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Dawkins on the WTC attacks

2001-09-17 20:00:48+00 by Dan Lyke 12 comments

Man, Dave has been digging up some good stuff. Richard Dawkins on the WTC attacks. Maybe some of the more religous among us could pipe up with discussion on:

I am trying to call attention to the elephant in the room that everybody is too polite - or too devout - to notice: religion, and specifically the devaluing effect that religion has on human life. I don't mean devaluing the life of others (though it can do that too), but devaluing one's own life. Religion teaches the dangerous nonsense that death is not the end.

[ related topics: Religion Politics Dave Winer WTC/Pentagon attacks ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:45+00 by: concept14

My first reaction to Richard Dawkins' article is that it is moderately subtle Muslim-baiting.

My second reaction is that he does have something of a point, but he is painting it with a too broad brush. All of the prophets have taught that how we live our lives in this world is immensely important; we shouldn't be concerned only with an afterlife. Just what does Dawkins mean by "religion," anyway? And "religions of the Abrahamic kind," to use his overly clever phrase?

Here's what I mean by religion. When a prophet, a spiritual visionary, is gone from the scene, the organizations founded by the first generation of followers may become corrupted. They may come to be more interested in perpetuating themselves than in propagating the teachings of the founders. This is when a spiritual movement becomes a religion. Religion is institutionalized spirituality.

Unfortunately, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, and all the rest neglected to register their names as trademarks. So now anyone can apply these labels to their religious organizations whenever they like, whether or not their own lives bear any resemblance to how the prophets taught and showed that we are to live. This happens with secular figures such as Marx and Freud too.

I try to keep this in mind while struggling to interpret recent events. Why don't all the moderate people in the Middle East speak up more strongly to say that they disagree with the terrorists? Hmm, if I'd like other people to do that, I should also speak up about people who claim the same religious label that I do:


In conclusion, I agree with Dawkins that religion shares some of the blame for suicide bombers -- provided that we are using my definition of religion, as above. We can criticize the perversions and devolutions of organized religions without bashing their original inspirations.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:45+00 by: MikeRed

I believe that Dawkins misses one other explanation for this behavior. It may be a rational choice to optimize the survival chances for your genes if your suicide makes life significantly better for your family over the long term.

While this is not a sufficient explanation for Suptember 11, but it does have to be considered. I'm suprised that Dawkins didn't give it at least a passing glance.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:45+00 by: drac

I thoroughly disagree.

While I am disaffected with organised religion, and think that it has been responsible for horrors untold through the course of history, I find that this is not due to the nature of religion, but rather to the nature of mankind.

I am not speaking of any mystical quality, but rather that human beings by nature strive to protect those close to them, and spring to attack those who are different.

This tendency operates for differences of colour, religion, nationality, gender- any difference that can be detected.

Where religion has not been an issue, we destroy each other over race, culture or "nationality", a ridiculous pretext if ever there was one.

Indeed, I see this article as nothing more than the articulation of this same tendency, with a "non-religious" or "religion-suspicious" person establishing distance between him and "those dangerous religious folk".

Weren't millions killed in Russia without religious cause?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:45+00 by: ziffle

"This is John Galt Speaking"

It is[Wiki] the original inspiration of all religions that is evil. We exist. Existence Exists. All forms of religion are an attempt to wish away what is[Wiki]. There is no other place but here[Wiki].

It has been 15 years since I read Atlas Shrugged through; I began rereading John Galts speech again this week and its wisdom is so strikingly profound. May I suggest that those who had not read it recently open to the page where John Galt speaks to the world?

From Atlas Shrugged:

"Yes, this is an age of moral crisis. Yes, you are bearing punishment for your evil. But it is not man who is now on trial and it is not human nature that will take the blame. It is your moral code that's through this time. Your moral code has reached its climax, the blind alley at the end of its course. And if you wish to go on living, what you now need is not to return to morality - you who have never know any - but to discover it.

"You have heard no concepts of morality but the mystical or the social. You have been taught that morality is a code of behavior imposed on you by whim, the whim of a supernatural power or the whim of society, to serve God's purpose or your neighbor's welfare, to please an authority beyond the grave or else next door - but not to serve your life or pleasure. Your pleasure, you have been taught, is to be found in immorality, your interests would best be served by evil, and any moral code must be designed not for you, but against you, not to further your life, but to drain it.

"For centuries, the battle of morality was fought between those who claimed that your life belongs to God and those who claimed that it belongs to your neighbours - between those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of ghosts in heaven and those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of incompetents on earth. And no one came to say that your life belongs to you and that the good is to live by it.

"Both sides agreed that morality demands the surrender of your self-interest and of your mind, that the moral and the practical are opposites, that morality is not the province of reason, but the province of faith and force. Both sides agreed that no rational morality is possible, that there is no right or wrong in reason - that in reason there's no reason to be moral.

"Whatever else they fought about, it was against man's mind that all your moralists have stood united. It was man's mind that all their schemes and systems were intended to despoil and destroy. Now choose to perish or to learn that the anti-mind is the anti-life.

"Man's mind is his basic tool of survival. Life is given to him, survival is not. His body is given to him, its sustenance is not. His mind is given to him, its content is not. To remain alive, he must act, and before he can act he must know the nature and purpose of his action. He cannot obtain his food without a knowledge of food and of the way to obtain it. He cannot dig a ditch - or build a cyclotron - without a knowledge of his aim and of the means to achieve it. To remain alive, he must think.

"But to think is an act of choice. The key to what you so recklessly call 'human nature,' the open secret you live with, yet dread to name, is the fact that man is a being of volitional consciousness. Reason does not work automatically; thinking is not a mechanical process; the connections of logic are not made by instinct. The function of your stomach, lungs or heart is automatic; the function of your mind is not. In any hour and issue of your life, you are free to think or evade that effort. But you are not free to escape from your nature, from the fact that reason is your means of survival - so that for you, who are a human being, the question 'to be or not to be' is the question 'to think or not to think.'


The existence of the United States, the result of the enlightenment, the first country founded upon those philsophical principles which recognize the existence of and the right of men to live for themselves, with its resulting symbols of commerce like the World Trade[Wiki] Center, symbolizes the start of our journey toward freeing ourselves from the mystics, and this is what the attack was intended to destroy.

All religions preach the same message of disdain for free minds, and free trade, and in this way thay are all the same. Go into any church this week and listen to the sermon. Hear the actual words that are spoken and ask yourself -'is he serious'? He is. It is your mind they want - they want you to follow - and they want to be your leader - and, once you have capitulated, you are theirs - whether its attacking the WTC or by simply voting for what they want. Violence on a persons mind is their true goal.

Someday the planet will be rid of these viruses called 'religion' and those germs spreading the virus which they call 'prophets'. Those who see it clearly now are already in that bright new time.


#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:45+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

Johnathon Hendry has already addressed most of where Dawkins is wrong (see http://wmf.editthispage.com/discuss/msgReader$5738). Just to sum up: these terrorists were married (i.e. not unattractive) and acted as intelligent agents, not empty-headed pawns.

Additionally, it is interesting that those here who hold to objectivism quote Ayn Rand like a prophet. Randian Objectivism has just as many of the negative attributes of Religion that fundamentalist, clinic-bombing Christianity has. They both have a dramatically negative impact on our society.

To paint "all religions" with the same brush is to show your own predjudice.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:46+00 by: Dan Lyke

Mark, you wanna posit some of the ways that Objectivism has "a dramatically negative impact on our society"? I disagree with Ziffle on a few things, and Rand on a few things, but overall I've seen it mainly as a force towards a society that I'd rather live in.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:46+00 by: petronius

It strikes me that the only impact Objectivism has had on society is to generate several million boring posts on the Internet. Maybe we can see in Objectivism a microcosm of the entire religion/philosophy problem. In theory from Objectivism we receive an incredibly liberating approach to life for those who have the balls to pursue it. In real life, where are the John Galts and Howard Roarkes? In the real world, The Objectivist movement has ended up as a hermetic personality cult with acolytes, excommunications and Holy Writs. what happened? Well, real, weak, average humans tried to run it. Just like Christianity, Islam, Judaism etc.

Maybe the most palatable religious position for our century would be the 12-step movement, which came out of liberal protestantism. It ackowleges a god, or higher power, but the nature and desires of this entity are left almost completely to the individual to interpret. Its process of spiritual devlopment is so resolutely inwardly directed that the idea of imposing it on someone else is absurd. The movements entire internal structure is such that it can't even afford the postage to create a mass movement. No jihads or Crusades here.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:46+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger

I see a lot of Objectivists quoting Ayn Rand without thinking through the consequencese of her philosophy -- and without taking into consideration the psychological power of fiction to make an impractical philosophy plausible.

That said, my statement that "Objectivism has just as many negative attributes" as that of a religious philosphy that has killed a few clinic workers is hyperbole. I have no proof of it.

However, those steeped in Objectivist theology (where Reason is God) practice their own religion and have their own sacred scriptures.

Those of us who practice more conventional religions will point out that the Islamic Jihad against the U.S. is not part of widely accepted Islam any more than clinic bombers are part of widely accepted Christianity. This will not matter to Dawkins and other anti-religious zealots who see all religion as damaging. They, like Ziffle, consider themselves enlightened and elite. They are the Supermen who are above mere mortals who must worship God. These Supermen look to the brave new world where no one needs God anymore.

I could go on, but my point is simply that many anti-religionists consider themselves "saved", "chosen", or "set apart" from the religionists.

I'll shut up on this now, but it all seems related to what Dave McCuster has been writing in these past few days about Mary Douglas' group-grid model (http://www.treedragon.com/ged/map/ti/newSep01.htm).

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:46+00 by: ziffle

It is only[Wiki] the Objectivists that have 'thought' through the entire issue. And its not that anyone is above anyone else who must worship a god, its just that there are no gods. Years ago I cast off that gloomy outlook and the whole world seemed alive and clear. Try it yourself. No one is 'against' religion, its just -- so silly.

In the end, the issue is epistemology. How do you know what you know?

One of the arguments here has alluded to similarities between Objectivism and negative aspects of religion -- doesn't it seem that casting what you are arguing against as similar to negative aspects of what you are arguing for, makes what you are arguing for seem not worth bothering with?

#Comment made: 2001-09-19 21:42:25+00 by: Mark A. Hershberger [edit history]


The Objectivists claim that there are no gods. Christians (and other mono-theists) there is a God. Neither one of us can prove the other wrong. So what?

Both also claim various levels of exclusivity. You, for example, seem to think that only Objectivists can reason, or that anyone who has thought through the entire issue would be an Objectivist. That borders on the absurd, but I suppose that as a tenet of your faith it is no more absurd than the belief that unrepentant sinners burn in hell in the afterlife.

I do not believe that clinic bombers or WTC suicide pilots prove or disprove anything about religion in general any more than certain groups of Objectivists prove anything about Objectivism in general.

Religions (and I include Objectivism here since I consider it to be the worship of reason) are tools. In the right hands they can be used for good or evil. If a leader of some religious Christians causes them to bomb clinics, does this mean Christ (and the movement that resulted from his teachings) is evil? Of course not! The same can be said of Islam.

People often follow leaders. Sometimes leaders cause those who follow them to do terrible things. Not all of those leaders are religious.

FWIW, Lee Malatesta posts an interesting list of atheists who've had a negative societal impact including such notables as Theodore Kazynscki, the Littleton shooters, etc. Perhaps these people were not Objectivists, but they were certainly areligious. This is proof positive (at least as good as Dawkins' "proof") that the non-religious are as dangerous as the religious.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:46+00 by: ziffle


Please define god - then ask others to agree if you want - or you can try to prove it - if you can... Do not confuse everyone elses way of understanding reality with your own - you are attempting to paint others with your view - epistemology is the issue.

Atheists who arrive at their views by proclaiming 'there is no god' as a starting point are making the same error as a religious person - they should also 'check their premises', and they make the same ethical errors.

We all select a philosphical view - either consciously chosen or by default -most accept the one they are presented with - that is why there are a lot of Christians in the US, and Moslems in Iraq, etc. Is that why you are not a Vede?

Objectivism is not about knocking 'religion' - its about living as a human, using reason to further his life. You use reason every day - any reason you should abandon that valuable process when you examine for yourself what is the basis of an ethical life? No. You know, when I spend time with Objectivists, the subject of religion rarely comes up - its just not worth bothering with - no one cares about it - it seems like -- part of a museum.

But you seem to see everything in those terms; may I suggest you try reading Atlas Shrugged - you might find it changes your life. Or reread my first post closely if you do not have time to read AS.

I am going to let you have the last word on this because it has deteriorated into the usual circular argument.



#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:32:46+00 by: concept14

I've read Atlas Shrugged, and it did change my life to some extent. I can't isolate its impact from that of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, my college econ text, and any number of other influences.

But it didn't persuade me to stop attempting to live my life after Jesus' example.

In fact there used to be a Christian libertarian group. Their newsletter was called something like The 8th Chapter of Galatians.