Dawkins, faith and atheism

9 05 2008

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor has struck a bell for inter-faith trust and dialogue by taking a firm stance on respect for atheism. In this article on Radio Four this morning, he called for a deep respect to be shown to those who profess no faith. This surprised me, but cheered me at the same time. It is, of course, not the same as saying ‘love thy neighbour, even if they’re a witch….’, but it goes some way towards it, I feel. As it happens, Jesus never qualified the ‘love thy neighbour…’ thing; the only requirement was that you love your neighbour as you love yourself.

Richard Dawkins chooses this moment to wade into the fray. The prominent researcher and author of ‘The God Delusion’ seems to be leading a charge for militant atheism. As a layperson, it sounded to me as though he is calling for those who have faith to prove the veracity of what they believe by empirical standards. How is this to be done? And why should it be necessary at all?

Faith isn’t to be discounted as irrelevant simply because the basis of it has no scientific proof. Science and religion have long been at loggerheads. I haven’t trolled through all the debate on this subject, and I wonder if I did what would change about my feelings.

Richard Feynman said, loosely, that physics was the search for what God had written, or words to that effect; we’re using science to interpret the inscrutable will of the divine. I agree with this. It’s one thing to deride faith, to see no value in it, to reject it as irrelevant. It’s another to tell other people that they should reject it too. Dawkins is welcome to his view, which will be hailed by some and rejected by others, but he loses his privileges right about the place he starts laying down the law.

Humans are allowed to be illogical, allowed to believe in something ‘unbelievable’, allowed to delude themselves if it makes them feel better, to have an ‘imaginary friend’ as Dawkins so patronisingly puts it. They can think, make choices, feel emotions and therefore cannot be wholly rational – if they were, they would not be human.

I have a faith. I seek not to explain every item in my faith structure. I’m happy to feel and be, and not have to account for every move I make. I find Dawkins interesting; he states that God either exists or He doesn’t. The onus of proof is with the believer. If that means he finds that he can’t take me or my ilk ‘seriously’, that’s ok!

Dawkins has missed the point, despite having a brain the size of a planet and a towering intellect; people don’t believe because they can see the proof before their eyes; they believe because they have faith that the truth lies in their understanding of the divine.

It isn’t a mistake that the name Vera comes from the Russian Vjera, meaning faith, which coincides with the Latin word vera, meaning truth. Both are derived from verus, true; perhaps the faith makes truth and vice versa. This doesn’t need a proof. It just is.






50 responses

9 05 2008

I have had many conversations with the Hubby recently and they almost always end with his stubbornness taking over and demanding proof. I am slightly amazed that with his need for proof, that he tolerates a crazy like me for a wife. 😀

9 05 2008

Excellent post!

9 05 2008
The Green Witch

Proof can be a help or a hindrance. Without the ability to proceed without a shred of evidence, some of the most intuitive and amazing leaps of intellectual and scientific discovery would never have been made.

I can’t prove my Deities exist. This doesn’t make me worried that they don’t.

…. and you’re not crazy!!

9 05 2008
The Green Witch

Thank you Tess, I’m glad you like it! 🙂

9 05 2008

I too find Dawkins patronising. I would defend any ones right to their view, but no one has the right to force that view on others. I have a personal relationship with my deities and with my ancestors, yet I feel no need to prove that to anyone. I do, however, feel that my choice to walk my path should be respected. I believe that any person of spirit would defend the right of anyone to walk their own particular path. I’m not even sure I would define my path as a ‘faith’ path – it’s simply a relationship.

9 05 2008
The Green Witch

He seems angry to me, also. CMO’C also noted that some people build themselves a deity for the express purpose of knocking it down. A sort of self-destructive faith-witherer.

This is unfortunate – Dawkins is a great mind and I have tried to read The God Delusion. Not hard enough, as I couldn’t get past the intro. Too much ranting!

9 05 2008

“it sounded to me as though he is calling for those who have faith to prove the veracity of what they believe by empirical standards.”

Uhhhhh. Wouldn’t that mean it wasn’t faith any more??? Give the man a dictionary. I’m reminded a bit in the movie Contact and Occham’s Razor and he asks her to prove she loves her dad…

[Ellie challenges Palmer to prove the existence of God]
Palmer Joss: Did you love your father?
Ellie Arroway: What?
Palmer Joss: Your dad. Did you love him?
Ellie Arroway: Yes, very much.
Palmer Joss: Prove it.

9 05 2008

Oh. And I love Richard Feynman…

9 05 2008
The Green Witch

That’s a good one, beweaver! I love that film.

Feynman was the most intelligent man. He had a large measure of humility too, which I love; he was forever showing how people saw him, ie brilliant, inspirational; and then deprecating himself.

Of course, to us, faith and proof are exclusionary. I just can’t see why this same doesn’t apply as far as Dawkins is concerned. Maybe I should read his book again, huh, and I might find out! 🙂

15 05 2008
Samuel Skinner

Samuel, thank you for posting, I’ve appended comments in italics.

First of, several of the above posters are idiots. Lets go over how they failed.

First of all evidence is required for beliefs. If you have no evidence, it is an opinion. If you have contadictory evidence it is faith.

Evidence obviates belief. If you have evidence, you no longer believe, you know. Belief is defined as ‘confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof’.

Contradictory evidence does not make faith.

The problem with faith is it is completely disconnected with reality. And the problem with the faithful is they are a threat to the rest of us. You haven’t seen the full power of insane fanaticism- the fervor that can only be generated by absolute conviction.

Why are you conflating faith with fanaticism in this grossly anti-intellectual way? You sound as rabid as the people you seek to lump together and classify as ‘insane fanatics’.

Your upset Dawkin’s is sharing his opinion? Are you retarded?

I am neither retarded (thank you for asking!) nor upset that Dawkins should share his opinion. I’m simply not keen on being told I can’t believe because Dawkins doesn’t. Dawkins has the same right as the rest of us to religious freedom; his expression is no more morally repugnant that any expression of faith that you do not agree with. Which is to say, all of them!

Simply because Dawkins professes no faith, it does not mean he has no beliefs – and it then follows that if I have no proof then neither does he. QED.

Illogical is bad. Stalkers are illogical. Bush is illogical. Communists are illogical. Nazis are illogical. Being illogical is bad- it implies that your beliefs are NOT based on evidence. “Stay the course”.

Illogicality does not equal badness. You are guilty of sloppy reasoning here. To be illogical, a thing must be ‘not logical; contrary to or disregardful of the rules of logic; unreasoning’. So to describe Bush as illogical and therefore bad shows a (wilful?) misunderstanding of the term.

Your insane ramblings remind me nothing more than Bin Laden. “Lay down your arms infidels- convert to the one true faith”.

Again, this unacademic, polemical ranting does you no favours in the credibility stakes. I seek not to convert others, nor to compel them to my will by force, nor to take over the world in the name of one true faith. There is no one true faith. So to equate me with Bin Laden is, at best, discourteous.

As long as faith is good, slaughter in its name WILL continue.

Utter nonsense. Did you read this before you posted it?

I look and I see the mushy relativists that have damned my country down this path. “We shouldn’t force our opinions on others” “they ask for proof”, etc.

Stop feeling sorry for yourself, work within the confines of the First Amendment and do what you personally can do to halt the rot you see. The culture of blame, the lack of personal responsibility, has done more to force Western civilisation down the road to ‘mushy relativism’ than all the faith in the West.

Murder, torture, rape, slavery and the like are WRONG. If you disagree with me… well, I won’t be able to coexist with with you. People do not have a right to believe the universe is a certain way. People must show that their beliefs reflect reality with proof. Otherwise they can believe anything. And relativism, apathy… weakness… all these things taint your minds.

Less melodrama, if you please. Of course murder and rape, torture and slavery are wrong. This emotive stuff won’t get you far with your argument. Unfortunately for you, you have to co-exist with people to whom your opinions are repulsive, and for whom you have nothing but ridicule and ire. Live with it.

You forget the most important thing people have learned- ever. Other people matter. Their thoughts, their actions, their hopes, their dreams, their desires. If any of them cannot occur without your death you must change them…or you may very well die.

I assume you have a point here, somewhere. I certainly know that other people matter – in fact, in your turn you seem to have forgotten that there’s a difference between religions and even the different practitioners of the same religion. Religious people do not equal zealots, terrorists, murderers; even though some who have faith are murderers, many millions more are not. If you had taken the trouble to read any other post on this blog except for this one, you might have noticed that the principal point about witchcraft is that we care about others.

And I can’t see for the life of me how you justify saying that other peoples dreams, hopes, desires matter, then seek to circumscribe them by calling their desires, dreams and so on illogical and dangerous to hold. You cannot have it both ways. Which is it to be, Samuel?

Fanatical? Look around you. In Europe the Muslim population is openly traitor, in the US Christians preach their Dominist cread, in the developing world fundamentalism spreads like a cancer…

I am sorry that you seem to live in a world so full of suspicion and fear. I can’t work up the energy to dignify your last paragraph with a response. You’ll forgive me, I trust!

And you help them. Traitors.

Thank you for your opinions; it was interesting to talk to you. To sum up, I feel that again, you have misunderstood the primary point here; to be a person of faith does not make you a ‘traitor’ (question: traitor to what, precisely?). I do not support, either implicitly or explicitly, repressive regimes or hegemonising influences. Again, if you had done even a modicum of research, you would know this.

My advice?

Go away, read some balanced and informed literature on comparitive religion as well as the more measured approaches to atheism; avoid conflating religious belief with fanaticism, which is a position which will see you laughed off the platform, and above all, consider an anger-management class. Your lack of belief doesn’t seem to be doing wonders for your serenity or peace of mind.

Time for a rethink, perhaps?

15 05 2008

” Other people matter. Their thoughts, their actions, their hopes, their dreams, their desires.” Using your own logic, prove their dreams and desires; they are as intangible as the faith we talk about.

“If you disagree with me… well, I won’t be able to coexist with you.” So, If I disagree with you will you implode or something?

“Dominist cread” – I think you probably mean ‘creed’; you really should learn to spell.

It’s heartening to know that this blog offers space to the zealots and loonies, as well as idiots like myself.

15 05 2008
The Green Witch

Mereth, it warms the very cockles, does it not? 🙂

For the love of all things green and holy, give me a disputant that can construct a coherent argument without two hands, a flashlight and a map! I much prefer discussion with people like that. People such as yourself!

15 05 2008

Oh, my! Angry much? The intolerant and deliberately misunderstanding natures of some people just continue to astound me. I know, by now, it shouldn’t, but it does. TGW, you are a much better woman than I as I probably would have just deleted the comment without reply. Though, it was a very entertaining read. 😀

15 05 2008
The Green Witch

Know what you mean, Fox. Intolerance isn’t the answer for any of the perceived religious problems in the world. By this method, people like Samuel here are simply perpetuating the paradigm of mistrust.

I thought about deleting it, but realised I had something to say (well, ok, a LOT to say!) and the points raised would prompt me to think. Useful, so I am grateful to Samuel for posting!

16 05 2008
Samuel Skinner

Good morning, Samuel. Same drill as before:

Well, I was tired. It makes me honest. Let me see your objections…

Okay, so faith doesn’t need evidence. I am familiar with that. That is the problem.

It’s only a problem if you continue to insist that faith creates monsters without exception. Where do the Dalai Lama, Ghandi, Mother Theresa, Jesus, and Buddha fit into the model? Are you saying that we should abolish all faith because a minority showing creates evil in the name of God? Where I come from that’s called ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’.

Because it is true? Faith is EXTREMELY anti-intellectual. And yes, I am fanatical. Because you know, taking ideas like morality, external reality, reason and logic seriously make you a fanatic in this society.

The word ‘fanatic’ has a specific meaning in this context, and I am hoping that you do not count yourself among the Bin Ladens of this world, for want of a better example. For a start, you do not have a faith which you believe gives you mandate to act.

Intellectualism and faith are not exclusive.

Fanaticism and faith are not the same thing. I feel this is a core argument of your platform – I don’t agree with you, so shall we agree to differ and try to move on?

Dawkins isn’t saying you shouldn’t believe because he doesn’t- he saying you shouldn’t believe because it is insane! Your responce? “Well, that is his opinion- he shouldn’t force it on us”.

Dawkins can believe me and others like me to be insane, but he doesn’t have the right to enforce his beliefs. In the same way, as I need hardly remind you, that Ghengis Khan, Hitler, etc had no right to enforce their particular beliefs on the unfortunates they held in tyranny. This is the definition of the fanaticism you seek to remove from society.

And you miss the whole point of that argument. Stalkers, communists and Nazis all thought they were the good guys. Illogical is bad because it leads to situations where you have people like that. Heck, the main thrust of facism was to ignore logic and concentrate on feeling.

The point of the argument is still whether logic=good and illogic=bad. My point is still that logic and morality are not equivalent, and by that token the fact that Hitler thought he was a ‘good guy’ (not sure this is correct, in fact) does not make him illogical. Simply incorrect in his assumptions.

My point about Bin Laden is that there is NO SIGNIFICANT DIFFERANCE between you two. He just happens to believe God wants him to carry out Jihad, while you aren’t under that belief. However, you can’t say he is wrong- he has faith just like you.

9/11? Iraq? You are aware these are religious wars? Wars based on faith?

Moral difference or actual difference? Define, please. The difference I made was that I do not seek to impose my beliefs on others. I hold my beliefs to be a personal opinion and expression of faith – they are not a mandate for me to act. I’d call this a significant difference, whichever way you want to look at it.

I’m aware the wars in Iraq have an element of faith in their make-up, but the principal reasons for war in Iraq are oil, the shoring up of the Western economy based on petrochemicals, and the removal of this particular dictatorship.

I am you fool. I try. Dammit I try! But for each person like me there are a thousand like you. The rot is too deep!

Okay, Samuel. I’m aware that people like me do your head in, but shouting at the rain isn’t going to improve your position one iota. If you manage to achieve the impossible, and get everyone walking and talking the same way, what will you have achieved? Peace of mind? Certain knowledge that you now understand the way the world works? I don’t think so.

But why are they wrong? What if I had faith they where right? You don’t understand, do you? Faith can justify ANYTHING.

And, I don’t have to coexist with people with differant opinions. I agree with the fundamentalists on this at least- there is a right and a wrong, and you are wrong.

You still don’t get it do you? Faith provides cover for zealots.

PEOPLE provide justification for anything. Faith cannot provide justification in and of itself; its a framework for thought. It is open to interpretation, and that’s where the meaning can be subverted, by people, to provide justification for whatever cause they seek to support. It’s long been true that humankind feels uncomfortable acting without a divine mandate. Would the dictatorships and tyrannies of this world be any less grotesque if they solely were driven by people of no faith? How about military juntas like those in control in Myanmar? Those men are acting wrongly, but as far as I know their justification for action (or in this case, inaction!) is military security, not religion.

Any pure principle, and force for good, when combined with human beings, can be twisted for an impure purpose. This is a fact of human life. If you can imagine good, you can imagine a means to do bad with it. This is an immutable fact of being a human, and all any of us can do is strive against the part of ourselves that can cause us to do evil.

This is not something you could stamp out of the human race by banning faith. It would emerge elsewhere, perhaps from rationalism and atheism. Read C S Lewis ‘That Hideous Strength’ for a lucid exposition of my point.

Faith does provide cover for zealots. Goddess, a point on which we agree! 🙂

BUT – I reiterate my point that faith does not equal zealotry! Rather, zealots use faith as cover, it does not use them to perpetuate evil.

Seek to stamp out the arrogance, hubris and destructive tendencies in the human spirit if you will – I frankly think you’ll have more luck, and be more effective.

16 05 2008
Samuel Skinner

I’ll try to make a more comprehensive post. The reason I criticize you is that you are okay with faith. Now, you may think I am unfamiliar with religion- that is not the case, in fact I am probably more familiar with religion and theology than you are.

I wonder. It remains to be seen!

I’ll lay out the problem. Faith means to believe in the absence of evidence. And what is evidence? Pieces of information about reality. So faith is almost always detached from reality. Why is that bad?

Incorrect definition. Faith is defined as ‘belief that is not based on proof’. I do not believe in the absence of evidence, I just require no evidence that my faith is ‘real’ to believe in my faith. I do not, for example, believe I need no evidence for the prosecution of crime!

Faith has always been a special case – another illogical fact about humanity.

Lets take a look at fundamentalists. What is the differance between them and you? Why, they are consistant. They have accepted their holy book as the literal word of the creator- everything logically follows.

If you mean consistent, then again, you are incorrect. The issue with fundamentalism is not that so-called fundamentalists accept their holy book, which ever holy book it might be, as necessarily the literal word of the creator, simply that they choose to interpret it as such. And fundamentalism by its nature requires that some parts of, say, the Bible are taken more literally than others. If the application of fundamental belief were constant for the Bible, then fundamentalist Christians would have to play football with a plastic ball. They wouldn’t be able to touch pigskin.

And for the record, witches have no book.

You can argue with them as long as you like, they have their faith that they are right. Evidence is irrelevant. And what if people die? Well, that is irrelevant to.

The point about fundamentalism is indeed that there’s no means of argument with it. Hence my distancing myself from being labeled as a fundamentalist. Fundamentalism is anti-intellectual; without discussion and the admitting of different points of view to my own, I would indeed be in an untenable position. Luckily, I am not a fundamentalist; I may hold a position indefensible in your eyes but I’m discussing, thinking and learning.

Tell me theist when you talk of faith do you even realize what you are endorsing? You are endorsing THIS!
I know- it isn’t “true faith”. But guess what? you have admited you don’t know what is.

Come on, Samuel; even you can see the differences between someone like me and something like this. You are an articulate, educated man. Don’t sport with my intelligence by slinging mud like this. It’s unneccessary!

I’ve never been called a ‘theist’ before – thank you. I take it as a compliment. And I think I’ve also made clear that I do know what faith is. I can be clear again and say that the faith I respect and reverence has no part to play in the disgusting work done as outlined in your link.

Tell me why Bin Laden is wrong. Tell me why fundamentalists are wrong. Tell me why Dominionists are wrong. Tell me why Hitler. And do so without attacking their faith. Don’t worm your way out by saying it is an emotional attack. It is. But its main thrust is the fact you cannot stand up to these people and say they are wrong, while being consistant with the idea of faith.

I doubt very much whether faith, for these people, was ever anything but window dressing. If faith is a motivator, it should be a motivator for good. If you use faith as a motivation for evil, then it is you who is at fault, not the faith per se. If I took your argument to its logical conclusion, it would make all the moderate, intelligent, spiritually aware muslims in the world into brutal fundamentalist monsters. This is so far from where the truth lies that it should be self evident even to you.

You can’t. As long as there are people who support faith as a good thing, there will be religion- and there will be blood.

The same could be said about humans – where there are humans, there will be humans who kill each other. I say again – the removal of faith will not stop this.

You are a traitor to the human race. I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. By that I mean you advocate ideas that are openly damaging to humanity in general and people and particaular.

Quite the contrary. I know that without people like me, searching, reading, working to be better, seeking to do good for those around me and the world at large, without let or hindrance, without coercion or proselytising, the world would be a poorer place. I’m not doing much – I do what I can. What do you do?

I am not an advocate in its fullest term – I may speak and write in support of my beliefs but I do not urge them publicly to be adopted.

Oh, I know- you’ll say something about tolerance. Yes we need to tolerate them and teach them to tolerate us. Tell me this- would you tolerate slavers? Torturers? Murderors? To many fundamentalists that is what we are. As long as you fail to understand that you will simply repeat things that make you feel good without realizing they won’t work.

There’s no value in seeking to tolerate unlawful acts simply because they carry the imprimatur of faith. Faith is not the reason for these acts – it’s the excuse! Not a very good one, as we all realise!

My hate, my anger, my drive, my intolerance towards evil and apathy and yes my fanaticism come from the fact that people say these things without realizing the implications. It is like communism or facism. And yet people have failed to learn.

Hate and anger; yes. I’m not going to tell you to give these up. I’m not going to tell you to listen to the people who make you want to scream. I’m not going to attempt to alter your path one iota. However, apathy is something I can work with you on. Churchill said that all that is needed for evil to flourish is that good men do nothing. I believe that I and others like me are doing something – we are attempting to take back faith as a power for good and to work with it out in the world, leading by example, not driving by fear and threats of Hell and damnation.

As a test of this, I wish you knew me better; you’d know that hardly anyone that knows me knows my religious affiliation. It isn’t the way I define myself. Another way in which I differ from fundamentalists and others who define themselves by what they believe.

Tell me how I am wrong. I would LOVE to be wrong. I would love for the future not to be filled with war. But nothing you have said indicates I am wrong.

Are you wrong? I don’t know. Perhaps.

Remember, Samuel, the point I have made many times. War is not caused by religion. Faith does not cause people to kill. It is an excuse that is easy to use, it’s an old chestnut, and it’s the single greatest hijacking of real, moral, spiritual faith the world will ever see.

Your view of war:religion is very clear, very easy, elegant and simple; it’s just incorrect. The situation is many times more intricate and complex. Try to see this.

Please respond. And think. Don’t just let the words flow, THINK!

I’ll summarize my own position for easy comprehension and straw manning: faith is inherently a bad thing. It lets people believe fanatically in anything they want to. They will die for it, kill for it.
The only defense is intolerance, reason and evidence. Reason and evidence to prove what you say is true and intolerance to justify hate. Hate of those who would condone anything. Hate of those who revel in their madness.

Hate towards those who would kill us all to bring about the end times.

Hate isn’t the answer to hate; intolerance can’t be the solution that brings about the end to intolerance. If you feel you are in the ‘last days’ of this amazing and unlikely planet, then that is unfortunate, but not specifically my problem.

You don’t really hate; you are afraid of what you don’t understand. You are seeking to compartmentalise it, to label it, and so to negate it.

My final point is this; faith is good. It can be subverted, but the moral responsibility of every human, religious or not, is to do the best they can with the time they have been given. That is all. Each vanishingly tiny and irrelevant human life can incrementally affect the balance of the moral tenor of the times – make yours count.

The differance between you and me is our knowledge of religion- unfortunately, it happens that I know alot more.

Do you? Do you really? Are you sure? Bright blessings!

16 05 2008
Samuel Skinner

Where did the third post go?

16 05 2008
The Green Witch

Don’t worry, Samuel, it didn’t go anywhere – it’s 05:45 here, I’ve only just got up and seen your messages! I will respond shortly! Bright blessings.

16 05 2008
Samuel Skinner

i’ll return tomorrow. You are wrong… but you are willing to listen. Listening is more important than being right. Or am I just babbling?

16 05 2008
The Green Witch

Listening is how you learn, after all!

Was there another message from you? I have responded to all I have received… if so, post again!

You’re not babbling – You’re telling me what you think. I think you’re wrong, but if I don’t listen to you, and if we don’t talk, nothing gets moved forward, does it?

16 05 2008
Diametrically yours… « The Green Witch

[…] 16 05 2008 During the last few days, Samuel Skinner and I have been holding a dialogue on the subject of theism vs atheism. We have discovered that we […]

16 05 2008

I’m guessing that Samuel is quite young. It’s easy to make great sweeping brush-strokes when you have a philosophy and little life experience. Lumping fanatics, killers, rapists and torturers into a category with people of faith demonstrates the simplistic nature of the argument. I’m 50 years old and I have faith; I have never killed, tortured or done any of the other things implicit in Samuel’s view of people of religion. I figure that I’m likely to have done some of those things by now if having faith marks me out as likely to perpetrate one of these acts.

Over time, I have learned that violence and oppression make terrorists, not religion; acts of violence may be made in the name of a religion, but ultimately, these acts stem from the human condition. Let’s take the IRA as an example; I have knowledge and experience of this, so I can talk with some authority. England occupied Ireland for centuries and wasn’t always the kindest of masters. In the 1850s, when the potato blight was at it’s height, crops that could have fed the people (some of whom resorted to eating grass) were exported or fed to cattle of the English landowners. Now, that’s the sort of thing that will eventually make people so desperate that they have nothing to loose.

When a person has nothing to loose, whether it is through hunger, oppression or any of the other terrible things we can inflict on each other, the normal rules of engagement and social matrices are set aside. That is when people become vulnerable to a mental attitude that we call ‘terrorism’. We will never overcome that state by removing choices or by banning beliefs; that is just another form of oppression. We have to talk, understand, negotiate and find common ground and a path forward.

I’d say that Samuel has great passion and integrity – it is just a shame that he is attacking the wrong group and for the wrong reasons.

16 05 2008
The Green Witch

I agree wholeheartedly, Mereth.

It’s a little disheartening that it seems to be faith that is the target here. Those of faith = murderers, and so forth. I support no faith but my own when I worship – I’m not upholding a body politic of faith, any more than a Christian is upholding fundamentalism when he prays.

I find that there’s a whole other world of anger and suspicion out there, levelled at those of faith by those who profess none. Interesting!

16 05 2008

Interesting indeed. Is atheism the new religion? It certainly feels as fundamentalist and strident enough to be; or, maybe, like those who perpetrate crimes in the name of religion, angry people are using atheism as their cover. Who knows?

Kudos to you for your patience and open-handed approach to this topic and the comments; you have much more patience than me! 😀

16 05 2008
The Green Witch

I think I’m getting something out of it, at any rate! 🙂

I wonder if Atheism does instead of faith for some. In its own way it is faith – faith that the lack of a God won’t let you down.

Potentially too convoluted for my little brain but I’ll give it a shot!

17 05 2008
Samuel Skinner

Well, I’m back. Let’s see. Your points are:

1)Good and bad of faith. Faith is abused occasionally, but generally it is a good thing.

2) Fanaticism is bad.

3) I have no right to force my beliefs onto others.

4) Belief is a personal opinion about faith.

5) Getting people all ration isn’t an achievable or worthwhile goal.

Not pointless, just no more or less effective than uniting behind faith.

6) Faith is a framework corrupted by people.

7) Rationalism, atheism and good ideals can lead to bad results (That hideous Strength was a good book- I keep on being surprised other people read the same things I do.

It says what I wanted to say so much more elegantly than I ever could. However, the point of the book, and CS Lewis’s intention, was to make the case for the resurgence of faith over rationalism. What were your conclusions on the outcome of the book?

8) Arrogance, hubris and destructive tendacies are responsible for these problems.

9) Faith is a special case.

10) Fundamentalism is bad because they accept a holy book as inerrant.

No, fundamentalism is bad because fundamentalists use the book, which they interpret as the literal will of god as a mandate to act. Action is the key.

11) You are differant from witch burners (I can’t show YOU personally would do that- you are a Wiccan).
Watch out for this word – it implies you are a member of a structured hereditary lineage based, coven-directed witchcraft, which I am not. Small point, but relevant!

I’m not at all sure you know where you’re going with this argument. Witch burners? Please expand.

12) Faith is a cover for evil.

13) The removal of faith will not stop violence.

14) Faith is only used as an excuse.

15) Faith can be reclaimed as a force for good.

16) War is not caused by religion or faith.

17) I’m oversimplifying the situation.

18) Faith is good.

19) Returning misused faith with hate and intolerance is wrong.

Other peoples points
-faith isn’t related to violence.
-atheism has faith
-fundamentalist atheism (for the record I am a fantical antitheist. It means I am an atheist, believe religion is bad AND believe it is my obligation to act.)

What are your intentions when you choose to act? What will you seek to do? What will be your focus for practical achievement? In my ethical framework ,the first two items in your definition of yourself are you are an atheist and believe religion to be bad. So far, so fine. Your last, however, tips your intentions over into troubled waters. You feel obligated to act. Why? Why do you feel as though you have a need to MAKE people atheists?

Do you see, Samuel, that this stance makes you morally equivalent to those militant people of faith who seek to compel others to their way of thinking?

-anger by faithless at faithful
-violence and opression leads to terrorism
-terrorism is caused by desperate people
– right dedication, wrong cause

I’m listening these to check they aren’t a distortion of your position- after that I will show how you are wrong. Most of them- some of them are overbroad.

P.S. Hitler viewed himslef as a paladin- a good guy.
He didn’t eat meat because he thought killing animals was barbaric- something people would outgrow. He took personal supervision of the arts and planned on building a glorious capital city dedicated to the Reich. And he killed anyone who got in the way of his dream. Lots of people do that (Churchill, John Brown, Robspierre, etc)- the problem was his dream was insane.

Hitler’s chef actually reported that his favourite meal was sausages, done her special way. Maybe he wasn’t such a bleeding heart after all. I still don’t think this proves he was a good guy in his own estimation. Simply a man of resolve willing to get the job done. Yes, he was fundamentally incorrect but as to whether he was insane, no psychiatric reports are extant. You can assess someone to be insane after the fact, but I reckon it’s unlikely in Hitler’s case.

He perpetrated great evil and ethnic cleansing because he thought it was right, and justified it by constructing an argument based on religion and ancient history. My point exactly.

As for my knowledge of religion… It has three parts- theology, religious pratices and justifications people use to think. Unlike most American atheists I am stronger on non-Christian religions; they are more interesting.

I do not dispute your assessment of your knowledge of religion – it’s just usual not to use the ‘I know more than you, so there’ argument in intelligent discourse. Won’t get you far! The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Or, ‘by their works you shall know them’ as Jesus used to say.

And yes, I am young. It is a flaw most of us are guilty during some time of their lives.

As for the change in tone… I do that often. It isn’t intentional- it is caused by the realization the person I’m talking to has no idea why they are wrong. The drop in hate follows. Blindly ignorany things I say causes hate (it can go either way- sometimes I start polite and end fanatical- most of the time I’m as polite as Publicous.)

Thank you for my share of the favour on this one – However, you’ll note that, throughout our converse, I haven’t evinced anger towards you once. The reason for this is that your opinion has no power to enrage me, and your shortcomings in argument, while clear enough to me, aren’t likely to drive me to a) hate you or b) pity you as an unintelligent fool.

From a strictly human point of view, courtesy costs nothing and can gain you much.

Bright blessings!

17 05 2008
Samuel Skinner

8 and )

18 05 2008
Samuel Skinner

5) faith is equal to reason.

Not equal, just no more or less effective. Remember, in this instance, equal means interchangeable with. Faith and reason are empirically different, but are similarly strong if correctly applied.

7 My conclusion was those people weren’t rational.

I’m clear that you think people of faith are not rational – we established this in your first post to me. However, my question to you was what did you draw from Lewis’s conclusions that faith, correctly applied, wins out over reason? That was my point.

10) Fundamentalists are bad because they act on their faith… okay- I can’t write this out- the cognitive dissodence is to strong.

Samuel, if you’re going to insist on brandishing linguistic weapons you will have to expect them to go off in your face. What, in the name of all that’s green and holy, is ‘cognitive dissodence’?

Even if you meant ‘cognitive dissonance’ it still wouldn’t make any sense!

If your points are so opaque that no-one can understand them, how will you get your argument across?

11) One of the links I had was about people being punished and killed for witchcraft… last year. In Nigeria. They were kids.

I understood the link – I just don’t see what possible connection I have with people who burn children alive because they are believed to be witches.

I make my point, yet again, that people of faith are not necessarily murderers.

There is no logical, or dare I say it ethical, connection. You may not logically equate faith = murder = all of faith are murderers.

It doesn’t work in third grade maths and it doesn’t work in ethics. It doesn’t even work in logic. Back to school for you, my boy!

Why do I feel compeled to try to get people to become rationalists and atheists?

Not why you feel compelled, but why you try. I’m not interested in your motivation, but in the results of your actions.

The action of trying to ensure other people come round to your way of thinking, as I have said many times, is the key. You can think what you like about other people’s beliefs, you just may NOT try to force them to change. This, ethically, is no different to militant fundamentalism. You have a tranche of views you support literally, and you are prepared to do anything, physical or mental, to see the word made flesh.

So you agree I showed Hitler thought he was a good guy? Okay.

Not necessarily. Hitler’s known character is largely made up of propaganda, and I’m not sure his motivation is known – possibly, it was unknown to him. He was seeking to justify essentially unjustifiable acts in the face of world opposition – so he would have had to construct himself from the gorund up to cope.

In any case, this is what might best be termed a side issue.

No- you mearly endorsed things that I find hateful.

Tough. I don’t find your views either palatable or convincing, but I am giving you a forum for expressing them. That is just politeness; and if we were all a little more ready to listen we might not jump into action with such haste.

Okay- I’ll sum up my responce here. You can get a more professional version here.

All the points boil down to one thing- faith.
The best example for how your thinking fails is number ten- faith is a good thing… unless people act on it… in ways that I don’t want. Yeah- that is essentially what you are saying.

Wrong. It might pay you to read what I wrote a little more slowly. Faith is a thing, in and of itself. It has no particular moral flavour. It is inanimate, and has no innate character. It cannot be evil unless it is corrupted by people who seek to subvert it, and use it as a cover for their evil activities.

Similarly, faith has no innate arrogance of its own. If people seek to use faith as the justification of their works, and thereby evince arrogance, well; humans can choose to be evil as well as good. Arrogant as well as humble. You speak of faith as if it were a cognisant being, instead of a construct within which all humans work.

I seek to use my faith to do good and to be good. That is the difference. That is the strength. Both those of faith, and those of no faith abhor the murder, the rape, the torture that is done by those who have subverted faith. And, let us be crystal clear, by those who profess no faith at all!

Tell me, Samuel, when you have eliminated faith from the mix, how will you remove the tendency to kill and maim fellow humans from those who profess no faith at all?

Or is it, as I am coming to suspect, not the evil acts you detest so much but the faith itself? That’s it.

I’ll return when you give a responce. Preferably less logically inconsistant.

As I do not profess to be using logic as my primary means of making my point, I’m not too worried that you don’t find me logical. However, as logic is your stated aim you’d do better to polish up the fundamentals, if logical inconsistency is your particular bug-bear.

Samuel, I am aware that this conversation has taxed the limits of your patience, but all that demonstrates is that you need to develop your patience as a skill.

If (by posting that link) you need to resort to enlisting the assistance of the militant atheism you seek to distance yourself from, you’ll never have a voice of your own. You have particular views, which are not best served by jumping on a bandwagon, simply because the bandwagon seems to have a bigger voice.

Try doing your own thinking and work out your own position in the world! You’ve made a good beginning.

19 05 2008
Samuel Skinner

5) That is what I meant.

7) None of Lewis’s good guys in the scifi series use faith… so it really isn’t faith vs reason.

All three books are about faith. CS Lewis was an apologist for Christianity and a convert from Atheism. Read them again.

Study the biographical note found at http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/cslewis.htm regarding Lewis. I am particularly taken with the passage quoted from it below:

‘ Lewis suggested that much of the suffering in God’s world can be traced to the evil choices people make.’

This sounds rather like what I have been trying to say about the subversion of faith.

10) Cognitive dissodence is when you hold two opposing beliefs similtaneously. In this case you say fundamentalists are bad for acting on their faith… and then you insist faith can be used for good. And you accuse Dawkins of telling people what to think.

Using new-speke won’t strengthen your argument. And in any case, my beliefs are not opposing but complementary. I don’t tell people what to think. I tell them what I think.

11) Well, the only reason they are doing this is because they believe the kids are witches that are casting spells. It is all very reasonable once you accept the existance of evil witches.

Nice try Samuel – how about good witches?

But my point, yet again, is that a lack of faith isn’t going to solve this or any other problem of the human condition. This is people, not machines, we are talking about.

I did the link because it is quick- saves time. For the record the IDEA of faith is arrogant- it assumes your mind is better than ANYTHING else in the world.

Garbage. I know nothing. I know that I know nothing. My whole life is about learning. Arrogance comes when you assume you know what it’s all about. Like you.

Samuel, surely it’s occurred to you that you hold a set of beliefs at least as untenable as mine? And that if I have no proof that my god exists, you have no proof he doesn’t? Where do atheists go from here?

The empirical proof argument only works if you have absolute proof against the existence of a higher power, and as Dawkins cast the burden of proof onto believers, he neatly sidestepped the proof part of his argument completely.

As for “when I eliminated faith”… I’m going to have to say you are an idiot. You see, I have no faith AND I find evil repugnant. You know why? BECAUSE I AM MORAL! MORALITY is about good and evil! Sorry- but anyone who says that has no understanding of good and evil.

I wasn’t talking about you personally in regard to faith – I was discussing the means by which you seek to eliminate faith from life. What fills the gap? Reason won’t save the world from murder, rape and torture – and then it will be you acting as the apologist for your belief system.

Morality is a subject we have hardly touched upon here. So far, we have discussed the supposed disparity between faith and reason, and the apparent (to you) inequity between those who have faith, and the ability to live a life untainted by evil.

If you seek to determine that you are moral, fair enough – but you cannot say that morality = atheism and faith = immorality, which is what I fear you are attempting. Not only is it manifestly untrue, but also discourteous to the many millions who have faith and are moral.

Explain, if you can without blowing your porch light, why faith is amoral.

The reason I detest faith? It isn’t evil- it is amoral and worse it leads down a path of complacency. Pseudoscience, paganism,supersticion, theism, demogagary all come from it- because for faith to exist, reason, logic and evidence must be cased down. It is inherent in faith- for if reason is better, what need is there for faith? So facts become less a matter of reality then that of spin.

Detest it all you like. I applaud your stance and admire your grit in sticking to your argument and your position. I defend your right to hold your opinion and I welcome the climate that allows us to dispute in this (semi) friendly way! I needn’t agree with you.

I hate faith because it leads to mindlessness. Thought… knowledge… understanding- these are things that I value the most. Faith destroys them.

This is obviously wrong. Let’s go back to Lewis – a Christian through and through, all his works steeped in Christian imagery and allegory. Clearly a thinking man. Clearly a man who understood the human condition. Not, as far as I know, a Bible thumping homicidal maniac.

Here- I’ll sum up my position.
1) You believe faith can be used for good or evil.

2) You don’t think fundamentalists are using it right.

3) You don’t think people have the right to tell anyone what to think.

NO. Tell me what to think, go ahead, just don’t use force to make me listen. This is my point (again).

Surely, even you can see the difference between an argument, a spoken disputation, and physical torture and murder. It’s humans who choose the path of forcing people to their will by terror and murder. NOT THE FAITH THAT MAKES THEM. How many more times?

Unfortunately these are contradictory. The reason I find you so insufferable is you don’t see that. The differance between you and the fundamentalists is what they have faith in. You can deal with this by saying that people shouldn’t act on faith (in which case it can’t be a force for good OR even a basis for thought), or you can declare they aren’t doing it right… in which case you have decided to tell other people what to think AND you have decided to apply a rational standard to faith… making it NOT faith.

Notwithstanding the way you seem to feel about me personally (amazing amount of vitriol for such a short acquaintance, btw), I’m extremely interested in your doctrine of hatred. Generalised hatred for opposing positions to your own seems a retrograde step in the search for a way forward. What do you propose by it?

Again, stop applying your either/or logic to my thinking. If I am a cognitive dissodent by your definition, it shouldn’t matter to you. You think you’re right, so why care what I think? Where does this need to convert me come from? Are you proselytising for your beliefs, now?

You see, this is the crux. I don’t seek to bring you round to my way of thinking, because I know you’ll find your own way. Why seek to change the way I think? It seems to me that you will resort to abuse and anger if argument does not serve your purpose. This makes you smaller than an ant in my estimation. What good does it do for your cause?

Faith is the belief in something that has no immediately visible proof.

I use faith for good. You don’t like it when people kill each other using faith as a reason. Want them to continue? You can’t have it both ways, Samuel. Either people use faith for good, and move forward, or you abolish faith completely, and people will still do evil, because, as I have said an adequate amount of times for even you to get the message, faith as defined above cannot do anything for itself. People provide the motive power.

In short the logically conclusions based from your own statements fails. Answer this.

I have done so. Would you like to go back over your last sentence here and parse it for grammar? I must say that trying to decipher what you say makes answering your points a tad difficult!

In sum, there seems to be no common ground between our positions. I am not logical, by your estimation, which seems to make my point of view specious, and worse, criminally inept and indefensible. Well, maybe.

Your position to me is not attractive; not without its interesting points, certainly, and I do thank you for the insights.

I see you and I see a sterile heart, an angry young man. What do you see, when you see me? If this sounds like a stupid question to you, think about it.

20 05 2008

TGW, I do wonder why you ask such an abusive person for their opinion, it seems strange and inviting yet more rudeness. It reminds me of my son when he was a little boy – if he couldn’t get me to agree to something he’d stamp his foot and shout; he grew out of that a long time before he got to his teens.

It seems to me that Samuel’s argument is wrapped up in grand words, often misspelled, but is short on logic. His insistence that only his view is valid smacks strongly of Nazism, and I’m surprised that in using the likes of Hitler to argue his point, he emulates those he says he despises.

You know what? Spending time in the garden or finding someone with a large and open enough mind to listen to the other party in a dialogue might be more profitable. I suppose the key word is dialogue; one shouting at another louder and with increasing ferocity because they do not capitulate doesn’t really comprise dialogue.

Anyone for Pim’s? 😀

20 05 2008
The Green Witch

I’m interested in how this type of person sees other, normal, regular people around them. I’m just one of a million people like me around Samuel every day – does he respond like this to them all?

He might think he’s being abusive but it’s sliding off – I’m interested in what’s underneath.

Samuel has taken a position and I want him to defend it to the best of his ability, so I can learn about some of the issues atheism brings to light.

🙂 I see how quixotic my attempt is; I know I’m tilting at a windmill, but we’ve come this far. I was hoping it wouldn’t degenerate into my being called an idiot, but if that’s the worst that happens, so be it!

I don’t think Samuel can understand me although I had thought I was being plain; the whole argument rests on this:

‘Call me an idiot, just don’t kill me because you think I am’!

As for his ‘logical’ framework, well. Anthropology taught me a lot about competitive frameworks for thought. His is no more robust that many others. Again, it has no absolute strength of its own, the same as faith; the strength lies in the way it is defended by its followers. (And strength does not equal aggression, Samuel, before you go off on one!!).

Make mine a double, Mereth, and don’t forget the mint, my dear!

20 05 2008

If Pim’s is something sweet and fruity, I’m joining you! 😀

I agree with Mereth about the childlike anger and stubbornness seen expressed in the most recent comment. Honestly, it is this attitude that makes me so sad. If fewer people would be this angry and unwilling to be accepting of the fact that others have the right to thoughts and ideas of their own, then this world would be a much nicer place. We all have the fundamental right to happiness. If having faith makes one happy, as long as it does not trample on the rights of others, then why struggle so hard to change that? Why claim that faith is bad and evil and try to abolish it entirely because a few cannot manage to live their faith without stepping on the rights of others? Especially when there are so very many more that their life of faith is the basis for so much good and service to others, the basis for so much joy?

It is like having a room full of children playing and ONE does something to break the rules and the whole room gets punished for the actions of the one. It is an unnecessary and extreme action to take and causes many to suffer without cause.

20 05 2008
The Green Witch

I think you have summed it up, Fox. The fundamental right to happiness should be free to be expressed in whatever way works towards the happiness of the individual, if it harms others none. Where have we heard that before, I wonder?

What strikes me most about Samuel is the anger. The hatred. The feeling of disgust and ill-usage. An unwillingness to unbend and meet on neutral ground.

Honestly? It’s like talking to a fundamentalist. Which is ironic.

20 05 2008

It is fundamentalism, but just not Christian fundamentalism. The belief in the non-existence of divinity is still a belief, a faith, no matter how you paint it.

20 05 2008
The Green Witch

Absolutely right!

… and Pimm’s is an alcoholic fruit cup, mixed 1:4 with chilled lemonade, and you add strawberry, apple cucumber and mint sprigs. Like fruit salad in a glass. Quite the most quintessentially English thing to drink in the summer!

20 05 2008

You bringing the recipe when you come to the US? 😀 *hint, hint*

20 05 2008
The Green Witch

Hell, I’ll bring the convenient economy duty-free size bottle, which is I believe about a gallon. The beauteous thing about it is it comes ready-mixed! It’ll last about five minutes. Wonderful stuff. Hic! 🙂

20 05 2008

Hahaha! Depending on who else shows up, even less than that! 😀

21 05 2008
The Green Witch

Well, Samuel would have been posting here but he’s had an uncontrollable attack of the rudes!

I’m a fascist, insane, a Nazi, and incapable of seeing my own arguments through.

He thinks I believe in Satan; moreover, he thinks I think he’s a minion of Satan (how amusing is that?).

External reality, truth and morality are apparently unimportant to me.

I don’t understand what faith is.

Isn’t it interesting how we’re seen? Is this a cue perhaps for us to be more careful about the way we present ourselves, or is the onus on those who see?

Samuel, you’re not banned from the site, despite your assumption that you were; just keep the moral outrage down to a dull roar, okay? 🙂

21 05 2008

You don’t believe in Satan, he doesn’t believe in Satan and yet, between the two of you, one has become a minion in the mind of the other – I haven’t seen such splendid illogicallity for a long time! If I knew how to do guffawing emoticons, I should apply lots just about here.

You know, and I know, that you have taken the greatest care to present both yourself, your beliefs and your arguments in the clearest and best way. We cannot be responsible for the wilful blindness or obstinacy of others, that is their burden.

A Nazi? Cripes, you’re mild and sweet compared to me when I go into ‘uber’ mode, so Goddess only knows what he’d make of me! 😀

21 05 2008
The Green Witch

Must have been the jackboots and leather hat 🙂

21 05 2008
The Green Witch

Right, everyone – you too, Samuel!

I’m drawing a line under this discussion – I feel we’ve both stated our cases clearly, and there’s plenty room for other people to see what they think of the positions as laid down, and any further to-ing and fro-ing is likely to end in personal attacks, which isn’t what I want here.

I’m not changing my mind, Samuel’s not changing his mind, but both of us have more information about the other’s stance. What we do with it – that’s the key.

21 05 2008

You openness and willingness to even begin this discussion is hugely admirable. I’m just sorry that it had to be with someone that their only goal was to try and convert you and if that didn’t work, to call you names and insult you. It is too bad really. I think that a lot of people would have gotten quite a bit out of your conversations if they had stayed on a non-insulting, intelligent level.

Bravo to you for not stooping to his level!

*Mereth, your are so right! WP needs to have more smileys! 😛

21 05 2008
The Green Witch

Thanks Fox. I think I got good things out of this – I hope Samuel did too.

22 05 2008
Samuel Skinner

I’d like to repeat again that you completely misrepresented my last post- it wasn’t an attack on you.

I was referring to someone else as a Nazi. I thought you’d get a kick out of it because he refers to “the atheo-pagan conspiracy”.


I’ll stop posting here though. Bye.

23 05 2008
The Green Witch

I’m sorry you felt I misrepresented you, Samuel; I have mentioned before that I find working out what you mean sometimes a little difficult!

I wouldn’t get a kick out of someone being referred to as a Nazi – if you think about it, it’s the same as calling someone a murderer, which isn’t all that pleasant. That said, the riff about ‘atheo-pagan conspiracy’ is just nuts, and a right hoot – so thank you for that! 🙂

It’s a shame you don’t feel you can come back – thank you for visiting in the first place, and I do appreciate your views and how honestly you shared them.

Bright blessings to you!

25 05 2008

Green witch, I admire your stance here, for remaining grounded, centered and respectfully but firmly standing in your power with this issue. Interesting debate, 46 comments Eek!!!

25 05 2008
The Green Witch

Thanks Ceri. I know, it certaiinly got people thinking which is wonderful. Principally, though, it was a chance for me to hear the other side, or one of the other sides. It looks pretty bleak over there.

27 05 2008
Abdur Rahman

Peace Green Witch,

An interesting, if somewhat noisy debate (can we be ‘noisy’ in cyberspace)? You handled it with care and respect. I’ve personally come to the conclusion that most conspiracy theories are merely hot air – in reality, most people are simply not that organised!

Abdur Rahman

27 05 2008
The Green Witch

Salaam, Abdur. Noisy is right! Conspiracy theories don’t really convince me somehow – I’m not sure where Samuel was getting his information, but it seemed to be a fairly radical view, and fairly unbalanced, into the bargain. Not saying I’m any more balanced.

Thank you for your compliment, I appreciate it.

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