Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Quote of the Day: Belief and Denial

I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." -Tolstoy


What's at stake when we consider religious ideas? Why is it that people change their religions at most once or twice per lifetime when really there is more religious thought out there than an expert could learn in twenty? Why don't members of doomsday cults leave when the doomsday date comes and goes without so much as a thunderstorm?

As they say, denial ain't just a river in Egypt. Even in science, whose praises I sing from this blog, people who should know better often refuse to accept new realities. Einstein, who himself revolutionized our understanding of the world more than anyone since Darwin, refused to accept quantum theory, saying famously "God does not play dice with the Universe." The great scientist Max Planck said, "A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it," and, more colorfully, "science advances funeral by funeral."

Maybe we have to want to change before we can accept truths which contradict our worldview. In Alcoholics Anonymous, there's the concept of "hitting rock bottom," before which people are unwilling to accept what AA offers. Maybe we all need to hit some sort of bottom before we're able to consider other views.

However, I think there are people who are seekers. I was one of them, and my quest led me to atheism. I did not know where I was going, only that I wanted to find out what was true more than I wanted to be comfortable. I know Orthodox Jews who became Orthodox Jews because that is where their quests took them, so I can't claim that atheism is special in that regard. Lots of Western intellectuals seem to find their way to Buddhism as well. I think that in the case of the seeker, he's born into a situation which does not fit and is driven to find the place he belongs.

So maybe there are two ways we change: we can be in such misery that we want to trade in our worldview for another, or we can have inherited a worldview we don't fit into. Or, maybe, we simply change so much that our old worldview no longer fits us and we must find another.

Anyway, none of this offers much hope for changing people's minds by debating on the internet. :-)

27 comments:

Sadie Lou said...

Many western intellectuals find their way to Christianity too. Nobody thinks C.S. Lewis was a knucklehead do they? He was a believer and then after the war, circumstance changed his worldview to support Atheism. It was J.R.R. Tolkien that helped put Lewis's perspective back on Christ. He's been a great contributer to the faith ever since.
I think you're only partially correct when you say that there is not much hope for changing people's minds by debating on the internet. I think you might not make any converts--but we are certainly giving people more to think about.
:)
Good post.

Moshe said...

good post-got me thinking. I also agree with sadie lou. I guess all this agreeing is also not too conducive to debate.

JC Masterpiece said...

Yeah, it's funny how much modern science is based on the bias of one generation feeding into even more in the next generation and so on and how people who are taught to think one way in science are so ingrained to accept one mentatlity and that another must be completely wrong because the schools that teach them all accept that the other mentality must be wrong because that's what they were taught.

On a completely different (but not so much) note. It's amazing how many of the founding parents of the modern athiest views had bad relationships with their fathers. The relationship they had with their fathers were so bad that they could never see God as loving. Because daddy was cruel and abusive, God must be that way. Thus, i don't want to accept or believe in God so i will make a way for there not to be one.

Jewish Atheist said...

Yeah, it's funny how much modern science is based on the bias of one generation feeding into even more in the next generation and so on

No, it's the opposite. If you read Planck's quotes, or studied the modern history of science, you'd realize that bias is not passed on from generation to generation in science. Einstein couldn't accept quantum theory, but everybody in the next generation did.

It's amazing how many of the founding parents of the modern athiest views had bad relationships with their fathers... Because daddy was cruel and abusive, God must be that way.

Atheists are people who don't believe in God, not people who believe in a cruel and abusive God. Anyway, it's a silly, pop-psychology argument with no explanatory power. "The founder of the Theory of Gravity believed in gravity because he had an unusually close bond with his mother." "Karl Marx invented communism because his sisters shared with him." "Ayn Rand developed Objectivism because her mom wouldn't let her be a doctor."

Many western intellectuals find their way to Christianity too.

True. Although it would be nice if Christians pulled out someone besides Lewis every now and then. ;) It's like Republicans and William F. Buckley Jr. ("See, we have intellectuals, too!")

Sadie Lou said...

though it would be nice if Christians pulled out someone besides Lewis every now and then. ;)

Are you serious? I just used Lewis because he is a notable Christian that turned to Atheism and then back to Christianity and he is recognized in Christian circles as well as seccular circles. I could have used any number of "intellectuals". Most of our presidents that people love and respect were church-going Christians--to name a few intellectuals and then we could go on to movie stars, muscians, authors, painters and historians. Come on JA, I'm smarter than that. ;)

Jewish Atheist said...

True again, Laura. :)

However, with presidents it should be noted that those who don't genuinely believe are obliged to fake it, because America will not elect a professed atheist.

Eric said...

Also,
Most of our presidents that people love and respect were church-going Christians--to name a few intellectuals

I agree, of all the presidents, there were few that were intellectuals.

Sadie Lou said...

Do you know of any candidates that were atheists?

Jewish Atheist said...

In 1952 a fellow West Pointer teased Eisenhower that he would, if elected president, have to start going to church for the first time since childhood. "The only way they'll ever get me into a church will be feet first," Ike said grimly.

Many of the early presidents were almost definitely deists who professed a form of Christianity in public but revealed the truth in private. Some seem to have been outright atheists in private:

"And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerve in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors."

-Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823


"Religions are all alike – founded upon fables and mythologies."

-Also Jefferson


"The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma."

- Abraham Lincoln


"This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it."

-John Adams


"I do not believe in the divinity of Christ, and there are many other of the postulates of the orthodox creed to which I cannot subscribe."

- William Howard Taft

JC Masterpiece said...

If you read Planck's quotes, or studied the modern history of science, you'd realize that bias is not passed on from generation to generation in science.

I don't know much about Planck (actually i know almost nothing about him) but i do know that modern science has passed down a great deal of bias from generation to generation. Jonothan Wells book Icons of Evolution talks about just 10 of these icons. One example is the "pictures of similarities in early embryos showing that amphibians, reptiles, birds and human beings are all descended from a fish-like animal which has been proven wrong for over 150 years and still are being taught in public school textbooks published just last year.

Atheists are people who don't believe in God, not people who believe in a cruel and abusive God.

Maybe so, but modern Atheism's founders were those people.

"The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma."

- Abraham Lincoln


Wow, that's rich! Talk about taking something so out of context to "prove" something that is not only untrue, but it is blasphemous to the individual. You may as well be saying that the founding fathers intended America to be Islamic. Abraham Lincoln, who was a very devout Christian and prayed for more than an hour each morning in the White House. This is a well known fact. What this quote appears to be talking about is him explaining that he is not a preacher/pastor/priest. Not that he does not believe in Christianity. From now on i'm going to have to rethink your so called "quotes".

Hey, with this kind of quoting and "research" i could even make you look like you fully support Christianity and are in fact one. What an absolute load of...!!!

JC Masterpiece said...

So the question this poses is, how many of the "quotes" that you use are really supporting what you claim they are?

Laura said...

Personally, I'm of the mind that there are several paths up the mountain of truth. All equally valid, and all equally meaningful when mutually respected by others. The problem for me comes along when one way is professed as "the" way.

Jewish Atheist said...

I didn't see the original quote in context, so I can't speak to it's contextual accuracy. However, here's what Lincoln's wife had to say on the subject:

"Mr. Lincoln's maxim and philosophy were: 'What is to be, will be, and no prayers of ours can arrest the decree.' He never joined any Church. He was a religious man always, I think, but was not a technical Christian."
-- Mary Todd Lincoln in William Herndon's Religion of Lincoln, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beleifs of Our Presidents, p. 118


So the question this poses is, how many of the "quotes" that you use are really supporting what you claim they are?

I don't generally use quotes as evidence but rather a jumping-off point for discussion. This was a rare instance where the quotes were the evidence. However, I wasn't arguing that Lincoln et al were absolutely non-Christian, but rather that many presidents seem to have been less Christian in reality than they publically professed.


As for the Wells book you mention, I did a little poking around and surprisingly (to me) it does look like he has a point regarding that particular series of drawings (done by a scientist named Haeckel.) It's true that they were discredited in the 19th century (by other evolutionary scientists) and that "the biogenetic law is false has been the consensus of biologists for over 100 years." Inexcusably, some textbooks do still print them.

However, it's hardly the case that evolutionary theory rests even in small part on those diagrams, since Haeckel was discredited over a century ago BY EVOLUTIONARY SCIENTISTS, just as Lamarck was. Moreover, it remains true that the similarities between vertebrate embryos are real, and if anything, it has turned out through the study of genetics that the different species are even more similar than previously thought.

Finally, even Wells, the author you quote to make your point for the "bias" in science, believes in evolution, although he takes issue with Darwin's theory of natural selection. Do you agree with Wells there, or only when he criticises scientists?

dbackdad said...

As usual, JC, you want to make atheism into a cult or anti-religion. You are so stuck in religious dogma, that you can't step outside that realm. You always talk about atheism's "founders". There are no founders. It's quite simple. It's .... not .... a .... religion. Atheists don't "worship" a leader or founder. Atheists don't believe in a god ... that's it.

That's a very good Tolstoy quote. It really points to what we all should be doing (religious or otherwise): seeking truth. Don't be so dogmatic that you can't critically analyze inconsistencies (religious or scientific(that's for you JC, he-he)).

JC Masterpiece said...

"Mr. Lincoln's maxim and philosophy were: 'What is to be, will be, and no prayers of ours can arrest the decree.' He never joined any Church. He was a religious man always, I think, but was not a technical Christian."
-- Mary Todd Lincoln in William Herndon's Religion of Lincoln, quoted from Franklin Steiner, The Religious Beleifs of Our Presidents, p. 118


That's funny since it has been well noted that while he was President he would spend at least an hour every morning praying. And he was a member of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC (also a well known and accepted fact). In fact they had to remove a section of the pew in front of him to make room for his tall stature. As far as i know this section has never been replaced in his honor. So you could always go there and check for yourself.

JA says Many of the early presidents were almost definitely deists who professed a form of Christianity in public but revealed the truth in private. Some seem to have been outright atheists in private:
Which you then used a quote by Abraham Lincoln to support. It sounds an awful lot like you are claiming that Lincoln wasn't a Christian to me.

However, it's hardly the case that evolutionary theory rests even in small part on those diagrams

No one said anything about evolution resting on those diagrams. However if i remember correctly i did say that "modern science has passed down a great deal of bias from generation to generation" and used that as a supporting example. To which you then agreed that what Wells is saying here is true. I never said it was a foundation of evolution, just that it's continued use proves that evolution does pass bias down from generation to generation.

Finally, even Wells, the author you quote to make your point for the "bias" in science, believes in evolution, although he takes issue with Darwin's theory of natural selection

Well considering that i have heard him speak and what he says goes completely against this statement, added to the fact that his research is supported by the Discovery Institute, a primary supporter of the Intelligent Design theory, than i would say that i take issue with your facts and arguments. Where do you come up with this stuff?

dback i did not state atheism's founders i stated the founders of "modern" atheism. There is a big difference there. Neither did i say that atheists worship a founder.

Don't be so dogmatic that you can't critically analyze inconsistencies (religious or scientific(that's for you JC, he-he))

Actually, it's a good thing you specified that statement towards me because it could easily be sent in the other direction.

Jewish Atheist said...

Well considering that i have heard him speak and what he says goes completely against this statement, added to the fact that his research is supported by the Discovery Institute, a primary supporter of the Intelligent Design theory, than i would say that i take issue with your facts and arguments.

I was basing my claim on his paper Evolution By Design, in which his thesis is: By shifting the evolutionary paradigm from one that rejects design to one that accepts it, scientists could explain various observations that Darwinian theory has difficulty accounting for. In other words, he believes in evolution, but with design. I.e. he takes issue with Darwin's natural selection as I said, but accepts the general premise of evolution. On close reading, he does seem to get wishy-washy about whether new species evolve by design or are simply created when the environment has been "paved" for them by more primitive ones. If he's intentionally obfuscating his beliefs, which seems to be the case on more close reading, that's not my fault. The paper is called "Evolution by Design" and the very thesis implies that he believes in evolution by design.

Anyway, you don't believe in ID, right JC? You're a literal, six-day Creationist. They aren't the same, or at least that's what the ID movement claims.

Laura said...

Actually, in the book Freethnkers, Susan Jacoby debunks the myth that Lincoln was a pious religious man. If you look at who said those things about him versus who said that he was not a member of any church, the latter were closest to him and knew him before his career in politics. His political advisors (smartly) advised him that being too open about his lack of religious faith and his agnosticism (which at that time was wrongly equated with athiesm) would be bad for his political career. He never joined a church, and many of his personal writings hint at his agnosticism. It's also documented that his speechwriter was a devout Christian and that he inserted references to God in Lincoln's speeches, not Lincoln.

Sadie Lou said...

personally, I'm of the mind that there are several paths up the mountain of truth. All equally valid, and all equally meaningful when mutually respected by others. The problem for me comes along when one way is professed as "the" way.
You need to understand that most religions don't support the "all roads lead to God" theory for a good reason. For someone of a Christian faith, the reason is because the Bible clearly states that the only way to the Father is through Christ.
It would be inconsistant with our belief in the Bible to accept that there are multiple ways to the Father. So we don't reject other religions out of snobbery or intolerance--it's plainly because we believe in one way to the Father.
"Narrow is the gate.

Laura said...

Oh, I know Sadie. The problem is that if many religions profess they are the "one" way - that means someone is wrong. But who? The Christians say everyone but them is wrong, Muslims say everyone but them is wrong... There will never be peace as long as this type of dichotomous thinking exists.

Sadie Lou said...

Here's the thing: My faith says that Christ is the only way to the Father. It doesn't say that we, as followers of Christ, must destroy all other religions. It doesn't say that we are to persecute them. It says that we are to go out into the world and preach the name of Christ and to pray for those that don't hear the message.
I can't say this for other religions. There are other faiths that are not as kind to others. That, clearly, is a give away for the religions that are "wrong".

JC Masterpiece said...

Actually, in the book Freethinkers, Susan Jacoby debunks the myth that Lincoln was a pious religious man.

Hmmm, interesting concept from a book that was written last year. Something that goes against almost everything that was written about the man since his death. Somehow this woman who writes a book that has a section about him more than 125 years after his death has better insight into his real life than his contemporaries who met, talked with, and worked with and under him. So basically what you're saying is that almost everyone who has ever written a book about Lincoln must be lying. Well considering (from what i've heard. I've never gone through and counted them all personally) in the Library of Congress there are more books written about Lincoln than any man except Christ. And yet this woman living more than 125 years after his death has more of an insight into who he is and what he believes than most of those other writers. I find that hard to accept.

So since someone is fond of pulling quotes out of context and making them say what they want, lets find some of our own.

"Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it."
"Letter To Henry L. Pierce and Others" (April 6, 1859)
(i assume not written by his speach writer as it is not a speech but rather a personal letter)

"I leave you, hoping that the lamp of liberty will burn in your bosoms until there shall no longer be a doubt that all men are created free and equal."
"Speech at Chicago, Illinois" (July 10, 1858)
(granted, from a speech)

"Common looking people are the best in the world: that is the reason the Lord makes so many of them."
Lincoln and the Civil War In the Diaries and Letters of John Hay selected by Tyler Dennett (Da Capo Press, New York, 1988), p. 143
(again not from a speech but rather personal letters)

"I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day."
Lincoln Observed: The Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks edited by Michael Burlingame (Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1998), p. 210.
(it's possible it came from a speech, but this doesn't seem like speech material as it is a little too personal for a speech and makes the author seem weak)

"In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book."
The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume VII, "Reply to Loyal Colored People of Baltimore upon Presentation of a Bible" (September 7, 1864), p. 542.
(Not a standard speech by far. More likely than not he did not know what he was being presented with. But he may have, so possibly written by a speech writer)

Shall i go on, or have i proven my point? There are plenty of other quotes i can comment on that would appear to go directly against what JA, Laura, and this Susan Jacoby have to say. All i can say is that if Lincoln wasn't a devout Christian, he sure was one of the best liars i have ever seen. And for a man who was supposed to be "Honest Abe" that's a pretty serious criticism. We are living in a day when a little or "white" lie (oftentimes even a more serious one) is accepted as the norm by anyone, especially the President (take Clinton and Lewinsky for example). That fravility of the truth was not so accepted even 60 years ago. Yet, somehow it is accepted that Lincoln must have lived a very serious lie for much of his life. Of all of the things you've put forth on this blog of yours, this has to be one of the more proposterous ones.

JC Masterpiece said...

Using JA and Laura's logic, according to this quote Abraham Lincoln must have been a serious racist and could not have been the President that fought the war that freed the slaves.

"I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races - that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything."
The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, "Fourth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Charleston, Illinois" (September 18, 1858), pp. 145-146.

Well, there you have it. All according the JA's logic in using quotes.

Laura said...

JC-

First off, there's just as many Lincoln quotes that support the agnosticism of the man as there are his apparent Christianity. The fact that he was an admirer of Thomas Paine and other secularist scholars and writers, the fact that he never joined a church, but that he knew and quoted scripture paint a picture of a complex man that cannot be cubbyholed as your particular brand of Christian. SImply picking quotes isn't a way to research the life of a person.

Second, evaluating a book solely based on the date it was written is poor research. Are books about Lincoln that were written in the 1870s necessarilly more accurate or better written? Jacoby's book is well researched, and brings light to many aspects of Lincoln that were long forgotten, mainly due to our human nature of trying to canonize our iconoic figures, especially those who die suddenly.

I have no doubt that Lincoln was a spiritual man - but making the leap between spirituality and accepting Christ as your personal savior is a stretch.

JC Masterpiece said...

The fact that he was an admirer of Thomas Paine and other secularist scholars and writers, the fact that he never joined a church, but that he knew and quoted scripture paint a picture of a complex man that cannot be cubbyholed as your particular brand of Christian.

Hmmm, let me see. I am an admirer of some non-Christian scholars. I have never joined a church although i attend one regularly... (wait didn't Lincoln do the same thing... oh that's right i already said that). So then i there must be some doubt that i am a Christian by these standards. Also, i never branded him as being of my particular brand of Christian.

I take issue to the fact that a writer who wrote a book alost 150 years after this man lived and who now lives in a society whose ethics, standards, and P.C. are extremely different than those of that time seems to think that she has more of an accurate portrait of this man than anything almost everything written about him previously, including those who lived and worked with the man.

Simply picking quotes isn't a way to research the life of a person.

Which is exactly one of my points and criticims of JA comments.

I have no doubt that Lincoln was a spiritual man - but making the leap between spirituality and accepting Christ as your personal savior is a stretch.

Actually i think it's more of a stretch to believe and accept that a man is less of a Christian than what he claims and shows himself to be, especially almost 150 years after his death.

Chana said...

This seeking you mention...

We have the utmost respect for people who seek and change. For people who make a choice against what their community believes or represents. We see these people as leaders.

In some ways, I can have respect- perhaps even more respect- for people who have searched, and who have found that the place they started out is where they want to be.

Catholics who remain Catholics, Protestants who are Protestants, Orthodox Jews who are Orthodox Jews.

Do you believe there are searches that can lead back to what you initially belive?

Because I do...

Jewish Atheist said...

Yes, of course. Some will find that where they started is where they end. As T.S. Eliot wrote, "And the end of our journeying will be to return to the place from which we
started, and know it for the first time".

Others were simply not born into the place they belong. For them, their search will take them elsewhere.

DNA said...

My knowledge of physics is fairly basic, but I don't believe that einstein has been disproven. We may yet discover an underlying cause to the "chance" of quantum physics.