Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Hopelessness


Last night I had an epiphany while listenig to Brian Sapient talk to Laura Ingraham. The epiphany I had came after this faked heartfelt snare-trap of a statement by Laura- the science illiterate spin meister - Ingraham-
(I erased the stuttering and repetitions of the actual statement)-

When I look at an infant, when I see a mother holding a child, when I witness the humanity and compassion of people, a loving family like the one that supports you...I cant help but think that that enduring love comes from something, it doesn't come from reason, I think it comes from God, but you think that love comes from evolution?
I realized when I heard this statement, and the rest of the interview, that somehow educating these theists like Ingraham about evolution by natural selection and how obvious and well accepted the evolution of morality is amongst social scientists and anthropologists is beyond impossible. It will never happen. It is not because Ingraham is unintelligent, it is because of one simple fact- This fact is that the above statement by Ingraham is so simple, so easily and reflexively received without any question by 90+% of the popoulation, so obvious, so intuitively graspable and seemingly perfect and irrefutable, that there isn't room for even the acknowledgement of a counterargument. Believers think anyone who refutes this must be insane.
The situation is that the most powerful argument by theists like Ingrahams, has no power at all and is easily eschued by the educated and knowledgeable, and yet, and yet... people like Laura Ingraham are probably not even aware of the weakness of their most confident argument. They've never heard of prarie voles and oxytocin, or group behavior, kin selection, reciprocal altruism, selfish genes, etc. This simple little argument is said so point blank and pat as if irrefutably obvious. And if Sapient were given a word-in-edgewise without having his volume turned down to explain what is obvious to mainstream scientists who work on these subjects, he would bore the 30 second attention span of red state America to the depths of hell. Establishing a thought train for more than 10 seconds is a radio no-no. Slogans only please. And the slightest hint of post-graduate education is also a no-no here.
There is absolutely no hope of explaining to these people how futile their ideas are, how powerless their points are in the face of what is known scientifically. Anyone who can say what Ingraham said, feeling such confidence that this is such a powerful argument for god on high, (lets say 90+% of America), without the slightest knowledge or acknowledgement of a counterargument, is outside of constructive conversation.
It's hopeless.
P.S. My favorite part of the talk- Ingraham is talking about how religion is behind every good social movement-
Ingraham- Ghandi, ya, he was a real threat to the world too... or maybe he *was* according to your website I dunno
Sapient- no, actually Ghandi wasn't that bad of a person, but what's funny is that Ghandi is in hell if the Bible is true.
(silence)
Ingraham- Well first of all you need to learn more about the Catholic faith because..
Sapient- I grew up a Catholic.
Ingraham- oh no! Don't tell me that my head hurts
(cut straight to commercial break)

6 comments:

upinVermont said...

Futility is the right word.

That's why the target should be fundamentalism, not God; theism itself is a form of fundamentalism.

The point is this, if one attacks fundamentalism, people get it. It's not an attack on them, it's an attack on narrow mindedness and ignorance. But if one attacks God, then it is an attack on everyone. It's personal. The "frame" of religion is deep and includes everything from apple pies, American flags, to naked women on calendars.

Religion itself is a form of fundamentalism. One cannot be "religious" without accepting certain tenets on a purely fundamentalist basis. With that in mind, the distinction between theism and deism is probably lost on 99% percent of the American public, seriously. For this reason, the better way to discredit religion is to discredit fundamentalism, which is a discrediting of theism. Deism is not irrational. By discrediting fundamentalism, we are discrediting theism.

I have to say, again, as much as I love Harris (and I don't disagree with a thing he says), what he is *really* discrediting is fundamentalism, not religion.

upinVermont said...

OK... I'm not off my soapbox yet.

What you and (probably Harris) really need to do is to read one of Lakoff's books, "Don't Think of Elephant" or "Thinking Points" (which would be better). (Trust me, remember? I'm the guy who recommended that you read Harris in the first place.) They are big print books just over a hundred pages. Read it at your local Borders while you're sipping Tea. There is also "Moral Politics", by Lakoff, if you *really* want to go in depth.

The reason why Harris isn't going to get through to the Christians is because he is fighting a very deep conservative frame which Lakoff calls the "strict father" morality model. Until he understands this, he's only preaching to the choir. Lakoff's model, as far as I'm concerned, makes Dawkins's memes irrelevant.


It is the reason why Harris gets *hate* mail from Christians and it is the reason why the Christians sending them do not, in any way, see the hate mail as hypocritical. The fact that Harris considers the mail hypocritical illustrates the fact that he doesn't yet "get" the conservative frame that enables this stuff. If he understood Lakoff's work, it would make him much more effective.

It would also make *you* really understand what secularists are up against. Christianity, the Republicans, fundamentalism -- it all fits together. It all makes sense. Go... and read these books.

You will see that it's a much subtler problem than "just* religious belief or Christianity. There is a whole package there.

Aaron said...

As per your first message, I pretty much agree. The weird thing is that almost the entire discussion, wait, THE entire discussion is about theism (accept for one obscure gem of an article you must read:

http://www.samharris.org/media/killing-the-buddha.pdf.

I think part of the success and subsequent ire stemming from this "new atheism" is caused by the tact of directly challenging moderates as well. They are the ones who make it possible for evangelicals to flourish. This is Sam Harris' point. The only way to make moderates take more detailed stock of their half-assed Christianity is to challenge them unrelenting over their wishy washy irrational acceptances of portions of doctrines.

Now, as much flack as seems to come due to the attacks of Harris and Dawkins, they have made it more publicly acceptable to call bullshit on religion. But nobody ever changes their minds in public, and rarely do people understand the process by which their minds were slowly changed or who the primary credit should go to changing them. If in fact Harris and Dawkins are responsible for planting the seeds of doubt in thousands of people's minds, the fruit of self-honesty will be harvested by sleepwalkers.

Even if Harris and Dawkins fail in their immediate goals, they may still be hugely responsible for dismantling religion in America. Religion in America is slowly slowly being viewed as something like an Amway fad. Thinking people are being given better, more convenient access to doubt than ever before through books and internet. Any teenage Christian masturbating to internet porn will eventually look up some of Sam's articles out of sheer curiosity and be changed forever. Never again will he have to ask forgiveness.

Aaron said...

As per the second message,

Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins are repeatedly blamed by other atheists for taking this no prisoners approach because it isn't effective.

I think that if everyone were like Harris and Dawkins they would be right. Then it would not be effective. But we need harris and dawkins the same way we need the daily show. The daily show says true things through comedy that reputable news broadcasts would be too afraid to say. Harris and Dawkins do the same. Neither of them represent some reputation-sensitive organization of one sort or another, or depend on their party-line to receive a paycheck. Someone like, say, Neil de Grasse Tyson for instance, would not be able to get away with it.

I may look into the books. But I am under no illusion about what we are up against with fundamentalism, I understand it won't budge in the center. But I truly think it is time it receives a significant blow. I think the assault of Harris and Dawkins is working because of one primary reason- Their major arguments against fundamentalism cannot be validly refuted without arguing from faith. I haven't seen anything refute them. As long as they stick to their guns they cannot be found to be "wrong". Only faith can disagree with them, and I think that at some point, reasonable and thoughtful Christians who really care about the argument must cave in. It may take decades but I agree with Daniel Dennett's optimism:

http://edge.org/q2007/q07_1.html#dennett

(despite the "hopelessness" of my previous post I am optimistic that things will eventually change, but actually witnessing this change directly is hopeless. People recant in private, then claim they saw it all along).

Aaron said...

"The religious fervor of today is a last, desperate attempt by our generation to block the eyes and ears of the coming generations, and it isn’t working. For every well-publicized victory–the inundation of the Bush administration with evangelicals, the growing number of home schoolers in the USA, the rise of radical Islam, the much exaggerated “rebound” of religion in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, to take the most obvious cases–there are many less dramatic defeats, as young people quietly walk away from the faith of their parents and grandparents. That trend will continue, especially when young people come to know how many of their peers are making this low-profile choice. Around the world, the category of “not religious” is growing faster than the Mormons, faster than the evangelicals, faster even than Islam, whose growth is due almost entirely to fecundity, not conversion, and is bound to level off soon."
-Dan Dennett

upinVermont said...

One can only hope.

But the number of Americans who believe in Noah's Ark makes the glass look half empty.