Kenneth Howell Responds to Our Comments.

Previously I wrote about Dr. Kenneth Howell's Challenge to Atheists. Here is his response, below. I'll just post it without comment for now. See what you think. He's engaging us in a respectful manner and I think we should return the civility even if we disagree.

Response to Comments:

Thank you to all who offered sincere and intelligent responses to my electron query. I have learned from them. I am new to blogging in general, having had a myriad of other important things to do, but I am committed to honest and truthful dialogue between unbelievers and believers. Before responding to substantive issues, let me just say a word about the tone of some of these entries. After John Loftus debated Dinesh D’Souza, he was vilified by AAF bloggers in such a way that I was left wondering about the goodwill of atheists toward one another. Having read some of the responses to my query with judgmental assumptions about my knowledge level, intelligence, and goodwill, I can say without fear of contradiction that atheists are NEVER going to convince open-minded believers if they do not work hard at maintaining a level of civility that every human being deserves. I can sincerely say thanks to those who used data, good theory, and philosophical nuance to educate me.

First, some clarifications: 1) I was not attempting to argue for God, or the god hypothesis, or any such thing. In fact, I did not offer an argument at all. What I did was to pose a series of questions. Thanks to all who took it that way. My purpose is to understand how atheists think. I have always believed that I ought to listen to people’s thinking before I make judgments about their beliefs. I realize that it will take some time to figure out the AAF worldview(s). I can be patient. 2) Let me name specifically the entries I found illuminating: Ken Pulliam, Stephen, Robert Oerter, and especially Paul Wright. Remember my goal here is to understand the kind of reasoning AAF people use in their positive arguments and negative criticisms.

Now on to more substantial things. Reading some of the entries temporarily confirmed my suspicions that AAF people tend to look at explanations with the assumption that they should be all on one level and as inherently competing with one another. I am open to changing my assessment of this with further explanation but let me put it this way. When an AAF person pits an empirical hypothesis or theory, especially well established ones, against the god hypothesis, this suggests to me that he/she thinks all theories should be confirmed or disconfirmed in the same manner and/or with the same type of evidence. Recall the reference to William Lane Craig saying that nothing should count against belief in God. I would agree with Craig because I think he is just being honest about his deepest beliefs. Both believer and unbeliever can and should be open to changing beliefs about entities in science because that is the very nature of science: hypothesis, confirming/disconfirming, and theoretical revision. But no scientist can say, “I have concluded that belief in the existence of laws of nature is wrong” because to do so would be to undermine the entire enterprise of science. To assume that the laws of nature are really in nature is a foundational belief of science. (note: I understand instrumentalism in its limited and extreme forms but no need to go into that right now). No scientist should give up that foundational belief even though it cannot be proved. BTW, it is exasperating when people of all stripes say that because science “works” (i.e. makes the right predictions), it is proof that its theories are right or true or some such claim. Because science “works” does not mean that it is true. Anyway, the point is that belief in a Christian-type God is NOT on the same plane as belief in the correctness of empirical theories. It is more akin to the foundational belief in the laws of nature. It does not have to be judged by the same standards of rationality. This is why it is wrong-headed for those who want to disabuse believers of their faith to claim science “disproves” God or religion etc. It is neither effective rhetoric nor logically coherent because empirical theories and belief in God (somewhat like the belief in laws of nature) are beliefs on different levels.

This last point should not surprise us. Different realms of human knowledge have different standards. Proving the Pythagorean theorem, or for that matter any theorem in mathematics, employs no empirical evidence. Most of you are well enough educated in mathematics and science to recognize this immediately. So mathematical proofs use different standards from evolutionary theories. Why should metaphysics submit to the same standards of empirical adjudication as, say, mechanics? When a person tries to challenge a believer by pitting an empirical theory against “the god hypothesis,” I can assure that it falls on deaf ears. And not because of any deficiency in the believer, at least, not believers like me, or William Craig, or Alvin Plantinga. Such a strategy of argumentation will only be effective to a person who already accepts the assumption of reductive explanations (the god of the gaps).

Furthermore, it is fairly clear to me that any rational person must admit to multiple levels of explanation, even within the confines of empirical science. This is especially true of a person who is reasonably skeptical, i.e. who waits for evidence. Consider the laws governing the replication of DNA. These lawlike patterns are not reducible to lower level laws of mechanics in physics, at least not so far. Of course, the history of science is replete with instances of unification of laws, as in the 19th century unification of magnetism and electricity, or in Newton’s law of universal gravitation uniting planetary motion with free fall on the earth. But notice that these instances are all within roughly the same realm. There is nothing to suggest that DNA replication will ever yield to mechanics. If someone claims that in time such reductions are likely or possible to be achieved, another might respond with, “then let’s wait and see but don’t commit without evidence.”

This is all relevant because we must clarify where believers and unbelievers truly differ. So, my questions to AAF people are these:

1) Are reductive explanations a necessary feature of your view of explanations? Or do AAF people differ among themselves on this issue?
2) If Yes to the first question, why is it necessary to believe in reductionism, given that human beings use different standards of adjudication in different realms of knowledge?
3) Are we justified in believing in reductive explanations on more than practical grounds of “it works.”?
4) If a person is committed to reductive explanations i.e. to reducing it all down to one or a few levels, is this belief rationally demonstrable or is it, as I tend to think, a gratuitous assumption of a pre-rational nature?

24 comments:

Jonathan said...

) Are reductive explanations a necessary feature of your view of explanations? Or do AAF people differ among themselves on this issue?
2) If Yes to the first question, why is it necessary to believe in reductionism, given that human beings use different standards of adjudication in different realms of knowledge?
3) Are we justified in believing in reductive explanations on more than practical grounds of “it works.”?
4) If a person is committed to reductive explanations i.e. to reducing it all down to one or a few levels, is this belief rationally demonstrable or is it, as I tend to think, a gratuitous assumption of a pre-rational nature?


Jonathan> Huh?

I didn't know the bible consisted of knowledge only of a culture particular viewpoint mired in historical, geographical and ethnic view point of the world and its origins.

Ken Pulliam, Ph.D. said...

Dr. Howell said: Having read some of the responses to my query with judgmental assumptions about my knowledge level, intelligence, and goodwill, I can say without fear of contradiction that atheists are NEVER going to convince open-minded believers if they do not work hard at maintaining a level of civility that every human being deserves.

I agree wholeheartedly. I am also bothered by the ad hominem attacks. It has no place in civil discourse. Atheists are not the only ones who are guilty, however; Christians are also. In listening to some of Dinesh's other debates, he often comes across as condescending.

Chuck O'Connor said...

As a recently self-defined atheist (as of yesterday) I find the good Doctor's sensitivity disgusting and premise self-centered. I am not in the business of changing any person's mind to atheism I adopted that perspective as an Evangelical and it is one of the reasons I left Christianity. I love how Christians appeal to liberal Democratic scholarship when they desire to further their God hypothesis, never acknowledging that their God hypothesis shuts down honest scholarship inquiry. Dr. Howell has the First Amendment and he can believe in private all that he wants but, as evidenced by the Texas School Board, that type of enlightened scholarship does not go far enough for Christians. Christians do want to convince all to agree with them. I as an Atheist do not. License for plurality of belief contradicts the superiority claims Christians make. The offensive thing about Howell's passive-aggressive victim stance and condescending tone is his unwillingness to acknowledge the driving goal of his belief system and propose those opposing him have the same goal. A bad argument is a bad argument. He made a bad one and if he needs a pat on the head when he makes it then he just indicates the infantalizing effect religious belief engenders.

Richard H said...

I can say without fear of contradiction that atheists are NEVER going to convince open-minded believers if they do not work hard at maintaining a level of civility that every human being deserves.

This is rather offensive

"Sure, you may have convinced some believers, but none of them were open minded believers, or they would have been put off entirely by tone."

And, I'm always curious why theists are so kind to us. I mean, I'm certainly not willing to put much effort into helping them improve their conversion techniques.

Yet, so often, they'll offer us 'helpful' suggestions.

But no scientist can say, “I have concluded that belief in the existence of laws of nature is wrong” because to do so would be to undermine the entire enterprise of science

It is not necessary to believe this. We accept it as a working hypothesis.

But, I find this objection rather hard to take seriously. If someone really rejected the idea that the universe behaves in consistent ways, how could they type?

Sure, the buttons might have corresponded to letters on the screen yesterday, but there's no logical reason to think that they'll need to behave the same way today.

----
As to tone in the movement, it is this way, because this is how we like it.

If someone is right, we say they're right. If someone is wrong, we say they're wrong.

If they'd previously been right, but present an incorrect position, then we say they're wrong and disappointing. (I'm thinking of Maher, more than Loftus here)

What Christians would see as 'goodwill', I'd see as an inability to critique people who use the right sorts of words.

John W. Loftus said...

I don't think many of you realize how offensive Blogging on the internet is to intellectuals like Dr. Howell when they first attempt it. They're used to respectful conversations. It can sometimes be a shock to them.

In any case he's offering a sincere chance for us to dialog with a scholar. Deal with his arguments and questions if you would please. He's a guest in my house, a friend.

John W. Loftus said...

Let me also say this. Where else on the internet can you find an atheist blog where you can engage Christian scholars? If you do a search here you'll find posts and comments from Christian scholars like Drs. Craig Boomberg, Douglas Groothuis, John F. Haught, James Sennett, Mark Linville, William Lane Craig, Glenn Peoples, James McGrath, Matt Flannagan, Shandon Guthrie, David Wood, to name the ones that first come to my mind. I think this affords a unique opportunity. Engage them. Don't abuse them. Thanks.

ZDENNY said...

Kenneth Howell doesn't seem to understand that a person has to know the love of God in order to engage in respectful debate.

Just consider how John started out his debate. He tried to start by calling his opponent stupid using the Dumb and Dumber movie to make his point. He lowered the bar so much for Dinesh that all he had to do was say the word Metaphysics and he won.

I would recommend that Ken should pick up a Bible. He will read that God is love. Without God, you are left in the throes of atheism.

Atheism is not driven by discourse, civility or love; rather, it is driven by pain and anger. Science becomes an excuse and a justification for their pain.

I have been talking with atheist for over a year and the response is always the same. The real need for atheist is to recognize that love is real and that it can save their soul. They need the love of God in order to know God and engage in respectful debate.

Chuck O'Connor said...

John,

It is not abuse to point out dishonesty when it is argued.

Howell wishes for us to provide him the intellectual liberty his ideology denies all other ideas.

It is silly, and your defense reads more like promotion of your blog than a commitment to honest dialogue.

As a marketer, I'd suggest you develop a brand strategy that is less obviously self-promoting if you wish to stand for ideological plurality or, is your ideological plurality content with the premise, "My house, my rules."

Read today's NYT magazine article on the educational gerrymandering Christians are practicing in Texas and how that affects education at large and then tell me why I should respect a polemicist like Howell.

Tyro said...

Re tone & attitude & guest in the house - I didn't detect any hint that Howell was ever a guest, nor that any of the comments were directed at him specifically. Rather it was a large quote lifted from a third party and presented for our discussion. Howell never did respond in the comments, he didn't address any specific questions and still shows no sign that he will read & respond. It is presented like we're sitting in a pub discussing amongst ourselves what some guy far, far away said and not carrying on a discussion with Howell himself. I'm confused & a little disturbed that Howell and now John should admonish us for not talking like we're in public.

But okay.

Some remarks.

- what happened to the electron? He twice demanded that we respond and seemed upset when John dodged and now that people have responded he totally ignored it. Bah, very bad taste in my mouth about that, feels dishonest.

- comparing mathematical proofs to theology. Talk about your inappropriate comparisons. While Mathematics does map to reality, it exists as abstract operation with precise, absolute definitions. God doesn't have any precise definitions but even if it did, if it was like math it would only be relevant to the concept of God, not an actual, existing one. He uses math like a smoke screen to confuse & dazzle. Again, this appears deeply ignorant or dishonest and again leaves a bad taste. It does not appear like he is dealing fairly with us.

- DNA not understood from physics: oh come on, wasn't the electron embarassing enough, now he has to make more blunders? While chemistry is in theory reducible to physics the mathematics are very complex so chemical properties of the elements are known from observation and not physics. Fair enough. But the working of DNA and other large-scale organic molecules are increasingly well understood and they are entirely consistent with our understanding of chemistry. But lets say we were still living in the 1950s had only just learned of the structure of DNA, all Howell is illustrating is an argument from ignorance. We all know how fallacious this is but it gets worse. In thousands of years of theology, our knowledge of God has actually shrunk as actions formerly attributed to God are studied and shown to be natural, and a world created for man by a benevolent God becomes a brief slice of time after a billion years of blood and suffering beyond comprehension, residing on an insignificant speck in a cold, empty universe. And in two hundred years of science we've put men on the moon and computers into our homes, our credit cards, our magazines and our hearts (literally).

- predictions: another hoot. Did you think we wouldn't notice that whopper? What predictions have ever been made of God? Don't accuse us of special pleading when you're living it.

Steven Carr said...

Let us take an example of where we have some common ground.

All of us agree that all the observable data shows that there has no change to the bread and wine during Transubstantation.

What is the best explanation for no change in any observable data?

Naturalists say the best explanation for no change in any observable data is that nothing has changed.

Catholics say that their church has declared that an unobservable change has taken place.

What does Mr.Howell think people should believe?

The evidence of their eyes or the dogmas of his church?

Chuck O'Connor said...

Z,

How do you define love?

Like Calvin did to Servetus?

Or the Pilgrim elders to the young Salem "witches"?

Or how about the Parish Priests to their altar-boy-toys?

Your solipsism is tiring and unoriginal. You act as if any one of us who has chosen Atheism has done so without examining the bible.

I spent the last 7 years in a Calvinist tradition that practiced expository preaching and held to biblical inerrancy. Now, are you going to tell me I know less bible than you? Seriously? You adopt a pretty shallow and common theology that is indicative of the Religious Right movement started by Falwell and Robertson and recently contradicted by their favored son Ralph Reed. You are not intelligent, original or insightful. You are deluded however.

Steven Carr said...

HOWELLS
Why should metaphysics submit to the same standards of empirical adjudication as, say, mechanics?

CARR
Translation.

If my church declares that something is true, why should the church have to produce evidence for it?

Glock21 said...

This just ends up being one elaborately decorated cop out, excusing the other side of the debate from any substantial burden of proof.

Yes mathematical proofs, since they are conceptual to begin with, can be demanded to be flawlessly in tune with the concepts that form them. These concepts can be handy to the real world, but they aren't in and of themselves proving the existence of anything.

If we're trying to discover how the universe actually works, discovering electrical charges on the oil drops all have a common denominator helps. Discovering a trend in the fossil record of ever more complex critters helps. Finding example after example that postulates on what happens in closed systems hold true helps.

If you want to claim there is a personal god with a metaphysical internet connection to our heads, prayer has some use, there was some divine hand involved in various parts of creation... it would help if there was some evidence brought to the table.

Heck, it'd be nice if you could show why such explanations are even considered in the first place other than some desire to fill in a gap with an explanation that can't be explained, which ain't much of an explanation at all.

To answer your questions, yes when discussing the scientific impact of divine things, you can't just cop out of the burden of proof because a holy book says it's just so. I have no problem with metaphysical hooey staying in churches, but if y'all want to drag it into the science classroom, you have to play by the rules like everybody else. There are plenty of other metaphysical concepts (ghosts, homeopathy, etc) that don't get a pass, religions aren't any different.

If it's rude to point any of this out, I think you may be defining rude to include opinions you don't like. I can't help you with that. I've had more uncivil debates about PCs vs Macs.

Steven said...

Dr Howell,

In answer to your questions, I'm going to lump the first two together. I don't think reductive explanations are always necessary, but they do tend to be much more rigorous. Let's take chaos theory as an example of a set of non-reductive explanations. It is a study of emergent properties of complex systems. Chaos theory has much of the utility of more reductive theories, however, it is very probabilistic in nature, and there are far more uncertainties embedded within it (by its very nature) than there are in reductive theories.

3) I think I've more or less answered your third question, reductive explanations tend to be more rigorous and provide deeper insights. It isn't because they simply work, but because they work better (but this is somewhat context dependent).

4) I think your fourth question kind of misses the point. Even if we have a non-reductive explanation for some phenomena, why should we stop there? Is it not reasonable to wonder what deeper insights we might gain by pushing through the veil of a higher level explanation? It isn't so much a question of being committed to reductive explanations as it is wondering about what else we might learn by turning over yet another rock along the stream bed.

One further comment: As Tyro points out (correctly, I think), in trying to draw a parallel between mathematics and theology you're making God a more conceptual entity rather than something real, with the capability to interact with the world. In this light, I wonder what your response is to Richard Dawkins' recent criticism of Karen Armstrong?

Paul Wright said...

I think Dr Howell may be right to imply that many atheists are naive about the philosophy of science, but I'm not convinced that if they were less naive, they'd be more likely to believe in God.

For instance, there certainly is debate among philosophers of science about the ontological status of laws of nature, and some people certainly would say they don't exist or that some claims about their nature are unwarranted (I'm thinking particularly of the view that laws necessitate some behaviour, when in fact all we see from observation is that they describe it). Perhaps, though, scientists don't behave as if they think laws aren't real, and that's what you mean when you say that disbelief in laws would undermine science. I think scientists behave as if their methods work and continue to do so because they do (in the weak sense of making useful predictions), but as you say, they may not be discovering truth, only better models, because of underdetermination. Still, better models are some encouragement to keep going. I can certainly imagine scenarios where scientists conclude that the laws of nature are nothing like what we'd naively imagine they are (John Wheeler's "highly speculative" participatory anthropic principle, say) but they kept doing science, or where the universe was completely magical and science's methods didn't work (in the weak sense), and they stopped doing it.

I'm not sure what reductionism in science has to do with atheism and religion. Clearly there are levels where theories live, which contain concepts which wouldn't make sense at lower levels. Kasser uses the example of "being a thermometer", which would feature in a macroscopic theory of thermodynamics. It isn't useful if you try to define a thermometer in microscopic terms by listing arrangements of atoms: you end up with huge unwieldy disjunctions (logical OR statements): something is a thermometer if it has arrangement A or arrangement B or ... and so on. This is where we get into concepts of supervenience and bridging laws (which identify macroscopic temperature as microscopic mean molecular kinetic energy, say). In any case, the point where explanation stop may differ between physics and biology (though I don't see much reason not to assume supervenience physicalism as a working hypothesis), but they are both sciences which respect scientific virtues like falsifiability.

The question of whether there are different standards of evidence or rationality for different fields is an interesting one, though not one I'd link to whether one field reduces to another (after all, even if one field does in fact reduce to another, it might be laborious, and we might look for short cuts which might mean we worked in different ways in different fields). As I'm a big fan of Less Wrong, here's a good article on Scientific Evidence, Legal Evidence, Rational Evidence, which argues that some differing standards do exist, as a matter of pragmatism. However, Yudkowsky has convinced me that there are some general virtues of rationality, and one of them is the principle that you can't draw a map by sitting in your room and deciding what you think the city looks like. Christians, like Craig, who cannot ever update their map so it does not contain a god seem to fail at this virtue.

Paul Wright said...

Some side issues which otherwise made the comment too long:

I'm not sure what an AAF is, so I'm not sure whether I'm one. I'm certainly an atheist, if that's what one of the A's stands for. Other than that, I'm just someone who reads this blog, so I don't know who typical I am of atheists. Relevant details: I used to be a conservative evangelical Christian (here's my de-conversion testimony). I have a master's degree in physics.

I've no opinion on how our host did against D'Souza, because I've not listened to the debate. In general, I do think that atheists should point out bad arguments or bad presentation from other atheists: to shy away from that is to fall into the irrational habit of regarding arguments as soldiers. (By the way, I find Common Sense Atheism, Luke Muehlhauser's blog, to be great for that sort of thing: he's criticised both Dawkins and Hitchens, with well reasoned arguments).

And the questions:

1. Not necessary or even always appropriate (see thermometer above), though I take supervenience physicalism as a working assumption.
2. It isn't.
3. Ignoring the reductionism part: the "no-miracles" argument (which isn't an argument against religious miracles) is suggestive: how does this stuff work if it's not modelling something real? On the other hand, there's underdetermination. I think our best theories warrant being treated as real but with some caution in the back of our minds.
4. I think the places where we have found science joining up are highly suggestive, so it does seem defensible to work at finding other places. In general, though, I wouldn't equate "science" with the proposition that "everything reduces to physics".

Richard H said...

BTW, it is exasperating when people of all stripes say that because science “works” (i.e. makes the right predictions), it is proof that its theories are right or true or some such claim. Because science “works” does not mean that it is true.

This seems like the core of the disagreement. We're using different definitions of "true".

I find the external world interesting. I have things I want to accomplish. So in the context of the science, "X is true" is really, "X describes observable reality in a consistent and useful way, such that I'm willing to accept it with a very high degree of certainty."

Howell seems to be using a philosophical definition of True. As a scientist, my answer to, "Is it True that electrons exist?" is "I can never know. Knowing wouldn't alter any of my decisions. So I don't care."

From here, the argument appears to be, "Ah, but the atheist preference for empiricism and engagement with the world is just a preference. One aesthetic judgement is no better than another."

Recognising this, it follows: "A philosophy founded in a Christian frame is exactly as valid as a philosophy founded on an atheist frame."

The problem with this argument is that it's strictly true, but deceptively phrased.

From this framework, Christianity is as valid as atheism. But, Christianity is also exactly as valid as Thor-worship. I'm happy to accept that the Christian God is exactly as real as Thor.

But, I wonder if this argument is being made sincerely. Are Christian preachers truly willing to stand up on their pulpits and say, "Our world-view ultimately depends on preference. We are as justified as atheists. We are also exactly as justified as Wiccans, Satanists, Thor-worshipers."?

feralboy12 said...

"It does not have to be judged by the same standards of rationality."

So I just need to be less rational and I will see the truth of God?

Okay, good. And if I squint a little, will I see the face of Jesus in my oatmeal?

Kenneth said...

One clarification of communication. I was not making a comparison between mathematics and theology. I made a comparison between mathematics and empirical science. I then claimed what I take to be unproblematic, namely, that the standards of mathematics (consistency with premisses, non-contradictory reasoning in proofs moving to the conclusion i.e. theorem) invoke no empirical observations. Other sciences do. The two distinct pursuits of metaphysics and theology have yet other standards. I can't understand why people keep bringing God into this exchange. I have said precious little about God. But just to clarify, with respect to knowledge claims, God is a conceptual entity. That doesn't make him less real. Remember electrons? With respect to our knowledge of them, they are conceptual entities (not observables) but that doesn't make them any less real.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Kenneth,

The reason we bring God into this is because you work for an organization that endorses and defends Christianity.

Do you think we are idiots?

Or, are you not a Christian whose goal is to convert others to your faith.

Many of us here have been burned and hurt by the passive-aggressive intellectual dishonesty which is organized religion and, from this atheist's perspective, you seem to embody the same dishonest character.

What is your point?

Scientists here have shown you to be operating under the fallacy of equivocation when it comes to your electrons illustration as some sort of "unobservable".

Again, make your point with transparency and clarity and I will consider it but, all it seems you are doing is using philosophical argument to create the "possibility" of supernaturalism. Those of us who have labored to question our religious traditions and find mature authenticity find this type of word game tiring.

Steven Carr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Carr said...

I see Kenneth has refused even to consider the test case I put forward.

The one where atheist and Catholic agree on all the facts, but do not agree on the conclusions to be drawn from those facts.

I shall put it forward once more so he can demonstrate once more his refusal to take atheists seriously or examine his own views the way he wants others to examine theirs.

All of us agree that all the observable data shows that there has no change to the bread and wine during Transubstantation.

What is the best explanation for no change in any observable data?

Naturalists say the best explanation for no change in any observable data is that nothing has changed.

Catholics say that their church has declared that an unobservable change has taken place.

What does Mr.Howell think people should believe?

The evidence of their eyes or the dogmas of his church?

Russ said...

Ken says,

I can say without fear of contradiction that atheists are NEVER going to convince open-minded believers if they do not work hard at maintaining a level of civility that every human being deserves.

Are we atheists to work hard at maintaining this assumed level of civility that every human being deserves, when believers very rarely offer such civility to anyone? Christians are killing their own children in Africa and the atheist is supposed to stand by all civil like and quietly watch as the rest of Christianity ignores the suffering? Priests raping children is and always has been woven into the very fabric of Roman Catholicism from the pope on down and yet Ken calls on atheists to be civil, be nice. In all seriousness, why?

Civility of discourse is a means for the religious to avert attention from their ever-ongoing inhumanity. Christians cannot help but destroy, destruction being an inherent part of their history and their heritage. Christians lie incessantly to further their self-centered aims. They lie about sex ed, about abortion, about contraception, about HIV/AIDS, about church attendance, about same-sex marriage, about charitable giving, about atheists, pedophile priests, caring about children, and on and on. Is it ad hominem to call liars liars? No.

Yeah, civility. Calls for civility by the religious while they actively kill and rape and protect those who do is a joke. I fully understand why Roman Catholic clergy would plea to have themselves treated with the civility that they refused the children they've raped in the past and the ones who they will rape tonight and tomorrow. Here in the United States, they even want the courts to grant them the right to police themselves when they have proven over and again for more than fifteen centuries that they are not to be trusted as moral guides.

When every Roman Catholic clergyman either rapes children or defends those who do, why should anyone be civil about religion? Are we expected to actually buy the bullshit that religion makes people moral when every priest knew of the ubiquitous horrors being committed by their own but failed, almost to the man - to defend the victims?

The horror of religion did not die with crusades, inquisitions, witchhunts, or pogroms. The horror of religion lives on today in Christian perpetuation of ignorance; Christian witch hunts and HIV/AIDS plague perpetuation and exacerbation in Africa; the ongoing well-oiled rape machine that is the Roman Catholic church peopled by clergy unable to kick the rape habit and unable to protect those they prey on, helpless children.

So, flail away all you like in your philosophical revelry. For those content to turn a blind eye to the observable horror that is religion, civil discourse may well rule the day. For those of us who see that horror in full relief, religion neither deserves nor will be given such civility. Religion is an ugly, inhuman blight on man's heart, and man's intellect. Civility is the last thing it should expect.

Tyro said...

Russ - Good points.

I'd add that not every atheists cares to convince others through civil discourse. Some seek instead to remove or undermine the reflexive courtesy and respect given to anyone that mentions "God". Standing up on their hind legs and demanding rational justification where "faith" is all that's offered, poke holes in their over-inflated egos is enough for them. Convince others that they're right? Maybe one day. Right now it would be nice to see theists called to convince us that they're right, something that has been a long time coming.

And judging by Howell's repeated attacks on science and refusal to present any positve methodology of his own I can't help think that we need more of that.