Showing posts with label Atheism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Atheism. Show all posts

Monday, May 18, 2015

I Met Aron Ra


Yesterday I went to a discussion group here in New York about secularism and politics led by well known YouTuber Aron Ra, and later I got to go to dinner with him and a few other people. As a self-described antitheist, he's mostly known for being an ardent defender and educator of evolution and critic of the nonsense and deception of religion and creationism. Last March, Aron, along with Matt Dillahunty of the Atheist Experience, and Seth Andrews of the Thinking Atheist podcast did a three city tour of Australia aptly named the Unholy Trinity Tour. Here's Aron's presentation on biblical absurdity:


A lot of interesting topics were discussed at the meeting, including my own pet peeve of libertarian atheists who care more about small government and low taxes, and will often vote republican because of those issues, even though those republicans want to tear down the wall between church and state. I was glad to see Aron is no fan of libertarianism. Another thing we discussed is why the meeting wasn't full for such a small venue. I said it was most likely because New York is such a liberal, secular city, and atheists here don't have to deal with religious fundamentalists like many people in the South do. This makes atheists in New York more like apatheists, who simply don't give a shit about religion and secular issues. Without a common religious threat and with such a hospitable environment to live in, we're just not as motivated as atheists in the Bible belt. But in a weird way, that's a good thing. We've achieved here in New York what atheists in South and the Middle East are trying to achieve: a secular society where you won't get fired for being an atheist, or have your family disown you, and where no one really gives a shit about religion. But that shouldn't mean we get complacent. There are plenty of battles out there to be fought, and our fellow atheists and secularists around the world need our help.



Check out Aron's YouTube channel and blog The Ace of Clades.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Things That Keep Christian Theists Up At Night (Answered by an Atheist)


A continuation of Randal Rauser's post about things that keep atheists and Christian theists up at night. See here for my response to the things he thinks keep atheists up at night.


1. If God exists, why isn’t His existence as obvious as the physical world?

He doesn't exist. That's why the physical world shows no trace of objective evidence god exists. But if he does, and sends people to hell for not believing in him, and makes his existence extremely ambiguous, god is a monster. Even if not, why would god make his existence ambiguous if he created us to know him? That makes no sense. So there must be another reason why he created us. Here you can pull any ol' idea out of your ass.

2. Why is there so much pain and suffering?

Because the universe doesn't care about our existence. Things happen by chance and natural processes, all of which are indifferent to our pain, suffering, and existence.

3. Why isn’t there better historical evidence for Jesus and his resurrection?

Because Jesus didn't actually get resurrected, and may not have even existed. The historical record is compatible with this.

4. How can God know the future and there still be free will?

I don't think god knowing the future in and of itself precludes free will. I think free will in and of itself isn't logically supported, and certainly isn't supported by any scientific evidence. Another way to look at this question is if in universe X you are an atheist and go to hell, and if in universe Y you are a Christian and go to heaven, if god chooses to materialize universe X over Y, knowing that this would guarantee you an eternity of suffering, why would he do that, as opposed to just preventing you from existing in the first place?

5. Why are there so many morally questionable things in the Bible about God (Canaanite genocide, etc.)?

Easy. The Bible was written by primitive people who invented god in their own racist, sexist, homophobic, and bloodthirsty image.

6. Why are there so many contradictory religions to my own?

Because all religions are man-made. That's the best explanation of it.

7. The existential hiddenness of God

Best explained by god not existing.

8. The driving out/slaughter of the Canaanites

Mostly likely a made-up narrative to give the early Israelites a tale that can distinguish themselves from the Canaanites, who they branched off of, since there is no evidence to show those conquests actually happened.

9. The immortality of the soul

Doesn't exist. No evidence for it. Based on fantasy and ignorance.

10. The remote possibility that Calvinism might be true.

I've had a few Christians argue with me that Calvinism is the best interpretation of the Bible. Many Calvinists own up to the fact that Yahweh is sort of a prick, and is not omni-benevolent, but he's the boss and that's that. I don't take any serious positions on this. It's all fairy tales to me under the label "religion."

In every case the atheistic answer is the much simpler and more plausible answer.

Things That Keep Atheists Up At Night (According to Randal Rauser)


Here's a list of what Randal Rauser thinks keeps atheists up at night from his blog. Let me provide brief answers.

1. Nobody to thank for all my “blessings” and nobody to blame for the converse.
    This is not a problem for the atheist and I've never heard a single one tell me this keeps them up at night. No one is blessed or cursed under atheism. Our fortunes and failings are due to chance, by way of our genetics, our families, our environment, and innumerable other contingent factors. We accept that based on the evidence. We're thankful to the things that have actually mattered in our lives, which in most cases are other human beings.

    2. Implications of nihilism.
      If you view nihilism as there simply being no objective meaning or purpose to life, then the atheist is fine with that. It's only someone who feels that life is required to have objective meaning or purpose that is bothered by the idea of not having it. That's one of the reasons why religions try to make you emotionally dependent on them. They try to make you feel as if you need these things and then they try to offer you them. I explain this in my religion/heroin analogy. Atheism doesn't imply that there cannot be any meaning at all. Meaning and purpose in life are subjective, and many of us atheists find this a lot more comforting.

      3. Failure to rebut moral relativism. 
        Some atheists are fine with the idea of moral relativism, but those who are not have plenty of moral philosophies to choose from that address the issue. But the question is, what kind of moral relativism are we talking about? Is it cultural relativism? Situational relativism? Even most theists acknowledge situational relativism. Also the Euthyphro dilemma addresses the claim that god gives us objective morality quite well.

        4. Classical theism makes the strongest case for (what I would label) objective morality. 

        If you define objective morality (which Randal didn't do on his post) in such a way that it can only be served by theism, then perhaps. The claim that only theism can make a strong case for objective morality is again challenged by the Euthyphro dilemmaIs something good because god commands it, or does god command it because it's good? The first part makes morality arbitrary, and the latter makes god irrelevant to what's good. The standard response is that god is the good – god is the ontological foundation of goodness because he is intrinsically loving, compassionate and fair, etc. But then we can ask, is god good because he has these properties or are these properties good because god has them? In order to avoid compromising god's sovereignty and admitting that these properties are good independently of god, the theist who wants to hold to the moral argument must say that these traits are good because god has them. But how is love, compassion, fairness or any other positive attribute good only because god has them? They would be good irrespective of god's existence, as would be evident by their effects. The theist would bear the burden of proof to demonstrate that they wouldn't be good without god, which I haven't yet seen anyone successfully achieve. Thus it's clear to me at least that objective moral values - if they exist at all - exist independently of god.

        5. Relationship with God is transformative in the life of a believer in ways that the atheist will never experience. One example is the hope believers have in the face of death. 
          Plenty of false gods and false beliefs transform people in ways a Christian will "never experience." The way belief in god effects you is not an indicator that the god you believe in is real. Hope for an afterlife is just false conciliation, and most atheists reject this belief for exactly that reason (and because there's no good evidence for it). Atheists live in the here and now. We live for this life, not some fairy tale existence promised to come. Belief in an afterlife often devalues this life. 

          Sunday, April 26, 2015

          Night Of Philosophy


          Last Friday night I went to an event called "Night of Philosophy". It took place at the French Embassy here in New York and the Ukrainian Institute of America. The idea is interesting: 12 straight hours of half hour presentations giving by many world-renowned philosophers on a variety of topics from logic, to existence, to religion, to god and science. Entry was for free. Oh yeah, and there was a bar. Given how all this stuff is right up my alley, I went straight after work.

          Although it was 80 degrees last weekend, this weekend it was 40 degrees. Other than having to wait about 35 minutes in the cold with ferocious winds, the event was very unexpected treat. I missed David Albert's presentation on the arrow of time, but I did get to see presentations from many philosophers I've taken an interest in, including Massimo Pigliucci, Alex Rosenberg, and Tim Maudlin.

          Alex Rosenberg gave a speech in defense of scientism and included a PowerPoint slide with his "answers" to the biggest perplexing philosophical questions:


          Is there a God? No.
          What is the nature of reality? What physics says it is.
          What is the purpose of the universe? There is none.
          What is the meaning of life? Ditto.
          Is there a soul? Is it immortal? Are you kidding?
          Is there free will? Not a chance.
          What is the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? Nothing beyond the emotions mother nature selected us for having.
          Does human history ave any lessons for the future? Few and fewer, if it ever had any.

          Sunday, April 19, 2015

          Thoughts On The Randal Rauser/Justin Schieber Debate



          So the debate between Randal Rauser and Justin Schieber from last month is online and having just watched it I thought I'd weigh in. Randal Rauser is a trained theologian and Christian apologist. What I like about him is that he isn't just another William Lane Craig clone, of which there are far too many. He makes his own arguments for god his own way and I always want to see the real reasons why theists believe what they do. Here, Randal offers a few of the arguments that help convince him god is real. I'll offer some thoughts on why I don't find them convincing.

          First, Randal defines god as a "necessarily existent, non-physical agent, who is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good." This is the basic god of classical theism which I think was a good idea for Randal to define upfront so there's no confusion. The only problem I have of course is the "necessarily existent" part. I know that many classical theists view god as necessarily existent, but there is often an attempt to define god into existence this way that I think is little more than wordplay. Thankfully, Randal does not try to make that argument for god in this debate.

          Randal outlines his three main arguments:

          1. Rational belief in god doesn't require evidence
          2. God is a legitimate philosophical explanation
          3. God best accounts for the cognitive faculty of moral intuition

          Let's go over them one by one.

          1. Rational belief in god doesn't require evidence


          Randal first defends the idea that rational belief in god doesn't require evidence. He tries to argue that it is properly basic, much like the belief in an external world. "One need not have evidence for god to believe rationally that god exists," Randal declares. He later says, "Belief in god can be produced in conditions which qualify it as properly basic." He tells the story about a non-religious Canadian rock musician who walked into a church in New York one day and was "struck by overwhelming spiritual presence." But so what? As Randal himself observes, "Millions of people have formed belief about god with the same naturalness and immediacy, the same phenomenology of self-presentation that [the Canadian rock musician] experienced." In other words, millions of people have formed belief in other gods as well as non-gods as a result of spiritual experience. There is no special power Christianity has in the spiritual domain. 

          Sunday, April 5, 2015

          Alan Watts On Ontology




          Alan Watts, a favorite philosopher of mine, had a very interesting spiritual way of looking at the universe, that as far as I can tell, can be perfectly compatible with naturalism.

          Watts rejected what he called the "two models." One is what he called the ceramic model, and the other is what he called the fully automatic model. The ceramic model of the world is the traditional theistic view that the world was something created by god, just as a potter creates a pot, and a carpenter creates a table. It is the idea that the world is made as an artifact through some sort of an act of supernatural will. And this creator god is the ruler of this universe and resides as a king. The fully automatic model, is the traditional atheistic or naturalistic view of the world where the universe exists almost as some kind of blind, unintelligent machine, and that humans are just a chance fluke in its history.

          Watts didn't think either two models made sense. So instead, he held to a view that the universe was something musical. The universe was a symphony, it was a piece of music. And just like how when making music, the goal isn't to get to the end of the piece as quick as possible — that would make it so that the shortest songs are the best. No. Rather the point of the music is the music itself. It isn't necessarily going anywhere. The unfolding of the universe is the purpose, beauty, and audacity of this symphony.

          This is a very interesting view of the world, and one that at first I found hard to imagine. I've recently been thinking about it again and am willing to consider it plausible. There is nothing I see completely absurd about the idea of the universe as a piece of music, so long as one doesn't imagine a musician playing it, like it was the musical piece of some deity. I'm not sure if Watts saw this idea of a musical universe as a metaphor or something literal. If only seen as a metaphor it can be construed with naturalism. And although I'm still a metaphysical naturalist in the traditional sense of the term, this idea that the universe is naturally musical, I don't suddenly object to. Watts called this the organic model.

          Sunday, March 29, 2015

          Ayn Rand's Objectivism and Libertarianism


          I've had several close encounters with libertarians recently and I have to be honest with you, many of them piss me off as much as, if not more, than religious fundamentalists. There is a fairly popular libertarian niche today that is quite outspoken and very ideologically driven, and it seems to have a lot of young people in their ranks. There are also quite a few atheists who are libertarians and I've been noticing them as I go out into my local atheist/philosophical meetups.


          Although I am sympathetic to some of the libertarian social views like marijuana and prostitution legalization, when it comes to economics and government I have some sharp disagreements with them. Many libertarians that I've spoken to either want no government at all, or government so small it can be drowned in a bathtub, to paraphrase Grover Norquist. But mostly, they want a total "free market" economy where government regulation is non-existent, and some even want the total privatization of education, law, police, and the military.

          Not all libertarians hold to Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy, but many do. She's the ideological darling of many on the Right. Her fan boys include Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, who said that her books are "required reading" for his interns. The interesting thing is that Ayn Rand was an outspoken atheist, and it's odd how so many on the Right identify with her, given the Right's close associations with religion. As far as her atheism is concerned, we're on the same page. We both see religion as something irrational and not justified by any good evidence. But Rand's philosophy emphasizes a kind of ethical egoism, whereby she thought that we should never sacrifice anything important to us for the benefit of someone else who was not important to us, like a stranger who was suffering. She thought taxation was theft, but still believed in government doing the three basics: police, law, and military. (This would be financed by voluntary donations according to her.) All the money you make would be yours to keep and there's no concern for any kind of "greater good." Rand's philosophy is a fervent objection to utilitarianism. If fact, recently when I mentioned my concern for the "greater good" when I was debating economics with a libertarian, he literally walked out on me.

          Saturday, March 28, 2015

          Some Religious Believers Are Scared For Their Religious Freedom


          Many religious conservatives in the US are publicly afraid of the loss of their religious liberty. They see the possibility of their religious identity and expression truly becoming illegal and extinct. These concerns are echoed widely among prominent members of the religious right. Conservative pastor Rick Warren said religious liberty is the civil rights issue of our day, 2016 presidential hopeful Ted Cruz thinks the government is waging an "assault" on religious liberty, and Louisiana governor and Christian convert Bobby Jindal says religious liberty is at stake due to increasing secularism.

          There is no doubt about it. The US is becoming more secular and less religious. As it has been widely reported, the recent 2014 GSS survey shows that 21% of Americans claim no religious affiliation and are categorized as the "nones". As many as 7.5 million people may have left religion just since 2012. This is an increase of the nones of about 2 percent since 2012. Many religious conservatives are disturbed by these trends and scared that this increasing secularization is fueling a hostile attitude towards religious expression and some actually fear the government is attempting to make religious expression, or being religious, illegal.

          Is there any truth to their claims? What would I do if I were in control of the law?

          First, for far too long the religious zealots have been violating the separation of church and state, by enacting laws that teach creationism in schools, preaching politics from the pulpit while remaining tax exempt, displaying the 10 commandments on government property, trying to enforce religious morality onto non-believers, and many, many others. When these violations get challenged, religionists often react as if their religious liberty is being infringed. But right-wing paranoia is almost always fueled by ignorance and rarely turns out to have a strong factual basis. There are no attempts by the government to make religious expression illegal. There are attempts to make sure the the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment is respected. Secularists like myself do not want to take anyone's religious freedom away, we want to make sure it stays out of government - where it doesn't belong, and we don't want people to be able to use "religious liberty" as an excuse to discriminate.

          To be a true secularists who holds to the basic separation of church and state principle means that you do not suppress the free expression of religious beliefs. But, if those religious beliefs violate basic civil rights of equality, then in my opinion, civil rights trump religious expression. That means you should not be allowed to discriminate against someone's race, religion - or lack thereof, gender, national origin, or sexual orientation on grounds that your religion requires you to do so in all government facilities and institutions, as well as in private businesses that cater to the general public. When the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, it outlawed racial discrimination in "public accommodations" like hotels, motels, restaurants, and theaters. Many segregationists strongly objected to the idea of government forcing private business owners to serve black people equally. But if this stipulation was not there, most of the white-owned private businesses in the South would have continued their discrimination against black people, and in effect, we would have still had segregation, perhaps even to this day. I see the discrimination perpetrated in the name of religion the same way.

          Thursday, March 19, 2015

          Does The Fine Tuning Argument Make God Responsible For Natural Evil?


          I just had a idea. I was thinking about the fine tuning argument which tends to be fairly popular among internet apologists and whether or not that causes problems for the problem of suffering. Natural evil is an evil for which "no non-divine agent can be held morally responsible for its occurrence." Floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, forest fires, droughts, meteor impacts, and diseases that cause sentient beings to suffer or die and for which no human being is responsible are examples of natural evil.

          Classical theists have acknowledged that the problem of natural evil is a big one, and have tried to come up with many solutions, or theodocies, in trying to explain why an infinitely good deity would allow them. But the question I want to ask here, is whether god merely "allows" such evils or is the ultimate cause of them. Some theists maintain this claim that god allows these evils, but doesn't cause them. And some theists for example, claim that god has nothing to do with natural evil, and that they are caused by agents other than god, like demons.

          I think there is a possible contradiction between theists who take these views on natural evil, and who hold to the fine tuning argument. Basically, if god fine tuned the universe, how is he not also responsible for all the natural evil in it? In other words, how is this:


          A1. The fine tuning of the universe is either due to physical necessity, chance or design.
          A2. Fine tuning is not due to either physical necessity or chance.
          A3. Therefore, it is due to design.

          Compatible with this, such that god isn't responsible for natural evil?:

          B1. God (an omnipotent, omniscience, omni-benevolent being) exists.
          B2. Natural evil exists.
          B3. God is the creator and designer of the physical universe, including the laws that govern it.
          B4. Natural disasters, and the evil they cause, are a direct byproduct of the laws that govern our universe.

          Sunday, March 1, 2015

          Hyperactive Agency Detection — A Just-So Story?


          The hyperactive agency detection (HAAD), or hyperactive agent-detection device (HADD), is the most widely accepted explanation for religious belief in biology, psychology and sociology. It offers us a naturalistic explanation of the origin of beliefs which form the basis of every religion. Because of this, you can expect that many religious believers are skeptical of its claims. Some of them claim that this is a "just-so" story, part of "atheist mythology." The irony of religionists making this claim, when their religious beliefs are often backed up on the mere testimony of religious texts, which are chalk full of just-so stories, is stupendous. A just-so story is "an unverifiable and unfalsifiable narrative explanation for a cultural practice, a biological trait, or behavior of humans or other animals." Is the HADD hypothesis unverifiable and unfalsifiable? It must be both in order to meet the criterion of a just-so story. Here I want to list some of the evidence supporting the HADD hypothesis and support the view that it is a valid scientific explanation.

          In their 2008 paper The evolution of superstitious and superstition-like behaviour, Harvard biologist Kevin R. Foster and Helsinki biologist Hanna Kokko test for the origin of superstitious behavors through an incorrect assignment of cause and effect, where they "conclude that behaviours which are, or appear, superstitious are an inevitable feature of adaptive behaviour in all organisms, including ourselves."

          This is experimental evidence for what Michael Shermer termed patternicity, or the tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless noise. He writes:

          Unfortunately, we did not evolve a baloney-detection network in the brain to distinguish between true and false patterns. We have no error detecting governor to modulate the pattern-recognition engine. The reason has to do with the relative costs of making Type I and Type II errors in cognition, which I describe in the following formula:

          P = C(TI) < C(TII) Patternicity (P) will occur whenever the cost (C) of making a Type I error (TI) is less than the cost (C) of making a Type II error (TII). 

          The problem is that assessing the difference between a Type I and Type II error is highly problematic—especially in the split-second timing that often determines the difference between life and death in our ancestral environments—so the default position is to assume that all patterns are real; that is, assume that all rustles in the grass are dangerous predators and not the wind.

          This is the basis for the evolution of all forms of patternicity, including superstition and magical thinking. There was a natural selection for the cognitive process of assuming that all patterns are real and that all patternicities represent real and important phenomena. We are the descendants of of the primates who most successfully employed patternicity. The Believing Brain (60)

          A Type I error is a false positive, and is "believing something is real when it is not." A Type II error is a false negative, and is "believing something is not real when it is." For a short explanation of how this affected our hominid ancestors, see here.

          Saturday, February 21, 2015

          The Religion/Heroin Analogy


          Some theists struggle to see how life could have any meaning without god. A godless life, they say, is devoid of any objective meaning or purpose and is pointless. But many atheists, including myself, have no problem with there being no objective meaning or purpose to life, and some of us even go a step further and say that a life in which meaning is forced onto you from the outside is downright depressing.

          In order to help some theists understand my point of view, I've thought of an analogy that might help in explaining this relationship between religion and meaning.

          Suppose you were raised on a steady diet of heroin every single day. It makes you feel good, it gives your life meaning and purpose, and you look forward everyday to the warmth and pleasure that it gives you. You become utterly dependent on it everyday. So are all of your friends and family members, and as far as you can tell, everyone in your community. Life would be pointless, you believe, without heroin. And the very idea of not having it terrifies and depresses you. Then one day you meet someone who doesn't do heroin and you're completely shocked at the fact that they don't need a daily injection of smack to provide meaning and purpose to their lives and are perfectly fine and happy without it, and living a fulfilled life.

          "How does your life have any meaning without heroin?" you ask them. "What motivates you to get up and endure another day?"

          "Easy," they say. "I simply wasn't raised with a dependency on heroin like you were. The reason why you feel that life has no meaning without heroin is because you were raised to think that you were. And over time it became psychologically addictive, to the point where you believe that you need it to motivate you to get through life. For me, that dependency was never created and so I have no idea what it's like to need something like heroin in order to be motivated to get out of bed and go through my day. And actually, the idea of you needing heroin to feel a sense of meaning is pretty pathetic. I mean look at yourself. Seriously."

          Now, I'm not saying religion is just like heroin or is just as harmful. But there is a similarity to the way some heroin addicts become so utterly dependent on their drug and how it gives their life meaning and purpose with how some theists become so utterly dependent on their religion. Karl Marx infamously said that "religion is the opium of the people". He had a good point. The demise of religion will be to a large degree due to the realization that meaning, purpose and fulfillment in life can be achieved without god or religion. And once the cycle of religious indoctrination is broken, and religion's head is severed, saying "it's tradition" won't be a viable excuse helping to perpetuate it.

          Monday, February 16, 2015

          Debate: Is ISIS Islamic? David Wood (Christian) vs. Osama Abdallah (Muslim)




          David Wood is a Christian apologist probably best known for his criticism of Islam. He writes for the blog Answering Muslims and has debated many prominent Muslims on issues regarding Islam and Christianity. I saw one debate recently called Is ISIS Islamic? and I think Wood did a particularly good job in it. He certainly is well educated in Islamic history and theology and knows how to cut through most of the bullshit you often here coming from liberal Muslims who obfuscate their religion and its history to give you the kinder, gentler version of Islam that they want us Westerners to believe is true.

          Some liberals that watch this may initially feel the urge to ignore Wood's criticisms and brush them off as the product of fundamentalist Christian "Islamophobia." Yes, Wood is a Christian, but that does not automatically render his criticism of Islam biased and false. Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz also recognize the same problems of the Islamic sources. If you are the kind that feels the need to believe Islam is a peaceful religion that has been hijacked by a small minority of extremists, please try and suspend that reaction and listen to the arguments Wood makes. And then do some research into the verses and their interpretations to see if Wood makes a convincing case that ISIS is indeed Islamic.

          Saturday, February 14, 2015

          Sometimes Comedy Is The Best Language


          Thursday, February 12, 2015

          Atheism Has No Prescription To Kill


          The internet is abuzz with the recent news of an atheist who allegedly killed three Muslims in what appears to be a hate crime. Reports have suggested that the alleged killings by 46 year Craig Hicks were over a parking dispute, but anti Islamic comments made by him on social media have lead many to think he was motivated by a hatred of Islam or Muslims.

          First let me say that killing someone over a parking space is extremely stupid, and killing someone because of their religion is perhaps even more stupid. Being an atheist and killing someone because of their religion is perhaps the stupidest, and even more stupid than when religious people kill other religious people because of their religion.

          But there is a difference between this incident and the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The Charlie Hebdo murderers were motivated by a religious prescription to not depict the prophet Mohammad in any way, especially not in a derogatory way. And Islam prescribes many situations where non-believers can be killed, beheaded, and forced to submit to Islamic authorities. The killers were avenging the prophet, as they shouted while leaving the scene of the crime. Their crime was clearly motivated by their religious faith.

          Atheism by contrast, is just the lack of a belief in any gods. It says nothing about what moral philosophies or prescriptions one should follow. There is no holy book in atheism that says "Kill the believer where ever you find them." And while it is certainly possible for someone to kill in the "name of atheism," atheism and even anti-theism are neutral on violence. They simply say nothing about it.

          So while these murders are despicable and should make everyone ashamed, this person's alleged hatred of Islam is not a prescription of atheism. On Hick's Facebook page he has a banner describing his anti-theism. I too describe myself as an anti-theist, but anti-theism, or the "conscientious objection to religion" as the banner defines it, does not entail the unwarranted killing of theists or anyone. Anti-theism is an intellectual battle against religious belief, not a physical battle. I do not condone the killing of anyone based on their religious beliefs, politics, race, gender, sexual orientation, or anything else. And anti-theism doesn't stand for this. Period.


          P.S. I'm glad to see so many prominent atheists coming out so quickly to condemn this violence.
          #ChapelHillShooting





          Sunday, February 1, 2015

          Was The Genocide Of The Cannanites In The Bible Justified?


          It seems that for some Christians the genocidal conquests mentioned in the Old Testament are a constant thorn in their theology. I can definitely see the need for one to want to distance themselves from actually believing they were historical events commanded by an omnibenevolent deity. The most rational interpretation of those text that I think a Christian can have, as I've said many times, is the minimalist view that doesn't regard them as divinely inspired. Thom Stark's view is a prime example. In his book Is God a Moral Compromiser? he critiques the idea that the genocide on the Canaanites was justified by any reasonable moral standard.

          When theists argue that the Canaanites "had it coming to them" because they performed child sacrifice, or they performed ritual sex acts, I like to kindly remind them that the Canaanites had no pact with Yahweh to solely worship him or to obey any of the Mosaic commandments. See, the thing about divine command theory (for those theists who advocate for it) is that "the morally right action is the one that God commands or requires." This means that in the absence of any divine revelation or command, a person has no objective moral duties to abide by. Him and his society are therefore free to do as they please, whether that includes child sacrifice or ritualistic prostitution. So if the Canaanites indeed did these things, they were not violating any moral laws set down by Yahweh, and were therefore innocent of any of the charges the Israelites used to justify their genocide against them.

          And Stark knows this. Aside from the fact that the Israelites also once practiced child sacrifice (exodus 22:29) as the Canaanites did (but unlike the Canaanites they did so only to Yahweh), on page 32 Stark writes:

          I’ll just note two problems here: (1) God never sent any prophets to Canaan to warn them of their coming destruction; not in Abraham’s time, not in Moses’s, and not in any time in between. The only thing he sent to Canaan was military spies. (2) He had to wait until their punishment was “fully deserved”? We’re talking about baby killing here. At what point is a baby’s slaughter “fully deserved”? And if Copan is going to cite “original sin” (though I’m not claiming he will), then everybody in the whole world “fully deserved” to get slaughtered. And their slaughter would have been just as “fully deserved” in Abraham’s time as it was in Moses’s.

          Saturday, January 10, 2015

          Is Atheism Just A Means To An End?


          I don't think about atheism all the time, but I do think about it a lot. Recently, while thinking of atheism and what it means to me, I realized that atheism might just be a means to an end. Let me explain. Atheism may not even be the right term here, because after all, in its most disabused definition, it simply means lacking a belief in any gods. It's not even technically a worldview simpliciter. But definitions and proper usages aside, trying to increase the number of people who lack belief in any gods in a way, to me, is just a means to achieving an end, and that end is having and sustaining a peaceful, humanistic, liberal, free-thinking society, that employs the best of reason and evidence towards all modes of thinking, and one that lacks any religious, ideological and financial hindrances.

          The way the atheist sees it, why should religion get a free pass when it comes to anything we honestly think is getting in the way of trying to achieve the best kind of society intellect can produce? I don't know exactly all the details of what that society looks like, but humanists like myself have a general goal that we're trying to achieve and we see that the goal posts are always moving and consider it a good thing.

          If and when it's ever the case that atheism or agnosticsm becomes the dominant views in the world toward god, active atheism and counter-apologetics wouldn't really need to be a "thing." In such a world, my primary goals and interests would probably encompass a broader range of social and economic issues and I wouldn't really care so much about disbelief in god per se. Therefore, the real goal in sight is not a world in which active atheism really plays a significant part. Active atheism is merely a reaction to active theism and a strategy to decrease the level of religiosity in the world. Sure, it's still interesting to think about the deepest metaphysical questions the mind can conjure up. Naturalism, in and of itself, is pretty fucking amazing if you really think about it deeply. That we're giant bags of atoms that are mostly empty space, evolved and determined by the laws of physics, that have the ability to think about this very process and environment that it's a part of, is, in my opinion, just fucking mind blowing. (I've always liked to think that the ultimate nature of reality, whatever it turns out to be, is going to be mind blowing.)

          But I digress...

          The real goal secular humanists like myself have is a world that best fits humanist ideals. A world where evidence matters; a world where empathy and compassion are treated among the highest virtues and are not limited to fellow man; a world where freedom and equality reign supreme, where there are no dogmas or faiths that put limits on intellectual growth and moral progress. Atheism is just a means to that end, and is by no means the only mean; it's just one among many. We have to rid ourselves of religion and religious thinking if we are going to make this possible.

          Thursday, January 1, 2015

          Why Should "Knowing" God Be So Hard?


          I've been debating with theists for years and the one thing I've learned is that there is never any shortage of interpretations of god and religion. For just about every position a theist takes on their religion, there is always a theist adamantly supportive of the exact opposite view within the same religion. This has led me recently to wonder why, if a god exists, and its primary goal is for us to have a relationship with it, it makes it so hard to "know" such a being exists and what its message is?

          Many "sophisticated theologians" argue that the common understanding of their religions are wrong. In order to know the correct, or more probably correct versions of their religion, one has to do a tremendous amount of research into the history, culture, language, theology, philosophy and science that relates to their religion. One must know the original language that the religious texts were written in, and the historical and cultural context in which they were written in, because otherwise one is ignorant as to the true meaning of the text.

          For example, the New Testament was originally written in ancient Greek, a language almost no one is familiar with today. Some words have multiple, ambiguous meanings, and translations can easily deliver the wrong message which can have huge theological implications. So in order to know what the New Testament really says, one has to know the original language and context it was written in, or at least be aware of a scholar who has done the necessary work. Another example, is the fact that Muslims claim that the Koran is only perfect in the original Arabic spoken and written in the 7th century. Any translation to another language degrades the message somewhat. Muslim apologists use this as an argument for their faith by arguing that only something divinely inspired could have been so perfect. That means that in order for me to verify this, I have to learn classical Arabic.

          Then there's the science behind all the many arguments for god. Some of them rely on extremely complex physics, chemistry, and biology that the vast majority of people do not understand. Why should I have to have knowledge of things so complex, and so esoteric, in order for me to rule out or confirm god and a particular religious interpretation? In other words, why would an omni-benevolent deity, whose primary goal is that it wants us to know it exists, make its existence and message so highly dependent on complex cosmological models, chemistry, and biology? Why not make its existence and message more easily known? There is much debate in various religions on whether faith alone can guarantee salvation, or whether it is faith and works. Regardless, one has to first believe that there is a plausible religion and god out there in order to be motivated to do any works as a result of this god-belief.

          Wednesday, December 24, 2014

          Here's A Quote Every Atheist Should Memorize


          “The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike.”
          Delos McKown

          Saturday, December 20, 2014

          I'm A Sam Harris Fan


          At a cocktail party last night I ran into philosopher Massimo Pigliucci and we had a nice little conversation on philosophy and science. Talking philosophy is very different when you're talking with an actual philosopher who knows their shit. I brought up free will because it's one of my favorite subjects to talk about and I mentioned how I'm a big fan of Sam Harris. "Nobody's perfect," Massimo replied (he's a vocal critic of Harris). Like Harris, Massimo rejects libertarian free will as he says just about every respectable philosopher does, and says that he's "some kind of compatibilist." I told him of my struggles between compatibilism and hard determinism and mentioned how I think Harris, who's a well known hard determinist, makes a reasonable case defending the position. (Harris wrote a short book on it called Free Will.) This prompted Massimo gave me his thoughts on why he thought Harris' view on Free Will was wrong.

          Even among atheists, I find myself occasionally defending Harris against his haters.

          I first came across Sam Harris probably back in 2009 when I became obsessed with watching debates on YouTube between theists and atheists. I liked his ability to poke fun at religion and to use humor to expose the absurdity of religious belief. He's a controversial figure, even among atheists. He's got his fans, and he's got his haters. I'm a Sam Harris fan. I don't agree with him on everything, but I do tend to agree with him more often than not.

          For example, I totally agree with him when it comes to Islam and the negative effect its beliefs have on people who are inspired by it to commit violence, oppression, and acts of terrorism. There is no doubt in my mind that violent verses in the Koran inspire terrorists like those in ISIS to behead infidels and take female sex captives. And political correction, especially among liberals, is preventing us from having an honest conversation about the relationship between Islam and violence, terrorism, sexism and homophobia.

          Tuesday, November 25, 2014

          The Greatest Stupidity


          Someone slipped a Christian pamphlet under my door today as I was debating the nature of god with several theists online. Gotta love irony. The pamphlet is called "The Greatest Tragedy" and says "the greatest tragedy is the death of someone who could have been saved!" It even mentions the worldwide flood story of Noah - as fact - and says that wasn't as tragic as the possibility of them being saved. You have to get a kick out of those who thinks that a worldwide genocide of the entire human race, save one family, and billions of animals, save one pair of each "kind" is not worse than then people's "salvation."

          Christians, I know you're really trying hard to make your religion seem plausible, but you've got a huge image problem at your hands. Take it from me, and the millions of people who think your religion is utter nonsense. The most ignorant among you make the most noise. They are the ones we hear about. They are the ones who take your religion seriously. Any educated adult who still thinks the worldwide flood story in the Bible is real needs to have their head examined. When will religious people learn that the Bible is not the evidence, it's the claim. Don't assume that events reported in the Bible are fact. They're not. Almost none of the shit that happened in the Bible, happened in real life. There was no Adam and Eve; there was no flood; there was no Jewish enslavement in Egypt; there was no mass exodus; there was no military conquest of Canaan. The four Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses. Paul never met Jesus and wrote his Epistles 20 years at the earliest after Jesus supposedly died. At least 7 of the Epistles aren't even considered authentic by most mainstream New Testament scholars. The Bible has hundreds of contradictions. And few, if any, of its analogous stories even make any sense given the true nature of our animalistic evolutionary origins.

          Did god really think that creating man in "his image" by way of an evolved primate was going to allow us even the possibility of having a sinless nature? You gotta be fucking kidding me. No Christians, if you want to convince informed, educated people, who aren't vulnerable from hardship and ignorance, that your religion is true and that all other competing worldviews are wrong, you've got to try much, much, much harder. You pretty much have to shed as much of the irrational and non-scientific bullshit from your religion as possible, and that means dropping the Biblical historicity of most of these ridiculous events. It's an impossible task, because the meaning and foundations of Christianity fall apart without them. It simply makes no sense bereft of the fundamentalist presuppositions.

          "The Greatest Tragedy," then, is actually believing any of this bullshit to be true. It's The Greatest Stupidity. Allowing yourself to get infected by the social disease that is religion, whether it comes in the form of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, or any of the thousands of strains out there, is the greatest tragedy of mankind, who, of all known species has the unique ability to apply reason and rationality to his view of the world. Religion keeps us steeped in superstition and ignorance and prevents us from seeing the world the way it truly is. So, I've been inoculated from this blinding disease. You can't use fear to try and persuade me, you need to use facts. But facts are the one thing religionists don't have on their side! And that's another one of their tragedies. The first is that many of them were helplessly brainwashed into their religion against their will as children, that's tragedy number one. The second is that many of them remained in the bubble of religious ignorance after growing up, often due to force or social pressure and isolation. The third is that uneducated and vulnerable people often fall victim to apologists offering "forgiveness" and "salvation" by playing into their fears and hopes. It's tragic. But it doesn't have to happen. Inoculate yourself now!

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