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Actual Atheism

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It's often taken for granted that some people are more capable than others of holding to be true fundamentalist religious ideas. This is unsubstantiated.

What we see when a suicide bomber blows himself up is not a person who believes he will be with 72 virgins in the next instant. Rather, we are seeing a member of a religion communicate to the rest that their beliefs (which they also don't believe) are worth keeping. It's a solidarity-producing attempt. Of course this is not the whole story. We also see a man serving a political purpose while winning money for his poor family (they're never rich). We also see a man proving he's a man, while trying to give his life a purpose. All or part of this complex soup should be recognizable to anyone who has enlisted.

If you think about it, probably no one experiences strong religious belief the way we imagine. Some of us may remember what it was like "believing in" Santa clause. Setting aside the fact that we had no evidence, and thus could not believe in any true sense, we remember pretending to believe for our parents. We remember doubting all along. This acting-as-if for social reasons is the true face of fundamentalist religious belief.

If lack of an actual conviction in strong cosmological concepts does not distinguish atheism, then what does?

Atheism can only be a decision not to engage in certain social rituals which use certain words, but which are substantively indistinguishable from many similar rituals.

Take, say, enlistment. With regards to belief, It is substantively indistinguishable from religious suicide bombing, as pointed out above. Yet atheism does not condemn enlistment, or the irrational beliefs underlying it. (Unless those irrational beliefs happen to be of the flavor deemed to be "religious")

For atheism to avoid being petty semantic fetishism, it needs to become "atheist" in all matters, which would make it indistinguishable from rationalism of any kind. But atheists nonetheless are a social group with its own solidarity-producing rituals. This must be preserved.

So what is needed is a new atheism.

This could go a few different routes: 1) self-realization: Atheism is the claim that there exists a literal fundamentalist belief in others.

2) auto-redefinition: of atheism as the rejection of rituals making use of classically religious flavoring, but other rituals are a-ok.

3) hetero-redefinition: leave atheism alone and activate a redefinition of religion as any set of rituals which cause harm to people, including completely secular institutions like war etc etc

fishboner, May 12 2013

Pharyngula http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/
An atheist in Minnesota? [baconbrain, May 12 2013]

Ecocentrism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecocentrism
The realization that there is a world outside ourselves and that we the human race have a large part in setting its course. [pashute, May 12 2013]

Healthcare in the US http://m.content.he...nt/27/1/58.abstract
101,000 people and per year sacrificed for a "free market" healthcare system which protects us from evil socialism which costs roughly half to administer. [fishboner, May 13 2013]

Weimar? Why? http://weimar.facin...rg/content/religion
Boo. Boo. [4and20, May 13 2013]

Psychoanalysis of Failed Suicide Bombers http://www.newscien...uicide-bombers.html
[fishboner, May 18 2013]

What motivates suicide bombers http://youtu.be/5tEsWRXV_BM?t=8m10s
Outside of the contex of occupation, you don't see suicide bombing. [fishboner, May 18 2013]

Did the Ancient Greeks Believe in their Myths http://books.google...v=onepage&q&f=false
the Greeks did not actually believe that if they climbed Mt. Olympus, they would find the Patheon screwing eachother, or whatever. It is more complex than this. [fishboner, May 18 2013, last modified May 22 2013]

Modalities of Belief in Ancient Christian Debate http://muse.jhu.edu...7.4.mccarthy01.html
Recent anthropological treatments confirm what Augustine, in De utilitate credendi, suggests: believing depends crucially on some form of recognition from one's fellows. Attention to this dynamic allows for a more amplified conception of belief, which stresses the continuity between thought and action, admits of highly textured "modalities" of believing, and helps explain the behavior of multiple sides in theological debates. As a case in point, the early Pelagian controversy illustrates how agents employ various strategies of accommodation—even at the risk of appearing inconsistent or duplicitous—in order to maintain the very ground of belief, i.e., the apparent expectation of a larger body with whom one is in consensus. [fishboner, May 28 2013]

Pope says Atheists can get into Heaven http://p.washington...ood-deeds-gets-the/
[JesusHChrist, May 28 2013]

US Strategic Bombing Survey http://www.anesi.com/ussbs01.htm
We underestimated the ability of our air attack on Japan's home islands, coupled as it was with blockade and previous military defeats, to achieve unconditional surrender without invasion. By July 1945, the weight of our air attack had as yet reached only a fraction of its planned proportion, Japan's industrial potential had been fatally reduced, her civilian population had lost its confidence in victory and was approaching the limit of its endurance, and her leaders, convinced of the inevitability of defeat, were preparing to accept surrender. The only remaining problem was the timing and terms of that surrender. [fishboner, Jun 05 2013]

[link]






       // atheists nonetheless are a social group with its own solidarity-producing rituals //   

       And what are those? 'Cause it's a Sunday morning and I am surfing the 'Bakery. Should I be getting dressed and going somewhere?   

       Rational thinking leads to a lack of gods, yes, which is technically a-theist. To actually become active in promoting or defending or even speaking of atheism is another matter, but hardly ritual.   

       I'll add a link to the most active atheist place I know, which is a biology blog, Pharyngula. If you spot the rituals, point 'em out, eh?
baconbrain, May 12 2013
  

       //The invasion of Iraq was sold as a righteous retaliation to an act of religious extremism.// I thought it was overthrowing a dictator, bringing democracy, and WMDs! WMDs! They're coming for your children!
DIYMatt, May 12 2013
  

       I went to the Pharygula website. It's headed: Happy Mothers Day!! Is that not a ritual?   

       "...(they're never rich)..." - Bin Laden?
"in Santa clause..." - which clause is that?
"we...pretend to believe for our parents..." - fishboner, you need to tour the world for one year. Or read "Eat Pray Love" even though you hate it.

"So what is needed is a new atheism" - ecocentrism?
  

       "2) redefinition of atheism as rejection..." - not a good idea.   

       "that cause harm to people... like war..." - Just to make it clear: Sadly, NOT going to war can, at times, be even more harmful. And that's the self defeating evolutionary state of things with the west in Europe, seemingly consuming the US as well.
pashute, May 12 2013
  

       Is Atheism a belief? (runs out of room before any discussion begins)
xenzag, May 12 2013
  

       What is it then?
xenzag, May 12 2013
  

       A rational assessment of the evidence.   

       I grow weary of having to talk about my not beleiving in a higher power, in the language of religion. I don't need "faith" not to beleive in god. I don't "beleive" in the nonexistence of a god - what I have is the absence of belief. Given the preponderance of evidence, I'm currently in favour of the scientific method, and as such see much evidence for evolution, and an expanding universe. I don't have the knowledge, or time to devote much thought to quantum theories, or the defficiencies thereof - I just don't hold an opinion.   

       I'm more than prepared to change these opinions as new evidence comes to light. Why would I invest emotional captal in something that can change?   

       It's not a belief as it requires no faith. I'm sure many people have stronger debating skills and more analytical language to use than I, but I don't really care. The point here being that many people who "believe" in religious concepts simply can't grasp the concept that an atheist does not need that belief to function. Science is a process, not a conclusion.
Custardguts, May 12 2013
  

       What [Custard] said. Also there are no rituals in atheism. I do not at any point perform actions in a specific manner purely as a result of my lack of faith. I do not affirm my disbelief in a diety. I do not pray to my shoe, I do not praise the flying spaghetti monster in a prescribed manner, nor do I raise my math textbook over my head five times and give a huzzah. There are no rituals.
Voice, May 12 2013
  

       //The worship of the free market is not ok. I really don't understand why the average worker will effectively worship idiots in stripey shirts taking all their hard-earned cash as large bonuses or as a lump sum in e.g. 2008.//   

       Offering action in return for a different benefit is not a form of worship...
Voice, May 12 2013
  

       This is a bad idea.
JesusHChrist, May 12 2013
  

       Sparking up theological debates on the .5b is a bad idea, of which I'm as guilty as any other party here.   

       Also, the logic [fishboner] uses in the idea tastes a little fishy and is on the edge of being offensive to atheists, especially the rant about enlistment. I can't for the life of me work out what's being implied there, other than the normal "atheists have no reason to do the right thing" bullshit.   

       Being an atheist does not preclude being a humanist, or having morals and convictions. In fact I would argue that morals and convictions in absence of a higher power are more sincere...
Custardguts, May 13 2013
  

       //how many wars have been completely secular?//   

       Lets talk about this on the adult's terms. Do you really believe anyone thought Hirohito was God? Do you really think ancient Greeks thought that if they hiked to the top of mount olympus would they would find Zeuss sitting there?   

       I mean, we could take them at their word, but why would you do that? As I have demonstrated, contrary to popular belief, atheism can still function even if fundamentalist religious belief does not exist.
fishboner, May 13 2013
  

       Well, it would be better to look upon Hirohito's status as a spirit..   

       But anyway, at last a sensible thread for all of us atheists, thank god!
not_morrison_rm, May 13 2013
  

       I've always thought the issue with religion, organized or otherwise, has nothing to do with the factual existence of a speculated creator, be it a superbeing in a super lab or some variant of Yahweh.   

       The issue is the required obscene obeisance, which pretty obviously appears to be a version of primate or even more rudimentary mammalian instinct, and which rational thought may ultimately fail to reject ("e.g. there are no atheists in foxholes"), but should at least attempt.
theircompetitor, May 13 2013
  

       I'm sure there have been at least a couple of atheists in a foxhole during the Russian Revolution and subsequently on the Eastern front in WWII, given that one side was Communist and ostensibly completely atheist.
theircompetitor, May 13 2013
  

       // I can't for the life of me work out what's being implied there, other than the normal "atheists have no reason to do the right thing" bullshit.//   

       No. that's not what I'm saying.   

       I'm saying everyone is atheist. Sometimes we think we are secular when in fact we are religious and the other way around.   

       //Well they probably didn't strap themselves into Kamikaze planes because they thought He was just a really great guy.//   

       See Stanley Milgrams work on obedience. We can be compelled in large numbers to do anything for an authority figure. We can call this natural human impulse "religion" and then react against it on its own terms, but why would we do that?   

       //god created a master race//   

       The idea was that a master race had evolved, and the idea was sold under the label of science, not religion. The idea that that regime derived its legitimacy from religion rather than science and might is completely novel, as far as I know.
fishboner, May 13 2013
  

       Reichskonkordat is a rightist political agreement proscribing the possible acts of progressive and humanitarian forces in the church.   

       It isn't really germane to this topic except as further evidence that the nazi regime made sure the humanist bent of the church would not become an impediment.   

       Again, this shallow game of saying "see? Something popularly but otherwise unsubstantiated as operstively religious is associated with something bad!". And then the theists can say "atheists caused more damage" and then cite Stalin.   

       No.   

       The rehabilitation of atheism is its recombination with the rest of rationality, and an end to it's dependence on this childish distinction of what is religious and what is not.   

       //I don't need "faith" not to beleive in god.//   

       But you do need faith to think anyone does.
fishboner, May 13 2013
  

       //Offering action in return for a different benefit is not a form of worship...//   

       Ok, but if some notion of that is held sacrisanct even where proven far deficient, or harmful, or impossible that's a different story.   

       Take, say, healthcare in the US. We sacrifice at least 101,000 [link] people per year to it in the US to uphold a widely thought-to-be "free market system", but of course it is not a free market system. Free markets cannot actually exist. In practice they rely on security and other inputs from the nanny state. As it happens we also pay roughly double for the privilege.   

       Still the end result could be said to be that we sacrifice thousands per year to this false idol, and burn money in tribute to it.   

       How is that substantively distinguishable from a phenomena you might term religious?
fishboner, May 13 2013
  

       // largely Catholic country like Germany //   

       It seems Germany has been Protestant in recent centuries, especially leading up to the Weimar Republic, before the Nazis took control. [link]   

       There may be truth to the claim about Catholic support of the Nazis, but the 1920's Weimar Republic seems to have been a long and also violent party.
4and20, May 13 2013
  

       //There is a very fundamental difference between someone who fervently believes in a deity and ritually prays to that deity every night, and a person who, in a dire situtation, fervently HOPEs that there's someone above who can deliver him from it.//   

       Cue my favourite joke:   

       A man falls off a cliff, but manages to grasp a slender bush growing near the top. Unable to climb back up, his numb fingers gradually losing strength, and realising the hopelessness of his situation, he calls out, "I know I've never been a believer, but if there's someone Out There - anyone - please help me!". A great but gentle Voice booms from the heavens:   

       "Let go thy hold, my child, and I shall bear thee up!"   

       The man thinks for a moment, before saying: "Err... anyone else?"
spidermother, May 13 2013
  

       "Trust in the lord, but keep the receipt."
MaxwellBuchanan, May 13 2013
  

       //Catholic support of the Nazis// Oh, of course...   

       On a totally unrelated note, what do they call it when organized-crime sends a few people around to rough up local businesses, then sends a few more around to collect "insurance" payments to make sure it doesn't happen again ?
FlyingToaster, May 13 2013
  

       Over here we call it "health and safety".
MaxwellBuchanan, May 13 2013
  

       Flying toaster,   

       You are referring to a security racket. I'm not sure it's totally unrelated...
fishboner, May 13 2013
  

       //there is no such things as free markets// On the contrary, that's really the only thing there is. It is just that sometimes there are localized areas of interference, which can last for 70 years, and cover a continent, in the end, though, rest assured that the true price of anything is determined only by its actual scarcity and demand, and any deviations of that are actually netted out (with interest)
theircompetitor, May 13 2013
  

       //security racket// hello
JesusHChrist, May 13 2013
  

       It seems Nazis were part of a global ideological system which was not unrelated to global capitalism that became nuclear with communism in the proceeding cold war. On one side the denial of economic common sense as facism, but only some sort of racism somewhat the opposite of the multicultural image of Canada on the world stage. On the other a place for poverty, and left wing ideology that doesn't require salvation from Christ. God exists as an arrogant dismissal, a linguistic device where the instantaneous acknowledgement of higher power, appeal to authority, perhaps some awe, causes a common vocalizing as if among treefrogs, and the gathering interacts in a mode of symbolic interaction to decide the meaning of the chirping. Of course God will usually reflect the dominant ethea of the time whether or not it is of His design or of zealous minions, and the chirping the exhausted wimpers of the masses in trying to comprehend the higher power that represents their powerlessness.
rcarty, May 13 2013
  

       Wow.
theircompetitor, May 13 2013
  

       Dude, stand up and walk away from the computer, and, I command thee, flirt with the first person who you encounter and find sexually attractive. Or something like that, just stop feeling so bad. You're making me feel bad and I am already dying from evisceration hanging on this cross.
JesusHChrist, May 13 2013
  

       Well hang in there.
rcarty, May 14 2013
  

       If you mean by hang -- the kind where I am eviscerated or strung up by a noose and gallows and all that, then i am not sure i am in, but if you mean hang like hang out and pass low incidence time in a free, close and open circle of comraderous behaviorisms, then I am down.
JesusHChrist, May 14 2013
  

       In the sense of not "dropping out" in some way, like saying "don't give up".
rcarty, May 14 2013
  

       Ok.
JesusHChrist, May 14 2013
  

       I love you.
JesusHChrist, May 14 2013
  

       I love you too Internet text.
rcarty, May 14 2013
  

       [pashute]. Yes, Osama was rich. but no he was not a suicide bomber.
fishboner, May 15 2013
  

       I'm going to say this once because i'm here and reading this, but i've said it literally thousands of times elsewhere on the internet. Atheism vs. religion is a false dichotomy. Atheism vs. theism or religion vs. irreligion (not secularism) would probably be true dichotomies. It's feasible to believe that there is a God without being religious and to believe that there is no God without being non-religious. There are individual atheists within generally theistic faiths, even within the priesthood of those faiths, and even there the presence of non-belief in God is compatible with their religion. There are also entire religions where atheism is an article of faith or left open to the adherent, usually as irrelevant. There's also negative theology, right in the centre of theistic religions such as Christianity and Judaism. Then there are non-religious atheists. However, there are also sociological, psychological, political and historical factors which lead to the acquisition or retention of irrational beliefs in groups, and this process is inevitable and probably undesirable. Beyond that, there is a tendency for people whose background is religious but who have rejected religion because they've perceived it to be harmful to their own happiness and the common good to continue to behave as if they're religious even though they've rejected it, probably due to the difficulty they have in abandoning old patterns of behaviour. I have to get up now.
nineteenthly, May 15 2013
  

       What [nineteenthly] said - the danger here is to cast great big swathing generalisations around the place and to mistakenly think they have any but the most cursory, self-identification-by- non-identification meanings.
zen_tom, May 15 2013
  

       Religion is a way of making sense out of existence and reality. Atheism is a way of making sense out of existence and reality. Both are constructs of human logic. Why take any of it so personally, I have never understood, but those who become emotionally upset when questions are presented as to the validity of either religion or non religion beliefs need to look at the meaning of the word belief and not become so annoyed when atheism is described in the same way. I am an atheist and if someone wants to call that a belief, I simply let them get on with it. I like a bit of mystery, and religions seem to be a lot more fun and full of madness than atheism, so I like to preserve my options.
xenzag, May 15 2013
  

       [rcarty] I like the frog illustration. It speaks to the cultural phenomenon, but I have trouble reconciling it with the biological explanations of the genesis of strong cosmological concepts. Perhaps in times when cultural imperatives required more overt modes of obedience ,say, God became more operative for that purpose. Whereas today, for instance, God may be more like the higher power of 12-step agnosticism parlance. I guess this is more or less a restating of what you were saying.   

       [ninteenthly], thanks for posting that again to the Internet. It bears repeating. There is an atheism which requires fundamentalism which i have alluded to. I think this may be part of the process you were referring to near the end of your post. Fundamentalists(and others) become what we might call therapeutically atheist. That is to say, they grow weary of the pretending-to-believe condition, (a condition which i posit occurs along side atheism in so- called believers) which has ceased to serve a purpose in their circle. Their mistake is to think this inoculates them against further irrationality of the harmful sort. Thus, for these therapeutic atheists, if they become too comfortable there, atheism serves the same purpose as religion once did; creating dangerous blind spots in ther conciousness.   

       [xenzag], [zen_tom] solidarity is in short supply. Some atheists find quaint or nonexistent the solidarity-producing and or emancipaory potential of some religions, yet they end up with a solidarity-producing mechanism in institutional atheism which requires that that there exists another group of people who remain unenlightened. So this institution erect billboards with quotes from famous atheists like Mark Twain. I would like to see this solidarity- producing institution preserved, but to continue, it will need to face the fact that it has to develop its own theology, which it has been unwilling to do. So when you pose questions like "does anyone actually believe on God?" It is wrongly perceived as a threat by these institutional atheists because their solidarity is as yet dependent upon the idea of that big, unenlightened other out there.   

       Simply stating that belief is an open question can cause an outrage in this setting.
fishboner, May 15 2013
  

       Ninian Smart. Religion needs to be defined anthropologically, not as a belief system. Something that behaves sufficiently like a religion might as well be called one. Buddhism is not a philosophy of life, for example, as it has a priesthood, temples, institutions, rituals and so forth. It does include a philosophy of life, of course. Existentialism is a philosophy of life. There's no priesthood, no temples, no rituals, nothing like that.   

       I disagree that the supernatural has to be involved, or even belief. To take a pretty hard case, evangelical Christians tend to maintain that being saved involves a permanent change, so that one cannot lose one's salvation. However, it is clearly possible that sincere evangelical Christians can lose their faith permanently, and stop believing in the supernatural entirely. However, they continue to be Christian in spite of that, by the evangelical Christian definition of what a Christian is - someone who has repented of their sins and committed themselves to Christ. In fact, i wouldn't be surprised if the majority of atheists in North America are Christian by that definition.   

       There are also Jews who are metaphysically naturalist and atheist in the sense that they believe that God doesn't exist, but continue to practice Judaism, keep the Sabbath, go to synagogue and read the Torah, because they refuse to allow Hitler any kind of victory. Those people are religious Jews. So were the Sadducees.   

       Religion is a social phenomenon, not a belief system.   

       However, i can have this discussion somewhere else, and i now will. This place has the potential for much more original conversations than this one.
nineteenthly, May 15 2013
  

       Now I'm confused.
Which place has the potential for much more original conversations?
This one?
...or this one?
  

       Edit: That 1930's Concordat between Catholic leaders and the Nazis really was a nasty piece of business, even if it was a cultural rather than religious/moral decision.
4and20, May 15 2013
  

       Correct me if I'm wrong, but this entire ideas is based on the idea that there are no "true believers" in any religion, and thus that all religions, and by extension atheism are simply social constructs?   

       If so, then I have to call BS. True believers, in the religious fervor and complete belief in the tenets of their religion sense, definitely do exist.   

       Likewise, atheists can reject the concept of God or Spirituality without rejecting the rest of the social constructs surrounding themselves. Idealistic beliefs can be completely separated from religion, and nationalistic ones largely separated from religion, without hypocrisy.
MechE, May 15 2013
  

       There is much to enjoy in this thread, including but not limited to nineteenthly's first chunky post (which I would happily read expanded into essay form) and 21Q's expert deployment of "my friend". That said, I am not sure I understand the idea, so.
calum, May 15 2013
  

       So? So I am going to think about this some.
calum, May 15 2013
  

       Why would we be surprised that Anthropologists want to define religion anthropologically? Does that self-serving approach make their argument more or less valid? Jared Diamond's wonderful book The World Until Yesterday makes the same argument - doesn't mean we have to agree.   

       [xen] - I'll admit you poked a nerve up there but I'll still contend that it's not a beleif per se. You may, of course, define beleif differently than I.   

       I also think we shouldn't think mutually exclusive the the two concepts of a) Someone holding ferverent beleif in their deity and religion, and b) Someone twisting power gained from their position within that religion, or subverting the intent and even meaning of religious culture or texts to carry out social, political, genocidal or other agendas. Conflating immoral behaviour and lack of religious beleif is, I think, very shaky logic.   

       People's capacity for self-delusion shouldn't be underestimated.
Custardguts, May 15 2013
  

       "love one another" is an idea that anyone could derive on their own, but you need to give Christianity credit for having God say it.   

       This was a subversion of the old God in a very real sense. And while there were already large cracks in this model in Judaism, It used to be that you would have to make material and blood sacrifices to the god or gods in question. (The Iraq war was an example of this) But under christianity, God becomes the sacrifice. (The only on-the- cross statement repeated in more than one gospel is God apparently doubting his own existence). The deity only fulfills its purpose by becoming human. And in this new religion, faith is no longer sufficient without works, in fact, "faith is dead" without works. And slaughtering a calf no longer counts as works. You have to do humanitarian works to be saved.   

       I guess this is why Christianity is credited with being "more than merely a catalyst" for the continuance of the humanist tradition in the west, though Habermas takes it much further from within the framework of merhodological atheism.   

       Now consider, as some biologists point out, that a notion of God, like every human trait, arises out of an evolutionary accident happening to stick. If that the case than we may have an inborn inclination to this notion, in which case we would be finding and making a god of any viable contender whether we "know" it or not. If this is the case, saying "I don't believe in deities" would not accomplish much because on some level you still in essence would. If you really wanted to be christian, the most you could hope for is to divert your God drive to secular purposes of some kind. Your best bet might be to become Christian, which is a good way to subvert your God making drive, though many "Christians" still like to practice old style religion under the name Christianity. Hence Christian wars.   

       If you know you're limited, your remedy will be different than if you did not know you were limited.   

       Perhaps Religion is the best atheism we have.
fishboner, May 15 2013
  

       ...Or perhaps some of us don't "need" a deity as much as others. Perhaps it's more nurture than nature. There's a lot of supposition in what you say.   

       From my standpoint, I've never felt a need for there to be a deity, or any other power other than the quantifiable laws of physics. Maybe the "god drive" is weak with me. Perhaps I'm subconsciously suppressing this god drive you speak of.   

       I don't know, and I don't really care. Intellectually I would reject any element of that god drive were I to detect them. I would like to think that we are sufficiently evolved to not need such a crutch.
Custardguts, May 15 2013
  

       It's not a crutch.   

       I've never belonged to any religious group, I observe no rituals, I expect no devine interventions, I've asked for no strength.
I've just always had an overwhelming impression that I am... part of something bigger than I can imagine and that every spark of consciousness everywhere is part of this one being.
  

       I can't think of a better word for it than God.   

       Our insignificance is epic in comparison but the universe is cyclic and like an inverting torus in that the smallest is, in escence, an inversion away from the largest. Eternal, infinitely conscious, and allowing every possible scenario to run its course in order to understand... everything.
Welcome to free-will.
  

       It's much too big to be a used as a crutch.   

       //there's a lot of supposition in what you say//   

       I would rather have a discussion than an exchange of monologues.   

       //From my standpoint, I've never felt a need for there to be a deity, or any other power other than the quantifiable laws of physics. Maybe the "god drive" is weak with me. Perhaps I'm subconsciously suppressing this god drive you speak of.//   

       See? Supposition is all there is when it comes to our own psyches. Welcome to the party.   

       [21Quest], from our methodological atheist standpoint, we of course assert Christ was a mortal, and not God. No one has to constantly remind themselves more often that there is no anthropomorphic space deity more often than atheists. Sheesh. We aren't talking about what you or I don't believe so much as we are talking about what others don't believe. As for the bible it says Jesus is one with the father. But setting that aside, its undeniable that god's work must be done by mortals. That is substantively indistinguishable from secular humanism except for usage of classically religious terminology.   

       You mention the utility of religious belief. I think the idea that religion was a rudiment of human suffering was an enlightenment hope that has itself been dashed by the enlightenment's successful disentrenchment of religion as the operative material explanatory institution in elite society an elsewhere (not that anyone really believed all of religions ideas about the universe). As your conversations above have more or less have borne out, today we still have "dummies" and they serve harmful purposes. But not all or even most are classically religious. Take say global warming denial. i mean the real global warming denial, not the PR effort. i mean the actual belief that taking drastic action should not occur. This springs from the idea that the markets must function unencumbered, no matter what happens to the oceans or bees or even human life including the markets themselves. This is as irrational a religious belief as any. If taxonomizing religions on the basis of whether or not they use classically religious terminology furthers enlightenment goals, thats one thing. To me the opposite appears to be the case. Until Dawkins et al confront these more dominant, numerous, and damaging religions, I will remain suspect of their enterprise.
fishboner, May 15 2013
  

       [fish] - I'll still contend that you are conflating religious and nonreligous concepts.   

       I don't think economics is a religion. It shares some aspects, but not any of the features I beleive are important. By your logic, "democrat" and "republican" are also religions, also probably sports team support. This is too broad a definition for me. Holding an opinion about a complex issue, balancing self-interest against humanistic ideals, etc - is not the same as beleiving in a supernatural power - even if those opinions are different to yours, or you perceive them as irrational.
Custardguts, May 16 2013
  

       I think that the conflation that Custardguts identifies is intentional, and is the root of the idea. The contention is that rational analysis of religion is a positive thing but does not go far enough, being as it is limited to analysis of what we term religious - that a comprehensive atheism would bring to bear the weight of dispassionate rationalism on all of man's irrational beliefs and worldviews, irrespective of whether they are dressed up in the mystical/historical garb we typically associate with religion.
calum, May 16 2013
  

       //I don't know, and I don't really care. Intellectually I would reject any element of that god drive were I to detect them. I would like to think that we are sufficiently evolved to not need such a crutch.//   

       I had not considered the possibility that atheism is an if-then statement; If I become privy to a god in my life, I will reject it. That's a new one. I think that can be a viable way to rehabilitate popular atheism, as long as the idea of what constitutes a god is clearly understood.   

       //I'll still contend that you are conflating religious and nonreligous concepts.//   

       Your contention is well received. There are important differences between the relative certai ties produced by classical religion and the rest of religion. Modern disciplines which think of themselves as sciences produce certainties which are likely far more perilous, stubborn and actionable than those produced by any classic religion. As Max Planck said:   

       "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."   

       And he was talking about established physics. The status quo couldn't for the life of them let go of their beliefs because their beliefs were established by science. I wonder if it was all an act. Like if those physicists knew they were not right, but "acted-as-if" for the preservation of their universities and network.   

       As for economics, if you can refute the demonstration as to how it's substantively indistinguishable from other religions, I'm all ears.
fishboner, May 16 2013
  

       I agree [calum] - I suspose to me the frustration is one party using the basis of the idea as a given, when discussing it's metits. You can't have a rational discussion in that context, and it turns into a circular argument.
Custardguts, May 16 2013
  

       //I had not considered the possibility that atheism is an if them statement; If I become privy to a god in my life, I will reject it.//   

       No, you're misinterpreting what I said. What I said was I would reject the so-called god-drive. Not evidence for god. These are vastly different things. As a rational person, if I saw evidence for a god, I would have to reevaluate my position.. If as a rational person, I detected some irrational emotion within myself, yearning for religous connection or "higher meaning" - I would assess that as being an irrational reflex. Kind of like suppressing rage or feeling contempt for irrational prejudices we have picked up from our environment or society.
Custardguts, May 16 2013
  

       [21] - let's not let this turn into a religion bashing session. I long ago adopted the position that I will freely discuss my thoughts, feelings and opinions in regards to religion - but won't be drawn into or tempted to make mocking or critical statements about somone else's beliefs. I reserve mockery and derision for comments about others attempts to change my opinions or beleifs.   

       I fuck it up sometimes out of frustration, but that is a failure on my part.
Custardguts, May 16 2013
  

       If you accept a belief in omnipotent, omnipresent god, then all human action is god acting. If you do not accept the existence of god, then by definition, all work that "god" does is the work of man (excluding of course natural disasters treated as acts of god).
calum, May 16 2013
  

       "To most Christians, the Bible is like a software license. Nobody actually reads it. They just scroll to the bottom, and click 'I agree'"   

       Most Atheists that I know actually read the bible and decided that it was myth, morally lacking, misogynistic and a mash-up of ancient stories. I once believed in Santa Claus, but once I grew up a little, I knew it wasn't real. I treat religion the same.   

       There have been (est.) over 3,000 different "gods" since the beginning of recorded history. Theists reject 99.9997% of those "gods". Atheists go that little bit more.   

       This "idea" simply sounds like a rant. A = "no" / theism = "belief in god". Nothing more, and nothing less.   

       [-] For this rant
Klaatu, May 16 2013
  

       The Bible is a great resource for toying with those who use it as the sole support for their argument. Pro-lifers always go riffling through the pages when I pull out trusty old Psalm 137:9 "How blessed is he who dashes the head of a little one against the rock..."
Alterother, May 16 2013
  

       // atheists can reject the concept of God or Spirituality without rejecting the rest of the social constructs surrounding themselves. Idealistic beliefs can be completely separated from religion, and nationalistic ones largely separated from religion, without hypocrisy.//   

       [MechE], In a sense everything is discrete in some way. But if you cannot demonstrate how nationalistic notions are substantively distinguishable from religious ones, you are doing nothing but stating your evidence-less belief.   

       What I am proposing is that reason is not advanced by taxonomizing irrationality on the basis of surface signifiers.   

       [21Q], I have to completely agree with you on the bible's lack of substantiation for prohibitions attributed to it. Homosexuality is an interesting case of this. In the time the New Testament was being written, male on male rape and sexual exploitation was rampant. So when the bible talks about homosexuality, it is not even talking about gay people. It is talking about straight people. That's probably related to why it never bothers to prohibit gays from getting married.   

       //The way I read the idea, it is more about apotheosis rather than actual gods or existing beliefs. That aspects of culture can rise to unexamined god-like status is quite a problem. It's the latter's entanglement with atheism this idea seeks to address. No ?//   

       Yep [bigsleep]. I thought it was obvious, and I'm glad it was to someone. (and it's pretty much baked in German philosophy, so bone away!) But it's always fun to see people who like to think of themselves as non-religious struggle to point out the distinction without relying on arbitrary signifiers. It's almost like they think that if they do not make unsubstantiated declarations like "theism = belief in God" or "atheism is absence of belief in God", they might have to actually think about it. And really, why should they? Afterall, rationality is self sustaining. It is not under threat of any kind. As long as we invoke its name often, we are safe from irrationality.
fishboner, May 16 2013
  

       // There have been (est.) over 3,000 different "gods" since the beginning of recorded history. Theists reject 99.9997% of those "gods". Atheists go that little bit more. //   

       There have been many many more gods than that, and atheists pay tribute to many of them without knowing it, partially due to the fact that they falsely believe themselves inoculated from this by the ritual application of the label 'atheism' to themselves like so much holy water splashed on their face.
fishboner, May 16 2013
  

       // I detected some irrational emotion within myself, yearning for religous connection or "higher meaning" - I would assess that as being an irrational reflex//   

       [custard] This is precisely how I meant to characterize what you said. But how would you know whether or not you were engaging in, say, inductive reasoning?
fishboner, May 16 2013
  

       There is a very clear and simple way to differentiate between nationalistic and religious beliefs. That is that I can conclusively and with recourse only to widely documented and supported facts, state that nations exist.   

       Whether it has all the properties that a nationalist claims for it, whether it is worthy of support, whether it has a justifiable right to the territory it claims, all of those are just as debatable as any religion, but the core focus of the belief has a concrete and undeniable existence. A religion cannot make that same claim.
MechE, May 16 2013
  

       [mechE] you're getting warmer by partially unpacking nationalism, but those you distinguish as religious could still easily be said to be doing the same thing using the universe and it origin as their object. What's more, far less harm can come of it, and often this is borne out by examples of recent history.   

       I have been accused of conflating the religious and the secular. Rather, they are entangled, and I'm trying to disentangle them.   

       If you were to go out and grab a bunch of evidence for the existence of something you call a nation, you would be referring to something other than that referred to by a nationalist. Similarly, if I go and grab evidence for the universe and its origin, I will likely be referring to something other than that which is referenced by the universe's equivalent of an irrational nationalist when they use the word universe.
fishboner, May 16 2013
  

       Nations, like all other legal constructs, exist no more concretely than religion.   

       So, the idea is that (a) we should approach all phenomena for a starting point of rational analysis, (b) atheism, which purports to approach religion from a starting point of rationalism, can be the vector through which (a) is achieved, but (c) only if atheism is first subjected to a thorough rational analysis to discover and nullify its common irrationalities? Or do I have the order wrong.
calum, May 16 2013
  

       Just because something is not a material object does not mean it does not have concrete existence. A nation does, conclusively and positively, exist. A deity does cannot be proven to exist.   

       And, as I said, the core tenet of (almost all) religions is belief in a deity, not in the existence of the universe. The core tenet of nationalism (in the broadest sense) is a belief that your nation should exist. The more extreme versions, that your nation is the only one that should exist, or at least the best possible nation, do border on the same sort of belief as religions require, but it is not necessary to nationalism at its most basic level. This means that one can accept that one's nation is not perfect, still recognize it's good points, and enlist in the military without requiring any sort of fundamentalist belief.   

       Likewise, equating simple enlistment with suicide bombing is disingenuous at best, since the death rate among active duty military, during combat operations, is only slightly higher than among the civilian population, and during peacetime is (I believe) actually slightly lower due to better physical fitness offsetting training losses. In return the enlistee gets a salary; training that will be of use later in life, or at least money towards such training; and various other benefits.   

       I would also suggest that most conscious atheists (meaning those who have decided that there is no reason to believe in a deity, as opposed to someone who was raised atheist and hasn't questioned it) also reject most of the more extreme forms of most belief systems. The same skeptical mindset is pretty generally applied.
MechE, May 16 2013
  

       //And, as I said, the core tenet of (almost all) religions is belief in a deity//   

       [MechE] the formulation "believe in" is meaningless here. Suppose you mean, "hold to be true". Okay. So does that mean people who purport to believe in deities are experiencing the same conviction you are experiencing concerning the fact that you are observing the arrangement of black liquid crystals right now? Or do you mean something else?   

       I'm not simply playing a stupid semantic game. Rather, i'm trying to end one.   

       I don't remember equating enlistment in the US military with suicide bombing, but your metrics for the validity of this equation are appreciated. For you, the relationship becomes operative if the relative chance of dying is comparable. But what about the relative chance of killing? This is harder to determine, since it is usually necessarily a distribution of responsibility. As a taxpayer, I materially support the killing of hundreds of thousands in a fractional way. Thus, the simple act of pretending i'm a dispassionate, neutral, agnostic, self-interested, isolated unit is itself an irrational ideology repeated across millions like me, including the type of enlisted person you allude to.   

       So yes, mine and the enlisted person's role is fractional, but the net effect of the ideology we share with countless millions is the continuance of a status-quo which sacrifices hundreds and thousands more than any set of suicide bombers you care to cite.
fishboner, May 16 2013
  

       //So does that mean people who purport to believe in deities are experiencing the same conviction you are experiencing concerning the fact that you are observing the arrangement of black liquid crystals right now?//   

       If you ask the average dedicated theist, the answer would be yes. There are many that are absolutely convinced, and use their feelings and emotions as physical evidence. I would contend that they themselves are confusing feelings and emotion with physical evidence.   

       Okay Okay, we've strayed far and wide from the point here and whatever message you're trying to get across is being muted by different definitions of terms. Why don't you just state what your're actually trying to say here, in very plain language.   

       ...Because your "idea" up top is simply a series of statements hinting that you have a problem with current definitions, and then three very different and mutually exclusive options, which will presumably alleviate these concerns.   

       It seems to me your real problem isn't with established, commonly identifiable religions, but rather other aspects of western society like western politics, and economics - which you are contending are religions themselves. Just come out and say what you think is wrong.
Custardguts, May 16 2013
  

       //There is a difference between belief and knowledge// That breaks down at quantum level. You may want to read The Tao of Physics for some thought challenging logic.
xenzag, May 16 2013
  

       I know you have an axe to grind, I'm just not sure what axe it is.   

       tl; dr: grinding the grammar axe
sninctown, May 16 2013
  

       //There is a difference between belief and knowledge.//   

       Okay, then suppose, as you've indicated, belief means, "suppose to be true". Okay. So does that mean people who purport to believe in deities are experiencing the same supposition you are experiencing concerning the whether you are observing the arrangement of black liquid crystals right now? Or do you mean something else?   

       [xenxag], I was going to say that from the point of view that the rock is vibrating energy, it is neither falsifiably igneous, metamorphic or sedimentary. But an igneous rock is comprised of a different arrangement of vibrations and relationships than a metamorphic rock, and there may be tests for this.   

       [custard] I proposed a rehabilitation of an ailing institution, and I could not have used plainer english. Bone away.
fishboner, May 16 2013
  

       //Take, say, enlistment. With regards to belief, It is substantively indistinguishable from religious suicide bombing, as pointed out above.//   

       This is the statement that I was basing it on. You are equating certain death in the service of a religion with a low chance of death in the service of a nation. Both require the belief (and I do mean belief) that the idea is worth dying for, but the latter does not require the same level of commitment, and thus is readily distinguishable. Otherwise simply choosing to drive a car is indistinguishable, since you are risking your life (to a greater level than joining the military) in the belief that getting somewhere is worth it.   

       However even the certainty of death for a concrete entity is not the same as for a religious purpose, because the purposes of a concrete entity can be, to some extent, weighed and judged, the purposes of a deity who does not communicate with its followers cannot.   

       And yes, some dedicated members of various religious orders do hold their beliefs to be exactly equivalent to my cognizance of the fact that I am reading and typing text on a screen right now. I base this statement on my own observation of some people with whom I have interacted, and their ability to reject any amount of evidence if it is conflict with their religious beliefs.   

       Now if you are going to take it to its most fundamental level, I have no argument other than Descartes', but I accept that (as I have to accept some basis) as rational starting point to construct a self consistent worldview. If you are going to require the discarding of that philosophical basis, then you are bringing the definition of atheism in line with nihilism, and that is a false equivalence.   

       That being said, as I said, very few atheists are also "my country right or wrong" nationalists, because the same skepticism already eliminates that sort of acceptance.   

       On the other hand, I don't reject the concept of the United States, for all its flaws, because I have seen that the basic concept of constitutional republic has value, and (short of a benevolent dictatorship, which has its own problems unless someone wants to appoint me dictator) that the US is a version of such that is worth preserving (and doing my best to correct it's errors). That doesn't mean I will unquestioningly follow its tenets, but that, from my own observations I do accept them as a reasonable basic framework.
MechE, May 17 2013
  

       In summary, you are trying to define an atheist in a manner that exceeds it's boundaries. I am an atheist because I am a skeptic, and no religion I have yet encountered stands up to skeptical consideration. Thus I categorically (but tentatively, if new evidence arises, my beliefs can change) reject all religions as a matter of inductive logic consistent with my general skepticism. That is the limit of the definition of atheism.   

       It happens that I also reject many other thoughts and beliefs, but my acceptance or rejection of those are outside the bounds of atheism.
MechE, May 17 2013
  

       Oh, and as far as collective or individual responsibility for deaths, I don't have a problem with that. There are causes that I believe in enough to kill for, most admittedly having to do with the safety of my immediate family and friends.   

       Does that mean that I am happy with the way the US military has been used in the past decade? No, it definitely does not, and that is one of the things I would like to change about my country. I accept, however, that as part of what I consider to be a generally acceptable social contract, that I will bear some responsibility for things I dislike, and that is something I am willing to live with.
MechE, May 17 2013
  

       The post doesn't really propose an actual atheism, but an objective atheism. An actual atheism would intuitively reject the 'god of acts' rather than the potentially true god we've been hearing so much about. Obviously, arguing against the potentially true god offends the actual atheist because it generates the 'god of acts' out of inane discursion. To another perhaps cynical type of atheist an actual atheist may not be possible, except in a state of exasperation, because any arguments against the nonexistent reifies by the proof of the 'actuality' they are cultivating. Sadly there is no real distinction between someone who argues 'it exists' and someone who argues 'it doesn't exist', when 'it' is being constructed in the process, even if one side claims to be deconstructing they have told bad lies. Identifying this sort of process is possibly something an actual atheist would do, because it is actually actively acting on actuality.
rcarty, May 17 2013
  

       In the spirit of trying to discuss responsibly, I thank you for substantiating your claim that I equated suicide bombing with enlistment. It was meant only as an observational rather than a normative statement. Nonetheless, by pointing out that there may be perfectly self-serving reasons someone may join the military, however misguided, you have hoisted me onto my own petard since I have been claiming that people's supposed belief may not be what it appears to be. I can live with that, and I would like to revert to the original version of the notion from the post: "All or part of this complex soup should be recognizable to anyone who has enlisted."   

       //I base this statement on my own observation of some people with whom I have interacted, and their ability to reject any amount of evidence if it is conflict with their religious beliefs.//   

       The problem with this is, for example, a psychoanalyst probably would not come to the same conclusion after a few sessions with these supposed believers.   

       The rest of what you are saying is basically that you wish to preserve arbitrary taxonomies of irrationality but you are not providing me with a basis for doing so. This would be fine except for the fact that I believe to continue to function as an institution (I am not neccesarily talking about your atheism or mine), atheism will have to provide a more robust basis for its existence, especially since its members probably cannot sustain a practice anything like the arbitrariness of what it terms religion.
fishboner, May 17 2013
  

       Except that there is no reason for atheism to exist "as an institution", because it is a statement of (lack of) belief, not a religion. It's holders may choose to interact based on that idea, but it is not the core or guiding principal of their lives.   

       //It's often taken for granted that some people are more capable than others of holding to be true fundamentalist religious ideas. This is unsubstantiated.//   

       I take exception to this statement. If I have met people who meet my criteria to be considered true believers, and have also met people who declare themselves true believers (not always the same people), those are both substantiation. I would suggest that the burden of proof to the contrary is on you.   

       You then go on to make the argument //Setting aside the fact that we had no evidence, and this [sic] could not believe I[sic] any true sense//, when this argument is contrary to the facts. By its very definition, faith is belief without evidence. Belief does not require evidence, and any claim to the contrary is made by a person who has not adequately studied human nature.   

       The above is couched in the argument //some of us may remember what it was like "believing in" Santa clause. ... we remember pretending to believe for our parents. We remember doubting all along.// which I can state is absolutely false in my personal case. There was a period when I was young enough that I completely and absolutely believed in the real existence of Santa Claus. As time went on, and my experience in the real world caused me to question that existence, I shifted into to the sort of "social belief" you describe, but that doesn't change the facts of my primitive beliefs.
MechE, May 17 2013
  

       [MechE]   

       //Except that there is no reason for atheism to exist "as an institution", because it is a statement of (lack of) belief, not a religion. It's holders may choose to interact based on that idea, but it is not the core or guiding principal of their lives.//   

       But a lack of belief in contrast to what? What is this belief that others supposedly have, and do not simply claim to have? If we cannot identify belief in others, then lack of belief cannot distinguish atheism. In which case, atheism itself becomes a claim that there actually exists a belief in others as opposed to merely a claim to a belief. (I see you work on the 'if' part a little below.)   

       //If I have met people who meet my criteria to be considered true believers, and have also met people who declare themselves true believers (not always the same people), those are both substantiation. I would suggest that the burden of proof to the contrary is on you. //   

       Testimony of supposed believers is not evidence of anything at all. This is like when theists say "atheists claim there is no God and they have no proof." I submit in response Hitchen's razor; "what can be claimed without evidence can be dismissed without evidence". As for your other criteria, I would like to see them. I suppose they will take the form of certain tests like, say, what they are willing to do for their alleged belief. So when a suicide bomber blows himself up, he proves that he believes that in the next instant, he will literally be transported to a harem in the stars. Sorry, I just can't believe that, and I don't see how the burden of proof to the contrary would be on someone with my doubt.   

       With the Santa Clause problem, we could employ [21Quest]'s rock analogy. You are holding a rock. This you know. You believe it is igneous, but until you submit it to tests your belief is not knowledge. In the case of Santa Clause, you are holding a present, and you already "know" it's from Santa because your parents' testimony count as proof. When you say you used to believe literally in Santa whipping around the globe in his sleigh, you wouldn't make the leap to say that memory of a belief is anything like the belief you may experience today about the rock in your hand.   

       Also, to complete my response to [21Quest], let me repost what he said:   

       //There is a difference between belief and knowledge. I know there is a rock on the ground beside me. I can see it, touch it, photograph it for all to see. I believe that if I clean the dirt off it, it will turn out to be an igneous rock, but it could be a different kind of rock. No way of telling until I prove (or disprove) my belief via the scientific method.//   

       So our condition regarding the supposed beliefs of others is itself a condition of unsubstantiated belief. We have not submitted believers to scientific testing, so we do not know whether or not they believe.   

       edit: changed 'rather than' to 'as opposed to' .
fishboner, May 17 2013
  

       // you wouldn't make the leap to say that memory of a belief is anything like the belief you may experience today//   

       I didn't say the memory was. But the belief, at the time, was absolutely identical to my current belief that a rock I am holding in my hand exists.   

       You are making the extraordinary claim that faith does not exist, contrary to the testimony of millions of believers, and contrary to my personal observations, and the observations of many in many fields. Thus I feel the onus is on you to justify the claim that you know everyone in the world's mental state better than they do. You are right to say that the testimony of believers is not evidence of the accuracy of their beliefs, but you are wrong to say that it is not evidence of the beliefs themselves. It is not final and conclusive evidence of their belief, but the sample is large enough to deny the claim that such beliefs don't exist with an alpha that closely approaches zero.   

       Or to put it another way, your lack of belief is not evidence that others likewise lack belief.
MechE, May 17 2013
  

       Ummm, if we start putting all this effort into defining atheism, we'll soon find ourselves doing the same thing for anastrologism, atriskaidekaphobia, atoothfairyism, anhomoeopathism, analienabductionism and all the other varieties of antombollockry.   

       Just be patient. Another century or so and humans will have finally outgrown gods, pixies and UFOs.
MaxwellBuchanan, May 17 2013
  

       //I didn't say the memory was. But the belief, at the time//   

       "belief at the time", aka, the memory of the belief. You must be recollecting to be able to hold the idea in your mind about what you thought as a child. You have to recall it in order to invoke it since we don't have a time machine. Not much of a distinction, really.   

       But belief as a child is a different quantity than belief as an adult.   

       //Or to put it another way, your lack of belief is not evidence that others likewise lack belief.//   

       I am not claiming anyone does not believe. I am not even claiming I don't believe. I am simply saying claims of belief in others are unsubstantiated. If it is substantiated, let me see the evidence.   

       //the sample is large enough//   

       Testimony of millions is still testimony. And testimony is not evidence. Furthermore, the idea that a suicide bomber actually and literally believes that in the moment after he explodes he will actually be transported to the space harem, AND that is what it motivating him is really kind of silly. I cannot for the life of me understand why so many people take this for granted.
fishboner, May 17 2013
  

       //Just be patient. Another century or so and humans will have finally outgrown gods, pixies and UFOs.//   

       They already have
fishboner, May 17 2013
  

       You deny the belief I state. You deny the beliefs of billions around the world, then claim there is no such thing as belief.   

       These beliefs are what drove the building of cathedrals and temples around the world, inspired many great works of art, and have inspired millions to lay down their lives in service of the belief.   

       Unless you can point to me in a human brain where every motivation is found, and prove there is not one for deep seated religious belief, then the only possible way to prove things is to take the aggregate of these acts as evidence.   

       Doing so is enough to make the acceptance that such beliefs exist the far more likely answer than not.
MechE, May 17 2013
  

       //These beliefs are what drove the building of cathedrals and temples around the world, inspired many great works of art, and have inspired millions to lay down their lives in service of the belief.//   

       I want to be really clear here. Precisely which beliefs led to these things? And do you think people who did not produce beautiful things or lay down their lives believed any less? This is interesting what you have posted, because it sort of points to that there is something happening in these people that is causing them to do these things, and you are positing that it must be the belief that there is literally a God in heaven and an afterlife they will be whisked away to that compels them. Not wishing to belong to their community. Not a genuine love of what they do. Not charity. I cannot make that leap. I mean, it is not even the most likely explanation. Christianity is pretty clear about this. Faith is not sufficient. You have to practice charity. You have to do good works. "Faith is dead" without these things.   

       //Unless you can point to me in a human brain where every motivation is found, and prove there is not one for deep seated religious belief, then the only possible way to prove things is to take the aggregate of these acts as evidence.//   

       We don't even know what people mean when they say "belief". Cultural or social imperatives may be factoring in to what they report, and what they experience as belief may be something other than you think it is when you hear that word from them. The sample is garbage, and taking a larger sample does not improve this. Garbage in garbage out.
fishboner, May 17 2013
  

       //I want to be really clear here. Precisely which beliefs led to these things?//   

       Generally the belief in the deity or religion that the work is honoring.   

       //And do you think people who did not produce beautiful things or lay down their lives believed any less?//   

       No, many just didn't have the talent or the specific cause. People who could have and didn't would generally indicate a lesser, or at least a different form of belief.   

       //I cannot make that leap.//   

       Just because you cannot does not make it true.   

       //Christianity is pretty clear about this. Faith is not sufficient.//   

       Catholicism is, to differing levels depending on the time period. Most protestants have a doctrine of "Sola Fide", or "Justification by Faith", and believe very specifically that faith is all that is required.   

       //You have to practice charity. You have to do good works. "Faith is dead" without these things.//   

       Regardless, it is still faith, belief, that inspires the great works or the charity. Nothing you have said indicates otherwise.   

       //We don't even know what people mean when they say "belief".//   

       Of course cultural and social aspects affect belief, but that doesn't mean that someone doesn't believe just because of that influence. And yes, some people claim to believe solely to avoid the negative impact in their culture of not believing, but you have presented no evidence that that is true of all people, whereas my own experience says it is not.   

       As far as what we mean when we say belief:   

       be·lief [bih-leef] Show IPA noun 1.an opinion or conviction   

       2. confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof   

       3. confidence; faith; trust: a child's belief in his parents.   

       4. a religious tenet or tenets; religious creed or faith   

       Quibbling over the definition doesn't matter, and that's all you are doing. People hold various things to be true, some based on the evidence of their senses, some based on what they have heard or read. That is a belief, and there are people out there who hold their religious beliefs to be true and factual.
MechE, May 17 2013
  

       // there are people out there who hold their religious beliefs to be true and factual.//   

       You don't know that. You believe that. You have no clue what is going on on their head to produce the behaviors ou interpret.   

       //Just because you cannot (make the leap) does not make it true.   

       Does not make what true?
fishboner, May 17 2013
  

       I've already said that if people state their reasons for doing something, and it is internally consistent with their action, it is reasonable to interpret that as likely to be their true reason. It is also reasonable to doubt, but when you accept billions of extant instances of this, coming in many different cultures under many different societal pressures, the aggregate is sufficient to make it the correct interpretation.   

       I've also already said that unless you can disprove the above statement, or at least provide a weight of evidence to the contrary, then your entire premise is nothing but a weak supposition. And "I can't make the leap" is your personal statement, but does not affect the rest of the world. Hence my highlighting of that comment.   

       At this point we're just going in circles, so I'm going to drop it here.   

       Oh, and a purely pedantic aside, it's generally correct to use square brackets rather than parentheses when adding clarifying text into a quote.
MechE, May 17 2013
  

       You believe that religious belief functions in others in the way you imagine it does.   

       We have somehow come to a point where we do not disagree.
fishboner, May 17 2013
  

       No, I accept that religious belief (and belief in general) functions in others the way they state it does. Not the same thing.
MechE, May 17 2013
  

       //Unless you're implying that religious folks who have told us they do are lying.//   

       I don't see what would be so controversial about such a suggestion, nonetheless, it's possible that they are not lying, but that they don't even understand precisely what is happening inside of them.   

       But according to (mechE) we can know how they are experiencing their belief by way of their testimony. And if that is too weak, or noise ridden, increasing the sample size will supposedly strengthen it.   

       It reminds me of that joke about the mathematician and the engineer. They consider the matter of what will happen if they walk towards the bar at the other end of the room if every step they take has to be half the distance of the preceding step, with the first step being half the width of the room, second being a quarter and so on. The mathematician says "You would never get to the bar". The engineer says "You'll get close enough".   

       edit: just saw this:   

       //I accept that religious belief (and belief in general) functions in others the way they state it does//   

       Behold the article of faith at the heart of atheism.
fishboner, May 17 2013
  

       That's not an article of faith, its a general attitude in dealing with other people.   

       Of course for you to accept that as true, you have to accept that my beliefs are what I say they are, and you are denying that you can do that, so anything I say is irrelevant.
MechE, May 17 2013
  

       //I accept that religious belief (and belief in general) functions in others the way they state it does//   

       I just can't get over this.
fishboner, May 18 2013
  

       I don't claim it as an absolute, but as a reasonable baseline for dealing with others until their behavior proves otherwise.   

       In the aggregate it will prove true enough, and explain their motivations reasonably well.
MechE, May 18 2013
  

       Of course you can't claim it as an absolute. It is your belief. And you call it a reasonable baseline, but it is not unlike [21Quest]'s igneous rock belief. It is the same belief I have posited some atheists make use of.
fishboner, May 18 2013
  

       //the .5b//
[marked for tagline]
sqeaketh the wheel, May 18 2013
  

       Except that you can't treat it as what I really believe, because if you do, you are utilizing the exact same approach.
MechE, May 18 2013
  

       My article proposes that an institutional atheism distinguishes itself from atheism of religious folk by having faith that religious people actually experience religious belief.   

       While I've merely proposed that the existence of religious belief as such is unsubstantiated, there are others who have claim there is no such thing as religious belief. It's called meta-atheism. They reason that religious people's actions demonstrate that they do not really believe. My problem with this is precisely the problem I have with your argument that their actions prove the opposite.   

       For example, they argue that when religious people's children die, they do not rejoice that their child is with God in heaven. This, along with countless examples of hypocrisy supposedly substantiates the claim that they don't really believe in God.   

       You have proposed that people who claim a belief in God, who also demonstrate actions which are internally consistent with this claim can be reasonable assumed to believe. You cited art, architecture, martyrdom etc. (and if any of that is unfair, let me know)   

       Setting aside the self-canceling nature of this approach (your version and theirs), let's just run through the case of the dead child. If you believe in God, and that your child is with him, it's still permittable for you to miss your child. It is still permittable for you to experience moments of doubt. But what about this doubt? We are supposed to accept that religious people move from belief to doubt and then back again several times without any change in the evidence. This can't be the same belief from [21Quest]'s igneous rock analogy because rather than arising out of testing or a change in the evidence, the doubt comes, and then fades away, or is repressed. Perhaps this happens because the "belief" is a mask for the everpresent doubt, which is less useful, or even detrimental in their group setting.   

       It's okay to call this belief, but if we don't acknowledge the possibility that it is not a belief of any kind, but rather belief mimicry, we miss out on understanding what may be a key factor leading to its persistence. We also miss an opportunity to spot it in ourselves.
fishboner, May 19 2013
  

       [marked-for-deletion], philosophy / religious something-or-other, etc.
RayfordSteele, May 19 2013
  

       //philosophy / religious something-or-other, etc//   

       It is nothing more than a proposed innovation in a particular field of technology called atheism. I have proposed specific modifications to increase the utility of a certain kind of device.   

       If this were a proposal for a better kind of nut cracker, you might slap the same label on it.
fishboner, May 19 2013
  

       //Hitchen's razor; "what can be claimed without evidence can be dismissed without evidence".//   

       It revolutionized legal debate.
rcarty, May 20 2013
  

       That's pretty deep.
Just sayin...
  

       Hitchen's razor is also irrelevant in this case, because in order to apply it [fishy] is ignoring the testimony of believers, which is evidence of their belief although not of the accuracy of their belief.
MechE, May 21 2013
  

       [MechE], Testimony is very raw data. Data isn't in and of itself evidence of anything but the presence of data.   

       There is no built-in sensor in the human optimized for the detection and reliable transmission of the the kind of data we are talking about. I mean, even in cases where you have purpose-built sensors, we don't form beliefs about unmodeled data prior to analysis.   

       And the only test you have proposed is a test for internal consistency with the actions of alleged believers. Just imagine what it would be like if analysis functioned like this. Suppose a fellow tells his shrink that he believes he's a baby. The psychologist looks him over and notices he's wearing a diaper. He ends the session, bills the man, and hurries home to write an article he intends to submit to the leading journals. The article proposes that while people who say they believe themselves to be babies arent actually babies, they actually do believe this, as evidenced by the baby things they do (eg. Wear diapers, engage in baby talk, etc). He is careful to add "but remember, they aren't actually babies."   

       Before long, someone does a quantitative study with a large sample of these people. It turns out they all do baby things, and thus actually believe themselves to be babies. The consensus is that the best therapy is simply to rationally explain to the baby people that they are adults, citing evidence in the form of mirrors, birth certificates (both their own and those of their offspring).   

       There is another group of dissenting analysts who believe the people are just grumpy geriatric people who like to call others babies but who sometimes mix up the words "you" and "I". When he told the analyst he thought he was a baby, he was not talking about himself, but the analyst. And in a sense, the old, diapered man was correct.
fishboner, May 21 2013
  

       And one can make an argument to discard any evidence you want, but it's still evidence. Which is why you never base an assumption on a single case. But if you have hundreds of millions of cases that's well past statistically significant.
MechE, May 21 2013
  

       //but it's still evidence.//   

       What is?
fishboner, May 21 2013
  

       In this case personal testimony, in any case the whatever evidence you choose to discard.
MechE, May 21 2013
  

       Again, data isn't evidence. If it were, no one would waste their time interpreting and analyzing.
fishboner, May 21 2013
  

       Bugger me, you are a contrary one, aren't you?   

       Worrying about whether outwardly devout beleivers actually "beleive" is about as as futile an activity as I can think of offhand. It looks like a duck, it quacks like a duck, it does ducklike things, and it's shit looks like it came from a duck.   

       Maybe there's a duck involved somewhere.
Custardguts, May 21 2013
  

       The conception of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God breaks down at the level of claims-making because certainly such power includes the ability to deny, and in effect falsify any claims made by mortals. Omnipresence assures this because no matter what evidence a theist may present God can simply be a more authorative narrator on the same circumstance. Believing in God has to break down at the level of claims-making, or else it is not God that is believed in. Any sort of theism is in fact like saying something about something indescribable. Ironically in this case it is not because the thing itself actually doesn't exist, but because the thing itself, a definition, must define itself.
rcarty, May 22 2013
  

       The anachronism of the idea of the supernatural posits some fundamental distinction between supposed aspects of the universe having differential falsifiability. Institutional nonbelief is the only place where the idea of the supernatural lives on.   

       Without a set of believers to set itself up against, institutional non-belief loses its solidarity-producing potential. So the core article of faith, as we have seen here, will not be questioned. An impressive quadruple- bypass rube goldberg theology complete with appeals to "common sense" which would be recognizable to geocentrists is deployed to avoid examination of this core article (which plays interestingly with the mythic significance of Galileo falling prey to the threat of on anti- enlightenment forces). As we see in all fundamentalist institutions, an equivalence of acceptability must be drawn between agnosticism and belief as they pertain to the possibility of religious belief itself.
fishboner, May 23 2013
  

       //The anachronism of the idea of the supernatural posits some fundamental distinction between supposed aspects of the universe having differential falsifiability.//   

       Well, there is something about conservatism being anachronistic. Poppers claim about falsifiability is that any hypothesis has to be able to be disproven, or else intutively it's not a hypothesis but a truism, or statement of fact. Of course, for believers god is not hypothetical. Regarding differential falsifiability, some claims require different proof, and in that way are differentialy falsifiable.   

       // Institutional nonbelief is the only place where the idea of the supernatural lives on. //   

       Well, metaphysics... the rules of the universe (meta) don't seem to decay like everything else, not that I'm watching in any particular way. Those are pretty supernatural, but few if any are clearly stated in any religious texts, so none can make a claim to them.   

       //Without a set of believers to set itself up against, institutional non-belief loses its solidarity-producing potential. //   

       Sort of a slave mentality unfortunately. Religious communities, you'll find, have boned up on sociology. But low solidarity is to be expected amongst atheists. Athiests will typically be ethos offenders in general, challenging any idea that begins to rule groups of people like a god, which invariably leads to breakdown.   

       //So the core article of faith, as we have seen here, will not be questioned. An impressive quadruple- bypass rube goldberg theology complete with appeals to "common sense" which would be recognizable to geocentrists is deployed to avoid examination of this core article (which plays interestingly with the mythic significance of Galileo falling prey to the threat of on anti- enlightenment forces). As we see in all fundamentalist institutions, an equivalence of acceptability must be drawn between agnosticism and belief as they pertain to the possibility of religious belief itself. //   

       Come again?
rcarty, May 23 2013
  

       Supernatural explanations, if they ever were in the same way modern explanations are, have not been operative at for a very long time, now. Yet there is still a struggle against them. This struggle persists by way of the idea that classically supernatural ideas still function as they once supposedly did.   

       On the one hand, we could say that rules of the universe are nature par excellence for the very reason that they do not decay. They rather govern, and thus wholly embody that decay. On the other hand they can be said to decay in the sense that they are part of a universe destined for singularity, at which point, I'm told, neither space, time nor dimension will exist, let alone the meta-heavy realm of theoretical particle physics. But even without going there, I think we can agree that ideas about the universe decay (ie. develop) in some other more tangible, if less apparently physical sense (Max Planck's et al ideas certainly exerted what could be said to be a decaying force on previous models).   

       //But low solidarity is to be expected amongst atheists. Athiests will typically be ethos offenders in general, challenging any idea that begins to rule groups of people like a god, which invariably leads to breakdown. //   

       I don't know that most atheists and religious people are aware that they are one or the other. For those self-aware atheists which are also self-describing, contrary to the oft-repeated complaint about them, they are often consciously accepting of humanist ethea. I don't think you'll find that to be controversial, except to the extent that even this most select set of atheists cannot really be sure the biological linguistic phenomena comprising what is termed God in conversations like this are not at play within us (frogs). This isn't to say there are not ethos offenders out there, it's just that they are just as likely not describe themselves as or think of themselves as atheist.   

       The idea that the forces of self-evident progress are in constant struggle with anti-intellectual or backward forces has its own mythology and theology. And in the present, an intact fundamentalist belief, unencumbered by complex questions of consciousness, appears to be indispensable in the persistence of this struggle.   

       Some religious people will say to atheists that their non-belief requires faith that God does not exist. This is the ultimate cry-foul moment in these debates. I was surprised to find the same argument being deployed against my proposed agnosticism on the question of whether or not religious people really believe.
fishboner, May 24 2013
  

       Again, you deny that people still believe in the supernatural without any evidence to support this statement. When I provide evidence to the contrary you ignore it or claim it is false, again without any support.   

       Please provide a modicum of support for your claims before insisting on them.
MechE, May 24 2013
  

       If like with the case of the classically supernatural, claims of the existence of belief in it have no falsifiable aspect, we must regard them as gibberish and assume everyone is atheist. Or, recognizing that whatever exists in supposed believers biologically makes all of us susceptible to god- making, we could recognize that no one can be atheist.   

       But the idea that some of us are and others of us aren't is wishfull thinking.
fishboner, May 24 2013
  

       Or recognizing that people are different, and have different backgrounds and education, and all of that means that some people do believe and some don't.   

       As I indicated above, I did, at one time, completely believe in the existence of Santa Claus, and now don't. That is proof (to me) that both states of belief are possible.
MechE, May 24 2013
  

       Precisely where and how we are different with regards to belief is an open question requiring us to stay open or offend a core principle of skepticism.   

       Your point about Santa is interesting. My initial response, which I'm assuming you skipped, i'll admit was a bit pat. What I'm interested in is when your belief made the transition into the more familiar territory of pretending to believe for your parents. My guess is it was right around the time problems with the belief were brought to your attention.   

       But before you can think critically about it, it might not be functioning like a belief yet. I remember my mom telling me about the reindeer on the roof. Perhaps in infantile youth there was a moment where in excitement of the story, and the promise of free presents, i was too distracted to question it. I can concede that state to be a sort of belief. But is it really anything like the patently defiant faith of say, some fundamentalist Protestants and Muslims?
fishboner, May 25 2013
  

       But your assumption that people believe exactly the same way you do, and the same as each other is not consistent with the observable world.
MechE, May 25 2013
  

       I made no such assumption. With all the charity I've extended, that's the best you can do? That hurts. I thought we were having a conversation.
fishboner, May 26 2013
  

       Actually you have made such a claim. By arguing that we all either must be true believers or not, you argue that it is not possible for different people to have different states of belief. By making that argument, and by claiming a state of belief, you make the statement that all people believe exactly as you do. That is the inherent underlying assumption behind your entire category of arguments in this discussion.   

       In addition, for this to be a discussion, you would need to acknowledge and respond to my points on a substantive basis, something you have failed to do.   

       Let me make this very clear: Your entire argument is based on the statement that no believes without a rational basis. I tell you that my personal experience; my experience with my family, friends, and neighbors; and my observations of the world at large contradict this. I also tell you that the scientific evidence in the form of papers by psychologists, psychiatrists, anthropologists, and sociologists contradict this. You deny that this is valid evidence, and continue to make your claims without providing any evidence beyond a simple statement. Unless and until you do provide such evidence, or at least make a coherent argument about why you can ignore the weight of evidence against your basic proposal, there is no point in continuing this discussion.
MechE, May 26 2013
  

       If my hunches have any validity, we would expect to see some indication of that in the evidence from psychological and anthropological sources. And indeed, when we start to look at these sources, this is indeed what we see. See the links.   

       Though, if we are looking into the issue from the POV of our own proto belief, as you have done, I believe there may be something worth discussing as well.
fishboner, May 27 2013
  

       The links do not appear to say what you think they say.   

       The last link does not indicate the presence of absolute, or even endemic disbelief among the religious members of the ancient greek population. They do indicate a streak of skepticism, which is hardly surprising since they gave us the word in the first place. It also indicates a strain of thought that was questing for the historical basis of the beliefs, but neither indicates the absence of true believers, and in fact the book reinforces that such existed.   

       The links on suicide attacks look specifically at a case (Israel-Palestine) where the primary motivation is socio-political rather than religious, despite strong religious undertones, and by doing so does not look where those motivated by belief would most likely be found.   

       Looking at suicide bombings in the sectarian violence in Iraq (not directed at US forces, the occupiers, but at other Iraqis) you might find a different mindset. Same with the 9/11 hijackers. Same with Mother Teresa, or Francis of Assisi, or Siddhartha Gautama. Not all people who devote their lives to a religious cause are killers, but they do give all the appearances of having done it for religious reasons.   

       You, again, make a blanket declaration about the mindset of all believers. Even if you could prove this to be the case in some instances (which you have failed to do) you are trying far to hard to expand that to cover every person, and doing so in a way that is inconsistent with the evidence.
MechE, May 27 2013
  

       We don't disagree that thought-to-be believers do things that are consistent with their alleged belief. Stated-belief- to-action consistency was your main test for belief. To be clear, I accept this test. I agree with it. The newest [link] agrees with it.   

       The pathology of this conversation (not just ours, but the larger one) consists in the fact that the same term is used to denote sometimes wholly different phenomena. The last round of [links] gives us the terminology "modalities of belief".   

       If you are open to the possibility that all religious belief can often assume one of many wholly distinct modalities, but you remain agnostic as to what precisely is going on in their head, but you still want to call it belief, then this conversation has been farcical because we disagree on nothing.
fishboner, May 28 2013
  

       Question: So do atheists believe that our bodies cannot have spirits? (well, actually, if spirits exist, one would say that our spirits have bodies). Just wondering. Or is it that they don't have a belief in anything they can't prove scientifically? Do they preclude certain beliefs as false?   

       Is this not simply being agnostic, while leaving everything within the realm of possibility?   

       Do atheists believe that there is no possible way to prove that there is a God? Or do they simply not have a belief in God because they haven't found proof? If an atheist found proof of God's existence, how would that change him?
twitch, May 31 2013
  

       //Or is it that they don't have a belief in anything they can't prove scientifically?//   

       Well no one has scientifically proven that anyone believes any more or any less than the next person, yet a great many self-described atheists claim this.
fishboner, May 31 2013
  

       Hey I'm an atheist, but that doesn't mean I don't hold opinions on things, based on evidence or logic - I just don't promulgate them as proven fact. I hold the opinion that god doesn't exist - I could never prove this true, but I would also need some preponderance of evidence to swing me over.   

       It is my opinion that some or even most religious people actually beleive in one or more sky monsters. There's lots of evidence for this, once again, no conclusive proof.   

       It is also my opinion that this argument has become purile. I have stated before that it really doesn't matter whether they, at some level, don't really beleive. 'Cause they sure as hell act as if they do, and that's what really counts.   

       [twitch] - to answer your questions, in order. (talking about me here, I can't speak for anyone else) 1) I see no gap in evidence that would be filled by the existence of a "spirit". I don't beleive in them. Of course, no one can have any evidence either way on that, so it's just opinion in either case.   

       2) I think you and I use the word beleif differently. Mine requires no faith, it's based on preponderance of evidence.   

       3) I preclude some beleifs as unlikely, as in "flies in the face of all available evidence". That's as close to false as you're likely to get.   

       4) Sure, you get me some solid evidence, and my opinions will be swayed. I have no inertia here.   

       5) Well, yes, and there's lots that's been said on this. But a lot of agnostics take a soft, apologetic approach and go very softly on a lot of the moral, social and ethical issues that abound with many organised (and disorganised) religions. I try not to hold contempt for people but when push comes to shove - there's a hell of a lot more evidence contrary to the teachnigs of religion than there is for it. I've reached the point where I'm convinced it's all bullshit. But once again, if new evidence came to light I would be willing to shift my position, - just like if new evidence came to light that proved gravity was not what we thought it was, or differential calculus was wrong (pretty please?).   

       6) Well he could just come down and say hello.... Or you know, do something, anything that wasn't more easily explained via our well established laws of physics. But I think doing something overt would be the best way. Hinting at your existence via handmedown collections of allegory and ranting is a poor way to guarantee universal acceptance. Yep, I think a mett-and-greet would be best.   

       7) Yep, no proof.   

       8) Well if the proof were um, conclusive, or even just persuasive, then of course my opinions would change. I'm still not a fan of paying obesience to anybody, and I'm not sure I would willingly prostate myself for anyone, god including.   

       Hope that was helpful, or at least a little informative. [eidt - sorry, missed one, fixing now]
Custardguts, Jun 02 2013
  

       //It is my opinion that some or even most religious people actually beleive in one or more sky monsters. There's lots of evidence for this, once again, no conclusive proof. It is also my opinion that this argument has become purile. I have stated before that it really doesn't matter whether they, at some level, don't really beleive. 'Cause they sure as hell act as if they do, and that's what really counts.//   

       Can you link me to this "lots of evidence"?
fishboner, Jun 03 2013
  

       Hey, at least you quoted the purile bit.
Custardguts, Jun 03 2013
  

       //when a suicide bomber blows himself up ...we are seeing a member of a religion communicate//

It is not correct to equate suicide bombings with religion. Suicide attacks have a long and ancient history and even in the modern era it was really the Tamil Tigers, fighting a seperatist war in Sri Lanka, who really 'popularised' the concept.

//believing depends crucially on some form of recognition from one's fellows//

I don't believe that for a moment. If it was true then new religions & schisms would never happen.

//Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings//

Science invented the atom bomb. Religion called for people to 'love thy neighbour'. We can all make up fatuous comparisons.

//an atheist does not need that belief to function//

Well quite. It's rather like people finding it incredible that I can function without the aid of a mobile phone. In fact, I think I could probably concoct a workable theory to link the decline in church attendances with the increase in mobile phone useage. Who needs a hotline to God when you can phone a friend instead?

I'm an atheist by the way.
DrBob, Jun 04 2013
  

       //science invented the atom bomb// arguably to stop people from flying into buildings. Or at least into battle ships :)   

       I believe (pun intended) that I've cracked the origin of belief systems.
  

       <obligatory theory sign>
  

       I think belief originates in the same way as other memory driven behavior originates. Believing is similar to driving during the commute while thinking of other things -- we've all had that experience -- suddenly we arrive there, with little memory of consciously doing it. The more we do a certain something, the more it gets pushed into the subconscious to let the brain do other things.   

       So a belief system is just another way to reduce load on the brain -- taking a set of assumptions for granted reduces the need to think about them.   

       And of course we evolved defenses to avoid disrupting this mechanism -- when you have to drive a different way because of a detour, it's irritating. Needle me about markets, or global warming, you'll get a negative reaction, because I don't want to have my assumptions challenged -- and the same is true for everyone here.   

       So, couple the above with tribalism and other typical Darwinian mechanisms, and you get religion.   

       Not sure how major or new this insight is, or useful, but I believe it :)   

       </obligatory theory sign>
theircompetitor, Jun 04 2013
  

       Well, into battle ships certainly.
DrBob, Jun 04 2013
  

       So kind of like the Oracle always talking in generalities?
theircompetitor, Jun 04 2013
  

       The Oracle never commits, it makes predictions that cannot be refuted, and are of course therefore valueless. Having been a fortune teller (honest injun), I can tell you that it's real hard to keep that going. But it's a living.
theircompetitor, Jun 04 2013
  

       People look for patterns to speed up cognition. This is one of the theories of why we experience pareidolia, because it allows for faster identification of threats/benefits, with the actual analysis of causality trailing (sometimes far) behind.   

       There isn't anything wrong with this, it's basically how we improve our understanding of the world. As [Bigs] said, plant a bunch of seeds, and you get food out.   

       However it also means that if you request rain from the universe and it rains, and this happens a couple of times in a row, you begin to think that something in the universe is listening. And if you get sick after eating shellfish during warm months, maybe you attribute it to contaminated food, but maybe you decide that the universe just doesn't like you eating shellfish, there's no real reason to decide between the two, unless you understand how and why shellfish goes bad.   

       This wouldn't be so bad, since the acquisition of more information would tend to overturn the incorrect theories, except that there is another problem. Humans are subject to confirmation bias. They tend to remember or lend credence to information that supports what they believe, and forget or ignore anything that contradicts it. This may be because, as [theircompetitor] said, because changing your beliefs increases the load on your mind, or it may be because, evolutionarily speaking, changing patterns increases the risk of the previous pattern jumping out of the jungle and biting us. This allows beliefs that have no basis or limited basis in reality to persist far beyond the production of contradictory evidence. This is especially true since it is impossible to prove that a belief without any basis in reality isn't true, the best you can do is show that the weight of evidence is against it.   

       Thus, the best the skeptic can do is take what concrete evidence exists, and try to build a comprehensive world view from that information. They will still draw patterns when the causality may or may not exist, and they still will have more tendency to accept what supports what they already believe, but by deliberately trying to be open to new facts, deliberately being willing to discard beliefs that are in contradiction, and going out and trying to find opposing viewpoints to understand why they are what they are, the skeptic can try to make it so the patterns they recognize are the ones that are actually there.   

       That being said, [fishy] is still wrong.
MechE, Jun 04 2013
  

       there is definitely circuitry in the brain for this. I wonder if animals pray then, at least in the "please, please, let me <catch this prey</> <escape this predator/> so I don't die. Is there a silent or non- silent cry to the universe about the unfairness of it all in those last moments? It would seem there would have to be at least for higher order mammals.
theircompetitor, Jun 04 2013
  

       Well there is a perfectly logical reason for there to be circuitry that wants to appeal to a higher power. Because during our most formative years, that higher power would be known as mom or dad.   

       Other than the sort of sociology experiment that gets people (deservedly) burned at the stake, I'm not sure how you'd test it, but I'd bet that a K type intelligent (low nurturing, high reproduction) population, if such can exist, would have much less tendency to produce deities. (And yes, I know r/K theory is pretty much discredited, and more of a spectrum is preferred now, but it's useful for talking about the extremes.)   

       Of course such sociology experiments offer other interesting possibilities. I would consider it strong proof of the existence of a deity if an infant population was left with a neutral information source (defining neutral would be a challenge, admittedly), and no religious data, and somehow produced a belief system that was recognizably that of the deity(ies). I also don't think it's likely they would, since the closest we've managed to come (populations isolated on different continents/regions) tend to produce very different belief systems.   

       There's also the curious question of, if you were able to produce truly nocturnal humans (such that they had difficulty operating in bright sunlight) in an isolated population, would they reverse the light good/dark bad paradigm. What about the heaven up/hell down if they were comfortable living in caves? Would humans with different color blood associate that color with danger instead of red?
MechE, Jun 04 2013
  

       See, if I were religious, I would find [fish]'s comments hugely offensive.   

       As an atheist - I say, (when appropriately asked or prompted, or driven), "what you beleive in is wrong, or at least is very much likely to be wrong to the point where I think you're being silly or irrational".   

       [fish] is saying "you don't really beleive at all, you just think you do but are to stupid or obtuse to realise you don't".   

       Now that's offensive.
Custardguts, Jun 05 2013
  

       //The atom bomb ended the war with Japan//

No, the Japanese were asking to surrender before the A-bomb was dropped. M.A.D. *might* have saved lives in Europe but it didn't save many lives in South East Asia. And India & Pakistan are still taking pot shots at each other to this very day.

In reality, I think my example wasn't a very strong one really. What I should have said was that science invented the atom bomb, religion inspired Mahalia Jackson & Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
DrBob, Jun 05 2013
  

       Altruism has been shown to exist outside of religion (in animals, for instance), so the "do good" aspect that religion tends to take credit is rather instead a manifestation of a part of our nature.   

       Whereas even if one grants that prayer occasionally saves a patient, antibiotics alone has saved many, many more people than Jesus ever will.   

       Both search for truth. But in the end, organized religion is about a framework for behavior, and philosophical belief can perhaps help people find meaning, but cannot help improve the human condition, or else it would have by now. The best improvements religion has made ("let's stop human sacrifice") have typically been to reign in its own accesses ("let's cut this guy's heart out so we have a good harvest").   

       It's not even a contest.
theircompetitor, Jun 05 2013
  

       //antibiotics alone has saved many, many more people than Jesus ever will//

You won't get any argument from me on that. My point, really, was that every aspect of religion seemed to be getting a bit of a raw deal from the annos above, as though nothing good had ever come from religion whilst science was being portrayed in the opposite light.

As I said, I'm an atheist myself (and have a generally low opinion of religion, particularly in its organised form) but in truth, some very good things have come from religious philosophy and some very bad ones from scientific advancement.

21Q, the article you quote makes my point for me. Japan was already looking for a way out, so although the A bomb allowed the Allies to dictate the terms of the surrender, it was the devastation of the cities and economy by other means that was responsible for the Japanese realisation that they had to do so. In fact, the Soviets had deliberately refrained from telling the other Allies about the surrender approaches so that they could join the war against Japan and grab some of the spoils.
DrBob, Jun 05 2013
  

       The a bomb is actually a pretty funny, but very illustrative example. The biggest problem cited with science is that it gives humans godlike power
theircompetitor, Jun 05 2013
  

       The atom bomb may have been created by science, but it wasn't dropped in the name of science.   

       I'm not saying that there haven't been killings in the name of science. Mengele, Unit 731, many in the US and other countries as well. We shouldn't forget these, and definitely need to remember that science and scientists are not perfect. But science has never had a systematic drive to violence. Many religions do, or did at one or more points in their history.   

       Even many religions that have moved away from overt violence cause great harm by enforcing tenets that neglect the good of their practitioners in favor of doctrinal points (I'm thinking of the Catholic prohibition on birth control in relation to both overpopulation and HIV in Africa, but that's far from the only one).
MechE, Jun 05 2013
  

       //The atom bomb ended the war with Japan//   

       No it didn't. The Air Force conducted a thorough investigation and determined that surrender was imminent on account of the fire bombing. The delay could have been partly due to the disruption to communication systems, and surveying the damage. For this reason, the nukes dropped on Japan may have actually delayed the surrender a little.   

       here's a passage from the US Strategic Bombing Survey [link]:   

       "We underestimated the ability of our air attack on Japan's home islands, coupled as it was with blockade and previous military defeats, to achieve unconditional surrender without invasion. By July 1945, the weight of our air attack had as yet reached only a fraction of its planned proportion, Japan's industrial potential had been fatally reduced, her civilian population had lost its confidence in victory and was approaching the limit of its endurance, and her leaders, convinced of the inevitability of defeat, were preparing to accept surrender. The only remaining problem was the timing and terms of that surrender."
fishboner, Jun 05 2013
  

       And I could post as many arguments to the contrary. Especially since that particular report is predicated on the continuing firebombing of Japanese cities, which was, by any reasonable standard, no better than the atomic bombings.   

       Given that the Japanese were attempting to negotiate a separate peace (or really a continuation of the status quo) with Russia, Russia's failure to report really doesn't mean anything. The civilians and military on the Japanese Islands were being prepared and trained for the sort of scorched earth, fight to the last man battles that had occurred on the Pacific Islands. Truman was aware of this, and what it would mean for casualties on both sides. You can argue that the Japanese would not have gone through with that sort of defense. You can claim that the Soviet entry into the pacific war would have ended it anyway. But to the contrary there is the point that the final decision to surrender was made by the emperor in response to the bombings. Also the point that, by the best estimates, a delay of as little as two months in the surrender of Japan would have resulted in as many deaths in occupied China than the bombs caused in Japan. You can continue to debate whether or not the bombings were necessary, whether or not they saved lives as long as you want, but it is not possible to reach an absolute conclusion.
MechE, Jun 05 2013
  

       Not really. That was a theory at one time, or that the bombings were really intended to scare Russia, but neither of those actually match what happened. Russia hadn't signed the Potsdam declaration, which gave Japan hope, but by the time the bombs were dropped, Russia had unequivocally declared war against Japan.   

       And as far as Japan being willing to surrender, they were open to a surrender that left Japan in pretty much the same state it was prior to the war, including some occupied territory in China, and at least some of the ruling councilors seemed willing (based on their own writings) to accept massive civilian and military casualties in order to hurt the US badly enough to make them accept those terms.
MechE, Jun 05 2013
  

       From the steam engine to the atom, to bringing back people from clinical death, from visiting other celestial bodies, to defeating diseases and extending lifespan, to, in the end, doing what no religion will come close to doing -- grant people true, verifiable immortality, and perhaps full mastery over matter, or even space and time, science is and will continue to be ascendant. For that matter, again with the abomb, even the biblical apocalypse is only really possible because of science (whether in the abomb variety or the asteroid variety).
theircompetitor, Jun 05 2013
  

       //that particular report is predicated on the continuing firebombing of Japanese cities//   

       [mechE] How do you square that with this:   

       "By July 1945, the weight of our air attack had as yet reached only a fraction of its planned proportion, Japan's industrial potential had been fatally reduced, her civilian population had lost its confidence in victory and was approaching the limit of its endurance, and her leaders, convinced of the inevitability of defeat, were preparing to accept surrender. The only remaining problem was the timing and terms of that surrender."   

       Note: July was a full month prior to the nukings.   

       I guess you are saying that the US mistakenly believed Japan was still a threat. That's certainly the case the Strategic Bombing Survey puts forth, but consider the source. More likely, there were intelligence units withing the military and elsewhere telling planners of the state of affairs on the ground, but the plan to nuke had already been invested in.   

       As for sending a message to Russia, it seems to me simply mailing them some test footage would suffice, or better yet, invite some of their scientists to a detonation test or two.   

       [21Q], as for the two choices you are positing, it seems you are missing at least one other obvious choice. That is, continue the blockade while more intelligence was coming in. Interestingly, it appears this would have been the correct choice which would have brought about the end of the war with the least amount of casualties, and without setting the nuke precedent at our expense.   

       This illustrates the real problem with having so many people working so hard on military technology. They disrupt or even invert precautionary logic. It becomes precautionary to bomb rather than to not bomb.
fishboner, Jun 05 2013
  

       I don't have to do anything to square it. It is entirely based on the conventional bombing campaigns continuing until such time as the surrender was ready to be signed.   

       As far as squaring my statement that many of the leaders were either unprepared to surrender, relative to the report's, that's easy enough. At the time of the report, some members of the Japanese government were willing to discuss terms, but nothing like an actual surrender offer on any terms existed.   

       What would have been Japan's terms, even the minimum, left the government and military structures intact. The more extended terms many members of the government were holding out for left Japan armed and in possession of much of it's conquered territory in Asia.   

       Considering that the US and the British Empire had both suffered what they felt were surprise attacks by the Japanese, it would be completely unacceptable to them to leave the existing government in control, let alone in a position to rebuild and re-exert it's claims in a very short time.   

       Reports and documents that have surfaced well after the report you are referencing was written prove that at least a large faction of the Japanese leadership was, as I stated above, willing to sacrifice large portions of their civilian populace if it would inflict enough casualties on the US to get the terms they wanted. This ignores the ongoing civilian deaths in conquered China and other occupied countries, which, again as stated above, would have (apparently) have equaled the losses in Japan from the bombs within a couple of months.   

       Again, I don't think you can make an absolute declaration that either side of the argument is right. It was a horrific act, no question, but whether it was an unjustified one, that question is impossible to answer.   

       Unlimited war is a horrible thing, and neither side had precision weapons that would limit civilian casualties. The discussion has to include the Blitz, the Bombing of Dresden, the Bombing of Tokyo, and even the attack on Pearl Harbor (only maybe 50 civilians killed, but the thousands of sailors weren't involved in a war with Japan at the time, which isn't that different).
MechE, Jun 05 2013
  

       There's also the fact that the report in question was written by the strategic bombing command, which has a strong incentive to argue that strategic conventional bombing was what made the difference. I've read some of the histories on the subject, and the politics in the military at that point are incredibly complex.
MechE, Jun 05 2013
  

       [mechE] I think you mean the Stragegic Air Command, which was responsible for implementing the nuclear bombing. Nonetheless, good point. it stands to reason that conventional arms manufacturers and other profit seekers saw potential losses in the relatively efficient new bombs, and that they would have influence in such matters, which they still do.   

       But the SAC was not the only party to proclaim the bombings to be unnecessary: “Proportionality should be a guideline in war. Killing 50% to 90% of the people of 67 Japanese cities and then bombing them with two nuclear bombs is not proportional, in the minds of some people, to the objectives we were trying to achieve.” Citing Le May’s remarks at the time, McNamara said: “If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals. And I think he’s right. He, and I’d say I, were behaving as war criminals.”   

       That's former secretary of war Robert Macnamara.
fishboner, Jun 06 2013
  

       I used Strategic Bombing Command, because it would have shifted during the period this report was being written, from the various wartime bombing commands to the SAC. Regardless, it's the officers known as "Bomber Mafia" producing the report.   

       I've agreed it was a horrible act, but so was conventional bombing, so is a siege for that matter. More people would have died of starvation and disease in a protracted blockade of the Japanese Islands. There wasn't a good option to end the war on the US side, so you're left trying to select the least bad option.   

       And I also need to repeat that a blockade would have done nothing to stop the deaths in occupied China, which are estimated to have been at least 100.000 a month. Even invasion wouldn't have, since at that point the Japanese would not have been able to recall their troops even if they wanted to.
MechE, Jun 06 2013
  

       There may be scope for some study, under the half-bakery category, of how many HB ideas end up re-fighting the Second World War.   

       I blame Adorno's Negative Dialectics.
pertinax, Jun 06 2013
  

       //I've agreed it was a horrible act, but so was conventional bombing, so is a siege for that matter.//   

       Neither of which appear to have been necessary.
fishboner, Jun 06 2013
  

       You have provided evidence to that effect, I've provided evidence to the contrary. Take your pick, in this case, not even hindsight is 20/20.
MechE, Jun 06 2013
  

       //workers in munitions factories are just as guilty of fighting the war as the soldiers they are supplying.//   

       [21Q] I don't think I'd say the idea that populations in totalitarian countries deserve to be terrorized and burned to death for the crimes of their oligarchs and propagandists is a completely novel ethical and legal concept. That said, it tends to be a sentiment that applies very selectively. It never seems to apply to those invoking it.   

       We need not wonder if this still applies in the case of Jewish ghetto munitions workers, but some critical evaluation of the freewill of the workers in these countries could be instructive. To some extent, during a war, everyone is part of the war machine. That was the case in the US, anyway. So your principle becomes a big responsibility in that light.   

       Thankfully, the allies took the view that the Japanese people had been led astray by its leadership, and we made sure their new constitution had certain features conducive to democratic structures (eg. robust public broadcast infrastructure funded through a device sales fee, open elections).   

       Finally, in yours and [mechE]'s case, there seems to be a basic lack of appreciation as to the absolute lack of necessity for either and invasion, more firebombing or even the nukes. Japan was in ruins already. They were pathetically unable to inflict almost any losses on the US as raid after raid further degraded their war-making and rebuilding capabilities. The war was over by April. This was consensus among planners after the war. As General LeMay put it:   

       "it was safer to fly a combat mission over Japan than it was to fly a B-29 training mission back in the United States"   

       Okay. So they apparently did not know it yet. More likely, they couldn't know it because by that point it was all about 'how' rather than 'why'.   

       quoth [mechE] //You have provided evidence to that effect, I've provided evidence to the contrary.//   

       We agree a case could be made that planners thought either nukes, additional bombing or an invasion were necessary at one point. Today, however, the only evidence is that they were mistaken.   

       I have posted the Strategic Bombing Survey (which was not prepared by the bomber mafia, it turns out, but rather a pretty wide mix of military and civilian researchers). They even surveyed the Japanese, who say the fire bombing was decisive in their surrender. I also posted a quotation from a prominent war planner saying much of the bombing and nuking was unnecessary. Another planner has said that by April, it was safer to fly a raid over Japan than train in the US. (That's General LeMay, see actual quote above).   

       So that's two prominent planners, a report from a cross-branch military and civilian team which also interviewed Japanese officials. Certainly all these parties weren't trying to denigrate the necessity of the atomic bombs.   

       There certainly is no evidence that the nukes saved us from a ground invasion. That just simply was not needed.   

       Yet, the myth persists even among people who pride themselves on not believing myths. Their mistaken notion that the incantation "I do not believe in myths" inoculates them against religious behavior makes them all the more susceptible.
fishboner, Jun 06 2013
  

       //purile// sp. puerile - childish (literally boy-like). Ironically, purile would mean clear or pure.   

       Y'all should look up philosophical scepticism, which distrusts belief without muddying the waters with notions of religions and deities and such.
spidermother, Jun 06 2013
  

       Fine, I'll wear the spello - I was just honestly spelling it wrong.   

       Meant what I said. whether or not it's got a name, it's rather insulting - hell it offends me and I'm not even religious.
Custardguts, Jun 07 2013
  

       The counter arguments do not come from the US side. They come from the actual Japanese ruling council, particularly the military representatives, who had de facto veto power. They were unwilling to surrender except under terms that would have left their war fighting power intact. It doesn't matter that Japan's ability to project power at the time was nonexistent, leaving them able to rebuild without changing the government was not considered acceptable.   

       The US (and the Brits, and the Soviets, all victims of surprise attacks) would not have accepted that sort of conditional surrender. Thus additional effort was needed to produce a surrender on acceptable (read, not facing a new war in ten years) terms. Again, even after the bombings, it took the direct instruction of the Emperor to his top advisors to override their objections and produce the surrender.   

       Oh, and it doesn't matter who's names are on the report, it really was produced under the direction of the Bomber Command officers.
MechE, Jun 07 2013
  

       //it really was produced under the direction of the Bomber Command officers//   

       [citation needed]   

       take a look at the bombing survey Foreword [link]. It's not even clear the "bombing command" was even involved. If interested parties in the Airforce or elsewhere were involved, they were one of several parties contributing. It might be good to know who edited it. But with journalists like Keneth Galbraith involved, such parties would seem to have been loathe to stretch the truth too far.   

       FROM THE BOMBING SURVEY FOREWORD [link] "The United States Strategic Bombing Survey was established by the Secretary of War on 3 November 1944, pursuant to a directive from the late President Roosevelt. It was established for the purpose of conducting an impartial and expert study of the effects of our aerial attack on Germany, to be used in connection with air attacks on Japan and to establish a basis for evaluating air power as an instrument of military strategy, for planning the future development of the United States armed forces, and for determining future economic policies with respect to the national defense. A summary report and some 200 supporting reports containing the findings of the Survey in Germany have been published. On 15 August 1945, President Truman requested the Survey to conduct a similar study of the effects of all types of air attack in the war against Japan.   

       The officials of the Survey in Japan, who are all civilians, were:   

       Franklin D'Olier, Chairman. Paul H. Nitze, Henry C. Alexander, Vice Chairmen. Harry L. Bowman, J. Kenneth Galbraith, Rensis Likert, Frank A. McNamee, Jr., Fred Searls, Jr., Monroe E. Spaght, Dr. Louis R. Thompson, Theodore P. Wright, Directors. Walter Wilds, Secretary.   

       The Survey's complement provided for 300 civilians, 350 officers, and 500 enlisted men. Sixty percent of the military segment of the organization for the Japanese study was drawn from the Army, and 40 percent from the Navy. Both the Army and the Navy gave the Survey all possible assistance in the form of men, supplies, transport, and information. The Survey operated from headquarters in Tokyo, with subheadquarters in Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, and with mobile teams operating in other parts of Japan, the islands of the Pacific, and the Asiatic mainland.   

       The Survey secured the principal surviving Japanese records and interrogated top Army and Navy officers, Government officials, industrialists, political leaders, and many hundreds of their subordinates throughout Japan. It was thus possible to reconstruct much of wartime Japanese military planning and execution, engagement by engagement and campaign by campaign, and to secure reasonably accurate data on Japan's economy and war production, plant by plant, and industry by industry. In addition, studies were made of Japan's over-all strategic plans and the background of her entry into the war, the internal discussions and negotiations leading to her acceptance of unconditional surrender, the course of health and morale among the civilian population, the effectiveness of the Japanese civilian defense organization and the effects of the atomic bomb. Separate reports will be issued covering each phase of the study.   

       In this Summary Report the civilian officials and directors of the Survey have not undertaken to write a history of the Pacific war, nor to apportion credit for victory among the various component Allied forces. They have undertaken, as civilians, to present an analysis of the factual material gathered by the Survey and their general appraisal thereof as to the future."   

       Again, if you have some data, please link us,.
fishboner, Jun 07 2013
  
      
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