Gerin Oil Addiction

An unrecognized public health hazard, by Richard Dawkins (via crasch). The article begins:

Gerin oil (or Geriniol to give it its scientific name) is a powerful drug which acts directly on the central nervous system to produce a range of characteristic symptoms, often of an antisocial or self- damaging nature. If administered chronically in childhood, Gerin oil can permanently modify the brain to produce adult disorders, including dangerous delusions which have proved very hard to treat. The four doomed flights of 11th September were, in a very real sense, Gerin oil trips: all 19 of the hijackers were high on the drug at the time. Historically, Geriniol intoxication was responsible for atrocities such as the Salem witch hunts and the massacres of native South Americans by conquistadores. Gerin oil fuelled most of the wars of the European middle ages and, in more recent times, the carnage that attended the partitioning of the Indian subcontinent and, on a smaller scale, Ireland.

Amusing, yes, but I think this sort of characterization is rather unfair. By looking at the negative affects without the positive ones, we get a distorted view of the whole. I have a great distate for gerin oil myself, but in order to truly analyze whether it was good or bad, you would have to somehow calculate the net effect, perhaps through some kind of "randomized trial" where you took a population of individuals and randomly assigned them to gerin oil or no gerin oil, and looked at long-term differences in those populations.

Because I think that dissociation from reality is a bad thing, my suspicion is that gerin oil is a net negative. That most people have relatively small effects, but that a few susceptible individuals go crazy 9/11 style. And that this is especially true if you compared it to some alternative mechanism which achieved the social networking part, without all the crazy nuthouse making stuff up part. But I fully acknowledge that this is a handwavy, unscientific claim, and I think its a bit disappointing that scientists like Dawkins, who know all about controlled, randomized trials, and the importance of balancing good against harm, make these sorts of arguments. Pointing out only the downside to X is not a legitimate scientific argument that X is bad.

On the other hand, it is true that the effects of gerin oil can seem much more shocking when pointed out in this sort of format, and satire can be an effective technique in getting people to realize how truly strange some of their regular habits are.

UPDATE: co-blogger Brian Doss and my friend Robbb both make my point more succintly. As Robbb says: "If he judges religion based on the Crusades, do we get to judge atheism based on the Soviet Union?"

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Stormy Dragon, What do you

Stormy Dragon,

What do you mean by the phrase in your first sentence "all religion is neccesarily nonsense". I not quite sure what you mean by this sentence? Do you mean "all religions" do you mean "all religious beliefs in their totality", please be precise because I plain intepretation is just so stupid I can't believe anyone is saying it. Perhaps you mistyped.

After you do so you can explain why you think they hold to such beliefs as "axiomatic assumptions" and not based on evidence.

For instance, I don't believe the story that all the animals on the planet fit into Noah's Ark, a wooden boat built by a single family, and could survive for thirty days being cared for by a few people. I find it to be nonsense based on real world experience and not based on some axiom I obey. I do believe that "murder is wrong" so sometimes religion gets something right. However even then religion doesn't seem to get that quite right, often saying "killing is wrong" instead or "murder of muslims is wrong, but unbelievers is ok".

So my finding that religion is nonsense is not based on an argument from ignorance. I have evidence that it is indeed nonsense.

I look forward to you explaining exactly what you meant because I think you cannot avoid one of several fallacies. Which will be quite ironic for someone complaining about atheists "disparaging ability to follow basic logic".

I'd ask more questions but right now I have to drive back to work, my lunch hour is over. If you like you might actually point out some specific logical errors that Dawkins made. Which is going to be hard since this was a humorous article more than an argument.

Petro, You said, "Like most

Petro,

You said, "Like most Militant Atheists (as opposed to those who just life their life according to their belief and bother no one unless pointedly asked) he doesn’t realize he’s on just as much a “trip” as those he writes about."

As a matter of fact he was "asked" and in fact probably paid by prospect magazine to express his opinion on this. It seems to me your definition of a "Militant Atheist" is one who opens his mouth. Do you apply the same standard to theists? Would you call these theists, with their "God Squad" column over at Newday, militant theists?

In fact most theists do not live life according your standard of just living their lives according to their beliefs and bothering no one unless asked. Does your dictum include not incalculating children in religion. Should children only be instructed in such things when they ask?

Furthermore when you start labeling someone like Richard Dawkins a "militant atheist", what term are you going to reserve for people who really are militant. If the militant end of atheism is merely expressing your opinion in a place were people don't have to read it then I am all for militant atheism.

When I speak of "militant theism" I usually mean Islamic Clerics who advocate blowing up innocent civilians. I don't even use that term for clerics who which to merely force public education to teach their brand of religion. Catholic priests all over the world have managed to advocate and get this situation imposed in many a country.

As for your contention that Dawkins is on a trip. Well I agree that he makes errors but they do not arise in the same way that religious ones do. I certainly don't think he will be yelling Allah Akbar as he flys a plane into a building with an enormous smile on his face.

I came home for lunch today.

nmg- Good for him that

nmg-

Good for him that people get offended? Hmm. That's an odd standard for kudos. Though I suppose by your logic, I should point out that the atheist & rationalist worldview & ethos that Dawkins subscribes to is the same one that caused the deaths of over 80 million people in the 20th century, leading millions on genocidal 'crusades' across the globe and threatening us all with nuclear annihilation. Dawkins is thus either a witless dupe (for being a good person following such an obviously evil ethos)or a vicious bastard (because he knows the evil and follows it anyway).

Fair? Of course not. Exactly what Dawkins is doing, but in reverese? Of course.

As an aside, it is also rich to accuse a belief system of inuring people to accept fantasy in the course of defending rationalist/atheist materialism (the ethos that brings us the fervent and unshakeable belief that humans are blank slates that can be reordered at will)...

Looks like some christians

Looks like some christians got offended. I guess Dawkins strikes true again. Good for him.

The truth hurts. His point is that the belief system of ANY religion is dangerous because it inures people to accepting fantasy without any proof and without demanding any kind of rigorous thinking. They become more willing to accept any kind of nonsense in everyday life, because they ALREADY do unquestioningly accept a bunch of nonsense as their central view of how the universe works.

He couldn't be more right. The "harmlessness" of their nonsense views is not the issue. It's the unintended consequences of training one's mind to blithely accept nonsense.

nmg

That should read "eases

That should read "eases their conscience." I meant to say that gerin oil makes people feel better about their actions, not that it makes them mindless automatons. That'll teach me to comment in the middle of the night.

...or Geriniol to give it

...or Geriniol to give it its scientific name...

:???:

Okay, now I get it. Took me a while, though.

Stormy, as I'm sure you

Stormy, as I'm sure you know, question begging is the basis of most religious "logic".

nmg

The Argumentum ad

The Argumentum ad Ignorantiam is not necessarily a fallacy in all cases.

For instance, I cannot prove that a meteor didn't land in manhattan last night, and perhaps a very tiny one even did, but it would be unreasonable for me to affirmatively believe that one DID land in Manhattan simply because I can't prove otherwise beyond a shadow of a doubt.

The same goes for a teapot orbiting pluto. Or whatever superstition you have, be it benign and simple or malicious and absurd.

But regardless, the point of Dawkins' article is NOT that religion causes violence. He's not blaming the worlds' violence on religion.

The point is, minds that have been softened up by religion, which requires you to accept nonsensical beliefs that defy everything else we know and can prove about the real world, are more likely to accept other unverified nonsense in everyday life even outside the matters of religion.

And that is a dangerous, unintended consequence of religion. It teaches people to blithely accept nonsense.

nmg

And everyone, please, drop

And everyone, please, drop the silly 'gerin oil' nonsense when replying, we all know what he's talking about.

Crusades: each of a series

Crusades: each of a series of medieval MILITARY expeditions made by Europeans to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries.-Oxford Dictionary

Children's Crusades: a crusade to the Holy Land in 1212 by TENS of THOUSANDS of children, chiefly from France and Germany. Most of the children never reached their destination, and were sold into slavery.
-Oxford Dictionary

So you don't think indoctrinating kids with religious beliefs is a bad thing, do you?

Have you ever heard of religious persecution? Just ask the Jews. Remember the Inquisition and pogroms from history class?

Pogroms: an organized massacre of a particular ethnic group, in particular that of Jews in Russia or eastern Europe. -Oxford Dictionary

the Inquisition: an ecclesiastical tribunal established by Pope Gregory IX c.1232 for the suppression of heresy. It was active chiefly in northern Italy and southern France, becoming notorious for the use of TORTURE. In 1542 the papal Inquistion was reinstituted to combat Protestantism, eventually becoming an organ of papal government.
(See also Spanish Inquisition) -Oxford Dictionary

Science and secular thought were repeatedly stifled by the religious authorities - just ask Galileo who was imprisioned for heresy; many others were burned at the stake. It is amazing to me that science was able to survive and progress at all while being subject to constant persecution by the holier-than-thou cognoscenti.

With a track record of evil like that, perhaps organized Geriniol should be made illegal, at least kids should not be made to ingest it. That would be child abuse.

The reason they're offended

The reason they're offended is the condescendingly axiomatic assumption that all religion is necessarily nonsense. The blatant Argumentum ad Ignorantiam many atheists fall back on to gets very annoying after a while, especially since they're usually disparaging ability to follow basic logic at the same time they're commiting it.

Quite frankly, I'd suspect that Quiet Gebson Ging is just as dangerous a drug as Gerin Oil.

Brian, I wasn't actually

Brian,

I wasn't actually arguing against the Christian God per se, but against the traditional monotheistic understanding of God. It's a conception that applies to Christians certainly, but it applies equally to Islamic and to at least some (though not all) Jewish conceptions of God.

You're right that mine isn't an argument against Hinduism or other polytheistic religions. But that's not actually what is typically meant by uppercase-God. Such religions accept that there are gods, but Capital-G God refers to a very specific entity, one that is defined as omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and a handful of other odd perfections. That being doesn't exist, or at the very least, there aren't many compelling reasons for thinking that it does and lots for thinking that it doesn't.

I don't know enough about non-Western religions to say anything much about them other than that, if the thesis that there is one supernatural being is a strange one in need of lots of justification, then surely the belief in _lots_ of supernatural beings is even odder and in need of even more justification.

Really, though, if all you want to claim is that there are some sort-of powerful beings out there who can do things that, to us, look like magic, then sure I'm happy to admit that possibility. After all, the Borg may well be out there. I'm not sure, though, that I see (a) I reason to think that we ought to worship such beings, (b) a reason to go ahead and assume that such things do in fact exist and give a shit about what we do here on our sad little planet, or (c) a reason to assume that such beings really are supernatural. Who was it who said that any sufficiently advanced technology would look like magic?

Patri, You and Bryan Caplan,

Patri,

You and Bryan Caplan, among others, are certainly evidence in opposition to my "strong" thesis, no doubt.

My background in biology & Hayek-influenced economics lead me to believe that spontaneous order is the overprinciple of our world as we live it. Given quantum indeterminacy on the one hand and tacit & unarticulable knowledge on the other, 'Rationalism' cannot sensibly explain or help us deal with the universe (capital-R, engineerist style rationalism). Which isn't to say that reason & rationality aren't strong tools and very useful (I make plans and impose my rational will on the universe in tiny ways in my own life, after all, and neither actions are illegitimate or useless to me) but rather a system where exceptions are the rule would rule out most macro rationalist approaches to problems (that which will ultimately devolve into ad hocery does not strike me as having a very strong claim to being rational).

Granted, I could also be using a very idiosyncratic understanding of "rationalism", in which case all bets are off.

Brian, rationalism does

Brian, rationalism does *not* ask us to accept those things you listed. You have merely presented a litany of discredited theories. The fact that they are discredites is in fact a support of rationalism over faith. The theories have been discredited and while there are still adherents, we can both agree they are not being rational in face of the evidence.

The fact that people hold onto discredited theories despite reasonable evidence is NOT an example of rationalism demanding that we "accept nonsensical beliefs that defy everything else we know and can prove about the real world". It is an example of irrational people holding onto beliefs *like a religion*. And like a religion, the facts be damned. Well, they are not being rational.

nmg

Patri- There is probably

Patri-

There is probably more than a dimes worth of difference between Dawkins and who he's criticizing. Exactly how much, I don't know, but point taken in advance. :)

As for what it (capital-R

As for what it (capital-R Rationalism) asks us to believe that is nonsensical? I think blank slatism, in all of its pursuits, is completely nonsensical...Also the complete denial of human biodiversity and the proven biological facts that (a) human ‘races’ exist...There is also the belief that human behavior can be modeled ala physics, with enough deterministic equations that will allow “rational” planning of cities, environments, governments, life plans, etc...

Brian - you totally lost me here. I'd call myself a pretty hardcore rationalist, against mysticism and religion, I just try to be more fair about it than Dawkins. Yet I don't believe in blank slatism, do believe in HBD, and don't believe in central planning. So I don't see how these beliefs are all part and parcel of one system.

Interesting article. It

Interesting article. It took me a while of reading the comments before I understood the anagram :neutral:

I've been reading M. Rothbard's Conceived in Liberty, and I have been positively floored at the level of religious intolerance, abuse, and outright murder that occurred in colonial America. The Salem witch trials were a very small event when compared to the overall scope of violence committed in the name of the Lord at that point (throughout all?) in history. Were the Puritans evil?

The violence was related to the development of political power, with religion used as a means to justify outrageous actions of the ruling oligarchies.

Nothing like that would happen in modern times.

Joe, I hardly think that the

Joe,

I hardly think that the question of God (or, by extension perhaps, some sort of supernatural and self-willed power) is dependent upon philosophical justifications of the Christian god.

For indeed, thats what you're putting forward here:

Indeed, the problem, as I see it, is that the theist has to show how it is that omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence can possibly coexist with evil in the world. The best defense of that claim is the free will defense, which (a) doesn’t explain natural evil and (b) requires that you also show how it is that omniscience and free will are compatible. I’ve not ever seen a very compelling defense of that claim (not that I haven’t seen a defense, only that I haven’t seen a compelling one).

That may be a problem with the Christian conception of God, but I doubt it applies to, say, Hinduistic conceptions of God(s), who are at the very least not omnibenevolent (Shiva, yo!)

And the "I've not ever seen a very compelling defense" is quite a bit far from (and short of) a conclusion that "thus, Monotheism is bollocks." Monotheism is that there is one God and not multiples and that there is one supernatural will, not multiples. You're arguing against theism proper rather than monotheism (unless you mean to say that polytheism somehow avoids the problems of monotheism and so you're willing to concede that God may exist, just not as the only one).

It's the difference between

It's the difference between the claim 'Marxism is wrong' and the claim 'Non-capitalists are crazy'.

Rough Justice- Interesting

Rough Justice-

Interesting that in a time where muslim radicals are cutting people's heads off with swords, you use only Christian examples for "religion".

I wonder which problem the post has more of: too much patronizing eurocentrism or too blinkered a worldview?

Brian- What I meant by 'the

Brian-

What I meant by 'the condescendingly axiomatic assumption that all religion is necessarily nonsense' is the way many atheists act as though the non-existence of God is so blatantly obvious that anyone who fails to recognize the self-evident truth of atheism is necessarily either a delusional crazy or an ingnorant backwater savage. It's not, as you suggest in your little strawman Noah argument, merely pointing out the illogic in a particular religious tenet, but an agressive hostile reaction to religion in and of itself.

I don't think you can

I don't think you can generalise. There are many different species in the genus Geriniol varying from the highly toxic Geriniol Islamus auto-deflagationis to the largely benign Geriniol Unitarianus.

From my experience, the dangerous species tend to be inter-generic hybrids produced by crossing Geriniols with species from the genus Statistii.

Yeah, but that would be due

Yeah, but that would be due to the LSD... It will wear off by tomorrow.

Thank you for linking to the

Thank you for linking to the Dawkin's piece. I liked it quite a bit. I don't quite see what's bugging you about it. Is Prof. Dawkings being biased and unscientific to give us the litany of the proven harm of gerin oil? It was true as far as it went, but it didn't go far enough. What about people who worship money or a real person like Bono or Bush? The seductive, deleterious effects of extreme non-scientifically-established political beliefs are a lot like the noxious effects of gerin oil. The dangers of nationalism are well known. People who want to go back to laissez-faire capitalism seem to me to be as similarly under the influence as those who have ingested gerin oil. Why are billionaires allowed to exist when so many billions have little or nothing to eat? Surely the rich and powerful have less to fear from the masses when they are intoxicated on gerin oil. The opiate of the masses is what Karl Marx called it, and Dawkin's is only giving us a refresher course. Apparently we need it.

Ain’t a dimes worth of

Ain’t a dimes worth of difference between Dawkins and what he’s criticizing.

Like most Militant Atheists he doesn’t realize he’s on just as much a “trip” as those he writes about.

This is the kind of thing the the superstitious tell themselves to feel better. "You know, faith in god or not is just two sides of a coin. Pick one. The reasons for believing either way are just as valid".

But the fact is that's not true. There's a world of difference between

A: I belive in the invisible green dragon dragon living in my garage even though there is no evidence for it

B: Because there's no shred of evidence, I don't believe in your invisible green dragon.

They are NOT equal sides of the same coin, and I won't get into some logic lessons here but you should really do yourselves a favor and study up on it.

good luck.

nmg

PS: To Brian Doss How exactly does rationalism ask us t accept things we accept nonsensical beliefs that defy everything else we know and can prove about the real world? as you claim? Give me one example please.

PPS: Yes, Sagan reference intentional

The term "militant" is not

The term "militant" is not the term "martial". It is used of people who are combative and ready to argue their beliefs but would never think of picking up arms. To wit, the fundamentalist churches I grew up in described themselves as "militant fundamentalist". AFAIK, they never attacked anyone.

- Josh

Brian writes: Ain’t a

Brian writes:

Ain’t a dimes worth of difference between Dawkins and what he’s criticizing.

I disagree with that whole-heartedly.

On another note, I see a parallel here between the atheist offended by theism and the libertarian offended by belief in the state. In both cases you have what, to me, seems like a natural and obvious belief about the world, yet which is not widely shared. You can react to this with bitterness, with hand-wringing over people's idiocy, with mocking and contempt for them. Or you can simply understand that different people have had different childhood brainwashing experiences, have different levels of economic/scientific intuition, different levels of knowledge, and thus have come to different conclusions. You can view it as a bummer that we live in a worse world because of the mistaken beliefs of the majority, without feeling contemptuous or bitter.

I think there is a pretty widely shared feeling on this blog that the latter is the way to go. Which is part of why, while I think that religion is just as wacky, absurd, and ridiculous as any "militant atheist", I still get a little annoyed by the patronizing and one-sided attitude of zealous atheists.

Nmg- Silly straw men aside,

Nmg-

Silly straw men aside, the argument is not that theism is great because tu quoque but rather Dawkins' smug positioning is wrong because of tu quoque. His argument depends on the implied assumption that his ideologically allied position is the negation of all these bad things, and that because there are bad things with X (and, by implication, not with Y), you should reject X, the rejection of which implies Y.

I'll dredge up and wave the bloody shirt of 100 million dead at the hands of rationalist atheists again since you seem to have trouble seeing it. The argument from consequences is also a fallacy (i.e. Dawkins' main argument), but turnabout is fair play. If we must reject religion because bad things were done in its name then we must reject rationalist atheism because bad things were done in its name.

As for what it (capital-R Rationalism) asks us to believe that is nonsensical? I think blank slatism, in all of its pursuits, is completely nonsensical given everything we know intuitively about ourselves and everything science and history has ever shown about human nature. Anyone who has even an elementary knowledge of biology knows that blank slatism cannot possibly be true (evolution by descent with modification stops when it comes to the human brain? For what reason?), yet this is a shopworn and hoary dogma among Rationalists.

Also the complete denial of human biodiversity and the proven biological facts that (a) human 'races' exist and can be detected with a high degree of confidence genetically and (b) there are genetic differences among subpopulations that impact cognition, behavior, and other elements of human personality, in favor of a De Longian "baa baa buff" just-so declaration that all people are biologically (and thus mentally/cognitively) identical and statistically indistinguishable. Except for homosexuals, for whom homosexuality is the only trait that is biologically rather than socially determined (but, of course, absolutely evenly distributed throughout totally homogeneous human populations).

There is also the belief that human behavior can be modeled ala physics, with enough deterministic equations that will allow "rational" planning of cities, environments, governments, life plans, etc; that with enough computing power we can predict & control the weather, that if we just get rid of property and distribute everything equally, human productivity will rise and all of the problems of society will disappear. That if we just have enough data points we can "empirically" model and understand any aspect of human society, which is always and everywhere divorced from any biological underpinning.

Digression- It always amuses me that ostensible materialist/rationalists inherently endorse dualism through their biodenial; the only way human beings can be infinitely socially determined and malleable is if we really *are* ghosts in the machine.

The people who've followed this sort of 'rationalism' have and still do believe in all sorts of bollocks, with very very deadly consequences. Genocide, forced migrations, and killing fields are just a hop, skip, and a jump away from an earnest belief that society is perfectable and that morality is/can be/should be determined by 'rational' planning.

Of course, as I said earlier in a briefer quote that I thought would suffice (alas, I was wrong), Dawkins isn't just shy of mass murder simply because he shares the same philosophy as the mass murderers of the 20th century. But then again, neither are the religious. That is the point of the objections.

Dawkins just made my list of

Dawkins just made my list of over-educated idiots.

Like most Militant Atheists (as opposed to those who just life their life according to their belief and bother no one unless pointedly asked) he doesn't realize he's on just as much a "trip" as those he writes about.

I'm not so sure that "Gerin

I'm not so sure that "Gerin oil fuelled most of the wars of the European middle ages." There is a difference between reasons and justifications. To make my own handwazy, unscientific cliam; if everyone in the world sudden became atheist next week, there would be approximately the same amount of war, terrorism, racism, etc. If this is true, then 'gerin oil' isn't really causing people to do violent things, it just eases their conscious.

Also, did this remind anyone else of the 'dihydrogen monoxide' hoax? Those damn chemicals, always making life worse, we're better off without any of 'em!

Brian- Militant Atheism is

Brian-

Militant Atheism is likely a poor choice in descriptors, given actually murderous atheists of the 20th century. I doubt that Dawkins actually wants to kill the religious like Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc did.

However there is the form of atheist who revels in trying to piss theists off, is agitated by the fact that theism exists, and feels perpetually compelled to 'get in their [theists] faces'. This is a particular subset of a general tendency among people to pick something and then divide the world into "us" and "alien other" and need to aggressively proselytize or antagonize the alien other in the name of us. In the vulgar vernacular one would simply call these people "assholes," but for the particular case above a better term is "evangelical atheist", or perhaps "fundamentalist atheist" (to identify them with the particularly odious brands of christianity we have to deal with in the US).

But I rather doubt it is the self-serving definition you offered.

Stormy, I’d appreciate

Stormy,

I’d appreciate similar treatment in return–the mere recognition that the existence of God is an unsettled issue, and that theists aren’t all necessarily poor deluded fools.

What makes you think that the existence of God really is an unsettled issue?

You might point to the fact that billions of people believe that there is a God. That would be an _ad populem_ argument. Who cares if lots of people think God exists. Lots of people are wrong about lots of things. You'll need something better than that.

Indeed, the problem, as I see it, is that the theist has to show how it is that omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence can possibly coexist with evil in the world. The best defense of that claim is the free will defense, which (a) doesn't explain natural evil and (b) requires that you also show how it is that omniscience and free will are compatible. I've not ever seen a very compelling defense of that claim (not that I haven't seen a defense, only that I haven't seen a compelling one).

Monotheism, in other words, has little in the way of reasons for justification and a whole lot of good reasons on the other side for thinking it false. General principles of reason hold that the stranger a thesis is, the more it requires by way of evidence before it's rational to accept it. Monotheism is, let's face it, a pretty strange thesis. Given that arguments for it are weak at best and arguments against it are awfully strong, this seems to me to be a settled question, regardless of the number of people who think otherwise.

Analogies are always risky in this context, but I suspect that most folks here would go along with the claim that Marxist economics is deeply and fatally flawed. Why do we think this? Well, because Marxism runs counter to our normal experience, which means that, if we were going to accept it, we would need really compelling reasons to do so. There are some fairly good arguments for Marxism, but there are a lot of even better reasons for thinking that it's just not correct. So we reject Marxism, and we would, for the most part, hold that the question of economics is settled (at least as far as Marxism v. capitalism goes), and we hold that it's settled regardless of what a few holdout academics in English departments believe.

So what's the point of the analogy? There are better arguments for Marxism than there are for monotheism. Why are the arguments for Marxism better? Well, because there actually are some.

I agree that Dawkins wasn't

I agree that Dawkins wasn't being scientific, or even fair, really, with this characterization. However, given the overwhelming popular support of religion, and the fact that nearly everyone associates religion with universal good (brotherhood, charity, etc.), and almost never remembers (or intentionally forgets) all of the bad things that come along with it, this kind of exercise seems useful on some level.

That said, it would have been more powerful--and nothing would have prevented this addition--if Dawkins had mentioned that gerin oil does yield some benefits, but also yields the things he lists. Like you mention, recognizing religion's utility doesn't preclude pointing out its drawbacks. Dawkins should have done this better, but I don't think his omission kills his point.

Dawkins makes some valid

Dawkins makes some valid points regarding horrible acts committed in the name of religion. Yes, he could have chosen to include atrocities committed in the name of something secular, say nationalism. A more general treatment of the issue is that among humans there exist various belief systems that supply false justifications (i.e, rationalizations, just to add to the semantic confusion) for one to injure another, so long as the other is of a different religion, nationality, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, tribe, social class, economic class, etc. While other aspects of such belief systems may be ethically sound, these justifications (and the actions taken under their auspices) are not.

It appears that homo sapiens has evolved such that these types of belief systems are commonplace. Religion has no monopoly here. If there were no religion some other belief system would serve the same ugly purpose.

I know this to be the case because if it were not so I would be part of the libertarian majority. :cool:

Justin nails it. Dawkin's

Justin nails it. Dawkin's immature obsession with religion reflects poorly on him- take away religion and you're roughly going to have the same amount of war & evil as ever. The idea that religion qua religion is what caused the problems of Europe and the world is pretty sad. And the idea that getting rid of it would eliminate these problems reflects the same magical thinking that Dawkins is indirectly railing against- if only those people who think bad were gone, we'd be in paradise...

Oh, isn't that just

Oh, isn't that just adorable? What a cute anagram! ....Dick. :wall:

Militant atheism and the belief that everything in the universe can be measured, quantified and crammed into a simple mechanistic worldview are just as much "gerin oil" as Christianity, Islam, etc. Frequently with Dawkins and his type, their "gerin oil" is their opinion of, and blind faith in, their own intelligence. I don't trust people who put themselves forth as scientists but make a career of writing for the bestseller and "Parade" magazine market, and this is why. I suppose next month Dawkins will be warning us about the dangers of hydrogen monoxide and laughing even harder at his own wit...

And Rough Justice, citing Marx in an argument tends to have a very specific effect on that argument's credibility, and the effect is not "enhancement".

Brian W. Doss, You said,

Brian W. Doss,

You said, "But I rather doubt it is the self-serving definition you offered.". However, I never offered one, I was only trying to nail down the rather broad one Petro was using.

You do have what I consider an incorrect understanding of rationalism but what you describe has been a popular notion among certain ideologs. I see ideologies such as communism as more akin to a relgion than not. It has all the trappings of religion.

To me rationalism is a system of trial and error, that is practiced at all levels. It doesn't bother me that errors have been made in the process because it is part of the process.

One thing that upsets me about religions is they it's very hard to get them to admit to and drop their ethical mistakes even when they are glaringly obvious. You'd think the Muslims would revise the Koran and drop the stupid stuff but they never will. You know the parts that say "Jews are greedy", "The sun sets in a muddy spring", "Unbelievers are evil", and "Kill them wherever you find them".

I think you are perfectly justified in being upset of certain actions by some atheists, but it is rarely their atheism that motivates them. The communists didn't believe in Leprechauns either and would probably have stamped out any cult pushing Leprechauns too. They were mainly about killing off the political opposition anyway. Communists killed a large proportion of their own kind, it wasn't just about killing of theists. I'm quite sure they would have kill of Objectivists too if there were any. I would have been on their shit list too since I believe in capitalism.

If you are going to categorize people by what they don't believe in instead of what they do then you should be appalled at the record of those who do not believe in Leprachauns. In fact those damn Aleprachaunist have killed more people than any other group. More than the Christians, more than the Muslims, ane more even than the Communists. We don't get upset about Aleprechaunism because it is not an ideology, but is instead merely a lack of belief in something.

Unrelated but ... I don't believe in most of the things you ticked off in that silly package deal you made for us atheists.

I used to believe when I was younger that religion had absolutely no purpose, other than to dupe other people. I couldn't empathize with other peoples irrationality. For various reasons I can now empathize with peoples self medication with religion, although I'm not sure if they would have needed the methadone had they not taken the heroin in the first place.

I have also come to accept that most people cannot think through ethics for themselves. They just don't have the brain power and frankly it takes way to long to get it right even if you do (and besides it can't be done by a single individual but is a group process).

I see the God concept as a form of genetic backbone for attaching a whole lot of unrelated moral rules together without need for understanding. The religion can then spread, mutate, and evolve. Rules can be changed randomly and the results tested. The only problem with this process is that it is very expensive in human lives. This is one of the things Dawkins objects to. On the other hand, many animals are poorly designed but that doesn't mean you can just build one from scratch and expect it to work very well. Likewise, I don't think you can just "engineer" a society from scratch like the communists tried to.

I don't think that all possible religions are bad but many of the ones we are stuck with frankly are pretty ugly. I don't believe in religion and I function perfectly well in society. If everyone believed what I believe I don't see there being a big breakdown in society. The problem is that my genetic and mental makeup is unusual, and frankly I don't think the average guy could function believing what I believe. It reminds me of that Jack Nicholas line "You don't want to know the truth". Since the fact of the matter is that most people are not rational it really doesn't make sense to structure society in such a way that would make me more happy.

BTW, don't expect me to respect your religion, it is nonsense if it is a mainstream religion, and probably more so if not. But if believing in volcano gods keeps you from falling into the crater then "whatever works for you". Just don't come around trying to sacrifice me to your volcano god.

BTW, I think Dawkins is foolish on social and political issues. Those issues he is wrong on have nothing to do with atheism, he is quite right on that issue, there is no god. However he doesn't seem to appreciate the fact that religions are evolved creatures as much as the biological kind. Religions are in a position to evolve symbiotically with other aspects of our culture and biology. I find it less that credible to believe that they are purely parasitic as Dawkins seems to believe. If he doesn't then he isn't doing a good job of expressing himself, which I find hard to believe in his case. He is an excellent communicator.

Sorry, if that was hard to read. I know I'm a bad writer. I only wish I could write like Dawkins. I should go over this again but, I don't have time and I'm not going to proofread it and clean it up.

nmg- So does Rationalism

nmg-

So does Rationalism (Dawkins variant). As in, [it] requires you to accept nonsensical beliefs that defy everything else we know and can prove about the real world, are more likely to accept other unverified nonsense in everyday life even outside the matters of [science].

Ain't a dimes worth of difference between Dawkins and what he's criticizing.

The difference is I KNOW my

The difference is I KNOW my religious beliefs aren't logically proveable. Which is why I don't go around describing atheists as deranged--I accept the possibility that thye may be right about God's non-existence and I may be wrong.

I'd appreciate similar treatment in return--the mere recognition that the existence of God is an unsettled issue, and that theists aren't all necessarily poor deluded fools.

Nmg- A weaker and more

Nmg-

A weaker and more general claim is this- that 'Rationalism' (of the modern, capitalized sort) as a way of thinking has led to so many elementary errors about reality in so short a time leads me to believe that it is (a) not the most productive way to approach the world and (b) a handicap to progress in society. I.E. exactly what you've claimed about religion.

Brian (again), I’ve seen

Brian (again),

I’ve seen the bolded text said and asserted a lot. This puzzles me given that climate scientists believe in versions of “the Butterfly Effect” and other theories where small events have impacts far out of scale and proportion; but when it comes to the brain and cognition, quantum effects are “swamped out” and have no effect.

I'm getting way out of my field here, so this is pretty speculative. But hey, I'm an academic philosopher; we all speculate in all sorts of fields. Since no one takes us seriously anyway, what's the harm, eh?

Anyway, is the butterfly effect really the same thing as Heisenberg? The latter says that quantum events are inherently unpredictable. I'm not sure about what the math says, but is the thesis of chaos theory really that everything is inherently unpredictable or is it rather that things are practically unpredictable? The butterfly problem seems to boil down to the issue that we'll never have enough relevant data points to make 100% accurate predictions.

But that's a practical rather than a theoretical problem. Given enough information and enough computing power, couldn't I still make predictions that were perfectly accurate? Getting enough information may be impossible for humans, but unless one postulates that there is an infinite amount of information out there, then the impossibility is only practical. Heisenberg, on the other hand, points out that some information is essentially unknowable. If that is true, then even an omniscient being couldn't predict quantum events. Is there a parallel claim about chaos theory?

Joe- I was wondering if

Joe-

I was wondering if you'd bite on that aside. :)

It shouldn't be puzzling as the aside was another slam at the incoherency of a position that claims there is nothing but the material yet denies a role for biology as far as what determines socialization, social roles, etc.

Because you're right, the extreme parody of a Rationalist that I've described *should* be committed to rejecting dualism, but by and large doesn't, because of biodenial. "Social construction" of identity or pretty much anything else is false or incoherent if materialism holds, for the reductionist reasons you laid out. What I'm saying is you can't be both; you can't be committed to any type of concept involving "social construction" of identity and also be committed to materialism, since the individual is logically prior to society and is "materially constructed". A position that tries to have it both ways when its convenient is incoherent.

Also, my position is not one where I think people are not inherently predictable, but rather one where people are not ultimately predictable. If people didn't have some measure of predictability there would be no basis for society or civilization. There could be no economics or any other social science, and likely no physical sciences either since if people did not have some measure of predictability that would likely mean that the universe's physical laws were either not regular or varied unpredictably, in which case life would not exist. The inherent/ultimate distinction is critical. If people are not ultimately predictable then large scale social engineering is impossible.

By way of analogy, Newtownian physics works on our everyday scale but fails on solar/planetary scales (where Einstein plugs the gaps). Ditto for rationality. There are scales both micro and macro where rationality fails.

Back to your first para, I stop short of Dawkins because I'm not saying people shouldn't be reasonable, while Dawkins certainly does say people shouldn't be religious. But for me, the recognition of ultimate unpredictability demands a level of humility that Rationalism (big R, parodic version) does not have.

You're right that a commitment to rational inquiry led to all of those good social outcomes. I don't advocate radical intuitionism or anything odd like that (not even sure what that would entail) but rather perhaps more of the Weiningerian "Fallibilist" synthesis. :)

Brian, “Social

Brian,

“Social construction” of identity or pretty much anything else is false or incoherent if materialism holds, for the reductionist reasons you laid out. What I’m saying is you can’t be both; you can’t be committed to any type of concept involving “social construction” of identity and also be committed to materialism, since the individual is logically prior to society and is “materially constructed". A position that tries to have it both ways when its convenient is incoherent.

I wonder if this might not be too quick. First let me say that I agree with you that the individual is logically prior to society; I'm a reductionist and an atomist and quite proud of both (much to the dismay of many of my colleagues--or at least those who can be bothered to care are dismayed.) But I think that it's unfair to dismiss social construction out of hand.

Can't the reductionist hold that, while my brain is a physical thing and thus shaped by my genetics, nevertheless genetics only lay down basic paramaters? This is not to say that I'm born a blank slate; some types of things are just simply beyond me and would have been, I think, regardless of my social conditioning. My brother and I grew up together, for example, and while he is a very talented artist, I'm a total incompetent at such things. Our social environment, however, was really pretty similar. I might have been a slightly better artist had I been raised by artist parents, but no amount of socialization would have turned me into Van Gogh.

But that's not to say that my social background didn't have _some_ effect on how I turned out. Brains, after all, aren't fully formed at birth, and they are altered by experiences. I'm born with some basic programming in place and that programming does put limits on the sorts of things that I'll be able to do, but the programming can be altered at least some depending on what sorts of inputs my brain receives. So I wouldn't hold that just any old person can be a math prodigy or a musician or a neuroscientist given the right environment. But it seems consistent with reductionism to think that, had I been born under radically different circumstances, I would have turned out quite differently. That's not to say that I'm not predictable, only that who I am depends, at least in part, on what kinds of things have happened to me.

I like the inherent/ultimate distinction. I think it's pretty unlikely that we will ever have the computing power to actually predict individual behavior accurately. I hold out a bit more hope for something like Asimov's psychohistory, namely, that while we might not know what individuals will do, we can know with some degree of accuracy what sorts of things will happen. Do I think that we will do so with his degree of accuracy? Not likely. But economics, for instance, is a move in that direction. Raising the price of X good won't tell me what consumer C will do, but it will tell me that, all else being equal, fewer X's will be sold.

Ultimate predictability strikes me as a bad thing anyway. It's nice living under the illusion of free will even if there is no such thing. Although I admit that it would be handy to know for sure before I approach her whether the hot woman in the bar will give me her number.

Joe Miller and Brian W.

Joe Miller and Brian W. Doss,

I've always enjoyed reading each of your arguments.

I would like to see you both back up and discuss the question of whether there is such a thing as the supernatural instead of jumping forward to the question of singular, omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent supernatural beings.

Of course, life has no

Of course, life has no meaning. But neither does death. And this is another thing that curdles the blood when one discovers Lovecraft's universe. The deaths of his heroes have no meaning. Death brings no appeasement. It in no way allows the story to conclude. Implacably, HPL destroys his characters, evoking only the dismemberment of marionettes. Indifferent to these pitiful vicissitudes, cosmic fear continues to expand. It swells and takes form. Great Cthulhu emerges from his slumber.

What is Great Cthulhu? An arrangement of electrons, like us. Lovecraft's terror is rigorously material. But, it is quite possible, given the free interplay of cosmic forces, that Great Cthulhu possesses abilities and powers to act that far exceed ours. Which, a priori, is not particularly reassuring at all.

From his journeys to the penumbral worlds of the unutterable, Lovecraft did not return to bring us good news. Perhaps, he confirmed, something is hiding behind the curtain of reality that at times allows itself to be perceived. Something truly vile, in fact.

- from Michel Houellebecq's article on the fiction and worldview of Howard Phillips Lovecraft

Joe (2) - I am curious about

Joe (2) -

I am curious about this, tho:

If I really am nothing more than my body (the upshot of materialism taken to its logical end), then I really am predictable, at least to the extent that physical things can be predicted. It’s true that quantum events cannnot be predicted, but brains don’t operate on a quantum level; Heisenberg isn’t relevant to neuroscience. A brain is extremely complicated, but it’s not infinitely so. If minds are thus equivalent to brains and brains are less than infinitely complex, then it would follow that we could fully understand how one works. In other words, with enough computing power and enough data points, we could completely mimic your brain. That would allow me to fully predict your behavior.

I've seen the bolded text said and asserted a lot. This puzzles me given that climate scientists believe in versions of "the Butterfly Effect" and other theories where small events have impacts far out of scale and proportion; but when it comes to the brain and cognition, quantum effects are "swamped out" and have no effect.

That seems to me to be suspiciously handwavy/"just-so". Who is to say what the marginal case is, and which small effect determines between one cascade and another? Knife edge margins aren't overly common but they're not trivially rare, either. Not a neuroscientist myself but I think its premature to rule out quantum effects on the brain (even if they don't seem to find gross quantum computation on microfibrils in the cytoskeleton; I saw that one, but I don't think one experiment is a definitive refutation of the concept).

Brian, I wonder if you're

Brian,

I wonder if you're not doing the same thing to Rationalism that Dawkins does to religion, namely, condemn all the worst parts without at the same time recognizing that it has done a lot of good, too. Among other things, hasn't rationalism been responsible for ending slavery (particularly in the American South, though it was also responsible for ending it in the British Empire), securing the franchise for women, wiping out settee in India, and turning Japan from a 19th C feudal, nationalistic, imperialist nation into a modern democratic capitalist one?

Even leaving that aside, I'm not really sure just who it is who actually holds the view of Rationalism that you denounce. I was especially puzzled by this claim:

It always amuses me that ostensible materialist/rationalists inherently endorse dualism through their biodenial; the only way human beings can be infinitely socially determined and malleable is if we really are ghosts in the machine.

I would think that, if anything, the sort of Rationalist you describe, the one who thinks that human behavior can be predicted if only we have enough data points, would actually be committed to a _rejection_ of dualism. After all, if we're ghosts in the machine, then we're not physcial beings at all. In that case, it's not at all clear why anyone would think that we would be inherently predictable. I would think that your view (which, I'm assuming by your vigorous smackdown of Rationalism, is that humans are not inherently predictable) would be the one that requires the ghost in the machine.

If I really am nothing more than my body (the upshot of materialism taken to its logical end), then I really am predictable, at least to the extent that physical things can be predicted. It's true that quantum events cannnot be predicted, but brains don't operate on a quantum level; Heisenberg isn't relevant to neuroscience. A brain is extremely complicated, but it's not infinitely so. If minds are thus equivalent to brains and brains are less than infinitely complex, then it would follow that we could fully understand how one works. In other words, with enough computing power and enough data points, we could completely mimic your brain. That would allow me to fully predict your behavior.

I would submit that the claim that humans can be fully predicted is a conclusion of the reductionist, not the dualist. OTOH, an attempt to preserve some sort of inherent and fundamental mystery about human free will _is_ a dualist project. I have difficulty seeing how a materialist can support such a position consistently. So if you want to ditch the idea that human behavior can be fully predicted, you might want to start reading up on Descartes. There is a reason why many of the most famous materialists (e.g., Locke, Hume, Mill) turn out also to be Rationalists.

Joe Miller, Two points of

Joe Miller,

Two points of disagreement:
...
Among other things, hasn’t rationalism been responsible for ending slavery (particularly in the American South, though it was also responsible for ending it in the British Empire),
...
From what I remember of history (or at least from Paul Johnson's The Rise of the modern) it was the Quakers and Evangelicals in England that gave the anti-slavery forces enough clot in the ealry 1800's to ban slvery. As for the American South??? I'm a bit confused, could you explain that one?

...wiping out settee in India...
Same thing there, I thought the mixture of secularist and Christian British officers horror at this practice got them to outlaw this practice. Also, the popular turn against this in India occured when
a modern interpretation of the original Sanskit showed that the tradition was a preversion of the original text and so piety to religion helped end this.

So, from what I can see, while religion can cause great deal of oppresion, most of the problems in a religion stem from socio-political factors. IMHO, Chrisitianity and other religions have been so oppresive because of the nature that they grew up/became part of authoritarian states, as opposed to growing up in liberal societies. Now as for their ethics on matters of sexuality and other personal issues, that's another topic, but I can't really see a reason why the dangers of religion is so different from the dangers of modern political parties, since both require a mass of people to accept certain propositions on how society should be lived and since both can create sectarian tension/conflict. For example, America and France experienced revolutions, and in America our parties learned to co-exist, while in France the parties learned to try to strangle themselve in the rush to power. This example between religion and politics can certainly be expanded to ethnicity, culture, race, etc...

I don’t think that all

I don’t think that all possible religions are bad but many of the ones we are stuck with frankly are pretty ugly. I don’t believe in religion and I function perfectly well in society. If everyone believed what I believe I don’t see there being a big breakdown in society. The problem is that my genetic and mental makeup is unusual, and frankly I don’t think the average guy could function believing what I believe.

Of course a Christian or Muslim would make the same claim - if we were all brothers in Christ, there would be no strife, etc. On what grounds do you base your pessimistic conclusion that the average person can't function without religion? If your answer is that it's "in our genes" then you might equally well say that government and socialism are in our genes instead of capitalism, or that ethnic strife is in our genes instead of cooperation, etc. And if these evils are not in our genes, do you think humanity might one day overcome them?

nmg- The enlightenment is

nmg-

The enlightenment is hardly part and parcel with "rationalism". Now, the Terror unleashed by the French Revolution, that's rationalism for you. Scientific, 'rigorous' thinking led us also to eugenics, mass colonial rapine of Africa and Asia (more rational use of resources by more enlightened people), all the deaths of socialism, etc. All from a desire to "make rational" human societies and create a better world through science.

I'm amazed you keep beating that dead horse...