The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Fanaticism Is Such A Bore

Posted on | February 24, 2012 | 50 Comments

by Smitty


Having one of the world’s most prominent atheists admit he’s not totally sure is catnip for believers, but all he’s doing is being a conscientious skeptic.

Total certainty, in my humble, is fanaticism. The kind you encounter in sporting explosive fashion.

For all I’m deeply certain that the Jewish carpenter is actually the meaning of life, that is a spiritual conclusion. There is no closed-form, mathematical, intellectual proof of the existence of God. If such proof existed, the amount of wrangling going on would simply not occur. So even us happy little disciples of that long-ago Galilean peasant need to be really clear when we’re speaking intellectually, and Christianity is one religion among many, and when we’re speaking spiritually, and can make claims that may not pass strictly logical muster.

So let’s hear it for intellectual honesty, and follow up with a question to Dawkins about what, if anything, life means. If he’s too poor to offer a meaning for life, then the next question is why he bothers to behave as though there is some meaning. Shouldn’t barking like a dog be equally meaningful to selling books of folly?


50 Responses to “Fanaticism Is Such A Bore”

  1. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    February 24th, 2012 @ 10:13 pm

    Why do we care?  Penn Jillette is right.  Just look someone in the eye and disagree with them.  As he notes, he has a better relationship with Evangelical Christians than with liberals.  Because there is mutual respect.

    I have been seeing Penn and Teller shows since the 80s.  They are very funny.  They are very talented.  

    I never went to a Richard Dawkins lecture.  I have seen some of his clips to know I would rather watch paint dry.  I made the mistake of going to a Noam Chomsky lecture once and learned by lesson.    

  2. ThomasD
    February 24th, 2012 @ 11:14 pm

    We care for the same reason we care about anything else.  Because words matter.  Either they have definite meaning or they do not.

    An atheist is someone who denies the existence of any deity.

    Doubt is for agnostics.  Either Dawkins is an atheist or he is an agnostic.  you simply cannot be both.

  3. Edward
    February 24th, 2012 @ 11:16 pm

    In other news a Pennsylvania judge ruled that if you mock Mohammed then an angry muslim can legally beat the hell out of you.  Iraq war vet, converted to Islam, sits on the bench and needs to be sitting on a park bench instead.

  4. polypolitical
    February 24th, 2012 @ 11:29 pm

     Rather, an Atheist *believes* there is no deity.  Belief does not mean there cannot be any doubt at all.  Even the most devout believer may have moments of doubt.  An atheist tends, by his nature, to be a skeptic; it seems natural, therefore that he may occasionally be skeptical even of his own belief in a lack of deity.

  5. ThomasD
    February 25th, 2012 @ 12:05 am

     If he entertains doubt then he is not certain, hence he cannot be an a theist

    But there is method to Dawkins recent shift.

    There have been numerous recent news reports about cosmologists claiming that is is possible to explain first cause without resorting to deity.  Interspersed with the names of actual theoretical physicists (Hawkings, etc.) have been names like Dawkins and Hitchens.  Both of whom have authored
    popular books on the subject.

    The only problem being that those persons are not scientists, they are polemicists, and critics have called them, and the ‘news reports’ to account for this apparent incongruity.  You can write such books, but comfucing them for science, much less theoretical science is a fundamental categorical error.

    Hence the ‘newfound’ skepticism of Dawkins, who has previously made his bones absolutely arguing against the existence of God.

    Color me skeptical.

  6. ThomasD
    February 25th, 2012 @ 12:06 am

     Confusing, not comfucing (whatever that is…)

  7. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    February 25th, 2012 @ 1:55 am

    You are absolutely right ThomasD, but I think what Dawkins would fear more than anything is being ignored.  

  8. Anamika
    February 25th, 2012 @ 5:48 am

    Dawkins hasn’t said anything he hasn’t said before. Anyone who has read his book, The God Delusion wouldn’t be surprised with his latest remarks.

    See:  A Telegraph poll of remarkable inanity

    Only the blatantly ignorant folks seem to be surprised.

    That brings us to you, Smitty.

    So let’s hear it for intellectual honesty, and follow up with a question
    to Dawkins about what, if anything, life means. If he’s too poor to
    offer a meaning for life, then the next question is why he bothers to
    behave as though there is some meaning. Shouldn’t barking like a dog be
    equally meaningful to selling books of folly?

    His answers are right in his “books of folly”. Your ignorance is even more appalling, to say the least.

    Dawkins and Daniel Dennet Discuss the Meaning of Life and

    Richard Dawkins explains the meaning of life

    Wilful ignorance, confirmation bias or just plain ignorance is an even bigger bore.

  9. Anamika
    February 25th, 2012 @ 5:59 am

    Don’t let your imagination run wild.

    You are simply ignorant about Dawkins’ atheism. There are no changes in his views:

  10. smitty
    February 25th, 2012 @ 6:00 am

    Referring to the video: suffering, comfort, boredom, luck, thankfulness, comfort, awe, privileged? You call this some sort of answer?

    In what context are these symbols evaluated? You call this an answer?

    Dennet says halleluha

    We are the only ones who know we must die? Is that why animals go off to die, and wales beach themselves?

    This video sounds like an ultra-Deist act of masturbation. These guys who steadfastly refuse to subscribe to any teleological meaning to Life, yet behave as though Life is something meaningful, remain an endless source of amusement.

    I’ll have to default to nodding to Dawkins’ capitalism, for I think his words themselves mark him a crapflooder.

  11. Anamika
    February 25th, 2012 @ 6:02 am
  12. Anamika
    February 25th, 2012 @ 6:17 am

    All concepts related to, “what is the meaning of my life?” pose a problem or simply a question because they have been diverted from their original purpose of ‘simply working its natural course’.

  13. Anamika
    February 25th, 2012 @ 6:37 am

    As for all the mundane expressions of religion or spirituality (and when saying “expression”, “mundane” becomes redundant) they are a failure to keep the radiance to its plain works; turn into words what words can’t convey.

    As for the radiance inside, she is very well content with herself and does not need to talk about love, god, awakening, meditation, peace or joy, but finds them all in action or idleness.

    Which explains the apparent gloom of:

    “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”

    But it is a joyful acknowledgment.

    Ecclesiastes also says in the same vein:

    “There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour.”

  14. ThePaganTemple
    February 25th, 2012 @ 7:01 am

     Why does there have to be a God before there can be any meaning to life? Can’t you find meaning in family, friends, community, love, etc? You need to ask yourself these questions and seriously contemplate them. You’re seeing everything through your own narrow little prism.

  15. Anamika
    February 25th, 2012 @ 7:01 am

    You call this some sort of answer?

    This might make you understand better. Excellent stuff:

    The Purpose of Purpose —  A lectrure by Richard Dawkins

  16. smitty
    February 25th, 2012 @ 7:14 am

    Qoheleth and I go way back.

  17. Anamika
    February 25th, 2012 @ 7:16 am

    ….behave as though Life is something meaningful…

    That’s because, as Dawkins explains:

    “We humans are obsessed with purpose. The question, “What is it for?” comes naturally to a species surrounded by tools, utensils and machines. For such artifacts it is appropriate, but then we go too far. We apply the “What is it for?” question to rocks, mountains, stars or the universe, where it has no place.

    How about living things? Unlike rocks and mountains, animals and plants, wings and eyes, webbed feet and leaves, all present a powerful illusion of design. Since Darwin, we have understood that this, too, is an illusion. Nevertheless, it is such a powerful illusion that the language of purpose is almost irresistible. Huge numbers of people are seriously misled by it, and biologists in practice use it as a shorthand.I shall develop two meanings of “purpose”. Archi-purpose is the ancient illusion of purpose, a pseudo-purpose fashioned by natural selection over billions of years. Neo-purpose is true, deliberate, intentional purpose, which is a product of brains. My thesis is that neo-purpose, or the capacity to set up deliberate purposes or goals, is itself a Darwinian adaptation with an archi-purpose.

    Neo-purpose really comes into its own in the human brain, but brains capable of neo-purposes have been evolving for a long time. Rudiments of neo-purpose can even be seen in insects. In humans, the capacity to set up neo-purposes has evolved to such an extent that the original archi-purpose can be eclipsed and even reversed. The subversion of purpose can be a curse, but there is some reason to hope that it might become a blessing.”

    From The Purpose of Purpose, A Lecture by Richard Dawkins

  18. smitty
    February 25th, 2012 @ 7:16 am

    I don’t understand how the question “In what broader context do we evaluate ‘meaning’?” can be attacked as a “narrow little prism”.

    If I refuse to admit to an absolute zero, can I rationally discuss the temperature outside?

  19. smitty
    February 25th, 2012 @ 7:20 am

    Can’t give it an hour right now, sorry.

    What will be interesting is when Dawkins, or anyone, has a repeatable experiment that goes from the periodic table of elements to self-reproducing life.

    Short of that, he really has nothing more than Spurgeon.

  20. ThePaganTemple
    February 25th, 2012 @ 7:21 am


    These guys who steadfastly refuse to subscribe to any teleological
    meaning to Life, yet behave as though Life is something meaningful,
    remain an endless source of amusement.

  21. smitty
    February 25th, 2012 @ 7:23 am

    Since Darwin, we have understood that this, too, is an illusion. 

    Have we, truly?

    Or is he just selling books?

    How is it that one systematically denies any absolute, and then makes absolute assertions with a straight face?

    Aside: much of Dawkins’ criticism is spot-on; quite a few use faith as an escape from Reason.  But that says more of the escapees than of faith.

  22. smitty
    February 25th, 2012 @ 7:28 am

    And that is narrow? How, exactly?

  23. Anamika
    February 25th, 2012 @ 7:32 am

    After all these years, have you found what you are searching for, or are you still seeker?

  24. smitty
    February 25th, 2012 @ 7:35 am

    I guess if Penn Jillette had the courage to take a truly even look at religions, I might pay him more heed.

  25. smitty
    February 25th, 2012 @ 7:37 am

    Yes and no. Christ is the answer, but not in the sense of a destination. He must still be sought daily, hourly, or you may not be properly grasped by the question.

  26. Anamika
    February 25th, 2012 @ 7:48 am

    What I see is a tension between the two forms of purpose defined by Dawkins that has a mirror in legal philosophy. In jurisprudence, the ‘golden thread’ vision of law versus law as a response to likely consequence has a similar tension.  The ‘archi-purpose’ seems similar to me to the formation of law in response to consequences, where as the ‘neo-purpose’ seems similar to me to the formation of law in response to intent, or lofty ideas such as justice.

    The tension between these two ways of forming law can be seen in such legal questions as ‘the egg-shell skull’.

  27. ThePaganTemple
    February 25th, 2012 @ 8:31 am


    It’s like you’re saying its impossible to find meaning in life without God, and anybody who thinks otherwise is full of shit, worthy of nothing but derision. That’s the way I read it anyway.

  28. ThePaganTemple
    February 25th, 2012 @ 8:34 am

     That wouldn’t prove anything, only that it could be done. The real test would be in determining the origin of the elements in the periodic table, whether divine or by some other agency. And even that wouldn’t necessarily “prove” anything other than it *possibly* happened that way.

  29. smitty
    February 25th, 2012 @ 8:48 am

    If it’s so simple, then Really Smart Guys like Dawkins should just trot it out.

    And I am fully in favor of supporting such research; the effort alone is worthwhile for all the answer may be elusive.

    Kinda like these ‘meaning of life’ threads.

  30. smitty
    February 25th, 2012 @ 8:51 am

    I think these questions of tortilla law represent the malevolent influence of the Mexican legal system on our own.

  31. ThePaganTemple
    February 25th, 2012 @ 9:02 am


    You’re overthinking things and overcomplicating them. It’s not just you, everybody that ponders these issues does the same thing. Everybody goes on these tangents contemplating things with the attitude that “we mortals with our finite reasoning can’t possibly comprehend this”, and then we’re surprised that the answer is so evasive.

    A good rule of thumb might be, when you’re looking at a situation that by its nature started out with a simple formula, the ultimate answer itself might be far more simple than you might imagine.

    Taking the metaphysical path might be spiritually stimulating but it might leave you intellectually famished.

    Remember, keep it simple.

  32. SDN
    February 25th, 2012 @ 9:51 am

    And if you actually believed that any of those were true, you could not be a socialist, because their aim is to make everyone equally miserable.

  33. Tennwriter
    February 25th, 2012 @ 10:15 am

    Not a whole lot of respect for atheists here.

    And while faith is not provable in the mathematical sense, I’d say the majority of evidence rather firmly points to Jesus is the Creator God.

    Darwin is not only dead, but he is also a second rate experimentalist, and a not that good philosopher.

  34. ThePaganTemple
    February 25th, 2012 @ 10:53 am

    I’d say the majority of evidence rather firmly points to Jesus is the Creator God.

    That’s interesting, when you found this evidence, did you by any chance also find any that he actually existed?

  35. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    February 25th, 2012 @ 11:15 am

    Penn Jillette came out and said they do not take on Islam in their show because “they have families” and are afraid of being attacked.  Frankly I think he should leave religion out of the show.  But while I disagree with Jillette on that, I do not find him anywhere near as tiresome as some tool like Dawkins.  

  36. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    February 25th, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

    We should call BS on this:

  37. richard mcenroe
    February 25th, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

    What is the point of family, friends, community, love, etc. , if they are nothing but the product of random chemical interactions and freaks of statistics, no more or less significant than any other?  Your own personal chemical fluctuation in the slow march to entropy will inevitably fade and all of the above will have mean nothing.

    The Greeks who stared at the shadows on the cave walls and faced down the arrows of Xerxes at Thermopylae? Irrelevant.  

    The Romans who took the riotous rude democracy of the Greek city states and codified it into, however briefly, a Republic?  Idiots.

    The Christians who faced lions and emperors to profess their belief in a higher law binding all men?  Fools.

    The anonymous Irish monks who archived the wisdom of a fallen world in their isolated monasteries as Rome and Europe collapsed?  Wasting their time.

    The men with the rusty metal shirts and shining swords who breasted the tide of Islam again and again, in Spain, in France, at Rhodes and Lepanto and Vienna? Deluded.

    The printers and brewers and lawyers and farmers who stood up un Philadelphia and told the greatest power in the world that all men had rights that derived from a nobler and higher source than the indulgence of the powerful, and forged that defiance, however briefly, into a Republic?  Madmen.

    The 300,00 men who died to renew that claim, and the 300,000 more who died to assert that it applied to all men, regardless of race or color?  Lunatics.

    All the millions who have stood and died since then to deny that men are things, property, at the disposal of the king or the state or the party or the revolution or “the people?”  All the men, women and children who have lived and died building homes, factories, farms, universities, museums, a word? Gullible buffoons, one and all.  Deluded moths imagining they could manage the flame — unless there is a flame, and there is some way we can aspire to embrace it and become, in our own small ways, transcendant.

  38. richard mcenroe
    February 25th, 2012 @ 1:35 pm

    Dawkins makes the mirror mistake of the intelligent-design crowd.

    There is no nevessary conflict between evolution and religious belief, none.  For my part, I. happy to consider that evolution is in fact one of God’s tools, set in motion to achieve His ultimate aims for life.

  39. DaveO
    February 25th, 2012 @ 2:30 pm

    Is Dawkins experiencing a Dark Night of the Soul? Or, being an atheist and therefore without a soul, just a Dark Night of the Wallet and needing to market himself and his books?

  40. DaveO
    February 25th, 2012 @ 2:34 pm

    The “God Delusion” was a comedy. When asked how life on Eath began, Dawkins explained his belief in Panspermia.

  41. ThePaganTemple
    February 25th, 2012 @ 2:37 pm

     So what you are saying then is that all of these great things would be meaningless without the promise of heaven or the threat of hell. Sorry, I just don’t agree with that.

  42. richard mcenroe
    February 25th, 2012 @ 2:46 pm

    All of those Great Things are meaningless without a higher purpose behind them.  

    What sensible person would put themselves through all that toil and privation and pain to no end except an inevitable and irrelevant decomposition?

  43. richard mcenroe
    February 25th, 2012 @ 2:48 pm

    Spellcheck, on the other hand, could stand some more evolution.

  44. richard mcenroe
    February 25th, 2012 @ 2:48 pm

    Well, he’s not getting any younger…

  45. ThomasD
    February 25th, 2012 @ 3:03 pm

    Define natural, or nature, as per your usage.

    And explain how you know this definition to be true…

    Perhaps it is you who are ignorant and well out of your depth?

  46. ThomasD
    February 25th, 2012 @ 3:10 pm

    I can respect an atheist who clearly expresses a belief in an absolute – there is no god.

    Just as I can respect the theist who expresses a belief in God or gods.

    I can also respect the agnostic, skeptic, or plain old doubter who simply accepts uncertainty and is willing to entertain all notions equally.

    Verbal bomb throwers who want to have their cake and eat it too?  Notsomuch.

  47. Bob Belvedere
    February 25th, 2012 @ 3:24 pm

    Richard: That was Goddamn brilliant and eloquent.  If you don’t turn it into a post over at TBL, then I will over at TCOTS.

  48. Bob Belvedere
    February 25th, 2012 @ 3:28 pm

    Well, then he’s crazy: who puts their sperm in a pan [except Johnny Rotten one time].

  49. Bob Belvedere
    February 25th, 2012 @ 3:30 pm

    Somebody had to link it:

  50. ThePaganTemple
    February 25th, 2012 @ 4:41 pm


    What sensible person would put themselves through all that toil and
    privation and pain to no end except an inevitable and irrelevant

    Maybe people who knew there would be even worse toil and privation and pain if they didn’t put themselves through all that? Just take your example of the Spartans fighting the Persians, for just one example. Did they really need any more motivation than freedom from the Persians? I doubt that. Sometimes great deeds are or can be their own reward, especially when you look past yourself, and see the overall future impact on your family, community, and legacy.