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Very nice analogy.  Also this bit: "even as it’s continuously accelerating towards the Earth, it continually misses" sounds like Douglas Adams' (Hitchhiker's Guide..) explanation how how to fly: aim to fall to the earth, but miss.

which exactly part of your worldview would say that Western education and living in a city should be incompatible with religious fanaticism?

Cultural development seems not to follow such orderly laws that we can use the word "incompatible" very often if ever. But going to a western university tends to promote individual thought over blind acceptance of whatever you were taught in childhood, and while someone who spent their live in some valley in Afghanistan or northern Pakistan, never exposed to different people, might imagine westerners as cloven hoofed devils, it is at least a reasonable point of view to suppose that going to school with westerners could lesson that kind of visceral revulsion.

I'm a little take aback, as "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's" is an admonition to obey established political authority. And "render unto God what is God's" is the possibly subversive part -- though it's only recommending obedience to a competing authority". Also, Christian Russia, esp around the time of Ivan the Terrible was arguably the most totalitarian major state for its time (the main argument would be over China, I think). I believe Paul's writings give ample admonitions to obey authority, and for slaves to obey their masters.

What would you say in the doctrines of Islam makes it "naturally a totalitarian religion"? I assume you have some analysis that leads you to that conclusion.

The OP did write:

The history of religions sometimes resembles the history of viruses. Judaism and Islam were both highly virulent when they first broke out, driving the first generations of their people to conquer (Islam) or just slaughter (Judaism) everyone around them for the sin of not being them. They both grew more sedate over time.

Which I think acknowledges some of that early history. I assume what is said about Judaism has to do with the slaughter of Canaanites, which is possibly more than half legendary, unlike the exploits of Islam which happened in a much better documented time.

In different times and places, Islam has been extremely sometimes fanatical, and at other times received Jews who were driven out of Spain by the Inquisition, and showed toleration of other ideas. The ups and downs have probably been due to many causes, but there really has been an awakening in recent decades of Islamic fanaticism, and in this case, at least, I think the OP's thesis might account for some of that; the thinking was just a bit too loose and brainstorm-ey. It is kind of a puzzle to have so many Muslims combining western education, and the ability to function in a modern metropolitan setting combined with extreme fanaticism.

A peak of Christian holy-warring, torturing and witch-burning came when Protestants set out to rid Catholicism of the many "irrational" (having no basis in the bible) false sacraments, and between the Reformation and the Counter-reformation, both Protestants and Catholics were studying the gospels more rigorously and attempting to weave it into a more logical justifiable structure.

I grew up in the 50s and 60s in a very loose sort of Methodist protestantism that was very unconcerned with issues like the literal 7 days of creation, with hell for sinners, with Satan going around tempting people, or with contesting evolution. It seemed to me only a few fossils insisted on all those sorts of things. For most, a general sort of largely "good Samaritan" morality seemed the most salient thing, and there was not much in society to challenge the general sexual mores of moderate protestantism.

I think it's true generally, that religions, especially if lacking a strong central structure like that of Catholicism or Mormonism, or Islam esp. in times when the idea of a a caliph seemed remote, tend to "mellow" most of the time, especially when not particularly challenged, and to evolve into largely going through the motions, but many different things contribute to a stirring of popular zeal and fanaticism. Both being in close contact with challenges from other belief systems and schooling that trains people to be more logical can contribute, and the result can be a lot of ideas that people half-forgot and certainly didn't apply rigorously start to come to the fore.

I have listened on audio to both the Koran and the Bible, and admit that the Koran has a stronger more consistent version of the meme that God loathes unbelievers and intends to torture them for eternity, but it is a part of Christianity too, and in Islam it has frequently faded into the background. Again, Islam having been established last, is intensely aware of Judaism and Christianity, and rants against them specifically, but at times (esp the 16 and 17 centuries) there were more islands of toleration for Jews in the Muslim world than in Christiandom. Constant assertion that Islam is uniquely inhumane are just the sort of thing that strengthens fanaticism. In criticizing religion, I've come to the conclusion that we should tell believers that to the extent they believe in God's loathing and wanting to torture "Infidels", their beliefs present a real problem to others.

And if you startle a cat when he's licking his crotch he'll freeze in whatever awkward posture he's in (that's my overgeneralization from one male cat).

To criticize hypocrisy in debate you don't even have to understand the other's argument -- you only have to be able to find a logical contradiction, and you can always find a contradiction, or something you can plausibly claim is a contradiction.

For the debater, it may be very hard to give up. Many of us can find (or generate plausible arguments for) contradictions with 10% of your brain power, thus keeping the other on the defensive, while using the rest of ones mind to search for a deeper argument. But for this reason it makes for tedious unilluminating debate, and ought to be given less encouragement than it gets - that is, if we want more insightful argument.

I wrote as a little part of a comment in the middle of a longish thread:

There is a paper "Experts: Which ones should you trust" addressing this issue by Alvin Goldman -- you need google scholar or JSTOR or something to actually get the article), one of the biggest names in epistemology and specifically social epistemology. Actually I don't think the article does very much to resolve the issue unfortunately.

One article (cited in Goldman "Experts...") that I really like is John Hardwig "The Role of Trust in Knowledge", which gets at the critical need for experts to trust other experts, and illustrates with examples of scientific and mathematical accomplishment that just don't fit in one person's head.

Besides the qualities of individuals, we must ask whether a particular study discipline has anything trustworthy to say. As Dustin said:

My goal ... on subjects on which there truly is not a expert consensus is to acknowledge that there is no consensus and thus not choose one side or another.

DanArmak spoke of the "consensus-making process in the field" which "has to be explicitly rational and truth-seeking" -- a very good point, I think, that I've tried to illustrate in "Global Warming and the Controversy: What is Scientific Consensus? Continental Drift as Example".

One point: An area of scientific study has to be tractable (this is relative to available technology -- medical science remained largely intractable until pretty recently), and there has to be a there there. See cartoon: http://xkcd.com/451/

I got the impression from some passing reference (if I didn't imagine it) that Stephen Toulmin has had some things to say about this aspect of "what makes (a) science work" (still haven't found something he wrote to confirm this); I've made some attempts at dealing with it myself in "What is A Machine? Natural Machines and Origins of Science" and "Finding Your Invisible Elephant. A Science Requires, and is Shaped by, a Tractable Subject Matter". The articles aren't as polished as I wish they were - my New Years resolution is to do better.

This rules out religion, politics, philosophy and most policy proposals as interesting controversies, leaving scientific and epistemological questions.

Slightly problematic unless you don't admit epistemology being part of philosophy. And it seems like almost as big a swamp as the rest of philosophy, though the problems seem much more worth resolving than in most of philosophy.

There is a paper "Experts: Which ones should you trust" addressing this issue by Alvin Goldman (http://philpapers.org/rec/GOLEWO -- you need JSTOR or something to actually get the article), one of the biggest names in epistemology and specifically social epistemology. Actually I don't think the article does very much to resolve the issue unfortunately. By the way, there are two schools of thought self-described as social epistemology which don't acknowledge each other except mostly to trade deprecations. Actually I don't think the article does very much to resolve the issue unfortunately.

I think it is a very good question. Forget ideas you may have had about UX 10 or 20 years ago. Google is a user interface to the rest of the internet. "Unfriendly" might not be the word for it, but the impression that it is there to serve me is an illusion. It is becoming too much like the "friendly" used car salesman.

Whatever we want to access on the internet is increasingly mediated by highly intelligent interfaces that have their own agendas, and I doubt we have thought enough about what constraints it would take to keep these agendas from getting out of hand. In a worst case scenario, these agents might systematically mislead people so as to hide some uncontrollable super-agent being put into place. It is the old agency problem. The attempt to impose ethics and good behavior on those we take to be our agents (doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, finance advisers) raises different questions from those aimed at most fellow beings. "Professional ethics" is a name for one sometimes effective approach to the problem, and it imposes a whole other set of constraints than those we put on peoples treatment of one another generally, so I think it is worth looking at from a special angle which might well be neglected by FAI generally.

I think it's still useful to point out when its done, and that was what I was trying to do here with that point. Just because it's an endemic everywhere doesn't mean it shouldn't be understood and is not a problem towards this one mentality.

Black-and-white thinking is more dangerous the more important the area of thinking is. This area (one's perceived 'purpose' in life) is quite important, so I believed that this was dangerous enough to point out and think about.

I totally agree it's dangerous and worth pointing out. And humankind is is serious danger. I have no idea what the odds are; it's one of my points of agreement with N. N. Taleb that another addiction of human race is thinking we know -- thinking we can calculate the odds.

Have I made you feel defensive? If so, not at all what I intended. I've had enough of those games. If you took my post as saying "Your post is lame and pointless so I'm 1-upping you", I sincerely urge you to question that, and wonder if that was some sort of automatic reaction and if so, where it might have come from.

I was glad to see your post; it's one of the more interesting things to come up here lately -- it just reminded me of my point of view, which is related but somewhat different.

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