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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Stephen Fry Speaks on Religion and Atheism (Page 1)

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Author Topic: Stephen Fry Speaks on Religion and Atheism
Alcon
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http://bigthink.com/ideas/17864

Wow, he touches on so many things. I only had this playing in the background while I'm at work (I tend to play TED and Bigthink videos while I work instead of listen to music), but so many things jumped out at me. I want to know what Hatrack thinks of what he's saying. It's a 15 minute video, should be work safe.

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theamazeeaz
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I don't think that I've ever thought that people who believe in an afterlife would not live their life to the fullest. Sure, the sermon on the mount has promoted that idea the meek, oppressed, poor, etc. will be rewarded in heaven for their suffering and have what they were lacking, but I've always thought that it was along the "afterlife will be better than this one" lines.

I think the afterlife concept makes the idea of dying easier (see your dead relatives again!), or accepting a terrible situation as a poor laborer, say, but it doesn't stop people from being less enthusiastic. Someone sufficiently concerned about the afterlife could try to score points and be the best person they could be, while one who did not believe in it could easily blow things off, knowing that anything they do won't matter once they are dead since their consciousness ends. Whether you live a fulfilling life depends on your personality really, not the beliefs behind it.

I too find the idea that there can not be morals without religion demeaning to people who have rejected religion for whatever reason.

[ February 26, 2010, 05:51 PM: Message edited by: theamazeeaz ]

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The Rabbit
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Like many atheists, I think his comments show he doesn't understand the point of religion and the role it plays in peoples lives (I think the same could be said of many theists but that's another issue).

His comment about the afterlife is the prime example. One can believe in an afterlife and still believe that every second of this life is enormously important. In fact, this is a key teaching of many religions, the importance of the here and now.

The afterlife doesn't make the idea that I will die any easier. If there is nothing after life, there is nothing to fear. I think belief in an afterlife is so compelling because it makes the deaths of those we love so much easier to bear. For me at least, thee idea that people I know and care about could suddenly without warning cease to exist is far more painful to contemplate than my own death.

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0Megabyte
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Oh yeah, there's a lot of comfort to be had, and it does have a strong capacity to inspire people to bear difficult burdens or work towards something more, due to the comfort and possibility of judgement, respectively.

But I just don't believe it's true. It's not a happy truth, but there's a lot of things in this world, a lot to comfort and inspire, not based on that thing, which I don't consider true.

Some people, I've met a few, tend to say things like "how can you live without the idea of eternal life? Why do anything? I would go on a killing spree if I believed that!" I tend to think they're full of it and wouldn't do that, but on the off chance, I find that thinking, that mindset, wrong even if the afterlife were real. Because just relying on it to that extent, as some people claim in hyperbole, doesn't strike me as a good thing even if you are religious.

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Glenn Arnold
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quote:
His comment about the afterlife is the prime example. One can believe in an afterlife and still believe that every second of this life is enormously important. In fact, this is a key teaching of many religions, the importance of the here and now.
Context is important. The reason religions believe that every second of this life is important is very different from his (and every atheist) reason, which is that if there is no afterlife, then every second of this life is all we have. The two cannot be equivalent.

As to whether he understands the point of religion, I think he does. And if it's true that there is not a God, then he understands it better than theists do.

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katharina
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He speaks as an outsider telling the insiders what they believe.

On this topic, he's like the Russian ice dancers with their "Aborogine" outfits.

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MattP
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Only if those Russians grew up as Aborigines and changed race in their teens.
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Glenn Arnold
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quote:
He speaks as an outsider telling the insiders what they believe.

I have been saying for quite awhile that whenever theists and atheists discuss religious topics, it is necessary to begin with a tautology: There IS a God OR there IS NOT a God.

Fry does this. And in this case, he states his premises, which is all that is necessary to do. If there is a God, then there is no real argument here at all, Fry is just wrong. But if there is not, then the "insiders" aren't really insiders at all.

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Strider
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as Matt brings up, it also assumes that atheists were born atheists. Which is not the case. I grew up a religious Jew. Very religious. And though I am an atheist now, I don't think you'd be on firm ground calling me an "outsider" when I choose to speak about religion.
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Geraine
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Being from a religious background, the idea of an afterlife is both comforting and frightening.

It is comforting because we are taught that getting old and dying is not the end of my existence.

It is also frightening because we are taught that if we aren't good enough, our existence after this life is going to suck horribly.

Even the most pious person still has a tinge of fear when they think about their demise.

That being said, whether I were religious or not I would be fearful of death. If there is an afterlife and I'm not good enough I go to hell, but if there is no afterlife it is the end of my existence.

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scifibum
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I fear dying, because I fear nothing.
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katharina
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He has spent his adult life as an atheist. It isn't like there is one reason, and it is especially false that religious feeling doesn't develop past adolescence.

That's actually something I've noticed - people who abandon their religion in the teens are frozen at a teenage maturity level in respect to their understanding of religion.

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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by katharina:
He has spent his adult life as an atheist. It isn't like there is one reason, and it is especially false that religious feeling doesn't develop past adolescence.

That's actually something I've noticed - people who abandon their religion in the teens are frozen at a teenage maturity level in respect to their understanding of religion.

I agree with katharina on this. There are certainly people who remain at an adolescent level of understanding regarding their religion. But I for one would have found my adolescent counterparts views on religion obnoxiously juvenile. Yes I know how stupid that sounds. My understanding of God has changed even since 2005 when I joined hatrack, in part because of discussions that went on here.
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King of Men
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That is because teenagers are a lot less sophisticated than adults, and tend to think that when you say "X exists", there is some actual X which does in fact exist, and further, that you have a good and demonstrable reason for saying so. This is what is meant by "childlike faith". Adults, becoming aware that they cannot in fact defend their beliefs as anything but "Because I say so", will eventually get ground down into a 'mature' view which dispenses with minor formalities like evidence and concentrates on the high-minded spirituality of it all.
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scifibum
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quote:
Originally posted by katharina:
He has spent his adult life as an atheist. It isn't like there is one reason, and it is especially false that religious feeling doesn't develop past adolescence.

That's actually something I've noticed - people who abandon their religion in the teens are frozen at a teenage maturity level in respect to their understanding of religion.

There's no reason why choosing not to be religious any more freezes someone's understanding of religion, you know. I'd guess that there are as many, proportionally, sophomoric religious thinkers as there are sophomoric atheists. I've certainly observed some crushingly stupid and self serving testimony from adult believers. I don't think this reflects that people who choose to be religious as teens freeze their understanding at that maturity level. It means there are some kind of dumb individuals in the population. (As there are in the atheist population.)
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natural_mystic
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quote:
Originally posted by katharina:

That's actually something I've noticed - people who abandon their religion in the teens are frozen at a teenage maturity level in respect to their understanding of religion.

Can you give examples of religious beliefs that demonstrate a substandard maturity level?
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natural_mystic
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quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
I fear dying, because I fear nothing.

Is it rational to fear something 'you' will never experience?
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scifibum
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quote:
Originally posted by natural_mystic:
quote:
Originally posted by katharina:

That's actually something I've noticed - people who abandon their religion in the teens are frozen at a teenage maturity level in respect to their understanding of religion.

Can you give examples of religious beliefs that demonstrate a substandard maturity level?
Here's one I've noticed. Some people will cite the problem of evil as a reason why they don't believe in a benevolent god. There are plenty of attempts to reconcile that problem. You can still reject those answers. But if you don't show any awareness of the relatively sophisticated attempts to reconcile that problem, it makes you seem unsophisticated by comparison. So when I hear "God wouldn't allow all this suffering to happen" (full stop) I don't give the person full credit for thinking it through.

But I also hear religious adults talk about how God helped them find their missing glasses so they could make it to the airport in time to fly to Mexico for their vacation, and that's how they know he's really there. *shrug* some people are shallow. So what.

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scifibum
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quote:
Originally posted by natural_mystic:
quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
I fear dying, because I fear nothing.

Is it rational to fear something 'you' will never experience?
I experience something generally called "will to live"... threats to continued existence are scary. I fear nothingness because it represents the absence of existence. I don't fear the lack-of-experience of nothingness, just that I don't get any more somethingness.
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natural_mystic
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quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
quote:
Originally posted by natural_mystic:
quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
I fear dying, because I fear nothing.

Is it rational to fear something 'you' will never experience?
I experience something generally called "will to live"... threats to continued existence are scary. I fear nothingness because it represents the absence of existence. I don't fear the lack-of-experience of nothingness, just that I don't get any more somethingness.
As your original statement used the word 'dying' (a process) rather that 'death' (a state) I shouldn't have made my original response. On the other hand "I fear [because] I don't get anymore somethingness" is a bit problematic because when there is no more 'somethingness' there is also no more 'I'.
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Sean Monahan
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When there is no more 'I', there will no longer be fear, but scifibum's 'I' exists now, and feels the fear. As does mine.

quote:
Is it rational to fear something 'you' will never experience?
The fear is not of something he will never experience, it is fear that he will no longer have experiences.
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dkw
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I'm not a big fan of there being no more I. I want lots more I. I think I is pretty great.
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natural_mystic
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quote:
Originally posted by Sean Monahan:
When there is no more 'I', there will no longer be fear, but scifibum's 'I' exists now, and feels the fear. As does mine.

I wasn't claiming his fear wasn't real.

quote:

quote:
Is it rational to fear something 'you' will never experience?
The fear is not of something he will never experience, it is fear that he will no longer have experiences.
Yes I understand that. It is the rationality of fearing that he will no longer have experiences that I'm calling into question.

My purpose was more to mention this minor dilemma, than to vigorously defend it. I don't have a strong opinion one way or the other. This is a nice article which touches on this to some degree.

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Launchywiggin
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Thanks for sharing the video, Alcon.

These discussions about death always leave me feeling numb and paralyzed. The whole "This life is ALL WE HAVE" argument is supposed to motivate me into living life more fully or something, and instead I just freeze and want to escape some more (food, movies, books, whatever).

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rollainm
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quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
quote:
Originally posted by natural_mystic:
quote:
Originally posted by scifibum:
I fear dying, because I fear nothing.

Is it rational to fear something 'you' will never experience?
I experience something generally called "will to live"... threats to continued existence are scary. I fear nothingness because it represents the absence of existence. I don't fear the lack-of-experience of nothingness, just that I don't get any more somethingness.
This.
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Tresopax
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I'd think anybody is speaking as an outsider when discussing with another person about that other person believes.

...

For myself, I can say that the afterlife is not something I think much about when it comes to religion. It's not a reason I believe.

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sinflower
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quote:
as Matt brings up, it also assumes that atheists were born atheists. Which is not the case. I grew up a religious Jew. Very religious. And though I am an atheist now, I don't think you'd be on firm ground calling me an "outsider" when I choose to speak about religion.
Same here. I grew up in a Christian family. I'd also venture to say, based on the atheists that I know, that the majority of atheists didn't have two atheist parents. So while I agree that anybody is speaking as an outsider when discussing another person's individual beliefs, I do think most atheists wouldn't necessarily be speaking as outsiders when talking about the beliefs of the religious community as a whole.

Also, on the afterlife: I don't think anyone really 100% believes in an afterlife. I think it's one of those things where you want to believe in it to take comfort in the idea, and can often succeed in doing so to a certain extent, but not completely. If it were common for religious people to believe 100% in an afterlife, then I think religious people as a whole would fear death, and more importantly mourn the loss of loved ones, a lot less than the general population. But that's not what I observe.

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katharina
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quote:
Originally posted by natural_mystic:
quote:
Originally posted by katharina:

That's actually something I've noticed - people who abandon their religion in the teens are frozen at a teenage maturity level in respect to their understanding of religion.

Can you give examples of religious beliefs that demonstrate a substandard maturity level?
Imagining that religion is all or even mostly about the afterlife is a good example.

Thinking that religious people think in black and white. Imagining that finding a weird quote from a religious leader will destroy someone's faith. Thinking that religion is control, thinking that religion and science and other areas of knowledge are incompatible.

The first time I had this realization when was a 27-year-old friend mentioned that she doesn't go to church because she doesn't feel like she should need to please her mother, and she wishes everyone else at church would let go of the desire to please their parents as well. It was her assumption that if it weren't for a desire to please their parents, most people wouldn't go to church that made me realize that someone's religious maturity can be frozen in time and that person won't even realize it. (My mother is dead and my father doesn't care about his kids' religious activity. To say the least, I don't pretend to religion in order to make family dinners more comfortable.)

There are a lot of examples, but a great deal of them come to imagining that religious people have a black/white view of the world or unsophisticated personal belief systems. That's a very typical teenage mode of thought, and since it is the one they were in the last time they weren't rejecting everything, they imagine it was a characteristic of belief rather than of maturity level.

[ February 27, 2010, 08:03 AM: Message edited by: katharina ]

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TomDavidson
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quote:
There are a lot of examples, but a great deal of them come to imagining that religious people have a black/white view of the world or unsophisticated personal belief systems.
*grin* This makes me wonder, Katie, whether you were an atheist in your teenage years. [Wink]
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Christine
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I don't think I know anyone who abandoned their religion in their teens, so I can't exactly speak to what kat is talking about, but I have two observations:

First, I know a lot of religious adults who, by the example she gave, have never developed a mature view of religion. Who view it as black and white, who don't think religion and science are compatible, etc.

Second, I've known a lot of atheists who seem to have an embittered view of religion....who were somehow wronged (or felt they were wronged) by religion and now can't see it as anything but a bad thing.

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katharina
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I can't quite parse that, but if you are saying that I don't understand what atheists think about religion, that's entirely possible, probable even that I don't comprend the entire wide variety of beliefs. If that's what you got from my post, I think that's sad, but okay.

Of course, I don't actually care what or how atheists think, except for the part where they can't leave religion alone and perpetuating falsehoods about religious people.

Most of the flat-out wrong accusations and discussions, like Stephen Fry's above, fit within my observation.

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steven
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quote:
Originally posted by katharina:
I can't quite parse that, but if you are saying that I don't understand what atheists think about religion, that's entirely possible, probable even that I don't comprend the entire wide variety of beliefs. If that's what you got from my post, I think that's sad, but okay.


I think he was saying that a teenage atheist might have those thoughts about religious people.
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TomDavidson
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I'm saying that your opinion of atheism seems undeveloped, almost like you experimented with it to see what it was like and then, before your attitudes had a chance to get any more sophisticated, decided to do something else. [Wink]

As an example: if you think the entirety of Fry's talk boiled down to "I think all religious people believe in God because they find the idea of an afterlife comforting," you're doing him a grave disservice.

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Glenn Arnold
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Just to throw some gas on the fire.
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MrSquicky
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I think it is an extremely good bet that kat didn't watch Stephen Fry's talk. I'd also lay better than even money she didn't click the link.
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MattP
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quote:
Originally posted by Glenn Arnold:
Just to throw some gas on the fire.

That gas is going to create more heat than light. That differences in IQ were very small. Even PZ Meyers is saying to shut up about it already.
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Glenn Arnold
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Who said I was trying to shed light on anything?

As it is, I'm less interested in the IQ aspect as opposed to the relationship between willingness to bypass evolutionary advantages aspect.

But the real reason I felt it fit in this discussion is because, in essence, it support's Kat's assertion.

quote:
Bailey also said that these preferences may stem from a desire to show superiority or elitism, which also has to do with IQ. In fact, aligning oneself with "unconventional" philosophies such as liberalism or atheism may be "ways to communicate to everyone that you're pretty smart," he said.
I think there's a certain truth to that. And to a great extent, it explains Sarah Palin's popularity.
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Mucus
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quote:
Originally posted by sinflower:
I'd also venture to say, based on the atheists that I know, that the majority of atheists didn't have two atheist parents.

YMMV on this point. Statistically, I find this at least debatable on a global scale given the sheer weight of the non-religious in East Asia.

That said, I don't necessarily buy the idea that it really matters all that much. One doesn't have to have two Marxist parents to have a good understanding of Marxism if one actually reads all the literature and history behind Marxism. And certainly one doesn't have to be a Marxist to have a good understanding of it either.

It is odd that we as a society seem to claiming the opposite for religion.

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dkw
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I don't think that we are. There are atheist religious-studies scholars who likely have a very good grasp of their topic. But just like reading a beginning college economics textbook doesn't mean you have a good grasp of Marxism, taking one comparative religions class doesn't mean you have a good grasp on religion. Which isn't really a fair comparison either, since "religion" is a broader term. Studying enough to have a handle on Marxism should really be compared to studying enough to have a handle on Presbyterianism.

And I feel very confident in guessing that Stephen Fry hasn't studied the religions he's critiquing in any sort of scholarly way.

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King of Men
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I'm fairly convinced that you don't know much Kabbalism or astrology, either. What would you say of an adherent of one of those things who made that criticism of you?
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dkw
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What criticism is that, exactly?
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sinflower
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quote:
YMMV on this point. Statistically, I find this at least debatable on a global scale given the sheer weight of the non-religious in East Asia.
Oh, I didn't think of that. Oops. I was only really talking about America. You're absolutely right. China alone probably has a ridiculous percentage of all the atheists in the world.
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MightyCow
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Just to clarify, is it a teenage view to imagine that some religious people enjoy making strawmen and ad hominems against atheists.
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King of Men
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quote:
Originally posted by dkw:
What criticism is that, exactly?

That you dismiss these ideas without having a deep, scholarly knowledge of them.
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dkw
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But I said nothing about dismissing ideas. I said critiquing.

Also, I was responding to Mucus' assertion that "we as a society" treat a non-adherent who has studied Marxism differently than the equivalent with religion.

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King of Men
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"There is no evidence for that" seems an excellent critique to me.
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TomDavidson
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I'm not sure that Fry was, in the space of that interview, attempting to offer a scholarly critique of any given religion. That said, Dana, I suspect that Fry probably could do so.
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dkw
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Note, again, that I was responding to Mucus' comment about Marxism,and whether someone can have an understanding of something without being an adherent.
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dkw
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quote:
Originally posted by King of Men:
"There is no evidence for that" seems an excellent critique to me.

I wouldn't feel competant to make that critique to an adherent of Kabbalism or astrology, since I don't know what they believe, so I don't know what it is that I'd be claiming to see no evidence for.
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theamazeeaz
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quote:
Originally posted by dkw:
quote:
Originally posted by King of Men:
"There is no evidence for that" seems an excellent critique to me.

I wouldn't feel competant to make that critique to an adherent of Kabbalism or astrology, since I don't know what they believe, so I don't know what it is that I'd be claiming to see no evidence for.
Re: astrology. The positions of the planets when you were born and/or right now affect your life, particularly your romantic one.

An there's no evidence for that.

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