New A C Grayling book

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Tom Sacold

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May 8, 2007, 4:10:45 PM5/8/07
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Against All Gods, by A C Grayling

Anyone read it yet?

Is it as good as the Dawkins book?

Phil Saunders

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May 9, 2007, 2:42:07 AM5/9/07
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"Tom Sacold" <tom.s...@nospam.com> wrote in message
news:9P40i.13883$en5....@newsfe6-win.ntli.net...

> Against All Gods, by A C Grayling
>
> Anyone read it yet?
>
> Is it as good as the Dawkins book?

Well you havent set a very high benchmark, so probably

Phil

Richard Corfield

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May 9, 2007, 3:56:02 AM5/9/07
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Not yet, but there's a write-up at
http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/books/reviews/article2494615.ece

- Richard

--
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_/ _/ _/ _/
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_/ _/ _/_/ _/_/_/ except in the Twilight Zone

Gareth McCaughan

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May 9, 2007, 5:11:23 AM5/9/07
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Richard Corfield wrote:

> On 2007-05-08, Tom Sacold <tom.s...@nospam.com> wrote:
>> Against All Gods, by A C Grayling
>> Anyone read it yet?
>> Is it as good as the Dawkins book?
>
> Not yet, but there's a write-up at
> http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/books/reviews/article2494615.ece

What a very unhelpful review. It tells us almost nothing about
the book, other than that the reviewer agreed with much of what
it said. It does at least mention that the book's only 64 pages,
which may be considered an advantage over "The God Delusion". :-)

--
Gareth McCaughan
.sig under construc

Richard Corfield

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May 9, 2007, 7:19:21 AM5/9/07
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On 2007-05-09, Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:
>
> What a very unhelpful review. It tells us almost nothing about
> the book, other than that the reviewer agreed with much of what
> it said. It does at least mention that the book's only 64 pages,
> which may be considered an advantage over "The God Delusion". :-)
>

It told me that it was a short book, and it sounds as if a main argument
is that the claims of the religious could be generalised such that we
could replace 'God' with 'Garden Gnome' in their argument.

It would be interesting if the book has any more to say in its 64 pages
as that argument is tried and tested now, along with arguments about
the evils that some religious people do. Some discussion on the problems
that religion tries to solve and how the author would solve them would
be useful.

Frederick Williams

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May 9, 2007, 8:37:38 AM5/9/07
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I've not read this but what "What Is Good?: The Search for the Best Way
to Live" was rather shallow and he just stated his beliefs rather than
arguing for them, so I won't be reading this.

BTW, what does "the Dawkins book" mean?

--
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Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Gareth McCaughan

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May 9, 2007, 10:12:34 AM5/9/07
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Frederick Williams wrote:

> Tom Sacold wrote:
>>
>> Against All Gods, by A C Grayling
>>
>> Anyone read it yet?
>>
>> Is it as good as the Dawkins book?
>
> I've not read this but what "What Is Good?: The Search for the Best Way
> to Live" was rather shallow and he just stated his beliefs rather than
> arguing for them, so I won't be reading this.
>
> BTW, what does "the Dawkins book" mean?

Presumably it means "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins,
which has enjoyed some visibility in the media and on the
interwubs recently.

Andrew Clarke

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May 9, 2007, 11:17:48 PM5/9/07
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On May 9, 7:11 pm, Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.McCaug...@pobox.com>
wrote:

> What a very unhelpful review. It tells us almost nothing about
> the book, other than that the reviewer agreed with much of what
> it said. It does at least mention that the book's only 64 pages,
> which may be considered an advantage over "The God Delusion". :-)

It isn't really a review at all, IMHO. The critic has simply taken the
opportunity to vent his own opinions and display his genius for
satire, with Dr Grayling playing a somewhat subsidiary role, somewhere
in the chorus line.

This isn't an isolated example of course -- people like Auberon Waugh
and A.L. Rowse were past masters of this kind of thing, so if you
wanted to read a serious review of the book(s) in question you went
elsewhere. But at least their meanderings could occasionally be
original and thought-provoking: Mr McCrystal's are neither.

If the Independant had really wanted to set a cat among the pigeons it
could have given the job to a theologian. The present review is simply
preaching to the converted.

Andrew Clarke
Canberra

Richard Corfield

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May 10, 2007, 3:22:15 AM5/10/07
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On 2007-05-10, Andrew Clarke <a...@isd.canberra.edu.au> wrote:
>
> It isn't really a review at all, IMHO. The critic has simply taken the
> opportunity to vent his own opinions and display his genius for
> satire, with Dr Grayling playing a somewhat subsidiary role, somewhere
> in the chorus line.
>
> [...]

>
> If the Independant had really wanted to set a cat among the pigeons it
> could have given the job to a theologian. The present review is simply
> preaching to the converted.

So back to the original question - has anyone read it who can give a
review? Preferably an unbiased one.

It's a short book. Does it cover anything that we haven't done to death
here anyway?

Gareth McCaughan

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May 10, 2007, 6:33:21 PM5/10/07
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Andrew Clarke wrote:

> If the Independant had really wanted to set a cat among the pigeons it
> could have given the job to a theologian. The present review is simply
> preaching to the converted.

Unfortunately, I suspect that getting a theologian to review the book
might have produced similarly unhelpful results, for similar-but-opposite
reasons.

I've just ordered a copy from Amazon -- it's cheap and at 64 pages
shouldn't take long to read. I'll let uk.r.c know what I think
of it.

Gareth McCaughan

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May 21, 2007, 8:01:18 PM5/21/07
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I wrote, about A C Grayling's book "Against all gods":

> I've just ordered a copy from Amazon -- it's cheap and at 64 pages
> shouldn't take long to read. I'll let uk.r.c know what I think
> of it.

So, I'm doing so. Executive summary: there are some things
to like, but it's not terribly good. It's also unlikely that
many people in uk.r.c are in its main target audience.

*

It is indeed only 64 pages. Furthermore, the actual content
begins on page 7, and there's a blank page between each
pair of chapters, so there are only 51 pages of actual
polemic.

And polemic it is; the book's subtitle is "Six polemics on
religion and an essay on kindness". It's no part of Grayling's
purpose to argue that there is no god; he assumes it, and
expects the reader to do likewise, or at least to suspend
(dis)belief. The questions he's asking are of the form "Given
that there is no god, how should we think about X?".

I think Grayling's intended audience consists of people
who aren't religious, who have always tended to assume
that religion is a Jolly Good Thing even though they
happen not to have one, and who (in Grayling's view)
need a bit of a kick up the backside. His more likely
actual audience consists of people who have already
decided that religion is a Jolly Bad Thing; but perhaps
the fact that the book is small and not very expensive
will mean that some people in his target audience
buy it out of curiosity.

In his introduction, Grayling is a bit defensive about
the nature of his book: yes, he says, it's short and
therefore a bit light on actual *arguments*, but if you
want those then you can read seven other books of mine
that give more details. Fair enough, I suppose. I haven't
read his other books and shall treat this one as
self-contained.

The chapters of this book all began life as journalism
(all for the Guardian's "Comment is free" blog, I think).
I suspect that Grayling brought them together in book form
in the hope of cashing in on the recent popularity of
atheist books. So they aren't particularly tightly
woven together, and there's some repetition between
chapters.

*

The territory Grayling covers is well worn. Chapter by
chapter:

1. (Introduction.)

2. He argues against "the prevailing notion that
religious commitment is intrinsically deserving of
respect, and that it should be handled with kid
gloves and protected by custom and in some cases law
against criticism and ridicule".

3. He attacks the popular use of terms like "fundamentalist
atheist", and argues that even the term "atheist" is ill-chosen.

4. More on terminology: the words "secularist", "humanist",
and "atheist".

5. He argues that religious faith is fundamentally irrational
and in extreme cases can produce terrible results.

6. Some brief remarks on science and religion.

7. What's up with the recent resurgence in religion generally
and its more exreme forms in particular? Grayling's answer:
death throes.

8. Humanist ethics.

As you'll notice, most of this has been said before.
Grayling doesn't generally say it notably better than
others have done, though he writes lucidly and sometimes
elegantly.

*

Grayling's argument against respecting religion-as-such
goes like this: (a) we are all told that we have to respect
other people's faith, because faith is intrinsically precious
and sensitive; but (b) faith is in fact just irrational
belief of a particular kind, so (c) it deserves no more
respect than any other irrational beliefs, and its holders
deserve no more respect than anyone else. But I don't think
it *is* often claimed that faith as such is precious and
therefore justifies special respect. I think there are
in fact four reasons why people say that we should treat
others' religions with respect. (1) Because a person's
religious position is a part of their identity, not really
something they've chosen or something they could freely
cast off. (2) Because attacking someone else's religion
is likely to cause them such grave offence as to make
civil discussion very difficult afterwards. (3) Because
religions aren't just collections of propositions, but
communities of practice, and if you go knocking down people's
religions then you may end up with a destabilized society.
(4) Because what they believe in is in fact close to the
truth (e.g., because "we all worship the same God really"
or whatever). Of these: #1 and #2 are *based*, in effect,
on the idea that religious belief is basically irrational;
so saying "but religious belief is irrational" can't possibly
be an argument against them. It's doubtful whether #3 is
actually true, but Grayling doesn't address it here. And
anyone who proposes #4 isn't going to be moved by an argument
like Grayling's. I happen to agree with his main conclusion
here, namely that religious beliefs should be open to
discussion and investigation and mockery and whatnot
just as any other beliefs are, but I think he makes a
pretty poor case.

His attack on the term "fundamentalist atheist" takes
the following form: Religions say stupid things and sometimes
make people do appalling things; presumably (tee hee, those
stupid religious people) a non-fundamentalist atheist would
be someone who thinks some of those stupid and evil things
aren't stupid and evil, or who doesn't bother to say so;
what a silly idea. -- As you may gather from my summary,
I don't think much of this; but I have some sympathy for
Grayling here, because "fundamentalist atheist" *is* a
really stupid term, and no one ever says what they mean
by it[1], so the best anyone can do in responding to it
is to make a guess at what it might mean and deal with
that. But I'd make a different guess, and deal with it
differently.

[1] Honourable exception: Dianelos Georgoudis, here
in uk.r.c. I was never able to work out why he
thought "fundamentalist" was a good word for the
intellectual defect he was describing, though.

At the end of that chapter, and throughout the next, he
discusses terminology. With most of this I have no quarrel.
But I find what he says about the word "atheist" itself
strange. His objection to it is that using it implicitly
accepts that there's something special about god-belief
that renders it worth pointing out when someone lacks it,
but that the people it describes are equally a-goblinists,
a-fairyists, and so on, and we shouldn't concede the importance
of the question of God by preferring the term "atheist".
I think this is wrongheaded in several ways. Firstly, it's
clear that god-belief differs from goblin-belief in a relevant
way, namely that there's vastly more of it about. The word
"agoblinist" is useless because almost everyone's an agoblinist;
we don't need such a word any more than we need a special word
for people who have two arms. (The fact that Grayling bothered
to publish a book called "Against all gods" and not one called
"Against all goblins" is itself a nice illustration of this.)
Secondly, the term "naturalist" (which he prefers) *doesn't*
describe the same set of people as "atheist"; you can be an
atheist but believe in non-natural entities such as minds,
after all; so you can't just replace one term with the other.
Grayling clearly thinks that the theist/atheist division isn't
the really important one; he's entitled to that view, of course,
but that doesn't justify throwing away the word "atheist".

The next chapter, entitled "The corrosion of reason", is
a rather unfocused attack on various kinds of bad education;
its starting point is that some survey had (at the time of
writing) recently shown that 30% of university students in
the UK believe in "creationism or intelligent design". So
Grayling complains about the dumbing-down of education, and
about how religion fosters irrationality, and about how
our educational establishment is no longer based on the
idea that belief should always be proportionate to evidence
(I rather doubt that it ever was), and about how religious
schooling is divisive as well as fostering irrationality,
etc., etc., etc. He makes a few good points along the way,
but it's a bit of a ramble.

The brief chapter about science and religion is easily the
weakest. Its idea is to tie together three things that had
been in the news when it was written -- some recently
discovered fossils, some theoretical research in evolutionary
biology, and the discovery of the "Gospel of Judas". I'd
summarize the argument of the chapter, but there really
isn't one. Maybe: "There's some good evidence that the
creationists are badly wrong, and incidentally religious
people worry about some very trifling matters". Yawn.

The chapter entitled "The death throes of religion (also
very short) is to my mind the most interesting. The idea
is that the reason why religious people and groups
(especially the more extreme ones) have been more vocal
of late is that they know they're under threat. I don't
know whether Grayling's right about this, and it's far
from clear that there's any way to tell, but it's an
interesting idea. But he does rather skate over the two
most obvious examples of resurgent religion: Christianity
in the (according to some, increasingly theocratic) USA
and fundamentalist Islam in the Middle East.

Finally, Grayling adopts a more positive tone for his
final chapter, sketching his notion of humanist ethics.
He doesn't make any serious attempt to argue either
that humanism is correct or that it's coherent; I think
he's saying "here's what it's like; I think it's appealing;
take it or leave it". I found the chapter annoyingly smug,
but I'm more than averagely sensitive to smugness and
others may find it less annoying.

*

I've been very negative about the book; that's partly
because faults are easier to spot than virtues. It's
a pleasant enough read; Grayling's mostly not quite
as rude as the subtitle might make you think, and when
he is rude he's quite stylishly so; more generally,
he's a good writer. But from a professional philosopher
I'd have hoped for something a bit more rigorous and
a bit less like -- what this actually is -- a bound
collection of occasional journalism.

Richard Corfield

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May 22, 2007, 3:09:12 AM5/22/07
to
On 2007-05-22, Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:
> I think Grayling's intended audience consists of people
> who aren't religious, who have always tended to assume
> that religion is a Jolly Good Thing even though they
> happen not to have one, and who (in Grayling's view)
> need a bit of a kick up the backside. His more likely
> actual audience consists of people who have already
> decided that religion is a Jolly Bad Thing; but perhaps
> the fact that the book is small and not very expensive
> will mean that some people in his target audience
> buy it out of curiosity.

So does that mean there's a second hand one available? For someone who
hasn't got one (a religion) and is curious as to why Grayling thinks he
needs a kick up the backside?

Gareth McCaughan

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May 22, 2007, 4:53:33 AM5/22/07
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Richard Corfield wrote:

> On 2007-05-22, Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:
>> I think Grayling's intended audience consists of people
>> who aren't religious, who have always tended to assume
>> that religion is a Jolly Good Thing even though they
>> happen not to have one, and who (in Grayling's view)
>> need a bit of a kick up the backside. His more likely
>> actual audience consists of people who have already
>> decided that religion is a Jolly Bad Thing; but perhaps
>> the fact that the book is small and not very expensive
>> will mean that some people in his target audience
>> buy it out of curiosity.
>
> So does that mean there's a second hand one available? For someone who
> hasn't got one (a religion) and is curious as to why Grayling thinks he
> needs a kick up the backside?

If you mean: am I going to sell my copy?, then no. I don't
get rid of books unless they're considerably worse than
this one. If you just mean: are there second-hand copies
on sale?, then abebooks.co.uk lists 49 sellers, the cheapest
of which is selling it for £3.11 (plus postage, I assume).
If you're somewhere near Cambridge (that's where you did
your degree, right?) you could borrow my copy if you like.

Richard Corfield

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May 22, 2007, 5:20:46 AM5/22/07
to

I'm not near Cambridge at the moment, but will look at the second hand
list. £3.11 plus postage isn't bad.

Thanks

Gareth McCaughan

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May 22, 2007, 5:34:45 AM5/22/07
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I wrote:

[Richard Corfield:]


>> So does that mean there's a second hand one available? For someone who
>> hasn't got one (a religion) and is curious as to why Grayling thinks he
>> needs a kick up the backside?

[me:]


> If you mean: am I going to sell my copy?, then no. I don't
> get rid of books unless they're considerably worse than
> this one. If you just mean: are there second-hand copies
> on sale?, then abebooks.co.uk lists 49 sellers, the cheapest
> of which is selling it for £3.11 (plus postage, I assume).
> If you're somewhere near Cambridge (that's where you did
> your degree, right?) you could borrow my copy if you like.

Oops. I was inexcusably sloppy there. What's available
second-hand at abebooks is a different book of Grayling's
that also happens to have "gods" in the title. They don't
list anyone selling it second-hand. They *do* have some
people selling it new at a lower price than is on the cover,
but not any cheaper than Amazon. My apologies.

Kendall K. Down

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May 22, 2007, 2:21:30 AM5/22/07
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In message <87k5v14...@g.mccaughan.org.uk>
Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:

> So, I'm doing so. Executive summary: there are some things
> to like, but it's not terribly good. It's also unlikely that
> many people in uk.r.c are in its main target audience.

Thanks, Gareth.

God bless,
Kendall K. Down

--
================ ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIGGINGS ===============
| Australia's premier archaeological magazine |
| http://www.diggingsonline.com |
========================================================

Mark Goodge

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May 22, 2007, 2:35:56 PM5/22/07
to
On 22 May 2007 01:01:18 +0100, Gareth McCaughan put finger to keyboard
and typed:

>I wrote, about A C Grayling's book "Against all gods":
>
>> I've just ordered a copy from Amazon -- it's cheap and at 64 pages
>> shouldn't take long to read. I'll let uk.r.c know what I think
>> of it.
>
>So, I'm doing so. Executive summary: there are some things
>to like, but it's not terribly good. It's also unlikely that
>many people in uk.r.c are in its main target audience.

[mucho snippo]

Excellent summary, thanks. Just a couple of comments, mainly
tangiential to the real content....

>His attack on the term "fundamentalist atheist" takes
>the following form: Religions say stupid things and sometimes
>make people do appalling things; presumably (tee hee, those
>stupid religious people) a non-fundamentalist atheist would
>be someone who thinks some of those stupid and evil things
>aren't stupid and evil, or who doesn't bother to say so;
>what a silly idea. -- As you may gather from my summary,
>I don't think much of this; but I have some sympathy for
>Grayling here, because "fundamentalist atheist" *is* a
>really stupid term, and no one ever says what they mean
>by it[1], so the best anyone can do in responding to it
>is to make a guess at what it might mean and deal with
>that. But I'd make a different guess, and deal with it
>differently.

I think that "fundamentalist" when applied to an atheist is as
meaningful as any other common parlance application to many religous
groups that express their beliefs more fiorcefully than most. That is,
not very meaningful at all - but I suspect that that's at least partly
the point being made by those who use the term "fundamentalist
atheist". I think that both sides would benefit from avoiding the
F-word unless they are prepared to use it in a meaningful context.

>At the end of that chapter, and throughout the next, he
>discusses terminology. With most of this I have no quarrel.
>But I find what he says about the word "atheist" itself
>strange. His objection to it is that using it implicitly
>accepts that there's something special about god-belief
>that renders it worth pointing out when someone lacks it,
>but that the people it describes are equally a-goblinists,
>a-fairyists, and so on, and we shouldn't concede the importance
>of the question of God by preferring the term "atheist".
>I think this is wrongheaded in several ways. Firstly, it's
>clear that god-belief differs from goblin-belief in a relevant
>way, namely that there's vastly more of it about. The word
>"agoblinist" is useless because almost everyone's an agoblinist;
>we don't need such a word any more than we need a special word
>for people who have two arms.

Actually, I think he has a point, although maybe not the point he
intended. The reason *why* "atheist" is more commonly used than
"agoblinist" is, from a sociological perspective, very telling.

> (The fact that Grayling bothered
>to publish a book called "Against all gods" and not one called
>"Against all goblins" is itself a nice illustration of this.)

I suspect that the pun on "against all odds" was probably the deciding
factor here :-)

Mark
--
Visit: http://www.MotorwayServices.info - read and share comments and opinons
"Love is a precious thing, worth the pain and suffering"

Gareth McCaughan

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May 22, 2007, 4:18:58 PM5/22/07
to
Mark Goodge wrote:

> I think that "fundamentalist" when applied to an atheist is as
> meaningful as any other common parlance application to many religous
> groups that express their beliefs more fiorcefully than most. That is,
> not very meaningful at all - but I suspect that that's at least partly
> the point being made by those who use the term "fundamentalist
> atheist". I think that both sides would benefit from avoiding the
> F-word unless they are prepared to use it in a meaningful context.

Yes, the word "fundamentalist" has been so abused that it's
quite unclear that it can be used meaningfully except in
contexts where the meaning is quite carefully defined. But
even when it's used almost purely as a boo-word, I think
it points at a particular *kind* of boo, and people like
Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens simply don't fit
the pattern anywhere near as well as, y'know, *actual*
fundamentalists, or even most of the religious people who
get sloppily called "fundamentalist".

So yes, it's generally best to avoid the word altogether,
but that doesn't mean there isn't more to be said about
someone who uses it to mean simply "uncompromising" or
"tactless".

>> At the end of that chapter, and throughout the next, he
>> discusses terminology. With most of this I have no quarrel.
>> But I find what he says about the word "atheist" itself
>> strange. His objection to it is that using it implicitly
>> accepts that there's something special about god-belief
>> that renders it worth pointing out when someone lacks it,
>> but that the people it describes are equally a-goblinists,
>> a-fairyists, and so on, and we shouldn't concede the importance
>> of the question of God by preferring the term "atheist".
>> I think this is wrongheaded in several ways. Firstly, it's
>> clear that god-belief differs from goblin-belief in a relevant
>> way, namely that there's vastly more of it about. The word
>> "agoblinist" is useless because almost everyone's an agoblinist;
>> we don't need such a word any more than we need a special word
>> for people who have two arms.
>
> Actually, I think he has a point, although maybe not the point he
> intended. The reason *why* "atheist" is more commonly used than
> "agoblinist" is, from a sociological perspective, very telling.

Would you like to unpack that thought a bit?

>> (The fact that Grayling bothered
>> to publish a book called "Against all gods" and not one called
>> "Against all goblins" is itself a nice illustration of this.)
>
> I suspect that the pun on "against all odds" was probably the deciding
> factor here :-)

Gosh, *really*? You think? :-)

Mark Goodge

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May 22, 2007, 4:53:16 PM5/22/07
to
On 22 May 2007 21:18:58 +0100, Gareth McCaughan put finger to keyboard
and typed:

>Mark Goodge wrote:

[Gareth]


>>> At the end of that chapter, and throughout the next, he
>>> discusses terminology. With most of this I have no quarrel.
>>> But I find what he says about the word "atheist" itself
>>> strange. His objection to it is that using it implicitly
>>> accepts that there's something special about god-belief
>>> that renders it worth pointing out when someone lacks it,
>>> but that the people it describes are equally a-goblinists,
>>> a-fairyists, and so on, and we shouldn't concede the importance
>>> of the question of God by preferring the term "atheist".
>>> I think this is wrongheaded in several ways. Firstly, it's
>>> clear that god-belief differs from goblin-belief in a relevant
>>> way, namely that there's vastly more of it about. The word
>>> "agoblinist" is useless because almost everyone's an agoblinist;
>>> we don't need such a word any more than we need a special word
>>> for people who have two arms.
>>
>> Actually, I think he has a point, although maybe not the point he
>> intended. The reason *why* "atheist" is more commonly used than
>> "agoblinist" is, from a sociological perspective, very telling.
>
>Would you like to unpack that thought a bit?

Well, Grayling dislikes the word "atheist" because it implies that
there is something special about theism that doesn't apply to other
beliefs that he, and others like him, don't hold. But that is
precisely the point - there *is* something special about theism that
doesn't apply to various other beliefs. As you've already pointed out,
sheer weight of numbers is a very important part of that specialness.
But there are other things about theism that make it remarkable, as
well. Its persistance and ubiquity, for example - theistic religion is
a feature of almost all known human civilisations back to before
recorded history. It's a phenomenon that is hard to explain without at
least considering the possibility that there is some underlying basis
for it that is rooted in objective fact.

Mark
--
Blog: http://mark.goodge.co.uk Photos: http://www.goodge.co.uk
"So rock and roll, so corporate suit"

Peter Ashby

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May 22, 2007, 8:43:55 AM5/22/07
to
Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:

> I wrote, about A C Grayling's book "Against all gods":
>
> > I've just ordered a copy from Amazon -- it's cheap and at 64 pages
> > shouldn't take long to read. I'll let uk.r.c know what I think
> > of it.
>
> So, I'm doing so. Executive summary: there are some things
> to like, but it's not terribly good. It's also unlikely that
> many people in uk.r.c are in its main target audience.

Thankyou for that Gareth, it has probably made me less likely to buy it.
Most likely because I have almost certainly read most of the pieces in
the Guardian in the first place.

Your comment about it being very loose for a philosopher is an
interesting one. I suspect there is a tendency for professional
philosophers to dumb down when they are forced to use standard english
instead of precisely defined academic discourse, There is of course a
case to be made for this but others (best example being Dennett) are
able to write readable books that are also well and cogently argued.
Perhaps that is the fault of the level in the Guardian.

Peter
--
Add my middle initial to email me. It has become attached to a country
www.the-brights.net

Gareth McCaughan

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May 23, 2007, 8:05:07 PM5/23/07
to
Peter Ashby wrote:

[me, on A C Grayling's new book:]


>> So, I'm doing so. Executive summary: there are some things
>> to like, but it's not terribly good. It's also unlikely that
>> many people in uk.r.c are in its main target audience.

[Peter:]


> Thankyou for that Gareth, it has probably made me less likely to buy it.
> Most likely because I have almost certainly read most of the pieces in
> the Guardian in the first place.

You're welcome.

> Your comment about it being very loose for a philosopher is an
> interesting one. I suspect there is a tendency for professional
> philosophers to dumb down when they are forced to use standard english
> instead of precisely defined academic discourse, There is of course a
> case to be made for this but others (best example being Dennett) are
> able to write readable books that are also well and cogently argued.
> Perhaps that is the fault of the level in the Guardian.

I suspect there's a tendency for professional philosophers to
dumb down when they write for a popular audience; I'm not sure
that using standard English is really the issue. (You mention
Dennett as an example of someone who can write good philosophy
in good clear ordinary English; there are enough others that
I don't think ordinary language as such can be to blame for
the dumbing-down that others sometimes show.)

Grayling is supposedly[1] an expert in epistemology, and specifically
in skeptical arguments. The atheistic book I'd be most interested
to read if he'd care to write it would be an examination of the
recently fashionable deployment of skeptical arguments by theistic
philosophers. Problem of evil? No problem -- God is inscrutable,
the universe is hugely complex and mysterious, our brains are very
finite, so really we can't possibly hope to know whether any given
example of evil or suffering is justified. Lack of evidence for God?
No problem -- we all accept lots of things that we don't really have
evidence for, such as the existence of an external world, the
validity of logical inference, the broad regularity of how things
happen, etc., so what possible objection could there be to adding
the existence of God to that list? And so on. I think these are
all rather silly lines of argument (not to mention self-defeating
if you want to claim to know anything about God), but they're
commonly made by eminent Christian philosophers -- Plantinga,
van Inwagen, Alston, ... -- and it would be handy to have them
all skewered in a single place. But I don't know whether that's
the sort of thing Grayling would actually do well.

[1] "Supposedly" only because I've not read any of his
philosophical works; not because I have any reason
to think he isn't really.

Gareth McCaughan

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May 23, 2007, 8:21:17 PM5/23/07
to
Mark Goodge wrote:

>>> Actually, I think he has a point, although maybe not the point he
>>> intended. The reason *why* "atheist" is more commonly used than
>>> "agoblinist" is, from a sociological perspective, very telling.

...


> Well, Grayling dislikes the word "atheist" because it implies that
> there is something special about theism that doesn't apply to other
> beliefs that he, and others like him, don't hold. But that is
> precisely the point - there *is* something special about theism that
> doesn't apply to various other beliefs.

Oh, OK. But how does that amount to *Grayling* having a point
(even a point very different from the one he had in mind)?

> As you've already pointed out,
> sheer weight of numbers is a very important part of that specialness.
> But there are other things about theism that make it remarkable, as
> well. Its persistance and ubiquity, for example - theistic religion is
> a feature of almost all known human civilisations back to before
> recorded history. It's a phenomenon that is hard to explain without at
> least considering the possibility that there is some underlying basis
> for it that is rooted in objective fact.

Of course we should consider that possibility. (And given how
broadly you've worded it, I think even some hard-boiled atheists
could accept "that there is some underlying basis for it that
is rooted in objective fact". Incidentally, you missed a couple
of down-underneath-ness metaphors: you should have found a way
to get "fundamental" and maybe "radical" or "grounding" in too :-).)

Anyway, if that's what you're wanting then a better candidate
from the recent crop of atheist books would be Dennett's
"Breaking the spell", much of which is dedicated to asking
how religion could have come to be as ubiquitous as it is,
other than by being true. It's all very speculative (Dennett
admits this, btw), and also derivative (which he also admits)
on other work on the same question. I think his two main
references for this material are Boyer's "Religion explained",
which is badly written but contains some good ideas, and
Atran's "In gods we trust", which I haven't read.

The other thing about Dennett's book is that it is guaranteed
to annoy religious readers in an opposite way to, say, Dawkins's.
Dennett's style tends towards patronizing and smugness where
Dawkins's tends towards rudeness. On the face of it, Dennett
is unfailingly polite, considerate and fair-minded, but I bet
most seriously religious readers would be wanting to scream
at him by half way through.

For what it's worth, I don't think the ubiquity of theistic
religion can really be much evidence for God, given how much
those theistic religions disagree about. But maybe that's
just because I've been unable to think of any very plausible
*way* in which the existence of God would give rise to
ubiquitous theism but not to ubiquitous theism *with a
good idea of what God is like*.

(I think that in order to claim that theistic religion
is ubiquitous, you have to interpret "theistic" so broadly
that there really is a *lot* of disagreement.)

Mark Goodge

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May 24, 2007, 2:16:50 AM5/24/07
to
On 24 May 2007 01:21:17 +0100, Gareth McCaughan put finger to keyboard
and typed:

>Mark Goodge wrote:


>
>>>> Actually, I think he has a point, although maybe not the point he
>>>> intended. The reason *why* "atheist" is more commonly used than
>>>> "agoblinist" is, from a sociological perspective, very telling.
>...
>> Well, Grayling dislikes the word "atheist" because it implies that
>> there is something special about theism that doesn't apply to other
>> beliefs that he, and others like him, don't hold. But that is
>> precisely the point - there *is* something special about theism that
>> doesn't apply to various other beliefs.
>
>Oh, OK. But how does that amount to *Grayling* having a point
>(even a point very different from the one he had in mind)?

In that he's drawing attention to something which is actually a
weakness in his argument.

>Anyway, if that's what you're wanting then a better candidate
>from the recent crop of atheist books would be Dennett's
>"Breaking the spell", much of which is dedicated to asking
>how religion could have come to be as ubiquitous as it is,
>other than by being true. It's all very speculative (Dennett
>admits this, btw), and also derivative (which he also admits)
>on other work on the same question. I think his two main
>references for this material are Boyer's "Religion explained",
>which is badly written but contains some good ideas, and
>Atran's "In gods we trust", which I haven't read.
>
>The other thing about Dennett's book is that it is guaranteed
>to annoy religious readers in an opposite way to, say, Dawkins's.
>Dennett's style tends towards patronizing and smugness where
>Dawkins's tends towards rudeness. On the face of it, Dennett
>is unfailingly polite, considerate and fair-minded, but I bet
>most seriously religious readers would be wanting to scream
>at him by half way through.

That actually sounds like might may be worth reading :-)

Mark
--
Visit: http://names.orangehedgehog.com - British surname distribution profiles
"We're not the ones who're meant to follow"

Peter Ashby

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May 24, 2007, 10:51:42 AM5/24/07
to
Mark Goodge <use...@listmail.good-stuff.co.uk> wrote:

> On 24 May 2007 01:21:17 +0100, Gareth McCaughan put finger to keyboard
> and typed:
>

> >Anyway, if that's what you're wanting then a better candidate
> >from the recent crop of atheist books would be Dennett's
> >"Breaking the spell", much of which is dedicated to asking
> >how religion could have come to be as ubiquitous as it is,
> >other than by being true. It's all very speculative (Dennett
> >admits this, btw), and also derivative (which he also admits)
> >on other work on the same question. I think his two main
> >references for this material are Boyer's "Religion explained",
> >which is badly written but contains some good ideas, and
> >Atran's "In gods we trust", which I haven't read.
> >
> >The other thing about Dennett's book is that it is guaranteed
> >to annoy religious readers in an opposite way to, say, Dawkins's.
> >Dennett's style tends towards patronizing and smugness where
> >Dawkins's tends towards rudeness. On the face of it, Dennett
> >is unfailingly polite, considerate and fair-minded, but I bet
> >most seriously religious readers would be wanting to scream
> >at him by half way through.
>
> That actually sounds like might may be worth reading :-)
>

I think you really should read it, if you can manage to think about it
as well that would be very good. However considering how you react to
similar challenges to your basic assumptions in here I can't see it
happening.

Simon Woods

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May 25, 2007, 3:11:03 AM5/25/07
to
Mark Goodge wrote:
> On 24 May 2007 01:21:17 +0100, Gareth McCaughan put finger to keyboard
>> The other thing about Dennett's book is that it is guaranteed
>> to annoy religious readers in an opposite way to, say, Dawkins's.
>> Dennett's style tends towards patronizing and smugness where
>> Dawkins's tends towards rudeness. On the face of it, Dennett
>> is unfailingly polite, considerate and fair-minded, but I bet
>> most seriously religious readers would be wanting to scream
>> at him by half way through.
>
> That actually sounds like might may be worth reading :-)

I don't know if I'm a seriously religious reader, but I did find it an
infuriating read. Some of his comments seemed to make assumptions about the
type of people who would not be able to stomach what he was writing. In the
NYT review[1], Wieseltier quotes "There are a number of things that must be
said about this story. The first is that it is only a story." That's what it
felt like to me. I know nothing of evolution (other than what I've glimpsed
here and what my 'O' Level taught me many moons ago) but, and perhaps it was
his writing style, it felt as it DD was simply weaving a different spell. (I
think in the book, he, himself, does talk about good and bad spells.)

[1]
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/19/books/review/19wieseltier.html?ex=1180238400&en=4e35f52bd85b9949&ei=5070

If you bother to read the review, it's perhaps worth reading the letters
which this review generated as well
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/12/books/review/12mail.html?ex=1180238400&en=6c6168e51a29565f&ei=5070
and DD's own response
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/05/books/review/05mail.html?ex=1180238400&en=d9a8c02ac28fb891&ei=5070

Gareth McCaughan

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May 25, 2007, 5:26:23 AM5/25/07
to
Simon Woods wrote:

[a review of Dennett's "Breaking the Spell" in the New York Times:]
> http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/19/books/review/19wieseltier.html?ex=1180238400&en=4e35f52bd85b9949&ei=5070

I think there's something to Wieseltier's accusations of smugness
and grandiosity. Other than that, his review seems unfair and
questionably honest, claiming or insinuating that Dennett takes
various positions he explicitly repudiates.

Simon Woods

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May 25, 2007, 6:36:09 AM5/25/07
to

Perhaps you have other evidence, but in his reply to Dennetts response to
his review, he sought to demonstrate why he wasn't misrepresenting DD in one
particular area. Now that seems a reasonable approach to take even if he is
wrong or has misunderstood DD. But I struggle to see how you can accuse his
integrity/intention. His errors may (or may not ) be huge, but to me,
dishonesty would imply intentional misrepresentation. I can't sufficiently
read between the lines (or perhaps I've missed the lines themselves) to make
that judgment. Perhaps you could make a case?

Peter Ashby

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May 25, 2007, 7:54:16 AM5/25/07
to
Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:

You just have to read the first paragraph to see how it is going to be.
Dennett takes great pains to refute a charge of scientism. It is at
least disingenuous to write as though he has not.

In the second paragraph he tries to claim Dennett sees the world split
into Materialists and Absolute believers. Yet Dennett explicitly refutes
this, he clearly and explicitly states which subset of believers he is
aiming his book at. So this paragraph is again at best disingenuous.

In the third paragraph he wilfully misunderstands and misinterprets
several quotes. He is also trying again to set up false dichotomies that
Dennett does not make. Wieseltier is building a strawman.

He then accuses Dennett of misrepresenting Hume by ommission, as if we
don't all know that Hume predated Darwin and so could be forgiven for
holding a perfectly respectable position for his time. Dennett is
sparing Hume his blushes by not so quoting him. Hume is allowed to be
wrong on that point because he could have known no better. To attack him
for it is to ignore this point. Darwin blew the argument from design out
of the water for once and for all, the Modern Synthesis made sure it can
never come back by giving evolution a cast iron mechanism of
inheritance.

Wieseltier then tries to claim Hume for Theism when he was in his time
reviled by the theists and was still in legal fear of being labelled an
atheist. Hume was at most a Deist. To claim him as a theist is to
misrepresent his position. He then tries to claim Dennett has
misrepresented Hume!

He then has at Dennett for not writing a book about whether god exists
or not, well Duh!

He then represents things Dennett puts forward as possibilities, things
that might be true as things Dennett says ARE true. So to be generous I
suppose Wieseltier might have trouble with comprehension.

He then admits that Dennett is not claiming these things as fact, why
then represent him as though he has done. He is trying beat Dennett with
Dennett's stick then he claims it wasn't really a stick so that makes it
alright! He then abuses Dennett for offering a testable hypothesis and
explicitly declaring it to be so...

He then continues to build a strawman by imputing to Dennett a position
that is not contained in the book.

He then again complains that Dennett is not trying to disprove god. it
is a strange review that complains the writer's book did not stray
beyond its aims. Yet that is what Wieseltier is doing. He dismisses
Dennett's plea for a study of religion as a natural phenomenon because
he is not studying something else. Which is to miss the point, whether
god(s) exist(s) or not does not matter. Belief in gods definitely
exists, therefore it is a valid subject to study. Complaining that
Dennnett is not studying the unstudiable instead smacks of special
pleading.

He then abuses Dennett for overtly stating that he is not a genetic
determinist and uses the words in which he does to accuse him of being
one, or at least a biological reductionist (Wieseltier is confusing his
intellectual 'crimes').

Wieseltier having accepted that we are animals then denies that things
about us are therefore biological and uses that as another straw stick
with which to beat Dennett. I suppose he is allowed to make himself look
foolish, or maybe he has a low opinion of his audience.

He then abuses Dennett for his language, for describing things from a
biological p.o.v., for not covering them up in poetic language, but
baring them in utilitarian language. But hold on, isn't Dennnett arguing
that those things that have been walled off from study as too 'poetic'
should be brought out into the light? so Wieseltier then abuses Dennett
for doing just that! He still doesn't want this book to be as it is does
he?

Wieseltier then complains that Dennett refuses to judge religion by
religion's lights, which yet again completely misses the point. This is
the same as those who abused The God Delusion for not engaging with
abstruse religious doctrines. There is no point arguing over how many
angels etc if there are no angels.

In the last paragraph he continues to misrepresent Dennett. In Breaking
the Spell is NOT repudiating religion, explicitly not. That Wieseltier
needs to use yet another such betokens the intellectual emptiness of his
'review'.

If this is the best it is not very good. It is interesting that both
this and The God Delusion are not attacked for the arguments that are
actually made, instead they are attacked for arguments they do not make.
This is most revealing.

Here endeth my review of the review.

Gareth McCaughan

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May 25, 2007, 9:58:54 PM5/25/07
to
Simon Woods wrote:

[me:]


>> I think there's something to Wieseltier's accusations of smugness
>> and grandiosity. Other than that, his review seems unfair and
>> questionably honest, claiming or insinuating that Dennett takes
>> various positions he explicitly repudiates.

[Simon:]


> Perhaps you have other evidence, but in his reply to Dennetts response to
> his review, he sought to demonstrate why he wasn't misrepresenting DD in one
> particular area.

He did, but not very convincingly. Here's what he says:

| On Page 264 of his book, Dennett cites the "trenchant" words by
| Thomas Nagel that he gives in his letter. They appear on Page 130
| of Nagel's book "The Last Word." Dennett likes them because they
| leave the impression that Nagel shares his naturalistic notion of
| reason and his hostility to religion. But the impression is
| false. On Page 131, Nagel promptly denies the trenchancy of the
| prejudice to which he has just admitted, warning his readers that
| "it is just as irrational to be influenced in one's beliefs by the
| hope that God does not exist as by the hope that God does exist."
| Those inconvenient words do not appear in Dennett's book. And
| Nagel's meticulous discussion occurs in a chapter called
| "Evolutionary Naturalism and the Fear of Religion," whose aim
| is to disabuse rationalists of the aversion to religion and to
| denounce "Darwinist imperialism" in the analysis of mind.

"Dennett likes them because ..." -- how does Wieseltier know
why (or even *that*) Dennett likes those words of Nagel's?
For what it's worth, neither Dennett's quotation of Nagel's
words nor the very little comment he makes on them leave
on me at all the impression Wieseltier says Dennett is trying
to give. Here are Nagel's words again:

| It isn't just that I don't believe in God and naturally, hope
| there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want
| the universe to be like that.

and here, in toto, is what Dennett has to say about them:

| William James opined at the turn of the twentieth century:
| "Today a deity sho should require bleeding sacrifices
| to placate him would be too sanguinary to be taken
| seriously" (1902, p.328), but a century later, few
| would agree with Thomas Nagel when he candidly says
| he would not want such a God to exist. (I doubt if Nagel
| finds Spinoza's _Deus sive Natura_ -- God, or Nature --
| repugnant, and he may well be as indifferent as I am
| to the Ground of All Being, whatever that is.)

Where does Dennett suggest that Nagel thinks his wish for
God not to exist is evidence that he doesn't? Where does he
say or imply anything about Nagel's "notion of reason"?
Why should Nagel's (perfectly obvious) statement that it's
irrational to believe there is no God just because you'd
prefer there not to be one be "inconvenient" for Dennett,
when he isn't in fact endorsing any such wishful thinking?

Dennett's only point in quoting Nagel is to contrast
Nagel's preference for a world without a God (or at least
without a God of the traditional sort) with the preference
that many people seem to have for a world *with* a God,
potentially disagreeable features and all.

Another example. Wieseltier's original review: "Dennett is
the sort of rationalist who gives reason a bad name".
Dennett's reply: "He sneers at my rationalism". Wieseltier's
response: "Nor would I use 'rationalism' pejoratively,
since I do not believe that there is too much reason in
human affairs." Decide for yourself whether Wieseltier
is being straightforward here.

> Now that seems a reasonable approach to take even if he is
> wrong or has misunderstood DD. But I struggle to see how you can accuse his
> integrity/intention. His errors may (or may not ) be huge, but to me,
> dishonesty would imply intentional misrepresentation. I can't sufficiently
> read between the lines (or perhaps I've missed the lines themselves) to make
> that judgment. Perhaps you could make a case?

See above for one example where it's hard to see how Wieseltier
can even have been trying to be truthful. I found that again and
again in his review he seems to be reviewing a book entirely
different from the one I have a copy of. Here are some more places
where (what seem to me to be) his misreadings are startling enough
that I wonder about his honesty:

*

| But people who share Dennett's view of the world he calls
| "brights." Brights are not only intellectually better, they
| are also ethically better. Did you know that "brights have
| the lowest divorce rate in the United States, and born-again
| Christians the highest"?

I happen to think the term "bright" (intended as a nicely
positive-sounding word for, roughly, rationalist materialists)
is stupid because it sounds so smug. But, still. Dennett says,
when he first mentions the term "bright":

| Those who are not gays are not necessarily glum;
| they're *straight*. Those who are not brights are
| not necessarily dim.

I suppose "not necessarily" sounds pretty grudging, but I think
that's incompetence rather than malice; Dennett presumably
doesn't think non-gay people are mostly glum, so if he's
at all serious with the analogy (which I think he is) he
isn't saying that non-"bright" people are mostly dim either.

As for divorce rates, Dennett is *responding* to the commonly
made claim that religion is necessary for morality, and
that unreligious people tend to be morally worse than
religious people. If someone makes an accusation, it's
hardly unreasonable to point out contrary evidence.

*

Wieseltier on Hume, with interpolations from me:

| His God was a very wan god. But his God was still a god;
| and so his theism is as true or false as any other theism.

Eh? Different versions of theism can have different amounts
of truth in them.

| The truth of religion cannot be proved by showing that
| a skeptic was in his way a believer, or by any other appeal
| to authority. There is no intellectually honorable surrogate
| for rational argument.

Right; so ...

| Dennett's misrepresentation of Hume
| (and his similar misrepresentation of William James and
| Thomas Nagel) is noteworthy, therefore, because it illustrates
| his complacent refusal to acknowledge the dense and vital
| relations between religion and reason, not only historically
| but also philosophically.

... so what on earth is Wieseltier saying here? It doesn't
matter whether Hume was or wasn't in some aetiolated sense
a theist ("The truth of religion cannot be proved ..."),
and *therefore* (eh?) Dennett's alleged misrepresentation
is noteworthy because vague philosophical fog. Something
like that, anyway. The alleged misrepresentation, by the
way, is that Dennett happens not to talk about Hume's
profession of belief in a "designer" of nature. Since
(1) it's a matter of considerable controversy whether
and to what extent Hume really meant that, and (2) scientific
discoveries later than Hume's time have tremendously weakened
design arguments for the existence of God, in what possible
sense is this a "misrepresentation"? Dennett doesn't even
purport to be "representing" Hume's position; Hume figures
in Dennett's book mostly as a source of pithy quotations.

*

| And why is Dennett so certain that the origins of a thing are the
| most illuminating features of a thing, or that a thing is forever
| as primitive as its origins? Has Dennett never seen a flower grow
| from the dust? Or is it the dust that he sees in a flower?
| "Breaking the Spell" is a long, hectoring exercise in unexamined
| originalism.

Why is Dennett so certain of that? An excellent question,
apart from the little fact that Dennett is demonstrably not
certain of any such thing. He says, for instance,

| The major religions of today are as different from
| their ancestral versions as today's music is different
| from the music of ancient Greece and Rome.

and

| And yet we have just completed a sketchy but non-miraculous
| and matter-of-fact stroll, all the way from blind, mechanical,
| robotic nature to the passionate defense and elaboration
| of the most exalted ideas known to humankind.

Does that sound like he's unable to see the difference
between blind, mechanical, robotic nature and the most
exalted ideas known to humankind? Why, no. At least,
not to me.

*

| It will be plain that Dennett's approach to religion is contrived
| to evade religion's substance. He thinks that an inquiry into
| belief is made superfluous by an inquiry into the belief in
| belief. This is a very revealing mistake. You cannot disprove a
| belief unless you disprove its content. If you believe that you
| can disprove it any other way, by describing its origins or by
| describing its consequences, then you do not believe in reason. In
| this profound sense, Dennett does not believe in reason.

But who says that Dennett is trying to disprove religious
beliefs? I don't think he is, any more than someone who
writes a medical textbook is trying to prove that
diseases are caused by bacteria and viruses. Perhaps
Wieseltier thinks that no atheist should ever write a
book about religion with any aim other than that of
disproving it. Perhaps he also thinks that no theist
should ever write one with any aim other than that of
proving it. These principles would, of course, deprive us
of the "Divine Comedy", "Paradise Lost", and indeed
the Bible.

Dennett's purpose isn't to refute religious belief. It's
to try to understand it from a non-religious perspective,
and see what insights that provides. He makes that very
clear on several occasions; if Wieseltier has come away
from the book with the impression that Dennett is trying
to *disprove* religious beliefs, then either he hasn't
read it very carefully or he thinks Dennett is flatly lying
when he says what he's trying to do.

(I suspect that Dennett *does* hope to foster skepticism
in his readers and make them less inclined to keep whatever
religious beliefs they have, as a side effect. I expect
Timothy Ware hopes his books about the Orthodox Church will
make some of his readers more inclined to join it, too.
There's nothing wrong with such hopes.)

*

| He cannot conceive of a thoughtful believer.

Dennett calls William James "another of my philosophical
heroes", and makes no bones about the fact that James was
a believer. Does Wieseltier think that Dennett thinks
James wasn't thoughtful, or that he denies he was a
believer? Or perhaps Wieseltier thinks that Dennett
cannot conceive of William James despite his many
appearances in Dennett's book.

I see absolutely no sign that Dennett "cannot conceive
of a thoughtful believer".

*

Wieseltier:

| He writes often, and with great indignation, of religion's
| strictures against doubts and criticisms, when in fact the
| religious traditions are replete with doubts and
| criticisms. Dennett is unacquainted with the distinction
| between fideism and faith.

Dennett:

| many Jewish congregations reject the demand for
| orthodoxy, right belief, and settle for orthopraxy,
| right behavior. Instead of creating secret pockets
| of festering guilty skepticism, they make a virtue
| of candid doubt, respectfully expressed.

and:

| it is important to remind ourselves that not all
| religions have a home for the concept [of "faith",
| or "blind faith"] or anything even very close
| to it. [...] Indeed, it is mainly a Christian
| feature, and as we recently noted, Judaism has
| actually encouraged vigorous intellectual debate
| over the meaning, and even the truth, of many
| of its holy texts.

So Dennett points out examples of religious traditions
in which doubt and criticism are not only permitted
but encouraged, and says it's important to be aware
that there are plenty of religious traditions in which
"faith" isn't really an issue at all. And Wieseltier
accuses him of being unaware that any such thing is
possible.

Simon Woods

unread,
May 26, 2007, 11:15:02 AM5/26/07
to
Gareth McCaughan wrote:

<snip Gareth's case against Wieseltier as deliberately misrepresenting DD>

Thanks Gareth. Food for thought (as always).

I think you've placed some doubt in my own mind about my own prejudices when
reading DD, which I struggle to get beyond. Given that, I still struggle to
see how you differentiate between what could be, if what you offer is
correct, blind prejudice and deliberate misrepresentation. (but perhaps I'm
too much of an optimist wrt human nature!)

I am still unsure whether "the Brights" (and perhaps yourself) see reason,
logic, evidence (the rational process) as the *sole* arbiter of truth and if
so I'd have to call that scientism. If all that is being proposed is that X
(be it religion, science) is simply being exposed to the rational process
then I have no problem. "Why would someone be religious" is obviously as
valid a question as "why would someone be scientific"? I could be wrong but
I can't help but 'feel' from DDs pov (and this could well be a defensive
projection of mine), being rationalistic/scientific is somehow objectively
more true (I'm not sure that's the right word) than being religious, though
I accept that it could be that scientific thinking is more evolved or mature
than religious thinking.

Interested in your thoughts.

Simon

Gareth McCaughan

unread,
May 26, 2007, 5:07:48 PM5/26/07
to
I wrote:

[quoting Wieseltier's review of Dennett's "Breaking the spell"]


> | He cannot conceive of a thoughtful believer.
>
> Dennett calls William James "another of my philosophical
> heroes", and makes no bones about the fact that James was
> a believer. Does Wieseltier think that Dennett thinks
> James wasn't thoughtful, or that he denies he was a
> believer? Or perhaps Wieseltier thinks that Dennett
> cannot conceive of William James despite his many
> appearances in Dennett's book.
>
> I see absolutely no sign that Dennett "cannot conceive
> of a thoughtful believer".

Actually, here's a clearer sign that what Wieseltier
says is untrue. (I hadn't read this bit when I wrote
the above.) Dennett:

| Many deeply religious people have all along been
| eager to defend their convictions in the court
| of reasonable inquiry and persuasion. [...] Every
| religion -- aside from a negligible scattering of
| truly toxic cults -- has a healthy population of
| ecumenical-minded people who are eager to reach out
| to people of other faiths, or no faith at all, and
| consider the moral quandaries of the world on a
| rational basis.

Is it credible that Dennett doesn't regard the people
he describes here as "thoughtful"?

Gareth McCaughan

unread,
May 26, 2007, 5:55:54 PM5/26/07
to
Simon Woods wrote:

> Gareth McCaughan wrote:
>
> <snip Gareth's case against Wieseltier as deliberately misrepresenting DD>

To be more precise: it's a case against him as *either* deliberately
misrepresenting Dennett, *or* not having read his book with the
serious intention of understanding it, *or* of being lavishly
incompetent in reading it. As the literary editor of a somewhat
intellectual publication, he really ought not to be a lavishly
incompetent reader. The other options don't look good for his
integrity.

(But it's possible that he's a lavishly incompetent reader *of
this book in particular*. That would be interesting, and doesn't
seem at all impossible.)

> I think you've placed some doubt in my own mind about my own prejudices when
> reading DD, which I struggle to get beyond. Given that, I still struggle to
> see how you differentiate between what could be, if what you offer is
> correct, blind prejudice and deliberate misrepresentation. (but perhaps I'm
> too much of an optimist wrt human nature!)

I'm not sure that blind prejudice is so much better than deliberate
misrepresentation.

> I am still unsure whether "the Brights" (and perhaps yourself) see reason,
> logic, evidence (the rational process) as the *sole* arbiter of truth and if
> so I'd have to call that scientism.

I can't speak for "the Brights"; I dislike the term and have no
association of any sort with the movement, if that's the right
word for it. For my own part, I'm not really sure what it means
to call something an "arbiter of truth", but I think my position
is something along the following lines:

1. I aim to believe things in so far, and only so far, as the
evidence available to me supports them. That is, in so far
as the "rational process" *perfectly implemented* would
lead to belief.

2. I am very far from being a perfect reasoner. (Everyone is.)
So #1 doesn't imply that I should try to arrive at all my
beliefs by following the "rational process". Other ways might
be more effective, and even be found more effective by
applying the "rational process". I should apply those where
appropriate.

3. Let's say that my beliefs are "meta-rational" in so far
as they're arrived at by means that are rational given my
limitations. Note that because one of those limitations is
a limited amount of time, having beliefs that *as a whole*
are meta-rational is likely to mean having some individual
beliefs that fall short of that standard. I aim to be
meta-rational.

4. I'm quite sure I fail to be meta-rational, in lots of ways.

5. The only thing that determines whether something is true
is, er, whether it's true. Of course that isn't a question
about evidence or reasoning, but about how well it happens
to fit the world. Something can be true even if you believe
it for insane "reasons", or even if you reject it for excellent
reasons.

6. There's a sense in which it's "reasonable" to believe
something in so far, and only so far, as the rational
process perfectly executed would lead you to believe it.
(Compare #1.) But since we all have limitations, there's
another sense in which it's "reasonable" to believe
something in so far as belief in it is meta-rational
(compare #3), or even so far as belief in it is part of
a meta-rational overall belief structure (compare #3
again).

7. I have no idea what any of that means about "arbiters
of truth".

8. I don't know of any reliable way of arriving at truth
that isn't in some sense grounded in "the rational process".
By that, I mean: the rational process is a pretty reliable
way of arriving at truth; applying the rational process to
observations of our attempts to arrive at truth suggests
that some other methods are reliable in some situations
(e.g., some people have reliable hunches in some domains);
we might be able to apply *these* to our attempts to arrive
at truth; and so on (potentially) for ever.

9. If you have some purported way of arriving at truth and
you want me to accept the answers it gives, or to think
well of you for accepting them, then you're going to have
to give me some sort of justification that's ultimately
grounded in "the rational process". If you can't do that,
then at some point you're basically going to be asking me
to take your word for something without any reason; why
should I?

As for calling it scientism: forgive me if this sounds rude,
but why should I care whether you call something "scientism"? :-)
I'm very interested in actual arguments, and not at all
interested in mere name-calling, whether it's atheists
calling religion "superstition" as if that sufficed to
refute it, or theists calling atheism "scientistic" as if
that sufficed to refute *it*.

> If all that is being proposed is that X
> (be it religion, science) is simply being exposed to the rational process
> then I have no problem. "Why would someone be religious" is obviously as
> valid a question as "why would someone be scientific"?

Right.

> I could be wrong but
> I can't help but 'feel' from DDs pov (and this could well be a defensive
> projection of mine), being rationalistic/scientific is somehow objectively
> more true (I'm not sure that's the right word) than being religious, though
> I accept that it could be that scientific thinking is more evolved or mature
> than religious thinking.

Dennett makes no bones about the fact that he doesn't, in fact,
think any religion is correct, and that he does, in fact, think
that a broadly scientific approach is the best way to find out
the truth about any difficult question. And, although he keeps
emphasizing that religious people -- if they really believe what
they say they do -- have nothing to fear from an open-eyed,
open-minded examination of religion, I think it's pretty clear
that he doesn't expect such an examination to turn up much
to support them.

Simon Woods

unread,
May 27, 2007, 2:20:35 AM5/27/07
to
Gareth McCaughan wrote:
> I'm not sure that blind prejudice is so much better than deliberate
> misrepresentation.

Although the consequences may be the same, it could be a product of, say,
upbringing or chemical imbalance rather than intention which *may* be
grounds for mitigation.

>> I am still unsure whether "the Brights" (and perhaps yourself) see
>> reason, logic, evidence (the rational process) as the *sole* arbiter
>> of truth and if so I'd have to call that scientism.
>
> I can't speak for "the Brights"; I dislike the term and have no
> association of any sort with the movement, if that's the right
> word for it. For my own part, I'm not really sure what it means
> to call something an "arbiter of truth", but I think my position
> is something along the following lines:

<snip>

> 3. Let's say that my beliefs are "meta-rational" in so far
> as they're arrived at by means that are rational given my
> limitations. Note that because one of those limitations is
> a limited amount of time, having beliefs that *as a whole*
> are meta-rational is likely to mean having some individual
> beliefs that fall short of that standard. I aim to be
> meta-rational.

Do you mean you're reading something or thinking about something and then
"the lightbulb goes on" wrt the thing you're thinking about? (or you may be
something something completely unrelated and then "the truth emerges from
your subconscious" or whatever). Is that the rational process for you?

As you can see, perhaps I am more divorced from the rational process than
you are! I wonder whether you enter into it in a different way to me and so
my explanation above would not be suitable because truth is intimately
wrapped up with content (the think you're thinking about, e.g.) rather than
process (the mechanism by which you arrive at a sense of truth).

> 5. The only thing that determines whether something is true
> is, er, whether it's true. Of course that isn't a question
> about evidence or reasoning, but about how well it happens
> to fit the world. Something can be true even if you believe
> it for insane "reasons", or even if you reject it for excellent
> reasons.

You seem to be talking about 2 different things. What happens happens. Are
you suggesting that truth is solely bound up with accuracy of explanation?

<snip>

> As for calling it scientism: forgive me if this sounds rude,
> but why should I care whether you call something "scientism"? :-)

Turn of phrase - nothing more. I have no authority you need to submit to.
:-)

> I'm very interested in actual arguments, and not at all
> interested in mere name-calling, whether it's atheists
> calling religion "superstition" as if that sufficed to
> refute it, or theists calling atheism "scientistic" as if
> that sufficed to refute *it*.

Actually it seems to me that there are times which is important to recognise
that people do believe certain things (or are more susceptible to believe
certain things) at certain times. For example, the current 'stuff' about
incitement to religious hatred (or whatever it's called). Now you could
argue that the best way to stop this is purely by investigating the content
of what is being taught. For some that may yield the desired result. But it
seems that the introduction of these laws has this kind of thinking behind
it in order to, for one thing, protect those who are susceptible.

It strikes me that the content in this instance is the process of belief not
what is being believed. If there is a process of belief which can be
divorced from content, where does that leave specific content? It seems to
me that the particular content being considered is then simply evidence of
"where one is up to"? Thus some may pass through a religious phase, say, in
the teen years (or perhaps when passing through crisis) and then move onto a
more rationalistic phase in later life. Perhaps for some that's actually one
of the normative patterns of life expressing itself and the content is
simply 'for our pleasure'.

Further, it seems pretty reasonable to suggest that some have greater
reasoning ability than others, just as some can run faster than others. Do
those with greater reasoning ability, innately, have more capacity for
truth?

Paul

unread,
May 27, 2007, 10:12:39 AM5/27/07
to
On 24 May, 01:21, Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.McCaug...@pobox.com> wrote:

> Mark Goodge wrote:
> > But there are other things about theism that make it remarkable, as
> > well. Its persistance and ubiquity, for example - theistic religion is
> > a feature of almost all known human civilisations back to before
> > recorded history.

So is belief that the Earth is flat and at the centre of the Universe.
These beliefs came about, surely, because they are the most
immediately obvious conclusions to draw. Likewise, 'we design
chariots, someone else must design the world' is a similar 'obvious'
conclusion. So I don't think its wide adoption is that remarkable.
Also, there are exceptions, like Confucious.

> The other thing about Dennett's book is that it is guaranteed
> to annoy religious readers in an opposite way to, say, Dawkins's.
> Dennett's style tends towards patronizing and smugness

You can say that again! Example, saying: "I'll say it again slowly" to
Robert Wright in his http://meaningoflife.tv/ interview. Christians
might enjoy a guilty pleasure -- two evolutionists tearing strips off
each other :-)

> For what it's worth, I don't think the ubiquity of theistic
> religion can really be much evidence for God, given how much
> those theistic religions disagree about. But maybe that's
> just because I've been unable to think of any very plausible
> *way* in which the existence of God would give rise to
> ubiquitous theism but not to ubiquitous theism *with a
> good idea of what God is like*.
>
> (I think that in order to claim that theistic religion
> is ubiquitous, you have to interpret "theistic" so broadly
> that there really is a *lot* of disagreement.)

Yes, and there is vast disagreement over whether there is one God or
many. And not all are human shape (e.g. some have elephant form).

Gareth McCaughan

unread,
May 27, 2007, 4:27:50 PM5/27/07
to
Simon Woods wrote:

> Gareth McCaughan wrote:
>> I'm not sure that blind prejudice is so much better than deliberate
>> misrepresentation.
>
> Although the consequences may be the same, it could be a product of, say,
> upbringing or chemical imbalance rather than intention which *may* be
> grounds for mitigation.

I'm really not very interested in whether Wieseltier is
a Bad Person, so let me offer a different criticism: his
comments on Dennett's book seem to me so far off-base
that I'm not inclined to take seriously what he said
about Dennett and his book in that review, or other
things he might say on related subjects. Whether the
problem is one of integrity or of competence or what
isn't all that important.

>> 3. Let's say that my beliefs are "meta-rational" in so far
>> as they're arrived at by means that are rational given my
>> limitations. Note that because one of those limitations is
>> a limited amount of time, having beliefs that *as a whole*
>> are meta-rational is likely to mean having some individual
>> beliefs that fall short of that standard. I aim to be
>> meta-rational.
>
> Do you mean you're reading something or thinking about something and then
> "the lightbulb goes on" wrt the thing you're thinking about? (or you may be
> something something completely unrelated and then "the truth emerges from
> your subconscious" or whatever). Is that the rational process for you?

The phrase "rational process" is yours, so I was guessing at
what you meant by it. My guess was that you meant something
along the following lines: look really carefully and as objectively
as you can at all the relevant evidence you have, reasoning as
precisely as possible, and use that to estimate the likelihood
of whatever-it-is being correct; take that as your degree of
confidence in whatever-it-is.

And the sort of thing I have in mind when I talk about
"meta-rationality" is:

- "Hmm, so-and-so looks obviously crazy. There are other
things that seem to be in more doubt and that matter more,
so I'm not going to look very hard at this."

- "I just don't trust him. I don't have hard evidence that
he's untrustworthy, but I've generally found my character
judgements reliable when I've been able to check them,
so I'm going to carry on regarding him as untrustworthy
unless some good contrary evidence comes along."

- "I've always believed that, and so has everyone around me;
I'm not aware of any good reason to doubt it; so I'll just
go on believing it without investigating further."

- "Aha, I bet that's the right formula; it just *feels*
right, and I've done enough of this sort of thing to
have a good feeling for how these things tend to work.
And yes, it checks out for n up to 20, and I can see
how to prove it's at least approximately right for large n.
I bet it's right."

> As you can see, perhaps I am more divorced from the rational process than
> you are! I wonder whether you enter into it in a different way to me and so
> my explanation above would not be suitable because truth is intimately
> wrapped up with content (the think you're thinking about, e.g.) rather than
> process (the mechanism by which you arrive at a sense of truth).

I think it's individual propositions that are true or false, but
it's often more fruitful to look at the processes we're applying
than to scrutinize every decision individually. I'm not sure
whether that's actually an answer to what you're saying.

>> 5. The only thing that determines whether something is true
>> is, er, whether it's true. Of course that isn't a question
>> about evidence or reasoning, but about how well it happens
>> to fit the world. Something can be true even if you believe
>> it for insane "reasons", or even if you reject it for excellent
>> reasons.
>
> You seem to be talking about 2 different things. What happens happens. Are
> you suggesting that truth is solely bound up with accuracy of explanation?

Er, no. I'm suggesting that "is X true?" and "did I arrive at X
by reasonable means?" and "do I have good grounds for believing X?"
are all separate questions. My reason for pointing that out is
that you asked about arbiters of *truth* and also about processes,
and it looked as if you might be mixing those questions up a bit.

>> I'm very interested in actual arguments, and not at all
>> interested in mere name-calling, whether it's atheists
>> calling religion "superstition" as if that sufficed to
>> refute it, or theists calling atheism "scientistic" as if
>> that sufficed to refute *it*.
>
> Actually it seems to me that there are times which is important to recognise
> that people do believe certain things (or are more susceptible to believe
> certain things) at certain times.

You say this as if you expect me to disagree, but I don't know why.

> For example, the current 'stuff' about
> incitement to religious hatred (or whatever it's called). Now you could
> argue that the best way to stop this is purely by investigating the content
> of what is being taught. For some that may yield the desired result. But it
> seems that the introduction of these laws has this kind of thinking behind
> it in order to, for one thing, protect those who are susceptible.
>
> It strikes me that the content in this instance is the process of belief
> not what is being believed.

Please forgive my dimness, but I'm not sure what you mean by "the content",
or "this instance", or "the process of belief". Obviously you're thinking
about something related to "incitement to religious hatred", but what
exactly?

> If there is a process of belief which can be
> divorced from content, where does that leave specific content?

I don't know, but I think it's quite unusual for any "process of
belief" to be entirely separable from the things believed. But
if someone's arrived at a belief -- any belief -- by a process
that's really independent of what the belief is (e.g., some kind
of brainwashing) then of course their adherence to that belief
is entirely irrational and needs to be thought about in terms
of psychology or sociology or biology or whatever. But I don't
see any reason to think that most beliefs are arrived at in such
content-independent ways.

But I have the feeling I may be entirely misunderstanding what
you're getting at. Perhaps if you made some more concrete
statements alongside your very general questions, it would
help me to get a grip. :-)

> It seems to
> me that the particular content being considered is then simply evidence of
> "where one is up to"? Thus some may pass through a religious phase, say, in
> the teen years (or perhaps when passing through crisis) and then move onto a
> more rationalistic phase in later life.

Sure. But that's only an adequate account of what's going on
in so far as your religious belief as a teenager is *only*
the result of ... well, whatever you have in mind -- hormones
or indoctrination in school or whatever, and only in so far
as your rationalism later is *only* a consequence of whatever
other nonrational factors there may be later in life (I dunno;
general disillusionment with life, or something).

But if someone becomes a Christian as a teenager after hearing
what seems to them like a compelling presentation of good
evidence for the (bodily) Resurrection, and becomes an atheist
later in life after seeing debunkings of the arguments that
had earlier been convincing to them -- or if someone abandons
their religion as a teenager because they find the argument
from evil overwhelmingly convincing, and returns to it later
as a result of an apparent encounter with God that they can't
find any better explanation for than that it's real -- those
aren't, at least on the face of it, purely "situational"
changes of view, and to treat them as such would be to fail
to engage with an important part of how they happened.

That doesn't mean that there's no "situational" element.
None of us is ever purely rational (well, hardly ever),
and religious topics tend to carry quite a bit of emotional
freight. So it might also be a mistake to think that our
hypothetical converts arrived at any of their positions
by anything much like pure reason. It might turn out that
"situational" factors were really dominant.

What I have a problem with is that word "simply": "... is
then SIMPLY evidence of 'where one is up to'". That would
only be true if reason and evidence played *no* role in
a person's thinking. That's pretty rare.

> Perhaps for some that's actually
> one of the normative patterns of life expressing itself and the content
> is simply 'for our pleasure'.

Perhaps.

> Further, it seems pretty reasonable to suggest that some have greater
> reasoning ability than others, just as some can run faster than others.
> Do those with greater reasoning ability, innately, have more capacity
> for truth?

I don't know what "capacity for truth" means. But someone who's better
at reasoning is going to be better at arriving at the truth in cases
where reasoning is a good way of arriving at the truth (obviously).
There are instances where reasoning isn't (for us, given our limitations)
in practice the best way of arriving at the truth: for instance, if you
have to make a very quick decision about whether to trust someone.
A good reasoner won't have any advantage in such cases, unless whatever
makes them a good reasoner also makes them good at applying those other
means.

Kendall K. Down

unread,
May 27, 2007, 12:36:37 PM5/27/07
to
In message <1180275159....@k79g2000hse.googlegroups.com>
Paul <pgr...@yahoo.com> wrote:

> Yes, and there is vast disagreement over whether there is one God or
> many. And not all are human shape (e.g. some have elephant form).

If you are thinking of who I think you are thinking of, then he only has an
elephant head. As I recall the legend, some misfortune resulted in him
losing his own head and for obscure reasons an elephant head was considered
a suitable substitute.

Richard Corfield

unread,
May 28, 2007, 5:20:29 AM5/28/07
to
On 2007-05-27, Kendall K. Down <webm...@diggingsonline.com> wrote:
>
>
> In message <1180275159....@k79g2000hse.googlegroups.com>
> Paul <pgr...@yahoo.com> wrote:
>
>> Yes, and there is vast disagreement over whether there is one God or
>> many. And not all are human shape (e.g. some have elephant form).
>
> If you are thinking of who I think you are thinking of, then he only has an
> elephant head. As I recall the legend, some misfortune resulted in him
> losing his own head and for obscure reasons an elephant head was considered
> a suitable substitute.

Slightly different stories depending on who you ask. Wikipedia has a
good page about him. Also someone pointed me at this frame (It's not
a whole web page): http://www.shivabeads.co.uk/Ganesh.htm which is an
article about the symbolism written by a Shiavite in Scotland.

One story is about him going off to fight evil, the other is about him
trying to protect his mother, only a lack of communication meant that
he didn't know who is father was. There was some disagreement and the
stronger father (Shiva) won. I guess this is the Viashnava version of
events because it's Vishnu that saves the day by sending Shiva off to
find a recently dead elephant. Fortunately he didn't have to look far.

A number of Hindus I've met describe how Ganesh is worshipped before any
undertaking - marriage, moving house and such. I've been told that he is
much like St Christopher.

Simon Woods

unread,
May 28, 2007, 6:02:54 AM5/28/07
to
Gareth McCaughan wrote:

<snip>

[Me:]


>> You seem to be talking about 2 different things. What happens
>> happens. Are you suggesting that truth is solely bound up with
>> accuracy of explanation?

[Gareth:]


> Er, no. I'm suggesting that "is X true?" and "did I arrive at X
> by reasonable means?" and "do I have good grounds for believing X?"
> are all separate questions. My reason for pointing that out is
> that you asked about arbiters of *truth* and also about processes,
> and it looked as if you might be mixing those questions up a bit.

But "what X is" is rather my point. TMM, X is the "mental symbolic
representation"[1] of a real-world event rather than the real-world event
itself. I am unable to see "what goes on out there" and "what registers in
here" as one and the same otherwise where does interpretation (and
disagreement) fit in. I'm guessing you may think otherwise. If so, why?

1. It strikes me that often when I used this type of terminology (I'm quite
good at the flowery, loose stuff!), you seem to end up saying something like
"I'm not sure what you mean by", but you do seem to guess right. I hope you
catch my drift here. :-)

> Please forgive my dimness, but I'm not sure what you mean by "the
> content", or "this instance", or "the process of belief". Obviously
> you're thinking about something related to "incitement to religious
> hatred", but what exactly?

I'm sure it's me, not you. Don't worry.

>> If there is a process of belief which
>> can be divorced from content, where does that leave specific content?
>
> I don't know, but I think it's quite unusual for any "process of
> belief" to be entirely separable from the things believed. But
> if someone's arrived at a belief -- any belief -- by a process
> that's really independent of what the belief is (e.g., some kind
> of brainwashing) then of course their adherence to that belief
> is entirely irrational and needs to be thought about in terms
> of psychology or sociology or biology or whatever. But I don't
> see any reason to think that most beliefs are arrived at in such
> content-independent ways.

Whilst I think belief is not arrived at content-independently, I do wonder
whether the content is rather incidental. (Obviously it is not for those
coming to and leaving particular beliefs which can be, IME, pretty
traumatic). For example, DD suggests (and I hope I'm not misrepresenting
him) a reason for the development of religious belief. Just as "Pavlov's
bird" performs strange dances because when it danced like that previously,
it received food, so the "primitive"[1] does rain dances (or prays) for the
sake of his/her crops. Because we understand the weather systems to a
degree, we currently believe that there is no correlation between rain
dances and it starting to rain, the belief is no longer valid. But I'm not
sure really what the difference is between believing that there is a
correlation between rain dancing and rain, and believing there is no
correlation between rain dancing and rain. Is the man with the knowledge of
the weather system being as pavlovian as the "primitive" but just dancing to
a different tune?

1. I've quoted this as I do not mean it in a negative, insulting way, but
just couldn't think of a different term.

> But I have the feeling I may be entirely misunderstanding what
> you're getting at. Perhaps if you made some more concrete
> statements alongside your very general questions, it would
> help me to get a grip. :-)

I'm not sure if I do "concrete"! ;-)

I'm honestly trying to do my best. My thinking is at best woolly.

Yes, but there was a time when such "messages" wouldn't be received or
rejected. TMM, nothing has changed objectively except perhaps the state of
mind of the person involved - if that can be said to be objective. The
evidence for the bodily resurrection is as it was, isn't it (though I'd
accept that different generations may present it in different ways)? There
is as much evil as there ever was.

> That doesn't mean that there's no "situational" element.
> None of us is ever purely rational (well, hardly ever),
> and religious topics tend to carry quite a bit of emotional
> freight. So it might also be a mistake to think that our
> hypothetical converts arrived at any of their positions
> by anything much like pure reason. It might turn out that
> "situational" factors were really dominant.

> What I have a problem with is that word "simply": "... is
> then SIMPLY evidence of 'where one is up to'". That would
> only be true if reason and evidence played *no* role in
> a person's thinking. That's pretty rare.

But if reasoning and assessing evidence are "part of what the brain (mind)
does", just like hair follicles grow hair, once again what can be said of
the objective value (truth?) of content of the reasoning other than that it
is what the situation (circumstance) has brought to it at that particularly
point in time? Misquoting Ecclesiastes, "There is a time to believe and
there is a time not to believe."

Gareth McCaughan

unread,
May 28, 2007, 4:01:26 PM5/28/07
to
Simon Woods wrote:

>>> You seem to be talking about 2 different things. What happens
>>> happens. Are you suggesting that truth is solely bound up with
>>> accuracy of explanation?
>>

>> Er, no. I'm suggesting that "is X true?" and "did I arrive at X
>> by reasonable means?" and "do I have good grounds for believing X?"
>> are all separate questions. My reason for pointing that out is
>> that you asked about arbiters of *truth* and also about processes,
>> and it looked as if you might be mixing those questions up a bit.
>
> But "what X is" is rather my point. TMM, X is the "mental symbolic
> representation"[1] of a real-world event rather than the real-world event
> itself. I am unable to see "what goes on out there" and "what registers in
> here" as one and the same otherwise where does interpretation (and
> disagreement) fit in. I'm guessing you may think otherwise. If so, why?

No, I don't think otherwise. The internal and external are not
the same thing. I have no idea what makes you think I think
otherwise.

> 1. It strikes me that often when I used this type of terminology (I'm quite
> good at the flowery, loose stuff!), you seem to end up saying something like
> "I'm not sure what you mean by", but you do seem to guess right. I hope you
> catch my drift here. :-)

In this instance, I think I know reasonably well what you mean
by "mental symbolic representation". It's other aspects of what
you're saying that are giving me trouble.

>> Please forgive my dimness, but I'm not sure what you mean by "the
>> content", or "this instance", or "the process of belief". Obviously
>> you're thinking about something related to "incitement to religious
>> hatred", but what exactly?
>
> I'm sure it's me, not you. Don't worry.

I wasn't worrying, I was making a request for clarification.
An answer would have been more helpful than "don't worry".

> Whilst I think belief is not arrived at content-independently, I do wonder
> whether the content is rather incidental. (Obviously it is not for those
> coming to and leaving particular beliefs which can be, IME, pretty
> traumatic). For example, DD suggests (and I hope I'm not misrepresenting
> him) a reason for the development of religious belief. Just as "Pavlov's
> bird" performs strange dances because when it danced like that previously,
> it received food, so the "primitive"[1] does rain dances (or prays) for the
> sake of his/her crops. Because we understand the weather systems to a
> degree, we currently believe that there is no correlation between rain
> dances and it starting to rain, the belief is no longer valid. But I'm not
> sure really what the difference is between believing that there is a
> correlation between rain dancing and rain, and believing there is no
> correlation between rain dancing and rain. Is the man with the knowledge of
> the weather system being as pavlovian as the "primitive" but just dancing to
> a different tune?

(I think the birds were actually Skinner's.)

One difference between the "primitive" doing a rain dance
and the "modern" running computer simulations is that the
computer simulations do actually correlate with the weather.
(It's prediction rather than control; I don't think we have
anything much more effective than rain dances for changing
the weather. Unless you count global warming.)

Now, maybe you don't care about that; maybe, when considering
someone's beliefs, it's a matter of total indifference to you
whether they match up with how the world actually is. Or
maybe you've bought into the brain-corroding irrationalism
that says there's no fact of the matter about how the world
actually is, and we might as well go with any one set of
beliefs as with any other. In which case, sorry, but there's
no hope for you.

>> Sure. But that's only an adequate account of what's going on
>> in so far as your religious belief as a teenager is *only*
>> the result of ... well, whatever you have in mind -- hormones
>> or indoctrination in school or whatever, and only in so far
>> as your rationalism later is *only* a consequence of whatever
>> other nonrational factors there may be later in life (I dunno;
>> general disillusionment with life, or something).
>>
>> But if someone becomes a Christian as a teenager after hearing
>> what seems to them like a compelling presentation of good
>> evidence for the (bodily) Resurrection, and becomes an atheist
>> later in life after seeing debunkings of the arguments that
>> had earlier been convincing to them -- or if someone abandons
>> their religion as a teenager because they find the argument
>> from evil overwhelmingly convincing, and returns to it later
>> as a result of an apparent encounter with God that they can't
>> find any better explanation for than that it's real -- those
>> aren't, at least on the face of it, purely "situational"
>> changes of view, and to treat them as such would be to fail
>> to engage with an important part of how they happened.
>
> Yes, but there was a time when such "messages" wouldn't be received or
> rejected. TMM, nothing has changed objectively except perhaps the state of
> mind of the person involved - if that can be said to be objective.

Quite right. Gods don't flit in and out of existence just because
people start and stop believing in them. (At least, not in any
sense of "existence" that I care about.) Were you expecting me
to disagree with that?

> The
> evidence for the bodily resurrection is as it was, isn't it (though I'd
> accept that different generations may present it in different ways)? There
> is as much evil as there ever was.

Quite right, again (though historical evidence might be discovered
or lost as the generations pass, and there are certainly some
fluctuations in the amount and kind and obviousness of evil).
And, again: did you actually expect me to disagree with that?

If all you mean by calling a belief "situational" is that
it's a belief about something whose actual truth or falsehood
doesn't change, but that people sometimes change their minds
about it, then I have no idea what we've been talking about.
Almost any belief is "situational" in that sense. So what?

>> What I have a problem with is that word "simply": "... is
>> then SIMPLY evidence of 'where one is up to'". That would
>> only be true if reason and evidence played *no* role in
>> a person's thinking. That's pretty rare.
>
> But if reasoning and assessing evidence are "part of what the brain (mind)
> does", just like hair follicles grow hair, once again what can be said of
> the objective value (truth?) of content of the reasoning other than that it
> is what the situation (circumstance) has brought to it at that particularly
> point in time? Misquoting Ecclesiastes, "There is a time to believe and
> there is a time not to believe."

That seems to me to be just like asking "if your car is green,
what can be said of its ability to take you from Lancaster to York?".

1. Is there any incompatibility between "Gareth's belief that X
is the consequence of things happening in his brain" and
"X is true"?

Obviously not. (Right?)

2. Is there any incompatibility between "Gareth's belief that X
is the consequence of things happening in his brain" and
"Things Gareth's come to believe in the same sort of way
as he has with X are much more likely to be truth than to
be false"?

Obviously not. (Right?)

3. Is there any incompatibility between "Gareth's belief that X
is the consequence of things happening in his brain" and
"The way in which Gareth came to believe X was via a series
of intermediate beliefs, each of which was causally connected
either with the facts about the world that the belief is
about or with earlier beliefs in the series, in a way that's
systematically reliable in the sense that the causal connections
in question are almost always 'truth-preserving'"?

Obviously not. (Right?)

... Well, obviously once you've got through the thicket of
verbiage. To be really accurate it would have needed to be
even longer.

4. What more than these would it take for you not to consider
a belief "simply evidence of where one is up to", or to
agree that there's more to be said of its truth than "that
it is what the situation has brought to it at that particular
point in time"?

Richard Corfield

unread,
May 29, 2007, 3:24:29 AM5/29/07
to
On 2007-05-28, Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.M...@pobox.com> wrote:
>
> Now, maybe you don't care about that; maybe, when considering
> someone's beliefs, it's a matter of total indifference to you
> whether they match up with how the world actually is. Or
> maybe you've bought into the brain-corroding irrationalism
> that says there's no fact of the matter about how the world
> actually is, and we might as well go with any one set of
> beliefs as with any other. In which case, sorry, but there's
> no hope for you.
>

That's a difficulty with agnosticism. We have so many groups of people
with so many beliefs that in each of their world views is entirely
correct. To some, maybe a lot, of people at the church there is an
external personal God figure who cares for them and sent his only son
to be killed and all that. To some, maybe a lot, of people at the temple
the whole world is based on a kind of divine energy which also exists as
a sort of 'Spark of God' at the core of each of us which we must find.
I wonder how many of them do envision a personal God or Gods.

We can't just get rid of those beliefs. Atheists keep trying. They also
seem to serve some positive purposes. People that carry them mostly are
served well by them and find that they give comfort and help them to Do
What's Right.

So how do we discover which beliefs are valuable and which are not?
Separate out the moral system from the metaphysical? I wonder if we did
a straw poll of Christians or Hindus or any other group how many people
do that anyway.

I'll have to maybe ask in church. "I'm doing a survey. How many of you
actually believe the world was created in 6 days?", and then a weaker
one "How many of you believe that people must be brought to an explicit
belief in Christ himself to be saved, as opposed to being allowed to get
on with their other beliefs?"

I think most people do accept scientific evidence where it overrules
religion. Some may supplement science a bit. Maybe I mix with a
non-representative group of people. If I find a more extreme group I
tend to leave quickly. Maybe I've not allowed myself to be religious
enough to see a faith that does overrule evidence.

You seem to suggest though that allowing these beliefs to continue is
wrong. It's an interesting question. How would you fix it? Slow change?
Adapting religion? How would you keep or replace the good things that
the groups provide, the community structure, even things like "Doing
Service" which exist in both I know of? These things can come from a
secular society which has plenty of secular opportunities to provide
service to other people (St John Ambulance for example). How do we get
there quickly if that is a desirable place to be?

If people do have odd beliefs, does it matter too much as long as their
interactions with the rest of the world are good? Is it possible to
maintain good interaction with the rest of the world if your beliefs are
odd? There are examples of people who we can think of who's beliefs have
caused real problems for them and some people around them.

This country has become more secular over time though sometimes that
community cohesion seems to be failing, possibly as much to do with the
work situation taking people away from their communities much of their
time than the lack of religion situation. Our country does seem to be
doing a good job of reducing the strength of the more outlandish aspects
of religion.

Simon Woods

unread,
May 29, 2007, 6:29:10 AM5/29/07
to
[3rd atttempt at posting]

Gareth McCaughan wrote:

>>> Please forgive my dimness, but I'm not sure what you mean by "the
>>> content", or "this instance", or "the process of belief". Obviously
>>> you're thinking about something related to "incitement to religious
>>> hatred", but what exactly?
>>
>> I'm sure it's me, not you. Don't worry.
>
> I wasn't worrying, I was making a request for clarification.
> An answer would have been more helpful than "don't worry".

OK. I think I may have lost the thread ... but it seems to me that you are
saying that content is paramount. So if someone is teaching that it is right
to kill certain people you need to show conclusively that the content of the
teaching is factually wrong. Once that has been brought to light, everything
else follows, namely that those being taught will stop killing (or not start
to kill) others.

All I was suggesting was there was another dimension within the context of a
particular belief other than content which I termed "process of belief" wrt
to the susceptibility of minds of a certain age or state to receive such
teachings. (I accept that that is also content, but a different content).
"This instance" was the introduction of "incitement to religious hatred"
laws which pertained to the process of belief as opposed to a clear, logical
demonstration that what is being taught is factually wrong.

Thus I think I was trying to give an example of where a reductionism
(content-only) is not sufficient on it's own.

> (I think the birds were actually Skinner's.)

Indeed - hence the quotes.

> One difference between the "primitive" doing a rain dance
> and the "modern" running computer simulations is that the
> computer simulations do actually correlate with the weather.

> (It's prediction rather than control ...

I'm sure other differences include "moderns" don't wear feathers in their
hair and they paint their faces in a different way :-)

Although I obviously think there is a difference between prediction and
control, in this circumstance it's pretty much a red herring from my pov.
The "primitive" does what s/he does with the belief systems/information to
hand and the "modern" does likewise. By his own definition, the "modern" has
a more advanced understanding and the primitive didn't cause global warming,
AFAIK.


> Now, maybe you don't care about that; maybe, when considering
> someone's beliefs, it's a matter of total indifference to you
> whether they match up with how the world actually is. Or
> maybe you've bought into the brain-corroding irrationalism
> that says there's no fact of the matter about how the world
> actually is, and we might as well go with any one set of
> beliefs as with any other. In which case, sorry, but there's
> no hope for you.

I see! So that's the choice is it - either brain-corroding irrationalism or
narrow-minded reductionism? Tricky one, that! :-)


>> The evidence for the bodily resurrection is as it was, isn't it
>> (though I'd accept that different generations may present it in
>> different ways)? There is as much evil as there ever was.
>
> Quite right, again (though historical evidence might be discovered
> or lost as the generations pass, and there are certainly some
> fluctuations in the amount and kind and obviousness of evil).
> And, again: did you actually expect me to disagree with that?
>
> If all you mean by calling a belief "situational" is that
> it's a belief about something whose actual truth or falsehood
> doesn't change, but that people sometimes change their minds
> about it, then I have no idea what we've been talking about.
> Almost any belief is "situational" in that sense. So what?

Indeed. I'm trying to see what I am actually disagreeing with you about.
LOL!

>> But if reasoning and assessing evidence are "part of what the brain
>> (mind) does", just like hair follicles grow hair, once again what
>> can be said of the objective value (truth?) of content of the
>> reasoning other than that it is what the situation (circumstance)
>> has brought to it at that particularly point in time? Misquoting
>> Ecclesiastes, "There is a time to believe and there is a time not to
>> believe."
>
> That seems to me to be just like asking "if your car is green,
> what can be said of its ability to take you from Lancaster to York?".

Why? If the brain reasons then reasoning - whatever the content - is a
"fruit", or perhaps a "currency", of the brain.

Sorry Gareth, I can't follow this. Can you spell it out for me - thanks. How
does 1-3 in anyway support/relate to 4?

But in answer to 4, as far as I understand it, would you be happier(?) if I
dropped the "simply" - a belief is, amongst other things, evidence of where
one is up to? However, because truth seems to be rooted (or perhaps
experienced) in time, I'm not sure that I can agree with the latter. Do you
believe in a truth that stands outside of time? I don't know if I do.

Paul

unread,
May 29, 2007, 8:20:12 AM5/29/07
to
On 29 May, 08:24, Richard Corfield <Richard.Corfi...@gmail.com> wrote:

> On 2007-05-28, Gareth McCaughan <Gareth.McCaug...@pobox.com> wrote:
>
>
>
> > Now, maybe you don't care about that; maybe, when considering
> > someone's beliefs, it's a matter of total indifference to you
> > whether they match up with how the world actually is. Or
> > maybe you've bought into the brain-corroding irrationalism
> > that says there's no fact of the matter about how the world
> > actually is, and we might as well go with any one set of
> > beliefs as with any other. In which case, sorry, but there's
> > no hope for you.
>
> That's a difficulty with agnosticism. We have so many groups of people
> with so many beliefs that in each of their world views is entirely
> correct. To some, maybe a lot, of people at the church there is an
> external personal God figure who cares for them and sent his only son
> to be killed and all that. To some, maybe a lot, of people at the temple
> the whole world is based on a kind of divine energy which also exists as
> a sort of 'Spark of God' at the core of each of us which we must find.
> I wonder how many of them do envision a personal God or Gods.
>
> We can't just get rid of those beliefs. Atheists keep trying. They also
> seem to serve some positive purposes. People that carry them mostly are
> served well by them and find that they give comfort and help them to Do
> What's Right.

The can also be used for negative purposes. For instance, murdering
people who disagree with their beliefs. As an atheist, I don't care
what other people believe as long as they don't harm me or other
people using those beleifs. For instance, I think RCs are harming
people with their views on abortion and contraceptives. Therefore, I
will argue against the RC church because of the harm they cause.
Become an institution that causes no harm and I'll leave them alone to
give what 'comfort and help' they can, if any.

> So how do we discover which beliefs are valuable and which are not?
> Separate out the moral system from the metaphysical?

Yes! The point is not to harm people -- whether you're religious or
secular. Who cares if you belive in Karma or the Holy Ghost, as long
as you obey the Golden Rule.

> I'll have to maybe ask in church. "I'm doing a survey. How many of you
> actually believe the world was created in 6 days?", and then a weaker
> one "How many of you believe that people must be brought to an explicit
> belief in Christ himself to be saved, as opposed to being allowed to get
> on with their other beliefs?"

Who cares about the answers to these questions? How will holding one
answer or another make the world a better place? Ask them if they
believe in the Golden Rule, and how they have implemented it in their
lives.

> Maybe I mix with a
> non-representative group of people. If I find a more extreme group I
> tend to leave quickly. Maybe I've not allowed myself to be religious
> enough to see a faith that does overrule evidence.

You appear to be a sensible, thoughtful person who looks at all sides
of the issues. That's probably why you have not been captured by a
cult. I do wonder why you are making the effort to go to all these
different venues, and forcing yourself to interact with extremists.
Looking up 'scientologists', or whoever, on wikipedia and, perhaps,
interacting with cult members on usenet seems a much less onerous way
of going about things.

> If people do have odd beliefs, does it matter too much as long as their
> interactions with the rest of the world are good?

No, causing no harm should be the bottom line. Changing someone into
an atheist is no guarantee that they will act any better -- look at
Stalin and Mao. So liberal, atheist,humanists should concentrate on
changing people into liberal humanists and ignore whatever theism
people have, or not. It helps that the really big figures in each
religion pushed the Golden Rule, so it gives us all a common ground to
defeat the extremists and fundamentalist wherever they appear.

> Is it possible to
> maintain good interaction with the rest of the world if your beliefs are
> odd? There are examples of people who we can think of who's beliefs have
> caused real problems for them and some people around them.

If the odd interaction causes no harm, then who cares, You can walk
down the street searching for space aliens with a silver umbrella and
that's no problem to me. If it's a problem for the searcher, in that
he says its a problem and asks for help, he should be helped. ("I told
you only Gold umbrellas worked!" :-)

In the UK harmless eccentrics are, generally, treated well -- one of
the best features of UK society --- the Golden Rule should be applied
to everyone, even those whose views and activities you consider
strange.

> This country has become more secular over time though sometimes that
> community cohesion seems to be failing, possibly as much to do with the
> work situation taking people away from their communities much of their
> time than the lack of religion situation. Our country does seem to be
> doing a good job of reducing the strength of the more outlandish aspects
> of religion.

With, for one instance of many, the scientologists opening a a new
centre in London I cannot see that is true. There are an endless
stream of strange venues for you to explore :-) Why don't you take a
hidden camera along and set up a website -- "Richard's Revelations"?

Michael J Davis

unread,
May 29, 2007, 12:46:47 PM5/29/07
to
In message <W9Y5i.5223$I55...@newsfe2-gui.ntli.net>, Simon Woods
<simon.woo...@virgin.net> writes

Excellently put Simon!

I'm working on an essay that includes some of the points you are making.
And I think you've put it rather well.

I'm also working on a critique of 'Freedom Evolves' - a book that I
struggled with the first half - reading parts three times to make sure
that I'd followed the drift, only to find that they weren't part of the
argument. Dennett is quite compelling and I do like his chapter previews
and summaries. I shall copy that style for some stuff I'm hoping to
write. But FE just peters out at the end, no conclusion, no convincing
argument other than we have freedom in some form, "we have freewill but
not as you know it", seems to be the main conclusion.

Maybe I missed the bit where Poirot comes in and sums it all up, but
there it is. Evitably.

Mike

[The reply-to address is valid for 30 days from this posting]
--
Michael J Davis
http://www.trustsof.demon.co.uk
<><
For this is what the Lord has said to me,
"Go and post a Watchman and let
him report what he sees." Isa 21:6
<><

Michael J Davis

unread,
May 29, 2007, 12:53:20 PM5/29/07
to
In message <Tq96i.1958$qD....@newsfe6-win.ntli.net>, Simon Woods
<simon.woo...@virgin.net> writes
>

>Further, it seems pretty reasonable to suggest that some have greater
>reasoning ability than others, just as some can run faster than others. Do
>those with greater reasoning ability, innately, have more capacity for
>truth?

You put your finger on another of my BIG questions!! ;-)

Why should they? Yes, I know 'they' define reasoning as 'ability to
reach the truth' and it is a necessary part of the process. But the
process of reasoning itself, excludes aspects of the truth including
dealing with complexity.

BTW I see this week's 'In Our Time' Thursday 9.00am R4 - is about
Occam's razor. I look forward to it!

Gareth McCaughan

unread,
May 29, 2007, 4:10:35 PM5/29/07
to
Mike Davis wrote:

> Why should they? Yes, I know 'they' define reasoning as 'ability to
> reach the truth' and it is a necessary part of the process. But the
> process of reasoning itself, excludes aspects of the truth including
> dealing with complexity.

No it doesn't.

(Actually, I don't know whether it does, not least because I'm
not sure what you mean. But if you're going to make grand claims
with absolutely no supporting evidence, I don't see why I should
miss out on the fun :-).)

Michael J Davis

unread,
May 29, 2007, 4:29:55 PM5/29/07
to
In message <87abvnt...@g.mccaughan.org.uk>, Gareth McCaughan
<Gareth.M...@pobox.com> writes

ROTFL!!

I thought I'd get away with that!

Richard Corfield

unread,
May 29, 2007, 6:34:36 PM5/29/07
to
On 2007-05-29, Paul <pgr...@yahoo.com> wrote:
>> I'll have to maybe ask in church. "I'm doing a survey. How many of you
>> actually believe the world was created in 6 days?", and then a weaker
>> one "How many of you believe that people must be brought to an explicit
>> belief in Christ himself to be saved, as opposed to being allowed to get
>> on with their other beliefs?"
>
> Who cares about the answers to these questions? How will holding one
> answer or another make the world a better place? Ask them if they
> believe in the Golden Rule, and how they have implemented it in their
> lives.

Which brings another question, of whether or not religion is a useful
investment of time. Whether the getting together of a group that could
do something to help as well as all the community cohesion, constant
reminders in the major religions to love thy neighbor and such, and any
psychological benefits for the members is worth all the time singing,
praying, holy book reading and such.

Or are we just better going out there and Doing Good together without all
that extra religious stuff? That can be rewarding and give the community
cohesion too. There are some good secular charity groups out there.

I suspect it depends on the individual. If you're looking for answers
than it may help to have some ready-made ones. Group support can help.
Some Buddhist groups just meet on a regular basis to encourage eachother
and talk about how they're getting on being generally decent people
without the need for many beliefs beyond the need just to do that. The
Golden Rule is very significant for them.

The introduction to Chapter 2 of the Easwaren edition of the Bhagavad
Gita is interesting as it seems Chapter 2 will start to introduce similar
questions. The way of being that is described, at least in this edition,
is attainable without the need for organised religion. It is just self
control and awareness. I believe the Golden Rule is top of the list for
these traditions too. "Karma Yoga" - or "Going out there and Doing Good
Stuff" is seen as a valid path in that philosophy.

>> Maybe I mix with a
>> non-representative group of people. If I find a more extreme group I
>> tend to leave quickly. Maybe I've not allowed myself to be religious
>> enough to see a faith that does overrule evidence.
>
> You appear to be a sensible, thoughtful person who looks at all sides
> of the issues. That's probably why you have not been captured by a
> cult. I do wonder why you are making the effort to go to all these
> different venues, and forcing yourself to interact with extremists.
> Looking up 'scientologists', or whoever, on wikipedia and, perhaps,
> interacting with cult members on usenet seems a much less onerous way
> of going about things.

The interactions with Christians are something that comes from my family
situation. They're also the type that surrounds me most, though most of
my life is secular. I was strongly encouraged to attend the Alpha Course
and stuck with it despite major problems for longer than I would usually
want to.

The meetings with Hindus and Buddhists were a genuine search after time
reading about them. I have sometimes wondered if there's sometimes a
little compensating for the church there too. Balancing it out by pulling
myself the other way. I felt sitting there behind the mixing desk in
the Christmas service at church that I could associate better with the
image I had at the time of Krisna than with Christ so decided to try it.
At the moment I feel as if I can just observe.

Some groups I've met were quite possibly cults, though my cult detection
is a little sensitive. Maybe sensitive enough to mean I'll throw away
some things that can be good. Even aspects within the Church fall foul
of the simple rules I use so there has to be some leniency. The Hindu
temple itself scores lower on the cult-o-meter. It doesn't demand.
It's just there. The Alpha Course rings serious alarm bells.

A weekend practicing yoga with a Sikh based possibly-cult was actually
very relaxing. It worked well. I left feeling better in myself than before
I went. A difficult thing about religion. It can work for people. This
lot believe in the upcoming Aquarian Age (around 2012 apparently)
and try to prevent damage to their auras when practicing. Possibly not
harmful beliefs. They also tithe though it's not mandatory. That was
an invitation from a friend. They ended up needing a sound tech so
I actually missed a lot of the first lecture being busy fixing their
equipment instead.

The visit to the Catholic mass was also after a few "You must come see"
from some Catholic friends who I think want me to be Christian rather than
anything else. Before we found our current church we tried a different one
that really was extreme. Their mission was to convert as many people as
possible. They really encourage tithing and the emotional interludes of
"We love you Jesus we love you" in the services grated. It was people
from this group that made the effort to be where I was in my other
activities and try to convert me there.

That's it for my history of visiting other groups. I still like a lot of
the philosophy I've found in Dharmic religion though I take it as points
to debate rather than revealed truth. I'm not likely to come to thinking
that practicing Ganesha Puja before moving house will effect things,
but there are a lot of interesting ideas in the philosophy and it does
seem to work well for those here that are practicing it. I have learned
a lot from visiting others, and am happy that I can feel comfortable in a
church, in a Hindu temple, with Buddhists and most probably a few others.

>> If people do have odd beliefs, does it matter too much as long as their
>> interactions with the rest of the world are good?
>
> No, causing no harm should be the bottom line. Changing someone into
> an atheist is no guarantee that they will act any better -- look at
> Stalin and Mao. So liberal, atheist,humanists should concentrate on
> changing people into liberal humanists and ignore whatever theism
> people have, or not. It helps that the really big figures in each
> religion pushed the Golden Rule, so it gives us all a common ground to
> defeat the extremists and fundamentalist wherever they appear.

My hope is that we are becoming more liberal over time. There are
exceptions out there and they can get a bit noisy, but most people you
meet on the street seem liberal. As you say, well funded cults are a
potential problem for some. It is difficult though trying to work out
where to draw the line in a logical testable way that allows you to say
"This is a cult" and "This is an odd to us but valid for the people that
follow it set of beliefs".

There are some interesting online questionnaires out there which seem
to give reasonable indication if you feed them obvious cults and obvious
non-cults. There are also pages that come out classing anything Christian
as OK and anything non-Christian as cult. I wouldn't go near Scientology,
online or in life.

>> Is it possible to
>> maintain good interaction with the rest of the world if your beliefs are
>> odd? There are examples of people who we can think of who's beliefs have
>> caused real problems for them and some people around them.
>

>[...]


>
> In the UK harmless eccentrics are, generally, treated well -- one of
> the best features of UK society --- the Golden Rule should be applied
> to everyone, even those whose views and activities you consider
> strange.

The problem is when those beliefs break the Golden Rule. A belief that
teaches that the other person is "not saved and needs saving" comes
close there because acting on that belief if you sincerely hold it will
effect your interaction with that person.

> With, for one instance of many, the scientologists opening a a new
> centre in London I cannot see that is true. There are an endless
> stream of strange venues for you to explore :-) Why don't you take a
> hidden camera along and set up a website -- "Richard's Revelations"?

I've sometimes wondered about a change in career to film/TV. I was
thinking more the technical side though. I read the news once at a BBC
roadshow and apparently did quite well.

After the recent experience of an experienced BBC presenter I think that
could be a bit too risky though. Some of Micheal Palin's experiments of
fitting in to the other cultures, even down to eating bugs, would also
go too far. I could maybe do it with some of the cultures, as long as
there are no bugs and no risk. Micheal Palin is better known though.

I'm getting more choosy now in terms of venues I'd visit. I doubt I'll
add any new ones.

Simon Woods

unread,
May 30, 2007, 2:55:43 AM5/30/07
to
Michael J Davis wrote:
> In message <Tq96i.1958$qD....@newsfe6-win.ntli.net>, Simon Woods
> <simon.woo...@virgin.net> writes
>>
>> Further, it seems pretty reasonable to suggest that some have greater
>> reasoning ability than others, just as some can run faster than
>> others. Do those with greater reasoning ability, innately, have more
>> capacity for truth?
>
> You put your finger on another of my BIG questions!! ;-)
>
> Why should they? Yes, I know 'they' define reasoning as 'ability to
> reach the truth' and it is a necessary part of the process. But the
> process of reasoning itself, excludes aspects of the truth including
> dealing with complexity.

Hi Mike, could you unpack that last sentence for me a bit. Thanks. Are you
saying something like Reason can't validate itself?

Simon Woods

unread,
May 30, 2007, 3:09:21 AM5/30/07
to
Michael J Davis wrote:

>> I am still unsure whether "the Brights" (and perhaps yourself) see
>> reason, logic, evidence (the rational process) as the *sole* arbiter
>> of truth and if so I'd have to call that scientism. If all that is
>> being proposed is that X (be it religion, science) is simply being
>> exposed to the rational process then I have no problem. "Why would
>> someone be religious" is obviously as valid a question as "why would
>> someone be scientific"? I could be wrong but I can't help but 'feel'
>> from DDs pov (and this could well be a defensive projection of
>> mine), being rationalistic/scientific is somehow objectively more
>> true (I'm not sure that's the right word) than being religious,
>> though I accept that it could be that scientific thinking is more
>> evolved or mature than religious thinking.
>
> Excellently put Simon!

Thanks Mike, though, as you can see, Gareth rather runs rings round me - but
it is always an education, if sometimes painful or embarrassing (my dimness,
that is!). It takes me an age to formulate my responses (3 hours yesterday
morning b4 work for 2 responses!) and then, it seems, Gareth comes back with
numerous points (or ways of looking at things) which I've never considered.
Ah well - I'm still smiling!

Simon Woods

unread,
May 30, 2007, 3:12:31 AM5/30/07
to
Michael J Davis wrote:

> I'm working on an essay ...

> I'm also working on a critique of 'Freedom Evolves' ...

Feel free to pass these on when you're done.

1st Century Apostolic Traditionalist UK.RC

unread,
May 30, 2007, 4:06:10 AM5/30/07
to
"Simon Woods" <simon.woo...@virgin.net> wrote in message
news:Pd97i.5696

> Further, it seems pretty reasonable to suggest that some have greater
> reasoning ability than others, just as some can run faster than
>others. Do those with greater reasoning ability, innately, have more
> capacity for truth?

They do if they become blessed with a great zeal of proclaiming confidence
and trust in the Inspired Word of God, which then, has a great faith
enhancing reward in itself.

Sadly few exhibit such qualities today, it's the contention of the faithless
and the unbaptised which is now in the ascendancy, till the Lord Returns.

Jeff...
Romans 16:17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause
divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have
learned and avoid them."

Michael J Davis

unread,
May 30, 2007, 5:22:04 AM5/30/07