Is it a ‘primary or exclusive’ attraction, or will any one instance of such an attraction suffice?

Here’s a link to that 50 grand challenge. (Note: Prithvi in the comments below notes that the forums of that site are largely given over to inter-faith bickering. This link does not imply endorsement)

Many thanks to the anonymous benefactor who donated a large amount to J&M’s bandwidth bill yesterday. You know who you are. I just wish I could thank you personally.

Discussion (52)¬

  1. Prithvi says:

    I’m quite wary of that site. Even though Ali Sina looks like an agreeable fellow, his acolytes are quite the contrast. The site emphasizes on the criticism of Islam and explicitly states that any faith is preferable as long as it is not Islam. I’ve also seen Sina trying to prove that Christianity is a mild faith(even though he himself is an atheist). That is *not* the viewpoint that we would want to propagate. Drawing a distinction between Islam and other organized religions is like claiming that batshit is better than bullshit. Ali Sina and his company makes this exact mistake.

    The site’s forum once had a poll about the faith of the site’s members. A bit surprisingly, Hindus turned out to be the majority in the community, closely followed up by Christians. Disappointing, isn’t it? Merit of a criticism is not necessarily independent of the critic. A serial killer has no right to condemn a rapist as immoral when he himself isn’t doing a better job. I also saw some threads about the veracity of evolution. Too bad all of those were lost with the site revamp.

    I would like to end with one particular instance which really offended me. One of the site’s contributors once wrote an article about some communal problem in Bangladesh. A person, by the name of “Proud Kafir”, commented that Bangladesh should go to hell since it is a Muslim country and Muslims don’t deserve to live. Actually, what he said was even more outrageous but I can’t recall the details.

    As it is, we already have enough Islamic fanatics to mess up the world, more Islamophobes are hardly what we need in these distressful times.

  2. Author says:

    Thanks for pointing that out, Prithvi. I’m not very familiar with the FaithFreedom site – I just thought Sina’s challenge was a good basis for a joke. I should probably make it clear that a link to a website does not necessarily constitute an endorsement.

  3. HaggisForBrains says:

    Definitely a “laugh out loud” one.

    I’ve had a brief look at the 50 grand challenge website, and must investigate more. However, the latest date I could see on any of the articles is 2008. I hope nothing terrible has happened.

  4. “Is it an primary or exclusive attraction, or will any one instance of such an attraction suffice? ” Author, you will never lack for material but it’s your ability to raise one eyebrow that is your special, and much appreciated, talent.

  5. GlenL says:

    I love this column… but this one reminds me of the religious people who challenge nontheists to prove there’s no god. “We” are doing the same thing here… asking for proof of a negative. Not a good way to get our point across, IMHO.

  6. Marcus Prometheus says:

    Jesus & Mo L’offerta sfida di 50.000 $ FIFTY GRAND CHALLENGE

    1a vignetta Jesus seduto al computer si rivolge a Mo,
    seduto su un divano nella stessa stanza e che guarda la TV:

    Hei Mo ! Vuoi fare 50.000 dollari?
    C’e’ un tizio su internet che usa testi islamici
    per dimostrare che tu sei un pedofilo, un narcisita ….
    2a vignetta Jesus a Mo:
    ….. un misogino, un violentatore, uno sporcaccione,
    un torturatore, uno stragista in massa, un capo setta,

    3a vignetta Jesus a Mo:
    un assassino, un terrorista, un predone saccheggiatore.

    Quello dice che paghera’ 50 mila dollari alla persona che
    puo’ provare che una qualsiasi di queste accuse sia errata.

    4a vignetta Jesus a Mo:
    Questi sono soldi facili, non ti pare Mo?

    4a vignetta Mo risponde a Jesus:

    Dipende tutto dalla sua definizione di pedofilia

    Questo fumetto illustra la offerta sfida lanciata su internet da sito

    Cordiali saluti a tutti i liberi e laici
    Marcus Prometheus.
    Penso che tutte le grandi religioni del mondo: …
    … cristianesimo, islamismo e comunismo,
    siano, a un tempo false e dannose. Bertrand Russell

    Accogliere solo i profughi laici dall’Islamismo Espellere tutti gli islamisti.
    Combattere il masochismo antioccidentale, che mina liberta’ e democrazia.

  7. steve oberski says:

    @Prithvi Drawing a distinction between Islam and other organized religions is like claiming that batshit is better than bullshit.

    While I agree that the truth claims made by the the religions I am aware of (the 3 desert dogmas, Hinduism, Buddhism) are all equally ridiculous, the damage that they can inflict on our society is not the same.

    While xtianity has been rendered far less toxic by centuries of renaissance and enlightenment thinking, islam has gone through no such process and as a result is still the ideology of a nomadic, tribal desert culture and as a result the inherent xenophobia, misogyny and homophobia is still completely in place and unchecked.

    Sam Harris:

    “Islam, more than any other religion human beings have devised, has all the makings of a thoroughgoing cult of death”

  8. Prithvi says:

    @ Steve- there’s no doubt that the number of zealous believers in Islam far outnumber those of Christianity, but it is totally wrong to claim that Islamic dogma is the worst in the world(which the people in FFI never tire of pontificating). Remember that there’s a fine line between what a religion preaches and what the adherents of a particular religion think it preaches(for example, not a lot of people are aware that authentic Islamic scripture never did talk about female genital mutilation, it appears to be a later invention and it’s practice seems confined to Africa). Islamic doctrine is neither better nor worse than Christian doctrine. Extremist Muslims are neither more dangerous, nor more amicable than extremist Christians. Extremism has no religion. If we want to eradicate superstition and encourage critical thought, we have to wage war against the very idea of faith- not just a particular religion, which would be totally missing the point.

    Why is it that Islam has more extremists than Christianity? I think it’s because of Islam’s relatively young age and the fact that long periods of western imperialism have left Muslims direly longing for some sort of identity(apparently, nationalism doesn’t appeal to them much). The relationship between religion and the religious mind is very complex, to say something simplistic like “Muslims are more intolerant than Christians because Islam is more intolerant than Christianity” does nothing but exacerbate an already bad problem.

  9. John Cowan says:

    Batshit is much better than bullshit, as it is highly concentrated and nitrogen-rich. World population nearly doubled between 1800 and 1915 as a result of the exploitation of birdshit and batshit from South America and the Pacific islands. Its further tripling in the 20th century was made possible by the development of artificial fertilizers.

  10. John Cowan says:

    Prithvi: The merits of a criticism are indeed independent of the merits of the critic: see the writeup at [nizkor – link removed as suspected malware] . It’s not inconsistent for a thief to denounce stealing: after all, if everyone stole, life would be impossible, so the thief wants there to be as few thieves as possible as long as he is one of them. But even apart from such sophistries, just because it’s the world’s greatest fool who’s saying it’s raining, doesn’t mean the sun is shining.

  11. Nassar Ben Houdja says:

    Now it’s the fashion to slam
    The founder of what’s know as Islam
    Behold, look, they are cool
    When they talk, see, they drool
    The’ve opened another crock of spam.

  12. ShaunOTD says:

    @ Steve – “While xtianity has been rendered far less toxic by centuries of renaissance and enlightenment thinking” to some extent, you have to be hiding under a rock to not know that the US Military is riddled with Christian evangelists framing Iraq and Afghanistan as crusades against Islam, that US Christian missionary activity is at the root of the increasing state-sponsored homophobic violence in central Africa, that the Roman Catholic Church uses its authority to protect child abusers, encourage the murder of homosexuals and transexuals, enable the spread of HIV, suppress women’s access to family planning, and to blame all the worlds evils on atheists and/or teh geh.
    Not to mention US Christians murdering doctors, and Irish Christians murdering other Irish Christians for being the wrong flavour of Christian.

    Politically powerful Christian organisations seem to be hell-bent on undoing all of the intellectual advances of the renaissance and enlightenment which were, to a significant extent, inspired by classical writings preserved in the Islamic world when they were lost to Christendom, and on original work by Moslem scholars.

    Islam is absolutely not more dangerous to our civilisation than Christianity.

  13. Wrinkly Dick says:

    All religion is inherently evil because they all encourage us to rely on the opinions and beliefs of others rather than to think for ourselves. Whether Mo was a paedo, Jesus was a homo or Moses was an onanist is irrelevant, but can be a source of humour. Pip pip

  14. Durham669 says:

    “I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organized in its churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world” – Bertrand Russell

  15. Chris The Bird says:

    Thank you ShaunOTD! Please, people, bashing any single religion is kind of missing the point of this site, don’t you think?

    Steve, I’m not a Buddhist and don’t know much about it, so this is an honest question: What are the truth claims of core Buddhism? Of course there are various cults and apocrypha, but does a Buddhist have to believe anything ridiculous? A smart philosopher named Buddha said some things about how to deal with suffering. AFAIK he wasn’t thought to be divine. OK, so there’s reincarnation – anything else?

  16. steve oberski says:

    ShaunOTD et al, you will get no argument from me about the evils of xtianity, past and present. My own background is Catholic so I have an insiders viewpoint on the anti-human dogma and practices of that vile institution.

    I would suspect that the Author is not hosting this website from, nor does he/she reside in, a country under the rule of Islamic/Sharia law for the very good reason that this website would not exist and the Author would be dead, dead, dead. Not to say that the Author is not under very real threat from Muslim extremists no matter where he/she lives, kudos to the Author for his/her personal bravery in running this site.

    But that sort of makes my point, doesn’t it.

    It’s relatively safe to mock xtianity in all it’s disgusting flavours, not so safe to do the same with Islam, the religion of peace.

    It’s been almost 200 years since the last execution was performed by the Inquisition (1826), the same can not be said for Islam with the slaughter of adulterers (mostly women), homosexual and apostates being a routine occurrence in Islam nations.

    So I don’t think I’m the one hiding under a rock when it comes to pointing out that certain ideologies are far more dangerous to our global civilization than others.

    And as to what the point of this site is, that would be for the Author to say.

  17. Jerry w says:

    Author, could you please quantify “a large amount”?
    Remember, christmas is coming. Oh crap, it’s only April.
    Well, remember, easter is coming!

  18. Mary2 says:

    @Chris the Bird: While Buddhism does not require believe in a god per se, in many places it is bound up with ancestor worship or local gods etc. In general, Buddhism does require a belief in the soul, and not only reincarnation over and over until your soul achieves perfection (Nirvana), but transmigration of the soul – i.e. if you are bad you come back as a cockroach.

    @Steve Oberski: The only reason that Islam extremism looks more dangerous than Christianity, is that Islamists are killing us! European colonialism(including plenty of massacres) of the late 19th up to the mid 20th centuries was justified as spreading Christianity to the heathen, the genocide of Jews was often justified by Christianity, GWBush justified the invasion of Iraq as proclaimed by god, and as for the killing of homosexuals, plenty of that still goes on in the name of Christianity – try Uganda for example!

  19. steve oberski says:

    @Mary2 The only reason that Islam extremism looks more dangerous than Christianity, is that Islamists are killing us

    Not true, what Islam excels at is killing other Muslims.

    I suggest you research the Shi’a–Sunni conflict which dates back to the death of Muhammad in 632. Sectarian violence is part and parcel of Islam from the beginning of this violent religion.

    It is part of the victim mentality of Islam to blame all their troubles on the west, but even the most casual perusal of the history of Islam will show you that the biggest enemies that Muslims face are other Muslims.

    Not that the west is blameless, but once again, many times the west has colluded with Muslim leaders to oppress the Muslim population.

    Speaking of G.W. Bush, check out the history of the Bush family and the House of Saud for a current example of how Muslim leaders work with the west to oppress their own people.

    You seem to have a very black/white way of looking at things, just because I accuse Islam of homophobia does not mean that I deny or excuse xtian homophobia.

  20. ChukLitl says:

    I had thought this was a Buddhist parable, but Wiki says it’s Jainist. Where ever it came from it describes well that religions can all be right, a little, & wrong in thinking their view is most accurate.

    A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: “We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable”. So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said “This being is like a drain pipe”. For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, “I perceive the shape of the elephant to be like a pillar”. And in the case of the one who placed his hand upon its back said, “Indeed, this elephant is like a throne”. Now, each of these presented a true aspect when he related what he had gained from experiencing the elephant. None of them had strayed from the true description of the elephant. Yet they fell short of fathoming the true appearance of the elephant.

    Science, mathematics, philosophy & religion are all studies of the Great What It Is. The first 2 include the concept that if a law can be shown not to work, it’s not a law & is thrown out or rewritten to specify the conditions under which it can be a law. The other 2 work more with interpersonal relationships, for good & evil.

    Blood doesn’t make things holy. Holes make things bloody.

  21. steve oberski says:

    Science, mathematics, philosophy & religion are all studies of the Great What It Is.

    3 out of 4 isn’t bad but there is room for improvement.

  22. Daoloth says:

    Here’s another way to make money (in this case 1 million)
    Be a lying two-faced pseudo-scientist accomodationist who understands neither biology nor physics. Lots of money in that racket…

  23. @Daoloth Thanks for that link. The writer of that article, Mark Vernon, seems to be engaging in a little wishful thinking when he imagines that Dawkins or Harris lose respect because big money religion hands a pittance to an asshat. No way that happens. They’re just throwing gasoline on the fire.

  24. Daoloth says:

    @DH It’s Rees who loses credibility.
    But then, some people thought he had already done so when he argued that we should not build the LHC because of the 1/50 million chance (calculated how?) of it’s destroying us all. To be fair he did subsequently back-pedal on this nonsense and claim that he was misquoted (he wasnt- read Humanity’s Final Hour).
    It intrigues me how biology and maths (Rees is a mathematician, not a physicist really) are often uneasy bedfellows. A number of the anti-evolutionists (Polkinghorne, Dembski etc) come from a strong maths background are are not obviously idiots–but they do seem to have allowed their aesthetic sense to trump their common sense.
    We often talk on this site of how beautiful evolution is–and it can strike me that way. However the mechanisms can also be horribly wasteful, ugly and at variance with human values. I think that sometimes this underlies objections to it?

  25. Well, I guess if you want to demonstrate you aren’t any of the things on the list, then at least Mo addressed the most appropriate one; but if there’s ever a case to not have a measured response……

    but, it does boggle the mind why Jesus forgets that owning a religion is itself easy money, which when you are that list of characteristics and your believers are in denial that the list is anything short of devine

    you get more money and attention by having devoted followers who will defend you to the death – so how can they refuse to give their sustenance money to you when you assure them of a wonderful afterlife so they don’t need the $ in the here and now

    $50,000 chump change o the face of absolute devotion to the death, seriously Jesus.

  26. @Daoloth Agreed. Rees should be wearing a “Sold”sign around his neck. As for objections to evolution, they seem to be based on argumentum ad consequentiam or I’m not going to believe something that makes me unhappy. Is there a Latin phrase for that logical fallacy? Argumentum ad Anhedonia?

  27. Daoloth says:

    @ DH Argumentum ad misericordiam
    Closely related to Festingers concept of cognitive dissonance

  28. HaggisForBrains says:

    @ DH & Daoloth – quoted from Mark Vernon in

    “The power of voices like that of Dawkins and Sam Harris – who will be on the British stage next week – may actually have peaked, and now be on the wane”

    Aye, right! In your dreams.

    Details of the Sam Harris talk here:

  29. Daoloth says:

    Thanks for the link.

  30. @Daoloth I don’t think argumentum ad misericordiam quite hits it. That’s the appeal to pity, in that the result of your logic will cause suffering so you should agree with me. That’s an appeal to the opponent to feel pity or guilt. I’m talking about the argument that simply says “I won’t believe that because believing it would make me unhappy.” This is the most common argument I get from believers. “I can’t believe that God doesn’t exist. That would just make me feel terrible.” I think argumentum ad anhedonia will have to do it, even if I am making that up. 🙂

  31. Ellie says:

    @GlenL – I disagree: it’s not the same thing. In this case there is evidence for the claims being made, hence they can be refuted. Though probably not!

  32. ShaunOTD says:

    “My own background is Catholic so I have an insiders viewpoint on the anti-human dogma and practices of that vile institution.”

    Then why are you ignoring it in your analysis of the relative malignity of Christianity & Islam? Why do you highlight the violent sectarian past of Islam but ignore that of Christianity?

    “Not true, what Islam excels at is killing other Muslims.”

    And Christianity excels at killing other Christians – witness the last 500-odd years of Western European History (well, the parts when they weren’t busy killing native Americans, Africans, Australasians and Asians of various religions in the name of Christian ‘Civilisation’).

    “Speaking of G.W. Bush, check out the history of the Bush family and the House of Saud for a current example of how Muslim leaders work with the west to oppress their own people.”

    And vice versa.

  33. Daoloth says:

    @DH. I take your point.
    Essentially the “argumentum from oh…you’re sooo mean!” Made famous by James Dreyfus as Constable Goody in The Thin Blue Line. And reused by Mary Midgely, Raymond Tallis, Steven Jay Gould, Alistair McGrath and Steven Rose. Among others.
    “Why does Richard Dawkins have to be so mean?” Essentially because a sober and accurate description of his opponents sounds like abuse.
    And whose fault is that?

  34. steve oberski says:

    @ShaunOTD Why do you highlight the violent sectarian past of Islam but ignore that of Christianity?

    Because to a large extent the violent past of xtianity is in the past, not so for Islam.

    But all you say about xtianity I agree with and I also agree that we need to keep pointing it out so that xtianity’s violent past remains in the past.

    But I still contend that Islam is by far the more dangerous ideology to the peace and stability of our global civilization. Not that it is inherently more violent than xtianity but because it has not gone thru the detoxification process of the enlightenment period that xtianity went thru.

    And if you think I ignore xtianity you should talk to some of my still practising catholic relatives after a family discussion on the topic of the evils of catholicism !

  35. spoing says:

    The good news is folks that we (infidel or otherwise) will soon have our cherished worldviews challenged in a very direct way by the cataclysmic effects of global environmental meltdown; meaning that we will ALL have to jettison the frivolous baggage of irrational beliefs (whether in the nonexistent protection of a personal God or the nonexistent protection of free markets and economic growth) … and get stuck into creating a new world system based on rational principles …. whether we like it or not.

    Some collateral damage to be expected mind – several billion human lives not to mention the collosal impact on the other species with whom we share this tiny greenblue speck of cosmic dust.

    So petty squabbling over the relative merits of different flavours of bullshit is kind of … petty.

  36. @Daoloth The term “brutal honesty” comes to mind, as if honesty could ever be brutal. Is there any way to “break it to them gently”, and why should one even have to try when dealing with adults famous for their intellectual prowess? I’ve never heard Dawkins sound even the slightest bit strident or impolite, but the truth hurts if you are emotionally committed to fantasy.
    @spoing What a horrible euphemism, “collateral damage”. Truly only the military, or maybe the religious, could invent such a term. Agreed, we are cutting down the last tree on Easter Island to use as rollers to move a big statue. Yikes. I don’t argue over the relative merits, only over the current actions. All religions suck. But between the murders for blasphemy and the stoning for adultery, I think Islam is winning the Odious Award this year, the Phelps family not withstanding.

  37. FreeFox says:

    “[A]s if honesty could ever be brutal.” Hmm… “Her cancer has metastasized”, “You are sentenced to 180 days in Plötzensee Youth Prison”, “No, I don’t love you any more. Maybe I never did.”, “It was all a con you fell for”, … I can think of quite a number of truths that were rather brutal. Didn’t make them any less true and in some cases no less necessary or eye-opening. Sometimes an amputation is necessary, even life-saving. But it’s still brutal.
    I think in pronouncing truths one should take care to not overshoot the mark. It can be quite a rush to make a point. A bold statement can have a weight of its own than can drag you along, and one can end up more literary than literal. I find that when I am tempted to say something that lends itself to slamming the hand on the table in support of, something with the words (or notions) all, none, never, or always, it mostly pays to find a less sweeping way of saying it. (It can be useful to watch one’s own body language, like, do you push foward your jaw when saying it, does beathing quicken, do the shoulders stiffen, etc. All signs one is more committed to making a point than listening for the full and nuanced truth. Mr. Dawkins reads as if he is occasionally tempted by his own passion and rhetorik beyond his [for the most part unquestionable] love for the truth.)

  38. Daoloth says:

    @FF. As points of effectiveness I agree with you wholeheartedly. However, actually finding genuine instances of Prof D. being “oh so mean” are harder to find than commonly supposed. I remember only a single instance in the whole of that “Root of all Evil” series where he spoke sharply–and that was to some numpty who was blathering on about how we dress our women in the west–RD rather sharply replied that they dress themselves.
    Not exactly withering scorn.
    The problem is that belief in some of these things just is childish–quite literally so. It’s wishful thinking, magical thinking, playground bullying and in and out-group favouritism, willful ignorance and muddle. The fact that some bright people do this says nothing more than that bright people can fall for cons and conjuring tricks–especially those generated from within.
    It’s very very hard to get someone to realise this without it appearing that they are…childish. I think a useful approach (one that Dawkins does not use, but that Dennett does) is to admit that he also feels occasionally inclined towards these kinds of beliefs and to look for the common ground there (which is typically rooted in our shared evolved psychologies). I like this tactic myself–and it’s honest–none of us are perfect.
    One weakness that we all have, and I am am certainly guilty of this, is to take too much pleasure in someone being clearly, ridiculously and glaringly wrong. This glee rarely helps.
    Phil Plait’s “dont be a dick” talk is good on this point, I think.
    I have shared this link before, but not with you?–I would like to know what you think of it.

  39. @FreeFox In the examples you gave, it’s the reality that is brutal, not the honesty. I can’t see how any of them could be sugar coated and still get the message across. Perhaps the one about never having loved you could have been left unsaid. That is brutal. But I’m not sure it’s honest.
    @Daoloth I tend to fall on the dickish side of that debate. I’m trying not to call people stupid, but it’s hard when they say such egregiously stupid things. Somebody should tell them. It’s my belief that when people say stupid things about what they believe, it’s usually because they haven’t even thought about it. Sometimes just laughing at them makes them think. Just the way the other kids laughing at me made me give up Santa Claus. And… they were so mean. They didn’t have to laugh at me like that.
    I do identify with taking too much pleasure when people are ridiculously glaringly wrong. That’s a fault of mine for sure. I laugh as a bastard and idiot people. Can’t help it.

  40. FreeFox says:

    @Daoloth: I sot of butted into your conversation with DH sideways, and that may have created the impression that I meant to support the argument that Prof. Dawkins was a big ol’ meany, but that wasn’t what I think at all. It was really just about his body language. I have a tendency to be aware of that more than of peeps’s words. I very much enjoyed the video you linked and in Dr. Plait’s words, Prof. Dawkins on occasion feels a lot more like a vanquishing warrior than either a focussed scientist or a considerate diplomat. Which, as Dr. Plait points out, may make a good rallying point for his team, but it is unlikely to win new converts.
    I think my point was something a bit beyond efficiency in the “war”, though, and closer to what Dr. Plait said about beliefs being replaced by other beliefs. In my time (admittedly, not that much, but I think I got around quite a lot), I haven’t really met any genuine sceptic. I’m not saying they don’t exist, just that they must be either very rare or living in habitats I have no access to.
    Unfortunately this doesn’t really have anything to do with the truth. Just because what you believe in happens to be true doesn’t make you a sceptic, or a scientist, any more than believing in honest mistakes makes you less one. This is more a frame of mind, an approach, than dependent on the actual result (though I suppose it has a certain influence on the likelyhood of ending up with functional assumptions about the world.)
    Most atheists, just as most environmentalists, free-market-capitalists, socialists, economists, and other peeps who claim to be rational thinkers, betray in the way they talk (and their body language) that they are just as invested in their convictions as any Catholic or Muslim. When they use evidence-based arguments, they still just *use* them, like a club, because it is handy.
    C.G. Jung said about religion that it is a defense against religious experiences, because it is designed to “rationalize” (I use this as a relative term) and structure intense and often frightening individual experiences in a way that makes them less personal and less pressing and more conventional. (It also actually cuts down on raving maniacs spreading the word of their personal God with the sword. Less than we may like, but it does.)
    In this way, so is science. That is not to say that science isn’t *also* a brilliant method to understand the world, or that it wasn’t originally developed to do that, but only that by the majority of peeps I met it is *used* in exactly that de-personalizing way that religion is being used, to “defang” and “declaw” the anguish of living through real life.
    I have a somewhat more optimistic view than Dr. Plait in the video about the success of scepticism. Yes, the vast majority of peeps on this planet still believes more in some weird interpretation of some ancient scripture than in the latest Scientific American, but in most places that matter in their field, this is not so. There are few flat-earthers in NASA, and few creationists or Christian Scientists at top positions in genetic research, few homeopaths heading large hospitals, etc. When my muslim neighbors want a new mobile phone, they buy Finnish, not Iranian. That is not to say that there isn’t horrific lack of medical education, or abuses like female gentical cutting, or all those. But even against the spread of Islam or American Christian Fundamentalism, stuff-that-works slowly wins. Even before Columbus no sailor or sea-port fisherman actually believed the earth was flat, after all, because their daily lives were too much influenced by the curvature of the earth.
    But there is a reason *why* peeps cling to God. The truth isn’t democratic, nor is science. In spite of its autocatic features, I suspect religion is much more so. After all, they need the faith in a way science doesn’t. Even if you blame it on active propaganda – if there is one thing being a confidence artist (or, to placate DH, a trust-leeching confidence exploiter) has taught me, it is this: You cannot convince peeps of lies that they do not *want* to believe in, on some level. In nearly all cases, you need their active cooperation. The job for a con man is to find out in what way your mark *wants* to believe that what you are trying to sell.
    I know the wide-spread assumptions amongst outspoken atheists about the reasons why most peeps believe in God, and the often less outspoken but no less present disdain for those reasons (as a queer I know enough about the dismissive and abusive quality of the word “fairy” after all), and I wonder, do you *really* know and understand the reasons? Instead of simply dismissing the belief as fantasy, maybe actually trying to understand such a wide-spread behaviour in a species otherwise capable of flying to the moon, “seeing” the birth of the universe, and decoding the language of life, would get them closer to finding actually effective ways of “defanging” faiths inhuman nature.

  41. Daoloth says:

    @FF. Thanks for your thoughtful and provocative comments. Please don’t worry about butting in. No rank or preferement here. Butt away.
    I find myself in the position of not disagreeing with a single word you say about acquiring beliefs–although I am willing to hazard a guess that I would not share a lot of your actual beliefs. This is stimulating.
    Prof Dawkins rough approach is to say that religion will go away if people stop being so silly–and he is unlikely to be right about this–and for the reasons that you state–you can’t con an honest man (not quite true, but this is sort of what you said, I think, and I agree–with some reservations). Religions have a pattern, as do con tricks, they map onto a non-random pre-exisiting cognitive architecture.
    I wonder if anyone has ever done a taxonomy of cons in this way? I bet that just as there are recurring themes in religious beliefs that tell us something about human history (e.g. the preponderance of redeemer gods who turn society upside-down in slave-owning societies) I wonder if particular con tricks (Salting, Spanish prisoner etc) map onto particular patterns of regular human interactions over evolutionary time? I will go away and think.
    In the meantime…I am glad you liked Plait. The things you say about religion getting in the way of personal experience reminded me a lot of what William James (who I think of as being very much an unsung hero of the development of modern scientific psychology) had to say about the varieties of religious experience.
    And I know what you mean about some skeptics. I sometimes shudder when I listen to some of our supposed champions when they get slightly off their area of expertise (e.g. Goldacre on his evolution soapbox or Penn Jillette on comparative economics–they make schoolboy errors–but very LOUDLY).
    Occasionally it can sound a lot like bullying. I guess it’s always worth reminding ourselves (the enlightenment programme?) that we are (or should be) in this together, that reasonable people can disagree while remaining respectful, even friendly–that argument can be a contest without this making it a no-holds-barred fight.
    This is all admirable, but sometimes liberal sensibilities can be self-defeating. For example having had experience of faith schools I can safely say that I am deeply worried by the effect that these places can have and wonder if there really can be a place for them in a liberal democracy–which relies on some degree of permeability and give and take between its citizens ideas/ideals. This runs headlong into my liberal senisibilities about people being allowed to go to hell in their own way.
    I am similarly confused about burkas, I’m afraid. It all seemed so easy in the 1970s. Everything was worng because of the patriarchy. Get the horrid men out of being in charge and there would be a reign of beatury and wonder, non-fattening chocolate would grow on trees and it would rain Baileys, doo-dah, doo-dah. Ok, then why do 20000 women a year in this country convert to Islam? They are not being forced by the patriarchy. Many of them want to wear veils/be oppressed. It’s not as simple as we thought. Bugger.

  42. Jewish Atheist says:

    Now, now people. Remember that Islam used to be the culturally advanced religion. In the Middle Ages, the Muslim world was full of culture, art, and intellectual thoughts, while even kings were forced to bow to the pope, and that Christianity’s former intolerance for other faiths make Islam’s intolerance seem like critical indifference. Even today, fundamentalist Christians are pushing countries like the United States backwards in time.

    Like Prithvi says, let’s not point fingers at a particular religion. All of them have their share of problems (although I think that Buddhism and Confucianism are more rational faiths than Scientology and Mormonism). They all deserve criticism based on what they are doing but one shouldn’t be privileged over another.

  43. @Daoloth

    I got curious about your user name and decided to investigate. Jesus Christ on Crutches has humanity ever had a mess of gods, most of whom I never heard of in my good Anglican childhood home.

    Daoloth (The Render of Veils or The Parter of Veils) dwells in dimensions beyond the three we know. His astrologer-priests are said to be able to see the past and the future and even how objects extend into and travel between different dimensions.

    Though he is not particularly evil, Daoloth still causes harm to humans. His undescribable shape causes viewers to go mad at the sight of him; thus, he must be summoned in pitch-black darkness. If not held within some kind of magical containment, he continues to expand and expand—perhaps even at an infinite rate. Those enveloped by the god are transported to utterly bizarre and remote worlds, usually perishing as a result. Daoloth’s worship is rare on earth.

    So what was the attraction that caused you to choose the name, beyond the obvious? Care to comment?

  44. FreeFox says:

    @DH: Daoloth (the god, not the commentator, I hope) is the invention of Horror writer Ramsey Campbell and part of the fictional (though awesome) pantheon of “Lovecraftian” deities. It is not an example of a god ever consciously worshipped by real life humans.
    (Though according to my definition that doesn’t necessarily make him not real.)

  45. FreeFox says:

    @Daoloth – re: Confidence ticks. I have no objective scientific data on this, but in my mind I always saw it as “weaponizing” certain common traits against the mark. The two examples you mention usually are based on weaponizing greed and entitlement – the craving to get something for nothing, often (depending on how it’s played) mixed with the glee of “beating the system”. But one can weaponize *any* emotion, given enough knowledge and preparation: Together with greed the classic quartet is lust, guilt, and grief, but love, envy, shame, jealousy, pride, hope, fear, anger, even mistrust or obstinacy and any other are just as playable.
    By the way, honesty can also be exploited, so the adage is not exactly right, but honesty, unless founded on very ridgid principles, like love or hope, is fickle and often not dependable enough to make for a good in. Seemingly “rational” minds, and greedy people see themselves usually as such, are more predictable and thus easier to play.

    Re: Burkas. Well, I don’t know anything about the 1970s, but I have some idea about why women raised in Western civilization might join Islam. As long as I can remember, I have been uke in my approach to romantic relationships (if you don’t know the term, it doesn’t exactly match the english submissive or “bottom” because it is more about romance than sex, but it tends towards the same end of the spectrum), even though outside of romance I’m probably rather the opposite. But I understand the thrill of giving up control and responsibility even to the point of dehumanizing myself. I don’t think that the psychological mechanism behind the full burka is very different from that of a BDSM hood, only the context. Life in a world of infinite choices (and often enough great loneliness in the face of these choices), and many pessurres pulling at different directions can make you crave both invisibility (to hide the shame of failing) and an outside will to lead you. I think Islam is *less* appealing for men, because the male role in Islam while more limited to the stereotypical, isn’t fundamentally different from the male role in the ex-Christian West. But the 1970s you mention changed that for the female role: They “lost” the benefits of bondage, but have not entirely won the freedom of chauvinism. Caught in that dilemma it is no wonder that a sizeable group regresses behind the the veil. (So get rending, mate!)
    Curiously for the one great love of my life so far, I went seme, and he was my uke. It wasn’t easy, but it happened naturally. I suppose I’m rather conflicted about my role as well.

  46. Daoloth says:

    @FF and DH. The business about veils and rending is just a coincidence I assure you! Daoloth seemed an appropriate monicker for web-surfing. Especially in places where using my real name might cause trouble.
    FF- I think you hit the nail on the head re BDSM and Burkhas and there is a similar issue for liberal democracies–are you allowed to freely give up freedoms? I am familiar with the Uke/seme distinction– it’s the same with martial arts training. Very interesting. There are researchers getting all excited by the prospect of applying biological understanding (e.g. of dominace hierarchies) to human sexuality. You may be aware that this is part of a larger project to get BDSM proclivities out of the DSM V, in much the same way that a vast number of people were “cured” of homosexuality in 1986 by the simple expedient of removing it from the disease category.
    I don’t know if you remember the Spanner fiasco from the 1990s–where it was ruled that you were not allowed to freely consent to certain forms of bodily harm for sexual purposes? These were consenting adults, no question of mental illness or exploitation, carrying out extreme S & M activities in private.
    A lot of us thought that the police were wasting everyone’s time and money in prosecuting these guys, although few of us would take our kids to their parties.
    Here’s the problem–its hard not to argue, on very similar grounds (barring the public bit) that people ought not to be allowed to wear other symbols of slavery and oppression (veils, burkhas) as long as they are not being forced to by law/ domestic abuse.
    I guess that’s my position on Islam–save it for the bedroom, you kinky thing–don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses. Like Jesus says- “Burkha’s give me the horn”. (Another T-shirt please, author?)

  47. spoing says:


    “Most atheists, just as most environmentalists, free-market-capitalists, socialists, economists, and other peeps who claim to be rational thinkers, betray in the way they talk (and their body language) that they are just as invested in their convictions as any Catholic or Muslim. When they use evidence-based arguments, they still just *use* them, like a club, because it is handy.”

    The degree of emotional attachment of a scientist like Dawkins to his field of expertise (evolutionary biology) only SUPERFICIALLY resembles the emotional attachment of an idiot idealogue to his or her pet belief system. The difference is that the first is using rational argumentation to make his case. The 2nd isn’t. Admittedly to an external observer (especially of the idiot idealogue kind) the emotional attachment can seem quite similar to religious fervour.

    Personally having observed what Richard Dawkins has had to put up with in his time ( is a great example) he is my nomination for the world’s first atheist saint.

    Also, your last sentence about wielding the club of “evidence-based reasoning” is interesting. It kind of implies that there’s another, equally valid way of reasoning, besides this nasty bullying rational evidential kind of reasoning. Those nasty logic-fixated scientific people don’t accord unreasonable reasoning the same weight as their oh-so-clever evidence-based reasoning.

  48. FreeFox says:

    @spoing: I suppose just saying “I rest my case” is not going to make much of an impression, huh?


    Look, you already know that being right and winning an argument are two totally different things. The Republicans wouldn’t ever get a law to pass otherwise. One wins arguments mostly by appealing to emotions. So, maybe it doesn’t exactly deserve the name “reasoning”, but clearly there are many forms of very effective non-evidence-based arguing. (Sarkasm can be one such tool, if wielded skillfully; name-calling however rarely is.)

    As for the emotional attachment, either we misunderstand each other or you must know very different people. If you really claim that most self-styled atheists and sceptics actually found their beliefs on the rational arguments for those positions… I can only say we disagree. Maybe you have some form of objective data on this that you can share?
    In my personal experience, people cling to a world view because they feel comfortable in it. Some like to have a divine daddy figure in their lives, and others prefer to feel unobserved and free. It’s like the debate of nature vs. nurture, whether taxation and state spending is overall good or bad for the economy, or whether harsher penalties reduce crime – people *usually* come down on one side of the argument or on the other because it is what they *want* to believe, and they pick the arguments that support their side independent of any evidence.
    I am not saying that there *isn’t* an objective truth, or even that it isn’t knowable, or that there aren’t *some* people actually interested in it in an unbiased way… only that *most* (and that includes most calling themselves atheist or sceptic) are in it because of what they want to be true. There is a reason why real science has developed blind analysis techniques to avoid observer and experimenter bias from skewing data. And a “We vs. Them” mentality is generally a good indicator that objectivity has taken a leave of absence. Not wanting to understand why the other side seems to cling to some obviously erroneous conviction is another.

    You know, maybe I do expect MORE from sceptics than from faith-followers, just as I expect more from democratic governments like those of the USA or Israel than I do, say, from the leadership of Hezbollah. I *know* the latter are insane criminals and terrorists. We may still have to put up with them if we want to improve the world, because just wishing them away doesn’t help, but a democratic government should do better than terrorists and not reply in kind, especially after both neurology and history have proven sufficiently that retaliation doesn’t solve conflicts. In the same way, I expect of people claiming to be on the rational side of the argument to be able to actually argue without resorting to name-calling and biased language.

    Wouldn’t you agree?

  49. FreeFox says:

    @Daoloth: I had to look it up, but it is an interesting case, just like anti-drug laws, or non-smoking laws. I think it comes down to two questions, and I would love for some serious sociological, psychological, and neurological resaerch to be done on them: 1. How much does individual behaviour influence other people beyond their ability to remain self-determined? Clearly, willpower does not protect you from second-hand smoke (though it seems there are wildly conflicting opinions even by scientists about its physical influence), but how about peer pressure, role models, and desensitisation? 2. What is actually “better” for people – freedom or safety? How can we quantify the gain and price of each and compare them?
    So far I cannot shake the impression that the anti-drug, anti-S/M, anti-obesity, pro-safety faction isn’t just Protestantism wearing a new face: People desperately worried that somewhere someone might be having fun. On the other hand, I’ve had too much to do with drug users in my life not to… well, let’s say, I know several smack- and crank-heads that I *like* very much, and even call friends, but none that I *trust*. Also in my experience getting off on sexual darkness may feel good but rarely makes one happy. So for me, the jury isn’t just still out, I’m not even yet certain what the case is really about.

  50. Daoloth says:

    @Spoing. Thanks for that link. It is hard to see how he kept his temper, perhaps–in the face of a clear “I’m better than you and you are going to hell smugness”.
    But you know what? I liked Wendy Wright’s honesty. At least she is saying “It’s magic. Science doesnt touch it. I’m better than you becasue I believe in a heap of magic stuff that are more real than the world.” I’ll take her honesty over Raymond Tallis’ wittering on about “Darwinitis” or Midgely saying that “Darwinism is also a religion” and cloaking their humanism (read “theism without the embarrassing theological committment”). “Magic man done it” is honest. Childish, but honest.
    @FF. One of the issues for me, and it’s a serious enlightenment question is “to what extent do we own ourselves?” Before the C17th (with some anomalies) the answer was–“You don’t The sate/ Gods representative do. You can’t even take your own life–its not yours to take”
    I tend to score high on libertarian measures. However, having also encountered the same kind of folk as you have re smack & crack I have had my libertarian faith shaken somewhat.
    But I suspect that this may be a red herring. You were drawing an explicit link between BDSM practices and the (voluntary?) subjugation of women in Islam. I thought that this was very interesting. I vividly remember a bunch of bemused looking feminists at some gathering having islamic women screaming at them that the Hijab was their freedom. This seems a separate question from the intrinsic problems of how we are going to live together as a culture when some members explicitly want the others either converted to their way of thinking or dead. And no amount of Warsi bleating about fashionable islamophobia is going to change that, any more than saying that Nick Griffin does not represent all English people is going to make folk accept the BNP.
    No, this is an issue of some people not wanting to be free–wanting to give up that freedom–and it poses a challenge for liberal democracies.
    What do you make of what the French have done about this?

  51. mano says:

    It would also be impossible to disprove that Mohammad had sex with chickens or virtually anything we cared to dream up about him. As such, this kind of argument isn’t something atheists should have any sympathy for in my opinion. Leave the non sequiturs to the other side.

  52. fenchurch says:

    @John Cowan – But bullshit might be good for fertiliser but then again bad for methane-based global warming (not to mention the contribution of bull farming grazing land absorbing heat from sunlight instead of reflecting it– green grass would make the earth cooler instead of the dark dirt on acreages of clear-cut land).

    And, batshit can be used in explosives, no?

    @Prithvi: “A serial killer has no right to condemn a rapist as immoral when he himself isn’t doing a better job”
    –> I would worry that claiming this is committing a “tu quoque” or a “two wrongs” fallacy.


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