Home > comments > Should I Give Up?

Should I Give Up?

A recent theme of my posts seems to be surrender, or when to give up a belief. This time I am wondering when it’s appropriate to give up a debate with someone who is clearly so dedicated to a particular ideology that the facts, no matter how clear, have no effect on him at all. Actually I’m thinking of two separate debates here but the more immediate one which lead to this entry was with a right wing nutter. Another long-term debate with a fundamentalist Christian nutter belongs in the same category I guess, but that has been inactive recently so the immediacy isn’t there.

In reality debating with these people probably is a waste of time. Their debating technique is so poor that they have to look up the meaning of various logical fallacies before they even comment on them. If someone hasn’t even heard of a straw man fallacy (for example) then how can they be aware of the fact that it isn’t considered a valid way to make a point?

The other error these people often make is to ignore their opposition. The right winger constantly repeats conservative catch phrases which might be supported by others with the same general political opinions as him but just makes him look nutty to anyone who looks at his claims objectively.

Here’s an example of the debate I’m involved with. He says: “the right makes the place tick economically – then the left comes along and blows everything”. I counter by quoting statistics which show common economic indicators don’t show any strong correlation with the type of government in power. He ignores my comment and changes the subject. And so his delusion is maintained. If someone wants to be ignorant and deliberately ignores the facts just to maintain his ideology then there really is no hope, is there?

So should I give up debating with this person? I suppose I really should but I still find it interesting and it does help me understand the ridiculous mindset the far right crazies actually follow.

In fact that reminds me of another part of this person’s delusion. Although he constantly distributes right wing propaganda he claims that he’s actually centrist. So I challenged him to take a political quiz to establish where he stands on the spectrum. He did that but then claimed (without giving me the results) that the survey was a childish and invalid way to decide anything. So I found another one which had some academic backing. He did it and came back saying he got a score of exactly center. But I asked him to answer some questions from that quiz and then plugged those in which lead to a result of him being extreme right! What’s going on there? Is he lying to me or to himself? It’s always so hard to tell with that sort of person.

So again I ask, should I give up on him? Probably. But what about the creationist…

Oddly enough the creationist in some ways is actually more convincing than the right winger (Although the creationist is also a conservative and I’m sure his political views are also crazy. But I haven’t debated him on those much – except for global warming – but I really shouldn’t start on that now!)

Creationists often use slightly different tactics than the political right do. Sure they share a lot of the standard logical fallacies: the ad hominem, the straw man, poisoning the well, all the old classics, but they do use one more often than the others. They find one small factoid amongst a mass of data and pretend that overrides the mass of data which disagrees with them. For example, they will find a quote from a scientist which seems to dismiss evolution but conveniently ignore thousands of quotes which support it. And as soon as you point out the mass of opposition to their ideas they resort to the classic strategy for all those who have crazy beliefs: the conspiracy theory!

Yes, the good old conspiracy theory is a hard one to argue against because the weaker the evidence is for the conspiracy the stronger the conspiracy gets. After all, the first thing the conspirators want to do is destroy all the evidence which reveals that the conspiracy exists. So the more that evidence is lacking the more successful the conspiracy has been! It’s a brilliant strategy because it’s totally impossible to refute (as long as you use the illogical arguments of the nutters and ignore common sense and the principles of reasoned debate established thousands of years ago).

So should I give up on the creationist as well? Of course I should, but I’m not going to because, although I know it’s a debate I will never win, it’s still sort of fun and you never know what sort of outrageous nonsense your opponents will come up with next. Sometimes they resort to techniques which are even more crazy than what I’ve seen before and that really makes the whole thing worthwhile!

  1. shirhashirim
    January 5, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    Having read a few of your posts I’d suggest another approach: get interested in your opponents. So far you seem to think of them as ‘deluded’. I don’t think you need to use that word to make your opponents feel you think of them that way. Once they feel that, you’ll never be able to convince them. Convincing someone is not a mere matter of logic and reason (in fact, according to Chesterton, logic is the hallmark of the madman). Besides logos, you need pathos and a third thing I’ve now forgotten the Greek word for. It’s Aristotle, thousands of years ago :-)

    It might help to question you opponents more on things that aren’t directly relevant to the subject, to get to know the how’s and why’s of their thinking.

    As to the creationists conspiracy theory: the solution to the problem might lie on another level then the level where the problem arose. Have you ever tried to explain Popper to him? (I tried it myself in a totally different context, just a suggestion: http://shirhashirim.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/tequilla-trap/)

  2. ojb42
    January 5, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    A lot of my opponents *are* deluded and I like to say what I think even if that means the person abandons the debate. I’m not really trying to “win a debate”, I just want to state things the way they really are (or the way I see them). For example: anyone who is a genuine, literal creationist is deluded by any reasonable definition.

    Saying that logic is the hallmark of the madman is rather trite. Why would anyone say that? I know it’s just a throw away line, but still… I think “ethos” was the third word you were thinking of.

    You do have a point though. I will try to get clarification of my opponents position in the future and then go on to the attack if it is appropriate.

    I’ll have a look at your post. Thanks.

  3. shirhashirim
    January 6, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    Ethos! yes! that was it, thanks!

    Much as I would like to agree with your point about literal creationists being deluded, I still think this requires an extension of the word that should not be applied (that’s ethos, not logos). ‘Delusion’ is a word that refers to a misperception of reality in the present. When you see a herd of pink elephants running by, you’re deluded. But when you are convinced that a herd of pink elephants must have run by a couple of days ago, that is not a delusion, even when that statement is obviously wrong and/or silly. A silly or wrong statement about the past is not a matter of perception, but involves much more (selection, reasoning).

    Why would anyone say logic is the hallmark of the madman? Well, I don’t know about mr. Chesterton, but I’ve had my share of (smart) psychiatric patients. Believe me: their use of logic is astounding. It is my experience with psychiatric patients (and ayatollah’s btw) that has led me to come to the conclusion that ‘being right’ is just a matter of reasoning on until you’re there. As a result of that I do not hold logic in high regard. It may get you safely from A to B, provided A and B are not too far apart, but it never gets you to A. It’s a usefull tool, but a very, very limited one.

  4. ojb42
    January 7, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    Delusion: “an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder” Sounds like creationists to me. I’m not saying they are so bad that they have a mental disorder, at least, not all of them!

    Seemingly good logic, especially when it is internally consistent but otherwise invalid, might be the hallmark of some forms of psychiatric disorders but the statement that logic is an indicator of insanity is surely untrue. Just note here, I don’t think you meant the quote to be taken too seriously anyway so we’re really debating nothing!

    I do see your point regarding logic. If it is to be used as a tool to examine the real world it must be checked against real facts. That’s why empirical science is more useful than the sort of science the Greeks had: their logic said all planets’ orbits must be circular and look where that got them! And was it Aristotle who though women must have less teeth than men? He never checked!

    From what you say above I’m guessing you’re a psychologist (psychiatrist?) in a Muslim country? Sounds interesting, or have I misinterpreted your comments? BTW, if you are a professional psychologist I apologise for my opinions on the subject above. I do have a degree in psych (and computer science) but I’m not a professional and I don’t think that really gives me much credibility on that sort of thing!

  5. shirhashirim
    January 14, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Hm, I’m still not too happy with that definition. If creationism is a ‘delusion’ then Carotta, von Däniken, 2012 Maya Calendar End Of The World, Nibiru adepts and a lot of other pseudoscience is also a delusion. It dilutes the meaning of the word too much by my taste. But what itches me most: this would make the only sane person in a crowd of madmen ‘deluded’.

    I’ve always been impressed by Aristotles argument for the idea that eels could spontaneously generate from mud. All his observations are sound and his logic is impeccable. The same goes for the explanation that the 1st century architect Vitruvius gives for the process of making quicklime and mortar: all his observations are correct, his explanations for all the observed fenomena make perfect sense, even when we now know that the idea of 4 elements isn’t valid. These two managed to combine observation and logic in a ‘sound’ way.

    What I see with psychiatric patients is that thought processes (usually rationalisations and therefore highly logical) sort of replace or seriously interfere with observation. In that sense there is a comparison possible between mad people and creationists. The only trouble is: in sane people too thought processes, rationalisations and logic interfere with observation, it’s unavoidable. Yet somehow we perceive a difference between how sane people do it and ‘mad’ people. And I think there is a real difference, but I wonder if it really is fundamental. I suspect it’s only gradual.

    I’m an archaeologist in the Netherlands :D

    But I do travel a lot to Iran, and I happen to have a few friends with mental disorders.

  6. ojb42
    January 14, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    I just provided the definition from the New Oxford American Dictionary. If that doesn’t suit your purposes then argue with them! I do see your point though: some delusions are much deeper and more debilitating than others. Religious delusion would be the worst I guess, although there are people where a belief in alien abduction (and other odd stuff) also takes over their life.

    I agree that it is possible to do the logic and the observations correctly and still get the wrong answer but in general that process will work the majority of the time and ultimately an incorrect conclusion will be corrected. That’s the way it tends to work anyway. There is no guarantee of getting things right every time, we just need to use the best tools we have.

    Clearly there is a complete range of delusion between a person who is totally “sane” and someone who is totally “mad”. Everyone exists on this continuum. Creationists clearly are more on the “mad” side of things! In fact studies have shown higher levels of mental disorders in devout believers.

    Ah, you are an archaeologist who works in Iran. Interesting. I might need to talk to you regarding archaeological support for the Bible! (Example: there is zero support for the Exodus, right?) You just seemed to talk a lot about psychiatric patients so I thought you might work in that area!

  7. shirhashirim
    January 19, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    No no, I work in the Netherlands. I only go to Iran to visit friends and observe ayatollahs :)

    Ok, delusions are ‘ranged’, agreed, that works better for me than the New Oxford American Dictionary. And I agree (as I said above) that creationists show some similarities with deluded people (as do religious people, Kant was the first to observe that I think, at least in the west). But I’m not convinced that the similarities indicate that they’re the same. In my view there’s something wrong with creationists, but it’s not delusion (which, again, is too close to perception in my view).

    In my country research after research finds that religious people are marginally happier and healthier than non-religious people. They also have larger and stronger circles of friends.

    I wonder if in your phrase the word ‘devout’ might not be the operative word, because over here they never make a distinction between ‘devout’ and ‘non-devout’. How on earth do you measure that?

    If it is, I’d wonder: are these people mentally unstable because they are devout, or are they devout because they are mentally unstable? I can easily think of types of ‘devout’ that I’d consider the result of a mental instability.

    There is no archaeological evidence for the Exodus at the scale, in the time span and in the area as it it described in the Bible. If it ever happened, either the group was much, much smaller (not more than a few individuals), or the traditional time period of 40 years was much shorter, or it happened in another area (as quite a few muslims believe) or any combination of those three.

  8. ojb42
    January 19, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    Regarding creationists and delusion: let’s just say they have a worldview which reinforces what any reasonable person would recognise as a false belief. I know that depends on what your definition of “reasonable” is but there will always be some debatable words in any description.

    I have looked at the research regarding religion and happiness and in general it is inconsistent. There may be a small positive effect but it really depends on methodology, etc. There are also issues such as religious people’s social environment which strongly encourages them to self-report as happy.

    Believers certainly cover a wide range of real beliefs: from those who tick “Christian” on the census form and do nothing else, to those whose every waking minute is dedicated to their religion. I’m sure a survey could be devised measuring the degree of devoutness.

    I think a person needs to be a little bit prone to fantasy to believe in fundamental religion to begin with but once they get trapped in that worldview their fantasy world is constantly reinforced. So the two strengthen each other, it’s not a simple cause and effect.

    Thanks for your comment re the Exodus. That’s basically what I had gathered form other sources but it’s nice to have confirmation from an expert.

  9. shirhashirim
    January 21, 2011 at 10:24 am

    I would go further than calling it a false belief. It’s false knowledge. I’m wondering if creationism really is a ‘world view’, at least in the political sense. Creationism itself is quite harmless. It doesn’t cause anyone to do others any harm, as opposed to worldviews like communism or fascism. Nothing would really change if it turned out the world was 6000 years old anyway.

    On the other hand, while writing this I realise that creationists do something that borders on blasphemy: they give the bible a status that it should not have. It’s not a book on geology or cosmology, it’s a book on theology. Or humanity, depending which religious view you have on it. Even when creationism is harmless, taking the core out of religion is ultimately dangerous to people.

    Methodology, yes, I agree. In quite a few researches I’ve seen the devout are not distinguished from the scared. And sometimes measuring ‘devotion’ is done by the wrong method. I’d be classed ‘very devout’ becauser I go to church every Sunday. That however is not a measure of my devotion, but of how much I sing :). I have to go there because I’m in a choir.

    You need fantasy for everything!

  10. shirhashirim
    January 21, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    As a small addition, I stumbled on this one: http://thesoundofmyownvoice.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/why-atheists-are-fat/

    it’s quite hilarious…

  11. ojb42
    January 21, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    It’s a false belief based on false knowledge and an invalid worldview. Maybe creationism itself doesn’t really qualify as a worldview. Maybe the worldview involved is an over-reliance on faith, revealed knowledge, and religious authority, instead of rationality, objective facts and empiricism. Not totally sure what you’d call that though.

    Regarding harm, I think creationism does do a lot of harm. Wanting to teach a myth in school instead of the scientific facts is potentially very harmful for example, at least in the sense that it inhibits truth and progress. Dogmatic ignorance has always been harmful. Rejecting the truth is always bad.

    Good point regarding creationism being harmful to religion. I think you’re right. Creationists just make their religion look silly to others. Is that really helpful to their cause?

    Regarding the link between belief and happiness. I would say at this point that there is a small positive correlation between the two but that could easily be the result of poor methodology. Whatever the facts, I would expect a huge and unmistakable improvement in happiness if the claims religion makes are really true. We don’t see that.

    I’m rather bemused by the atheism-obesity link. I’ll have a look at the poll and try to figure out what it’s all about.

  12. shirhashirim
    January 25, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    I’d phrase it differently: a false belief based on false knowledge and on an invalid view of faith.

    Can I make a distinction here? People have been perfectly happy and harmless believing we were in the centre of the universe, or thinking that the world wasn’t as old as it is. And they have been for millennia. I don’t think ‘truth’ per se makes for happiness, nor does ‘myth’ per se cause harm. Are we really happier now that we know we’re not in the centre of the universe and the earth is 4.5 billion years old?

    There is also no intrinsic reason why an untruth would cause more harm than a truth. And the same goes for progress and science. (We’d be better off without the atomic bomb). Nost of these ‘truths’ do not really matter to the everyday life of ordinary people. They ight just as well be not true, at least from that perspective.

    Convictions become harmfull when people start linking beliefs to morals, and they suddenly do start to matter. E.g: those who do not believe in transsubstantiation are harmful and need to be eliminated. That’s something that can become part of any ideology, including religion. That is what makes convictions, and potentially any conviction, harmful. That is what endangers the consubstantialist.

    I’m quite sure religion will never cause a huge and unmistakeable improvement in happiness, because most religions simply aren’t about that. It’s only a small minority of believers who’d claim such a thing and I’d not consider them representative of ‘the faithful’.

  13. ojb42
    January 26, 2011 at 5:47 am

    An invalid view of faith is an example of an invalid worldview. We seem to be debating over small points here now though and I think we basically agree.

    I totally agree that truth doesn’t result in happiness, at least not directly. But having a truth based society (since the scientific revolution) we have longer life-spans, better lives, less disease, less conflict, etc, and that in turn has lead to greater happiness. I think superficially the truth doesn’t seem linked to happiness but at a deeper level it is.

    I think untruth does cause intrinsic harm. Saying that one result of science (the atomic bomb) – when it is misused for political purposes – causes harm is invalid. For a start would we actually be better off without the bomb? It shortened WWII and has served as an effective deterrent. But even if that one thing was intrinsically bad could it negate the huge amount of good which has come from science? I don’t think it would even be close.

    I think all ideologies are harmful, whatever the basic philosophy behind it. Even scientific ideology is harmful, where it exists.

    So religion doesn’t result in happiness because that’s not what it’s about. What do you think religion is about?

  14. shirhashirim
    February 4, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    “An invalid view of faith is an example of an invalid worldview”

    Couldn’t agree more. But that means faith has something to say about the world :D

    I don’t think you can term our society ‘truth-based’, at least not any more than the period before that. People have been and will always be obsessed with the truth. The difference is in method (how do we decide what is and isn’t true?) and in organisation (capitalism, basically).

    Actually I do think the atomic bomb is not outweighted (‘negate’ is always the wrong word) by the ‘huge amout of good’ that has come from science. That depends completely on how you look at it. Millions of traffic deaths since the invention of the car, greater divides between the rich and the poor since the industrial revolution, industrial ways of genocide, to name but three of the most obvious ones… Ultimately, the ‘huge amount of good’ science has caused is nothing else than a matter of taste. It says more about what you think is valuable than about how much ‘good’ has been done.

    I’m still not sure whether religion does or doesn’t cause happiness, the jury’s still out on that. I only know for sure it isn’t about happiness.

    There’s a million answers to what religion is about and they are all attempts at getting somewhere that’s basically inaccessible. I’d say it has something to do with us living alone in an imperfect world, but still we use the word ‘you’.

  15. ojb42
    February 4, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    Yes, an invalid view of faith is an invalid world view. But a valid view of faith is one which recognises it as not being a correct way to establish the truth so I don’t think faith has anything valid to say about the world. How can it?

    I wouldn’t go as far as to say our society is truth based. But science is truth based and science and technology are the biggest influences on society.

    I think you’re partly right that establishing the balance of good and bad is a matter of subjective opinion but look at every society in the world which has been exposed to science and technology. Have any decided to go back? Almost none. That must tell you something!

    Religion can cause happiness and it can cause misery. I would say on balance its influence is bad. Again look at the trends: modern society is becoming less religious. Does that tell us something?

    Sure, religion is about many things: a simple worldview for ignorant people or people too lazy to learn the truth, a pleasant worldview contrary to the facts which some find unpleasant, a habit that people see no reason to break, a social construct that gives people a sense of belonging, and many others. One thing it isn’t: a reflection in any meaningful way of a deeper truth.

  16. shirhashirim
    February 7, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    I think a lot of religions have a lot of valid things to say about the world and some of those are even sensible. Faith can do that because it speaks a language and humans are very apt at handling language.

    Loads of societies never decided to go back, and they’re not there any more. And who would do the deciding anyway? It is significant, sure, but I doubt if it says much.

    On the other hand: the Middle East has decided to ‘go back’ in the past decennia, because the modern world was too much for it. It adapted lots of ‘modern’ things from the west, but certainly not ‘modern’ attitudes.

    I don’t agree modern society is becoming less religious. Religion is loosing influence in politics and society (excluding the Muslim world), which is a good thing. But all around me I see non-denominational people believing absolutely everything, and that’s a bad thing.

    Deeper truth? How does that relate to (shallow?) truth?

  17. ojb42
    February 8, 2011 at 4:29 am

    There are a few things religion says which, coincidentally more than anything else, have some merit. But these tend to come from other sources and be available in more relevant forms elsewhere. For example, “the golden rule” – surely the central positive message of Christianity – originated long before it was allegedly extolled by Jesus.

    You don’t think that the increased importance of science and the lessening relevance of religion is significant? Really?

    Yes, the Middle East has gone backward in many ways, and forward in others. Certainly that area has allowed religion to gain too much power. It’s going through it’s “Dark Ages” just like the Western World did. I hope it doesn’t spend too much time there.

    Well it does depend on how you define religion. Most surveys of western countries indicate a greater percentage of atheists and agnostics than in the past, but sometimes there is an increase in other nonsensical beliefs such as astrology so I guess the human capacity for believing crap remains unchanged!

    There is no “deeper truth”, just truth. What people think is a deeper truth is usually neither deep nor true.

  18. shirhashirim
    February 9, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    :D couldn’t agree more!

    Yes, indeed, I di more or less stretch the meaning of the word ‘religion’ to encompass ‘belief’.

    The Golden Rule is in Lev 19:18 (& 34). Jesus’ coining of that phrase was never intended to be a coining: it is a deliberate quote from Leviticus, just as what he says before that is a deliberate quote from Deut 6:4-5. It is a widespread misunderstanding (not just among Christians) that Jesus coined the phrase. The originality of Jesus wasn’t the Golden Rule, but the reversal of it in the story following it: the Good Samaritan.

    I’m not sure if Leviticus is the oldest example of the Golden Rule, and I think it depends on how you date the book. There’s various datings around. But it’s a good candidate: either Leviticus or some classical Greek text would be ‘the first’, provided you disregard similar phrases from the cultures of the far east. I wouldn;t know how old they are.

  19. ojb42
    February 10, 2011 at 12:30 am

    I agree that the origin of the golden rule is disputed but I’m fairly sure there are credible sources which pre-date the Old Testament. The thing is there is nothing in Christianity, or any other religion, which isn’t available in a more credible form from other sources. People should follow the golden rule because they either think it is the right thing to do, or because they are convinced it is moral through an intelligent argument from philosophy, not because some fake god or prophet tells them it is. Faith is always bad. It stops people from thinking.

  20. shirhashirim
    February 17, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    I beg to differ, the idea that faith can stop people from thinking is typically Judaeo/Christian (Christianity being Judaism for export).

  21. ojb42
    February 17, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    I don’t see how you can justify that comment.

    Faith: 1. complete trust or confidence in someone or something 2. strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

    Either way it doesn’t seem to encourage much questioning or investigation of possible alternatives. In other words, once you have faith you no longer need to think much.

  22. shirhashirim
    March 2, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    That’s a fairly workable definition of faith in general, but I wonder if it’s a good definition of the Judaeo/Christian tradition.

    Anyway, complete confidence without proof in something does not preclude the thought that this very same complete confidence without proof can result in unwanted behaviour. Complete confidence and self-criticism do not necessarily exclude each other.

    I cannot find older texts than those from the Judeao/Christian tradition that bring up this very subject. At least in the west: Buddhism might have older texts, but I’m not too knowledgealbe about Buddhism…

  23. ojb42
    March 3, 2011 at 3:30 am

    Why would it be a good definition for everyone except the Judaeo/Christian tradition? That “tradition” is just another religion (or two religions), just like all the rest.

    I think complete confidence and self criticism DO exclude each other. If you are totally confident you are right about your world view and beliefs why would you subject them to criticism?

    Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Golden_Rule) suggests the Egyptian origins might be older but I agree it’s difficult to evaluate exactly where it originated. That’s not necessarily important though because it’s a component of many philosophies.

  24. shirhashirim
    March 8, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    That’s not what I meant. It’s a good definition of ‘faith in general’, meaning one level of scale down it might not be so handy any more. E.g. Judaism and Christianity and if you ask me, Buddhism too. They are not exceptions, they are just particular examples of religions. One level of scale down, the nuances become more important, and a general definition might still be ‘true’, but not as handy as a more precise one.

    Well for one: if the necessity of self criticism is part of your world view :-)
    Ok, that’s a rather lame answer. But self criticism, and criticism of ‘blind belief’ is part of several world religions, the three I mentioned anyway, and maybe there are more. So even when it may seem logical that the two would be mutually exclusive, in practice they are not.

  25. ojb42
    March 8, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    So you are saying that some religions rely more on faith than others and that some are more rational? Sure, I guess that is likely. I think it’s the general principle of faith rather than the details of it’s exact application which I object to. Religion is based primarily on faith. Science is based primarily on self criticism. If religions were truly self critical though they wouldn’t exist, just like scientific theories which have been rejected.

    How could any religion survive a real objective examination of its core beliefs? Christianity would have to admit: Genesis is fake, the flood is fake, Exodus didn’t happen, many Old Testament figures are fictional, Jesus didn’t exist in the form portrayed in the BIble (maybe not at all), the resurrection is fake, virgin birth: fake, supernatural events at resurrection: fake, the star: fake, official Christian doctrine: arbitrarily chosen by a committee, Christianity’s history is full of atrocities, etc. After all that why not just forget the whole thing and become an atheist like any sensible person?

  26. shirhashirim
    March 16, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Not exaclty, I’m saying that some religions derive their character (some even theirs core) from being critical of religion. I wouldn’t put it down to rationality though.

    Approaching religion like a scientific theory leads to nothing of value. The two are in different leagues.

    I know an alarming number of Christians who have no difficulty whatsoever with all that, but still go to church every Sunday. This may sound unexpected, but all these are ultimately not what it’s all about.

    Just an epistemological question: how do you know a person is sensible when you think all sensible persons are atheists? You can also ask the question the other way round, but that’s more complicated :-)

  27. ojb42
    March 17, 2011 at 8:08 am

    Can you give an example of a religion which has self-criticism at its core or even as part of its character?

    We can approach everything else scientifically and produce a valuable outcome. Why would religion be the only thing which can’t be examined that way? Do you know about logical fallacies? Ever heard of “special pleading”?

    If a person doesn’t think any of the supernaturalism in Christianity is true, accepts some of the philosophy in Christianity but still accepts that other philosophies might be equally valuable, and goes to church anyway (maybe for social, historical, or habitual reasons) then that’s fine.

    Did I say all sensible people are atheists? It is possible to be sensible and be an agnostic, deist, and maybe even some types of theist. I think sensible people are those who can justify their beliefs without making obvious and silly mistakes, even if it’s just “I believe it because it makes me feel good”.

  28. shirhashirim
    March 17, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism.

    You CAN approach everything scientifically, but I hope you don’t :)
    At one of my old offices we had a slogan: “We do things differently here, because we do different things.” The same goes for religion (and art). I don’t think that’s necessarily special pleading.

  29. ojb42
    March 17, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    Yeah sure, I understand what you are saying. It depends on what sort of claims are being made, I guess. If religion claims to understand the origin of the universe then that’s a scientific claim. If it claims to know how we should live that claim should be investigated. If it claims unexpected and unique things happened 2000 years ago then that’s interesting, we should investigate that further. If all it claims is “these are some interesting myths with a useful message but which aren’t actually true” then fine, little investigation is necessary. So which is it?

  30. shirhashirim
    April 5, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    Sorry for answering so late. Fortunately I have an excuse: I got married :)
    Religion claiming to KNOW the origin of the universe is a scientific claim, and it should stay well clear of it. Scientists are much better at that.
    Religion claiming to UNDERSTAND the universe is slightly different matter. I would not like to disqualify them too eagerly (and that way of putting it is not a style figure, that’s exaclty what I mean).
    Personally, I think the point of religion is: “these are some interesting myths with a useful message, which are actually true”.
    Did I ever tell you about the joke the priest made when someone asked him if all these stories in the bible were actually true? I’ve always liked his answer: “No, of course they are not true, but they did really happen.”

  31. ojb42
    April 6, 2011 at 4:41 am

    Two weeks off blogging to get married? OK, I’ll accept that as an excuse. :) Congratulations anyway. As someone married for many years I can say it’s not as bad as some people say!

    I don’t think any group whose entire worldview is based on belief without evidence can ever claim knowing, understanding or anything else. Can you give me a single instance where religion has shown any real understanding of the nature of the universe? I can’t think of any.

    When you say “are actually true” do you mean the myths or the messages? Either way, can you give me an example of either?

    Not sure what the priest was trying to say. Was it that they aren’t true but it would be nice of they were? Or if we pretend they’re true we gain some insight? Or they are true at the metaphorical but not the factual level? Or that they are fake but the church wants you to believe them anyway? Or maybe this: this is bullshit but if I give you a sufficiently vague answer it disguises that fact! :)

  32. shirhashirim
    May 2, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    :D I’m quite sure he didn’t mean the latter. No, his point was exactly yours: they’re not true (as in: factual), but they did happen. Of course the ‘happen’ does not refer to a factual sense. That would be like asking if Jesus’ feet became wet from walking on the water. An interesting question when you want to know whether something is factually true, but one that doesn’t adress the point of the story.

    Thank God I cannot give you a single instance of a religion giving us a better understanding of nature or the universe :)
    As I said before: that’s not what religion is about, or should be about.

  33. ojb42
    May 3, 2011 at 5:33 am

    You seem to be playing with words a bit: “they’re not true but they did happen” What? Religion is not about “understanding the nature of the universe better” Really? So what is it about? Is it about understanding morality, or the best way for us to act, or what? And in what way does religion offer anything that philosophy can’t? Can you tell me a single thing that religion contributes that couldn’t be better established through some other branch of human knowledge?

  34. shirhashirim
    May 3, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    It’s about the best way to believe, not know. And as believing is an act it does have some morality to it (but not all, although I realise there’s a lot of religious people around that think you cannot really have morality without religion).
    Philosophy? You gotta be kidding. Philosophy is boring! It doesn’t offer us the smells & bells, the festivals, it hasn’t got any stories and it’s deprived of any emotion…
    Hm, yes I can , but I gotta use one of these funny phrases again. It’s from an Amsterdam University theologist: ‘When people stop thinking about religion, they’ll believe anything.’

  35. ojb42
    May 8, 2011 at 2:50 am

    I think I’ve lost the thread of the conversation regarding the definition of the word “truth” in a religious context. Whatever it is it seems to be a different definition than what is reasonable anywhere else. Where else would it be acceptable to say this: “they’re not true but they did happen”?

    I think I see the attraction you are claiming for religion. I agree it does produce some fascinating social phenomena which are unequalled in any other area. But religion is like acting out fiction. It has nothing to do with fact. I agree that philosophy (and nothing else, except maybe other “fantasy” activities like sport) can substitute for that aspect of religion.

    I have heard that comment from the theologist before. I was going to say it’s crap but maybe not. The key point is that they have to *think* about religion and if they do they will not blindly follow one by faith, they will realise its fake but that it might offer some social advantages anyway.

  36. shirhashirim
    May 29, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Hm, that’s a really interesting perspective you’re opening up there. I’ve never looked at it that way.
    But yes, religion is made up of stories, so in a sense it’s fiction. The trick is that in any religion the fiction approaches truth as closely as possible.
    Bertus Aafjes, a Dutch poet, coined the phase “poets lie the truth’ (there I go again!), I think it’s something like that.
    I’d add art, basically also a kind of fiction, to sports, because it does not exclusively work in the social area.

  37. ojb42
    May 29, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    OK, so we agree that religion belongs in the same category as other social phenomena which are primarily for entertainment purposes: art, sport, fiction, etc. The idea that “real” truth is often revealed through works which are technically untrue (poetry, etc) is interesting. I’m sure some of that sort of thing does occasionally reveal some sort of underlying points which we might not discover otherwise but I can’t think of an example right now. Can you?

  38. shirhashirim
    June 1, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    I think you can get into big trouble with artists if you tell them their job is to ‘entertain’. I wouldn’t know about sports, but with fiction, I’m pretty sure you’d run into the same difficulties. Art in the widest sense of the word is only there for entertainment in the view of some of us. For a lot of artists (and art lovers) art might just as well be there to disquiet people, to unsettle them, for political criticism, ‘philosophy by different means’, not just something as mundane as ‘entertainment’.

    Example: I’ve known a couple of actors & actresses in the past and I’ve always been impressed by their psychological insights. They were not psychologists in any formal sense of course, but they would often be able to act as psychologists ‘by different means’. It was a (mentally utterly stable) actor who managed to make me understand a friend of mine who turned, well, in short, ‘mad’ and had to be hospitalised. It was also an actor who managed to give another friend of mine (a highly educated psychologist) hell during a training on how to deal with difficult patients.
    Hm, somehow we seem to always return to the subject of mad people :)
    Art (again, in its broadest sense) adresses other human functions besides logic & reason. That’s why I think it’s usually much more effective at ‘revealing’ truths’, and it happens far more often than the more logically inclined among us would like…

  39. ojb42
    June 1, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    Yes, I agree that entertain was probably a too frivolous word to use in that situation. Not sure what would be better. I was trying to get to the idea of something which has no strict practical use and has no inherent basis in reality but still has a value in a different way.

    I’m extremely uncomfortable with the idea of “revealed truths” because in my experience the vast majority of them have nothing to do with the truth. I’m sure that every field of human endeavour stumbles on something valuable occasionally but without a rigorous methodology of checking and verification these are of little value beyond entertainment (sorry to use that word again – I mean a deep and meaningful form of entertainment, OK :)

  40. shirhashirim
    June 2, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    That’s interesting. I was raised in a deeply religious environment, but I was brought up with (the same?) distrust of ‘revealed truths’. The difference is that in my surroundings that distrust was mainly motivated on biblical grounds, not scientific ones.
    I agree that the scientific method is a great thing, and it’s something that can be enjoyed even, like a good book or a play. Even rigorous method is not devoid of its artistic merits :)
    But in my view science only touches on particular parts of the human experience: what the world around them is, where it came from, how it works.
    Art (religion included) deals with why we are here (even if the answer is: ‘no reason’), what we should do now that we are here, how and why we should act and who we are.
    Science can help even there (it’s that good), but art (again: religion included) in my view can get at usefull answers much more quickly. I think that is because it is a container for past experiences. Every generation has to reinvent the wheel, but sometimes you can lean on past experiences.
    I have only one, very bad example. One day I was visiting a client with my boss. During the meeting my boss assured our client he would personally guarantee that the work we were going to do was going to be within budget and within planning. You should know that in our line of work, it was mainly the government who took the important decisions, and we were not in it. So my boss was, basically, bluffing to lure a client in.
    On the way back I told him (he’d been raised a strict protestant, so I knew he’d understand): ‘Listen, I’d really prefer it if you didn’t do any Jephta’s daughter any more.’
    He got the message, without us ever needing to discuss the issue (the underlying one!) ever again.
    I’m sure there could have been rigorously methodic ways of explaining him, no doubt about that, but this was quick and dirty and it got the job done in a nanosecond.
    In my experience there’s a lot of that around, both in art and in religion, and it works.

  41. ojb42
    June 2, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    You see it seems odd to me that you would reject revealed truths based on a book which is itself full of revealed truths (which aren’t true in most cases). Can you not see the irony there? Maybe what you were really taught is reject all revealed truths apart from the one arbitrarily chosen which is in this particular old book!

    As I said before, art (including religion) does occasionally reveal interesting points which might take a lot longer (or even be totally inaccessible) through science. But a large majority of the “truths” revealed by religion in particular aren’t very valuable in my opinion.

    Also I agree that passing philosophies and beliefs from one generation to another through religion can be useful but it’s important to realise that things change and what was useful thousands of years ago when the Bible was written may not be useful today. The problem is that religion tends to say the truth is in this book and you must believe it rather than here are some ideas, look at them but reject those which are irrelevant and build on what is already there.

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