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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

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If you are interested in the debate, Bill, you can listen to the audio here: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=WN2X9G6W
I hope it is within decorum to post links in the comments section.

(the quality of the audio is questionable, but you can hear most of it)

Hello Bill,

Your reader is correct to say that TLS is polemical, but wrong to insinuate that it is further evidence that philosophers "can and will immediately sacrifice civility and courtesy if they think it will best serve to advance their metaphysical/social/political ideals." As I make clear in the book (and elsewhere), I take the tone I do with Dawkins, Dennett, et al. only because they have been "asking for it." I would never take the same tone with a serious atheist like J.L. Mackie, Quentin Smith, or J.J.C. Smart. In this respect I think my approach is not entirely unlike yours with respect to Edwards and Stove.

Obviously our views are not identical, and as you note, this is something we have debated before in the post you link to. But our approaches are not so far apart as your reader seems to think. And your reader should also be aware that I have philosophical reasons for taking the tone I do, reasons explained in the post already referred to and explored also in this recent post from my blog:

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/01/walters-on-tls.html

As one of the "worst examples" of those who mock today's derivatives of the ancient superstitions, and who decries the effect that their more extreme followers have on the welfare of many - whether by terrorist attacks or the suppression of the rights of women - I should like to remind you that whenever the religious are in the ascendent - think Torquemada in Spain or the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan for egregious examples - they deal with their opponents very differently from how Dan Dennett and I do. We argue and - yes - mock; they kill. It would be a matter for amusement at the difference between the squealing and complaining of today's faithful at being mocked, and how they once behaved, if there were not a more serious point behind it all: that we do not want the faithful to get back in charge for this very reason.

Mr Grayling,

I find it interesting that you are apparently prepared to hinder philosophical inquiry for the sake of a happy society.

Personally, I find the arguments for the truth of Christianity convincing. Now supposing, for the sake of argument, that religious belief does inculcate extremely violent, intolerant tendencies in its believers - would I rather live in i) a happy society where people were grossly misinformed about the evidential status of Christianity or ii) the unhappy society that would result from them being properly informed?

Tough choice. But I feel that I should choose ii) because in an important sense the people in i) are living a lie.

Your argument assumes, in any case, that religious belief is incompatible with freedom of thought and expression, but that is far from obvious. Indeed, I expect the suggestion would be repulsive to the average religious believer.

Anyway, wasn't it Dan Dennett that said young-earth-creationists should be locked up? tu quoque, I'd say!

Matt.

Hi Bill,

I was at the debate between Plantinga and Dennett, and the exchange wasn't uncivil at all. There was gentle mockery from both sides, as there often is when two large and conflicting world views come into proximity. There was what Peter Smith calls 'cheerful abuse' from each (Dennett's silly superman examples and Plantinga's head shaking), but I could not detect any genuine nastiness. Plantinga himself said he enjoyed Dennett's presentation, "but couldn't see how it had anything to do with his argument". Some at PB did say that Dennett, in their view, was uncivil, but sometimes it's the horse's fault that it's startled. There are a number skittish theists and skittish atheists around.

Mr. Grayling,

It would be nice if you compared apples to apples. Neither Plantinga--nor Aquinas or Kierkegaard for that matter--beheaded anyone.

On the other hand, people die from secularizers as well. Forget the French Revolution? Forget Lenin? Forget Mao? Pol Pot?

Compare thinkers with thinkers and powers with powers, please. Marx is still considered a philosopher; he is obviously a secularizing philosopher as well. His followers have been classed by a number of parrying non-superstitious as "religious"--a somewhat dubious classification. But followers =/= thinkers. Thinkers, for the most part tend not to kill, thus Marx considered the revolutionary (the guy who would shoot you) as a greater role than the philosopher (who examines the conditions under which to shoot you).

Really, I can expect that level of confusion on an NFL-fan board.

Shorter A.C. Grayling: When the Taliban et al. get into power, they kill; therefore, when "the religious" in general get into power, they kill.

Rigorous stuff.

The obvious tu quoque reply, everyone knows: When Stalin et al. get into power, they kill; therefore, when "the irreligious" in general get into power, they kill.

Grayling is not a complete fool. He knows this obvious rejoinder. And he knows that, since the rejoinder is no good, neither is his own "argument." So why does he (like so many like-minded people) continue to peddle such tripe?

Edward,

Since my reply most resembles the "tu quoque" you implicate, I resist that characterization.

Grayling said: "[T]hey deal with their opponents very differently from how Dan Dennett and I do". I reply that almost any thinker/ideator can say the same thing about the political powers on the other side. He seems to equivocate debate opponents with political opponents, as well (although there is an implied opposition in political matters). A vast majority of parties in any debate, do not "deal" with their opponents by killing them.

Thus it makes no point other than about the general nature of thinkers and powers. He errs in thinking he's making a specific point. Some call this Special Pleading, while I call it "not making your point".

The point being that he is ignoring distinctions that can be easily made. For example, Saul of Tarsus (as the Bible has it) was an enforcer of traditional Judaism, but endured torture and threatened no one as Paul the Apostle--an "ideator" of Christianity (modification of the term "thinker" because I'm not sure Grayling would accept "thinker" related to Paul.) So even in the role of "ideator", Paul stands no different from Dennett (although it would be questionable, given Paul's past to put it as Grayling did).

Mr. Grayling,

You wrote that

"...whenever the religious are in the ascendent [sic]... they deal with their opponents very differently from how Dan Dennett and I do. We argue and - yes - mock; they kill."

I'm surprised to find a professional philosopher making this popular and simpleminded generalization. Even if we accept it for the sake of argument, it doesn't follow that your mockery is justified by the immoral behavior of your opponents' alleged forerunners. Rhetorical violence such as mockery is harmful because it can thwart productive discussion; whether it happens to be less harmful than some other kind of violence is irrelevant to the question of its appropriateness in the context of philosophical discourse.

It is also unclear that those formerly "ascendant religious" people to whom you refer are really the forerunners of Platinga, or Behe, or any theist alive today for that matter. But even if they are, to dismiss your opponents' arguments by appealing to that connection is, of course, a commission of the ad hominem fallacy.

But more specifically, it seems that the unstated assumption of your generalization is that religion per se is a direct cause of violent behavior, and therefore it is always wrong in whatever form it may show itself. This assertion can be readily dismissed (as it has been in the previous comments) by pointing to the comparatively recent massacres perpetuated by certain avowedly secular and non-religious societies. It can also be dismissed by appealing to the good things that religious people have done in the way of humanitarian efforts, to say nothing of their innumerable contributions to every field of intellectual, moral, artistic, and cultural endeavor.

But both of these approaches are unsatisfying, the first most especially because it commits what the cultural historian Jacques Barzun called the fallacy of the single cause. That is, it engages in misleading oversimplification by attributing a single cause to complex phenomena which are actually the result of numerous causes. And in this case, it should be clear to everyone involved in the debate that whatever else religion may be, it is also a cultural activity, and that as such it interacts with all other forms of cultural activity, including politics. To claim that religion always causes violence is as wrongheaded as it would be to claim that atheism always causes intellectual dishonesty and rhetorical gimmickry.

Humans have been predominantly religious for the better part of recorded history, so there's no way for us know whether the propensity of dominant groups to slaughter their opponents is directly caused by religion, as opposed to other cultural elements or psychological motives. Our sample is too uniform. Also, the secular dictatorships mentioned above would certainly seem to indicate that eliminating religion does not automatically convert humans into shining paragons of justice and mercy. Indeed, eliminating religion does not even seem to be able to make people behave civilly towards each other.

Finally, it should be obvious that even if religion actually did cause violence, this fact would have no relevance to the question of whether or not religious beliefs are true. To dismiss a belief by appealing to its allegedly negative effect on human behavior is, once more, nothing but ad hominem — unless you're a pragmatist, I suppose.

To conclude, the defense you give of your mockery of theists is weak and unconvincing; and the implicit connection you make between religion and violence is irrelevant at best and completely unsupportable in any case. It should be rejected by all thoughtful people.

I don't know about what exactly happened at the APA talk, but the general opinion seems to be that people didn't find Dennett especially uncivil, and that they got used to his mockery and story-telling. I think they shouldn't have got used to them.

I remember Dennett serving as a "star speaker" at a conference in Miskolc, Hungary, summer of 2002, paid, fed, walked around, taken care of, wine-and-cheesed, etc. via the funds of the Hungarian Academy, and giving a talk that, as he himself admitted was prepared a few hours before, in which he mocked people who have other views about intentionality than he himself has had in the previous 20 years; it seemed as if the theories of intentionality should have come to a permanent halt with the Dennettian pinnacle.

He started the talk by saying that he is Martian (because he doesn't understand anything that has been said in that conference in the previous days, by other invited speakers, like Crane, Prinz, or Block), then arguing against the views "that intentional content is in little sacs at the back of our brain" or "that we have buckets in our head where intentional content is located", and mocking the notion of agent causation without being aware of the literature on it that had been written lately. The positive thing is that not too may people laughed at his jokes and stories, and most found his lack of argumentation, and replies by way of pointing to his books written at least 8 years before quite disappointing, if not annoying. Ned Block even yelled at him something because of Dennett's failure to argue rather than tell stories.

Needless to say, I heard with my own ears how outraged some of the local, Hungarian professionals were; they took Dennett's show as showing disrespect for Hungary, or the Academy,or the people, or at least to the other speakers and the audience; they perceived it as if the guy thought of himself as of the Emperor coming to the little primitive people at the periphery of his empire. Whether they were right or wrong doesn't matter; what matters is that such people are famous and tolerated by almost everyone, because we tend to get used to their style. But "Le style c'est l'homme même", as Buffon said, so maybe they could be asked to do us a favor.

PS: I'm not especially positively moved by the anonymity of the person who wrote about the APA stuff on prosblogion; it is not credible what you write if you don't assume responsibility for your words. I do.

Timothy, it will be interesting to see if Prof. Grayling responds to your thoughtful comment. You have made some very important points over against his almost strawmanlike response to the OP. But, given the nature of his first response, I seriously question whether he will even be capable of responding to your points with any semblance of persuasiveness. In other words, I think you got him there. Thus, I wouldn't be holding my breath for a rejoinder from him any time soon. However, if I am mistaken (and I sincerely hope that I am!), I will be most interested to see how it all unfolds.

Istvan,

Thanks for your comment. It sounds as if Dennett in Hungary came across as an Ugly American. Your report reinforces me in my view that he is something of a sophist.

As for anonymity, I applaud you for taking responsibility for your words by using your real name. But then you have a job at the best-funded university in Turkey. The author of the report on the debate is appararently a graduate student. In these days of all-out culture war, I can understand why a young person who has yet to establish himself in a career will want to hide his true identity.

All,

Good responses to Grayling. If any of you know of a more virulent religion-basher among the professional philosophers, let me know. It is interesting how someone who is reasonable and competent in his technical work falls apart completely, degenerating to the level of a barroom bullshitter, when he ventures out of his professional cubbyhole.

I must admit I'm a little confused regarding Mr. Grayling's comments. I was always under the impression that philosophy was in the business of dealing with the truth or falsity of propositions/arguments. How exactly do the actions of the religious people he condemns in any way affect the truth or falsity of their religious beliefs? Because that is, after all, what philosophers should be concerned with, shouldn't they? If all physicists who believe in the theory of relativity began acting immorrally, how much sense would it make for those who believe in quantum mechanics to say, "Look, some believers of the theory of relativity are acting immorrally, so I guess it's decided. The theory of relativity is false!"

Second, I'm not as well-read in philosophy as most others who post here, but isn't there a big difference between universal propositions and particular propositions?

"All religious people are people who kill other people due to their religious beliefs"

"Some religious people are people who kill other people due to their religious beliefs."

What does it say about someone who knows the latter is true, but treats all religious people as though the former is true?

My friends, if you are genuinely concerned about simple-mindedness in those you disagree with, strive to set a good example. You will note, if you read my post carefully, that the focus of my attention was on the extremer votaries of the faiths, and on historical cases when religious outlooks were socially and politically dominant. If you can give me any major examples of such situations where heterodoxy was not punished by death I shall be instructed as well as entertained. Alas for you, this most certainly cannot be claimed for the "religions of the book". And further: this is not a claim to the effect that "all religious people are people who kill other people &c", it is the historically factual claim that "religions when dominant use the death penalty to coerce conformity and obedience." Here you will trot out Stalin and Pol Pot, as if - what? the fact that their religions were not your religions makes the coercive aspects of your religions OK? Or as proof that it is not only god-bothering religions that kill - so making the latter ok too? What's your point? Alas for you, the real point is more subtle as well as more general: that all monolithic ideologies owning the One Big Truth, whether it is belief in fairies at the bottom of the garden (your variety, metaphysically speaking) or in achieving utopia via collectivisation and the gulag, are by their nature coercive and too often violent. The contrast, since I imagine you need it spelling out, is with pluralism, individual liberties of thought and (subject to the harm principle) action, impartial legal protection of rights, secularism, and reason. To put matters at its bluntest, your faith is the derivative of what ignorant and illiterate goatherds believed more than two thousand years ago: from which it follows as no surprise that the associated applied morality has been - and in places remains - what it sometimes is. As subjects for mockery go, this is a peach. I invite you to notice again, however, that in the quarrel between religion and those it would love to tape down into one of its little dark boxes, the dissenters throughout history were the ones who were in danger of being broiled or decapitated, and that now - today, in the West - when the dissenters are able to speak out without that fear (apart from the fear of what an Islamic extremist might do, or a "pro-lifer" at an abortion clinic...) their weapon is argument and mockery, not the stake and the axe. In your frantic anxiety to avoid accepting this you overlook a number of significant implications for the present and future of human flourishing. From the quality of your mindsets as here displayed I am not confident that you can see what these are, but given your pretensions to logic I shall leave you to try to draw them.

“To put matters at its bluntest, your faith is the derivative of what ignorant and illiterate goatherds believed more than two thousand years ago: from which it follows as no surprise that the associated applied morality has been - and in places remains - what it sometimes is.”
This is complete nonsense, and it would show absolutely nothing even if it weren’t complete nonsense. Theism, as it has been articulated throughout most of Western History, is philosophically continuous with the classical Greek tradition and the best learning of antiquity. Everyone who has had even a passing acquaintance with philosophy knows this. But, even if we granted that this quip had a grain of truth in it, it would show nothing. So Theism is historically continuous with what certain “ignorant” near Easterners believed. What, pray tell, follows from this? Applying professor Gralying's reasoning, I suppose I am entitled to casually dismiss modern astronomy as the “derivative of Babylonian mystics” or chemists as the “progeny of credulous Alchemists. ” And so on, and so on. I swear, these New Atheists have gotten so entrenched in their beliefs they don’t even bother to pay attention to what they are saying anymore. Barroom bullshitter indeed. Spot on, Bill.

Mr. Grayling you said:

"To put matters at its bluntest, your faith is the derivative of what ignorant and illiterate goatherds believed more than two thousand years ago: from which it follows as no surprise that the associated applied morality has been - and in places remains - what it sometimes is."

I guess we should lump Plato, Aristotle, and other ancient philosophers in this group also? Was there some barrier blocking them from the truth?

A factual correction needs to be made to your "goatherd" statement.
The Hebrew Bible does trace the religion of Israel back to Abraham, who was Nomadic. Does that fact mean that he was ignorant? I do not see how. Second, Israelite Theology was rounded out by scribes, priests, and latter by rabbi's. These people were not exactly "goatherders. Third, Christianity was not founded by goatherders. The situation is a little more complex than your "goatherders" in the middle of the desert. This doesn't make them right, but it surely wasn't the way you depicted it.

I guess when another group's ideas really grate against your crawl you stop worrying about fair representations.

You failed to interact with one commenter's objection to your skewing of history. Requoted here:

"But both of these approaches are unsatisfying, the first most especially because it commits what the cultural historian Jacques Barzun called the fallacy of the single cause. That is, it engages in misleading oversimplification by attributing a single cause to complex phenomena which are actually the result of numerous causes. And in this case, it should be clear to everyone involved in the debate that whatever else religion may be, it is also a cultural activity, and that as such it interacts with all other forms of cultural activity, including politics. To claim that religion always causes violence is as wrongheaded as it would be to claim that atheism always causes intellectual dishonesty and rhetorical gimmickry. "

I believe it is Barzun in "From Dawn to Decadence" who points out that the violence used by the Conquistadors was opposed by many in the priesthood. Again, Mr. Grayling your whole post is based on the simplification of history.

Ah, the 'no true atheist' fallacy, I see. Stalin bother you? Pol Pot beyond the pale? Nothing to fear; they were no true atheists. Just 'idealogues' (and so we stretch the term 'religion' one step closer to over-elasticated meaninglessness). Certainly these idealogues are not like those who propound the One Big Truth of secularism or of pluralism.
The point, Dr. Grayling, of 'trotting out' the examples of Stalin et al. is to try to make the atheist aware of his error in saying, as you do, that religion, when dominant, is *by its nature* coercive and violent. The atheist is meant to look at these examples of his own atheistic creed being twisted and say, yes, maybe the connection is accidental, or maybe there is another connection, such as all politically dominant systems needing to fall into coercion (and being subject to abuse from all-to-human corruption). But of course there will always be those who say that those who twist the atheistic creed in such a way are not true atheists, not pure atheists.
You talk about situations in which religions are the in the social and political ascendency. But if you only talk about religions insofar as they are already coloured by your view of them (a no true Christian fallacy), it is no surprise that you take your view to be born out by the facts. The pluralism and liberalism in the UK chimes with the ideals of many in the Church of England (ideals born of that religion), futhermore, Christianity is the state religion. But I'm sure you would say that the UK is no true Christian country, because it does not fit your definition of what Christianity should be. Vice-versa with the US.

Professor Grayling asks for "major examples" of situations where a religious orthodoxy was socially and politically dominant, and heterodoxy was not punished by death. Catholic France tolerated Protestants from the Edict of Nantes (1598) to its repeal in 1685.In the Dutch Republic in the 17th and 18th century, there was a dominant Calvinist orthodoxy, but Catholics were tolerated.

Alas for you, the real point is more subtle as well as more general: that all monolithic ideologies owning the One Big Truth, whether it is belief in fairies at the bottom of the garden (your variety, metaphysically speaking) or in achieving utopia via collectivisation and the gulag, are by their nature coercive and too often violent

I'd ask Professor Grayling if, within the concept of "monolithic ideologies" he would include metaphysical naturalism (after all, that metaphysical position includes as the One Big True the idea that only natural entities, forces, etc. exist). If so, would metaphysical naturalists tolerate alternative non-naturalist worldviews?

The contrast, since I imagine you need it spelling out, is with pluralism, individual liberties of thought and (subject to the harm principle) action, impartial legal protection of rights, secularism, and reason

Does "individual liberties of thought" includes the liberty to be anti-secularist? Or only we can be free to accept the secularist worldview, but not to accept other worldviews?

Is metaphysical naturalism compatible with pluralism (a pluralism that would include worldviews like theism, or beliefs in non-natural entities, processes or forces)? Would a strong believer in metaphysical naturalist, in a power and influential position, accept the teachings of these ideas as alternative metaphysical positions to a naturalist position, in the name of "pluralism"? Or would he tries to suppress them?

As subjects for mockery go, this is a peach. I invite you to notice again, however, that in the quarrel between religion and those it would love to tape down into one of its little dark boxes, the dissenters throughout history were the ones who were in danger of being broiled or decapitated, and that now - today, in the West - when the dissenters are able to speak out without that fear (apart from the fear of what an Islamic extremist might do, or a "pro-lifer" at an abortion clinic...)

But the abuses of some religious fundamentalists don't make "mockery" a rational strategy. If secularists are the kings of "logic and reason", we'd expect from them arguments and reasoning to make their case, not mockery, straw men, or subtle ad hominem attacks or labels against their opponents. These sophistical strategies aren't rationally justified appealing to the abuses, violence or irrationalities of some influential, violent and dogmatic religious people of the past (or present).

I would have everyone notice how respectful, though thoroughly critical, you all have been to this man, Grayling, even though his comments have been utterly anti-philosophical and downright nasty. Atheists shouldn't be put to death, but they should at least be accustomed to giving rigorous argument in favor of their truth-claims. I see none of it from this man or the newly-famous atheists. I also never see theist philosophers assuming that they are more rational than their counterparts without first providing thoughtful reasoning. We seem to be much more willing to entertain doubt on our part for the sake of discovering the truth than any atheist. The only person Mr. Grayling makes a fool of when he resorts to sophomoric mockery is himself.

"We seem to be much more willing to entertain doubt on our part for the sake of discovering the truth than any atheist. The only person Mr. Grayling makes a fool of when he resorts to sophomoric mockery is himself."

Well said, Edward. In the first sentence you put your finger on something very important, a certain asymmetry of atitude. Militant educated atheists such as Grayling are contemptibly cocksure of themselves when they have no right to be, whereas contemporary educated theists are by and large open to the truth.

Mr. Grayling, you wrote:

"You will note, if you read my post carefully, that the focus of my attention was on the extremer votaries of the faiths"

I read your post, which included the following:

"I should like to remind you that whenever the religious are in the ascendent - think Torquemada in Spain or the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan for egregious examples - they deal with their opponents very differently from how Dan Dennett and I do. We argue and - yes - mock; they kill."

The class of people you are talking about here - the religious in the ascendent - to me clearly indicates a universal quantity. So if I reformulate your entire assertion into a categorical proposition, it would look like the follwing:

"All religious people that are in positions of ascendency are people that kill their opponents."

If on the other hand you wanted to make a particular proposition, indicating only part of a class, you should have said "when some religious are in the ascendent" or something to that effect.

Yes, you gave 2 examples of "the extremer votaries of the faiths" by mentioning Torquemada and the Taliban. But that doesn't change the fact that by saying "the religious" you are still talking about a universal class, which 2 examples obviously hardly justifies. If you're making an "A" proposition (All S are P), then only giving 2 examples of S's that are P's isn't quite enough. I ask only that you be a little more careful when you are stipulating the quantity of the subjects in your propositions. There is a big difference between the words "some" and "all."

Mr. Grayling,

How can you compare "ascendancy" if there is no ascendancy that fits your case? You, not I, put it in terms of "in the ascendant". It's a pretty feeble trick then to stipulate that they have to qualify in another respect.

What is the complement of Religion-In-Ascendancy? I would expect it would be religion in wane, or secularization. Which is why I chose "secularization" as my term.

I sorry that diffuse, subtle, stipulative theoretically-pure-derivations have never been "in the ascendant". Something must be up with our species....

Did you want to actually compare cases, though? Oh, yeah, you still have that you and Dan Dennett have never shot anybody at a debate. I'm guessing that you've never come close to actually strangling somebody, too, as long as we can go out on that limb. I think all the people who have should feel ashamed "in comparison" (?) (Is that even on the table anymore? Am I just being too simple-minded?).

Actually, I should say that I chose secularization as the opposing historical example, simple-mindedly thinking that one would need to appeal to actual historical instances.

You can hear the audio of the Plantinga-Dennett debate here:

http://www.brianauten.com/Apologetics/Plantinga-Dennett-Debate.mp3

Sorry to butt in I am not a philosopher but have a great interest in the history of religion and mythology.
If anyone with any knowledge of the birth of Christendom will know that it was completely pluralist. Religion in its purist form is completely pluralist. It takes people who can only think with their heads to make it otherwise. At the birth of Christendom We had a coming together of of three major faiths in Britain. We had the western Celtic christianity, we had Roman catholicism and we had paganism. This all melded into one, quite deliberately and quite peacefully, under the umbrella of Christianity. This is why there is so much paganistic symbolism in the early bibles it was not stealing it was in deference to the old beliefs. It was the Roman catholics who did not like this because they suffered so much at the hands of the pagan Romans (who funnily enough called the christians atheists). Jesus with his story of the good Samaritan was being exceptionally tolerant, Samaritans were beyond the pale in those days. The story was not about being a good Samaritan but was going against the prevailing intolerant belief that Samaritans are somehow beneath everyone else. The first 4 books of the bible are actually penned by 4 different schools of, often contradictory, thought all coming together in deference to each other. These accounts of Moses sometimes contradict each other but are included obviously not for continuity but through respect for others beliefs and interpretations. Islam was a conquering religion it spread right accross Europe and Asia however unlike previous conquerors it allowed all kinds of beliefs and was so interested in other peoples beliefs and knowledge that it was incorporated into a lot of Islam. This is why Islam was so scientific in its golden age as it was so open minded. Hinduism is not a religion really it is thousands of different religions based around the hindu mythology (mythology in the real meaning of the word not the derogatory meaning). Buddhism is the same. All beliefs including atheism or any secular beliefs are not by their nature intolerant until the individuals become intolerant and start excluding other views. As I have said I am interested in religion and I would have to say that the 'new atheist' variety of atheism is very close to a fundamentalist religion. It believes it has the truth or the exclusive means to the truth. The lesson history has taught us is that nobody has the truth only parts. Religion has to keep reinventing itself or it becomes fearful of progress and then intolerant - this can be seen in sects such as young earthists who want to go back to a time before evolution. I am sorry to say this is also the case with the new atheists one just has to take a step back from it to realise that the idea that 'science can explain everything' is coming under serious attack as new ideas come to light. The beginning of intolerance is always ridicule this leads to the dehumanising of the opposition. We see this already in the extremely intolerant creationist/atheist blogs and websites. Einstein (often missapropriated into atheism) said with amazing understanding of beliefs - 'Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods'. He realised that todays absolute truths are tomorrows myths.

I'm a little fuzzy on how Plantinga's "defeater" for metaphysical naturalism works. In a nutshell, it seems to be an argument along these lines: it is inconceivably improbable that humans would have evolved to reason in a reliable way, so as to discern truths. Suppose we drop down several evolutionary levels and consider a simple bacterium engaging in chemotaxis, which is motion of a microorganism in a chemical gradient. Does the fact that a bacterium is able to discern the true direction of a chemical gradient mean that it could not have evolved naturally?

[Grayling said] We argue and - yes - mock; they kill.

Despite what you say, I feel that faith has done an
admirable job defending itself against charges of
unreason over the last two millenia. Now perhaps it's
the turn of secular science to defend itself. Is science
compatible with reason? Here's some evidence that it isn't:

http://www.inbredscience.co.cc/

All that material on top-knotch secular-atheist
scientists from the time of Darwin up to WW2 can
best be described as "science devoid of reason."

So, I think that in the future, we will no longer
be facing the tired question of "Faith versus reason",
but rather your side will have to do some fancy
footwork proving the consistency between science -- or
rather what science has become -- and reason.

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