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May 03, 2005

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Jeff

Tamar,

I've just come across your blog. If I may, I'd like to comment upon three of Dawkin's statements:

1. "When you meet a scientist who calls himself or herself religious, you'll often find that ... by "religious" they do not mean anything supernatural."

I'm not sure that this is true. I've read of surveys that have been conducted in which a significant number of scientists have claimed to adhere to some form of institutional religion. Of course, statistics like these are never really reliable, but I don't think that Dawkins really can make such a claim legitimately; it would seem to be subjective.

2. "Scientists disagree among themselves but they never fight over their disagreements."

Actually, the history of science is filled with examples of jealousy, rancor, libel, theft of ideas, etc. They're human beings. They just don't pick up guns (usually!).

3. "...the ignorant, uneducated people who voted Bush in."

I certainly wish that I could agree with Dawkins here. It was easier to dismiss them in the old days (even as recently as a couple of decades ago), when all of the fundamentalists were uneducated morons. Unfortunately, in recent years, they've been breaking the rules - they've been getting educations. Now, we're actually witnessing the spectacle of fundamentalists receiving doctorates from top-tier, even ivy league universities (God help us!).

Dawkins always claims that there is no evidence to support religious belief. I'm not sure that he's correct. I believe that he also makes the same statements about paranormal phenomena, yet there appears to be a growing body of evidence in support of them. When radical materialists argue vociferously for atheism, I often come away with the impression that it's a matter of aesthetic preference. Which isn’t to say that I disagree with everything that he says about religion; on the contrary, it’s rife with idiocy and abuse. Huston Smith has been saying for years that religion reflects the best and the worst in us. I’m not sure that the former is worth the latter.

Tamar

Jeff,
Thanks so much for your comments and for reading my blog!

I agree with you about all your three points actually, although I think that "They just don't pick up guns (usually!)" - can not be over emphasized.

I like your quote: "that religion reflects the best and the worst in us."

The Dawkins interview appealed to me because lately I have been feeling like I'm drowning in a sea of fundamentalist evangelism, that scares me because I fear it will (might have already!) lead us into an Age of Darkness.

Before I am drowned completely, I'd like to be aware of what is happening, and capable of asking questions.

Jeff

Yes, I understand completely. I'm something of an amateur student of religion, and fundamentalism, particularly of the Christian variety, upsets me terribly. I'm forced to agree with them that we are engaged in a culture war, and lately, I've been telling my friends that I no longer think that it's a question of whether or not the Right (religious and secular) will win; I think that they have won. We just don't realize it yet. They usually reply that these things are cyclical, that the pendulum will swing back to the Left, but I’m not sure that we have enough time. It seems that our civilization has reached a certain threshold of complexity – technologically, and in terms of sheer number and our effect on the environment, etc. – and I don’t know that we have much time left.

I've been discovering lately how pervasive the fundamentalist influence is - even more than I realized. You may be interested in this series of reports presented recently on NPR (if you haven't already heard them):

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4631923

Also, here are recordings of two segments aired last week on Fresh Air. The first is an interview with D. James Kennedy, the fundamentalist minister/activist; the second is with Frederick Clarkson, an author and journalist who writes about the Religious Right and their growing influence in government. They're quite disturbing:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4656600

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4656603

Tamar

Jeff, thanks so much for those links. I have not heard them actually so this is interesting indeed.

So, isn't it time for a blog of your own?
and

What do you mean by an "amateur student of religion?"

Jeff

Hi Tamar,

You may also find this interesting:

http://www.frederickclarkson.com/

It’s Clarkson’s blog, and contains an archive of some of his articles, as well as links to sites that he considers relevant.

I wanted to say something about Hume and infinite regression, which you mentioned in a recent posting (I think that Aquinas had a problem with it as well). The Buddhists, especially the Tibetans who have a long tradition of debate, have some elegant arguments in which they maintain that infinite regression is the only logical conclusion. They argue that a moment of consciousness can only be caused by a previous moment (otherwise the principle of “dependent origination”, one of their core beliefs, would be violated), and that this process is infinite in both directions. The interesting thing is that they feel that this in itself invalidates the idea of a creator. For them, mind, which is the basis of all reality, has always existed. (Yeah, I know – “Where does mind come from?” I can’t get a straight answer.)

I have to confess that I find this to be counter-intuitive. I feel that there has to be a point of origin. It needn’t be “personal”, as we would understand the term. It could be a creative absolute, such as the Hindu conceptualization of Brahman, or the Kabbalistic idea of Eyn Sof, or Infinite Being.

The reason that I bring it up is that it refers to what I mentioned the other day about aesthetic preference. I’m certainly not qualified to judge between all of the various arguments, East and West (I’m not familiar enough with all of them, to begin with), but the farther along that I go with all of this, the more I come to feel that rational argument, while important, only takes us to a certain point. Beyond that, it may be impossible to say that one argument is “better” than another, especially when one takes into consideration worldviews that are the result of thousands of years of separate cultural development. Eventually, you get Hume and the Buddhists – one arguing for infinite regression, the other against it – yet each side feels that its line of reasoning dispenses successfully with the idea of a creator god. I think that ultimately, even with minds as sophisticated as those of the great philosophers, one of the most important determining factors is what appeals to us, intuitively - what is attractive to us.

Regarding your two questions:

> What do you mean by an "amateur student of religion?"

I’ve been studying it, as best I could independently and outside of the academic arena, for about thirty years. I probably have an above-average level of general knowledge by now, but I am by no means a scholar.

> So, isn't it time for a blog of your own?

Thank you for the compliment. In fact, people are always telling me to write. The thing is – I have such a pessimistic, cynical view of life that I find it impossible to believe that most people would be interested in what I have to say (It isn’t a self-esteem issue; it’s just that, as I’m sure you know, people want to hear what they want to hear). And as far as the few who might be interested go – I don’t feel that I should encourage their masochism!

Also, having a blog means posting on a regular basis, replying to comments, etc. It’s a commitment.

I don’t know. Maybe.

Tamar

Jeff:
Thanks for the Clarkson link!

"I think that ultimately, even with minds as sophisticated as those of the great philosophers, one of the most important determining factors is what appeals to us, intuitively - what is attractive to us."

Yes I definitely agree with that. However, I think that what appeals to us isn't only influenced by intuition. We are deeply influenced by early childhood, family, social and cultural experiences. As well as biases formed by being taught how to survive from people we loved and depended upon. (I develop the theory of how survival influences our biases more in-depth in my book Confronting Our Discomfort: Clearing the Way for Anti-Bias in Early Childhood).

Re: your own blog: Yes indeed, "people want to hear what they want to hear." You surely can't be more cynical than many of the bloggers *out there.* Is cynicism not a good thing, do you think? Does it matter how many read your blog? I don't have that many readers, am not on any *important people/bloggers'* blogroll and am still termed a "crawly amphibian" at TLB ecosystem! And yet here you are, reading my blog and making a contribution.

Besides - you don't always have to reply to comments. Not everyone does.

Let me know when you decide to start your own blog. I'll read it and probably link to it! [for what I'm worth : ) ]

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