Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Religion v. Atheism

Stephen Wells's comment on Pharyngula:
Fundamentalists: believe 2+2 =5 because It Is Written. Somewhere. They have a lot of trouble on their tax returns.

"Moderate" believers: live their lives on the basis that 2+2=4. but go regularly to church to be told that 2+2 once made 5, or will one day make 5, or in a very real and spiritual sense should make 5.

"Moderate" atheists: know that 2+2 =4 but think it impolite to say so too loudly as people who think 2+2=5 might be offended.

"Militant" atheists: "Oh for pity's sake. HERE. Two pebbles. Two more pebbles. FOUR pebbles. What is WRONG with you people?"

(h/t to ywut)


  1. Imagine you found a population (the US) where the majority of the mathematicians believed that numbers were formal entities, defined by them to have nice formal properties. Imagine that attempts to correct them with the actual, correct ontology were regarded as insults to their revered traditions. I think we'd all agree that they a) they were wrong; b) they were misled, misinformed, and miseducated; c) that they were ignorant of arithmetic; or d) might very well have been maliciously deceived by someone in their midst. Somehow, though, if the ridiculous error is part of scientific practice some people take a big step backwards and are appalled that anyone might criticize them.

  2. Fundamentalists may have trouble making [honest] tax freturns - but God! How the money rolls in.....

  3. Enigman: Your comment is provocative, but a bit cryptic. Would you elaborate further?

    Anticant: The money rolls in only at the top, and I suspect a great many of the top televangelists are literally phony con-men.

  4. Hey, I emailed you. Did you get it?

  5. Faulty analogy. For one, the New Testament--and Bible, and religious texts as a whole--are not solely concerned with miracles or supernatural events; moreover a claim about a miraculous/"supernatural" is NOT equal to saying 2 = 2 = 5. Water could be changed into H20, the dead could even conceivably come back to life, without logical contradiction. Ok, the "miracles" probably didn't happen--it's merely part of an ancient myth, but logically not impossible.

    There are ethics, parables, stories, history, even some ancient science in the Bible. The Psalmist, whoever he was, was not merely telling ghost stories or fantasies; nor was JC. That's the problem with many Darwinian fundamentalists: they take an ancient text and try to put it under a microscope; that's not how one understands it.

    That said, there are nutty religious people, and Biblical literalists, but there is a type of strong atheist who, while rightly attacking hick fundamentalists or muslim fanatics, includes in his attack anyone who ever attended a church. One can be an agnostic and still respect some aspects of religious tradition. The problem is that Wells, like Dawkins, believes that the tradition is all bad, without proving it. Anyone who has ventured inside Notre Dame or the Cologne cathedral or appreciated Bach's music hesitates a bit before joining the Dawkinistas.

  6. Phritz: I have no argument, philosophical or otherwise, with anyone who considers the Bible a work of literature, indeed of sometimes powerful, evocative and sometimes poetically beautiful literature, but human literature nonetheless.

    The phrase "Darwinian fundamentalist" is irritating. Darwin was a scientist, a biologist; his work has nothing whatsoever to do with atheism or religion in general.

    "[T]here are nutty religious people, and Biblical literalists..." Damn straight. Millions, tens of millions, perhaps even hundreds of millions or even billions if you count Muslims as Koranic literalists.

    "[T]here is a type of strong atheist who, while rightly attacking hick fundamentalists or muslim fanatics, includes in his attack anyone who ever attended a church." Bullshit. Name even one with even a shred of popularity, credibility or respectability.

  7. You're also drawing a false dichotomy: The opposite of taking the Bible (and all scripture) as human literature is not full-on Biblical literalism.

  8. You're like AJ Ayers for the AA crowd, BB. Your writing is crass, obvious, and trivial. Even most priests a bit more subtle and rational. You don't know fuck about philosophy, or even modern science; the analogy you posted is not merely hyper-reductionist, but off-topic, and not at all clever. You're an insult to literature, to creativity, to ethics, to authentic science. Crawl back under your rock, bug.

  9. Elaboration: it just struck me as mildly amusing that Pharyngula chose the particular example of 2 + 2, given that, for example, Russell spent so many hundreds of pages proving that 1 + 1 = 2 from some very dubious axioms.

  10. Phritz: Such venom. I have to say, the "off topic" remark really stings.

  11. Enigman: As a scientist* and engineer, I tend not to worry too much about the intrinsic quality of axioms; just the fact that one is using a statement as an axiom makes that statement dubious.

    When some system of thought yields results that seems to accord with my subjective experience, that system is thereby valuable. When some system of thought seems disconnected from or contrary to my experience, that system seems ridiculous or inherently false.

    Note the militant atheist's response: He's not talking about the quality of the axioms, he's appealing directly to experience.


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