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Philip Kitcher - Living with Darwin - Comments

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 1 by Richard Dawkins

So, Philip Kitcher, what I should have done is add the following sentence at the end of every chapter of The God Delusion: "Oh, and by the way, we need a National Health Service." I strongly believe in universal health care, I wish I wish it was available in the United States, I wish the British National Health Service lived up in practice to its theoretical ideals and I'd gladly pay more tax to that end. But, however strongly I believe in human welfare, my book is actually about something else. It is about religion, especially whether religious beliefs are true, and not about the best way to run a society.

(This second paragraph is now redundant since Hasty Toweling has apparently removed his Comment. I can't delete my paragraph, however, because later ones would then become incomprehensible). By the way, I think the first Comment doesn't belong here, since it has no connection with anything Philip Kitcher said. Presumably Hasty Toweling, you meant to initiate a new thread in the General Forum? It would be a tidy act if you were to move it there, where it will doubtless be read with interest. And in general wouldn't be nice if people used the General Forum for starting new trains of thought, rather than de-railing existing ones with irrelevancies (or, since I seem to be in carping mood, with those private exchanges between pairs of individuals that really belong in private e-mails)?

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 00:30:00 UTC | #56405

gibodean's Avatar Comment 2 by gibodean

I've been reading this website for ages, but really just the front page, and these articles. I never knew there was a whole other forum. Perhaps Mr Toweling didn't either.

I'm going to waste so much time now, reading it ! Curses to you for showing it to me Professor. How am I ever going to get any work done ?

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 01:32:00 UTC | #56410

CJ22's Avatar Comment 3 by CJ22

I'm getting a little tired of these self-appointed "peace brokers" who imply that gentle people like the professor and others are uncaring militant fundamentalists because they dare to complain and would they please stop rocking the boat.

The implication that natural selection and other scientific principles are NOT in conflict with religious faith is a feat of double-think of unparalleled proportions by religious moderates and wincing agnostics.

At the very least, natural selection contradicts any religious principles that posit a young earth. It also contradicts any concept that involves a deity 'nudging' evolution as it goes, since no such nudges are apparent. The very MOST that one could believe and still accept natural selection is the most non-interventionist of deities who set the ball rolling initially and then left the universe to unfold in all it's cold and relentless cruelty. That is not the deity that the vast majority of the religious in this world believe in. That is a kind of deity to which only a theologian could subscribe.

Kitcher clearly has the agenda of pushing 'secular humanism' as the face of secularism rather than the more unpalatable atheism, perhaps on the basis that the religious are less likely to be alienated by a more friendly, conciliatory approach. Such a Vichy-esque approach is guaranteed to get steam-rollered by fundamentalists who have no interest in truth, rationality, fairness or honesty.

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 02:02:00 UTC | #56418

JanChan's Avatar Comment 4 by JanChan

Well, what I don't understand is why we need to 'replace' the traditions in religions after getting rid of the religions. I'm living my life quite well right now without the need to go to church or some social gathering too often. And I help out a bit in the community, occasionally teaching basic programming skills (I believe that we should get an early start to do well in it) but getting nothing in return.

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 02:03:00 UTC | #56420

Apemanblues's Avatar Comment 5 by Apemanblues

I don't agree with all of what he said, I think what Dawkins is doing is great (and very important), but I do think he made some good points. People follow religion for emotional reasons and no matter how much science you throw at them many will still choose their emotion over their intellect.

Personally I get more than enough 'spiritual' (for want of a better word) nourishment from my amateur interest in naturalism, conservation and wildlife. I also get a lot out of my humanistic philosophical outlook. This is the sort of thing that I think the various Humanist groups should be trying to communicate to the public. Promoting care for each other and care for the earth, because we only have one life and there is no planet B.

Humanism generally plays a rather passive role, just being there for non-belivers or defending against the march of religion on public life, but groups like the British Humanist Association (for example) could do well from a publicity drive of this sort. A friendly faced public campaign, advancing the ideas of human solidarity, care for the earth and personal responsibility, purely for their own sake.

Something that unites all the people who want to actively do some good in a world where religion has hijacked 'goodness' and erroneously aligned it with 'faith'.

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 02:09:00 UTC | #56424

Russell Blackford's Avatar Comment 6 by Russell Blackford

Kitcher is one of our best current thinkers in philosophy, and in this interview he says many things that I agree with: it is difficult to reconcile the Darwinian picture with the idea of a providential deity; a significant diminution in the practical role of faith in the US will probably require a less relentlessly competitive society with a better social safety net; it is worthwhile doing follow-up philosophical work to explore the moral and political implications of a naturalistic picture of the world, and specifically to identify and develop a morality that does not depend on supernaturalistic skyhooks; it would be good if philosophers dealt more with the big picture and were less narrowly focused on specialised, technical problems; religion itself has been backsliding, or hardening, in recent decades, which creates an important social problem that must be addressed.

That's all music to my ears.

Furthermore, the book that Kitcher has written sounds like a very useful one, and I admire his earlier books such as The Lives to Come and The Advancement of Science (the best general work on philosophy of science that I have ever come across). Kitcher is someone who is worthy of great respect.

But I also disagree about some things. First, I am not so sanguine that a truly rational morality, based solely on a naturalistic understanding of the world, would preserve as much traditional Christian morality as Professor Kitcher assumes. In my view, religion fossilises a lot of morality that may never have been justified in the first place and is certainly not justified in current circumstances. I see no choice but to be open about this fact. I'm especially thinking about attitudes to sexuality and reproduction.

Second, I think that the negativity of his comments about Richard Dawkins, and the others who were mentioned, was very unfortunate, and I hope he will rethink his attitude on that.

On that subject, we desperately need major intellectuals such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens to play the role that we've seen from them in putting on the agenda the important idea that religion as we know it is just not true and is often harmful. That helps clear the ground for people who want to challenge religion's political and moral prestige, or authority, which seems to me something that must happen if we are to make progress. I, for one, am very grateful to Dawkins and Hitchens for doing that (and to Onfray, Grayling, Dennett, Carrier, Stenger, Hirsi Ali, Harris, etc., etc.).

These people cannot be expected to address every possible issue in just one or two books each - though I should note that Richard Carrier's Sense and Goodness without God, which is rather underrated, and doesn't even seem to have found a good publisher, does an impressive job of defending a truly comprehensive philosophical naturalism, including the moral implications. (If anything, Carrier tries to do too much.)

That said, of course we need more books, and the existing books have not done everything that is needed. How could a relatively small (still) number of books ever do that? But it is great that a torrent of explicitly atheistic work has now started, with more and more on its way. Opportunities are opening up. Kitcher's own contribution may well be an important one, and let's hope he follows up in the way he says he wants to do.

But, Professor Kitcher, please rethink this aspect. There is no need to be so negative about books, just because none of them so far has managed to be and do everything that is required. We need your contribution without it having to detract from those of others.

Btw, was I the only one who found Grothe a bit annoying with his long leading questions? Kitcher didn't let him put words in his mouth, fortunately, and I realise that this sort of interview is very difficult to do ... but I could have done with less of Grothe's own formulations of the issues.

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 02:26:00 UTC | #56428

HarryHUK's Avatar Comment 7 by HarryHUK

In consideration of Philip Kitcher's notion that secular humanism needs to be providing an alternative "meaning of life" to people,particularly those who rely in some sort of religious belief to "make sense of it all",I would make the following observations.

Firstly that the awakening debate regarding religious belief and the subsequent consciousness raising is not,as I see it,a planned exercise.It is more a reaction by enlightened individuals in response to growing world crisises.
Crisises that religion is ill equipped to deal with at best,or at worst,could be positively harmful to any rational attempts to adress them.

I see these crisises as being,globalisation and the consequent clash of cultures and ideologies,material capitalism and the inevitable competition for ever limited resources,but most important of all global warming and pollution which is likely to have a devastating effect to life on this planet.

I can't see anymore important purpose or meaning for mankind at this moment other than to unite and adress these issues.

How that global unification of purpose and will is achieved is difficult to imagine,but the challenging of religious dogma and superstition by encouraging rational thought is a good place to start.

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 03:06:00 UTC | #56436

tieInterceptor's Avatar Comment 8 by tieInterceptor

nice interview,

mmm, I get the message that we can go only so far by just pointing our finger to the faith heads while laughing and doing the routine of demolishing their arguments with logic and common sense, (even if it is fun to do).

... but what about the most extreme religions? those need to be confronted... one can't be soft with the ones who would kill you and use democracy to advance their bigotry...

I agree on the point that an egalitarian society is a better place to rise people into science and humanism... one needs to have a stable life to be able to leave the Religion crutch, I guess.

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 03:23:00 UTC | #56439

HarryHUK's Avatar Comment 9 by HarryHUK

Sorry,my CRISISES should have been CRISES,I am recovering from an indulgent weekend!

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 03:44:00 UTC | #56443

Flagellant's Avatar Comment 10 by Flagellant

Yes, it's all about priorities and strategy, isn't it? It's about framing the question, as Kitcher says, without answering it properly. (Mind you, I'm not sure I'm going to be able to do that, either.)

First of all, Kitcher seems to want a more just World. So should we perhaps be trying to make a better World before trying to get rid of religion? (Join your local Socialists (lol).) He hopes that rationalism would ultimately triumph over supernaturalism largely perhaps as a consequence of a more just world, because 'religion is a response to harshness'.

This raises the very important point: to what extent should we have temporary alliances (truces?) with moderate religionists (e.g. progressive Episcopalians) to get rid of the extremists? There's no doubt that this would be effective should we be able to co-operate. But it's hard enough to get atheists to agree, let alone co-operate; bringing the moderates in won't make it any easier. Here, very few atheists agree about 'the enemy': some think it's all the religiosi; others think it's initially fundies and those who are beyond engagement.

The moderates present a problem, too: they often see themselves as having more in common with their co-religionist extremists than with mild (sic) polemicists such as Dennett and Dawkins.

So maybe Kitcher has a point. He identifies the militant (militaristic) religiosi as a threat to existence and by that I think he means the US Taleban as well as the real thing. But are the moderates doing their bit? They seem to be more offended by rational attacks on their faith by atheists (skeptical humanists) than by their co-religionists' total nihilism.

Religion – an activity for consenting adults in private.

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 05:14:00 UTC | #56451

discipline's Avatar Comment 11 by discipline

An excellent interview (although Groethe does like to hear himself talk...).

Kitcher nails the reasons why the US is more fundamentalist than other Western countries: our type of extreme capitalism, the lack of social support programs, and the fear and uncertainty that fosters, creates a natural breeding ground for the religion meme.

Oh, and our education system is dismal, especially in the sciences (and especially in the biological sciences). Schools don't turn a profit, after all.

I also find it unfortunate that he attacks Richard et al., for their "negative tone." This perfectly falls into Richard's "I'm a atheist, but . . ." list.

I would, however, love to see Richard, Harris, Hitchens and Dennett write their next books about positive alternatives to dogmatic religion, such as secular humanism, naturalism, etc. To me, that's a more interesting question than shooting the religous fish in the barrel.

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 06:08:00 UTC | #56460

icouldbewrongbut's Avatar Comment 12 by icouldbewrongbut

Strange. I posted the following comment about 8 hours ago, was told that it was posted successfully, but then it never appeared:

*** I think that this interview should be in the Featured section; I think this topic is at the core

of all the difficulty. ***

Bravo! I've been wanting to see this topic discussed - The need to help bridge the emotional gap for religionists. I've felt a void on the atheist side of things wrt validating religionists real emotional concern / hesitancy / need for meaning and especially the mitigation of death anxiety.

I loved the point about Dawkins apparently not respecting the extreme emotional difficulty others have with meaninglessness, etc, and how he doesn't seem to realize that he has been evidentally blessed with a strong sense of purpose and has been seemingly spared from the worst of the existential issues that people deal with. (I wonder if Dawkins agrees with this) I've wished Dawkins would try to address it more exhaustively and try to offer solutions. I understand Dawkins' goal was to demonstrate the illogic of God-belief, and getting into the details of religionists' emotions perhaps seemed unimportant. (or perhaps it's unclear what their emotial reality is)

I can see that for a lot of religionists, an understanding of science isn't mitigating their honestly-felt emotional fears. It seems that they still have deep anxiety based on meaninglessness and death anxiety -natural to the human condition - that we atheists aren't addressing very well, as far as I've seen.

But perhaps there is more that we can do to try to encourage religionists to let go of baseless
beliefs by helping to reduce their this anxiety. If so, what?

I recently read Ernest Becker's the "Denial of Death" and watched the related "Flight from Death" documentary. I haven't seen it discused on atheist forums, I wonder how many other concerned atheists are aware of Becker's ideas - basically that we all naturally, due to the reality that we humans are mortal animals, have repressed intense death anxiety, and that the mass of culture, esp. ideology / religion is necessarily constructed by us (subconsciously) to repress it (I'm not doing great justice to the theory). I highly recommend the documentary for insight into why people are susceptible to relgious and ideological belief (as self perpetuation).

It seems to me that Secular Humanism could also add a structure to intentionally help to mitigate
this death anxiety (which is perhaps the largest perpetuator of the religious crutch).

Can't we atheists figure out what strategies we use to mitigate our own death anxiety enough to
explain it to non-atheists? Would a good start be for us atheists to explore witnin ourselves how we are subconsciously dealing with our own death anxiety? - that is, when we really are aware of facing death, what is our unconscious strategy for suppressing death anxiety?

For example, we don't have an immortality belief to lean on, but perhaps some of us at the thought
of our death, realize the we're only here for a brief time, so we should revel in it, etc. I know Dawkins has addressed some of this, but I think we need a real dialogue / exploration where we identify atheists' more common strategies for dealing with death and existential meaninglessness and compare them to those of religionists to see what total solution we can offer in an understandable form, while fully validating the emotional concerns of religionists (if even unconscious).

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 06:42:00 UTC | #56465

hasty toweling's Avatar Comment 13 by hasty toweling

Dr. Dawkins was right. That post had no business there. The urge to express thoughts where others will see them is difficult to resist! I should try harder for the sake of the general interest of this forum.

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 08:21:00 UTC | #56474

Dunc-uk's Avatar Comment 14 by Dunc-uk

I think Philip is missing the point a bit, with regards to the "big four" Atheism books... in order to attract people away from their entrenched religious beliefs into your arguably more enlightened humanistic worldview, you need to do two things:

1. Extol the virtues of humanism.
2. Point out the inadequacies of their incumbent views.

Clearly, the latter has to be done first with the former waiting in the wings to charge in at the right moment. There would be no point speaking at length about the wonders of humanism to a liberal Christian, if all they say at the end of it is "you sound happy, good for you. I'm happy too.". It's an ugly fact of life that you need to bring people down before you can help them back up. Nevertheless, I also think it is quite pointless to spend time angrily deconstructing someone's beliefs in front of then, only to walk away at the end without providing them with an alternative. We need books like Philip Kitcher's just as much as we need "shrill" critiques like The God Delusion.

People don't like to change their worldviews willy-nilly, especially if they are worldviews into which they have invested considerable effort and emotion... and people really don't like to admit when they are wrong.

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 12:28:00 UTC | #56513

seals's Avatar Comment 15 by seals

I used to wonder why life sometimes seems hollow, meaningless and pointless. Now I know why... life really is hollow, meaningless and pointless!

Problem solved :)

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 12:57:00 UTC | #56521

Bonzai's Avatar Comment 16 by Bonzai


I don't believe nihilism is the only logical outcome of atheism, you are providing ammos for religious people by what you wrote. I have a feeling that even you don't believe in what you wrote. You are like those Goths who try to be cool by wearing black, writing about the pointlessness of their lives and pretending they are all going to kill themselves.

Life may have no preordained meanings, it doesn't follow that we cannot and should not create meanings for it. Atheism is liberating in opening up new possibilities, nihilism is binding and points to only the dead end.

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 13:23:00 UTC | #56528

seals's Avatar Comment 17 by seals

No I meant it seriously. It's the truth - in a way, its a relief. I thought this was all about the truth not being what we've been led to believe, which may not accord with our personal experience and impressions.

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 13:51:00 UTC | #56533

Bonzai's Avatar Comment 18 by Bonzai

Why is that "truth"?

Just because there is no divine origin to a meaning it doesn't follow that there is no meaning. The gist of existentialism is exactly that we create our own meanings independent of the gods,--even if they exist.

If you are right that atheism is nihilism then it is untenable. To quote Nietzsche, we have art so that we don't die of the truth.

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 14:01:00 UTC | #56535

Donald's Avatar Comment 19 by Donald

I can understand why RD didn't like Kitcher's comments!

Kitcher comments are (essentially):

1) RD, CH, DD, CH, etc are strident, negative, and simply want to get rid of religion
2) Religion has positive aspects and provides comfort and moral guidance for many people
3) Community churches take care of old people, sick people, help people generally
4) Secular Humanism is needed as a replacement for religious community support and moral guidance

His points 2,3,4 are fine. A lot of us agree. I am a secular humanist. So is RD. And, whatever Kitcher can do to promote secular humanism is very worthwhile in my view.

But his negative comments about the musketeers were very unwelcome.

Having listened to his interview, I felt there was an important lack in his view of religion.

His comments focused on what I would call the "social club" aspect of religion - providing moral guidance and help for people to get along in life, either as individuals or as community.

"Social club" religions are ok, if that is all they are, and provided the moral guidance is carefully selected to be socially appropriate for the age. (But the moral guidance is often tainted with nasty stuff from the "holy" books, and that's not good.)

The big lack, the elephant in the room that Kitcher entirely ignored, is the political aspect of religion. By "political", I mean the tendency of religions to propose (and later demand), laws to govern everyone, not just believers, and their tendency to claim to know what "god" requires ALL of us, not just believers, to do.

That's fundamental to all the main religions. They are social command-and-control structures as well social clubs. "God" tells the priests what "god" wants EVERYONE to do, and what rules to obey. This gets passed down to the followers, who have to OBEY (and supply money, which "god" seems to be unable to supply directly).

It is this political aspect of religions that requires vigorous resistance. Religions have to be FORCED to be secular. Their natural tendency is to grow into governments. Just look at the evolution of religion in the USA since the founding fathers wrote the constitution. Just look at Islam. Just look at the history of the Catholic church in past centuries.

That is why I support the musketeers in attacking the root of the problem - i.e. the belief in a non-existent "god" and the belief that "clergy" are able to tell us rules laid down by "god". The hierarchic command-and-control aspect of religions can only thrive if the people believe there is a "god" issuing the top-level commands. Without "god", democratic secular humanism becomes not only possible, but natural.

Kitcher is an atheist, and well-meaning, and his pushing of secular humanism may be helpful, but his criticism of the people who are trying to tackle the problem at its root, is not.

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 14:22:00 UTC | #56543

seals's Avatar Comment 20 by seals

Re : 18. Comment #59758 by Bonzai

I don't have philosophical terminology, so all I can say is if this is nihilsm, it's not all bad. But I didnt mention nihilism until you did - there generally seems to be some paranoia about that here ... what I meant was, in not having to think about ultimate meanings, something clicks in a way that frees you to move on and just be yourself, whatever that may be, not measure up to some ideal. And it's okay not to feel wonderful all the time.

It's the death of others, rather than the self which is the problem I think, our own death we're not going to know anything about, but until then we have to deal with death of family and friends with increasing frequency. (Only mentioning this for the sake of completeness).

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 14:33:00 UTC | #56548

Russell Blackford's Avatar Comment 21 by Russell Blackford

Donald, I don't know what you mean by saying that religions have to be forced to be secular. If you mean that literally, then I can't agree. I have no wish to use force against religionists.

I agree with everything else that you say, and what we can do is try to create a social ethos in which the prestige of religion is downgraded, in an effort to blunt the force of its political mission. I agree that that is exactly what Dawkins, etc., are doing and that it is extremely important. That's why I get annoyed when people who should be allies, like Terry Eagleton and Stanley Fish - major secular literary intellectuals - don't get it, and why I just get dismayed and disheartened when people who essentially are allies, like Michael Ruse and Philip Kitcher - heavyweight atheistic philosophers - don't really get this aspect either.

I'm afraid that we are going to need satire, passion, and all the other weapons of public debate, if we are going to be able to reach out to the public. That may not be everyone's style or talent, but I do wish the atheist philosophers like Kitcher would understand the need. Also, not every book can do everything. It's true that we need to build a naturalistic worldview, including a naturalistic morality, but we also have a helluva lot of ground to clear to make room for it in the public sphere. I don't think we can just sit around waiting for every country, including the US, to become a Scandinavian social democracy. We could be waiting for a very long time.

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 16:26:00 UTC | #56581

tieInterceptor's Avatar Comment 22 by tieInterceptor

19. Comment #59766 by Donald

true, true,

the only reason why the church has any power is if they represent gods interests on earth. Undermine that premise and the rest falls down.

And I totally agree on the fact that the social clubs are nice but NOT really, they come with very nasty baggage, just look at their fantastic work with condom use in Aids ridden Africa, suddenly the humanitarian efforts seem to be nothing, compared to the deadly stupidity they preach.


Mon, 30 Jul 2007 16:28:00 UTC | #56582

Cook@Tahiti's Avatar Comment 23 by Cook@Tahiti

I'd like to add my voice to the comments above - I interpreted Kitcher's argument as essentially one about effective tactics. If we want to see a secular world, and we want to adopt a scientific, evidence-based approach, then what will be the best way to get us there?

What explains the variation in religiosity between countries?

Repeatedly saying "reliigon is a load of crap. You're all idiots" may be true, but it may not be very effective in "de-programming" a society.

After all, north-western Europe didn't become largely secular because there was a Dawkins banging on about religion, but because a social liberal democracy with good health, media, education, and economic security creates conditions where religion has less purchase, less traction. On average, the less you need God, the less you believe in God.

In this sense, Kitcher's points about tone might be valid from a tactical point of view. But I think it's more complex than that - for some people, a blunt, direct approach may work, for others it may be simply following the herd - i.e. if the herd (role models, leaders, peers are atheists, then they will be too), and for others it may arise spontanteously over a generation once certain social conditions are met in society.

Why would an atheist that detests religion pursue a strategy that consolidates and radicalises religion? It's analagous to the "War on Terror" that actually creates more terrorists - counter-productive.

Mon, 30 Jul 2007 17:13:00 UTC | #56591

Donald's Avatar Comment 24 by Donald

Comment #59806 by Russell Blackford: "Donald, I don't know what you mean by saying that religions have to be forced to be secular. If you mean that literally, then I can't agree. I have no wish to use force against religionists."

I meant force in the wide sense of encountering opposition that is stronger than they are. I don't believe they will choose secularism from within (except as a response to external opposition that is stronger than they are). Their natural tendency is to grow into governments.

"Force" can be peaceful. For example, people had to be forced to wear seat belts by laws, car manufacturers had to be forced by law to make safer cars, and so on. If the movement to expose as false, beliefs such as "holy books are the word of god", is sufficiently successful, then the combination of weakening of religious power and a stronger public expression of atheism, could force religions to give up some of their aspirations for political influence and power.

The disparate sects who founded the USA were forced to agree to a secular constitution, despite the desire of every sect to promote their own influence, by the presence of the other, competing, sects. They were also mindful of the consequences of a single sect having dominance - they were fleeing from the Catholic church.

The word "force" does not have to mean violence and warfare, despite its overuse in that way by headline writers. Nevertheless, the history of religion is replete with examples of exactly that, because religions became too powerful. Of course I prefer peaceful means to force religions to remain, or become, secular.

Tue, 31 Jul 2007 00:07:00 UTC | #56642

pewkatchoo's Avatar Comment 25 by pewkatchoo

Why is it that philosophers and bishops always seem to be touted as eminent?

This, for me, is of the same level as PR or marketing types referring to themselves as professionals.

I have my own humorous website which gets a lot of visitors in a week and gives me quite a bit of exposure. Does that entitle me to call myself an eminent humorist? Or just a mouthy git?

Tue, 31 Jul 2007 02:20:00 UTC | #56664

601's Avatar Comment 26 by 601

RE: seals really is hollow, meaningless and pointless!
This is the inevitable conclusion that follows from rational analysis (especially evolution - which does NOT select for happiness, but does select for intense fear).

Although profoundly liberating, this can be a difficult idea to accept. Kitcher makes a valid point, many are reluctant to trade their delusion (even when they know it is a delusion) for a fear of the unknown.

In any case, your future is what you choose to make it (assuming free will - for which of course there is no evidence).

Tue, 31 Jul 2007 04:12:00 UTC | #56688

tvillemw's Avatar Comment 27 by tvillemw

Although I haven't read any of the recent books on God, I've enjoyed following the arguments pro and con.

I think Kitcher got it wrong on why America *seems* so religious. Our religiosity is tied to Empire. We are not stupid, we know deep down inside that there is no God or afterlife. If we gave religion up, the whole imperial house of cards would collapse. Without God, we couldn't maintain the fiction that we're the chosen people; we would have to take full responsibility for our actions -- bad for the economy, bad for our sleep. Better to profess belief in God so we don't have to think.

While I agree with Kitcher and others that American social institutions are lacking, I don't think the gap between western Europe and America is that wide except statistically. And it looks like Europe is steadily closing the gap in questioning the welfare state and in adopting American ways. Perhaps Europe seems more secular because of a long-standing anticlericalism in a region where state and church were one and because Europe suffered so much from the wars of the 20th century. How strong was European secularism in 1939? I recall an NPR interview with an atheist in New York who lost her faith in the 9/11 attacks. Perhaps after our holocaust the Christians are campaigning for we'll see more secularism in the States.

Tue, 31 Jul 2007 06:11:00 UTC | #56708

Russell Blackford's Avatar Comment 28 by Russell Blackford

Donald, I now understand what you're getting at, though I don't actually like the example of seat-belt laws, which are not really peaceful. There may be a justification for such laws, perhaps a paternalistic one, and I don't want to argue against them. But the fact remains that the state will fine me - or in the ultimate, should I refuse to pay the fine, confiscate my assets or send me to prison - if I don't wear a seat-belt. Thus the legislation is backed up by threats of violent acts by the state's servants.

However, I realise you don't say that anything like that should be done with religion. It's just that a successful campaign of ideas could place religionists in a position where they will have little practical choice but to abandon their aspirations of wielding political power. On that, I fully agree. If that's all you mean by "force" them, then we're at one. That's just the situation that we need to try to bring about.

Tue, 31 Jul 2007 19:52:00 UTC | #56853

mmurray's Avatar Comment 29 by mmurray

And in general wouldn't be nice if people used the General Forum for starting new trains of thought, rather than de-railing existing ones with irrelevancies (or, since I seem to be in carping mood, with those private exchanges between pairs of individuals that really belong in private e-mails)?


Have you thought about running the site so that all comment goes to the forums ? At least that way people would know the forums are there and *might* use the forum PM option for private conversations. An example is here

(Different use of `bright' here :-) )


Wed, 01 Aug 2007 05:49:00 UTC | #56923

Henri Bergson's Avatar Comment 30 by Henri Bergson


I agree that this guy should not be called eminent (though certainly certain other philosophers should: about one a century!).

Kitcher is just stating the same old clichés - what is he saying that people have not thought innumerable times before? Nicht. I think he should think about journalism rather than philosophy.

Wed, 01 Aug 2007 07:16:00 UTC | #56939