Recently I noted that Saint Gasoline reiterated one of Sam Harris' talking points:

Clearly, religious fundamentalism and extremism is directly more harmful than more liberal religious interpretations or a vague spirituality, but both the extremists and moderates nevertheless engage in a style of thinking that makes extremism possible.  With faith, everything is permitted, and the religious moderate’s faith-based thinking legitimizes the faith-based thinking that is more extreme, whether it be the religious justifications for terrorism to religious oppression of homosexuals and women.

In response I said:

Not sure I buy the Sam Harris argument that moderates are sheltering the extremists. Especially with Christian religion, the cult think by design, yields even stronger passions when your tiny little group is the only god-fearing bunch on the planet. The extremists already typically denigrate the vast majority of “luke warm” Christianity and are skeptical that most Christians are really Christians, so they have many reasons to completely disregard whatever the compromised moderates and liberals think.


I don’t think it’s worth saving the argument (since as you point out, moderates cause immediate problems with solidarity in their own right), but you might be able to say that more people are exposed to religious thinking that tends towards extremism, by being a moderate. The God of the static Bible certainly is no moderate, so there will always be a turn over.


So what do you all think?  Can the argument be saved after all?


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Replies to This Discussion

It depends on the individual moderate. There are some moderates who are actively against the hateful elements of their religion. So they believe in things despite evidence, or cognitive dissonance? What they do inside their own heads is their problem and none of my concern.

Then there are moderates who have the same beliefs, but to a lesser degree (they might still be against the hateful elements: maybe they don't believe in homosexuality, but they still oppose the Westboro Baptist Church). I've known people like this in my everyday life and they're well-intentioned people who may have beliefs I disagree with, but it doesn't mean I have to dislike them as people. It depends on what exactly they believe and how they go about doing it.

With Islam there is a tendency to pass extremism off as moderate. For example, explaining backward ideas (such as woman's testimony being 1/2 a man's) with a pleading that we "understand" doesn't make the idea any less backward; it's still the same idea espoused by extremists. I've mostly seen so-called moderates condemn people who speak out against extremism, for being racist, etc; I haven't seen them say so much about condemning extremism. Under the Islamic concept of taquiya (deceiving unbelievers) extremists also act as moderates. Not that I don't think there are real moderates in Islam.

Usually I think that in the case of Christianity and Islam, if the person is at all serious about it, there is some degree of backwardness (even if a small degree), unless they have a very obscure or liberal interpretation of the religion.
"I strongly believe that we cannot completely write off every single theist"

Who said anything about 'completely writing off every single theist'? This is about standing up and unapologetically criticizing something that we see as dangerous. There's nothing wrong with doing that, and it doesn't require writing anyone off. All it requires is holding people accountable for the implicit support they lend to extremists.

"By even the most optimistic accounts, there are at most only 21 nonbelieving members of Congress."

That's a pretty pessimistic 'optimistic' account. Congress are more educated than average; atheism correlates positively with education. There are approx. half of people in congress who are in the Democratic party; membership in the Democratic party correlates positively with atheism. You don't have to be a self-declared 'atheist' to actually be a non-believer. Many agnostics and 'spiritual' people also do not believe in god(s). The base rate of the population of non-believers in the US is closer to 8-10% than your extremely conservative %4. Put that all together and I wouldn't be surprised if 15% or more of Congress are closeted atheists due to the drastically reduced chances of being elected if you're 'out' about not believing in god(s).

"We cannot, plain and simple, make any kind of lasting impact on society by ourselves. We need the moderates."

You seem to be arguing that lack of numbers means we are powerless. Non-believers are more numerous than Jews, Muslims, and Hindus *combined*, by far. Jews with only 1.3% of the population seem to be doing fine 'by themselves'.

Humans need other humans to get things done. We're a social species. There's no surprise there. Nobody I know of, not me, not Sam Harris, Dawkins, or anyone else, is advocating isolating ourselves. I wonder if you're not simply constructing a straw man.

"The first amendment guarantees that any law enforced in the United States must have a secular reason behind it. So if we want the moderates on our side, we don't even have to make it about faith. It is not necessary."

First of all, did that stop Proposition 8? Does that stop religious abuses in other countries?

Second, thank goodness the US *does* have that protection, or it would be totally f*cked. Why? Because people of *faith* would *love* to mess with the law even more than they do now. Oh, they try. And sometimes they succeed. Anti-evolution/anti-science acts have become increasingly chameleon-like in their attempts to slip past that limitation. Don't you think it would be a good thing to point out the religious motivation behind those shenanigans, and to criticize it openly without pussy-footing around the issue? I do.

Third, when you say, "It is not necessary," that's your opinion based on your personal premises, namely that this is all about waging legal battles over US Constitutional law. In *my* opinion, base on *my* personal premises, fighting against faith, dogma, and religion *is* necessary. Not just for US law, but for the safety and prosperity of the planet and all the people on it.

"In fact, if we do attack faith, we will only unite the moderates to the extremists more. Because they do hold these beliefs."

Do you have any evidence to support this assertion? "Oh no, that atheist criticized faith! I think I'm going to donate money to Al Qaeda now! At least they have faith, too!" Somehow I don't buy it.

You know what *guarantees* that moderates will support extremism? When people *don't* criticize faith and dogma. Just like when people in power didn't criticize Bush's war. Just like people who didn't criticize the Catholic Church for covering up child-rape. Just like nobody is allowed to criticize Islam in Shari'a dominated countries. And on and on and on....

"And if you accuse one of their central beliefs as being no better than an extremist-shield, they will respond defensively and be less open to lending you their support."

What if gaining their support is not your only goal?

And also, are you aware of how many people leave religion because they overhear convincing arguments about atheism? Most people leave religion with at least a little help from vocal atheism; atheism that's not afraid to call dogma dog crap and faith fantasy. Atheism that's not 'sorry' for being atheist.

"My solution: Don't do that."

Been there, done that. It doesn't work. Religion will not fade away on its own. It is tenacious. But that doesn't mean it's invincible, as we have learned from the experience of Europe and Japan. Social change is only possible when people speak out unapologetically about it and are willing to criticize the taboos and the status quo. That's how MLK did it, that's how Harvey Milk did it, that's how Gloria Steinem did it. I'm sure there are hundreds of other examples, these are just a few.

"It is irrelevant to any debate about actually solving social problems whether the members of a side believe in a "nice moderate gay-marriage-loving cute kitten god" or a "'god hates fags kill everyone that's not me' god," because neither god has a place in a legislative bill."

Tell that to people who vote, especially those who vote *in churches*, especially those who vote for X because it's the Christian thing to do, or so says their pastor. Tell that to the people who voted for Prop 8.

If theists didn't act on their theism in ways that affect other people, there would be no need for vocal atheism. Unfortunately, as we have seen far too many times, this is not the case.

"That's true of the United States and it's true of any country that holds to the separation of church and state."

Funny you should have to add that qualification, because it immediately leads to the question: Well, what about those countries that *don't*? Are we to leave them to the wolves? How are we to criticize religious abuses in other countries without criticizing the religion and faith that empower it?

"That's why extremists make up bullshit arguments about gay marriage undermining the sanctity of marriage."

That [faith] is why moderates follow along and support those bullshit arguments.

"That's secular language masking their sectarian beliefs."

'Sanctity' is secular language? Come on. Seriously?

"Our job is to peel away the secular language and expose their religious bullshit to the harsh light of interrogation. Play off the differences in the beliefs of extremists and moderates. Faith is one of the similarities."

See, that right there is the conundrum. You can't expose the religious bullshit without also undermining faith. That is exactly the problem that Harris is pointing out. You can't argue against a faith-based position with another faith-based position. That is why moderates both fail to, and are also reluctant to, specifically criticize extremist positions. All they can do is say, "Well *I* don't support that view. (But faith is still the foundation of my beliefs, so don't you dare criticize it.)"

Moderates can only disagree without actually providing a convincing argument. Unfortunately, the extremists are more convincing when it comes to rates of conversion. If we are to rely upon the power of moderate rhetoric to solve the problem of extremism, we will sit and stagnate, as freethought sat and stagnated for decades prior. We were waiting for the reasonable-minded religious to clean up the mess in their back yard. It didn't happen. The moderates got weaker, and the extremists got stronger. Umm, can you say Sarah Palin? The fact that this woman was even *considered* as any kind of candidate for any kind of position of power or responsibility just says so much against the notion that moderates can keep the extremists in check. They can't. The only thing keeping extremism in check is secularism, like the secularism that's encoded in the Constitution.

We don't need moderates. In fact, they get in the way. They impede resolution of the problem. Their message of "Keep quiet! The extremists don't represent *real* religion. They will go away over time," is the wrong message to listen to. We have, in fact, listened to it too long.

The root problems are faith, dogma, religion. Failing to identify those clearly does nobody any good. It's like failing to stand up against racism or homophobia or sexism.

There is nothing wrong with standing up and unapologetically saying, "Faith is bullshit, and here's why..." It *is* bullshit. And the more people who are jolted into realizing this by unafraid people who break the taboo against criticizing religion, the better.

"This actually privileges science greatly, because science is always, necessarily secular."

Science also debunks many faith-based claims. Should we defer to faith when science conflicts with it? If not, then how do you proceed? How do you argue against a faith-based claim without arguing against faith? Do you completely *ignore* the elephant in the room, that faith is wrong and invalid?

"This actually privileges science greatly, because science is always, necessarily secular."

Calling out faith as bullshit *is* a secular argument. I don't have to have faith to make that argument. I don't have to be religious or believe in god(s). I'm just talking about reality. And there's nothing wrong with that.
(Wow, you're like the king of the straw man slayers.)

"You're assuming Congress is an accurate demographic representation of the United States. It is not."

I'm going by the public stats. If you have some secret insider information on the demographics of Congress, please feel free to share your evidence.

"And if they are hiding because of the drastically reduced chances of being elected, then they are going to act (and legislate) like the moderate religious."

Whoah. Hold your horses there. I was responding specifically to your claim: "By even the most optimistic accounts, there are at most only 21 nonbelieving members of Congress." I debunked your claim with evidence. Before you go on pontificating on what the Congress will or won't do, I'd like you to offer counter-evidence, or acknowledge that your claim has been debunked and concede the point. You don't get to make assertion after assertion without support and expect to convince anybody. This is not a creationism rally.

"And they're not going to want to jeopardize their career by supporting direct attacks on faith."

This was not the point you were arguing. You followed up your 21/535 assertion with the claim: "We cannot, plain and simple, make any kind of lasting impact on society by ourselves." The implication, because you were counting Congress people, was that our relatively small numbers make us powerless. I countered by showing your estimate was hardly optimistic. Your reply to my counter is that "Oh, well, they'd stay in hiding anyway." That's an Ad Hoc Fallacy. It does not address the issue under debate, which is your pessimistic estimate of Congress' atheists. Finish one argument before starting off on a tangent. What special knowledge do you have that Congress has far fewer atheists than the general population?

""Jews with only 1.3% of the population seem to be doing fine 'by themselves'."

So ... are you or are you not advocating that we isolate ourselves? I mean, you say you're not, but you also say stuff like this."

You were the one who implied that our small numbers make us powerless 'by ourselves'. I was just pointing out the absurdity of that by showing that Jews are a much smaller minority and get along just fine 'by themselves'. I quote: ""We cannot, plain and simple, make any kind of lasting impact on society *by ourselves*."

It was your implication that we are somehow 'by ourselves'. You are the one who needs to defend that, not me. Nobody has ever argued that we should isolate ourselves. So why would upwards of 10% of the population worry about being 'by ourselves'? Did gays have to struggle 'by themselves'? No, and neither do we.

"I'll also point out that Jews get a lot of support from religious moderates...."

And so do we. So, what's your point?

"Prop 8 passed do in no small part by the fierce campaigning of religiously extreme conservatives in the US who successfully made the issue about faith, instead of about human rights. Do you honestly believe you would have made any headway with people who are so devout that they vote in churches?"

Holy non-sequitur straw man, Bat Man! More than 50% of voters voted for Prop 8. That includes an enormous number of 'moderates'. It's not the devout ones that made this a reality. It was the moderates, the ones who went along for the ride because of faith and religion. Criticizing their faith-based decision is exactly the kind of thing that needed to be done more of.

By the way, a lot of people vote in churches, including atheists, not just devout people. In many locales, it is the only place to vote available. The fact that that's the case is disgusting, but it's true.

"The moderates I know like the separation of church and state, so if by "people of *faith*" you mean religious extremists, then you are correct; they would love to change our laws."

I guess you don't know those *other* moderates, the ones who voted for prop 8, e.g. They like changing laws when it suits their fancy, too. They are also people of faith, as should be obvious.

""Oh no, that atheist criticized faith! I think I'm going to donate money to Al Qaeda now! At least they have faith, too!"

Yeah, that's exactly what I meant. Exactly...."

Funny that you skipped my request for evidence: "Do you have any evidence to support this assertion?"

I'll re-quote your assertion for you since it seems to have slipped your mind: "In fact, if we do attack faith, we will only unite the moderates to the extremists more. Because they do hold these beliefs."

This would be a good time to clarify exactly what you *do* mean, because I sure couldn't figure it out. That's why I asked for evidence.

"But do you know what MLK didn't do? He didn't label every moderate white person racist."

But you know what he *did* do? He wrote Letter from Birmingham Jail where he expressed his frustration at fellow clergy for "calling [his] present activities "unwise and untimely."" He adds this valuable thought:

You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

Insightful man. I don't pretend that our situation is as bad as racism was back then. But the need for direct action against the underlying causes of so many social ills is clear. MLK also commented on this:

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.

"You know what Harvey Milk didn't do? He didn't label every moderate heterosexual homophobic."

But you know what he *did* do? He encouraged every gay person he knew to come out publicly and unapologetically declare their homosexuality, rather than hiding in the closet and kow-towing to social convention. He knew that being out and outspoken as gays would not 'hurt the cause', and he was right. In fact, that was the road to general social acceptance. Now if only that pesky religion would get out of the way....

By the way, these are the comments that spurred the 'king of straw men' comment: "He didn't label every moderate white person racist." Well, neither did Sam Harris, or I, for that matter. "He didn't label every moderate heterosexual homophobic." Neither did Sam Harris, nor I. And we didn't label every moderate religious person an extremist either. We didn't even say that every moderate religious person provides cover for extremists. That's your straw man that you're slaying.

The American people are responsible for the war in Iraq. Not every single person. But yes, in general, the American people are surely responsible. Even those who were apathetic and just went with the flow. They, too share responsibility for that tragedy. What's more, it is perfectly reasonable to say that mainstream (moderate) America actively supported the war, despite protests from around the world, and even in their own country. Sure, it was a few dicks in office who pushed it through, but when the time came to call out those dicks and put them on their asses, what did the American people do? They voted those dicks right back into office. Yes, indeed, the American people are responsible for the war in Iraq.

And in just the same way, moderate religion provides cover for extremists. Not every single moderate religious person. But yes, in general, religious moderates provide cover for extremists. When the time comes to oust those extremists from positions of influence and authority, moderate religious people repeatedly fail to do so. Worse, they often actively defend religion and faith as being unrelated to the actions of extremists. Yes, indeed, moderate religion provides cover for extremists.

"those leaders did more to bring disparate groups together by building on the common ground between them--not labeling any who disagreed on one tenant of a discussion as aiding extremists."

Yet another straw man. We don't 'label' those who 'disagree' with us as aiding extremists. We call out those who aid extremists by providing them cover, as doing just that. It has nothing to do with disagreeing on some esoteric point. It's a simple practical matter.

"You know what I think we should do? I think we should deliver ultimatums; tell 'em to agree with us or become our enemies. No, no, no, maybe we should send waves and waves of activists there to show them how they're supposed to run their country. Or better yet! Let's invade with our military and force the extremists out of power. We'll be greeted as liberators!"

Oh yeah! You sure slew those straw men! Way to go, Christopher! Keep at it. I think after you cut down a thousand straw men, you get a star for 'participation'. Meanwhile, the rest of us will be carrying on an actual conversation.

"All of which are secular in application." Three of which include the word 'sacred', and the other is an obscure legal term. To the vast majority of average people, 'sanctity' is a religious word. That's how it was used for prop 8.

"Using Caine's framing of extremists and moderates again, it's entirely possible to point out to people that a law or action is founded on beliefs derived from a "'god hates fags kill everyone that's not me' god" rather than their "nice moderate gay-marriage-loving cute kitten god.""

Using Caine's framing, neither the first nor the second theist can convince either of anything, since they both operate on faith.

"At which point you can offer that both of you should work together to stop the former."

And when the moderate's faith puts them on the side of the 'god hates fags' people, what then? How do you stop something like prop 8, which is a decidedly 'god hates fags' kind of initiative?

"I'm not saying it's easy, but I am saying it's possible and more constructive."

I'm not saying it's impossible, I'm saying it does not work, practically speaking. If it did work, we wouldn't have the state of affairs that we have in the world today. If it did work, we wouldn't have moderates providing cover for extremists, as I've shown in dozens of examples previously.

Where is your evidence that it actually does work. Show me where you've convinced a moderate theist who was not already on your side of a faith-based issue to switch sides using the tactic you've described.

I've got lots of evidence that the unapologetic atheism approach works very well. I've been using it for 6 years now, in hundreds of exchanges with all kinds of theists. I've used it online and in the real world. It works. The message gets out there. Things change. Attitudes change. Atheists gain more and more acceptance every day.

I've seen dozens of people deconverting after prolonged debates. The old saw that nobody ever convinces anybody in a debate is wrong.

Where are your success stories? In the decades prior to the recent atheist upsurge, there was stagnation and regression, as silent freethinkers allowed the Christian Right to rise up mostly unopposed. The moderates did nothing to prevent it, either. The fight against Creationism was only maintained due to the luck of having the Constitution on our side. But actually, Creationism is a thriving business and getting bigger, so our legal wins are not enough for the long term. We need to win in the minds of the greater public. And that can only happen if we don't tie our hands behind our backs. Our impassioned arguments against faith and religion are the strongest rhetorical tools we have, and we are constantly working on innovating new ones and new angles for old ones. We're great at comedy, satire, music, videos, and we're getting better all the time. Where are the success stories from timid and apologetic atheism? I don't see them.

"Sarah Palin was used by the Republican Party to rally extremist support exactly because John McCain had a much broader, moderate appeal. People voted for John McCain; he was the presidential candidate."

Right. That's your story, eh? If they didn't need Sarah Palin, then why did they bring her on board? It is exactly her ability to rally support that makes her political career such an indictment of the American public. If people didn't vote for people like Sarah Palin, you never would have heard of Sarah Palin.

"So, again, are you advocating isolation from them or not?"

Not. We don't need them, just like I don't need Pepsi or a mansion or a lottery ticket. I like Coke, I'm thriving just fine in my humble abode, and lottery tickets are a waste of money. The moderates are an *option*; we don't *need* them. There are lots of ways to influence society without sucking up to the status quo. I think your imagination is just failing you, that's all.

"If it is a requirement in every single debate that you enter into with religious people that they abandon all of their faith-based beliefs (even when it is not necessary for common ground to be found), then I wonder how soon it will be before people of faith just roll their eyes the second you open your mouth."

Yay, another straw man! I was worried you might have run out of them. But no, you seem to have an endless supply. The question was: "How do you argue against a faith-based claim without arguing against faith?" I don't need to have someone 'abandon all of their faith-based beliefs' in order to argue against *one* specific faith-based claim. However, I *do* need to use the tool of arguing against faith in order to defeat a faith-based claim. How else could you do it? I'm not willing to lie or be dishonest; so I can't ask them to take my own claims on faith. I rely on critical thought and evidence-based reasoning to take apart unwarranted claims, such as faith-based claims. If that requires poking holes in faith as well, then that's what I'll do. And I won't feel the least bit sorry or regretful for doing so. In fact, I do so gladly.

"If you're arguing with moderates, they will usually defer to the separation of church and state."

Did that stop moderates from voting for prop 8? I'm guessing the 'moderates' you have as friends are probably more along the liberal side of things if they easily defer to separation of church and state. For the larger population of moderates, the ones who support things like prop 8, you're not going to have much leverage if you rely on church/state. (Ask your moderate friends if they supported prop 8. If they didn't, then they might not be as 'moderate' as you think and are actually more 'liberal'.)

"You can point out how faith-based arguments conflict with other faiths--including denominations of their own religion. You can reframe the debate to highlight other aspects such as human and civil rights. And, yes, you can emphasize the scientific foundation of your position."

You're not answering the specific question, which is: "How do you argue against a faith-based claim without arguing against faith?"

What you're talking about is convincing someone who happens to be a moderate, and who has a mundane belief (like trying to convince someone to support health care), but not one based on faith. For example, if someone believes that marriage was sanctified by God, and it's between a man and a woman, and they believe that on faith, how do you argue against that belief without arguing against faith? It doesn't matter what you say about conflicting with other faiths or with human or civil rights or even science. None of that matters when faith is on the line. They'll just say, "Well, I don't know about human rights, but that's just what I believe, and that's how I'm going to vote."

"This whole discussion is centered on the question of whether or not nonbelievers should consider moderate religious people allies or enemies."

That may be how you see it in your straw-manned vision, but that's not what it's about. It's not about 'allies' or 'enemies', it's about 'what are we willing to stand up and publicly, unapologetically speak out against and criticize?' It's about whether it's a valid point that moderates do in fact provide cover for extremists, and whether or not we're willing to stand up and call them out for that when they do.

"Sam Harris is playing the same card George W. Bush did after 9/11, when he said to the world you're either with us or against us."

No, he's not playing the same card. Harris has never made such remarks. I'd like to see you produce a quote.

"There is a world of grey in-between absolutes."

Both Harris and I are keenly aware of this. We use precisely worded, provocative language to push those boundaries, especially when such provocative language can highlight a taboo which makes the grey seem black to many people. This question of 'labeling' the moderates, as you call it, is a good example. There's a taboo against criticizing religion in public, and we're challenging it by making modest, but 'strong' sounding claims, like "moderates provide cover for religious extremists." You tend to see that as black. I see it as grey. It is unquestionably true, but it's taboo to point it out in many circles, and in the public at large. But, on the face of it, it's no more harmful a statement than "The American people are responsible for the war in Iraq". In fact, like that, it can also be seen as a very important truth that needs to be spoken loudly and clearly. So, in fact the grey seems to be a bit whiter from my perspective.

"Lumping all religious people together, not differentiating between shades of grey, will alienate moderates and lend support to the extremist idea that moderates and nonbelievers can never work together."

Then it's a good thing that neither Sam Harris nor I have actually done that, and that you're imagining a straw man again.

"I say again: Don't do it."

Don't do what? The straw man stuff you're talking about? Or the valid tactic of taking an unapologetic approach and calling people out when they actually do provide cover for extremists? I'll avoid the former, as I always have, but you've not come close to convincing me to avoid the latter. In fact, the only thing I'm convinced of is that you didn't really understand Sam Harris' point. I'm beginning to wonder if you've actually read his book.
"You have spun and twisted and dodged behind your language so much, I'm not really sure what you're arguing sometimes."

When you misrepresent your opponent, and your opponent replies, "Hey, that's a straw man", it's not surprising that you're confused about your opponent's position. To then accuse your opponent of spinning and twisting and dodging, and that that is the reason you don't understand his position, is intellectually dishonest.

"It's entirely possible I was mistaken about what the OP was asking; you certainly haven't made it any clearer."

My posts so far have not been intended to lay out my own case, but to respond to *your* claims, especially those claims regarding Sam Harris' position, which I happen to support. If you are unclear about Sam Harris' position, that is entirely your own responsibility. My hunch that you haven't read his book is getting stronger. (There's still a chance you've read it but misunderstood it; I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt here that this is the case.)

"The statement "Faith is bullshit," is an absolute. A universal."

By that standard, the statement "The statement "Faith is bullshit," is an absolute," is an absolute. A universal.

"There is no grey area."

Seems to be no grey area in your assessment of my statement, either.

In fact, my statement is not an absolute statement. That's you straw manning again. I almost never speak in absolutes. I will often, however speak in general terms. "Faith is bullshit" is such an example of plain speaking in general terms. If you interpret that as an absolutist statement, I'm sorry to say you've misinterpreted it. Perhaps if I'd said, "Faith is always and everywhere bullshit, and by 'bullshit' I mean 'always wrong and never right'," then you might have a point.

So, your failure to appreciate my general language as general shows more black-and-white thinking on your part than mine.

The disadvantage of using general language is that you can be misunderstood. But the advantage is brevity and more impact. I chose the advantages over the disadvantages, and so I spoke generally. This same choice is one often used by Harris as well, and I believe that this is where a lot of your misunderstandings of Harris arise from.

And no, I'm not spinning or dodging or any of that crap. You *assumed* I meant something I didn't. Instead of asking me what I meant specifically, in order to clarify, you just jumped to your conclusion and assumed. I'm not going to apologize for your assumptions; instead, I think you should take more time to ask questions than to make assumptions. Here is a picture perfect example:

"Sam Harris: "Given the link between belief and action, it is clear that we can no more tolerate a diversity of religious beliefs than a diversity of beliefs about epidemiology and basic hygiene" (p. 46). All faith = bad faith."

Does it *say* "All faith = bad faith", or is that just your interpretation and assumption? I suspect you are re-quoting someone's quote-mine rather than actually opening the book to see what's written on p46. Let's see what google can dig up:

Given the link between belief and action, it is clear that we can no more tolerate a diversity of religious beliefs than a diversity of beliefs about epidemiology and basic hygiene. There are still a number of cultures in which the germ theory of disease has yet to put in an appearance, where people suffer from a debilitating ignorance on most matters relevant to their physical health. Do we “tolerate” these beliefs? Not if they put our own health in jeopardy. Even apparently innocuous beliefs, when unjustified, can lead to intolerable consequences. Many Muslims, for instance, are convinced that God takes an active interest in women’s clothing. While it may seem harmless enough, the amount of suffering that this incredible idea has caused is astonishing. The rioting in Nigeria over the 2002 Miss World Pageant claimed over two hundred lives; innocent men and women were butchered with machetes or burned alive simply to keep that troubled place free of women in bikinis. Earlier in the year, the religious police in Mecca prevented paramedics and firefighters from rescuing scores of teenage girls trapped in a burning building. Why? Because the girls were not wearing the traditional head covering that Koranic law requires. Fourteen girls died in the fire; fifty were injured. Should the Muslims really be free to believe that the Creator of the universe is concerned about hemlines?

Yours is a typical quote-mine of Harris, leaving out important relevant context, and just cherry-picking the provocative, general language, without also providing the specifics that go along with it.

If I were going by a three-strike rule, I would have to conclude you haven't read the book. But I'm not. Right now I'm just seeing how deep a hole you're willing to dig yourself into.

As you can see, Harris was specifically citing the "link between belief and action", which he discusses earlier, and how this link makes mere beliefs into real-world-affecting consequences, and how sometimes these consequences are not worth tolerating, and how therefore we should not tolerate the beliefs that lead to those consequences. We cannot tolerate a "diversity of religious beliefs" if that diversity includes such dangerous and harmful beliefs.

Harris is specifically attacking the common attitude that we should tolerate *all* beliefs, in the name of 'diversity'. He compares it to how we do not 'tolerate' a diversity of beliefs when it comes to basic hygiene and health-care. For example, we don't allow doctors to perform trepanation or other nonsense, no matter how much they 'believe' in its effectiveness. We don't 'tolerate' those beliefs, when it comes to our well-being.

"If that's not his point, then it is obscured by his rhetoric."

It's obscured by your lack of reading and/or quote-mining. Harris himself was quite clear in his book. In fact, that's what made it such a compelling book; the book which set off the best-selling atheist books trend.

"According to Congress.org, ... According to Wikipedia, the Senate ..."

The stats from these links only represent public declarations, they don't represent actual beliefs. In fact, they are contradicted by your next link. If i wanted to run for office in America, I'd probably call myself a Catholic. I might even go to mass to 'prove' it. But I'd still be an atheist.

"My really optimistic number comes from a survey the Secular Coalition of American took of 60 "friendly" representatives.

So those are my numbers."

Wow. How you got "By even the most optimistic accounts, there are at most only 21 nonbelieving members of Congress," from that link is a mystery. Here's what I got:

Lori Lipman Brown proclaimed that there are a full 21 atheists, agnostics, and humanists in the U.S. Congress. ... While it would be impressive to find 21 non-theists in the whole Congress, the survey that led to the divulging of this statistic wasn’t comprehensive. Lori Lipman Brown’s organization, the Secular Coalition for America, only surveyed 60 “friendly” Congresspeople.

So, she interviewed 60 and found 21 non-believers. That means there are at least 21, not at most 21.

Of the remaining 475 members, you're claiming that not a single one of them is a non-believer? Where do you get that from?

In fact, Lori Lipman Brown's survey just goes to show that public proclamations of religious affiliation by politicians is not an accurate representation of what they actually believe.

In greater fact, her survey shows that there are very likely *many* non-believers in Congress. 21 out of 60 is 35% of the population she surveyed. Granted, they were 'friendly', so likely that sample is skewed towards non-belief. However, given that the base rate of the general population is conservatively 8-10% non-believers, and she found a fairly large sample of 60 where the rate was amazingly 35%, then we should not be surprised if the overall rate of non-belief in the Congress is around 20%, much higher than the general population.

Given her sample of 21 out of 60, and assuming that the general population is 10% non-believers, then for Congress to have the same rate of 10% as the population, then of the remaining 475 Congress people, there would have to be a rate of:

535 * 10% = 53 - 21 friendlies = 32
out of 535 - 60 friendlies = 475
32/475 = 6.7%

So, the remainder of Congress would have to drastically *under-represent* the general population, just to maintain par with the general population's 10%. Considering that Congress members are more educated, richer, more Democrat, etc., it seems highly unlikely that the remainder *under-represent* the general population.

In any case, your claim that "there are at most only 21 nonbelieving members of Congress," appears to have been blown out of the water by your own link.

In fact, there is very good evidence from you link that it is highly likely that there are *at least* 53 nonbelievers in Congress, and probably many more. Maybe up to 20%. Certainly an estimate of 15% now seems quite conservative. 15% would be 80 members!

"You're losing me with your incessant flippancy."

Are you arguing about 'tone' in a debate specifically about tone? This seems precisely the point under debate. Sorry, you don't get to dictate to me how I respond. Besides, I responded with sarcasm to your sarcasm, so fair's fair, and I don't see how you have anything legitimate to complain about. If I've broken a forum rule, maybe you'll have something. But my 'flippancy' is justified in the face of your straw men misrepresentations of not just Sam Harris, but of myself as well. If you want to 'tone it down', I suggest you start doing so yourself.

By the way, my goal is only to refute your claims. If I 'lose you' because of your own over-sensitivity, I really don't care. My language here is quite mild. Any jabs I make are backed up with actual arguments. I'm only interested in discussions with people who can stick to the subject, and complaints about 'tone', especially when I've not made any actual offenses, are completely irrelevant to the subject.

"I used our numbers in Congress to highlight the fact that we are very much in the minority, as least legislatively speaking, and your response was that the Jews are doing fine by themselves. I pointed out that Jews have a lot of support with religious moderates and your response was, "And so do we. So, what's your point?" But you reiterated earlier that you were "just pointing out the absurdity of [our powerlessness] by showing that Jews are a much smaller minority and get along just fine 'by themselves'." This statement implies that it is your belief that they are, in fact, by themselves."

No, it does not make that implication. Notice that I put 'by themselves' in quotes. I'm quoting from *you*. You are the one who made the implication that being a small minority means we are powerless, and that this powerlessness means that if we don't treat the moderates with kid gloves, then we will be 'by ourselves'. Here is your initial usage:

"I can provide a very pragmatic argument for believing so: By even the most optimistic accounts, there are at most only 21 nonbelieving members of Congress.

21 out of 535. And only one of them is "out."

We cannot, plain and simple, make any kind of lasting impact on society by ourselves. We need the moderates."

You are the one making the connection between the numbers of non-believers in Congress, and being in a state of being "by ourselves". I responded showing that there is no connection between being a small minority and being "by ourselves". Not my usage of quotes:

"You seem to be arguing that lack of numbers means we are powerless. Non-believers are more numerous than Jews, Muslims, and Hindus *combined*, by far. Jews with only 1.3% of the population seem to be doing fine 'by themselves'.

Humans need other humans to get things done. We're a social species. There's no surprise there. Nobody I know of, not me, not Sam Harris, Dawkins, or anyone else, is advocating isolating ourselves. I wonder if you're not simply constructing a straw man."

Whenever I used the phrase, I used it in quotes, to denote that it came from you, and that I do not agree with your argument that our only alternative to pampering the moderates is to be 'by ourselves'. I have stated this same position in many different ways. For example, I specifically state "Nobody I know of, not me, not Sam Harris, Dawkins, or anyone else, is advocating isolating ourselves." I don't know how I can be any clearer than that. And yet you continue to *assume* that I'm making some sort of argument for isolation. No. The 'argument for isolation' is in your own head, in your straw man vision of Harris and myself. I even tipped you off to the possibility that you were creating a straw man: "I wonder if you're not simply constructing a straw man."

Do not claim I am dodging behind language. You are making assumptions and your confusion about my position arises specifically from those assumptions, and those assumptions are wrong. I have been very clear on this from the beginning, as my quote shows. The un-clarity is in your head.

The other straw man, of course, which I also pointed out, is that taking Harris' position means "writing off every single theist":

"As nonbelievers, I strongly believe that we cannot completely write off every single theist--moderates and extremists alike."

It was the very first thing you wrote in this thread. You started off from the very beginning with confusion. That is not my fault. The very first thing I wrote to you in this thread was an attempt to break you out of that confusion:

"Who said anything about 'completely writing off every single theist'? This is about standing up and unapologetically criticizing something that we see as dangerous. There's nothing wrong with doing that, and it doesn't require writing anyone off. All it requires is holding people accountable for the implicit support they lend to extremists."

"Can you ease off on your open ridicule of me and just state your point clearly?"

A) Of what points I've stated, I've stated them clearly. If you want elaboration on specific positions, I suggest either: Reading Sam Harris' book directly, it will clear up most of your confusions; or asking me specific questions of clarification, without assuming you know what my position is.

B) The appropriateness of open ridicule is precisely the point under consideration. It seems rather presumptuous of you to insist on this condition before even establishing that such a taboo is valid! (Hint: Harris' actual position is not that we should 'write off' theists, but that we should not be afraid to attack faith, even if it means offending some moderates. In fact, he argues, we should openly use ridicule to attack faith, because often that's the most effective method of undermining the taboo against criticizing faith. He calls this 'conversational intolerance'.)

By the way, I don't agree that I've ridiculed you. I have used sarcasm, hyperbole, and metaphor. The closest I came to ridicule was the 'king of straw man slayers' comment, which I explained later with specific quotes which showed you misrepresenting Harris' and my position. I was responding in kind to your own exaggerations. Since I backed it up with specific arguments, I consider that valid. Again, if you don't want your opponent to use sarcasm and exaggeration, don't kick off the conversation by doing it yourself. And don't complain about tone, when your own tone exhibits the same character you're complaining about. It reeks of hypocrisy.

"my comment about voters in churches was in response to this statement: "Tell that to people who vote, especially those who vote *in churches*, especially those who vote for X because it's the Christian thing to do, or so says their pastor. Tell that to the people who voted for Prop 8." Couched as it is, you appeared to be talking about the devout."

Moderates don't vote in churches??? Moderates aren't influenced by their surroundings at the time of voting (i.e. in a big church)? Moderates don't vote based on the opinions of their pastors because of their faith?

My "Tell that" comment was in response to your claim that:

"It is irrelevant to any debate about actually solving social problems whether the members of a side believe in a "nice moderate gay-marriage-loving cute kitten god" or a "'god hates fags kill everyone that's not me' god," because neither god has a place in a legislative bill."

But it is not irrelevant. It is very relevant. It's very relevant *because* people vote, and they sometimes vote in churches, and they sometimes vote X because they think it's the Christian thing to do, and they are sometimes directly influenced by their pastors. So it is very relevant what people believe, in a debate about "actually solving social problems".

Tell the people who vote that it is irrelevant what god they believe in, because no god has a place in a legislative bill. Yet these same people think that god has a place in their voting booth!

You were ignoring a big reality, and I was bringing it to the fore. You were talking about members of congress, I'm pointing out that the ones who we really need to reach are those in the voting booths. That's why you should bring this message about their beliefs being irrelevant to them directly.

This whole thing about 'devout believers' is a tangent to that point. You wrote: "Do you honestly believe you would have made any headway with people who are so devout that they vote in churches?" Which implied that a) I had to 'make headway' with the devout (i.e. not the moderates), and b) voting in a church means you're doing so because you're devout. Point a) is completely irrelevant, because I'm talking about the moderates. And b) was just wrong, so I responded with a 'by the way' comment.

Moderates vote. They sometimes vote in churches (and are influenced by that; there's a study if you're curious why I mentioned that). They are influenced by their Christian beliefs. They are influenced by their pastors and other religious authorities. That is the issue.

"I'm not going to pretend that we didn't lose the round with prop 8, but you're using it as the be-all, end-all of interactions with religious moderates."

No, I'm not. I'm using it as a litmus test. I gave other examples of moderates interfering with secular government because of religion in this thread. Besides, it's not all about legislation. There are other ways moderates cover extremists.

Prop 8 is a litmus. If you can't explain how you would have influenced that kind of vote, then I'm going to remain unconvinced that your argument is valid. Moderates voted for prop 8. I have already asked you:

"And when the moderate's faith puts them on the side of the 'god hates fags' people, what then? How do you stop something like prop 8, which is a decidedly 'god hates fags' kind of initiative?"

You didn't answer.

"Your statements about MLK (happy b-day, MLK) and Harvey Milk are implying that I believe there should not be an open movement of nonbelievers"

No, they are implying that we should not be afraid to openly challenge the status quo (Milk), nor stir up tension and controversy (MLK), for fear of offending moderates (or their equivalents in those other movements).

This is the same thing Harris is arguing. You are arguing against Harris (actually your straw man version of him). By doing so, you're implicitly defending the position that we *should* fear offending the moderates. So, I'm defending Harris' and my position. (By the way, it's possible to be vocal and still fear offending the moderates; I call it 'apologetic atheism'. Dawkins calls them the "I'm an atheist, but"s. I am arguing against that position as well.)

"And my definitions of "sacred" did not have sacred in them"

I'm confused why you gave definitions for 'sacred' when the word under question was 'sanctity'? In any case, my point still stands that the way it was used with Prop 8 was undeniably religious in connotation. I disagree with your argument about ambiguity. (On second thought, were either of those words actually in the law? If so, then I concede your point; I wasn't aware of that. However, my point is about how people *voted*, and they voted because of Prop 8's religious connotations of marriage. Ambiguity in the language of the law would not change the fact that people thought of it in religious terms.)

"I still don't think the Republican Party needed Sarah Palin"

Whatever. This is such a tangent. The fact is, if people didn't vote for people like Sarah Palin, you never would have heard of Sarah Palin. The issue is how people vote (and more generally, how they act) based on religious/faith beliefs.

""Show me where you've convinced a moderate theist who was not already on your side of a faith-based issue to switch sides using the tactic you've described."

... we would almost always change their minds or at least open their eyes to the legitimacy of our views, be it on evolution, the foundations of morality, free will vs. determinism, etc."

That does not address my question. My question asks about changing their views on a faith-based issue, not 'opening their eyes to the legitimacy of your views'. The latter is good for the public acceptance of atheists, but it does nothing to change the way people vote or act on matters of public importance.

Again: What evidence is there that your method of persuasion would work to convince people not to vote for prop 8, if they already hold a faith-based position on the God-given sanctity of marriage between (only) a man and a woman?

If you want to pick another faith-based issue than prop 8, then pick one, but make sure it's actually a faith-based issue for the moderate. That's the point about attacking faith in the first place.

""Funny that you skipped my request for evidence: "Do you have any evidence to support this assertion?"

I'll re-quote your assertion for you since it seems to have slipped your mind: "In fact, if we do attack faith, we will only unite the moderates to the extremists more. Because they do hold these beliefs.""


I was pointing out the straw man you had erected of my point. Are you the only one who can do that? If you attack faith, you inadvertently attack every belief that rests on that faith."

I know you were. And I pointed out that you ignored my substantive question which was exactly one sentence prior to that. In fact, you just ignored the question again. Here it is one more time:

Do you have any evidence to support this assertion?: "In fact, if we do attack faith, we will only unite the moderates to the extremists more. Because they do hold these beliefs."

So, any evidence?

"When you argue against one specific faith-based claim and you make the focus of your attack faith itself, then you are pulling into the argument all of their faith-based beliefs by implication."

True, but that's not what you argued. You argued: "If it is a requirement in every single debate that you enter into with religious people that they abandon all of their faith-based beliefs (even when it is not necessary for common ground to be found), then I wonder how soon it will be before people of faith just roll their eyes the second you open your mouth."

One does not follow from the other. I can attack a single faith-based position, and also faith itself, without getting side-tracked into "requirem[ing] ... religious people that they abandon all of their faith-based beliefs" before debating with me. I have done so many many times. In fact, keeping the debate on one single faith-based position and using that to attack faith itself, is a *very* effective debating method.

And so, since you still haven't answered it, I'll ask again: "How do you argue against a faith-based claim without arguing against faith?"

"What do you, what does Sam Harris, mean specifically by religious moderate?"

You mean you don't know?! Pretty tough to argue against someone's position when you don't know what it is. Strike four. Hint: It's right at the beginning of his book, in the first 10 pages.

Google is your friend. In fact, you can get Sam Harris' definition of 'moderate' directly from his website:

The Myth of “Moderation” in Religion The idea that any one of our religions represents the infallible word of the One True God requires an encyclopedic ignorance of history, mythology, and art even to be entertained—as the beliefs, rituals, and iconography of each of our religions attest to centuries of crosspollination among them. Whatever their imagined source, the doctrines of modern religions are no more tenable than those which, for lack of adherents, were cast upon the scrap heap of mythology millennia ago; for there is no more evidence to justify a belief in the literal existence of Yahweh and Satan than there was to keep Zeus perched upon his mountain throne or Poseidon churning the seas.

According to Gallup, 35 percent of Americans believe that the Bible is the literal and inerrant word of the Creator of the universe. Another 48 percent believe that it is the “inspired” word of the same—still inerrant, though certain of its passages must be interpreted symbolically before their truth can be brought to light. Only 17 percent of us remain to doubt that a personal God, in his infinite wisdom, is likely to have authored this text—or, for that matter, to have created the earth with its 250,000 species of beetles. Some 46 percent of Americans take a literalist view of creation (40 percent believe that God has guided creation over the course of millions of years). This means that 120 million of us place the big bang 2,500 years after the Babylonians and Sumerians learned to brew beer. If our polls are to be trusted, nearly 230 million Americans believe that a book showing neither unity of style nor internal consistency was authored by an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent deity. A survey of Hindus, Muslims, and Jews around the world would surely yield similar results, revealing that we, as a species, have grown almost perfectly intoxicated by our myths. How is it that, in this one area of our lives, we have convinced ourselves that our beliefs about the world can float entirely free of reason and evidence?

It is with respect to this rather surprising cognitive scenery that we must decide what it means to be a religious “moderate” in the twenty-first century. Moderates in every faith are obliged to loosely interpret (or simply ignore) much of their canons in the interests of living in the modern world. No doubt an obscure truth of economics is at work here: societies appear to become considerably less productive whenever large numbers of people stop making widgets and begin killing their customers and creditors for heresy. The first thing to observe about the moderate’s retreat from scriptural literalism is that it draws its inspiration not from scripture but from cultural developments that have rendered many of God’s utterances difficult to accept as written. In America, religious moderation is further enforced by the fact that most Christians and Jews do not read the Bible in its entirety and consequently have no idea just how vigorously the God of Abraham wants heresy expunged. One look at the book of Deuteronomy reveals that he has something very specific in mind should your son or daughter return from yoga class advocating the worship of Krishna:

If your brother, the son of your father or of your mother, or your son or daughter, or the spouse whom you embrace, or your most intimate friend, tries to secretly seduce you, saying, “Let us go and serve other gods,” unknown to you or your ancestors before you, gods of the peoples surrounding you, whether near you or far away, anywhere throughout the world, you must not consent, you must not listen to him; you must show him no pity, you must not spare him or conceal his guilt. No, you must kill him, your hand must strike the first blow in putting him to death and the hands of the rest of the people following. You must stone him to death, since he has tried to divert you from Yahweh your God. . . .(Deuteronomy 13:7–11)

While the stoning of children for heresy has fallen out of fashion in our country, you will not hear a moderate Christian or Jew arguing for a “symbolic” reading of passages of this sort. (In fact, one seems to be explicitly blocked by God himself in Deuteronomy 13:1— “Whatever I am now commanding you, you must keep and observe, adding nothing to it, taking nothing away.”) The above passage is as canonical as any in the Bible, and it is only by ignoring such barbarisms that the Good Book can be reconciled with life in the modern world. This is a problem for “moderation” in religion: it has nothing underwriting it other than the unacknowledged neglect of the letter of the divine law.

The only reason anyone is “moderate” in matters of faith these days is that he has assimilated some of the fruits of the last two thousand years of human thought (democratic politics, scientific advancement on every front, concern for human rights, an end to cultural and geographic isolation, etc.). The doors leading out of scriptural literalism do not open from the inside. The moderation we see among nonfundamentalists is not some sign that faith itself has evolved; it is, rather, the product of the many hammer blows of modernity that have exposed certain tenets of faith to doubt. Not the least among these developments has been the emergence of our tendency to value evidence and to be convinced by a proposition to the degree that there is evidence for it. Even most fundamentalists live by the lights of reason in this regard; it is just that their minds seem to have been partitioned to accommodate the profligate truth claims of their faith. Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.

Religious moderation springs from the fact that even the least educated person among us simply knows more about certain matters than anyone did two thousand years ago—and much of this knowledge is incompatible with scripture. Having heard something about the medical discoveries of the last hundred years, most of us no longer equate disease processes with sin or demonic possession. Having learned about the known distances between objects in our universe, most of us (about half of us, actually) find the idea that the whole works was created six thousand years ago (with light from distant stars already in transit toward the earth) impossible to take seriously. Such concessions to modernity do not in the least suggest that faith is compatible with reason, or that our religious traditions are in principle open to new learning: it is just that the utility of ignoring (or “reinterpreting”) certain articles of faith is now overwhelming. Anyone being flown to a distant city for heart-bypass surgery has conceded, tacitly at least, that we have learned a few things about physics, geography, engineering, and medicine since the time of Moses.

So it is not that these texts have maintained their integrity over time (they haven’t); it is just that they have been effectively edited by our neglect of certain of their passages. Most of what remains—the “good parts”—has been spared the same winnowing because we do not yet have a truly modern understanding of our ethical intuitions and our capacity for spiritual experience. ...

While moderation in religion may seem a reasonable position to stake out, in light of all that we have (and have not) learned about the universe, it offers no bulwark against religious extremism and religious violence. From the perspective of those seeking to live by the letter of the texts, the religious moderate is nothing more than a failed fundamentalist. He is, in all likelihood, going to wind up in hell with the rest of the unbelievers. The problem that religious moderation poses for all of us is that it does not permit anything very critical to be said about religious literalism. We cannot say that fundamentalists are crazy, because they are merely practicing their freedom of belief; we cannot even say that they are mistaken in religious terms, because their knowledge of scripture is generally unrivaled. All we can say, as religious moderates, is that we don’t like the personal and social costs that a full embrace of scripture imposes on us. This is not a new form of faith, or even a new species of scriptural exegesis; it is simply a capitulation to a variety of all-too-human interests that have nothing, in principle, to do with God. Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance—and it has no bona fides, in religious terms, to put it on a par with fundamentalism. The texts themselves are unequivocal: they are perfect in all their parts. By their light, religious moderation appears to be nothing more than an unwillingness to fully submit to God’s law. By failing to live by the letter of the texts, while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray faith and reason equally. Unless the core dogmas of faith are called into question—i.e., that we know there is a God, and that we know what he wants from us—religious moderation will do nothing to lead us out of the wilderness.

The benignity of most religious moderates does not suggest that religious faith is anything more sublime than a desperate marriage of hope and ignorance, nor does it guarantee that there is not a terrible price to be paid for limiting the scope of reason in our dealings with other human beings. Religious moderation, insofar as it represents an attempt to hold on to what is still serviceable in orthodox religion, closes the door to more sophisticated approaches to spirituality, ethics, and the building of strong communities. Religious moderates seem to believe that what we need is not radical insight and innovation in these areas but a mere dilution of Iron Age philosophy. Rather than bring the full force of our creativity and rationality to bear on the problems of ethics, social cohesion, and even spiritual experience, moderates merely ask that we relax our standards of adherence to ancient superstitions and taboos, while otherwise maintaining a belief system that was passed down to us from men and women whose lives were simply ravaged by their basic ignorance about the world. In what other sphere of life is such subservience to tradition acceptable? Medicine? Engineering? Not even politics suffers the anachronism that still dominates our thinking about ethical values and spiritual experience.

Imagine that we could revive a well-educated Christian of the fourteenth century. The man would prove to be a total ignoramus, except on matters of faith. His beliefs about geography, astronomy, and medicine would embarrass even a child, but he would know more or less everything there is to know about God. Though he would be considered a fool to think that the earth is flat, or that trepanning* constitutes a wise medical intervention, his religious ideas would still be beyond reproach. There are two explanations for this: either we perfected our religious understanding of the world a millennium ago—while our knowledge on all other fronts was still hopelessly inchoate—or religion, being the mere maintenance of dogma, is one area of discourse that does not admit of progress. We will see that there is much to recommend the latter view.

With each passing year, do our religious beliefs conserve more and more of the data of human experience? If religion addresses a genuine sphere of understanding and human necessity, then it should be susceptible to progress; its doctrines should become more useful, rather than less. Progress in religion, as in other fields, would have to be a matter of present inquiry, not the mere reiteration of past doctrine. Whatever is true now should be discoverable now, and describable in terms that are not an outright affront to the rest of what we know about the world. By this measure, the entire project of religion seems perfectly backward. It cannot survive the changes that have come over us—culturally, technologically, and even ethically. Otherwise, there are few reasons to believe that we will survive
it.

Moderates do not want to kill anyone in the name of God, but they want us to keep using the word “God” as though we knew what we were talking about. And they do not want anything too critical said about people who really believe in the God of their fathers, because tolerance, perhaps above all else, is sacred. To speak plainly and truthfully about the state of our world—to say, for instance, that the Bible and the Koran both contain mountains of life-destroying gibberish—is antithetical to tolerance as moderates currently conceive it. But we can no longer afford the luxury of such political correctness. We must finally recognize the price we are paying to maintain the iconography of our ignorance.

"I mean, even the last friggin' pope came out and said, "OK, OK, evolution is the real deal.""

The Pope is a good example of a moderate. Ask the Pope if he supports condom use in Africa.... or does he make proclamations that imply that condoms cause AIDS:

HIV/Aids was, he argued, "a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem". The solution lay, he said, in a "spiritual and human awakening" and "friendship for those who suffer".

Do you see now how even 'moderates' like the Pope support ridiculous and harmful ideas? I'm actually glad you brought him up. He illustrates my point very well.

To go with Prop 8, I'll offer you another challenge: How would you convince the Pope (or any 'moderate' Catholic that is against condoms because of a faith based belief about sin and reproduction) that he should support condom use in Africa, using the method of persuasion you described here? The Pope(s) has been spewing nonsense about condoms forever. You'd think by now they would have got the point, what with science and all. But no, too much rests on their faith-based beliefs. You can't undermine those beliefs without undermining faith itself.

"It's another to be an asshole towards someone who's trying to have a discussion and perhaps exchange ideas." You started it, asshole. ;-) I'm just returning your volleys. Your sarcasm and misrepresentations were directed at me, remember. You bring it to me, I bring it to you. You have no high ground in this. Want it to stop? Then stop it. It does no good to escalate it in the middle of a request to end it.
"You've made it clear that any misunderstandings we've had between us are a result of my intellectual depravity or some other character defect."

Have I? It seems to me the reasons I've cited have been more about lack of understanding, perhaps lack of reading, lack of evidence, non-sequiturs and straw men, hypocrisy, and failures of logic. Do you consider these 'intellectual depravity' and 'character defects'? Do you consider yourself immune from such 'depravity' and 'defects'? Or are these merely signs of ignorance and irrationality, something all humans share? I don't consider them depraved, and they are not 'character' defects, but defects in thought and action.

"Instead of taking my statements as a chance to clarify"

I've explained to you that my position in this is not to lay out Harris' case, but to debunk *your* claims. I'm the skeptic in this. I'm not going to do your homework for you. If you want clarifications, ask questions, don't make assumptive statements.

"you took them personally"

You made them personal by misrepresenting my position in your first reply. You have no moral high ground in this. Your complaint about my tone is entirely hypocritical. At each step I've done nothing more than you had also done previously. Each escalation has been your own. If you can't take it, don't dish it out. It's as simple as that.

"Though that sounds suspiciously similar to "eye for an eye.""

Sounds to me like Tit For Tat. In fact, since I'm the one using the strategy, I happen to know that that's exactly what it is. Again, you jump to conclusions. Again, your suspicions are unfounded (are we seeing a pattern here?).

"If you (and Sam Harris) are merely using general language and it is being misinterpreted, I think its continued use is misleading and intellectually irresponsible."

No. Sam Harris wrote an entire book on his position, explaining in detail what his general statements mean. Either you haven't read it (still a possibility despite your claim that you have), or you misunderstood it because of your assumptions and presumptions about him (which is highly likely, considering this conversation so far). The intellectual irresponsibility is entirely on your shoulders (literally, in fact).

Your earlier quote of Harris was an obvious quote-mine. That fact gives me little confidence that you've taken the time to read and/or understand Harris' book. You cannot blame this failure on me or Harris. Millions of others have read his book and found it extremely clear and cogent.

"And I remain unconvinced that that's what Harris is doing. To quote you from an earlier part of this thread: "That's why the book was *titled* The End of Faith. [An anti-faith lesson] was *precisely* his thesis." This seems to indicate that his contention is with all faith. The intuitive linguistic assumption people draw from the title The End of Faith is The End of [All] Faith, not The End of [Some] Faith."

Correct, he does mean all faith. But do *you* know what he means by 'faith'? And do *you* know what he thinks we should do to end faith? From your past utterances, it's quite clear to me that you do not. You take these assumptions of yours and leap. You've done so repeatedly. My lesson to you is: Look before you leap. I am not going to do the looking for you; that's your job. But I will point out when you leap in the wrong direction.

"To further illustrate my point, let's look at the paragraph that you quoted and the context in which my quote can be found."

Before we forget, will you concede that you quote-mined Harris out of context? This admission would do a great deal to re-establish your intellectual honesty. Failure to admit it will only deepen the hole you've already dug for yourself. You seem ready to just skim right past your transgression of basic rules of discourse.

"We do not tolerate a diversity of beliefs pertaining to epidemiology and hygiene because there is one truth about their realities and that truth is empirical. The same, he says, is true of religion. There is one truth concerning it, and that truth is it is empirically false."

Does he say that? Is that what is written there? Or is that your interpretation again? Does he *actually* say that "There is one truth concerning [religion], and that truth is it is empirically false."?

No. That is not what he says.

I would like you to acknowledge this point, because I think it's important in this discussion for you to realize just how much you are reading into Harris that is simply not there.

Because I'm making a special request for acknowledgment, I'm going to provide a 'clarification' for you, even though you did not ask for it, but merely made an assumptive statement that is false. (In other words, I'm throwing you a bone. Doing your homework for you.)

Here is what you quoted of that larger quote:

""It is therefore in the very nature of faith to serve as an impediment to further inquiry" (emphasis added)"

You seem to take this as a particularly damning quote. It is not. It follows logically from the word 'faith' as Harris uses it. In fact, he re-iterates his meaning of 'faith' in the very sentence prior to the one you quoted. By extracting only the one sentence, you've rendered your interpretation of that sentence as coloured by your own ideas of what faith is. In other words, you're not accurately representing what Harris means. Here is what you should have quoted:

"Believing strongly, without evidence, they have kicked themselves loose of the world. It is therefore in the very nature of faith to serve as an impediment to further inquiry." (emphasis added)

Now, with that re-iteration of Harris' meaning of faith, we can determine what he means by the one sentence you quoted alone:

"It is therefore in the very nature of [believing strongly, without evidence] to serve as an impediment to further inquiry."

Does this suddenly seem to be a different sentence than the one you quoted? If it does, then you did not understand Harris' meaning of the word 'faith'. You misinterpreted him. The two sentences mean exactly the same thing. By 'faith', Harris means "believing strongly, without evidence".

Now, with that understanding in mind, re-read the paragraph you quoted and notice that it does not say what you originally interpreted it to say. He does not say that religion is empirically false. He says it has no evidence to support it, and that this lack of evidence gets in the way of discourse.

In physics, when we use the same methodology (i.e. gathering evidence and basing our conclusions on evidence), we reach the same conclusions, no matter who we are or where we are. "There is, after all, no such thing as an inherently American (or Christian, or Caucasian) physics."

However, in the domain of faith-based religion, when we use the same methodology (i.e. believing strongly, without evidence), we reach wildly different and incompatible conclusions, and it entirely depends on who we are and where we are (we typically inherit our religions from our surrounding society and culture). When two people (e.g. a Christian and a Muslim) disagree on a matter of faith (i.e. they believe strongly, without evidence), then by the methodology of faith, they will not be able to convince the other through the evidence of conversation, because the methodology of faith is believing strongly without evidence. "Nothing that a Christian and a Muslim can say to each other will render their beliefs mutually vulnerable to discourse, because the very tenets of their faith have immunized them against the power of conversation."

When we believe on faith, we are disconnecting our beliefs from the evidence of reality. "Believing strongly, without evidence, they have kicked themselves loose of the world."

Thus, believing strongly without evidence leads to stronger and stronger disagreement in conversation, the more strongly we believe without evidence. Instead of leading to agreement and resolution of conflicting opinions, believing strongly without evidence leads to disagreement and greater conflicting of opinions. "It is therefore in the very nature of faith to serve as an impediment to further inquiry."

Where, in any of that, is there a statement that religions are empirically false?

His actual criticism is that faith-based religions cannot reach any agreement with differing opinions through the method of faith, because faith itself (i.e. believing strongly without evidence) is a direct impediment to reaching agreement through discourse.

I would like you to acknowledge the fact that you badly misinterpreted Harris here.

And please don't answer with "Well, what else could he have meant?" Such a question will only expose your lack of imagination, as we'll see more of shortly. If you don't know what else he could have meant, you probably should have read the book (or read it more closely).

"I am assuming from your question "Does it *say* "All faith = bad faith", or is that just your interpretation and assumption?" that you believe there is some kind of faith that Harris approves of. I realize that's me assuming again, but why in the world would you ask it otherwise?"

Yes, it is you assuming again. And before assuming (leaping) you should ask the question (look). But again, you've decided to leap first and look in mid-air. I'll throw you one more bone and answer your posterior question before debunking your prior assumption. At least you asked the question in the same paragraph, so you're getting closer to the correct order of things.

"why in the world would you ask it otherwise?"

Perhaps because I want to illustrate that there are more possibilities than you imagined? Perhaps to highlight that you are in fact making a hidden assumption, and assumptions can be wrong? Perhaps to make you aware that there is a layer of interpretation going on in your brain that you may not be aware of, and that you should be aware of it because your interpretation is probably mistaken?

So, where you only saw one possibility (that I "believe there is some kind of faith that Harris approves of"), there are actually at least four possibilities. This is what I call a lack of imagination. It is either the failure to ask yourself the question, "What if I'm wrong?" or "How do I really know that?", or else it is the failure, having asked one of those questions, to come up with any alternatives. The first is a failure to engage the imagination, and the second is a failure of the imagination itself. I don't really condemn the latter, because at least you would be open to the possibility you could be wrong. But it's the former that really is a problem.

Having asked yourself, "How do I really know that?", and failing to imagine any alternatives, a natural thing to do would be to ask the person, "Hey, what do you mean by X? It seems to me you mean Y, but I'm not sure." Instead of doing that, you go with your assumption and make assumptive statements like "Harris means this" or "You mean that".

So, when I ask, "Does it *say* "All faith = bad faith", or is that just your interpretation and assumption?" you assume that I mean X, when I don't. Actually, I'm just trying to point out that you are making an unwarranted interpretation of Harris' quote. The quote did not actually say "All faith = bad faith" in its meaning. That was your faulty interpretation. My question was to highlight this.

Instead of noting that you were making an assumption about Harris, you made *even more* assumptions about me. Hopefully my spelling it out to you in such gory detail will help you finally realize just how often you've jumped to conclusions in this conversation. But I cannot predict what other wild assumptions you'll make about my explanation, so I'm not holding my breath.

All I can say is, if you *really* want clarification, ask, don't assume.

Will you acknowledge that the quote you gave *did not actually* say or mean "all faith = bad faith"?

As for whether Harris or I believe "all faith = bad faith", it's an ambiguous question, because you are using a meaning of 'faith' that is different from Harris'. I can restate your interpretation in two ways that make sense in the context of Harris' meaning of faith:

"All [believing strongly without evidence] is [a bad justification for belief]" True. We both believe that.

"All [beliefs reached through faith (i.e. believing strongly without evidence)] are [necessarily false, wrong, bad, evil, etc.]" False. We do not believe that.

Here is Harris' quote: "Given the link between belief and action, it is clear that we can no more tolerate a diversity of religious beliefs than a diversity of beliefs about epidemiology and basic hygiene"

What it means: Faith-based religion (which uses 'believing strongly without evidence' as a justification for some beliefs) can lead to tenaciously false beliefs, and those beliefs can lead to dangerously harmful actions, and we cannot tolerate those actions, so we should not pretend that we can tolerate all of the diverse beliefs derived from faith-based religion.

To understand that meaning from that single sentence requires the context of his previous usage of 'faith', 'religion', 'toleration', 'belief', and the evidence he gave as to the 'link between belief and action', as well as the examples he gives about health and women's clothing. Taking that single sentence out of that context can lead to misinterpretation because in that single sentence he chose to use general language and provocative associations in order to give it some "oomph". But to quote-mine Harris, and then to blame him for having his general language misinterpreted is just intellectually dishonest. The honest thing to do would be to admit that it was a quote-mine and was badly misinterpreted.

So, going back to your assumption: "I am assuming from your question ... that you believe there is some kind of faith that Harris approves of." In Harris' meaning of faith, believing strongly without evidence, no, your assumption is wrong. Harris does not see anything good coming out of that kind of faith. Neither do I. That is what "The End of Faith" is about.

There is nothing that we need to believe strongly, without sufficient evidence. Nobody on the planet needs faith. In fact, the planet would do much better without it. In fact, there is a whole lot of unnecessary suffering and harm that comes directly from beliefs derived from/supported by faith. In fact, as technology becomes more and more powerful, and that power falls into the hands of small groups of people with apocalyptic faith-based beliefs, the risks of faith grow larger and larger, and our old strategy of 'toleration' of faith cannot succeed to bring about peace.

Instead, we should actively seek to undermine faith (believing strongly without evidence) even if it means offending moderates who want to defend faith (believing without evidence) from criticism. A good strategy for doing this is to directly challenge that taboo by breaking it unapologetically, with rational argumentation, with ridicule, with humour, with protests, with bus campaigns, with all sorts of tools of social change. To be unapologetic implies that you don't *actually* have something to apologize for, which means that you must maintain a basic ethical stance. Push the limits of the taboo without actually doing anything wrong. That's how you undermine the taboo against criticizing faith, and hence eventually undermine faith itself. That's what I'm for.

You have implied that I'm for all sorts of other nefarious stuff (labeling/demonizing moderates as extremists, advocating isolationism, being intolerant of mere disagreement, delivering ultimatums, advocating us vs. them, advocating military invasions, etc.) all based on your preconceived notions and subsequent assumptions.

And that pretty much sums up how badly you've misrepresented Harris' and my positions.

"If you're truly the linguistic ninja you're claiming to be"

Quote me making that claim.

"you are purposefully using language you know will lead me to false assumptions"

Yet another assumption. I have already stated that my role here is to dispute *your* claims, not do your homework for you. You never asked for clarification, you just made assumption after assumption, compounding your existing errors, digging yourself deeper into a hole. I just watched it happen and pointed out when you made false or unwarranted claims. I didn't "lead [you] to false assumptions", you were eagerly making them all on your own. Your very first post was chock full of them. All of this could have been prevented by you asking a few humble questions instead of making arrogant assumptions.

"That is why I am accusing you of hiding behind it."

Do you withdraw your unwarranted accusation? Now would be a good time to do so.

"But this definition ignores the possibility that a religious moderate holds to a faith that is only approximated by the Bible."

Not only does it not ignore that possibility, but it says exactly what you say it doesn't: It says that their beliefs are only approximated by the Bible.

"He's telling them that if they are going to believe anything in the Bible, then they must believe all of it, and they must believe it literally."

Nowhere in that passage (or even the entire book) does it say that. Yet another misinterpretation.

"That the Bible may claim that it is the inerrant word of god does not mean that religious moderates hold that to be so."

Gee, in fact he specifically says they *don't*: "While the stoning of children for heresy has fallen out of fashion in our country, you will not hear a moderate Christian or Jew arguing for a “symbolic” reading of passages of this sort. ... The above passage is as canonical as any in the Bible, and it is only by ignoring such barbarisms that the Good Book can be reconciled with life in the modern world."

"Moderates could believe that the Bible is a collection of books that were written by humans over thousands of years that best illustrates their religious convictions in the modern world, when combined with their understanding of physics, biology, morality, and reason."

And yet, they still defend faith (believing strongly, without evidence). These are the moderates he's talking about. If they don't defend faith, Harris has no beef with them.

"Harris is saying the only foundation of religion is faith, but religious moderates belie that by founding their beliefs on a range of disciplines from the modern world."

Again, more assumptions. Harris is specifically talking about faith-based religion. If you didn't catch that from the link I gave you (Sam Harris' website), then I don't know what else to say. Maybe: "Do your homework." Maybe: "Look before you leap." Maybe: "Stop making so many damn assumptions."

"Faith-based religion must suffer the same slide into obsolescence. What is the alternative to religion as we know it? As it turns out, this is the wrong question to ask. Chemistry was not an "alternative" to alchemy; it was a wholesale exchange of ignorance at its most rococo for genuine knowledge.3 We will find that, as with alchemy, to speak of "alternatives" to religious faith is to miss the point."

"Harris is also saying"

You know what, let's have a moratorium on your use of the phrase, "X is saying", because it seems every time you use it you get it wrong.

"that religious moderates can never be critical of religious extremism"

No, here's what he actually said. (I don't know how it's possible for you to get this one wrong, since you had just quoted him.): "The problem that religious moderation poses for all of us is that it does not permit anything very critical to be said about religious literalism"

He is describing the taboo against criticism of faith and religion. He is not saying that the problem is that *they* can't criticize *at all*, but that they try to enforce a taboo on *all of us* that we can't be *very critical*. And the target of the criticism in his quote is not *extremism* but *literalism*.

"religious moderates don't only ground their beliefs in faith"

But they do ground their beliefs on faith. Otherwise, they are not the topic of Harris' book.

"That, right there, is a moderate's first critique: that extremists found their beliefs in faith alone."

So what? All they can say is, "Well, I don't agree that you should found your beliefs on faith alone." And the extremist says, "Well, I do. In fact, I have faith that I should. So, nyah nyah!" Unless the moderates attacks faith, there is nothing he can do. And moderates, by Harris' usage of the word, defend faith, they don't attack it. In fact, they don't want *anyone* to attack it. Not me or you either. That's what the taboo is all about.

"So, tell me, what is an example of faith that you believe is not bullshit?"

Another assumption and lack of imagination. I don't know of any reason why faith, believing strongly without evidence, is not bullshit. However, I'm open to the possibility that I could be wrong, and so it is not an absolute statement. Show me faith that works, and I'll change my mind.

"If you would call yourself Catholic and even go to church to hide your atheism from the public, would you not also make religious concessions in your legislation and voting in order to hide it as well, all the while remaining in your heart of hearts an atheist?"

Ad Hoc. This is totally irrelevant to the question of how many non-believers are likely in congress. I'm focusing on your *claim* that there are at best count at most 21 non-believers. That is the claim under question.

"You base your optimism (that is, your earlier citations of correlations and the base-rate of nonbelievers) on public stats, but my public stats are not an accurate representation of "actual beliefs?" C'mon--that's a double-standard."

No it isn't, as anyone familiar with scientifically valid surveys would know. The surveys of the general population were anonymous and designed to gather information about beliefs. The surveys you mentioned are not anonymous, and are only summaries of publicly declared affiliation. They were not designed with scientific measurement of belief in mind. This should be totally obvious to you, but I'm spelling it out anyway.

"But if the SCA was unable to interview anyone because they were not "friendly" to the organization, then I see no reason to be optimistic about their "actual beliefs.""

I'm not asking for optimism. I'm asking for intellectual honesty in evaluating the available evidence. The best evidence we have is the base rate of the general population. The next best are the correlations with atheism. After that, we have Lori Lipman Brown's informal survey. Finally, we have the public proclamations of the politicians themselves.

The base rate is conservatively around 8-10%. The correlations push that up a bit. LLB's survey pushes that up quite a bit more, if we can trust her honesty and the process by which she did it, which should have included assurances of anonymity. Finally, we can barely trust the public proclamations at all, considering they are at best proxies for what the politicians actually believe, and are more closely tied to what is politically and culturally expedient for said politicians.

Given all that, we should expect the actual rate to be at least the base rate, which would be 43-53. That puts your estimate of 21 way below the expectation. Since you don't have any further evidence to back up your claim, the intellectually honest thing to would be to admit your claim has been debunked by the available evidence.

"And, if a politician is able to lie so freely to the general public and/or the SCA, then I see no reason to be optimistic that they will legislate in our favor."

Again, irrelevant to the counting question. It also happens to be irrelevant to your arguments against Harris and I, since we are more concerned with how people (moderates) vote. If the people vote in Bushes and Palins, legislation is secondary to that primary effect.

"even the SCA is unwilling to publicly claim any kind of optimism based on their survey"

Umm, they already did: "While it would be impressive to find 21 non-theists in the whole Congress, the survey that led to the divulging of this statistic wasn’t comprehensive. Lori Lipman Brown’s organization, the Secular Coalition for America, only surveyed 60 “friendly” Congresspeople."

Sounds pretty optimistic to me. They're saying exactly what I am: 21 is better than 1 or 0, and it's probably considerably higher than that, considering this was only a sample of 60!

"And, of course, the possibility remains that the people surveyed in your public stats were also lying about their "actual beliefs.""

That's true. And if that were the case, we would have to ditch that evidence, which would leave us with the base rate and the correlations, which is still, as I said, at least 43-53, which is still much higher than your claim of 21.

However, ironically, since that survey is where you got your 21 in the first place, then by ditching that survey, you would have even *less* of a case that 21 is an accurate upper limit. You would be left with only the public proclamations, which are not scientifically reliable at all as they don't even measure belief and are not anonymous. It's a catch 22 for you. Either you include LLB's survey, and the odds tip in favour of a much higher than base rate estimate, or you exclude it and are left with nothing. Either way, your claim is toast.

"The math that you've done amounts to little more than scientific wishful thinking."

It's called statistical inference. Are you now claiming that statistical inference is invalid? Better not go driving today, or take any medications, or eat any food or anything at all. You'd have no basis for trusting any modern technology or science.

"This discussion is not about tone but about content. Sam Harris has claimed that religious moderates shield extremists from interrogation and that faith should be abolished because of it. That supposition can be made in a respectful or disrespectful tone. To ridicule someone for their beliefs is to show them little to no respect and I see no evidence to suggest that such a pursuit is worthwhile or constructive."

Then you haven't been paying attention to recent events:
Review: Intelligence Squared debate: Catholics humiliated by Christopher Hi...
Video: Hitchens & Fry Debate Catholicism
Tanscript: Catholic Church humiliated by Fry and Hitchens in an historic Londo...

At the beginning of the debate, the numbers were:
Motion: The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world.
For: 678
Against: 1,102
Undecided 346

At the end of the debate, the numbers were:

For: 268
Against: 1,876
Undecided: 34

There's your evidence right there.

"I have, in fact, seen much to suggest that ridiculing someone is the easiest way to ensure they withdraw from the conversation."

Ah ah ah [waving finger], did Harris or I defend ridiculing people as the primary strategy, or is that yet another assumption of yours? People are not their beliefs. Beliefs are not people. People are not their faith. Faith is not a person.

"The topic is not tone, and your attempt to make it about tone is a straw man of your own."

Harris' position is that we should use ridicule to attack faith. You falsely assumed he was advocating 'writing off' all theists. You may not realize it, but the debate is about tone. You just haven't caught up with Harris yet. You're a few miles behind.

"Use of hyperbole, which you yourself admit you have done, is a kind of straw man attack."

I have always backed up my rhetoric with specific arguments. I never left hyperbole alone as my response. You can consider it flavourful commentary (you, personally, may not like the taste), but there has always been the meaty substance of argument and evidence served with it.

"If I make a claim, such as "We cannot, plain and simple, make any kind of lasting impact on society by ourselves," I'm using it to mean a specific thing: that is, to be "by ourselves" is to be alone, which as nonbelievers, means we will get no help from believers."

I know. I'm just wondering why you think that's implied by our position.

"At what point was I supposed to assume your use of my phrase was sarcastic air-quotes?"

You weren't. They aren't air-quotes, they are quotes. You are claiming that we have to worry about being alone. Why? Because we are small? That's no reason. The Jews show that. Being small does not mean we have to kowtow to moderates. Jews don't kowtow to moderates and they are not alone. They are outspoken, and they defend their position unapologetically. They are in no danger of being 'alone'.

So, why should we be? You are the one who's making the connection between small numbers of congress people and being 'by ourselves'. What is the basis for this connection? You never spell it out. If being a small minority means being 'by themselves', then Jews get along just fine 'by themselves'. The implication is your own. I'm showing its absurdity with a counter-example.

Your argument seemed to be that having a small number of non-believers in Congress puts us in a position of being 'by ourselves', and we therefore have to suck moderate's ass by being all apologetic. I'm disputing that. The Jews are a good counterexample to that.

By the way, I just checked and the Jews have 43 members of Congress. Interestingly, the most conservative estimate of non-believers in Congress (8%) would also be 43 members. So, if we could make the public atmosphere safe for these people to come out, we would have just as much outward representation in Congress as Jews. Considering this, your argument that we should ignore Sam Harris' strategy and pussyfoot around criticism of faith seems even more wrong than before.

Remember, it all boils down to the voting public. As long as moderates are hostile to non-believers and being an open non-believer means you can't get elected, then your strategy is doomed to failure. It will require undermining the taboo against criticizing faith and religion to allow non-believers to come out without fear of repercussions. Without that taboo broken, we will always have an atmosphere of "How dare you be a non-believer? Do you think all our faiths are wrong? How arrogant of you. The Bible, which I believe on faith, so don't you dare criticize it, says only fools say there is no God. They are corrupt and can do no good. I'd never vote for someone so morally bankrupt." If we kowtow to such attitudes, we're doomed to failure. The only way out is through. And if that requires 'offending' moderates, so be it.

"I thought you were simply contradicting yourself."

Maybe next time you'll ask first instead of assuming. Again.

"But if we pursue a philosophy of complete intolerance to faith, how is that not writing off the support of those who remain theists?"

Oops, there's another assumption. Does Harris advocate "complete intolerance"? Or does he advocate conversational intolerance? Do you know the difference?

"You're holding me to another double-standard. You have cited your personal experience as evidence that your method of argumentation works. I tried to use mine as well and you demand more."

This is not a double standard. It's called the burden of proof, which lies with he who claims. You made the claim. I'm asking for proof. My mention of my own personal evidence was a side note for explaining why I hold my position. But I did not make the claim. You made the claim. Here's the claim:

"Using Caine's framing of extremists and moderates again, it's entirely possible to point out to people that a law or action is founded on beliefs derived from a "'god hates fags kill everyone that's not me' god" rather than their "nice moderate gay-marriage-loving cute kitten god." At which point you can offer that both of you should work together to stop the former. I'm not saying it's easy, but I am saying it's possible and more constructive."

I'm asking you for evidence to support that claim. Show me that it's more constructive. You can use whatever faith-based issue you want. I offered Prop 8 or the Pope's anti-condom stance.

Your anecdotes about believers becoming more accepting of atheists does not lend support to your claim that you can actually change moderates' positions on faith-based claims without attacking faith itself.

"I restate my position briefly: If you are arguing with a moderate, then you are arguing with someone who rests their faith-based beliefs also on other rational grounds. I believe it is better to build off those rational grounds, even if that means the person ultimately retains their faith in their general religious beliefs."

That's your opinion. That's not evidence. Also, you're not using Harris' meaning of faith, so it wouldn't be applicable to the issue anyway. Faith is believing strongly without sufficient evidence to warrant strong belief.

Again: What evidence is there that your method of persuasion would work to convince moderates to switch positions on a faith-based issue (such as Prop 8 or the Pope and condoms), without attacking faith itself?

"then in order to win that debate (i.e. convince the person to abandon their faith because said faith is "bullshit") you must convince the person to abandon all of their faith-based beliefs."

Non-sequitur: Does not follow. I have personally convinced people to give up a particular faith-based belief, via the method of attacking faith, without getting side-tracked on attacking all their other faith-based beliefs. There is not logical connection, and there is no evidential support, for your claim.

Yes, attacking faith logically undermines all faith-based beliefs. No, that does not imply that in a debate you must therefore defeat all faith-based beliefs in order to attack one specific faith-based belief. Debates don't work that way.

In any case, none of that lends any weight to your claim that attacking faith brings moderates closer to extremists.

"Thus, if you make faith the focus of your attack, then "it is a requirement in every single debate that you enter into with religious people that they abandon all of their faith-based beliefs.""

False. Perhaps you are again lacking in imagination. There are many many many ways to attack faith in a debate, and none of them require the faith believer to abandon all faith-based belief as a pre-requisite to use these techniques.

"Then the nonbeliever says, "Faith is bullshit. And god is too. Anyone who votes based on their faith in god is no better than a Medieval peasant." It is not then beyond plausibility to imagine the moderate saying, "While I certainly don't agree that God hates fags, my faith in God is central to my life, and I believe I have rational grounds for that belief, which hardly makes me a Medieval peasant." Thus, the nonbeliever, by attacking faith ..."

That doesn't sound like any debate I've ever participated in. The non-believer doesn't get to reply to the moderate? Doesn't get to interrogate their claims? No back and forth? Just the moderate over-hearing a straw-man of an anti-faith argument, failing to notice his own faith in it, and then that's it?

That's the nightmare scenario you've imagined as a result of Sam Harris' book?!?! Wow. Seriously. I have no idea where you got that.

So, you don't know how to attack faith. No big deal. I don't hold it against you. It's not for everyone's taste. However, why are you attacking those people who *do* know how to attack faith? Why are you trying to undermine *their* efforts? If you don't want to debate faith, just stay out of the debate and let us do our thing.

We don't complain when you talk with moderates and convince them to be more understanding of atheists. That's great! We need more of that. I congratulate you on that sincerely.

So why do you complain when we talk with moderates and convince them to weaken or abandon their faith altogether? What harm does it do to you (with evidence, please)?

IMO, the fight for secularism will require a billion approaches from a billion individuals. Globally, that's a decent enough approximation of the number of non-believers. Why quibble over each approach, unless you have a solid argument and good evidence to bring to the table? If you don't like a particular approach, go out there and use your own approach. If you can see an actual harm to a particular approach, make your case with solid argument and evidence. Otherwise, please stop making divisive assumptions about methods and motives. I mean, if you really want to continue, go ahead, but I'm going to keep pointing out the flaws in your argument. That's how discourse works. It requires open and free criticism.

"Should nonbelievers not have supported his struggle for civil rights because it had a foundation that was, as some might put it, "bullshit?" Don't mistake that for a straw man; I'm simply highlighting a logical conclusion that I drew from Harris's stated position. I'd love to hear your answer."

It's not a logical conclusion of Harris' stated position. I'd like to see your chain of logic that shows that it is. MLK's faith (what actual faith he had in Harris' sense of believing strongly without good evidence) was flawed. But his causes were just for other reasons than his faith. My position would be to support MLK as much as possible in his secular causes, except when such support would also support dangerous faith itself. In fact, if he did make serious arguments founded on faith, I would criticize those arguments and the faith they were founded on. I would hope to convince him that he doesn't need faith to support civil rights. There are dozens of better reasons to support it.

"I've already pointed out that I think Harris's definition of a moderate is critically incomplete."

I think your reading of him is critically incomplete. You might want to remedy that before you go about complaining about (in)completeness in his book.

"I was citing John Paul II as a moderate"

The last pope wasn't keen on condoms either. None of them have been. I mentioned this already.

(cont'd)
"My response to the Pope or a like-minded Catholic would be that condoms alone are not the proposed solution, and you know it, Benny. People advocate the distribution of condoms in addition to medical treatments and proper and comprehensive sex education as well as education on the root causes and transmission of the disease. That whole solution takes time. Distributing condoms, however, is a fast way to--not eliminate the problem but--perhaps slow its spread, especially on a continent where an accepted treatment for the disease is raping as many virgins as you can. In the interest of slowing its spread by as many means possible, it is only right to use condoms as part of a more comprehensive plan to help and save as many people as possible."

The Pope could literally change his position on condoms tomorrow if he chose to do so. Do you really believe that if you sent him that paragraph in an email (or explained it to him face to face, or however you'd like to communicate with him) that he would for one second consider changing his position to 'pro condom use in Africa'? Seriously. You do understand the official Catholic position on contraception, right?

"I want you to know I don't hold anything against you"

Nor I you.

"we just don't agree on this subject and I see no point in continuing"

It would help if you could provide some evidence of your claims.

[Have to break for dinner. I'll get your next post later.]
"The implication here is that only the religious are capable of the kinds of atrocities that exist in the world."

Oh my Flying Spaghetti Monster. Are you really going there? You have *got* to be kidding me.

Stalin Mao and Pol Pot, right? Holy flying fuck. Are you actually an atheist? If you really are, haven't you heard that canard about 50,000 times? Aren't you tired of it? If so, why are you flinging that poo at me?

Puh-lease get a grip on your wild assumptions. That is all.
"Who's assuming what now?"

Notice that I did not make assumptive statements. I asked questions. Feel free to answer them, by the way.

"The canard is the idea that these leaders did what they did because of their atheism."

Exactly, and you're asking me to justify why non-believers have nothing to apologize for qua non-believers.

So, tell me. What do non-believers have to apologize for, and why? What possible reason do non-believers qua non-believers have to apologize for what is done by "openly atheistic governments such as those in China and North Korea"? I happen to be a non-believer. So by your implication, I must have to apologize for China and North Korea, right?. My question to you is, "Why?" You also claim to be a non-believer. Do you feel guilty for your involvement with China and North Korea?
Harris' argument is grossly unfair and is unnecessarily divisive.

One could say the opposite is true as well; that religious moderates "provide cover" for the non-religious and the unorthodox (so-called "infidels"), since moderates are generally more willing to tolerate differences, to modify their ethical views in light of modern social changes, and to question their own beliefs and interpretations of religious tradition.
The excruciatingly obvious difference, which I have no idea why you didn't mention, is that non-believers are not motivated by their non-belief to oppress women and homosexuals, elect buffoons into power, support war and torture of prisoners, undermine science education, blow themselves and others up, shoot abortion doctors, fly planes into buildings, promote the spread of AIDS in Africa, rape children, etc. etc. etc. etc.

If the moderates are providing 'cover' for the non-religious, what exactly are they covering? What have the non-religious to apologize for?

Whereas you'll be unable to answer that with anything convincing, I could literally go on for hours about the crimes that moderates have persistently defended as being unrelated to religion or faith.


... kill their children in the name of God, support racism, throw acid on girl's faces, rape virgins so that they can be legally executed, mutilate genitals, threaten children with Hell, enforce unhealthy sexual stigmas and taboos, contribute to unwanted pregnancy and venereal disease, force children to swallow acid, kill children as 'witches', ...
If the moderates are providing 'cover' for the non-religious, what exactly are they covering? What have the non-religious to apologize for?

That's why I put "provide cover" in quotes. My point is that religious moderates can potentially benefit unbelievers, and ethical people in general, as well as extremists.
How is that a counter-argument to Harris' argument? How does it in any way make Harris' argument "grossly unfair and is unnecessarily divisive"?

A metaphor: Let's say person M donates money to extremist religious cause X and also donates money to non-extremist secular cause Y. Person A comes along and says, "Hey M, you shouldn't donate to X." Person B comes along and says, "A's argument is grossly unfair and is unnecessarily divisive. M also donates to Y." How is donating to Y any defense for also donating to X?

Likewise, pointing out that moderates might also 'provide cover' for the non-extremist non-religious does nothing to support your assertion that Harris' argument is unfair or divisive. It in no way excuses the fact that they *do* provide cover for extremists. The non-religious, as a general group, have nothing specific to apologize for. Extremists, on the other hand, do. There's no crime in 'providing cover' for the non-religious. This is what I hear in your argument: "Oh sure, they aid known criminals without turning them in or calling the police, but give them a break, they also aid law-abiding citizens!" Sorry, no, we're not going to give them a break until they either stop the aid or actively take action against. And there's nothing unfair or divisive about that. It is simply holding people accountable for what they do.

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