Saturday, January 22, 2005

A new carnival

Yesterday, I came across yet another new carnival. (They seem to be proliferating exponentially like bacteria in the blogosphere these days, which is probably a good thing.) This one (The Carnival of the Godless) has been started by Brent Rasmussen and looks rather interesting. The ground rules:

The post you send in must be from a godless perspective and address something such as atheism, church/state separation, the evolution/creation debate, theodicy, philosophy of religion, etc. There is a huge amount of wiggle room in the post subject and we will consider every submission carefully for inclusion.

He qualifies it somewhat:

"From a godless perspective" does NOT mean that you must be an atheist to send in a submission. There are plenty of theists who blog from a godless perspective. We welcome their posts. We will even consider posts criticizing godlessness in general, or atheism in particular. We recognize that there are some damned interesting theists out there who will have written relevant posts.

While this carnival looks like it may be interesting to one of a skeptical and scientific bent, like myself, I have to admit that I'm ambivalent about it. Yes, it's being boosted by someone whose blog I greatly admire, PZ Myers, who will himself host the second Carnival. Yes, it's going to talk about many issues that interest me (evolution, church/state separation, etc.). Yes, the theme of my blog encompasses skepticism of alternative medicine claims, pseudohistory (like Holocaust denial), pseudoscience (like creationism), and now even looking out for urban legends. I have no doubt that the writing for this Carnival will be top-notch. Such a Carnival therefore seems like a natural fit for me. I should be eager to participate.

But I'm not.

Although I am a skeptic at heart and have not been particularly religious for at least 15 years (I'm essentially a lapsed Catholic, possibly even drifting towards agnosticism), there's a problem. I'm not an atheist. I simply realize that, because it can never be objectively disproven or proven, belief in God is a matter of belief and not a matter for science, hence my periodic broadsides against the infiltration of public school biology education by "intelligent design" creationists and my frequent statements on why the two should not intermingle. (Indeed, my views on the issue of science and religion are probably fairly close to those of John Wilkins.) Unlike PZ, I am not hostile to religion and religious institutions, except when they start trying to violate the First Amendment's establishment of religion clause, as in Dover and Georgia. Some of the overt hostility against religion and condescension for religious people expressed by some atheists, including (disappointingly) on occasion the estimable PZ Myers (and here), leaves me very cold. In fact, I tend to react to the utter certainty expressed by militant atheists that there is no God (along with their poorly disguised underlying tone of condescension for believers) just as badly as I react to the utter certainty expressed by hard core fundamentalists telling me that there is a God and that, if I don't develop a personal relationship with Him in exactly the way they think I should pronto, I am going to Hell—topped off with their undisguised underlying tone condescension for nonbelievers or other kinds of believers who do not share the beliefs of their religion. I understand that many atheists feel marginalized, even persecuted, by the devout that predominate in the U.S., and not without justification. Certainly, atheists should have their own Carnival, if they so desire, and more power to them for it. I hope it's a success as big as Grand Rounds or Tangled Bank.

Unfortunately, Brent's disclaimer about the Carnival notwithstanding, I can't help but harbor a nagging suspicion that this new Carnival will attract mainly militant atheists and produce a lot of religion-bashing posts. (In other words, I suspect it will be prone to producing a lot more heat than light.) Although that may interest the atheists who contribute, it's not something I'm particularly interested in reading, at least not in large, concentrated doses, all laid out in a blog carnival.

Finally, I also realize that I'm taking the risk of being diminished in the eyes of one of my blogger inspirations, of having PZ consider me, as a pathetic, deluded "victim" of (as he puts it) the malign influences of religious indoctrination" because I often react negatively to atheist religion-bashing and because I suggested at an equivalency between the condescension and/or contempt of the religious towards atheists and the condescension and/or contempt of militant atheists for religious people. Personally, I don't see a huge difference. In both cases, the condescension is the result of being utterly convinced of the correctness of one's own beliefs compared to those of anothers, whether the source is thought to be from divine inspiration or pure rationalism. Ah, well. Hopefully, PZ will continue to put up with me and my mush-brained irrationality nonetheless (and hopefully he won't regret having boosted my blog early on or letting me host Tangled Bank on April 6).

But perhaps my nagging suspicion about this Carnival in incorrect. I certainly hope so. I will definitely check out the first two or three editions (particularly PZ's) to see how it develops. I'll even announce and link to it here if I like what I see (and thus send perhaps all of 10 people over). But I doubt that I will ever be contributing posts to it.

On the other hand... Maybe I'm being too hasty. Maybe I should contribute this post to it. PZ or Brent, if you happen to read this post, do either of you want to feature it in one of the first two Carnivals of the Godless? (How's that for shameless self-promotion?)

7 example(s) of insolence returned:


At 1/22/2005 11:14 AM, Blogger PZ Myers said...

Silly fellow. Everyone confuses contempt for religion with contempt for the religious, and it just doesn't work that way. My mom goes to church; my sister teaches Sunday school. We get along fine. I've even driven them to church services when I've been in town.

I also don't parcel out respect for other people on the basis of how closely their opinions hew to mine. So don't worry about it.

I'd think this kind of thing is perfect for the godless carnival. Mindlessly chanting "Jesus loves me" would be right out, but thoughtful consideration of the issues is probably exactly what he wants.

 

At 1/22/2005 12:22 PM, Blogger Sharon said...

Well, I'm an atheist and I dislike some of the things some zealous atheists say. So I share some of your concerns about this carnival, and I think you should certainly submit this post...

 

At 1/23/2005 12:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Consider it submitted. :)

Orac, this is *exactly* the type of post that I was hoping that I would receive as a submission. I do share your concerns for the COTG and that is the main reason why I named it the "Carnival Of The GODLESS" and not the "Carnival Of The Atheists". I briefly considered "Carnival Of The Nones", but it just didn't roll off my fingertips the way that COTG does.

This post will be prominently placed in the very first COTG and used as a cautionary example to future COTG hosts who may be tempted to turn this into a religion bash-fest (The Raving Atheist notwithstanding - heh.) Not that I am against a little religion-bashing mind you - I yam what I yam after all - but I also recognize the value of balance.

Thanks for your thoughtful post!

 

At 1/23/2005 12:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Consider it submitted. :)

Orac, this is *exactly* the type of post that I was hoping that I would receive as a submission. I do share your concerns for the COTG and that is the main reason why I named it the "Carnival Of The GODLESS" and not the "Carnival Of The Atheists". I briefly considered "Carnival Of The Nones", but it just didn't roll off my fingertips the way that COTG does.

This post will be prominently placed in the very first COTG and used as a cautionary example to future COTG hosts who may be tempted to turn this into a religion bash-fest (The Raving Atheist notwithstanding - heh.) Not that I am against a little religion-bashing mind you - I yam what I yam after all - but I also recognize the value of balance.

Thanks for your thoughtful post!

Brent Rasmussen
Unscrewing The Inscrutable

 

At 1/23/2005 3:52 PM, Blogger Orac said...

Uh-oh. I may have stepped in it now...

I'd better brace myself for all sorts of comments telling me why I'm full of crap. ;-)

 

At 1/30/2005 5:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Carnival of the Nones"... while it doesn't say quite so much as the actual title, DOES sound very sexy when spoken out loud!

 

At 1/30/2005 6:32 PM, Blogger d locke said...

"I'm not an atheist. I simply realize that, because it can never be objectively disproven or proven, belief in God is a matter of belief and not a matter for science."

First, atheism is always relative to a particular type of theism. For example, I'm an atheist about the theory that the Christian god exists, but I'm undecided (not agnostic!) about many others.

This leads to a second point. While perhaps not ALL brands of theism admit of objective proof or disproof, some DO admit of the latter. For example, any theism that says there exists an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing god (e.g. most versions of Christianity) has been as well refuted by empirical evidence (i.e. the existence of evil) as any other hypothesis ever was.

The point is that DEPENDING on which version of theism is under consideration, the theory may or may not have observable consequences. (Traditional) Christianity is one that does have observable consequences, which happen to contradict our actual observations.

Of course, there's ALWAYS the problem of auxillary hypothesis, but this a general problem for theory disconfirmation. In other words, if the problem of auxillary hypothesis is your reason for being an agnostic about a type of theism, then you had better be an agnostic about the caloric theory of heat as well.

One last point. Any brand of theism that does NOT have observable consequences is going to have (at least) one big problem: the problem of the meaning of theoretical terms. For example, if your theory posits an entity called "God" but can in no way connect that entity to things we could (at least in principle) observe, then how are we to have any idea what you mean by "God"? Note that the problem here is NOT that we cannot observe GOD. The problem is that the meaning of unobservable theoretical terms (e.g. "space-time") seem to be in some way derivative of the observable terms which the theory connects them to (e.g. "planet"). Thus, if the theory has NO empirical consequences, then it is very unclear what exactly its proponents are asking us to believe (and very unclear whether there is anything there TO believe or even DISbelieve).

 

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