One of them liberal scholar types

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One of them liberal scholar types

Postby Lausten » Fri Aug 09, 2013 1:36 am

Aslan vs Harris

You sometimes hear people complain that liberal scholarly people do not call in to the ACA. I think this debate is a good approximation of what would happen if one did. Reza Aslan recently came out with the book Zealot, a modern historical analysis of a very political Jesus. In this debate, he argues for the idea that all ancient scriptures are “encounters with the divine” and should be understood in their historical context with a different meaning of “sacred” than we have today. He does a poor job of it. His protests of Sam Harris get repetitive. To me, he does that because that is all he has. He can complain that Harris is presenting a narrow version of religion, but if he could have broadened it, why didn’t he?

When Aslan does try to explain himself it occasionally bordered on the absurd. He said several times that Harris was completely ignoring cultural context. Then when they were arguing about the Israel situation he said, “before 1948 there were thousands of Jews living alongside their neighbors without any problem at all.” This is worse than a Junior High School level of understanding of Zionism. Unfortunately the moderator cut this off before Sam could say much.

At about 40 minutes in Harris finally gets his say. He says it is not easy to convince a modern person to perform a suicidal act of terrorism. He says Aslan’s conception of religion is “infinitely elastic” allowing any definition that suits the moment. If we can’t ever “call a spade a spade” and call religion on its transgressions then this just gives shelter to literalism. The issue, says Harris, is dogmatism. Religion should not be given immunity to the normal tests of reasonableness.

He says, ”Only in religion do we put a veneer of sanctity over dogmatism… once something is called ‘faith’ it becomes an apparently necessary part of the human experience.”

At an hour and 17, Sam Harris’ strength really shows. He has practiced meditation and is willing grant that experiences that are called spiritual are real to the person experiencing them. We should discuss these, but not use them as proof for a particular god. As he says, the alternative to dogmatism is a truly open ended unconstrained discourse about the human experience. This should have been a chance for Aslan to give some ground, show a little agreement, but he goes off on a rant saying “science proved spiritual experiences are chemical, so what”. This tells me he is more committed to the dogma than to better understanding the” human language of the divine”, as he puts it.

Anyway, there’s more, give a listen, tell me if I missed anything.
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Re: One of them liberal scholar types

Postby dobbie » Sat Aug 10, 2013 4:54 am

What a coincidence! I had just got through watching the same Aslan vs Harris debate on YouTube!

Afterwards I bitched to a couple of friends about this person Aslan. Mostly, I complained that he was ambiguous and equivocal, put words into the other person's mouth, and at times he didn't know what he was talking about.

I could go into the particulars of my rant against Reza Aslan, but I'd only bend everybody's ear. They can watch for themselves, by accessing the link that Lausten supplied in his above post.
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Re: One of them liberal scholar types

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Sat Aug 10, 2013 11:26 am

The guy's an asshat. He actually pulled out the argument that secularism and science and socialism are responsible for the large atrocities of the 20th century (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc.). What an ignorant tool.

His other stick is an equivocation fallacy I hate. It goes "It's not fair to blame science and secularism for Stalin, Hitler, Mao, etc., because they are perversions of science, secularism, socialism. By the same reasoning, it's not fair to blame religion for the religious extremists. Bad science and socialism and secularism is bad, but we don't throw out all science and socialism and secularism when sometimes bad things happen. We should use the same reasoning for religion." Bullshit.

I wanted to say at the beginning something along the lines of: "I want to promote the values of honesty, of factually true knowledge, and of humanism. Most of the important factual religious claims are demonstrably false or at best unsubstantiated. Most religion adds very little to promote these values that I care about, and most religion does great harm to these values? What good is there studying a book like the Christian bible when it is merely the product of savage ignorant goat herders? Instead of that, we should be reading Locke, Mill, Hume, and other great moral philosophers when we want moral philosophy. Instead of the Christian bible, we can read good literature when we want good art." Sam really should have started with that. Instead, he has his usual talking points, which is unfortunate, because it seems as though it's getting purposefully misunderstood. Finally, around 42:00 he starts getting to this point. Ugg, Sam still misses most of what I wanted though in that part of the video.

I'll finish this watching a bit. Wanted to post what I had before I forgot about some of it.

"Religion does not solely explain suicide bombings."Maybe not, but one can argue without it that nearly all modern suicide bombers would not be suicide bombers. A topic I know much better is this one: It is fair to say that basically every serious or even semi-serious attempt in the United States to say evolution is false is because of the speaker's religious beliefs. In short, it is asinine to say that (religious) beliefs are not operative. If you believe something is true, then you are going to act on it. That's just how people are. It's asinine to deny that simple fact of human psychology.

Sure, in some cases, where the belief is weak, and the person has a much stronger competing belief, it's possible that they don't act on it. However, those situations are rare. It should not be used to excuse the fact that religious claims are detached from reality, and consequently acting on them tends to do more harm than good when compared with someone who is not delusional.

Ok. Got to the Q&A. That was very disappointing. More than usual. I still don't know what the religious views of the asshat are. I still don't know if his defense is that it's ok to believe things that make you feel good even if you have no justification for it. I still don't know if he thinks that it's right to submit yourself to god to avoid eternal or temporary punishment e.g. hell.

Overall, I get the distinction impression that he is a lying asshat, or so far post-modern that I don't even know where to begin. My bet is is on lying asshat. EDIT: Actually, I think I have a much better comparison. Deepak Chopra. That's what this guy reminds me of. He talks a lot, but never makes a goddamned point.
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Re: One of them liberal scholar types

Postby Lausten » Sat Aug 10, 2013 3:53 pm

Bullshit.

The trick is figuring out exactly where the bullshit begins. It's easy with fundamentalists. It starts when they open their mouth. Guys like this are a little slipperier. He describes a certain kind of reasoning which doesn't lead to "throwing the whole thing out", but then only applies "throwing the whole thing out" back to religion. His argument is that atheists want to do that. Of course many atheists do and some of them don't apply good reasoning to come to that conclusion. So, the question really is, IF you apply good reasoning, will you end up throwing out all of religion? This is what Reza and Chopra and Armstrong and others don't allow. They seem to think that is an unfair question, but I see it as the definition of fair.

At least that's how it appears to me. As soon as you do start applying reason that leads to taking away deep rooted sacred cows, they jump to accusations of being unreasonable and having motives that aren't based on solid philosophy and ethics. Sometimes they can explain how that is true, but in this debate in particular he doesn't. And it's not like I haven't looked for someone who does. I think Sam could have been better prepared and shown the flaw in his logic. On the other hand, he does a better job than Dawkins. Dennet is also good, but he is lecturer, not a debater.
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Re: One of them liberal scholar types

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Sat Aug 10, 2013 8:35 pm

@Lausten

My very next paragraph attempts to answer that very question.

Although I take it as a given that secularism, socialism, and atheism are not responsible for the "horrors of the 20th century". If I wanted to argue that, I would start with a paraphrase Hitchens and probably others: Find me a society that embraced the values of Spinoza, Mill, Hume, and which somehow led to totalitarianism or genocide. Until then, the comparison is utterly dishonest.
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Re: One of them liberal scholar types

Postby Lausten » Sun Aug 11, 2013 2:22 pm

I don't disagree, but I don't see that you're addressing my point. The problem with referring to Locke and Hume is, nobody knows who they are. Even if they do, there are ample critiques of their work showing their weaknesses. Religion is not so much critiqued as dismissed. It's hard to have a discussion about "Thou shalt not kill". You can agree with that, but the Bible says very little about how to administrate it. In fact it breaks its own rule about two pages later. Obama did a speech in a church once on how difficult it would be for him to instruct his cabinet to implement the Sermon the Mount. That is very rare.

Ultimately, you're debating any philosophical system against an ideal. Many believers will admit the Bible isn't a manual, but they'll claim it is pointing to something better, and they'll claim it is the best way to really get there. It's gets weird when you ask "how" and they say, "read the Bible". They say pray and listen to your heart and follow Jesus and lots of other impractical stuff too. The more liberal guys, like Reza, say, use this sacred language to connect with the divine, which sounds fancier, but adds nothing. Still, they believe it, so we're left with Spinoza's impenetrable Propositions vs. Heaven on Earth. It's a tough sell.

Not that I'm giving up. I agree with Sam on how liberal Christianity provides cover for the fundamentalists, but it also provides a path to reason. It's not a direct path, but by allowing some questions and discussion, it gives people a chance to use their brains without being shunned from the religious community. At some point, they still need to decide to leave for themselves. I can understand why churches themselves can't provide that last part of the path, but liberal scholars could help.
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Re: One of them liberal scholar types

Postby dobbie » Sun Aug 11, 2013 3:53 pm

In the following video interview, Reza says that in all probability the Gospel stories about Jesus aren't factual, but they convey truth.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RG6uuFWoNdE
Jennifer Crumpton interviews Reza Aslan, author of "Zealot"

I ask, What truth is that? And how does a story present non-fact and contain truth simultaneously?

Thus I think that Reza confuses the word "truth" with the word "belief" or perhaps even "moral of the story." But he never makes himself clear about it. I think he's one confused puppy.
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Re: One of them liberal scholar types

Postby EnlightenmentLiberal » Tue Aug 13, 2013 5:59 am

@dobbie
I have not watched that new video, but from the last one, I really have no clue what he's talking about. If I had to guess, it's that he would say something like this in response to my questions: "There's more to understanding the world besides material facts. There's 'spiritual facts'." The problem is that I have no clue what he's talking about. It would take a lot of directed questions, and it seems that he very specifically rejects to putting the conversation into the terms which I want to use, which is the entire problem. I want to use specifics and concreteness as much as possible, which seems anathema to his fuzzy mind and fuzzy truths. As I said, dunno. Harris did a horrible job. Harris never tried to clarify what the hell he was talking about. Instead he just went on trying to defend his thesis seemingly without attempting to understand the critique.
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