Daniel Dennett - The Scientific Study of Religion

December 12, 2011

Recently, the Center for Inquiry held a conference titled "Daniel Dennett and the Scientific Study of Religion: A Celebration of the Fifth Anniversary of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon". During that conference, John Shook, CFI's Director of Education, sat down with Dennett for this interview. 

Shook and Dennett have a broad conversation ranging from Dennett's past and current work to his definition of free will. Dennett explains what caused him to write Breaking the Spell in 1996 and the impact it had on him personally.

They talk about how the public views the scientific study of religion and how it has changed in the recent past. Dennett comments on the continued mutation of religions, and how their rate of change seems to be increasing; about how to come out as a non-believer; and much more!

Daniel Dennett, PhD, is Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts. Among his many books relating to science and religion are Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? (with Alvin Plantinga, 2011); Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (2006); Freedom Evolves (2003); and Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995).

Books Mentioned in This Episode:


Comments from the CFI Forums

If you would like to leave a comment about this episode of Point of Inquiry please visit the related thread on the CFI discussion forums

Wow, great, CFI!

Can’t wait to hear this!

Everything I’ve heard or read from Mr. Shook has been VERY insightful and helpful and then, of course, there is his guest…

Posted on Dec 13, 2011 at 5:49am by Trail Rider Comment #1

Just listened to it. Very nice.

:D

Posted on Dec 13, 2011 at 12:58pm by TromboneAndrew Comment #2

Instant Classic. 

Thanks CFI.  :coolsmile:

Posted on Dec 13, 2011 at 5:36pm by Pragmatic Naturalist Comment #3

Dennett’s enthusiasm and positive attitude are admirable. However, one cannot do justice without remarking on language exploits which have produced this ignorance.

The fitness enhancement of Dennett’s “free will”, or rather the ability to chose, was tremendously magnified by speech because the exercise of creativity could impact so many more. Even if the population were unaware of this advantage, the individual’s trait would benefit the group and thus it’s own reproduction AMONG THE GROUP. Thus, ironically, this blossoming “free will” was built on interdependence. Dennet notes that “free will” is only relatively free, e.g. neither is it free of the laws of physics nor is it free of the thoughts of others in that it depends on the selection among the ideas of others. Dennett, however, fails to remark on the hyperbole of “free will”, a confounding framing which survives in repressive culture. Even the “will” of the spirit cannot be imagined to be absolutely free. Via the concept of free will, authoritarians both mock, in that the will cannot be free, and chastise, in that it provides the opportunity to sin, the exercise of creativity. “Free will” is the disinformation of the powerful - one should reject the frame, not attempt to clarify it. It is purposefully confusing and therefore one should liberate from that purpose. O, Humanity!

My preferred counterargument to the immorality of non-believers is to note that “free-thinkers” would be a threat to the manipulation of the group and thus to the immorality of bad rule. IOW, the belief in the immorality of atheists arises as a projection of authoritarians. Non-belief without believers would not have modified cooperative traits. OTOH, believers could instill taboos and exhortation with the aid of gods without reason and, unfortunately, despite reason. The very suppression of free thought, the climate of fear to which freethinkers were subjected, demonstrates that the lack of reason was actually a suppression of reason. This counterargument is not a substitute for good works, but neither is good works the only defense against this pernicious, nay sinister, myth.

Thanks for the inspiration, Professor.

Posted on Dec 13, 2011 at 6:10pm by DEareckson Comment #4

I enjoyed the conversation.  I volunteer as an EMT in my community.  I am becoming more comfortable discussing my thoughts on religion.  I hesitated for a long time, as this is a very small community and the first question you are asked is often, “Which church do you attend.”  I concur with Daniel Dennett that here needs to be more than,” I am an atheist.”  Thanks again for a constructive program.

Posted on Dec 13, 2011 at 9:04pm by Stephen2012 Comment #5

I enjoyed the conversation, but I do think Professor Dennett is confusing the subject of free-will. There is nothing that distinguishes our agency with a random animal’s agency. It’s just more complex behavior. What would cause this difference in free will? It all comes down to the pieces, and the pieces are the same.

He really needs to take a page out of Dr. Steven Pinker’s books in that, free-will really is just an illusion, but definitely an important one. We should recognize the illusion, and it should influence our future actions for the better (not that we really have a choice ;)). What Professor Dennett is suggesting is just rhetoric. Of course there are levels of freedom (or complexity, or randomness, etc.), but don’t miss the trees for the forest. There isn’t new or different physics going on in our heads than outside our heads.

Let’s get past this rhetoric bottleneck.

Posted on Dec 14, 2011 at 10:57am by klox Comment #6

There is nothing that distinguishes our agency with a random animal’s agency. It’s just more complex behavior. What would cause this difference in free will? It all comes down to the pieces, and the pieces are the same.

[...] free-will really is just an illusion, but definitely an important one. We should recognize the illusion, and it should influence our future actions for the better (not that we really have a choice ;)). What Professor Dennett is suggesting is just rhetoric.

Too reductive: your very exercise of complex behavior is different from that of a random animal’s and framing it as reification of, say, quantum mechanics, is a wrong-headed conflation. Dennett is not mystifying “free-will”, he is dissolving the illusion and clarifying the complex behavior.

A minister I know speaks of the necessity of myth. But, one must ask, how is the best myth selected? He revealed no awareness of the contradiction in his justification. On the other hand, I suspect his services would be less in demand if he insisted on the necessity of illusion.

Should Dennett avoid the baggage of “free-will” and speak of “agency”? No, he’s right to pare the meaning down rather than discard the word. The delusive, supernatural meaning must be critiqued. Of course, the baggage is too attractive when using “free”, so indiscriminate use would perpetuate the delusion. However, it’s safe to use it with his audience. Can one imagine Dennett declaring it a forbidden word? Hilarious! Shades of Jahweh!

But even if he used “agency”, Dennett would not be advocating determinism. Determinism is more a counter-belief, albeit a rather justified reaction to supernaturalism, than a theory. Even were one able to determine the behavior of any random animal, though determinism would be a scientifically well-accepted theory, it would also likely result in a rather repugnant technocracy.

Though I am uneasy about his avoiding the legacy of “free will”, I’d rather have Dennett’s rhetoric.

Posted on Dec 14, 2011 at 2:55pm by DEareckson Comment #7

What I admire most about Dan Dennett is his way of approaching old problems from new angles.  Instead of going around in circles on free will, he says: “let’s think of free will as a biological problem”. 

Instead of debating theology on theology’s turf, he simply asks: “What have you got to offer?”.

Instead of debating religion, he says: “let’s study religion as a natural phenomenon, as carefully as you might study the trajectory of a baseball or the embryology of the mouse”.

Thank you Dan Dennett.

Posted on Dec 15, 2011 at 3:40am by Larry Gay Comment #8

I admire Dr. Dennett as much as anyone, I suppose, though I think the whole “Bright” thing was on balance ill-advised, and it seems to me that his take on “free will” might simply create some semantic tail-chasing.  Both subjects would require long posts that probably nobody would read except me!

I thoroughly agree with Dr. Dennett’s pointing up the fact that thanks to modern technology, tyrants and pedophiles and socio/psychopaths of all sorts will find it far more difficult to get away with their acts, because they increasingly live in an electronic fish bowl and because those same electronics allow people to band together to fight back.***

However, what I really want to comment on with regard to this podcast was Dr. Dennett’s remarks, on the one hand, that he believes his secular/rational/science-based world view is “better” than a religious world view, while on the other hand he couldn’t answer affirmatively to John Shook’s query as to whether the consequences of religion were a net negative for humanity.  Dr. Dennett, if I’m not mistaken (I was in my car in traffic), said the answer to the latter “could not be known.”
I stark-raving beg to differ.

Dr. Dennett’s answer lends some credence to an idea that I’ve held for a long time, which is that the people who best understand both the good and the profoundly evil effects of religion are those who have escaped from its clutches.  I’d bet, for example, that Richard Dawkins would moderate his rhetoric a bit if he had a better handle - more personal experience - with the real and widespread good that people do while motivated by “faith.”  On the other hand, it seems to me that only people who have spent considerable portions of their lives within religious communities and families grasp the DEEP AND PROFOUND damage that religious thinking does to the judgement and maturity of billions of people, and the ramifications of that loss of human potential.  Dr. Dennett’s answer seems to me to show that he lacks a full grasp of this.
In short, the billions I’m talking about make Alvin Plantinga look very much like Albert Einstein.  And those billions reproduce (a lot!) and raise their children to think like them.
And they vote, too.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

*** I responded to a recent op-ed in the NY Times by Eric Weiner, who among other odd things, wrote, If a certain spiritual practice makes us better people — more loving, less angry — then it is necessarily good, and by extension “true.”

I wrote this to the author, FWIW:

Well, yes, if “us” is all of us, or at least a considerable majority of us.
But all too often, the aggregate consequences of “a certain spiritual practice” are a disaster for humanity in my view and that of increasingly large numbers of other observers. Until fairly recently, the dark and often hideous sides of the major “spiritual practices” were not much known. Now, it’s much easier to learn the big picture. This greater perspective spurs thinking about whether the associated religious claims create a net “good,” not to mention whether they might properly be called “true.”

Posted on Dec 15, 2011 at 5:22am by Trail Rider Comment #9

it seems to me that only people who have spent considerable portions of their lives within religious communities and families grasp the DEEP AND PROFOUND damage that religious thinking does to the judgement and maturity of billions of people, and the ramifications of that loss of human potential.

And yet, Dennett acts wisely; the emancipated should be speaking of that damage. Both roles must be played, for the light must remain when the darkness is gone.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Damn the opium dealers.

Posted on Dec 15, 2011 at 2:06pm by DEareckson Comment #10

Morality and doing good without religion:
    Without advertising, people still buy, but with advertising they buy more, much more. People commit money, a lot of money on that observation.
      Liberals, leftists, social activists, homosexual activists, even atheist activists believe that publicity, propaganda, repetition, and browbeating affect human behavior or at least they act as if they believe that.
      Without religion people would still do good. I have no religion and I do good, but I have a nasty suspicion (and a lot of observation) that I may not be all that typical. How can people who practice propaganda and activism for their own ends turn around and argue that religions that ceaselessly nag and organize to preach and practice charity, responsibility, forgiveness, love, and self discipline are unnecessary or pernicious?
      And no mention of refraining from doing evil.

Highjacking English words such as gay and bright:
    I don’t like people who high jack English words for the same reason I don’t like liars and other too crafty manipulators.
Bright: Do we need yet another unintentional self parody of liberal conceit, particularly one this blatant, transparent, and over the top?
   
    One question seemed to be untouched. How do we agree on what is good?
      The older I get (and hence the less vulnerable to charges of personal stake in the question) the more it smells like the intensity of animus toward Christianity may have sexual undertones, especially homosexual undertones. Oh, but brights, skeptics, and liberals could never be so human or so irrational or so stupid as to be swayed by emotional or personal interests. Forgive me if I see a lot of baby boomers clinging to memories of youthful rebellion by sticking arthritic fingers in the eyes of their fathers’ ghosts. Is good those things once treasured by the mummified ids of liberal baby boomers, or the things one has to believe to keep being invited to the politically correct people’s parties?

Posted on Dec 17, 2011 at 6:50am by rg21 Comment #11

Dr. Dennett’s answer seems to me to show that he lacks a full grasp of this.

I think his answer shows objectivity; your view is subjective.  Dennett surely knows that religion is damaging, but he also knows that religion sometimes appears to drive people to do positive things.  Knowing whether the net result is positive or negative would require some objective means of quantifying harm vs benefit, and we don’t have that.  If you lack information, the only honest thing to say is “I don’t know.”

Posted on Dec 17, 2011 at 11:02am by Taylor Comment #12

      And no mention of refraining from doing evil.

That antagonism is revealing. First, because one can’t suppose that a bright is for “doing evil”. Second, surely a bright would avoid using “evil” not only due to it’s legacy and connotations, but also because the projectionist of “evil” deserves some suspicion, as we all should have learned from George Bush II, et al. Third, because fire and brimstone comes from their persecutor’s tradition.

So, it’s not likely you are sincere and understanding if you are comfortable using that language.

There also doesn’t appear to be a very positive view of human nature in the following:

How can people who practice propaganda and activism for their own ends turn around and argue that religions that ceaselessly nag and organize to preach and practice charity, responsibility, forgiveness, love, and self discipline are unnecessary or pernicious?

Attributing selfishness or chauvinism to Dennett, for one, is a sour deprecation of his work. But even more revealing is your advocacy of nagging and preaching for to lead people. It can be well argued (and it was once well understood) that the hypocrisy of supernatural religion foments this vicious cycle of preaching.

But could it be you have a chip on your shoulder about something else entirely?

I don’t like people who high jack English words for the same reason I don’t like liars and other too crafty manipulators.
Bright: Do we need yet another unintentional self parody of liberal conceit, particularly one this blatant, transparent, and over the top?

Yes, that bit of hyperbole is revealing (and self-discrediting). And it just goes downhill from there ...

I am curious. As a conservative non-religionist, do you think it necessary to mislead people for their own good? And why did you stick your finger in the “eyes of your father’s ghosts”?

Gimme a break.

Posted on Dec 17, 2011 at 9:22pm by DEareckson Comment #13

The term ‘Bright’ is absolutely ludicrous. It’s just an embarrassment and we need to get rid of it immediately and pretend we never said it or took it seriously. I was hoping that everyone had forgotten about this term and no one was using it any more, but this interview shows quite clearly that this is not the case. Everybody, including fundamentalists, thinks they’re bright, rational, evidence-based, and committed to critical thinking. It’s crazy to use these kinds of words to try to separate yourself from religious people.     

To his credit, though, Dennett doesn’t make ridiculous claims about religions always being harmful or on balance doing more harm than good or anything like that.

Posted on Dec 18, 2011 at 3:38am by Dom1978 Comment #14

Everybody, including fundamentalists, thinks they’re bright, rational, evidence-based, and committed to critical thinking.

Hardly. Even if Fundamentalists did, they generally would not prioritize these qualities, and of those who did, it would be Bible-based. That caged rationality would not cut it. I suppose you mean that everybody’s intelligence should be respected. Okay. But not when they’re abusing mine.

To his credit, though, Dennett doesn’t make ridiculous claims about religions always being harmful or on balance doing more harm than good [...]

C’mon, give him more credit than that. He’s in the negative on the polemicist scale, contra, say, Hitchens or Harris. You make it sound, though, as if you believe religions are, on balance, doing more good than harm. That’s not a scientific conclusion, is it?

Would you be willing to say, “Religions bring harm”? Then, how can deceit, even were it self-deceit, make up the balance?

Posted on Dec 18, 2011 at 10:53am by DEareckson Comment #15

It suggests that we’re the smart guys over here, and over there you have a bunch of idiots like Aquinas, Augustine, Plantinga, Swinburne and C.S. Lewis. Ironically, the result is that Dennett ends up looking like an idiot! Apologists are having a field day with this term ‘Bright’, rightly mocking it and making fun of Dennett for using it. There are always going to be very smart people on all sides of this debate, and so I just find this term offensive and embarrassing.

Posted on Dec 18, 2011 at 4:54pm by Dom1978 Comment #16

As regards rationality, they believe that there are very good reasons for believing the Bible to be trustworthy. 

As to the harm question, my point is just that it’s crazy trying to work out whether Christianity, Judaism and Islam have done more harm than good. The problem I have with these religions is that THEY ARE NOT TRUE.

Posted on Dec 18, 2011 at 5:03pm by Dom1978 Comment #17

The term ‘Bright’ is absolutely ludicrous. It’s just an embarrassment and we need to get rid of it immediately and pretend we never said it or took it seriously. I was hoping that everyone had forgotten about this term and no one was using it any more, but this interview shows quite clearly that this is not the case. Everybody, including fundamentalists, thinks they’re bright, rational, evidence-based, and committed to critical thinking. It’s crazy to use these kinds of words to try to separate yourself from religious people.     

To his credit, though, Dennett doesn’t make ridiculous claims about religions always being harmful or on balance doing more harm than good or anything like that.

I’m ambivalent about this point.  On the one hand, it does seem excessively self-congratulatory to use the word “Bright” instead of “Atheist”.  “Naturalist” has the connotation of nudism, other than that it would be ok.  “Materialist” also has negative connotations.  How about “Wolves” (as opposed to sheep)?  It has possibly fewer negative connotations now that Farley Mowat has made wolves somewhat more positive characters in the tapestry of life.

The idea that we need to do what homosexuals did with “Gay” to come up with a word with positive connotations to designate their life styles seems to be applicable to Atheists.  “Bright” probably wasn’t the best choice.  By analogy with this idea, homosexuals might have chosen “Supermen” (or “Superwomen”) to designate themselves.

Dennett comes across as the archetypical intellectual.  He goes for analysis over value judgement at every opportunity.  He does (correctly, IMHO) point out that while the majority of religions are pretty innocuous, they do provide ideological cover for those which are not.  An example of the danger is the constant debate in western countries about allowing Sharia law and female genital mutilation as valid applications of the concept of freedom of religious expression. 

Dennett’s analogy of aliens coming to earth and destroying earth culture by seducing young people all over the world with their cultural memes and toys is very apt and insightful for getting non-believers to understand how religious traditionalists feel in today’s rapidly changing global youth culture where everyone can instantly communicate with almost anyone else on earth.  The analogy of the cell membrane with the religions’ ignorance-based maintenance of their meme-based isolation of their members from the competing memes from other religions and from us “Wolves”...( I’m gonna push that term for Atheists :)  ) ... makes a lot of sense. 

This was one of the best Point of Inquiry podcasts I’ve run across so far.  In terms of intellectual depth, it is a match for the best of the Center Stage podcasts, some of which are quite breathtaking.  Thanks to all involved.  I’m obviously going to have to go out and buy the books Dennett has written since the last one of his that I have.  (Not literally out into the physical world, just out to amazon.com. )  :)

Posted on Dec 20, 2011 at 1:49am by ullrich Comment #18

The last thing you want to do is make religious people think that you feel superior to them or look down on them. Many people already look at the likes of Dawkins and Anthony Grayling and think of them as belonging to some kind of snooty elitist club that doesn’t care about ordinary people. So how do you think they’re going to feel when they hear these people calling themselves ’ brights’?! It’s just a terrible word to use, so bad in fact that I’m struggling to think of a worse one.

Posted on Dec 20, 2011 at 6:14am by Dom1978 Comment #19

The last thing you want to do is make religious people think that you feel superior to them or look down on them.

It’s identity politics to draw in those who are attracted to Brightness rather than pursue a catholic embrace. On comparing to the tactic of identifying as"gay”, it does seem that “bright” is riskier. Being “bright” is not so risible as was being “gay”. It claims a border within religious territory.

Still, being a-theist will continue to be alien. The contempt for “brights” is more deeply rooted than in contention over superior intelligence.

Much more is at risk in the battle against theism than intellectual ego. Yes, the identity politics strategy has casualties. Yes, the Dawkins offense has an odor of elitism. But I think that anyone drawn into this conflict should be able to see which side is more anti-egalitarian.

Most importantly, the religious need enemies and will have them. They will have the wrong ones. Will some beyond the fray scoff at the audacity of “brights”? I think they would rue the day that atheists give up their banner.

Posted on Dec 20, 2011 at 11:29am by DEareckson Comment #20

Much more is at risk in the battle against theism than intellectual ego. Yes, the identity politics strategy has casualties. Yes, the Dawkins offense has an odor of elitism. But I think that anyone drawn into this conflict should be able to see which side is more anti-egalitarian.

 

This is an interesting point. What you’re seeing in the UK now is a growth in what I like to call left-wing Christian fundamentalism. These people are anti-evolution, anti-abortion, anti-homosexuality and so on, but at the same time they’re also anti-capitalist and fiercely egalitarian. It is precisely these types of people who will stress the elitism of Dawkins and those like him. They will say that these hardcore scientific materialist types are not at all interested in social justice, and they can say that what working people really need is true Christianity and the real gospel.

In this kind of climate you don’t really want Dawkins referring to himself as a ‘bright’! It just sounds very elitist, regardless of what was actually intended by it.

Posted on Dec 21, 2011 at 2:40am by Dom1978 Comment #21

They will say that these hardcore scientific materialist types are not at all interested in social justice, and they can say that what working people really need is true Christianity and the real gospel. [...] In this kind of climate you don’t really want Dawkins referring to himself as a ‘bright’!

I would look forward to such a confrontation. The Brights should be addressing inequality and capitalism and it’s links to theism. This, of course, would be very dicey for them. Likewise, it will be difficult for left-wing Christians to address the historical interdependence of their faith and capitalism and empire. That hole is an example of what is at risk that is evaded in the battle against theism: Religion and Empire.

Furthermore, the Secular Humanists and Scientific Materialists, as I have observed, project societal decline on religious fantasists. Might such a confrontation end this great tussle of evasion? More Christian Christians and more Humanist Brights would be an improvement.

If I were to speculate further, I might think that Brights would separate from their humanism before Christians. If that is the consequence of their treasury of intellect, I would readily condemn “Brights”.

P.S. - On one hand, the Brights have no dogma in favor of authoritarianism. On the other, I don’t have much confidence in their communion of humanity. So, while I say that Christians are doctrinally more inegalitarian, it’s quite possible they may be more egalitarian in practice.

La lucha continua ...

Posted on Dec 21, 2011 at 8:33am by DEareckson Comment #22

Much more is at risk in the battle against theism than intellectual ego. Yes, the identity politics strategy has casualties. Yes, the Dawkins offense has an odor of elitism. But I think that anyone drawn into this conflict should be able to see which side is more anti-egalitarian.

 

This is an interesting point. What you’re seeing in the UK now is a growth in what I like to call left-wing Christian fundamentalism. These people are anti-evolution, anti-abortion, anti-homosexuality and so on, but at the same time they’re also anti-capitalist and fiercely egalitarian. It is precisely these types of people who will stress the elitism of Dawkins and those like him. They will say that these hardcore scientific materialist types are not at all interested in social justice, and they can say that what working people really need is true Christianity and the real gospel.

In this kind of climate you don’t really want Dawkins referring to himself as a ‘bright’! It just sounds very elitist, regardless of what was actually intended by it.

I think a big part of the battle for the minds of the offspring of religious zealots is to fight the idea that there is something wrong with being elite.  Dawkins et al clearly are elite.  They are smarter, think faster on their feet, and are more articulate than the average joe.  That’s why the average joe doesn’t write, read, or sell many books and the elite do.  Not all ideas are equal.  A big problem with (for example) the anti-vax fiasco is that the press under the leadership of the Faux News propaganda machine has successfully pushed the concept that any idea is as good as any other and any opinion is as valid as any other.  We can all vote on whether to accept the law of gravity or not, but we’re still stuck in the earth’s gravity well.  We can vote on whether to accept the fact of evolution or not, but regardless of how you vote, your DNA (among other things) still attests to your evolutionary connections with so-called lower animals. 

Blind anti-capitalism, is IMHO no better than blind “invisible hand” capitalism.  The trick is to regulate capitalism so that it meets everyone’s needs.  Sometimes the free market works just fine, other times it needs a lot of tweaking and prodding to align incentives with the needs of society at large.

We need experts.  We need intellectual elites who have the intelligence and persistence to study complex issues in great depth.  The problem isn’t triggering peoples’ “identity politics”, the problem is the politics of anti-intellectualism.  When Faux News bandied “elitism” about as a derogatory term, Jon Stewart quite rightly pointed out that he wanted his president to be smarter than he was (and Jon is definitely no dummy himself).

Posted on Dec 21, 2011 at 7:14pm by ullrich Comment #23

The last thing you want to do is make religious people think that you feel superior to them or look down on them. Many people already look at the likes of Dawkins and Anthony Grayling and think of them as belonging to some kind of snooty elitist club that doesn’t care about ordinary people. So how do you think they’re going to feel when they hear these people calling themselves ’ brights’?! It’s just a terrible word to use, so bad in fact that I’m struggling to think of a worse one.

 

How about “clowns” ?  that would, IMHO be worse.  :)  Just trying to help.  ;)

Seriously though.  It isn’t all that bad.  No matter what we call ourselves, the focus needs to be moved to the actual argument.  I still think “Wolves” (as opposed to Sheep) would be a good substitute for “Brights”.  Notice however that the number of hate crimes against homosexuals hasn’t changed a lot since they adopted the word “Gay” to refer to themselves.  No matter what we call ourselves, our big offense will be that of blasphemy.  We just need to keep hammering away on the idea that blasphemy is, in fact a victimless crime and is protected by the right of free speech.

Hmmm.  How about FortyTwo-ers?  In honor of the late great Douglas Adams?  I could get behind that.  It’s pretty value and connotation neutral outside THGTTG lore.

Or we could just stick with the original descriptive term “Atheist” but hammer away on its real meaning, gradually moving the public perception of the term from “Spawn of Satan” to “One who does not have a belief in any God or Gods”.  Slogans like “I just believe in one fewer God than you do.” should eventually accomplish that.  Also things like the CFI blood donation drive should help… as would putting lists of famous and beloved atheists in front of the public whenever possible.

Posted on Dec 21, 2011 at 7:27pm by ullrich Comment #24

I think a big part of the battle for the minds of the offspring of religious zealots is to fight the idea that there is something wrong with being elite.

That wasn’t my impression at all. Not only are the “minds of offspring of religious zealots” programmed to believe in their elite, they are programmed to believe they themselves are elite and some of them to believe they should be commanding you. Perhaps they are more an “elite” collective as opposed to elite individualists. Do you hope Brights are battling to turn the minds of those offspring to accept elite individualists? I’d say then that the Brights have chosen an awful time to do that.

The trick is to regulate capitalism so that it meets everyone’s needs.

Capitalism is a ferocious and mock-blind machine of destruction. It devours itself, let alone “regulators”. Is there such a thing as tamed capitalism? That sounds like desperation.

We need intellectual elites who have the intelligence and persistence to study complex issues in great depth.

Yes and no. We need people with the intelligence and desire and drive to study ..., not elites. Intellectuals opportunistically blame our multiple crises on a lack of intellect, but in fact there are “intellectuals” who’ve fomented the crises, there are many “intellectuals” who lack the daring to respond, and there are those with the wrong diagnoses. Moreover, what makes you think elite individualist intellectuals will put themselves out for the collective, anyway?

The capitalists in America agree with you about the elite. They used that bunkum anti-intellectualism to hoodwink the fundies (and a lot of other fools). It does not seem wise, now, to battle for elite intellectuals. We need perspicacity, sure, but courage too, and honesty. Perhaps you intend intellectuals to have all the necessary qualities. If so, you should include those criteria.

The problem isn’t triggering peoples’ “identity politics”, the problem is the politics of anti-intellectualism.  When Faux News bandied “elitism” about as a derogatory term, Jon Stewart quite rightly pointed out that he wanted his president to be smarter than he was

I can’t believe that an identity politics of intellectuals or an intellectual president is what we need most. Plus, George Bush was an elite criminal; his seeming stupidity may have been enough for John Stewart to make a living off of, but it’s no serious explanation of the state of the world.

Posted on Dec 22, 2011 at 1:46am by DEareckson Comment #25

Dawkins et al clearly are elite.  They are smarter, think faster on their feet, and are more articulate than the average joe.  That’s why the average joe doesn’t write, read, or sell many books and the elite do.  Not all ideas are equal.  [...] We can all vote on whether to accept the law of gravity or not, but we’re still stuck in the earth’s gravity well.  We can vote on whether to accept the fact of evolution or not, but regardless of how you vote, your DNA (among other things) still attests to your evolutionary connections with so-called lower animals.

Thanks for demonstrating this aspect of Dawkins’ appeal. Perhaps it is not so clear which side is more inegalitarian; perhaps that ambiguity is intentional. Are the ignorant to blame for the failures of democracy? I believe this is an opportunistic inversion of our state of affairs. Rather, societal-level management has never had so many tools, nor the excuses it has today (the failure of democracy being one of them).

Perhaps Dom is right that the appearance of elitism is counter-productive. But perhaps the atheist movement is actually elitist and practices evasions more sophisticated than those of theists. The Hitchens himself called “the essence of American politics….the manipulation of populism by elitism.” Is the solution a forthright elitism? No and not likely anyway.

A prime reason I like Dennett the most of the four horsemen is that if he is a polemicist, he is the most careful and and measured of the bunch.

Posted on Dec 22, 2011 at 8:32am by DEareckson Comment #26

Dawkins et al clearly are elite.  They are smarter, think faster on their feet, and are more articulate than the average joe.  That’s why the average joe doesn’t write, read, or sell many books and the elite do.  Not all ideas are equal.  [...] We can all vote on whether to accept the law of gravity or not, but we’re still stuck in the earth’s gravity well.  We can vote on whether to accept the fact of evolution or not, but regardless of how you vote, your DNA (among other things) still attests to your evolutionary connections with so-called lower animals.

Thanks for demonstrating this aspect of Dawkins’ appeal. Perhaps it is not so clear which side is more inegalitarian; perhaps that ambiguity is intentional. Are the ignorant to blame for the failures of democracy? I believe this is an opportunistic inversion of our state of affairs. Rather, societal-level management has never had so many tools, nor the excuses it has today (the failure of democracy being one of them).

Perhaps Dom is right that the appearance of elitism is counter-productive. But perhaps the atheist movement is actually elitist and practices evasions more sophisticated than those of theists.

This is a prime reason I like Dennett the most of the four horsemen: if he is a polemicist, he is the most careful and and measured of the bunch.

I like Dennett for that reason as well.  I think we have a problem in this discussion due to a lack of a common definition of the words “elite” and “intellectual”.  Elite to me means just having superior abilities as compared to the average in whatever aspect of the person we’re talking about.  Evidently, some posters here assume that some of the negative connotations attached to those words are necessarily part of their definitions.  I disagree.  Those connotations are stuck on to those words by the fine folks at Faux News in order to maintain the absurd religion based ideological alliance between the Teabagger idiots and the psychopaths who have managed to steal enough resources from the rest of us (elite intellectuals as well as ordinary joes) to get us to the absurd levels of wealth inequality we now see pretty much everywhere on the planet.

I make a distinction between intellectuals and psychopaths.  I don’t begrudge people like Dawkins or Dennet their relatively greater wealth than that of the average person.  They’ve earned it by writing books and giving lectures which many people want to learn from.  No problem there.  That, in fact, is part of the definition of intellectual.  It is not just about being more intelligent than average, but also about coming up with and sharing generally useful new ideas.

The infamous 1% in the US which controls more wealth than the remaining 99% is no better than the feudal upper class which they have generally replaced at the top of the social heap over the past several centuries and their “organization charts” within the companies they control are no more democratic either.  If humanity is to survive the challenges that the real elite intellectuals have been pointing out to us for the last few decades, we desperately need their intelligence to come up with a way to wrest power from the psychopaths before they destroy civilization.

Fulminating about “tamed capitalism” being an impossibility isn’t helpful.  “Tamed” communism has proven to be just as big a disaster as “Untamed Capitalism”.  The problem in both systems is the ability of psychopathic, highly intelligent people being able to corrupt either system to their own aggrandizement.  Not all capitalists are psychopaths and vice versa.  Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are two members of the 1% who see these problems and are lobbying to do something about it.  Both are undeniably very intelligent so are, by definition elite in terms of intelligence.  They are not (for example) elite swimmers, cyclists, or hockey players.  Neither are they intellectuals since they have not personally expanded the boundaries of human thought significantly.  Gates has been instrumental in producing products which have helped intellectuals do that, but he personally is not an intellectual.  Neither is Buffet an intellectual.  Both of them are, however concerned with what is happening to the world and are working to do something about it.

In terms of the “Bright” vs “Atheist” designation, I lean toward Dennett’s position that it is analogous to “Gay” vs “Homosexual” except that the word “Gay” has the added benefit of having a syllable reduction ratio of 5 to 1 vs the word it replaces while Bright only has a ratio of 3 to 1.  :)

I agree that there is a slight problem with “Bright” having connotations of presumed superiority, but I disagree with the idea that we need to worry about being accused of elitism.  I maintain that in this case it is more important to fight the Faux News implication that there is something inherently wrong with people who are smarter than the average Faux commentator (which if we assume that they believe what they say would put their intelligence level at roughly equivalent to the proverbial bag of hair).  Also, the idea that political leaders should be chosen on the basis of who you would like to have a beer with instead of who you think would do the best job in the position needs to be combated. 

Also, if we are to pry the minds of the offspring of religious nutbags off the “one true path”, we need to convince them of the fallibility of their parents and religious advisors.  In many cases, that involves showing that the 4 horsemen are, in fact, elite in terms of intelligence and that they have a better method of explaining how the world works than the rather useless cop-out of assuming you know the answer to everything is “God did it.”

Posted on Dec 22, 2011 at 10:57am by ullrich Comment #27

Elite to me means just having superior abilities as compared to the average in whatever aspect of the person we’re talking about.

Here’s a “common” definition:
Elite - A group of people considered to be the best in a particular society or category, esp. because of their power, talent, or wealth.
Perhaps this will give further pause:
aristocracy - from Greek, aristokratía, meaning rule of the best.

I don’t begrudge people like Dawkins or Dennet their relatively greater wealth than that of the average person. [...] The infamous 1% in the US which controls more wealth than the remaining 99% is no better than the feudal upper class [...]

The infamous 1% attained their devastatingly precarious position by selling the 99% a POS called free-market capitalism (some of whom continue to treasure their purchase). “Tamed capitalism” is a delusion prior.

[...] to survive the challenges that the real elite intellectuals have been pointing out to us for the last few decades, we desperately need their intelligence to come up with a way to wrest power from the psychopaths [...]

Ah, we must follow “real elite” intellectuals versus psychopaths. Amidst our toxic intellectual pollution, it is not wise to react to the propaganda of an enemy. Faux anti-elitism is a tragic motive for Pro-elitism.

Your “real elite” intellectuals are not defined, I hope, by their elitism.

The problem in both [Communism and Capitalism] is the ability of psychopathic, highly intelligent people being able to corrupt either system to their own aggrandizement.

No. Capitalism works mostly by seduction and it’s pathologies infect the entire population. This parallels Hitchen’s analysis of the elite manipulation of populism; elite moralism faults (and punishes) the conned population. I needn’t defend communism to see how crooked capitalism is; by now, you should be on to that game anyway.

Gates and Buffet? Puhlease!

[...] it is more important to fight the Faux News implication that there is something inherently wrong with people who are smarter than the average Faux commentator

As Fanon explained, it is important to keep your eye on the devil at home while fighting the devil abroad. In addition, per Lakoff, when battling your opponent’s frames, they define the game.

to pry the minds of the offspring of religious nutbags off the “one true path” [...] involves showing that the 4 horsemen are, in fact, elite in terms of intelligence and that they have a better method of explaining how the world works

That’s sad. From one elite to another? Explaining the better method, yes; inculcating a new form of worship, I’m sorry, absolutely not.

Posted on Dec 22, 2011 at 1:27pm by DEareckson Comment #28

That’s sad. From one elite to another? Explaining the better method, yes; inculcating a new form of worship, I’m sorry, absolutely not.

Wow.  A real live old style lefty!  I used to use a lot of your arguments myself when I was in University, several lifetimes ago.  :) 

You’re correct with the argument about framing and one of the framings that need to be fought is that everyone who is smarter than you is a nasty elitist and part of a conspiracy to keep you down.  Being intelligent is a virtue not a fault.

It is true that you can focus on the conflation of the concept of an elite with the concept of a ruling class chosen by alleged “Gods” who created the ruling class in their image…. but there is more to the concept of elite as per my earlier definition.

Most of the progress of humanity has been due to “elite” (as per my earlier definition) intellectuals.  Most of the horrors of the world and backward steps of human progress have been perpetrated by highly intelligent psychopaths who have used the loopholes in the laws of whatever society they infested in order to garner more wealth and power than anyone else.  So far no one has figured out a way to thwart these people.  You can blame the capitalist system if you like, but the core idea of a free market and free competition clearly does work until it is subverted by the mechanisms Marx explained in incredibly tedious detail in his works.  That’s why the New Deal lasted as long as it did and why when Reagan and his devotees managed to push through the agenda of deregulation, things started to go downhill again.

It is unfortunately true that the struggle continues (sounds just as good in English as in Spanish :) )  but I suspect that it will never be won by just railing against capitalism.  I suspect a better approach is to demand fairness and regulation.  In the US, now that the Supreme Court has been captured by the psychopathic CEO cabal, the struggle will only really get going once the Teabagger idiots realize that their material interests are diametrically opposed to the ideology they espouse.

The better method I referred to is the opposite of worship.  It is the scientific method, where you put forward hypotheses willy nilly as they occur to you or as you hear about them and test them against the real world to find out what is really working.  The method involves never taking anyone’s word for anything of importance, but instead following the evidence.    Don’t take my word for the above, check it out.  What is working?  What has worked?  What hasn’t been tried yet?  Questions and what you do with them are more important than answers that someone gives you without explanation.

Posted on Dec 22, 2011 at 4:25pm by ullrich Comment #29

one of the framings that need to be fought is that everyone who is smarter than you is a nasty elitist

Straw man. Faux news allows you to be smarter as long as you’re on His side. That’s how all their crooks get into the tent. Worshiping the smart not on His side is not the remedy to this corruption.

So far no one has figured out a way to thwart [psychopaths].

The neocon dilemma: the source of evil is the source of progress. Another neocon sanctimony: one must do evil to defeat evil. It seems obvious that a way to thwart psychopaths is to not adopt their belief system.

[...] the core idea of a free market and free competition clearly does work until it is subverted by the mechanisms Marx explained

Is that from the Skull and Bones pocket guide to Marx?

Reagan and his devotees managed to push through the agenda of deregulation, things started to go downhill again

That’s the partisan line. However, the pushback began before Reagan, and Carter had to play some of their tune. The capitalist counter-attack really got rolling with Reagan, but Reagan was not the cause, he was a symptom.

I suspect that [la lucha] will never be won by just railing against capitalism.

It certainly won’t be while it’s praises are being sung.

the struggle will only really get going once the Teabagger idiots realize that their material interests are diametrically opposed to the ideology they espouse.

You realize the Teabaggers are heavily populated by upper-middle class white males who short the market and profit from the great American collapse, no? It’s part of the con, my friend.

The capitalist cynics are having idealists for dinner.

Posted on Dec 22, 2011 at 5:49pm by DEareckson Comment #30

one of the framings that need to be fought is that everyone who is smarter than you is a nasty elitist

Straw man. Faux news allows you to be smarter as long as you’re on His side. That’s how all their crooks get into the tent. Worshiping the smart not on His side is not the remedy to this corruption.

 

Nope, you have to at least pretend to be no brighter than the proverbial bag of hair.  Look at O’Reilly.  It is hard to believe anyone who spouts his crap has enough brains to figure out which end of the microphone to address, but he obviously manages that feat.

So far no one has figured out a way to thwart [psychopaths].

The neocon dilemma: the source of evil is the source of progress. Another neocon sanctimony: one must do evil to defeat evil. It seems obvious that a way to thwart psychopaths is to not adopt their belief system.

Not obvious to me that they have a coherent belief system beyond. “Mine!  Mine! Mine!”.

[...] the core idea of a free market and free competition clearly does work until it is subverted by the mechanisms Marx explained

Is that from the Skull and Bones pocket guide to Marx?

Yep.  Marx is far to tedious to read directly :)  Everything I learned about him is from “The Compleat Moron’s Guide to Karl Marx”.  :)

Reagan and his devotees managed to push through the agenda of deregulation, things started to go downhill again

That’s the partisan line. However, the pushback began before Reagan, and Carter had to play some of their tune. The capitalist counter-attack really got rolling with Reagan, but Reagan was not the cause, he was a symptom.

I suspect that [la lucha] will never be won by just railing against capitalism.

It certainly won’t be while it’s praises are being sung.

the struggle will only really get going once the Teabagger idiots realize that their material interests are diametrically opposed to the ideology they espouse.

You realize the Teabaggers are heavily populated by upper-middle class white males who short the market and profit from the great American collapse, no? It’s part of the con, my friend. 
The capitalist cynics are having idealists for dinner.

Of course it is a con, but so far, it is working and most of the ideological support outside the infamous 1% for the current level of corruption lies with the idiots who say things like “I have a chance to become a billionaire so I’m not going to push for more taxes on the rich because I know that if I wish hard enough I can become a billionaire too.”  The teabaggers are certainly being led around by the proverbial nose by the paid representatives of the 1% but the majority of them seem to be like that pathetic Joe the Plumber character… at least that’s who they trot out to make the noises at things like Beck’s famous million moron march.

Anyway, just railing against capitalism as you seem to be doing here is not helpful.  It begs the question of how you propose to change the situation and what kind of system of economic activity do you propose to replace it.  The slightly more obvious kleptocracies which the former communist states have evolved into don’t really provide a very promising example to look to.  Sweden, Iceland and Norway probably have the best balance of capitalism within a welfare state, but they can be dragged into the global morass fairly easily.  Iceland is already teetering.  It is no accident that these countries are the least religion infested places in the world.

Religion is now as it has always been, providing a mass of ignoramuses who can be conned into taking their collective eyes off the ball while the kleptocrats rob us all blind.  As long as you’re looking at this life as just the waiting room for a better life on the astral plane, you don’t have much incentive to really figure out how to improve this one.  It also provides justification for racism.  Most of your “middle class white males” in the Teabaggers movement are willing to go along with anything to get rid of the horror of a not quite white enough president even while they are being fired and driven into the underclass to join the huge fraction of the non-white community which is already there.

Posted on Dec 23, 2011 at 1:43am by ullrich Comment #31

Not obvious to me that they have a coherent belief system beyond. “Mine!  Mine! Mine!”.

That was the American Way. Now it’s the psychopath’s belief system.

All too convenient.

most of the ideological support outside the infamous 1% for the current level of corruption lies with the idiots who say things like “I have a chance to become a billionaire so I’m not going to push for more taxes on the rich because I know that if I wish hard enough I can become a billionaire too.”

No longer. It’s grab for your life, now.

The teabaggers are certainly being led around by the proverbial nose by the paid representatives of the 1% but the majority of them seem to be like that pathetic Joe the Plumber character

Tea Party tools wealthier, more educated, and dumber? - http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/15/us/politics/15poll.html:

But while most Americans blame the Bush administration or Wall Street for the current state of the American economy, the greatest number of Tea Party supporters blame Congress.

...

But in follow-up interviews, Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security — the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on “waste.”

Some defended being on Social Security while fighting big government by saying that since they had paid into the system, they deserved the benefits.

Others could not explain the contradiction.

“That’s a conundrum, isn’t it?” asked Jodine White, 62, of Rocklin, Calif. “I don’t know what to say. Maybe I don’t want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security.” She added, “I didn’t look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I’ve changed my mind.”

Uh huh. Tea Partiers are profiting from the anti-government, pro-market shtick. They’ve many droids, as painted by the NYT above, but there’s a core which is not driven by wealth envy but by a furious entitlement; they’ll pillage with a clear conscience. That’s how you keep a collapsing economy in political check. From “Crisis as Capitalist Opportunity” - http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/581.php:

The commodification of public services isn’t a primitive accumulation in the sense that we know it, of generating new commodities out of areas of life that were previously outside the money economy, like domestic labour or the body, it is actually a commodification of the collective assets of the working-class.

In the early stages of the atheist offensive, mainline Christians were excoriated for their tolerance of their idiot relatives. As I see it, the politico/economic middle is responsible for the lunatics who brought this crisis. If they didn’t cheerlead, they sat immobilized through the obviously unsustainable transition to financial anarchy. TINA was their primary excuse.

It begs the question of how you propose to change the situation and what kind of system of economic activity do you propose to replace it.

Of course. And it begs that question of you too. The delusion prior is not adequate.

Religion is now as it has always been, providing a mass of ignoramuses who can be conned into taking their collective eyes off the ball while the kleptocrats rob us all blind.

Including the religion of capitalism.

Posted on Dec 23, 2011 at 8:28am by DEareckson Comment #32

While Dennett has made a solid contribution to the free will discussion with his work on the intentional stance (and his “reasons” argument presented here), I am disappointed that he would take aim at the science that has only bolstered the arguments of the incompatibilists, with nothing more than the same kind of pragmatic ‘bogeyman’ arguments that religious apologists make against both determinism and atheism (just believing it is bad for you!). Apparently there are free thinkers… and then there’s Dennett. I’d like to think that his charge that people citing the science documenting the biases, neglects, heuristics, etc- all inclinations that circumvent his 25 year old compatibilism argument concerning control would be *acceptable as discussion* and not considered “irresponsible” by a philosopher who surely knows that there are plenty of deterministic incompatibilist philosophers with positions at least as tenable as his.

The Reasonable Doubts podcasters (RD87 The Unintelligent Design of Sex) have done a great job of dismantling the Vohs and Schooler studies, Baumeister studies, etc, and there are other good critiques on those in the free will discussion circles as well, belied (or unknown) by Dennett. The irony that the same biases Chris Mooney has been discussing here over the last year may be the same ones that keep Dennett from actually addressing the new challenges that the science is making: that the whole debate over control should be framed in terms of predispositions and inclinations that circumvent the ability to recognize reason, as well as circumvent arguments for emergent phenomena and quantum stochasticity (e.g. in 2 stage systems like the Cogito model). The ‘kind of free will worth wanting’ is not free in any libertarian sense of the word, nor does that way of framing it seem to be untainted by the fallacy of desired consequence.

Speaking of Chris Mooney, while he gets a lot of flack for his accommodationalist position, at least he carries on the POI tradition of DJ Grothe that actually made the show great: challenging questions with a strong ‘host’ personality (lacking in this episode with Shook and Isaak, neither of whom are good radio personalities). Perhaps Shook’s interview wasn’t in the kind of setting to be challenging, but that’s too bad, because otherwise, the show gets pretty stale. I wish Price and Stollznow would come off as less scripted in their interviews too- I know Dr. Price has it in him to be more improvisational, the Bible Geek is great!

Posted on Dec 23, 2011 at 11:13am by Gatogreensleeves Comment #33

I am disappointed that he would take aim at the science that has only bolstered the arguments of the incompatibilists [...] I’d like to think that his charge that people citing the science documenting the biases, neglects, heuristics, etc- all inclinations that circumvent his 25 year old compatibilism argument concerning control [...]

Circumvent? In the sense that this evidence proves that free will does not control? Um, has that ever been in doubt?

Dennett disclaims metaphysical free-will; do incompatibilists disclaim agency?

Posted on Dec 23, 2011 at 1:37pm by DEareckson Comment #34

It’s funny, I got in my car and realized I hadn’t finished listening to the whole episode yet… I thought he had turned away from his deterministic position, but Shook brought up manipulation and he agreed, so I retract some of my frustration… Although… I still think he goes overboard to characterize an “irresponsible” abuse of the science. I also think awareness of reasons doesn’t really do as much for free will as he claims, considering the inescapable influence from all sides and inside (the conscious mind is only aware of 2% of what the brain does). Also, his characterization of animals as not having reasons has recently been shown to be wrong in dogs (who show jealousy) and primates. Don’t get me wrong, Dennett is an amazing guy and you gotta give him props, but these are things I have a little tif about.

Posted on Dec 23, 2011 at 11:56pm by Gatogreensleeves Comment #35

Recalling other good CFI podcasts including those with Jennifer Michael Hecht and D.M. Murdock, historical studies of religion and the evolution of same are somewhat scientific although more in a humanities vein.  Include therewith our podcast studies in actual brain science with Dr. Ginger Campbell, yet another CFI interview concerning relatively recent discoveries of how the human brain functions as well as the evolution thereof and still more podcasts on cognative studies of cultural and personal biases and we begin to see things more clearly, or do we… 

Regardless, the question need be asked, “How else would a real, all powerful God communicate some basic guidelines and interject some stress for our continuing development and evolution?”  If we presuppose an active “invisible hand” which nevertheless wants us to have at least a continuing illusion of free will, is this “history” and are these “discoveries” including a healthy level of skepticism/doubt not equally valid as agents of same?  Subjective “truth defining” material all?  Oh, I think so - any way you look at it.  As long as we continue to evolve such matters little in the macroscopic “God’s eye” view.

Posted on Dec 26, 2011 at 11:51pm by gray1 Comment #36

Who are the irresponsible neuroscientists who are making us into nihilists?
Damn the evidence, there is free will?  If not we will all become pessimists because?
You can’t be good without god is analogous to you can’t be good without freewill.
Darwin knew that our emotions evolved from our mammalian ancestors.  That is where our so called free will comes from.
Even lab rats have now been shown to exhibit levels of empathy (goodness) once thought to be reserved for the only beasts with free will.  I am very skeptical of the views of many white male philosophers and psychologists.  They are very good at explaining why they are the fittest in society.  I wonder when scientists will have enough free will to welcome and promote women and non whites into the upper levels of science and technology in representative numbers?

http://www.sciencefriday.com/program/archives/201112091
http://video.sciencemag.org/VideoLab/1310979895001/1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fdyc3rUOaLk

Posted on Jan 04, 2012 at 6:19pm by Curt Comment #37

moved to “seperation of church and state thread.

Posted on Jan 05, 2012 at 3:37pm by Write4U Comment #38

Isn’t the point that there is no fact that sets the context for how you think about what scientists discover about the brain. If we assume we have freedom, all the discoveries of cognitive bias, brains and everything else just go into helping us better use our freedom. If we assume we are not free, then everything we find is evidence of how we do not have free will.

The “proof of free will” does not exist except as a grammatical note - that words like “do” “use” “try” “think” and all the rest cannot be coherently used by the person who thinks we cannot be free, and that means they literally should not speak.

It simply makes no sense to say - “if the facts mean we should embrace fatalism, then so be it.” Fatalism changes how you act. Whatever you call that relationship, between ideas and actions, that is what we should be talking about when we talk about freedom.

http://bit.ly/thoughtknot

Posted on Feb 02, 2012 at 2:07pm by ThoughtKnot Comment #39

Very well put, ThoughtKnot.

This is what the German philosopher Karl-Otto Apel calls a performative self-contradiction. What somebody says can be said, but it does not fit the act of saying it. The act and the fact are not consistent.

Posted on Feb 03, 2012 at 12:37am by GdB Comment #40