Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Secular Fundamentalism

An interview with Salon.com

A lot of people would find it counterintuitive that you would go from your last book, "American Fascists," which was a scathing critique of Christian fundamentalism in the U.S., to writing against atheism. Do you see these as connected projects?

I do. I didn't start out that way, because these guys were not on my radar screen. I think a lot of their popularity stems from a legitimate anger on the part of a lot of Americans toward the intolerance and chauvinism of the radical religious right in this country. Unfortunately, what they've done is offer a Utopian belief system that is as self-delusional as that offered by Christian fundamentalists. They adopt many of the foundational belief systems of fundamentalists. For example, they believe that the human species is marching forward, that there is an advancement toward some kind of collective moral progress -- that we are moving towards, if not a Utopian, certainly a better, more perfected human society. That's fundamental to the Christian right, and it's also fundamental to the New Atheists.

You know, there is nothing in human nature or in human history that points to the idea that we are moving anywhere. Technology and science, though they are cumulative and have improved, in many ways, the lives of people within the industrialized nations, have also unleashed the most horrific forms of violence and death, and let's not forget, environmental degradation, in human history. So, there's nothing intrinsically moral about science. Science is morally neutral. It serves the good and the bad. I mean, industrial killing is a product of technological advance, just as is penicillin and modern medicine. So I think that I find the faith that these people place in science and reason as a route toward human salvation to be as delusional as the faith the Christian right places in miracles and angels.


At 8:30 AM, April 16, 2008 , Blogger skip sievert said...

This is a false dilemma set up by a person that is trying to capitalize on peoples ignorance and sell them another 'book' on how it is that they should 'think'.

quote.. So, there's nothing intrinsically moral about science. Science is morally neutral. end quote the author.

Science does not equate or relate to morality. Morality is a human thought construct that revolves around belief. There is no moral imperative for a human. Not being violent does make sense ... because if you are you will probably be rewarded by vengeance or what is referred to in 'civil' society as 'justice'.

Author..... ``So I think that I find the faith that these people place in science and reason as a route toward human salvation to be as delusional as the faith the Christian right places in miracles and angels.''

Anyone that states things in such starkly anti-intellectual terms probably deserves the audience that a book like this deserves.
No doubt the audience is composed of junk belief system believers that want to point the finger at others for reasons unknown except perhaps spite of some sort.

Human salvation is nothing a real scientist or intelligent person would hold up except in a false dilemma context in my opinion.

As we spiral into chaos as the result of the operation of the present society.. Survival not Salvation is the key.
Since religion seems bent on destroying others belief systems... science based society without slave contracts of morality or belief would seem a better system.

At 9:05 AM, April 18, 2008 , Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

Jesus - I couldn't agree more - that's twice in a row.

"These people" are a group invented only to allow this false dilemma. There is no community of atheists, since not believing in some specific thing implies no common belief.

Portraying science as an alternate and at least equal "belief system" is the same tool the "Intelligent design" idiots to make themselves seem like victims while they victimize the entire concept of honesty.

At 12:44 PM, April 21, 2008 , Blogger Intellectual Insurgent said...

What's the false dilemma?

Science is not as infallible as some would suggest. Simply read up on the history of medicine to see how it is all one big experiment on humans. There is nothing 100% about it. Yet, people put their faith in doctors the way people put their faith in priests.

At 2:26 PM, April 21, 2008 , Blogger skip sievert said...

Talking to Ourselves
Susan Jacoby, in LA Times says that Americans are increasingly close-minded and unwilling to listen to opposing views.

As dumbness has been defined downward in American public life during the last two decades, one of the most important and frequently overlooked culprits is the public's increasing reluctance to give a fair hearing -- or any hearing at all -- to opposing points of view.


Whether watching television news, consulting political blogs or (more rarely) reading books, Americans today have become a people in search of validation for opinions that they already hold. This absence of curiosity about other points of view is the essence of anti-intellectualism and represents a major departure from the nation's best cultural traditions.

In the last quarter of the 19th century, Americans jammed lecture halls to hear Robert Green Ingersoll, known as "the Great Agnostic," attack organized religion and question the existence of God. They did so not because they necessarily agreed with him but because they wanted to make up their own minds about what he had to say and see for themselves whether the devil really had horns.

At 2:50 PM, April 21, 2008 , Blogger skip sievert said...

How is it one can equate science as a belief system when...
a belief system is supported by nothing more than an opinion.

Science is nothing more than the prediction of the next most probable.
Any belief system is supported by nothing except imagination, while the next most probable is supported by observation of some phenomenon that can be recreated under the same conditions by anyone, at any time and the result will be the same.
This is science. This is how fact is established.
One can imagine anything, however it can only become Science when it can be measured i.e. detected either directly or remotely. Failing this it simply does not exist.

At 8:22 AM, April 22, 2008 , Blogger Intellectual Insurgent said...


Under your definition of science, very little can be or is science. Everything else is guesswork.

For example, a vaccine doesn't always work, it can cause severe negative reactions and no one really understands why or can predict when it will happen. Thus, "it" can't be recreated.

At 12:36 PM, April 22, 2008 , Blogger skip sievert said...

Forget about debating in a rhetorical polemic of picking a side.

That is an absurd point you are making.

Please use a little reason and logic.

At 1:32 PM, April 25, 2008 , Blogger Rick said...

Skip - I couldn't agree more...

Capt Fogg nailed it
"There is no community of atheists, since not believing in some specific thing implies no common belief. "

The word "atheist" shouldn't even exist.. We don't create words for 'non-alchemists' or 'non-astrologers' ... If you believe something to be true -- and further organize your life around that truth -- you are obliged to have reasons (i.e. rational) for holding the beliefs. In every other area of discourse we hold people to this standard... However, when we discuss religion we give people a pass on the most ridiculous concepts (like, "religion is the basis of morality" -- yea? Someone needs to show me). In science, we simply formalize the process and say not only do you have to have reasons for believing something, you have to prove to me they are very very good reasons.

I've read some of Hedges stuff... While he's done some great investigate work in the ME, you can watch him get skewered in a debate with Harris here


Those who don’t have good reasons for believing something are usually labeled insane or at least not taken seriously (depending on what they believe: e.g. – Elvis is still alive, Jesus is coming back to earth, Joseph Smith spoke to the angel Micah about 100 years ago).

These rhetorical word games are such a complete waste of time (i.e. – “faith in science”)… There is nothing taken on “faith” when you ask people to have good reasons for believing something. That is the essence of science – and of reasonableness.

At 10:54 AM, April 29, 2008 , Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

Exactly - if you replaced "faith in science" with Faith in arithmetic, it would be more obvious that this is an attempt falsely to equate reason and objectivity with baseless conjecture.

Faith in science does not make Science - or arithmetic - a matter of faith. It's a false equation as well as a false dilemma.

Take the algorithm we use to derive Pi - it closes endlessly in on the number but never reaches it. That doesn't make it unreliable opinion or an alternate form of faith.

Faith can only start and end at the same place unless observation and confirmation take place and then it ceases to be religion and becomes reason. Religion must and always does assume a conclusion and use it as an untested, untestable first principle.

Really that people are still arguing this is proof positive that our schools simply don't teach anything. It's all been argued and settled long ago, but as each increasingly ignorant American generation emerges, the religious try it over again.

Fallacy of fallacies, sayeth the prophet. . .

At 11:09 AM, April 29, 2008 , Blogger skip sievert said...

Good post Fogg.

The old joke.

If you believe the premise.. the rest is easy.


The trick is believing the premise.. and there are no shortage of ways to trick people into that type of thing.

At 6:56 PM, May 01, 2008 , Blogger Intellectual Insurgent said...


I've finally found the topic that unites ROR, the Captain and Skip. Hilarious! :-)

At 8:35 PM, May 01, 2008 , Blogger skip sievert said...

It could mean something important in the history of the world.

It is a scintillating exercise that will no doubt go down in the history of the world.

Oh Jesus an so forth. god damn.

At 3:38 PM, May 05, 2008 , Blogger Craig DeLuz said...


I picked up this book on accident, but found it to be very intriguing. Chris Hedges makes some very valid points, although it was sometimes hard to get past his obvious distain for Christians.

As you probably remember, I have focused a lot of my writing on the issue of Faith. And while I agree with some of your commenters that there is not a community of "Atheists”, there is a growing societal movement toward "Secular Humanism" that has been present in our educational institutions since the late 19th century. It is ably represented and defended by a core of prominent scientists and philosophers at the forefront of new scientific and philosophical thought.

Secular humanism has its own meetings, its own "clergy" of spokesmen, its own "creed" called The Humanist Manifesto, and its own goals toward which it desires all of humanity to work.

At 6:42 PM, May 05, 2008 , Blogger RR said...

You did it II... LOL

Skip, Fogg and I all on the same side of the argument!

At 6:03 AM, May 06, 2008 , Blogger skip sievert said...

Next ? Perhaps the three of us should draw up a plan of action to create peace in the Middle East.

All parties have to agree in advance over there though to follow our directions.

Indeed.. someone could archive this thread in a Pdf. and label it... the debate essay concerning:
''Faith can only start and end at the same place unless observation and confirmation take place and then it ceases to be religion and becomes reason. Religion must and always does assume a conclusion and use it as an untested, untestable first principle.'' quote Fogg.

With a secondary caption... ''If you believe the premise... the rest is easy'' quote me.

And a tertiary heading...''These rhetorical word games are such a complete waste of time (i.e. – “faith in science”)… There is nothing taken on “faith” when you ask people to have good reasons for believing something. That is the essence of science – and of reasonableness.'' quote Rick.

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