Atheism Isn't a Religion Redux

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[ As to your implication that I wish to highlight the good ethics of religion, that is certainly not my intention. It seemed your original premise was to highlight the bad morals, and I was only responding to that. You still seem to have made no definitive statement about secular moral codes as being superior to religous other than the claim that theocracies are a disaster. And that is a pretty limited frame which probably has more to do with a seperation of church and state as it does to any innate immoral tendency of the general religous code

What enigmas specifically? You're right, science can't answer questions of the meaning of life. But neither can religion. Science can debunk false pattern seeking such as you find in all manner of superstition and magical thinking, of course. I don't think there is evidence of purpose or meaning in the universe - it is indifferent to us, to our wants and desires. (By saying it's indifferent, I don't mean to imply the universe has "consciousness" though.) Any meaning or purpose to our individual lives is created by us, by our actions and relationships with other people, by how we live.

Free will, the resolution of the finite and the infinite, etc. On what basis do you make the claim of no evidence of purpose? What type of facts support or refute the claim. Also I do not really understand the "it is indifferent to us." Is that something like determinism?

I don't think most scientifically minded folks put much stock in the "tinker toy universe", as you put it. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle and Quantum Mechanics have pretty much demolished any hope we had of that. Uncertainty appears to be a fundamental aspect of reality, or at least of our ability to describe reality. But I'm comfortable with not knowing. I'd rather honestly admit ignorance than make up stories and pretend to knowledge.

This sounds good, but we are going to get stuck on "not knowing" versus I am making a positive affirmation that there is nothing to know.

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mattnapa
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Quote DRC:

On the other hand, the profound joy and excitement my physicist friends get from "discovering" something new is profoundly spiritual. Their delight in not solving the mysteries of the cosmos and ending the game is a move away from the scientific dogmatism of the Newtonian expectation that science would answer all the questions and fill in the book of knowledge.

A big part of the problem is that we do not have adequate language to discuss a sense of awe or wonder except in religious or spiritual terms. I dislike using terms like "spiritual" or "soul" because of the tremendous amount of religious and super-naturalistic baggage they carry.

Quote DRC:I ask the question again. Does "secular humanism" imply a humanity of utilitarianism, or is "humanism" about the morality and sacred nature of ourselves in relationship to others and the earth? What makes love powerful? We treat it like a luxury when "hard reality" requires violence because we do not account for the moral realities of our actions. I think it is of our essence, as is justice an elementary requirement for social stability. Can we talk about what makes it necessary or powerful in political and social reality? Or is it just the nice world we dream about when the shit hits the fan?

The secular humanist movement is indeed about morality and what it means to be human. I won't use the word sacred because, again, it has unfortunate connotations. Secular humanism delights and wonders at life, at humanity and human potential. It is a movement with a deep respect for truth, for questioning and free inquiry. It is a philosophical life stance, a euproxsophy, to use the word coined by Paul Kurtz.

What makes love powerful? What do you mean by love? What do you mean by power? These are vague and imprecise terms. Powerful in the sense that it compels us to act? Frankly, for me, it's an unanswerable and therefore uninteresting question. I see no need to fret over the meaning of love. (Though I am interested in the physiological components of emotion and the evolutionary path that led us to feel such an ephemeral thing as "love".) But whatever the interesting causes of love, it is an integral part of the human condition and as with all questions of meaning, whatever meaning there is comes from the context of our lives and interactions with other people, animals, and things.

Quote DRC:The problem with the Pink Spaghetti example is that the metaphysics are irrelevant and absurd to the deep questions of meaning and morality.

Yes, because religion is absurd and irrelevant to the deep questions of meaning and morality. The Flying Spaghetti Monster highlights that absurdity - which is why it is such successful satire.

Quote DRC: I think "soul" is a way of talking about humanity and connection. We know that being a "consumer" is far from being a human being.

Agreed, with the same language caveat as above. Science is not inherently soulless. As you stated, many scientists are deeply passionate people. Here is my hypothesis. Inherent in our conception framework of thought is the idea that certain things are indivisible, or at least have a certain unity. We conceive of a house as a discrete whole, not merely a collection of walls and a roof. Same thing with people, we don't think of people as merely a collection of parts. This is reflected in our language - for example, part of the offense of calling a woman, "that hot blonde on the 3rd floor" is that we have reduced her to a single feature, we have denied her full humanity. Or the offense a patient might take if they heard their doctor refer to them by their disease, "Oh, the gunshot wound in room 201". People feel that science by its nature reduces them to a collection of parts and we find this intrinsically offensive. But as I said before, knowing from whence love comes, the evolutionary or physiologically causes, in no way diminishes its impact on our lives. We can simultaneously appreciate things both aesthetically and intellectually.

Quote DRC: We do use intellectual constructs to imagine the world and ourselves, and we need to keep them heuristic rather than "real" as we employ metaphysics and myths to go deeper into what is real.

I would love an explanation of how metaphysics and myths go "deeper" into what is real. I don't see it. I'll buy Joseph Cambell's theory that myth helps us organize our experience of life, if that's what you mean.

Quote DRC: Religion is a dangerous thing and needs to be handled with care. But it does not disappear because we declare reality to be "secular."

I have no idea what this means.

Quote DRC: The epistemology of the Age of Reason correctly opposes superstition and dogma. It needs to avoid its own while it also learns to respect the fact that our brains do not function like the intellectual idealists of reason would prefer. Our brain/body system interprets all the information it processes, not just rational thought.

How would "intellectual idealists of reason" prefer our brains to function? Again, I don't know what you mean by this at all. We do interpret all information received, yes. I don't get the connection you're trying to make with the rest of the conversation.

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reed9
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Quote mattnapa:

Free will, the resolution of the finite and the infinite, etc. On what basis do you make the claim of no evidence of purpose? What type of facts support or refute the claim. Also I do not really understand the "it is indifferent to us." Is that something like determinism?

Why can't secular philosophy and science say something interesting about free will? I don't know what you mean by "resolution of the finite and infinite"? What needs to be resolved? What is the question? Science, and math especially, surely have a lot to say about the finite and infinite.

By indifferent I mean there is no purpose or meaning inherent in the universe. The universe doesn't "care" about us, our lives do not unfold according to some cosmic plan or purpose, the chance meeting of a person who later becomes your spouse is not indicative that you were "meant" to be together, nor are any of the other myriad of accidental occurrences in life indicative of some greater plan. We imbue the various events of life with meaning, but there is no meaning intrinsic to the events. Things are what they are and we spin patterns and meaning from the raw stuff of life ourselves.

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reed9
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To follow up a bit more on secular humanism and what it is and believes in, I wanted to share the Affirmations of Humanism from the Council for Secular Humanism.

The Affirmations of Humanism:
A Statement of Principles

· We are committed to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems.

· We deplore efforts to denigrate human intelligence, to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms, and to look outside nature for salvation.

· We believe that scientific discovery and technology can contribute to the betterment of human life.

· We believe in an open and pluralistic society and that democracy is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from authoritarian elites and repressive majorities.

· We are committed to the principle of the separation of church and state.

· We cultivate the arts of negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding.

· We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance.

· We believe in supporting the disadvantaged and the handicapped so that they will be able to help themselves.

· We attempt to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, and strive to work together for the common good of humanity.

· We want to protect and enhance the earth, to preserve it for future generations, and to avoid inflicting needless suffering on other species.

· We believe in enjoying life here and now and in developing our creative talents to their fullest.

· We believe in the cultivation of moral excellence.

· We respect the right to privacy. Mature adults should be allowed to fulfill their aspirations, to express their sexual preferences, to exercise reproductive freedom, to have access to comprehensive and informed health-care, and to die with dignity.

· We believe in the common moral decencies: altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness, responsibility. Humanist ethics is amenable to critical, rational guidance. There are normative standards that we discover together. Moral principles are tested by their consequences.

· We are deeply concerned with the moral education of our children. We want to nourish reason and compassion.

· We are engaged by the arts no less than by the sciences.

· We are citizens of the universe and are excited by discoveries still to be made in the cosmos.

· We are skeptical of untested claims to knowledge, and we are open to novel ideas and seek new departures in our thinking.

· We affirm humanism as a realistic alternative to theologies of despair and ideologies of violence and as a source of rich personal significance and genuine satisfaction in the service to others.

· We believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance, joy rather than guilt or sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.

· We believe in the fullest realization of the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings.

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reed9
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[

Why can't secular philosophy and science say something interesting about free will?

Feel free to do so.

I don't know what you mean by "resolution of the finite and infinite"?

Our rational capacity seemingly has trouble with the contradictions in resolving the finite and the infinite. We cannot imagine a finite or infiite universe in terms of both space and time. The same type of thing happens in math when the more closely something is measured the more the measurement approaches an infinity. Not to mention that we can imagine different types of infinity, some of which "seem" like they are larger than others. How to connect this to the larger position of religion is not easy, but a shorthand might be that we are part of a finite existence and an infinite existence at the same time

By indifferent I mean there is no purpose or meaning inherent in the universe. The universe doesn't "care" about us, our lives do not unfold according to some cosmic plan or purpose, the chance meeting of a person who later becomes your spouse is not indicative that you were "meant" to be together, nor are any of the other myriad of accidental occurrences in life indicative of some greater plan. We imbue the various events of life with meaning, but there is no meaning intrinsic to the events. Things are what they are and we spin patterns and meaning from the raw stuff of life ourselves.

Again not sure on what "facts" you can use to base any decision in this regard. But I will say that it seems clear that there are narratives which seem to effect our lives and are out of conscious control. Whether it is the unconscious mind, parts of shared subconscuious historical memory, or part of a genetic heritage which is not well understood I do not know. But I do know that physical science is not likely to be the only form of data to inform this subject

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mattnapa
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I think the ideals and principles of the secular humanist Affirmations are noble and high-minded. However, I find them lovely assertions of moral virtue rather than established points of systemic philosophy or thinking about what makes anything powerful or real for that matter.

This is the point of metaphysics and why it matters if love is powerful as we think of power or just what we would all like to have were the world not fallen and horrible. Humanists say the world is a good place to be human. I agree. I just don't think logical thought gets the picture right.

And that is why it matters that this stuff is called "secularism." If you want to be "realists" as opposed to "unrealists," well that is the right game to play after all. The problem is the epistemology of reality where we build constructs to imagine more than we can say now about the more we "know."

Calling oneself a "realist" is sort of a zen thing. It is what we focus on and hope to grasp correctly. But equating what we think or "believe" with what is really real is arrogant. My point about the Mystery of Reality is that this is a new term for God. All of us have some construct behind the narrative we live in to explain the "reality context" and make the facts and issues of our narrative have meaning and coherence. Being a secular humanist does not make that go away. It becomes the narrative frame.

I am fully aware that secular humanists tend to be moral people rather than rough utilitarians. The latter prefer a God of Power to bless their predatory desires. It may not be a traditional religion, just the worship of Economic Man and the Dogma of Wall St. CEO religion for the "masters of the universe."

The nature of truth is not linear or literal. To address the critic of Jesus who thought he commanded his followers not to think about reality, you really do not get it, and it is too bad. The Parables are all stories where the listeners must supply more than a simple moral lesson but actually deal with a human predicament. Unlike the Fables of Aesop, there ought not be cute little tag lines, but redactors did add them to our loss. And we have a lot of trite fable-like "meanings" draped over the stories of the Good Samaritan or Prodigal Son. Even the titles mislead.

In the Doctrine of the Trinity, the important thing is not the actors but the relationship. They spent a lot of sweat and blood trying to define how Jesus and God the Father were the same and yet distinct. And there was this Holy Spirit player that keeps getting to play the female role because the others are male. Wrong again.

Think of it as geometry, which it is, of course. The big idea is that Point A and Point B are both true or belong to the math of truth. Like "speaking the truth in love" means doing both/and instead of either/or or even half/half compromise. In the math, the line between A and B is not where the both/and will be found. Point C will have to be off the line AB and now we have a geometric figure instead of just a line.

Eureka! It is all about the integrity of one and many. The big Both/And. It is how we understand our national unity because it is a reflection of the geometry of reality and the interaction of the micro and macro in our living relationship with life on earth. Which is why there is a human focus and concern for how we feel about our relationship with Nature. Embracing life as good and ourselves as coherent and congruent to the earth is how we find harmony and balance with the deeper reality of being human, being ourselves, and being here.

Secularism is a positive response to a lot of bad religion and the serious misuse of religion and sacramentalism. But it needs a new name because the word it embraces, secular, implies the sacred to complete its reality model. "Humanists" also run a risk of becoming 'earned salvation' moralists who are judgemental of those who make bad decisions instead of compassionate and humble agents of grace. I think grace is a really great part of real life and the way to get along with others best. I think there is a reason why that does not require believing anything you find absurd other than the absurdity of being loved without earning it.

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DRC
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Quote mattnapa:

Our rational capacity seemingly has trouble with the contradictions in resolving the finite and the infinite. We cannot imagine a finite or infiite universe in terms of both space and time. The same type of thing happens in math when the more closely something is measured the more the measurement approaches an infinity. Not to mention that we can imagine different types of infinity, some of which "seem" like they are larger than others. How to connect this to the larger position of religion is not easy, but a shorthand might be that we are part of a finite existence and an infinite existence at the same time

Well, sure, we have intuitive difficulties with the idea of infinity. Our conceptual framework of thought evolved in an environment where we had no need to perceive either the very small or the very large. Science helps us to overcome some of those difficulties. Quantum physics describes the very small and Relativity describes the very large. Neither are particularly intuitive, especially quantum physics. I'm not sure what your point is though. Are you arguing religion or spirituality can tell us anything more about concepts of infinity than science or math? Does infinity even "exist" outside of mathematical constructs?

Quote mattnapa: Again not sure on what "facts" you can use to base any decision in this regard. But I will say that it seems clear that there are narratives which seem to effect our lives and are out of conscious control. Whether it is the unconscious mind, parts of shared subconscuious historical memory, or part of a genetic heritage which is not well understood I do not know. But I do know that physical science is not likely to be the only form of data to inform this subject

What facts could I have? I can't prove a negative. What in e=mc^2 would indicate intentionality in the universe? What would "consciousness" mean if not an emergent property arising from the complexity of the brain? The burden of proof lies on those making the claim for there is consciousness "out there" somewhere. Our various cognitive biases indicate that people are really good at seeing patterns, even if there are no patterns to see. And among the things we have difficulty grasping intuitively is the role of probability in coincidence.

You're correlating physical science with data in your last sentence. Science is not data, science helps us find true patterns within data, minimizing our before mentioned cognitive biases.

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reed9
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I agree that science is an intellectual integrity enterprise, which is why I do not see any conflict between it and "faith" defined as both intellectual and moral integrity. The question of where the scientific "method" stops helping us find "true patterns within data" instead of expanding our data base or putting our finite thinking into the time and space frame of the cosmos is not settled.

I would rather not have it be the exclusion of moral integrity thinking from science or at least from scientists applying their research to human issues of ethics and morality. That is when science moves into religion by insisting that only its intellectual "objectivity" is real and that the rest of the stuff is just values or culture, meaning not fixed data.

Being mortal and aware of birth and death as well as past, present and a future breaking in more quickly than we can plan for means that we have questions about being human and alive in this world. We get a lot of answers from people who have done this before. It comes in forms that are anachronistic to our times, but still relevant because we all connect in time somewhere.

Science has evolved too. The mechanistic models of the cosmos are yielding to living and evolving bio-models where it makes sense to think of an intelligence to the way evolution works. There is a desire for healing in nature, an attempt to respond to damage to heal and when we engage that instead of fighting against it, we get a sense of harmony and balance that is exhilarating.

The biological metaphysics of science also deconstruct the macho mechanical "survival of the fittest" from aggressive alpha male culture to see cooperation and pluralism as the evolutionary advantages. Smelling the roses is not a luxury. Appreciating why water is not a commodity is easy when the model is interdependence rather than individualized competition. What we need to live must be shared. Raj Patel, once again describes why our current accounting is bad economics and suicidal environmental policy. THE VALUE OF NOTHING is what happens when everything is given a price.

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DRC
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Quote DRC:

I agree that science is an intellectual integrity enterprise, which is why I do not see any conflict between it and "faith" defined as both intellectual and moral integrity. The question of where the scientific "method" stops helping us find "true patterns within data" instead of expanding our data base or putting our finite thinking into the time and space frame of the cosmos is not settled.

What would a faith of intellectual integrity look like? Defining faith like that...it reminds me of Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

What exactly is your definition of faith, then? What do you conceive that word to mean?

I am defining faith as the secure belief in something without evidence or proof, especially as it pertains to God(s) or religious tradition or doctrine. To quote Martin Luther, "...faith is God's work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God." Or to quote Mark Twain, "Faith is believing something you know ain't true."

Quote DRC:

I would rather not have it be the exclusion of moral integrity thinking from science or at least from scientists applying their research to human issues of ethics and morality. That is when science moves into religion by insisting that only its intellectual "objectivity" is real and that the rest of the stuff is just values or culture, meaning not fixed data.

Scientific theories are inherently amoral, in the sense that the speed of light, for example, has no intrinsic morality to it. It is just a fact of the universe. However, there is no reason that scientists as human being cannot be moral in their practice of science. Obviously, knowledge can be used for awful as well as good things, but that does not mean we reject some knowledge because it can be put to terrible use. I do think scientists have an obligation to speak out against the misuse of their discoveries and knowledge, though. But this by and large happens these days. Most scientists identify themselves as liberal or, in the US, democrats. (Only 6% of scientists identify as Republican!)

Quote DRC:

Being mortal and aware of birth and death as well as past, present and a future breaking in more quickly than we can plan for means that we have questions about being human and alive in this world. We get a lot of answers from people who have done this before. It comes in forms that are anachronistic to our times, but still relevant because we all connect in time somewhere.

Not sure what the relevance of this section is. Are you arguing religion has a privileged position in answering questions about what it means to be human? I would disagree. Storytellers, artists, philosophers, scientists, and yes, some religious folks, all can contribute to our culture and to our sense of community and meaning. There is no reason to elevate religion to a position of privilege. Religious leaders have no special expertise in questions of meaning. Some are educated and have thought well and deeply and have something to contribute, some are not. Judge them by their works, not by their title.

Quote DRC:Science has evolved too. The mechanistic models of the cosmos are yielding to living and evolving bio-models where it makes sense to think of an intelligence to the way evolution works.

Inherent in science is the impetus to evolve and change. We build upon the works of the past, but are not beholden to them. A theory is not true by virtue of antiquity or on the authority of its discoverer. Everything in science is provisional.

Why does it make sense to think of an "intelligence" in evolution when there is no indication of it? I would say it serves only to confuse the issue and adds nothing to our understanding of how evolution actually works.

Quote DRC:

The biological metaphysics of science also deconstruct the macho mechanical "survival of the fittest" from aggressive alpha male culture to see cooperation and pluralism as the evolutionary advantages. Smelling the roses is not a luxury. Appreciating why water is not a commodity is easy when the model is interdependence rather than individualized competition. What we need to live must be shared. Raj Patel, once again describes why our current accounting is bad economics and suicidal environmental policy. THE VALUE OF NOTHING is what happens when everything is given a price.

Metaphysics is a poor choice of words here, I think. It could have been that the "aggressive alpha male culture" as you put it was the so overwhelmingly a successful adaptation that cooperative strategies died out. But as it turns out, cooperation and altruism can be powerful adaptive strategies. Our desire for it to be so should in no way influence our assessment of the actual facts, though. Of course, it would be difficult to see how altruism could not in at least some cases be a successful adaptation, since we do find altruistic and cooperative behavior in a number of species. It either had to be a direct evolutionary adaptation or a side effect that comes along in tandem with something else that did grant an evolutionary advantage.

Looking at the interdependence of various things is Systems Theory. Something that has been a part of science for some 50 or 60 years. (And explored brilliantly in Frank Herbert's Dune.) Richard Dawkins, in his book "The Selfish Gene" repeatedly reminds us that while evolution happens at the level of the individual gene (and blindly, without purpose or intelligence), we must take into account the environment in which it evolves, and the relationship with other genes in the gene pool.

I don't see the connection of the Raj Patel quote with atheism, science, or religion. Unless you're implying that unless we believe in a "spiritual" realm, we cannot appreciate beauty or see value in anything other than utilitarian or monetary terms. Which is silly and untrue. An atheist or scientist is not insensible to aesthetics. The beauty of a rainbow is not diminished by understanding the physics behind it. Indeed, I would argue understanding the physics behind adds a layer of depth and complexity to our aesthetic appreciation.

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reed9
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The only question is how realistic we can be. My point about the evolution of science is both that the old battle with religion was about a structural and metaphysical misunderstanding the biological models have removed. The discovery that reason is not the natural state of human epistemology also undercuts many of the dogmatic rejections of religion as contrary to the morality of science. And there are still some old stuck in the mechanical scientists whose critique of religion is just out of date, period.

I have never suggested that aesthetics or ethics requires participating in any religion. I have found, however, that a number of supposedly secular versions of realism are falsely "objective" and certain of themselves when they need to learn to respect, at least, how others validly encounter the mystery of being human. Poets tell the truth too. So do storytellers, and many of them told stories of "God" as a way to explain cosmology and us being here.

I don't give religion a privileged position. I just want it respected for what it is for good and bad instead of made into the evil force of superstition against the saints of secular objectivity. Imagination is not just fantasy.

I do not ask you to become religious. I want people to be able to avoid false secular "religions" like our nationalism and the dogmatics of Wall St. I want morality to count in political realism too. As it is, we have all the power rationales moralized by imperial fantasies into the right to invade innocent countries. How could that not be a total outrage for us lovers of freedom and democracy? What makes this legitimate or not?

I know the humanists are dogmatically in favor of doing good things and being for life. I'll take that over being for death and doing whatever the hell is in their interest, but dogmatism is not enough. If we want to speak persuasively to others, we have to make sense of why we are for life and for doing good things. It also helps us keep perspective on whether what we think is good is good in fact. The Green Revolution is a fine example of a well-intended disaster.

And "spiritual" is tainted by religion, true. Still, "spirit" is an image of power and energy in a healthy human being. Grace is something we connect with maturity and high character. So is authentic humility. If you have better words for these featured values of "faith," come forward with them.

As I said, I define faith as intellectual and moral integrity. It is about honesty in heart and mind and being honest about relationships. It is about being human. It is what religion promises, but often stunts. And it is about being human whether you think you are doing anything religious or not.

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DRC
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Artjunky,

I just want to clarify one thing. I never said science is a religion. I said science is MY religion.

Some people go to a church to pray and reflect and focus on the words/ideas in one book. When I was a teenager my Cathedral was the public library. I would go to the library to read and reflect and focus on the words/ideas/concepts in as many books as I could read.

The reason I added my earlier post was merely to point out the parallels in passionate beliefs.

And maybe my definition of religion isn't conventional but I see "religion" as the deepest and greatest passion one experiences in one's lifetime. For me "religion" is a passion one freely and openly dedicates one's life to.

Some have a passion for Christ. I happen to have a deep rooted passion for science.

bonnie
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Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

If I start a church of Atheism, could I claim tax exempt status?

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spankycrissy
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If I start a church of Atheism, could I claim tax exempt status?

Excellent point. However, I think churches are not tax exempt because they employ paid cleregy and/or ministers. However, if one uses the term "organization" the organized worshiping group can claim tax exemption.

Here's one example: this is why Jehovah's Witnesses are officially called, "The Organization of Jehovah's Witnesses". They are able to claim tax exemption by filing as an organization.

bonnie
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Quote spankycrissy:

If I start a church of Atheism, could I claim tax exempt status?

No need. For about $50 or so (maybe more now, I haven't checked lately) you can become an ordained minister in the "Universal Life Church". You can even legally marry people and such. As far as I know they have no real doctrine so an atheist should work just fine.

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BadLiberal
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Quote DRC:

I have never suggested that aesthetics or ethics requires participating in any religion. I have found, however, that a number of supposedly secular versions of realism are falsely "objective" and certain of themselves when they need to learn to respect, at least, how others validly encounter the mystery of being human. Poets tell the truth too. So do storytellers, and many of them told stories of "God" as a way to explain cosmology and us being here.

Which brings me back to my point that religion as a form of storytelling is fine, but inevitably religious institutions make claims about physical reality, inevitable people believe there is some objective truth in religious doctrine.

Quote DRC:I don't give religion a privileged position. I just want it respected for what it is for good and bad instead of made into the evil force of superstition against the saints of secular objectivity. Imagination is not just fantasy.

Same things as above. If you believe in religion as literal truth, then it does function as an evil force of superstition. And obviously millions and millions of people do. If it is metaphor and story, fine, it can be good in the same sense as a poem.

Quote DRC: I want people to be able to avoid false secular "religions" like our nationalism and the dogmatics of Wall St. I want morality to count in political realism too.

Agreed. Anyone making truth claims based on ideology over evidence, or who make arguments from authority, are doing exactly the same thing as traditional "religion", and are equally unhealthy. This was a problem with communist Russia, for example. And is a problem with much economic theory, with most alternative medicine, and with some psychology, especially in the realm of "self-help" books.

I know the humanists are dogmatically in favor of doing good things and being for life. I'll take that over being for death and doing whatever the hell is in their interest, but dogmatism is not enough. If we want to speak persuasively to others, we have to make sense of why we are for life and for doing good things. It also helps us keep perspective on whether what we think is good is good in fact. The Green Revolution is a fine example of a well-intended disaster.

Secular humanist philosophy is all about making sense of "why we are for life and for doing good things".

Quote DRC:And "spiritual" is tainted by religion, true.

Also by the history of spiritualism. :)

Quote DRC:

As I said, I define faith as intellectual and moral integrity. It is about honesty in heart and mind and being honest about relationships. It is about being human. It is what religion promises, but often stunts. And it is about being human whether you think you are doing anything religious or not.

I have to admit, this part bothers me a lot. We can't define words howsoever we please. Language is communication, and when you use the word faith, you must expect that your audience will assume the more common definition. As it stands, you haven't communicated anything to me, because from where I sit the phrase "faith is moral and intellectual integrity" is meaningless. It's like saying, I don't know, orange is rare and tender meat. Well, no, it's not. It can be ambiguous, either a range of similar colors or a fruit, but we know it's not meat and it's rather meaningless to say it is.

As I said, we don't have language to adequately describe a secular sense of wonder or awe. We're left with Bonnie calling science her "religion", because it is a source of joy and passion to her, but I would wager it is emphatically not what most people mean by the use of "religion". In an attempt at disambiguation, I try to avoid using religion terms to describe my own sense of wonder, passion, at joy at the universe and science, though I recognize a kinship in what I feel and what I hear some people describe as a "religious" experience.

When I first saw Maxwell's equations, for example, I was almost moved to tears at the elegance, beauty, and wonder of them. For all the seeming complexity of electricity, of lights and computers, to arise from so simple and humble an origin is amazing. And their emotional power is precisely because they express something fundamental and true about nature. In comparison, resurrected gods, devils, reincarnation, ESP, or whatever, seem trivial and childish. All our talk of universal consciousness and "energy" (in the non-physical sense) is just chasing shadows. But just beyond the shadows is a scientific landscape of unsurpassed beauty. You might call that religious, but to me the term is demeaning to science and the experience thereof. It's like calling a Da Vinci sketch "a nice drawing".

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reed9
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Well, sure, we have intuitive difficulties with the idea of infinity. Our conceptual framework of thought evolved in an environment where we had no need to perceive either the very small or the very large. Science helps us to overcome some of those difficulties. Quantum physics describes the very small and Relativity describes the very large. Neither are particularly intuitive, especially quantum physics.

The fact that you frame the contradictions with infinity as a difficulty rather than an immutable reality probably shows a great difference in our perspective. I really have to say your historical evolution of the very small and large as being useless, is pure speculation. It is original though as far as I know.

Are you arguing religion or spirituality can tell us anything more about concepts of infinity than science or math?

If by spirtuallity you mean rational intuition? Yes. I do not consider rational intuition as the same aspect of mind as science.

I'm not sure what your point is though.

My point is that our rational intuition tells us there is a confluence between the finite and the infinite when we look at the most fundamental aspects of existence, so why should we not believe there is some truth to these intuitions. It seems you are arguing for a rather linear interpretation of existence, and I believe these intuitions run contrary to that belief

Does infinity even "exist" outside of mathematical constructs?

This surprises me a little. For starters mathematics does not exist other than abstractly. The idea of infinity seems to obviously exist. Now if you wish you can argue that it has some ambigous qualities to it, I understand It is kind of like we can point to what we think the idea means, but we can never quite get to the real apprehension of it. This can't quite grasp it quality helps my argument rather than hurting it in my opinion.

What facts could I have? I can't prove a negative. What in e=mc^2 would indicate intentionality in the universe?

I don't know. I understand the point about God a little more clearly in disproving something unseen. But in this case we have physical activity and we are trying to impose a description of cause. It is open ground for both sides as far as I see

What would "consciousness" mean if not an emergent property arising from the complexity of the brain?

Well Berkely said matter is an emergent quality of consciousness in a way. So I guess that is my other option

The burden of proof lies on those making the claim for there is consciousness "out there" somewhere.

Ought oh, the burden of proof arguments. Well you are postulating experience has a location, tell me where it is? In the brain somewhere? Moving and shifiting in the brain as different mental states are acquired?

You're correlating physical science with data in your last sentence. Science is not data, science helps us find true patterns within data, minimizing our before mentioned cognitive biases.

I do not think this matters much , but in the name of mindless definsivenees I will defend it nonetheless. All information is data. If you wish to say that science takes so called raw data and then inteprets it to fall into various hypothetical schemes to form a different type of data so be it. But I do not see anything mistaken about my usage'

Well you did not offer anything on free will. Do you think a construction of existence that claims all we are is matter can really account for anything called free-will? If matter follows rules or probabilities how can there be "things" that "choose."

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mattnapa
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I have found, however, that a number of supposedly secular versions of realism are falsely "objective"

One of my favorite sayings is, "Perception is nine tenths of reality."

bonnie
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Here is what I want to know - how much does the fear of death play into one's perception of God or a lack of a perception of God.

Does believing in "God" make the acceptance of death easier for a "God" believer?

Does not believing in "God" make the acceptance of death easier for an atheist?

I would be interested in hearing comments from both sides. Any takers? :)

bonnie
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Quote bonnie:

Here is what I want to know - how much does the fear of death play into one's perception of God or a lack of a perception of God.

Does believing in "God" make the acceptance of death easier for a "God" believer?

Does not believing in "God" make the acceptance of death easier for an atheist?

I would be interested in hearing comments from both sides. Any takers? :)

Hi bonnie, I'll bite. What if you don't fear death? What if you don't believe its "death" at all, just a physical change in your spiritual presence?

Religious debate is as subjective as political debate. There are no absolutes, just different opinions. I guess its as beneficial to society as having political divisions.

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meljomur
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Quote mattnapa:

The fact that you frame the contradictions with infinity as a difficulty rather than an immutable reality probably shows a great difference in our perspective. I really have to say your historical evolution of the very small and large as being useless, is pure speculation. It is original though as far as I know.

I don't buy that our difficulty in conceptualizing infinity necessary reflects reality at all. Which is my point. We have cognitive difficulty thinking about an infinite or finite universe. Both concepts pose problems. But that doesn't say anything about what reality might be.

As much as I would like to take credit for positing that we are conceptual constrained by our evolution in a mid-sized environment, I cannot. The idea was proposed by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. (Who, as an interesting aside, in his book "The Selfish Gene", also coined the word meme, which has gained such traction these days and which Thom uses frequently.) Anyway, I highly recommend listening to his talk on the "middle world". Far from being useless, it has profound implications.

Quote mattnapa: If by spirtuallity you mean rational intuition? Yes. I do not consider rational intuition as the same aspect of mind as science.

I do not mean rational intuition. I mean spirituality. I try very hard to use words according to their common definitions and if I deviate too much, to give context and explanation as to why I find the deviation appropriate and what I mean by the different usage.

Quote mattnapa: This surprises me a little. For starters mathematics does not exist other than abstractly. The idea of infinity seems to obviously exist. Now if you wish you can argue that it has some ambigous qualities to it, I understand It is kind of like we can point to what we think the idea means, but we can never quite get to the real apprehension of it. This can't quite grasp it quality helps my argument rather than hurting it in my opinion.

The idea of infinity seems to obviously exist? How is an idea less abstract than a mathematical construct? I can have an idea flying purple people eater, but surely that doesn't bring into existence an actual purple people eater. Does math only exist as an abstract concept? I don't know. What accounts for the unreasonable effective of mathematics? Are pi or Euler's constant something fundamentally true about the universe? Is math discovered or invented?

Quote mattnapa: Well Berkely said matter is an emergent quality of consciousness in a way. So I guess that is my other option

Without knowing Berkely's argument, I can't speak to that. To posit a universal consciousness first, from which matter arises, is not much a reformulation of "and God created the heavens and the earth". It doesn't advance our understanding or knowledge of anything, nor does it answer any questions about the nature or origins of the universe is a meaningful way.

Quote mattnapa: Ought oh, the burden of proof arguments. Well you are postulating experience has a location, tell me where it is? In the brain somewhere? Moving and shifiting in the brain as different mental states are acquired?

I have no idea what you mean by "moving and shifting in the brain as different mental states are acquired". But yes, memory is located in the brain.

As an interesting anecdote, I worked in community mental health for many years. A number of my clients had brain injuries, and by all accounts their personality, everything we might have identified as essentially them, was radically altered. There was one gentleman in particular, and admittedly I didn't know him before the injury, but by history was abusive, had been arrested for domestic violence on a number of occasions, as well as various other assault and battery charges. After his injury he was as gently and peaceful as could be. (He also had almost no short term memory and referred to himself in the 3rd person all the time, not to imply a correlation there, but interesting.) Anyway, I saw a number of examples of radical personality shifts due to brain injuries.

I would also recommend reading the works of Oliver Sacks, especially his book, "The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat".

Quote mattnapa:I do not think this matters much , but in the name of mindless definsivenees I will defend it nonetheless. All information is data. If you wish to say that science takes so called raw data and then inteprets it to fall into various hypothetical schemes to form a different type of data so be it. But I do not see anything mistaken about my usage'

I'll agree that it is probably trivial and if you meant it as defined here, then my mistake.

Quote mattnapa: Well you did not offer anything on free will. Do you think a construction of existence that claims all we are is matter can really account for anything called free-will? If matter follows rules or probabilities how can there be "things" that "choose."

I have not in part because I think it's only tangentially related to the points I was trying to make and because discussing free will could easily fill up many pages of discussion on its own. But briefly, yes, I do think a construction of existence that claims all we are is matter can account for free will. As I said somewhere before, a degree of uncertainty appears to be a fundamental aspect of the universe. It appears the LaPlace's Demon cannot have enough knowledge to deterministically predict everything that occurs. That said, there are obviously moments when we do not act according to our free will. If I unwittingly touch a hot stove, my reaction emphatically has nothing to do with my will. And we intuitively recognize differences of volition. For example, we rightly differentiate between a women who walks in on her husband cheating on her and in a fit of rage stabs and kills him, and a woman who discovers the infidelity, goes out, buys a gun, comes back, and then shoots him. There is also a recent study that show people routinely suspend the executive functions of the brain in various circumstances.

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reed9
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I have no idea what you mean by "moving and shifting in the brain as different mental states are acquired". But yes, memory is located in the brain.

No, A part of the brain is shown to have activity when a subjective consciousness has a memory. There is no proof that that is the"location where consciousness occurs. And even if we went with your claim, then indeed consciousness would be turning on and off in various location as various memories are stimulated. The brain is a relay station for the nervous system. If it is claimed that it is where consciousness occurs , I think we have had a leap of faith. I hope you would at least agree that we should get rid of the separate terms brain and mind since your construction offers only a brain. That is all the time I have now

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mattnapa
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And by the way why gravity happens is basically not understood further than "it happens."

We know a lot about gravity.

You can go to the Moon based on what is in Genisis and I'll go there based on what NASA knows.

Sound good?

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artjunky
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Quote spankycrissy:

If I start a church of Atheism, could I claim tax exempt status?

That's funny. Like someone else said, it's based on being an organization. However, I think there are specific rules for Religions vs Organizations. I don't have much knowledge in that though.

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster would be a good start.

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artjunky
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Quote bonnie:

Here is what I want to know - how much does the fear of death play into one's perception of God or a lack of a perception of God.

Does believing in "God" make the acceptance of death easier for a "God" believer?

Does not believing in "God" make the acceptance of death easier for an atheist?

I would be interested in hearing comments from both sides. Any takers? :)

Bonnie, I was just using your point to launch my own. I understand your point of view.

A lot of times, I think we're forced to play to the Religious drumbeat.

I wish we could say Zealot without all the religious baggage that comes along with it.

I think a LOT of our problems that we have as Atheists are based on not being able show other people what it means to think of the world without a god. As I said before, even the question of "is there a god," speaks to the point that these questions are designed by people who think that's an important question. It's like trying to explain what ice is to people that have never seen anything but liquid water.

"You mean you can actually walk on it? IT'S A MIRACLE! "

Or, "What do you mean when you say that 'is there a god' is a stupid question?"

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Working in a field where the use of language is badly confused and misleading makes writing about "faith" very difficult. I understand that there are many bad usages in common discourse, and it would take a good while to go through all the misuse to show why they are off.

As I have studied the theology and the piety practiced by traditional Christianity, particularly its Mainline Protestants, but also the larger history of the Church, I have come to the conclusion that "faith" is not about being very religious, it is about being very human. Religion can help or get in the way of the moral and spiritual development which accompanies the larger process of human development by which we move from infancy to adult maturity.

The major problem faced by "faith development" theories has been the conflict between it being OK to be anywhere in the pluralism of religious styles and a concept of maturity and spiritual adulthood. When the process is placed on a line and divided into "stages of faith," it is obviously better to be in the enlightened saint stage than to be in a less evolved form.

I solved that by using a circle and dividing it into four quarters. Human development is about the accumulation of experience and when we test what we have been taught, what we have been taught does not go away even if it gets revised. Maturity becomes the incorporation of the inner child, adolescent, young adult and geezer into an authentic inner pluralism. We get to visit our earlier developmental stages, but we don't want to get lost there. Adulthood is only healthy when it is not cut off and isolated in the Senior Ghetto. That produces old farts.

The implication for the meaning of faith is that it is the interaction of belief, doubt, imagination and mutuality. None of these is sufficient, nor can any be dealt out of the game. We can focus on one stage or even go back to do some reworking of our childhood or adolescence, so adulthood is the generative integration of our developmental story--and the pinnacle of spiritual development and "sainthood" is the "beatific vision" in which the saint becomes an infant dazzled by the glory of God.

This ecstatic realization of union and harmony with the natural order is a powerful shaper of consciousness and behavior. It is a lot more that the Pentacostal worship experience of spiritual ecstasy. And maybe this is why the Buddhist monk is easier to respect by atheists. They are not the only religious people who do get the faith than connects them with "the least of these" and exposes "the principalities and powers of this world."

The reason I have taken the time to parse this language is that the words we use matter, and when they mislead this seriously you cannot just continue to use the jargon in its confusion. I have tried to isolate "faith" from religion but also to connect it to a substantive theory of human development so we can see the difference between "good faith" and its perversion in terms apart from dogma and doctrine.

For example, ideology cannot be faith even if be dogmatic belief. Religion is storytelling, and when it makes metaphysics and myth into history and science it goes over the falls. Yes, it happens all the time, and part of the point of my approach is to warn against this error. Religious stories and myths have great power to inspire and reveal what is true, but that does not make them history or science. But this is something modernism has made clear. When there was no sense of cognitive dissonance between the biblical account and human history, scientists believed their investigations would confirm the Bible. Fortunately, they did not insist that it do so. That is faith over religion right there.

My post-secular argument is that the debate between science and religion has been misplaced. They have a wonderful conversation going on today, and because cosmology has been liberated from presumptions about epistemological finitude, a new "open-ended" approach has emerged where both relativity and quantum are used even if they do not conflate. Both put the observer in a different relationship with reality than Newtonian epistemology presumed.

Science helps us find new poetry in metaphysics and liberates the imagination from old constructs; but science also finds some of the old metaphors of religion more apt than not. "New birth" is a biological description of the life cycle with the "new thing" everytime around the wheel. Studies into the operation of the brain lead us to a larger vision than "I think, therefor I am." "I process information using my entire brain/body system. The role of emotions and feelings in our interpretation of reality changes when the ideal is no longer "rationality."

The alternate is not irrationality. It is a bit more than the Dragnet reduction of "just the facts, maam." Liberals are learning that we think in narratives instead of issues. In the rationality delusion, we thought that explaining the facts about issues would change minds. We had no idea how to address a contrary narrative where issues mean something radically different than they do in our own.

Talking about faith without fighting over religion is a goal I am working on making possible. Thank all of you who contribute to discussions of religion particularly when you have issues with it. I learn a lot from you about how religion is experienced and viewed and how words are being used. I hope this helps make my posts a bit easier to decipher.

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Atheism is a religion the way "bald" is a hair color.

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If you explained why this analogy makes sense to you, I might have some idea what you mean. The simple assertion that atheism is not a religion depends upon a lot of definitiona context and is not simply true as you state.

I find the question archaic rather than revealing. The "existence of God" has become a cottage industry pro and con. I am not sure that the existence of a metaphor settles any issue or that it is possible to think of a poetic image as ontology in other than a story mode.

My point is that a metaphor, metaphysics and myth discipline like theology needs methodological clarity about its components. Yes, religions do make myths and metaphysics into "reality" all too often. It gets them into big trouble, but who said religion was safe or domesticated?

By identifying faith with intellectual integrity or honesty about data and information, I do not exclude honesty about how we think or behave, and I think the epistemology of rationality infects the concept of secularism.

I have said elsewhere that the question of atheism gets boring. I do not mean to diminish the responses of others, but it does raise the question of why this issue matters so much? I hope that separating faith from belief per se helps address the intellectual objections that I share fully against bad religion and dogmatic theism. Nor do I share any of their beliefs that atheism must be a barren, materialism. Theism is usefully archaic for many, but I could care less. I do care that morality not be discarded by any on either side of the theism divide, and I would like to encourage all the post-theists to dig into the questions about the meaning of human life, the power of love and the necessity for justice. Doing it without theism is liberating, but that does not mean that the past was wrong about human life. It is about mental furniture more than what is ultimately real.

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Quote DRC:I am not sure that the existence of a metaphor settles any issue or that it is possible to think of a poetic image as ontology in other than a story mode.

By identifying faith with intellectual integrity or honesty about data and information, I do not exclude honesty about how we think or behave, and I think the epistemology of rationality infects the concept of secularism.

All due respect, but your prose is almost completely impenetrable. "To think of a poetic image as ontology in other than a story mode"? What does that even mean? Ontology is the study of the nature of existence. Are you're saying you're not sure that it is possible for metaphor, ie, a poetic image, to contribute meaningfully to the body of knowledge surrounding what it means to exist or be human, if it is taken literally, but only if it is used as a story, ie, as metaphor? So, metaphor can only help answer questions of meaning if it is used as metaphor?

And, "epistemology of rationality infects the concept of secularism"? Epistemology, alright, the study of knowledge...er...so the rational study of the origins of knowledge infects (oddly pejorative term) secularism? Yes, I suppose it does.

I think I've parsed reasonably accurately the meaning of the words, but I'm still left bewildered as to what you are attempting to say. Are our world views really so disparate that communication is essentially impossible?

Quote DRC:

I have said elsewhere that the question of atheism gets boring. I do not mean to diminish the responses of others, but it does raise the question of why this issue matters so much?

It matters in the same way it matters that we discuss the downside of laissez-faire Randian capitalism. A huge segment of the population believes in it, and it may well be destroying our country and planet. It matters because only 39% of americans believe in evolution and 14% of americans believe Obama might be the anti-christ. It matters because it causes a hateful, awful man like Rick Warren to get a place at the President's inauguration, whose sole qualification, if you can call it that, is that he is a "religious" leader. Because we give religion respect, people like Warren, Falwell, and Robertson, rather than being dismissed as quacks, have an audience of millions and are invited onto the national stage to spew their hate. To broaden the scope from religion to irrational beliefs and magical thinking in general, it matters because it literally harms people.

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reed9
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Art Junky- If you read what I said we know "how" gravity works, but we do not know "why" it works. Science rarely answers the whys in the world.

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mattnapa
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Quote SemiScholar:

Atheism is a religion the way "bald" is a hair color.

BRILLIANT!

I wish there was a prize for the most intuitive post, this is one.

Of course bald is a hair color.

And atheism is a religion.

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spankycrissy
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Quote mattnapa:

Art Junky- If you read what I said we know "how" gravity works, but we do not know "why" it works. Science rarely answers the whys in the world.

Is there anything that can answer questions of why in your opinion?

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reed9
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[

I don't buy that our difficulty in conceptualizing infinity necessary reflects reality at all. Which is my point. We have cognitive difficulty thinking about an infinite or finite universe. Both concepts pose problems. But that doesn't say anything about what reality might be.

How would you know that it is more likely to be something else? I though it was your position that we use our sceptical/rational abilities of analyses in order to discern truth. Know it seems that you are suggesting rational intutiton should be questioned in some cases withoput any particular reason?

As much as I would like to take credit for positing that we are conceptual constrained by our evolution in a mid-sized environment, I cannot. The idea was proposed by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. (Who, as an interesting aside, in his book "The Selfish Gene", also coined the word meme, which has gained such traction these days and which Thom uses frequently.) Anyway, I highly recommend listening to his talk on the "middle world". Far from being useless, it has profound implications.

Actually the useless quote was not fully articulated. I meant to say your claim seemed to indicate our midsized nature made us useless at comprehending relativity or quantum mec's. I might listen to Dawkins on this because I find his anti christian stuff pretty mundane. I do not thin any one celled amoeba's have insight into heisenberg but I might be wrong.

I do not mean rational intuition. I mean spirituality. I try very hard to use words according to their common definitions and if I deviate too much, to give context and explanation as to why I find the deviation appropriate and what I mean by the different usage.

O.K, but I do in fact mean rational intuition. The connection for me is that our spiritual nature includes a rational side

The idea of infinity seems to obviously exist? How is an idea less abstract than a mathematical construct?

Pretty sure that mathematical constructs often have cooresponding physicaly demonstrable phenomenon associated with them. A 45 degree angle is something we can at least visualize. So why would the idea of infinity be different. Maybe I am missing something. but I did not know that the either the idea of infinity or its application math has fallen into disrepute

I can have an idea flying purple people eater, but surely that doesn't bring into existence an actual purple people eater. Does math only exist as an abstract concept? I don't know. What accounts for the unreasonable effective of mathematics? Are pi or Euler's constant something fundamentally true about the universe? Is math discovered or invented?

Well in a certain sense hallucinations are no less real than the commonly held experiences, but I have no idea what I said that involves this. . I am not sure what you are really trying to get at

Without knowing Berkely's argument, I can't speak to that. To posit a universal consciousness first, from which matter arises, is not much a reformulation of "and God created the heavens and the earth". It doesn't advance our understanding or knowledge of anything, nor does it answer any questions about the nature or origins of the universe is a meaningful way

So conscious beings experiencing a common dream are "less interested" in what is happening to them as opposed to those investigating the big machine. Why?.

Quote mattnapa: Ought oh, the burden of proof arguments. Well you are postulating experience has a location, tell me where it is? In the brain somewhere? Moving and shifiting in the brain as different mental states are acquired?

I have no idea what you mean by "moving and shifting in the brain as different mental states are acquired". But yes, memory is located in the brain.

As an interesting anecdote, I worked in community mental health for many years. A number of my clients had brain injuries, and by all accounts their personality, everything we might have identified as essentially them, was radically altered. There was one gentleman in particular, and admittedly I didn't know him before the injury, but by history was abusive, had been arrested for domestic violence on a number of occasions, as well as various other assault and battery charges. After his injury he was as gently and peaceful as could be. (He also had almost no short term memory and referred to himself in the 3rd person all the time, not to imply a correlation there, but interesting.) Anyway, I saw a number of examples of radical personality shifts due to brain injuries.

. Actually the free will argument requires agency or character, but "the watcer" construction of consciousness posits only a thing that experiences consciousness and nothing else. So the argument of brain injury changing behavior really plays no role in this construction of consciousness. also quite honestly it just seems a little silly to not think significant physiological laterations would not change behavior or character

I would also recommend reading the works of Oliver Sacks, especially his book, "The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat".

I am quite famiiar with Sacks, and find him fascinating.

t

I'll agree that it is probably trivial and if you meant it as defined here, then my mistake

Thanks for that

Hope I have not gotten smarmy here about amoebas and elsewhere. You have been straightforward and non-insulting and I appreciate it. I tend to be a little irreverant, but it is usually tempered with self deprication and an ability not to take one's self (or brain) too seriously. But I can get kind or wrapped up in this one

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mattnapa
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Quote spankycrissy:
Quote SemiScholar:

Atheism is a religion the way "bald" is a hair color.

BRILLIANT!

I wish there was a prize for the most intuitive post, this is one.

Of course bald is a hair color.

And atheism is a religion.

I like it, too. But my analogy comparing watching TV to a sport doesn't count? (pout)

Anyway... just from a semantic viewpoint, I don't see how atheism counts as a religion any more than "theism" counts as a religion. It seems like you have to simultaneously define "Atheism" more specifically than the etymology of the word itself merits while defining "religion" so broadly as to be almost meaningless.

Christianity, Buddhism, Wicca, and Scientology are all examples of religions while seemingly having very little in common. What they <strong>do</strong> have in common is some defined set of beliefs -- a doctrine, generally about some conjectured spiritual nature of reality apart from the natural world we can see and measure. They all incorporate faith, here defined in the traditional sense of belief in things unproven and/or unprovable. Finally, they usually have some kind of an organizational structure or at least some sense of a community.

Atheism really just reverses a lot of that. Rather than holding a belief in the absence of evidence or despite evidence to the contrary, atheist just refuse to hold any such beliefs. For example, most religions incorporate some kind of creation story and that story serves as the "final word". Atheists will at least provisionally accept the cosmology revealed by science and are not particularly troubled that certain questions remain unknown and likely unknowable. We don't just make up stuff to fill in the gaps of our knowledge.

All of which doesn't mean you can't hold opinions about the presently unknown. One atheist can rationally hold the opinion that life arose on earth by an accidental combination of chemicals while another may think it more likely that it arrived on a comet. One may think it most likely that life is common in the universe while another thinks it rare, possibly even an event unique to our planet.

I personally would hold that atheism could even accomodate the possibilty of some aspect of reality that is usually termed spriritual and that allows for continued conscious existence after death. After all we live in a world where particles can be teleported and the results of experiments depend on what the experimenter is looking for. A world where your experience of time depends on your velocity and space itself can bend and warp. And a world where 73% of the universe consists of something called "dark energy" that science has no explanation for and is supported by observation of supernovae in distant galaxies. And where 24% of the universe consists of something else called "dark matter" that no one has directly observed and is currently unexplained. That leaves about 4% of reality that we claim to understand with any clarity.

So when millions of people claim to have experiences of the "supernatural", I, for one, am not willing to just blithely dismiss it all as optical illusion, delusions, or wishful thinking. After all, the fact that I can sit here in a truck stop and communicate to all of you through this wonderful machine and transmit my thoughts through the air at the push of a button is pretty damn magical when you really stop and think about it. Not too long ago it would have been considered sorcery.

But the possibility of aspects of reality beyond our understanding, even things "spiritual" or "woo-woo" still doesn't necessarily imply that there is some kind of "God" behind it all. It just means we don't understand everything yet.

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BadLiberal
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Reed9- On free-wiil I respect the moderate interest in the subject. In the past I have always thought it the strongest argument against the matter only construction, but have come to not see it in such absolute terms. However I still think it poses the most significant challenge to Dawkins and the like, and I have yet to hear him deal with it in a straightforward manner. Anyway yes I think, in general, free will can be seen as constrained in its application. I think the example of being burned relies more on the reacting time of a brain than it does about free will. Yes I believe there must be some connection to the higher functions of the brain and free will. This of course seems to be an admission that a life without a cortex does not have free-will, and that position creates some problems for me since I tend to believe that all conscious creatures are made of the same "feeling stuff."

Anyway the final point is that if we do not have free will this has some logical consequences for the criminal justice system. Namely, retributive justice makes no sense unless it is addressed towards a cognitive agency. In other words if no "choice" is made by a responsible entity then the sense of retributive justice which wishes to punish an offender makes no sense. Deterents and other factors may still make sense, but there is no getting even with a brain that is simply predetermined to act in a certain way. So I find it inconsistent for those who claim free will is an illusion, but at the same time are hell bent to get even with some a-hole offender. Probably has little to do with what we are taking about, but sometimes do not take in the fall impact of what the question of free-will means.

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mattnapa
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Quote reed9:
Quote mattnapa:

Art Junky- If you read what I said we know "how" gravity works, but we do not know "why" it works. Science rarely answers the whys in the world.

Is there anything that can answer questions of why in your opinion?

Just when you think you know everything.

There has been a great debate concerning the properties of sticky tape for many decades.

How does it really work?

Is it chemical or is it super static electricity?

Magic.

I would submit for your discussion that gravity does not suck. In fact the rest of the universe blows.

When we "discovered" that the universe is expanding we were forced to throw out all of our preconceived notions and come up with a new plan. So we invented Dark matter because it must be there in order to bring the maths into equilibrium.

Pure science is just as much of a religious pursuit as the search for god. They are both searching for the ultimate force in the universe.

Here is a video clip of some guys making x rays with scotch tape. I wish they would have used Duct Tape, It would have been a much more satisfying discovery if no more significant.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-o66AYhEIsU

I was putting on one of those breathe right nasal strips one night in the dark in bed and "discovered" a lovely blue glow of sparks form as I pulled the backing off of the strip. I went through a whole box, it was fascinating.

'we used to think that the speed of light was a constant but in the last few years light has been slowed down and even held suspended, completely stopped and then released again to continue on it's way!

One day some pimple faced grad student is going to come on the U-Tube and say Einstein was wrong and we can now travel faster than light.

After all, If we can stop light then all we have to do is take one step away and we have out run it.

And back to God...

The new study of quantum physics says that many particles both exist and do not exist simultaneously.

I have have no problem with the concept of both an eternal god and a non existent imaginary one.

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spankycrissy
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Science can debunk false pattern seeking such as you find in all manner of superstition and magical thinking, of course.

Define "magical thinking".

bonnie
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Anyway, what do you think of the correlation coefficient in terms of intuition and interpretation?

bonnie
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I think,according to Shrodinger, you could have either a bald atheist or a haried christian in your box

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mattnapa
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One day some pimple faced grad student is going to come on the U-Tube and say Einstein was wrong and we can now travel faster than light.

Hehehheee. Imagine a curvaceous blonde, (think Marilyn Monroe in her late thirties with a genius IQ), saying Einstein was only half right. The mistake is in the attempt to find the "faster". It isn't about speed. It is about perception.

Anyway, one of my favorite places to look for the last decade+ has been within the search terms: "theta+prime+time+manipulation'

Try it. It always ends up being about gene expression... ...interesting shit.

bonnie
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Quote mattnapa:

I think,according to Schrodinger, you could have either a bald atheist or a haried christian in your box

Is that anything like a hairy krishna?

Schrodinger is misunderstood.

His point was that in order for the truth to be found one must not look in the box.

It is only when the cat is in the box and we trust to fate that all things are possible.

I wonder what the current incarnation of the Dali Lama would say about Schrodinger's cat?

Good night.

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spankycrissy
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I wonder what the current incarnation of the Dali Lama would say about Schrodinger's cat?

What I want to know is - does the CAT know it is dead or alive?

F#ck the observer.

bonnie
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I don't have time to give a substantive response to mattnapa right now, but for a couple of brief things...

Rather than holding a belief in the absence of evidence or despite evidence to the contrary, atheist just refuse to hold any such beliefs.

Exactly. Might as well declare that all people who do not believe in the Great Turtle God Gajoomba are therefore members of the wicked religion, Denialists of the Great Turtle God Gajoomba.

Quote Bonnie:Define "magical thinking".

Magical Thinking

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reed9
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For one I never said I would open the box. Also what if the bald guy has faith he can get his hair to grow back?

Exactly. Might as well declare that all people who do not believe in the Great Turtle God Gajoomba are therefore members of the wicked religion, Denialists of the Great Turtle God Gajoomba.

This is where we will never agree. Why is it that you need to repeat this mantra? You have said it numerous times. I think whatever some of atheists are positing here is a nebulous construction of reality as one can imagine,. Sorry but this stuff seems really juvenile to me. I think some of you believe in causation, so I find the idea that the universe randomly occured is just as laughable than Gajoomba did it

Did I see metaphor as magical thinking according to wikipedia?

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I think it would take a large volume to adequately address every point you've brought up.

Quote mattnapa: Actually the useless quote was not fully articulated. I meant to say your claim seemed to indicate our midsized nature made us useless at comprehending relativity or quantum mec's. I might listen to Dawkins on this because I find his anti christian stuff pretty mundane. I do not thin any one celled amoeba's have insight into heisenberg but I might be wrong.

I find Dawkin's a little boring on religion as well, mostly because he limits his critique to the low hanging fruit of religious literalism and fundamentalism. But when he discusses his area of expertise, ie, evolutionary biology, he is quite fascinating.

I am saying that our evolution in "middle world" makes us useless at intuitively comprehending relativity or especially quantum theory. As the nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman said, "I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics." Despite the fact that quantum theory corresponds exquisitely well to experimental results, we have little to no idea what's going on. Or, in a more interesting quote, from a lecture on Quantum Theory, "What I am going to tell you about is what we teach our physics students in the third or fourth year of graduate school... It is my task to convince you not to turn away because you don't understand it. You see my physics students don't understand it. ... That is because I don't understand it. Nobody does."

No idea what you're getting at with the amoeba comment, nor how it relates to what I was saying.

Quote mattnapa: Pretty sure that mathematical constructs often have cooresponding physicaly demonstrable phenomenon associated with them. A 45 degree angle is something we can at least visualize. So why would the idea of infinity be different. Maybe I am missing something. but I did not know that the either the idea of infinity or its application math has fallen into disrepute
I'm not talking about what we can visualize, I'm talking about what might actually exist. Show me a perfect 45 degree angle in nature. Or a straight line. You can't, they don't exist. A line by geometric definition has no width, but of course, anything we could draw or see has measurable width. Mathematical structures are abstractions. Again, no idea what I said that would lead to the comment about math or infinity falling into disrepute.
Quote mattnapa:This is where we will never agree. Why is it that you need to repeat this mantra? You have said it numerous times. I think whatever some of atheists are positing here is a nebulous construction of reality as one can imagine,. Sorry but this stuff seems really juvenile to me. I think some of you believe in causation, so I find the idea that the universe randomly occured is just as laughable than Gajoomba did it
I repeat it because it seems rather straightforward that the mere absence of belief in a thing does not constitute a belief system in and of itself, yet there seems to be vehement disagreement with that. And as I think someone else mentioned before, if you redefine religion to include atheism or science, then you have redefined religion to mean anything.I never said the universe occurred randomly, though it may have. There are certainly examples of truly random events in nature, such as radioactive decay. Though it's strange and exciting to know that radioactive decay occurs at a predictable rate, yet we never know when any individual atom will decay. My position is only that it is not the result of intelligence or consciousness, neither of which are required for causation. Though causation is itself another can of philosophical worms.
Quote mattnapa: Did I see metaphor as magical thinking according to wikipedia?
Not quite. If you look under Symbolic approach to magic, it clarifies with an ending quote by Gilbert Lewis, "if magicians performed spells for explicitly symbolic or metaphorical purposes, then we wouldn’t consider them magic at all…" It is saying that those who mistake the symbol for reality, the map for the territory, if you will, are engaged in magical thinking.

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Applause to Bad Liberal for being able to parse a subject personally while also hearing and accepting the experiences of others. The poetic language they use to express their own "sublime experience" is not science or the discipline of metaphysics, it is what works.

Here is an "atheist" who can be intellectually honest without trashing religion per se. It really is not about "theism" even if dogmatic religionist draw that line and fight to the death to defend their literalized metaphors. It is actually their narrative at risk, and they have not figured out how to believe in a story even if it is not "up to the standards" of modern historiography.

There is no compromise in intellectual integrity to affirm confessions of faith from a pre-scientific past tradition. Imaginative constructs of reality were not divided into religion and science until the Enlightenment. Or the disciplines were friendly rather than in opposition. I would like to affirm that the post-rationalist epistemology of contemporary brain function studies returns us to a more wholistic understanding of "head and heart."

The common ground is the mystery of reality. Science provides new and wonderful images for both its own imaginative inspiration and for new spiritual models of metaphysics, myth and metaphor. Analogies tend to break down when applied too literally, so if we think of it like prose and poetry, I do not mean to imply that the prose is less inspired or the poetry less about reality. Getting rid of dysfunctional metaphysics is a primary theological task. We once thought that getting rid of the myths was the way to unveil the secular history and meanings behind the superstitions. We have learned that that does not get us where we thought it would. The better way is to recognize the differences in the literature so we avoid misreading what these mythic references mean and meant to those who put these words in print.

Reed9, the issue of ontology is the literal physical existence of a poetic or theological metaphor. The movie Avatar has put images in our minds that we have interpreted as truth telling about our times. The movie exists. The characters are both human and not. Actors and images. And none of them exist in human history outside this story. Ontology is the specific problem of a "divine being" instead of a myth construct that may or may not "tell the truth."

"Rationalism" is the reduced view of human knowing that has treated the emotions and feelings as the enemy of clarity and logic. I appreciate the excitement of the liberation from theocracy and feudalism, and the explorations of rationalism from Bach to Kant are exquisite as they work out the liberating possibilities of a knowable world. No longer was the magician needed as priest or alchemist. Wizards now had to be rocket scientists or chemists.

Objectivism and Logical Positivism exalt the human "observer" without dealing with the quantum and relativity issues of being in the model instead of outside it. This is what I meant about the infection brought by rationalism into the reductionist concept and definition, "secularism." We need a new and more expanded sense of knowing to be realistic to our nature, not to concede anything to "religion."

I love the math when people who know that language get involved. There is an analogy to prayer and the spiritual journey in the exploration of advanced, multi-dimensional mathmatical speculations. Getting them connected to the reality we live in is part of the scientific honesty about the heuristic, and is the counterpart of religious honesty about stories and images.

Finally, the idea that everything has a price and that we can make markets work to build good societies dominates this culture of Commerce Uber Alles. We have come to see our jobs as our 'freedom' and duties. We have no idea what "the Commons" means. Economic dogma has been established as operating reality driving social and economic policies and institutions. Did we elect this God? Why do we worship it?

The point is that accepted reality does limit "free will." Not only do we have to play hands dealt as we sit in the game, we have to work with the stakes we have been left by the winners and losers. Those playing winning hands did not earn them, and many of those who have to fold early are good players. We are all active moral agents as we deal with every new deal, but we also bring our own history and psychology to our play.

We are free in conscience when we are most connected to each other and the cosmos. We do not have to know it all to know enough to keep learning, and if we focus on getting along with others and healing what is broken, our freedom will be about cooperation more than competition.

If the common ground for faith and atheism is being human in this world, I just don't want to keep all the theists out of the conversation. Let's focus on the human and leave the issue of "atheism" or "religion" aside. There is good and bad religion, and there are "atheists" who need to have others agree with them and those who can live with diversity.

I have a friend who has put on a ten minute play about the gods wondering why humans keep praying to them. Finally they give up and answer the prayers. He is a self-declared and affirmed atheist, and one of the reasons we became good friends over three decades ago is that he is a serious theologian in his atheism. We have great conversations where I often take his own arguments away from him. We both get the joke and enjoy it.

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DRC
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I see from Thom's site his guest is questioning the validity of National Prayer Day [I assume he is questioning, since he is a Humanist rep, and the topic is the prayer day]. Since there are already numerous religious holidays, to deny this holiday is kind of disingenuous. However, a national lottery day should also be recognized. [it would actually accomplish something, reducing the deficit]. reed9, you might like -

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20627596.800-quantum-wonders-nobod...

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douglaslee
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Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

DRC, your friend would enjoy [if he hasn't already] Letters from the Earth, by Mark Twain.

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douglaslee
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Quote DRC:Objectivism and Logical Positivism exalt the human "observer" without dealing with the quantum and relativity issues of being in the model instead of outside it. This is what I meant about the infection brought by rationalism into the reductionist concept and definition, "secularism." We need a new and more expanded sense of knowing to be realistic to our nature, not to concede anything to "religion."

I have to say, I think this is a mis-appropriation of the language of science and a misunderstanding of what quantum theory says. Contrary to popular opinion, the collapse of the quantum wave function is not dependent on an observer. Quantum mechanics states that fundamental particles do not exist as a discrete point, but are spread out like a wave. But what that means is that we can only describe the probability that a particle will be in a particular place at a point in time, and that probability is the wave function. The wave function collapses to a point particle when the particle interacts with other stuff, but it is not dependent on an observer, just on having other stuff to interact with. Whether a photon hits our eyeball or hits a lump of rock on Mars, it collapses to a point particle. No consciousness required.

What you're saying sounds very reminiscent of the sort of thing that Deepak Chopra writes frequently about. Rather than try to reinvent the wheel myself, here is a physicist rebutting these sorts of claims.

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reed9
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Apr. 8, 2010 11:26 am

I like the idea that we are supposed to pray in private and not make public shows of piety.

Let me be the first to affirm that no religious brand should be allowed on America and that religious freedom includes freedom from religious abuse. It is not about the ability of the religious to "act out" in our public square. And I include these political festivals of "honoring our religious communities" or whatever bs rationale is invoked.

The religious test applied to political candidates is totally against the spirit of the Founders Original Intent. It is applies with total irony in practice, so Ronald Reagan and George Bush are "men of "God" while Jimmy Carter and Barak Obama are not even real Christians. Real life has it the other way.

Public prayers are always crappy theology. Having to show public respect to certain religious groups while avoiding too much connection with others is an insult to everyone's religious freedom. It might be interesting to have the mullahs, rabbis, priests and pastors showing how they can get along and show common respect for our civil democracy. But we also might want a leading atheist to join them to make it clear what we are really about.

Religiously informed public policy does not have to be theocratic or dogmatic. The speeches of Martin Luther King are full of biblical images and prayers for deliverance and justice. Tax free originally respected the considerable social contributions made by faith communities that also respected civil democracy or played within those rules. They raise more issues than they are worth even where churches do great good. Local taxes tend to go toward useful public expenditures and infrastructure. It could be considered a tithe. It is worth appreciating that religion is not just superstition and moralism.

No politician can take on the National Day of Prayer and survive. It can be used to direct the religious toward a respect for civility and conscience and away from political culture wars and the politics of conscience. Or you can just close your eyes and hope it will pass.

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DRC
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Jul. 31, 2007 4:01 pm

Chris -

Of course, like Thom's unfortunate usage of "evangelical atheist", you are similarly mis-using the label, "Fundamentalist", as you are likely aware.

Inappropriately, the technical term “Fundamentalist” has been taken out of formal, academic Christian usage and somehow been broadened to include Muslims, of all things. Strictly speaking, the term was coined a hundred years ago with the “Fundamentalist/Modernist” split of two directions specifically within Christianity. “Fundamentalists” were those Christians who followed the Bible’s teachings – particularly in the area of 5 (or 6 depending on how one counts) agreed-upon “fundamentals” of the faith (i.e. doctrinal issues!), including: belief in Biblical inerrancy (the Bible is truly God’s written revelation), the Virgin Birth (i.e. Miracles are true) & Deity of Jesus Christ (eternal God came in human flesh), doctrine of substitutionary atonement (Jesus’ death covered the sins of all/all who believe), bodily resurrection (of Jesus and people), and the 2nd Coming of Jesus.

“Fundamentalists” would argue that this is not some extreme breed of cultic Christianity – but plain Christianity, revealing the Bible’s own priorities. They would trace their heritage back to the early church Fathers and insist that this has always been basic, essential Christianity. The term “fundamentalist” arose out of historic reaction to “modernist” (i.e. liberal) scholars who desired to reinterpret Scripture and Christianity to mean something less than these fundamentals, and to reach a broader audience with a social agenda.

My assumption is that Thom has sided with the Modernists in this. But, there is simply (and has never been) an appropriate militant usage of “fundamentalist Christian” to equate with militant Muslims who commit car bombing suicides, among other things.

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GOP Blocks Equal Pay...again.

Just in time for election season, Senate Republicans blocked legislation aimed at closing the gender pay gap. For the third time since 2012, Republicans refused to allow debate on the Paycheck Fairness Act, and reminded women that the GOP doesn't believe in equal pay for equal work.

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