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Enquiry Concerning David Hume...

Humanists Launch War on Adjectives

The British Humanist Association has launched a billboard campaign with the slogan “Please don't label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself”. It's a clever piece of spin, managing to disguise its bigotry as an apparently reasonable request. What lies behind this campaign is an attack on Faith schools, which in turn amounts to advocating the violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s driven by rhetoric from Richard Dawkins (who part funded the billboard campaign), who believes that parents passing their religious traditions onto their children is tantamount to child abuse.

If what were really being attacked were labels, this would be a grammatical attack on adjectives and would be recognisably insane. Instead, the rhetoric of inclusionism is used to make religion seem expressly and entirely negative: “religious parents force their beliefs onto their children, and this is bad,” claims the underlying logic – it’s something that many non-religious people find easy to believe. You only have to scratch the surface slightly to see the intolerance beneath, as in this blog post which brazenly states:

I firmly believe that the majority of religious people only have those beliefs because they were indoctrinated as children.

There’s little hope of religious tolerance from someone who cannot even imagine a child benefiting from a religious upbringing, nor how one’s life might be enriched by following a faith tradition.

Parents pass their beliefs onto their children as a natural part of the experience of parenthood, be it nationality, religion, political partisanship or sporting allegiance. It was part of the joy of my childhood that I got to share in my parent’s religious journey, and even though what I now believe is very different to what they believed I cannot begin to estimate how much I have gained from the experiences they shared with me. The idea that someone would advocate excluding a child from sharing in their parent’s spirituality or religion horrifies me, and such a proposal is an express violation of our human rights treaties.

No-one is denying that there are problems in the domain of religion, as there is in every sphere of human experience. Humanity is far from a perfect species. But to single out religion in the domain of cultural inheritance constitutes a prejudice, and to advocate the exclusion of children from religion is an assault on our most fundamental freedoms. Besides, if one soberly considers the whole of human history can anyone honestly say that religious identities are definitively more problematic than national identities?

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"Parents pass their beliefs onto their children as a natural part of the experience of parenthood, be it nationality, religion, political partisanship or sporting allegiance."

Some parents pass on racism, bigotry and xenophobia too as part of the natural experience of parenthood. Where do you draw the line?

"to advocate the exclusion of children from religion is an assault on our most fundamental freedoms."

Yes, and so is advocating the exclusion of children from racist influences. I fail to see your point here really.

Religion teaches some pretty bad stereotypes and assumptions that we could live without..

I have local Christians putting leaflets through my door with little cartoons drawn on of kids with AC/DC shirts on being condemned to hell for listening to rock music. Is that a rational conclusion you want children growing up with? That someone who enjoys AC/DC would go to hell for nothing more than listening to music? That if someone is raped and she has an abortion she is 'unclean'? There are Muslims being brought up thinking some pretty terrible things about westerners who are prepare to KILL in the name of the Lord.

These are not qualities I would want MY child to grow up with. If people are comfortable teaching their children to discriminate for whatever reason, faith, race, colour, income.. then go ahead and knock yourself out. I firmly believe that religion, amongst other things of course, is slowing down the evolution of the human race and we can live without it.

I feel differently about the idea of loving parents sharing religious beliefs with their child and "faith schools".

Generally I think that if parents are bad then the religious part of what they give their kids is not our most pressing problem. If parents are good then kids can evaluate their beliefs in their own time.

I'm open to religious teaching in schools along historical lines: i.e. understanding religion, what it says, what effects it has, and so forth.

I am, based on personal experience I admit, very much less open to "faith schools" of any kind and the concept of religious worship in schools. I do see that as (however well meaning) indoctrination of a kind I do not support.

M.


@Eckyman
You equate religion with racism, bigotry and xenophobia without offering any arguments or evidence. You compound this by assuming religions are monolithic and characterize them by their most extreme and intolerant adherents. All Christians are racists. All Muslims are terrorists. These are, surely, pretty bad stereotypes that we could do without.

@Matt
I agree. I think religion should be kept out of schools, except in a 'religious studies' context (the study of religions, not indoctrination into one or another). This is not the same thing as preventing parents sharing their religious tradition with their children.

Of course living in the UK you've got bigger problems of freedom infringement than Richard Dawkins, between the CCTV, DNA database and ridiculous licensing, fines and home intrusion that has been going on there.

I think the argument is flawed because I know plenty of people who converted or became atheist even after being raised in a highly religious household.

While I'm not a big fan of Christianity, teaching it in the home is not harmful in an of itself. It seems this argument goes a long way towards saying that once were programed as kids we have no free will. I don't believe that.

Yeah, pfft, I was heavily indoctrinated from the moment I was born and I hate christianity. This assumes people are too stupid to question beliefs they grew up with. Well... I guess it might be true for some people.

That's my blog that you're linking to up there. I stand firmly behind everything that I wrote there. But I should point out that I have no connection with the campaign and that you shouldn't take my personal views as being at all indicative of what the campaign is about.

I'd love to believe that every member of the BHA shared my views on religion, but I know that the majority of them are far more conciliatory.

So by all means feel free to debate me on my views (my blog comments are open to everyone) but don't let your disagreements with me cloud the important issues covered by this campaign.

Well, obviously, going around labelling people (of any age, with any label) is generally a not nice thing to do.

But telling parents what they can and can't teach their kids? Just because you personally can't see the value of said parents' beliefs? That strikes me as just a wee bit totalitarian.

Not to mention; the impetus to do this is based on the assumption that religion is a wholly destructive thing; which is much more of a stereotype--a label--than an accurate picture.

Ironic, really.

@Theo

I do associate religion with racism, bigotry, and xenophobia you are correct. But this is based on my own experiences with religion and people I know/have known who claim to follow certain religions.

I do not think this of ALL religion or people who follow it. But when a large portion of people you deal with who "claim" to be religious think nothing of referring to dark skinned people as "gollywogs", and immigrants as benefit thieves and unemployed, white, people are just "down on their luck", or have lost a job to a foreigner.. it's hard to keep a positive frame of mind about religion when the people representing it to me make me want to be sick.

"All Christians are racists. All Muslims are terrorists. These are, surely, pretty bad stereotypes that we could do without."

This could not be further from what I was trying to say to be honest. See above. I have met a LOT of people who claim to follow religion and live their lives the complete opposite. I can only talk from experience however and I appreciate that not everyone who calls themselves Christian is an ignorant racist. Just all the ones in the areas I have lived ;)

Thanks for the comments everyone! As you may have guessed, I posted this to kick off some discussions... :)

Eckyman: "Some parents pass on racism, bigotry and xenophobia too as part of the natural experience of parenthood. Where do you draw the line?"

You don't. Parent's get to decide what their children learn, and this includes things we find distasteful such as racism and bigotry.

"Is that a rational conclusion you want children growing up with? That someone who enjoys AC/DC would go to hell for nothing more than listening to music?"

That some people spout nonsense is not materially relevant to this discussion.

"There are Muslims being brought up thinking some pretty terrible things about westerners who are prepare to KILL in the name of the Lord."

What do Muslim extremists have to do with this? There are a vast number of people willing to kill because they are ordered to do so by their nation, and many people who are prepared to kill for personal gain... Islamic extremism has more in common with the former than the latter, being principally concerned with political territory.

"I firmly believe that religion, amongst other things of course, is slowing down the evolution of the human race and we can live without it."

You erroneously equate "evolution" with "progress", and belief in progress is as metaphysical as any religion. You are welcome to believe your metaphysics are superior to other people's - plenty of religious people share this self-certainty - but we all live in glass houses when it comes to freedom of belief.

"it's hard to keep a positive frame of mind about religion when the people representing it to me make me want to be sick."

I appreciate this. I lived in Tennessee for a while, and some of the roadside Church signs made me cringe; some made me furious. Fortunately, these were the minority by a wide margin. Personally, I met some wonderful Christians in Knoxville, not to mention Hindus and Pagans. If you're only meeting the worst elements of religion, perhaps you're networking in the wrong places? :)

Thanks for wading in!

Matt: "I feel differently about the idea of loving parents sharing religious beliefs with their child and 'faith schools'."

We've discussed faith schools on your blog, of course. The thing to remember here is that this is a choice between providing schools with a curriculum that parents will acede to versus home schooling. While I would prefer a more integrated schooling, not one based solely on a single religion, I still think the faith schools are a better solution than mass home schooling. The latter is surely more problematic than the former, where at least the curriculum and activities are open to scrutiny and discussion.

Our human rights agreements grant parents the right to choose how their children are educated; faith schools are a natural consequence of this. Your concerns regarding the funding of them, however, is a legitimate political point of discussion.

Patrick: I'm not keen on the information policing that's creeping through, but at the moment it falls short of violating international human rights agreements. :)

AramZS, Sirc: It's a good point you raise here - like both of you, I don't believe that childhood religion precludes adult free will.

davorg: thanks for stopping by. I don't think there's much to gain from our debating your views, personally, although I appreciate the offer. While I recognise your point that your views aren't necessarily indicative of what the campaign about, I do believe that Dawkins shares your view. Do you, or does anyone else, honestly believe that this campaign isn't motivated at heart by a desire to undermine religion by excluding children from it?

What's bizarre about this is that, viewed from afar, the Humanists are in effect asking that children be raised as Humanists until adulthood, and then be free to convert to other religions (or nonreligions). Can you imagine the furore if a faith tradition were to campaign on similar grounds?

Andre: "But telling parents what they can and can't teach their kids? Just because you personally can't see the value of said parents' beliefs? That strikes me as just a wee bit totalitarian."

Amen!

Thanks for the comments everyone! I always come back to this topic because it never fails to get people talking. :)

What of the freedom of conscience of the children, who are indoctrinated into such beliefs before they have the ability to decide for themselves?

"While I'm not a big fan of Christianity, teaching it in the home is not harmful in an of itself. It seems this argument goes a long way towards saying that once were programed as kids we have no free will. I don't believe that. "

It's not that we don't have free will once indoctrinated; by far, the main thrust of the campaign comes from nonreligious people who were once indoctrinated by their parents. The point is that everything that we do from here on out, whether it's on the religious or nonreligious side, is necessarily a reaction to our religious upbringing. I, and most other people on the planet, were robbed of one of the most precious opportunities we could have: a chance to honestly and unbiasedly grapple with the questions of faith.

"What's bizarre about this is that, viewed from afar, the Humanists are in effect asking that children be raised as Humanists until adulthood, and then be free to convert to other religions (or nonreligions). Can you imagine the furore if a faith tradition were to campaign on similar grounds?"

Nyet. We are asking children to be raised without religious or philosophical indoctrination. If humanism is the philosophy they're most likely to adopt in the absence of parental coercion, then you're basically conceding that this is the natural philosophy for human beings, something that you've argued against pretty strenuously in the past.

I should hope that parents have enough faith in their faith to view it as attractive even when they haven't been exerting the utmost of their power upon impressionable minds to ensure that their offspring follow it. As it happens, I have far more faith in religion's draw than many of my non believing compatriots, and seemingly, faithful opposition. I'm pretty sure we'd still find the majority of people coming into adulthood attaching themselves to one spiritual tradition or another even without indoctrinating children. And I think that such a faith formed by honest inquiry and chosen associations rather than the accident at birth will be far more fulfilling than one bludgeoned into them since they were on the planet.

@Gorgias, et al: But you're assuming here that religious upbringing is necessarily indoctrination.

Granted, there are people out there that will beat the fear of God into their children, which I'd agree is wrong, but there are far more parents out there who simply teach their religion the way they'd teach their kids math or how to tie their shoes.

I can appreciate that many atheists and humanists have had negative experiences with religious upbringings, but it does not follow that all such early experiences are necessarily negative.

I was raised more or less Christian by my family. I'm a Buddhist / Pantheist now, but I still appreciate the values my family was trying to instill--and in fact, I've found a lot of common ground between them and other religions.

The issue of a religious upbringing involves more than just faith--it includes politics, learning styles, and other values as well.

I mean--imagine if instead of Humanists wanting parents to stop raising their children religious, it were Republicans asking all of America to stop raising their children with liberal values and political views?

That would be viewed as incredibly undemocratic, wouldn't it? How is the question of religion any different?

"Thanks for wading in!"

@Chris

Good points. On reflection I posted in "automatic anger mode" without fully reading or understanding the post if I'm honest. Had I waited and re-read the post I feel I would have commented differently.

Despite being pretty biased against religion, I consider myself agnostic and try to keep an open mind to most things. I just cant stand the way a handful of people will twist and turn religion to suit their own goals. It is for this reason I feel we'd be better off just moving past it at this point.

I appreciate however that not every Muslim family is preaching hate (one of my close friends is Muslim as it happens and is just as offended at how his religion is being represented), not every Christian is Racist, and so on.

My apologies for crapping a hasty rant into your comment box ;)

Gorgias: "What of the freedom of conscience of the children, who are indoctrinated into such beliefs before they have the ability to decide for themselves?"

Why is this an issue in respect of religion but not in respect of geography or science? I shall suppose that you believe all religions are false (and thus offensive), and that is why they seem as "indoctrination" to you whereas geography and science are "teaching".

The pledge of allegiance in US schools is also "indoctrination" - why not tilt at that? Why is State "indoctrination" less troublesome to you than religious "indoctrination"?

"We are asking children to be raised without religious or philosophical indoctrination. If humanism is the philosophy they're most likely to adopt in the absence of parental coercion, then you're basically conceding that this is the natural philosophy for human beings"

So are you advocating that children be raised in a moral vaccuum until adulthood? I don't think you are. So you expect notions of human rights, personal ethics etc. to be passed to children. So you are advocating teaching humanist ethics (which are also, incidentally, Christian ethics - this is where they originated in the West) and an absence of metaphysics, which is humanist metaphysics i.e. materialism.

It is not that children are most likely to adopt humanism if given no parental guidance, it's that our Western societies are built on a humanist ethos that originated in Christianity, thus to remove the parents role in teaching the child about ethics and metaphysics is in effect to say that the child must be raised as a humanist.

That our Western cultures have this ethical stance is in no way acceding a special role to humanism - if anything, it is to recognise the special role that Christianity has had in shaping our ethical traditions. Humanism is just a materialist metaphysical spin on a key strand of Christian ethics.

Andre C.: nothing to add to your comment but my assent. :)

Eckyman: "My apologies for crapping a hasty rant into your comment box ;)"

No problem - a little venting and ranting is welcome and especially when it helps kick off discussions. ;)

"Why is this an issue in respect of religion but not in respect of geography or science? I shall suppose that you believe all religions are false (and thus offensive), and that is why they seem as "indoctrination" to you whereas geography and science are "teaching".

The pledge of allegiance in US schools is also "indoctrination" - why not tilt at that? Why is State "indoctrination" less troublesome to you than religious "indoctrination"?"

You were getting close with the "state" argument. Not spot on, mind you, because, children are not told everyday of their lives that the state will give them eternal life after death, are not asked to kneel and prostrate themselves and pray to their country, and they are not told that they will burn in the fires of hell if they do not follow the laws of the state (and before starting with the extremism canard, these are all normal, moderate practices in both Christianity and Islam). Just close because indeed, nationalism is another dangerous ideology that children should not be indoctrinated with, its just that nationalist indoctrination is perhaps not as destructive, since it does not make sweeping pronouncements on how you should live your life and is generally not as constantly reinforced as religion. This, by no means, lets religion off the hook.

Where you go spectacularly off the rails is comparing a tried and true method of tackling problems that works spectacularly well and is based on reason and evidence to a variety of fluffy,outdated, contradictory, often hateful and bigoted, not to mention unsupported mythologies that defy reason and observable reality and consider them equivalent in educational value.

Science and geography (to use your examples) have been proven to work and are useful in the real world for solving a variety of problems.

All religions, however, make vague and sweeping claims that they offer no evidence for and encourage magical thinking like prayer (which has been proven not to work) over real problem solving skills and critical thinking. That's why they don't belong in schools as well as in the education of any child.

"So are you advocating that children be raised in a moral vaccuum until adulthood? I don't think you are. So you expect notions of human rights, personal ethics etc. to be passed to children. So you are advocating teaching humanist ethics (which are also, incidentally, Christian ethics - this is where they originated in the West) and an absence of metaphysics, which is humanist metaphysics i.e. materialism.

It is not that children are most likely to adopt humanism if given no parental guidance, it's that our Western societies are built on a humanist ethos that originated in Christianity, thus to remove the parents role in teaching the child about ethics and metaphysics is in effect to say that the child must be raised as a humanist.

That our Western cultures have this ethical stance is in no way acceding a special role to humanism - if anything, it is to recognise the special role that Christianity has had in shaping our ethical traditions. Humanism is just a materialist metaphysical spin on a key strand of Christian ethics."

Another huge misconception I have seen perpetrated in this comment thread is the old religion=morality argument, but with a new twist, namely that non-religious ethics=humanist ethics.

I suppose that monkeys sharing their food fairly and behaving altruistically are under the sway of humanist ethics? Dolphins saving humans from drowning and dogs saving other dogs from certain death also subscribe to humanist morality? And that 20000 years of human civilization before christianity was even a twinkle in some Palestinian's eye there were no moral laws or ethics to speak of, right? Everybody just stole and killed whatever and whomever they pleased and all the ancient civilizations were built on anarchy and chaos.

It's a good thing christianity came along and founded the humanist ethics of "human beings are basically infantile zombies who need to be punished with hellfire for gathering sticks on the wrong day, living only to serve their creator and dying at his inexplicably cruel whims". That's the gist of humanist ethics right there.

Humanists have nothing against children being taught traditions, as long as they are a supplement to a real secular education that the child can actually use in the real world and put in proper context as nothing more than rituals without any verifiable benefit other than cultural identity, not being taught that those traditions are the only valid way of looking at the world and should not be abandoned even when they defy evidence and reason, that's what humanists are against.

alexandrumeister: thanks for sharing your views, although I don't feel you help the humanist case very well here.

"its just that nationalist indoctrination is perhaps not as destructive, since it does not make sweeping pronouncements on how you should live your life and is generally not as constantly reinforced as religion."

You have a very strange grasp of history if you think that nationalism is less destructive than religion. Perhaps you should check out Hannah Arendt's "The Origins of Totalitarianism".

"Science and geography (to use your examples) have been proven to work and are useful in the real world for solving a variety of problems."

Neither science nor geography have been "proven to work"; the failure to properly ground science is a major theme in the philosophy of science of the twentieth century. On science, I recommend you check Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" for some of the relevant context. In the case of geography, by which I meant human geography, we are dealing with the reporting of entirely arbitrary objects of mind, which have only coalesced out of traditional useage. Benedict Andersson's "Imaginary Communities" might be an interesting point of reference here.

"All religions, however, make vague and sweeping claims that they offer no evidence for and encourage magical thinking like prayer (which has been proven not to work)"

Firstly, you can't prove that prayer 'doesn't work'; this totally misunderstands prayer - perhaps you're thinking of the child's concept of prayer as wishing for things? No serious theologian supports such a view. If you mean in the context of prayer-healing, this was shown to be effective if the person being prayed for knew about it. This subsumes it into the placebo effect, sure, but this means it does work and is effective against almost all medical conditions.

Secondly, your choice of "sweeping claims" suggests you are trying to evaluate religion by scientific grounds. You're free to do this, but it is applying your own faith in science as the grounds for the discussion so there is no reason that anyone else need follow you in this.

"Another huge misconception I have seen perpetrated in this comment thread is the old religion=morality argument"

Actually, you've jumped to this conclusion without my aid. It's clear to me that the roots of morality can be found among the animals, c.f. the work of Mark Bekoff. My claim in respect of humanist ethics is simply a historical observation. For this, you should check Charles Taylor's "A Secular Age"; I have a precis here on this site, although given your metaphysical position I don't think you'll be very open to Taylor's account, and furthermore on this express point you would need to refer to the text of the original to get the full argument, and it's a very long book indeed! :)

"Humanists have nothing against children being taught traditions, as long as they are a supplement to a real secular education"

That's good; most followers of religion have no objection to children being taught a secular education, provided they are allowed to pass their traditions onto their children.

Thanks for stopping by!

That's a... pretty reasonable tone which I probably wouldn't have used when responding an opponent with as snarky a tone as mine in the above comments.

Thank you for the book suggestions, I can assure you they are now on my reading list, but I have more than a few qualms with your arguments.

"You have a very strange grasp of history if you think that nationalism is less destructive than religion. Perhaps you should check out Hannah Arendt's "The Origins of Totalitarianism"."

I need to elaborate here, as I don't think I explained my position very clearly.
There is no doubt in my mind that nationalism can be every bit as harmful as religion, even more so, especially when used as a substitute, but I put it to you that today, in any nation where the debate over religious indoctrination is held in schools, nationalist indoctrination is nowhere near as forceful, driven and reinforced as religious indoctrination, and nowhere near as big a threat to critical thinking.

There are clearly states in the world where the opposite is true, but I don't think religious indoctrination in schools is a really big subject of debate in China, nor is any part of that country a fertile breeding ground for humanist billboards. And the simple fact that this is true in other countries does not invalidate the British Humanists' efforts to oppose indoctrination in their own country (I'm Romanian, by the way, but I'm following the debate with great interest, since much of it is applicable in my country as well).

I also feel the need to reiterate that simply saying that nationalism can be as big a threat to critical thinking as religion does not excuse religious indoctrination, so pointing this out, while a fair attempt to expose inconsistency in the Humanists' thinking, does not tackle the subject at hand.

"Neither science nor geography have been "proven to work"; the failure to properly ground science is a major theme in the philosophy of science of the twentieth century. On science, I recommend you check Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" for some of the relevant context. In the case of geography, by which I meant human geography, we are dealing with the reporting of entirely arbitrary objects of mind, which have only coalesced out of traditional useage. Benedict Andersson's "Imaginary Communities" might be an interesting point of reference here."

I need to elaborate here as well, by "proven to work" I mean that when used as a method of looking at the world, it offers a clear, measurable, consistent, self-correcting way of furthering our understanding of everything in the universe and beyond. Everything that science asserts is either eventually backed up with evidence or falls by the wayside, and science cannot make any untestable or unprovable claims. In every sense of the word, it "works", because it allows us to know what is true and what is not, and it is the only tool we have that is capable of such.

Geography may be based on references that are only "human objects of mind", but I refuse to believe that you have never used a map or a compass, or never had a need to reference your location to a "human object of mind". You live at an address, in a city, in a country, and most aspects of human civilization would not be possible if this were not so, and even animals have intricate knowledge of the topography of their hunting grounds, of the locations of rivers and pastures, so geography cannot even be called an exclusively human endeavor, only in as much as it became after we started making maps instead of remembering where stuff was.

The conclusion to my rambling is that geography, as well as any branch of science, is reliable and useful and we know it to offer measurable and testable information which we can hold to be true by any definition of that word that we may choose.

"Firstly, you can't prove that prayer 'doesn't work'; this totally misunderstands prayer - perhaps you're thinking of the child's concept of prayer as wishing for things? No serious theologian supports such a view. If you mean in the context of prayer-healing, this was shown to be effective if the person being prayed for knew about it. This subsumes it into the placebo effect, sure, but this means it does work and is effective against almost all medical conditions."

No, I tend to think of prayer as the notion that if you sincerely ask god to help with your problems, more of your problems will be solved than problems of people who are not praying to any God, or the wrong God, or multiple Gods, or the trees, or the universe, or to the Flying Spaghetti monster.

In that respect, prayer fails spectacularly, as people who pray do not seem to have any particular advantage over people who don't. They don't get cured of more diseases, are not spared the death of more loved ones, don't have a lower divorce rate, any conceivable problem that a believer would pray for is not statistically probable to come to a more favorable conclusion for the believer who prays.

I'm certain you've at least read about this study: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/31/health/31pray.html?_r=1

Plus, and I know this might seem like a tired one, but I have not seen a satisfactory answer to this question from any theist, religious philosopher or theologian, why doesn't any of the gods heal amputees, or people with afflictions which, if cured, would provide ample proof of supernatural intervention on behalf of that person? The only diseases prayer "cures" are ones treated with standard medical procedures, or ones that can enter into remission because of other factors, thus making it possible to attribute the cure to divine intervention.

The fact that prayer can trigger the placebo effect does not mean that prayer "works" in any way, because the same effect can be achieved with a sugar pill. This is tantamount to a medical professional claiming that sugar pills work for almost any disease. The only thing that works in this scenario is the brain's ability to convince itself that the body is being healed, but prayer is entirely unnecessary for that, as it can be triggered by a variety of things.

So, I can prove that prayer doesn't work the same way I can prove that homeopathy doesn't work, there is no evidence that it is any more than wishful thinking. Of course, I cannot absolutely prove that it doesn't work, as, just as in the case of homeopathy, maybe it's effects are too subtle and don't register as statistically significant, but we both know that is highly unlikely, and if prayer's effects are that subtle, its obviously not worth it anyway :)

"Secondly, your choice of "sweeping claims" suggests you are trying to evaluate religion by scientific grounds. You're free to do this, but it is applying your own faith in science as the grounds for the discussion so there is no reason that anyone else need follow you in this."

I would love for there to be another way of evaluating truth claims, but for now the only way we have of doing that is the scientific method. The same way we can know anything, we can know whether specific testable claims made by religion are true or false. And the scientific method absolutely can test any truth claims made by religion, like the fact that god answers prayers. That is evidently not true. Or that god made man and all the animals one by one in their current form. That, again is not true. The world is 6000 years old? Falls flat. A cracker and some wine transformed into the blood and body of Christ when we eat them? Pretty sure about that one too.

Evaluating truth claims made by religion using science is the perfect, indeed the only way to look at them, as we do not have any other mechanism for determining objective truth about reality. And once science is done evaluating testable truth claims made by any religion, the only ones that remain are the untestable ones, which, without the testable ones become quite untenable. For example, like Dawkins says, you could make a decent case for deism, but why would you want to? What sort of religion would that inspire?

"Actually, you've jumped to this conclusion without my aid. It's clear to me that the roots of morality can be found among the animals, c.f. the work of Mark Bekoff. My claim in respect of humanist ethics is simply a historical observation. For this, you should check Charles Taylor's "A Secular Age"; I have a precis here on this site, although given your metaphysical position I don't think you'll be very open to Taylor's account, and furthermore on this express point you would need to refer to the text of the original to get the full argument, and it's a very long book indeed! :)"

Actually, allow me to quote you: "So are you advocating that children be raised in a moral vacuum until adulthood?". This is your answer to the assertion: "We are asking children to be raised without religious or philosophical indoctrination"

What I took away from your answer to that question is no religious indoctrination = a moral vacuum to you. I do not think that my conclusion was wrong.

Not to mention that further down you mention that teaching the child ethics without any kind of religious influence is tantamount to indoctrinating him with humanist ethics (which was more than a simple historical observation:)), thus prompting my argument that our moral laws have nothing to do with indoctrination, humanist or otherwise, as the most basic of them are shared by animals, which cannot be said to possess a humanist moral doctrine, but the most intelligent mostly act as if they did anyway.

I went on to refute the claim that humanist morality is actually a spin on Christian morality, since Christian morality is basically the morality that we evolved as animals and which guided all ancient civilizations long before Christianity, with the added twist of a loving Creator, so if anything Christian morality and religious morality in general are a spin of the humanist morality that even animals, which cannot be indoctrinated, have.

"That's good; most followers of religion have no objection to children being taught a secular education, provided they are allowed to pass their traditions onto their children."

I'm afraid I disagree with the use of the word "traditions" in order to misrepresent dogma. Traditions do not carry an ideological baggage and do not suppress critical thinking, and that is why no humanist I know is opposed to Christmas carols, Easter eggs, etc. Even Dawkins says he is a social Christian. What we have a problem with is the passing of, along with these traditions, an ideology and it's constant reinforcement, which can't hold a candle to critical thinking and problem solving skills as desirable traits for members of society. Sadly, most believers tend to not make the difference between tradition and dogma either.

Sorry if I was a bit incisive before, but now I'm quite enjoying this debate, mostly because of the measured and reasonable response. Perhaps you should change the blog description to "Come for the game design insight, stay for the effervescent religious debates" :)

alexandrumeister: thanks for coming back to continue our discussion! Forgive the terseness of my reply - I am getting ready to tie up for the holidays, so time is in short supply.

I have a scattering of brief responses for you.

Firstly, sugar cubes *do* work for any disease (or rather, faith in doctors/medicine is effective against almost any disease). I find the phrase "just a placebo" to be a hilarious dismissal of one of the most interesting discoveries of the twentieth century. :)

However, when I said you cannot prove that prayer doesn't work, I did not mean this in a medical sense. Prayer in the Abrahamic religions can be compared to meditation in the Dharmic traditions; it need not be seen as a causal mechanism but a form of contemplative communion. That some people treat it as "wishing for loot" is an indictment of their naivety, but it is not an indictment of prayer. (Actually, a piece on prayer is on my bloglist, so perhaps I'll get to this next year as it's an interesting topic).

The scientific method is not the only means we have of establishing truth claims, and neither is there a definitive scientific method, nor any method in science which is applicable to all truth claims. What we call science is the process of empirical exploration. It has definite limits which must be taken seriously. One of the most serious of all is that one cannot actually rely solely on method to evaluate truth claims, as the Ganzfeld experiment demonstrates. (That's an old post I'm linking to, but it's thrust is still valid).

My point in regard of religion is that it is not its place to make empirical truth claims (although religion can make ethical truth claims). Many of the things you list in this regard are the beliefs of Young Earth Creationists, a specific minority within Christianity. I believe they are entitled to those beliefs no matter how utterly ridiculous or anachronistic they are, just as I believe the Amish are entitled to live without modern technology, and atheists are allowed to disbelieve in something they call God despite being largely ignorant of modern theology. :p Belief is necessarily a personal matter.

Science, I hope you can agree, does not evaluate ethical truth claims. This does not give traditional religion a monopoly on ethics, but it does exclude science from operating in this space directly. Non-religious ethical systems are in the game with religious ones, but science doesn't get to play. :)

Your claim in respect of the origins of morality is dealt with by Taylor; I don't have time to pursue it in depth here but in brief humanist ethics (whether Christian or otherwise) were not pre-existing ethics that merely had to be discovered - they have a systematic history, which can be clearly seen in the fact that no prior civilisation had anything quite like Human Rights. Alas, this point must be moved into the margins for now.

Ultimately, I am not claiming there are no issues in religion that need addressing (there surely are!), what I am saying is that denying children the right to participate in their parent's religious tradition is a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and not a wise thing for anyone (humanist or otherwise) to advocate.

Thanks once again for returning to the discussion!

The atheist bus ads are merely more propaganda as Richard Dawkins wonders whether there is occasion for “society stepping in” and hopes that such efforts “might lead children to choose no religion at all.” Dawkins also supports the atheist summer camp “Camp Quest.” Furthermore, with this campaign they are attempting to piggy back on the United Nations.

Phillip Pullman states the following about his “fictional” books for children, “I don't think I'm writing fantasy. I think I'm writing realism. My books are psychologically real.” But what does he really write about? As he has admitted, “My books are about killing God” and “I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.”

More evidence here:
http://atheismisdead.blogspot.com/2009/11/deceptive-manipulative-propagandist.html

How about not labeling me “child abuser,” “brain washer,” etc.:
http://atheismisdead.blogspot.com/2009/12/brand-new-hot-off-press-bus-ads-and.html

Yet again, atheists are collecting “amazing sums” during a time of worldwide recession not in order to help anyone in real material need but in order to attempt to demonstrate just how clever they consider themselves to be—while actually loudly, proudly and expensively demonstrating their ignorance and arrogance—need any more be said?

Mariano: I agree that there is something seriously confused going on when people spend both time and effort fighting against other people's beliefs instead of finding some positive way to contribute to society.

But I think you are too harsh on Pullman; the Archbishop of Canterbury has given a more positive spin on Pullman's His Dark Materials novels. See this BBC news article for more information in this regard.

I didn't read the books, but I saw the first movie which was really rather dull. :p

Thanks for commenting!

I found Pullman's trilogy downright excellent, and I don't see much issue with enjoying Pullman and C.S. Lewis both.

Since Pullman is (I hear) an outspoken atheist, I think a lot is read into his books and interviews that isn't really there, by both sides.

The dissonance between his actual texts and what I'd read about his views lead me to read the actual references on Wikipedia. Indeed, Pullman's actual statements are moderate compared to, for example, Wikipedia's summary, a summary I find typical.

In short: good books, worth reading. Movie sucks, though.

Alrenous: my wife really enjoyed the Pullman books, and didn't find them to be overty atheist. The fact that Pullman identifies as an atheist presumably has an effect on the debate.

As for C.S. Lewis - I have a lot of respect for some of Lewis' work, but I just cannot take seriously the scene in "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" when Santa arrives and gives the children weaponry! :)

Cheers!

I've been meaning to return to our conversation, but I kept putting it off as more work on our new game piled up. However, I recently saw a blog post on Jerry Coyne’s blog that reminded me of exactly this conversation, but I’ll get to that later.

"Firstly, sugar cubes *do* work for any disease (or rather, faith in doctors/medicine is effective against almost any disease). I find the phrase "just a placebo" to be a hilarious dismissal of one of the most interesting discoveries of the twentieth century. :)"

That's exactly my point, faith is effective, but it can be faith in anything that works to trigger the placebo effect, it doesn't have to be faith in the supernatural.

The reason the expression "just a placebo" is employed is that, as a medical procedure, it lacks predictability and reliability, and it only treats symptoms, not the underlying cause, which can still kill you regardless of the amount of placebos you take.

"However, when I said you cannot prove that prayer doesn't work, I did not mean this in a medical sense. Prayer in the Abrahamic religions can be compared to meditation in the Dharmic traditions; it need not be seen as a causal mechanism but a form of contemplative communion. That some people treat it as "wishing for loot" is an indictment of their naivety, but it is not an indictment of prayer. (Actually, a piece on prayer is on my bloglist, so perhaps I'll get to this next year as it's an interesting topic)."

I did not mean in the medical sense either. I meant it in the same way that the three Abrahamic religions, their institutions, holy books and believers mean it: an appeal to the supernatural that has a beneficial, real world, quantifiable effect for the person that makes the appeal. What you were trying to do there is change the definition of prayer as it is taught by Judaism, Christianity and Islam (and a fair few others) and as it is understood and taught by every authority figure in those three religions as well as all the billions of adherents to them into a definition that is reasonably defensible, such as meditation and blame the imaginary misunderstanding on the naivety of people. Prayer is not meditation, the billions of faithful that pray do not just expect relaxation and a clear mind when they pray, they expect a solution to their problems, some insight or even direct intervention in their lives that will help them in some quantifiable way in the foreseeable future. And for them to expect this is not naivety, it is willful and intentional deception by churches and religious leaders, who tell them that that is what they should expect and sing the praises of the power of prayer to help, heal, etc., all the while pointing at ancient texts that assert this as well and present-day “miracles” that were a direct result of prayer.

Imagine the sort of following that the Abrahamic religions would have if they claimed that God doesn't really answer prayers, but they're still sort of ok, because they can set your mind at ease and relax you. That is why none of them has ever claimed that and they never will, they will always say that prayer has a very clear and beneficial effect on a believer's life and will help that person with specific problems. This nonsense, of course will be passed on by the believer to his children in the guise of tradition, when it is actually pure dogma.

“The scientific method is not the only means we have of establishing truth claims, and neither is there a definitive scientific method, nor any method in science which is applicable to all truth claims. What we call science is the process of empirical exploration. It has definite limits which must be taken seriously. One of the most serious of all is that one cannot actually rely solely on method to evaluate truth claims, as the Ganzfeld experiment demonstrates. (That's an old post I'm linking to, but it's thrust is still valid).”
The scientific method is the only method we have of establishing testable, falsifiable truth claims (philosophical truth claims are best dealt with by philosophy and logic, of course), such as “does wine turn into blood and bread into flesh during a religious ceremony?”, “is the pope infallible?”, “are gay people inferior human beings?”, “does using a condom mean murder of an unborn child?”, “can a man walk on water?” or “can a man turn water into wine?” (all of which are believed by the vast majority of catholic and Christians and some by the orthodox).
Of course there is no single magical scientific method, but a collection of best practices referred to as the scientific method, which are used by scientists in all fields in order to make sure that any conclusions they reach are supported by empirically verifiable evidence and supported by experimental data, but you already knew that.
As for the Ganzfeld experiment, what you are asserting is that a small statistical aberration in one experiment and the opinion of a few very fallible scientists that it should be ignored (because if one or a few scientists make an idiotic claim, all of science fails, right?) invalidates a method of reasoning and looking at the world that is responsible for the entirety of human technological achievement up to this point? Seriously?
“My point in regard of religion is that it is not its place to make empirical truth claims (although religion can make ethical truth claims). Many of the things you list in this regard are the beliefs of Young Earth Creationists, a specific minority within Christianity. I believe they are entitled to those beliefs no matter how utterly ridiculous or anachronistic they are, just as I believe the Amish are entitled to live without modern technology, and atheists are allowed to disbelieve in something they call God despite being largely ignorant of modern theology. :p Belief is necessarily a personal matter.”
Here we are in agreement, it definitely is not religion’s place to make empirical truth claims, but it does so anyway, with gusto, with every opportunity, and it almost always gets them wrong. The pope tours Africa happily telling people with AIDS that condoms are the cause of the disease instead of a way to control its spread, opposes equal rights legislation for all citizens in the UK and threatens hellfire and damnation (for which there is what empirical evidence exactly?) for anyone who doesn’t follow his interpretation of his religion to the letter, to give but a few of the more egregious and recent examples. Not to mention that those empirical truth claims are passed on by believers to their children as universal truths that are not to be questioned which is exactly what humanists are fighting against.
I have an interesting question for you; do you believe that the claim of the existence of Santa Claus is an empirical truth claim? And would you say it is false? If so, why?
The point I’m making is that a claim to the existence of a completely benevolent and omnipotent being that created us and looks after us can most definitely be considered an empirical truth claim, the same way the claim to the existence of a magical being that leaves presents on Christmas from his flying sleigh can. So why is one tenable and the other is not? Why must believers in one invisible old man in the sky be treated with respect and deference while believers in the other are childish and ridiculous when there is the same amount of evidence for both of them?
The world should work in a certain way if God were what most religions describe him to be like, and it simply doesn’t. There are simply better explanations than god for almost everything, including “creation” and morality. The most you can salvage of god after refuting all empirical truth claims made by religions is the deist god that started the big bang, but now can’t be bothered to even check up on us once in a while, and that god is nowhere to be found in the traditions you are trying so hard to defend, making them at best useless and at worst dangerous lies that encourage magical thinking and perpetuate obsolete social attitudes.
People are of course entitled to their beliefs, I don’t think you will find many humanists that will argue this point, as well as the fact that belief is deeply personal. If people would keep that belief personal, there probably wouldn’t have even been a Humanist association to begin with. And the fact that a person is entitled to have a belief doesn’t automatically mean that their belief is worthy of respect or deference, and beyond challenge or reproach. But probably the worst thing about beliefs is that no matter how wrong they, their adherents will still try to cram it down other people’s throats, because they believe they’re right and nothing can challenge them, leading to interference in public life like your very own unelected bishops in parliament, faith schools, sharia tribunals, persecution of gay people, etc. And before starting on about how humanists also try to shove their beliefs down other people’s throats I would like to ask you to show me humanist courts of law, or unelected humanists sitting in Parliament, or Humanist schools that only teach Humanist ideologies, Humanist campaigns to deny people their human rights (of which this particular campaign it not an example, since It should be quite clear that the campaign is targeting dogma, not traditions). Where are the Humanist Young Earth Creationists, Humanist suicide bombers, Humanist priest killers, Humanist honor killings?
Young and impressionable minds are entitled to reason their own way to a religion or lack thereof, without having a parent lie to them and teach their own demonstrably misguided beliefs as universal truth that can never be questioned, or else god will smite thee before they even reach an age where they can question those beliefs.
On a different note, if you consider atheists to be ignorant of modern theology, I’d be very curious to know how current on modern theology the vast majority of believers are. I would go so far as to argue that the average atheist knows far more about theology and belief systems than the average believer, who probably can’t even articulate the basic tenets of any other faith. You kind of need to know what you’re saying no to, as an atheist and most of us try on several systems of belief between reaching the conclusion that there probably is no god. But I guess it’s ok for believers to be ignorant of modern theology, as long as they believe anyway, right? I mean modern theology is just to bring those pesky headstrong atheists around who just don’t get it with regular garden-variety theology. Because I don’t think I’ve heard modern theology in any sermon in any church I’ve ever been in, ever.
So why is it necessary to be well-versed in whatever philosophical contortionism passes for “modern theology” these days in order to reject the very foundation on which that modern theology is built, which is utter tripe that has been refuted more times than I can count? Do you think that even the most hardcore Christian or Islamic believers and apologists have ever read everything from the Upanishads to their most nuanced theological interpretations and said to themselves hey, this Hinduism thing seems kind of reasonable? No matter how many apologists interpret Winnie the Pooh, or how hard believers try to spin it into “oh you’re just ignorant of modern Poohology”, or how tortured their mental gymnastics are, it will not make a Winnie the Pooh book true, nor a moral inspiration.

“Science, I hope you can agree, does not evaluate ethical truth claims. This does not give traditional religion a monopoly on ethics, but it does exclude science from operating in this space directly. Non-religious ethical systems are in the game with religious ones, but science doesn't get to play. :)”
Science on its own may not be able to evaluate ethical truth claims, on that much we agree as well, but I don’t understand what makes you think that religion can. Based on what? What exactly is religion’s authority in ethical matters? Popularity? Divinely-inspired morality? That’s just laughable, especially since there are so many of them and they completely contradict each other and modern ethics, even though they supposedly come from the same source.
And while science may not directly address ethical truth, solutions to ethical dilemmas, while provided by philosophy must at least have some grounding in science, which religious morality completely lacks.

"Your claim in respect of the origins of morality is dealt with by Taylor; I don't have time to pursue it in depth here but in brief humanist ethics (whether Christian or otherwise) were not pre-existing ethics that merely had to be discovered - they have a systematic history, which can be clearly seen in the fact that no prior civilisation had anything quite like Human Rights. Alas, this point must be moved into the margins for now."

My point here was that ethics are a product of evolution and basic ethics are even shared by animals. They are not particular to religion, and even if religion has helped morality evolve into what it is today, at best a debatable claim, that does not mean that children can only be taught ethics within the framework of a religion, or that the only ethics they can be taught outside of religion are necessarily humanist in nature.
As for Taylor, I still plan on reading his book, but finding out that he is a recipient of a Templeton bribe… I mean prize doesn’t do a lot to boost my confidence in his motives, nor do his recent comment on the equivalence of religion and science that I've come across in the blog post I mentioned earlier:

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/famous-philosopher-and-templeton-prize-winner-science-faith/

“Ultimately, I am not claiming there are no issues in religion that need addressing (there surely are!), what I am saying is that denying children the right to participate in their parent's religious tradition is a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and not a wise thing for anyone (humanist or otherwise) to advocate.”
This would have been a great place to address the crux of my argument in the previous post and you didn’t, instead choosing to reiterate the very trope that I refuted. I’ll put it down to your rush, though I notice you haven’t come back to it, so I’ll say it again. Humanists have no problem with teaching religious traditions, indeed, the history of all religions should be taught, even in school, along with their creation myths, rites, etc. What humanists advocate is making the difference between dogma and tradition, exposing a child to all systems of belief equally and even to the option of unbelief and letting the child reach an age where he can decide for himself what makes sense before labeling him with an ideology that will influence his thinking for the rest of his life. And for the last time, nobody is advocating banning religious teachings, just placing them in proper context.

"I agree that there is something seriously confused going on when people spend both time and effort fighting against other people's beliefs instead of finding some positive way to contribute to society."

I couldn't help but also comment a bit on this, even though it wasn't addressed to me. I think that there's something seriously confused going on when people's beliefs are allowed to shape public policy when they completely out of sync with reality, but they still do. As well when people are encouraged to lie to their children and teach them to be hateful, intolerant, bigoted, irrational and closed-minded under the guise of "tradition". And even more when rational people criticize the people who oppose that brainwashing through nothing more forcible than a billboard campaign that simply points out that fact.


Alexandrumeister: thanks for coming back and continuing the discussion, although I have to say your comment is so long and has so many threads that I cannot do justice to all your points and must focus on just a few!

"The scientific method is the only method we have of establishing testable, falsifiable truth claims"

So empirical methods are the only way of establishing empirical truth? This is not much of a claim! :) But thanks for acknowledging philosophy and logic here - I do appreciate this, since not every diehard supporter of science is willing to make this accession.

But you are, I think, confused as to what constitutes a claim to empirical truth. The question “is the pope infallible?”, for instance, is not an empirical claim. I'm not a Catholic, but "the Pope is infallible" is by definition of Papal infallibility true. The purpose of this doctrine is not to make the Pope immune from making mistakes, but to designate one and only one interpreter of Papal law. It is in this sense, and only in this sense, that the Pope is defined as infallible. Vatican II is very clear on this point.

Furthermore, your other points are not empirical either:

“are gay people inferior human beings?”, “does using a condom mean murder of an unborn child?”, “can a man walk on water?” or “can a man turn water into wine?”

The first of these is an ethical question, the second a metaphysical question, the third and fourth *might* be empirical questions, although they are clearly true as written. I walk on water when it is ice, I turn water into wine via grapes and vinification. If you mean to ask "did Jesus walk on water" or "did Jesus turn water into wine instantly" then these aren't empirical questions either. However, one can choose an empirical model and rule out the possibility of these latter two cases - Hume does this, of course, when he just decides to rule out miracles. You're free to do the same.

"As for the Ganzfeld experiment..."

You didn't read my link, did you. If you're going to discuss this with me, you need to know what I'm arguing. :) The Ganzfeld invalidates the claim that science is a purely objective process because the assessment of the experiment depends upon prior beliefs, not upon the experiment itself. This does not invalidate scientific achievements (or technological achievements) but it does invalidate the claim that the scientific method is by itself sufficient to evaluate truth claims. The Ganzfeld shows that this claim is patently false. Read the link above if you want to respond to this - please know what I'm claiming before attempting to refute me.

Also, you make the odd claim:

"[the scientific method is] responsible for the entirety of human technological achievement up to this point..."

Come on, be serious! :) If you are claiming that the means by which all technology has been derived is the scientific method/science then your conclusion is inherent in your premise. Otherwise, this claim is nonsense. Irrigation, the wheel and the baby harness changed the history of mankind more than any other invention and did not proceed from anything like what we now call scientific method.

Honestly, it's a questionable claim that there is a "scientific method" behind the history of technology anyway. Check your Kuhn, check your Popper... you don't have to go as far as Feyerabend's "Against Method" to raise serious issues in this sort of claim. Popper (who was very pro-science) claimed that there was only one universal method: trial and error. I have a lot of sympathy for this claim! :)

"I have an interesting question for you; do you believe that the claim of the existence of Santa Claus is an empirical truth claim? And would you say it is false? If so, why?"

Who claims the existence of Santa Claus, and what claim are they making? I'd need to know more about who claims Santa exists to know if there is an empirical question here, and it's not immediately obvious to me that there is.

Let me counter by way of illustration: do you believe the existence of the United States or the Kingdom of Tongo is an empirical truth claim? What experiment would you propose to prove the existence of the United States empirically?

"The point I’m making is that a claim to the existence of a completely benevolent and omnipotent being that created us and looks after us can most definitely be considered an empirical truth claim"

Doesn't look like it to me personally. What experiment would you devise in this regard? I'm genuinally curious. If you want to go after issues of theodicy, you'll be in logic rather than empiricism. I think you're mistaken in judging this as an empirical issue, personally, although obviously you're not alone in believing this! :)

"The most you can salvage of god after refuting all empirical truth claims made by religions is the deist god that started the big bang, but now can’t be bothered to even check up on us once in a while, and that god is nowhere to be found in the traditions you are trying so hard to defend"

Are you trying to tell me that no-one holds a Deist conception of God, because I know this claim to be false. :) It feels like you're over-reaching here... perhaps you mean "most followers of the traditions you are trying so hard to defend are not Deists"... true. But unimportant. The followers in question are in no way as dedicated to empiricism as you are; they have chosen faith, after all. It is you who have chosen to predicate empiricism as the vital matter, not them.

"Young and impressionable minds are entitled to reason their own way to a religion or lack thereof, without having a parent lie to them and teach their own demonstrably misguided beliefs as universal truth that can never be questioned, or else god will smite thee before they even reach an age where they can question those beliefs."

Which part of this bothers you? The threat of smiting? This annoys me too, since I don't think this is very good Christian practice to parent in this way, and there are a great many Christians who would agree with me in this regard. The parent "lying and teaching their own misguided beliefs" - how far does this extend? Many parents in the US teach that the US is the greatest nation on Earth - does this fall under your criticism here? What about parents who teach that science is a wholly objective process? What about parents who teach scientific beliefs now invalidated (or invalidated next year, say)? Do they fall under your criticism?

Your whole paragraph here is effused with your own biases, metaphysical, epistemological and otherwise.

I say, in common with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that parents have a right to teach their religion to their children. You seem to want religions to be things that people "reason to" - which is a very strange thing to want... No wonder religion offends you if this is the standard you want them to live up to! It almost seems as if you want religion to be a science - and because it isn't, you want no-one to have it :)

"On a different note, if you consider atheists to be ignorant of modern theology, I’d be very curious to know how current on modern theology the vast majority of believers are."

What are you interested in here, percentages or numbers? There is probably a greater percentage of atheists who are familiar with modern theology than the percentage of theists who are, but there are certainly many more theists than atheists who are familiar with modern theology. Either way, I'm not sure it says much of interest. My claim is that *anyone* who wants to wade in on debate concerning theological issues - whether from a theological or atheological angle - should at least be up to speed on the subject. I think that's a reasonable claim whichever way you cut it.

"What exactly is religion’s authority in ethical matters?"

I said nothing of authority - that's a whole other kettle of fish. :) Two of the principle dimensions of religions are metaphysics and ethics (c.f. Ninian Smart). Since religions deal with ethics (and science does not) this is why I suggest a connection between religion and ethics. But I am also clear that one can operate in the ethical space without reference to a religion - I am not suggesting otherwise.

"My point here was that ethics are a product of evolution and basic ethics are even shared by animals."

The latter point is correct, the former is in error. Ethics are not solely a product of evolution, they are constituted socially, and have undergone massive change over the centuries (see Taylor in this regard) but this is a huge sideline. If you're interested in the ethical aspect of this discussion, a good place to get the roots of my perspective is in my piece on relative ethics. My ethical work has gone on from this quite considerably, but it's as good a place as any to start.

"What humanists advocate is... exposing a child to all systems of belief equally and even to the option of unbelief and letting the child reach an age where he can decide for himself"

This sounds naive to me - are you really going to claim that anyone from any background is in a position to expose a child to all systems of belief equally? Children are influenced by their parent's beliefs first and foremost, then as they get older their peer group. There is no way to make the choice of a belief system into a background-neutral matter, and to believe otherwise is to join the rest of the human race in being fundamentally irrational. Now I'm all in support of this, but this just brings me back to my claims about glass houses. :)

Ultimately, I understand your position because there's nothing you're saying I haven't read or heard before in one form or another. But I don't think you understand my position very well at all, and as such that hampers our ability to continue this conversation. If you want to have the dialogue, you need to spend some time reading me. If you don't want to spend the time reading me, there's not much point in us having the dialogue. You can bat back the points I make above, but none of them are very important - the important topics from my perspective are not being dealt with here.

The risk you are running in this regard lies in your coming across to others as being just as dogmatic and closed-minded as the people you are so vehemently opposed to. If you want to disprove a neutral observer's assumptions about you and demonstrate that you are open-minded, rational, tolerant and sincere, you need to be willing to get to grips with my point-of-view, and that means reading more of what I say than just this one throwaway post.

If you're willing to put in the time, I'll be delighted to have further discussion with you. But if all you want to do is grind an axe, I'm sure there are many better places you can do it.

Hope I have managed to entertain you, if nothing else! :)

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