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

Friday, March 8, 2013

In Defense Of The New Atheists (And My Problem With Them)

Some critics of the New Atheists have said that they aren't too intellectually bright and don't even understand the religions they're criticizing. Although I don't always agree with all the New Atheists all the time, one thing to remember is that they are largely reacting to fundamentalist theists who do interpret their religious texts literally, and who do hold views that other mainstream or moderate theists do not. So when Richard Dawkins goes on a polemic about the ignorance of creationism, he isn't necessarily talking about all theists, just a certain kind of theist. The variety of religious belief - even amongst people of the same religious denominations, means that no one can ever criticize "religion" and hope to encapsulate all believers in one swath of the tongue or the keyboard.

The New Atheists have helped make atheism, agnosticism and non-belief in general more mainstream, and for that I am greatly in debt to them. But I've written before that irrational militant atheism can backfire and actually harm the skeptical community, so I don't always support the kind of blame-game rhetoric some New Atheists use some of the time in castigating religion as if it's responsible for all the world's evils. If I was a public figure, I'm not sure how close I'd want to be associated with some of the New Atheists. I'd like to perhaps move the conversation towards a more intellectual stance, and make sure that we don't sound like a bunch of cry babies complaining about religion all the time. There is certainly a time and place for making fun of religion and god, I'm just saying that's not all we should do as non-believers. We should be listening to the best arguments theists are making and be dissecting them under the microscope so that we can provide proper counterarguments and offer a more plausible worldview than what they're offering.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Road Towards Antitheism

Christopher Hitchens introduced the word antitheist to me years ago when I began listening to his debates. It struck me kind of oddly at the time for me to consider if I was one myself. I've always been an atheist or an agnostic as far as I could remember, and I always remember being highly skeptical towards religious claims whenever they confronted me. Before my mid-twenties though, I cannot remember being openly hostile towards religious faith other than simply being skeptical. I did occasionally at times mock the creationist viewpoint of religion but I don't recall ever going out of my way to chastise the religion or its believers.

That is, until I started paying attention to creationism/evolution debate, which sparked my interest in the theism/atheism debate, to which I naturally sided with the atheists. Around this time I began reading the Bible and the Qur'an, which I had several copies of thanks to my religious mother. It was only when I began familiarizing myself with what religions actually say, that I began travelling down the road towards antitheism. Perhaps I could say that the Bible and the Qur'an made me an antitheist, but I don't think that's the full story. Christopher Hitchens' and Richard Dawkins' polemics helped give me the final push. Considering these religions are pushing to create a world that I do not want to see actualized at any time while I'm alive or even after I'm dead, I was naturally destined towards antitheism.

So you could say that before when I was ignorant towards what religions actually say, I was merely an atheist, but after having known what they're about and what they stand for, I became an antitheist.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Betting On Religion: A Few Things To Consider

Pascal's Wager asks the skeptic to consider betting on god just in case. After all he asked, what have you got to loose if you're wrong? While I grew up under a sort of cultural Catholicism, I was never really forced to believe any of the dogma. I never really gave much thought about religion at all to tell you the truth until several years ago when I became interested in the debate between evolution and creationism. I am an atheist perhaps by my inborn nature, and so skepticism and doubt about religious claims always seemed to come quite naturally to me. But hearing the arguments made by theists I've had to confront their religious claims once again, but now as an adult. So, taking Pascal's Wager seriously, let me consider religion once again.

I thought of a criterion when scrutinizing religions. It's a way to compare the belief systems of any religion in a way that helps determine if that religion's beliefs are right for me when compared to atheism.

Step 1: Get rid of fear

When considering any religion, I believe the first step should always be to completely take away any of the fear that the religion uses to sway believers into it. So if the religion is Christianity, take away the concept of hell to allow you to more rationally think its beliefs through. This is important because like it or not, in religions like Christianity, the fear of going to hell looms over all who are exposed to it as a subtle blackmail, and this fear can make even the most rational people aberrant. Just think of the things you would do if someone kidnapped a loved one of yours and was trying to extort you. You'd probably do things you thought were unthinkable. So completely remove any fear of the negative consequences of not believing the religion as a starting point.

Step 2: Consider all of the religion's morals

Now that the fear of hell is removed, think of the religion's moral principles. Ask yourself if you actually agree with them - all of them. It is careful to examine all the religion's moral values and not just a selective modern interpretation of them. Ask yourself if they make logical sense, and if they're actually practical. Are there any moral precepts of the religion that you feel would actually do more harm than good if implemented? Also, it's important to consider of how the religion's moral values were historically believed and implemented and how they evolved.

For me, my greatest exposure to religion was in the form of Christianity. So when I look at Christian morality, I consider many of its general ideas like the golden rule, caring for the poor, not being too greedy, respecting one's family and neighbor etc, all things most people would agree are decent and good to follow. But then I also have to consider the morality I deeply disagree with, like slavery, indentured servitude, loving one's enemy, the barbarous Mosaic marital and family laws, the idea that thinking is the same as doing, the idea that sex should only take place within marriage and only to reproduce, the idea that homosexuals choose their orientation and that they along with witches and adulterers need to be put to death, the inferiority and subordination of women, and perhaps worst of all, the masochistic idea that we're all born with original sin because we're all collectively guilty for the sins of two people (whom many Christians today do not believe even existed).

Monday, January 14, 2013

Agnosticism Vs. Atheism Part 2: Levels of Disbelief

Over a year ago I wrote a post differentiating the agnostic and atheistic positions. I said that in the absence of empirical proof of the existence of god, the evidence for and against god is weighed. The agnostic thinks the evidence about even, and the atheist thinks it's weighted in favor of there being no god. But I recently thought about a recent post of mine regarding Christopher Hitchens' definition of atheism, and so I decided to create a scale with nine levels of belief and disbelief in god ranging from strong atheism, to strong theism.

On my scale shown above, the moderate atheist can stop short of saying "There are no gods," but can say "There almost certainly are no gods. I therefore don't believe in any gods." In other words, given the weak evidence for god, and the powerful explanatory power of science, moderate atheism can affirm a warranted belief in the ability of science to naturally explain the existence of everything in the universe, including the universe itself, without the need for a deity.

Imagine this question posed to a non-believer: Are you an atheist that asserts the proposition that god does not exist, or do you simply withhold belief in god in the way the agnostic does?

This is an interesting question because it seems to accuse the moderate or weak atheist of really just being an agnostic. Does an atheist have to confidently assert that god does not exist? To me really anyone who falls short of at least saying "I believe in god" is an atheist. Since the agnostic doesn't actively believe in god, he or she is technically an atheist.

But let me answer this question using an analogy. Imagine a friend told you they saw Bigfoot outside their bedroom window the other night. Your immediate reaction would probably be disbelief, despite your friend insisting he saw Bigfoot. Most of us, including myself, would require some good evidence to prove that Bigfoot was really lurking outside your friend's bedroom. And in the absence of such evidence, you could rationally conclude that there was no Bigfoot, and that your friend either is lying, saw something that wasn't there, or saw something like a man in a Bigfoot suit. In other words, in the absence of evidence, the default position is disbelief.

I treat the existence of god the same way. In the absence of empirical evidence that cannot be explained by science under naturalistic causes, the default position is disbelief. This is especially so when the claim being made requires the supernatural. That means I say "I don't believe in god" but I don't say "I know god doesn't exist". Proof of non-existence is not required in order to not believe, all that is needed in the case of god is a plausible natural explanatory alternative. So therefore on the scale above, I would generally fall under moderate atheism because I do not assert that "there is no god," since it cannot be proved.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Atheism As Defined By Christopher Hitchens

A little over a year ago Christopher Hitchens died of cancer. I remember him as someone who changed my life, and it is occasionally interesting to go back and reread his books and watch his speeches and debates. He often said of atheism that it is not based on the certainty that there is no god or supernatural dimension, but that there hasn't been an argument made by a believer that could with any convincing evidence or authority lead us to believe there is.

In one debate Christopher said:

We don't say on non-truth claims or faith claims that we know when we don't.....atheists do not say that we know there is no god. We say to the contrary, no argument and no evidence has ever been educed that we consider to be persuasive......The same with the afterlife. Of course we don't say that we know there isn't one. We say that we don't know anyone who can bring any reason to think that there is. 

This is an important distinction that atheists must be aware of because we cannot let ourselves become as arrogant as those who say they are certain god and the afterlife do exist. I agree with Hitchens that the atheist position should be one that affirms that no human has ever made a convincing argument or introduced convincing evidence that god exists, and until someone does, it is just another person's matter of opinion.

Now I am aware that there are many theists who also do not say that they know god exists and instead lay claim to a probability tilted in favor that god does exist. I'm fine with that, and I prefer the theist who takes this position over the one who is absolutely certain.

Atheists are skeptics, it's in our nature. As far back as I can remember, I was questioning the truthfulness of claims made by theists. Knowing this, it is important that we apply our skepticism where ever the lack of certainty without empirical evidence exists.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Agnosticism Vs. Atheism

Why not Agnosticism?

What is the difference between the agnostic vs. the atheist? First of all let's be clear about one thing: No human being can prove or disprove, with empirical evidence, and absolute certainty, that god does or does not exist. There is no smoking gun, no piece of evidence, tangible or not, that anyone can present to another, and say "Ah-ha! This proves I'm right!".

That being said, every argument for and against the existence of god, is an argument of probability. That is to say, given the amount of knowledge and evidence that exists, what is most probable, what is most likely truth, that god exists or that god does not.

Now the agnostic looks at the evidence for and against god, and comes to the conclusion that none of it is compelling in either direction. He basically sits on the fence saying that the evidence is about equal and could go either way. Or, in the absence of proof, he says the truth cannot be known, and therefore remains ambivalent. Some argue that agnosticism is the rational position to hold. However, we would all then have to be an agnostic on everything that we didn't have absolute proof on, and we would never ever be able able to take a position.

The atheist sees the evidence, and concludes that it is overwhelmingly more probable that god does not exist. The atheist does not have to prove empirically that god does not exist to hold his position, no more than the theist has to prove that god does exist, to maintain his position. They each see the evidence as being skewed towards their position.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Atheistic Journey

My atheistic journey was an uneventful one. I was raised in a mostly secular home. We never prayed, we never went to church, and we never had religious artifacts or symbolism around house. I remember asking my mother at about the age of 4 with the usual child-like curiosity about what happens after you die, and I remember her responding to me that when you die, you just die. In other words, its just like it was before when you were born.

That belief didn't stop me from being sent to a Catholic preschool for a year. I still don't know why I was forced to go to this day, although I assume it was my devoutly Catholic grandmother who spearheaded that decision. My year at Catholic preschool was the only attempt that I can think of during my youth, when I was indoctrinated into religion. My parents made no attempt at home to inculcate or coerce me into faith of any kind.

As you can imagine, I am grateful for this. But even in preschool, as I was being instructed to say my daily prayer before lunch, "god is good, god is great, let us thank him for our food, amen", I knew something was bullshit. I could smell it in the room somehow. I wasn't the sophisticated, world traveling, cosmopolitan, intellectual that I am today. I had no knowledge or of science, metaphysics, evolution, or philosophical argumentation. But I did have an inner intuition of reality and reason, even at the age of 4 to see past the fallacy of religion.

Throughout my adolescence my doubt in god and religion continued, altering from mere secularism to borderline anti-theism. I always had a distaste for religion, especially Christianity in my youth, yet I never was overly pugnacious with my beliefs. I remember being about 9 or 10 or so one summer when this girl, I believe her name was Linda, came to the playground where my friends and I used to hangout. All she wanted to talk about was god, and Christ and would constantly confront us with the fate of those who disbelieve in Jesus. I immediately began questioning her rationality and one particular day I remember spending hours on a splintered old bench going into the logical inconsistencies for and against god's existence. If only I could see and hear now as an adult what took place that afternoon.

I had a brief flirtation with agnosticism for a short period later. Agnosticism was the closest I ever got to believing. I think it is really important for one to deeply question their beliefs, even for atheists. It is a bit smug to assert a metaphysical claim without a steady foundation to stand on. That's why I am a thinker. I struggled with these concepts for years and years. It was not often easy. Even now, I do not entirely rule out the position of the believer. I really try to imagine the existence of god and of all individual religions as a serious, rational, and tenable argument. But it is not before long, that the ability for easy and pathetically unsophisticated criticisms chip away at that foundation and I return to atheism.

Now in my adulthood, the new atheists, like Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris, as well as the "old" atheists and skeptics like Bertrand Russell, David Hume, and Socrates have strengthened my atheism and its foundation. It is almost unbreakable. I still seek knowledge and truth and wisdom and I want to learn as much as I can during my tenure here on this pale blue dot. Philosophical and scientific argumentation is a near constant for me. In other words, my atheistic journey is just getting started.


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