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I think your summing-up of Dawkins' character is spot on, Mike. He is what A.E. van Vogt would have called a "Right Man" - completely convinced by himself.

On a bigger canvas, I also believe your description of the "skeptic" movement is accurate. There are very few "skeptics" who are not atheists (indeed, "skeptics'" antipathy to psi is, IMHO, largely based on their fear of its possible "spiritual" implications, not on science), and it's entirely possible that when a man (and they are mostly men) considers himself the highest authority in the universe, he may well act as if he owns the universe.

Certainly the "skeptic" leaders are remarkable for their self-righteousness and lack of self criticism. I am reminded of Professor Joscelyn Godwin's assessment of James Randi: "A textbook example of a closed-minded fundamentalist ... he is totally convinced - TOUCHINGLY convinced - that he is right, and nothing, but nothing, will sway him from that position."

Another Right Man, in other words.

Having said all that, I think Dawkins and Randi will actually come to be seen as major figures in the coming spiritual renaissance. They have forced religious apologists to up their philosophical game, and have given rise to a milieu in which parapsychologists have had to tighten their controls and produce better data.
They have flagged up the shortcomings of fundamentalist religion. And they are acting, in part, out of genuine desire to make the world a better place.

But how they would hate the thought that they have ultimately contributed to a new theological vision for the 21st century!

The little I read about the "case" of the female skeptic who was invited "for coffee" at 3 am was pretty appalling. I think the woman over-reacted but the vitriol thrown her way - and the time spent throwing it - was over the top. Who has the time and hate for all of that? I don't mind skepticism at all, it's necessary, but there is something odd going on with some of these people - not all, but certainly some.

I don't think Ace's comment can be much improved on here:

This just in: Man who has spent entire adult public life attempting a Freudian vengeance against God-As-Father-Figure-Betrayer announces that a bit of "mild pedophilia" did "no lasting harm" to his psychology.

There are "spiritual" figures (like Sai Baba, or like any number of adulterous ministers and pedophile priests) who can be tarred with the same brush.

And where would one even start with New Age figures? Mansion, Unicorn, Jim Jones?

Ace's comment just might hit the nail on the head, at least as far as Dawkins is concerned.

Regarding Manson, Jim Jones, et al., you're right that they were sick and twisted, but I don't think they were ever regarded as leading spokesmen for New Age philosophy. Actually I don't think anyone had ever heard of Manson until the Sharon Tate murders. But it's true that New Age movements - and Spiritualism - have had their share of problems, too. In "The Psychic Mafia," M. Lamar Keene talks about a phony materialization medium who would have sex with his female clients in the dark seance room ...

Great post! I think you are basically right, Michael, but I would approach it from a slightly different angle. Thesis:

A lack of belief in absolute truth will always produce moral bankruptcy and/or tragedy.

So it has been with any atheist movement, such as the French Revolution, Communism, and I would say Fascism too (in theory not atheist, but in practice, yes).

Now, of course one can point to other movements that were not atheist that were nevertheless morally bankrupt. But that's not the point; the point is that a lack of belief in absolute truth is a *sufficient* condition to produce moral bankruptcy.

Although there are noble and ethical atheists, I don't think a noble and ethical culture can be built out of atheists.

Maybe Dawkins should come to America and run for Congress....

No, no, both Jim Jones and Einhorn were figures of substantial fame and influence before the wheels came off.

The only thing that would make Dawkins comment approach truth(and that is an extreme overstatement) is if the child is gay, and the parents are fundies (which most Christians are ditching). Also, there has been quite an outcry at the "boys club" in the skeptic community. Feminist bloggers and vloggers are being viciously attacked and ridiculed. Just see what Anita Sarkeesian has to go through. You don't have to agree with her(I don't sometimes) but really you got to be more respectful.

Personally Michael I have a suspicion Richard Dawkins's what me Mum used to call a Contrary Mary ie he just has to go against the grain an' if all of a sudden the whole world were to suddenly say "It's agreed then from now on we're all go'n'o be atheists!" he'd be the first to say "Hey now hang on a mo' maybe there really is a God afterall..." [which's of course an extremely useful trait to have if you're to have any chance of becoming a paradigm busting scientist artist thinker etc].

I also suspect he's what they used to say of John Lennon when the Beatles first began to emerge "He's a gobby little twat!" hence his local nickname right into the 70s 'the Mersey Mouth'.

If it's true that leading figures in the 'skeptical' movement are linked with sexual misconduct to an unusual degree, it also seems true for the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Or at least in both cases that is the impression we seem to be getting. I wonder if there's an argument to explain the latter? It can't be that they believe people are objects. But maybe if you believe that people are hopelessly sinful, evil and disgusting (ie without Christ's intercession) that's a little similar to seeing them as objects.

Both worldviews tend to look down on people. Maybe that has a connection with sexual abuse.

It's interesting that the view of people that seems to emerge from, for example, near death experiences or other 'spiritual' evidence (rather than dogma) is that we are magnificent beings - far more than we think we are when seen from a bigger perspective.

I'm thinking that any worldview that sees people as pathetic objects has something wrong with it.

Piers

||it also seems true for the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Or at least in both cases that is the impression we seem to be getting. I wonder if there's an argument to explain the latter?||

Sure. They are required to be celibate, but people want to have sex.

I was raised Catholic, BTW.

One theory, not my own creation but I find it plausible, is that the celibacy of the Church was an *advantage* those with unorthodox sexualities. They didn't want to be in a traditional marriage but at the same time didn't want to face social scrutiny for being ostensible "bachelors." Becoming a priest gave them a respectable veneer if they were gay in a society that would not permit them to be out and proud. I had a priest friend who described being in the seminary in the 1970s, and nearly all of his fellow priests-in-training were gay and clearly had no intention of actually being celibate.

Some were also trying genuinely to repress antisocial sexual tendencies (e.g., pedophilia), and being a priest gave them an "excuse" to totally expunge sex from their thoughts. It may have worked for some but clearly not for all.

Finally, some priests are straight guys who thought they could be celibate but really couldn't. They cracked under the pressure in various ways.

It's just a totally unhealthy and unrealistic policy, and I wonder how many priests fully obeyed the rules over the centuries (keep in mind that the Church also forbids masturbation). My guess is that only a fairly small percent have succeeded.

I take this less as a comment on atheism as a philosophy and more a comment on human nature. Obviously, there are some really horrible atheists, just as there are really horrible believers. And there are wonderful atheists, just like there are wonderful believers.

That said, the skeptic/atheist movement as led by people like Dawkins (who seems to have lost his inner censor), Randi (social Darwinist), and Sam Harris (supports torture) has a problem: it has become an ossified ideology, an inversion of what it is supposed to be.

The same dynamic operates in religions, which usually seem to end up being a perverted shadow of what was originally intended.

In the end, an atheist who loves his neighbor and treats them well is closer to God than a cruel, selfish believer. Isn't this the message of the NDE?

Good quote by Einstein:

"[T]he fanatical atheists...are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who — in their grudge against the traditional 'opium of the people' - cannot bear the music of the spheres."

This is going out on a limb: My working assumption is that when one's consciousness gets very developed spiritually, sex consciousness naturally fades way into the background. Celibacy goes hand in hand with greatly developed spiritual awareness. However, the heads of religious organizations, not really understanding the "why" of celibacy, require celibacy of those who are not yet developed enough spiritually to comply. This unnatural suppression perverts the clergy's sexual urges and the results in pedophilia or other unhealthy psychoemotional expressions. Instead of appointing clergy who are ALREADY spiritually developed enough to easily and naturally be celibate, they instead appoint as clergy those who simply have the IDEAL of being spiritually developed and celibate. This doesn't work. It's like appointing a kid to be an expert auto mechanic when all he has is his aspirations and good intentions, but no actual knowledge.

||This is going out on a limb: My working assumption is that when one's consciousness gets very developed spiritually, sex consciousness naturally fades way into the background. Celibacy goes hand in hand with greatly developed spiritual awareness.||

This may be true ascetic traditions, and it seems that advanced beings in the higher dimensions don't need sex, but I really don't think this is how it works for most spiritually aware people here on Earth. Let me put it another way: Christian and Buddhist monks denying themselves sex really didn't advance their spiritual careers thereby. IMHO.

||Instead of appointing clergy who are ALREADY spiritually developed enough to easily and naturally be celibate, they instead appoint as clergy those who simply have the IDEAL of being spiritually developed and celibate.||

How many people are that "advanced" right now on the whole planet? The number has got to be quite small. And there's no way of knowing the difference between someone who is celibate because they're "advanced" or just because they have a low sex drive.

Rumor has it this guy - http://edition.cnn.com/2013/09/12/justice/cannibal-eat-children-case/index.html?hpt=hp_t3 - was heavily involved in atheism and was president of the local Richard Dawkins fan club.

Seriously though, re; sex and spirituality, I think Tantric practices have it about right. Don't try to deny the urge. Rather, use it and focus it to aid spiritual development.

"Rumor has it this guy ..."

LOL, No One. But on a slightly more serious note, one of the things that prompted me to write this post was that in the course of doing some Internet research, I read about a certain person (not famous) who had boasted in a chat room that he enjoyed having sex with children and that, for a fee, he could procure children for other people's use. The authorities, once alerted, found "thousands" of photos of children on his computer, but weren't able to prove any criminal acts. The kicker? This same guy has written erudite-sounding online articles arguing that belief in God is irrational.

I had no idea, when I started looking into this case, that this guy had any viewpoint on religion - yet it turns out he's a militant atheist. Coincidence, possibly. But you may remember Auric Goldfinger's dictum:

"Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, it's enemy action."

"Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times, it's enemy action."

No doubt, there is something happening here. My theory is that if you have some sexual desires and/or practices that are deemed socially unacceptable there are two things you have to do. 1. Hide these from external scrutiny and 2. Develop some kind of internal mechanism to alleviate cognitive dissonance, bad self-perception, etc.

As Matt Rouge says (above) there is a selection bias for such people in the Catholic church. For example, no need to explain why you're a bachelor.

However,it's not just that by becoming a priest you can hide your proclivities from society. You can also relieve some painful self image issues that arise from being outside of societal norms; e.g. I'm a priest that is doing God's work. I help a lot of people. In balance, I'm a good guy.

Then there is the reinforcing feedback loop. As more men moved into the priesthood to hide the sexual orientations, the priesthood becomes more of a de facto sanctuary for that is sought out by more of the same for reasons of social acceptance.

In our modern world atheism supplies a second path to follow for the same types with, perhaps, an emphasis more on self perception protection. The same selection bias is at work.

So the atheist protects himself psychologically by repeating the mantra that there is no god, no afterlife, etc. We are all just meat sacks operating on biochemical reactions. So it doesn't matter what he does to others. There is no right or wrong. Nothing ultimately matters. If I molest little 9 year old Billy, there really isn't a person there to be harmed. If I'm worried about it at all I can convince myself that the meat sack called "Billy" can be intellectually reprogrammed to get over it or rebooted using pharmaceuticals. Same goes for various women that get harassed, like college interns.

Atheists further enjoy the self image of being intellectually superior; which is something that is valued in todays world.

Atheists can also live comfortably in fairly substantial subcultures consisting of similarly minded people where they can intellectualize away any weird or antisocial thing they do or feel like doing.

So atheism provides the same internal and external "cover" that the priesthood used to.

I suppose there is something else, far less savory, that draws sexual predators to the priesthood and to atheism. A predator needs a victim. Victims must be approached from a position of authority. The authority of the priest is obvious. I would argue that the authority of the intellectually superior atheist is almost as strong, if not equally so, on his hunting grounds (college campuses and such).

This might be apropos, though extreme, very politically incorrect and sure to offend many. I think it is amusing as a rejoinder to so much materialist propaganda.

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/seanthomas/100231060/are-atheists-mentally-ill/

Are atheists mentally ill? – August 14th, 2013 – Sean Thomas

Excerpt (After mentioning claims that atheists have higher IQs than believers):

“Let’s dispense with the crude metric of IQ and look at the actual lives led by atheists, and believers, and see how they measure up. In other words: let’s see who is living more intelligently. And guess what: it’s the believers. A vast body of research, amassed over recent decades, shows that religious belief is physically and psychologically beneficial – to a remarkable degree.

........the evidence today implies that atheism is a form of mental illness. And this is because science is showing that the human mind is hard-wired for faith… religious people have all their faculties intact, they are fully functioning humans. Therefore, being an atheist – lacking the vital faculty of faith – should be seen as an affliction, and a tragic deficiency: something akin to blindness. Which makes Richard Dawkins the intellectual equivalent of an amputee, furiously waving his stumps in the air, boasting that he has no hands.”

no one and doubter,

Interesting points. I'd like to split a few hairs, however.

I think there are a lot of "soft atheists/agnostics" out there. People who think, "Oh geez, I don't know exactly what I believe, but I know I don't believe in organized religion, and don't scientists kinda say all this spiritual and paranormal stuff is crap? Yeah, so I'm going with that for now."

These people are vaguely negative toward spirituality and they may even go with the "branding" of atheist/agnostic, but they do *not* participate in skeptical forums or get into tussles with believers, etc.

I doubt highly that such people have any of the proclivities we're talking about here.

Now here's the other thing: the hard-core atheists, the real ones, are quite a numerically small group. They *do* tend to participate in online forums (or so it seems to me), they *do* get into tussles with believers, and, most importantly, they exert *immense* peer pressure on each other and form a community with *very* strict rules. For example, can you be a skeptic and believe in psi? "Hey, I think the Ganzfeld evidence is pretty good." Of course not! You would be completely ostracized.

If we grant that it is the case that the peer pressure and groupthink are big influence on the members of this community, then I'm not sure that their actual belief system is really what's behind any alleged groupwide corruption, a/im/morality, etc.

Sometimes groups, companies, organizations, etc., just develop a negative vibe and culture. I worked for a company in Japan that had spent $10 million-equivalent in an idealistic "values" program, yet the top brass (most of them) were these hateful, arrogant bastards, and despite the promulgation of values, they just kept hiring more nasty execs.

I think the US and UK have developed a very nasty, negative, and hateful skeptic/atheist community. Certainly, materialism as a worldview is conducive to negativity IMHO, but it by no means has a monopoly on that, as has been pointed out in these comments.

no one said,

||Then there is the reinforcing feedback loop. As more men moved into the priesthood to hide the sexual orientations, the priesthood becomes more of a de facto sanctuary for that is sought out by more of the same for reasons of social acceptance.||

I think this has been true in skeptical community, definitely. One example is the rampant misogyny; it's so bad that it is pretty much openly admitted by the members themselves.

But the nasty vibe also serves to drive out positive, decent people. In such a cesspool, all manner of problems can flourish. More nasty people pick up on the vibe and want to join. It's self-reinforcing.

I don't know if middle-aged atheist dudes have any real authority outside their own narrow circle. I think most kids on college campuses are not really into it. I think the big-name skeptics like Dawkins get their authority not so much from people directly favoring their opinions, but instead from the reflected light of fellow travelers in science and academe.

In the future, I think people are going to look back on the Dawkinses, Randis, Shermers, Blackmores, and other mandarins of nihilism and negativity and wonder, "Why did anyone pay attention to these assholes"?

"I think there are a lot of "soft atheists/agnostics" out there. People who think, "Oh geez, I don't know exactly what I believe........"

Absolutely.

"Now here's the other thing: the hard-core atheists, the real ones, are quite a numerically small group. They *do* tend to participate in online forums ...."

Yep. Politics are often ruled by a small, but highly vocal, minority of true believers that have the resources to focus 24/7 on the topic. There was that term from I don't remember what decade, "the silent majority".

"I doubt highly that such people have any of the proclivities we're talking about here"

I don't think they do either. We aren't talking about them, though. We are talking about the vocal minority, who I do think have those proclivities.

"But the nasty vibe also serves to drive out positive, decent people. In such a cesspool, all manner of problems can flourish. More nasty people pick up on the vibe and want to join. It's self-reinforcing."

Yep. Part of the loop. The vocal minority becomes the leadership and sets the tone.

What we're talking about here is the "leadership" of these movements. By definition they are the ones most invested and who care the most and who are, therefore, the ones most steeped in the ideology.

We are not hearing from Joe-I_just- wanna-enjoy-my-BBQ on these issues. He isn't the guy going to conventions and accosting women in elevators.

"In the future, I think people are going to look back on the Dawkinses, Randis, Shermers, Blackmores, and other mandarins of nihilism and negativity and wonder, "Why did anyone pay attention to these assholes"?"

I think this will be true in +/- 100 years.

"mandarins of nihilism .." nice. I like it.

Matt Rouge:

"In the future, I think people are going to look back on the Dawkinses, Randis, Shermers, Blackmores, and other mandarins of nihilism and negativity and wonder, "Why did anyone pay attention to these assholes"?"

I'd take a different view, Matt. I think the academics of the future will be very clear about why Dawkins et. al. made such an impact.

The world of the early 21st century is struggling to throw off the yoke of fundamentalist, literalist religion, and has so far only found its way to one alternative - atheism.

The "New Atheists" are spearheading this charge, but most of their followers have not yet realised the ultimate trajectory of atheism : nihilism; albeit a nihilism watered down by the delusional idea that the atheist can "create his own meaning". (In a universe which is utterly meaningless? Yeah, right.)

Eventually, seekers - including many former atheists - will discover the God in whose existence Max Planck came to believe purely as the result of "studying the atom".

I have written elsewhere that Dawkins, Randi and their colleagues will be seen as important figures in this transitional era - the guys who cleared away the bronze age fairytales so that other thinkers could eventually bring about a union of science and theology. But they themselves would probably be horrified at this future "verdict of history" - the idea that they, as fundamaterialist atheists, actually played a key role in the collapse of the materialist and atheist worldview!

""Why did anyone pay attention to these assholes"?

I don't think this sort of unspiritual statement is very helpful. Dawkins makes a very good case for atheism, based on proof of evolution and the debunking of primitive creation myths. After all, the biblical Jehovah (for instance) is indeed thoroughly unpleasant.

Dawkins performs a necessary service. He goes too far, in the view of subscribers to this blog. But without him, the difference between spiritual and religious would be much less clear.

It occurred to me that there is another atheistic movement that was shocked by a prominent sex scandal – namely Ayn Rand's Objectivism. In the late 1960s Rand's followers were stunned to learn that she and her protégé Nathaniel Branden had been carrying on an affair for more than a decade. Both Rand and Branden were married to other people. Their spouses had known about the affair all along, but it had been kept secret from everyone else.

When the affair began, Rand justified it to the reluctant spouses by saying that while such behavior would be inadvisable for the average person, it would work out in this case, because she and Nathaniel were "giants" who were not bound by social conventions. Their superiority placed them above all normal considerations of propriety. She turned out to be quite wrong – the affair fizzled out amid recrimination and guilt and shame, just as it would for any ordinary adulterers.

But maybe there's a clue here to the psychology behind these various instances of sexual misbehavior – a common denominator. Whether it's a celebrity atheist who feels he is intellectually superior to the common herd of gullible fools, or a celebrity New Age figure who sees himself as specially enlightened and spiritually superior to the mass of humanity, a grandiose sense of personal superiority may be what gives some people the rationale to manipulate and dominate and abuse others.

This does not necessarily apply to pedophile priests, who may be in a special category for the reasons Matt indicated (i.e., the fact that the church's prohibition of marriage for the clergy has made the priesthood a kind of sanctuary for a closeted gays). But it may apply in other cases.

When people start thinking of themselves as "giants" who are immune to the foibles of ordinary humanity and who stand above run-of-the-mill moral considerations, bad things tend to happen.

If this is true, then it may not be atheism as such - even militant atheism - that gives rise to these scandals, but the hubris that, in some cases, seems to accompany it.

"I'd take a different view, Matt. I think the academics of the future will be very clear about why Dawkins et. al. made such an impact."

"Dawkins performs a necessary service"

I disagree. There have been countless individuals and groups that have played an important role in the evolution of our understanding of things, yet had ideas and methods that were simply wrong. Mostly these people are confined to the dustbin of history. If we talk about them at all, it's with a chuckle that anyone so wrong could have gained an audience.

Nobody likes a loser and nobody likes admitting that a loser can have influence over our culture. And these guys will be the losers at the end of the war. They are trying to impose an ideology on a populace that rejects the ideology; partly at least because a lot of people *know* the ideology is simply wrong. Lots of people have the kind of experiences we discuss here. Lots of people have NDEs or ADCs. Spiritual belief is fundamental to being human and just about nobody wants some cock-sure jackass atheist telling them that their sacred beliefs - things they have experienced personally - are wrong and stupid.

Furthermore their tactics are reminiscent of the old adage from Vietnam, "We had to destroy the village to save it". Nobody likes having their village burnt to the ground, their livestock killed and being left with nothing. That kind of rampant heavy handed monolithic approach simply doesn't win hearts or minds.

A backlash is due to these atheists and when science starts validating the spiritual the backlash will clobber the atheists such that their place in history will not be one of honor.

" the guys who cleared away the bronze age fairytales so that other thinkers could eventually bring about a union of science and theology."

Wow. That is some grandiose heroic image of these guys - one I'm pretty sure they haven't earned. In the western industrialized nations people have been drifting away from the church/organized religion for along time; a trend greatly accelerated over the last hundred years. This would have happened regardless of Randi or Dawkins and their ilk.

"I don't think this sort of unspiritual statement is very helpful. Dawkins makes a very good case for atheism, based on proof of evolution and the debunking of primitive creation myths."

So the guy proves the Bible is wrong because Dinosaurs. Because Geology!

Big deal. How is that an important contribution to anything? These guys are operating at a juvenile level. When it comes to the complex adult topics,like we discuss here, they go to pieces and resort to ignoring evidence, lying, cheating and obfuscating.

no one,

||I don't think they do either. We aren't talking about them, though. We are talking about the vocal minority, who I do think have those proclivities.||

Absolutely. I forgot the caveat, "But I'm not saying you're saying," lol.

||Yep. Part of the loop. The vocal minority becomes the leadership and sets the tone.||

Yep. I think this is what happened with the Nazis, too. Hitler attracted nasty people who were then good at recruiting the nastiest people in the German population. People wonder how a civilized country could have gone that way; well, even the most civilized country has a small population of sadists and sickos who would love to impose their will on others.

||What we're talking about here is the "leadership" of these movements. By definition they are the ones most invested and who care the most and who are, therefore, the ones most steeped in the ideology.||

Yes.

Rupert McWiseman,

||The world of the early 21st century is struggling to throw off the yoke of fundamentalist, literalist religion, and has so far only found its way to one alternative - atheism.

The "New Atheists" are spearheading this charge,||

Great point!

They *are* playing a role, although seeing them in action is extremely frustrating for those of us who already "get it."

||but most of their followers have not yet realised the ultimate trajectory of atheism : nihilism; albeit a nihilism watered down by the delusional idea that the atheist can "create his own meaning". (In a universe which is utterly meaningless? Yeah, right.)||

Excellent, yes.

||Eventually, seekers - including many former atheists - will discover the God in whose existence Max Planck came to believe purely as the result of "studying the atom".||

Maybe. I agree that these guys are striking blows against organized religion and false belief systems (e.g., Creationism) that need to be struck, but I don't know if many of their acolytes will switch from atheism before they die.

||I have written elsewhere that Dawkins, Randi and their colleagues will be seen as important figures in this transitional era - the guys who cleared away the bronze age fairytales so that other thinkers could eventually bring about a union of science and theology. But they themselves would probably be horrified at this future "verdict of history" - the idea that they, as fundamaterialist atheists, actually played a key role in the collapse of the materialist and atheist worldview!||

Yes, and I think that they will be even more horrified (if they could see) that the very fact they were so fundie and so dickish about it were key reasons for the demise of their worldview. "Nice" atheists probably could have kept the game up for a few decades more.

I am edified and corrected by your post, thank you!

The Gipper,

||I don't think this sort of unspiritual statement is very helpful.||

I'm not saying that because I disagree with them and find them mildly unpleasant. These guys truly are full-on *assholes.* Execrable as human beings. Negative, lying, spreading darkness and suppressing the emerging light.

Are they playing a useful role as Rupert suggests? Yes. But I think that is the Universe making lemonade out of lemons, as it is wont to do.

Michael,

Great points. Another pertinent case is Leopold and Loeb:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leopold_and_Loeb

The skeptic/atheist community is extremely pride- and righteousness-based. Other people are idiots for not seeing the godless light. Their main weapon is ridicule. Such a "vibe" can definitely provide the miasma in which one can come to believe that one's superiority can justify poor treatment of others, from said ridicule to outright physical abuse.

And Michael,

I think you are right about hubris being the main factor, and not atheism itself. But the fundamental negativity of atheism also plays a role in steering the expression of such hubris when it arises among atheists.

[Matt Rouge:]

Thanks for your kind comments.

While I would agree that Randi and Dawkins come across as "assholes", that is a personality issue - these guys are "Right Men" and are addicted to the ego trip.

We have to separate this issue from their intentions, which are undoubtedly sincere. I don't think they are deliberately "spreading darkness", rather they are - in their own eyes - fighting the darkness of literalist religion. Their understanding of theology is too naive, and too mediaeval in its basis, to allow for any conception of "God" APART FROM literalist religion.

Especially they have no awareness that many thinkers have embraced the concept of God solely from the study of SCIENCE - Max Planck is a prime example, as is Sir Arthur Eddington, and - a contemporary exemplar - the distinguished astrophysicist Richard Henry (who abandoned his lifelong atheism as a result of 40 years of studying physics.)

It is this trend - the evidence of God from science alone - which will blossom over the next century.

[no-one:]

I'm not sure that religious literalism is waning worldwide - even in westernised industrial nations. There is plenty of strident proselytising in both the Islamic world and in the Christian 'Bible Belt' of the USA.

Dawkins and his colleagues act as some sort of countermeasure to this trend.

The ever more shrill voices of contemporary religious fundamentalism, combined with the equally stentorian declamations of the New Atheists, are - in my view - slowly exposing the intellectual bankruptcy of both movements.

Out of their demise will emerge a new spirituality - but I think it will have to wait until the children of today's "skeptics" come of age. These educated youngsters will do what the young always do - rebel against their parents. And to defeat their parents' view that science supports atheism, they will look for evidence that science supports theism.

By then, such evidence will not be hard to find. Indeed, Professor Richard Henry has stated that the current scientific evidence for God's existence is already greater than the (abundant) evidence for evolution!

"We have to separate this issue from their intentions, which are undoubtedly sincere. I don't think they are deliberately "spreading darkness", rather they are - in their own eyes - fighting the darkness of literalist religion."

I don't know about Dawkins, but I'm past the point of seeing Randi as sincere or well-intentioned. Although he has made a few positive contributions, the negatives greatly outweigh them, IMO. I find him deceptive, angry, self-aggrandizing, and unscrupulous. He's done his best to ruin the reputations of people who really are sincere and well-intentioned (look at his treatment of Puthoff and Targ in Flim-Flam, or his persecution of Jacques Benveniste).

As for the larger point, I doubt that the New Atheists have accomplished much. Their arguments are shallow, shopworn, and threadbare, and they are mostly preaching to the choir. Perhaps their greatest impact has been to provoke a backlash among more sober intellectuals who resent the New Atheists' strident tone.

Rupert,

||While I would agree that Randi and Dawkins come across as "assholes", that is a personality issue - these guys are "Right Men" and are addicted to the ego trip.

We have to separate this issue from their intentions, which are undoubtedly sincere.||

Can someone have "sincere" intentions when they're on an ego trip?

I second what Michael said about Randi's intentions and motivations. That man borders on, perhaps actively crosses the border of, actively causing harm.

Dawkins et al.? Those media skeptics are selling their personal brands, and to do so and retain support of the small but active and vocal atheist minority requires complete orthodoxy. It is hard to trust their intentions when they have to toe the party line to get their paycheck.

||I don't think they are deliberately "spreading darkness", rather they are - in their own eyes - fighting the darkness of literalist religion.||

The atheist position requires each proponent to have 10 arms to fight off the evidence for the *myriad* of phenomena that violate, in fact obliterate, their worldview. Or perhaps just four arms to cover the eyes and ears effectively.

I think an honest intellectual would say, "Hey, I'm not sure how it can be true granted what I think I know, but *probably* some of this stuff is going to turn out to have merit." I would be far more trusting of their intentions if they could have the humility to say that. Since they do not, I see them as willfully ignorant and thus as having impure intentions.

||Their understanding of theology is too naive, and too mediaeval in its basis, to allow for any conception of "God" APART FROM literalist religion.||

Right.

||It is this trend - the evidence of God from science alone - which will blossom over the next century.||

I agree that this will be an important trend, but I think the bigger trend will be people directly experiencing phenomena themselves and not *having* to make spirituality a 100% philosophical enterprise.

||I'm not sure that religious literalism is waning worldwide - even in westernised industrial nations. There is plenty of strident proselytising in both the Islamic world and in the Christian 'Bible Belt' of the USA.||

I the overall trend is waning, and there are countervailing trends that are kicking it in the teeth. For example, when gay rights are respected, the fundie religions that try to prevent that take a huge blow in prestige and influence.

||Dawkins and his colleagues act as some sort of countermeasure to this trend.||

Perhaps, but I see atheism and literalist religion as having been oddball allies against the rise of New Age (i.e., self-empowered) spirituality. I think atheists have been tolerated as much as they have in the US because there was a common enemy. *Plus* the atheists themselves were useful as an *ostensible* enemy. Spiritualists, for example, brought fort real phenomena that invalidated the dogmatic Christian worldview--can't have that! Atheists had the comforting message that it was all bunkum--based on science!--yet against Christianity they had nothing but philosophical arguments, harmless rubber bullets.

Of course, it's a lot more complex than that, and no one got into a back room and conspired to form an alliance or anything. It's just that social Christianity (as opposed to religion that people actually *acted upon*) and materialism both had common ground in terms of a narrative that would not rock but instead steady the boat, and they just organically worked together.

||The ever more shrill voices of contemporary religious fundamentalism, combined with the equally stentorian declamations of the New Atheists, are - in my view - slowly exposing the intellectual bankruptcy of both movements.||

Yep. They are in the flailing stage at this point.

||By then, such evidence will not be hard to find. Indeed, Professor Richard Henry has stated that the current scientific evidence for God's existence is already greater than the (abundant) evidence for evolution!||

Why do you not include direct experience? Have you not experienced things yourself?

"I don't know about Dawkins, but I'm past the point of seeing Randi as sincere or well-intentioned . . . I find him deceptive, angry, self-aggrandizing, and unscrupulous."

Well said, Michael. And the fact that he's still held in high regard by other skeptics doesn't speak very well of them either.

"Their understanding of theology is too naive, and too mediaeval in its basis, to allow for any conception of "God" APART FROM literalist religion."

There is no excuse for such a limited and simplistic understanding from such "intellectual powerhouses". Besides, the quoted statement is not even accurate. Whenever these guys are presented with objective evidence of *any* kind of spiritual nature, they become dismissive and nasty in a hyperactive way.

"We have to separate this issue from their intentions, which are undoubtedly sincere. I don't think they are deliberately "spreading darkness....."

We have no way of knowing their true intentions and I am not inclined to give these people the benefit of the doubt that you are. Any how, we are told that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I agree with Michael.

Their God is way too small. They need to think bigger, much much bigger. The Universe is a really big place and the multiverse is an even bigger place.

I feel like my last with the comment re; "road to hell" was a bit harsh, albeit not undeserved.

Here's what we are actually talking about; a woman's sister - who was also like a best friend - dies an untimely death. The surviving sister sees a reputable medium or has a an unusually clear and vivid dream. The departed sister appears and tells the survivor not to worry, there is life after death, things are pretty good where she is. The spirit sister then tells the survivor to look in a certain location and find a letter that she had written, but never sent. The survivor then goes on to look where told and finds a heart warming letter that, prior to the ADC, she had no idea existed. The survivor is still missing the departed sister, but is feeling a lot better about the situation. She is now feeling a lot of love and hope where there had been only a sense of loss previously.

Along comes mister skeptic atheist. He tells the surviving sister that the departed sister is dead, dead, dead - Get it? DEAD! D-E-A-D!!!! The ADC was the product of an over active imagination. You knew about the letter all along and merely forgot about it or, just as likely, you're lying. Why, right here we have a copy of your tax return from 10 years ago and we can see you failed to report earnings you enjoyed as the result of a yard sale you had that spring. WE talked to your co-workers and a couple of them indicated you send personal emails on company time and took long lunch breaks last month. You're a cheat and a liar and are lying about your cold dead and probably by now rotting sister communicating with you. Oh and btw, I hope you don't mind my hand creeping up your skirt.

Sheesh, what is there to like about these guys?

I find comparing sexual violation as less severe than childhood religious "trauma" rather disgusting. If hell is a myth, as Dawkins believes, then how could it be worst than molestation? Absolutely disgusting. And who gave him the power to decide anyways?

Militant atheism and militant religion are of the same stripes as they both require fundamentalist mindsets. A mindset that needs a safe box to hide in from the larger, unexplained universe.

"If hell is a myth, as Dawkins believes, then how could it be worst than molestation?"

Well, his argument is that children are psychologically traumatized by the idea that if they misbehave, they will end up in Hell. And there is undoubtedly some truth to this. But I doubt that most Christian parents stress the fire-and-brimstone side of religion to their young children; usually the focus is on Jesus as a loving friend. (As the song goes: "Jesus loves me, this I know ....") And Dawkins does seem to be downplaying the traumatic effects of molestation - perhaps only for rhetorical effect, or to be a contrarian, but whatever the reason, it comes across as peculiar, to say the least.

Gipper: I agree that Dawkins has done some good and useful things, but I disagree that he contributes in any meaningful way to the difference between "spiritual" and "religious." You say that "without him the difference...would be less clear" - are there any reasons you can give for coming to that conclusion?

I personally don't see how Dawkins helps make clearer the difference between spirituality and religion. It has been my understanding that Dawkins rarely (if ever?) makes a distinction between the two and he's disparaged spirituality (and what it entails) as well. It's just that his main focus is on organised religion, and the Abrahamic ones at that. But he's made it clear that he thinks "spiritual" beliefs are nonsensical and false.

So I can't agree that he's helped people understand the difference between religion and spirituality. In fact, I rather think that Dawkins tends to lump religion and spirituality into the same boat and may not necessarily understand all the differences between them himself.


Matt: I think you make a good point about the culture of peer pressure and strict rules that the militant sceptics and atheists have created. I think there is some truth in the notion that if a sceptic deviates from the norm (i.e. takes a part of the paranormal seriously, or at the very least is open-minded about it) that they will be picked on by other members of their group.

As an example, there is a sceptic named Hayley Stevens who is interested in researching/investigating the paranormal (I think it's ghosts/hauntings, stuff like that.) She doesn't believe ghosts are real and thinks there's a so-called "normal" explanation for them, but at the same time, she's interested in the subject and she's often had talks with believers who have the opposite view. Hayley has a reputation as being very kind and respectful when talking with believers, and as a result she's generally well-liked by people involved in the paranormal, even though they have different conclusions to her. *But* she is apparently fairly regularly insulted by her fellow sceptics, both for being nice to believers and for daring to be interested in the paranormal!

Michelle,

||In fact, I rather think that Dawkins tends to lump religion and spirituality into the same boat and may not necessarily understand all the differences between them himself.||

I think that's true. I guess the question is whether Dawkins et. al. have been used for ultimate good by the Universe.

I don't like his tactics, but I think humanity needed to drop the old Picean dogmatic religion sooner or later.

||Hayley has a reputation as being very kind and respectful when talking with believers, and as a result she's generally well-liked by people involved in the paranormal, even though they have different conclusions to her. *But* she is apparently fairly regularly insulted by her fellow sceptics, both for being nice to believers and for daring to be interested in the paranormal!||

Right. It's really a problem for them if "one of their own" ends up validating any phenomenon, because then the "other side" will be able to point to that person and say, "But Hayley says it's REAL!" They would then have to argue against a fellow skeptic by proxy in such a case, so it's more efficient for them just to preemptively chasten/ostracize the person.

Sam Harris also found himself under attack by some of his fellow atheists for tentatively suggesting that there might possibly be evidence for ESP.

"Sam Harris also found himself under attack by some of his fellow atheists for tentatively suggesting that there might possibly be evidence for ESP."
I think Sagan made a similar suggestion.

Michelle,
Yes I do think that Dawkins has done a lot to clear religion out of spirituality; not because he likes spirituality, but nevertheless I see him as a brush employed by the emerging paradigm to sweep out bronze-age irrelevancies from our lives. He’s on a mission – and I don’t see him as being particularly in control of it; it’s his fate! Certainly, he has taught me a lot. I used to be pretty uncritical of biblical and religious authority until I read The God Delusion and some of the beautiful prose in his neo-Darwinian polemics. In fact, like him, I’m now a bit angry that religion was thrust at me so long in my childhood. The rubbish I used to believe!

Dawkins has many good points, as well as his “asshole” points. Don’t we all?
Look at this debate between the ex-Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and Dawkins in March this year. It’s both civilised and entertaining.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=jzqa6VMI0UQ

I can understand why scientists and Enlightenment thinkers of his ilk dismiss New Age ideas, because many of those ideas are far too woolly. As Stephen Fry says, the best of our art and culture explores the human condition very well – it’s a lazy and false shortcut New Agers have if they think they have suddenly found something easy – as if positive thinking or unconditional love is a simple answer that could bypass the highly complex problems we as a species find ourselves confronted with.

So far as refusing to look at evidence for mediumship and NDEs: yes, they do refuse, but not only because they think it’s preposterous. Mainly, they think it has no utility –no value to us in our real-world lives here on Earth. Some atheists meditate, because that has a calming effect. Otherwise, what’s the use, really, of knowing people survive physical death? When we die, we’ll all confront that one. Religions tell us all sorts of fairy stories about resurrection of the body or virgins in Valhalla. The first task is to clear out all that nonsense.

I agree, by the way that Randi is duplicitous. He’s a magician! What do you expect?

"what’s the use, really, of knowing people survive physical death?"

For me personally, the value of studying this subject is that it has made me a better person. Having absorbed the idea of the life review, I'm much more likely to think about how my words and actions will affect others. Having expanded my own thinking, I'm more likely to be open-minded than to reject new ideas in knee-jerk fashion (though I still do that sometimes). I'm also a lot more comfortable with my own mortality, which is not a small thing, since fear of death is at the root of many insecurities and neuroses. Finally, I think focusing on the idea of a higher self tends to put the small self (the ego) in its place, and to make it easier to laugh at the absurdities of our egocentric obsessions.

I don't agree that the *militant* atheists and debunkers (as opposed to ordinary skeptical folks) are necessarily all that concerned with life on earth. They do *say* that they're focused on practical, utilitarian ends, but mainly they just seem to have an extreme, visceral aversion to any version of spirituality, and it's this deep-seated loathing that appears to drive them. Again, I'm only talking about the angry, aggressive, dogmatic, militant types, not the run-of-the-mill freethinkers.

If we knew for sure people survive physical death, this would open up so many other areas of discussion

- if we do survive, in what form?
- does this phase of life have a purpose and if so what is it?

If I knew for a fact that was going to relocate to another country/culture I don't think my research would end at confirming that it existed. :)

"does this phase of life have a purpose and if so what is it?" - Paul
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{grin!} To learn here the things that can't be learned in heaven. To learn what it means and how it feels to be separate, to learn what time and space look and feel like, and make memories of what it feels like to live in a 3 dimensional + 1 time universe. The physics of heaven as described by near death experiencers is very different than the physics of the universe that we live in now.

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