Showing posts with label religious moderation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label religious moderation. Show all posts

Monday, January 4, 2016

AnticitizenX's YouTube Page

A YouTuber who goes by the name of "anticitizenx" makes some pretty well made videos. Check out some of his videos below on a variety of philosophical and theological concepts. He hammers away at some of the obvious (as well as not so obvious) flaws in common theological arguments, like one of my favorites to debate, the moral argument.

What is Truth?

No, Really, What is Free Will?

Philosophical Failures of Christian Apologetics, Part 1: Why God Matters

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What Makes Some Atheists Anti-Theists?

If you're a Christian, I'm not sure if you can appreciate what Christians look like to us atheists. To us, you're just another religion proudly proclaiming that you've got the "one true religion," and like, you're really [totally fucking] serious this time. We're a little bemused by this. I will admit I have often looked condescendingly down on Christians and had pity for them, but I'm starting to reconsider all that. See, every once in a while I meet a Christian who's totally cool and who I get along with and who I see eye to eye with on a lotta shit, and I think to myself, man, if every Christian was like this, I'd be totally cool with Christianity. And if all religious people were like this, I'd really have no reason to be an anti-theist. But then, inevitably, in comes the asshole Christian who wants to shove his religion down my throat, both culturally and politically, deny basic science, assert religious propaganda as historical and metaphysical fact, and who is a 180 degree difference from me when it comes to politics. And then I realize, once again, why I'm an anti-theist.

Remember, anti-theism is largely a reaction to fundamentalist religion. Many of us atheists were very quiet about our atheism years ago. Then, through a variety of ways, we recognized that there are many religious fundamentalists who are very socially and politically active who wish to install their version of a theocracy upon all of us as best they can. Because of this, we've recognized that we have to get organized to prevent this from happening and to be able to maintain the very existence of our naturalistic worldview, and not be discriminated against. Paramount to this of course is the principle of secularism: the separation between religion and government. The wall of separation must continually be defended from theocrats and the like. So, it would be nice to be able to just be an atheist, or a naturalist, but to be an atheist activist, it usually takes some degree of anti-theism. It's interesting to note however, that promoting secularism doesn't technically require an antipathy towards religion, just its encroachment on government. But the two are often hand in hand. An anti-theist is against religious belief. It is the belief that gives theocrats their motivation.* That's one salient reason why I'm against religious belief. I certainly want all religious believers to modernize, be moderate, and be pretty damn liberal in their theological views. But it's hard for me to picture myself advocating for liberal religion, instead of no religion, because, although I find liberal religion more tolerable, I still find it hard to believe. Nonetheless, encouraging the moderation of religion, seems to be imperative.

* And yes, of course, religion is not the only thing that motivates people to power and abuse, plenty of other non-religious things do too. I shouldn't even have to write this, but feel I do.

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.

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.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Religious Believers: If You're Against Church/State Separation, Here's How It's Gonna Work

In light of the recent uproar over the refusal by Rowan County clerk Kim Davis to issue marriage licences to anyone in her county due to her "deeply-held" religious belief against same sex marriage, and her subsequent jail time, I've been motivated to write about an idea I've been entertaining on what a legal system could look like if government and religion were in business together.

Imagine if the government legally forced every religious person to live according to the rules of their religion so that they had to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. They would not be allowed to pick and choose which religious rules they wanted to live by or force others to live by. It would work like this. Everyone would have to register their religious affiliation with the government. For whatever religion you register with, special laws would apply to you on top of civil laws from that religion. So if you register as a Catholic, it would be illegal for you to divorce, or to use any contraception, have abortions, masturbate, have any sex outside of marriage, and even watch pornography. Your internet service provider would have to block pornographic websites from being accessed. If you register as a Muslim, it would be illegal to eat pork, drink alcohol, eat during Ramadan, have any sex outside of marriage, watch porn, and daily prayer would be mandatory.

All the special religious rules would be laws that each member of the religion would have to adhere to, under penalty of the law. Failure obey these laws would result in anything ranging from a fine, to a prison sentence. Your religion would be displayed on your state issued ID, so a liquor store clerk would be able to see if you were Muslim and trying to buy alcohol, and a convenient store clerk would be able to see if you were a Christian and trying to buy condoms, and they would be obligated to refuse to sell it to you. All the regular secular laws that exist would still apply to everyone, but the religious laws would apply in addition to them for registered religious adherents. If the two were in conflict, there'd be a general preference for secular law over religious law, so if someone's religion allowed human sacrifice, or wife beating, it would still be illegal for them.

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, 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.

Total Fertility Rate by Religion, 2010-2015

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.

Religious Composition of the United States, 2010-2050Take 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.

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:

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Fareed Zakaria: Criticizing Islam Will Not Change It

It seems that almost every week on Real Time with Bill Maher the topic of Islam comes up and its relationship with violent terrorism. Last week Fareed Zakaria was on and criticized Maher's attitude towards Islam when they were talking about the recent conviction of the Boston Bomber.

“My problem with the way you approach it,” Zakaria said, “is I don’t think you’re going to reform a religion by telling 1.6 billion people — most of whom are just devout people who get some inspiration from that religion and go about their daily lives — I don’t think you’re going to change religion by saying your religion is the motherlode of bad ideas, it’s a terrible thing, you know. Shape it up and change it. I think frankly, you’re going to make a lot of news for yourself and you’re going to get a lot of applause lines and joke lines out of it. But if you really want to change those people, if you want to change that religion, then what you have to do is push for reform but also with some sense of respect for what the spiritual values that people think.”  

Salon is running a headline that Maher is a bigot and that anyone who's a fan of Maher is a bigot too. He's not. Maher is simply acknowledging the facts. He's not selling "blanket intolerance." But he's not going to issue blanket tolerance either. The problem is that the "spiritual values" that a large number of Muslims think are not quite so pretty, and it is not bigoted to point this out anymore than it is to point out the nasty beliefs that many other ideologies have. Sure, hundreds of millions of Muslims are hard working people who get spiritual strength from their religion, and who are peaceful people. We all know that. But why should I have to pretend that Islam is peaceful religion, with a peaceful philosophy, in order to reform it? Maher, Zakaria, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and I, along with millions of moderate Muslims, all want Islam to reform. Some of us, like Maher, Ayaan, and I, don't want to have to lie to achieve a strategic goal. We don't want to have to act like politicians. We want to be honest.

I'm not even sure that pretending Islam is a religion of peace in order to reform it is the best strategy to reform Islam. Maybe it is. Maybe harsh criticism of Islam is. I don't know. At least some people leave Islam when they see harsh criticism of it. The problem with a large part of the Islamic world is that there is little tolerance for free speech that criticizes Islam, and religious indoctrination is rampant. Perhaps a little criticism will do some help. I honestly think both strategies should be employed. You can have your firebrands and your accommodationists each doing their part, each making the case in their own way, that religions need to live exclusively in the twenty-first century.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Is·lam·o·pho·bi·a — Some Thoughts

I felt like I'm long over due for a blog post about Islamophobia. It's is nooo secret on this blog that I am deeply critical of Islam. I think that Islam is the most dangerous religion in the world today and the greatest religious threat to liberalism and Western Values. This can be thought of two different ways. The first way is that I think the ideology and morality within Islam is more violent than most religions. As far as I can tell, only the Old Testament rivals the Koran in brutality. The second is that I think Muslims today are committing more violence in the name of their religion than any other religion's adherents. And I think this is due, in large part, because the principles of Islam are more violent than most other religions.

When you compare Islam and Christianity for example, when you put the two of them side by side and compare their moral values, I will be totally honest with you, I think Christianity starts looking pretty damn good compared to Islam. (And anyone who knows me or who's read this blog knows I'm not at all a Christian sympathizer). Just about everything bad that Christianity has, Islam also has, and then Islam just adds more bad shit on top of that. And it is in no way "Islamophobic" or "racist" to say say this, or point it out.

It has become a thing now to label all people critical of Islam Islamophobic, or even racist. The racist accusation is obviously nonsense. Islam is a religion and a religion is not a race. There are Muslims of every color around the world. The Islamophobic accusation though, has a racist implication to it. There is, it seems, an implicit assumption that "Islamophobic" can mean the same thing as anti-Asian, or anti-Middle Eastern, or even anti-Muslim. These are often conflated, but they are not the same.

Let's look at a few definitions of Islamophobia. Wikipedia says, "Anti-Islamic sentiment or Islamophobia is a term for prejudice against, hatred towards, or fear of the religion of Islam, Muslims, or of ethnic groups perceived to be Muslim." According to UC Berkely's Center for Race & Gender, a 1991 Runnymede Trust Report defined Islamophobia as "unfounded hostility towards Muslims, and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims." These are two interesting definitions. Wiki's definition focuses more on the religion of Islam, and CR&G's definition focuses more on the followers of Islam. Therein lies an important distinction. Now, I'm not going to fuss over definitions here — that's not the point. The points I want to focus on regard the problems I see with the term Islamophobia and its usage.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Was The Genocide Of The Cannanites In The Bible Justified?

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Great Religion Debate Part 3: Is the world better off without religion?

Religion is a notoriously difficult word to define. For the purposes of the Great Religion Debate I defined 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." Although it may be impossible to find a perfect definition of religion and many will find some issue no matter what definition is provided, this definition differentiates religion from things like philosophy, worldviews and politics.

Although every religion is a worldview, not every worldview is a religion. Under this definition Christianity is a religion, Judaism is a religion, and so is Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism, Scientology, and some forms of Buddhism and Confucianism. Political ideologies, theories and philosophies like liberalism, libertarianism, conservatism, socialism and communism are not religions. Neither are naturalistic philosophies such as existentialism or determinism.

One of the best orators against the social effects of religion was the late Christopher Hitchens. He put forth four basic reasons in the beginning of his best seller God is Not Great indicting religion as a poison to the enlightened world. Religious faith he argued:

1) wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos
2) because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism
3) it is both the result and cause of dangerous sexual repressions 
4) it is ultimately grounded in wish-thinking

Many argue that it's not religion in and of itself that causes any harm, it's people acting wrongly in the name of religion that results in this harm. This is usually coupled with the view that it's only some versions of some religions that can be harmful, but that religion as a whole is not to blame. There is no doubt that we must consider nuance when dealing with a concept as complex as religion. I do not in any way think all religions are equally harmful. The term "religion" is like the term "sport," to use Sam Harris' analogy. Some are much more prone to harm than others. To think all religions are equally harmful (or equally good) is therefore naive.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Fuzzy-Wuzzy Theism

I debate theists regularly on the blogosphere and it seems that a popular belief today is what I like to call "fuzzy-wuzzy theism." That is to say, some liberal or minimalist theists throw up this kind of vague, unspecified fuzzy language when they speak about the nature of god, morality or revelation as a kind of smoke screen to prevent you from pressing them too hard on detail. This to me is really just a tactic of handwaving that merely acts to distract or call attention away from the fact that the liberal theist has failed to be able to reasonably describe their beliefs.

In a conversation I had with a theist over on the Unreasonable Faith Patheos page, I outlined what I think are the general beliefs that this Christian has who believes that god cannot in principle communicate his message to human beings accurately, and that this explains why the Bible seems so incoherent. What I've described below is a general set of implications that this would entail. Read below and let me know if this is at all plausible, or if it is any more or less plausible than the more orthodox or fundamentalist versions of Christianity.

1. An omni-god exists and creates a universe that will result in intelligent life 14 billion years later.

2. When the intelligent life is evolved enough, god reveals himself to certain peoples in the best way he can, but the message gets misinterpreted/corrupted for some set of reasons.

3. It is at this time that the omni-god realizes that his original message has not been received accurately, since he has no divine foreknowledge to know how his humans will react.

4. After a period of frequent revelations that all get misinterpreted, god resorts to divine hiddenness as his best/most preferred way of dealing with the fact that his message has not been accurately received by his created creatures and watches in real time as they kill and harm each other over misinterpretations of this message and chooses to remain hidden and do absolutely nothing, even though for a time he was regularly interacting with people.

5. We find ourselves in the modern world with various different conflicting descriptions of god and purported revelations and an increasing number of secularists who logically are concluding that the best explanation of this is that man's imagination made up these concepts of god and religion.

6. This all might be part of god's plan somehow, and eventually god will reveal himself, and those unfortunate or foolish enough to have gotten the wrong message or interpretation, which turns out to be the vast majority of people throughout history, will be eternally separated from god and may suffer for an eternity.

7. This god is perfectly moral, and incapable of inflicting gratuitous suffering and is the only being worthy of worship and propitiation, even though no one can comprehend it, and the majority of people have the wrong god concept.

Makes sense right?

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.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Why Ted Haggard's Sexuality Is Symbolic Of The Relationship Between Christianity And Facts

Back in 2006, we all got to witness the spectacular decline of conservative anti-gay Christian pastor Ted Haggard, who it turned out was secretly paying a man for gay sex. I remember what a ride that one was to watch. Watching religious hypocrites fall from grace is first class entertainment for atheists. I mean, what atheist wouldn't want to hear about some ridiculous religious figure turning out to be doing the very thing they spent so much time railing against in the name of their god?

If Haggard's initial fall from grace wasn't enough, we were all further given an encore not long after when it was announced that he was declared "completely heterosexual" after being "cured" of his homosexuality through counseling. It was hilarious because any educated person knows that sexuality cannot be cured or repaired by mere counseling or therapy. Sexuality is innate. All ex-gay therapy can do is teach a gay person how to repress their desires and live in dissonance with themselves. That's all the evidence has ever shown it capable of doing. (See here.)

Ted Haggard's cognitive dissonance on his sexuality forced by his Christian belief that being gay is a sin is symbolic of the kind of cognitive dissonance Christians in general must endure in order to maintain their religious faith with the constant sting of the secular sciences and politics challenging them. Suppressing scientific facts and the moral atrocities of god in order to maintain the faith is a lot like gay Christians suppressing their sexuality. I debate with Christians all the time online and I'm always entertained by the kind of cognitive acrobatics they must deploy in order to maintain that the Bible is the word of god, and that their god is good. I've dealt with so many Christians for example who will deny the evidence for evolution at all costs to the point where they will compromise logic and sanity in order to do so.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Nobody's Right, If Everybody's Wrong

You could call it, "War of the Worldviews."

Atheists are generally pretty confident that theists who hold to certain religious beliefs are just utterly deluded. I know I am. I'm convinced that theists are living in a fantasy world, believing in superstitions left over from the Bronze-age. They actually think there's an invisible sky daddy out there who knows everything you do and that angels and demons are causing miracles and disasters all over the world everyday. And they think that if we believe and do the right things, we will literally go to an celestial fantasy land after we die where we'll all be super happy forever.

And I wonder how any rational person can still believe these things in the twenty first century.

But then, the theist turns right around and accuses atheists of living in our own utter delusion. To them, they can't understand how anyone can not believe in a creator. They think it's utterly delusional to believe the whole universe "popped" into existence uncaused out of "nothing" (even though we don't have to believe this) and that purely natural processes evolved matter into all the stars, planets and life that we see today. To them, it's the atheist that's living in a fantasy world. We're crazy for not believing in their invisible spirit gods. And so we each think the other is utterly deluded.

And so nobody's right, if everybody's wrong.

The same thing can be said in politics. A sizable portion of the Republican party thinks President Obama is a Muslim socialist, who worships allah in the White House, and who is hell bent on destroying Christian America with a radical left-wing secular agenda. Not surprisingly, it's the same segment of Americans who buy into this fantasy who also buy into the biblical one.

Although liberals aren't exactly immune to conspiracies either (9/11 truthers), many Republicans think that liberal fantasies of universal healthcare, gay marriage, higher taxes for the rich and keeping god out of government to create a 21st century "utopia" is pure madness, and will ultimately decay into Stalinism. That's right. They think universal healthcare will lead to Stalinism. And so Democrats and Republicans each think the other are utterly deluded.

And so nobody's right, if everybody's wrong.

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?

Friday, June 28, 2013

"The Fool Says In His Heart, There Is No God"

You don't know how many times I've heard Christians use this verse from Psalm 53:1 as a way of "demonstrating" that I'm somehow a fool. It allows theists to say "My Bible says you're a fool for not believing in god so that proves you're a fool. Ha ha." I always tell them that if I were to make up my own religion I too would include admonishments that preempted any desire to disbelieve.

Many believing Christians put so much emphasis on the written word of the Bible, especially the inerrantists. To them, the Bible truly is the word of god and it therefore must be true in its entirety. So if the Bible says the fool denies god, then it must be true, because the Bible said so. What wonderful logic they employ. Even if a theist believes the New Testament probabilistically demonstrates Jesus to have risen from the grave, it still doesn't entail that every book of the Bible, and every verse in it is therefore true. That's the mistake fundamentalists make that liberal Christians don't. Every verse in the Bible has to be assessed on a case by case basis and if it is not backed up by archaeological evidence and extra-biblical sources, it should not be considered historical.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Natural Born Skeptic: My Atheist Journey Part 9

Purpose And Meaning In A Godless World (Continued)

We all seek purpose in our lives, and we all seek a deeper understanding and meaning to why we exist. I think that the naturalistic worldview can serve many more minds in ways that religion has traditionally done so. From my earliest memories as a child I was captivated by science. I wanted to know. I was driven towards the way science can explain things in precise detail. I poured over statistical reference books – illuminated by the knowledge of knowing the true facts about the world. Religion never gave me such information; it glosses over detail and is purposely vague and light on specifics. Perhaps that’s why it never intrigued me as a kid. I just couldn't accept the idea that our world was a mere 6,000 years old when all the geologic data I had learned said otherwise. And I just couldn't accept that my purpose in life was to serve an invisible being called “God”, who I was told is perfect and free from all earthly desire, and yet still got extremely jealous when I did not recognize him.

When I discovered that religious belief - even when it's in some of its moderate incarnations, poses a terrible threat to the progress of the free world, my insulated secular bubble had burst. I had recognized that the world around me is teaming with faith-based ideologies that seek to diminish that freedom to their liking, and that the freedoms I take for granted in the US should never be. My purpose became one dedicated towards thwarting the tide of oppression that seeks to enforce its mind-forged shackles upon the liberated.

I've come to recognize that the purpose driven life is up to each one of us to create for ourselves. I don’t need my life or my actions to have cosmic significance in order for them to have purpose. Why should I care if the universe doesn't notice my noble efforts? And why should you care either? What matters is what happens in our celestial neighborhood to the living conscious beings that are affected within it. To require universal recognition mandates the kind of arrogance religion often produces. I've always thought that the religious worldview that demands the greatest cosmic significance to human life and its talents was anything but the humble portrayal that we so often hear. Nothing could be more arrogant, more self-centered and conceited, and more solipsistic than thinking that the entire cosmos – all that exists and all that ever will – billions upon trillions of stars and galaxies – were all created and designed for us. And I say to those folks who need this belief to feel special, you can believe that if you like, but please don’t insult my intelligence and try to tell me that this human-centered worldview is humble.

I don’t deny that there's something special about human life. We have evolved the unique ability to figure out nature’s deepest secrets. Humankind is in a sense, nature becoming conscious of itself. And although at a purely physical level, we are all just matter in motion, naturalism does allow for emergent properties like consciousness that allows us to perceive the awe and mysteries of the cosmos, and the recognition that we are alive and can experience joy, pleasure, pain and suffering.

Along the path of my atheistic journey, I went from a skeptical kid to an adult who found passion and purpose in advancing the case for atheism and secularism. But my goal in life is not merely to get everyone to disbelieve in supernatural gods. I want to eliminate what prevents people from being rationally informed with the best evidence based knowledge that exists, and the two main culprits are ignorance and religion. Now if religion disappears, something will inevitably replace it. For most atheists today, the ethical framework that we feel should replace religious belief and morality is secular humanism. I'm a secular humanist as much as I'm an atheist or a naturalist. Secular humanism is the best overall philosophical framework that we can use to build a humane society because it emphasizes reason, scientific inquiry, and human fulfillment in the natural world free of the impediment of dogma. Religious morality is believed simply because it is believed to come from god. There often is no secular justification for many of its "morals" without reference to believing that it's what god wants. If a belief prevents someone from accepting scientific facts about the world and affects their ability to make rationally informed decisions based on evidence, and if the belief requires one to make others believe it too, then I’d feel an imperative to put a stop to this growing meme. And if that isn't a noble life purpose, I don't know what is.

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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


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