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

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 3 Getting Medieval)


Feser starts chapter 3 lauding Aquinas' lifelong chastity and devotion to god, as if that's supposed to impress us. Religious obsessions with chastity always reminds me of how masochistic it is. There's also something about serious Catholics that I really don't like. I've always hated Catholicism, but it's hard to hate most Catholics today because most of them are so non-religious that they act almost indistinguishable from your average secular atheist. But the ones who take their religion seriously, like Feser, get me agitated. Feser is convinced his religion is true and wants the world to conform to it, and that's dangerous. I suppose then that it's a good thing he doesn't get much traction.

It's in chapter 3, called Getting Medieval, that Feser lays out his argument for god. He starts by making several insults about the New Atheists and their apparent failure to address the "greatest philosopher of the Middle Ages," especially Richard Dawkins, who is arguably the most famous atheist in the world. As a reminder once again, I haven't fully read The God Delusion, and so I unfortunately cannot speak on Dawkins' behalf. But, from what I did read, Dawkins does make a lot of common sense arguments against the belief in a theistic intervening god - the kind who ensures you have parking space at Walmart while he ignores the prayers of millions of kids starving to death. Hitchens' God is Not Great is really a critique of religion, specifically the Abrahamic ones. He doesn't really try and refute the existence of god per se. Perhaps this is a weakness, but I think his criticisms against Abrahamic theism are strong enough that no argument anyone can make could establish the probabilistic existence of Yahweh. The biblical god and the religions that derive from him are just too absurd to be taken seriously, even when Aquinas' arguments are met head on, as we're about to see.

Feser makes a big deal about the New Atheist's criticisms of William Paley's popular design argument. The reason why so many atheists mention Paley's argument is because it's a very popular argument that a lot of theists make. It's also a very simple argument; one doesn't need to learn complex, esoteric metaphysics like one has to do in order to understand Aquinas. That's why Paley's argument keeps coming up again and again, and the New Atheists (and atheists in general) have to make it a point to address it. Aquinas' arguments are generally too complex and require too much philosophical knowledge for your average wannabe apologist to successfully make. It's much easier for them to memorize the simple premises of the cosmological argument, or remember the scene involved in Paley's watchmaker analogy. It's fair to say that it isn't a straw man to attack design arguments of the Paley variety as Feser thinks on page 81. It's a legitimate argument for god, albeit a really bad one. No, a more proper straw man is like what Feser did in his opening chapter when he says your average secularist thinks strangling infants or fucking corpses or goats is perfectly normal in order to show how secularism is "irrational, immoral, and indeed insane," without even defining what he means by "secularism."

Feser's attitude seems to be that none of the New Atheist's arguments mean anything, until they refute Aquinas. And to be fair, the New Atheists have, by and large, not taken up Aquinas. Feser accuses secularists of swallowing "anything their gurus shovel at them." (80) But he must realize how absurd it is for him to make such a claim, when everyone knows it's organized religion that brainwashes its masses and requires its adherents make statements of faith, usually starting at childhood. And the Catholic Church is about as organized as organized religion can get.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

My Atheist Debate Dream Team


I love watching really good debates between theists and atheists, but many of them are lackluster. Last year's debate between Sean Carroll and William Lane Craig was a particularly good one when it came to the cosmological evidence for and against theism. But those kinds of debates are the exception. The one thing Sean Carroll can't do well is debate the historicity of Jesus, or morality. And for other atheist debaters like Richard Carrier, the one thing he can't do well is debate the fundamental cosmology theists try to use to argue for god. William Lane Craig for example can debate both of them well - in that he's got enough knowledge of each to make a case that appears convincing, even if it isn't.

That's where a group debate would come in handy. To entertain my debate fantasy, we'd have a three-on-three atheist vs Christianity team debate and on the atheist side I'd pick and choose who I'd want representing team atheism. Since cosmology always comes up in god debates, I'd have Sean Carroll on team atheism to handle cosmological questions. He's shown himself to be more than capable in that regard. There are many other cosmologists who could do the job, like Lawrence Krauss, but Krauss' disdain for and ignorance of philosophy is a strike against him. Carroll, though not a philosopher, is at least philosophically inclined. (He minored in philosophy as an undergrad.)

For Christian-specific questions, such as the historicity and resurrection of Jesus, I'd have Richard Carrier on team atheism. Over the years Carrier has demonstrated himself to be one of the world's foremost scholars in the field of Jesus mythicism. He knows Christianity and its historical context really well, and has the ability to debate them better than most. So I think he'd successfully be able to put to rest any claims that the evidence demonstrates Jesus existed and rose from the dead.

Lastly, besides cosmology and the arguments specifically for Christianity, Christians usually bring up either morality or the origin of life as their other preferred arguments. For morality, I'd consider AC Grayling, who is a moral philosopher, or Massimo Pigliucci, or maybe Michael Shermer. Matt Dillahunty is another good atheist debater, who could handle many of the non-scholarly stuff. For the origin of life I have no idea who can debate that sufficiently enough to drive the point that it doesn't need a god. So I'm not sure who I'd employ here. (Maybe Aron Ra?) Ideally, I'd pick someone who can do both morality and abiogenesis or evolution, and that might leave me with Pigliucci since he was a biologist turned philosopher. But this position might have to be decided depending on the Christian debaters. And if this is pure fantasy we're talking about, I'd have Christopher Hitchens between Sean Carroll and Richard Carrier. Though Hitchens was not a philosopher or scientist, he was really good at pointing out the bad things about religion and many of its non-obvious absurdities.

Who would be on team Christianity? Probably William Lane Craig. I'd definitely want him on it. Maybe Alvin Plantinga, JP Moreland, or Edward Feser, or David Wood. Who knows? The thing is Feser and Craig don't agree on a lot of metaphysical views, so I'm not sure they'd both be on team Christianity. I do know that a weakness of the atheist/theist debates is that there is no atheist version of William Lane Craig. There are atheists good at philosophy, but not science; there are atheists good at science but not philosophy, or decent at both but not history. Since to sufficiently debate god, you have to know physics, cosmology, biology, philosophy, history, and of course, religion, that is a lot of stuff to have to know. You by no means must be an expert in all of these subjects, but you have to be exceptionally familiar with each in order to be a good debater on the god topic. And since today there is no single atheist who can do this, only an atheist debate dream team could. If I had 100 million dollars I'd definitely use some of it to orchestrate such a debate.

If only.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Quote Of The Day: Does Quantum Indeterminacy Allow Free Will?


Today's QOTD is by Caltech physcist Sean Carroll. Many people, theists and atheist alike, think that quantum indeterminacy allows for libertarian free will to take place. But this is a misunderstanding of quantum mechanics and the way probability works in it. On his blog, Carroll explains:

[I]f you want to use the lack of determinism in quantum mechanics to make room for supra-physical human volition (or, for that matter, occasional interventions by God in the course of biological evolution, as Francis Collins believes), then let’s be clear: you are not making use of the rules of quantum mechanics, you are simply violating them. Quantum mechanics doesn’t say “we don’t know what’s going to happen, but maybe our ineffable spirit energies are secretly making the choices”; it says “the probability of an outcome is the modulus squared of the quantum amplitude,” full stop. Just because there are probabilities doesn’t mean there is room for free will in that sense.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Concerns Of An Atheist Part I


I might be spending too much time making arguments for atheism and critiquing arguments for theism. I should spread out my topic range to include other considerations. One idea is that of some genuine concerns I have as an atheist about religion. These posts would be about what an atheist like myself really worries about regarding religion. So let me entertain one big concern I have.

One major concern I have about religion is in the way it affects how we see morality. Most religious people it seems were always religious to some extent, or they were always theists who believed in at least one god, even if they weren't religious about it. This means that most of these people have no idea what it is really like to be an atheist and to share the type of concerns an atheist would hold including its emotional impact.

Try to picture yourself as an atheist. There is no god. Every religion is completely man-made. You live in a world where you see billions of people adhering to various religions. Many of them say they have their own "interpretation" of the "truth." You can clearly see the falsity of it all, and the nonsense within it. You can recognize that all religions contain some interesting stories and moral lessons. But you can also recognize that much of its morality is outdated and the product of patriarchal societies who wanted to ground order and authority and the best way to do it was in a god. That way the dignitaries of the divine could solidify their authority and exploit the gullibility and superstition of the masses. This is not the only reason why religion developed but it is an important one for some.

So these religions god created. Some of them grew and thrived and evolved. Fast forward thousands of years to the modern world. We're now grappling with the problems of the twenty-first century and many of us still cling to the religions of centuries past. Now you have to try and reason with people who think a god has made the world a certain way, and for a certain purpose, and issued certain commands that hinder progress on certain critical problems. Take climate change. Can you imagine how hard it is to have a conversation on the reality of climate change with someone who thinks the earth is less than 10,000 years old and created by a god who won't let it be destroyed, again? Or take same sex marriage. Can you imagine how hard it is to have a conversation on marriage equality with someone who thinks their god defined marriage as between one man and one woman? Or take violence in general. Can you imagine how hard it is to have a conversation with religious fundamentalists who think it is an honor to kill for the offensive spread of a religion? Even worse is if they believe they'll be rewarded in the afterlife for doing so.

Take a moment to consider that.

Just about every theist can see the falsity of the other religion. Imagine what it's like for people who see your religion as just as false. We atheists can see the ultimate falsity of all religions. So talking to every devout believer is like your experiences talking to the devout members of those you think have a false religion. Can you see how scary it is for the atheist to live in a world with people still believing in superstition?  Can you see how scary it is for the atheist to live in a world with people still believing that demons can possess people and wreak calamity on humankind? This is something that really concerns me. I don't exactly loose sleep over it, but for a secular progressive like myself who really wants to see humankind reach its full potential, few things are scarier than billions of people who believe in superstitious nonsense and who hold to moral views from thousands of years ago who think they were really commanded by a god.

So I hope there are theists our there who will try to see what it's like from an atheist's perspective a little clearer, because many theists haven't got a clue.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Yahweh Is Perfect, Because, You Know...


Sometimes when I argue that Yahweh, the god of the Bible, would be evil if he existed, and is not anything even remotely close to the "greatest conceivable being," the reaction I sometimes get goes down the line of, "God is by definition perfect, and everything he does and commands is morally perfect, and Yahweh is god, and so everything Yahweh does and commands is perfect by definition and any amount of 'reason' you try and use to refute this is totally and utterly futile. Period."

That is in a nutshell the argument that I sometimes get when debating theists over whether Yahweh is good. Formally, it might look like this:

1. God is by definition perfect.
2. Yahweh is God.
3. Therefore, everything Yahweh does and commands is perfect.

Checkmate, atheist!


Now of course this doesn't represent the view all Christians have. And many Christians attempt to justify each of the premises. But even if I grant premise (1) in the same sense that a bachelor is by definition an unmarried man, it is impossible to go from that to premise (2). In fact, I think premise (2) is refuted by premise (1). And so it is frustrating when I encounter Christians quit often who just seem to take as an uncontroversial axiom that Yahweh is morally perfect and that everything Yahweh does and commands is perfect. They fail to step outside their bubble and acknowledge that the axioms they grant inside the bubble, are not granted outside the bubble. It must be demonstrated that Yahweh is morally perfect and that everything Yahweh does and commands is perfect. It is simply not a given.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Does Making The World A Better Place Allow Atheists To Kill Two Birds With One Stone?


As much as I'd like to think that it's atheism that's been primarily responsible for the advancement of less-progressive and less-advanced people and societies, I think it's probably the case that the opposite is true: when the standards of living, education, and technology in a society go up, as a result it gets less religious. Lower religiosity is probably a side effect and result of rising living standards and not the other way around.*

The purpose of this blog post however, is not to try and make a case for which way the causality is going. That's not the point. I could be wrong. There could be many other options besides these two that hold the truth, or a complex mixture of many things, as sociologist Phil Zuckerman has argued — I don't know. I have not done a thorough assessment of the data. But I was having a discussion on it recently and it seems to me that the causality probably goes from high living standards → decreasing religiosity (see below).

If that is the case, then the greatest thing I could do as an atheist who wants lower religiosity and cultivate a better society with all the liberal, populist, and progressive views that I hold, is to focus on fighting for all those liberal, populist, and progressive views that I hold.** And it seems that an interesting by-product of that will be that religious belief and practice will continue to decrease year by year, decade by decade, until it's so low and irrelevant for most people, that it's hardly even a factor, and it becomes virtually invisible. That could be a very serious and attainable reality in the not-too-distant future. Instead of focusing mostly on what I'm against and criticizing religion, debating theists, and trying to make a case for atheism and naturalism, I could focus on the political, social, and economic issues I'm for. And if you're an atheist, you could do this too. So you have to consider whether doing this may be a chance to kill two birds with one stone for the secular, liberal, progressive advocate like myself: Destroy what we're against socially, economically, and politically, and we could help destroy religion as a convenient by-product of that. It's a win-win situation!

I do think that a metaphysical case needs to be made and defended for naturalism, and I really do think that it should include beauty and aesthetics. Naturalism can be a very beautiful and poetic worldview, and that is something not often emphasized, especially by me. Atheists are all too often mired in esoteric debate or ridicule of religion and fail to focus on explaining the beauty of their own worldview to others. For many, a godless world is scary, depressing, and pointless. This repelling sensation of disgust blocks many from even entertaining the idea of a fully natural world. I think in this realm that scientific education can help tremendously help one see the intricate beauty of the natural world and our place in it. And I do, personally think it is beautiful and amazing when you really think about it. Religious myths have had their time and place, and many contain beautiful, epic, and poetic stories, as well as some good moral principles. But the true story of our origins and place in the universe given to us by science and reflected upon by philosophy is in every way just as beautiful and epic, and I argue, even more so, because it's true.


*This is sometimes called the existential security thesis (EST) or the socioeconomic security hypothesis (SSH). For more information on the latter see Gregory Paul's paper The chronic dependence of popular religiosity upon dysfunctional social conditions.

**By saying this I am not saying that religion is the only or primary factor for what is making the world a worse place and that getting rid of it would magically fix most of the world's problems. I am not trying to set up a dichotomy or anything like that.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Religion-Table Analogy



Last month when I was visiting my family we got into a conversation about what gives our lives purpose. I mentioned to my mother and sister that helping rid the world of religion gives my life purpose, and my sister, who is not religious in a traditional sense but very spiritual, shot back and said that there is a lot of good in religion. I agreed with her that all religions have some good in them but that the metaphysical beliefs that justify the good things in religion, also justify the bad things in religion, and I came up with what I call the religion-table analogy to try and explain it a bit better.

It works like this. A table is held up by its legs. On the table you can have good things and bad things, like, say, healthy food, and poisonous food. That represents the good of religion and the bad. The legs represent the metaphysical beliefs of religion that support all of its claims. The same metaphysical arguments that liberal Christians like former president Jimmy Carter can use to justify the truth of his god, are also used by the members of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Westboro Baptist Church, the KKK, and many others, to justify their god and their bad theology. Moderate and liberal theism provides cover for conservative and fundamentalist theism. Instead of just criticizing the fundamentalists, I'm focusing on refuting the metaphysical claims of religion altogether because chopping off the legs of the table takes down everything having to do with the religion. Keeping the legs of the table intact will always allow for the extremist to metaphysically justify their claims. Furthermore, anything good from religion can be justified without it. No one needs to believe Jesus was divine in order to see that helping the poor is good. No one needs to believe Mohammad spoke to the angel Gabriel to see that there is something wrong with charging excessive interest. But many of the bad things that religions have can only be justified with religion. ISIS' despicable theology of rape for example, cannot be justified without a belief in god.

And that's why religion has to go—all of it. I can't tell you how many times I've been in a debate with a hardcore religious fundie and they've tried to trot out the cosmological argument, or the moral argument, in an attempt to justify and lend intellectual credit to their extremist and absurd ideas. Destroy the legs of the religion table, and you destroy all of religion. This is not to say that I believe religion should be refuted because it can do bad things. I primarily believe religion should be refuted because they're all false. But to be responsible, you cannot just stop there. Since religions provide for many comforts in the lives of people, like giving them a sense of meaning, purpose, morality, community, and so forth, religion needs to be replaced with secular alternatives. When this is done, there is little to no difference in the ethical behavior and well-being of an atheist over a theist. And the lives of hundreds of millions of atheists around the world can attest to that.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

When I grow up I'm going to be:


I'm in the process of redoing my apartment and I have to throw away massive amounts of old stuff I no longer need. Up in one of the closets is a box with my baby book that my parents used to document my early childhood from birth to about 7. I hadn't seen it in years and was fascinated to see what was in it.

The book comes with questions to ask and things to document. I weighed 7 pounds and 8 ounces at birth and was 20 inches tall. I apparently had an ear infection when I was about 8 months old which required some prescription drugs. I started "cooing" at three weeks and my first word was "agu". Got my first tooth at 6 months, crawled at 5-6 months, and was walking by 12 months.

One section begins with "A word about me from Mom ..."

And my mother writes:

Michael was very alert and could see good from the start. He has a pleasant nature but wakes up too often at night....Michael is very smart and fun loving...Mikey is talking now and is super perceptive of peoples feelings. He actually comforts me when I feel bad - and tells me "don't worry" while hugging me and patting my back.....He says please, thank you and no thanks - he just heard them and picked them up.

At 4 I was sent to Evangel Christian School, which a Google search led me to find out still exists in its location in Astoria Queens. My mother writes:

He liked school but still complained about having to wake up and get ready....His
principle Mrs Deland said he was such a sweet, well behaved boy.

Still to this day I'm not a morning person. I'm actually naturally nocturnal. I'd be up all night if I had my way. Looks like it is genetic or innate to a certain degree. Later on in the book comes a section called "My favorite prayers." (I wonder if back in the 80s all baby books had such sections under the assumption almost all people believe in god.) And there was the prayer I was basically forced to repeat at Evangel Christian Academy before we ate lunch everyday:



Poetic Naturalism And The Argument From Our Understanding Of Physics


Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll part-times as a debater and defender for the naturalistic worldview. In recent talks, he has emphasized a point that I think only a physicist could sincerely make that as far as I know hasn't really gotten much traction: The laws of physics that govern the way matter behaves at the level of our everyday experience are fully understood. And even though there are still things within the universe that we don't know about, like dark matter and dark energy, black holes, and the origin of the universe - when those mysteries are eventually revealed to us by science they will not fundamentally change the equations that describe the everyday world. So nothing like a soul or an afterlife that has any interaction with the human body or anything made of atoms can exist because any such metaphysical substance would either be too weak to interact with the atoms or they would have already been detected. Therefore, souls, ghosts, astrology, psychokinesis, the afterlife, and almost every concept of god, except perhaps deism is ruled out.

That equation by the way is:



Is this a good overall argument? Does Carroll have a good case to be made?

Those are the questions I want to raise.  I have a strong leaning towards yes, it is a good argument, but I want to examine some potential problems it might have or could have.  The most obvious problem the argument could have is what if Carroll's wrong? That's always a possibility. After all, his argument is not an argument that tries to prove anything logically true. It's an argument that is a posterori, not a priori. It all depends on whether the laws of physics at our everyday experience really are known in such a way that no further physics will ever change them of their ontological implications. What if that's just not the case?

Well, then there is an opening for a believer in the things the argument attempts to falsify. But even if there is an opening, it could still be the case that any future physics that does change the equation in any way won't do so in a way that will make it any more favorable to a theist or spiritualist. It might just be more of the same kind of physics that is more favorable to naturalism. But going back to the original point, the certitude regarding our knowledge of these laws described in the equation must be high, or, to use a technical term, pretty high. It's a matter of probability that only someone with a large body of knowledge in physics and with the history of science can properly assess, and so that of course disqualifies me. I can only refer to the experts to help inform my view of the matter.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Quote Of The Day


From Louise Antony's NY Times Opinionator piece, Good Minus God:

Think now about our personal relations — how we love our parents, our children, our life partners, our friends. To say that the moral worth of these individuals depends on the existence of God is to say that these people are, in themselves, worth nothing — that the concern we feel for their well being has no more ethical significance than the concern some people feel for their boats or their cars. It is to say that the historical connections we value, the traits of character and personality that we love — all count for nothing in themselves. Other people warrant our concern only because they are valued by someone else — in this case, God. (Imagine telling a child: "You are not inherently lovable. I love you only because I love your father, and it is my duty to love anything he loves.")

 Interesting...

Monday, August 3, 2015

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 2 Greeks Bearing Gifts)


All throughout the preface and the first chapter Feser made numerous extremely bold claims that he promises to back up in the later chapters. By chapter two, entitled Greeks Bearing Gifts, we start seeing some of those justifications come to light. The chapter starts out on a crash course through ancient Greek philosophy leading up to Plato and then Aristotle. I won't summarize Feser's teaching unless I think it is significant for his objective, which is to show that "a certain kind of" religion and god are not only reasonable to believe in, but that it's logically impossible that naturalism is true.

Plato and Aristotle are considered to be two of the greatest philosophers of all time, and I would largely agree. That's not to say that I agree with all of their ideas, especially their metaphysical ones, it's just to recognize the fact that they were both deeply analytic thinkers and widely influential. For example, I regard the Euthyphro Dilemma, from Plato's Euthyphro, as one of the greatest pieces of moral insight. But, I digress. For Feser, he focuses first on Plato's Theory of Forms, which is one of the things I think Plato got wrong.

Take the triangle. Any triangle physically drawn or created will in some way be imperfect, if only by a tiny amount. They will all lack features that perfectly exemplify a triangle - that is, they will have features not part of a triangle's essence or nature. Plato argues from this that the essence or nature of triangularity is not material or known through our senses, and when we exemplify triangles physically they go in and out of existence, but its essence stays the same. The essential features of triangularity are therefore according to Plato, universal, and not particular, immaterial, and not material, and known through the intellect and not through the senses.

Feser is making the case for Platonic realism, and makes arguments against nominalism, and conceptualism. Platonic realism is the view that universals (like triangles, squares, and other geometric patterns) and abstract objects (like numbers) exist independently of minds or physical space and time. Nominalism is the view that these objects do not exist, and conceptualism is the view that these objects exist, but only as concepts in our minds. Feser presents several arguments to try and show that realism is true and that nominalism and conceptualism are false. The reason why he's trying to do so starts becoming clear on page 36 where he writes:

A triangle is a triangle only because it participates in the Form of Trianglarity; a squirrel is a squirrel only because it participates in the Form of Squirrel; and so forth. By the same token, something is going to count as a better triangle the more perfectly it participates in or instantiates triangularity, and a squirrel would be a better squirrel the more perfectly it participates in or instantiates the Form of Squirrel.

This is all leading up to the natural law theory of ethics that many Catholics, like Feser, think forms the basis of our morality. Feser goes on:

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What Would I Do With 100 Million Dollars?



This should be an interesting post.

My coworkers play the lottery and dream of being millionaires, as we all have. I too entertain that fantasy but I never play the lottery. I know the odds of winning are so low that it's not worth playing. But suppose I won 100 million dollars. What would I do with it?

Here's what I'd do.

First, I'd quite my job. I like my job. I like my coworkers. It pays decent and it's relatively low stress, but it's only something I do for the money. If I had 100 million dollars, I'd have no need for it.

Second, I'd give some money to my family. I don't know exactly how much I'd give to each family member, but they'd get enough money to live comfortably for a while. I don't know about distant relatives though. I have some relatives I only see every ten years or so and I'm not sure if I'd give them any money. This would be an open question.

Third, I'd get a really nice apartment in Manhattan. I'm not sure where I'd live. Midtown is nice and full of luxurious apartments, but downtown in Greenwich Village has some beautiful brownstones and is closer to the party scene and the cultural attractions. Either way, I'd have a nice spacious bachelor pad.

Forth, after I settled on a nice apartment, since money wouldn't be an issue, I'd pursue my dream of becoming a philosopher. I'd study all the things I find fascinating: metaphysics, ethics, the philosophy of mind and science, logic, political philosophy. I'd study history, sociology, religion, and politics. I'd take writing classes. I'd study science and various different humanities. I'd study secularism, which is now a thing. Once I got a degree, I'd go back and get more degrees, over and over again. I'd be a perpetual student. As new interests develop, I'd go study them. I'd eventually amass several PhDs. I'd probably go to universities here in New York, like NYU or Columbia, but I'd consider travelling. And I'd write. I'd write books. I'd use my knowledge to lecture and talk and devote myself to activism. Most of what I'd do would be to support the secular community and the progressive politics I hold. I'd become an expert in all the relevant fields. It would be fucking awesome!

I'm Back From Vacation



It was a nice time with the fam' but I'm happy to be back in New York City. I'm such a new yorker that I get homesick very easily. When you grow up in one of the largest and most exciting cities in the world, almost every other city pales in comparison. Portland Oregon is a cool town, but it's a dinky suburb compared to New York City. I do like the fact that it's very liberal and quite atheistic. None of the people that I met there believed in god. They had all either been raised without religion or had given it up by the time they finished college.

Even my 9 year old nephew is a skeptic. He thinks god, religion, and spiritual beliefs are nonsense. He thinks the story of Moses and the Exodus is "stupid." I definitely see a little of me in him. (I was once that 9 year old skeptic debating my devoutly Catholic grandmother on god and evolution.) I told him that if anyone tries to tell him god exists they're making it up, and are most likely motivated by the goal of trying to tell him what to do and using god to justify it. There is no good evidence god exists or that any religion is true and it all comes down to faith claims. I'm not too worried that he's going to become a theist anytime soon. I think that once you realize religion and theism are bullshit, it's hard to go back. On top of that, my sister is not a traditional theist at all.

Anyway, I'm back and will be blogging again, hopefully more frequently rather than less frequently. I have several blog posts pending, including my lengthy review of chapter 2 of Edward Feser's book The Last Superstition. I also recorded a video of me talking to a street preacher who was a former male stripper and claims to be ex-gay. The audio and camera angles aren't perfect but it should be fun to turn it into a blog post. There's much more on the way as well. Stay tuned!


Thursday, July 16, 2015

On Vacation



Man I love blogging. I'd do it full time if it weren't for work and that pesky thing known as a "personal life." But I will have to take a slight break because I'm on vacation and I only get to see my family once a year. I have several new blog posts pending, including one on how to infer ontology that is part of an ongoing conversation with Luke Breuer, and one about the definition of religion, which will become a handy link whenever I get into the inevitable dispute of its cumbersome definition.

Also, my long awaited review of chapter 2 of Edward Feser's critique of New Atheism, The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism is almost done. I've already reviewed the preface and chapter 1, but chapter 2 took me a lot longer than expected because it's really heavy on philosophy and my goal is not just to review and critique Feser's book, but to summarize it so that readers will understand the metaphysics upholding his religious views. That means that my reviews will be lengthy, but they will serve as online resources for those who want to learn and hear a criticism of his book which few people have done before. I'm putting the finishing touches on it now and hopefully this will be done by the end of the month. Chapter 3's review is almost done too and should follow relatively shortly afterwards.

Then I have other topics potentially in the queue, including a critique of David Wood's reasons for being a Christian, which I think are really bad, a post about indoctrination and whether or not all teaching of children amounts to some form of indoctrination, a post about what I'd do with $100 million dollars, and maybe a post about whether "Only God can provide an adequate rational foundation for morality and unalienable human rights," as one theist tried to claim to me recently.

Also, I'm open to suggestions. If there are any topics that you'd like me to write about, I'd be open to consider them, depending on the topic and how much research it will involve. So, if you'd like, leave suggestions in the comment box.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Why Are So Many Scientists And Philosophers Atheists?


In the largest survey of philosophers ever done, it was revealed that 72.8% of philosophers are atheists and only 14.6% are theists. To me, the results of this survey never really felt surprising. I had known for quite a while that the vast majority of philosophers were atheists or leaned toward it. This survey just confirmed that suspicion.

As for scientists, a 2009 Pew survey showed that 41% of American scientists don't believe in god or a universal spirit, effectively making them atheists. And in the National Academy of Scientists, a survey showed that 93% are either atheists or agnostics. Contrast this to only 7.1% of the general American public identifying as atheist or agnostic according to the latest Pew survey.

So, one thing is for sure, scientists and philosophers are overwhelmingly more likely to be atheists. But why? Is it that people who enter these fields are already atheists, or is it that these fields expose people who are believers to new data and ways of thinking and they become atheists? I can't say for sure. Both are probably true to a degree. I know of at least one philosopher, Dan Finke (who blogs at Cammels with Hammers), who's told me that studying philosophy made him question his religious beliefs, which effectively made him an atheist.

From Pew's survey about scientists, one thing strikes me rather odd. When broken down by age, scientists who are between 18-34 are only 32% atheist, and those that are 65+ are 46% atheist. This means that as scientists get older, they're more likely to be atheists. This is the exact opposite of the surveys of belief among the general public, which show the younger generation is more likely than older generations to be atheist.

So, what gives? Why would the demographics of scientist on god be the exact opposite as the general public on age? Could it be that people go into the sciences as theists, and become atheists the longer they stay in the field, presumably because they're exposed to new data and ways of thinking that challenge their theistic beliefs? If that was the case it would make sense of the data. But I'm not sure. Being exposed to new data that challenges your religious views can definitely make you doubt them, and those doubts can lead to atheism, like a gateway drug.

This could be the case, but I'm only speculating here. It seems plausible to me that being in these academic fields can result in one being an atheist. But, there are theistic philosophers, albeit a small minority. So what explains them? Well, on the survey, the largest field of philosophy that has the most theists is—what else—the philosophy of religion, of which 72.3% are theists—the exact opposite of the overall survey. So are philosophers of religion going into the field as theists, or are they becoming theists by being exposed to new ways of thinking about religion and new data? I don't have any data showing the latter to be true, and it is suspected that many people who are already theists go into the philosophy of religion, like William Lane Craig, just as many people who are already Christian go into biblical studies.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Did Pew Project The Future Of Religion Accurately?


A few months ago Pew released a report about the population growth projections of religion from 2010 until 2050 and many atheists and secularists were a little dismayed, to put it mildly. The world's religiously "unaffiliated" were projected to only grow from 1.13 billion to 1.23 billion, and would actually drop as a percentage of the world's population from 16.4% to 13.2%. By contrast, Islam would be the fastest growing religion, going from 1.6 billion to 2.76 billion, and from 23.2% of the world's population, to 29.7%.

Holy shit.

The numbers are projected, it seems, largely from fertility rates, which Muslims have the highest of, with a rate of 3.1, compared to the unaffiliated at 1.7. But I think using fertility rates as the primary factor in projecting future growth rates of religious affiliation is faulty, if indeed that's what Pew is doing.



It seems that they're not taking into account conversions and deconversions. Many theists are leaving their religions and becoming unaffiliated (which includes all deists, agnostics, and atheists) and this is especially true in the West, where the number of Christians is dropping precipitously. Their future projection of the percentage of the unaffiliated in the US by 2050 seems deeply suspect, and indeed, out of whack with their other data.


Take a look at the graph to the left from the report. They projected that the percentage of unaffiliated Americans by 2050 to be only 25.6%. I say "only" because their own latest study on religion in America that came out just a month after this report shows the unaffiliated population to be at 22.8%, up almost 7 percentage points from just 2007.

Pew doesn't seriously think that the number of unaffiliated Americans will rise just 3 percentage points from now until 2050 after they just grew nearly 7 percentage points in 7 years do they? No. Rather, there is a flaw in their methodology in projecting future religious growth, which, I suspect, relies almost entirely on fertility rates. As such, they're dramatically underestimating the projected growth of the world's unaffiliated population.

I have my hopes that a large part of the Islamic world will secularize in the social sense, if not in the political sense, and religion will continue to dramatically decline as it has in the West. There was a report recently that 5% of Saudi Arabia's population is atheist. 5 percent! That's technically higher than the population of Americans who identify as atheist (3.1%), according to Pew.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Should We Mock Religion?


Religion: To mock, or not to mock? That is the question.

There is wide disagreement over whether religion should be mocked and ridiculed among atheists. On the one hand, it's argued that mocking religion demystifies it. This takes away its allure and prestige and removes it from the pedestal, which makes it easier to see religion for what it really is. And that all too often is not really all that pleasant. On the other hand, it's argued that mocking religion can make atheists seem insensitive, angry, and hostile, appear unwilling or unable to engage with religion intellectually, and it can have the unintended consequence of the backfire effect.

These are all possible outcomes of religious ridicule. That's why my view on it is that we should do both. Atheists should ridicule religion, and we should engage with it intellectually. Now, here's the thing. Some of us can do both quite well, and some of us are better at one a lot more than the other. I can generally do both fairly well. But not everyone can engage in the highly complex and esoteric subject matter that is required to have the god debate. And not everyone has the sense of humor required to satire and make fun of religion.

This week's Jesus and Mo


Humor can be used to mock religion into extinction, so I think there's value in mockery. It can make the intellectual price of religious belief so costly, and give it such a bad taste that it can discourage belief. This I think has a measurable effect. For example, today in most social circles if you come out as a creationist you'll be laughed right out of the room. I know, because I pretend to be a creationist all the time with people who don't know me just to see how they react, and often they immediately laugh at me. Then of course I tell them that I was just fucking with them.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Why Some Countries Are Poor and Others Rich



"If there’s one generalization you can make about religion and wealth, it’s that the less people believe, the richer they stand a chance of being."



Interesting video explaining why some countries are poor and some are rich. Religion, as you can imagine, doesn't fair too well:

Why is belief quite so bad for wealth creation? Because in general, religiosity is connected up with the idea that the here and now can’t be improved, so you should focus on the spiritual and look forward to a next world instead. It makes quite a bit of sense when you live here. In the rich world on the other hand, people are generally great believers in their capacity to alter their destiny through effort and talent. 
Incidentally, to explain the anomaly of the United States, religion seems not to slow
down economic growth here because it is a particular sort of religion: an overwhelmingly Protestant and exceptionally materialistic kind. The American God doesn’t want you to think of building the new Jerusalem in the next world, he wants it here and now in Kansas or Houston.

So according to this video, a particular kind of Protestantism found here in the US enables the US to be one of the most religious countries and one of the most wealthy countries in the world. It sounds to me like he's talking about the prosperity gospel, the kind today espoused by the likes of Joel Osteen, which seems to be uniquely Protestant. It does make sense. American Protestantism tends to emphasizes a strong work ethic, economic materialism, and innovation. And similarly, it's no surprise that many Northern European nations where Protestantism dominates were leaders of the industrial revolution. But that's not to say that Protestantism cannot hinder progress. After all, many if not most of the strongest proponents of intelligent design today are Protestants, and the Amish are all Protestants.

So overall, religion is bad. As the video puts it, "If there’s one generalization you can make about religion and wealth, it’s that the less people believe, the richer they stand a chance of being." That's at least one good reason to continue fighting to end religious belief.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Tweet Of The Day



Sunday, May 24, 2015

Religion Is Declining In The US, But Why? Here's A Few Explanations


Most atheists and secularists cheered this past week when the new PEW Religious Landscape survey made news showing the increasing secularism and the decreasing levels of religiosity in the US. Between 2007 and 2014, the percentage of Christians in the US decreased from 78.4% to 70.6%. The percentage of "nones" or the religiously unaffiliated, increased from 16.1% to 22.8%. And the number of atheists and agnostics increased from 4% to 7.1% according to the survey.

Nearly every Christian denomination decreased in numbers and the unaffiliated now outnumber the number of Catholics (22.8% compared to 20.8%) making them the second largest identifiable religious affiliation after Protestants, who now are less than half of the population 46.5%.

If you're a secularist like me this news is fucking awesome. It means we're winning, religion is losing, and the tide has clearly turned in our favor. It's felt that way for a while now. I live in a very secular part of the country so my gauge is a bit skewed, but it is very rare for me to meet people who believe in god and who are openly religious about it. It seems as if more and more, religion just isn't visible.

This recent trend towards secularization began in the early nineties, however, it has sped up tremendously in the past 10 years. But now the question sociologists and political scientists will be asking is: why? Why is the US, which for a long time bucked the trend towards secularization in the Western world, starting to rapidly secularize now? I have a feeling that the answer is very complicated. Luckily we have Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology at Pitzer College to help make things a little easier. He specializes in secular studies and has written about the subject in great detail. Zuckerman has listed several possible explanations why the US is secularizing today. Here's his explanations of the increased secularism. In no particular order:

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