The Deathtrap of Scientific Humanism

Today, Drudge highlights the comments of a Nobel Prize-winning geneticist, Dr. James Watson, who said:
[I am] “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really”.

This comment is clearly politically incorrect and probably scientifically incorrect. Watson, the article points out, has a history of histrionic remarks.

But it remains highly probable (for reasons related to the Law of Large Numbers) that at least one scientific study, correctly executed, will show that one race is genetically superior to another on a dimension such as intelligence. We already know that races differ in physical dimensions, such as height and hairiness. What effectively prevents the scientific community from finding genetic differences in intelligence, criminality, alcohol-proneness, etc., is that it really, really doesn't want to.

Something must give. Either we engage in science dishonestly, construing results to fit our prejudices (however noble), or we submit our values to scientific evaluation. This Morton's fork could literally lead to the dismantling of one or another of the pillars of our Enlightenment civilization.

However, it need not. By subjecting our values to a standard higher than scientific objectivity, we can maintain civilization as we know it.

Only recently has the existence of standards higher than science been eroded in human civilization. To a great extent we still observe them: we protect the sick and disabled rather than abandoning them; we do not discriminate (openly) between the children of smart people and the children of dumb people; we do not practice euthanasia. Any of these could be discarded in the name of science: spending valuable resources giving a classical education to children regardless of their genetic potential is a huge waste, statistically, to offer one example.

Why do we - and why should we continue to - protect and honor all of humanity? Because some values are informed by a conscience greater than science.

We as a civilization need not agree the source or content of all these values, provided we agree they exist and come to some compromise on a subset of them. When we are secure in our underlying conscience, we can look research in the eyes - even if it tells us something very unpleasant.

Suppose, counterfactually, that Dr. Watson (insert, "elementary, my dear" joke here) is correct. We can openly discuss and acknowledge the findings. Then, after testing and re-testing the hypothesis many times, we may be forced to alter our social policies in order to attain the goals dictated by our conscience. But we need never alter our conscientious values: that people are responsible for their own self-government, that they are equal in dignity and rights, and that their thoughts should be free and freely expressed.
Posted by Chops at October 18, 2007 1:28 PM
Comment #236420

Interesting idea. Lincoln, in spite of rather famously not considering blacks to be the intellectual equals of whites, none the less believed they deserved to be the beneficiaries of the work of their own hands. Our “equality” is not a product of our equality. It is a product of our determination to be equal not in a scientific sense but a sense that transcends (and can’t be tied to) objective reality.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 18, 2007 1:48 PM
Comment #236421

The big trouble here is that nobody can isolate race as a biological category. Where you live on the globe has more to do with what genes you share with others than your putative race.

If you can’t define race scientifically, point to a set of genes that distinguish them specifically from one another, Attempting to derive further scientific conclusions about intelligence within and between races is kind of pointless.

We can’t even argue that there is a way to scientifically establish mental ability in the first place. We’d have to distinguish between all the possible variable that could help or hurt their ability for thousands of people, having defined (which we have not) all the ways in which these interactions take place.

You cannot argue about the innate ability of a race with any real scientific authority. You can do a study which might allow you to make conclusions about demonstrated ability, but you’d have a hell of a time legitimately arguing there that race is a causative factor in determining intelligence.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at October 18, 2007 2:29 PM
Comment #236423

It’s well established that Watson stole the research of a female graduate student in order to make his discovery, and that he never gave her credit. This is a man who said he would never hire a fat person, and that all blacks are sexually more aggressive and dumber than whites. In other words, despite making a great discovery (partially), he’s a crank.

Furthermore, it’s not just race that you will never define, it’s also intelligence. There is no science here.

Posted by: max at October 18, 2007 3:03 PM
Comment #236424

Well, Chops, you tried. I can see in your writing that you were trying to build up your courage enough to actually come out and dismiss science altogether in favor of “values”, specifically, “religious values” more specifically “christian religious values”, most specifically: “born-again christian religous values”.
Nice try. (I lie) Science still wins.

Posted by: Charles Ross at October 18, 2007 3:07 PM
Comment #236426

Charles Ross,

Unfair characterization! The post is neither a denigration of science nor an apotheosis of a particular set of religious values. It is a recognition of something very similar to what Stephen said. Science does not have all the answers. Indeed it is sometimes inappropriate to apply our prejudices to the processes of science (in this case what Watson thought he was doing). We THINK, out of prejudice, we know what race is but we really don’t. That makes scientific testing inappropriate, if not impossible.

There is, in fact, a higher value, recognized in religious values and stated well in many of them, but not dependent on a particular religion for its validity, that holds the value of each life to be equal to any other. The fact that atheists can hold this value is proof enough that we don’t need to pin down a source to agree it is an important part of our common heritage.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 18, 2007 3:27 PM
Comment #236431

Lee, I certainly appreciate the sentiment that the value of each life is equal to that of any other but the reality of everyday life belies that.
When financial settlements were made after 9-11, did the survivors of the busboys receive the same amount as did the survivors of the bond traders? I didn’t hear the christans screaming about that. What about war? We keep a daily record of every bump, scratch, death suffered by an american in Iraq, but we (meaning any u.s. government entity) do not keep any sort of formal record of Iraqi civilian deaths as a result of the war. I quess it’s just not that important. Where do christians come down on the morality of the phrase “collateral damage”?
How do you live? What is your standard of living? Have you given up all earthly comforts (ala M. thersa) to care for the poor, the sick, the dying? Did you know that the most common way for a child to die in this world is from the dehydration caused by diareha? And further, that the innoculation to protect each child from the disease that causes the diareha costs less than a dollar? Are you prepared to give up your lifestyle, I’m not talking about your life, but your lifestyle, to give everything financially you have to protect these lives? No? I didn’t think so. So how could you possibly argue that each life has the same value when you won’t even give up your comforts to protect same?
Christians have shown themselves on just about every level to be a bunch of “sinners, but forgiven” phonys. The above blog is just one more oblique attack on science by just one more person adept at talking the talk.

Posted by: charles ross at October 18, 2007 4:10 PM
Comment #236434

Mr. Ross -

While I typically refrain from commenting on my own posts, I’ll make an exception to ask that you please abide by the WatchBlog policy and critique the message - with which you are welcome to disagree - rather than the messenger.

If in addition your comments were on-topic I would consider myself doubly fortunate.

Posted by: Chops at October 18, 2007 4:37 PM
Comment #236437

Mr. Ross,

You haven’t a clue what my lifestyle is, or what I have or have not given up for what. I’ll happily leave that sort of judgement to people who know me well, thank you. Nothing you can surmise from a distance can be any better than prejudice.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 18, 2007 5:03 PM
Comment #236439

Dobson is a geneticist, and so it is understandable about his ignorance of the limitations on intelligence testing rings through his comments. Kind of like asking a car mechanic to comment on stem cell methodology.

Aboriginal tribes in S. America and Borneo would not do well on Westernized IQ tests either. Those tests rely on cultural and personal upbringing experiences including that little thing called language skills.

But, obviously, if you gave Westerners an IQ test on survival in the Amazon Forest without money, bought goods, or outside contact, Westerners would appear idiots in the test results.

Dobson is a bigot and uses his Ph.D. to express his ignorance and bias in areas not in his field of expertise, in the hopes of deceiving others with his credentials. A Ph.D. is no guarantee that its holder is either honest or sensible, or absent bias and prejudice and agendas which promote those.

Posted by: David R. Remer at October 18, 2007 5:22 PM
Comment #236440

Mr. Ross,
I, like you, understood the implications of Chops’ post and understand the tendancy to call them like you see them. However, if we assume nothing, then the real argument here is “values” versus “science”, as though these are diametrically opposed entities. I agree with you that the “values” he may have in mind may be consistent with only one viewpoint and that he would likely not include the Atheistic point of view in his “compromise”. But to return to the point at hand… We are not currently coming out of some dark age of scientific reasoning into an elightened period of values-based existence. In fact the opposite is true. Science, actually to be more specific, scientific humanism is the source of almost all of the example he gave of positive results. Which is more noble to feed a starving child because you want to help it reach its potential for the betterment of itself and mankind or because some mysterious source of compromised values says you should? Wasn’t it the values-based community that led the crusades and bombed abortion clinics and still tries to keep minority opinions out of the public discussion? With regard to the issue of race… it has zero to do with the argument he posits. He finds controversial scientifc findings and rather than dispute the findings or the methodology, turns the scientific process into a boogeyman, so we need “higher values” to save us from this moral relativism. He insights fear of what we might find out and actually implies that we should shield ourselves from knowledge behind values. What is he afraid of? I think it may be that the basis for his values is untrue. This kind of red herring is silly at best. I am not familiar with Dr. Watson’s work. But as a Scientific Humanist, I would rather hear his methods and results even if I don’t like them, than listen to someone else characterize them and try to cause others to not think for themselves.

Posted by: John Lewis at October 18, 2007 5:23 PM
Comment #236445


Why I continued to read after you stated “Drudge” as a source must truly be indicative of “outrage fatigue”. My thanks to Bob Cesca for that phrase;

Could it be that the use of words like “one race is genetically superior to another on a dimension such as intelligence” would raise the hair on the back of my neck?

Holy shit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Chops, your article only lacks a swastika to make it truly racist!!!!!!!!!!!!

To quote you: “we can look research in the eyes - even if it tells us something very unpleasant” ……….. even if that leads us to an America that’s still racist as Hell!!!!!!!!!!!!!

How low must we go to satisfy the “nut-roots” of the Rethuglican party? I’m truly becoming ashamed to be an American.

Sad, sad, sad!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: KansasDem at October 18, 2007 6:36 PM
Comment #236450

I will not even dignify the content of this subject with a comment.

Posted by: Jim T at October 18, 2007 7:23 PM
Comment #236453

I can see in your writing that you were trying to build up your courage enough to actually come out and dismiss science altogether in favor of “values”, specifically, “religious values” more specifically “christian religious values”, most specifically: “born-again christian religous values”.

How in the world did you get that from this article? What makes you think you know Chops’s religion (or if he even has one)?

I don’t want to make the same kind of broad statement you did, so I’ll ask:
Do you have a dislike of Christians based on the fact that you only allow yourself to see them in a bad light? Do you have a prejudice that makes you blame anything you don’t like on Christianity?
If not, please explain your previous statements. because otherwise I don’t see what they have to do with the topic.

Posted by: Mark at October 18, 2007 8:19 PM
Comment #236454

Charles Ross, making comments about our writer’s personal attributes like their level of courage, violates our Rules for Participation. This message is your warning to comply or, lose your privileges to comment here.

Posted by: Watchblog Managing Editor at October 18, 2007 8:35 PM
Comment #236459

“How in the world did you get that from this article? What makes you think you know Chops’s religion (or if he even has one)?”


Perhaps it was Chops’ statement that, “Why do we - and why should we continue to - protect and honor all of humanity? Because some values are informed by a conscience greater than science”!

What else, pray tell, would that be? A conscience “greater than science” …………… hmmmm, I think Charlie Ross is being unfairly picked on for simply not choosing his words well ……….. even by the ed.

It’s handy for those with radical ideas to shut off those with opposing ideas due to a choice of words. I suggest a re-read of Charlie Ross’ comments. He clearly began both comments in such a way as to indicate opinion and he’s certainly NOT hounded Chops as I was hounded after making an ill explained comment to Dana’s post about MST recently.

I’ve never disagreed with the editor censoring (or censuring) someone before but I think this deserves another look. I’ve read Charle’s words several times and I can’t see a personal attack ………… at all!!!!!!!!!!! An attack on born again christian values? You bet.

Posted by: KansasDem at October 18, 2007 10:37 PM
Comment #236460


Charlie accused Chops of wanting to dismiss science altogether in favor of “born-again Christian values.”
There is nothing in Chops’ article that even implies this. That’s why I think it sounds personal. I’d still like an explanation from Charlie on this, because I think he is using this as an opportunity to lash out at Christians even though Christianity has nothing to do with the topic..

Of course, as personal attacks go, that pales in comparison to this quote:
Chops, your article only lacks a swastika to make it truly racist!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Mark at October 18, 2007 11:10 PM
Comment #236461

” Why do we - and why should we continue to - protect and honor all humanity? Because some values are informed by a conscience greater than science.”

We do not value human life, we set a value on human life. We may claim to value a fetus in Harlem as much as one in the Hamptons but, the resources expended on one, both before and after birth, will most certainly not be equal.

Are American’s more intelligent, better, more gifted than other humans in the world? Our arrogant attitudes and lifestyles suggests that we think we are. We could live happy, healthy and productive lives using only a quarter of the resources that we wastefully consume. What good is intelligence if this is the way we are going to express it? Is such a suggestion blasphemy to our Great God Money and his angels of power, the corporations?

My conscience doesn’t tell me that I am smarter or dumber, better or worse than other humans. My conscience tells me that I could be a better human than I am.

Posted by: jlw at October 18, 2007 11:34 PM
Comment #236468


Just like I said, there’s no science here… Didn’t expect Watson to come out and agree with me though :-)

Posted by: Max at October 19, 2007 2:06 AM
Comment #236477

Where you find racism in Chops’ article I simply don’t know. He represents the prejudice of Dr. Watson for what it is, but not nearly so stridently as the original article found on Drudge (which is, by the way a clearing house of largely mainstream journalism not, generally, a source in and of itself).

For those who have chosen to use this article as a venue to attack religious values because religious people do bad things is Watson’s behavior not also an object lesson in the fact that people representing themselves as scientists (as have eugenicists immemorial) sometimes do heinously bad things?

It seems worth reminding people as well that people representing themselves as having no faith were directly responsible for more than 60,000,000 deaths in genocide in the 20th century. Does that moral high ground smell funny to you?

Perhaps the atheists felt a need to “catch up”. Or, perhaps, people left to their own devices will do bad things to other people in spite of the best teachings and values of their cultures.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 19, 2007 9:15 AM
Comment #236478

Mr. Jamison,

I will assume there is some rational basis for that nice round number of 60,000,000 deaths caused by people of “no faith” and because it is so far off toopic, I will not address it here.

But the rabid defense of Chops’ post is astounding to me. Aside from my earlier comments that the two things (Dr. Watson’s comments and Scientific Humanism) have nothing to do with each other and that the post neglects to make any connection between them other than their mention in the same post, there is an obvious undertone to it.

“… it remains highly probable (for reasons related to the Law of Large Numbers) that at least one scientific study, correctly executed, will show that one race is genetically superior to another on a dimension such as intelligence…”

This statemnet is just a little better worded than those of Dr. Watson, but carries the same air of superiority.

I agree that the blog should not be overrun with people criticizing and flaming each other and instead should be a forum to debate and share ideas. But the attack on Charlie Ross for pointing out some things that to me seem very apparent, demonstrates a weakness of the original position Chops’ took. I guess it is much easier to squash the opposing point of view than to debate it.

If Chops’ feels he has been treated unfairly in this discourse, might I invite him to clarify the connection between Dr. Watson’s comments and the community of Scientific Humanism.

Finally, Mr. Jamison, the 60,000,000 I assume you attribute to the communists. I think you would have a very difficult time painting Lennon as a Scientific Humanists. If we paint with too broad a brush we miss all the detail. I could just as easily characterize all Christians by the actions of Benny Hinn or Pat Robertson.

Posted by: John Lewis at October 19, 2007 9:46 AM
Comment #236480

Mr. Lewis,

A source for genocide info with its sources listed. As you can see I was not exaggerating by any means.

I would quibble with Chops’ wording on the given statement simply because I was raised in the home of a scientist. The key phrase is “correctly executed”. This turns on sematics and is, thus, endlessly debatable. That is the reason we DON’T leave policies on race open to scientific direction.

The history of science is a litany of prejudice overcome by enlightenment. In virtually every case of such liberation, though, someone must conceive of a new idea that breaks the mold of prejudice standing in the way of understanding what the empirical evidence reveals. If the prejudice forms the hypothesis no amount of evidence, even gathered in proper form, can reveal the truth. It is unlikely Watson could design a truly revealing study on race, given the apparent prejudice that would inform his hypothesis. But, really, could any of us do much better?

As to Lenin and Scientific Humanists, I am simply using the self-identified atheists of the 20th century as an example of what we do in over-broadly attributing the sins of those who wrap themselves in a given mantle with perceived weaknesses of the mantle itself. Stalin and Mao killed tens of millions. If Scientific Humanists wish not to be associated with people who associated themselves with Scientific Humanism perhaps they will have an insight to how Christians and others who see the nobility of the sources of their values sullied in the eyes of the uninformed by the self-association of people who would abuse their banners as well.

I do, by the way, paint for a living, and you would be astonished what detail can be achieved with a “broad brush”.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 19, 2007 10:27 AM
Comment #236487

I think my comments about the implications of “Chops” blog were dead on. They were taken right out of the mold of positions espoused by the Discovery Institute (DI) re: intelligent design. DI insists they are chartered not to promote christianity but to promote science through offering an alternative “scientific theory” to evolution. Of course the “theory” being promoted does not even rise to the level of being a testable hypothesis and their protestations that they are not a front for born-again-christian organizations is a blatant lie (doesn’t christianity have any rules against lying?)
To the “Watchblog Manager” I really don’t view my taking my time to comment on this blog as being some sort of “privilege” that is being accorded to me. It’s more of an obligation.
Chops. You should be happy about the comments I’ve made. If I just took what you said at face value, no reading into it, no implications drawn, what could one possibly have to say about it. There’s really nothing there either to compliment or criticize.

Posted by: charles Ross at October 19, 2007 4:10 PM
Comment #236496

Mr. Jamison,

First of all, thank you for the link. I found it very enlightening and full of references to religious zealots committing atrocities, and yes some self-proclaimed atheists as well. Since this was not the point of the original post nor my intent in commenting on it, I will not chase this rabbit with you at this time.

Your second point is a well articulated attempt to deflect the validity of both my point and Charlie Ross’. We can pretend that this is a debate of the semantics, but frankly, I have difficulty believing that even you believe that. While your attempt may be more grounded in this kind of discourse, Chops’ post was not.

Still you make a valid point in regard to the prejudiced hypothesis. For example, the definition of “intelligence” itself is likely to skew almost any study comparing races and there is a likley bias in definition based on the race of the definer. What you are missing is the ability of the scientific process to recognize those prejudices and correct its methodology. I would refer you to the works of Christine E. Daley, Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie and Howard Gardner for specifics studies that recognize these biases in the study of race and intelligence.

The weakness of the values-based position is the assumption that they are correct before they even begin. The basis for which often coming from ancient texts mixed with a false sense of tradition. The problem is clinging to the value proposition even when the science points in a different direction.

Mr. Watson apologized this week. In his statement he clarifies that his comments were in no way related to science.

“To all those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologize unreservedly.

“That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief.”
-Dr. James Watson-

If science was not the source of his statements, which “values” do you suppose he has based them on? They are certainly not based on those of “Scientific Humanism” nor were the positions of the people on the list from your link. I would refer you to this link for information on what Scientific Humanist “value” which includes both science and ethics.

While I reject your characterization of those with opposing viewpoints as “uninformed” I recognize your response as thoughtful and perhaps even clever. I would, however, hope your comment on painting with a ” broad brush” does not mean you wish for readers to group you with all others that operate from a value proposition based in these texts, otherwise Charlie Ross swastika comment could become relevant rather than inflamatory.

“My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter.”
-Adolf Hitler-
^ Cited in Norman H. Baynes, The Speeches of Adolf Hitler: April 1922-August 1939, Vol. 1, New York: Oxford University Press, 1942, p. 19-20 ISBN 0-598-75893-3. ]

Posted by: John Lewis at October 19, 2007 6:39 PM
Comment #236504

It is easy to compare the actual teachings of Jesus to the practices of those who use his name for political gain. The same principle is at work when communists use “the good of the people” as a cover for atrocities verses true socialist compassion for the oppressed. Tyranny is tyranny regardless of the justification used. Bigoted remarks distract from the real problem.

Beating on the straw men of Christianity or Humanism is counterproductive. When a “study” contains bias or bigotry instead of objectivity it ceases to become science by its own definition. We can all agree to universal truths contained in moral codes.

Posted by: Kruser at October 19, 2007 11:52 PM
Comment #236506

If “value-based communities” have been responsible for atrocities (whichever ones anywhere you’d care to name), the only things equipped to oppose them are in fact “value-based communities” in their own right, and any attempts to enlist science in efforts to sort any of this out is completely extraneous. Which I think is Chop’s essential point, and a very valid one.

There is no moral code inscribed in science whatsoever—that is, except an extremely objective one. Namely, the law of the jungle.

Forget about race. If objective science is to be our guide, there is no reason whatsoever to even keep large numbers of our fellow human beings alive or to divert our resources for their benefit—i.e, the old, the mentally or physically handicapped, the poor and diseased in this country or abroad. In fact, there are good reasons not to—that is, from a purely rational basis.

I’ll go further. With science as our guide, it doesn’t MATTER who is genetically superior or inferior according to any clinical criteria. All that matters is who is objectively on top.

What intrigues me is that there are value-based communities out there who vociferously attack the very notion of there being firm and inviolate values at all. What’s odd is that in the attempt to discredit opposing value systems, they claim to be “rational” or “scientific” when if fact they are anything but. They actually fiercely cling to value systems which their position in regards to the existence of higher “values” at all keeps them from articulating or even acknowledging.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at October 20, 2007 12:13 AM
Comment #236512

Discourse in the blogosphere is much like pouring water onto the bottomside of a plate: everything runs to the fringes. Case in point, in the Blogosphere:

Scientific Humanism = Athiesm = Communism = genocidal maniacs = evil.


Values-based morals = Christianity = Born-Again Christianism = abortion clinic bombers = Inquisitores = evil.


People are different from each other = some people are better than others = racism/sexism/whateverism = lynchers/rapists/gaybashers = evil.

and… most importantly,

Someone blogs something I disagree with = we must disagree about everthing = they must personify everything about the Other Side I hate = I have Carte Blanche to denegrate and insult them to my hearts content because they are…. yup, evil.

Rule of thumb, my fellow WBers. If you are getting truly angry about anything that happens here, you might want to go take a long look in the mirror before you lash out.


Posted by: leatherankh at October 20, 2007 10:19 AM
Comment #236513


Attacking science in general? Has your party gone back to the stone age? Folks, science doesn’t have a philosophy. I hate to point this out to you, but science has prolonged the life of the elderly, and no scientist has suggested killing them early. I think Charlie Ross is right, and that what’s really behind this is a defense of Christian right wingers to ignore science in favor of their religious beliefs. I should also point out that science has nothing to do with abortion, scientists have not had a position on whether or not a fetus is alive. Science does not create policy.

Posted by: Max at October 20, 2007 10:25 AM
Comment #236515


No Philosophy of science? Are you kidding? Philosophers love science and there are numeous people like Michael Polani, whose work informed the generation os scientists, like Einstein, Bohr, and Szlilard who made the great leaps of physics in the early 20th century, who are specifically “philosophers of science”. There is an excellent discussion of Polani’s work in the second chapter (Atoms and Void) of Richard Rhodes’s Pulitzer Prize winning history “The Making of the Atomis Bomb”. The practice of science, like the practice of medicine, is itself an art, learned at the feet of masters, and verified in a free society of people Polani described as a “republic of science”. It cannot be advanced without a form of rebellion from the constraints of scientific culture, the understanding of what we “know” to be true.

That IS a philosophy.

The instruments that perform abortions were not developed by necromancers, but scientists. That is not a condemnation of all scientists any more than it is a condemnation of any other kind of person, but it is simply true.

Christians who ignore science do religion badly. They must, if they believe in an omnipotent God, understand that science, done honorably, humbly, and capably is not able to prove something that is not true, and what is true can be no threat to them.

A good Christian friend of mine is an astronomer who speaks readily of things that happened billions of years ago. Reality is not a threat to faith. It is a threat to FEAR.

The ignorant who throw bombs from one side of this issue at the ignorant on the other side of this issue inform no one and draw attention only to those on both sides whose understanding is framed primarily by what they refuse to accept.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 20, 2007 11:22 AM
Comment #236522

John Lewis,
Though this is probably not dead on the point of Chop’s article it is pretty close to the point of the debate we are orbiting. By using Hitler’s self-identification with Christianity to paint a color on Christianity you miss the point you make by pointing to the values of Scientific Humanism.

Could I not also point to the values of Tillich and Bonhoeffer, to Paul’s insistence that Jews could not both be the source of a value of Love and withold that good news from the Gentiles all around them? Of course! For myself, though I am a Christian, I have insisted that there is an evolutionary pressure at work in the fact that values we Christians hold are also seen in many other faiths. I can see that as God working in the lives of people who will never see love properly expressed by a Christian even as you simply see it as an evolutionary pressure at work in a dynamic environment.

Attacking the point source of someone’s set of values, the things my bible professor pointed out to me, when I complained of the beliefs of some group of fundamentalists in my youth, kept people from “hitting each other in the head”, is just silly. What we should be doing is coming to a common understanding of what those beneficial values are, regardless of where they came from, or how heinous the sins of those who seek to wrap themselves in the convenient prestige of some religious or non-religious banner may be.
From an evolutionary standpoint, given the distribution of religions among the peoples of the world compared to the relative nondistribution of cultural atheism, one may at least posit that religions do not seem to lead inevitably to the extinctions of cultures.

Maybe you could cut them a little slack.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 20, 2007 2:16 PM
Comment #236528

Mr. Lewis,

I read the page on Secular Humanism and the editorical by Paul Kurtz. If you are true to the moral and ethical tenets stated there and Christians are true to the teachings of Christ we should never have a cross word.
But the fact that Mr. Kurtz would place harmless recreational books on fantasy subjects like Harry Potter, though they make no pretense of being factual, on the same ethical playing field as the latest evangelical atheism from Hitchens makes us wonder if there might not be as much judgementalism at work among the Humanists as you complain about among the Theists.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 20, 2007 4:46 PM
Comment #236546

Mr. Jamison,

I find it interesting that you and I and others are having this discussion and yet no understanding has been gained. In the first of these last two responses directed to me you go on about what your values are and even begin your third paragraph referencing an “Attack” on your values. No such attack was made by me. The numerous “I” statements demonstrate that you are taking this conversation personally. I wish that were not the case, as your willingness to read the page I directed you to and your thoughtful comments on this subject demonstrate an obvious intellect and I believe deep thinker.

Your values, whatever they are and whatever they are based on were not the topic. I took issue with, and still object to Chops’ use of Scientific Humanism as his boogeyman in his very apparent agenda. I have stated, provided basis for and evidence to support the proposition that Scientific Humanism is much more than Science, more than Atheism, and certainly has no demonstrated love for the communist muderers you personally have tried to associate with it. As I pointed out “Ethics” are a big part of the values that I share with many who identify with Scientific Humanism.

It is all too convenient for you and several others in this thread to continue avoiding that point. Instead you have chosen to take my comments personally and several others continue to ignore what has been plainly presented. I will not continue to labor over this distinction, because I finally get it. There are those participating in this discussion who would rather ignore this fact than to deviate from their agenda. The Association is not accidental. It is a tactic that is repetitively used.

I fear that to complain that I associated Hitler with Christianity in your first response and then site fault in my set of beliefs in your second is the height of hypocrisy. Especially so, when it was never my intention to associate him with all Christians. If you will read the comment again (perhaps with a cooler head), I used this reference to illustrate my point to you about not painting with a “Broad Brush”. To assert otherwise is either uniformed or intellectually dishonest.

Just to set the record straight…. My mother is Christian as are many of my friends, co-workers, and people I respect. I know that not all Christians are like Pat Robertson, George Bush, or Hitler. Just because I don’t believe what you believe does not mean that every discussion of religion is an attack on you or your values.

As to the “common understanding of beneficial values”, I think we should start with Indifference. Not acceptance or even tolerance. I require neither from you or anyone else. I ask that you be completely indifferent to what I believe and I will do the same for you. Once that value is shared among us all, this whole discussion would not be neccessary.

Finally, one quick thought on Mr. Kurtz and Harry Potter. There is no dogma in Humanism. I do not have to agree with Mr Kurtz to consider myself a part of this Philosophy. Having said that, I believe that JK Rowling has created a fictional universe that attempts to demonstrate many of the values that I and other Humanists espouse. I feel safe in assuming you do not see the Bible as fiction, but surely you can find nobility and inspiration in Greek Mythology, a Holywood Movie, or any other number of sources. Try to be more open minded. I personally find the Song of Solomon to be a beautiful piece of literature, even though the text is not sacred to me.

I encourage you to soften your approach. I have very much enjoyed our intellectual sparring and believe that the discourse in argument can be enlightening to us all… but only if we approach it honestly, openly, and courageously.

Posted by: John Lewis at October 21, 2007 3:19 AM
Comment #236547


Very well said. This format seems to lend itself to the fringe. It is very easy to skip over 2 or 3 valid points and challenge the one that you believe will inflame your opponent the most.

While it makes for great drama, no one really learns anything in the process. We all have opinions that we want heard or we wouldn’t be here. But I appreciate in particular your observations on this one.

Posted by: John Lewis at October 21, 2007 3:29 AM
Comment #236550

The instruments that perform abortions were not developed by necromancers, but scientists.

Yes, but scientists did not invent the coat hanger…

Posted by: max at October 21, 2007 10:21 AM
Comment #236552

John McCaim labeled the Evangelical Christian leadership as agents of intolerance. In the values voter summit straw poll, McCain got 1.4% of the vote. Jesus was an agent of tolerance. He was intolerant of intolerance. IMO, Jesus rejected the Jewish version of God and suffered the consequences of that rejection. If God is loving and tolerant while at the same time hateful and vengeful, then man is truely made in Gods image and Satan is imaginary.

Max: Most inventors employ scientific methods such as trial and error to come up with products such as coat hangers. Some find other practical uses for such inventions. For instance, retreving keys from a locked vehicle. Necessity….

Posted by: jlw at October 21, 2007 12:21 PM
Comment #236556

“However, it need not. By subjecting our values to a standard higher than scientific objectivity, we can maintain civilization as we know it.”

This statement is very confusing. In one statement you place “values,” “standard,” “ojectivity” and “civilization.” Wow! I like them all. But distinguishing among them……?

There are two kinds of “values”: how to study nature and how to live. When you study nature, the highest value is scientific objectivity. And everyone who studies nature - scientists - follow this value.

When you want to know how to live, there is no consensus. Some study philosophies, of which there quite a few, and some study religions. From these studies they gain values to guide their actions.

Please do not confuse the objectivity of scientific study with the subjectivity of “values.”

Posted by: Paul Siegel at October 21, 2007 3:32 PM
Comment #236557


That’s my point exactly. Scientists did not create abortion, and even without the machines it would still happen. In a comparison study of countries that allow and do not allow abortions, it was found that the number of abortions remained the same. The number of women that died having them was, of course, different. I don’t remember the name of the study though.

Posted by: Max at October 21, 2007 5:10 PM
Comment #236565

Scientist didn’t create murder, but Alfred Nobel invented dynamite, Ericsson invented the concentric tube gun that made the use of such explosives for projectile propulsion possible(before he invented the Monitor-type gunboat), and numerous other scientists have advanced the means by which we kill each other immeasurably. None the less, science is itself neither good nor bad. It is just very, very powerful.

As to coat hangers, my own mother would agree with you. That does not mean that issue is well decided to this point. The highest estimate I have ever seen for the number of people even injured in a single year in back-alley abortions was less than 20,000. Assume it is really five times more. Then we buy the safety of 100,000 people with the lives of 1,000,000 people each year. That smells like genocide, one subject down on the front page of this blog. “Not people!”, you may complain. Just like Jews weren’t really people and Armenians weren’t really people, and infidels aren’t really people.

You see, that’s the problem with that issue. The Court really has DEFINED what a “person” IS, something the Constitution gives them no power to do. Yet they refuse to allow US to decide for ourselves, and thus spread the responsibility (some might say the blame) for whatever our “choice” really is over the whole of society.

How do we know what society’s “value” is in that terribly important issue?

Mr. Lewis,

The “I” statements are a bad habit, not an indication that my personal ox had been gored. The point was that we all have a habit of oversimplifying the ills of our opponent’s ideologies, appending any manner of ills to them. For example there is the appending by people like Christopher (irony in that name, isn’t there?) Hitchen’s of everything from the excesses of the Crusades to the Holocaust to Christianity, though there is nothing in the New Testament which would support such horrors. Likewise I countered (for effect, as a rhetorical lever) with the manifest horrors of self-described atheists of various stripes. It is not hard, as long as our goal is to incite the basest form of understanding available through the lens of prejudice, and even bigotry (Hitchen’s unfortunate baliwick) to find some way of demonizing any identifiable group. Doing so, however, does nothing to increase real constructive comprehension.

In that regard, I found your desire for “indifference” disappointing. I don’t want to be indifferent to atheism. I want to know what drove people to it, how they apprehend the experience of being an individual in the midst of it, and what gives them hope as they live with it. Oh, how I wish I could spend a day with someone like Albert Camus who, having written so many novels, was the creator-god of many a universe in which there was no God.

I don’t want to live in a world indifferent to my faith, or the struggles I have been through to understand how many idols masquerade as God for those who want so to be faithful in today’s world.

The trouble is that we are TOO INDIFFERENT to each other! We aren’t people to each other, filled with hopes and dreams and fears and caring for people and ideas we hope will assist us and others to find the most possible meaning in our fretting upon the stage. We are indifferent to how others are NOT the label, fetus, Christian, Secular Humanist, Atheist, infidel, Muslim, Jew ad infinitum! We take too much comfort in the label and its power to pigeon-hole so we don’t have to think too hard or live in a world large enough that we can’t see all the way to its edges.

In a world where half of the people are, by definition, below average, how do we create the sort of imagery they need to sense their own meaning in an all too confusing time? Is it so bad to have the modern equivalent of the travelling troubadors and storytellers with their ancient epics filling the breast of the common citizen with a sense that their daily toil supports a high calling? And if they can’t find that for themselves with the Bible does it do us harm if they do it with Ayn Rand? Can’t we think deeply enough to be in awe of the ancient Sadduces, who believed in, and worshipped, God, but didn’t expect an afterlife? To hell with indifference!

Mr. Lewis, I don’t want to be indifferent to you and what is inside you, motivating you. Not doing so in this discussion has made me look hard at me. It is so much easier to bust out in ridiculous diatribes so I can be indifferent and I don’t have to see you as human. Instead I have to examine my own intellectual foundations and beliefs and face the fear that can rise up from not having all the answers.

All of that is a value of sorts. None of it is strictly scientific.

God, in my understanding of the world, wants faith to be hard. Otherwise it is just knowing. He wants me to learn from you, something I can’t do by being indifferent. So I’ll disagree with you there.

Oh, gee, more “I” statements…

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 21, 2007 8:02 PM
Comment #236590
Yet they refuse to allow US to decide for ourselves

Isn’t that the whole point? Individual choice? Oh, you mean some to decide for everyone. Sorry.

Posted by: womanmarine at October 21, 2007 10:18 PM
Comment #236613

As long as only nine decide exactly as you would have them decide you are more than happy. Blissfully disempowered by a totalitarian process, sure, but happy.

Let the nine decide as you would not decide, however, and you begin to feel the chafing of the boot on your throat. Either the defining of what is a person is the province of the people through their elected representatives and that messy process called politics, or it will devolve into what is most convenient for a privileged few.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 22, 2007 8:56 AM
Comment #236614

I thought deciding what is a person was God’s decision?

Posted by: womanmarine at October 22, 2007 9:01 AM
Comment #236621

Are you suggesting that we allow those who say they know God best to deliver us his will, or are you suggesting that the Supreme court is God?

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 22, 2007 10:13 AM
Comment #236674

Chops is onto something when he espouses the American commitment to concept of equality. Exposing values like these to scientific inquiry (scientific humanism) will certainly cause some problems but I doubt they are larger than those posed by racism. By postulating that of course it is natural that one race would be intellectually superior to another, Chops is creating a strawman argument in the hotbed history of racism.

For one, why is it so obvious to Chops, what evidence does he give? As others in this thread have pointed out who is able to define “race” and “intelligence” sufficiently and can test for them? For another, the reason science has not pursued the question of race and intelligence has much to do with the great prevalence of racism masquerading as science versus science supporting racism.

But a more important question would be “what is the point?” Those looking for differences, however small, are simply pushing an agenda. One must not subscribe to the PC police to consider these kinds of remarks as (intentional or not) racist innuendo. It’s like push-polling - “I will not stoop to the level of my opponent by referring to, true or not, his drunken binges and whoring”.

The Enlightenment values this country was founded on can explain Lincoln’s unscientific and racist beliefs and defense of the concept of equality and liberty for America’s blacks at the same time. However, true science has had little to do with the racist invocations of people like Watson thru the ages to put blacks on a lower footing. In short, Lincoln was on sound moral ground but his racist beliefs were not on scientific ground at all. A triumph of principled moral judgment, yes, but I hardly see this example as a refutation of scientific humanism.

We shouldn’t be afraid of people like Edward O. Wilson, the chief proponent of scientific humanism, looking at our values through science. We should simply ask “Why?”.

Posted by: chris2x at October 22, 2007 2:27 PM
Comment #236678


BTW, it seems Chops has a problem with “scientific humanism”, as many have, and not “secular humanism”. In fact, he sounds in some respects like a humanist and I don’t think he mentions God at all.

Posted by: chris2x at October 22, 2007 2:42 PM
Comment #236682

Mr. Jamison,

Ok. We are so far off topic that I believe the moderator must be ready to burst a vessel at any moment. Watching the entire conversation devolve to a discussion on abortion is disturbing to me. Had that been the original topic, I would have remained silent. Not because I have no strongly held ideas, nor because it is not a conversation worth having, but simply because the logical circles of both sides have become so engrained that it has been years since I heard an original thought on it. Point; counterpoint; it has become formulaic.

At risk of focusing away from the topic (but everyone else has)the segway that is closest to my heart is the request for “Indifference”. It is at the base of who I am. Your response to me was basically, “request denied”. Assuming I cannot change your mind, and that is my assumption, it forces those of us who do not believe what you believe to also abandon our “Indifference” toward what you believe. That is the fuel that Christopher Hitchins, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Robert Ingersol, and many others use to motivate their arguments against you.

It is less than difficult to point out logical falacies in Christian belief, regardless of whether it is extreme fundamentalism or more moderate in nature. All Christian belief, indeed all religious belief has at its root a certainty of purpose that cannot be truly certain. In my experience, it is this doubt that drives the Christian to an ever increasing level of mania in demanding that what is unceratin is certain.

The most honest position a person can take is the agnostic one. We don’t know. You don’t know. Like you said, “God, in my understanding of the world, wants faith to be hard. Otherwise it is just knowing.” Once you know that you don’t know, the logical reaction is to pursue your own interests in a desire to know, whatever direction that takes including Christianity. The illogical reaction is to assert that you do know and push those your certainties on others. Indifference would allow us each to pursue our thougts on the subject in any direction we wish without the fear that someone is judging you or worse trying to force you in their direction.

I have examined Christianity very closely. I cannot say the same for other religions, although I have taken a cursory look at many in an effort to arrive here at this place and time and state of mind. It took years to remove the guilt associated with rejecting Jesus. It was a very scary process, but one for which I am grateful. Grateful to myself, for loving myself enough to truly free my mind and for having the courage to view the world in terms of reality and reason. I am very satisfied with my journey thus far and am excited by every new day it brings. I do not need your god or any other to feel that way. And yes, I know full well that one day my journey will end… and no I am not afraid.

At least as certain as you are that you have found the correct answer to the God question, is the Isalmic fundamentalist who blows themself up for jihad. You have found nothing for certain that he has not. You both have found a certainty grounded in uncertainty that you both call faith. Faith is dangerous in that, by definition, it cannot be reasoned with. You will never change the mind of the jihadist, and I will never change yours although it is very possible for you to change your own. (please do NOT flame me - I am not suggesting that you would become a suicide bomber, just making a valid point).

I once traveled the road that you are on. While my life experiences and your own are likely very different,I felt with absolute certainty that I had found God and accepted the sacrfice of his son in payment of my sins. I wanted to be a “slave of Christ” as the New Testament puts it and felt strongly that I needed to share what I found with others. Looking back, I was not a bad person trying to bend people to my will. I was over-compensating for having been brought up in a culture that told me I was a sinner in the first place.

Good, bad, evil, sin… they are all value judgements that do not really exist. Steal an apple, you sin against the store owner. Give it to your starving wife and you are a saintly provider. I don’t need an impossible standard, a god, to compare myself to. I simply need to interpret my actions in light of the circumstances that I am in and be true to myself. If I do that I can never “sin”.

If my purposes cross those of another or put me in conflict with society or the community I live in then a common good must be established, we arrive at these through princpled decsion-making. These principles are called “Ethics”. Beyond ethics are laws. Rules agreed to to ensure an equitable footing for all members of the society. Beyond these, nothing is necessary.

You mention some self-reflection and a desire to truly understand what motivates many like me. If that is an earnest effort, I would continue this conversation with you as you wish, although this is probably not the right forum. Indifference is the answer to living with each other in peace. I agree with you that it is not the best way to truly reach understanding. So in the context of electing representatives, passing legislation, or building a culture that we both must live in, I do NOT care what you believe and will fight having it thrust upon me. In the context of becoming more enlightened and building relationships with people, I deeply care what motivates you as well.

I wish you well.

Posted by: John Lewis at October 22, 2007 3:21 PM
Comment #236692

I think the whole question of what is the value of human life should be explored in greater detail. Is it priceless? Does “innocent” life (an aborted fetus/child) have greater value than does the life of an addicted life-time smoker who dies from the addiction? Is it immoral to take chances with one’s own life? Driving without a seat-belt? Rock-climbing? Skydiving? Is it a greater sin to imperil someone else’s life than your own? Is it immoral to have a legal system that monatizes the value of human life through such measures as “earning power” or age? Tobacco kills millions of people per year, perhaps tens of millions worldwide and yet I hear scant criticism of the industry (from the growers all the way up to the convenience store owner who sells the end product) from anybody else OTHER than the secular scientific humanist-based god-hating (?) (I’ve got all the adjectives right, I just can’t settle on the right noun!) When god said “thou shall not kill” was he distinguishing between the innocent and the guilty? What about the issue of “collateral damage” raised above? Is it a moral act to kill the innocents along with the guilty?
I’m just not sure of what the source would be of a “conscience greater than science” but I do know from the inconsistencies in this one issue that the source is not the religion industry.

Posted by: Charles Ross at October 22, 2007 5:10 PM
Comment #236767

Mr Ross,

I read your comment several times and am not sure where you are going with it. Tobacco, abortion and skydiving?

Since you seem focused on the Tobacco issue, here are my two cents. I do not want government interfering with any decision I make that, where there is no harmful impact to others. That includes levying unfair taxes on an industry to discourage its success. Tobacco is a consumer choice, whether it is good for me or not. (just for the record I don’t smoke, aside from the occasional cigar). Those who would impose measures designed to take away anothers freedom (even the freedom to purchase something), deserve to have the same impositons on their vices. History shows us that they will eventually hit on something you like but don’t need. Sugar, high-fat foods, the kind of car you want, whether you community has a gate on it or not. In my time here, I have seen all of these things attacked. I ‘ll bet if I kept going we would hit on one or two that you do not want demonized.

As to life, innocent or otherwise, value is in the eye of the value-holder. That is why there is so much disagreement. Many abortion opponents are pro death penalty. Many who would rush into Iraq wouldn’t help the homeless guy on the corner if he were bleeding to death. We are all innocent. None asked to be here and we are all reacting based soley on our character and circumstances. We too often confuse innocent with young.

The unfortunate truth is no one will ever value your life more highly than you do. Forcing people to not smoke is really a ploy for control masked as human concern. While I have never skydived (skydove?), I have gone Bungee jumping and found it invigorating. That does not mean I hold less value on my life than anyone else, just that I choose to spend my life experiencing as many of the things I enjoy as possible… like a cigar.

Oh dear, I feel that I may be sounding to conservative… So, keep your laws off a woman’s body and keep your taxes off my cigars. Live and let live, Charlie.

Posted by: John Lewis at October 23, 2007 8:58 AM
Comment #236775

Mr, Lewis,

Thank you for your thoughtful responses. Truth be told this sort of discussion is far more important to me than political discussions per se. In part this is because I believe that, were we all to have such open minds in search of understanding each other a lot of our political wrangling would be revealed as defense of oversimplifications intended to manipulate people who are not willing to stop, listen, and think.

Therein is part of my concern over indifference, a word I associate with callous disregard while you seem to take it as laissez-faire. Either attitude, because both imply a disengagement, illicits too little understanding to overcome a tendency to stake out perceived psycological territories in contests over the hearts and minds of the uninformed or uninterested. I think where we really differ is that what I want is something like an engaged DISinterest while what you seem to prefer is a disengaged disinterest, a distinction that may lie at the heart of our philosophical differences.

Definition of terms is so important in a discussion like this. Your use of the word “faith” has imputed to me a certainty I have already forsworn, recognizing the idols inherent in virtually all public pronouncements of doctrine. Indeed, in my crisis of faith it was recognizing that, when I examined the specific concepts being rejected by Hawking, Weinberg, Dawkins, and Hitchens, I saw idols I didn’t believe in either that allowed me to reconstruct my “faith”.

We do, you see, have a common ground. Both your camp and mine abhor idolatry. Where we disagree most is over the mechanism that best defends us against it.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 23, 2007 10:26 AM
Comment #236777

Charles Ross,

In another venue I have written on the value of life. It is a fairly simple notion. A human life is worth a human life. We can abstract it for the purposes of providing a basis for dealing with one another by saying as I have that a human life is worth another human life, but we must also understand that it is an abstraction. It is not a literal truth.

What does your assertion of a “right” impose on me, or mine on you? Does your “right” to healthcare obligate me to your medical service? How would that be different from slavery if it did? Does your “right” to ride a motorcycle without a helmet obligate society to keep you alive when head injuries make you unable to care for yourself? You see? Those are inherently ECONOMIC calculations because they imply a give and take, a combination of responsibility and priviledge. Do I have an obligation to yield up my life, if I am not yet born, so that my presence will be an inconvenience to you?

All rights are economic, really, and all economics, ultimately, are about the relative value of the expenditure of some portion of a life.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 23, 2007 10:50 AM
Comment #236779

Mr Jamison,

I thought our common ground began with your statement, “a lot of our political wrangling would be revealed as defense of oversimplifications intended to manipulate people who are not willing to stop, listen, and think.” For me this is a good description of politics in our country regardless of your political bent. That is why I jumped in to the discussion in the first place. Left undefended a post like Chops’, either by intent or ignorance, associates groups of people (Scientific Humanists) with any ill of society he wishes to use as a catalyst for inflaming the reader.

It is easy to get people engaged against a topic like racism and then attempt to aim that engagement at a percieved enemy. Both sides do it all the time. Class warfare is a tool of the progressives; Social warfare of the conservatives. Neither is correct in any of their assumptions, but then they are not truly the assumptions of the user, but merely the tools of propaganda, artfully used to create sides on issues so they will have someone to represent. It is about control not principle.

In reality (where I choose to live), the average American has a pretty high standard of living, despite rhetoric that Republicans are destroying the economy. While I disagree with the fiscal policies of this administration (deficit spending, wasted wealth on war, etc.), the rational mind can see that we as a whole are not that bad off. On the Social Side, Amercia is one of the most conservative and in my opinion uptight cultures in the Western World, despite rhetoric that Democrats are ushering in an era of beastiality and socialism, because they favor Gay Marriage. These arguments appeal to the basest fears of people who are then guided toward action or inaction by the messenger.

This destroys the opportunity for true understanding and creates an environment where those who would divide us are in control (on both sides).

I think the distictions you draw between your defintion of Indifference and mine are mostly correct. Again, I apply this “Disengaged Disinterst” only at the MACRO level, not to individual interaction. “Engaged disinterest” provides the backdrop for what you and I have described above. People, in an effort to force society to look and act like their own ideals, provide the fodder for those seeking control. And where control is possible, there are always those who seek it.

With regard to idolatry in Athesism or in Humanism, I am not sure I understand your point. I have read much criticism leveled at the authors you mention and do not wish to make assumptions about what you are saying or risk setting up a straw man that I could easily burn. But, a typical objection, would be to say that we(atheists) have elevated evolution or “the big bang” to the stature of a “belief” and have therefore just created a new god. The fallacy in this objection,is the limitation of the objector to recognize that their own need for an origin is not shared by the Atheist. It is they, not the Atheist, that must track backwards to an ultimate beginning. Since science cannot yet tell us what came before the Big Bang (and may never be able to), the religious posit that this must be god. The Atheist does not assert a negative. I do not state that there is no and can be no god. I instead assert that there is no evidence for nor any thing that would require god for an explanation. Because I cannot see past the Horizon does not mean I will fall of the edge of the earth if I sail toward it.

Atheism means that we do not believe in a god, it does not mean that we believe there is NO god. There is a distiction here and it is the driving force in most arguments between the coimmunities.

I have no problem with “Faith”, publically stated or not. I have a problem with faith presented as knowledge and then used to force change on those who do not wish it. Indeed, Christian faith can serve many good purposes. It can motivate charity, it can encourage love, especially within families, it can provide a comforting story to those facing death. But once you accept that it is belief not knowledge, it should never drive any law or any policy. It should be shared and groomed among believers, and perhaps even shared with someone who is searching for this kind of oulet in their lives.

I am indifferent to communities of believers. I really don’t care if they face the west and pray 5 times a day or celebrate their faith with annual holidays of gift-giving. What I do care about, is when they try to force me honor their traditions, or force their dogma into tax-payer financed schools, or control the social definitions of relationships between people, or decide when and where I can shop, or what I can do with my body. I deeply care, when their “faith” is forced on me as policy.

Evangelise to your hearts content. Tell your stories over and again. But do not try to shape a society that only you can feel comfortable in. If you do, then we have conflict. I think even Jesus would agree, “give unto Ceasar what is Ceasar’s, give unto the lord what is the lord’s”. Jesus removed himself from the politics of the day and focused on a spiritual message, as a result 2000 years later, his message still has impact. Let’s both hope that Christians of today find their way back to his message.

Posted by: John Lewis at October 23, 2007 11:40 AM
Comment #236795

Regarding comments made above about government’s role in controlling our behavior, I have to say that government, at all levels, has always done this. It is certainly not in question that they have not only a right but an obligation to do so. Our income tax system, to mention a highly visible entity, influences our behavior in many ways. Didn’t, w in recent years, change the tax structure in recent years by lowering the tax on dividends and capital gains? Did he not openly admit that he was doing so to influence investment in capital markets? Isn’t he blatently attempting to influence our behavior through doing this?
Sticking with our tax system for the moment, doesn’t both the state and federal government offer reductions in taxes for mortgage interest? reductions in taxes for having children? Our tax system plays a duel role in the United States: it raises revenue and it controls (“influences” is probably the more accurate word) our behavior by imposing taxes on bad behavior (use of tobacco, use of the automobile, alcohol,) and reducing or eliminating taxes on good behavior.
That government does this is not in question by anybody. That government should do this should not be in question by anybody. Where to draw the line at doing this is open to debate.
And, I have to say, I am only talking about one small aspect of government involvement in our lives, taxation.

Posted by: Charles Ross at October 23, 2007 3:48 PM
Comment #236797

Mr. Ross,
If our discussion of Humanism and Theism is at the fringes of the topic at hand, and it probably is, the use of taxes to control behavior steps off into a different area altogether. It is absolutely a legitimate topic for political discussion, but it is way out of the baliwick Chops’s article established.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 23, 2007 4:28 PM
Comment #236802


With all due respect, I’m not sure exactly what your argument is regarding the statement of this one man. Ironically it’s usually conservatives who make arguments like his and castigate liberals for being “egalitarian” and not dealing realistically with differences, and even criticizing the scientific community for not dealing with this sort of thing.

In any case, science is just a way of gaining and testing knowledge about the material world. It doesn’t inherently deal with values, ethics, or what we philosophically “should” do. Science can ensure however that we’re better informed of the consequences of our actions. What direction our society should take and questions of right and wrong are decided by fields that deal with moral issues like religion and philosophy. These two categories, science and values, do not conflict except when one tries to push its boundaries on the other. Such as when people like Hitler used genetics to claim inferior people must be eliminated (actually it wasn’t scientific but they claimed it was). And on the other hand religious fundamentalists and ideologues making irrational pronouncements in areas better answered by science such as when creationists claim evolution is a hoax or free market fundamentalists doing the same with environmental issues.

Posted by: mark at October 23, 2007 5:15 PM
Comment #236826

Mr. Lewis,

We are in agreement on politics use of polarization to control groups. It benefits the power brokers of both sides to limit the scope of the conversation to specific, narrow rails.

As to idolatry, I define that as the establishment of some concept to which a person will commit the bulk of their effort wherein one can trace the ultimate service to self. By this definition Pope Leo X clearly was an idolater, but Mother Teresa, especially in light of recent revelations, was not. A capitalist may, by this defintition, abide by the discipline of a profit and still produce great good for society and not be an idolater, while a politician, dispensing the public coffers for ostensible good, pursues personal empowerment, and is one.

What I said earlier about the need to be clear about definitions is apparent in your statement-

“What I do care about, is when they try to force me honor their traditions, or force their dogma into tax-payer financed schools, or control the social definitions of relationships between people, or decide when and where I can shop, or what I can do with my body. I deeply care, when their “faith” is forced on me as policy.”
Here the key words are “honor”, “social definitions”, “force”

I’m not sure what you mean by the term “honor”. Let’s assume from the context that from your perspective it means “accomodating the supersititions of the majority”. If the superstitions of the majority are essentially benign, say, they permit a few moments of silence to stand in for the Christian prayer they really wish to impose- and this buys for the minority the opportunity either to pray their Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or other prayer or simply to reflect quietly on how silly it seems to pray, along with with a reduction in the general paranoid tension in that majority, is it a bad thing to accomodate that?

As to “force their dogma…” It is very difficult for many of us to recognize how recent a feature of Western life taxpayer financed schools are. Here in Texas such schools have really existed for only eleven decades, and have had a firm financial footing only since the ’20s. Their impact as the most socially influential institution in national life has been far more brief, only about half a century. Far from the religious forcing their influence on the schools, which were a social abstraction introduced into a largely church-centered society, schools appear to be, at least to the religious community, dedicated to dismantling the society that existed prior to their dominance. That was a society in which marriages were stronger, crime less prevalent, a much smaller percentage of the society was imprisoned, and discourse, at least at the level of visible culture, appeared more civil. Now, I will say I personally think much was bad about that time and much is good about this one. It is easier to get food, be clothed, and housed if you are poor now. But it is also harder to be well raised and directed to a life of productive and fruitful labor if you are poor. All in all, if I had to choose between being born black in America today and being born black in America eighty years ago I’d opt for 1927. At least then the terror was coming from bad people outside a cohesive community in which fathers and mothers worked together to raise families. Now it comes from a corrosive insurgency eating away at the fabric of the community itself and devastating the families of which it is made. I believe that is a direct result of the valuelessness forced on a once church-centered society by taxpayer financed schools.

In genetics there is a lot of talk about the genes we don’t use, the unexpressed genome. I’ve even heard people marveling at all the “junk” in the genome. “Wouldn’t we work better without it?” one might ask. There is a sort of parallel here. It is easy, when one does not know the fuction of some seemingly useless evolutionarily selected thing, to insist we would be better off without that thing. But, as many geneticists point out, the unexpressed genome may also function as evolution’s safe-storage, its set aside for a rainy day, as it were. One can imagine some neuron complaining of the interferance caused by a particular protein and managing to get it removed from the genome, only to find that the vascular system collapses, and the whole organism dies, as a result. The brilliant stratosphere of our culture is quick to complain of the constraints of “values”. But when they dismantle them it is the below average foundations of culture that collapse- and then the stratosphere winds up under the blade of the guillotine.

As to “social definitions”, is the religious community morphing marriage, for example, into something it has never been? Of course not. Marriage exists as a means of providing a socially accepted and nominally enforced environment for raising children. Efforts to shift it away from this are rightly seen in the religious community as an attempt to trivialize and undermine the institution. As with values in other contexts this one does the most for the poor, tremendously reducing rates of poverty and imprisonment for adults raised in poor neighborhoods by married parents.

Let me close by going back to Chops’s article-

“We as a civilization need not agree the source or content of all these values, provided we agree they exist and come to some compromise on a subset of them. When we are secure in our underlying conscience, we can look research in the eyes - even if it tells us something very unpleasant.”
Much of what passes for values, or even superstition, in culture, the traditions some would so readily wipe away, is the accretion of evolutionary forces on human society. Even among the agnostic enlightened eliminating cultural structures shared in civilizations and tribes spread all across the globe ought to be undertaken with fear and trembling. Hindus don’t have monogamous marriage because Christians imposed it on them. Something else clearly is at work there.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at October 24, 2007 10:25 AM
Comment #236968

Mr. Jamison,

While I object to your definition of Idolatry in such broad terms and see no “objective” difference between your capitalist and your politician, I would prefer to spend my energies on your other assertions.

You ask if it is a “bad thing” to accomodate the “paranoid tension” of what you call the majority. I say yes. There are appropriate venues for public prayer, not to mention that within the Christians own belief system this should be done privately. Anyone in favor of this at a secular sporting event has no purpose other than to demonstrate their prayer for others. Isn’t pride a sin? You ask why some could not sit silently while this took place, I would ask why they could not pray privately without my silence or recognition of their act of prayer. Would God hear them any less? If they truly wish to pray with others, then go to Church where it is highly lilkly that others want to be subjected to it. The moment of silence is still a demand that I show respect for what they are doing. Truthfully I would respect them more if I felt they were doing it for the right reasons.

With reagrd to the schools, you are really picking and choosing timelines based on convenience. But to argue how long the schools have been public misses the point entirely. I am forced to contribute tax dollars to those schools for the purpose of education not for Christians to use it s a forum for evangelism. Again, if you want me to respect your unshared beliefs then do not force them into a forum that has another purpose. To argue the history is pointless, although I sincerely believe that modern conservatives have begun to believe their own propaganda. This country was founded as much on the freedom from religion as it was on freedom for religion. Many of our founding fathers were agnostic or atheist. As to whether marriages were “stronger”, that is yet again a value statement not one of fact. If by stronger you mean more difficult to leave you may be right. But the evidence of husbands beating and raping wives and children and a society that did not permit their escape is not what I would call stronger. It was without a doubt more dominated by the white male and as a white male I understand the tendancy toward nostalgia. But Norman Rockwell never painted a lynching of a black man or a woman living in squalor because her husband divorced her and the only job she was allowed was as a secretary to another dominating white man.

I must admit shock about your statement of preferring the 1920’s if you were black. I beleive you are struggling to make a point about current weaknesses in our entitlement programs, but it comes across as completely out of touch. Do you know any older black people? Old enough to rememeber the time before the civil rights movement? Do you recall they weren’t allowed to vote, or to drink from the same fountain as a white person. Many feared being killed, hung by their neck, for going against white society . I really think you should rethink the statement. “All in all, if I had to choose between being born black in America today and being born black in America eighty years ago I’d opt for 1927.” If you lived in 1927, someone would have already strung you up for arguing with a white man.

To call those who share no reverance for your god a “corrosive insurgency”, is just as out of touch and is indicative of the arrogance that will ultimately lead people away from your god. You have no more right than I to force others to be silent while you pray. You have no more right than I to push a religious curriculum in the schools. You have no more right than I to determine what other peoples relationships should look like. It is arrogant and immoral to assert your supremacy over other minorities of any kind. There will come a day, I hope, when belief in your mythology is the minority position. What if then, you were forced to observe Muslim traditions. I doubt you would be so interested in accomodating the majority then.

You can have all the opinions you want. But for you to assert these kinds of statements and try to justify their being institutionalized in our society, is exactly what has created the likes of me, or Hawking, or Sagan, or Hitchens or Dawkins. You lament attacks on your “faith” while doing all that you can to stoke the flames. If the message of Jesus is to reach out to a lost world, you have instead charged at us with baseball bat in hand and swinging wildly and then feined surprise that our reaction was first to duck, then to fight back.

As to the your definition of marriage… “Marriage exists as a means of providing a socially accepted and nominally enforced environment for raising children. ” Where did that come from? Up until now, the conversation has been very based in principle or fact on both your side and mine. This is perhaps the worst image of marriage I have ever read. What is sacred about that definition? What happened to love? Should all people who cannot bear children be denied marriage? Should we ignore the amazing success stories of the modern hetero-only marriage? Over a 50% divorce rate, rampant adultry and child abuse and your defintion doesn’t even include love? You have in words here and in the acts of those you hold up as a standard trivialized and undermined your own institution. I don’t think the homosexuals could do much worse than that on marrage or raising children. Jesus said, ” Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

Finally, I have no “fear and trembling” over wiping away the so-called traditions you have described here. There were great men of religion in our countries history, The religious right (a recent creation) has replaced them with men like Pat Robertson and Jerry Fallwell. What you and they call tradition, I call propaganda designed to capitalize on the shared faith of a people and use their fear of god and sin to justfy very new hatreds and injustices. Cowards and fear mongers is what I see running the Religious right today. Examples abound so tread lightly. You started your response by agreeing with me about “politics use of polarization to control groups”, then immediately make 4 points, all of which do that very thing.

I am so disappointed that I will not even reference the many cultures that hold polygymy as their family structure, or find it acceptable to marry a female at the age of 12 or that molested boys as a “normal” part of the culture. But your “traditions” have not produced the society you seem to want and it is fear that keeps you from changing them. Well, I am not afraid. I and others will work to break the hold that your traditions impose and assert ourselves as equal citizens, whether the old guard likes it or not.

You are right something else is indeed at work here. But it is not god, It is arrogance. And as Proverbs 16:18 says. “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

Posted by: John Lewis at October 25, 2007 8:05 PM
Comment #237437

Mr. Lewis,

I wrote this three days ago, but due to server problems and having to attend to business matters have been unable to post it till now.

I have an obligation to produce things in article form for WatchBlog, but I don’t want to abandon this discussion. You are making good points and calling me down on areas where I may not be wrong but have failed, over concern for the pressures of time, to be clear. I’m working on an article which will draw heavily on this conversation.

Let me address, though, two particular issues you have found particularly distressing in my latest post. The first deals with my assessment of the black community from prior to the ’60s. Yes, I do know a number of people who grew up in that period. I have done one mural on the subject from local history and have another in the works, but stalled for lack of a wall. People like Scott Johnson and Samuel Walker Houston and Joshua Houston are genuine heroes who fought to better the lot of truly opressed people. Because the oppressive forces came from outside their communities they, and others like them within the community, could have a stature and function as leaders respected even among the enlightened of the white majority. People growing up in the communities for which they were leaders would never have thought to look up to gangsters, pimps, and rappers who lift up the denigration of women and the glorification of violence and drugs as values. They were at least grounded in productive ideals.

The second point is that the “corrosive insurgency” I noted was exactly this group of modern-day icons in minority communities, not atheists. I do not tie the outrages visited upon the minority community by a complete erosion of constructive value structures directly to atheists. Atheists are largely a feature of an intellectual elite.
I can’t imagine Hitchens or Dawkins purposely committing a crime, but they are hard at dismantling a dominant set of beliefs that, by the way, serves as a unifying cultural myth for which they propose no replacement. Since they appear not to comprehend the necessity of unifying mythology I think they are acting unwisely.

The article will address this issue and its ploitical consequences.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at November 2, 2007 9:02 AM
Comment #237491

Mr. Jamison,

Glad to hear you have not abandoned our discussion. While I have a much different perspective on the necessity of a “unifying cultural myth” (BTW - Great terminology), I will not try to anticipate the point(s) you will bring up in the coming post. I will reserve comment until I read it.

I would appreciate if, in that post or another, you would clarify your views on Marriage as well. I think you had much more in mind than your previous comments would suggest. But when challenging the foundations of a philosophy, it is important not to assume your reader understands your moral or ethical considerations.

Best regards…

Posted by: John Lewis at November 2, 2007 6:28 PM
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