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European Court of Human Rights Defends Secularism

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Religious symbolism in classrooms has again become an issue in European countries, with the European Court of Human Rights ruling against Italy in a case brought by a mother who wanted to ensure a secular education for her children.

She complained that in every classroom in the school in Northern Italy, there was a crucifix on the wall. Such an endorsement by a secular educational establishment of a particular religion denies the right of the child to choose whether or not to believe it. It also restricts the rights of parents to bring up their children in a manner consistent with their convictions. So said the ruling.

This recent judgment was understandably unpopular with the Catholic Church, which denounced, through a Vatican spokesman, the interference in such a "profoundly Italian matter" and argued for respecting the country's Christian heritage. Such appeals to culture, though, demanding respect for traditional symbols, are controversial not least because in Italy, the hanging of crucifixes in classrooms was established through the Lateran Treaties between Mussolini's Fascist party and the Vatican.

Mussolini negotiated the Catholic Church's acceptance and support of the fascist state by making Catholicism the state religion. Mussolini instituted a fascist education regime, backed by the Catholic Church – in the classroom, the use of fascist education books was presided over by the crucifix on the wall.

This close link between the Vatican and fascist regimes of the past inevitably suggests a parallel between political indoctrination and religious indoctrination.

It is clear that the church authorities see the ban of religious symbols in classrooms as a fundamental attack on their rights, but it is worth questioning first why this is seen as such a serious challenge, and second, why they feel it is so important to display Christian symbols to children.

The old Jesuit motto "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man" is a potent indication of the power of indoctrinating young children. Religious institutions are very well aware that inculcating belief in young children is essential for maintenance of membership and recruitment into their churches. They do it because it works. Any restriction on their access to young children will mean that many more children will grow up willing to question the rationality of a belief in a God.

They argue that it is essential that specifically Christian values be taught to children, and that in the absence of religious teaching, they will grow up without the right moral values. But this claim is specious. We get our moral values from the society we live in, and it is difficult to find any specifically religious values that are not also secular values. Almost all societies promote social cohesion: consideration of others, equality before the law, protection of the individual and property. In fact, the morality of society generally is broader than the relatively restricted moral precepts of religions.

Educating children in a secular environment does not in any way limit their ability to develop morally and ethically. In fact, a strong case can be made that they will be ethically stronger if they do not wrap their moral values in religious dogma. Being able to see the relativity of values across cultures, to accommodate a range of beliefs, to understand the social differences and similarities between societies, to appreciate the historical development of social institutions (including churches) – all that helps children develop a much more solid and personal morality. A secular education provides a more secure and consistent basis for ethics and morality amongst young people.

Europe has moved towards protecting children from indoctrination, both religious and political. It has behind it the cultural experience of the mass indoctrination of a generation into political ideologies that led to conflict and slaughter on a world scale. In the madrassas of Pakistan, that process of indoctrination is still happening. Small wonder then that the Court in Strasbourg is conscious of the power of such influence in the education of young people.

And although the religious institutions want to distance themselves from association with those regimes which indoctrinated children into political ideologies, instilling religious belief in children is not so very different. The overlap between religious and secular values may appear to make it seem less of an issue, but in that case, why are the churches so upset by the ruling? Children can develop morally and ethically without religion and they should be given the opportunity to do so.

The only clear, consistent way to protect the rights of children not to be indoctrinated is to support full secular education, free of religious bias, without the presence of religious symbols on the walls, without daily prayers, without the expectation that the children will subscribe to a set of religious beliefs.

They should be informed about those beliefs, without any expectations that they will subscribe to them. They should be taught about the ideas. There is a world of difference between teaching children about the factual nature of the world, and teaching them religious beliefs. We want children to be able to see the difference between fact and belief and make their own decisions.

So what happens to the wearing of the hijab, the yamulka, the cross worn around the neck, the fish badge? Individual students making a statement about themselves, about their own beliefs, surely have that right. It would be an infringement of their right to express their beliefs to ban such elements.  These are not symbols backed up by the authority of the school, as they would officially be if placed on the walls.

But having teachers wearing similar symbols is problematic. Because they are role models, because they exercise authority, because their knowledge and judgment are sources of respect, they could well be inadvertently or deliberately using that power relation to influence the pupils' beliefs. Teaching beliefs is not the same as teaching factual material and it is essential that a distinction is made between them.  It is of course a matter of professional integrity for teachers that they refrain from influencing their pupils in this way.

There will be strong opposition from the European churches, who see the ruling in support of secular education as a challenge to their rights. But we should all be questioning the rights they claim to have access to children in the context of education, and why they regard it as so important.  It's not a question of respecting heritage, or history, or culture.  It's about recruitment into religious beliefs. Should we really still be subjecting our children to such treatment?

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About Bob Lloyd

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    As a Jew, I rather enjoy what the Eurotrash court has done; they have forced the Italian government to choose between the Vatican and the Fascists (the 1929 Lateran Accord) on the one side, and the idea of no moral indoctrination in its schools on the other. Both choices stink. It is always a pleasure for me to see a European government have to squirm.

    While most Europeans don’t give a damn about Christianity (which in my eyes is a good thing), they do have a sense of morals, though I have to admit that it can be puzzling at times. Having expressed my sense of schadenfreude satisfactorily, I now move to the article itself.

    The author is refusing to give credit where credit is due.

    The idea that you do not eat the kid next to your for lunch comes from Judaism, transmitted to Christianity. While that is not the only possible source this idea can come from, it is the source of this idea in Italy and Europe. But Bob Lloyd, the atheist, refuses to acknowledge that fact. He refuses to give credit where credit is due. Children do not have “the right not to be indoctrinated”. Parents are responsible for the raising of children (it was a parent who brought this case in the first instance) and it is parents who are responsible for indoctrinating them as well. More to the point, teachers, who have individual rights to free expression, need not be restricted in wearing a kippa or tzitziot in schools, or a cross or a hijab. They, like the all adults in Europe have a certain amount of freedom of expression – or should. Europeans haven’t quite figured that out yet, though.

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    Ruvy, haven’t you confused the promotion of religious dogma and moral indoctrination?

    They are not even remotely the same thing and this ruling has nothing to do with morality or, to use a more pertinent word, ethics.

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    Ruvy, there is no question about schools developing in their pupils a sense of moral values and ethical responsibility. Of course they do it.

    The question is whether educational institutions should be displaying religious symbols which necessarily gives the authority of the institution to the symbol. In Christian schools, displaying the crucifix is endorsing the Christian religion and when children are growing up, they absorb values very easily – that’s precisely why the Jesuits were so keen on educating children.

    Very many ideas come from Judaism but that doesn’t automatically make them morally right. Very many ideas come from Islam and Hinduism too, the latter being at least as old as Judaism. Religions absorb ideas from society and also transmit them. In the Christian religion, the concept of hell was a late developer, deriving from the Jewish notion of sheol. Even Hinduism has a similar concept in the notion of naraka.

    Many of the religions have a notion of being a chosen people, being privileged by having been selected by a deity, and this is a very disturbing notion to inculcate into children. Islam, Judaism, and some types of Christianity try to persuade children of this idea. Just because these ideas are pushed by religion, does not make them either correct, nor socially acceptable.

    We have to question whether any religious group has the right to inculcate such ideas into children when they so easily form the basis of prejudice. It would surely be far more useful to society to have them understand that some people believe these ideas.

    We always judge religious morality against the morality which is desirable for society as a whole and although religious people try to do this in reverse, it’s never quite convincing. They always compromise in the interests of society in the end, whether it’s softening certain aspects of the Sharia courts, or using theologians to reinterpret awkward texts.

    The more fundamentalist elements, of course, refuse to adjust their morality in line with the development of society. They will continue to quote from contradictory religious texts but adjust their choices more subtly. Some are responsible for the major conflicts in the world.

    But I agree that it’s a difficult question. Do parents really have a right to indoctrinate their children? The importance of the Strasbourg judgement, I think, is that it stops state educational institutions from pre-empting the child’s right to establish their own beliefs rationally.

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    [The idea that you do not eat the kid next to your for lunch comes from Judaism, transmitted to Christianity. While that is not the only possible source this idea can come from, it is the source of this idea in Italy and Europe. But Bob Lloyd, the atheist, refuses to acknowledge that fact.]

    Sorry Ruvy, I wasn’t ignoring this comment – it just seems incoherent to me. Want to try again?

  • Irene Wagner

    Could the person with whom Bob Lloyd was agreeing in #3 please self-identify?

    “But I agree that it’s a difficult question. Do parents really have a right to indoctrinate their children?”

    Assuming for the sake of argument that they don’t: How might an atheist who is also a parent or teacher need to adjust in response to that realization?

    “…it is difficult to find any specifically religious values that are not also secular values.”

    It’s not at all difficult for me to find them, but could it be that your inability to do so stems from your opinion that a specifically religious value that isn’t also a secular value is, by its very definition, not a value? How might you, as a teacher, keep your disdain for the value of contemplative prayer, for instance, a secret from your students, who look up to you as a role model, when you discuss the motivation for the lifework of historical figures such as George Washington Carver or William Wilberforce or Ghandi?

    So the Ichthus Fish badges on teacher’s cars have to go? What about the badges featuring be-legged Darwin fishes? or the be-legged Darwin fishes being consumed by the larger Truth fishes? You’re trying to bring a major industry to its knees, so to speak, Bob, and is that really a good idea in these difficult economic times?

  • Irene Wagner

    teachers’ cars

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Do parents really have a right to indoctrinate their children?

    I’m not really sure what that means–a ‘right’? Who has a ‘right’ or gives a ‘right’? This statement seems to imply that there are people who are not indoctrinated. So, whose right is it to indoctrinate children–parent’s or state’s?

    If I saw anyone commonly calling for no one to indoctrinate children, I would be happy with that. I am for raising children to be thinking people who make their own choices. I find it troubling that people speak as if schools are not cultural indoctrination machines.

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    Irene, what specifically religious values are not also broadly accepted secular values? Care and concern for others, charity, fairness, generosity, justice, honesty, respect for people and property, the list goes on and on.

    The fact that they are accepted into a religion at all, implies that they were generally acceptable to society as a whole. It is certainly true that there are many socially unacceptable religious practices and Sharia law is an obvious example, and these vary across cultures. Arguably, the Christian discrimination against women priests is another. But the central values of major religions accord very well with secular values.

    There is absolutely no problem for atheists to discuss the values of George Washington Carver or William Wilberforce or Ghandi, and it is perfectly easy to consider the role of contemplative prayer in their teachings. No atheist has disdain for the values held by these people. They simply don’t believe in supernatural beings.

    An atheist can just as easily teach about the ideas of Voltaire, Pascal, Descartes, Hume, Hegel or Kant, without in any way sharing their particular beliefs. Just because an atheist doesn’t agree with an idea, it doesn’t mean they can’t teach about them, critically evaluate them and respect the people who held those views.

    It’s important as a teacher (and I speak from experience) to be able to keep your own views out of the teaching, to provide educational space for pupils to develop their own ideas. A role model is not a template.

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    [I find it troubling that people speak as if schools are not cultural indoctrination machines.]

    It’s true that many people turn a blind eye to the indoctrination that goes on in schools with a religious bias.

    But as Irene implied, schools are not there to inculcate specific religious doctrinal beliefs into children. They are there to educate children, to teach them about the world, to provide them with the thinking skills they need to possess, amongst other things, being able to distinguish between fact and idea.

    It’s a lamentable fact that schools are often treated as indoctrination machines by the religious bodies, certainly in the UK. Despite the formal separation of church and state in education, very many faith foundations continue to inculcate religious belief into children, pre-empting their decisions about what to believe in.

    Though it’s an unpopular view, I think parent’s should also try not to expect that their children should adopt their particular faith. One of the reasons why religious institutions find that view so worrying, is that without the indoctrination of children, religions would need to convince people to believe, and that it infinitely harder to do than to indoctrinate children.

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    [So the Ichthus Fish badges on teacher’s cars have to go? What about the badges featuring be-legged Darwin fishes? or the be-legged Darwin fishes being consumed by the larger Truth fishes? You’re trying to bring a major industry to its knees, so to speak, Bob, and is that really a good idea in these difficult economic times?]

    LOL. If we’re dependent on the sale of fish badges, we’re all doomed!

    But I do think that teachers are in a different position to, for example, employees in a workplace of peers, because of that responsibility to manage the learning environment. While I was teaching, I didn’t discuss my personal views when managing discussions amongst pupils – because I wasn’t teaching my views. Likewise, I didn’t sport the badges and atheist paraphernalia.

    Like most teachers, I would use the questions to get the students to question themselves, justify their own beliefs, evaluate the views of others. No-one pretends it’s easy to do this but it is mark of professionalism that teachers do not teach their own views as facts. More teachers need to recognise this.

  • Irene Wagner

    Now you know why I asked you so many questions. See ya ’round, Bob!

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    #11, Irene, you didn’t get around to saying what specifically religious values are not secular values. Now we might never find out…

  • Mark

    “Faith in education signifies nothing less than belief in the possibility of deliberate direction of the formation of human disposition and intelligence. It signifies a belief that it is possible to know definitely just what specific conditions and forces operate to bring about just such and such specific results in character, intellectual attitude and capacity.” John Dewey

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    Mark, do you think that means “faith in education” or “faith” in education? It’s clearly the former. Dewey was a consistent opponent of religious instruction but also argued that a secular education was the best way of ensuring religious values – he saw the most important of the religious values as being those supported by a secular society. Interesting stuff.

  • Mark

    I thought that the ambiguity would add something.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Bob,

    schools are not there to inculcate specific religious doctrinal beliefs into children.

    To inculcate religious doctrine, you’ll have to pick a society that has a professed state religion. This society uses schools to inculcate other things–specific cultural and socially approved biases, for example.

    They [schools] are there to educate children, to teach them about the world, to provide them with the thinking skills they need to possess, amongst other things, being able to distinguish between fact and idea.

    That is what we are told schools do. The idea that this is the actual function of schools, itself, is a good example of a culturally indoctrinated notion. Schools actually function best to do the opposite of what you stated.

  • Irene Wagner

    re:12. It’s a semantics problem. #8, para 3 led me to believe you understood, but I was mistaken, so I will try again.

    The communication glitch here concerns the meaning of the term “value.” A value, to you and to me, is anything that is at least beneficial to oneself, if it harms no one else, and at best is beneficial to others as well.

    There’s the “people the value harms to those it helps” ratio to consider, but to simplify, and actually, to drive a point home, lets assume that nobody on the planet would value anything that benefitted some at the expense of others.

    So we assume everyone on the planet has identical values, and lives in harmony. What if one day, a group of people decides to single out one person–just one person on the planet–to receive the full force of all the animus pent-up after years of being perfectly unselfish to virtually everybody else continally? Even if everyone were TRYING to be agreeable, there’d still be well-meaning nuisances. So, “the group” would elect just ONE person to represent all those “nuisance” people, and we’d all let ‘im have it.

    Some people think there is a Person like that, whose name is God, and they value anything that has to do with making him feel welcome and honored in their world.

    Richard Dawkins expects me to treat God as a stranger–an unwelcome stranger–even in the intimate setting of my own home, “en famille.”

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    Re:17
    A value in the sense I’ve used it refers to the importance given to particular actions, judged against personal and social interests.

    You seem to be implying that atheist values would somehow undervalue the interests of others. There’s no truth in that.

    You’re not driving any point home, because you haven’t addressed the question of religious versus secular values.

    The benefit accounting that you mention is actually a utilitarian approach, a view supported by David Hume, a well-known atheist philosopher.

    There is no reason to assume that atheist ethics and morality assumes that everyone has identical values. Far from it. Atheists simply don’t believe in supernatural beings – and that’s it. They’re not amoral or unethical people at all. They just don’t believe in gods.

    So it’s not a semantic problem at all. The values which are socially cherished are secular values, not at all specifically religious. You haven’t mentioned anything which is a specifically religious value – you’ve referred to a religious belief, which is quite different.

    And it really doesn’t matter what Richard Dawkins wants or doesn’t want you to think. And in any case, I think you are probably misrepresenting him – he almost certainly just wants you to think rationally about beliefs and their reasons. I can’t imagine him commenting on how people ought to relate to a superbeing.

  • Irene Wagner

    That being understood (I hope), there is enough common ground in the way we define “a value” for us to agree on a set of secular graces– e.g., kindness, generosity– that we’d hope a child going to our public school, or State-run school, would adopt as his own values.

    And we’d train, and try to set a good example, and hope, but couldn’t EXPECT a student to adopt those values, any more than a parent can realistically EXPECT that a child will relate to God in a particular way, if at all.

  • Irene Wagner

    I was not at ALL implying that atheist values would undervalue the interests of others. I’m not sure how you derived that from my hypothetical scenario in which the interests of everyone were valued by everyone else

    It’s late. That may account for a lot of the confusion, too. In an abundance of words…

  • Irene Wagner

    You gave a definition of “value” in #18: the importance given to particular actions, judged against personal and social interests. It describes the virtues and virtuous practices, which, were they to be highlighted in the curricula of State-run schools, would cause offense to neither one of us.

    That definition of “value” also covers “specifically religious values that are not also secular values.” Gratitude to God has specifically religious value, to God and to the people manifesting it, so it meets the “importance judged against personal interest” criterion for being a value, twice in my opinion.

    The ability to respond is wonderful, to be able to think, and create, and react joyfully to the creativity of others. God gave that to us with the expectation that we’d be using it to communicate with him occasionally, too.

    It’s a value I want my children to develop early, so they can walk in a state of “attentiveness to wonder” not only to all that is amazing in nature generally, but to that which is meant by Him to catch their attention specifically. I want them to be convinced of his goodness by actively looking for it, responding to it when they find it, so they’ll have a perspective on reality that will carry them through the dark times, and help them to support others through theirs.

    I want all those things for them, but I can’t “expect” it into them. Dawkins expects me to swing too far to the opposite extreme.
    I shall disappoint him.
    Dawkins asks. “It’s one thing to say people should be free to believe whatever they like, but should they be free to impose their beliefs on their children? Is there something to be said for society stepping in? What about bringing up children to believe manifest falsehoods?”

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    [The ability to respond is wonderful, to be able to think, and create, and react joyfully to the creativity of others. God gave that to us with the expectation that we’d be using it to communicate with him occasionally, too.]

    It’s really hard for me to see how that belief that such ability to react is god-given in any way counts as a value.

    That people should be considerate of others and appreciative of them, is a value, and is a secular value and has no dependence at all on any religious beliefs.

    Having an expectation that children will specifically believe in a god as providing such capabilities flies in the face of reason. Children are perfectly capable of appreciating the tremendous variety of nature without in any way needing to subscribe to religious faith.

    The attentiveness to wonder that you mention is not about children being attentive to nature, but being attentive to the expectation that they should believe in a deity. That’s just the conflict of values that religion introduces.

    Children can and should be encouraged to think about nature, enquire about it, study it, understand it, but why, oh why, should they have to inherit the beliefs of their parents?

    Dawkins seems to be asking a very reasonable question. Having encouraged children to be inquisitive and attentive to nature, is it then reasonable to encourage them to believe in a deity? We teach them in schools about the value of evidence and experiment, send them to science classes so they understand that an idea is not the same as a fact, and then expect them to believe things that are not evidenced in the slightest, and actually fly in the face of the available evidence?

    It’s interesting how many people seem to be happy that their children learn about universal physical laws and the value of evidence and experiment, but also expect them to believe in deities. Isn’t that undermining the child’s growing rationality?

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Irene,

    I’m afraid I’d have to agree with Lloyd here insofar as the alleged distinction between religious and secular values is concerned. The claim that all values have descended from religious values is strictly a matter of religious belief and need not be recognized by anyone who doesn’t share those beliefs. I’d rather think of “the religious impulse” as part of a more general, human impulse and therefore but a segment of general human culture – but one language game among many. Likewise with values, which are general human values to begin with, and later appropriated by the religious cultures for their own purposes as if their own. And although the idea of conscience and our sense of right and wrong will never, I’m afraid, be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, I’m inclined to believe that the idea of functionality was the original idea that gave rise to our notion of values, ethics and morality (just art has evolved from artifice and technical skill in the realm of aesthetics).

    Which isn’t to say that the grounding of our basic moral nature in a supernatural being is necessarily misdirected and off the wall. There is a sense in which viewing ourselves as not the masters of the universe is more right-headed than asserting the contrary. But this is a matter of human growth, maturity and belief, and ultimately, subjective. It is for each individual to decide for themselves. So no, I can’t think of specifically “religious values.” Even the notion of “contemplative prayer” has its counterparts in other cultures – such as “meditation” (in Buddhism) or simply “reflection” or “communion with oneself” in a more general setting.

    Your point, however, in #5 is well taken, and I quote:

    “But I agree that it’s a difficult question. Do parents really have a right to indoctrinate their children?” (Lloyd)

    “Assuming for the sake of argument that they don’t: How might an atheist who is also a parent or teacher need to adjust in response to that realization?” (Irene)

    The purported sensibility of Lloyd’s question hinges, of course, on the notion of indoctrination which he cleverly smuggles in – and given the limited context of his article and the point he’s trying to drive across, he’s justified to do so – a purported sensibility you’re trying to pierce through by enlarging the discussion to encompass the notion of education. And given this, properly enlarged context, your hypothetical question is indeed well taken: for “how might an atheist who is also a parent or teacher need to adjust in response to that realization [namely, that parents have no right to indoctrinate (read: ‘teach, educate’) their children]?”

    What kind of a world would it be if we deemed it unnatural or wrong to try to teach our children the kind of values we believe in? It’s a kind of antiseptic, clinical and unrealistic environment that only an atheist can imagine for themselves and the only one in which he or she is comfortable at – a world in which only facts are teachable and the realm of values is left outside the education project. So yes, your scenario is a challenging one and well taken.

    Mark’s comment in #15 is also well taken. “Faith” and “belief” apparently are dirty words in an atheist’s vocabulary – so intent they are on the notion of certainty that they’re unwilling to grant the existence of a gap between belief and knowledge and the proper human response of acknowledging such a gap. That’s why the world of facts and anything having to do with “science” holds such an allure for them – out of their desperate need for certainty.

    Ultimately, of course, it’s just another emotional response, different only in kind from that of an unbeliever. So if there’s a moral or a happy ending to this story, it’s that we’re all in the same boat.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    “different only in kind from that of a believer.”

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    Roger, welcome to the discussion.

    There is a distinction made between “indoctrinate” and “educate” which is that those who are indoctrinated are discouraged from criticism, whereas those who are educated are encouraged to do so. That’s why instead of surreptitiously introducing the notion of indoctrination, I stated it plainly. Indoctrination into religious beliefs is to be contrasted with educating about beliefs. The former is not concerned with critical evaluation, the latter is.

    There is no need to claim that atheists would avoid teaching children about their values. As I said explicitly, teachers who are atheist teach about values, just as other teachers do. In my own case, I consciously avoided teaching my own beliefs as would any principled professional teacher.

    Atheism is not, as is popularly depicted, devoid of values concerned only with the factual. That’s a travesty. Atheism is distinguished only by not believing in deities. That’s all. Atheists are just as personable, emotional, creative, gregarious, sociable, ethical, principled and constructive as anyone else. They don’t espouse some barren intellectual landscape but recognise the richness of nature, human potential, and the diversity of societies just like everyone else. They just don’t believe in gods, that’s all.

    Nor, as is popularly misconstrued, do atheists demand certainty. The very essence of science is that knowledge is contingent, awaiting better explanations, more detail, more observation, more consistent theories. Scientists, contrary to popular belief do not claim certainty. But they do generally have excellent reasons and evidence for the statements they make.

  • Mark

    These days we are taught that we are actors in Peirce’s ‘universe of chance’ – a probabilistic world. I fail to see a fundamental difference between acting ‘als ob’ the circle has been squared and infinity constructed and waking up each morning saying, “Thank you, God, for giving me another day”.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    “als ob,” Mark? I had to look it up. A probabilistic word or a “universe of chance” indeed. That’s why I tend to see no “essential” difference between an atheist’s and a theist’s posture (or stance, as it were) against the world: both are emotional in nature because neither position is capable of proof. “Absolute knowledge” is beyond our reach, and there’ll always be room in human experience for belief.

    I’m glad to hear, Bob, that you don’t preclude the teaching/transmitting of values from the education project: that would be synonymous with holding a kind of mechanistic, computerized view of humans as kind of robots or a “humanistic” version of AI. The distinction between education and indoctrination still stands, for the argument’s purpose at least, though I tend to view it as less absolute than you, no doubt: it is possible to see “education” as form of indoctrination, and the same goes for transmitted “values,” but I needn’t press this issue now. (Ideally, of course, this ought to be a distinction with a difference!)

    I do tend to disagree, however, as regards the value that the atheists are almost forced to place on certainty. The advent of secularism and the declaration that “God is dead” had made it almost incumbent on the part of a nonbeliever to look for certainty only in humans and things/truths discovered by humans. The believer was never that hard pressed and could therefore take things “more in stride.” An atheist doesn’t have that option. And I’m most strongly convinced that need for certainty is one of the most potent motivational factors in human behavior. Which is why I speak of it, and of the variety of human responses to meet this need, as essentially “emotional responses.”

  • Mark

    Rog, I attribute the phrase to my most favoritist of all 20th century logicians, young Gerhard Gentzen, who reinforced a notion that studying the foundations of mathematics without looking at the behavior of mathematicians kinda misses the point.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Which is to say that you can’t entirely separate the fruits of human inquiry from the underlying practice. Or to misquote from Wittgenstein, human knowledge is a direct product/expression of our form of life.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    “divorce” is a better term.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Gentzen, an assistant to David Hilbert and student of Weyl? That’s some credentials.
    Also, the “Mathematics Genealogy Project” with which he was involved would seem to make him into a precursor of Michel Foucault in the area of “hard sciences.”

    Interesting.

  • Mark

    A tragic tale — he died at 35 of starvation in an Allied concentration camp after WWII.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    From what little I’ve read:

    “Gentzen’s main work was on the foundations of mathematics, in proof theory, specifically natural deduction and the sequent calculus. His cut-elimination theorem is the cornerstone of proof-theoretic semantics, and some philosophical remarks in his “Investigations into Logical Deduction”, together with Ludwig Wittgenstein’s aphorism that “meaning is use”, constitute the starting point for inferential role semantics.” Wiki

    Wittgenstein’s work on the foundation of mathematics belongs of course to the earlier, Tractatus stage; so Gentzen would appear to have also foreseen the main thrust of the Investigations.

    Only the good die young.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    I liken Richard Dawkins to Jerry Falwell. He’s a fanatic. Theoretically, I would trust Irene to raise my children; I wouldn’t let Richard Dawkins babysit. He seems to think he has the ‘right stuff’ and his ‘stuff’ is so self-evident that it should be given access to be implanted into the minds of others–apparently by force if necessary.

    From Irene’s link: “How much do we regard children as being the property of their parents?” Dawkins asks. “It’s one thing to say people should be free to believe whatever they like, but should they be free to impose their beliefs on their children? Is there something to be said for society stepping in? What about bringing up children to believe manifest falsehoods?”

    What is Dawkins suggesting? The US should have some sort of KGB to spy on people to see if they’re teaching their children religion? Perhaps he’d support something akin to China’s cultural revolution? Who decides what is a falsehood, anyway? Personally, I feel 99% of the society is operating under false beliefs. That he suggests that these are the people who should be making decisions about what others should believe is chilling.

    Dawkins asks if children are the property of their parents and implies that they are not, yet he has no problem deciding that they ARE the property of society! Not a very rational position.

    Dawkins posits his own views as the correct ones. But the way he speaks tells me he hasn’t questioned his own presumptions. In other words he’s ignorant. Ignorant people forcing their will on others–haven’t we had enough of that yet?

    Skeptics and atheists like to point out the very real problem with religion, in that it has been used to wage violence and it can be used to control. But so can any other ideas. Atheists often leave out the destruction other atheists have wrought–Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot. Look at the French revolution where people are being beheaded in the name of reason.

    It is the ecclesiastical power structure of religion that is the problem, not individual beliefs. It is the nature of fundamentalism to justify obedience and conformity. The abandonment of tolerance is the real problem. Not seeing this, atheists may become subject to extremist outlooks, just like their religious counterparts. Fanatical doctrinal purity is the real culprit.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    I’m glad you’re coming around to this point of view, Cindy, given you own suspicion that most parents are themselves unwitting subjects to “cultural indoctrination.” But no indoctrination, whether it issues from the State or the state’s unwitting subjects, is a good thing. And it’s even worse when it issues from the State which has a direct interest in propagating whatever doctrine. For this reason, Plato’s idea of leaving the education of children to the State – at the hands of state-appointed tutors rather than parents – is to be resisted.

  • Irene Wagner

    Cindy, Richard Dawkins will be allowed to come over and cook Spotted Dick, grilled kidneys and bangers for me and the kids you’ve given me to take care for; he’ll be under strict supervision the whole time, of course.

    You have a favoritist mathematician, Mark! Mine is Euler, because he wrote proofs with his babies on his lap. He had a tender heart, and maybe that’s why he was able to imagine and report so many beautiful things.

    Roger, you may have gotten my argument confused with Ruvy’s. I don’t expect people who are not religious to believe any ideas that are specifically religious. Why would I ever think that a person who doesn’t believe in God would agree that all values derive from religious values (or Deity)?

    I was trying to make the point that if a value is a value to someone, then it’s a value, even if it is not a universally held value. There are religious values that aren’t secular values, and religious people value them because they believe those values are meaningful to God: a delight in and awe of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom, the practice of the presence of God (a la Brother Lawrence), a love of the Bible and delight in the study and mediation of it. All those things are valuable to at least some religious people, and they will remain valuable to them no matter what anyone else has to say about it.

    Really, arguing about the existence of specifically religious values with an atheist is as fruitless as arguing with him about the existence of God. That is the perspective I have now that I didn’t have last night.

    So I don’t have anything to argue about with you Roger. Not today anyway! OK I’ll go back to listening mode…

  • http://delibernation.com Silas Kain

    Will antibiotics for the treatment of spotted dick be covered by PelosiCare?

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    [From Irene’s link: “How much do we regard children as being the property of their parents?” Dawkins asks. “It’s one thing to say people should be free to believe whatever they like, but should they be free to impose their beliefs on their children? Is there something to be said for society stepping in? What about bringing up children to believe manifest falsehoods?”

    What is Dawkins suggesting? The US should have some sort of KGB to spy on people to see if they’re teaching their children religion?]

    How on earth do you make that somewhat hysterical jump from Dawkins’ question to your assertion? He is suggesting nothing of the sort. He’s questioning whether it is acceptable to impose particular beliefs on children. It’s a crazy jump to try and associate that with the KGB! Not only is it insulting, but it demonstrates a kind of rabidity, a loathing of the man.

    Surely it is better to look at the arguments, just as Dawkins does.

    If you accept that the indoctrination into the ideas of political leaders such as Pol Pot, Stalin et al are totally unacceptable, what makes you think that religious ideas are to be exempt?

    And why malign atheists as being subject to extreme outlooks? There’s nothing at all extreme about atheism – atheist just don’t believe in deities, that’s all. They don’t have two heads, forked tongues and green blood. It’s a very strong and unpleasant prejudice that anyone who doesn’t believe in a god is somehow deficient in decency and morality. But it really is a prejudice, and one thinking people should become aware of and avoid.

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    [a delight in and awe of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom, the practice of the presence of God (a la Brother Lawrence), a love of the Bible and delight in the study and mediation of it.]

    Again it’s hard to see how these are values. They are the consequences of a particular set of religious beliefs. These are the things Christians are expected to observe and as such, form part of the practices of a faith.

    Take these away, and the person remains just as much a moral and ethical being and their values (distinct from their beliefs) will be indistinguishable from those of atheists. In terms of moral values, Christians and atheists are often indistinguishable, they most often behave in the same way, make the same decisions, share the same values.

    In fact, from judging just their conduct and decisions (excluding the observation of faith practices like going to church), you’d probably be unable to tell if someone was atheist or Christian unless they decided to tell you. That says a lot about how secular their values are. If they were so very different, their behaviour would be markedly different too.

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    Real World Facts: Humanity has existed as a species for over 200,000 years. Dinosaurs dominated the world for around 160 million years. Humanity shifted from a largely nomadic existence towards creating permanent settlements around 10,000 years ago. The notion of a single all powerful creator deity was made about 6,000 years ago. Over 95% of human knowledge has been discovered in the last 150 years. For the first time ever, more than half of all humanity now lives in cities.

    Conclusion: humanity is a very young species that is a long way from reaching maturity, which explains why a lot of people are still very immature and superstitious, enabling them to justify their implausible beliefs.

  • Mark

    Chris, if you compare humanity’s development to that of, say, a swarm of locust or the life cycle of an influenza virus, you could conclude that it is an ancient species on the verge of a die-out. That time thing is not so clear cut.

    Over 95% of human knowledge has been discovered in the last 150 years.

    Measured how?

  • Mark

    Irene, if you’re looking for a vocation, Euler could use a biographer.

  • Mark

    Bob, the atheist develops his value system awash in the influences of his religious environment. Seems to me that your argument posits an unrealistic independence for the individual.

  • Irene Wagner

    Christopher, Mark’s right. Mimimum Viable Population < or > 50000000? We’ll just have to see.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    If you accept that the indoctrination into the ideas of political leaders such as Pol Pot, Stalin et al are totally unacceptable, what makes you think that religious ideas are to be exempt?

    What makes you think that the indoctrination into the ideas of this culture shouldn’t be exempt.

    By the way, I like the way you got that I am hysterical in there. I find it amusing.

    Usually I think of myself as passionate. Oh well. Rabid, hysterical, and crazy will do. In fact I think I will use hysterical from now on instead of passionate…cut them off at the chase.

    I find there to be both an implication in Dawkins question and

    And why malign atheists as being subject to extreme outlooks?

    Maybe because some atheists I hear are extremists? Maybe because I left the skeptic movement due to this brand of extremism? Maybe that wasn’t clear the last 3 times I mentioned it.

    There’s nothing at all extreme about atheism – atheist just don’t believe in deities, that’s all. They don’t have two heads, forked tongues and green blood.
    I agree completely. Perhapd you missed where I said I was an atheist half a dozen times or so.

    It’s a very strong and unpleasant prejudice that anyone who doesn’t believe in a god is somehow deficient in decency and morality. But it really is a prejudice, and one thinking people should become aware of and avoid.

    Could you do me the favor of going back and carefully reading what I wrote. I think you are hysterical or overcome by emotion or in some other way not thinking clearly. You seem to have attributed to me, things I never said. I am an atheist. I like atheists.

    (All in good fun, Bob. Really try not to be so hysterical though. ;-)

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    BTW, Bob, I in no way suggested atheists are immoral. (I’d sort of have to think I was immoral, wouldn’t I?) What I am suggesting is that some of us are bullies who are vehemently prejudiced against people simply because they believe in god. Many of these atheists like to spend their time only discussing one of their favorite prejudices anti-faithism. Many of these don’t recognize their own indoctrination and don’t recognize themselves as being the believers they actually are.

    Some seem to be drawn into some sort of ego cult where they sit around saying how much smarter they are than people who believe in god. What’s the point?

    The problem with most rational people is they generally haven’t questioned their own indoctrinated ideas. Yet, here they are condemning other people as ignorant and irrational.

    (Don’t forget that I was included in this group of people I am maligning. I understand why I joined this group and why I left it. In case you forgot and I’d be forced to remind you.)

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    [Bob, the atheist develops his value system awash in the influences of his religious environment. Seems to me that your argument posits an unrealistic independence for the individual.]

    I’ve heard that argument so many times but it’s still nonsense. Culture is pervaded by values and ideas that are historically and socially determined and religion is just one of them. Like everyone else, atheists negotiate their values through their social practice. Religious people also get their values from their social relations, and then have to retrospectively rationalise them against religious books usually via a very selective reading. Religions offer a real mish-mash of moral values simultaneously glorifying gods that smite and maim their opponents, even to the extent of genocide, and exhorting people to love, honour, forgive, and be charitable.

    The secular socially acceptable values which are awash in society, are precisely those values that make much of religious teaching unproblematic in terms of morality. Many so-called religious values are secular, and that is why they are socially acceptable. There are some others, for example those implicit in Sharia law, or fundamentalist religious interpretations of Christianity, or those that argue for chosen races, which are more problematic.

    Since society is permeated with secular values, many if not all of which are adopted by religions who can find some resonance for them in their religious books, all people are socialised into a whole range of social values.

    It’s is sheer nonsense to presuppose that the most important values in society are religious. That’s a fiction. They manifestly are not since social relations are regulated by secular law. And no-one seems to be able to point to religious values which are not also secular. Religious institutions always piggy-back on the social acceptance of a set of secular values.

    There is no independence of the individual in an ideological sense since all people are socialised into their society which is permeated by the dominant ideologies. But all people negotiate their values, by agreeing or conflicting with the parents, peers, colleagues, and other sources of values.

    No-one needs to posit any special independence. Ideologies, values, ethics, are all dynamic, the result of social interaction and negotiated agreement. What we consider morally and ethically acceptable changes with historical periods. It is religion that is integrated into secular values by theologians – that’s their job, to justify religious beliefs in terms of current secular values.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    I left this half done.

    I find there to be both an implication in Dawkins question that something should be done about this if the answer is–no parents don’t own children–and an implication that society owns children.

    You didn’t respond to this which is the actual point but instead chose to chastise me for being dramatic.

  • Mark

    Stomp your foot all you want to Bob. It will not change our interdependent nature. #47 is purely sentiment.

  • Irene Wagner

    Bob, I agree with para 3 of your #39, but you aren’t going to like the reason why: Romans 2:13-16.

    And without disagreeing with you, Mark, I can believe that, and also believe that people, and specifically people of different generations, need one another to encourage the development and exercise of the faculty of conscience.

    A “Lord of the Flies” scenario is possible, but it isn’t because there’s no such thing as an inherent sense of right and wrong. Moral codes can vary from society to society, but the sense that it’s best to adhere to that code, that it’s best to do what’s good for the people who live around you, is hard-wired, though frequently ignored.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    A little garbled, but still understandable, I think. I am in a rush as I am writing between cooking for an event. Let me know if you have any trouble with anything I said.

  • Irene Wagner

    Wouldn’t it be ironic to have Dick Dawkins do your pre-entertaining cooking, Cindy, while you held forth on the blind spots of New Atheism online? Do consider Spotted Dick on your menu…

    Well I’m off to drag my kids out of bed to haul them off to the weekly Indoctrination Session and Mass Delusion Ceremony, while I still have that right and privilege. See ya!

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    Cindy, associating Dawkins’ question about the acceptability of indoctrinating children with religious beliefs, with the KGB is, I think you’ll agree at the very least unreasonable.

    He was asking a perfectly reasonable question and drawing a parallel with political indoctrination. Many religious people are uncomfortable with the question, but it is a fair question nonetheless.

    It is a very common approach to this discussion to try to discredit atheist questions on the grounds that the characters of those asking the questions are suspect in some way. It’s an old ad hominem approach, attacking the individual rather than the ideas.

    I see that response to atheist questions all the time, and if your attack on the character of Dawkins (associating him with the KGB) wasn’t intended, then I’m glad.

    And I’m sure you realise that just because some atheists have extreme views about certain issues, just as many religious people do, that doesn’t imply that atheists are, because they are atheists, more prone to such views.

    And presumably when you introduced comparison to the ideas of Pol Pot, Stalin, et al, the intention there was similarly to associate atheism with the conduct of dictators, a singularly malevolent and unjustified accusation. Hitler, Franco, Mussolini, and Hirohito, were all religious but it would be absurd to claim that their actions were based on their religious beliefs and by implication stain all religious people.

    Such an invidious association with ideas is often used by those trying to defend religious ideas, as if being atheist somehow associates oneself with tyrants and dictators. I’m sure you’d want to dissociate yourself from such a claim.

    I think you need to understand that atheism is not a social movement, nor a political creed, nor a belief system. It is characterised by one simple thing, not believing in deities. They are not closet followers of Stalin or Pol Pot, or anything like that. They just don’t believe in gods. Your associating them with such dictators is invidious and perpetuates the fear of free-thinking which keeps religious minds closed.

  • Mark

    Bob, you pay lip service to dynamic development and then say, It is religion that is integrated into secular values by theologians – that’s their job, to justify religious beliefs in terms of current secular values.

    Do you see my problem with this approach?

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    Mark, the work of theologians is exactly that, to justify religious dogma in a way that is socially acceptable.

    I’m not paying lip-service to anything. Social values change dynamically, in response to the developments of society. Moral questions are not posed until society develops to the point where social values are challenged by development. An excellent example is stem-cell technology. Theologians have to try to draw out some moral interpretation from ancient books which addresses those new questions.

    But whatever interpretation they come up with, it’s only one moral answer in amongst a social mix. Arguably, the restriction of having to relate moral statements to ancient dogma is impossibly restrictive. There’s nothing in theology which makes people better able to reason about ethics and morals.

    A case of that restriction is shown by the Pope condemning the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS in Africa. An extremely bizarre moral statement, which puts lives at risk for dogma. This shows how stultifying dogma is, compared with the dynamic changes in society which both pose and solve moral problems.

    Leaving out religious values from ethical discussion does not in any way weaken it. The same moral issues can be considered just as effectively. What will be missing are the religiously predetermined conclusions.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    And presumably when you introduced comparison to the ideas of Pol Pot, Stalin, et al, the intention there was similarly to associate atheism with the conduct of dictators, a singularly malevolent and unjustified accusation.

    No, Bob, that is not what I am doing there. I am speaking to the common atheist argument that it is BELIEF in god that causes violence, such as the Crusades, etc. I am offering up atheist tyrants to demonstrate that religious folks don’t have any monopoloy on violence. It is domination that causes violence, not belief in god.
    Atheists, thinking they have discovered the answer in ‘reason’, can themselves become dominators based on the religion of ‘reason’.
    They are then guilty of contributing to the same violence their arguments claims they are opposing.

    Cindy, associating Dawkins’ question about the acceptability of indoctrinating children with religious beliefs, with the KGB is, I think you’ll agree at the very least unreasonable.

    I was being dramatic, Bob. There is only so much stoic rationality that I can take in one sitting. ;-) But I was suggesting that there is a problem with drawing a line of intervention. He seems to be suggesting society should intervene in some way. So, what does this presume? That society owns children. If society should say what children should believe and has more right to do so, then that says that society owns children. That is the bottom line as I see it. I think it would be far better for all if we just let go of owning and trying to control people altogether.

    Dawkins’ view suggests that we should replace one indoctrinating machine with another one. I find many of the beliefs of the secular society much more frightening than the beliefs of some of the kind and compassionate Christians I have met. I was speaking to a young man last night on facebook. He is 16 I think. He told me that human nature is violent and competitive. I wonder where he got that idea. I plan to research at what age that idea becomes indoctrinated.

    If anything, I suggest exposing children to society itself and its brand of indoctrination is equivalent to soul murder. So, I find it unlikely that I will agree to trust soul murderers (no matter how inadvertent and blind they are) over certain Christians whom I at least find to have loving natures.

    Likewise, it is not very skeptical to stop being skeptical about one’s own beliefs. I find many skeptics to be bleating the mantra of ‘skepticism’ like they have joined a club (with its own version of social reality)…see how that works?

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    ackkk…I hope you can figure that out with the repetitions. I copied it (apparently 3 times) from a word document. Now I have to run as I am late for what promises to be a great documentary by Geoph Kozenzy, called Visions of Utopia. It’s about cooperative, egalitarian, intentional communities. There is something I think is rational.

  • Mark

    Bob, I have no problem with the half of the story that you present in #55. However, theologians are also proactive in shaping what is socially acceptable.

    I think we’d better step back — what distinction are you claiming exists between religious and secular values?

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Irene, a response to #36:

    First off, please understand I wasn’t attacking your position, and I, I don’t believe I confused it with that of anyone else.

    Some further thoughts on the notion of “religious values”:

    We do, of course, speak of moral values, aesthetic values and yes, religious values, too, and to speak so is not nonsensical; so here’s one point in support of your view. So what, then, is the meaning/idea when we speak so?

    I’d seem to me, the first thing that comes to mind is to delineate different “kinds” of values, no differently, I suppose, than when we speak of different kinds of human experience: e.g., aesthetic kind of experience vs., say, religious experience. Think of William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience, for example. And this kind of usage is, I think, fairly straightforward and unproblematic. The question is – what more can be derived from it.

    The matter seems complicated further by the usual or possible conflation of “values” with “virtues.” If courage, say, is a virtue, in what sense it is or it is not a value? I’d seem to me that even a coward can aspire and eventually become courageous, and that virtues, in the Aristotelean sense, require dedication, perfection and lots of work – a kind of movement from actuality to potentiality. The same, no doubt, applies to values (when properly practiced), but the requirements appear less stringent. Is everything we value necessarily a virtue? We’ve been known to go wrong on that score. One could say, perhaps, that virtues are those values which have been agreed upon as undisputed qualities of character, a matter of kind of consensus. Is this a sufficient definition?

    What I find problematic about carving out a special area for, say, religious values, has to do with the notion of exclusivity – namely, that such “values” would be open and available only to the initiates, an esoteric kind of thing. In my view, it runs counter to the “democratic” view of values in that all range of human values are available to all (if only for the asking). Why? By virtue of the common human psychological makeup, the commonalities we all share as one and the same form of life, all the things which make us into the same species.

    There is a sense, of course, in which, say, aesthetic experience(s) are more “frequent” with those who are into “high culture.” But it is also true that “the primitives” have the ability to be impressed and awed by a sense of aesthetic and beauty; just as “pagans” can partake in a “religious” kind of experience. Indeed, the same is true of atheists, though they wouldn’t call it so.

    So the move of trying to carve out separate areas of human experience as somehow distinct and separable from the rest fails in my opinion, or at the least succeeds but only in a minimal, narrowly semantic sense. Which is like saying: you have to be a Christian in order to truly appreciate Christian kinds of values. It may be true, but only in a superficial rather than fundamental sense – like saying you have to be a musicologist in order to appreciate Beethoven’s 5th. No question that immersing oneself in the world of aesthetics or religion may go a long way to heighten one’s appreciation of the aesthetic or religious values, but we all have the capacity to appreciate those values and experiences without initiation. So those are my thoughts so far.

    As to Mark’s point of banking on human independence (rather than interdependence), it goes I think without saying. Whichever stance we adopt with respect to our position in the world and everything in it, it is in essence an emotion kind of response, more indicative of sentiment than rationality – although the semblance of rationality is the final gloss we put on things.

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    Mark, picking arbitrary criteria for comparison is pointlessly irrelevant so I’ll just pass on that game.

    Similarly, everybody develops their value system awash in other influences, so once again your point is, er, pointless…

    Irene, say what? I have no idea what your #44 was trying to convey.

    Cindy, unless some “atheists” are proposing something akin to extermination of faithists, they aren’t extremists at all.

    I don’t understand your point about “atheists” being believers; isn’t not being a believer kind of the point?

    If anybody had ever seen Dawkins speak, you’d know that he is not the type to propose extremist or violent measures. I’ve rarely come across anybody more wimpy or thoughtful.

    Given that, after 6,000 years of trying, there is still zero evidence for this deistic notion and it is clearly causing a lot of problems on a global basis, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to have a conversation as to what can be done about it…

    Irene, whilst I haven’t read the biblical verse you reference in your #50, just because there are some meaningful remarks or considerations in a book, doesn’t validate the system it is a part of.

    Where did you get the notion that it is best to follow some arbitrary moral code, whatever that is. Personally I don’t trust the word moral as tit is so often used for manipulative purposes.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Mark,

    I don’t see anything problematic about the following: “It is religion that is integrated into secular values by theologians – that’s their job, to justify religious beliefs in terms of current secular values.”

    What are you on to?

  • Mark

    all x’es are y…therefore the statement ‘x1 is y’ is pointless.

    Interesting logic, Chris.

    And your ‘timeline’ approach to human development is just too cute.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    That would make it tautological, no?

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    As to the “timeline” approach, it’s just an expression of faith – that dirty word again! – in the idea of human progress.

  • Mark

    Rog #61, it’s only half of the job description. My problem is with the idea that ‘current secular values’ can legitimately be treated as if they developed independently of ‘religious’ ones.

  • Mark

    #63 – When someones denies what we all seem to agree is a tautology, what’s a fellow to do?

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Is that what Bob is claiming? Prima facie, and from the strictly historical or empirical standpoint, this is incorrect as we can trace the progression of human societies from “religious” to “secular.” Even Enlightenment was a rebellion against the sway that religion held in people’s lives. So yes, one could say, I suppose, that in that sense, “secular” values have kind of evolved. But even here one can think of counterexamples – the ancient Greece, for instance. Their anthropomorphic view of deities can’t be said to have influenced the bulk of their ethical thinking. In fact, one could make the argument in reverse.

    Further, does the same hold from the logical standpoint, the logic of language? It’d seem to me we’re dealing here with the interaction between and crossover of different language games. So the first order of business, it’d seem to me, is to narrow down the point of discussion. Are we speaking from a genealogical standpoint and more appropriately perhaps, what’s at stake here.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Tautology was perhaps a misnomer. “Instantiation” looks like a better term.

  • Irene Wagner

    #44 Hath Mark been so long time with you, and yet have you not known him, Christopher?

    Roger, I cut and pasted, will read and think it over.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Swell, Irene. Thus far it proves to be a fruitful debate.

  • Mark

    Seriously though, Chris, I’d like to know how you’re quantifying human knowledge.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Shouldn’t you make a distinction here, Mark, between knowledge and understanding? Because the way you’re posing the question, the answer may well be fairly straightforward and rather uncontested.

  • Mark

    I am interested in how Chris weighs the development of knowledge of wheels and pumps, for examples, as percentages of human knowledge.

  • Mark

    If all that Chris means is that technological development has sped up, then I have no argument with him.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Nor would I, nor would any of the post-modernists. And that includes scientific knowledge as well. A more interesting question is: How come the human misery index is still so high? And what assurances are there that continued advances in that area will spill over to include a heightened quality of human life for most? Is there a direct relationship or is it a myth? Are technological advances a necessary catalyst or are they, in the long run, antithetical given the context of post-industrial societies which make these advances possible?

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    [we can trace the progression of human societies from “religious” to “secular.”]

    Not so. There’s no strictly linear progression. Secular values are what we have in society with religion sharing them. Religion adds on notions which derive from their belief system urging respect for deities, certain practices to support the institutions of their faith, and certain rituals which preserve the content. Regardless of the historical period, secular society is always a given.

    It’s a common mistake for people to assume that with the reformation and enlightenment, it was religion driving everything else. The basis of social values was the secular values that were already in existence, together with those claimed by the religious community which were socially acceptable. There’s a dialectical interaction, a development in which the social institutions and ideas interact and influence each other.

    Whenever people talk about religious values, they are really referring to secular values that have been adopted by one religion or another, for example, not killing. It doesn’t require any commandment for that particular secular value to arise. The distinction between secular and religious values was made in a post earlier but as yet no-one seems to have been able to identify any specifically religious values and that’s not an coincidence.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    As I mentioned, Bob, there are notable exceptions, so the relationship is far from clear by all means and works both ways. And yes, there have always been some who have been on the fringes and outside of the main religious framework. Still, there’s no question that the general movement has been away from the religious to the secular as the main mode governing the human societies. I don’t see why admitting this necessarily weakens your position in any ultimate sense, unless you want to claim complete cultural independence of one sphere of life – in this case, the anti-religious, namely, the secular one – from than of any other.

    As I argued earlier, I tend to think of the development of morality and conscience as essentially from functional needs and roots – resulting in a kind of transcendence. That some view the very possibility of a moral agents as having its roots in humans having been so created is another story. They look for a kind of ultimate grounding, and I think you and I both understand the motivation. The view of ethics and morality as having evolved from practical, more mundane concerns is another option – a position more difficult to uphold and requires a great deal of more courage. But even here, it requires a kind of belief in the species. One way or another, some kind of grounding is necessary and we all engage in it or the very idea of moral or ethical agent is like a house of cards or built on sand.

  • Mark

    The distinction between secular and religious values was made in a post earlier…

    Which post are you referring to, Bob?

  • Irene Wagner

    To Roger re:#70 Yes, ’tis fruitful as a plate of Spotted Dick. Here is my paraphrase.
    1. Richard Dawkins: Faith poisons kids’ minds. Society should intervene.
    2. Cindy to Bob: What does Society should intervene mean?
    3. Bob to Cindy: Well, shouldn’t it?
    4. Cindy to Bob: What does “Society should intervene mean?”
    5. Bob to Cindy: You’re being hysterical. You’re dissing Dick Dawkins.
    6. Bob to Irene: a. All religious values are secular virtues. b. Religious values are religious beliefs and smack of God. Ergo they don’t exist.
    7. Mark to Bob: The values of atheists are informed by thoughtful theists.
    8. Bob to Mark: No, they’re not. They’re polluted by them.
    9. Irene to Bob: re 6a: Agreed. See Romans 2:13 – 15 b. Whatever.
    10. Bob: Religious people corrupt secular values and should be excluded from the ethical decision-making process.
    11. Irene to self: Goodbye, William Wilberforce.
    12. Cindy to Bob: Hello, Pol Pot.
    13. Roger to Irene: a. There are religious values. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. b. Calling a religious value a virtue unfairly ignores the morality of atheists.
    14. Irene to self re 13b: Agreed. See 9.
    15. Chris to Mark: You aren’t making sense.
    16. Chris to Irene: You never make sense.
    17. Chris: Dawkins is a wimp, but I mean that in a good way.
    18. Cindy, perhaps, to self: But what does “Society should intervene” mean?
    19. Christopher to All: a. Moral progress marches on, leaving religion behind. b. We have more technical know-how.
    20. Mark to Chris: History isn’t so predictable as that.
    21. Mark and Roger, to one another: Is more know-how all that?
    22. Bob: a. There’s no such thing as a religious value.
    23. Roger: We’re leaving religion behind. Everybody has values, because, Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
    24. Mark: What comment?
    25. Irene to self: probably not mine.
    26: Irene to Christopher: The above the fold link on the Politics page to Realist’s “Festivals of Mars” article still doesn’t work.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Yes, you’ve got the gist of it, but that’s not what I meant.

    I was being selective in case you haven’t noticed.

  • Irene Wagner

    Re: 9 re 6a: Its the old “No it isn’t.” “Yes it is.” “No it isn’t.” “No it isn’t.” “Yes it is.” “Gotcha!” trick. Let’s see if it works.

  • Irene Wagner

    I did notice. And your choice of words is appropriate: Using the word “virtue” instead of “value” gives the wrong impression. It’s why I didn’t include Mercy and Love of Justice in my list of religious values, but instead focused on such things as Fear of the Lord and Delight in His word.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    How different is it, BTW, from a BC discussion on any other topic?

    There is an ideal number beyond which one shouldn’t venture. In my thinking, five is the maximum, three or four perhaps the ideal. Anything over five in my honest estimation is a crowd.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    I meant “person-selective.” I was thinking out loud, but the audience was you.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Irene, your spotted dick comment was hilarious.

    Silas, your spotted dick comment was even more hilarious.

    Now you’ve gone and done it, Irene. What comes after hilarious? That list really is sensational, Irene. (love it)

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    To amplify #84, I’d like to recall your comment way back about there being no arguments; there are, rather, verbal exchanges which, as you said, were “relational.”

    Well, despite gender difference(s), I’d like to think that my addresses, whether online or in person, aspire to be of that nature.

    Of course, I don’t always succeed.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    After hilarious?

    It should be a cinch, Cindy.

    Melodramatic if not hysterical!

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    This documentary just opened in NYC last Wednesday. The War on Kids. It’s partially relevant to my points about the ‘education’ system. The link above is a post I made including the trailer and a review and the film is available as a torrent here.

  • Mark

    Irene points out the predictable pointlessness of my perverse participation and reminds me that I should be more focused on important practices like preparing next years feast day for St. Marcellus — I’ll bet that not a one of you thought to offer the old bastard so much as a taco and some beer this year.

    …but Bob invokes The Dialectic (Blessed are its comings and its goings), and I cannot resist a parting shot:

    What’s wrong with this picture?

  • Irene Wagner

    Well Roger, it’s the Internet. Why exclude anyone from relational and/or argumentative exchanges? And Roger, I think in general, especially lately, you do succeed.

    Cindy, I’m writing down the name of that video and the name of Mark’s fave math geek. Always good-takeaways from discussions of this sort. But I have THREE projects I need to work on now. So carry on without me.

    Bob Lloyd, as always, you’ve supplied a provocative article.

    Comments editor, thanks for fixing the link to Realist’s most excellent article, Festivals of Mars.

    Unless you’re Christopher Rose. Then I’d say, It’s about dang time!

  • Irene Wagner

    The Dick’s not Spotted.

  • Irene Wagner

    That’s to Mark. And to Cindy. And the last links, too. I’m writing them down.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    As to my parting shot, let me state that I care not for truths which cannot be shared.
    Let’s call it a “relational theory of truth,” in opposition to such opaque monstrosities as the correspondence or the coherence version.

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    lol, Irene. I got that! (after a second or five)

    As to 93. I did see the point of Mark’s thingy ma jiggy. But I don’t understand 93, Roger.

    Nice alliteration too, Mark. :-)

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    It’s a logical extension of the “relational” view of human communications/exchanges.

    If it cannot be shared, it is not a truth. Obversely, there’s no point in saying what is true other than for the reason of sharing.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    The coherence and/or correspondence theories of truth have it as their point some kind of correspondence with “the reality,” or coherence – in a sense in which a scientific theory aspire to be coherent.

    A “relational theory of truth” – the one I’ve just coined – appears to be more in line with the idea of social construction (of reality), and generally speaking, the pragmatic view as regards the most important aspects of human communications.

    Personally, I think it’s brilliant.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    #89, let me venture:

    The formation of antimatter in the absence of synthesis.

  • http://www.leavingthelandofwoo.com Bob Lloyd

    #79
    A fair bit of trite misrepresentation Irene but a bit of a laugh. On that level, the discussion doesn’t matter.

    But the substantive questions remain important:

    At what point do we as a society decide to intervene to protect the interests of children? When someone indoctrinates their child into islamic jihad? When they send them to a seminary before they can choose to go? When they teach them creationism? When they force the child to become a racist redneck? Dawkins never claimed these were easy questions, simply that these questions should be asked.
    [There have been a number of contributions arguing different positions]

    To what extent should parents respect the independent thinking of their children? Should they be allowed to decide for themselves about religious belief without having to follow the beliefs of their parents?
    [A number of posts have discussed this]

    Are there specifically religious values? If so, what are they?
    [Despite the question, no answers yet, only reference to religious practice]

    What is the connection between secular society and its progress to the development of religion? Which has historical primacy? To what extent are they dialectically related?
    [Some discussion of this too]

    Some of your comments in #79 are quite insulting because you misrepresent the discussion so freely. You claim I said “religious people corrupt secular values” which is nonsense. I didn’t say it, nor imply it. Instead of the word corrupt, you should have used the word “adopt”. You just didn’t understand the point I made, that’s all. You might like to read again what I wrote about the connection between secular values and religion.

    Lastly, in your point 22, you raise again this idea of religious values. Yet no-one has managed to cite one.

    Sorry guys if using a word like “dialectical” is confusing – I’ll have to watch that. The word’s been around for thousands of years and is a useful shorthand. But it ain’t the same as ying-yang Mark, try using Wikipedia :)

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Must be a problem with the school system Bob. That a university gave Mark a degree in philosophy when he doesn’t even know what dialectic means…that is a sad state of affairs indeed. ;-)

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    I had thought that Mark was weaned on Marx and Hegel and all the superb dialecticians instead of mother’s milk. He must have fooled me.