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Atheism and Imagination
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Mark Hoofnagle comments on this LA Times article by Lee Siegel, which says a lot of stupid things, most notably:

In their contempt for any belief that cannot be scientifically or empirically proved, the anti-God books are attacking our inborn capacity to create value and meaning for ourselves.

I don't even know what that means. What could it possibly mean? Well, the next paragraph he says:

When our anti-religionists attack the mechanism of religious faith by demanding that our beliefs be underpinned by science, statistics and cold logic, they are, in effect, attacking our right to believe in unseen, unprovable things at all. Their assault on religious faith amounts to an attack on the human imagination.

For the imagination is what embodies concepts, ideas and values that cannot be scientifically verified and that have no practical usefulness. Because the existence of God is undemonstrable, unverifiable and the object of an impractical leap of faith, religion, it seems to me, is one of imagination's last strongholds.

Oh, so that's what he means. Refuting the idea that beliefs should be justified destroys imagination. What the hell is this guy smoking?

First of all, he makes the horrible mistake of confusing the imagined with the believed. I can imagine all sorts of things like unicorns, dragons, aliens, and so on, without believing that they exist.

Einstein said imagination is more important than knowledge, and what he meant, I think, is that imagination is a way of mixing and matching elements that we already know on the stage of our mind. It's a form of mental experimentation. And of course you need knowledge as a basis for trying new combinations of things, but the ability to swap elements and form unique representations is the more important skill.

To argue that belief in unsubstantiated things is a requisite for imagination is not only stupid, it's grotesque. Two groups I've mingled with are scientists and science fiction and fantasy writers, with some overlap. On the whole, there's a much higher percentage of skepticism and non-belief in these two groups, compared with the general public. And yet, imagination is vital to both.

Personally, I don't believe in god, and I think I have a pretty robust imagination. I think up all sorts of things, but I don't necessarily think they jive with reality.

Is Siegel really arguing that belief is integral to imagination? Does he have to believe in elves and dragons in order to enjoy the Lord of the Rings movies?

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