Thursday, October 22, 2009

quotes of the day

In the first place divest yourself of all bias in favour of novelty & singularity of opinion. Indulge them in any other subject rather than that of religion. It is too important, & the consequences of error may be too serious. On the other hand shake off all the fears & servile prejudices under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.
Thomas Jefferson
There is something feeble and a little contemptible about a man who cannot face the perils of life without the help of comfortable myths. Almost inevitably some part of him is aware that they are myths and that he believes them only because they are comforting. But he dares not face this thought! Moreover, since he is aware, however dimly, that his opinions are not rational, he becomes furious when they are disputed.
Bertrand Russell (found here). Incidentally Russell was born in Trellech in Monmouthshire, which makes him eligible for nomination as today's Welshman Of The Day.


The Black Rabbit said...
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The Black Rabbit said...

I followed your link and prefer these quotes (which are less obviously odious) from the privileged and tormented english (or welsh as you'd have it?) aristocrat:

"My conclusion is that there is no reason to believe any of the dogmas of traditional theology and, further, that there is no reason to wish that they were true. Man, in so far as he is not subject to natural forces, is free to work out his own destiny. The responsibility is his, and so is the opportunity."

A very "empowering", optimistic thought.


"Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines."

And this one?'s subtly damning, which I often tend to appreciate in life I'm araid...

electrichalibut said...

I'm not sure I agree about the lack of understanding and sympathy (and I think "odious" is overdoing it a bit), but then again we probably disagree about how much sympathy and understanding is appropriate anyway.

As it happens, though, it wasn't the first part (the "feeble and contemptible" bit, which I assume is the bit you're objecting to) that caught my eye, but the second bit, and the subsequent bit you left out (not suggesting any suspicious motives for doing that, but to me it's the interesting bit).

In the light of some of the absurd mediaeval laws about "blasphemy" we still have on the books it's interesting to ask: why do the religious get so upset when the basis of their beliefs is questioned? Surely God/Allah/Vishnu is big enough not to be bothered? And he can always smite the unbelievers if he gets a bit ticked off, right?

My feeling is that the explanation Russell offers here is correct: that at some deep rational level these people know that it's all nonsense, but they've got it all padlocked away in a little compartment in their brain, and the notion that they should apply "normal" rules of critical thinking to it is terrifying, hence the bizarrely agressive response.

The Black Rabbit said...

I toned down my original repsonse on thinking a little about it you'll see.
In fact, my first response (which you never saw) mentioned the latter part of that first quote - in which I think he made more sense, and was actually worth reading (as you've hinted at).

Re odious - maybe I AM overstating it, but it does seem more than a little ripe.

As for religious people getting furious or aggressive when their belief is questioned? Well - you've undoubtedly got more experience in this than me, I suppose. I haven't noticed much of that.
But... as you know, I can't be bothered to question it, (you know I think thats a waste of time, and thats probably where we disagree the most) and really haven't been bothered, since I suggested to my local church years and years ago, that the alpha course was incorrectly marketed. Instead of a modern philosophical debate (which I was originally led to believe it was - it was certainly dressed up as such), it was actually (predictably) a school on relevance of the bible in modern life. My naive mistake, granted.

You know, the church kept calling me for some time, (I never answered) and now the alpha course is more aptly marketed... at least I think.

Hey ho.

Now to clean the fox crap off the chicken run.

The Black Rabbit said...

One more thing.
Re my thoughts on the feeble bit of BR's quote.
For what its worth?
I happen to think that there are intelligent people in life, and stupid people. Likewise - strong-willed people and feeble-minded people.
I would hope that the intelligent people, or strong-minded people have better things to do with their mind and intelligence than to remind the feeble-minded simpletons, just how thick and crap they are.
Maybe thats a little liberal of me.
Aw well...

That fox poo beckons.

electrichalibut said...

The trouble is, the people who are feeble-minded simpletons by that definition (and I don't say I agree with it) are running the world, or at least significant chunks of it.

If people want to believe irrational things while sitting in a yurt in the Gobi desert then that doesn't bother me too much. If, instead, they are sitting on a big nuclear arsenal while claiming to be getting instructions straight down a hotline to Allah, that is cause for concern.

The Black Rabbit said...

Even more reason NOT to constantly remind these people how "feeble" they are then, if that is truly the case?

BR clearly linked religion with feeble-minded people, deserving of contempt?

Or did I get that wrong?

electrichalibut said...

Re. your second paragraph, yes. I'm not sure I'd have put it like that, but I wouldn't say it's wrong either.

Bear in mind that's not the bit I was focussing on anyway (see my first comment). One of the reasons the second bit, and the whole cognitive dissonance thing, is so interesting, is that it explains (partially at least) why intelligent people often believe ridiculous things. Stupid people believing ridiculous things is less interesting.

The Black Rabbit said...
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The Black Rabbit said...

(I don't know why I can't just edit my mis-spelled comments, rather than just delete them).


"Cognitive dissonance" eh?

Ooooh get yooou!

Big fanny.


Fan y big.

(Sorry wrong post!)