Showing posts with label agnosticism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label agnosticism. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Big Sick Shows The Seriousness Of Denying Islam In Traditional Culture

I watched The Big Sick recently on Amazon, a romantic comedy about a Pakistani immigrant (Kumail) who dates an American girl (Emily) who gets sick and endures awkward culture clashes between his traditional Pakistani family and his American values.

I'm not much on romantic comedies but I thought, what the heck. It was free with Prime. While watching I noticed that there are a few scenes that feature Kumail's rebellion against his family's Islamic religion. Before eating with the family in one scene he's asked to go pray in the basement and instead of doing so he watches videos and plays games on his phone.

Later on in the movie when his family confronts him over why he doesn't want to date the Pakistani women they've been inviting over he confesses that he's been dating a white woman and that he hasn't been praying. When his father asks him if he doesn't believe in Allah he explains that he doesn't know what he believes, taking basically an agnostic position. He tells them he isn't going to go along with his family's desire for an arranged marriage with a Pakistani girl and will continue persuing his relationship with Emily. They disown him as a result.

This highlights the many problems traditional religious cultures have on immigrants who get a whiff of the freedoms of the West. And leaving the family's religion is a big part of it. Kumail in real life is an atheist, and the movie is based on his real life experience meeting his wife. So we can see there's his inner atheist coming out in the film, playing the agnostic to his family, and perhaps to himself, because it's just so much easier. Or perhaps at this time in his life that the movie represents, he truly was an agnostic, not knowing if he believed in god. Agnosticsm is often the transition before atheism when coming out of religion. Nevertheless, it shows a difficult time in one's personal journey away from religion, while dealing with traditional family and culture that have little room for leniency.

I give the movie 5 stars just for that as it's not easy squeezing non-religious point of views into pop culture. If we're going to win the war of ideas in the Muslim world, it's trenches will largely be in movies, TV, and in pop culture. The front line of battle will be less in the ivy covered towers of academia, and more in the characters you watch in your favorite shows and movies.

If I were rich I'd create a film company that would be entirely dedicated to making well written, well acted, and well produced movies and documentaries on atheism, secular living, and the dramas of leaving religion in a traditional religious culture. I can only dream.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

"But Many Great Scientists Believed In God!"

Time for one quick counter-argument—

When debating the social effects of religion and atheism an inevitable argument coming from the religious will be something like, "But many great scientists were believers in God: Newton, Galileo, Faraday..."

OK. We atheists hear this a lot. Sometimes it's made by theists making the general claim that belief in god is compatible with science, sometimes it's made by theists making the specific claim that Christianity is compatible with science.

Regardless of the specifics here's my response:

Yes it is true that many great scientists have been believers in god, but it is also the case that prior to the late 1800s in Western culture you pretty much had to openly profess a belief in god. There were, for example, laws on the books in European countries that made it illegal to deny the existence of god or the truth of the Christian religion, and the penalties could be severe. Until the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Act 1677 the death penalty was applied for atheism in England. And throughout all of Europe, from the time the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as it's official religion, the Catholic Church (and then later the Protestant churches after the reformation) had a monopoly on academic institutions.

What all this means is that until fairly recently there were no secular institutions of higher learning in the West. And by law, you had to profess belief in god, usually the right version of god, in order to maintain your freedom, social status, and job — and in some cases your life. So to say that Newton and Gallileo were believers in god, or were Christians and were brilliant scientists ignores that point. During their time they had no ability to be otherwise. And even during the post-Enlightenment period when the punishments for disbelief and blasphemy stopped being enforced (even though in many cases they remained on the books into the 20th century) there was still a tremendous amount of social pressure to believe in the religious orthodoxy, just as there is now in the more religious parts of the US, and in the Islamic world.

It was not really until Darwin's time in the second half of the 1800s that we began to see the emergence of any sort of real social acceptability of agnosticism or atheism. It was only once you got past the turn of the 20th century to the time of Einstein, Popper, and Freud that atheism became acceptable in the sciences and philosophy. And once it became socially acceptable what did we see? We saw the floodgates open of atheists in the sciences, and today most of the best scientists are atheists or agnostics. In other words, once it became socially acceptable to be an atheist in the sciences, atheism quickly became the dominant view.

So the main reason why many great scientists (as well as philosophers, thinkers, and inventors) were believers in god, was because years ago you had to be, and religious institutions held a monopoly on higher learning.

Now of course today there are many great living scientists who are believers in god. Francis Collins, head of the human genome project, Don Page, physicist and cosmologist, Francisco Ayala, evolutionary biologist and philosopher, to name a few. But if you look at the many reasons why contemporary scientists and thinkers believe in god, it rarely, if ever, is inspired by their scientific views. It is usually based on some emotional epiphany or the popular notion that god is required to have morality. In Francis Collins's case for example, he was hiking in the Cascade mountains when he saw a frozen waterfall split in three and upon seeing this, dropped to his knees and accepted Jesus Christ as his lord and savior.


Furthermore, we humans are very good are compartmentalizing beliefs. We can hold contradictory beliefs quite easily. So just because a scientist is a Christian, a Muslim, or another religion, it doesn't mean science is compatible with those religions.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Atheism Rises Faster Under Obama

So the conservasphere was ablaze recently on recent data from PEW that atheism grew faster under outgoing president Obama than during previous presidents. Some conservatives are attributing this fact to Obama's "hostility towards religious believers."

But that's nonsense. The rapid rise in atheism over Obama's presidency is part of a larger trend towards secularization in the Western world that, in the US, began rising in the early 1990s and began rapidly increasing during the Bush administration during the mid 2000s, coinciding the the birth of "New Atheism."

In fact, it could be plausibly argued that the rise in atheism, agnosticism, and secularism are in large part backlashes against the Religious Right's encroachment into politics and social issues beginning in the 1980s. So don't blame Obama or his policies for turning our country godless. Blame the backlash against the Religious Right, the reaction to the Catholic Priest pedophile scandal, the events of September 11th, 2001, and perhaps the internet, where the free flow criticism of religion is nearly ubiquitous.

Blame the fact that religious people consistently make utter fools of themselves on TV and on the internet which helps make religions like Christianity look like a den of stupidity.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

We Desperately Need More Secular Representation In Washington

So the newly elected 115th Congress is 90% Christian, according to recent data from PEW. Despite the fact that the US as a whole is only 70% Christian, and the unaffiliated now make up a whopping 25% of the US population. There is only one member of Congress who is openly unaffiliated, Democrat Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, from Arizona.

That means that of the 430 members of the House a whopping 0.2% are religiously unaffiliated. About 7 more we either do not know their religious affiliation or they refused to answer. They could be closeted secularists. But I have no idea. In the Senate there are no openly unaffiliated members. If the Congress was accurately represented by the population, there would be 107 members of the House who are openly unaffiliated and 25 members of the Senate. And about half of them would be openly atheist or agnostic. That would be about 66 members of Congress openly atheist or agnostic to represent the tens of millions of Americans who either question or reject a belief in god.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Newly Updated 'Scale Of Belief' Charting The Relationships Between Atheism, Agnosticism, & Theism

I've updated a chart that maps out the basic relationships between atheism, agnosticism, and theism, and their respective statements or beliefs. Atheism is sub-categorized into gnostic and agnostic forms, and further sub-categorized into strong, moderate, and weak forms, along with agnosticism and theism, which allows for a 9 point scale of belief from atheism to theism.

No chart will ever satisfy everyone though. While atheism and theism are generally about belief, agnosticism is about knowledge. But gnostic atheism and theism both make claims to knowledge, and that's why they both come in gnostic and agnostic forms.

This chart also doesn't include other isms like pantheism and deism, so believers in those views might be disappointed in this scale. It isn't supposed to cover every possible god option, just the scale between atheism and theism.

So where do you fall in this category? Feel free to link or share this chart.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Thinker - A Novel (Chapter 1 Part 5) Cocaine and The Meaning of Life


WE FINISHED OUR CANCER STICKS, closed out our tab and made it out just as the bar was starting to fill with annoying yuppies. Alex’s apartment was on the Upper East Side just off of Third Avenue. He was a Manhattan kid, growing up right in the heart of one of New York’s most sought after addresses. His parents were well off and gave him a nice upper middle class upbringing, although they weren’t “rich” by New York standards. He was the product of a Jewish father and an African American mother. In Facebook pictures his family looked like the stereotypical liberal cosmopolitan Manhattan family, the kind that wouldn’t be all that hard imagining in a sitcom. He had a younger brother that I had never met.
     I decided to lock my bike up on the street and take the subway with Steve to get to Alex’s apartment since bringing my bike on the train during rush hour would be impossible. I still had time on my monthly Metrocard that if I didn’t use would all go to waste. So we hopped on the subway for the short ride from Midtown to the Upper East Side, stopping to get some orange juice on the way to mix with Alex's vodka. We made the trip up the three flights of rickety old stairs to Alex’s apartment in his prewar brownstone. I knocked on Alex’s door and he opened a second later.
     “Yo what’s good?” Alex said with a big smile. We palmed and patted each other’s backs in typical New York fashion. Alex always showed mad love to his friends. He did the same with Steve, even though they weren’t as good of friends and Alex and I were.
     “We got a bottle of OJ,” I announced. “I thought we’d make some screwdrivers.” I then realized Alex had a lady over.
     “This is Daniella,” Alex said. She was a Dominicana, New York style, sitting on the couch with her legs crossed watching the TV on low. She had glasses, big tits, and some extra fat around her midriff. I knew Alex liked his girls generally on the bigger side. It must have been the black in him.
     “How do you do Daniella?” I asked being cocky and purposely animated.
     “We met at work,” Alex said.
     “Oh nice,” I replied.
     We all got situated on the two couches in his tiny living room and I started making drinks. Steve and I were already sufficiently wasted, and everything Steve said was at maximum volume. I was actually worried in the back of my mind that Steve would get a little out of control since he was such a lightweight with his alcohol. The last thing he needed was vodka. Alex and Steve got reacquainted since it had been some months since hanging out. I got reacquainted with some vodka.
     “Steve! Take it easy on the drinking tonight, alright?” I yelled from the kitchen. “I don’t want you getting crazy on us.” Although Steve was a little guy, only about 5 foot 8, he was often quick to start a fight when drunk.
     “Dude, I’m fine man. I can handle myself,” Steve shouted back.
     “You can’t handle your liquor, that’s what I’m worried about.” I served us all drinks, making note to water Steve’s down a lot and we all sat on the couch.
     “Alex. What’s going on man?” I said in a slightly drunken stupor, “You still working in sales?”
     “Yeah, although I just got into a fight with my boss last week,” he said. “Check this out. They wanted me to work both Saturday and Sunday and I said I couldn’t do it. Then they told me that if I didn’t work both those days they’d fire me. So I told my boss, who’s a total bitch, I was like, ‘Listen, I can’t work seven days a week. I need a life. I’m not working Saturday and Sunday. You can fire me if you want to but I’m not working seven days a week.’ So I didn’t work, I didn’t show up. And you know what? They didn’t fire me. They were bullshiting. They can’t fire me and they know that. But now I’m on their shit-list at work because unlike everyone else, I spoke out. So I still might have to look for another job soon.”
     “Holy shit that’s fucked up,” I said. “You know what? I just got fired from my job earlier this week.” Alex and Daniella’s eyes grew twice their sizes.
     “Your serious?” Alex asked.
     “Yeah, I have no job now.”
     “What happened?” Daniella asked.

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, 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.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The F-Word

There's a dirty work that begins with the letter F in the atheist community. It's often met with horror and disgust at its mere utterance and often as a result leads to a nasty argument. If you've guessed that it's faith, you've guessed right.

I generally define faith as the belief in things that you do not have good evidence for. The American philosopher Peter Boghossian defined it as "pretending to know things you don't know" in his book A Manual for Creating Atheists. Many theists want to define faith as belief in things you have good reason to think are true. The many ways to define "faith" are similar to the many ways to define "religion."

What is the role of faith in a religion that says the purpose of life is to "know" god? I've been curious to know from theists what they think the relationship between faith and god should be.

I ask this because there are so many theists trying hard to argue that there is indisputable evidence that god exists. If there are slam dunk arguments that "prove" god exists, doesn't that dissolve the need for faith in god? Conversely, I often hear theists saying that god doesn't want to give us proof that he exists, because then we wouldn't need any faith, we would just "know" it. So on the one hand there are some theists who are saying god gives us indisputable proof that he exists, and on the other there are some theists saying that god deliberately make his existence ambiguous and hidden so that faith is required in order to believe in him. And many of these theists claim to believe in the same god from in the same religion.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What Would Make You Change Your Mind?

In the fall out of the recent Nye vs. Ham debate, the internet is abuzz with Ham's admission that nothing would change his mind to accept evolution. Ham's faith in the literal truth of the Bible supersedes all possible evidence to the contrary. You see, Ham is really a presuppositionalist pretending to be an evidentialist. He presupposes, on faith, that the Bible is the literal word of god as his starting point, and then he "reasons" from there. There is no hope of having a rational debate with someone who adopts this mentality, because evidence and reason ultimately mean nothing to them; their sacred text is really the only thing that matters.

I, on the other hand, arrived at my atheism through a careful examination of all the evidence for and against theism. So that brings up the question, what would it take for me to accept that there is a god? What evidence would persuade me? Well, it is a worthy enough question. So let me list in the order of strongest to weakest evidence that would convince me that a god existed.

1. If there was direct, verifiable, empirical, scientific evidence for god, I would accept that god is real. This would be fantastically easy for any omnipotent god to provide. Now a critic would say this is too much down the line of logical positivism, but there is no reason why, in principle, god wouldn't or couldn't give us verifiable evidence for his existence. Many would say that if we had proof god existed, then we wouldn't be able to voluntary reject god. I disagree. I can reject my parents or my friends even though I don't deny that they exist, and so I can do the same with god. Thus I feel that the objections against why god wouldn't/couldn't give us proof don't hold up.

2. If, for example, all of the scientific evidence pointed to an earth and universe that was less than 10,000 years old and there was no evidence for evolution (as many creationists believe), or, if all the scientific evidence pointed to a relatively small, geocentric-model of the universe with earth at the center and all the planets and stars revolving around it, then I would say that there would certainly have to be a god, or some kind of creator that made the world for human beings.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Atheism Can Help You Get Laid

If you've ever spent time browsing your local singles on OKCupid you will most likely notice one thing immediately: there are tons of self-described atheists on the site.

Two years ago at a friend's request, I joined the free online dating site OKCupid. I'm not a huge fan of online dating personally, and I'd much rather meet someone in person, but since it was free I thought I had nothing to lose (except maybe some pride). Initially, I hesitated about whether I should keep my atheism in the closet and perhaps feign agnosticism as I have sometimes done before. But I figured I might as well try being honest and see what happens. So when I filled out my profile I made it very clear that I was serious about my atheism. Long story short, OkCupid got me several dates but none of them went anywhere. A few months after I joined I started dating a girl I met at a bar and eventually disabled my account. Now I'm back in the game but I browse for ladies mostly for fun.

Browsing the many twenty-something singles in the NY metro area, it is amazing how many report "atheism" under religion. (Atheism is of course not a religion but OKCupid makes you report it as such.) Even OKCupid's blog confirms this and one of its rules for a successful first contact is "Consider becoming an atheist." Interestingly, according OK's trends, mentioning "god" in a first contact is one of the quickest ways to deny yourself getting a response back.

I live in New York, which is a city that attracts a lot of heathens, so the numbers of atheists that I'm seeing may be skewed upwards from the average. But nonetheless, the stats on dating sites like OKCupid confirm my personal experiences talking with young people all over New York (many of whom come from other parts of the country and all over the world). Most of them are either totally indifferent to religion, in that religion is the last thing on their mind and they don't give a shit about it, or they have open disdain for it. I almost never run into a young person who speaks positively about traditional religion. And this is all music to my ears and a trend heading in the right direction.

So it now appears that being an atheist can actually help your love life and ability to get laid. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 27, 2013

It's The Most Cumbersome Time Of The Year

For many non-Christians, Christmas is a confusing time of the year. If I had my way I probably wouldn't celebrate it at all, although I definitely enjoy the time off from work. As someone from a culturally Christian home, I do enjoy the season and I do enjoy the time spent with my family who I only see once or twice a year. But for many people around the world, Christmas has evolved into a celebration of consumerism. That's basically how I see it today. It's a capitalist holiday; an ode to corporations and our cultural materialism.

There's really nothing Christian about Christmas. December 25th was not Jesus' birthday, and many of the traditions trace its roots back to various pagan celebrations surrounding the winter solstice. Most of the festivities typically associated with Christmas, such as putting up the Christmas tree, hanging up stockings, burning the yule log, and the Santa Claus myth, all have their origins outside the Christian tradition. Perhaps it is time non-Christians reclaimed Christmas for what it is: a loose assortment of pagan beliefs, traditions and myths that were stitched together and incorporated into Christianity.

It's certainly something that will piss off many Christians. But then again, Christianity has never had a friendly relationship with facts. One thing I would like to see more of are Christians being properly educated about the rampant paganism in the Christmas tradition. Perhaps with a diligent education campaign, secularists will be able to reclaim the Christmas holiday season away from the Christian grinches who stole it.

God is dead dying

On a side note, this is a great time to celebrate if you're an atheist given the newly released Harris Poll  that is lighting up the blogosphere. Atheism and agnosticism are on the rise, and belief in god is on the decline. Santa hath delivered my wish this year.

The new poll indicates that only 74% of Americans believe in god. Although still a comfortable majority, that number has declined by almost ten points since 2005 when 82% of Americans reported god belief. For "echo boomers" (those under 35) which would include all of Generation Y, god belief tops out at just over two-thirds at 64%. Absolute certainty that god exists is down as well, from 66% to 54% in the last ten years. In addition, nearly a quarter of Americans (23%) describe themselves as "not at all" religious. These would be the "nones" we've been hearing so much about recently. The last Pew survey about the "nones" from 2012 indicated that 19.6% of Americans reported no religious affiliation at all. This new poll would indicate that this number has grown by 4 points in just one year but you have to factor in margins of error and other things of that nature. Nonetheless, that 12% of Americans do not believe in god, which by the way is the definition of an atheist, I think is amazing. Atheists now outnumber Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and all other non-Christian believers in the US combined by a long shot. We're a force to be reckoned with.

These are all excellent reasons to celebrate the holidays a little more this year for atheists like myself. The numbers show that the US is finally beginning to catch up with the rest of the industrialized world, especially Western Europe. Are we "echo boomers" going to be witnessing the slow death of god in our lifetime? Probably not, but a god so small and insignificant that you can drown in a bathtub is a god I can live with. For now ;)

See the rest of the Harris Poll here:

And have a very secular Christmas holiday!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Don't Cry For Me, Indonesia

Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim country by population. About 87% of its 237 million citizens are Muslim. I have been there a total of three times, as recently as 2010. Two of my relatives are currently living in Bali as ex-patriots. I've always enjoyed going to Indonesia and whenever I went I never really felt like I was in a "Muslim" country at all. It seemed to me, a lot more like the popular images of Bangkok Thailand, filled with "discotheques" and seedy prostitutes. Indonesia was for a long time, perhaps along with Turkey, a shining example of a moderate Muslim country that could counter the crude stereotypes of many of the Muslim majority countries of the Middle East, and I can tell you that first hand. I first went there when I was 13 and I remember going out to a nightclub, being served beer and being able to buy cigarettes without any problem.

But perhaps I saw it through a filter. I've only been to two areas in Indonesia - Jakarta, the capital city on the island of Java, and the island of Bali, which is the predominantly Hindu part of the country, known to tourists for its nightlife. Just like in the US, religiosity in Indonesia increases once you get out of the big cities. Generally speaking, the further west in Indonesia that you go and the more rural the part of the country, the more likely you'll find people who are deeply religious. And in Indonesia, "deeply religious" tends to mean deeply Muslim, as Indonesians are at least about as Muslim as Americans are Christian.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Atheism, It's A Guy Thing

Statistically, if you're an atheist or an agnostic you are much more likely to be male. Just look around at atheist gatherings and conventions. It's practically all guys! A pew survey from 2012 showed that men out number women 2 to 1 for those identifying as atheist/agnostic. Wow. I didn't know it was that bad.

So why aren't women embracing non-religiosity as much as men and what can be done to increase their numbers? The same survey also showed that women, more than men, are more likely to be affiliated with a particular religion. I hate to stereotype here, but I think the numbers might be due to the emotional dependency many women naturally have. Studies have shown that it is harder for women to quite smoking than men for example, because they are more likely to use cigarettes as an emotional comfort. And since religious belief is primarily emotional and not logical, it would make sense that women, being more emotional than men, naturally would find greater security in it.

So, just as it appears women find it harder to kick the habit with smoking, they too find it harder to let go of religion. That means deconverting from theism to atheism is generally a much more difficult emotional experience for women, whereas for guys it is comparatively easier. I didn't have a harrowing deconversion experience that many current atheists have had, so I can't speak from experience. But it seems that women will need more emotional support on their way out of religion. Perhaps that means it is necessary that a welcoming, emotionally supportive atheistic community exist that could provide the same levels of emotional security that religion is currently providing, in order to get larger numbers of women to embrace atheism. That means atheists should squash a lot of this in-fighting. And when it comes to counter-apologetics, maybe emphasizing the more emotionally-tinged arguments like the ones that show how all religions are pretty much sexist and have less than ideal views towards women, would better appeal to women who might embrace atheism.

Many women who reject traditional theism I think will find spirituality more comforting than atheism. Within spirituality you can conceive of god as a goddess, synonymous with mother nature, or a great feminine spirit. That will likely appeal to women more, and the statistics of the "nones" who are not atheist/agnostic appear a bit more even in the gender gap. The "spiritual but not religious" identity I'm sure many atheists would prefer over traditional theism, especially fundamentalism. But the atheist community would really like to see more women embracing full frontal atheism bereft of any spiritual mushyness.  

We've got work to do.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What Are Our Goals As Atheists?

It is important to stop and think every once in a while, for those of us who consider ourselves atheist activists in one way or another, to restate our goals so that we have a clearly defined mission. So that being said, what are our goals as atheists? Some of them are clear, while others are not so clear.

I think just about every outspoken atheist, shares the common goal that we want to see religiosity continue to decline, especially fundamentalism. We all want to see radical fundamentalists/creationist Christians, Muslims, Jews, and theists of all strips, dwindle until their numbers are so insignificant that they don't even register on the Richter scale.

For some atheists, that would be enough. Some atheists are just anti-fundamentalists and not anti-theists. They don't mind mild expressions of religious faith, they just hate its extreme expression. But, for some atheists it goes even further. For some atheists, they want to see all forms of religious belief and expression decline. They want to plant seeds of doubt that will grow into trees of skepticism that will help influence those under its branches to distance themselves from religious belief and move towards a more skeptical view of the world which will hopefully land them in atheism or agnosticism. I certainly share this goal.

However, if the ultimate goal would be to have a world filled with skeptical atheists and agnostics, where no one still sincerely believed any religious doctrines, might it be worthwhile to keep some of the harmless traditions and rituals that some religions contain? I think a good argument could be made in the affirmative.

When it comes to politics virtually every atheist is a secularist, but our exact attitudes towards the separating of church and state varies. I've been trying recently to carve out what I think is a reasonable path towards the practical applications of secularism, but like all politics there are areas where it gets difficult to balance both sides of the issues. For example, should an employer have the right to deny birth control coverage if they feel it violates their religious principles? It's not so easy. If no, then the state can force itself and trounce on the religious freedom of its citizens that it guarantees it will not prohibit the "free exercise" of. If yes, then a person's religious convictions gives them the right and the power to deny coverage to contraceptives, something many consider a universal right. What if a Jehovah's Witness wanted to deny an employee coverage for a blood transfusion? Where will it end?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Atheism: A Rough History Of Disbelief

If you haven't already seen it, Johnathan Miller's excellent 3 part documentary on the rough history of disbelief is I think, required viewing for all atheists and agnostics. He traces the history of our somewhat tentative affair with the rejection of the supernatural and the embrace of the materialist worldview. We are probably living in the greatest time in human history to be a non-believer, and it is important to learn about those who laid the foundations that made this possible. So watch and enjoy.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Natural Born Skeptic: My Atheist Journey Part 7

What Kind Of Atheist Are You?

Perhaps it would be important that I define what I mean when I call myself an "atheist". I've often noticed that when I get into disagreements with theists, agnostics and even other atheists on issues related to philosophy and religion that we get caught up in disagreements on semantics. There is for example, no clear consensus on the definition of religion, and anyone who looks up the term will get about 5 or 6 different variations. I generally define religion as the belief in, worship of, or obedience to a supernatural power or powers considered to be divine or to have control of human destiny because this definition clearly delineates it from philosophy, politics and secular worldviews like naturalism and atheism. Others however, define religion as being any worldview or ideology that one believes to be true. It's easy to see from the wide assortment of definitions that some words can carry that if one were debating the virtues of secularism, one could get into a semantic dead end with their opponent.

So when it comes to belief in god, I don’t think it’s proper to think there are only three choices in approaching the question: theism, agnosticism, or atheism. (I’ll leave deism and pantheism out for now because I'm focusing on monotheism.) Rather, it’s much more apparent to me that belief or disbelief in god comes on a scale encompassing at least 9 different views, instead of just three rigid choices. So what I did was I developed a scale of belief that outlines strong, moderate, and weak forms of theism, agnosticism and atheism.

Strong Atheism              
There is no god!
Moderate Atheism 
There almost certainly is no god. I therefore don't believe in god. 
Weak Atheism 
The existence of god is unlikely, so I'm willing to say I don't believe in god.
Strong Agnosticism
I have no idea if god exists. It is unknowable.
Moderate Agnosticism    
There may or may not be a god, it's anyone's guess, the evidence is about equal. 
Weak Agnosticism
I'm open to the possibility that god exists, but I'm not sure myself.
Weak Theism                
The existence of god is likely, so I'm willing to say I believe in god.
Moderate Theism          
There almost certainly is a god. I therefore believe in god.
Strong Theism                
There is a god!

At the top of the scale is Strong Atheism. Strong atheists are people who assert there is no god, and that perhaps it is impossible for god to exist. Some say that this position is as unjustified as the strong theist’s is since no one can know with certainty whether or not god exists. Even Richard Dawkins considers himself a “6” on his scale of belief between 1 and 7 (1 being 100% sure god exists, and 7 being 100% sure god doesn’t exist)[i]. I have met a few strong atheists over the years cocksure that god doesn’t exist. Although none of them can empirically prove it, I suppose the absurdity of religion and contradictory nature of the concept of god lead them to such a position.

Next is Moderate Atheism. The moderate atheist is someone who doesn’t assert they know god doesn’t exist because they feel such a claim must be one taken on at least some faith, just like the theist’s. The moderate atheist simply disbelieves in god because they feel the preponderance of evidence for and against god leans overwhelmingly towards there being no god. They may also have problems understanding the coherence of god like the strong atheists but stop short of asserting god doesn’t exist because it cannot be proved. Weak Atheism is similar to the moderate atheist position although they feel that the evidence for and against god isn’t as strong as the moderate atheist. Weak atheists therefore disbelieve in god because they find the god hypothesis unlikely to be true. All three of these atheistic positions could fall under the terms nontheist or nonbeliever.

When it comes to agnosticism, Strong Agnosticism is the position whereby someone has no idea of whether god exists or not. They will often make the claim that the theist and atheist doesn’t know either and accuse both of them of taking positions on faith. The strong agnostic also generally asserts that knowledge about whether or not god exists is unknowable or unverifiable, and so we’re all forever relegated to ignorance on the matter. Moderate Agnosticism is right in the middle of the scale. It’s a person who thinks the evidence for and against god is more or less equal. They might also conclude that both atheism and theism each have their own logical conundrums that cannot ever be resolved, at least not without better evidence. Weak Agnosticism is the position of someone who’s open to the possibility that god exists, but isn’t sure. They think that the evidence for god is somewhat convincing, but not enough to make them take a position on whether or not god exists. Weak agnostics would be the easiest kinds of people to convince that god exists.

Finally we get to the ranges of theistic belief. Weak Theism is the position that the existence of god is likely given the evidence, so they’re willing to say they believe in god. The weak theist is a person most likely raised into their faith and generally is not too religious about it. They generally don’t question the existence of god too strongly and accept god’s existence as a default given their environment. They are most likely to justify god’s existence by believing that “something” must have created the world. Moderate Theism describes the person willing to believe in god because they interpret that the evidence for god is overwhelmingly scaled towards the existence of god, but they don’t assert that they know god exists and leave open the slight possibility that they’re wrong. Strong Theism is the confident assertion by people that god absolutely exists and that they know with certainty. How they know it with certainty is questionable. Many strong theists interpret their internal feeling that god exists as “knowing” god exists. They are also deeply convinced that the arguments for god are “irrefutable proofs” that god exists.

So most people who take a position about the god of monotheism can be accurately described in one level on the scale of belief that I've described above. Where do I stand? I generally consider myself a moderate atheist. I don’t say that I know or can prove god doesn't exist, I say that there’s no reason for me to believe in god given the poor state of evidence for god’s existence. All the atheist needs to do is to be able to provide a plausible natural alternative explanation about something that is commonly believed to only be explained by god to justify their doubt. The theory of evolution for example, for the first time made it possible for one to even have serious doubts about the existence of god because it provided a natural alternative to explain how we got the diversity of species. Previous to evolution, the only commonly understood explanation for extant life was that god had created all the species all at once at some time in the past. Darwin in some sense, made god redundant.

Atheism is planted by the seed of doubt, that’s why many atheists consider themselves skeptics. As the late Christopher Hitchens once said, “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” 

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[i] Dawkins, Richard (2006) The God Delusion. Boston Houghton Miffin p. 74

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Natural Born Skeptic: My Atheist Journey: Introduction

I want to first start off by saying that I’m not one of those atheists that blames all of the world’s problems on religion. Religious belief has certainly been the root cause of some of humankind’s problems throughout our history, but it is no way is the root cause of all of them. There are many reasons why we harm one another and our environment that has little to no religious motivation. So when I criticize the social effects here of religious belief, I am by no means claiming that religion is the root of all evil.

With that out of the way I want to articulate as best I can why I think the atheistic or naturalistic worldview is perfectly rational and justified and is preferable to theism. The atheistic worldview is built on the naturalistic worldview, also known as metaphysical naturalism. For short here, whenever I refer to naturalism or the naturalistic worldview, I will be referring to metaphysical naturalism. Metaphysical naturalism is roughly defined as “a worldview with a philosophical aspect which holds that there is nothing but natural elements, principles, and relations of the kind studied by the natural sciences”, or “the thesis that nothing besides the natural world, or nature, exists”. There is also methodological naturalism, which is an aspect of naturalism that assumes metaphysical naturalism to be true when conducting the scientific method (meaning to assume natural causes when doing scientific research since supernatural causes are out of the reach of the scientific method).

Now all of science operates more or less under both aspects of naturalism. Even though this is true, science doesn’t have to be committed to the idea that the natural world is all that there is, and a quick check of history will tell you that many of the famous scientists (or natural philosophers as they were once called) of years past did assume supernatural causality was responsible for observed phenomenon. When Isaac Newton for example was at the limits of his knowledge in understanding the complex rotations of the planets under his theory of gravity, he appealed to the supernatural to explain that which he could not. It took another genius, Albert Einstein, to discover what gravity was by means of a natural explanation – general relativity. Over the years as our scientific knowledge grew larger, these supernatural assumptions were slowly debunked and replaced with natural explanations. And to date, everything that science can currently explain is explained by naturally occurring phenomenon. This has resulted in the widespread prevalence of naturalistic causality and explanation becoming the preferred worldview and methodology of choice for scientists. So if it is true as many theists claim that knowledge of the supernatural dimension is forever off limits to the scientific method, then scientists are justified in their metaphysical and methodological naturalism, because such unreachable knowledge is never objectively observed, fails to sufficiently explain anything, and therefore might as well not even exist.

To claim that a being or phenomenon exists outside of what science can determine through observation and experimentation, is to open up the imagination to potentially unlimited amounts of conjecture as to what might exist beyond our senses. You could literally posit the existence of anything that the human mind could conjure up, customize it anthropomorphically to your liking, and say that it’s off limits to being empirically verified. No one will have any way to know for sure if this being or phenomena exists or not, but if its alleged effects could be explained naturalistically or shown to violate known physical laws, then the naturalist is justified in at least disbelieving this being or phenomenon exists until adequate evidence is produced.

Although, I strongly believe the natural world is all that exists, I don’t claim to know this empirically. It is impossible as far as I know to prove a negative (i.e. that god doesn’t exist). All the atheist or naturalist can hope for is that plausible, natural alternatives can be produced to explain the existence of things believed to require supernatural causes. One criticism of naturalism is that it cannot be scientifically proven. Although that is true, it also cannot be proven that we’re not all living inside a giant computer simulation and that the reality we experience is not in fact real at all. No one can empirically prove or disprove such a claim, and anyone who doubts such a claim, more or less has to take it for granted that their cognitive faculties are reliable. Naturalism, much like atheism, cannot as far as I know be empirically proven, but this is not at all required. All the naturalist/atheist merely has to demonstrate is that there is no valid evidence for the claims made by theists that the supernatural exists and that there exists natural explanatory alternatives, and he or she is justified in holding the disbelief in the supernatural.

When it comes to the claim made by some naturalists that we should only believe what can be scientifically proven, an idea known as scientism, I partly disagree here. First, anything that can be scientifically proven we know to be true, unless all of our cognitive faculties are unreliable – which we have no evidence for and no strong reason to believe. Second, the existence of truths that cannot be scientifically verified, like mathematical and logical truths, aesthetic truths, metaphysical truths (like believing we are not living in a computer simulated reality), and ethical truths are only to a certain degree not scientifically provable. We cannot scientifically prove that 1 + 1 = 2, we cannot use science to prove logic, and we cannot even use logic to prove logic. We could show that if our universe behaves logically by fully understanding its laws of physics, then it would make sense why mathematical and logical truths exist, but ultimately these kinds of truths might have to be accepted as a given set of axioms. Science can show us why we might prefer certain kinds of beauty from the socio-cultural and biological evolutionary process, but science cannot prove whether a specific painting or work of art is beautiful. Aesthetic beauty fundamentally lies in the eye of the beholder. Ethical truths cannot be determined alone by science because once you interpret the scientific data that a given set of ethical values hinges on, you will have to make sense of them using philosophy. Although science does indeed play a role in determining moral values, it doesn’t have the final and only word on morality.

In short, just because we cannot empirically prove that the natural world is all that exists, the naturalist/atheist is rationally justified in adopting naturalism because there is no evidence to the contrary. When it comes to the existence of extraordinary claims, like the supernatural, I essentially employ a verificationist attitude: when adequate evidence is produced, I will incorporate it into my belief system, but until then, the default position is disbelief. This is why atheists are called skeptics. We believe a healthy dose of skepticism is needed in our lives to separate fact from nonsense. This is because all kinds of people are making fantastic claims not only about the supernatural, but also about the paranormal, and they’re offering little to no evidence to back up these claims. As a skeptic, I just can’t go on believing that such claims are all true without adequate evidence because that’s being gullible; and being an agnostic on all such claims would then force me to consider the truthfulness of some of the most imbecile and irrational ideas mustered out of every half-thinking brain. Rather, if the assertion is not knowable a priori, or backed up with adequate evidence, the default position should be disbelief – especially if it violates all the known laws of physics. Therefore, since no such evidence exists that supernatural occurrences and agencies are real, the naturalist is perfectly justified in disbelieving in every unscientific claim.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Who Are The Skeptics?

The "skeptical" community consists of atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, humanists, non-believers and the like. We are generally united in our skepticism towards supernatural and pseudo-scientific claims. But what about those of "faith" who believe in god and their religion's fantastic claims? Are they skeptical? Well, theists actually are just as skeptical as non-believers are, but they're only skeptical towards things that contradict their religious beliefs. Take creationists for example, they're extremely skeptical towards evolution and they'll look for any possible way out of actually having to accept its evidence, but then they'll believe in talking snakes, people living inside fish, and that two of every animal and insect once shared a single boat during a worldwide flood.

So where is the consistency with skepticism? Why only apply it towards things that contradict your faith? Why believe something just because it's written in a book, but disbelieve in science that at least has evidence backing it up? Most theists behaves this way towards their religion: When it comes to their religion, they'll believe whatever is required that they believe, no matter how improbable or how impossible. They'll believe it because their religion requires it. But if their faith is strong, then anything that contradicts that belief they will have already decided can't be true, and so they throw up a wall of extreme skepticism that blocks the passage of any evidence. This is not true of every theist, however. There are at least some who constantly doubt their religious beliefs and do allow evidence to change them.

So both non-believers and believers are technically skeptics, just in different ways. I certainly am skeptical about the supernatural claims made by religions, and since theists cannot offer any real scientific evidence to back up their claims, I am within reason to continue doubting. I've heard the best arguments theists have for the existence of god, like the cosmological argument, the fine tuning argument, etc. and I've seriously considered all of them very deeply. In the end, neither of them are proofs, they're probability arguments founded on intuitive logical assumptions. There exists natural explanations that describe non-supernatural processes that can result in our universe and its apparent fine tuning. And as long as a plausible, natural alternative exists to a supernatural one, I can reasonably maintain my doubt and skepticism.

So whose skepticism is more justified? Certainly not the creationists. Neo-Christians who accept the cosmological explanations of our galaxy, sun and earth, and who accept evolution certainly are on better footing, but it seems to me that as time goes on and our understanding of the world through science gets greater and greater, the skepticism of the atheist becomes more and more justified. The more we understand, the less and less we need the hand of god as an explanatory device.


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