistakes).
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written by Skeptigirl, July 30, 2009
written by ianmacm, July 30, 2009
"Religion is an evil concept" is not the sort of language that wins many arguments.

You demonstrate exactly what Gazcam was talking about. Most people consider the term, woo, to be derogatory. Adjectives such as stupid, nonsense, idiotic are often used to describe the 'concept' of woo. While you could argue there were differences between evil and idiotic, there are enough similarities in their insulting nature to say you are singling out god woo here from other woo.

It's a double standard and that is one of the problems one runs into when trying to accommodate god beliefs at the same time one promotes critical thinking.
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@Duaner
written by TK2009, July 30, 2009
I certainly agree that atheists can be non-skeptical. But I also agree with some of the posts here that religion (defined as a belief in a supernatural god) is incompatible with skepticism, which I believe is the point of this discussion.

I am sure there are medical doctors who also believe in homeopathy, but I would never go to one. In fact, I wouldn't even go to a doctor who was open to the possibility of homeopathy, as it is so inconsistent with the kind of mindset that I require in a doctor.

However, maybe I am missing something, which is why I keep trying to get to some kind of understanding of @Jeff's posts and some arguments being raised. This message from Randi (which is quite vitriolic too, like some of the other comments you've mentioned) to me undermines @Jeff's point. I hope he gives a better explanation as to what he meant by providing Randi's message, or posts another message that clarifies what he is trying to say.
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written by Skeptigirl, July 30, 2009
Thanks for the clarification, Kuroyume.

Just an editing note: I believe that, "I'm on the fence" without a following "about X" clause assumes the last relevant noun preceding the implied object of the pronoun is what you are referring to. A pronoun refers to the last relevant noun preceding it.

Using a pronoun to mean something further back in a sentence and assuming it is clear which noun the pronoun refers to is one of the more common grammatical errors.
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written by Kuroyume, July 30, 2009
I think the problem here is that we're just minutely out-numbered (by the billions!). Not that that should allow for condoning religion but you do want to live to see them properly challenged and relegated to mythology instead of being yourself demonized and persecuted, correct?

It is one thing to openly attack small pockets of paranormal woo-woos. It is another to attack mass delusion which could reasonably lead to bad things. The idea of JREF is to educate not to start a war (I hope). smilies/smiley.gif

Let me know when you've converted those billions out of their mass delusions...
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written by Skeptigirl, July 30, 2009
written by Duaner, July 30, 2009
In the first topic where Jeff Wagg spoke of the JREF's having staff both theist and non-theist, many people went up in flame about how hypocritical he was, how blasphemous(!) it was to accept believers as co-workers instead of treating them as cannon fodder.

You've misread an objection to the double standard applied to god beliefs by some JREFers and instead think it applied to believers who happened to also support the JREF cause. You did this despite several posts which pointed out the double standard was the issue, not any one person's conclusions about what the evidence says about the nature of the Universe.

For example, as Gazcam said:
Religion is an evil concept, and we, as rational-minded people have a duty to stand up to it.

Replace the word "religion" with "atheism" or "communism" and you have a perfect example of how anyone can make the mistake of being far on the right-wing of an idea. This kind of close-mindedness makes me sad. We have so many obtuse people claiming they are right and that all the others are wrong, we don't need to add skeptics and atheists to the lot.

While I agree Gazcam's word choice there was too broad and therefore not reflective of critical thinking, the response to his post, nonetheless, demonstrates the double standard we often see among JREF members who single out god beliefs as a special category of woo with different rules for how we can address those god beliefs.

... atheists CAN be non-skeptical.
And many are.
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Some interesting questions emerging in this debate I think
written by Gazcam, July 30, 2009
@Alan3354 said:
There's no more reason to respect a person's belief in god(s) than a person's belief in the Tooth Fairy.

That's exactly right Alan. Some people seem to think that any and all beliefs deserve respect, irrespective of the inanity of its content. I don't. I can respect a difference of opinion, certainly, based on the process by which people have arrived at their conclusions, but in the case of religion, its typically simply a consequence of unshaken childhood indoctrination, social conformity, or uncritical thinking. None of these are especially deserving of respect. But I'm particularly disrespectful and dismissive of ideas which can lead to dangerous outcomes, as does religion. If we were here discussing the politics of the Nazi party, I would take a similar stance. I equate these as extremely dangerous ideas which contribute nothing positive to society, and have done an enormous amount of harm. If anyone thinks this is an exaggeration, just take a look around the world today, or read Randi's (very much truncated) list of religion-based interntional conflicts. I will have no part in propping them up. Well, okay, so I'd go a bit lighter on the tooth fairy! smilies/smiley.gif

@Duaner wrote:

Replace the word "religion" with "atheism" or "communism" and you have a perfect example of how anyone can make the mistake of being far on the right-wing of an idea. This kind of close-mindedness makes me sad. We have so many obtuse people claiming they are right and that all the others are wrong, we don't need to add skeptics and atheists to the lot.

Oh, not the 'you're close-minded' canard again. Yawn, yawn. Science is about being open-minded to new evidence, allowing your model to be amended or turned on its head by the next experiment. But after all this time, with precisely zero evidence, well, you're right, I've definitely closed my mind to Yahweh, to Zeus, to celestial teapots, the flying spaghetti monster. I can remain open-minded for only so long, and after 2000 years, religion has overstayed its welcome.

@PBall wrote:

So, in your own words, what Randi thinks about the stance of the James Randi Educational Foundation is not important?
I think you tripped on that one. You are not in a crusade against the world (pun intended). It seems to be you against all.
I expect you admit you made a mistake on that one (as it seems very important to you that people admit their mistakes).

Not important? Important in what sense? I'm here, reading the James Randi website, because I'm interested in the ideas that James Randi has. I was interested to read his unequivocal opinion on the unsubstantiated claims of religious believers in the article posted on this thread. His opinion is important to me, because I'm interested in his views, and greatly respect what he has achieved for the skeptics' cause. Is James Randi's view important to the stance of the James Randi Educational Foundation? Yes, absolutely, of course it is! It wasn't me who dismissed Randi's article as merely reflecting Randi's 'own personal feelings', as if that was in some way distinct from that of the JREF - actualy, that was Jeff. But is James Randi's opinion so important as to provide ultimate adjudication on the discussion as to whether religion should be treated differently to other supernatural claims, or whether Jeff was guilty of this? NO! I remind you of the motto of The Royal Society, Nullius verba, roughly translated as 'Take nobody's word for it'. There are no high-priests of science. No statement is true simply because of who said it. It dates back to 1663, and I commend it to you. So I'm not exactly sure what mistake it is you want me to admit to.

@Skeptigirl wrote:

While I agree Gazcam's word choice there was too broad and therefore not reflective of critical thinking, the response to his post, nonetheless, demonstrates the double standard we often see among JREF members who single out god beliefs as a special category of woo with different rules for how we can address those god beliefs.

I agree with much of the excellent points you've made (and perhaps I would have to admit, in a more diplomatic (not my strong suit, clearly!) and persuasive way than I manage (perhaps I should stop reading Christopher Hitchens, PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne!). So, I'd be interested in your view as to why you think the statement, 'Religion is an evil concept' is too broad? I presume from this that you mean there are some religions which are not evil in the way that I went on to outline. I'm no theologist, so I'd be genuinely interested to hear of which particular religions my statement incorrectly encompassed, and what it is about them that that differs from the evils of the mainstream religions that we're all familiar with. Genuine question.
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written by Skeptigirl, July 30, 2009
Just an FYI, the second article is indeed posted. It relates the position of Hal Bidlack who has a belief in Deism, that is, a god defined by moving the goalpost so far it lies outside the realm of detection. I'll save my comments on it for that article's replies.
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written by Skeptigirl, July 30, 2009
written by Gazcam, July 30, 2009
why [do] you think the statement, 'Religion is an evil concept' is too broad?
Because they are clearly not all evil. If they involve god beliefs, they include at least some irrational elements. But you'd be hard pressed to show irrational always equals evil.

And some of the modern organizations function like religions but don't even involve god beliefs such as Secular Humanism.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_humanism


I try to give it a second thought when I find myself using the words 'all' or 'none'. They tend to come out of the emotional side of my brain and I often think better of it and revise my posts.
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written by sailor, July 30, 2009
Skeptigirl "By this logic we really need to test every single individual genome before we can draw any conclusions about evolution theory.

This does not make sense because of the big difference between the theory of evolution and "religion" The Theory of evolution was very specific and testable.

"Religion" is more an emotional experience than any kind of theory about existence. Every different believer probably has a different idea than every other one. If a particular believer makes concrete statement about his beliefs, these can be tested. But you cannot really make any universally true statements about the validity or not of religion, because it is just an amorphous lump. It is a subset of human ideas relating to what we are doing here and how to make it.

I think most people posting here have a particular religion or subset of religions they are thinking about. But they are making a jump to suppose what they think about these applies to all religions. The example I gave of a rational Buddhist is a case in point.
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written by Gazcam, July 30, 2009
@Skeptigirl
Because they are clearly not all evil.


Ok, then let me reiterate what I mean by evil, from the post in which I made that statement (which I stand by, unless you can persuade me of my error).

The religious want to affect every aspect of every individual's life: the food we eat, the days we eat it on, the type of people we marry, when we will have sex, in what position and with what gender, what aspects of society women will be precluded from, how we will grow our hair, what other superstitions we're allowed to indulge in, the unelected positions they will occupy in our legistlature, the money they will retain from contribution to our taxation, the wars we should unquestionably fight, the land that belongs to us by birthright... the list goes on and on.


It justifies actions that would be unconscionable without recourse to its ancient, contradictory texts. It perpetuates servility. It defines international conflict. It makes reasonable people say and do unreasonable things. It hinders science and medicine. It offends our very nature, as being born immoral and sinful, requiring redemption from the day we are born with original sin.


I could go on: the notion of vicarious redemption in the New testament, and the innumerable examples in the Old Testament that condone misogyny, rape, homophobia, genital mutiliation, cannabalism, murder, genocide, infanticide and ethnic cleansing. Of course, I'm not suggesting that all religions comprise all of the above. Christianity, from which my examples typically stem, is the one with which I'm most familiar, having suffered obligatory state-sponsored indoctrination of its teachings as a child. However, to me, religion is usually about control: about one group gaining power and influence over another and maintaining this status quo, and typically this leads to evil (feel free to substitute with a different adjective) actions. In order to achieve this, religions will usually target children, and aim to indoctrinate with their teachings before the power of reason can be mobilised to reject their obvious shortcomings. If you can point to a religion that specifically doesn't involve some combination of the above, I remain genuinely interested to hear. As I said, I'm no theologian, so I'm perfectly prepared to accept if I overstated the case by 'all', and limit my aspersion! But please, don't propose secular humanism as your example. You cannot count this as a religion - it is a reaction specifically against religion.
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written by Skeptigirl, July 30, 2009
@Gazcam:
You have not made the case the qualities of religion you describe are universal and a requirement for something to be called or defined as a religion.
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written by Skeptigirl, July 30, 2009
written by sailor, July 30, 2009
Skeptigirl "By this logic we really need to test every single individual genome before we can draw any conclusions about evolution theory."

This does not make sense because of the big difference between the theory of evolution and "religion" The Theory of evolution was very specific and testable.

"Religion" is more an emotional experience than any kind of theory about existence. Every different believer probably has a different idea than every other one. If a particular believer makes concrete statement about his beliefs, these can be tested. But you cannot really make any universally true statements about the validity or not of religion, because it is just an amorphous lump. It is a subset of human ideas relating to what we are doing here and how to make it.

I think most people posting here have a particular religion or subset of religions they are thinking about. But they are making a jump to suppose what they think about these applies to all religions. The example I gave of a rational Buddhist is a case in point. You've defined god beliefs as religion so let's start with a clarification. I am referring to gods existing or not. Religion is a different beast. Perhaps you are concerned with the "why" people believe, but my comments pertained to the "what" people believe.

There is overwhelming evidence people make up god beliefs. All the known gods are fictional characters. That is a pattern. If all known gods can be shown to be fictional and none can be shown to be real, then it stands to reason one can conclude all gods are fictional characters just as we can conclude all forms of life on the planet evolved into their present states.

There may be a few unanswered questions in evolution such as, did all life evolve from a single source, a couple sources or a soup of original sources where gene exchange initially occurred before reproduction settled down into a linear formation? By the same token we don't have all the exact answers as to why people adopted god beliefs though there are some excellent hypotheses.

But we can say there is enough evidence without analyzing any more genomes to conclude all life forms on Earth evolved and without testing any more god claims that all gods are fictional characters made up by people and the beliefs passed on through socio-cultural mechanisms.
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written by Gazcam, July 30, 2009
You have not made the case the qualities of religion you describe are universal and a requirement for something to be called or defined as a religion.


Fair point. I have made the case that the qualities of religion that I describe are universal to those of which I'm aware. Since you suggested I limit this, I'm inviting you to present cases which are outside this definition. I imagine this is perfectly possible - I just don't know of any.
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Eratta
written by Skeptigirl, July 30, 2009
Darn, in my post above Gazcam's I left out the quote marks. The following should have been in quotes:

written by sailor, July 30, 2009
Skeptigirl "By this logic we really need to test every single individual genome before we can draw any conclusions about evolution theory."

This does not make sense because of the big difference between the theory of evolution and "religion" The Theory of evolution was very specific and testable.

"Religion" is more an emotional experience than any kind of theory about existence. Every different believer probably has a different idea than every other one. If a particular believer makes concrete statement about his beliefs, these can be tested. But you cannot really make any universally true statements about the validity or not of religion, because it is just an amorphous lump. It is a subset of human ideas relating to what we are doing here and how to make it.

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Errata
written by Skeptigirl, July 30, 2009
Errata, I forgot spell check doesn't work in the title box. smilies/cry.gif
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written by Skeptigirl, July 30, 2009
written by Gazcam, July 30, 2009
Fair point. I have made the case that the qualities of religion that I describe are universal to those of which I'm aware. Since you suggested I limit this, I'm inviting you to present cases which are outside this definition. I imagine this is perfectly possible - I just don't know of any.
Did you look at the secular humanist religion I already used as an example? How about the Unitarians (not to be confused with Unitarianism)? They have some kind of philosophy that all god beliefs including non-belief are acceptable in their churches.

http://www.uua.org/visitors/index.shtml

Personally I have no use for organized religion. But we are a gregarious species and a desire to belong to social groups is part of our nature.
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written by Gazcam, July 31, 2009
@skeptigirl

I typed a few paragraphs in response to your email, only for it to then disappear into the ether, with the reply, "Your message has been received and will be reviewed by an admin." This seems to happen sometimes, I'm not sure why (I got paranoid, and thought I was being moderated at first, but I think it's just a gremlin in the blog machinery!), but whatever the reason, the messages never subsequently appear.

I can't face typing it again! Anyway, I think you and I are in almost complete agreement. I love the way you have demolished arguments on the other thread. On this thread, the two of us are lefting picking over the bones to find something, anything to debate. However, as there appears to be so little between our views, I'm going to politely and respectfully withdraw, since it appears, particularly on the other thread, the discussion has run its course, and we're now all starting to repeat ourselves.

Really enjoyed debating with you, and look forward to doing so again in future. By the way, are you the same skeptigirl of http://skeptigirl.wordpress.com/ ? I seem to recognize (and enjoy) the style. Keep up the good work!
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written by Skeptigirl, July 31, 2009
@Gazcam
They have my moniker! That isn't me. Thank you for bringing it to may attention. Maybe I need to change to Skeptigal or back to beskeptical which is what I started with on the BAUT before the 'UT' was added to the BA's forum.

And yes, I too am pleased to read posts of people such as yourself, who reflect my point of view.
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What are Islam resources?
written by saber, October 02, 2010
Hi Folks,

Just to share my knowledge of Islam. Our resources to know Islam are Koran and authentic narration (hadith) from the god's messenger, Muhammad (PBUH). Sometimes we refer scientific explanation to detail out the taught while refining our previous Islamic scholar opinion on general statement of the aforementioned resources. We are encouraged to seek knowledge from the original copy of text and that justifies why we don't even use Koran translation likes Bible and other scriptures. Koran is conserved since the day it was revealed from Muhammad (PBUH) who was illiterate. Anywhere has the same copy of Koran.
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