Penn Jillette confesses that he’s adopted Christianity, and then discusses “Islamophobia”

August 27, 2016 • 10:00 am

Well, see for yourself.

Here on The Big Think, Penn Jillette, famous magician and well-known atheist and libertarian, talks for 13 minutes about “Islamophobia.” After meeting a Muslim who became an atheist, but couldn’t admit it to others for fear of his life, Penn apparently realized the problems with Islamophobia, and talks about them for most of this video. His sentiments—that we can abhor a religion but not persecute its adherents—is admirable though hardly new to us, as is his disdain for Trump’s policies on restricted immigration. Yes, we need to exercise compassion for persecuted people, and open our doors to them as wide as we can, but there’s an issue we’re overlooking (see below).

As for the connection between Islam and terrorism, and whether we’ll subject ourselves to dangers by allowing more immigrants from the Middle East, Jillette admits that “There are hard problems here, really hard problems.”

But Penn neglects a serious problem when he says this:  “You’re not allowed to hate people for their ideas.” Now that’s just not right. Excuse me for Godwinning, but are we not allowed to hate Hitler, only his Nazism and anti-Semitism?  Are we not allowed to hate Jihadi John, who cuts off people’s heads, but only the religious ideology that promoted that action? Are we not allowed to hate Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose “theology” has led to the deaths of thousands?

The fact is that people instantiate their ideas through their actions, and holding beliefs that can inspire bad acts is itself reprehensible. If someone told you that they adhered to a form of Islam that held women to be inferior, called for a worldwide caliphate, and called as well for the death of apostates, gays, and non-Muslims, are we not allowed to hate them for that? Must we say, as does Penn, that “We have to remember that people are good.” But what about good people who adopt and act on those bad ideas? Don’t they become bad people?

Can you really separate ideology from a person? Yes, none of us are perfect, but some people have better beliefs and actions than others. And for some, the nature of their beliefs and actions descends to the level where we can say, “These are evil people.” Do any of us doubt that religious ideology can turn good people into bad ones?

What we should disdain—what I call “Muslimophobia”—is an obsessive hatred of and bigotry against Muslims in general. But I think it’s too facile to hold a doctrine that can assess people separately from the ideas they hold. I do not like any religious people who adopt religious doctrines that call for bigotry against women, gays, nonbelievers, or members of other faiths. That goes for Christians and Jews as well as Muslims.

(Note, by the way, the tremendous amount of weight Penn has lost because of his fruit-and-vegetable diet: 105 pounds! That came after he was hospitalized for high blood pressure. He looks good, but I’m not used to a lean Penn!)

177 thoughts on “Penn Jillette confesses that he’s adopted Christianity, and then discusses “Islamophobia”

  1. “You’re not allowed to hate people for their ideas.”

    If we’re gonna hate somebody, seems to me that their ideas are the best of all possible reasons to do so (that, and their actions, of course, but what turns actions truly contemptible are the ideas that motivate them).

    Sure beats hating on people because of an immutable characteristic, like skin color or nationality or sexual orientation.

    1. I tend to “hate” people for their actions, not their ideas, although most of the time their ideas are the motivator behind their actions. My question is: Who is it that doesn’t “allow” me to hate people for their ideas, and by what means is this done?
      Penn might be a great magician, but I’ve never felt he was much of a thinker- the book I read by him was juvenile and shallow.

      1. I didn’t listen, but I reacted to Templeton’s “Big Think” label. Especially as from Penn I have only ever seen small think, agreed, which is why I didn’t take the time.

        Penn makes arguments by way of strident monologue, but the arguments aren’t solid. (Sounds like me when I am winging it.)

        1. Reading your post made me realize that “Big Think” is a great euphemism for taking a crap.

          “Excuse me, after than wonderful meal, I need to go have a ‘Big Think’, be back in a few.”

    2. There is also the issue of the word “hate”. It is extremely amenable to equivocation, and is essentially meaningless unless accompanied by a qualifying dissertation.

      1. Yes, I have problems with all those labels (and especially those who motivated by religion, e.g. ‘evil’): “hate”, “good/bad”, “good/evil”, …

        I don’t hate people much and/or long. But I can certainly detest them for their active problematic actions and views, those that break other’s rights and freedoms and especially those that damage much. (Say, war criminals.)

        Can I detest Hitler? Maybe, but he is dead so that is a theoretical problem. It becomes practical if someone claims I should detest a recovered criminal, or even one that is undergoing prison treatment. (Thinking of Norway here.)

        I’ll admit that it is hard not to detest political mass murdered Breivik. Breivik, who – for some reason imprinted in the laws of physics – is never going to change, but is just prevented from repeating his deeds.

        1. … he is dead so that is a theoretical problem.

          I dunno, there are historical figures I hate copiously — hell, I can work up a pretty good hate for fictional characters. (Nurse Ratched, fer instance; I’ve got a major hate on for her.) Guess most of the fictive characters I hate qualify as “archetypes,” usually of the authoritarian kind.

          Anyway, I don’t really care what another person’s ideology is — well, I mean, I care, but I don’t think any formal penalties or sanctions should ever inure due to ideology alone. It’s when ideology leads someone to deny others their basic human rights or the equal protection of law that legal consequences should follow.

  2. The sentiment is nice, but, isn’t curious that they’re always attacking the weakest link in the chain? The fanatics that could kill his friend, how we should treat them?
    Simply saying that immigration is “complicated” and attacking the easier target closer to home is good for the heart; worrisome for effective solutions.

    (i don’t think that hyperbolic deportation will save the world; but neither is just saying “Pray for ” and condemning security concerns. Saying this will probably turns me as a target for both sides, like the unfortunate Jilette’s friend)

    1. “I don’t think that hyperbolic deportation will save the world…”

      I think that Muslim immigration must be massively down-regulated, and those still allowed to immigrate must be those who in their home countries are at risk because of their secular views, such as Raif Badawi’s wife.

      I also think that the reason many nice people are against this, is that they think the measure will be automatically extrapolated to Muslims already in the West.

      This is not the case. Actually, I think many of these Muslims will feel better if continuous immigration from their former countries is reduced. If I feel so hopeless in my country that I leave it, I wouldn’t be happy if the people I have fled follow me, and my new home slowly but surely becomes like my old one.

  3. Sometimes people come to the right conclusion but for the wrong reasons. I think that may be the case with Penn.

  4. If people profess hateful ideas, it is more productive to hate and battle the ideas. People are temporary receptacles for hateful ideas. That is why the post-war denazification and de-militarization policies were so wise. Of course, you may have to kill a bunch of people first.

    1. It’s odd though, that we give ourselves credit for these post-war policies in Germany and Japan when it is likely that success in changing the ideas was as much do to failure of the ideas, than to our actions after the fact. de-bathification in Iraq after the invasion turned out to be a disaster. History kind of tell us that changing religious attitudes takes a very long time but can probably be quickened by abject failure.

    2. “People are temporary receptacles for hateful ideas.”

      I’d object, however, that without such receptacles, ideas are just lifeless symbols on paper (or a screen). The Koran has been known in the West for centuries but never did any harm until the arrival of people indoctrinated in it from an early age. (The Nation of Islam in the USA may be an exception, but I know little about it.)

  5. I think the idea is that anybody can repent and find redemption, so you’re supposed to hate the behavior and not the person. Which is a fine sentiment, but probably not something to hope for in the case of the most extreme ideologists.

    This has become a real moral dilemma in some instances, for example child soldiers who are rehabilitated and return to the villages where they had killed people.

    I don’t have much problem with our military hunting down and killing extremists. I was happy that we finally got bin Laden. But I don’t think we should celebrate the killing of anyone. It’s just sadness all around.

  6. You can’t have it both ways.
    Either we adhere to the free will delusion or we recognize that everyone (including Hitler) is determined to their choices and actions by causes (and that these causes can be traced back to before they were even conceived.)

    You seem to have a weird conception of how people work; “The fact is that people instantiate their ideas through their actions as well as their beliefs.”
    No, (potentials and) *beliefs determine actions* and inform ideas. People don’t “instantiate their ideas [through] beliefs”.

    This is why reasonable people aim to kill ideology rather than ideologues.
    No ideology, no ideologists.

    The way to kill ideology is to educate people that faith/ideology is just a gullible person’s form of lying, it is the false representation of baseless assertions as truth … AND that we can completely replace belief (and ideology/faith) with curiosity, reasoned evidence and probabilities (potentials).

    1. The “as well as their beliefs” part was a typo that I didn’t catch, and I’ll eliminate it; it clearly makes no sense with the “beliefs” part. But your comment makes little sense, either. Disapprobation and criticism of people who hold bad ideas is one way of eliminating those ideas, so yes, hating can have a purpose. Education is one way, as you say, but mockery and disapprobation is another. That doesn’t do anything to contradict determinism.

      I have to say that your letter isn’t quite as civil as I like, what with the “you seem to have a weird conception of how people work.” You seem to have a weird conception of civility.

      1. Jerry, as I understand it, the cornerstone of your campaign against retributive punishment is the idea that criminals cannot be blamed for their bad actions, and should therefore be treated with compassion rather than hatred.

        Now you seem to be saying that blame and hatred are perfectly acceptable tools of social correction.

        I have to agree with Circle that it does seem like you’re trying to have it both ways.

      2. “I have to say that your letter isn’t quite as civil as I like, what with the “you seem to have a weird conception of how people work.””
        My apologies, I didn’t mean any offence by this remark, it was just what I regarded to be an inoffensive observation. You’re one of my favorite people so that was the last thing on my mind.

        I don’t think that there is anything in my reply that is incompatible with disapprobation and criticism of people. I simply have a different idea of what the word hate means. If it tends towards the abandonment of ideology particularly by the “hated” person, (which it does, in my opinion), then I’m all for it.
        In fact Desirism reasons that just this sort of social pressure is a way to eliminate harmful actions from society.

        1. Really?

          There are no Aztecs currently alive for me to hate, and even if there were, I’m not aware of them, which is tantamount, but I do hate the Aztec idea of appeasing gods with child sacrifice.

          1. To me, hate is our emotional attitude to people whom we find dangerous. Dead people are no longer dangerous, so usually we do not hate them. However, if we have personal memories of them, or if we, say, read a book about Aztec sacrifices, we “forget” that the culprits are dead and hate them as if they live next door.

            There may have been Aztecs who have been against human sacrifice, but, as far as I know, no source has documented them.
            I think it is difficult to be against human sacrifice if you are convinced, as Aztecs were, that it is needed to keep the world going. Not just a moral leap is needed, but an intellectual one as well.
            Some 30 years ago, I read how a native of South America (I think it was in Peru, but I may be wrong) volunteered and was sacrificed to end a drought. That’s a life wasted!

    2. “You seem to have a weird conception of how people work.”

      Just congenially curious, when you identify something as “weird” (or “odd,” etc.), are you stating an objective, ultimate truth or fact (and what is its source?), or are you stating your personal, subjective opinion? I.e., is something so merely and solely because someone thinks/says so?

      I’m reminded of how NY Times – and no doubt other newspaper – reporters “seem” to think that stating how something “seems” to them is objective reporting.

      1. Good question.

        It’s a sort of mantra in cognitive psychology that “beliefs determine behaviors”:
        Needs/Motivations/Drives –> Beliefs (about how those drives can be satisfied) –> Goals –> Behaviors (–> Perceptions (feedback) –> Goals –> Behaviours –> etc.)

        It seemed weird to me because unbelievers are “normally” acutely aware of the connection.
        I put “normally” in scare quotes because there seem to be an awful lot of people claiming that Islamic beliefs don’t really have anything to do with Islamic atrocities – even when the Islamist spells it out.

        Anyway, as it turns out this was a typo and not what Jerry meant.

    3. However, I agree with Fareed Zakaria that there are “armed doctrines”, such as Nazism and Islamism, that can be disproved only after being defeated by force.

    4. //Either we adhere to the free will delusion or we recognize that everyone (including Hitler) is determined to their choices and actions by causes (and that these causes can be traced back to before they were even conceived.)//

      So, do you believe that because it’s true or because you were determined to?

  7. One of the issues in the US is the conflation of the refugees that are streaming into Europe with those that are going to the US via the UNHCR programme. I’ve written about this.

    Countries like Canada and NZ are welcoming UNHCR refugees because they are safe. They go through what Trump would call extreme vetting before being allowed in the country and always have. That process takes a minimum of 18 months and most refugees do not get through the programme.

    Terrorists are not infiltrating the UNHCR programme. When they say they they will come in with refugees, they are not talking about the UNHCR refugees that the US accepts, which are the safest of all entrants to the country.

    1. It’s kind of like that Trump wall that will be built across thousands of miles of desert. Not only is it highly unlikely to happen, it does not do anything. He must have forgotten, if he ever knew, the terrorist flew here and came through customs just like everyone else. Building that wall up and down the east and west coast will take some tricky work and then there is Canada.

      1. Trump Industries is developing technology for the Canadian border. It is a sensor system that will be installed the length of the border and it can analyse brain patterns in an instant. If you are white and/or a Christian you will be allowed through. If you are not white and a Muslim you will be shot. Everyone else will be held for extreme vetting.

  8. I have to agree that this seems an odd position to take for someone who sees free will as a illusion. Acceptance of determinism has freed me from hating of anyone, yes, including Hitler. I don’t hate Hitler or Jihadi John. That would be irrational given they could not have done otherwise.

    And no, I don’t believe hate and social opprobrium make bad people act better. Jail (loss of freedom) is the only deterrent necessary and it does not require hate. No one ever hated anyone into being a better person, though many have tried.

    1. >> I don’t believe hate and social opprobrium make bad people act better.

      The forces of hate and social opprobrium *do* influence behavior. (I believe the illusion of freewill emerged to support/enable these social forces.) We are social apes.

      Incarceration/execution are in a sense last resorts that are usually only used when social pressures fail.

      1. You might be conflating “social pressures” with hating. I don’t see them as synonymous. As other have pointed out, one can display disapproval of behaviour without hating the person.

        1. I do think hating acts as a kind of social pressure. “kind of”, not synonymous.

          Hate has many negative ramifications so I’m not recommending it, but it or its threat often does influence other people’s behavior.

          e.g. “if I do X she’ll be angry with me, but if I do Y she’ll hate me, so I’ll do X”

          1. Same challenge I gave to Mike below. Can you give an example of something you personally think is okay to do but you refrain because “she” will hate you if you do it?

            1. Not sure if I can think of anything fits the criteria:

              1) is “okay”
              2) would cause hate
              3) hate-avoidance causes me to refrain

              But there are things I might do, if not for my hate-avoidance, that are not “okay”. If she wouldn’t hate me for sleeping with her sister…hmmmm. But she *would* hate me for sleeping with her sister, so I won’t.

              these are just hypothetical examples 😉

              1. So if she would just be sad that you slept with her sister but not hate you, you would go ahead and sleep with her sister?

                Keep searching for an example of someone’s hate making you a better person. I doubt you will find any examples. This is my point. Socrates pointed out that you can not hate someone into being a better person. He was right then and still is.

              2. “Socrates pointed out that you can not hate someone into being a better person. He was right then and still is.”

                Being hated, or the fear of being hated can certainly make someone act like a better person. I think it can also make someone ask themself why they are hated, and perhaps change their ways when they recognize the reason as legitimate.

        2. “one can display disapproval of behaviour without hating the person.”

          But disapproval, and hate are two different things. I might do something my wife disapproves of, but I wouldn’t do something that would cause her to hate me.

          1. I wonder if you could give me an example of something that you personally think is okay to do, but you refrain from doing it only because your wife will hate you if you do it?

            1. “I wonder if you could give me an example of something that you personally think is okay to do, but you refrain from doing it only because your wife will hate you if you do it?”

              I would, but you might hate me for it. :p

              1. Remember, I’m the one who said I don’t even hate Hitler, so you’re safe with me. Open up. What horrible things do you think are okay to do but you refrain because you don’t want others to hate you? It’s a tough question, I know. Trying to answer it demonstrates the ant-usefulness of hate.

              1. If you think shagging lose women is okay why would you be friends with someone who thinks it’s not okay? Dump that prude friend and hit that tail, son!

                Are there not things you do on a regular basis that you know some people will hate you for, but you do them anyway because you don’t respect the opinion of those who will hate you for it? Clearly “hate” is not the deciding factor. Someone you respect disapproving of you is all it takes. If you don’t respect them, no amount of hate from them will change your behaviour.

              2. What, is this old thread still alive? I’ll probably live to regret that flip one-liner of mine.

                You ask why I would be friends with someone who thinks [X] is not okay – I’m friends with numerous people who have different opinions on some things than me. I don’t know anyone who thinks exactly the same as I do about everything. Their views (‘hate’ is too strong a word) may influence me to some extent.


  9. You’re certainly allowed to hate people for their ideas, but I don’t think that’s a very good strategy.

    I also prefer to separate anger from hatred. I can be angry at someone for their actions, for their beliefs, and I can do everything in my power to prevent their bad beliefs from hurting people, but crossing over into hatred makes it difficult to acknowledge them as human beings who’s attitudes and beliefs were formed from their genetic dispositions and cultural upbringing, factors that differ significantly from my own. “There but for the laws of physics go I.”

    By allowing myself to hate a person, I have turned them into an enemy, an other, too easily dehumanized.

    Obviously, we can list off extreme cases, Hitler, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Charles Manson, but what good does engaging in hatred do? It certainly doesn’t do much for my own constitution, as hatred is an anger-loop brought on by the mere thought or mention of a particular person which increases stress hormones and sours my outlook in general. As a depressive male, for most of my life I went through bouts of profound irritation and simply hating everyone in the world. I lost trust in these emotions, and through certain meditation practices learned to disassociate reality from thoughts that told me to hate people that I knew I loved, and my emotions from reality in general, which is probably why I severely distrust the methods used by churches and conmen to imbue faith and trust through emotion. It also makes me a grouchy git, but what can you do?

    Hitler and Abu Bakr al-Baghadi were and are not lone actors, we can understand that when we hate them, we really hate what they stood for. There are doubtless a million Hitlers living in the U.S. right now but there is no environment in which for them to rise to power. Hitler was a consequence, not an action, if he acted out his bigotry and religious insanity against Jews by himself in a country that did not stigmatize its Jewish population, he wouldn’t have gotten very far, and would have likely been jailed or shot, a minor footnote in history. If Abu Bakr al-Baghadi ran around Turkey a decade ago and started beheading Sunni Muslims or throwing homosexuals off of buildings, he would have met a similar fate, locked away, considered insane. A criminal that we would treat as a sick person in need of reform or permanent incarceration. Each thrived in an environment ripe for their leadership with an ideology of hatred that they used to their advantage.

    A psychopath sitting in prison who has killed a dozen people, lacks the ability know any better. He deserves our pity more than our hatred.

    I don’t hate the men, they are products of factors over which they had no control, but I can hate the ideas and attitudes that they build their bases on. I can justify stopping them by extreme measures that may lead to their deaths, and I can talk about their actions with anger and contempt, but a dead Hitler doesn’t stop anti-semitism, and a dead Abu Bakr al-Baghadi doesn’t stop Islamism. If Hitler had woken up one day with a change of heart about the concentration camps, his top brass would have removed him. If al-Baghadi decided one day to come out in support of women’s rights, his head would lay on the dirt under Jihadi John’s blade.

    It might seem perfectly fine just to hate extreme actors, and monsters, but when we accept that strategy we start hating people for less extreme ideas. Right now, we have a problem where we hate and dehumanize people for having slightly different views than we do. Just hating people for their ideas doesn’t help the conversation. People we hate, we don’t expect to change, and if there are going to be changes we need to change the minds of the people we may be inclined to hate, if they have the capacity. Deciding to hate a person judges them as incapable of change without the understanding necessary to engage and attempt to change their outlook.

    I mean, if Glenn Beck can suddenly come out in support of BLM, maybe there’s hope for the rest of the assholes out there. I’m pretty sure the top levels of ISIS are beyond reach, but they can be treated as forces of nature, dealt with without resorting to the same hatred that they thrive on.

  10. I hold Islam and its doctrines in absolute contempt. I consider it an empty, worthless barrier to human progress and I would like to see it wither away and disappear – to become as much a historical curiosity as the religion of the Aztecs or the ancient Egyptians. Despite this, I don’t personally hate Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, at least not in the way I might hate someone who’d done me or my family a serious personal wrong. I’ve never met him – he’s just a name and few images on the news. Nevertheless, given his extreme ideology, and the behaviour it encourages and sanctions, I think the world would be a much better and safer place without Mr al-Baghdadi in it. Since there’s no realistic prospect of persuading him of the error of his ways, I’m in favour of killing him (and as many of his followers as necessary) using whatever methods are effective or expedient, just as I approved of the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

  11. This is why I always found the trope ‘Love the sinner but hate the sin’ kinda silly.

    You can certainly love someone who demonstrates contemptible behavior, but only insofar as this behavior is not representative of his overall character and personality. On the other hand, we hate, as we should, people whose contemptible behavior defines them. One cannot hate rape but love the rapist, or hate jihad but love jihadists.

    1. This is also why I find it disingenuous Sam Harris says that people confuse criticism Islam as an ideology with criticism of Muslims as people. Well of course. Criticism of Islam as an ideology is by extension an indictment of those who adhere to said ideology. I believe they’re called Muslims. In fact, the only reason we feel a sense of urgency in taking on Islam is because of the contemptible actions of Islamists.

      1. There’s a distinction you’re failing to make here, Isaac: not all Muslims engage in reprehensible acts (indeed, the vast majority do not), and not all interpretations of Islam urge the commission of such misconduct upon adherents. To the contrary, many Muslims perform acts of extreme charity, and other good works, expressly in the name of their religion.

        The failure to draw this distinction — and the resultant tarring of all Muslims for the acts of a few, and concomitant attribution to them all of the most virulent ideology of Islam’s radical fringe — are the hallmarks of Muslimophobia (or “Islamophobia” as it’s been unfortunately misnamed).

        1. The problem with using the word “few” is the “few” being referred to is a not so insignificant “few PERCENT” .

          A few percent X 1 billion or so is a huge number not and insignificant number.

          Just look at the PEW reports that P.C.C. has linked to numerous times.

        2. Ever since Islam spread and afflicted whole communities, “Muslims” has become a common denominator for a heterogenous group of people born in these communities: some believing all Koranic-Hadithic crap, others thinking that they believe but happily unaware of most crappy parts, and still others not believing at all. Therefore, when I talk about Muslims, I try to make this distinction and call the “real” Muslims Islamists.

          It must be kept in mind, however, that (1) the proportion of Islamists in Muslim communities is on the rise, and (2) even if Islamists are a small proportion of the community, immigration authorities have no reliable way to identify them, so it is only safe to reduce all Muslim immigration.

          I agree that there are legions of admirable Muslims. I know some personally, others are my heroes; one known to few Westerners is the Chechen Isa Munayev (1965-2015) who was given asylum in Denmark but preferred to fight for Ukraine until his death.

          However, I disagree with you that Islamic charity is a good thing. I think it humiliates the recipients and puts the person doing the charity in a privileged position. There is something similar in Christianity.

  12. I would agree with Penn that any form of hate is deeply misguided, and suggests a misunderstnding of the most fundamental religious premise. To hate is epitome of caring for body and the concerns of ‘this world.’ This is why Jesus specifies love your enemy, not just your neighbor. Death is not something to be feared or reviled. It is a part of life, no qualitatively worse or different than birth. Just part of the cycle, whether it comes in sleep or from a bomb on a bus. I believe a central teaching of Jesus, to the point of crucifixion for no wrongdoing, is that death is not to be feared, and hate hurts oneself more than anyone else. It is poison. Rather, love unto death.

    1. Just congenially curious – what would you do if some noble human soul rushed your kindergartner – walking alongside you – with an upraised knife? Treat it as a “crucifixion for no wrongdoing”?

      1. Yes. To love unto death means being on friendly terms with death. Defending an innocent child is, to me, the most interesting moral predicament. I can say I would rather be killed than kill. My own life is happily and easily surrendered. Similarly, if they kill my children, I am happy to forgive. No hard feelings. Life involves escasty and agony, they are interchangeable. It is all just experience of Existence. In answer to your question, I think I would defend the child physically and with word, and if it comes to having to kill the person to successfully defend the child, I would not do so. My child would die. At least that is what I would hope I have the courage to do.

        1. ” . . . and if it comes to having to kill the person to successfully defend the child, I would not do so.”

          Would you say that it is only right that a parent holding such a position should give a child advance notice so that, to the extent possible, the child can make other prior proper security arrangements?

            1. No; there is a calculus here you’re ignoring. Your blanket pacifism is really intellectual laziness masquerading as nobility.

              A person who is trying to kill a child has less right to life than the child. First, the child is not trying to kill anyone, the attacker is. That counts against the attacker. Second, a child will be robbed of something more profound by being killed at a young age than the older attacker would be if killed in defense of the child. The child hasn’t lived as much of its life as the attacker. There are many more considerations along these lines, the upshot being that “a life is a life is a life”, while it may work in the majority of scenarios, isn’t absolutely true, and is actually of a philosophical piece with “shoot first, ask questions later” because it’s easy.

              1. The child might be well advised to learn martial arts and other skills sufficient to counter any attacker, since no adult apparently will be available to sufficiently rise to the occasion on behalf of the child. The child may have the attitude, “I am not yet ready to check out or leave the party.”

                I’m reminded of a newspaper cartoon showing a U.S. military fighter pilot, being pursued by an Iraqi or Iranian (I forget which) jet fighter, contemplating what sort of action he ought to take vis-à-vis the Iranian fighter pilot (darned if I do, darned if I don’t) finally, in the next frame saying, after he has shot down the enemy pilot, “I’d just as soon be around to have to hear about it.”

        2. Those are, I suppose, noble sentiments on some level — but let’s hope you’re not walking point when the platoon heads out on patrol. 🙂

        3. There is a lot to be said for pacifism but I think you just ran it into the ground.

          Anything, taken to extreme, becomes ridiculous.


          1. Yes, I tend to agree. If taken as a rule of political ethics, it would likely insure the destruction of the society championing its cause. Certainly so when using the standard conception of reality as physicalist, reductionist, so forth.

            The case I’d make for pacifism is not based on morality or ethics. It would be based a certain view of reality which considers the cosmos to be a single metaphorical organism. Differences between peoples and societies are no different than differences between microbes and galaxies. All just flux. The notions of winning/losing are illusions of a separateness that modern physics, biology, cog-sci has shown to be an outdated conception, imho.

            The notion of pacifism is just ethical fallout of this view, not any kind of ethical ‘command’.

          2. I wonder if this notion of Oneness that dominates religious (and secular) mysticism relates to the Fermi Paradox, and the ‘Great Filter.’ That is, the idea that every sufficiently ‘advanced’ species reaches a point when they are capable of destroying themselves. Most do (destroy themselves). This notion of recognizing all as One, ‘enemy’ as extension of ‘self,’ could be seen as a philosophic insight necessary for surviving that period of the ‘Great Filter.’

            1. I see the Western world now having the opposite problem, that is, seeing itself as one with all humanity while quite a proportion of humanity is seeing the West as an enemy to be destroyed and plundered.

              As one song from the Cold War put it, “Russians love their children, too”. The problem is that loving one’s children is not always accompanied by an acknowledgement of the value of other people and their children.

              1. Yes, all such dichotomies (east vs west, America vs Russia, police vs criminals, so forth) serve as examples of belief in discreteness or separation as fundamental to reality. All such views can (and historically do) ultimately lead towards competition and confrontation. Given modern weaponry, probably the destruction of our planet or species. I don’t see that as any great cosmic loss, but rather perhaps an inevitability given our current philosophic tragectory.

              2. I may have missed your point on my first pass, but I think I get it now: the west imagines it’s own economic and political imperialism as a sort of ‘oneness.’ If that is what you meant, then yeah, within our little human culture, I agree. It’s a bit like calling a ‘takeover’ a ‘merger.

              3. This was not what I meant, but rather that after WWII and the collapse of Western colonial empire, an idea was touted in the West that we are all humans, we are all equal, so the old empires can be reproduced at home… Then the Rushdie affair revealed that this is not quite so.

              4. Good poinr. One species does not mean one culture. All through cosmos, at all scales of spacetime, we see unity through differences, balance through symmetries, interdependence snd homeostasis. Oneness is not homogenous. Better understood as two sides of the same coin, imho.

      2. Well, if this happened in the US, no doubt the kindergartner would haul out his/her pretty pink Colt .44 magnum (“My First Handgun”) and blow the m#£%tha-f**r away…

        1. Yes. It is the animal nature, metaphorically speaking. We as humans do indeed accel at killing. It is remarkable how strongly we not only accept it, but believe in its value and importance. The rejection of thia impulse and beloef is what makes the teachings of Jesus (and all esoteric religious understanding, really) quite radical. It is why the path is narrow. Not because acknowledging or obeying a belief system is difficult, but because most consider their own life discrete from the ‘surrounding’ universe (which is better understood as a part of the same metaphorical organism, imho), and sancrosect.

  13. I don’t “hate” anyone for what they believe, only for actions. Like the action of telling me what they believe, or otherwise expressing those beliefs.

    1. The biggest problem with Islamic people and their beliefs is that often they are thoroughly brainwashed to:

      –not think, or learn,

      –accept scriptures and social norms without questioning,

      I know a teacher teaching German to immigrants. She had about 5-6 Muslims in her class, and trying to teach them anything is hopeless, she says.

      For example, she started an exercise where her students had to tell what they would bring with them going to the beach. It immediately ended in a ruckus, someone, a girl, non-Muslim, said, “I will bring my bikini.” Oh we are not allowed to say this word, was the general response of the Muslim men. Later she was discussing German terms relating to the features of the human face. “We are not allowed to mention in words anything that is between the nose and the chin,” was the response. Well, in Germany I saw a Muslim women eating. She was wearing a copper contraption, like a mask, that covered everything from her eyes to her chin. In order to eat she had to stuff her food behind this copper mask. I saw the same contraption in a “tourist” movie about one of the countries bordering Saudi Arabia. By the way, burkas are quite a common sight in Germany and the Netherlands. I have even seen them in France.

      1. I wonder whether those men have ever actually seen a woman in a bikini, and, if so, what their reaction was? Horror? Revulsion? Outrage? Uncontrollable lust?

        1. My compatriot, visiting Qatar, went to the beach and undressed until she was in bikini. On the entire beach, she was the only woman in bikini. A number of local men gathered around her to watch. They were interested and seemed more approving than outraged. They didn’t show uncontrollable lust, either. Very soon, two policemen came and politely but firmly informed her that if she wanted to sunbathe in bikini, she should do this at the pool of her hotel.

          1. That’s interesting. And rather encouraging, I think (the attitude of the men, not the police).

            Perhaps the sight of a woman’s body is not so inflammatory to Muslim men in general that it has to be veiled from head to toe after all.

            Disclaimer: I must admit that if I lived in a culture where such sights were banned, then if I were to see a woman in a bikini on a beach then I am sure that I would be fascinated as well!

      2. You might want to check out the distinction between “anecdote” and “evidence” — and, while you’re at it, the “hasty generalization fallacy.”

  14. >> You’re not allowed to hate people for their ideas

    Technically, in a vacuum, there might be some validity to that. But you can certainly hate an expression of some ideas (e.g. “group X is subhuman”). And if you understand someone else’s ideas, there must have been some expression of said ideas.

    1. Technically? What do you mean by that? I would say that technically the word “allowed” doesn’t concern what we feel. Our behavior is subject to regulation; our thoughts and emotions are not.

      1. > Technically? What do you mean by that?

        I meant an ideas are fairly useless until expressed. The idea of Nazism isn’t harmful at all until it is expressed or employed.

        So, technically, a case could be made for “you’re not allowed to hate people for their ideas”, but I wouldn’t know about their ideas if they weren’t expressed. If I know about them they have been expressed, and I am allowed hate someone for the expression or execution of certain ideas.

  15. whew! never mind the discussion everyone else is having about ideology and the person, I admit I really thought for a bit that the unthinkable had happened. I was filled with this sinking dread that Penn had lost he damn mind! I’ll let the rest of you argue about his other comments; I need a lie-down now.

  16. [quote]”Penn Jillette confesses that he’s adopted Christianity, and then discusses “Islamophobia””[/qoute]

    Wait, what, Penn is Christan now?

    1. “Wait, what, Penn is Christan now?”

      I haven’t watched the video because I only find him worth watching when he’s performing magic, but I assume, though I could be wrong, that the reference is to the Christian idea of hating the sin not the sinner.

  17. Is Penn really a Christian?

    And he thinks beliefs should, in themselves, go unpunished?

    He will have read the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus castigates people for having certain ideas (ie looking lustfully at a woman)

    Christianity is based around God punishing people for thought crimes , such as believing that Jesus is not your Saviour.

    1. “Christianity is based around God punishing people for thought crimes , such as believing that Jesus is not your Saviour.”

      That is one of the more curious things about Christians like, say, Ray Comfort. Comfort has said it is an *insult* to god to do good works to get in god’s graces. That’s why I consider Comfort to be an Entitlement Christian. Comfort thinks he will not be judged on his acts. He things doesn’t have to *earn* a place in heaven, but rather that he’s entitled to one based on his thoughts. Which really does make the difference between going to heaven and hell all about thought crimes.

  18. I see other folks noticed this as well, and not
    to turn this into a Free Will thread (gawd forbid!)

    Excuse me for Godwinning, but are we not allowed to hate Hitler, only his Nazism and anti-Semitism? Are we not allowed to hate Jihadi John, who cuts off people’s heads, but only the religious ideology that promoted that action? Are we not allowed to hate Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose “theology” has led to the deaths of thousands?”

    I had thought that you were on board with Sam Harris
    in holding that, given your incompatibilst stance, it does
    doesn’t make sense to hate people, since it makes no sense
    to hate someone for doing or thinking something they could
    not have done otherwise. Sam uses the analogy that it makes
    no more sense to hate a Hitler or a serial killer than it does
    to hate a bear that attacks someone.

    Do I understand from your post that you disagree with
    Sam on this point? And how does the hate you speak of
    make sense if you believe we need to reevaluate retributive
    justice on the grounds that, understanding people who do
    or think bad things deserve compassion because no one
    could do otherwise?

    1. “it doesn’t make sense to hate people”

      It may make no sense in a retributive sense, and it may make no sense to feel hatred towards people, but it does makes sense to express hatred as a deterrent. Most humans don’t like to be hated, or ostracized, and will avoid beliefs, and actions that cause that reaction.

      1. I don’t know what Jerry would say, but it seems to
        me you are making a distinction without a difference.

        What would it mean to “express hatred” without feeling
        hatred? You would be using the term in a nonstandard
        manner, goven that the definition of hatred concerns
        FEELING – the feeling of ill will, hostility etc.

        ( are you suggesting we pretend to hate?)

        1. “What would it mean to “express hatred” without feeling

          I never said we wouldn’t feel hatred (since we aren’t Vulcan’s), I said it may make no sense on a strictly deterministic level, but that says nothing about it’s value in other respects.

          1. So under determinism it makes sense to express the feeling that doesn’t make sense under determinism?

            I understand what you are trying to do, which is to make some practical, consequentialist case for hatred even under incompatibilism (are you an incompatibilist?)

            But it seems difficult given hatred isn’t like justifying, say, incarceration, which can have various justifications. In the case of hatred, though, at least
            from the typical incompatibilist standpoint, is ITSELF
            the very mental attitude that becomes unjustified
            in determinism. So this really sounds like a “having
            my cake and eating it too” approach.

            1. “So under determinism it makes sense to express the feeling that doesn’t make sense under determinism?”

              No. Under determinism it makes sense to express certain feelings despite the fact that they make no sense in terms of determinism. Expressing approval for example when your child brings home an A+ paper makes sense despite the fact that under determinism it could not have been anything else.

      2. “Most humans don’t like to be hated, or ostracized, and will avoid beliefs, and actions that cause that reaction.”

        I’d say con artists are an exception. They don’t care. I had a learning experience with a con artist. His modus operandi was false friendship. Cost me a few thousand. You know, if you’re a friend, you’ll lend money. Otherwise, you’re not a friend in any substantial, meaningful sense. (Some might disagree, to which I would reply, then whither, “that’s what friends are for”?) I tried to get him indicted on a criminal charge, but the judge found that the transaction was not of a sufficient “arm’s-length” nature. That is, it was “corrupted” by (supposed) friendship. And regarding the prospects of a civil suit, he was for all practical purposes judgment-proof (As I determined from noting in court records a bank’s vain attempt several years prior to recoup a mid-five figure loan it had made to him.) But no doubt it gave him a scare, and hopefully caused him to think carefully before creating another false friendship.

        Perhaps it was good in a sense to have that experience with a devious, duplicitous human primate. (I assumed other people in the community knew about him; why didn’t someone tell me? The answer, in hindsight of course, is that they had enough problems of their own and wouldn’t want to run any risk of lawsuits alleging defamation, no matter how solid was the legal defense/maxim, “It is the truth.”) I haven’t forgotten it; it is the prism through which I view potential friendships. Let someone else pay their dues naively giving someone the benefit of the doubt.

        A few years after the incident I found myself out-of-the-blue, in a situation not under my control, having to sit directly across the table from him at a holiday gathering. Such is the likelihood from living in a little Peyton Place. My boss was there at the gathering, but I was resolved not to say one bloody word to the scoundrel, and I didn’t. I didn’t care what impression not so speaking gave the others present as a result. Let the chips fall where they might.

        I suppose that I felt, and continue to feel, more than a little hate. Let’s say I am not supposed to hate. Surely I do not owe anyone the duty to forget the incident and to associate with him as if nothing ever happened.

        1. I have recently lost two friends this way (not that they died, they just betrayed me and so stopped being my friends). I am sorry for your ordeal, and I think you are perfectly justified to hate.

  19. I think Penn is saying he thinks (or would like to think) that Islamic immigrants are like Irish and Italian and Polish catholic immigrants of a previous century. He hopes they can join the American melting pot and become “just another guy”. I do hope he’s right about that, and I think, at least to a large extent Muslims will absorb into western culture over time. The present climate, however, suggests it may be a pretty bumpy ride, as observed by some European countries. Islam and western enlightenment values are so diametrically opposed that you have to think there will be a long period of learning involved.

    1. Yes, it’s really off the mark to think Muslims would merge into the society like the Irish or Italians or any European country. That is precisely the problem in Europe now. Again he comes to a proper conclusion – we should take them in, but he is not going to sell anyone with that reasoning. Either he does not know much about what he is talking about and just wants to talk, hey, maybe that is it.

      1. Why do you think it’s off the mark to expect Muslims to merge into society the way the Irish or Italians or any other earlier immigrant group did, Randy?

        Do you think that this would be the case with all Muslim immigrants? “Muslim” covers a lot of ground, in terms of both nationality and religious belief. There are bound to be differences among these various groups as to how rapidly they assimilate.

        After all, American culture is a spinning vortex that tends to suck new arrivals in. (For one thing, in a lot respects it’s a helluva lot of fun, creating an almost irresistible attraction if not for new immigrants themselves, then for their children or their children’s children — how ya gonna keep them down on the mazraʻa once they’ve seen MTV?) It’s rare for the families of immigrants not to become fully assimilated Americans unto the third generation, if it takes even that long.

        True, some groups manage to maintain a strong sense of separate cultural identity — the Amish and ultra-Orthodox Hasidim come to mind — but only through extraordinary measures, such as geographical isolation and strict prohibitions on intermarriage (and even these communities experience significant leakage of their youth to the outside world).

        It might not happen in just the same manner, or at precisely the same speed, but in the absence of comparable extraordinary measures, I wouldn’t expect Muslim immigrants to remain culturally separate either. (Keep in mind that many first generation Irish and Italians, and other European immigrants, came here thinking their families would strictly maintain the ways of the “old world,” only to have their families rebel — or to succumb to the sucking American cultural vortex themselves.)

        1. Unfortunately, there is a big difference in Europe between a majority of Muslim immigrants and those from other countries. For example, after WW II there was a large immigration of Italians in Belgium who came to work in the steel and coal industry. They assimilated well, and even one of them born in an Italian family who had immigrated two years earlier, became a prime minister in Belgium, even saying that he was gay and an atheist and had dual nationality. Many immigrants from the former North African French colonies integrate well, and became scientists, university professors and even ministers. The same is true in the UK. But over the last 60 years, the immigrant community in Europe has been, in a way, radicalized by Saudi supported imams paid with oil money, in a similar way as what has happened in most of the Middle East and Pakistan. Even 10 years ago you wouldn’t see many headscarfs in Europe, they appeared only recently, and the women wearing them are not people fleeing the wars in the Middle East. And it is the religion that blocks integration, they are not supposed to mingle with infidels. France wants to forbid mothers to wear headscarfs while waiting to pick up their children at school gates and walk them home, so that they don’t mingle with other kids. A Dutch radio station secretly taped an imam preaching in an Utrecht mosque telling, in Dutch (this means that the attendants were at least second generation) that women should be told to wear headscarfs in order to prevent them from integrating with the infidels. Now many young men immigrated more recently, and having no school education, except religious rote learning, have not learned to think for themselves. And the calls for making Sharia law legal are increasing.

          1. Yes Alexander, that is indeed much more of a problem than ‘Islamic terrorism’ , in my humble opinion too.

          2. + 1
            Last year, I had in my class a headscarf-wearing student from a mixed marriage, European mother x Arab father. Speaking to me, she identified with her mother’s nationality. Yet she had the damn hijab identifying her with her father’s culture. She was brilliant, the type of student about whom we say, “wherever you touch her, she knows”.

            I talked about her with other teachers who were also impressed by her. We were unanimous that she couldn’t be a fundamentalist herself, rather she was under her father’s control. I expressed hope that she could find a nice husband – a Muslim of course, but a moderate and enlightened one – and then she would be happy and free. My colleagues objected that such a man, even if Muslim, would seek a wife dressing in the Western code and would avoid “virtuous” young ladies like the plague. Hence, our girl would most likely end up married to a copy of her father.

            A vicious circle.

    2. [blockquote]”The present climate, however, suggests it may be a pretty bumpy ride, as observed by some European countries. Islam and western enlightenment values are so diametrically opposed that you have to think there will be a long period of learning involved.”[/blockquote]

      Yeah, I don’t think it’s a good analogy. The Christianity, in the form of Catholicism, that the Irish and Italians brought with them already existed in the US. Islam brings with it an imperative to merge church and state, which is irreconcilable with the US system of secular government.

      Moderate and conservative Islam, as with conservative Judaism and extreme forms of Christianity, bring mechanisms to ensure that the the religious community remains *separate* from kafir. Clothing standards for women, mandatory obeisance to god 5 times a day, hygiene restrictions, dietary restrictions, intermarriage prohibitions and more all serve to maintain permanent separation of the many Islamic communities, and create conditions that foment calls to impose Islam on non-muslims in the community.

      1. Yes, and the early Church in Europe would have been much the same as Islam today. It took hundreds of years and much bloodshed for the RCC to become domesticated. It seems to me Penn sees this transition happening much more quickly for modern Islam. For there to be a great deal more turmoil over many years would not surprise me.

        1. The RCC lost its malignant power because of the philosophers of the enlightenment. The Muslim world had a period of enlightenment around the first millenium, but subsequently the fanatics took over and progress and tolerance were forgotten. The RCC tried hard to gain back terrain during the 19th century, but were crushed in France in 1905, unfortunately not in the other countries.

              1. ‘Faith’ has a range of meanings. Jerry’s book title – which I’m sure rickflick was alluding to – refers specifically to religious ‘faith’. Your list of philosophers is fudging with the meaning of ‘faith’. I have ‘faith’ that when I flick a switch the light will come on (99.99% of the time). I don’t need to attribute that to gremlins or voodoo or any supernatural forces.


              2. I would say that scientific faith is not of a different kind than religious faith. They may appeal to different kinds of evidence or reasoning, but in both cases reason relies on faith that is itself grounded in a form of reasoned assumption. As Nietzsche wrote, “truths are illusions that we have forgotten are illusions.”

              3. Ponzi, unless you firm up your definitions, you risk incoherence. Faith does not rely on any factual evidence. It is belief without evidence. Science is not another kind of faith.

            1. This is a very interesting topic to me. I have run across a variety of folks who insist as you do that science is above “faith.” That the terms should not be used with science. To me, this a dangerous lack of epistemological skepticism. Losing sight that there are metaphysical, psychological, aesthetic and heuristic assumptions at work in even the most rigorous scientific work is how one winds up stuck in another Dark Ages.

              Definitions for “faith” from Google:
              “2.strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.” I believe this is the definition you have in mind.

              “1.complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” This is the definition I have in mind. Often your definition is listed first and mine is later, but either way, “faith” is not limited to religious application.

              Now onto some philosophers and philosophers of science who you may or may not respect:

              Thomas Kuhn (Scientific Revolutions): “The man who embraces a new paradigm at an early stage must often do so in defiance of the evidence provided by problem-solving. He must, that is, have faith that the new paradigm will succeed with the many large problems that confront it, knowing only that the older paradigm has failed with a few. A decision of that kind can only be made on faith.”

              Michael Polanyi (Meaning): “We cannot ultimately specify the ground (either metaphysical or logical or empirical) upon which we hold that our knowledge is true. …We cannot look at [these grounds] since are looking with them. They are therefore must remain indeterminate.”

              Ludwig Wittgenstein (On Certainty): “146. …somewhere I must begin with an assumption or a decision…
              166. The difficulty is to realize the groundlessness of our believing.”

              Closely related to this entire line of inquiry is the need for metaphor in thought and language, and the tendency to mistake metaphorical knowledge (based on metaphysical assumptions, like describe the world in terms of ‘realism’ for instance) for literal knowledge.

              1. I don’t agree that scientists operate on faith, they are natural skeptics. Of course, most scientist accept that DNA carries the genetic information. But this is common sense, there are myriads of indications that this is the case, it is not an act of faith. However, whether multiverses exist, this is not a question of faith, it is a possible explanation, with a certain probability of being right. Does extraterrestrial intelligence exist? The majority of astrophysicists think there is a good chance that this is the case, no faith involved. The probability has increased because of recent observations. Are electrons elementary particles? They behave like elementary particles, but there are physicists trying to find whether they are composite particles. The list of open questions in science is endless, and faith has no place in this quest.

              2. alexander, thanks for taking the time to respond. I’m not sure how familiar you are with philosophy, the study of epistemology, and the various philosophers of science who brought to light the role faith place in science (guys like Kuhn and Polanyi). If you have not read them and care to have your thinking challenged, I’d suggest you do read them.

                I’ll try to address your thoughts in order.

                “scientists are natural skeptics.” Yes and no. Yes in the sense you mean, but no in that they rely on faith in the authority of the scientific community in their education, and then rely on faith in the authority of the scientific community to provide a framework which provides structure and rigor to their work and that of those around them. Scientists do not work in isolation, but rather as part of a co-dependent community of theorists/empiricists who rely on the tacit assumption of trusted theories (until/unless sufficient cognitive dissonance arises to challenge the assumptions).

                “But this is common sense, there are myriads of indications that this is the case, it is not an act of faith.”
                Myriads of indications is not certainty. It is myriads of indications. I am not saying that the theories of genetic communication involving DNA are false, but like all beliefs (scientific or otherwise), they are working models of reality. And with science, like edifices of human ‘knowledge,’ building requires tacit assumption that the foundation is sound. Thus the startling nature of true paradigm shifts.

                “whether multiverses exist, this is not a question of faith,” Ironically, I would say perhaps moreso than any question in science, a theory like that of multiverses in indeed one of faith. Empiricism requires faith, how much more does a theory without empirical verification require it?

                “Are electrons elementary particles?” This gets to a critical part of how faith ties into the scientific enterprise. Part of a paradigm is how it defines terms, what it defines as ‘valid’ evidence, and how it fits into a larger theoretical framework. The framework is not stationary, but ever-shifting… usually in just subtle ways, but every so often in cataclysmic ways that reframe all conceptions of knowledge.

                A key point is that science involves personal judgements by both individual scientists and the scientific community at all times. They are often aesthetic choices (for instance, which theory is more beautiful? Is simpler?) The point made by both Kuhn and Polanyi is that you must sometime IGNORE evidence that would falsify a theory (funnily, Popper’s famous paper on Falsifiability cites the Michelson-Morley experiments as validating Einstein’s Relativity, yet it turns out these experiments actually didn’t give the needed result).

                Anyway, here was Polanyi’s account of that and the related importance of understanding the personal valuation needed by scientists in determining which experimental surprises to ignore and which to pursue:

                He describes experiments by D.C. Miller that appeared to disprove Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity.

                “The layman, taught to revere scientists for their absolute respect for the observed facts, and for the judiciously detached and purely provisional manner in which they hold scientific theories (always ready to abandon a theory at the sight of any contradictory evidence), might well have thought that, at Miller’s announcement of this overwhelming evidence of a ‘positive effect’ in his presidential address to the American Physical Society on December 29th, 1925, his audience would have instantly abandoned the theory of relativity. Or, at the very least, that scientists—wont to look down from the pinnacle of their intellectual humility upon the rest of dogmatic mankind—might suspend judgment in this matter until Miller’s results could be accounted for without impairing the theory of relativity. But no: by that time they had so well closed their minds to any suggestion which threatened the new rationality achieved by Einstein’s world-picture, that it was almost impossible for them to think again in different terms. Little attention was paid to the experiments, the evidence being set aside in the hope that it would one day turn out to be wrong. The experience of D. C. Miller demonstrates quite plainly the hollow-ness of the assertion that science is simply based on experiments which anybody can repeat at will.

                any critical verification of a scientific statement requires the same powers for recognizing rationality in nature as does the process of scientific discovery, even though it exercises these at a lower level. When philosophers analyse the verification of scientific laws, they invariably choose as specimens such laws as are not in doubt, and thus inevitably overlook the intervention of these powers.”

                There are countless examples through the history of science in which scientists overlooked results because they didn’t fit the current paradigm (paradigm shifts have seldom involved new information, rather they have typically involved new ways of understanding old information). Also examples (like above) of ignoring results as aberrations. Sometimes rightly, sometimes not.

                Anyway, if interested in challenging your own perspective, check out Kuhn (and/or Polanyi). They provide a far more detailed, articulate and educated survey of the philosophical challenges inherent to the practice of science.

              3. I think we agree on some points, but I think scientists are much more cunning at seeing what might be a faulty starting hypothesis.

                “whether multiverses exist, this is not a question of faith,” Ironically, I would say perhaps moreso than any question in science, a theory like that of multiverses in indeed one of faith. Empiricism requires faith, how much more does a theory without empirical verification require it?” It is based on the Everitt interpretation, it is clearly called ‘interpretation’ because there are several of them in quantum theory, and physicists are aware of them. The Everitt interpretation is not a “faith,” rather a bet, which might or might not prove to be viable. The future will show, hopefully. A similar bet is the idea of quantization, a formidable bet by Max Planck, in which, it seems, he didn’t believe himself that much. But the paradigm worked, starting with Einstein’s discovery of the photon, and it seems to work up to now, although it invokes quite a lot of counterintuitive physics. And it is quite possible that physicists, some decades in the future, might find out that this paradigm is wrong. There is a deja vu: the phloghiston theory, during the 18th century, worked fine to explain combustion and a lot of other effects, except that during the beginning of the 19th century it stated causing problems, and the idea hat to be abandoned and make place for the chemical combustion theory, oxidation, etc.

                Physics today is somewhat in an impasse, quantum theory and gravitation cannot be reconciled, and I’m sure that physicists are looking at the fundamental premises.

                The story about Miller and relativity in 1925 does not really demonstrate that the dogmatic nature of relativity, the science was too young, and the majority of physicists at that time did not understand relativity at all, and, in fact many rejected it.

                Yes, philosophers of science are right to point out pitfalls of scientific concepts that are not verifiable (yet) but usually these things are ultimately corrected within the scientific community.

                String theory is a bet, about 1000 physicists are trying to see if it works for resolving the current quantum-gravity problem. But it is not a faith, and it produces new mathematics.

              4. Alexander, I agree with most of what you wrote. However, I do think “faith” is very applicable word for the process of scientific investigation, both in its role of relying on the authority of past scientific discoveries and current scientific frameworks (especially outside one’s own field of specialization), and in its necessary role in motivating a scientist to pursue any clearly conceived but as-yet-unproven theory.

              5. That faith is essential to science. As Max Planck famously wrote, “Anybody who has been seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: Ye must have faith. It is a quality which the scientist cannot dispense with.”

              6. Rickflick,

                Thanks for engaging in this entertaining chat.

                I should be more specific for you. You wrote:

                “Ponzi, unless you firm up your definitions, you risk incoherence.”

                So I provided the Google definition:
                “1. complete trust or confidence in someone or something.”

                You said, ‘Faith does not rely on any factual evidence. It is belief without evidence.’

                But read that Google definition again. Does anyone anywhere have ‘complete trust or confidence in someone or something’ in a total absence of any evidence whatsoever? I would say no. Even for absurd things. But the definition is not referring absurd things, in fact, it is referring to those things we deem LEAST absurd: the effects of ‘gravity,’ the presence and working of my hand, the relationship between breath and life. So forth.

                It is these observations of experience that are perhaps most essential to empirical science, and so it seems faith in the sense defined by Google above is indeed essential to science.

                So when you say, “Science is not another kind of faith” you are right… it is the same kind of faith, perhaps just using different assumption, definitions and so forth.

              7. Ponzi, I think you are seriously confusing yourself by being too philosophical and not pragmatic enough. Epistemology is an important topic in philosophy but is not really that important to scientific activity. The scientist is not looking for ultimate truth or certainty. Science is simply a method for determining to the best degree possible what is true about the universe. So the important thing for science is to operated using best practices which means discovery that can be tested and agreed to. Science does not rely on authority in the way you describe since the entire body of knowledge is subject to change with new discovery. I have “faith”, if you like, that the sun will rise in the East tomorrow because I have evidence that it is a very high probability event. The problem with the use of the word “faith” instead of high confidence is that if you use the term in public 95% of people in our culture will misconstrue your statement to mean having something to do with some kind of reliance on Gods. We prefer language which is not so loaded.

              8. rick,

                I understand what you are saying and agree with much of your sentiment. I understand that in the “normal” operations of science where small additions are being made to a ‘known’ and trusted foundational theory, there is a sense of near-certainty. More importantly, the purpose is pragmatic. “Normal” science is not concerned with re-testing assumptions that seem already to have been proven, nor with questioning the metaphysics that underly the language we use in describing the world. As you aptly point out, those questions are deemed esoteric and not part of the day-to-day concerns of “normal” science. I get that and agree with you.

                My point is that 1) beneath that sense of confidence is a deeper uncertainty than is typically acknowledged. 2) a totally different approach is required when a trusted paradigm is shaken.

                I sympathize with this complaint: “The problem with the use of the word “faith” instead of high confidence is that if you use the term in public 95% of people in our culture will misconstrue your statement to mean having something to do with some kind of reliance on Gods.” But that does make the role of faith in science any less so. Like “God” (which can mean “nature” or “universe” or “consciousness” and so forth), it is a word game. I understand that certain factions do not like to be associated with words like “faith” or “God” even if they might be technically applicable.

              9. Thanks Keith. I’d be interested in reading your review, especially if it is critical or negative. Do you have a direct link or addition info that could be used to find it? I browsed a bit but didn’t stumble upon a ‘Keith Douglas’ review.

              10. I’m troubled by your insistence on using a word which is imprecise and misleading when much more accurate language is available. You sound argumentative. The Christians have faith that Jesus was divine and was resurrected from the dead when there is no good empirical evidence for the belief. A physicist has a high degree of confidence that the universe has been expanding from a point about 14 billion years ago. The faith holders are unlikely to be persuaded to change there views no matter what the evidence shows. The scientist is willing to change views upon the arrival of new evidence. Conflating the two worldviews by using a word like “faith” for both encourages the misguided apologists and is insulting to scientists who hold themselves to a high standard.

              11. That’s fair enough. We can disagree. I think the Google definition makes my case for me.

                I think both sides deceive themselves a bit. The religious imagining they can have ‘faith without reason’ and the scientific imagining they can have ‘reason without faith.’ They are two sides of the same coin, entirely co-dependent.

                The religiously minded who imagine that have “faith alone” are deceiving themselves. Their faith is grounded in reason. It may not be formal reason that they can explain to others convincingly, but if they weren’t “convinced” they wouldn’t believe. It may be that daddy taught them and they trust daddy. That’s a “reason.” It may be that they think the Bible teaches XYZ and the Bible is inerrant. That is an assumption (reasoned or not) and serves as the basis for their subsequent reasoning. So forth. But anyone who believes anything – has faith in the ‘truth’ of anything – has the belief because they are “convinced.”

                Similarly, scientists deceive themselves when they imagine their beliefs are not rooted in faith. Faith in perception, senses, human logic, and of course much further along the way, developed theories of how the cosmos “works.” Most recursively, they have faith in reason!

                In the end, I’d say no one can ever convince us of something we don’t believe. When we come to believe something new, it is because we convince ourselves. The words of others can trigger new connections, but cannot make ‘true’ for us what we have already decided is ‘false.’ In this case, you and I may be too settled in our current convictions to find a middle ground.

                I do appreciate you taking the time to chat and engage in thoughtful discussion. I have known a variety of people who express similar concepts to you, perhaps in a desire to keep ideas of “religion” and “science” compartmentalized. To me, they are both children of philosophy. I see Theism and Atheism as a false dichotomy that arises from shoddy modern definitions of each, so I may be quite content to cross-pollinate different fields of philosophic study in way is uncomfortable to others. Word games can be tricky business.

              12. Rick, I think this really sums it up:
                “The Christians have faith that Jesus was divine and was resurrected from the dead when there is no good empirical evidence for the belief. A physicist has a high degree of confidence that the universe has been expanding from a point about 14 billion years ago. ”

                I completely agree. You are saying they are so different that the same word shouldn’t be used for each. You seem to be saying that the WORTHINESS is critical in whether the word “faith” is applicable. My point (and that of the Google definition) is that it is the fact of BELIEF ITSELF that is the key. Whether you or I deem the belief to be sensible is irrelevant. That is why the phrase “blind faith” exists. You are attempting to substitute “blind faith” for “faith,” but that is why “blind” is added. 🙂

              13. “Alexander, I agree with most of what you wrote. However, I do think “faith” is very applicable word for the process of scientific investigation, both in its role of relying on the authority of past scientific discoveries and current scientific frameworks (especially outside one’s own field of specialization), and in its necessary role in motivating a scientist to pursue any clearly conceived but as-yet-unproven theory.”

                Here I strongly disagree. Using the term “faith” to characterize scientific investigation is a form of sloppiness that conveys the idea that science is just another “belief system,” not different from the belief systems called religions. This is an idea loved by the creationists (creation science), by the Discovery Institute, the Templeton Foundation, the Oil lobby, religious lobbies, theologians, the accomodationists, all people and organisations that promote the “postmodern” idea of relativism: science is just a “religion” like the other ones. When I was a student in the Netherlands, you could, at the state universities, not get a degree in philosophy without having a degree in an exact science first, and right they were.

              14. Thanks for the response Alexander. We may have a genuine disagreement re: definition, or we may just be talking past each other. You said:

                “Using the term “faith” to characterize scientific investigation is a form of sloppiness that conveys the idea that science is just another “belief system,” not different from the belief systems called religions.”

                I am not sure if you followed my dialogue with rickflick at all, but when I say “faith,” I mean it by the #1 definition listed on Google: “1. complete trust or confidence in someone or something.(e.g. “this restores one’s faith in politicians”)”

                Here, faith means a personal trust in certain premises. My point is that science, like all beliefs, is rooted in working assumptions. For instance, science operates under a working assumption that once ‘proven,’ a ‘law of nature’ does not change. We measure or calculate XYZ and trust that it doesn’t slowly morph into a different XYZ result over the course of 10 years, or 10 million years or 10 billion years. Science is of course open to the change, and happy to change its assumptions as new information comes to light, but in order to work at higher levels, assumptions must be made re: information at lower levels. It is impractical (and impossible) to be constantly rechecking every assumption necessary for the ongoing work of science. And so working assumptions based on tested and reasoned “faith” are a necessary part of science. I do not mean science involves “faith” in the sense of “blind faith” or “hope” that one might say is how the term is meant in definition 2: “strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.” However, BOTH are valid definitions for the term “faith.” That is why I use it.

              15. But why not just say, “assume” instead of using a the term “faith” that has a religious connotation, and also a meaning in psychology, but makes it so easy to misinterpret science, especially in by the general public. You will never see the term “faith” in a scientific paper (in the physical and life sciences), but you will find “we assume” or assumptions are…, or “observations confirm,” all expressions closer in describing the nature of scientific investigation and questioning, that is, science.

              16. I guess I am content to roll with the dictionary definition. I do know that some have an almost phobic fear of crossing science and religion, and I understand why they abhor using the word “faith” in any relation to science. And that’s fair enough. To me, both science and religion are children of philosophy: both seek to understand the experience of existence (in very different ways), and both do rely on (very different kinds of) ‘faith’ in the sense of fundamental working assumptions.

              17. To me, both science and religion are children of philosophy: both seek to understand the experience of existence (in very different ways)

                Wrong: Religion existed before science and philosophy, in fact science and philosophy were already viewed as the enemy of religion during the times of the Ancient Greeks. Science and philosophy was the endeavor of people who liberated themselves from religious dogma, just think of Thales of Milete, Anaximander and Anaximenes.

              18. Fair enough. You are certainly welcome to your view, but (perhaps like you) I have studied enough ancient philosophy to hold a different opinion based on dozens of books. I would say all of the ancient Hellenistic philosophical schools included both a religious side (ethics, metaphysics) and a physics side (conception of nature). As you point out, many of them were indeed opposed to what I’d call primitive or ‘exoteric’ conceptions of religion. And I agree that primitive ‘religion’ preceded the birth of ‘modern’ philosophy (say, starting with Thales in the west), but I believe the practice of philosophy is as old as man. And obviously, philosophy in India and China long predates Thales in Greece. I think that to imagine primitive religions had no basis in some sort of philosophical reasoning just because it’s not documented is absurd. At least to my way of understanding human existence.

                I’d say each Hellenistic school of philosophy had their own aspect that I would definitely consider ‘religious’ in nature. Pythagoreans, Stoics, even Epicureans had conceptions of ethics, our relationship to Providence/Nature, so forth, that were fundamentally religious. Really, to me, modern ‘atheism’ (in which nature is considered deeply and knowably ordered) is akin to forms of Hellenistic ‘theism.’ You can (and I have read scholars that do) make a case that Hericlitus and Parmenides were basically preachers of a sort. Obviously ancient Eastern thought is even more explicitly a cross between philosophy and religion. Since Eastern thought is fundamentally Idealistic in many respects, I suppose it’s no surprise there hasn’t been more interest in studying physical form as we’ve seen in the west. To me, it is as Einstein said, ‘Religion without science is blind, and science without religion is lame.’ Like I said, to me they are both children of philosophy. That is umbrella under which they meet. You can say that religious ritual preceded the birth of formal philosophy, but to me that is just an academic word game because we have evidence of religious ritual dating back forever but no records of philosophic thought in the modern sense.

                But I’m sure we are not the first or last to disagree about these things. 🙂

              19. To Playing the Ponzi: Interesting note. Yes, of course, religion and philosophy, and science were intertwined during the Greek civilization, as they were later, and in other civilizations. Newton was religious (not being so wasn’t healthy in those times), and also he spent more time on alchemy than on physics. Einstein’s idea of a god was that of Spinoza, and Einstein saying “God doesn’t play dice” refers to the use of the term “God” (der “liebe Gott” in German) as we would use “Santa Claus,” in the presence of children. But today, Western society lives under two threads, the fundamental evangelicals in the US and the Islamists in the rest of the world, both try to take over imposing dogma, which includes a certain vocabulary. And unfortunately, the term “faith” belongs to that vocabulary.

              20. I sympathize with your position. I find the religious notions found in fundamentalist forms of Christianity and Islam to be absurd. Fortunately, while they may dominate the current western conception of what “religion” (and “God” for that matter) means, they do are but small and misguided conceptions of “religion” in the much broader and longer history of the concept. Personally, I refuse to allow their ignorance to define terms that have the potential for (and a history of) much richer use and understanding.

        2. Yes, and it was domesticated only after it destroyed all other religions in its range (except Judaism, and the plight of Jews is known to all), all skeptics, and a good number of Christians, who were not Christian enough or not quite the right type of Christians.
          I fear similar developments with Islam.

  20. The opposite of love is often cited as apathy, not hate as love is connecting and apathy is being not engaged.

    However to keep myself safe from people who are antagonistic to my values (capacity for reciprocity, empathy, learning from mistakes, impulse control, emotional identification/regulation, mindfulness, transparency/honesty are several biggies for me), it is disgust at the person, themselves, that stop my hoping that their behaviour could be changed freeing my focus to interact with people who have the ability to foster my personal growth, and me theirs. Though they can be so different from me in many aspects, the more, the better in fact, but not in the aspects I regard essential for maintaining my self-respect.

    1. The “values” set out in the parenthetical of your second paragraph seem as anodyne an admixture as could reasonably be imagined — who but a sociopath could be opposed to them? (Might your “antagonist[s]” be opposed to your interpretation or application of these values, rather than to the values themselves?)

  21. What does hating the person accomplish? Given the right set of circumstances you could have turned out to have ideas that led you to carry out actions that the version of yourself that your are now would hate. I honestly believe that if I was born in the right country at the right time to the right parents without having the right experiences, I would be doing the things in this world that I hate now. Instead of ever hating people, we should want to figure out ways to foster environments that not matter where you are born you will be exposed to the experiences that would make the horrible ideas that create bad people aren’t allowed to foster and go unchallenged.

    1. Well, I guess you’re a better person than I am. But I can’t consciously make myself NOT hate somebody (laws of physics), though perhaps lectures from people like you can affect my neurons, making me incapable of hating anybody. (BTW, I hate VERY VERY few people; it’s a subjective characterization of “very strong dislike”).

  22. But Penn neglects a serious problem when he says this: “You’re not allowed to hate people for their ideas.”

    I suspect that he’s over-abbreviating his own ideas. In his monologue, he’s talking about the behaviour of individuals, and of labels that are applied to groups of people. So I think what he’s trying to express that “you’re not allowed to hate INDIVIDUAL people for ideas that you associate with a GROUP, and that you associate that INDIVIDUAL with that GROUP, and that you associate these ideas with that GROUP, and that you believe that INDIVIDUAL may also hold those ideas”. Which is a lot longer a mouthful. Where he’s talking about the visitor to his show with the dark complexion and straight black hair, he’s talking about an INDIVIDUAL who is correctly associated with the GROUP of Pakistani people, but incorrectly associating him with the group of people who are Muslims (a mistake his parents make) and (presumably incorrectly) associating him with the group of people who are terrorists (a mistake made by Trump and the Border Force).
    Associating individuals into groups and then treating them as if they’re identical and interchangeable is a time-saving tool – I do it myself when conflating the “has religion” and “idiot” groups – but it’s never any better than a crude approximation.
    To a crude approximation, the groups “WEIT reader” and “more civilised than average” overlap.

  23. Who cares about Islamophobia, what’s this with Penn Gilette has become a Christian? WTF?

    Okay, so I watched the video and was I relieved at 0:50 when he said “I’m just fuckin’ with ya”.

    It was a bit naughty of PCC to repeat the prank in the headline, though.


  24. This is what I don’t understand about Jerry’s view of free will. How is it appropriate to hate anyone if we have no choice about our thoughts or actions?

    If the ramifications of no free will should inform the way criminals are treated, shouldn’t they also inform the way we think about all of our interactions with others? – and then hate and annoyance and lovability and everything are false interpretations we arrive at because we are being inconsistent with how we apply our conclusions about determinism.

    1. I fear that if deterministic views become widespread, they, combined with certain needs and predispositions of some people, will determine them to do crimes that they in the absence of knowledge about determinism would be determined not to commit.

      Personally, I can say about that the physical processes going on inside my brain determine me to be a libertarian, no matter how much I read about determinism.

  25. With Penn it all comes from a good place. He wants to take in muslim refugees and believes they will integrate into western countries. This is not what happens. Muslim immigration causes massive pronlems into the 2nd, 3rd, 4th… generations. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help refugees. Why not fund the resettling of muslim refugees in the 55 muslim majority countries? Maybe Saudi Arabia and the gulf states could take more than zero.

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