Tom Gilson

Atheism and Violence

Regarding “new atheists” who imagine a faith-less peaceful utopia:

“One would think that, given their insistence that faith and violence are inextricably linked, these authors would be a bit more circumspect about their own rhetoric. As it happens, one does not have to read too far into these books to see an underlying advocacy of violence animating their venom, an advocacy made most explicit in Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, which openly avows: ‘Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. . . . There is, in fact, no talking to some people. … We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas.'”

[From FIRST THINGS: On the Square » Blog Archive » Atheism and Violence]
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69 thoughts on “Atheism and Violence

  1. Oakes’ last paragraph begins

    Given these hopelessly confused and superficial arguments, it’s hard to take the new atheism seriously.

    This at the end of a long collection of confused and superficial arguments. A cherry-picked list of quotations and personal opinions.

    But the real explanation for thepiece is here:

    Not Nietzsche, but the history of the twentieth century has shown that godless culture is incapable of making men happier.

    The only people not made happier by secular culture are committed religionists. World War II, for all its horrors, was statistically less nasty than wars that preceded it. The 20th century was a time of unparalleled prosperity.

    This whole myth about secular culture destroying the world is nonsense unless you think we’re not making progress. That seems a common implicit assumption from your side of the aisle. And, yes, if you truly think the 20th century was a step backward, then you ought to oppose secularism. I just don’t think that, after reflection, you would truly hold that opinion.

    As for atheism, well, atheism is a not a value. Very very few atheists value atheism in and of itself. What they value is critical thinking. I would oppose uncritical atheism as much as uncritical religion or uncritical Marxism or uncritical vegetarianism.

    Religions are very similar to fascist dictatorships in terms of the behaviors and allegiances they demand. The fact that they generally don’t advocate atrocities will be of little comfort when some other dogmatic institution decides to leverage the same uncritical, hierarchical thinking patterns for its evil purposes. The German people (or a great many of them) welcomed Hitler, despite the fact that Hitler’s ideas where nonsensical. Even if you thought Hitler’s intentions were good, his policies would seem stupid and counterproductive. But Hitler suppressed the press and critical thinking, and used the tricks of religion’s trade. Songs, slogans, symbols, badges, youth movements, oaths, a fanatical obsession with crime and punishment, hatred of homosexuals, scapegoating, rituals, and so on. And the people fell for it. Unlike Russia, where Stalin won a military victory over his opponents, the Germans welcomed Hitler with open arms.

    Those hallmarks of religion – slogans, songs, symbols, rituals – are bad things, IMO. They are tools to help people identify US vs. THEM, to take action without thinking critically about it, and to stir up fear and loathing.

  2. To tie this in with the previous thread, here’s what Hitchens had to say on US vs. THEM in his debate with McGrath. This came immediately upon the heels of his critique that Christians are taught to be violent.

    [But Christianity introduces a] “worse kind of immorality” – [the] “wicked idea of non-resistance to evil and the deranged idea that we should love our enemy”.
    “We have to learn to educate ourselves in a cold, steady dislike of them [our enemies] and a determination to encompass their destruction.

    We have to survive our enemies. We have to learn to destroy them.”

    http://www.eppc.org/publications/pageID.390/default.asp

  3. Apart from the errors–great and small, and apart from the usual strawmen, broad-brushing, name-calling and emoting, is DL even aware of how strongly he just confirmed the point of Tom’s post?

  4. You would be amazed at the amount of violence you can do in a religions name. The Tamil Tigers (people who origionated suicide bombing) held the record for 40% of the suicide bombings in 2000, with the other 60% being muslims. By 2005 the ration was 5:95 (Yep 95% for Islam, total bombings, not just counting that year- total suicide bombings in the modern era). That is a heck of alot of catch up. Do you really think rational people are willing to kill and main in such horrific numbers? If so your mind is skewed, for it is not normal what is going on in the Muslim world. Normal people do not kill their children or send them of to be maytars… this is a product of religion and faith.

  5. I’m not personally interested in defending generic religion and faith. I agree that some religions have been the source of some terrible horrors. There are even episodes of that in the history of Christianity, much to my disappointment.

    The point of the post was to highlight an article. Here’s another quote:

    Yes, the question resorts to the hackneyed rhetorical ploy of et tu quoque (Latin for “So’s your old man”). But at least the question’s inevitability forces the atheist to show his hand.

    The “hand” to which Oakes refers is this: that atheism cannot show any evidence that it leads to the peaceful utopia that some think it can; and that it’s entirely misleading and distorted to consider religion as the source of the world’s ills.

    I could say more about Christianity’s positive contributions to health and wholeness in society (and we have done so often here). But I’ll stick with Oakes’s point: Dawkins, Harris, and others who prophecy an atheist paradise have nothing to back up their predictions.

  6. That is a bit like say people who offer a new type of antibiotic offer nothing to back up their predictions. The best of communities tend to be the least religious and some of the most prosperous countries in the world share that characteristic. For example Sweden, Japan, Denmark… you get the idea. They aren’t directly correlated, but there is a relationship. By contrast one of the most religious countries in the world, Nigeria, kills children for the crime of witchcraft. Don’t worry though- christian missionaries are hard at work and promise soon that all accused witches will be killed.

    Give a single example with your post where people accomplished something that only christians can accomplish. Saying it is elsewhere without a link makes me doubt your claims (theists tend to provide no evidence whatsoever for many of their statements, hope you are an exception)

    Seriously though the error you make is that you think atheism is a worldview. It isn’t. It is the lack of a belief. So it won’t lead to a peaceful utopia. However if, say, religious violence ended- then less people would be killed by religious violence. It is a profound statement so lets look at it again. If you stop killing people over god, then you won’t be killing as many people. Good, where getting further… Things that cause people to kill other people are bad and should be avoided unless absolutely necesary. Now add in religion is false (see The God Delusion… heck use your brain and the Internet) and if you can’t arrive at my conclusion you need your eyes examined. Prolonged exposure to small type is probably straining them.

  7. Sammy,

    Give a single example with your post where people accomplished something that only christians can accomplish

    As far as I can tell, both Christians and non-Christians have the same abilities (and disabilities) roughly speaking. There is nothing about Christianity that says a non-Christian can’t be used by God, or that they can’t do good works. They can.

    However, there is more to it than that. A man can sit down to rest from working, or he can sit down intending to avoid working. Both accomplish the same thing – rest – but one is resting for the wrong reason. Intent matters to each of us and of course it matters to God. Ideally, a follower of Christ intends to submit to the will of God (humility), whereas the non-follower intends to submit to something other than God (arrogance). I admit it’s a bit tricky knowing who is doing what, and why, but that’s why God is in charge and I’m not.

  8. “Give a single example with your post where people accomplished something that only christians can accomplish. Saying it is elsewhere without a link makes me doubt your claims (theists tend to provide no evidence whatsoever for many of their statements, hope you are an exception).”

    I’m big on evidence, generally speaking, but short on time today. Sorry about that.

    As SteveK said, it’s not that “only Christians can accomplish” most things, but that they have accomplished them and others have not. Examples in history have included inventing the university, generating the cultural mindset by which science was established in Europe, establishing hospitals among people not their own, abolishing the slave trade, doing away with child labor, leading the civil rights movement in the U.S., leading the women’s suffrage movement, and more.

    Time restraints hinder me from linking to sites for all of these. You could, however, use the search box at the top of the page here and find just about all of them. And for a general picture of other social and health positives correlated with spirituality, see here.

  9. Also, Samuel, if you’re big on providing evidence, and if you think it’s illegitimate to make unsupported claims, then please consider how this comment of yours fits that:

    Don’t worry though- Christian missionaries are hard at work and promise soon that all accused witches will be killed.

    .
    Oh, by the way,”God” and “Christian” are proper nouns in the contexts in which you have been using them.

  10. Samuel Skinner wrote,

    theists tend to provide no evidence whatsoever for many of their statements, hope you are an exception.

    And

    heck use your brain and the Internet) and if you can’t arrive at my conclusion you need your eyes examined.

    Where are the trip, trap, trip trap sounds of the Billy Goats Gruff?

  11. Hi DL,
    Among your other assertions was this nugget:

    The only people not made happier by secular culture are committed religionists. World War II, for all its horrors, was statistically less nasty than wars that preceded it. The 20th century was a time of unparalleled prosperity.

    By what empirical metric have you determined the validity of this first sentence? A study of emotional depression? Suicide rates? I highly doubt it.

    The century was a happy one for everyone but the religious? How about Native Americans? Or the 60 thousand Americans involuntarily sterilized for not measuring up? Or the 50 thousand lobotomized? The 5 million on ritalin? The 30 million on valium? The 23 million addicted to drugs or alcohol?Did progress make them happy?

    You point in the last sentence to prosperity as though that is somehow positively correlated with happiness, when we know that it isn’t. We do know that religious commitment is correlated with longer, healthier, happier lives, lower addiction rates, fewer divorces and a lower rate of suicide, however.

    You say that WWll was less nasty than other wars based upon some unknown stat,but the point of this claim eludes me. But granting that the war was more benign than others let’s think a moment about the death toll to America. In fact looking at all of the armed conflicts involving Americans in the entire century we find they can’t compare to the number who’ve committed suicide, or the tens of millions of aborted babies. I’m not so sure the facts support your claim that everybody is so much happier and better off in the 20th century.
    Maybe prosperity isn’t really the answer. Maybe you guys keep quoting the wrong Beatle?

  12. World War II, for all its horrors, was statistically less nasty than wars that preceded it.

    Here DL tries his best – almost as if he really, truly thinks it’s possible – to use statistics to turn his subjective opinion about ‘horrors’ and ‘nastyness’ into something more than his subjecive opinion about ‘horrors’ and ‘nastyness’.

    I guess my question to DL is this: Do you think it’s really, truly possible, or are you just trying to say that you have a really, really, REALLY!!! strong emotional opinion about this?

  13. Let’s look at evidence pertinent to doctor(logic)’s claim,

    The only people not made happier by secular culture are committed religionists. World War II, for all its horrors, was statistically less nasty than wars that preceded it. The 20th century was a time of unparalleled prosperity.

    The two basic assertions there are that secular culture has caused an increase in happiness, and that religious people have been the exception to that trend.

    Let’s see what the evidence says about the first assertion. Rates of depression ought to be one reliable indicator on that. Here are some research results.
    John F. Schumaker, 2001, The Age of Insanity: Modernity and Mental Health (See Page 51)

    The Modern Age has witnessed a sharp rise in the prevalance of depression in Western cultures. In fact, this phenomenon is so conspicuous that the present historical period is frequently labeled the Age of Depression…. The actual statistics concerning depression in Western culture are quite sobering. Clinical depression has become the most common presenting problem for those seeking psychotherapy…. depression is approximately 10 times more common than it was 50 years ago.

    Abstract from the American Journal of Pschyiatry:

    RESULTS: From 1991–1992 to 2001–2002, the prevalence of major depression among U.S. adults increased from 3.33% to 7.06%. Increases were statistically significant for whites, blacks, and Hispanics and for all age groups. For Hispanic men overall and Hispanic women 18–29 years of age, rates increased but not significantly. The hypothesis that increases in the rates of depression could be explained by concomitant increases in co-occurring substance use disorders was supported only for black men 18–29 years of age. CONCLUSIONS: Rates of major depression rose markedly over the past decade in the United States, and increases were noted for most sociodemographic subgroups of the population. If the prevalence continues to increase at the rate it did during the past decade, the demand for services will increase dramatically in the coming years.

    From Page 1 of Cappeliez and Flynn (1993), Depression and the Social Environment: Research and Intervention With Neglected Populations

    The importance of depression is heightened by the fact that its prevalence appears to be increasing and is expected to continue to do so on a worldwide basis.

    From HealingFrom Depression.com:

    At any given moment, somewhere between 15 and 20 million Americans are suffering from depressive disorders, and about one in five will develop the illness at some point during their lifetimes.

    From MentalHealth.com

    The suicide rate for adolescents has increased more than 200% over the last decade. Recent studies have shown that greater than 20% of adolescents in the general population have emotional problems and one-third of adolescents attending psychiatric clinics suffer from depression.

    doctor(logic)’s second assertion is that religious people have not been more happy. What does the evidence say about that? Here, because I’m running out of time this morning, I’m going to rely on a few secondary sources that I have already compiled:

    First, the American Journal of Psychiatry has reported that religious affiliation is negatively correlated with suicide attempts.

    At the University of Cincinnati it was found that among resident physicians,

    the risk for significant depressive symptoms was greater among respondents who reported negative religious coping mechanisms, poorer spiritual well-being and the need for more spiritual support.

    Then this:

    Of all the organized activities teens participate in, faith-based youth groups provide the highest rates of personal and interpersonal growth experiences, according to a new University of Illinois study published in the September issue of Developmental Psychology.

    Religious youth groups also stand out from the classroom, part-time jobs, and hanging out with friends as contexts in which such growth occurs, the study of over 2,000 eleventh graders reported.

    Steven Nock and Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia have found that church-going Christians have happier, stronger marriages, and that this applies especially to the wives.

    LiveScience reports on a study from Mississippi State University showing that

    Kids with religious parents are better behaved and adjusted than other children, according to a new study that is the first to look at the effects of religion on young child development.

    And finally, more spiritually committed teens came out better on every one of 99 life outcome measures in a major, large study conducted out of the University of North Carolina.

    So let’s watch out for evidence-free pronouncemnts.

  14. Tom:

    So let’s watch out for evidence-free pronouncemnts.

    According to DL’s relativist thinking, the argument you just made above is evidence only for the belief that people think religion makes them better off – not that it really does make them better off, because ‘better off’ is a subjective term.

    Any counter evidence he gives, according to his own worldview, won’t settle the matter because it’s just one big pile of opinions.

    Of course, DL will try to convince you with counter evidence when he (supposedly) knows more evidence won’t change an opinion into anything more than that. Or does he??? Hmm….

    This is like a magician revealing his trick to the audience and then immediately trying to convince an audience member that the bunny really, truly disappeared by showing them the empty hat.

    ‘Deception’ is the word that comes to mind. Either that, or the magician keeps forgetting it’s only a trick.

  15. ‘Deception’ is the word that comes to mind. Either that, or the magician keeps forgetting it’s only a trick.

    Either way it doesn’t look good for DL ‘the magician’. He’s either purposely trying to deceive us, or he’s so emotionally tied up in knots about these things that the audience members (that’s us) have to keep reminding him it’s only a trick. How’s that for irony!

  16. In reponse to Charlie’s statment regarding lower divorce rates:
    There is some evidence that atheists and agnostics may have fewer divorces:
    religious tolerance.org/chr(underscore)dira.htm.
    And as for the reasons why the some people who are religious may receive some benefits from being religious, does not indicate that this is not just a consequence of social pressures. I’m sure that if one was was a civil right’s supporter in parts of the US in the late 1950’s, they might have felt more socially isolated, but it didn’t make them wrong……..

  17. First, I should apologize for the remark about only committed religious people not being happy in secular society. That was stated poorly. What I meant was that conservative (reactionary?) religious people are the ones convinced that secular society is sending us down the wrong path, and that moral and social values are in full-fledged recession. They see society as in a state of collapse when the reverse is actually true.

    I think Pinker hit numerous nails on the head in his Edge piece A History of Violence.

    Political correctness from the other end of the ideological spectrum has also distorted many people’s conception of violence in early civilizations—namely, those featured in the Bible. This supposed source of moral values contains many celebrations of genocide, in which the Hebrews, egged on by God, slaughter every last resident of an invaded city. The Bible also prescribes death by stoning as the penalty for a long list of nonviolent infractions, including idolatry, blasphemy, homosexuality, adultery, disrespecting one’s parents, and picking up sticks on the Sabbath. The Hebrews, of course, were no more murderous than other tribes; one also finds frequent boasts of torture and genocide in the early histories of the Hindus, Christians, Muslims, and Chinese.

    He also explains that several anthropologists believe that if WWII was fought with the viciousness of earlier conflicts, there would be more like 2 billion dead, not 100 million.

    Tom, you are arguing that clinical depression is on the rise. I think that there are elements of modern culture that are not well-suited to the brains we evolved over the last million years. People have a lot more time on their hands because they work less. But do you really think that there was so little depression in the past? How about the Great Depression? The potato famine? Cholera outbreaks? Polio? Slavery? A lack of upward mobility? The lack of a right of women to divorce, vote and own property?

    It’s not as if clinical depression began in the 20th century, but merely that the formal diagnosis was invented in the 20th century. The past was a very nasty place to be relative to today. Our standard of living is better today in almost every respect. Health care, life expectancy, child mortality, entertainment, opportunity, education, nutrition, peace, art, low crime, etc. What’s different is that we can afford to care about depression. People were depressed in the past, but no one cared because they had bigger fish to fry.

    Also, immediate fight for survival may stave-off depression. Yes, when you’re being hunted by the neighboring tribe, you’re not likely to be depressed (not in that moment, anyway). When you’re starving and foraging for food, you may not have time for depressive self-reflection. When you’re invading a Normandy beach, you’re not depressed. So? I don’t want to trade problems with these guys, and, I suspect, neither do you.

    Schumaker’s book you refer to says this in the abstract:

    While modernity offers unprecedented opportunities for personal enhancement and creative expression, there is mounting evidence of a mental health crisis that demands the immediate attention of mental health professionals.

    Schumaker isn’t willing to throw out the baby with the bath water.

    And in the study you quote, the last section says this:

    How do these results compare with those of other national surveys? The main comparison is to the NCS and NCS-R studies, which show a decrease in past-year major depression in the U.S. from 10.1% in 1990–1992 to 8.7% in 2001–2002 (13, 14). As discussed earlier, the two studies used different diagnostic classification systems (DSM-III-R versus DSM-IV), different sampling frames (ages 15–54 years versus ages 18 years and older), and different questionnaires for assessing major depression. These differences make it difficult to compare the results of those studies with our results.

    So the stats are suspect, and probably not as dire as you think.

    But let’s suppose that all this material prosperity and freedom really has led to some people being emotionally disconnected from social/cultural life, and lapsing into depression. Is the real problem here all the prosperity and freedom that was brought to us by liberal, secular culture? Or is the problem the depression itself?

    I think religious conservatives are more than happy to throw the baby out with the bath water. None of us would say “Ooh! Look at all this dirty bath water! Down with babies!” Instead, we would engage in bath water science and bath water management technology.

    Now, perhaps you really agree with me that secular culture has done wonders. Indeed, you probably think that secular culture is a great invention of Christianity. And perhaps your only beef is with people who fail to use the freedoms of their secular environment for Christian ends. However, there are plenty of non-religious people who are not depressed. If you look into why people don’t have depression, it’s probably due to the presence of social and cultural support systems, family, friends, interesting activities, etc. Atheism, mere lack of belief in God, does not prohibit these things.

    So what you are criticizing is the absence of certain cultural and social environmental factors. Those factors may be present in some (but certainly not all) religious contexts, but that’s not an argument against atheism. The point is that religion is not theology. The church is not particularly interested in teaching Joe Lunchbox how to reason and think critically. Quite the opposite. They want Joe to suspend disbelief, to eschew questioning, and to employ epistemologies that don’t allow for falsification. If the church’s highest ethic was critical thinking, no one would be complaining because there would be nothing to complain about.

  18. In DL’s defense, I read his statement as saying that “committed religionists” are the only people who are upset about secular culture. I’m not sure that really helps that much (how do we define ‘committed religionist’? is it merely someone who isn’t happy with secular culture?), but I think it’s a more charitable reading.

    [Edit: DL beat me to it.]

  19. Hi Fantastiglam,
    That information on divorce rates is misleading. The rates offered for agnostics and atheists never takes into account the fact that they do not marry at the same rate as believers. The appropriate statistic is divorces/marriage, not divorces/person. When you look at how many atheists and agnostics actually get married and then divorce their rate is far higher than that of believers.

    Here’s a quick breakdown:
    http://www.gc.cuny.edu/faculty/images/image022.gif

    NO RELIGION 29,481,000
    19% married 5,601,390
    9 % divorced 2,653,290
    47%

    CHRISTIAN 14, 190,000
    56% married 7,946,400
    9 % divorced 1,277,100
    16%

    CATHOLIC 50, 873,000
    60% married 30.523,800
    9 % divorced 4,578,570
    15%

    Assemblies of God 1,105,000
    73% married
    10% divorced

    Evangelical 1,032,000
    74% married
    7% divorced

    The same skewed presentation plagues Barna’s study wherever I’ve seen it used. It also shows up when they talk about divorce rates in Red/Blue states.

    And as for this:

    And as for the reasons why the some people who are religious may receive some benefits from being religious, does not indicate that this is not just a consequence of social pressures.

    Causation and the truth of belief was not the point.
    The point was to answer this charge:

    The only people not made happier by secular culture are committed religionists. World War II, for all its horrors, was statistically less nasty than wars that preceded it. The 20th century was a time of unparalleled prosperity.

  20. Hi DL,

    Is the real problem here all the prosperity and freedom that was brought to us by liberal, secular culture? Or is the problem the depression itself?

    Regardless, the evidence is that prosperity does not bring happiness. This contradicts your thesis.
    And your use of “secular” is self-serving, as it is Christianity that brought us freedom and prosperity.
    You’ve tried to conflate freedom and prosperity with secular and atheism. This is fallacious and your supports do not stand even on their own.
    You continue to make that point for me:

    If you look into why people don’t have depression, it’s probably due to the presence of social and cultural support systems, family, friends, interesting activities, etc. Atheism, mere lack of belief in God, does not prohibit these things.

    None of the above is exclusive to prosperity or “progress”.
    Suicide and depression among the prosperous directly refutes that claim.
    Neither is atheism a solution to the problems (do remind yourself about the OP).

    So what you are criticizing is the absence of certain cultural and social environmental factors. Those factors may be present in some (but certainly not all) religious contexts, but that’s not an argument against atheism.

    That wasn’t the point. The point is that technology and prosperity do not bring happiness. Neither does Godlessness.

    Our standard of living is better today in almost every respect. Health care, life expectancy, child mortality, entertainment, opportunity, education, nutrition, peace, art, low crime, etc.

    This is question-begging. In terms of depression, addiction, and happiness our standard of living is not better.

    The church is not particularly interested in teaching Joe Lunchbox how to reason and think critically. Quite the opposite. They want Joe to suspend disbelief, to eschew questioning, and to employ epistemologies that don’t allow for falsification. If the church’s highest ethic was critical thinking, no one would be complaining because there would be nothing to complain about.

    You don’t know what you’re talking about. Your repeated ad hominems against the church and the religious are dishonest and should not be allowed and I submit that you should refrain or be made to.

  21. Charlie,

    Regardless, the evidence is that prosperity does not bring happiness…

    None of the above is exclusive to prosperity or “progress”. Suicide and depression among the prosperous directly refutes that claim.

    This is just the kind of bizarre opinion I was referring to. You brush off the absence of disease, hard labor, suffering, starvation, war, injustice, etc., as if they have nothing to do with happiness. Just because these ills are not an exclusive list of things that might make people feel bad does not mean their elimination was not progress. These ills all but guarantee misery.

    You have a warped sense of reality if you think that these things don’t matter. You are essentially saying that you would be happy to trade your 21st century life for its nasty, brutish and short counterpart in the dark ages because faith is all you need for happiness. That’s a very strange romanticism.

    In terms of depression, addiction, and happiness our standard of living is not better.

    Really? Life for the average Joe in 1600 was just as happy? Just as good? Do you have even the faintest idea what that sort of life entailed? I think your statement is patently ridiculous. Depression and addiction are minor problems compared to what people lived through just a century ago.

    Your repeated ad hominems against the church and the religious are dishonest and should not be allowed and I submit that you should refrain or be made to.

    The church isn’t a man. What’s next? Charges of ad hominem for negative statements about historical figures, governments, political parties and corporations?

  22. Hi DL,
    Predictable rejoinder, your last. Your claims against the church as a body are claims against the religious as persons. You noted so yourself when in your very claim referenced you said “they” in reference to the people whose motivations and characteristics you are deriding as opposed to their arguments.Regardless if you want to hide behind the technical definition of ad hominem, it is still of the same class: a genetic fallacy.

    DL:If you look into why people don’t have depression, it’s probably due to the presence of social and cultural support systems, family, friends, interesting activities, etc. Atheism, mere lack of belief in God, does not prohibit these things.
    Me:Regardless, the evidence is that prosperity does not bring happiness…
    None of the above is exclusive to prosperity or “progress”. Suicide and depression among the prosperous directly refutes that claim.
    DL:This is just the kind of bizarre opinion I was referring to. You brush off the absence of disease, hard labor, suffering, starvation, war, injustice, etc., as if they have nothing to do with happiness.

    Follow a point.
    Prosperity has nothing to do with bringing to people “the presence of social and cultural support systems, family, friends, interesting activities”.
    I didn’t wave anything away and you are compounding your dishonesty with more ad hominems.
    You now claim that your categories include an absence of suffering and injustice. This is mere question-begging when you ignore the fact that there are indicators (suicide and depression) of just the opposite.
    Oh yes, and did you just suggest that the twentieth century was marked by an absence of war?

    You have a warped sense of reality if you think that these things don’t matter. You are essentially saying that you would be happy to trade your 21st century life for its nasty, brutish and short counterpart in the dark ages because faith is all you need for happiness. That’s a very strange romanticism.

    I said nothing of the sort and your inability to read and respond appropriately is tiring.

    Really? Life for the average Joe in 1600 was just as happy? Just as good? Do you have even the faintest idea what that sort of life entailed? I think your statement is patently ridiculous. Depression and addiction are minor problems compared to what people lived through just a century ago.

    We’ve seen your treatment of history, so please don’t lecture me about life in the 16th century. Your ignorance there is just as great as in the other subjects you argue here. You are ignoring obvious metrics to make your “happiness” claim.
    How can you claim that depression and addictions are minor? They cause death and disease. They destroy families. They affect a huge proportion of the American population directly and just as large a segment indirectly. If 15% are reporting directly that they are not happy how can you claim that they are? How do you measure happiness?
    As a materialist I guess we know, and can tell by your argument:
    less manual labour, more wealth, more conveniences, different diseases, etc.
    Forgive me if I don’t accept your intuitions as facts on this subject.

  23. You brush off the absence of disease, hard labor, suffering, starvation, war, injustice, etc., as if they have nothing to do with happiness.

    More evidence that DL is a closet realist, and not a relativist. The man who believes it’s impossible to prove, via logic, that a subjective perception (in this case happiness) is objective fact, is attempting to do just that!!

  24. Charlie,

    You accuse me of compounding my dishonesty now? Nice. Is that for putting words in someone else’s mouth, like this?

    How can you claim that depression and addictions are minor?

    Um, read what I said again, Charlie. I didn’t say they were minor, period. I said they were lesser evils than war, malnutrition, disease, etc.

    Don’t mince words, Charlie. I’ll make it real simple for ya. Do you believe the depression and addiction in our society is so bad that you would happily exchange it for the war, disease, lack of freedom, starvation, and injustice of centuries past?

  25. Steve,

    The man who believes it’s impossible to prove, via logic, that a subjective perception (in this case happiness) is objective fact, is attempting to do just that!!

    What?!! We were discussing the possibility of proving logic objective. Don’t you remember?

    And I explicitly said that one could objective prove that a property was subjective, so please don’t attribute the exact opposite statement to me.

  26. DL:

    And I explicitly said that one could objective prove that a property was subjective, so please don’t attribute the exact opposite statement to me.

    I’m not doing anything. You are doing it by yourself. You are asking us to reason our way toward an objective understanding of a subjective property.

    You really do think Charlie ought to see happiness one particular way – if only he would clear his mind and follow the logic of your argument.

  27. DL:
    In case the above didn’t make sense, try this…

    If you don’t think Charlie is required to know and understand happiness one way and not another way – then what emotional reason is behind your desire to inductively/deductively reason your way toward a required way of knowing and understanding it?

  28. “World War II, for all its horrors, was statistically less nasty than wars that preceded it.”

    If this statement wasn’t said by such a confident intellect, but was said by a friend in person, I’d punch him in the arm, thinking he was jesting. What statistic is this supposed to be referring to? More than 60 million people died because of this war, which doubles the amount of the second place war, World War I.

  29. Philp,
    DL’s argument is an emotional one so he picks out whatever he thinks makes it less nasty. Maybe it wasn’t the number of deaths…maybe it was the high-tech gadgets of the day, or the better-tasting coffee or food rations that made it “less nasty”.

  30. I’ve been off the comments board all day. Catching up now, I’m disappointed at how the discussion has gone off track.

    First of all, and I’m partly to blame for this, we’ve missed the main point of the original post: Harris et al. are willing to pronounce all kinds of violence in the name of establishing atheism in order to reduce violence. This is just crazy and ought to be acknowledged as such.

    Anyway, doctor(logic) picked up another part of the piece I quoted and made some unsupported assertions about modern secular culture. Several of us challenged those assertions, and I referred to several research studies. doctor(logic) has assailed my reference to depression as an indicator of happiness or of a satisfactory life. I find that pretty surprising. If an affective state like depression isn’t a good indicator of an affective condition like being satisfied, I don’t know what to do with that.

    But doctor(logic) totally missed the main point (again), by ignoring the evidence that whether or not modern culture is better (or worse) to live in than previous cultures, religious people are more generally satisfied and emotionally well off than non-religious people.

    Several of the studies I referred to controlled for other variables he wants to throw in, like social support systems. But even if he didn’t see that, or even if (contra fact) it wasn’t the case, it would still be true that doctor(logic)’s assertion that religious people are less happy is completely overthrown by the evidence. He was just wrong about that; at least, on average, according to much evidence.

    Charlie pointed that out this way:

    By what empirical metric have you determined the validity of this first sentence? A study of emotional depression? Suicide rates? I highly doubt it.

    So dl responded with a helpful apology, and sought to clarify it:

    What I meant was that conservative (reactionary?) religious people are the ones convinced that secular society is sending us down the wrong path, and that moral and social values are in full-fledged recession. They see society as in a state of collapse when the reverse is actually true.

    But then in trying to support that, he got off track by disputing the use of depression as a metric. I’ve already stated my objection to that approach.

    What’s different is that we can afford to care about depression. People were depressed in the past, but no one cared because they had bigger fish to fry.

    That’s been much debated and not much established in the professional literature. It’s conjecture, in other words.

    So:

    Is the real problem here all the prosperity and freedom that was brought to us by liberal, secular culture? Or is the problem the depression itself?

    Well, there’s a false dichotomy! There are more issues on the table than prosperity, freedom, and depression! There’s alienation, random violence, disconnection, degrading family and social structures, and more–especially, I would say (and dl would disagree) alienation from God, for those who are disconnected spiritually).

    Charlie again pointed out quite helpfully:

    Regardless, the evidence is that prosperity does not bring happiness. This contradicts your thesis.
    And your use of “secular” is self-serving, as it is Christianity that brought us freedom and prosperity.
    You’ve tried to conflate freedom and prosperity with secular and atheism. This is fallacious and your supports do not stand even on their own.

    Which dl interpreted as a “strange romanticism.” Which it is not; it’s just looking at the data. No one says that pain, war, and misery are goods in themselves; but in the earlier eras there was also more interpersonal and spiritual relationship which had strong compensating effects for that pain; and people were often quite happy, and less often depressed, quite likely.

    And he said of the church,

    The church is not particularly interested in teaching Joe Lunchbox how to reason and think critically. Quite the opposite. They want Joe to suspend disbelief, to eschew questioning, and to employ epistemologies that don’t allow for falsification. If the church’s highest ethic was critical thinking, no one would be complaining because there would be nothing to complain about.

    There are churches where you could find this, but it has hardly been characteristic of all churches for all time! — except for the part about “eschew falsfication,” if by that we mean what dl thinks it should mean (an illegitimate use of the concept).

    Charlie’s statement here really encapsulates it well:

    If 15% are reporting directly that they are not happy how can you claim that they are? How do you measure happiness?
    As a materialist I guess we know, and can tell by your argument:
    less manual labour, more wealth, more conveniences, different diseases, etc.
    Forgive me if I don’t accept your intuitions as facts on this subject.

    doctor(logic) responds by pointing to material goods as signs that we’re happier. Maybe–I wonder–maybe that’s predictable for a philosophical materialist? There’s a difference in the meaning of the term in the two contexts, but there’s also a relationship that might be worth wondering about.

  31. Hi Tom,
    First of all, to you and DL I’d like to apologize for my earlier rancorous tone. I think I got carried away there with my language and for that I am sorry to both yourselves and the other readers.
    Second, thanks for focusing on my better points.
    Third, do I have a comment from Wednesday morning to fantasticglam in moderation due to a bad URL? If not, I’d like to repost.
    ===
    Hi DL,

    Nice. Is that for putting words in someone else’s mouth, like this?

    How can you claim that depression and addictions are minor?

    Um, read what I said again, Charlie. I didn’t say they were minor, period. I said they were lesser evils than war, malnutrition, disease, etc.

    That’s putting words in your mouth? We do not read the same way.
    For you see the word “minor” means “lesser”, and “minor” only stands in comparison to something to which it is secondary. “”Minor, period”, is the same as “minor compared to …”

    Aside: since you bring up malnutrition, how about the benefits of America’s prosperity on that subject? At least 30% of Americans are obese (over 60% overweight) and, as you’d guess, that means they are more likely unhappy and dissatisfied with the quality of their lives (5 times as likely as those of normal weight). In fact, obese children rate their lives no better than those children undergoing chemo for cancer.
    Worldwide, there are more overweight people than malnourished.

    Don’t mince words, Charlie. I’ll make it real simple for ya. Do you believe the depression and addiction in our society is so bad that you would happily exchange it for the war, disease, lack of freedom, starvation, and injustice of centuries past?

    Thanks for simplifying.
    I’m not depressed, addicted, over-worked, divorced, suicidal, lobotomized, sterilized, diseased, at war, discriminated against, oppressed, etc., or unhappy. I’m just fine where I am, thank you very much.
    That doesn’t prove anything about your claim (for instance, I wouldn’t want to change positions with a happy Buddhist monk either). We continue to have all of those ills to which you allude here in the present. They are no more a feature of the past than the present. There was also happiness, freedom and health in the past as well, but that doesn’t mean I want to go changing places with those who experienced that either. There were people eating, drinking and being merry in all eras.
    You still fail to acknowledge your own error and that (in this case, and among the others mentioned) is your attempt to equate prosperity with happiness. This fails.

    And more to the point you are, as Tom pointed out, avoiding the issue: there is nothing about atheism which promises to lead us to your Utopia and the leading New Atheists give us good reason to suspect they don’t even intend to. Hitchens wants us to concentrate on hating and destroying our enemies. Harris would do violence to people who won’t change their beliefs. Dawkins would impede parents in their freedom of religion and their freedom to teach their children (at least if it weren’t so politically dangerous to leave your name on a petition stating such). Dennett would lock religious people away in cultural zoos, re-educate their children and imprison potential criminals.
    Subscribe to your might-makes-right morality, throw in a little infanticide and involuntary euthanasia, a la Pete Singer, and give Dawkins an audience on eugenics and we’ve about got it made in the shade.
    So much for freedom and peace.

  32. I’m not professionally qualified to comment about the link between happiness and prosperity. I do have a good handle on the happiness literature in the Economics and Psychological fields.

    We can’t compare happiness now to the 1600’s.
    However we can compare present happiness, depression and most significantly suicide rates to those in the 1950’s when all developed nations were more religious than now.

    For the majority of developed nations the view is bleak. Happiness has been stagnant or declining in the majority of developed nations. Depression is worse in nearly all even correcting for past under-reporting.

    I ought to mention the Easterlin Paradox:
    At a national level, economic growth has NO impact on happiness after basic needs are met.

    While I can’t speak for the 1600’s I can attest that the average quality of life in 2008 is worse than in 1958 (in most developed nations).

  33. Sorry this is off topic.
    But could someone give me some names for the best internet/online atheist philosopher and theist philosopher?

    I had heard that Ed Babinski was one of the better atheist philosophers.
    And that Maverick Philosopher was one of the better theist philosophers.

    thank you.

  34. Thanks Tom!!
    Please don’t take that as a slam against this site. I really enjoy this site. I would just like to expand my blog viewship.

    I don’t really know what the ‘good’ ones are. I just want to learn as much about this as possible.

  35. As for atheism, well, atheism is a not a value. Very very few atheists value atheism in and of itself.

    I could be wrong but it seems to be the opposite. What about the Brites? Or those blogs with the “A” on them to signify atheism? I’m not saying that you value atheism in and of itself. But to say ‘very very few’ doesn’t seem correct. Youtube’s atheist community, many atheist blogs and The Brites certainly seem to be quite proud of their atheism.

    Those hallmarks of religion – slogans, songs, symbols, rituals – are bad things, IMO. They are tools to help people identify US vs. THEM, to take action without thinking critically about it, and to stir up fear and loathing.

    Don’t you notice the same thing in the atheist community?
    Slogans. With such great ones as “Godless & Good”, “If you’re not an Atheist you’re not reading the bible properly” and “I think, therefore I am an atheist”.

    Songs

    Symbols. But you can’t forget the atheist ‘A’ nor this little favorite among some.

    And I don’t see there being anything much more ritualistic than the “Blasphemy Challenge”.

  36. Hi Tom, one of my comments is in moderation for spam. Would you mind checking it and if you’re fine with it then posting it? Thank you.

  37. Tom,

    doctor(logic) has assailed my reference to depression as an indicator of happiness or of a satisfactory life. I find that pretty surprising. If an affective state like depression isn’t a good indicator of an affective condition like being satisfied, I don’t know what to do with that.

    We’re talking about clinical depression, here, right? A mental illness.

    What you are doing is akin to keying the economic quality of life in America by the number of billionaires. By that standard, the economy has been going like gangbusters for the last 7 years. As we know, that’s not the case. There has been economic stagnation and erosion among the middle and working class while the wealthiest have made immense profits.

    Depression affects a small number of people at any one time. It’s also a treatable disease. And there are non-religious activities that can prevent depression in many cases.

    But doctor(logic) totally missed the main point (again), by ignoring the evidence that whether or not modern culture is better (or worse) to live in than previous cultures, religious people are more generally satisfied and emotionally well off than non-religious people.

    I wasn’t addressing whether religious involvement (or taking Soma or whatever) makes people happier than average. I was addressing the article you quoted which suggests that secular culture was not progress. And my statement about religious people not being happy was (as I stated in my correction) about their being happy with secular culture, not happy in general.

    There are more issues on the table than prosperity, freedom, and depression! There’s alienation, random violence, disconnection, degrading family and social structures, and more–especially, I would say (and dl would disagree) alienation from God, for those who are disconnected spiritually).

    I’m still trying to get straight answers on the matters on the table.

    You all seem to be hinting at something you’re embarrassed to say…

    No one says that pain, war, and misery are goods in themselves; but in the earlier eras there was also more interpersonal and spiritual relationship which had strong compensating effects for that pain; and people were often quite happy, and less often depressed, quite likely.

    Charlie says something similar. There were happy people in the past. There were depressed people in the past. When you say this, I hear “There were happy people in the dark ages, so don’t knock the dark ages!”

    Here you say that there was more interpersonal and spiritual relationship. People were certainly more reliant on interpersonal relationships with families and tribe. Nevertheless, I am asking whether you think that progress against those material miseries was progress in the right direction. Are you saying that suffering and lack of freedom/opportunity are necessary to a healthy interpersonal and spiritual life? Is the material progress, well, progress? Are material comfort and a healthy psychology part of some zero-sum game?

  38. Charlie,

    In fact, obese children rate their lives no better than those children undergoing chemo for cancer.
    Worldwide, there are more overweight people than malnourished

    What are you saying, Charlie? Are you saying that the availability of good nutrition is a bad thing, and that it would be just as well to have in its place a degree of starvation that would generate comparable unhappiness?

    It’s as if human freedom and choice is no factor for you. Which is sort of ironic, given our prior discussions about free will.

    Personally, I think it is preferable to have the choice not to become obese, rather than starve because there are no choices.

    We continue to have all of those ills to which you allude here in the present. They are no more a feature of the past than the present. There was also happiness, freedom and health in the past as well, but that doesn’t mean I want to go changing places with those who experienced that either. There were people eating, drinking and being merry in all eras.

    Again, a bizarre non-answer.

    I’m just fine where I am, thank you very much.

    This is still ambiguous.

    Is this a euphemism for, “Yeah, this century is waaay better, so don’t you dare send me back in time!”?

    Or do you mean, “Hey, I could go either way, but I’m fine here and now, so don’t go out of your way.”?

  39. We are either going to agree on a metric by which populations’ emotional well-being can be measured, or we are not. If we agree on a metric, then we will be able to establish who is right and who is wrong. If we do not, then the argument here will continue to run forever and will never come to an agreed answer. It would just be fruitless discussion.

    I fear it also because of non sequitirs like the following:

    Charlie says something similar. There were happy people in the past. There were depressed people in the past. When you say this, I hear “There were happy people in the dark ages, so don’t knock the dark ages!”

    This is all so black-and-white, as if one can be all for everything about the Middle Ages (“Dark Ages” is a discarded term among historians–I’m surprised you didn’t know that) or all against everything about it.

    I have to take exception to this as well:

    We’re talking about clinical depression, here, right? A mental illness.

    What you are doing is akin to keying the economic quality of life in America by the number of billionaires.

    Depressive affect and conditions take place on a continuum. The growing number of diagnosed cases reflects not just a skewing of the bell curve with the mean remaining in the same place. It reflects a shifting of the entire curve toward depressed affect. So it actually is a good and rather direct measure for population happiness.

    But if you won’t agree on that, then could you propose a metric for affective condition that we could agree on? And if you’re going to suggest that material wealth, health, or waistline measure is a good proxy measure for that affective condition, please recall that none of these are measures of affect. So it would fall on you to show, with some evidence, how they correlate with affect. Otherwise you who are so evidence-centric just cannot introduce any of these as measures of emotional condition.

  40. Scott,

    You talk about the Brights, atheist symbols, songs, etc. But the examples you cite are, well, pretty humorous. Even the blasphemy challenge is more fun than anything else.

    In the U.S., stating that you are an atheist is a bit like stating you’re gay. Except maybe that gay people are liked more. The atheist logos are tiny symbols of defiance against an oppressive and unthinking culture that can’t even define atheism, yet still hates it.

    But let’s imagine that there were serious atheist symbols, slogans and songs. And imagine that atheists filled football stadiums with atheists chanting the slogans, singing the songs, crying and swooning with atheist passion and fervor, shouting “Amen!” (or their equivalent) at the top of their lungs. And imagine Richard Dawkins (well, someone a lot more charismatic) commanding this crowd of atheists, raking in huge cash donations, and the mob lapping it up, enthralled and mesmerized.

    Yeah, it’s ridiculous. But it would be sorta scary, don’t you think?

  41. Hi DL,
    You’ve not made any case that prosperity equals happiness.
    Now you ask:

    Are you saying that suffering and lack of freedom/opportunity are necessary to a healthy interpersonal and spiritual life?

    There is a very good case to be made against the dogma that increasing choice means increasing contentment or happiness. In fact, if you are capable of questioning worldviews and thinking critically it should be obvious upon reflection that there is no reason to accept this correlation. Opportunities and options can equal paralysis rather than freedom and liberation.
    It also decreases our satisfaction because of comparison and heightened expectations and demands.
    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/93

    You ask Tom if suffering is necessary for one to be happy. You still haven’t addressed what it is that makes a person happy.
    [long link deleted – Tom, the old tags don’t seem to work. Is there a new tag for links?]
    Here are a few ideas:

    Seligman, founding director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Authentic Happiness, has found that the key to happiness appears to lie in our internal qualities and character strengths, not in external events. [external events, like getting more things and avoiding work, for instance].

    A couple of years ago, Seligman’s group described and classified the 24 character strengths that make people thrive, including creativity, curiosity, bravery, and kindness.

    the researchers found that happiness was most strongly associated with a core subset of the character-trait list that they labeled heart strengths: gratitude, hope, zest, and the ability to love and be loved. Topping the charts was love, says Nansook Park, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Rhode Island and a study author. “Relationships with other people are what make us the happiest,” she says.
    [none of these is dependent upon material wealth and can easily be enhanced through suffering]

    And the greatest of these is love …. where have we heard that before?
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+13

    Is the material progress, well, progress?

    I think you left out a word there.
    Is the material progress, well, absolute progress?

    You all seem to be hinting at something you’re embarrassed to say…

    Do tell.

  42. Hi DL,

    What are you saying, Charlie? Are you saying that the availability of good nutrition is a bad thing, and that it would be just as well to have in its place a degree of starvation that would generate comparable unhappiness?

    I’m saying that your unidimensional thinking does not result in proper conclusions. Here we see that the exact opposite symptom to the one that you said causes unhappiness also causes unhappiness. As you have linked malnutrition to prosperity then this source of unhappiness is linked as well.
    You are still left without any way of measuring.

    It’s as if human freedom and choice is no factor for you. Which is sort of ironic, given our prior discussions about free will.

    No it’s not. There’s another of those non-sequiturs that Tom just pointed out. And although I had yet to say anything on that subject, it is actually as though I’m saying that choice doesn’t equal happiness and contentment.

  43. After basic economic needs are met wealth becomes unimportant to happiness.

    Status, social links, a sense of purpose and stable families certainly have strong positive effects on any reasonable measure of happiness.

    Secularism can’t aid in status because that’s a zero-sum game. Secularism doesn’t seem to improve social capital. It doesn’t seem to create a sense of purpose. It doesn’t seem to improve family stability.

    At the best secularism appears irrelevant to most measures of human happiness.

  44. Tom,

    This is all so black-and-white, as if one can be all for everything about the Middle Ages (”Dark Ages” is a discarded term among historians–I’m surprised you didn’t know that) or all against everything about it.

    More dancing around the question. What was there to prefer about the dark ages, Tom?

    (And I don’t care that some historians want to rename the dark ages. Richard Carrier is right. When you lose more than half your knowledge and civilization, that’s a dark age.)

    And if you’re going to suggest that material wealth, health, or waistline measure is a good proxy measure for that affective condition, please recall that none of these are measures of affect.

    We are talking past each other. For you, this is about what gives people a certain kind of happiness. I think it’s questionable to say that the material advances over the centuries have made no difference (although, this NYT book review has some interesting points).

    Let’s suppose for sake of argument that happiness is independent of your trials in life. Would that mean that reducing, say, infant mortality is worthless? If not, what is it worth? After all, that lack of infant mortality will make you take your children’s lives for granted, and that will only make you more depressed if something bad were to happen.

    Just to re-iterate. You misinterpreted my (admittedly poorly-worded) comment about Christians being “unhappy” about secular culture, and turned this into a debate about whether material progress promotes happiness. I’m talking about whether or not crime, infant mortality, starvation, injustice, illiteracy are bad things, and whether or not their elimination is a good thing independent of our happiness.

  45. Hi DL,

    Just to re-iterate. You misinterpreted my (admittedly poorly-worded) comment about Christians being “unhappy” about secular culture, and turned this into a debate about whether material progress promotes happiness. I’m talking about whether or not crime, infant mortality, starvation, injustice, illiteracy are bad things, and whether or not their elimination is a good thing independent of our happiness.

    But even discounting your admittedly poorly-worded slight against “religionists” you told us that (my emphases):

    But the real explanation for the piece is here:

    Not Nietzsche, but the history of the twentieth century has shown that godless culture is incapable of making men happier.

    It seemed very much that you thought the question about the creation and promotion of happiness was not only important, but actually the key to your response.
    Nonetheless, now that you’ve actually been forced to look critically at the situation you’ve decided to select some features and ask if they are good in and of themselves. Because I believe in an objective and absolute standard I can happily say that they are good. But that is not the point. The point is that none of these is a product of atheism or of Godless culture. As per the OP, the point is that atheism and Godlessness do not even promise a peaceful Utopia, let alone demonstrate any way to deliver it.
    Perhaps I’m wrong though. Perhaps you can show why literacy has more to do with atheism than Christianity. Since the historic spread of literacy is closely bound to the spread of Christianity I think this might be difficult. The world’s first fully literate society was that founded in South America by the Jesuits, and in some African countries “literate” and “Christian” are synonymous.
    Or you can show why atheism has lead to a decrease in crime. With Christian ministries showing the greatest effect on criminal recidivism that might not be so easy either.
    What else did you say? Starvation. What has atheism done about this? Who feeds more people, at home and abroad, atheists or Christians? Or is atheism somehow tied to increased food production?
    Infant mortality? Did atheism invent hygiene? It certainly didn’t invent hospitals. And we know by now the necessity of Christianity in the rise of science.
    Injustice? No such thing under atheism and Godlessness. You must mean adherence to subjective laws and rules.
    Where was the justice under Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Ieyasu, Kim, Mao, Castro, Pol Pot, or even Jim Jones and Ted Kaczynski?

    And peace?

    In fact, atheism played a central part in the ideology of one or both sides of most of the great wars of the century: the October Revolution, the Russian Civil War, the invasion and suppression of states that went into the Soviet Union, the Soviet-German war, the Chinese Civil War, the Korean War, the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, the Sino-Indian war, the Chinese invasion of Tibet, and so on.

    In the mid-twentieth century most myths were secular: communism, nationalism, fascism, socialism, democracy. These were the flags under which people rallied. …
    To think getting rid of religion will give us “nothing to kill or die for”(as John Lennon [the wrong Beatle] put it) is not merely naive, it’s a mark of gross historical amnesia.

    David Marshall, The Truth Behind The New Atheism, pp200, 201, 203

    (And I don’t care that some historians want to rename the dark ages. Richard Carrier is right. When you lose more than half your knowledge and civilization, that’s a dark age.)

    Science-denier.

  46. Charlie,

    Okay, I’m done giving you opportunities to give me a straight answer.

    You all seem to be hinting at something you’re embarrassed to say…

    Do tell.

    Subjectively, you don’t care for material progress. You care about subjective bliss. Given plenty of opportunities to condemn the conditions of the dark ages, you’ve remained silent. You have all but stated that you think conditions are not comparable across such time periods, and we cannot say that our century is better than past centuries. The obvious corollary to this is that all those people who created material progress over the ages were doing us no real service at all.

    You then have the gall to list what you believe are the “good” (and alleged) material progresses bestowed upon us by Christianity. What has all this alleged Christian material progress brought us in your own opinion? More depression, obesity, addiction, freedom of choice, education, and (thanks to education and freedom to think) atheism. So all these Christians feeding the masses, teaching them, curing disease were either cursing us all or, at least, doing us no good in your opinion.

    It’s a contradiction of Mother Theresan proportions.

    Is the material progress, well, progress?

    I think you left out a word there.
    Is the material progress, well, absolute progress?

    I did leave out a word, but it wasn’t absolute. I’ll ask my question again:

    Is the material progress, well, SUBJECTIVE progress?

    The answer from your side is a resounding “No!”

    So, Charlie, what’s the Christian plan to undo all of this evil material progress that’s been ruining our lives?

    Science-denier.

    Haha! Good one, Mr. ID.

  47. We certainly agree on one point, doctor(logic). Somebody’s dancing. You think it’s me, but I think you’re doing a jig.

    More dancing around the question. What was there to prefer about the dark ages, Tom?

    You see, I don’t know how this question came up, how you think it relates to anything, why it’s an issue. I don’t know why you think I prefer the “dark ages.” So though we agree there’s a dance going on, we probably don’t agree who’s doing it.

    What I’ve been saying here is that there is strong evidence that people are not happier now than they were at some time in the past, and there is strong actual evidence that people are less happy.

    We are not, not, and again not saying that material wealth and health and freedom from violence are bad; but you are taking our statements and distorting them quite annoyingly into a black-white picture that says we think that. I’m asking you to stop that and to read what we write.

    You asked what there was to prefer about the “dark ages.” I’m going to answer that question, and if you continue in your previous ways you’re going to conclude that I said the “dark ages” were uniformly better than any other age. I’m going to ask you not to do that.

    What was there, then, to prefer about the Middle Ages? There was a much, much higher experience of community then, compared to the Western world today. Higher community correlates very strongly with higher levels of personal and emotional health. That’s one aspect of life which was probably preferable in the Middle Ages.

    Now, how this connects to the original question is beyond me, but I’ve answered. Don’t distort it now.

  48. doctor(logic), I deleted things like this recently from Holopupenko:

    Subjectively, you don’t care for material progress.

    What you’re saying is that because Charlie won’t agree with you that material progress is the indicator of well-being, therefore he doesn’t care for it. That is both an incredible non sequitir and a thinly veiled attack on his character.

    What this has in common with Holo is this: it’s drawing conclusions about someone else’s internal processes (rational and/or moral) that are not supported by what they actually said. Charlie did not say, or even hint, that he doesn’t care about material progress. You put those words in his mouth.

    I could show other examples of you doing that; in fact, my previous comment amounts to one of those.

    Your tu quoque on “science denier” wasn’t very helpful, as is common with tu quoques. I guess you thought it was funny, though, since you wrote in a laugh. But you didn’t address the point, which is that most scholars have abandoned the concept of a “Dark Ages.” Scholars who study the matter, that is.

    I gave Holo a warning. Here’s yours. This discussion would be a lot more fruitful if you would try to pay attention to what we’re actually saying.

  49. I notice DL has an implicit opinion that secularism has caused economic growth and aided human life.

    You’ve not shown any evidence that improvements in living standards have anything to do with secular culture.

  50. Hi DL,
    First let us note that you have now withdrawn any pretense that you were responding to, or even have a response to, the OP.
    You’ve not once touched upon the issue of New Atheists and violence.
    At the same time you have withdrawn your references to happiness and your claim that progress=happiness.
    Now you are left with nothing but insisting that progress is progress (I agree) and insinuating that it has something, however vague, to do with the irreligious.

    Okay, I’m done giving you opportunities to give me a straight answer.

    Thanks. But I needed only the one, although I gave you your answer several times.

    Given plenty of opportunities to condemn the conditions of the dark ages, you’ve remained silent.

    That’s right, I have refused to condemn the conditions in the middle ages. I haven’t condemned life in Japan, Sweden, or Florida either even though I’m happy living where am.

    You have all but stated that you think conditions are not comparable across such time periods, and we cannot say that our century is better than past centuries. The obvious corollary to this is that all those people who created material progress over the ages were doing us no real service at all.

    No, that corollary is not obvious to anyone but you.
    Remember where, oh, just one comment prior to your ill-conceived rant I said about your selected features that “Because I believe in an objective and absolute standard I can happily say that they are good. ”

    For the rest of your comment on this topic I refer you, with gratitude, to Tom.

    And why the gratuitous attack on Mother Teresa? Is she really the best example you could come up with in your misapplied allusion to contradictions? Not really, right?

    Science-denier.

    Haha! Good one, Mr. ID.

    I’m glad you caught the reference. Too bad the irony was wasted.
    ====
    Hi Tom and Econ,
    Very good points, with which I obviously agree.

  51. Tom,

    Suppose that material progress, knowledge and freedom have value. In that case, we have been steadily injecting society with that value for centuries (apart from the dark ages where there was a precipitous drop).

    You also cite the value of interpersonal relationships and family life. The social support mechanisms that enable people to thrive even if they lose their family support have enabled people to grow apart from their family without material penalty. You seem to be arguing that this has led to a lack of interpersonal relationships, and this lack is a negation in value.

    So the most likely conclusion would then be that you subjectively think society improved in value and desirability until the 1960’s came along. At which point, improvements in material value were offset (or perhaps more than offset) by breakdowns of interpersonal relationships (which were side-effects of social support systems).

    Is this how you feel or not? If so, it should be pretty simple to say that the dark ages were a relatively nasty place to be. (If nothing else, relative to 1955.)

    If that’s not the case, I want an explanation. What is the negative value that’s been added-in down the centuries to offset the material improvements that have been made?

    The way you and Charlie talk about this issue, it’s as if you’re not willing to give me the whole picture. I get answers like “bad things happen now and happened then, and good things happen now and happened then.” Now imagine that I said this about the Holocaust. What would you think I was saying?

    But you didn’t address the point, which is that most scholars have abandoned the concept of a “Dark Ages.” Scholars who study the matter, that is.

    Richard Carrier says it better than me:

    One might object and say, “Historians no longer believe there were any ‘Dark Ages’!” That depends on what you mean by Dark Age. What I mean by that term here is any era in which a considerable amount of knowledge is lost, especially scientific and technical knowledge, while the ruling zeitgeist looks backwards to a time before more enlightened ways of doing things were embraced. The loss of over 90% of all literature, and the corresponding historical and scientific knowledge it contained, is a fact. The abandonment of the highest civilized, technological, historical, and scientific ideals of the early Roman elite, in exchange for more barbarian ways of thinking and doing things, is a fact. And that is, by my definition, a Dark Age.

  52. Econ,

    I notice DL has an implicit opinion that secularism has caused economic growth and aided human life.

    You’ve not shown any evidence that improvements in living standards have anything to do with secular culture.

    Well, material living standards have historically improved as secular culture got stronger.

    If by living standards you refer to people being “happier” in secular culture, I don’t have ironclad evidence that this is the case. But neither do you. The few statistics about depression which you provide are not adequate to the task (even if they’re true). To begin with, happiness is not just a question of being in bliss, but a question of desirability. I could do drugs and be more blissful, but I don’t find that desirable. I could be more blissful by shutting politics and world news out of my life, but I don’t find that desirable. Our world is a lot more complex now than it was 50 or 100 years ago, in real terms, and in terms of what we are exposed to. It’s not easy, but the alternative is unthinkable.

    Speaking of alternatives, what elements of secular culture would you like to repeal in order to improve the economy and living standards?

  53. Charlie,

    First let us note that you have now withdrawn any pretense that you were responding to, or even have a response to, the OP.

    What pretense? The anti-democratic views ascribed to Dawkins, Dennett and Harris are plainly ridiculous. They don’t even merit serious consideration.

    At the same time you have withdrawn your references to happiness and your claim that progress=happiness.

    Um, progress = preferable actually. There’s a difference.

    Read my last comment to Tom. The same question goes out to you. How do you grade progress in general? All the material progress made since, say, 1000CE, how has that been offset by the consequences of that progress? Was 1950 our zenith? I want to know what your subjective and absolute measures of progress (material and otherwise) are telling you. If material benefits are absolutely good, then why the lack of willingness to grade some centuries more harshly on this basis? For example, you might answer that human bad behavior always compensates negatively for any material advance. Or, perhaps, that material progress is only true progress in the context of a faithful relationship with God. Or you might refuse to answer my question altogether.

    I said this to Tom:

    The way you and Charlie talk about this issue, it’s as if you’re not willing to give me the whole picture. I get answers like “bad things happen now and happened then, and good things happen now and happened then.” Now imagine that I said this about the Holocaust. What would you think I was saying?

    Well?

  54. Hi DL,
    I have about 30 seconds, so unfortunately the rest will have to wait.

    Um, progress = preferable actually. There’s a difference.

    Um, is there? Neato.
    Nice that everything is nothing but preference to you … progress=preference, morality=preference. Maybe you can see why I reject your idea of what progress means.

    Anyway, try this, while you’re on about condemning generations with insufficient technologies and knowledge.
    What percentage of the total knowledge of the universe have we attained at present?
    Since you think you can empirically weigh and measure scientific knowledge and material benefit, where are we on a universal continuum? Compared to our ultimate future, how much progress have we made and how much have we to make?
    Okay, got it?
    Now, does that mean we are unjustified in being happy in this century? Are we not to find it preferable? Are we also then, immoral, nasty, backward and brutish?
    Of course you’ll say, “well, in comparison we are”.
    Then you must also say that we are not content, do not have quality of life, etc. and condemn our lot as you condemn your ahistorically viewed ancestors. Maybe this is why depression and suicide are so prevalent in this society (not among the Amish though, go figure).
    You materialists have linked your happiness, oops, I mean, preferableness, to the wrong things in the wrong era.

    Gotta run. Hope this doesn’t suffer too much from lack of proof-reading and reflection.

  55. HI DL,
    I’m back.
    I have many responses written to your last series of posts, but I think I’ll set them aside for a bit to see where we go now.
    First, we see ( a little soft-shoe notwithstanding) that you have and had no response to the OP. Tom’s point stands unaddressed.
    Instead, you’ve tried to take us down many a garden path, culminating in your desire to have us say that we are progressing when we progress materially. Well, we progress materially.
    Does that mean that we are better off? Or, more importantly, does that mean that we are better?
    I’ll skip for the time being the meaninglessness of saying that progress=preferable and just note that to progress means to move toward some goal or object. As a race, what is that goal? More stuff? Less labour? Longer lives?
    Each of these ought to be subordinate to becoming more moral, better people, more fulfilled. And none of these aids in that quest in and of itself.
    The idea behind “progressive” philosophies is that we are constantly getting better, not merely that we are constantly getting more things or having an easier time acquiring excess. But we cannot be getting better unless there is a standard toward which we are improving. Is there any such standard in materialism, secularism, atheism, etc.? No, there is not. Evolution does not make us more moral. And this is the lesson, I think, that articles such as the First Things piece are pointing out. The Nietzsche references demonstrated this in principle, the twentieth century demonstrated it historically, and the New Atheists demonstrate it practically.

    I have more to say on this, but as a superficial reading will likely make one think it is contrary to what I’ve said before, I’m going to put it up on the shelf for a while as well.

  56. Charlie’s idea that DL should look at our own happiness with as much criticism as DL has for the happiness of those in the Dark Ages leaves it to me (why is it always my job?) to suggest that happiness is, well . . .

    relative.

    I’m *such* a comedian! ; )

  57. HI Paul,
    When one can’t come up with an objective, empirical metric that would have to be the case.
    It would almost make happiness statements “meaningless, wouldn’t it?

    Speaking of looking at things with equal degrees of criticisms, how’d you do with that research into the objectivity of the Skeptic Mag.?

  58. Oh yeah, I found the article you mentioned. That was a month ago or more, so my memory about where I wound up with it isn’t great, but suffice to say that I didn’t convert over to your way of thinking, but, at the same time, I’m not saying you’re wrong. I think it’s a good idea to be skeptical about skepticism. Perhaps you and I disagree about how skeptical that particular mag is. I had told you early on that there are plenty letters to the editor that take issue with fundamental points; and, there is no pass for article authors. I recall in the last issue someone was talking about a repressed memory lawsuit and I commented to myself how the author was being illogical, etc. I’m not sure where that leaves the issues between us, Charlie.

    I meant my relative happiness comment mostly in jest. But if relativism had to be the case, it would make *objective* happiness meaningless, but that follows by definition, huh? It most definitely would change how happy or not I am, despite its relativity.

  59. Hi Paul,

    I meant my relative happiness comment mostly in jest. But if relativism had to be the case, it would make *objective* happiness meaningless, but that follows by definition, huh?

    Indeed. As it would for objective progress, objective truth, objective morality, etc.. And n some world-views such relativism does have to be the case.
    And on we go …

    As to where we are on your application of equal criticism, I am about where I was a month ago …
    http://www.haloscan.com/comments/tgilblog/E20071107063101/#225632

  60. Thanks for finding the link, Charlie. I will gladly admit that some skeptics take it too far, and some don’t. Now, as to any specific case, we’ll have to argue the details.

  61. DL

    Well, material living standards have historically improved as secular culture got stronger.

    Material living standards have improved for the last 350 years.

    Secular culture has not got stronger continually over that entire period. During many generations secular culture faded while economic growth continued.

    I’d appreciate your theory for how secular culture might cause economic growth.

  62. Actually much of the growth was in tolerant or homogeneous countries (England, Prussia, France, Netherlands, United States).

    The reason a secular culture contributes to economic growth is 1 people aren’t killing each other over religion, 2 government is less corrupt (theocracies tend to be very bad at that- they can’t actually deliver a divine mandate) and 3 they are more science oriented. The Arab world did well with science, but when science contradicted scripture… bye bye science (simplification, but that is how it is in non secular states)

    Submitting to God isn’t humility while nonbelievers are arrogant. How can you be arrogant in an assertion about reality? How can you submit to something that doesn’t exist?

    Killing kids as witches is in the Guardian. Here’s the link. http://observer.guardian.co.uk/world/story/0,,2224553,00.html
    I think that covers the evidence comment.

    “As SteveK said, it’s not that “only Christians can accomplish” most things, but that they have accomplished them and others have not. Examples in history have included inventing the university, generating the cultural mindset by which science was established in Europe, establishing hospitals among people not their own, abolishing the slave trade, doing away with child labor, leading the civil rights movement in the U.S., leading the women’s suffrage movement, and more. ”
    Since Christians are the majority of the population it would be a surprise if they didn’t do these things. You forgot to mention the opposition to these projects were also Christian.

    Hospitals, science and univestiy are the exceptions.
    Hospitals for an outgroup is caused by empathy towards others- they may have justified it as a Christian mandate. Doesn’t make it inherently Christian- I believe the Moors did the same thing.

    Universities and the scientific method are not things the Christains can claim credit for. Ionia (Greece) was the first place the scientific method arose- it died becaue they failed to focus on evidence enough do to the distaste as labor was for slaves. Still thay managed to come up with the greatest leap foward in human understanding for the next… two millenia.

    I have no idea what you mean by the university system. Schooling is old hat- the Eqyptians had scribal schools. Unless there is something uniquely special about universities, I have to think it is just a name and organization planning (specialized teaching, etc). Not exactly a big deal. It would be like saying Christians are great for inventing highway systems.

    Sorry I took so long to respond- Couldn’t read all your guys arguements so I just took responces to me and the last comment.

  63. Samuel, there’s a lot of surface understanding and even myth in what you wrote. There’s also some truth–Christians did kill about 2,000 people in the Middle Ages as witches (there are myths of millions killed, but they’re just historically inaccurate).

    You forgot to mention the opposition to these projects were also Christian.

    That doesn’t change the fact that huge cultural artifacts–like the worldwide disregard for women since the dawn of time–were only changed in Christian cultures, under Christian leadership. The same could be said regarding slavery (see more here).

    You might have wanted to quit while you were ahead on the topic of the university. The first universities were in Italy, France, and England, and reflected the Christian concept of knowledge being unified in diversity. Other cultures did not develop or welcome that kind of conception of knowledge.

    The “scientific method” may have originated in Greece, but experimentation did not, so I don’t know how you could actually make that claim. The enterprise of science only developed where Christian views of knowledge and of creation prevailed.

    Hospitals for others–caring for persons not in one’s own group–could have been invented by Muslims, the Indians, or the Chinese; but they weren’t. This is directly traceable to Christian beliefs as opposed to Muslim, Buddhist, Confucian, Hindu, etc. beliefs. I hope I don’t have to belabor that point; if you’re familiar with those other religions’ viewpoints you’ll understand what I’m saying by that.

    You make three assertions without evidence, and I don’t think you’ll be able to succeed in supporting any of them:

    The reason a secular culture contributes to economic growth is 1 people aren’t killing each other over religion, 2 government is less corrupt (theocracies tend to be very bad at that- they can’t actually deliver a divine mandate) and 3 they are more science oriented.

    Christian history is very imperfect, and we Christians are all imperfect and flawed. But the record on the things Steve and I were affirming is nevertheless quite solid.

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