Faith in reason (Interview with Richard Dawkins)

Sep 29, 2014

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Religion and politics have always been an explosive mix, perhaps never more so than in the case of ISIS. But is the brutality that we’ve seen a result of violent ideology or a reflection of the darker side of human nature? Oksana is joined by Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and controversial author, to discuss these issues

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Oksana BoykoHello and welcome to Worlds Apart. Religion and politics have long been a dangerous mix, perhaps never more so than in the case of the so-called Islamic State. Is this violence and gloating evidence of everything that’s wrong with religion, or perhaps how religion can be used as a scapegoat for other, less than honourable fields of human activity? Well, to discuss that, I’m now joined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. Mr Dawkins, it’s a great honour to have you on the show.

71 comments on “Faith in reason (Interview with Richard Dawkins)

  • If we work backwards from the psychopath, who were basically dismissed as just that, I understood that religion was the major factor but he also broke it down further to political involvement and biological revenge didn’t he?



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  • I enjoyed this program very much. Richard was drawn into topics as yet uncovered, to the best of my knowledge. I liked his explorations on the theme of vengeance. Also of interest was the idea that deliberating religion is a luxury afforded to those with the time to muse on such things. This puts religion as the fall back position for those who need simple, quick answers. Interesting! ( and it rings true).
    I was pleased to see the interviewer touch on the area of belief and its relevance to women.



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  • Also of interest was the idea that deliberating religion is a luxury
    afforded to those with the time to muse on such things.

    I wished they had more time to discuss that further. It applies to religion as well only if you want to be well versed in it. Does it mean that there needs a leap of faith for those that cannot study atheism? Will educated atheists accept that?



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  • Olgun.. there needs a leap of faith for those that cannot study atheism? Will educated atheists accept that?

    That’s a very interesting perspective. I’ve never thought of the situation in reverse as all the atheists I know have given the matter a great deal of thought and attention. In fact that’s why I choose to self identify as an atheist as opposed to the softer ‘agnostic ‘ label. I want to convey the impression that this is my serious, considered conclusion, not merely a matter of throwing my hands up in the air and saying ‘who knows?’



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  • I had always assumed RT (Russia Today) was just a propaganda out for Vladimir Putin. But I was surprised by the good interview. I hope the interviewer doesn’t get fired for outing herself as an atheist.



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  • it is the religious that give the psychopaths their platform.

    But can one really blame religion for this ? I mean, imagine you cherish a very nice economical ideology (communism or capitalism) and that some people start killing in the name of that conception of the world (might happen…) , and that many supporters of each ideology appear to be surprisingly more likely to turn a blind eye when their friends commit violence than otherwise. Would that mean anyhow that any of those ideologies is objectively wrong, or intrinsically violent, or that having political convictions is dangerous to world peace ?

    I think that religions are objectively wrong and intrinsically violent, and a threat to world peace, but the argument that it is because they offer extremists a platform seems a weak one, and it could used against any passion, ideal or great cause. That would be saying that moderates of any ideology always provide a platform for ‘their’ extremists, when precisely they beg to differ on how extreme one should be in that regard, which is the point.



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  • But can one really blame religion for this

    Yes! but only if we accept that ALL idealism can do the same.

    and that many supporters of each ideology appear to be surprisingly
    more likely to turn a blind eye when their friends commit violence
    than otherwise.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NFCVALxLYSU

    And Just for a sense of balance!!! The numbers go down from thousands to “LOW HUNDREDS!!!!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhmXleZXAr0

    The night after this happened I heard it was as many as 160,000 on the news. Never to be repeated again. We really have to be careful with any ideology.



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  • As I have tried to say all along, maybe not always in a very effective way, that atheism is not a guarantee that there will be one level of intelligence or a world without injustice and violence but we might as well believe in something that is real rather than “the fairies at the bottom of the garden” as RD explains.

    When we (boys) think of this athiestic school of science and space cadets we always think of ourselves as on the bridge of the “Starship Enterprise” and never “below stairs” or on the lower decks.



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  • I am equally critical of all ideologies. I promote Betterism not Idealism. To pretend we can impose a simple vision on an evolved species of extraordinary complexity of interdependencies is crass in the extreme. An occasionally redeeming feature of non-religious ideals is their rationally tractable and non-sacred nature. We all, however, have seen the problems of ideologies treated as sacred, for instance based on personality cults.

    Religions by dint of their exceptionally long lived and evolved policing behaviours, excomunication and hell, death for apostasy, bully adherence and create the most stable platforms of all. Antique venerated texts appear to enshrine bullying, the which it is complex to argue against without pulling the thread to unravel it all.



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  • Sorry to be clear. I am not saying moderates contribute to the support of the psychopaths. That would be weird as we see them also fighting each other to the death.

    I am arguing that extremists who are not psychopaths enable the psychopathy. These extremists and near extremists, are the easy, like-minded conversions IS are finding as they move through the area.



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  • I can’t help myself, but in all those conversations the idea of rationality is put into a form of ideology. I do not agree at that point. This can be seen in the term “atheism”. In fact for me it is not an -ism at all! It is an opinion about one certain aspect: “Is there a God like one of the numerous delivered to us by the many religions throughout the human history?” I disagree but everyone has to decide that for him or herself. This is one of the central problems about the topic. I can’t tell anyone not to believe in supernatural powers. Everyone has to make this up alone. I can discuss it, make my point of view clear, explain it and then the other one has to think for him or herself.

    I see Dr, Dawkins always driven into the situation where he has to explain that he is not just a rational robot-like person. He has to explain that he loves and admires music, poetry, art and so on. But that doesn’t mean that he cannot be a very rational person at the same time concerning scientific facts about the universe we live in. The total opposite of the man he described, who wrote papers about the age of the universe and in private believes it is 10 000 years old. That’s schizophrenic!

    I cannot explain how I love my partner – but that doesn’t matter as long as the partner believes it. And what is more important: It has no effect on others in our social environment! At that point (financial support of churches and their privileges, giving them the right to treat their employees in public institutions different than all other employers have to do etc.) things get interesting and I think we should try to get rid of that!



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  • You mean by a great number of questions – all answered in the same way because all were of the same style? That’s a totally different thing – I wouldn’t even call that questioning. You served religions fishing for compliments to ensure yourself that you’re not on the wrong path! That’s a pitty! I’m sorry!



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  • Olgun Sep 29, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    Also of interest was the idea that deliberating religion is a luxury
    afforded to those with the time to muse on such things.

    I wished they had more time to discuss that further. It applies to religion as well only if you want to be well versed in it. Does it mean that there needs a leap of faith for those that cannot study atheism? Will educated atheists accept that?

    There is an interesting special case, which throws some light on the definition problem.

    Many Buddhists do not believe in gods, (ie. are atheists by definition), but nevertheless believe in reincarnation and all sorts of woo! We are of course born atheists, prior to indoctrination.

    I think the point Richard made about the luxury of the time to study, is a good point. Those with no time (or in some cases no inclination) for education, are much more prone to accept simplistic ready answers. (Such as god-did-it / It’s the will of the forest spirits etc.)



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  • I understood that but there is a criteria here in that if you don’t escape poverty and find some leisure time to study science, which many have said is the route to atheism, and you just take a leap of faith and decide you ARE an atheist, are you? Can educated people accept that? Given that you have been born an atheist and then corrupted by religion!!!



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  • Olgun Sep 30, 2014 at 7:39 am

    I’m not sure what this reprisal slaughter had to do with religion or ideology.

    These were Iraqi occupiers (some of whom had been guilty of war crimes), fleeing Kuwait when the battle was lost.
    It is more comparable with the Red Army, “Kill a German” attitude when Hitler’s armies retreated from Russian soil in WW2.



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  • Well maybe loosely based “American policing of the world” but the main point was “turning a blind eye when their friends commit violence”.



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  • Hi Olgun,

    Sure, why not? I guess you would be a bit like a broken clock…

    —-//—-

    I think it’s likely that if claiming to believe were made less beneficial then the number of people claiming to be atheists will increase whether the population is well educated or not.

    Most people don’t believe in most gods and probably don’t find the question of the possibility of their existence particularly challenging to resolve, or even worthy of consideration.

    I guess then that the same education required to dismiss/ignore all other gods would be enough to help the same people dismiss their god.

    But there are just so many other reasons to believe.

    –//–

    I don’t like the edit count down. Give me 10 minutes but don’t show me a count down! :faint: the pressure



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  • Joe Wolsing. . I can’t tell anyone not to believe in supernatural powers. Everyone has to make this up alone. I can discuss it, make my point of view clear, explain it and then the other one has to think for him or herself.

    This may be so, but the forces on the other side are constantly asserting that this religion or that IS true! If we could possibly silence those voices for a while….! I think it’s a vain hope given the reality of our society, but perhaps in the future.



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  • Joe Wolsing Sep 30, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    I see Dr, Dawkins always driven into the situation where he has to explain that he is not just a rational robot-like person.

    This is one of the weird misconceptions put about by theists claiming a religious monopoly of emotional responses.

    He has to explain that he loves and admires music, poetry, art and so on. But that doesn’t mean that he cannot be a very rational person at the same time concerning scientific facts about the universe we live in.

    The fallacious claim is bit like saying a musician cannot play an electronic instrument if they don’t understand the physics, or they can’t appreciate the music if they do understand the physics!
    It is actually a disguised backwards attempt to pretend that their introspective “faith-thinking”, is a superior and more a comprehensive way of “knowing”, when in fact, it is just a gap-filler to cover up patches of ignorance!
    The greater the extent of the ignorance, – the stronger the faith needed to sustain it!

    I cannot explain how I love my partner – but that doesn’t matter as long as the partner believes it. . . .

    http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/synapse.html

    The more complex details of human emotional responses are at present beyond our knowledge, but like the internet, or electronic music, the basics are known, – and known to work, as part of the physics of the material universe.



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  • 25
    Barry.M says:

    “…the forces on the other side are constantly asserting that this religion or that IS true!”

    They certainly do make those assertions – all the time! The interview raised a very valid point that, for many people, the road to atheism takes a fair degree of time and thought – especially if you’ve been raised in a religion and taught to sing religious songs at school and promised everlasting life etc. etc.

    If only people weren’t indoctrinated in this fashion – or even taught at an early age to question everything – then the world would be a very different place. This ties in with RD’s particular dislike of children being labelled and pushed into religion before they’re even able to have an opinion on such things. Atheism would be so much more attainable (or perhaps even unnecessary!) if “the forces on the other side” didn’t get quite so much publicity.



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  • 26
    Barry.M says:

    “…weird misconceptions put about by theists claiming a religious monopoly of emotional responses”

    Yes, there seems to be this general opinion that atheists not only lack morals, but also emotions! I thought this was nicely countered by RD’s thoughts on the possibility of elephants becoming extinct. Very honest of him to admit that his response to such a tragedy would be emotional rather than scientific.



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  • . Barry. If only people weren’t indoctrinated in this fashion – or even taught at an early age to question

    When I hear parents say things such as ‘we’ll leave it up to them to decide’ in areas such as baptism, circumcision or even ear piercing, it’s music to my ears.



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  • 28
    Imperius says:

    Why did you assume this? Do you also assume that Western media outlets are not propaganda for someone?

    Also, where do you get the strange idea that atheism is a problem in Russia? Atheism is still more prevalent there than in, say, the United States. It sounds to me like you’ve been swallowing the transparent anti-Russia propaganda being put out by the Western media, which has a clear agenda behind it. I can elaborate if you like, but this may not be the best forum for it…



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  • I wished they had more time to discuss that further. It applies to religion as well only if you want to be well versed in it. Does it mean that there needs a leap of faith for those that cannot study atheism? Will educated atheists accept that?

    How do you study atheism? Are there Bachelor of Atheology courses. Does an uneducated poor person need a leap of faith to reject a claim that fairies exist? Or trolls, dragons, Santa?



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  • I asked the question because there have been some here that act as if there needs to be superior intellect in order to achieve atheist status. Rending anyone stupid at the drop of a clerics hat. I am more than glad to see that it is not the norm!!!!



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  • Olgun Oct 1, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    I asked the question because there have been some here that act as if there needs to be superior intellect in order to achieve atheist status.

    There is evidence that high-level scientific bodies contain a much higher proportion of atheists than the general population, which suggests that a superior intellect leads to atheism.

    Rending anyone stupid at the drop of a clerics hat. I am more than glad to see that it is not the norm!!!!

    I don’t think the converse can be directly applied, but there is some evidence that criminal and stupid more readily turn to religion.

    “If all the Atheists & Agnostics left America, they’d lose 93% of The National Academy of Sciences & less than 1% of the prison population.”.



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  • So the answer to the second part of my question is, you will NOT accept atheist that are not versed in the sciences if they were somehow to make the leap?



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  • Rich educated people do not necessarily have superior intelligence just as poor uneducated people may well be smart. The Wiki page on Religiosity and intelligence suggests there is a negative correlation between religiosity and IQ but not a correlation between religiosity and education.

    I suppose it’s only common sense that smart people will have an advantage when it comes to resisting or shaking off religious indoctrination.



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  • Olgun Oct 1, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    Is it wrong to create a situation where the indoctrination of the not so smart tilts toward atheism?

    This seems to be backwards. It is teaching the not-so-smart to think clearly, and resist the social pressures of indoctrination, that leads to their disbelief in the local god. They usually disbelieve the claims of the followers of other gods already.



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  • It may be backwards Alan but it is what works for religion. Not all religious people go to Sunday school and have the ability to quote scriptures by heart.



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  • How would you go about creating that situation?

    Stop calling everyone, that doesn’t fully understand, stupid and alienating them would be a good start. It might give the ordinary people a chance to investigate and therefore learn. I put myself half way between the two and it took me a while to bite the bullet and post on this forum.



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  • That exchange in the interview about privileged people having the luxury of deliberating religion or “studying” atheism while people in poor or war-torn societies do not have that luxury, seems odd. How many countless hours are given by various faiths in such disadvantaged societies, to indoctrination, readings and rituals in schools, madrassas, colleges, places of worship, reading sacred texts, memorising them etc.? How many thousands of bible/divinity schools are there in the privileged USA where most evangelicals have the luxury of time to “study” their faiths rather than “study” atheism?



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  • I have no doubt they number in their millions but am equally sure that those that visit religious rituals and do nothing else outnumber them.



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  • Stop calling everyone, that doesn’t fully understand, stupid and alienating them would be a good start. It might give the ordinary people a chance to investigate and therefore learn.

    Oh here we go. So predictable. We aren’t going to get anywhere if we are so strident and keep calling theists stupid and alienating them.

    You yourself steered the discussion towards links with education/intelligence.

    And the old “Atheism requires a leap of faith”. “Atheism doesn’t guarantee a world without violence” – I think we are ready for “Stalin was an atheist” and “you can’t be moral without God”.



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  • Olgun Oct 1, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    Stop calling everyone, that doesn’t fully understand, stupid and alienating them would be a good start.

    I’m not sure who would be actually doing this to ordinary people. Honest ignorance with a willingness to learn is commendable. It applies to all of us in some subject areas.

    It might give the ordinary people a chance to investigate and therefore learn.

    It is assertive, dogmatic, wilful, obstructive ignorance, which I call stupid. I have met many people in debates whose closed indoctrinated minds, will prevent them from learning anything useful – even the basics of how to think clearly.
    They have “faith-interpretation-blinkers, and have absolutely no interest in objective investigations, evidence, or reasoning.

    All their fantasy notions and stories are TRrroooo – and all the science and history books are wrong!



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  • Alan, you are an extraordinarily intelligent man but my questions have caused you to take this personally when I mentioned no names. Although I have questioned you on this before I accept. How are ordinary people supposed to react? I know you mean no harm and in your mind you have a clear enemy but it might not be clear to some. That’s all I am saying.



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  • @Olgun

    I think there is a correlation between intelligence and an ability/desire to think for yourself. Why cultures work and can accommodate a wide range of intellectual capacities is that if you cannot or are unprepared to spend hours thinking for yourself you can still succeed in most societies by simply going with the intellectual flow. This tends to create bistable states. The USA is suffused by people endlessly concerned with what other people think for fear of being judged badly. Paraded beliefs are part of the badges of goodness they flash around. (Most Americans say they go to church. Half of them lie about it.) They need to appear good without any real exertion.

    Elsewhere, in Canada say or Denmark they have the same profile of intelligences but “going with the flow” does not require religiosity.

    In the US kids are escaping religion in pretty large numbers. They form a new cohort tightly bound by social media and less bound by geography. There is some religious escape through brain power but also a lot of “go with the flow peer pressure”.

    Most Americans won’t think their way out of religious dependence because of intellectual lassitude (as most Danes will be happy to be more thoughtlessly atheist), but the smart comedians they may like stand a great chance of goading them into thought. I suspect the effect is greater on the younger ones. Seth Macfarlanes Creationist gags might well get the idea (that they will have been protected from) that a lot of people believe their beliefs laughable. It may just start the necessary irritating dilemma. Social angst is the one sure key to thought with the thoughtless.



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  • Hi Olgun.
    I’m having difficulty in figuring out where your coming from in many instances. I realise this is probably a problem on my part, but it would make following the arguments a lot easier if you could give me a rundown of your overall position. ( I mean no disrespect, I’m just a bit puzzled).
    I don’t even know whether your male or female! The avatar says ‘male’ but I feel you’re ‘female’. Shouldn’t make a difference I know, but it gives some perspective.



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  • Olgun Oct 1, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    but my questions have caused you to take this personally when I mentioned no names.

    Not at all! I am simply quoting from personal experience.

    Although I have questioned you on this before I accept. How are ordinary people supposed to react?

    Perhaps I should clarify.
    There can be quite different approaches when engaging in personal conversations where you are getting feedback about another’s perceptions.

    Internet discussions or open debates with an audience are different.

    When encountering the dogmatic ignorant in these, and recognising the closed nature of their minds, the comments are then for the benefit of the audience (On RDFS – the “lurkers”).
    Those in denial are not going to be persuaded, but that is not a reason to let them set the educational agenda.

    Particularly with YECs or IDiots, posturing as authoritative science experts, it is fairly easy for a well informed educator to demonstrate, (especially with links available) that far from being experts, they are utterly out of their depth – frequently at school-textbook level.

    I know you mean no harm and in your mind you have a clear enemy but it might not be clear to some.

    There are many enemies of science, education and reasoned thinking on the internet, and many effective approaches in getting messages over.



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  • Phil,

    Comedy influenced my thoughts greatly and Family Guy is the best there has been to do that. I don’t know if it is because we live in different worlds but I fear for the people I am talking about. I find myself discussing FG with them and having to explain the pretty pictures they are looking at. Maybe I am wrong to have even put them forward but if I go back and count how many peoples flats I have worked in it works out to a hell of a lot of people.



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  • Alan,

    Again, I appreciate your experience and intellect on these matters but still maintain that personal insults are banned on this site is a good idea and should be observed for those that are not here to answer back.



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  • I think you are right to clarify your point, Phil. The argument that moderate believers passively support extremists has been made by Sam Harris, but I never managed to fully agree with it, as much as I would love to. Your point is more precise : individual extremists, supported by outspoken extremism (an inevitable excess of any world-view) are more likely to become violent or recruited by, say, psychopaths. I think you got something, there.

    But I always worry about double standards. Especially my own double standards. So I like to wonder “what if I were the believer ? Couldn’t I use the same logic against my arguments ?” I consider myself a fundamentalist, extremist atheist and antitheist. And not a psychopath, though I might be mistaken on that last part. If someone (not me) sets off a bomb in the Creation Museum, because they simply got fed up of bullshit after a while, whatever I’d personally think about this attack (I would think it’s awful, criminal, immoral, unfair, disgusting and counter-productive), would that mean anyhow that atheism (or having a world-view in general) is bad ?

    Of course not. So the argument doesn’t make a good point against religion either.

    Though it depends on what the fight is about, and that is why I think you got a point. Because if we are in the usual “atheism against all religions” kind of fight, then the argument is weak, and could be used as well against us, still devoid of pertinence. But in France, where I live, people are worried to see young Arabo-Muslim French boys joining the Jihad instead of staying unemployed in France. This is not helped, of course, by the fact that French people are worried to see young Arabo-Muslim boys in general. But hey, did anybody tell them that the Coran and the Bible are probably fictions, that creationisms all self-stultify in infinite regressions of increasing complexity, that the methods of theological validation of antic sacred texts are ridiculously unreliable and that any religious claim is contradicted by hundreds of incompatible religious claims based on the same so-called evidences ? Nope, nobody. No journalist, no scientist, no pop-star, no politician, no fucking teacher. Ok, one very “intellectual” philosopher in a book that maybe 10 Muslims read and one extreme-left newspaper that got fire-bombed by Islamists. So I say, yes, maybe, if we educate people enough so they can’t rely on ancient codes of law to feel they belong to a community, we might need fewer drones and missiles in the coming years. That sounds like a good idea. When the moderate base of a world-view gets less involved or convinced, extremisms are less likely to go bonkers. It would be a good way to undermine ISIS, but it’s not a good argument against religion.

    In fact, it would be a good argument against religion only if you had already proven that the religion is bad, in which case you wouldn’t need that argument. So it’s a bad one.



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  • 52
    Vladimir says:

    I could not avoid the feeling the interviewer was actually very well prepared and this interview was one of those with really interesting questions. She was questioning foundations of atheism from interesting points of view. Anglo-Saxon interviewers tend to glut the discussion with conflict between religion and atheism.



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  • The more complex details of human emotional responses are at present beyond our knowledge, but like the internet, or electronic music, the basics are known, – and known to work, as part of the physics of the material universe.

    I know about the fact that there are physical processes underlying the “act of loving” my partner. But at least it is nevertheless beyond my comprehension as most of the emotional things. We know if we love a certain song or style of music – but we don’t know why we dislike other songs or music styles. So the emkotional part has got something of “the whole is more than the sum of its parts” Maybe it’s system performance. But the point why I made this up is that I don’t have to explain it to somone els but my partner. Even if it is possible to explain it, it isn’t necessary. But it seems necessary to explain that someone who insists on evidence in a certain type of matters is not automatically a robot without feelings. This gents on my nerves …



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  • Oh, he’s so strident, so shrill, so overbearing and dogmatic; so evangelical!

    A fascinating interview. I suppose religion does provide a haven for people who are disturbed emotionally or mentally; as are we all to a certain extent; we’re all “damaged goods” as B B King put it.

    I’ve observed the effect absolutist groups can have on individuals, including myself: the Plymouth Brethren on my school friend, and the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) on yours truly. Looking back it’s clear how unhappy I was at the time, but there was always a kernel of doubt in my mind.

    I don’t claim that that makes me a better person, just a luckier one perhaps.

    A thought: modify the infamous expression “Give us a child by seven and it’s ours for life” by replacing the indefinite article “a” with the possessive determiner “your”, and say it out loud; – horrible isn’t it.

    I submit that it can more or less apply in all religions.

    As far as religious belief being an intellectual matter is concerned, I think the aforesaid term shows that it’s very much to do with emotions too; I have friends who in their teens and early twenties “escaped” religion to become out and out atheists, but who eventually went back in to the fold; and how! They have very short fuses indeed when it comes to anyone questioning what they now believe; again.

    Of course religion isn’t responsible for all violence, and many factors are involved, but religious apologists mustn’t be allowed to get away with arguing that it’s totally innocent of the charge, and that religious violence is a “Myth”.



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  • I have friends who in their teens and early twenties “escaped” religion to become out and out atheists, but who eventually went back in to the fold; and how!

    Did your friends let you know what convinced them that they were wrong to reject theism or did those short fuses prevent such discussion?



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  • Hi Nitya,

    Just seen this. My answer is simple. I seek balance. From one side I hear condemnation about Muslims and the other condemnation about Christians. We brush over history. I realise this is site about atheists against all religion but don’t feel that it is treating all religion the same. I see political correctness even here. A refusal to open the pandoras box of world problems that go beyond religion but do not exclude it. We sanitise the distant bombing of thousands of people and do not act equally to a beheading. I feel empathy only stretching as far as the people we recognise more readily and demonisation of others. It seems as if the consensus is that civilised bombs are going over there and religion is coming back. An excuse for Christianity. The Russians are Russians and as long as we have communism to blame, the Chinese seem to have no religion to attack.

    Maybe I am as puzzled about it as you are of me. Male by the way with no qualms about my feminine side 🙂



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  • Goodness, I wish that the interviewer had tightened and shortened her questions.

    I don’t see any evidence that the ISIS beheadings are “against basic human instincts,” as the interviewer states. That is a nonsensical phrase. We have reflexes, not instincts. And of course the beheadings serve a purpose, which is why they are captured and distributed on video! To punish infidels not only outside of the group, but to remind those even in ISIS “If you stray, you are a kafir, and this is what we’ll do to you.” This is pretty basic human, tribal behavior, in my opinion.

    I think that Dawkins make an important distinction when he says that religion does not cause the viciousness, but helps to fund it and to make young people flock to it despite the brutality.



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  • I can’t help but feel RD’s talk at the beginning about the “psychopaths and supporters” distinction is a bit off, not least of all because it’s either/or. Given the right environmental conditions, almost anyone can be turned psychopathic, however briefly. He regains some ground later on with his discussion of the revenge impulses and how reciprocity enables them, but overall his psychological explanation for how the barbarities are enabled seems both inaccurate and incomplete.

    I think the broader problem is that many religions, by engaging so haphazardly with ethics, philosophy, and intellectual inquiry, undermine all three due to their romantic and faith-based approaches. By romantic, I mean twaddle like the commenter rideforever excretes below the transcript, in which he expresses the dumb idea that modern problems are due to “listening too much to the head”. As if our emotions were unquestionable, unassailable, totally trustworthy, and incorruptibly pure and wonderful all-wise sages of the truth with a capital T (gag).

    The usual ingredients of the worst of religion usually consist of freely mixing explicit ideas (such as cosmological or biological ones) – which should be neutral – with moral systems that produce any or all of the following:

    A tendency to put oneself in an in-group, essentialize and sanctify that group, and especially to contrast it favourably with an out-group such that the latter is denied, dehumanized, demonized, or some combination of the three (infidels).

    A tendency to view one’s membership as a badge of goodness, such that those who leave or modify the core tenets are considered more morally dangerous than those who were never part of the club to begin with (apostates and heretics).

    A tendency to rely too much on some authority, either because of their power or because of their perceived effectiveness as a benefactor (God, obviously, but also religious leaders, and political and economic leaders too who may be steeped in a religion).

    A tendency to take one’s metaphorical attitude towards these ideas (e.g. accepting, attacking) and treat it as a literal behaviour towards the believers. This also casts most of these “crimes” as if they were causing actual harm, disease, or death to an individual or a community (blasphemy and atheism-bashing, for example).

    Each of these can be regulated and modified to a degree, not least of all in how severely one reacts to them, how emotionally committed one is to them, and how dotty or ineffectual the “punishments” are. For instance, in some communities, blasphemy might earn you no more serious punishment than a warning eye and time off to think about what you’ve done, whereas in another it might be punishable by removing the head to prevent you ever thinking about doing it again. Both still view blasphemy as a crime (the same kind of thing), though obviously not to the same degree. How that degree shifts over time and space is a question I’m not sure how to answer, but my best guess would be the contingencies of a culture’s history and geography as ethical commitments are successively winnowed down by argument and critical scrutiny (give or take eddies and gigantic cultural changes), akin to how science refines itself.

    The point is, though, that at least one of these attitudes exists at least in some form in even the most watered-down of religions. Heck, even non-religious atheists can still hold some of them: that’s how you get atheists who believe in belief, under the misapprehension that belief, by default, is a sign of good character in a religious person. And who don’t like it when “New” atheists don’t even accept that much.

    So a glib if more accurate answer to the question of how violence like this can come about despite “not being natural”; it is because such people have too much morality alongside, or sometimes because of, incredibly dumb ideas.



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  • On the issue of morality, i believe a type of primal morality must have evolved in early species as a direct result of paternal investment, particularly from the female. Thanks to the ladies, we all have our own altruistic primal morality to guide us, which is present in hunter gatherer tribes, bonobos and us.



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  • Psychopathy is not a product of environment, but like any pathology, there are degrees of severity in expression; while a psychopath’s background may influence whether he or she becomes a violent serial criminal or a con artist or just that manipulative person who’s a thorn in the sides of family and coworkers, the rate of clinical psychopathy remains demographically constant. The figure I have seen in the literature states that about 1% of the population, regardless of gender, culture, ethnicity, education, family background or social milieu, are psychopaths. Psychopaths cannot understand or experience empathy, experience only limited emotions (usually frustration and anger when thwarted) and regard themselves as the only “real” people in existence. Others are to be used and manipulated to serve the psychopath’s needs and desires. Psychopaths are often glib charmers who are intelligent and skilled at detecting vulnerability in others. They do not experience fear and anxiety, and so have few worries about the consequences of their actions – they do not learn from punishment, and they do not care about what others think of them except as it affects their ability to manipulate that person. They do not have a “moral sense”, nor are they capable of developing one. Studies using functional MRIs have shown that their brains seem to be wired differently. Because this is an inborn difference, they are incapable of changing or being treated or “cured”.

    So, no – not everyone can be “turned psychopathic”. Those who are psychopaths or who have some of the inborn traits of psychopathy, may be influenced by religion or circumstances to use violence to achieve their ends, and manipulate others into joining them.



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  • She was well prepared but did ask, “Are you advocating a return to the Soviet Union?” I found that jarring. The USSR had a “religion” in the unquestioning and enforced belief in Stalinism. Its imprisonment of evolutionary biologists in favor of a Soviet-flavored design and collective farms, causing the starvation of millions, was not anything like the atheist, rational future ideal that Dawkins was talking about. Moreover, I think that she was not clear on the difference between communism and socialism. The UK and the US have forms of socialism, but not any communist expression beyond the agitations of a few. Therefore, she did in a way bring her own issues, and to my mind her misconceptions, to the interview.



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  • I think it naive to imagine religion is the main motivator for ISIS. ISIS would have been nowhere near as successful without the spur of the Western atrocities. We in the west imagine that beheading with a knife is infinitely more wicked that beheading with bomb. I don’t think you can support that with a rational argument.

    To defeat ISIS , mindlessly repeating what we have done unsuccessfully before will not work. We first need to understand the source of ISIS ’s strength. These sources include:

    The USA invading Iraq on the pretense of just toppling Saddam (which the Iraqis supported) then continuing to occupy for over a decade. The Iraqis felt betrayed.
    Swearing the invasion was about WMDs , then finding none and continuing the occupation.
    Swearing the invasion had nothing to do with oil, then selling off most of Iraq’s oil resources to North American and European oil companies.

    Blaming 9-11 on Islam. George W. Bush referring to the invasion as a crusade. Many irresponsible American politicians have publicly declared war on all Islam rather than a fringe sect of fundamentalist terrorists. That is as stupid as blaming all Christians for the behaviour of the Branch Davidians. All Muslims are bound by threat of eternal torture to defend the faith.
    Mindless bombing and use of banned weapons on civilians.
    Torture, including perverse techniques like rape dogs, which convince middle easterners they are dealing with a foe more degenerate and needful of elimination than the Nazis.
    It is a bit late now to rescue America’s reputation. I can only think of two things they can do:
    Covertly promote the moderate Muslim groups all over the world who are also threatened by ISIS. They need tools to win the propaganda war that ISIS does not speak for Allah. The USA has no direct credibility in that debate.
    ISIS gets its money by selling oil. Even countries that don’t officially approve of ISIS are funding them by buying their oil. The long term solution is to reduce dependence on terrorist oil and replace it with green energy.



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  • Sorry. Use of the word “psychopath” was imprecision of terms on my part. I was using it in the general sense of “unsympathetic and callous selfish jerk” rather than the specific diagnostic sense.

    What I should have said was that people can be induced, by the right conditions, to behave sadistically and opposite to how they would behave if they were empathetic (anti-empathetically, so to speak). A good chunk of these ideas I got from reading Steven Pinker’s books that cite psychological research.

    The simplest and most everyday means of turning normal citizens into temporary “psychopaths” is to incite them enough to get them swearing revenge. Not only do lots of people have violent revenge fantasies about those who humiliate or hurt them, but the majority of murders are usually committed out of revenge, and the competitive hostility that can generate it can be triggered by something as simple as arbitrary group membership. Baumeister found that most people who commit crimes are usually convinced they had good reason to do so, hence the “banality of evil”. The other way to get people to commit atrocities and miscarriages of justice is to get them in a mindset that treats other people as expendable obstacles to their own goals, as in many cases of corporate corruption and government malpractice.

    That’s why “the moral sense”, paradoxically, can be and has been the source of most of the world’s worst atrocities: because it licenses violence against those deemed to need non-negotiable “punishment”, in the most extreme cases for the crime of polluting the world with their mere existence. Combine that with a tendency towards tribalism and dangerous overconfidence, and you have a recipe for multiple disasters.



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  • Yes, thank you for saying that and I agree. I thought her questions were longwinded and convoluted and as you said above, her closing crack about the Soviet state was bizarre. I also find the beheadings and other forms of savagery to be “pretty basic human, tribal behavior.”



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  • Which Muslim groups do you and Roedy think should be covertly promoted by the US? And what form of covert promotion would you recommend?

    Perhaps media training so that the moderate groups can compete with the excellent (not) IS magazine Dabiq. Issue 4 gives an “interesting” Islamic justification for the enslavement of pagan Yazidi women, including the claim that the desertion of slavery has led to an increase in adultery! No need to commit adultery when you have your own Yazidi concubine(s).

    On second thoughts, I don’t think moderate Muslims will need covert support from America to win the propaganda war with ISIS.



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