We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Cherchez le mème

I am troubled at the spread of a certain meme. It is hostile to liberty, yet seems to be fairly popular with those who in other respects defend freedom of speech and abhor State interference in personal relations. In the comments to this Samizdata post, a regular commenter here, ‘Mandrill’, expressed this particular meme unambiguously:

It should be illegal for any adult, parent or not, to indoctrinate any child in any religion, period. If they choose to follow one of the multitudinous superstitions which we’ve infected our intellects with once they’re an adult that’s their business, but to poison a child’s mind against reason from a very young age is, in my view, abuse and is something that stunts not only the intellectual growth of the child but that of the rest of humanity also. Just as much as genital mutilation (male or female) is.

That is all.

I have a few more examples that I have collected at the end of the post. Those quoted are not necessarily famous or influential, only those that I bestirred myself to note down or to find by casual googling. Trust me, there are plenty more out there. Feel free to add your own examples in comments. I would also welcome comments from anyone – such as Mandrill – who thinks this is a good meme.

Meanwhile let me speculate on how what I hold to be an insidious and bad meme is propagating itself with some success among them as should know better. Such qualities as ‘truth’ and ‘goodness’ and ‘internal consistency’ are often useful characteristics for a meme to have but are by no means essential to its success as a replicator.

1) Firstly, the ‘ban religion for children’ meme appeals by a having a spurious similarity to generally accepted ideas about when and whether sex should be prohibited. Most of us accept that consenting adults can do what they like, but children and mentally deficient people cannot give meaningful consent. My answer to that is sex is sex and talk is talk.

Campaign groups often try to ‘borrow’ some of the public willingness to abhor and forbid certain sexual acts and use it to get the public to abhor and forbid non-sexual acts of which the pusher disapproves. For instance, campaigners against smacking children often blur the boundaries between sexual and physical child abuse. In a loosely related way campaigners against rape sometimes blur the boundaries between forced sexual intercourse i.e. rape and the sort of ‘force’ involved in the use of emotional blackmail to get sex. I am sure that many of those who support banning parents from passing on their religion to their children are motivated by honest horror at real cruelties and crimes. Prominent among these must be the numerous incidences of child sexual abuse by clergy, Roman Catholic and others. Unfortunately fear of paedophilia has given rise to a tendency to view all interactions between adults and children as suspicious unless monitored by authority. I would argue that the record of ‘the authorities’ in such matters is yet worse. There have been several long running paedophile rings at children’s homes, for instance.

Ach, I have got distracted. I wanted to stick to saying why it is wrong to treat passing on one’s values as being, like sex, a matter that has an age of consent. At root, human affection is inseparable from living one’s values, religious or not. “I could not love you half so much loved I not honour more”. And since affection must be conveyed, the values must be conveyed. To do this all the time explicitly would make you a bore, if not a nutter, but in a sense all parenting is one life-long song of your values. You sing in the hope of an answering voice, not an echo. State interference in parenting is a smoke alarm set off by music.

2) A second reason for the appeal of the idea that religion should be banned for children is our old enemy, the argument that freedom is trumped or ‘balanced’ by some type of repression that can, with some twisting, also be portrayed as a freedom. Or even ‘true freedom’. Here is a perfect example from a comment by ‘Jason’ at the blog “Dispatches from the Culture Wars”:

We obviously already limit what parents may teach their children regarding religion, most obviously by exposing children to other teachings in schools, many of which may directly contradict what the parents teach while others undermine the parents’ teachings in more subtle ways. You don’t seem to be able to let go of this silly notion that any further intervention by the state in the education and raising of children, including their exposure to religious teachings, constitutes some kind of nightmarish Orwellian totalitarianism.

I am indeed unable to let go of this notion.

Furthermore, any serious ‘concept of freedom’ must consider the freedom of the child as well as the parent. And as I suggested in my last post, religious indoctrination may constitute a serious violation of the child’s freedom of thought as a form of brain-washing. If people are to be truly free to make religious choices, they cannot do so if they have been massively conditioned from birth to favor one religion over another, or to favor religion over alternative philosophies and belief systems.

The post to which this was a comment concerned an occasion when Richard Dawkins (who, by a coincidence less interesting than it seemed at first sight, was the man who originally coined the word meme and made the meme meme popular) first signed, then retracted his signature from, a petition to the government to “make it illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16″.

In the kerfuffle that followed he made it clear that he rejected compulsion and admitted that he had dropped a clanger in ever signing this petition. However 2,242 other signatories did not. As I said, quite a popular meme. See the comments at ‘Dispatches’ and ‘The Panda’s Thumb’ for more supporters.

3) Possibly the ‘ban religion for children’ idea has a sort of attractively ironic similarity to the debates among various denominations of Christianity about whether infant baptism is valid. Many people who have rejected Christianity nonetheless retain a vague memory of such arguments.

4) Alas, the meme is no doubt also propagated by getting religious people like me riled to the extent that we write blog posts denouncing it. I just hope that I am doing it more harm than good.

5) This meme can also be assisted by protective coloration – or perhaps it could be called a form of neoteny – in the form of an assurance, which I do not say is insincere, that it is only a joke, a discussion-starter, or a playful hypothesis. Our meme seemed to be the cuckoo in the otherwise pro-freedom nest provided by this article by AC Grayling:

But that raises the second question. We do not like children being involved in either Mosley-like or religious activities of elective suffering, one reason being that we do not think they are in a position to give properly free and informed consent. This, in turn, raises the question of what else children should be protected from in the way of religious practice, or even doctrine: for psychological effects are every bit as real as physical ones.

One might think that teaching six-year-olds the Calvinistic dread of eternal torment in hellfire is as harmful as flagellation – the youths in the Manchester case began their self-flagellation in Pakistan at that age. But what about teaching children false or weird beliefs as fact?

Once one begins to ponder where these lines should be drawn, one has begun to ponder again that border between modern secular society and religion. In my view, leaving adults to do what they like in private – providing it does not harm the unconsenting – is the right course, but that includes acquiring religion too. Leave the children out of it, both the believing and flagellating, until they can make a free and informed decision for themselves.

It is not clear to me whether “leave the children out of it” is meant to be a recommendation to individual parents to change their behaviour or to lawmakers to change the laws. Ambiguity can be a successful ‘entryist’ strategy for a meme. It can help an otherwise unattractive meme to spread if it is camouflaged by the sub-meme – or “is associated with the fellow-meme” if you prefer; asking where one meme stops and another starts is like asking the length of a piece of string – that the unattractive meme is only a joke or a thought-experiment. The meme can thus be spread by those who would recoil from seriously advocating it.

In this Normblog post Norman Geras complained of lack of clarity in Professor Grayling’s article, as did I. By means of rhetorical questions concerning how such a ban would be implemented, Geras also explained why the idea is invasive of private space and incompatible with secular liberalism.

Here is another example of this meme spreading under the camouflage of being a joke. In a comment to a Guardian article by Madeleine Bunting (of whom I am not a fan) ‘Icerat’ commented: “Religion in any form whatsoever should be kept out of education. By force, if necessary”. Later he or she said it was a joke. Yet his or her comment got plenty of recommendations.

A few more entries from my meme-watcher’s notebook:

Example A: Comment by ‘CritKing’ to a Guardian article on faith schools by Polly Toynbee:

The only solution is to make it a cultural, and legal crime to inflict the disease of religion on a young mind.

By all means let people have their mental crutches, their bigotry, their superstitions… but brainwashing children, whether your own or those of others needs to be seen as the hideous crime that it is.

All religions know they are doomed unless they can mould the minds of those who do not have the developed intellect and experience to see through the lies. Inflicting religious doctrine and misery on a child should be filed in the same category as physical abuse.

Example B: Comment by ‘Morgoth’ to this Harry’s Place post about Michael Reiss being forced out of his job at the Royal Society

There is no place in education for superstition or fairy tales. If a child comes into school mouthing off fairy stories then the parents should be arrested for child abuse.

Example C: Comment by ‘PidlenBach’ to a Guardian article by Theo Hobson (another of my un-fave Comment is Free writers):

“No-one, however, has the right to tell their kids fundamentally untrue stories and pretend that they are the truth. Kids have rights, and one of them is the right to be told the truth by people that they trust.”

Several strands of anti-liberty arguments come together in this comment: the assumption that the speaker can determine truth and untruth for all, and the mangling of the term ‘right’ to include a right that could only be enforced by serious curtailment of the rights to privacy and free speech of both children and parents. Furthermore a key part of trusting someone is trusting them to tell you the truth as they perceive it: PidlenBach wishes to have children trust people who are in fact lying to them under threat of punishment.

Example D: The originator of the petition to make it “illegal to indoctrinate or define children by religion before the age of 16″ (link above) added the following explanatory text to those contemplating signing:

In order to encourage free thinking, children should not be subjected to any regular religious teaching or be allowed to be defined as belonging to a particular religious group based on the views of their parents or guardians. At the age of 16, as with other laws, they would then be considered old enough and educated enough to form their own opinion and follow any particular religion (or none at all) through free thought.

Example E: Exposing Children To All Religion Is Abuse And Should Be Illegal. A discussion on the City Data forum.

Example F: Found somewhat late, this 1997 lecture by Nicholas Humphrey is probably the source of the meme, although its present run of success dates only from 2001. Mr Humphrey said:

Children, I’ll argue, have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people’s bad ideas – no matter who these other people are. Parents, correspondingly, have no God-given licence to enculturate their children in whatever ways they personally choose: no right to limit the horizons of their children’s knowledge, to bring them up in an atmosphere of dogma and superstition, or to insist they follow the straight and narrow paths of their own faith. In short, children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense, and we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or lock them in a dungeon

It is about as well argued as this case can be. This lecture is approvingly cited by many of those who say they fear a ‘Christianist’ or ‘Dominionist’ regime in America. Odd, therefore, that they do not foresee what will really happen. When I snatch the crown from the Archbishop’s hands and crown myself Most Christian Empress of the World, no liberty they prize will survive the hour. I will take the laws Humphrey once advocated, strike out the words “literal truth of the Bible” and replace them with “atheism” in my own Imperial hand. What, let the little ones be brought up to believe that life is meaningless and death the end merely because their wretched godless parents honestly believe it?

121 comments to Cherchez le mème

  • I appeal to commenters to stick to the point of this post and steer clear of general assertions as to the goodness, badness, truth or falsehood of religion. Otherwise you know what it’ll be like.

  • Ian B

    I have to declare in the name of honesty that I used to subsribe to this meme in my naive, younger days, the photographer said they’d be tasteful, honest. Then I realised that while religions can cause people to do terrible things, so can lots of other belief systems, many of which are subscribed to by believers in this meme.

    Belief in this meme comes from a personal belief that one is objectively right. Meme carriers are normally strongly infected with the Scientism meme, which leads them to conclude that they are entirely rational beings surrounded by a world of irrational idiots. They also tend to be somewhat left wing, because scientism seems to spread hand in hand with a progressive technocratic worldview. This leads to the idea that through science one can gain an entirely objective view of reality, and it’s one’s job to impose it on everybody else. For their own good, of course.

    I now see the world as a swirling mass of belief systems; everybody is infected with various ones, and there is no objective way to actually know which ones are right. Religion is one subcategory of “belief systems”. Conservatism, socialism, environmentalism, food faddism, health paranoia, they go on and on. Like me haha. If you want to ban religious teaching, you have to ban them all. And then you wouldn’t be able to teach children anything at all.

    Bloody silly idea.

    I am objectively right about this, by the way.

  • Adam

    Ian B,

    You can still teach the children math, right? Or should that give way to “modern math” :)

  • Ian B

    Math is the one thing in the world that is actually based on objective proof, funnily enough. :)

  • Does this rule against raising children in a religion apply to all religions?
    Would this rule prevent Muslim parents and Christian parents both from teaching their children about religion?

  • Kevin B

    Like most people my age, I was brought up in a religious environment. Mass every week, Sunday school and RI at junior and grammar school were the norm. I was even an alterboy for a couple of years.

    By the time I was sixteen I was an atheist and I didn’t come back to agnoticism until my late twenties. Most of my peers also rejected religion.

    I don’t remember being indoctinated in atheism by any nefarious older person. It was just a matter of looking round at what was going on and thinking; “This religion stuff is crap.”

    This is why I can’t quite get into a raging panic over the greenist indoctrination that kids today suffer in and out of school. Yes, it’s worrying, but I have every confidence that most of the kids will turn round and tell the preachers where to stuff it.

    The indoctrination of kids into Islam is a bit more worrying, if only because of the threat of violence in the here and now that these young people suffer, (rather than the eternal hellfire I was promised), as well as the general background noise in our culture that encourages them to reject Western Civilization.

    I do think that this particular “shoot all the preachers” meme needs to be fought though, because it is only if the channels of information are kept open, that children can learn enough to reject what their elders and betters are throwing at them.

  • Alan

    Supporting part of Ian B’s post, everyone has a metaphysic and you cannot teach anything without implicitly or explicitly affirming metaphysical truths.

    The flaw in the meme is the belief that their view is purely objective and carries no metaphysical baggage, assumptions, presumptions, etc.

    Not teaching any religions requires not teaching anything other that pure, physical facts.

    Of course, the people who espouse this meme support the teaching of facts like equality, global warming, etc.

    Like most of these arguments, they are self refuting. Unfortunately, most people have not been trained to look for that type of argument.

    (b)

  • kentuckyliz

    In the UK, is there anything similar to the American freedom of religion?

    If not, you need to get it enacted ASAP before the Brights turn the lights out on our free society.

    Next they’ll call for licensing parents to make sure that religious people won’t breed…and coercing sterilization for those they deem unfit.

    Government coerced mandatory sterilization schemes are unconstitutional in the USA.

    But the thought control meme always leads to the physical coercion meme. Just you watch.

  • Can we make it illegal for the State to advertise to children the same way they wish to make it illegal for food producers to advertise to children?

    After all, the usual suspects tell us that bullying at school is a Big Problem, and the State is the biggest bully of them all.

  • Pa Annoyed

    I’ll say at the start that I don’t believe in interfering in a family until matters have passed a very high threshold, and I don’t count most mainstream religious indoctrination to have done so. So I’m not a believer in the meme. Nevertheless, I can understand the principle. And in the interests of improving your argument, I’d like to suggest some refinements to the case you’re trying to argue against.

    “My answer to that is sex is sex and talk is talk.”

    But religion is not always just talk. Religion is not just believing it, but also practicing it. And quite often, facing consequences if you don’t believe or practice it.
    And that sex is sex is no answer. Pornography is just pictures. The issue is that there is such a thing as mental harm as well as physical, and the question is to what extent the right of an individual to do/permit harm to themselves, combined with the role of a guardian exercising rights on behalf of someone incapable of informed consent, allows harm to be done to the helpless. There are of course two separate arguments here: one is whether teaching irrational beliefs constitutes harm (who decides what beliefs are rational is a practical problem, but I’m only considering principle here) – the other is where you set the threshold before intervention from outside the family is justified. I agree that we will get nowhere on the question of whether any particular religion is irrational, so for the sake of argument just assume I’m talking about any one of the thousands of other religions that you don’t believe in (and would presumably therefore accept might be irrational) to avoid offence.

    “I am sure that many of those who support banning parents from passing on their religion to their children are motivated by honest horror at real cruelties and crimes. Prominent among these must be the numerous incidences of child sexual abuse by clergy, Roman Catholic and others.”

    Child sex abuse by priests isn’t an issue here at all, as it isn’t actually a part of the Christian orthodoxy. Things more likely to get people riled are the practice of beating Muslim children if they do not attend prayers (compulsory above the age of 10, according to Sharia), segregation from unbelievers, parental punishment for “sinful” practices that are legal and practiced in the wider community, honour killings, genital mutilation, refusal of certain medical treatments such as blood transfusions or vaccination, and using threats and fear of divine punishment to obtain obedience.

    “And since affection must be conveyed, the values must be conveyed… You sing in the hope of an answering voice, not an echo.”

    That’s your approach, but it isn’t generic to all religion. There are plenty of religious injunctions where “echoing” obedience is what is required. Even Christianity used to have laws on blasphemy and heresy, and persecuted unbelievers, which is as much “religion” as the modern belief. There is a tendency amongst Christians in particular to always conflate “religion” with their religion; to describe the beliefs and practices of modern Christians and then talk about them as if that’s what we all meant. On the whole, there are few atheists I think that are all that bothered by modern Christianity – the problems with it are that to address the problem religions, one also has to address Christianity for the sake of consistency, and more seriously, because the general tolerance for irrationality provides cover for the more dangerous forms. People go softer on Islamism than they do Nazism precisely because Islam is a religion, and you’re supposed to make allowances for people’s beliefs. By erecting a shield that makes criticism of religious beliefs taboo, anything can hide behind it. But Christians only ever see Christianity’s love and (relative) freedom here, not lunatic cults like Scientology where the mindless obedience of an automaton is the goal.

    In summary – consider that atheists see your beliefs as just one member of a wider class, of other religions and other forms of irrationality, and that if you want to defend the principle, you have to defend more than just your own little special case.
    “First they came for the Scientologists, but I was not a Scientologist…”

  • maas101

    I agree with most of this article, however and it is a big however, I believe that religion should be kept out of school.

    I am not against families bringing up their children in a particular faith or even having no religious conviction but schools bring many children of different families together. Unless all faiths are taught equally (clearly impossible) then no faith should be taught. Even the absence of faith should not be taught. If children wish to discuss how the facts they have learned in school relate to their faith than that is a matter for their parents, pastor, rabbi, imam etc.

    Single faith schools engender an us and them mentality which can easily be found outside of school hours without re-inforcing it within.

  • I think that people who indoctrinate their children to religion ought to be shunned, I’d be delighted to join in a neighborhood shunning group to that end, and I’ve got a whole big bag full of shun here. If I could have my choice of private defense agencies to subscribe to, I might if given the option select one that did not recognize property rights for religious organizations, though I doubt that such could survive on the market — religion today is, after all, a voluntary association. I would shed no tears if all the cathedrals were torn down by the semi-enlightened masses. But I would not be willing to bring myself armed into the home of another family and tell them “thou shalt not, on pain of death”, and I would pray my neighbors adopt the same ethic.

  • Gabriel

    I remember the thread in question fondly. Just to flesh out point (3), it’s important to remember that British Classical Liberalism and British atheism both have their roots in Non-Conformity and Anabaptism. It explains a number of quirks.

    Anyway, in the aformentioned thread (or the one it spinned off from) I made two points that I think are of lasting relevance and I’ll flesh out a little.

    1) It is mainstream, liberal, secular Britain that has the problem with raising kids. Deep down, every parent with spoilt, willfully ignorant, spendthrift, lazy, materialist, periodically drunken, promiscuous offspring typing mispelled inanities into MSN kind of hates them. It’s a horrible feeling hating one’s kids and the easiest way out is to unleash your hatred on parents of children who aren’t so loathsome. That’s before we even get onto the myriads of kids who develop serious drug problems or whatever!
    The arguments employed by the likes of mandrill are too self-evidently preposterous (value free education indeed!) to sustain any other interpretation.
    This is a classic example of the majority projecting its own problems onto minority groups out of psychic angst. It’s pathetic really, but that doesn’t mean it’s not profoundly dangeorus.

    2) Childrens Rights are, in their entirety, nothing more than a device to destroy the single most obstinate barrier in the way of totalitarianism. (If they were anything but, Children’s Rights campaigners would spend 100% of their time dealing with the regimes of abuse in State foster homes). Libertarians who believe in them are the enemies of liberty, full stop. Nor is this the only reason why many Libertarians are enemies of it.
    Of course, the response will be “but it’s in the name: Libertarians, dumbass!”. Or a slightly more longwinded version of the same.

  • Gabriel

    To clarify point (1) most people in Liberal religious denominations are in with the atheists here. They have the same sort of children and they’re just as likely to think that orthodox forms of child rearing are “abuse”, especially amongst their co-religionists.

    It’s not really a religious divide at all. It’s between people who have embraced the western cultural revolution and are having buyer’s remourse that they need to displace, on the one hand, and conservatives.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Mike,

    “But I would not be willing to bring myself armed into the home of another family and tell them “thou shalt not, on pain of death””

    I don’t think even Richard Dawkins has called for the death penalty!

    “…and I would pray my neighbors adopt the same ethic.”

    Depends on the neighbours.

  • Mandrill:

    “But I would not be willing to bring myself armed into the home of another family and tell them “thou shalt not, on pain of death”

    I don’t think even Richard Dawkins has called for the death penalty!

    “It should be illegal…” was the beginning of the proposition the OP rebutted. Things which are illegal are, ultimately, punishable by death, whether in the statute addressing the thing itself or in the administrative procedure exonerating state agents in their attempts to bring law-breakers to “justice”. uh… read… this! The penalty is always death

  • Space Nerd

    A ‘meme’ as a unit of information transmitted, is, I am as sure as I can be, called an idea. Ideas spread. Evolutionary Informatics (to coin something!) selects which. This linguistic mutation is dehumanising and, more importantly, totally unnecessary.

    Anyway, if the transmission of ideas from parent to child is to be regulated by the State then we have a near insurmountable problem. If you say this already happens, you have only confirmed the IDEA is becoming more acceptable to hold in more so-called private circumstances.

    Anything else is window-dressing.

  • Ian B

    Space Nerd, the point of the word “meme” rather than “idea” is that it emphasises features not associated with ideas; that the memes undergo natural selection and those which are fittest replicate most successfully, and the point being that those which are most successful replicators aren’t necessarily the best in other ways.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Mike,

    I think you’re addressing the wrong person?

    In answer to your point, (which on the whole I don’t think needs rebutting because it rebuts itself), I would say that it isn’t only the state that applies coercion, but society in general. It’s not just the police, it’s the mob, the outraged neighbours, the self-appointed guardians of morality. And some of the best mobs have been religious.

    Religion’s shield is proof against even the state. Remember those Islamists who stood on the streets of Britain calling for those who insult Islam to be beheaded? The state daren’t touch them, because they’re a religion. And their threat is the same: Death to the kuffar. There is no difference.

  • A really depressing post. You hardly need to be a libertarian to have issues with the state dictating which set of metaphysical doctrines are the correct, sorry, the rational ones. Yet somehow there is now a form of atheism which is so convinced of its own righteousness that it is prepared to burst into the family home and dictate which of their beliefs parents can share with their children.

    I am no libertarian, and it usually winds me up no end when people try and suggest that totalitarianism is the inevitable result of somebody else’s political views. But I cannot think of any other frame of reference for the suggestion that the state should decide which values a child should be brought up in. To ban a child learning values from their parents is not freedom, it is a deliberate, coercive attempt to advantage other sets of values, usually the state’s own values.

    A further point: Totalitarianism has often begun with a pseudo historical theory of what has caused most or all human conflict and prevented “progress”, followed by a doctrine that identifies, usually on pseudo-scientific grounds, which group is destined to dominate, followed by the belief that the state must brutally establish a “natural order” based on those doctrines.

    This outline describes the doctrines of race that gave us fascism and the doctrines of class that gave us communism. It is disturbing how easily this description might now be applied to theories about religion.

  • Remember those Islamists who stood on the streets of Britain calling for those who insult Islam to be beheaded? The state daren’t touch them, because they’re a religion.

    Welcome to Wrongsville. Population: you.

    One protester..
    Two protester.
    Three protester..
    Four.

  • Space Nerd

    Ian,

    I mentioned the evolutionary nature of ideas and I cannot agree that a ‘meme’ is different from an ‘idea’ unless you clarify what the emphasis not associated with ideas actually happens to be.

  • @Pa Annoyed:

    Sorry, I flubbed with the quoting syntax bigtime, there. Apologies for that.

    Which point rebuts itself, now ya done lost me. If the mob, the police or the neighbors exact deadly “justice” against someone for transmitting their beliefs to their children, we’re united in condemning them for doing so. But it is only when those beliefs or those words translate into concrete action to violate the rights of others that we are justified in employing violence to prevent it, be that individually or via the state.

    PS: Scientology is (infinite curses) just as (insert other religion here) is (an infinity of infinite curses). Parents indoctrinating their children into cults is hideous. I draw little distinction, though, between the degrees of hideousness — once one drinks deep of the cup of irrationality, one’s nature has become corrupted no matter which nonsense narrative one subscribes to. And I believe we ought to use every measure short of force to prevent that indoctrination from happening.

  • Snag

    Why isn’t this proposal setting off alarm bells among you all?

    Answering the question “Wouldn’t it be nice if children weren’t inducted into their parents religion?” sounds harmless enough, but experience has taught us that the seemingly innocent question “wouldn’t it be nice if there were fewer poor people” has brought vast swathes of the earth’s population under the ‘paternalist’ yoke of socialism and communism.

    Once you allow this interference, there will be no end to the subjects deemed suspect.

  • Bravo, Snag! A shameful lot they are who abandon principle in order to achieve ends they see as desirable. Bravo.

  • Dale Amon

    I am so totally in agreement (one of those quotes was from a comment to one of my posts I believe) that my neck should be sore from nodding. The fact that I am total atheist (although not of the loud mouthed you-must-be-stupid-to-believe-that-crap moronic type) does not give cause for a difference in viewpoint. As you note, whose ideas are ‘right’ depends on who happens to control the levers of power on a particular day. I have long told ‘liberal’ friends in america that the fundamentalist ‘problem’ is one of their own creation. They centralized authority. They put the way of life of people and their communities at risk and under attacks just as serious as if they took arms and attacked them physically. The result is those communities banded together to fight back using the techniques they learned well on the receiving end.

    It is a fundamental aspect of our species that we rear our children to be a part of our tribe and community and install the values of that tribe and community into them. If you violate that right, people will fight and will even kill to defend their way of life.

    A sort of libertarianism that does not recognize this is not one of which I would ever be a part. People are free to have their way of life and for those communities to compete peacefully and economically with each other.

    Taking absolute control over the family and child rearing is a recipe for an escalating power struggle that can only end if both sides decide to back off… or if one side kills off the other either physically or by sending their children to re-education camps to be
    trained in Right-Think.

  • You can keep knowledge of all mythologies from a child, but you cannot keep away the need for mythology. Let him decide what religion he wants to follow once he’s an adult? As well as to let him decide what language he wants to speak before you teach him how to talk.

  • Dale Amon

    I will go even one step further: the meme you are attacking is not just bad, it is evil. One can look at it as a variant of the meme used by the Communists as they attempted to create the ‘new socialist man’. The meme of perfectibility of humanity into the philosophical requirements of ideology will in the end always take the same route. Mass murder is the cul-de-sac at the end of that road.

  • Space Nerd

    We are the Borg. Willing be assimilated, or we will assimilate you by force.

    I cringe in typing this… but is it not vaild?

  • I will go even one step further: the meme you are attacking is not just bad, it is evil. One can look at it as a variant of the meme used by the Communists as they attempted to create the ‘new socialist man’. The meme of perfectibility of humanity into the philosophical requirements of ideology will in the end always take the same route. Mass murder is the cul-de-sac at the end of that road.

    Praise… praise! Can I bear your children? Failing that, may I quote you?

    This seems to be a razor which separates some libertarians from others. Which individual rights shall we sacrifice on the way to Utopia? I submit, if your Utopia is worth living in, that the answer should be a resolute “none”.

  • Roy Lofquist

    Only in the UK. We in the States have a very effective antidote for this sort of twaddle. More than half of us have a weapon or two in the house.

  • Ian B

    I’m not sure that I made my point strongly or clearly or something enough…

    Firstly, I’d have thought it self evident to anyone here that you cannot and should not try to prevent people teaching thier children a religious faith, or any other thing a parent wishes to teach their child. I would add though in response to Gabriel that while, yes, the “childrens rights” malarky is yet another Enemy crowbar, we should not forget that children *do* have basic rights, such as a right to life. I can’t comprehend how you can oppose abortion if you don’t believe that.

    But the point I was trying to make was that the red herring here is the very singling out of religion itself. I’ve argued here quite a lot that the Enemy isn’t so much “statism” or “socialism” (at least in terms of nationalise-industry-up-the-workers socialism). The Enemy basically seeks a regime of technocratic oligarchy. Their fundamental belief is that society should be run by experts. As such, they see themselves as brave torch carriers forging a way forward in which the light of reason will triumph over the darkness of the past, and they’ll darned well trample anyone who gets in their way. In other words, they are carriers of a meme which is every bit as dangerous and potentially murderous as the forces of darkness they claim to be combating.

    They have forged a narrative of Cool Reason- themselves- versus various ancient enemies- tribalism, nationalism, religionism and so on. They have also forged a narrative which tells how their innocent selves- harmless scientists pottering in laboratories revealing Truth- have fought a constant battle against unprovoked attacks by The Forces Of Religion. As I said above, I used to believe this piffle too. A little digging through the history books reveals something somewhat different. Evolution(ism) came under attack for very good reason.

    The Origin Of Species had barely hit shelves of Waterstones before Science, the movement, had decided they could apply it to humanity. This technocratic ideology led directly into eugenics, the idea of our Philosopher Kings manipulating the species, sterilising the untermenschen, abortion programmes and so on. The natural enemy of that was christianity, as a ready-made opposing organisation. It thus became a pitched battle between Darwinists and Christians over eugenics, abortion, contraception etc. That battle continues to this day, with its roots mostly forgotten by both sides, especially as eugenics went down the memory hole after that awkward business with the Austrian Non-Smoker, though eugenic ideas- if never referred to as such- tend to pop up from both the Enemy and conservative dupes whenever they talk about the proleteriat to this day, and personally I expect sterilisation programmes to be implemented “to help family planning” at some near future date.

    Calls like this are representative of that war of ideologies. It’s not really about whether people kill each other in the name of religion. Of course they do. People will kill each other in the name of anything. They’ll kill when they feel threatened (6 million Jews because the Germans did), they’ll kill if they think they can win. And they’ll kill for belief. Doesn’t matter what the belief is, if it’s strong enough.You only have to read back through history to see people killing each other over any old shit. Religion- and by this we actually mean Christianity- is singled out because it is a power block that stands in the way of the Enemy’s dream. Another foe to be vanquished on the road to Utopia.

    Here in Europe, the laboratory of the Enemy’s dream, nations and tribes (the indigenous sense of self and community) are almost destroyed and Christianity is not far behind. They expect to build their Utopia from the rubble, though personally I suspect something rather different to what they plan will emerge. They’re not interested in freeing minds at all. Their goal is simply the eradication of enemies, so that the Philosopher Kings can receive their oh-so-deserved enthronement.

  • Space Nerd

    Ian,

    I’d say “calm down” alas I am of the same opinion and it brings me to boil whenever I contemplate current events. My point has that language has been co-opted such to reduce Humanity to a festering nightmare — we don’t think, we hold mental diseases; all physical work is a function of genetics, history. And History is dead…

    This is, ultimately, Fascism of a technocratic bent and I fear ‘we’ are too late. I say this as such thoughts have been raised many years ago; Lawrence Dennis hit it in 1936. The liberalism we, I assume, here seek to protect has long since crumbled in a general sense. But I have no answers to the questions of its resurgence.

    I’d say State, government, is God. However, it appears to have even transcended that.

    Reality will reveal all, even if I may be dead before then.

  • Nate

    Ok…perhaps I’m treading into dangerous waters and Natalie has asked otherwise, but…

    Facts are facts. Great stuff, really. Logic, reason — fantastic…I’ve got a few degrees in all that stuff.

    However, decisions are not made on facts — and here I’m not referring to bounded rationality, irrationality, etc — I mean, we make decisions to act on the environment to move it into a state that we prefer over the state that it is currently in. i.e. our decisions — the underlying concept of utility — cannot be derived from purely logical mechanisms. Given facts (e.g. physics, chemistry, etc.) I can bring about certain configurations such as optimized mass agriculture or optimized mass death. Logic doesn’t care. Facts don’t care.

    We can’t remove belief systems from education and indoctrination. It *might* (and I question even that) be theoretically possible to do it, but it certainly wouldn’t be practical because ANY uncertainty in the past would exponentially inflate the possible world states we would have teach. Any culling of possible world states would amount to value judgments — can’t have those! (that would be religion, after all)

    It might make a good experiment, though. Anyone up to the challenge?

  • Doug

    And should it also be illegal for any adult to indoctrinate any child with Marxist, Leninist, or Stalinist ideas as well? We’d fast run out of schools, media outlets, and for that matter family, friends, and neighbors. Let’s dispense first then with my resolute opposition to government taking any sort of hand in a child’s ideological or theological upbringing, in order to address a few points that must be encountered along athe way to any such decision. They must be encountered by me, at any rate.

    Children don’t have freedom, so religious upbringing can’t infringe their freedom. They might have rights, but they are in the charge of their guardians. Even outside the bounds of religion they are taught what to think, how to think, what to value, and how to behave as a matter of course, and no one’s carping about their infringed freedom. That’s because freedom is something they attain later, which is why teens who are released from guardianship early are termed “emancipated minors”.

    I’m not convinced that religion is strictly harmful, either. Over the years, I’ve run across occasional articles about studies comparing people with religious faith and others without. In many areas, those with faith clearly do better – including shorter hospital recovery times, better relationships, and just generally being happier with their lives. I don’t think these sort of advantages are harmful to pass on to a child.

    I’ve seen ample evidence in my life that religion can hardly be said to “poison a child’s mind against reason”. One of the most anti-science faiths I can think of, Catholicism, nevertheless spawned scholars like Thomas Aquinas. My favorite professor and my own grandfather (an engineer) both attended Catholic seminaries, and both were religious men who revered the mind more than most people I’ve met. I was raised religious, and although I have different views now, I don’t believe that it hurt my capacity for reason at any time (but at this late date, recollections of the early years are spotty).

    There are numerous values embodied within most of the religions that I’m familiar with which serve important roles in forming strong and healthy communities, and maintaining civil society; respect for family, respect for others, and respect for life are three common themes. These can be taught outside the confines of religion of course, but without the benefit of the presumption of an omniscient values cop. Character is what you do when no one’s looking, but I don’t mind if a lot of people think someone’s always looking. I’d like more people to.

    On the other hand, if your religion instructs that you shouldn’t receive medical treatment, that there are conditions under which you should kill yourself (or others), that significant sums of money are required to cleanse your imperfections or forgive your transgressions, or that Jews are descended from apes and pigs – well, those are not necessarily positive things to pass along. It seems obvious to me that whether it is, in the end, harmful to the child is wholly dependent on the particular religion and how it’s practiced.

    In the final analysis, I’d have to say that promoters of this meme, then — as with so many blanket prescriptions — are either intellectually lazy, or are insufficiently informed to have a valid opinion in the first place. Or just outright anti-religious bigots. Which I guess is often the same thing.

    FWIW, the old ‘Catholic child molesters’ meme really ought to be retired. Yes, there have been a number of sick bastards discovered wearing the collar, but it’s something like 55 creeps out of 45,000 priests. Statistically, I think you’re more likely to find a child predator in a school than a rectory, but they don’t seem to get the same media coverage. Fancy that.

    And finally, I just don’t think it’s possible to be a religious parent without teaching your child religion. If you live your faith, they will learn it – else your religious freedom is being infringed.

  • John McVey

    I completely agree with Natalie’s position: the idea of banning the teaching of certain ideas to children is an utterly abhorrent one. I say that even for ideas that I, as a thorough-going atheist and laissez-faire capitalist, would be overjoyed if nobody took seriously ever again.

    That applies to the ideas, and only the ideas. When it starts getting beyond that then the law should start taking an interest. I’m sure we mostly agree that parents who inflict physical harms to their children in the name of their religion should be prosecuted. There are of course the obvious ones, such as the practice of FGM, but that also includes standard male circumcision for baby boys – that’s certainly not up there with FGM, but, religion be damned, it is still grounds for an assault charge if there are no valid medical grounds for the procedure. It also includes wilful failure to act on the basis of religion, such as the well-known practice of denial of certain medical treatments. The list can be extended ad nauseam. Adults can do that (or prevent that) for themselves as they please, but have no right to inflict that physical harm on their children.

    The obvious question is why the physical should be proscribed but the teaching of the ideas that might lead to the physical not be? The answer is simple: the mere teaching of ideas leaves the volitional faculty intact, which allows the later-adult to go back and revise whatever had been taught to that adult as a child. By contrast, physical acts (including acts of wilful omission), are categorically different, and are either immensly more difficult to repair or are outrightly irreparable. The details on borderline cases are best left to professionals in law, but the principle is clear for all of us: teaching is okay, physical harm is not.

    Natalie rightly points out that this is an issue of liberty. That liberty includes both freedom of speech and proscriptions against physical acts perpetrated on unwilling or duped victims. If we are to preserve liberty then we must accept its being applied to the protection of what we may thoroughly dislike so long as nobody’s rights are being violated. For atheist such as myself, that includes a parent trying to indoctrinate children, and likewise I am sure that many religious people (such as Natalie) wouldn’t much like atheist parents teaching their children godlessness but would respect their liberty to do so. Thus I would love it were religion to cease to exist (ditto socialism and environmentalism), but in a similar vein as the motives of Sir Thomas More (and as much as I despise many of his other beliefs and motives) I would be foolish indeed to overturn all law to try to bring that about. I’d give the religious parent the benefit of liberty, for my own liberty’s sake.

    JJM

  • The pseudo-scientific nonsense of memetics must bear some blame here. Once you have defined religion, or any other kind of belief as a sort of disease then you can naturally justify public-health measures, or theraputic measures to “cure” the “disease” and justify compulsion in “treatment”.

    The intense hatred in some libertarian circles for religious belief will do no one any good, of course.

  • n005

    The only prevention and cure for unreason is reason.

    Trouble is, reason doesn’t look very much like a gun. Thus, adherents to the “ban religion” meme completely overlook it as a potential solution to the problem.

  • There strike me as 3 different issues here, on which I must disagree with many commenters here and, at least somewhat, support Natalie’s concerns in the original post and views of other commenters.

    (i) In the vast majority of cases, parents are the best people to bring up their children, on every possible matter. Arguing that parents who (attempt to) pass on their religious beliefs to their children are wrong in that aspect is to weaken the whole concept of parenthood for (as far as I can see) no obvious good, and with only a very small level of exceptions.

    (ii) The proselytising atheists believe they have rationality on their side; I disagree. As far as I can see, the issue of the existence of god (and much of the other bases of religion and moral philosophy) are not subject to the sort of rational scientific analysis in which I believe (Popper’s falsifiability). That is not to say that all religious belief is so protected: much is based on tradition stemming from mistaken past beliefs (of which I am distinctly tolerant – especially as most of it is harmless). Some religious belief is plain barmy: where such beliefs are actually clearly harmful (as those against blood transfusions), they should be overridden (and usually currently are).

    (iii) There is a vast amount of lack of rationality in the world, most of it outside religion and most of it less excusable through (ii) and more dangerous in its impact on human society. On this, try large swathes of political belief (such as that enforced equality of outcome is a societal ‘good’) and of green issues (such as the existence of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming).

    As to why the case is made against ‘faith schools’ to the extent that it is and in the way that it is, I remain fairly puzzled.

    A small minority of so-called ‘faith schools’ may well teach and indoctrinate on matters that many or most people (including me) would agree are distinctly undesirable. However, surely the religious element of most ‘faith schools’, at least as they exist in the UK, is distinctly minor and missing any clear element of physical or significant mental/intellectual harm.

    It is also the case, or so I understand, that all state-run schools in the UK, and most private schools (both of which include a fair number of ‘faith schools’) provide religious education which is clearly a balanced and comparative study of all religious beliefs (including, I believe, sometimes atheism). I see no cause to view such ‘faith schools’ as providing indoctrination as I would understand it. Lumping such schools together with those providing much more extreme religious teaching does not strike me as helpful: nor rational!

    Given the lack of agreement on politics and environmentalism(and that such choices also lack perfect rationality), is there justification for not ‘protecting’ children against ‘indoctrination’ on those while ‘protecting’ them against that concerning religion?

    I personally find no conflict between my religious belief (substantially mainstream Christian) and my scientific rationality: the latter which I claim to be well above average (sometimes, even for me, worryingly utilitarian). Religion and science operate in different spheres. I teach my children both, in so far as they desire to learn from me, and that is not much as I am not a good teacher. The teaching is therefore much more indirect (by example) than didactic. And the biggest thing I teach (I hope) is to be sceptical, make up your own mind, base decisions on evidence and logic as far as that is possible, and accept that not everything is totally amenable to evidence and logic. For the rest (of which there is a great deal) one must rely on general principles: truth matters, love of life and freedom for all, personal responsibility, prudence, compassion, that luck is the coincidence of opportunity with preparation, that we all make mistakes (so forgiveness is essential), and that there really does exist both evil and good.

    Best regards

  • My question is: why all the fuss about creationism?

    I find it a bit ironic that people who inhabit a country where scientific ignorance is rife amongst the general population and its politicians (who endorse expensive regulations to eliminate substances in quantities proven for centuries not to harm us) should castigate a vice-presidential candidate for believing in something unscientific.

    I find it baffling that it is creationism which, out of all the stupid beliefs which are out there, gets held up as the one which demonstrates unsuitability for public office. Whereas economic idiocy is no barrier to entry.

    I’ve written a post about it here.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Mike,

    “If the mob, the police or the neighbors exact deadly “justice” against someone for transmitting their beliefs to their children…”

    No, I was thinking of the mob transmitting their beliefs to their children, as they got their beliefs from their parents.

    Snag,

    “…the seemingly innocent question “wouldn’t it be nice if there were fewer poor people” has brought vast swathes of the earth’s population under the ‘paternalist’ yoke of socialism and communism.”

    It wasn’t that particular question that did it. We like free market Capitalism for exactly the same reason. The problem is ideologies, of which religions are merely the most ancient examples, which are systems of thought that it becomes a sin to question. This property is precisely what you need to ensure successful replication of the meme, but it also entrenches any errors too.

    Sanity Inspector,

    “You can keep knowledge of all mythologies from a child, but you cannot keep away the need for mythology.”

    The aim isn’t to keep knowledge of mythologies from a child, it’s to avoid indoctrination in one mythology. “Indoctrination” is not the same as “education”; it requires a careful editing of facts and crippling of the faculty of reason to prevent it going where it is not allowed. My approach would be to teach all the different mythologies, or at least a wide enough selection to make the situation clear.

    “Let him decide what religion he wants to follow once he’s an adult? As well as to let him decide what language he wants to speak before you teach him how to talk.”

    Exactly! If they weren’t taught it as a child, they’d never believe it. A common language is needed to function in society. Is the same true of a common religion?

    Dale,

    “I will go even one step further: the meme you are attacking is not just bad, it is evil.”

    The meme attacks indoctrination into economic or political systems as much as it does religious. Mass murder isn’t a cul-de-sac, it’s part of the road itself. Numbers 31:1-18, for example.

    Mike (again),

    “Which individual rights shall we sacrifice on the way to Utopia?”

    This isn’t a sacrifice of individual rights. These are the rights of one person being exercised on their behalf by another. A parent has no “right” to hold absolute power over his or her children any more than a husband has a right to power over his wife. A parent acts on behalf of the child, in their interests. The question is how best to serve those interests. I personally believe that in general parents are a better and safer choice than the state, but I also think it’s a legitimate question.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Ian B,

    “The Enemy basically seeks a regime of technocratic oligarchy. Their fundamental belief is that society should be run by experts.”

    As opposed to a hierarchy of priests?

    There are technocrats with ideologies every bit as bad as religions. But not all the people who oppose indoctrination of children fall into this camp. There are others whose aim would be for children to be taught reasoning scepticism – so that religions, fads, fashions, ideologies, and “scientific consensus” are all equally opposed.

    Eugenics does keep popping up in these debates, but the untermenschen is really a far older idea – gentiles, kuffar, infidels, pagans – as is the concept of proselytism, that of improving mankind by bringing them into the true religion. Science not only created eugenics, it destroyed it. When scientific arguments against it were developed, science moved – and such motion is built into its method. Religions have a far harder time of it. Yes, Christianity opposed eugenics, which was good, but it was a lucky accident that it happened to have this pro-life-under-any-circumstances doctrine. If a scientific error happened to fit with their doctrine, they would fight in the opposite camp.

    “Religion- and by this we actually mean Christianity- is singled out because it is a power block that stands in the way of the Enemy’s dream.”

    Of course it is; religions are simply the power blocks that won the previous ideological wars against the power blocks that stood before them. Once upon a time, Christianity was “the enemy” that sought to destroy the fuzzy-warm-tolerant Paganism, and by some pretty horrible methods too. Anyone remember Hypatia of Alexandria, and what the Christians did to her?

    We don’t want to replace one power block by another, we want to break the power of all the blocks. We want to remove the shield that defends unreason – belief – from criticism. Religions all want to maintain it.

    Doug,

    “One of the most anti-science faiths I can think of, Catholicism…”

    If you think Catholics are the worst, you need to get out more! How many other religions are you comparing it against?
    Catholicism was always in favour of scholarship and reverence for the mind, so long as it came to the expected conclusions. That’s not the same thing as science. However, in modern times it has shifted its position considerably.

    “In the final analysis, I’d have to say that promoters of this meme, then — as with so many blanket prescriptions — are either intellectually lazy, or are insufficiently informed to have a valid opinion in the first place.”

    The position has to be simplified for the purposes of a pithy summary in a debate. All the points you raise have been considered by promoters of the meme. That science grew out of the works of religious scholars, that religion makes people happy, that religion imposes the common values that make civil society possible. But none of those properties actually requires belief in the supernatural. Cannot the same thing be said of a blanket defence of religious indoctrination?

  • Pa Annoyed

    John McVey,

    “the idea of banning the teaching of certain ideas to children is an utterly abhorrent one.”

    Teaching religious ideas to children is fine, as far as I’m concerned, so long as you are equally open about teaching them all the opposing ideas. “Indoctrination” is not the same thing as “education”. In indoctrination you are only exposed to one belief, which is presented as the truth. You are taught that all the other ideas are wrong, generally without being allowed to know too much about them. You are taught habits of mind that discourage questioning it, or developing the mental toolkit with which you will eventually be able to decide for yourself. And openly expressed dissent or a failure to abide by its tenets leads to the same sort of parental disciplines and punishments that any other sort of childish misbehaviour would do. Under Sharia law, a child must start to pray five times a day at the age of seven, and is to be beaten if they neglect their prayers after the age of ten.

    If I was to go into a school, and, not simply by implication but to actively teach the children that the religion they were being brought up in was total bunk, the parents would be outraged. Because it is not freedom to teach ideas they care about, but the freedom to make sure their children believe as they do. So the parents get to thunder from heaven that this is the truth, and the schools are forced into mealy-mouthed equivocation and “respecting everyone’s beliefs” and lots of maybe’s, if’s, and but’s. It’s an uneven contest.

    I agree that it’s not practical, I agree that the state is certainly a worse judge than the parents, and I agree that we must also avoid teaching the same sort of unquestioning acceptance of secular authorities. But it’s not about banning ideas, it’s about ensuring that no set of ideas is given special protection from criticism because of this “religion” label.

    John Sabotta,

    The “meme” concept was originally intended only to explain a particular point about genes, that there was nothing special about DNA and cell biology, that the principle of evolution by natural selection was a consequence of replication combined with differential survival. That ideas were replicated from mind to mind, and some were more successful at it than others, showed that the principle applied more generally. Like a lot of profound analogies between the structural features of different subjects, it turned out to be more useful and applicable than its inventor expected.

    The “disease” interpretation comes about because of the analogy with biological genes, some of which succeed because they do things better, and enhance survival, and others simply because they say “Copy Me” in language the cell’s machinery understands. These are viruses, which succeed simply because they say “copy me”, and contain features that aim to do nothing more than block all attempts to stop the copying. Viruses don’t exist because they do anything useful (although sometimes they do by accident). And it has been observed that certain features of religions appear to have the same property. It’s not simply a case of “we hate religion, so let’s call it a disease.” It’s a case of an observable structural relationship between the reason certain diseases are successful and the reason religions are successful. From a scientific point of view, that doesn’t necessarily make it bad. For example gene therapy uses the same mechanism to insert useful genes into a large existing population of cells. If you believe the values religions espouse are useful, then this is an equally valid analogy. Symbiosis, rather than parasitism.

  • Reason is a very good thing. Problem is, it can’t solve all problems. Göedel’s Incompleteness guarantees that. In any sufficiently complicated system, there are true theorems that cannot be proved within the system. Also, most people’s models of reality contain contradictions. Once your premises contain a single contradiction, you can prove anything.

    So, though rationality is a useful tool, it cannot be the only tool in your toolbox. Doesn’t work. Mathematically.

    The world is full of irrational beliefs. Belief in an invisible friend, called God or Allah or Jehovah or Satan. Belief that you can print money out of thin air and not cause severe economic problems. Belief that rational thought can solve all problems. Belief that modern medical drugs & techniques are the only way to cure disease. Belief that a glob of cells is a person, with rights, from the moment of conception.

    Libertarians believe that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being, or to advocate or delegate its initiation. But exactly what constitutes initiation of force has never been defined to my satisfaction. Physical violence obviously qualifies. But to qualify emotional outbursts, or teaching of beliefs, to be initiation of force does not sit well with me. Seems like a slippery slope towards banning anything you don’t like.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Bill,

    Thanks for bringing some maths into the debate!

    Göedel’s Incompleteness does indeed show there are truths that cannot be proved. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of truths that can, or that anything that cannot be proved must be true.

    And once your premises contain a contradiction, the thing to do is to adjust your premises – not to throw the whole thing away on the grounds that it’s all useless and nothing can be done about it. (Nor to accept the contradiction and call it a “mystery” and a “test of faith”.)

    Rationality is not our only useful tool, but it’s the best one we’ve developed.

    PS. I did find it funny to get smited by the “pantheon” for my anti-religious rantings earlier. It’s important to maintain a sense of humour about these things.

  • If they weren’t taught it as a child, they’d never believe it.

    That simply isn’t true of any major religion. They all have adult converts.

    People like to convince themselves they have reached their own opinions by reason and that others have reached the opinions they disagree with through “indoctrination”. The fact is that most opinions are reached through a mixture of both.

    But what is dangerous is when people go from identifying certain beliefs as the product of “indoctrination” to trying to stop the “indoctrination” by prohibiting the beliefs or the transmission of the beliefs.

  • Eugenics does keep popping up in these debates, but the untermenschen is really a far older idea – gentiles, kuffar, infidels, pagans – as is the concept of proselytism, that of improving mankind by bringing them into the true religion.

    A quick look at Hannah Arendt’s “Origins Of Totalitarianism” might help convince you that totalitarian states were unprecedented and were not simply an extension of previous ideas. There’s little in totalitarianism that goes back before the nineteenth century.

    As for proselytism, I simply don’t understand where you got the idea that the purpose of it is to “improve mankind” except very indirectly. Far from it being connected to the idea of untermenschen the orthodox Christian belief that anyone can convert, regardless of how they were born, what race they were or what they’ve done, frequently served to prevent slavery or racial persecution.

  • The above quote of mine (which was from quite a while a go if I remember correctly) was written in angry haste and I’ll admit to not putting too much thought into its implications. Thank you Natalie for pointing out the flaws and dangers in the course that I proposed. I see now the errors in my reasoning and the holes in what little logic I have command of.

    I note that some of the arguments following in the comments focus on my proposal being the thin end of the wedge, and I will concede that point. However I believe that religious ideas are fundamentally different from other ideologies. Fascism, Marxism, and all the other political isms have a few things going for them which religious belief systems do not.

    1)They can be disproved. It can be demonstrated that they either work or do not work. This does not hold for religion, through use of circular logic and appeals to authority and other abuses of reason, religion renders itself unfalsifiable. I can no more prove that there is no god than I can prove that there is.

    2)Political ideologies may be just as destructive and inimical to freedom as religion but they can be shown to be so with concrete examples. Nazism, it is widely agreed, is a bad thing, as is communism (though possibly not so widely agreed). Religions, whilst having many examples of atrocities attributable to them, seem to get around this criticism and I’m still not sure why. Could it be that because their followers are so blinded by their faith they cannot see past the good that they feel themselves to be doing? And where does this inurement begin?

    3)The aforementioned isms (and many others) are trying to make a better world here and now, their whole reason for existing is as iterative attempts to improve the lives of those who follow them. Religion, on the other hand has its adherents waiting for a sublime existence in some fantasy fairyland which they’ll only get to after they die. Admittedly their entrance into this themepark of divine wonders depends on how closely they follow the teachings of theri religion, but those teachings were created by men. Men who had their own agendas, their own reasons for wanting to control their followers with imaginary carrots and sticks. At least with political ideologies the carrots and sticks are real and tangible, it actually costs the leaders of these ideologies something to use them. Heaven and hell are free to anyone able to convince others of their existence. It costs an imam nothing to say to potential suicide bombers that they will be honoured with 72 virgins upon their demise whereas the bullets of a tyrants firing squad have to be paid for, the thug’s wages must be paid, and the political prisons built.

    To cut to the chase; Teaching about all ideas is different from teaching one idea to the exclusion of all others. By all means teach children about the various religions, their history, their roots, what they believe, but do not give any one primacy over the others. It is the claim that there is only one truth that is most dangerous about religion as it denies the possibility that the religion could be mistaken.

    Education should be about presenting children with all possible truths and equipping them to make their own choices regarding which truth they want to believe, religious indoctrination circumvents this by saying “This is the truth, there is no other. Believe it and do not question or you will suffer the consequences.”

    When it boils down to it religion is about control, of behaviour, of thought, of speech, of every aspect of the lives of its followers. Religion is the one idea that is most restricitve to personal freedom that man has yet concieved. I will admit that it had its day and that we would not have the civilzation we have now without it. It encouraged the formation of large social groups and gave those in power over those groups the means by which to execise some control over them, we as a species however have outgrown religion, our understanding of the universe is far greater than that of a bronze age society. We are well on our way to understanding the fundamentals of how the universe works, and the why is not important and is best left to the philosophers.

    As to the very human need for mythology, I’m not denying that it should not be taught, but teach it as mythology, not as fact.

    I’m happy that a comment of mine spurred a post on Samizdata, even if the post was being negative towards it.

  • Doug

    @Pa Annoyed –
    If you think Catholics are the worst, you need to get out more! How many other religions are you comparing it against?

    Less than a dozen, unless you want to count several denominations of Christianity separately. You’ll note please that I haven’t handed Catholicism the crown, only ranked it among the top, primarily based on its past organized persecution of proponents of anything contrary its version of the Bible. Remember that after hundreds of years of condemnation of Gallileo, the church only recently reversed its position. Lots of religions believe something that science contradicts, but few that I’m aware of have formalized the practice as the Catholics have.

    The position has to be simplified for the purposes of a pithy summary in a debate. All the points you raise have been considered by promoters of the meme.

    With that degree of simplification, then we can declare all automobiles to be a public threat because they can have, some have had, and undoubtedly some will have, dangerous defects. Government becomes an entirely repugnant concept, since we have seen and continue to see governments that indulge in brutal oppression, genocide, and even wholesale slaughter of their own people. In fact, let’s just do away with people, because humanity, you’ll note, breeds scoundrels, scourges, and scum of every conceivable stripe.

    Simplification can be a convenient means of encompassing numerous similar things. Over-simplification is an exercise in babies and bathwater, for purposes ranging from the merely lazy to the nefarious. In most religions that I know anything at all about, I still fail to see an intrinsic impediment to reason. In a couple I do. I can’t condemn religion as a whole for what I view as abhorrent in a few, or a particular one. Intellectual rigor denies me the luxury.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Doug,

    I’m not sure whether you’re arguing for or against the simplification in Natalie’s statement of the meme, which is what I was talking about, or making a claim that the meme itself oversimplifies the position of religions, for which you will have to check the contexts of the original debates and not the simplified version of it quoted by an opponent of the idea here.

    Simplification and summary are tools for breaking down a problem into manageable parts that can be addressed one at a time. Purveyors of the meme start with the simplification, like the root of a tree, but can then add bits or chop them off as valid objections are raised.

    The idea is neither to throw out baby and bathwater, as the oversimplified meme would have it, nor to keep a large tub full of cold, dirty bathwater for the sake of the baby, as the (oversimplified?) religious position would have it, but to carefully examine and separate the two.

    I’m not going to get into the fundamental impediment to reason in religion, because that gets us off the question of teaching children religion and onto the question of whether religions are rational, which we were specifically asked not to do.

    But I’ll note that you go further than I would in considering irrationality “abhorrent”. Irrationality itself isn’t abhorrent, although some of the things done for irrational reasons are. In my view, irrationality as such is merely unwise.

    For themselves, people have every right to be unwise. But is it the same when they are exercising someone else’s rights on their behalf?

  • “I don’t remember being indoctinated in atheism by any nefarious older person. It was just a matter of looking round at what was going on and thinking; ‘This religion stuff is crap.'”

    {nod} Me, too. I was a Catholic altar-boy. By my mid-teens, I was on my way away from the Church as fast as I could move without completely breaking my father’s heart. Not a single word of any of it made sense to me, and that was that.

    I completely endorse Natalie, here. She’s right.

  • tdh

    Quis custodies custodiet?

    Fairy tales are sometimes the remnant of legends, and thus can carry scraps of truth from and through dark ages. Without the whole fairy tale, who would get to decide what of it was truth and what was false, what could get communicated and what could not?

    Fiction in general can represent a deeper truth, or, nowadays, more often falsehood, than its superficial words or images, in a way more memorable and, no doubt, more useful in building character, than the corresponding abstractions or even the full, messy realities. Who can forget Mili Avital’s Sheherazade’s saying that stories tell people how to live?

    When certain Stalinist politicians feel no remorse in trying to shut down or trammel their opponents’ truthful claims by vaguely calling them lies and threatening legal action, who could possibly be entrusted with so great a power as that of shaping people?

    How about anyone, parents included, who engages in the deliberate conversion of a child into a criminal convicted of tortious acts be sued or even tried criminally as accomplices, with no statute of limitations? Too bad this can’t include the indoctrination of future voters willing to engage in that form of wickedness that is the redistribution of justly-earned property, but it should help keep the number of thieves and murderers down.

  • Remember that after hundreds of years of condemnation of Gallileo, the church only recently reversed its position.

    The ban on reprinting Galileo’s works was lifted in 1718. By 1835 even the dialogue that insulted the Pope was cleared for publication.

    Hope you aren’t telling these stories to any children.

  • The aforementioned isms (and many others) are trying to make a better world here and now, their whole reason for existing is as iterative attempts to improve the lives of those who follow them. Religion, on the other hand has its adherents waiting for a sublime existence in some fantasy fairyland which they’ll only get to after they die.

    Are you actually claiming, as an objective fact, that Fascists and Marxists are sincerely trying to make the world a better place and religious people aren’t?

  • Nate

    Mandrill:

    “1)They can be disproved….”
    This might be true, but I have yet to see any “proof” of the faiure of Marxism that would fall into the same definition of proof as say Euclid’s First Theorem.

    “2)Political ideologies may be just as destructive and inimical to freedom as religion but they can be shown to be so with concrete examples. Nazism, it is widely agreed, is a bad thing, as is communism (though possibly not so widely agreed).”
    Freedom can be an awfully slippery word these days. Perhaps it wasn’t always so, although as an intangible concept, it was probably never formally defined. That said, I’ll concede the point, but (A) Nazism wasn’t considered bad by the Nazi’s and (B) you seem to be deferring your judgment of value of political systems to the quantity of people that deem it “better” than the alternatives. Are you sure that’s what you want? It seems to me that’s been the cause of an awful lot of misery in the last couple of hundred years, or so. …but then again, I’m making the implicit assumption (based on my values — which can’t be logically derived) that individual misery is bad.

    “3)The aforementioned isms (and many others) are trying to make a better world here and now, their whole reason for existing is as iterative attempts to improve the lives of those who follow them. Religion, on the other hand has its adherents waiting for a sublime existence in some fantasy fairyland which they’ll only get to after they die. ”
    More than a few religions, including several sects of Christianity are working towards what they consider making a better world here and now. I’m not a bible thumper, I’m not trying to convince you that Christianity is the One True Religion ™ by throwing bible quotes as “truth” at you, but rather as a counter to your assertion that political-isms are all about improving the here and now and with religion that is a secondary concern — consider that many of J.C.’s “miracles” were to alleviate the suffering of the poor, ill, etc. More than a few hospitals here in the US are run by religious organizations (primarily Jewish or Christian) as well as programs for outreach to the mentally ill, homeless, elderly and home bound, grieving, etc. Sounds like quite a bit of effort to improving the here and now, to me.

    Again — not trying to “convert” you or anything else — but throwing out some food for further thought.

  • Pa Annoyed

    oldandrew,

    Hope you aren’t trying to imply that no longer censoring a book is equivalent to reversing one’s position on it, or ceasing to condemn the theory.

    As Cardinal Ratzinger said:

    “If both the spheres of conscience are once again clearly distinguished among themselves under their respective methodological profiles, recognizing both their limits and their respective rights, then the synthetic judgment of the agnostic-skeptic philosopher P. Feyerabend appears much more drastic. He writes: “The church at the time of Galileo was much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself, and also took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s doctrine. Its verdict against Gaileo was rational and just, and revisionism can be legitimized solely for motives of political opportunism.”

    “From the point of view of the concrete consequences of the turning point Galileo represents, however, C.F. Von Weizsacker takes another step forward, when he identifies a “very direct path” that leads from Galileo to the atomic bomb.”

    [...]

    It would be absurd, on the basis of these affirmations, to construct a hurried apologetics.

    Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
    “The Crisis of Faith in Science”
    March 15, 1990, Parma.

    That could be quotes out of context, of course, but it doesn’t have quite the air of total support for a reversal.

    But on the whole, I don’t think the Galileo affair is really all that significant, and certainly not as significant as is commonly portrayed. Science won that one fairly early on, and what the Church says or doesn’t say about it makes little difference. There’s other stuff we’re more bothered about.

    But we’re drifting off topic again.

  • Midwesterner

    In the past, commenter Pa Annoyed and I have had discussions of epistemology and what and how things can be known. We developed a term, I can’t remember which one of us, that as I recall is “gods in the sky”. We use this term to describe a situation in which the understanding is flawed or even completely lacking but the model produces predictive and useful results. Its origin is in the perhaps apocryphal idea that the ancients believed that gods in the sky drove chariots pulling the various celestial bodies around the sky. While this is an entirely false understanding, it can produce very predictive and useful results. Luminiferous aether is a more recent example of this phenomenon.

    Even understandings that are entirely false and unfounded can provide useful guidance and valuable answers to questions. The idea that only ‘truth’ may be taught is a basic misunderstanding of the nature of knowledge.

    Belief systems should be evaluated for their external consequences, not for ‘truth’. A religion that leads its adherents to plot murders is a crime syndicate. A religion that leads its adherents to sit on their roofs on Sundays, singing escatological hymns is harmless. A religion that leads its adherents to study natural law and create useful inventions should be welcomed to any advanced society. Are you using your child to attack others? Are you physically harming your child? If not, then teach your moral/religious beliefs to the best of your ability.

    Posted by Pa Annoyed at September 27, 2008 09:27 PM

    [. . .] and using threats and fear of divine punishment to obtain obedience.

    I think you included this one in error. Teaching retribution for false beliefs or improper actions is part and parcel of every single belief system I can think of. It could be anything from bad karma (Hinduism?) to hellfire and brimstone (Christianity) to rising sea levels (Gaiaism) to a life wasted in false beliefs (atheism), but virtually everyone thinks there is some kind of greater power (even if ‘only’ the laws of physics) that will punish errant beliefs. Government/society should not get into censoring what dangers parents may express to their children. Any number of commenters here, I’ve lost count, were raised with ‘threats of divine punishment’ and yet our brains still functioned when we became adults and modified our beliefs.

  • Hope you aren’t trying to imply that no longer censoring a book is equivalent to reversing one’s position on it, or ceasing to condemn the theory.

    In that era it was.

    That could be quotes out of context, of course, but it doesn’t have quite the air of total support for a reversal.

    Saying it is absurd to defend a position is not a reversal on that position? How do you work that one out?

  • Midwesterner

    BTW,

    Belief systems should be evaluated for their external consequences, not for ‘truth’.

    Before anybody jumps on this, I am referring to judging other people’s belief system. I personally prefer to try and get as close to the truth as possible but do not see any moral basis for forcing others to share my value choice. Hence the ‘external’ consequences qualifier.

  • @ oldandrew and point 3 from Nate: From their point of view, Nazis and Marxists are working for a better world in the here and now. No matter the reasons they are grounded in reality, a better life for them and their families and their compatriots, here and now. Just as with every other politcal movement, their motivations were based on practical, physical considerations, no supernatural reward was hoped for or sought.
    Whilst the fact that good deeds such as the setting up soup kitchens, founding hospitals, orphanages, and otherwise alleviating the suffering of others is admirable, the motivations for doing these deeds can always be brought into question. Are they doing these things because they are simply the right thing to do? If so why have religion? Or are these things motivated by more selfish concerns? Do they do them because their pastor/rabbi/imam says god told them to and if they don’t do what god tells them they go to hell?
    The good deeds done by the religious are a point in their favour, but only just. There are many tales, across the internet, of neighbourhoods where the most welcoming and selfless acts were carried out by the non-church goers. These tales, being from the internet, would best be taken with a grain of salt but I’m willing to bet that there is a grain of truth among the sodium chloride. Religious communities are notoriously insular, if you’re not one of the ‘chosen’ and are not willing to convert then you are ignored at best and actively shunned and persecuted at worst.

    As to your other points Nate, of course Nazism wasn’t considered bad by the Nazis, but it was (and still is) by just about everyone else.
    As to why I defer my judgement of the value of political systems based on the quantity of people who deem it ‘better’, I do it because that, from my point of view, is the way the world works, I’m not saying I like it, or even agree with it, but that it is just the way things are. Popular opinion, as a gestalt rather than something quantified by polls and elections, holds some things to be true and others false, until popular opinion changes.

    The suffering of the individual is always a bad thing and here is as logical a rationale as I can some up with for this being so:
    You are an individual.
    Your misery is a bad thing.
    Therefore the misery of any individual is a bad thing.
    I’m sure there are plenty of holes in that that many here will be willing to pick at but its the best I’ve got
    In short I agree that the suffereing of an individual is a bad thing but until we live in Utopia it is always going to be there and there’s nothing we can do about it.

    I consider the downfall and failure of communism at the end of last century to be proof enough of marxism’s failure as a political philosophy. I also consider the fact that the Nazis felt it necessary to murder millions of people a failure. It may not be proof in the mathematical sense but it can certainly be considered evidence in the case against them.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Mandrill,

    “As to your other points Nate, of course Nazism wasn’t considered bad by the Nazis, but it was (and still is) by just about everyone else.”

    There are entire countries where Hitler and the Nazis are still admired to this day. Many of them in the Middle East.

    It’s the way they’re taught from an early age you see. It has a lot to do with their religious upbringing. I still recall my surprise that the national school curriculum of one country actually has “National Socialist Education” as an academic subject, like maths and geography. Two years ago, a chap called Hitler won an election in Jenin. I think a lot of people struggle to understand how different the world view of these people is. The automatic assumption is that they are just like us, and their religion is just like ours. Religion is not the whole problem there, but it’s a not insignificant part of it.

  • I think many people tend to underestimate the intelligence of most children, and their ability to think independently from a very early age. Billy (and whoever he was replying to – I forget now) are examples of this, and I am sure there are many others. What is important is that there is a sufficient diversity of views outside the family, among the wider society. Pa’s example of Jenin is not such a case, but I am sure that modern day UK is. And as long as this is the case, the child eventually will be exposed to different philosophies, and will make up his own mind. In Israel, many young orthodox Jews leave religion and religious society, and join the secular one, and there is also movement in the opposite direction. The parents of neither are happy about any of this (that’s an understatement), but that’s the way it is.

    Religion, on the other hand has its adherents waiting for a sublime existence in some fantasy fairyland which they’ll only get to after they die.

    Not Judaism.

    Pa, saying that irrationality is unwise, is the same as saying that irrationality is irrational. I imagine that you meant something else, though. In any case, irrationality does have its value. Life that is 100% rational is not worth living, in my personal opinion. Eliminate fairy tales? Even the soviets knew better. Like I said, most kids are not stupid, and as long as they are surrounded by at least some rationality, they don’t end up as adults that take those stories seriously.

  • I hope it was clear that I meant that Billy and the other commenter are examples of such ability of kids to think independently.

  • Condor

    Gregor Mendel, Sikorsky, Newton, Samuel Morse, Werner von Braun, Charles Cabbage, etc. All would qualify as religious, god-believing fools. What conceivable contribution could they have to society?, what with their minds’ poisoned by religion and all (sarc.)

  • Ian B

    I think this is all kind of still dancing around the point. If it is held that religions poison the minds of men, and if it is also held that religions are created by the minds of men, then we must conclude that the poison originates in the minds of men. Religion is but one possible vessel in which it may be transported. In the absence of religion, it will simply be found in another container.

  • Teach it all. Encourage your children to grow up in your faith, encourage them to grow up in your belief system, your meta-context, whatever. But also encourage them to understand (at least on an intellectual level) the other systems.

    I would like to point out here that at the doctrinal level, Christians believe that God has no grandchildren. That is, no matter what you think, no one is a ‘born’ Christian. Hence the necessity to be ‘born again’. Howsoever people may take that – it is also true that we are exhorted to bring up our children in our faith. But they still have to make their own decisions.

    I absolutely believe that if you are YEC parents, go ahead and teach your kids about Young Earth Creation – as long as you also tell them to read up on the Old Earth Creationism, Theistic Evolution and just plain ol’ evolution, and not some tired canard/strawmen representatives thereof. I don’t even care what reason you would do this – whether it is to teach them how to argue effectively, or to give them a more open mind. And vice versa, of course.

    What I think is a problem is when you don’t expose your (okay, maybe older) kids to competing worldviews. But the thing is, those competing worldviews are everywhere in the West. In other parts of the world, not so much.

  • Those who believe in nothing will fall for anything: Bill Maher thinks believers are teh stooopid, but thinks aspirin is poison.(Link)
    Boy, that’s one science-based, rational atheist!

  • Charles Cabbage?

    You know he was a kiddy-fiddler? He took his bust machine into Difference Engine World and they found loads of pictures of sweeps and match-girls in it’s cogs.

    As far as the religious beliefs of Newton are concerned… Gawd knows but he certainly wasn#t a straightforward Christian. I have heard the term Judaic Monotheist bandied about and have no idea exactly what that means. But certainly Newton didn’t believe in the Trinity and considering which Cambridge College he was master of the irony is delicious.

    Oh, and basically, what Alisa said in her 11.08pm post just above. I am sick to the back teeth of militant atheists (yes, that’s you Prof Dawkins) rattling on and on in tones that manage to be both hysterical and patronising.

    Gregory,
    YEC is bunk. It is utter bunk. It is bunkrapt. It isn’t just bollocks it’s best bollocks. That it has many adherents in the USA is bizarre considering that at the heart of that country is a very Grand Canyon which rather refutes it. Of course the whole shooting match could’ve been made by God in six days but… If you’re gonna seriously consider that an option you’d best leave Geology, Astrophysics and Biology in the cloakroom before entering.

    ID is even worse. I have read some of their stuff and it’s shite. It doesn’t even make sense. And I just love their “dinosaurs lived alongside humans” schtick. Now is that new development because of advances in “creation science” or just a cynical attempt to exploit the fact that kids love dinosaurs?

    Yeah, Gregory, teach it all but don’t teach it all the same way. Creationism is ultimately (despite the deranged munterings of ID) a faith position and is not an alternative to evolutionary theory as a scientific viewpoint. It just isn’t science and it should not be treated as science. Imagine a Professor of Physics reading a thermodynamics textbook from a pulpit. It’s that off-kilter.

  • Charles Cabbage?

    You know he was a kiddy-fiddler? He took his bust machine into Difference Engine World and they found loads of pictures of sweeps and match-girls in it’s cogs.

    As far as the religious beliefs of Newton are concerned… Gawd knows but he certainly wasn#t a straightforward Christian. I have heard the term Judaic Monotheist bandied about and have no idea exactly what that means. But certainly Newton didn’t believe in the Trinity and considering which Cambridge College he was master of the irony is delicious.

    Oh, and basically, what Alisa said in her 11.08pm post just above. I am sick to the back teeth of militant atheists (yes, that’s you Prof Dawkins) rattling on and on in tones that manage to be both hysterical and patronising.

    Gregory,
    YEC is bunk. It is utter bunk. It is bunkrapt. It isn’t just bollocks it’s best bollocks. That it has many adherents in the USA is bizarre considering that at the heart of that country is a very Grand Canyon which rather refutes it. Of course the whole shooting match could’ve been made by God in six days but… If you’re gonna seriously consider that an option you’d best leave Geology, Astrophysics and Biology in the cloakroom before entering.

    ID is even worse. I have read some of their stuff and it’s shite. It doesn’t even make sense. And I just love their “dinosaurs lived alongside humans” schtick. Now is that new development because of advances in “creation science” or just a cynical attempt to exploit the fact that kids love dinosaurs?

    Yeah, Gregory, teach it all but don’t teach it all the same way. Creationism is ultimately (despite the deranged munterings of ID) a faith position and is not an alternative to evolutionary theory as a scientific viewpoint. It just isn’t science and it should not be treated as science. Imagine a Professor of Physics reading a thermodynamics textbook from a pulpit. It’s that off-kilter.

  • Johanathan Pearce

    For me, the only case to objecting to the actions of parents is if their actions physically harm the kid or are designed to physically alter the child for reasons other than grounds of health, such as through circumcision for religious reasons (which is why I threw out the idea that children are not property in a separate thread some time ago).

    Indoctrination is a hard thing to define anyway; given all the risks of the state presuming what parents can and cannot teach to their children, it is best to stay way out of the way.

  • Dear Nick M;

    Sure, you say YECs’ bunk. And I say it informs my positions on just about everything else. That’s why YEC is religious. And a worldview.

    Facts are neutral; they requires a worldview/framework to put them in order. Someone using the atheistic evolutionary worldview might very well use the same facts in diametrically opposing ways to someone using a theistic OEC one. We see the very fact of a Presidential debate being used to ‘prove’ Barack won it, or McCain won it, or they were both full of shit, or whatever.

    Is aether a myth? Yes? But it was taught as scientific not more than two centuries ago. And with the Casimir effect and Zero-Point Energy, aether might just be coming back with a vengeance. Was Troy a myth? Sure! But it was also a real city.

    I mean, the whole point of this post (please correct me if I’m wrong, Ms Solent) was to say that parents should be able to teach their values and belief systems to their children with minimal hindrance from the State. If my belief system says that YEC, OEC, Theistic Evolution, Atheistic Evolution are all competing origins models as opposed to mythology and folklore, then I should be able to pass them on the same way.

    I trust my children to be able to separate truth from fiction, and I don’t think I need your assistance – nor your opinion – in the matter. Otherwise I might very well teach your kids the ‘fact’ that evolution is full of holes, including a paucity of explanation as to…

    – generation of ONLY properly aligned amino acids in a non-reducing atmosphere
    – life from non-life
    – endoskeleton from exoskeleton
    – multi-cellular from unicellular (not to mention specialisation!)

    … and hence “Evolution is bunk. It is utter bunk. It is bunkrapt. It isn’t just bollocks it’s best bollocks. ”

    Can I just point out that ‘matter’ is a model? And so is ‘wave’? Otherwise, we won’t have issues when light behaves both as matter and as a wave. What happens then? We use a *new* model – a wave of probabilities that collapses when we observe it.

    Any self-respecting scientist no more than 3 centuries ago would have laughed you off the university. No doubt scientists 3 centuries from now would do the same. But this model works for us NOW. And according to no small number of scientists who subscribe to YEC, that model works for them too.

    It just isn’t science and it should not be treated as science.

    Yes it is – it just isn’t natural science. Science is any kind of knowledge. Can you understand that I see ‘evolution’ in the same way as I see AGW?

    Let’s see it in a different light. YEC and evolution are both models for what happened in the past. Obviously, the only 100% conclusive of proving either model right or wrong would be to go back into the past and have a look see. Not going to happen, so we have to rely on circumstancial evidence. Oh, wait, there is an eyewitness for YEC, but not everyone believes in His reliability or veracity. Ok, so we’re back to what we can infer.

    And right now, there isn’t any single (or even cumulative) bit of evidence that conclusively proves one or the other. If you had someone who had never heard of origins science, and laid out all of the facts known (free of any bias in the wording, of course), he still wouldn’t really be able to come up with “what really happened”.

    Imagine a Professor of Physics reading a thermodynamics textbook from a pulpit. It’s that off-kilter

    I’ve had that before, you know. As an introduction to how God holds everything together. It worked quite well, I thought. Not a textbook, sure.

    I think you don’t really believe that ‘science’ and ‘religion’ go together, hence your argument. But if my religion informs (or is) my worldview, then obviously *every* aspect of life, including science, will be coloured by it too.

    And what’s wrong with trying to inculcate my kids with my worldview? They need *something* to start off as a base – why not what their parents believe?

  • To Pa Annoyed – the sole purpose of memetics, in practice, is to slander ideas as forms of contagion, and to denigrate the idea of free will. If religion can be portrayed as a kind of mental disease, then it can be argued that it is imposed on others by “infecting” them, and not by free choice. If religion is an infection, then the memetic health experts can propose a “disinfectant” and public health initiatives such as preventing the spread of the infection by closing down plague spots such as religious schools. Of course, this is the exact equivelent of the use of psychiatry against dissidents in the unlamented former Soviet Union.

    I like how many of the proponents of oppression on this board protest that they are only “raising questions” or indulge in similar weaselly evasions.

  • Andrew Duffin

    Surely the whole thing is just another attempt by the usual suspects to poke their noses into family life?

  • Johanthan Pearce

    John, there is no need to be so touchy on the memetic issue; it is not necessarily implying that people who are “infected” by an idea are lacking in free will. But it is only being honest, surely, to understand that ideas can spread in ways that closely resemble a virus. It does not tell us whether that idea is a good or bad one, obviously. But looking at how ideas propogate, how they spread, and looking at the circumstances, is surely valuable.

    It is obviously not just religions that can be understood in this way; it applies to secular ideas too, fashions, etc.

  • Pearce, I defy you to explain anything using the fashionable new pseudo science of “memetics”. In practice it is nothing more than a way to denigrate opposing viewpoints and usually used specifically to denigrate religious thought. David Stove made the point better than I can – memetics is a pseudo-discovery of the effortless kind often found in philosophy…

    “Memes are ‘living structures, not just metaphorically but technically.When you plant a fertile meme in my mind,you literally parasitise my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme’s propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitise the genetic mechanism of a host cell. And this isn’t just a way of talking – the meme for, say,[Pythagoras's Theorem] is actually realised physically, millions of times over, as a structure in the nervous systems of individual men ”

    I cannot speak for others, but for my own part,it is impossible to read these words without feeling anxiety for Dr Dawkins’ sanity. I try to think of what I, or anyone, could say to him, to help restrain him from going over the edge into absolute madness. But if a man believes that, when he was first taught Pythagoras’s theorem at school,his brain was parasitised by a certain micro maggot which, 2,600 years earlier, had parasitised the brain of Pythagoras,…what can one say to him,with any hope of effect? And if a man already believes that genes are selfish, why indeed should he not also believe that prime numbers are sex mad, or that geometrical theorems are brain parasites?”

    – David Stove, Darwinian Fairytales

  • “Ideas” and “viruses” have nothing in common, and to suggest that they do is intellectual dishonesty – not, perhaps, on the part of naive people like yourself, Pearce, but certainly on the part of Dawkins.

  • My comments on the memetics fraud can be found here.

    In my opinion memetics is as pernicious as the “global warming” fraud. Both are ultim,ately an attack on individual freedom. It is certainly amazing to see “libertarians” enthusiastic about memetics, a doctrine utterly inimical to individual freedom, while at the same time getting paranoid about what some backwoods evangelist might or might not be saying about geology.

  • Ian B

    John, it seems to me that you’re arguing against the actuality of memetics with a moral argument, i.e. saying it can’t be right because it shouldn’t be right. I don’t think that’s much use.

    Look at another popular idea- eugenics. I doubt that I need to rehearse the moral arguments against eugenics here at samizdata. Nonetheless it is incorrect to argue that eugenics is bunk, i.e. incorrect because of those moral arguments, because the reality is that if some evil power were given absolute control of human breeding, they could indeed breed humans to some specification- to be taller, more athletic, blond haired or with an aptitude for music, more intelligent, etc. Eugenics works. We object, rightly I believe on both moral grounds, and a singular practical one- that nobody can be qualified to make the decision of what sort of human being to breed.

    The same argument can be made against the use of “memetics”. But we also have to accept that people will do whatever they can to influence and alter the minds of others. Everyone in a debate is trying to do that. We are awash with propaganda from all points of view, all the time, all trying to replicate their memes (“smoking is evil”, “Jesus loves you, “religion is the root of all evil”, “liberty is superior to servitude”). The brain is simply a machine, whose behaviour can be altered by its experiences, and that is why propaganda exists, and why we debate, and why both religionists and marxists are so keen to get their hands on childrens’ minds when they are young and most malleable. It’s why the Church Of England runs so many schools, and why the cultural marxists have infested the teaching profession.

    People who understand why some ideas triumph over others are the people who win.

  • There is no scientific evidence for “memetics”, regardless of moral content. As David Stove observes, memetics is one of those effortless non-discoveries often found in philosophy. How could you prove something like this wrong or right? What does “memetics” predict? What experiment demonstrates the, uh, memetic process? And how much of memetics is merely restating the obvious in pseudo-evolutionary jargon?

    And by what intellectual right do people who cite this ridiculous fraud as science have to regard themselves as any better than even the most cornpone young-earth creationist? Particularly when this fraud is being used to justify oppresive measures to interfere with the rights of parents? Creationism, at least, has not advanced this far.

  • Pa Annoyed

    John,

    I think what you are arguing against is the mematic equivalent of “genetic determinism”. This was a fallacy in the early days of the public understanding of genetics, in which people came to believe every aspect of themselves and their lives was determined by their genes. It is false. The way people are is part genes, part environment, and part random. Identical twins are not identical people.

    I believe you are making the same error with regard to memes. Nobody seriously claims that a meme can take control of you against your will, or can guarantee acceptance. The best it could hope to do is fool you.

    The meme/gene analogy is to do with the process of evolution, and not every property of genes or organisms can be carried across to the world of ideas, or vice versa.

    An idea spreads mainly by being appealing, by being convincing, by being the sort of thing that people choose to believe of their own free will. It can also increase its chances of spreading by persuading people, again of their own free will, to perform actions that more directly enhance its appeal and rate of spread, such as suggesting eliminating adherents to competing ideas, or stating that it is a good idea to go and tell other people about it. What people do about it is up to them, but if the idea persuades a few, that’s often enough to tip the odds in its favour. There is no magic to it – it is simply another way of looking at how everybody already knows the social world works. Ideas have no guarantee of spreading to any particular mind, only a probability.

    (It isn’t even true to say that diseases are an inevitable process, either. People are often immune to diseases, or are able to recover from them. You can be immune to contagious ideas, too.)

    The idea of memes is simply based on the obvious observation that ones with the highest probabilities of being passed on survive and become common. The oldest and most popular ideas tend to have many such features, for this reason.

    So if you’re thinking this is supposed to be some sort of insidious brainwashing technology, it isn’t. It’s no more than thinking of ideas as like elaborate chain letters. Nothing actually forces you to pass it on. It’s just that many people do.

    Tell ten of your friends this, and ask them to pass it on too. Break the chain and you’ll get ten years bad luck!

  • Pa Annoyed

    John,

    “How could you prove something like this wrong or right? What does “memetics” predict?”

    Like genetics, it predicts that ideas will inherit characteristics from related ideas, with small changes. That ideas develop in small steps, each step change giving the idea an evolutionary advantage. That it doesn’t matter how truthful or useful an idea is; the main determinant of whether it lasts is how well it spreads. That features that enhance the spread will be commonly found. That the older and more widespread an idea, the more likely it is to have such features.

    “And how much of memetics is merely restating the obvious in pseudo-evolutionary jargon?”

    Nothing pseudo about it, but yes, all it is is an analogy. Sometimes useful, sometimes stretched too far.

    “Particularly when this fraud is being used to justify oppresive measures to interfere with the rights of parents?”

    It does not justify any such thing. It has many uses outside the religious debate, and the analogy can be used as easily to draw out positive aspects as negative, should you choose to learn how to do so. The rhetorical uses to which people put it cannot be blamed upon the tool.

    Oh, and they’re not the parent’s rights. They’re the child’s rights, exercised on their behalf by the parent.

  • After a whole lot of angels/pinhead stuff on the difference between a meme and an idea/concept spreading and evolving through discussion, Pa Annoyed writes:

    Oh, and they’re not the parent’s rights. They’re the child’s rights, exercised on their behalf by the parent.

    This view gives me a problem when, as on many occasions, I tell one of the little darlings that, at least on the particular occasion, they are not going to get what they want.

    Given this, is it not more a matter of parents’ responsibility (and commensurate authority) to care for and bring up their children as well as is practical in all the circumstances, rather than of any rights of the children. [Or is that too subtle a difference, unlike that between a shared idea and a meme?]

    Best regards

  • Pa Annoyed

    Nigel,

    I’m not aware that anyone has a right to get whatever they want.

    Sometimes it can be justified as the parent defending their own rights and interests. Sometimes it is like the exercise of “self”-discipline on behalf of the child, in their own long term interests. But there are cases, I think, where a child can ask for and expect certain things of their parents, and for it to be wrong for parents to refuse them.

    If a child is given money, it’s OK for a parent to spend it on schoolbooks instead of sweets. It’s not OK to spend it on Daddy’s new Porsche or Mummy’s drug habit.

    Nothing unreasonable.

  • From their point of view, Nazis and Marxists are working for a better world in the here and now. No matter the reasons they are grounded in reality, a better life for them and their families and their compatriots, here and now.

    This simply is not true. Political movements, particularly extreme ones, very often work for a future utopia that is anything but in the here and now.

    Just as with every other politcal movement, their motivations were based on practical, physical considerations, no supernatural reward was hoped for or sought.

    Putting in the word “supernatural” makes a distinction but not a meaningful one. Did the fact that the Marxists thought their utopia was part of a “natural” process make communism any less unpleasant? I’d argue that it probably made it worse.

    Whilst the fact that good deeds such as the setting up soup kitchens, founding hospitals, orphanages, and otherwise alleviating the suffering of others is admirable, the motivations for doing these deeds can always be brought into question.

    The claim was that religious worldviews don’t support improving the well-being of people in the here-and-now. If you want to turn that claim into some kind of “religious people aren’t ever good even when they are being good” nonsense then at least have the honesty to admit that is a completely different argument, and one that says little more than “religions are bad because they are religions”.

  • Nate

    Mandrill:

    “You are an individual.
    Your misery is a bad thing.
    Therefore the misery of any individual is a bad thing.”

    I’m not disagreeing with you, there — not at all.
    The point, I’m trying to make is that this idea that “religion” is somehow bad and we need to prevent parents from teaching it, et al….requires us to (1) define religion and (2) define bad. (Probably a lot more than that even.)

    (1) For *me* religion comes down to that which cannot be substantiated by facts and logic — faiths, beliefs, etc — and are highly subjective. (in many cases the objective verification of a belief would be either beyond even the theoretical means to do so or, more practically, would be too expensive to perform). *beliefs* show up surprisingly often.

    (2) Essentially, every judgment and decision you make is based on values (a utility ordering of possible world states). I prefer world state X to world state Y and I will make a decision that I believe will bring about X. (Yes, I’m aware of criticisms of rational actor theories, etc.) How did you come to the preference in ordering? How do you derive that world state X is preferred to world state Y. “Your misery is a bad thing” You’ve already got a judgment in that sentence alone — not to mention an *inductive* (rather than deductive) leap that generalizes that statement to everyone, which is what you use to arrive at your 3rd statement (corollary). I’m not saying that all judgments are ultimately guided by a “sky fairy” — what I’m saying is that you can’t use objective logic to decide which value/judgment system is better. Thus, by what system will we use to say that this pedagogical method is approved because it is free from “religion” and how do we know that THAT system is itself free from “religion”?

    Personally, I’m of the opinion (as are many others, here, I’m sure) that we should expose our children to as much information as is practical (obviously, there will be substantial bias even in that selection) and let them decide when they are ready to do so.

  • Condor,

    > Gregor Mendel, Sikorsky, Newton, Samuel Morse, Werner von Braun, Charles Cabbage, etc. All would qualify as religious, god-believing fools.

    The best example is surely Gauss, who made a phenomenal number of mathematical discoveries and inventions, all to further his purpose of locating the best spots on the planet to build observatories, because of his devout belief in astrology.

    On the main point, I, like Gabriel, would like to reiterate what I said back in the argument that started all this:

    What Dawkins and his ilk forget is that a religion is not merely a set of beliefs. It is also a group of people.

    And I’d also like to repeat what I said to some eejit of a commenter over at my place, who accused me of making an argument that was “woolly and unclear”:

    Humanity is woolly and unclear. We are a race of people evolved from monkeys and fish and worms; we are made up of glands and hormones; our instincts are all based on environments in which we no longer live; our teeth are no longer designed for our diet; we have an indescribable symbiotic relationship with dogs, an animal that our ancestors actually invented; we are able to calculate the width of the Universe, yet we still get diarrhoea and senility and inexplicable cravings for pistachios. You want to create a society based on logic? Well, that’ll be wonderful for a bunch of computers to live in. Me, I’m an animal, and an animal with a degree in logic at that, and I can’t think of a worse basis for a society for humans to live in.

    Gregory,

    > I absolutely believe that if you are YEC parents, go ahead and teach your kids about Young Earth Creation – as long as you also tell them to read up on the Old Earth Creationism, Theistic Evolution and just plain ol’ evolution, and not some tired canard/strawmen representatives thereof.

    OK, I’m picking on this quote, but you’re hardly alone: rather a lot of people here are trying to assume the mantle of reasonable fairness by adopting the “teach them everything” approach. But this is just the other side of the same coin: it takes away the freedom of parents to decide what to teach their children, which of course includes the freedom to decide what not to teach them. You are willing to allow atheist parents to teach their children that Christianity is wrong on the condition that they also teach them that Christianity is wrong. Well, how incredibly generous of you.

    And I’d like to finish by pointing out that there’s a huge difference between truth and facts.

  • Er, that should have read

    You are willing to allow atheist parents to teach their children that Christianity is wrong on the condition that they also teach them that Christianity is right.

    Obviously. Oops.

  • Most parents want to pass on their religion and value system (which aren’t necessarily the same thing) to their children as truth while casting the facts of other religions as false.

    Choosing to live life within the framework of a religion seems to help most people in living a good life. Those of us who do not choose a religion to provide that framework are still creating a framework that includes a lot of the same moral values and for good reason: to foster the flourishing of humankind.

    re: rights of children: if you regard children as having no rights, they are not human then, are they? When do children become human and so, then, deserving of rights?

  • My children would be utterly horrified at any idea that I should have been prevented from telling them what I think about God- or anything else I considered important for them to know.

    (Just thought I’d throw that one in although everyone else has gone home now :) )

  • Pa Annoyed

    Alice,

    We didn’t go home after the party, we just fell asleep on your sofa. :)

    As far as I’m concerned, you’re welcome to tell your children what you think about God. The bit that upsets the militant atheists is where you don’t tell them that there’s no solid evidence for it, or why evidence is necessary, or even teach the virtue of faith in the face of evidence, the virtue of unquestioning obedience to God and the Church, or if you do more than just tell them about it but require it of them.

    It is the fact that religion is shielded from the full requirements of evidence and reason that are applicable to most other sorts of beliefs that is seen as the issue. To bring a child up in a religion (or any ideology), you have to install such a shield to some degree, so the conflict is inevitable.

    As I said up near the top, the biggest problem with this argument is for religious people to only think of their own religion, and the way they themselves practice it. When you argue with atheists, you have to remember they’re putting you in a group with Muslims and Scientologists and the People’s Temple Agricultural Project. With Aztec human sacrifice, the Protestant-Catholic wars, and the Holy Inquisition. To argue that you’re different, you have to be saying that you are not demanding respect for religion in general but only Christianity, and your own variety of Christianity at that. Such an argument has its own problems.

    The militant atheists argue against religious indoctrination generally, the unobjectionable modern variety of Western Christianity included, partly for logical consistency (you can’t fight cults by demanding rationality if you apply it selectively – that isn’t reason but justifying your prejudices by special pleading), but mainly because the cultural shield it creates is providing cover for the bad stuff. It’s no use saying that you’re different; they know that. It’s not what they’re arguing against.

    At the end of the day, the argument is fairly pointless. Religion is here to stay for the foreseeable, and for atheists to argue like this is like libertarians arguing for an end to all taxes. It makes for a good argument, though.

  • As far as I’m concerned, you’re welcome to tell your children what you think about God. The bit that upsets the militant atheists is where you don’t tell them that there’s no solid evidence for it, or why evidence is necessary, or even teach the virtue of faith in the face of evidence, the virtue of unquestioning obedience to God and the Church, or if you do more than just tell them about it but require it of them.

    What they are complaining about here is that the parents don’t teach a militant atheist account of religion, they teach their own beliefs. A militant atheist might claim there is no solid evidence for the existence of God. A theist, an agnostic, or even a less militant atheist might observe that there is simply no agreement as to what actually counts as “solid evidence for God” and to tell any child that there is no solid evidence is as much indoctrination into a particular viewpoint as anything else.

  • Pa Annoyed

    “A theist, an agnostic, or even a less militant atheist might observe that there is simply no agreement as to what actually counts as “solid evidence for God””

    Indeed. And an atheist would respond that this is because different standards of evidence are set for the existence of Gods by the people who want to believe in them.

    But that’s a different argument entirely. If you want to respond to the atheists complaints about indoctrination by claiming that there is in fact solid evidence for Gods, according to some definition, then that’s a base we could work from. If there was indeed solid evidence, then rationalists would have to agree it could and should be taught. It was the ultimate failure to produce any that led to religions falling back on the Deist “but you can’t prove there isn’t either” arguments, and from there to a woolly be-nice-to-each-other “respect” for people’s deeply-held beliefs so as not to upset them. And from there to outlawing the giving of “offence”.

    An atheist would say, if you’ve got such arguments, please put them up. We’d be interested to see them. But in the meantime, can you please stop telling kids that believing without having seen such an argument is OK?

    As a matter of fact, there is one deity that has produced evidence that a rationalist might consider seriously, and this is the Goddess Namagiri, via her ‘prophet’ Srinivasa Ramanujan. Ramanujan was an Indian mathematician who, without having had any formal education, generated some of the most astounding, clever, and beautiful results in Number Theory, apparently without any working. When asked once how he came up with these results, he replied that Namagiri whispered them in his ear as he slept. This, I contend, makes Ramanujan’s notebooks an example of divine scripture as authentic and convincingly so as any of the others.

    This divine scripture has the additional advantages of giving the appearance of a superhuman intelligence, of looking more similar to the deeply mathematical nature of the laws of physics that any hypothetical creator must have understood, of being technologically useful in ways that we are only now beginning to realise nearly a century later, and which is, after a great deal of effort in some cases, provably true. At no point does the Goddess give instructions on going to the toilet, or tell anyone to kill people.

    Now it is true that, after some reflection, mathematicians concluded that the work wasn’t quite brilliant enough to be the work of a deity. But this is the sort of quality of evidence that theists need to be aiming for. If Gods existed and were willing to prove it, this should be easily obtainable.

    Unfortunately, ‘rational theists’ have shown their hand somewhat by failing to get at all excited about Ramanujan. Despite being some of the best evidence available, the fact that it’s for the wrong God – Good God, it’s a Goddess! – has meant that far from all immediately converting to the worship of Namagiri, as one who believed in God on the grounds of there being good evidence might be expected to, they have instead carried on with their same old Bronze-age blood-and-thunderbolts God. For who there is no more evidence (and who is rather less believably written) than there is for Tolkien’s elves.

    There is a website that lists something like 3000 different Gods and supernatural heroes. Reading through their stories is interesting. It’s quite remarkable how, despite all being completely different in what they say, that there is so little to choose between them in style or credibility. Certainly, the Abrahamic religions do not stand out. It all looks like really bad fantasy-sf. The contrast with Ramanujan is mind-blowing.

    But all these arguments have proved to be a waste of time. Theists have an unshakeable faith. I’m only indulging now because, as Alice said, everyone else has gone home. The present argument is, even if religion is completely irrational, would it be right to argue for its indoctrination into children to be banned? My conclusion was that it would not, on the grounds that even if taken to be harmful, an individual has the right for themselves to consent to be so harmed, and that a parent is the best person to exercise such rights on a child’s behalf. The bar for state interference in that relationship must be set high.

    I had hoped it might be a position that all sides could agree on.

  • But that’s a different argument entirely. If you want to respond to the atheists complaints about indoctrination by claiming that there is in fact solid evidence for Gods, according to some definition, then that’s a base we could work from. If there was indeed solid evidence, then rationalists would have to agree it could and should be taught. It was the ultimate failure to produce any that led to religions falling back on the Deist “but you can’t prove there isn’t either” arguments, and from there to a woolly be-nice-to-each-other “respect” for people’s deeply-held beliefs so as not to upset them. And from there to outlawing the giving of “offence”.

    I’m sorry but that is absolute nonsense. You seem determined to present an atheist parody of religion as fact. I know that there are people (usually not church goers) in post-modern Western societies who say “I’ll believe what I like, you can’t prove me wrong, and you have to treat my view with respect” but that is simply not the position of the major religions.

    The fact is that major religions see certain things as evidence of the existence of God. With rational non-believers (and for some reason it is the least rational non-believers who are most likely to claim to be “rationalist”) there are disagreements as to what sort of evidence is needed to believe. It is only militant atheists who declare that any evidence that can be used against their beliefs isn’t evidence at all. It is only the most intolerant atheists who demand that religious people tell their children there is no evidence, (and that any opposition to promoting hatred against religious groups is “special protection” for religion).

    You can lecture us all you like on what kind of evidence is required, but you don’t get to decide that. People believe on the basis of whatever evidence convinces them, and while you are free to say that you are not convinced by their evidence, you have no basis to demand that they pretend to their children that their evidence never existed.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Oldandrew,

    I’ve no particular wish for this to become unpleasant. It’s one of the risks when one party sees it as just an interesting intellectual debate, and the other is emotionally committed. If I’m upsetting you, let me know.

    Yes, I already effectively said that religious people see certain things as evidence of God. This is because different standards of evidence are set for the existence of Gods by the people who want to believe in them.

    But what is seen as evidence and what actually is evidence are not at all the same thing. We have been learning the trick of recognising logical fallacies since the time of the Greeks, and a lot is now known about it. While there are a few philosophical conundrums left in epistemology, what constitutes evidence is pretty well defined. Whether it contradicts atheism doesn’t come into it.

    I’ve actually given you an example of the sort of thing that could be considered evidence, and which would be taken seriously by a lot of atheists. There are plenty of other things that would work too. If the Gods wish to be believed in, they have every opportunity to produce it.

    As you say, we don’t get to define what induces belief. If someone believes that a dog having black hair is “evidence” that it is the devil in disguise, I can’t actually stop that. And when somebody else comes along and says black hair is “evidence” that it is really an Angelic messenger from God, or anything else at all, I can’t stop that either. If “evidence” is whatever you want it to be, and can prove whatever you want it to prove, if evidence is defined simply as whatever induces someone to believe, then our definition is circular. We have evidence, so we believe. And we believe, therefore it is evidence.

    “Evidence” has to be grounded in terms of something other than whether it convinces people to be useful; something real and not simply defined by people. And that something has to be carefully taught, because the brain is naturally wired with all those logical fallacies otherwise. Of course religious people are perfectly well aware of this; the only time you ever see this evidence-is-relative argument is when they’re trying to justify their belief in Gods. It’s a different standard.

  • This seems to be just an attempt to claim the same thing again but now pretending the truth of your views is demonstrated by logic or epistemology.

    It is simply not the case that philosophy has come up with some logical concept of evidence that has left us able to declare that we know exactly what is evidence for God, and that there isn’t any.

    Do you want me to start suggesting eminent modern philosophers (or logicians) who had intellectual conversions to Christianity?

  • Pa Annoyed

    No. I don’t accept arguments from authority. But you can, if you like, expand on the arguments and evidence these eminent philosophers and logicians based their conversions on.

    My point was that epistemology and logic talk about what constitutes evidence.

    That it is supposed to be evidence for Gods or Goddesses should make no difference. You should be able to apply the same arguments and evidential criteria to any other topic, and have it always work. Logic is impartial, it does not depend on its subject matter.

    I haven’t said that there is no evidence for the existence of a God or Goddess – that’s not something I know – I’ve said that religions have so far failed to produce any. I’ve read a lot of arguments that made the claim, from Anselm’s Ontological argument through to Plantinga’s concept of “properly basic” beliefs with non-doxastic justifications. The argument from design, argument from first cause, the basis of morality arguments, argument from popularity, miracles, self-authorising authority, Cartesian dualism, Pascal’s wager, and so on. None of them work.

    That’s not to say that no such evidence could exist or that no such argument can be constructed, but until such is found, the parsimonious conclusion fitting best with the way we observe the world working is that these are all fictional stories made up by ordinary people and not true.

    What you or anybody else decides to do about that is up to you.

  • No. I don’t accept arguments from authority. But you can, if you like, expand on the arguments and evidence these eminent philosophers and logicians based their conversions on.

    My point was that epistemology and logic talk about what constitutes evidence.

    I’m sorry but claiming your conclusion comes from “epistemology and logic” is an argument from authority.

    Beyond that I don’t much care whether you are convinced by those philosophers who disagree with you or not, what I do care about is the suggestion that your views should take precedence over theirs.

  • Pa Annoyed

    I’m not sure what you mean by your first comment.

    Whether my views “take precedence” over these philosophers depends on their logic and evidence, or their lack, which I note we still haven’t seen yet.

    Precedence is not based on whose view it is – mine or theirs – but on the content of the argument. What I intended to say was that there is no point in you suggesting eminent modern philosophers, because neither the eminence nor the modernity of the arguer constitutes evidence.

    As I said earlier, you could more usefully explain the arguments and evidence they based their conversions on. If those are valid, they’re valid, and rationalists will be forced to agree. If they’re like every other theist argument I’ve ever seen and not valid, eminence and modernity cannot save them.

  • So, to get your position straight, if something hasn’t convinced you then it doesn’t matter if it has convinced world class philosophers or logicians? There is no test of rationality you can recommend other than what convinces you?

    I wouldn’t mind your objection to “argument from authority” if you weren’t quite so clearly setting yourself up as an authority. You seem determined to turn this into some kind of challenge, where you get to argue over who is or isn’t right. May I remind you that this issue hinges, not on who is or isn’t right, but with what authority certain views can be taught. The moment you reject as irrelevant the authority of philosophers and logicians then you undermine your own efforts to claim authority on the grounds of your logic and philosophy.

  • Pa Annoyed

    No! I already argued at some length, a few posts back, that an argument simply convincing people – me, you, world-class philosophers, or anyone else – cannot be the basis for a definition of “evidence”.

    The question is not whether I find it convincing, but whether the logic is correct. An objective standard is required, built on the experience of the long and painful history of disentangling all the logical fallacies and errors mankind has made.

    One of the earlier lessons, that any philosopher claiming to be “world class” should know well, is the fallacy of argument from authority – after the Aristotelian dogma that misled us down the path of Scholasticism for centuries. Every philosopher since Locke knows that the word and reputation of the “expert” is a most unsafe basis for belief. The question is always and only, are the expert’s arguments valid?

    The argument must be reconsidered every time it comes into question. The opinions of experts are useful for guiding us to and through arguments we would not have come upon unaided, but there is no valid alternative but for each one of us to learn how to check them ourselves. It is imperfect, as all human things are, but it is far more reliable in the long run than accepting argumentum ad verecundiam.

    If your philosophers have never heard of Locke, I doubt they have much of a reputation either. Although I suspect they wouldn’t be happy to be made authorities so.

    It’s not the authority of logicians and philosophers one should respect, but the correctness of their logic.

    Are they right? Have they broken the case down and explained each step to make it sufficiently obvious? Is each step a logical necessity? Does it use any methods known to be invalid? Is any valid counter-argument known? This is how world-class philosophers work.

    I’m not sure if you’re simply complaining that I haven’t set out in detail the rules of logic, or whether this is some sort of post-modernist attempt to claim that logic and truth are no more than a narrative defined by an arbitrary social convention. But like I said earlier – the best way forward is to skip all the claims of authority and get down to the arguments, if you have any you think are solid. I can do the advanced logic and philosophy if I have to, (and I’d be genuinely pleased and interested if you’ve got one good enough to need it,) but my experience is that I’ve found it’s rarely necessary. No insult intended.

    I’m going offline now, but I’ll be back here tomorrow, and I’ll be interested to see what evidence you (or your favoured experts) have for the existence of Gods, Goddesses, etc. Seriously, what have you got?

  • This is getting insane now.

    If you are claiming that there are clear grounds for saying (based purely on logic) what does or does not count as evidence for the truth of a worldview you should present those grounds now.

    If you cannot do this then one has to assume that you are not appealing to clear and objective grounds that anyone can apply but simply to your own expertise, insights and judgement. If this is the case then you are clearly “arguing from authority” yourself and can hardly complain about it when somebody suggests there might be greater authorities than you.

    Nobody is going to submit evidence for you to judge, what is at question is not the evidence, but your grounds for judging and your authority to judge.

    At the moment we are simultaneously hearing you claim that you don’t accept anyone else’s ability to judge based on their experience, reputation or qualifications, while at the same time declaring how much experience of judging you have, yet you seem unable to recognise that this is a claim about your own authority.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Presenting the entire state of knowledge in epistemology would take a book or two. It would be unfair of me to set down some subset, like the second order predicate logic of Frege, because there would be many legitimate arguments you might present so excluded.

    But I can suggest some guidelines, if it helps out. An argument should rely only on the form, not the content. Take Modus Ponens, for example: P implies Q, P; therefore Q. This works whatever propositions you substitute for P and Q. x < 10 implies x <20. x < 10. There is no way that x cannot be less than 20. And the same thing applies whatever statements you use, so long as they fit the form. Conversely, the rule P implies Q, Q; therefore P does not always work. (This is “affirming the consequent”.) The number 15 satisfies Q, but not P. However, it’s surprising the number of people who start from a statement like – if X is true then Y will happen, and they see Y happen, and they figure that shows that X is true. It’s very convincing. Even experts have fallen for it. But it’s wrong, and anyone can show that it’s wrong by substituting different predicates for the variables and finding a set for which the rule doesn’t work.

    There are many more rules. An argument that claims some property is impossible or inconceivable should not then go on to propose an entity with that property. A physical entity’s contingent properties can only be deduced from some physical observation of the entity. Evidence can only exist for falsifiable claims – because whatever you see will be consistent with the claim, so you always know exactly the same about the claim after seeing the evidence as you do before. And so on.

    The techniques have to be learnt, and books by logicians are useful for doing so – but everything they write can be checked, and any errors they make demonstrated. You never have to rely on the authority or reputation of the logician. Whether they’re correct or not is a matter of objective fact.

    I’m a bit disappointed that you didn’t provide any of your experts’ evidence. Although not very surprised. You can continue to split ever finer epistemological hairs over what constitutes evidence or certain knowledge or justification for belief, to cite ever more complicated and extreme possibilities to challenge the testing process; it’s wasted effort if at the end of it all you wind up putting forward an argument that can be knocked down with trivial techniques.

    It’s ever so easy to claim you have evidence and then lead people around in dizzying circles without ever presenting it. I’ve seen it often enough to figure out what that means by now.

    But I find it amusing, anyway. So what are you going to try next, to avoid having to present the actual evidence that you claim has convinced all these eminent and modern but mysteriously anonymous experts?

  • Pa Annoyed

    Sorry, a bit got chopped out of that because I foolishly used ‘less than’ signs in html.

    I’ll try again.

    This works whatever propositions you substitute for P and Q. Suppose x < 10 implies x < 20, and x < 10, then there is no way that x can not be less than 20. And the same thing works whatever statements you use, so long as they fit the form.

  • You were meant to be establishing what counts as evidence, and showing that it was based on logic. Instead you appear to be combining a description of logic with a few unjustified claims about what can or cannot be deduced.

    Bizarrely though, having failed to establish what evidence is in the way you claimed, you seem upset that I have not presented the very thing you have failed to identify.

    If you want somebody to present you evidence of their worldview then you are going to have to establish:

    a) what you consider to be “evidence” (as opposed to what you consider not to be evidence)

    and

    b) why anyone else should accept your judgement on this matter (and saying it is logical without showing it is no answer)

    So far you have failed to answer a) at all and your only answer to b) is to suggest that we accept your rulings on logic even when world-renowned experts in logic might disagree.

    And before you waste any more time explaining what logic is, that is not what I am asking. You have tried to claim that you are right because you are logical (and even world-renowned experts in logic who disagree with you might not be). When I express my doubt about this it is not because I don’t know what logic is, but because I see very little reason to believe that you have even answered the question about what “evidence”, is let alone justified your answer logically. As hard as it might be to believe, the mere fact that somebody doubts your unjustified conclusions is not grounds for assuming that they are unfamiliar with logic.

    And can you please stop asking me to present “evidence” to you? My whole argument is that people don’t agree on what evidence is and that it is pointless to discuss it without reaching agreement on this first. If you ask me to present evidence then I can only assume that you haven’t even got the most basic point I was making.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Actually, I’m not upset at all – amused, rather. As I said above, my precise point is that theism is unjustified because theists have never presented any valid evidence to support it.

    You not presenting any evidence, far from upsetting me, simply confirms and supports my claim. The most obvious potential reason why you would present no evidence is because you have none – only an argument from authority based on the supposed eminence of philosophers who you say have been convinced.

    I have repeatedly asked for the arguments by which these eminent philosophers have been convinced, simply to give you the best chance possible of making your case to me. Just as I earlier described a detailed example of one sort of evidence I would find acceptable. It would not be in the best interests of my belief system for you to actually present any logical evidence. It’s very much in its interests for you to continue to dance around the point of dismissing logic as opinion, all while never giving a straight answer. So I’m not about to go to any great lengths to persuade you that logical validity is objectively knowable.
    (As Napoleon said, never interrupt your opponent when he is making a mistake.)

    You say you are not unfamiliar with logic? And you want a clear definition of what I consider “evidence”? Then my favourite definition is Kullback-Leibler information. But I’m willing to broaden my criteria within reason, so don’t let that stop you. I’m not intending to be particularly strict about it.

    As for (b), since I’ve been arguing for several days now that nobody should accept my judgement on the matter: that the only way is for them to check the argument themselves, I can hardly give you any answer to that one.

    “My whole argument is that people don’t agree on what evidence is and that it is pointless to discuss it without reaching agreement on this first.”

    Which as I said before, is because different standards of evidence are set for Gods by people who wish to believe in them. I don’t disagree about people disagreeing. Without error, there’d be no argument.

    Some people disagree on what you get if you multiply six by nine. On whose authority do we say the answer is forty two?

    The point of this discussion, for me at least, is not to come to any sort of agreement or reach any joint conclusion (I’ve had too much experience of theist-atheist arguments to imagine that), but simply to exchange views and arguments – because they’re interesting, because it’s fun, and because there’s an outside chance I might learn something new – a new argument, a new idea, a new point of view.

    Your approach certainly isn’t a new one to me, but I’d like to say I’ve still enjoyed the conversation.

  • You don’t actually have a definition of “evidence” do you? (Let alone the logical justification for that definition you claimed to have.)

    You say you are not unfamiliar with logic? And you want a clear definition of what I consider “evidence”? Then my favourite definition is Kullback-Leibler information.

    Oh well that’s really clear.

    I think you have entered crank territory here.

  • Pa Annoyed

    So you’re not as familiar with logic as all that, then? :-)

    Logic and epistemology are complicated subjects – certainly when you get up to “world-class” level. Mathematicians have considered the problem in depth (and I am a mathematician, in case you didn’t already know) and one of the deepest, most precise definitions of exactly what constitutes “evidence” is the Kullback-Leibler information.

    To tell you the truth, I didn’t really expect you to know it. Not many people need anything so rigorous. You can nearly always get by with simpler rules: a familiarity with the idea of Aristotle’s syllogisms and a few of the more useful ones, Bayes’ theorem, a recognition guide to the most common fallacies, and lots of practice reading through logically-made arguments. And most of all, the right attitude of sceptical curiosity.

    That will weed out most of the flawed arguments. It’s only when you get given really complicated problems, especially constructed by logicians to be difficult, that you have to resort to precise definitions.

    When the teacher reports that six by nine is forty two, that if you take six rows of nine pebbles, that when you count them up there are forty two of them, you don’t need a PhD in the foundations of mathematics to be able to show that it’s wrong. You can legitimately ask the teacher to explain why, and “because I said so” isn’t an answer. Nor is “I’m a maths teacher, don’t argue with the experts.” But when learning their multiplication tables, how many people have actually checked them?

    (This might seem a silly example, but I recall doing a mock interview for a final-year maths graduate who planned to be a teacher. I asked her about the role of authority versus argument in dealing with difficult questions, and she did of course give the right answer. So I asked her what her reply would be if asked why multiplying two minuses gave a plus. “It just does”, she said. Then realising what she had just said, she amended it to “I’ll find out and get back to you.” Her teachers hadn’t taught her, she didn’t know, in three years at university on a maths course she had never found out, and she was about to go out and teach the next generation. Now it so happens there are good reasons why multiplying minuses gives a plus, but how many things that are not true are endlessly recirculating because generations of teachers are relying on argument from authority? “How does a greenhouse work?” I heard the wrong answer to that one at school.)

    In a much looser sense, evidence consists of events that will happen for only some of your hypotheses and not others – when you see it, the possibilities for which it does not happen are ruled out, and the possibilities for which it does are strengthened. Usually, there are a lot more possibilities left than you can consider, so the ruling out part is generally a lot more effective than the strengthening.

    The justification for it is basic modus ponens / modus tollens. If P implies Q and you see P happen, then P is evidence for Q. If P implies Q and not-Q happens, then not-P may be deduced, and not-Q is evidence for not-P.

    The justification for that comes from the consistency requirement, and can be demonstrated in the specific cases of the above syllogisms with the use of Boolean truth-tables.

    So what you’re looking for is things that could only happen if Gods or Goddesses existed, and which could not be explained by any other hypothesis.

    To apply it in the case of Ramanujan I mentioned above, had the advanced mathematics he generated been too good for a human to have produced, and having no other natural candidates able to generate symbolic human-language mathematics, it would be strong evidence of a super-human intelligence. His claim has been seriously considered.

    So if you were to claim that by the power of prayer you could produce mathematical proofs to order – that I could ask you to prove, say, that any even integer greater than two was the sum of two primes, and the believer could pray for a few minutes, and then write the proof (or disproof) down, and it worked for any other question too – then that would be evidence. (Do feel free to try.)

    And yes, there’d be ways round it, and quibbles over what that super-human intelligence was, but it would be something you could take to the bank.

    Incidentally, it would rather help when trying to claim that what I say isn’t justified if you were to specify which bits you meant and to explain why they weren’t justified – to give a counter-example or reason. Otherwise, I can’t fix the problem, or indeed tell if there really is a problem and you’re not just saying “it’s unjustified” whatever I say.

  • More speeches about logic and maths, mainly stuff I already know, (although I admit to knowing very little about information theory).

    And still no explanation of what “evidence” is other than a claim that if I researched a particular topic in information theory, for which every reference I can find makes no mention of “evidence”, then I’d have a definition (which for some reason you haven’t provided).

    I suspect crankery here. Or is this just a plain and simple bluff? Am I supposed to say “well he’s said something mathematical, so I’ll just have to assume he’s answered the question even if there is nothing that looks like an answer here”?

    Please skip the speeches and obfuscation and answer the question.

    P.S. Why on earth are you telling us you are a mathematician? I thought you didn’t believe in arguments from authority?

  • I can find makes no mention of “evidence”

    Sorry that’s not quite true. There is no definition of evidence, there is use of the word “evidence” in the context of “weight of evidence” which refers to the Kullback–Leibler divergence.

    But I can’t find any indicator that this refers to “evidence” in any conventional sense. It appears to be a technical term for a measure of difference between probability distributions. My suspicion is that you have simply decided to obfuscate by mentioning the first mathematical concept you can think of where the word “evidence” is used even though it is utterly unrelated to the topic at hand.

  • Pa Annoyed

    “And still no explanation of what “evidence” is other than a claim that if I researched a particular topic in information theory, [...], then I’d have a definition (which for some reason you haven’t provided).”

    In the above reply only two paragraphs discuss KL information, while the rest discusses a simpler version of evidence. There’s no point in my continuing if every explanation I provide you simply assert that you cannot see it.

    You asked “what you consider to be “evidence””. This is the definition I would use in technical work. I don’t think it’s a definition suitable for use in this argument (unless you had happened to be an expert in epistemology, when you would know it was one of several that had been proposed). It’s chief use is in statistical inference – the study of what you can deduce from statistical data. And yes, divergence it is a measure of difference between distributions. In this case, you would take the distribution of all things that could happen if Gods existed, and the distribution of all things that could happen if they did not, and if there is no difference, there can be no evidence. The KL-divergence is the average over all possible events of the log-likelihood ratio, where log-likelihood ratio is the evidence inherent in a particular event in favour of one hypothesis’s distribution over the other’s. The KL-divergence between the posterior and the prior measures what you have learnt from an observation, it is the evidence that observation provides.

    But I then went on to give a simpler version that is more useful for the discussion, but which you appear to have completely ignored.

    It isn’t crankery and it isn’t bluff. And I didn’t intend it as a proposal for a jointly agreed definition we could both use; I was simply answering the question you had actually asked, rather than the one you meant. Telling you I was a mathematician was simply to explain that I had a legitimate reason for having such a technical definition, not a claim of authority. Although I find it most interesting that you too, when confronted with what is claimed to be an expert opinion, also refuse to accept that as authority and demand to see the arguments! So I’m pretty sure you privately agree with me, you’re just playing debating games.

    So, to repeat what I said above: “In a much looser sense, evidence consists of events that will happen for only some of your hypotheses and not others… So what you’re looking for is things that could only happen if Gods or Goddesses existed, and which could not be explained by any other hypothesis.”

    Do you have any?

  • Apologies if I missed your answer in the midst of your essays on technical matters that you now admit are of no use.

    Can you please identify exactly where you have said what evidence is (as opposed to what it isn’t, or what it means in information theory, or a “loose sense” description that you can later abandon) and how that concept is logically justified.

    And please don’t forget that your claim was that there was a concept of “evidence” that was justified from logic, so attempts that use very subjective or disputable concepts (like “explanation” or “the distribution of all things that could happen if Gods existed”) aren’t really going to fit the bill.

  • Pa Annoyed

    “Apologies if I missed your answer in the midst of your essays on technical matters that you now admit are of no use.”

    I never claimed it was of any use, only that it was the answer to the question you asked. So this is not an “admission”.

    “Can you please identify exactly where you have said what evidence is …”

    Certainly.

    So, to repeat what I said above: “In a much looser sense, evidence consists of events that will happen for only some of your hypotheses and not others… So what you’re looking for is things that could only happen if Gods or Goddesses existed, and which could not be explained by any other hypothesis.”

    “…(as opposed to what it isn’t, or what it means in information theory, or a “loose sense” description that you can later abandon)…”

    I have absolutely no intention of abandoning it later. I might be willing to abandon it, if you ask, because it is somewhat stricter than the statistical definition, requiring absolutes rather than balances of probabilities.

    You seem to be assuming that my intention is to get round your evidence by quibbling pedantically with the definition of evidence. I’m not. I have absolutely no intention of engaging in such dishonest debate.

    I will try to explain again. If someone says they know of expert mathematicians who claim that six times nine is forty two, I think the argument from authority can be reasonably dismissed and they can equally reasonably be challenged to say how it’s done. When the claimant demands to know first precisely what the challenger’s definitions of “number”, “multiplication” and “equality” are, the challenger can say they’re willing to be reasonable but to be strictly accurate they’ll cite the Peano-Dedekind axioms, which is how mathematicians define the natural numbers, and enables arithmetical results to be justified using pure logic. (It’s certainly not a matter of opinion, or “being convinced”.) This sort of precision isn’t necessary for the everyday – they’d only be relevant to stop the mathematicians cheating by using one of the many other weird number systems they know about, (6×9=42 in the ring of integers modulo 12, for example). But I have absolutely no intention of cheating.

    If you’ve got a real proof that 6×9=42, not involving division by zero or any other blatantly obvious fallacy, I’m interested to hear about it. Even if it’s wrong, such arguments are still often interesting, and I’m not that hung up over arithmetic as to get upset if it turns out you do have a point. I’m not going to try to dismiss it by demanding you prove it in the style of Russell’s and Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica. But you can’t expect a complete non-technical exposition on exactly what algebraic steps I’ll accept in a blog comment. Schools normally take several years to inculcate that, if they ever do.

    “…and how that concept is logically justified.”

    I’ll quote again.

    The justification for it is basic modus ponens / modus tollens. If P implies Q and you see P happen, then P is evidence for Q. If P implies Q and not-Q happens, then not-P may be deduced, and not-Q is evidence for not-P.

    The justification for that comes from the consistency requirement, and can be demonstrated in the specific cases of the above syllogisms with the use of Boolean truth-tables.

    “And please don’t forget that your claim was that there was a concept of “evidence” that was justified from logic, so attempts that use very subjective or disputable concepts (like “explanation” or “the distribution of all things that could happen if Gods existed”) aren’t really going to fit the bill.”

    At this point, I am quietly confident that nothing is going to fit the bill.

    To avoid the problem, why not simply make sure that your evidence does not contain any “very subjective or disputable concepts”? Then the issue will never arise.

    For what reason are you asking? If it’s to come to some agreed definition of “evidence”, you will also have to say what your definition is as well. (And I’ve already explained why I thing such agreement is unnecessary for debate to be worthwhile.) If it’s to find out my definition so you can tailor your argument to meet it and thereby convince me, well I’ve provided that – if you don’t like it, it’s not my problem. Why do you care about convincing me, anyway? If on the other hand it’s it’s to keep badgering until I provide another definition in which your argument from authority becomes valid, then you’ll be waiting a long time. And if you’re simply playing the endless-“Why?” game, to avoid having to answer, please bear in mind that unless you do eventually answer you still lose the argument, never having made a case. If you don’t provide any evidence, I win by default.

    So, what’s your evidence?

  • I am not prepared to search through a lecture for your answer.

    Can you simply post

    1) your definition of “evidence”

    and

    2) your logical justification for it

    and mark them unequivocally as such?

  • Pa Annoyed

    I’m not prepared to waste any more time answering questions I’ve already answered three times or more.

    Do you actually have any evidence or argument?

    Put it up, or I shall forthwith assume that you have none, that you know it, and that your intention is simply to twist in endless circles.

  • I didn’t ask you to answer the questions again, I am asking you to identify which part of your mini-essays are meant to be answers to the questions. You appear to have abandoned your original answer to the question of what evidence is, and you are quoting something that you said was only a “loose sense” description of what evidence is. Is that meant to be a coherent answer? You do know that by that definition you could never really have evidence for anything in a real world situation?

    As for the justification of your definition of evidence, I can’t see anything that resembles any kind of justification. Indeed, when I asked you directly for a justification you just described proof by contradiction and completely ignored the question of how your definition of evidence (whatever it might be) could be justified.

    If you genuinely believe that there are answers to my questions in what you’ve posted can you please identify those answers? If you do not then no amount of demands for evidence (of what?) or claims to have already answered the questions is going to convince me that the answers are hidden away somewhere and it is my fault I can’t locate them.

  • Pa Annoyed

    The “mini-essays” as you call them are the answers to the questions. But if you refuse to read them or accept them, then what then?

    But I note that in that last comment you haven’t provided any argument to support the existence of Gods or Goddesses, just as predicted! I see this as a confirming instance of my original claim, that it is the ultimate failure to produce any shred of valid argument or evidence that renders theist belief unjustified. So there’s no need to proceed any further, we’ve finally reached a (fairly) solid conclusion.

    It was a good game! Better luck next time.

  • But I note that in that last comment you haven’t provided any argument to support the existence of Gods or Goddesses, just as predicted!

    Given that my entire point was that there was no agreement about what constitutes evidence when it comes to religion, it would be more than a little odd if I’d started presenting evidence for anything. But I suppose if you admitted what my argument was, then you’d have to admit that this discussion has only served to prove me right (in fact you have now provided me with an example of someone who can’t even agree

    with himself

    as to what evidence is).

  • Pa Annoyed

    But I had already said that I agreed there was no agreement. The reason for that, though, is that on any other subject but theology, nobody but a madman would chase round for days after definitions of “evidence”, when they were challenged to provide it. People simply apply different standards when it comes to Gods. On any other subject (like arithmetic, say, or crime, or scientific questions), people know perfectly well what is meant.

    What you originally said was that various eminent modern philosophers had been persuaded intellectually. In presenting the evidence that persuaded them, as I requested, the relevant definition of “evidence” would therefore be whatever they considered it to be. We could argue then about whether it was valid, but you could have easily complied without having to get a definition agreed first.

    Nevertheless, it was an interesting question, so even though I knew what you were up to I was happy to comply, and also happy to state that I was willing to be flexible. It was only when you ran out of objections and started repeating the question endlessly that I got bored and gave you the final chance to make an argument. Any argument. You could have refuted me easily, if you had anything, but you didn’t. So I’m going to conclude that you never had. Quite how you can decide you’ve been proved right without ever having presented an argument (and by what standard of “evidence”? :-) ) is something that mystifies me, though.

    But anyway, since you didn’t want to provide any of your evidence, maybe it would be more fun if I was to do it for you? :-)

    We’ll take as our example Kurt Godel, who is logician and philosopher, modern by the standards of this argument, and about as eminent a logician as you can get. He also rather famously produced a version of the Ontological Argument for the existence of God using the syntax of modal logic, and was indeed a Christian, although he never published the argument while alive, reportedly for fear other people might believe he really meant it, and its doubtful he was persuaded by it. It’s not quite what you cited, but I think it’s close enough.

    So what is an Ontological Argument? Essentially, it works by defining God by means of a set of properties that include necessary existence. Existence is part of the definition. That means that if God (defined in this way) can exist, then he necessarily must exist.

    Now I think even the average ten year old would be able to see that there was something ‘funny’ about a definition of God as something that exists being used as a proof that he does. The easiest counter is what’s known as an overloading argument: that you could prove the existence of all sorts of crazy stuff if the general method was valid. The “necessarily-existent three-eyed unicorn”, and so forth.

    Considered in more detail – to try to pin down exactly where it goes wrong – it can be seen that claiming existence implies a claim of consistency, since real things must be consistent. A definition that claims its own consistency (through claiming that its object exists) is necessarily inconsistent, by Godel’s inconsistency theorem. Hence, the problem is that you are defining something that logically cannot be, and assuming that it can gives the fallacious result.

    For obvious reasons, arguments usually only introduce the necessary existence element of the definition after they’ve pushed through the possible existence of a more general concept of God without. A God could possibly exist, but not one that includes necessary existence as part of its definition.

    It’s a good trick, and an interesting exercise in logic. But it’s very obviously nothing more than a play on words. A large fraction of God-proofs are of the sort.

    Most of the rest are variations on the appeal to personal incredulity/ignorance: the argument that because I can’t conceive of any way it could happen naturally, it must have happened unnaturally, and hence it must have been done by God. Even without the illogic of the second step, the first is an absolute classic fallacy. The fraction of natural mechanisms that people can conceive is tiny.

    It’s not uncommon for people to counter this type of argument by putting forward a natural mechanism that explains the phenomenon. However, this doesn’t work in the long run because theists simply pick another gap. Theists have unlimited amounts of ignorance on which to draw, so they can keep doing this forever.

    Another method that sometimes works is to apply the inconceivability argument to God himself. If all things must have causes, what caused God? If complex things cannot arise without a maker, what could have made something as complex as God? And whatever the reply might be, to ask why then the same cannot be said of nature.

    But in general, the best way is to simply teach that argument from ignorance is a standard fallacy.

    There are a few other types around, but those cover most of what might be called the “intellectual” approaches. If anyone has something better, or even a clever new word-trick (and I know quite a few), that would still be very interesting. It’s a great pity you didn’t, but I don’t mind.

  • The reason for that, though, is that on any other subject but theology, nobody but a madman would chase round for days after definitions of “evidence”, when they were challenged to provide it. People simply apply different standards when it comes to Gods. On any other subject (like arithmetic, say, or crime, or scientific questions), people know perfectly well what is meant.

    It’s claims like this that reveal that you are bluffing.

    Nobody who knows anything at all about philosophy thinks that what counts as evidence in philosophical matters is clear and undisputed.

    What you originally said was that various eminent modern philosophers had been persuaded intellectually. In presenting the evidence that persuaded them, as I requested, the relevant definition of “evidence” would therefore be whatever they considered it to be. We could argue then about whether it was valid, but you could have easily complied without having to get a definition agreed first.

    But I have no interest in getting you to agree to somebody else’s definition of evidence. What would be the point, when I have already indicated the lack of agreement on this point? I wanted you to state your own definition as you claimed that “logic and epistemology” had settled this disagreement.

    As it is, you appear to be claiming to have the answer, but are unwilling to share it, and are now demanding that you are presented with other people’s answers instead so you can criticise them. Rejecting other people’s answers and having an answer of your own are very different things.

    Quite how you can decide you’ve been proved right without ever having presented an argument (and by what standard of “evidence”? :-) ) is something that mystifies me, though.

    You claimed you could resolve the question of what is evidence through logic. I doubted that you could. You couldn’t. Therefore, I was right.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Funny!

    Show me where I didn’t.