Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Feb/09

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Secular & right-wing edition of bloggingheads.tv?

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Well, depends on how you define secular. I interviewed Greg Cochran on bloggingheads.tv recently, talking about evolution, etc.  I think this might be the only way that you could get two registered Republicans on that show; have them talk only about science. In any case, Greg is a Christian, but his politics are not what I would term transcendent.

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26 comments

  • Caledonian · February 28, 2009 at 9:13 am

    I’m reminded vaguely of the character of Ellie Arroway. Didn’t she claim to be a Christian?

    Abandoning the idea that the category should have any meaning beyond “if people call themselves one they are one” is not a very effective strategy for understanding, I think. We have to ask what they mean by it.

  • mnuez · February 28, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Razib, the video is great. Way to go.

    As for Greg being a Christian…?!?! Does he actually believe any Christian nonsense or just appreciate some aspect of his Christian heritage and thus self-identify as a Christian for nostalgic/social reasons?

    And again, cool vid.

  • Author comment by David Hume · February 28, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    Does he actually believe any Christian nonsense or just appreciate some aspect of his Christian heritage and thus self-identify as a Christian for nostalgic/social reasons?

    dude, you better watch out :-) he’s a religious christian who goes to church. i think perhaps those of us who are secular confuse the public confessional ways of evangelicals with christians writ large.

  • Jon S · February 28, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    Fascinating interview. I’m curious, though, to see what Mr. Cochran’s view is in regards to the presence of what I’ll call “modern” civilization. That is, given modern medicine and the ability for groups of people to easily move about the globe, what the impact these things have upon our evolution. Clearly these would have interesting effects, perhaps in terms of limiting or enhancing the selection.

  • Cornelius J. Troost · February 28, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    Iam too old to resort to “cool” and “dude” but I see no contadiction in Cochran’s religiosity. While most scientists are non-believers, there is a large minority who are Christians, including some who practice their faith.You forget that the modular brain can do many tricks, including holding often contradictory beliefs quite comfortably. The Skeptic Magazine gang illustrates the more hard-core atheists among us, including crusaders like Richard Dawkins.They use various media to actually sell their atheism to a growing audience of intelligent but dislocated people in search of meaning. Of course, the search for meaning could end in finding none, but Scandinavians show us that one can muddle on with no great interest in ultimate ideas but with a positive interest in living “now.”

    Very thoughtful, analytical people who spend a few years studying the religion/science dichotomy eventually emerge as either a Dawkins or a Dyson-not believing or “spiritual.” From actual encounters I find Christian scientists to be wedded to their childhood beliefs and uninterested in doing some philosophy and history to work out of emotionally held beliefs. Indeed, I had three doctoral committee members at Indiana U. who were exactly the Cochran type.Kenneth Miller is our best fughter against creationists in the Darwin wars, but he is a fervent Catholic.Not everyone who attains lofty heights in the sciences will do the intellectual labor necessary to achieve atheism, but I have met atheists who “attain” that belief via life tragedies or simply falling off a log, so to speak. I much respect those who worked hard to achieve emanicipation but if Dawkins wins it would then become normative to fall off logs into atheism!

  • Anthony · March 1, 2009 at 11:01 am

    Troost said: “not believing or “spiritual.””

    By this, do you mean “they are not believing, or they are spiritual” or “they are not believing and they are not spiritual”?

  • Cornelius J. Troost · March 1, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Anthony- Please note the use of “or” to denote a contrast. If you know Dawkins and Dyson you know very well that one is a rabid atheist while the other is more “spiritual” in his interpretation of scientific facts and laws.Dyson is far more widely read than Dawkins and that may help explain why his position is almost religious.

    I think that those who read extensively in areas of non-science have a more nuanced approach to ultimate questions. Paul Davies is a brilliant science writer and theoetical physicist who holds out for the validity of belief in a superior power. Davies is better read than most coldly scientific atheists like PZ Myers or the rigid Dawkins. Of course Iam only speculating but breadth of learning generally leads to more complex and less strident views of terribly difficult questions.Dyson and Davies might well be right but I still have resrvations. Certainly I like their style much more that messianic atheists.

  • Cornelius J. Troost · March 1, 2009 at 11:36 am

    By “widely read” I mean that he reads a greater variety of books on different topics like history, linguistics, literature, religion,etc.,etc.This I infer, of course, from his writings.

  • Anthony · March 1, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    I suspect that Dawkins knows very well that his writings are simplistic or one-sided in certain cases, but writes in that fashion for propagandistic reasons. Just a guess.

  • Joshua Zelinsky · March 1, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    @Caledonian
    Ellie Arroway is definitely not Christian. She’s a very confirmed agnostic with some emotional connections to some aspects of Christianity. In the movie version they simplified her views somewhat but the basic outline was the same. Either way, definitely not a Christian.

  • Caledonian · March 3, 2009 at 6:55 am

    “Ellie Arroway is definitely not Christian.”

    By ‘David Hume”s standards, she is. It’s the usefulness of those standards that I’m questioning.

  • Thursday · March 3, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    Greg Cochran is a religious Christian? If actually true, this really surprises me. Didn’t he say some rather disparaging things about the intellectual level of the Bible in response to Charles Murray’s Commentary article on Jewish intelligence?

    BTW wasn’t R.A. Fisher quite religious? I think I remember reading something about him being very involved with the Anglican Church, but then again that can mean just about anything.

  • Author comment by David Hume · March 3, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    Didn’t he say some rather disparaging things about the intellectual level of the Bible in response to Charles Murray’s Commentary article on Jewish intelligence?

    *shrug* i’m not christian, so i don’t know what’s going through greg’s mind. but i do know he’s not a nominal christian. he goes to church. but i think greg’s point is more that jewish commentary literature is not all that genius, not the hebrew bible itself. though since there’s aren’t formal proofs in leviticus….

    BTW wasn’t R.A. Fisher quite religious? I think I remember reading something about him being very involved with the Anglican Church, but then again that can mean just about anything.

    yeah. fisher was a christian, and wrote some articles about how there was no contradiction between his evolutionary thinking and his religion. peter j. bowler has written some stuff on the synthesis of this type or religion and evolutionary thought in the early 20th century, especially in england.

  • Cornelius J. Troost · March 4, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    I think that we already established the fact that many scientists retain their chidhood beliefs and often defend them with fancy rationalisations.After all, self-delusion is part of human nature.For a scientist to achieve atheism he(or she) must take one of several routes, but the more intellectual ones opt for extensive study of religion, philosophy, history, and literature.However, the more direct route- like Darwin’s approach- depended upon the understanding of nature as a grand mechanical process that seemed to be self-sufficient.Science could discover the meaning of nature’s code via mathematics and experiment, leaving little in the way of mystery behind.Philosophers like David Hume-the real one- were exceptions because they tried to use pure reason to achieve a similar end. Hume ALMOST became an atheist at a time when that position was perilous.

    In contrast nearly all philosophers of science are at home in atheism because they know plenty of science, history, and phiosophy.Indeed, they are formidable thinkers whose atheism is often supremely defended in debates with theologians.Perhaps the best thinkers of all are such formidable intellectuals as Norbert Russell Hanson, Michael Scriven, Hans Reichenbach, and Antony Flew, the latter being the only one to ever convert to Christianity on his deathbed.Iam speaking to you from an era when philosophy of science was in its hayday so these may be foreign to you.Once you met a Scriven, as I did several times for long talks, you simply appreciated how teribly smart they are.Is atheism correct because these believers were brilliant? Hardly. But they made me think harder than ever before and today’s Dawkins crusade is a result of such powerful minds operating in an earlier, far more religiously closed, society.

  • Danny · March 4, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    “…and Antony Flew, the latter being the only one to ever convert to Christianity on his deathbed.”

    Actually Mr. Flew is still alive, and he has not embraced Christianity, but philosophical Deism. As he explained, “I was not a specialist on Aristotle, so I was reading parts of his philosophy for the first time.”
    He is referring, of course, to Aristotle’s famous argument for the existence of an incorporeal Unmoved Mover in his Physics.

    One hopes that Mr. Flew will continue on his Aristotelian journey, and continue on to the Metaphysics, where Aristotle declares, “therefore it must be of itself that the Divine thought thinks (since it is the most excellent of things), and its thinking is a thinking on thinking,” and nearly stumbles, by the light of natural reason alone, upon the Christian doctrine of the generation of the Son by the Father through an act of Divine self-understanding.

  • Mr. F. Le Mur · March 4, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    If actually true, this really surprises me.

    If true, I think it’s hilarious.

    Indeed, they are formidable thinkers whose atheism is often supremely defended in debates with theologians.

    Defending beliefs contra a bunch of goofy old ghost stories could imply formidable courage if there were a chance of being burned at the stake for doing so, but that’s about all.

  • harry flashman · March 5, 2009 at 12:16 am

    Wait – I’m a conservative. Religion, metaphysics, manure or five millenia of superstition doesn’t change one fact.

    Ain’t nobody, no time, never, come back from being dead. And, theirin is the question – how come, if there is a life after death, that ain’t nobody, no time, ever, have come back with something to say about it?

    Jesus the Nazerene was ascended? And now he’s got nothing to say beyond the inerrerant Gospels? Mohammed the lliterate, polygamous, pedophile author of the Koran demands of us a greater state of being?

  • harry flashman · March 5, 2009 at 12:23 am

    Formidable thinkers? ReallY? How so? Any intellectually honest human must conclude that the only answer, the only conceivable answer is simply, I don’t know.

    Given the facts that have been presented to me and the facts I’ve sought on my own result in only one answer. And that answer is – I don’t know – don’t have a clue, don’t fucking know.

  • Cornelius J. Troost · March 5, 2009 at 7:56 am

    Danny- thanks for correcting that snafoo. I had read rather quickly re the conversion of Flew during a serious illness but apparently that illness abated somehow. Flew’s conversion to Deism rather than Christianity is only a technical point but I still thank you for the correction.

    Mr. Le Mur and Mr. flashman: Iam unsure which is worse, atheists(or agnostics) who know almost nothing but retain certainty of conviction or the Dawkins type who have a vast knowledge of limited areas and wish to convert the world. Dawkins, for all his zeal, at least has a sense of civility while you seem rather crude and utterly lacking in respect for scholarly work. That’s the price paid for internet openness.

  • silver · March 5, 2009 at 8:02 am

    As for Greg being a Christian…?!?! Does he actually believe any Christian nonsense or just appreciate some aspect of his Christian heritage and thus self-identify as a Christian for nostalgic/social reasons?

    I’ve been an atheist for may years. But the religious experience is real and I decided that there are certain philosophical views that justify grounding one’s life in that experience. I found it very easy to start going to church again even though I don’t even believe in “God,” much less any of the dogma. I just attend to get that religious experience. It’s what most people go to church for too, I think, even though virtually none of them would be aware of it — they think they’re going because that’s “what Jesus wants” or whatever, but they attend because they get something out of it. Fundies, I suppose, are another matter.

    Of course, I could have gone elsewhere besides a Christian church. But Christianity is a very important part of my heritage and it’s familiar, so I don’t have to waste time learning new prayers, rituals etc. Also, I generally don’t like the kind of people who hate Christians, so it’s also my way of sticking it to them. (I mean, I certainly wasn’t going to join a mosque or a synagogue, lol.)

    As for the “Christian nonsense,” well, I don’t mind the actually Christian part of it. It’s the Jewish nonsense at the start of the book that I find particularly obscene.

  • Gotchaye · March 5, 2009 at 8:36 am

    Flashman – That’s an on face reasonable position to take, but I think it’s a bit too skeptical. By the same token, one could insist that “any intellectually honest human must conclude” that he can’t know whether or not he’s constantly deceived by a malevolent demon. This may be technically correct (the best kind of correct!), but someone who seriously considers this possibility is either demented or a philosopher, and in everyday life it’s perfectly all right to say that you have knowledge of at least some things. This would be true even if there were significant numbers of people who refused to claim any knowledge or to take any action for fear that they were being constantly deceived.

    The obvious question is whether or not the possibility that God exists is relevantly similar to the possibility that a malevolent demon does. The claims are parallel enough that I’ve no problem saying that we ought to treat them similarly.

  • Kevembuangga · March 5, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    But the religious experience is real and I decided that there are certain philosophical views that justify grounding one’s life in that experience.

    Really, THIS is the question, how do we get the community experience and the social emotions without the nonsense of arbitrary myths?

  • mnuez · March 6, 2009 at 7:32 am

    Utopian idealism, preferably with the possibility of eternal life thrown in – think Kibbutz meets Singularity.

  • Mr. F. Le Mur · March 6, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    Troost: “Mr. Le Mur and Mr. flashman: Iam unsure which is worse, atheists(or agnostics) who know almost nothing but retain certainty of conviction or the Dawkins type who have a vast knowledge of limited areas and wish to convert the world.”

    It just so happens that I know lotsa stuff, but I stopped bothering to read/learn anything about the various religions about 30 years ago because it was all pretty damned, so to speak, silly. And it wasn’t because I “saw the non-light” and became an atheist – I’ve never not been an atheist. I don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy either: how much do you think I should know about Tooth Fairyism? And I have *no* interest in converting anybody, so why should I be deferential to people who’re members of organizations that claim that I will be, or should be, tortured forever (or murdered or taxed or whatever) for not being as stupid as they are?

    But I was feeling grumpy when I posted above, and accidentally told the truth, which is that I think religious people are some combination of stupid and weak-minded. I know some religious people are intelligent in an IQ-test way, but I still think they’re laughable, like a guy with a “kick me” sign on his back: maybe he’s smart, but he’s not smart enough to avoid having a sign on his back.

    flashman: “Formidable thinkers? ReallY? How so?”
    No kidding.

    FWIW I read this blog because I really like reading Derbyshire, er, Bradlaugh and Mac Donald, regardless of the subject matter.

    Kevembuangga: “Really, THIS is the question, how do we get the community experience and the social emotions without the nonsense of arbitrary myths?”

    I was going to say “become an environmentalist” but that wouldn’t avoid the nonsense.

  • Daniel Dare · March 6, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Kevembuangga:
    “Really, THIS is the question, how do we get the community experience and the social emotions without the nonsense of arbitrary myths?”

    Join a blog community?

  • Cornelius J. Troost · March 6, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Mr. F. Le Mur:
    If you have always been an atheist I suspect a genetic incapacity on your part to experience mysticism. Dean Hamer’s research revealed that one group-mostly men- have very little propensity for mystical experiences. I guess some of these are the ones who “roll off a log.”Personally I prefer well-read types who can discuss various disciplines and have a tolerance for dissenting views.Many who work their way to atheism spend years learning a variety of related disciplines- not at all comprehensively- but well enough to find their way toward the light. The light for those who favor naturalism is atheism, because the probabilty of heavenly delights is miniscule indeed.

    Atheists can have a social life by either of two routes:(1) Do not advertise your atheism but pull it from your pocket before company that is pompously glorifying their religion, or (2) socialize a la Mensa by celebrating your atheism narcissistically with other hawkish demolition experts.I happen to like the introverted route but on occasion I shoot down religious exhibitionists out of disgust.However, if outnumbered 100-1 it is far better to exhibit a sardonic smirk and get out quickly.

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