No, I haven't gone completely mad.
I've been reading Dale Carnegie's seminal work, "How to convince your publisher that a really long title is a good idea, honestly"
OK, jokes aside - the summary is here on Wikipedia and makes for interesting reading:
Crucially, Carneigie (through his own, painful experience over a quote from Shakespeare wrongly attributed to the Bile) observes that you should never correct someone else's argument - even when they are painfully and obviously wrong.
Literal creationists (call them what we will) have suffered a terrible education - and a dishonest one, in our view. Yes, they are wrong, but telling them as much only actually strengthens their belief in their own error!
To make it doubly hard for us, if this obstacle wasn't enough, the truth is perhaps the most painful of all. They have been told that they will live forever, ya-de-ya and we're telling them:
a) They do not matter one iota in the grand scheme of things
b) No ethereal being gives a fuck - because the ethereal being is a figment of their imagination.
c) They are animals - little different from the apes in the zoo.
d) They are going to die - quite soon in real terms and for most of them, a in very short time, there will be nothing left save for the replicated strands of a complex chemical and perhaps a few memories.
So, the reason for this discussion is to find other ways - perhaps based on Carnegie's advice (it's good, but you should read the book) - of convincing these poor, terrified creatures that:
a) Life is actually worth something;
b) Science is like a fractal - the deeper you look, the more you see.
c) Death is part of a natural order and they have nothing to fear, save for the fear of death itself. The will live on in the memories of the people they touch (in a good way).
Actually Kris, the point I made above, gives me an idea.
I'm going to use this as a proof to (try to) explain to one of these delusional people how we see them.
Take four "things" (apples, oranges, pencils.. doesn't matter). Get two in each hand and then declare:
"Look, two plus two equals five, right?"
Unless they are complete idiots, they have to insist that it's four. BUT - what if you say you believe that there is another "thing" that no one can see: making a total of five things.
Rubbish, they should say, there are clearly only four.
Which is the whole point. They accept the evidence of their eyes in this case, the only difference between god(s) and the fruit is WHO told them there is an invisible object: that cannot be seen nor touched and that does not exert any testable influence. For all intentions, it only exists in your mind.
This is, I suspect, an atheist's version of Pascal's Wager (hopefully, harder to refute though).
Done correctly I can't see how it can be argued (even though they will). The only evidence for the Fifth Element (!) is in your imagination. (All we need is Bruce Willis in a flying taxi, but I digress).
Nice idea, but they'll likely resort to the usual special pleading and say that their god is hardly comparable with apples and oranges, and that you're just being silly.
They'll claim such earthly rules don't apply to their god and that he is outside our ability to know, measure, or understand (thereby utterly refuting their own bible in the process, but they won't see that either).
I think you may be hitting something there. The root of the problem has something to do with the application of the word 'opinion'. We're taught, growing up, to respect other people's opinions.
The problem is that we take that ideal and apply it to things that aren't opinions. It only works if a given subject has no correct, absolute reality, such as the beauty, goodness, or tastiness of something.
How tasty an apple is is open to opinion. How many calories that apple has is not. The only variation in that second characteristic comes with improved measurement techniques for detecting the nutritional composition of the apple.
I've always loved the phrase, "you're entitled to your own opinions, but you're not entitled to your own facts"
As you say, it seems many confuse the two ...
Besides, opinions are like beliefs in that we're told to respect them simply because someone has them (when any right-minded person will tell you that both are subject to the same rules as anything else; respect has to be based on merit - I'll respect someone's right to hold an opinion/belief, but I don't have to respect the opinion/belief itself - especially if it's completely goofy) :)
The thing with the fruit and the counting is meant as a demonstration to show them how we view their ideas.
We show them something which is demonstrably ludicrous and show how we use evidence to come to a conclusion; we are not allowed to invent bits that happen to be convenient.
It's a though experiment aimed to see how things look from our side of the fence and why their beliefs are only tenuous.
It doesn't matter WHERE they think that god resides (or what form it takes) the very fact that they are required to believe it is what makes the argument unsound and that is unarguable.
When I get really pissed off (which happens from time to time) I demand to know where their god is when atrocities are being committed in its name - the fact that most (so far ALL I've met) don't know that Muslims and Jews worship the self-same god as Christians scares the crap out of me. Their denial is an instant as it is blinkered.
Oh, I agree, I'm with you completely ... but you know what they're like - it's incredible the number of hoops they will jump through and how much logic they'll trample when defending their nonsense :)
Bizarre isn't it. Still, I guess we just have to keep chipping away at it.
My ex wife keeps banging at me to leave them be - which I understand, but my argument is that they are actually promoting the sort of blinkered ignorance that will drive our species from this planet. (Mind you, that might not be such a bad thing where the planet is concerned.)
Excellent point Marc. I think there are two points of attack: one is to suggest that religion is a cop-out - by blaming everything on God, you don't have to take responsibility for yourself, your fellow man and your world (people love a challenge); the other (and the most productive, I think) is to get people thinking about 'the truth'. This is what they're looking for after all, and the one they've found is the most convenient. But it needn't be your aim to instantaneously deconvert them - if you can plant a seed of interest in how religion works, what functions it fulfills, etc., you may have made a good start. The easiest way to do this is to focus on other religions. Why do peole believe in other religions, what functions do they fulfill in their lives. The more people think about this, the more likely they are to recognise parallels with their own beliefs. So, for instance, with Christians, use Islam, Hinuism and ancient religions, Greek, Norse, Egyptian, etc.
One brief example: Christians use the Bible as evidence of the existence of God, yet they will dismiss the validity of documents and institutions that assert the existence of other gods. They reject the application of scientific findings and logic to their own beliefs, but will use them against others...
I love it when missionaries come to my door and ask if I have heard the news, and do I read my Bible. My usual reply is that I am always reading it for a good old belly laugh that anyone can be so simple as to believe any of it, and for a window into the ludicrous, swiftly followed by the Koran. My day is made when, following the above failed evangelicals, a Liberal Democrat comes to the door to convince be that they are doing great things in the coalition!
Ridicule - yes
Argument - no, that's a one way ticket to brain damage.