« New Horizons & Challenges for Steve | Main | Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia »

December 03, 2008

Comments

What's the subtitle of Hitchens' book?

AaronSTL -

It depends on what religion we're talking about. You'll notice it's not the Christians doing the persecuting.

Just not in this case, Mo.

You bring up a good point, Aaron.

"God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything"

Let me see if I understand you correctly because I am familiar with Christopher Hitchens' positions. Because some of the most atrocious acts have been committed under the name of "God," religion is the dangerous thing.

Could you expand your idea so that we have something to work with? I don't want to commit the straw-man fallacy.

Thanks, Augustine.
You have synopsized one of the critiques Hitchens made in his book. I'm not looking to defend this particular point. I think it misses the mark made by his subtitle.

Believers look to their religion to inform their actions. When the religious sources, say the Bible for example, is ambiguous or self contradictory about an issue, says something no longer relevant, or doesn’t at all address it, believers interpret the text to find their answers. This gives the texts the same function as a Rorschach inkblot test; believers just see what they were already biased to find. The end result is not focused on best serving the most people and form a healthy society but rather best serving what the religion intends, which is colored by the believers’ own bias so they just end up serving what is best for themselves and others like them. Since believers accept their actions as divinely inspired they believe the outcome to be good no matter what the actual outcome is which results in circular reasoning (my God inspired actions are good because they are inspired by God or God wants what is best, I get my inspiration from God, my actions are good) and the equivocation of the definition of good. By being religious believers think their religion informed actions are good no matter how badly they result. How this, as Hitchens says, poisons everything, is that it displaces a reason based thinking process that believers could use to inform their actions, the goal of which is to seek an objectively good result that best serves the most people and fosters a healthy society.

"Humanity is Not Great: How Irreligion Poisons Everything" is Hitchens' book where he discusses Stalin and Mao and Hitler, right?

Mike Westfall, I invite you to read my previous comment, especially the part about using reason based judgments to inform one's actions, which neither Hitler, Stalin nor Mao did. Their judgments and actions were informed by abusive childhoods and mental illness.

Aaron,

You seem to think that if one has no religious belief system, then one will act morally more often, than if one holds to religious beliefs. Where is your evidence? We would be less likely to be corrupted by power, money, etc? Less likely to collaborate to kill? Less likely to cause others to suffer for our own self-serving motives?

I think…this is an untenable position.

Would you reconsider?

>>”reason based judgments to inform one's actions, which neither Hitler, Stalin nor Mao did”

Aaron, they had their reasons. Don’t doubt it.

Using your standards, anytime someone does something wrong or evil you can just say they were not using “reason based judgments” (whatever you assume that to mean).

This is very convenient. But not tricky.

> ... using reason based judgments to
> inform one's actions, which
> neither Hitler, Stalin nor Mao
> did.

You've made my point. The subtitle (and the entire thesis) of Hitchens' book paints with a very broad brush.

AaronSTL,

You are right. We should get rid of institutions that justify their immoral actions on a ill-worded document subject to multiple interpretations.

For example, the US Constitution and the Dred Scott decision.

Cliff

That's a great strawman of my position, Cliff. When the US Constitution is interpreted the goal is to seek an objectively good result that best serves the most people and fosters a healthy society. Believers don't always hold themselves to such a standard with their religious texts.

You seem to think that if one has no religious belief system, then one will act morally more often, than if one holds to religious beliefs. Where is your evidence?

Evidence? Quickly, here is some...

Religious societies have higher murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article571206.ece

Atheists disproportionate population in prisons compared to general public
http://www.holysmoke.org/icr-pri.htm


By the way Aaron,

It seems you’re much more forgiving and dismissive of child abuse than religion. Writing a book about how child abuse (evil) corrupts…well, that wouldn’t be radical enough for Hitchens.

On your recent comment:

You also seem much more forgiving of government officials and judges. Very impressive. Washington D.C. needs more like you.


Aaron,

You mentioned "objectively good." With no specific measuring stick to judge what is good and what is not, other than individual subjects' reasoned judgments, there is no such thing as "objectively good." It's a contradiction in terms. Objective means "not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased" and "belonging to the object of thought rather than to the thinking subject (opposed to SUBJECTIVE)". If the subject (person) must reason out what is good, then each subject could ostensibly could come to different conclusions about the same situation...even reasoning atheist subjects. So in your view, there is actually no such thing as "objectively good."

Also, I would have to say that I agree with you that it is dangerous to have people reading the Bible in such a way that everything is left open to individual interpretation. Thankfully, reasoning Christians don't believe that this is a valid way to read the Bible. Through examining the text within its context within the chapter, book, and collection (the entire Bible), and according to its genre, historical context, and author's purpose, most thinking Christians are able to come to quite remarkable agreement as to what the major points of the text mean. Far from being left to each individual's whim, Christian theology presents a reasoned and convincing argument for what is or is not "good." This theology is the "object" of our "objective good" in Christianity--a measuring stick with which to determine what is good, outside of the opinion or feeling of the individual subject.

I looked at the Times article also. It sounds to me like they have taken the entire United States as their model of a religious society and compared the country with a handful of more secular European countries' statistics. I think this is a flawed premise if one is looking for evidence of the effects of religious belief on a society. Though most Americans profess a belief in a Creator, as the article states, I would hardly characterize that same percentage of Americans as "religious." The authors of the study have taken one or two questions about belief in a Creator and about evolution, and used them to characterize the country as a religious society. I think Hitchens and many of his ilk make it clear that the US is in no way a "religious society." Not to mention that no other religious societies, or any devout religious societies, were studied at all. I would challenge those researchers to examine smaller societies that are devout in their religious practices and beliefs if they want to know the effect of religion on society as a whole. I don't hesitate to say that I doubt very much that there are high rates of STD's and murder among the Amish or the Mennonites, who are some of the most devout religious groups in our country.

Anna,

I've addressed the very tired and very fallacious "no objective good without God" argument on this blog before. (Quickly, God is just as much of a thinking subject as any person therefore and good that comes from God is also subjective). Please review my previous comments here on the issue. You can also see my back and forth with Kevin Harris on Apologia's blog at https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=34221243&postID=3554370600384623425 which starts at the 10th comment which Kevin left (but I suggest reading them from the beginning).

Your next comment on the poll is nothing but tons of assumptions and speculation. Good for you.

Oh, and one more comment. :o)

I see that the rates of religious belief in prisons is higher in prisons than the rate of atheism. My question to you would be, "What does that prove?"

Certainly you could interpret it as more religious people committing crimes, but I don't think that one can reach that conclusion as a certainty.

After all, the rate of atheism in the population at large is also a great minority. One could also reach the conclusion that those who find themselves in prison realize that they need to be redeemed from their sins and thus seek religion out.

Although there have been some examples posted of great evil done by atheist leaders in atheist societies, you haven't given any examples of the same from the other side. Many people point to the Crusades about 1000 years ago. The highest estimate I saw of the deaths from the Crusades was about 9 million, half of which were the Christians themselves. On the flipside, the estimates I found for those killed by Hitler were between 9 and 12 million. That's not even considering the others that were mentioned. Where is the evidence?

Thank you for your feedback Aaron. Although I listen to STR regularly, I am not a regular reader of the blog. I will go back and read some of your earlier work to get up to speed. I think it's certainly valid to say that God is a subject and thus religious moral judgments are subjective. I see your point there. I just wanted to point out that there certainly can be no "objective good" in atheism. It's a contradiction in terms.

As for the poll information, I really don't think I was making any assumptions, expcept for the part at the end about the Amish. :o) I would think you would agree with me there, no?

The article states that the data compared statistics in the US with statistics in GB, Sweden, and France specifically. It states that the conclusion about "religious societies" was drawn from poll data indicating that Americans believe in a Creator. That's not an assumption, just a restatement of what it said in the article.

As for whether or not the US can be deemed a religious society, I grant you that this is a matter of opinion. My opinion is based on evidence, however. I could list the reasons, but I think that my other point was actually more to the point.

If you want to discover the effect of religion on a society, you should look at a society that really takes its religion seriously and seriously practices it. This isn't an assumption. It's common sense. If you want to know what religious societies are like, you need to look at a society that really is religious in practice.

The U.S., whatever it may be, is not that. Even the article qualifies that "fundamentalists" consider Darwinism "evil". You need only look at American entertainment to see that Americans as a majority are not practicing religion seriously.

There is also sample size to consider. The study only looks at one "religious" society and then draws a conclusion about *all* religious societies. That's not how science is done. If I want to draw a conclusion about secular societies, I couldn't just look at one secular society and extrapolate that my findings apply to all secular societies. Otherwise Nazi Germany could be the norm for secular societies, and certainly it's not.

Again, thank you for interacting with me. I appreciate the opportunity to reason these things out with someone who holds the opposing view.

Anna,

You don’t have to read anything of Aaron’s except for this blog thread to know he doesn’t like talking about Stalin, Mao, or Hitler. I’d guess he doesn’t like discussing Pol Pot and his mass graves and banishment of religion either.

But he’d like to discuss how religion poisons everything if you like. He'd like that - he has notes.

Anna,

I enjoy these back and forths too...even though they can get frustrating. There are many points that have been raised:

The article states that the data compared statistics in the US with statistics in GB, Sweden, and France specifically. It states that the conclusion about "religious societies" was drawn from poll data indicating that Americans believe in a Creator. That's not an assumption, just a restatement of what it said in the article.

A journalistic report on a study or poll can say only so much about the study or poll. The particular article to which I linked only mentioned some of the conclusions of this particular study and says nothing about the actual questions asked, the methodology used, all the countries surveyed, etc. For that information one would have to look at the publication in the journal. I might add that the author of the article is a religion reporter and not a science reporter and may have not even read the study herself. So, yes, I do think you've made some assumptions about the study even if without realizing it. I might also add that by doing so you've supported my initial point about believers interpreting text in favor of their beliefs.

If you want to discover the effect of religion on a society, you should look at a society that really takes its religion seriously and seriously practices it. This isn't an assumption. It's common sense. If you want to know what religious societies are like, you need to look at a society that really is religious in practice.

I think doing this will score a point in my favor. Saudi Arabia, Afganistan, Iran, Israel, Palestine, Ireland. These are countries that are very serious about their religions. I'll also add groups like the Al Qaeda and the Christian Reconstructionist are also very serious about their religions. The list I provided is not all inclusive.

Let's come to an agreement on those two before moving on.

I do agree with you that countries under Sharia Law have atrocious practices fueled by religious fervor. You'll find no disagreement from Christians there, I think. You do realize of course that we consider that to be a false religion, so I am not surprised at the result of Sharia Law on the societies where it is practiced. It is consistent with the world view that is rises out of. Unfortunately I am not familiar with Christian Reconstructionism. Since you're debating orthodox Christians, why not stick to how orthodox Christianity poisons everything? I'd love to talk more about that. :o)

If I assumed that the study only covered America because that's what the article stated, then I would have to graciously point out that you are assuming it is a valid study, unless I am misunderstanding and you have read the text of the study. We have no evidence to believe that it had a wider scope if we are both reading from that same article. If you have other sources about the same study, I'd be interested in reading them.

Kevin: I did notice that. Let's be gracious though. It improves our witness. :o)

Kevin W and Anna,

I'm not one to back away from talking about Stalin, Mao, Hitler, or even Pol Pot. I'm up to changing the subject if anyone wants. Kevin, you seem eager to make a point. Please feel free to continue.

AaronSTL said: "When the religious sources, say the Bible for example, is ambiguous or self contradictory about an issue, says something no longer relevant, or doesn’t at all address it, believers interpret the text to find their answers. This gives the texts the same function as a Rorschach inkblot test; believers just see what they were already biased to find."

Of course when non-believers read the Bible and conclude the text contains contradictions, ambiguities, etc., they bring NO bias whatsoever. They KNOW the text contains these problems because they are not biased, like believers are. Instead, they carefully consider the historical context, author’s intent, genre of literature and audience to come up with the TRUE interpretation that the text is flawed.

Well maybe we should jump into talking about the text then. What contradictions and ambiguities do you guys have in mind? Since I am too biased to see them. ;o)

And by the way...no one is unbiased.

Actually, for now I'd much rather talk about Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao. I believe Kevin W intended on making a point to which I am very eager to respond.

Does anyone mind if we start there then move onto the bible and bias?

Anna,

I realize everyone is prone to bias. I would never try to argue the contrary. Some people don't acknowledge the possibility of bias in their reasoning, some don't realize its effects, some strive to tease it out with a constant check on it. Again, I'd MUCH rather talk about Hitler et al as Kevin suggested. I hope he soon will make the point to wich he alluded.

MikeS,

Non-believers are not alone in seeing problems in the Bible. Again, I'd like to get to that after I respond to the point Kevin W hopefully makes.

After this, I won’t say anything else until Kevin W makes his point, but I do need to respond to your follow-up.

I didn’t claim non-believers were the only people who see problems in the Bible; you’re changing the subject. Part of your original post charged that believers were biased to see what they want to see (drawing the Rorschach analogy) in the text. I was simply responding to the fact that your post was not being fair-minded about the FACT that everyone brings bias to a text. The question is, to what extent does someone allow their biases to color their interpretation.

Agreed, MikeS. In a previous post in repsonse to Anna Colley I said:

I realize everyone is prone to bias. I would never try to argue the contrary. Some people don't acknowledge the possibility of bias in their reasoning, some don't realize its effects, some strive to tease it out with a constant check on it.

Aaron,

I think though that it's not a fair move to assume that theists allow bias to color the interpretation more than atheists do. We would have to look at specific examples.

And as an aside, of course believers examine evidence with an eye toward supporting their own side. Non-believers do the same though. We shouldn't be uncharitable and assume that there's no reasoning to support the conclusions we're coming to.

Okay, now on to Hitler and the like.

:o)

Anna,

While we wait for Kevin W to get back to the conversation maybe we can talk on this issue.

Skeptics are taught to embrace not only reason but doubt. We are taught to doubt our own credulous senses for instance. What are believers to think of doubt?

AaronSTL:
You are correct. Religion poisons people!! However, you have missed the point of Christianity! Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship (as real as the one you have with your wife, children, parents, etc.) with the Living, REAL God of the Universe, through His Son. I do NOT worship a 'religion' nor do I practice one. I am not bound by any 'religion' nor do I put any stock in one. Religion is of no use to me. I will not disagree with your points re: religion!! However, I will tell you that Christ did not come to bring religion. True faith is not religion! Be a skeptic and ask those questions, but stop exploring 'religion' and explore the PERSON of Christ. Either He is who He says He is in the Bible or He is a liar! Find out for yourself. He isn't a 'religion' He is a PERSON. A very LOVING person, who can listen to your doubts, and your arguments, and skepticism, and bring you to the TRUTH. And if you reject HIM (THE TRUTH), that is your decision.

AaronSTL wrote: "Skeptics are taught to embrace not only reason but doubt. We are taught to doubt our own credulous senses for instance. What are believers to think of doubt?"

Since skeptics embrace doubt, surely they doubt their skepticism, right? :-)

Here's the thing, Aaron, every atheist I've spoken with is fully assured there is no God. That is, they have no doubt God does not exist. Their "credulous senses" seem to hold strong on that issue.

By contrast, almost every believer I know has experienced periods of doubt w.r.t. their faith. They embrace reason as well as doubt. Reason is used to question, examine, and probe the assumptions that support faith and doubt is part of a growth process involved in having faith - both are good.

That’s what believers think about doubt.

Anna Colley,

I appreciate the sincerity of your emotional appeal but you'll have to forgive me for not finding it convincing.

AaronSTL writes:

"When the US Constitution is interpreted the goal is to seek an objectively good result that best serves the most people and fosters a healthy society."

Really? Our judges have always had the best interests of the law and the entire US population in mind, and have never served their own private interests?

That seems awfully naive.

And:

"Believers don't always hold themselves to such a standard with their religious texts."

Really? All religious leaders interpreting texts are simply trying to subjugate the weak-minded?

That seems awfully uncharitable.

You claim that I am offering a strawman. Well, you tried to paint with a broad brush, claiming Christianity is no better than any other religion, despite the fact that 99% of religious atrocities today are from non-Christian religions. I simply pointed out that all human institutions are subject to missteps now and then, and rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater, we should make the effort to discern good from bad. Whatever sins you imagine for modern-day Christianity are no worse that those of our secular government as well.

There's no denying that secular government has perpetuated such atrocities as slavery (ultimately abolished by Christians). Do you really want to hold this institution up as something immune from criticism?

Anyway, it's probably just a matter of perspective. I'm sorry that you have such a negative outlook on Christianity. I hope that I've made it better and not worse.

Merry Christmas,

Cliff

"Emotional appeal"? I didn't think I was making one. Please show me where my misstep is...maybe I didn't communicate my thoughts clearly.

If religion (I’ll assume Christianity) poisons everything, it would make sense for a government to ban it and punish anyone who practiced it. This would, in effect, get rid of the poison and benefit society. This should be promoted by all.

If Christianity truly does poison, there is no rational moral argument one can make to allow another to practice it. We would never want to allow even some poison.

Why then, does the body get sicker, once the poison is gone…as in the case with our historical examples?

Aaron may think “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

But we know those exact words. We recognize them.

Hi, Kevin. Welcome back!

I'm eagerly looking forward to continuing the conversation about Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot et al that you started. Here is the reference of which I am talking:

[Aaron] doesn’t like talking about Stalin, Mao, or Hitler. I’d guess he doesn’t like discussing Pol Pot and his mass graves and banishment of religion either.

I'm curious why you believe I wouldn't like to talk on that subject. Could you please explain?

Aaron,


Are you reading the thread? I’ve made multiple comments in response that you haven’t addressed.

Dec 4, 7:44 and my post above.

Hi again, Kevin.

The comment you made December 04, 7:44 was on the topic of Stalin, Hitler, et al. In it, you said of the group:

...they had their reasons. Don’t doubt it.

I've been trying to continue a conversation on this idea and have been looking for you to express your thoughts. It's good to see you're up for the conversation. Please sir, you have the floor.

I'd be more than happy to address the points you made in your penultimate post after we put Hitler et al issue to rest. Don't you agree it would be best to proceed in chronological order?

Kevin W,

I have to admit the suspense is really growing while I await the point you are going to make on Stalin, Hilter, et al. I'm really anticipating yours to be a real silver bullet argument. I feel like I'm on pins and needles.

Pins and needles...

Aaron,

I’ve checked back just to see if you’re still on your “pins and needles”….and I see you are. I just don’t see anything else you’ve offer that hasn’t been addressed.

Thanks

Kevin,

I've been on pins and needles awaiting you to continue one of your thoughts, as I said in many of my previous comments. I assume you were thinking of Dostoyevsky when you hinted at an argument in your comment at 3:12 PM on December 04, 2008. I understand if you'd rather not continue that thought. I think we can agree that argument is fallacious and void of content, can't we? Maybe we should just leave it at that and part ways. Sound good?

You would assume wrong - but this is not surprising. I’ll be happy to part ways…knowing this topic is old and you’ve offered nothing in the way of compelling evidence. There just isn’t much here.

I just don’t see the talent.

Thanks for the response, Kevin.

Just to recap. You made the following comment, you were challenged on it, and you refused to respond.

Anna,

You don’t have to read anything of Aaron’s except for this blog thread to know he doesn’t like talking about Stalin, Mao, or Hitler. I’d guess he doesn’t like discussing Pol Pot and his mass graves and banishment of religion either.

But he’d like to discuss how religion poisons everything if you like. He'd like that - he has notes.

Posted by: Kevin W | December 04, 2008 at 03:12 PM

See you around ;-)

The comments to this entry are closed.