Tag Archives: atheism

Reason this

My excitement over next week’s Reason Rally continues to grow, particularly over the recent news that members of the Westboro Baptist Church will be attending.  As you may not be aware, this is the Christian group famous for picketing the funerals of dearly departed kittens and puppies, usefully informing the world at such events that God hates America, fags, and polyester.

So why am I in such a tizzy? Because other Christian groups besides Westboro plan to attend the rally too.

Curiously, all these Christian visitors have upset some within the atheist/skeptical community.  But where they see only downsides, I see golden opportunity!

You see, Christians disagree with the declaration that atheism is reasonable, and they’re coming to argue it is Christianity that’s reasonable.  I’ve noted before that such a position contradicts their own scriptures, not to mention the teachings of their major theologians.  Nevertheless, I propose we take them at their word and provide them the chance to demonstrate the rationality of their beliefs – demonstrate, that is, to their fellow Christians!

The elephant in the Christian church is its thousands of sects, many of whom hold long-standing, diametrically opposed beliefs which all cannot be true.  Such a situation seems inexplicable for an allegedly reasonable religion like Christianity.  After all, other, far younger enterprises that are based on reason and evidence – science is a good example – for the most part lack this splintering.  So, the Reason Rally is in reality a fantastic opportunity for these Christians to resolve their differences in polite, meaningful, and reasonable exchange.    Does God really hate gays?  Is America irrevocably doomed to damnation?  Will my wearing a cotton shirt, wool shorts, and a silk tie offend the Almighty? I’m sure such contentions questions will be reasonably settled by reasonable Christians who, after all, worship the God of Reason.

The stakes are high.  Christians certainly don’t want to ward off potential converts with contradictory messages.  Besides, does not the Bible warn of other gospels that put us under God’s curse if we were to be misled by them? Dispelling false Christian doctrine once and for all would pay huge dividends in souls saved.  Finally, billions speaking in a unified voice would set Christianity apart from its squabbling cousins and provide powerful evidence of its veracity.

Let the first test of Christianity’s reasonableness be whether it can convince its own adherents to shed incorrect gospels and unite behind a single doctrine.  This achievement seems trivial for a religion that’s truly reasonable, one headed by a deity who is supposedly no author of confusion.

In search of greener grass?

Interrupting my irregularly scheduled apatheism, I bring you the following irony…

A video gone viral recently among the Christian blogosphere argues that religion should be shunned.

A video gone viral recently among the atheist blogosphere argues that religion should be emulated.

Well, perhaps that’s oversimplifying things a bit, but you have to appreciate the surprising switcheroo.

If you’re going to watch just one video, I recommend the second.  Its point is that religion provides us –  atheists included – many of the things we need to prosper – things such as a moral framework, and community.  Even as societies abandon religion, the needs it fulfills remain.  The question the video answers is how best to do that, and with what.  Its title is apt: Atheism 2.0.

I found the first video interesting from the perspective of a student of the religious phenomenon.  It explicitly agrees with many of the critiques of religion made by the so-called new atheists, which suggests a significant influence even among believers.  But it takes the bold tact of attempting to divorce Christianity from religion by redefining the former.  Historically and theologically, I find that a daunting and problematic – if not predictable – task.  Christianity 259,761.0.

So what’s this about apatheism?

Increasingly, I feel that arguing over the existence of god is like arguing over the existence of the Tooth Fairy.  The arguments for such a being or beings just seem silly to me, and become more flabbergasting when they involve the claims of particular religions.  If you’re a believer unable to relate, consider your stance vis-à-vis Scientology.  The question of its truth is something you likely find patently absurd, hardly worth sparing a moment of your time for.  This is how I presently feel about the god question.

Nonetheless, I continue to enjoy identifying incoherencies in religious belief.  I’ve lately been thinking about faith; in particular, how a religious believer can justify it for themself, but dismiss it of others.  Hopefully, a blog post with some scattered thoughts will see the light of day soon.

Poor arguments against atheism, no. 928

Recent increases in the numbers of those who reject traditional theism have spawned a vast army of god-defenders, the quality of whose work, in my estimation, has varied widely.  It seems many of these new apologetic theists, being unused to the role, are not well-versed in the practice of crafting sound, coherent arguments.  Consequently, you often come across some humorous, even silly attempts to “debunk” atheism.  These are actually worthwhile to engage because untangling the intellectual morass can be an interesting challenge.  Besides that, you just might get lucky and get a comment so funny or bizarre, it’s worthy of submission to the Fundies Say the Darndest Things website.

But once in a while, you’ll get someone who is simply not interested in defending their arguments.  You’re response just goes down a black hole, or is rejected for inconsequential reasons.  The latter was the fate of a response to a post titled The Problem of Morality by one Carson Weitnauer, part of his “The Problems with Atheism Series” on his blog Simple Apologetics.  Carson didn’t like the “tone” of my response, though, as you’ll see, I believe it was appropriate for his arguments.  Besides, it was directly only at them, and not at Carson personally.  Because the problem of the disappearing rebuttal is hardly new, I keep a copy for posting on this blog (to his credit, Carson emailed me a copy of my reply as well).  Additionally, while I argue (and I think show) that Carson’s case is ludicrous at best, his bogus claims are not uncommon, and serve only to spread popular myths that deserve debunking wherever they appear.

I recommend you read Carson’s original article first to get the full context of my rebuttal.  Portions of his article that I specifically respond to are in italics.


Upon reading this post, it’s clear to me it contains a number of errors and misunderstandings which fatally undermine your case.  I’d like to spell out why in further detail and look forward to a response.

First, your theistic bias is clearly evident, particularly in the unstated premise that good and evil, as well as moral truths, can only exist if the theistic god exists.  Your arguments make sense only in light of this premise.

Second, the alleged problem you describe is not particularly an atheistic problem, but more properly identified as a problem for non-theists, because your arguments, at least in part, apply to deists and pantheists as well.  They too do not believe in a theistic god.

Third, the following assertions are false:

“atheism…denies that there exist any moral rules”

“atheism affirms that all that exists is matter, energy, and space-time”

“these elements are not enough to support the existence of morality”

Atheism – the lack of belief in god(s) – neither affirms nor denies anything about moral rules.  This is an irrelevant question to atheism.  Does it make sense to say a-unicornists deny the existence of any moral rules?  Absolutely not, unless you believe moral rules come only from unicorns.

In any case, individual atheists do believe in the existence of moral rules; clearly they do because they practice them each day.  What they deny, along with deists and pantheists, is the existence of divine commands.  They obtain these rules from reason, experience, and evolutionary programming.

You confuse atheism with the theory of materialism.  There are atheists, such as animists, who certainly do not think reality can be reduced to the material.

I got a good laugh at your caricature of how non-theists view morality.  Do you really believe we think of it as some kind of physical substance composed of matter, energy or space-time, as you suggested in your thought experiment?  What a ludicrous straw man!  Are you going to charge us with denying, say, philosophy because we also cannot arrange the molecules or “put the pieces together” to re-create it in a lab?

What you have to notice is that all of this “moral discourse” would just be in their heads! There is nothing really wrong with murder or really right about promise-keeping. Instead, it just happens to be the case that those behaviors are viewed as bad or good, respectively, by their humanoid society.

You just described the utilitarian, welfare-promoting aspects of keeping promises and not murdering, and then dismiss them as merely a view?  As if the consequences of those things were wholly absent or irrelevant?

Let’s imagine that, one day, bored in the laboratory, you set up the humanoid society so that murderers find themselves with an extra 10,000 laboratory dollars in their bank accounts. (Imagine a sick version of The Truman Show). This turns out to be enough money to pay for bodyguards, eliminate other genes from the population, and get their own genes passed down in a higher proportion to the next generation far in excess of other humanoids. On it goes for a few generations, and before long, you have a humanoid society that heartily approves of murder, and violently opposes anyone who tries to keep murderers from their deserved wealth and social status.

No, before long, you wouldn’t have a humanoid society that heartily approves of murder; you’d have no society at all.  Leaving aside the comical question why 10,000 “lab dollars” induces people to kill others, you’ve assumed that the murderers would not murder fellow murderers, or even their own bodyguards.  However, this assumption makes no sense in light of the condition that I emphasized above.  Your theoretical exercise is so illogical and incoherent, you should blush that you even suggested it could ever apply to the real world.

If you want to be a consistent atheist, then every time you go from “here are the facts” to “here is the proper moral rule for evaluating these facts” you should stop yourself. Then remind yourself: these rules are just a social illusion.

You’ve failed to demonstrate how moral rules are “just a social illusion”.  Your case, so far, is built on risible straw men that in no way approximate reality or the way morality is understood.

What this means is that there is no way to call evil “evil.”

Certainly there is, if you subscribe to certain moral tenets which dictate that it’s evil, say, to inflict involuntary suffering on others, with only limited exceptions.  Because someone else may hold to a contrary moral tenet in no way impinges on this ability.  It is irrelevant.

To summarize: under atheism, there are no such things or categories as good or evil. And second, any perception to the contrary is completely illusory and is merely a byproduct of non-moral, socio-biological forces.

Your claims are based on nothing more than caricatures which rely on theistic assumptions.  One could just as easily build a similar case why under theism there are no such things or categories as good or evil because it denies the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Do you have a religious litmus test?

Unless you recently awoke from hibernation, if you’re American, you’re probably aware there’s an election coming up pretty soon.  As a result, you’ve likely given at least some thought to whom you’ll vote for and why.  As for myself, I live in a part of the country where the election of a particular candidate is pretty much already a foregone conclusion, but that hasn’t prevented me from indulging the voter impulse and contemplating how I would vote too.

One of the considerations I struggle with is to what extent do I consider a candidate’s religious views – or lack thereof.  As an atheist, I’m inclined to look upon atheist politicians more favorably than those who seemingly wear religion on their sleeves.  Yet, suppose the former holds positions I for the most part disagree with, while the latter expresses policy preferences broadly in alignment with my own?  Whom do I choose?

I, like probably most atheists, would hold my nose while voting for the religious candidate.  The reason is that, on balance, I see the atheist candidate with the disagreeable positions as more likely harmful to my own well-being and that of the country’s.  God-belief isn’t much concerned with pressing issues like the economy, health care, debt, and Social Security, so the candidates’ religious views just don’t rise all that high on the scale of importance.

Where I see the candidates as nearly equal with respect to my own political views, I’m more likely to seriously consider a candidate’s religious views, but it would be among a host of other influences.  For example, I view single party control of the executive and legislative branches as generally something to be avoided, so the candidate of the “party in power” is less likely to get my vote.

In sum, a candidate’s broader economic and political viewpoint trumps religious belief in my book.  I say this as a committed atheist.  What about my opposite, the True Believer?  Would they agree?

The likelihood is that they wouldn’t, according to a 2007 Gallup poll.  A slim majority – but a majority nonetheless – would not vote for a generally well-qualified atheist for president, even if it was their own party’s nominee.  The picture changes when you break it down by political outlook, with only about a third of conservatives voting for an atheist, compared to two-thirds for liberals and about half for moderates.  The figures should be taken with a grain of salt, however.  For instance, 80% of conservatives ended up voting for the candidate who was 72 years of age in the 2008 presidential election (McCain), though only 63% of them reported they would in the poll.

As I noted above, none of this cogitating will produce any practical action since I don’t have the choices in this election others have.  But what about you?  Are religious views important in your decision to vote for a particular candidate?

Atheists/agnostics know more about Christianity than Christians do

The revelation that atheists and agnostics are the groups most knowledgeable about major world religions has, unsurprisingly, gone viral among atheist blogs and sites.  One interesting tidbit that seems to have been lost, however, is that they’re even more knowledgeable about the Bible and Christianity than Christians, as an aggregate, are.  If you don’t consider Mormoms as Christians, as many Christians don’t, then the knowledge gap is even larger, since Mormons top everyone, and thus skew the results in Christians’ favor.

Atheists are generally not surprised by the news, as we’ve been saying for a long time that the Bible, taken as a whole, is a powerful tool against Christianity.  To maintain faith, it has to be sanitized, processed, and effectively censored for the believing masses.  How many Christians are aware, for example, that the Bible says their god tortured and eventually killed an innocent newborn for the sins of its father?  And this is simply one barbarism among dozens of others.

David Silverman, president of American Atheists, summed it up nicely:  “I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people.  Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge.”

The Pope is a Pious Fraudster

Or he’s insane.  But I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Speaking in Great Britain yesterday during his trip funded at the expense of the English taxpayer, Benedict characterized Nazi tyranny as “atheist extremism”.  Coming from a man who once said that condoms increase the risk of contracting AIDs, which was simply one more lie among a long string, this gross distortion of history shouldn’t shock anyone.  Who said, “We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out…We have put an end to denial of God and abuse of religion”?  Yep, you guessed it, that notorious author of “atheist extremism” himself, Adolf Hitler.

What’s behind Benedict’s misinformation campaign is not hard to discern.  The land the Catholic Church once practically ruled for so long has become increasingly denuded of followers.  Churches stand empty.  Fewer and fewer enter the priesthood.  For the most part, a sweeping secularization can take credit.  This is especially troubling to the Vatican because it can expect far less deference when its criminal activities come to light.  The aggressive police raid on Catholic churches in Belgium a few months back is likely just a taste of things to come.  Severely down in the polls, Benedict is doing what any other Machiavellian politician would do in a similar situation: sling mud, dissemble, and lie.

The sweet irony of the Pope’s fraud is that it’ll only hasten the very process he and his henchmen rail against.  I say this in full seriousness: the Pope is a godsend to secularists everywhere (and, well, pretty much anyone else who abhors the Catholic Church, which includes a sizable number of fellow Christians too).  It’s not simply his knack for offending anyone and everyone, but the clear fact he’s woefully inadequate to face the mounting challenges confronting his faith.  It’s hard to differentiate the actions this Pope and his lackeys have taken from those of someone who would actively sabotage it:

Claim the mantle of victimhood while your criminal activities are exposed – Check

Hide behind dubious grants of sovereignty – Check

Blame your troubles on invisible nefarious forces – Check

Insult the very hosts who are paying for your jaunt to their country – Check

The cumulative effect of all this just confirms one of the bylines of the so-called new atheism: religion poisons everything.  In a time when the entire edifice of faith has come under increasing scrutiny, thanks in no small part to the Four Horsemen, the last thing religion needs is a prominent liar for Jesus.  A few decades ago, the damage might have been mostly confined to within Catholicism, but I think people are beginning to agree with us skeptics that the mendacity is the inevitable product of minds beholden to magic and faith, minds which largely dwell within a “demon-haunted world”.

I wish the Pope a long life to continue his crusade.

Theism renders existence unintelligable

I’ve heard many theists say that it takes a god to make sense out of existence.  To me, however, a god renders existence unintelligible, unpredictable, and chaotic.  Although my reasons I think trump those of the theist’s, they do not in and of themselves serve as basis for rejecting god-belief.  After all, a life of confusion may have been the intention of a god all along, as a test of our faith or a sign that our belief is justified (a possibility which I explored in a previous post).

The recent fifth-year anniversary of the tsunami that destroyed over 200,000 lives in Asia (a disproportionate number of whom were children), besides raising anew the problem of evil for theists, served as the catalyst for my thoughts.  In its wake, as is typical with any natural disaster, we heard from various believers of all stripes that their god had caused it as a form of punishment for…well, take your pick among a smorgasbord of reasons: failure to pray the required 5 times a day, abortion, immoral sexual practices of tourists, Swedish “hate crime laws” against the Gospel, etc.  Any one of those reasons could be true, or none of them, or all of them.  The point is, under theism, we would never know, because we’re dealing with a personality whose designs, goals, and plans are almost completely, if not wholly, hidden from us.  And it’s not just tsunamis or other natural disasters this pertains to, but to any event or occurrence.  Was it the will of the god that my mother got cancer?  That the plane crashed, but only two survived?  That I lost my job?  That the Lakers won?  “God is in control” is what the theists tell us.  Ok then, but to what extent?  Down to every last motion of every single atom?  The occasional miracle or smiting?  And what of the role other supernatural entities, like demons or djinns, play?  Theists cannot answer these questions with any sort of confidence.  Anything and everything could have a hidden hand behind it, for reasons we can only grasp at, like straws.  Such is the existential blindness theism inevitably leads.  No wonder believers are admonished to simply “Trust in the Lord.”  They have no choice.  Theism reduces us to puppets whose strings are invisible to us, in a show whose script we can only dimly perceive, if at all.

It wasn’t so long ago that the world was governed by the belief in divine fatalism; things were they way they were because that’s the way they were ordained.  Needless to say, the reasonable position to take in light of such a belief—nah, the duty— was obliging acceptance.  After all, who were you, puny mortal, to oppose your god’s will?  (More cunning individuals justified their actions as carrying out their god’s will).  Little wonder, then, that human progress advanced at a snail’s pace.  But when a few brave individuals began to propose completely natural explanations for life’s routines—essentially curtailing the hand of a god—did humanity make huge strides in its welfare and understanding.  This new paradigm has proved enormously beneficial for our species, but it has been largely resisted by theists, who correctly identify it as a threat to god-belief.  If our lives are what we make it, if we can control, direct, remedy, explain, or predict aspects of our existence through our own means, then our need for and dependence on a deity is rendered practically moot.

My lack of belief in god(s) doesn’t originate from the view they make life incomprehensible to me, or that believing in them hinders us as a species; that would be fallacious (argument from personal incredulity and argument from outrage, respectively).  Rather, I’m explaining why to some people, a god-belief does not help understand existence, but detracts from that understanding.

Why atheists cheer for gay marriage

The Washington Post reported recently on the fascinating results of a new poll showing a sharp turnaround in support for gay marriage nationwide.  For the first time, a majority -albeit a slim one-favors such marriages.  Three years ago, a strong majority rejected them.  Gays can thank those under 35 for the shift, among whom support has grown the most rapidly.  While political views tend to grow more conservative with age, gays can justifiably cheer over the news, which is but the latest in a series of favorable portents. (In the wake of Proposition 8’s passage in California last year outlawing gay marriage there, I saw reasons to remain optimistic, but did not believe a reversal in public opinion would be so swift).

Although gay marriage doesn’t touch most atheists directly, I know many follow its triumphs and setbacks like sports fans follow their favorite teams.  The reason I suspect is because opposition to gay marriage encapsulates like no other issue so many of the reasons why atheists reject religion and seek to diminish its influence in the public sphere.  First of all, there is the believer’s presumption that their bronze-age holy books contain some immutable, objective moral code – a code which for the most part they themselves either ignore or selectively apply.  Second, there is the inappropriate intrusion of the believer’s morality into the public policy.  If their religion disavows gay marriage, fine by me, but by what right do they proscribe it in secular law as well?  The logic of their stance is identical to that employed by the mullahs instituting Sharia law.  Third, there is the utter poverty of their arguments, such as the one claiming defense of “traditional marriage” (whatever that is), or the absurd one claiming that believers will experience a wave of persecution as a result of gay marriage.  Finally, there is the sheer hypocrisy of same-sex marriage’s most ardent foes, religions that loudly proclaim marriage is divinely ordained between one man and one woman only, while their Godly founders and “prophets” not only had multiple wives, but some who were barely teens, or even younger.

So gay marriage is a barometer of sorts for religion’s waning influence in areas it doesn’t belong.  Non-believers — as well as believers who firmly uphold the separation of church and state – can applaud to the extent the practice is defined as a civil rights issue, and not a “family values” issue.  Intolerant religious devotees will continue to wail and gnash their teeth as state-after-state legalizes the practice.  That’s fine by me.  They’ll only marginalize themselves and make it that much more difficult to press their faith-based views in other areas of public policy.  And we’ll all be better off for it.

A difficult question

I visited a Christian blog recently in which the author, Bill Muehlenberg, castigated Dr. Richard Dawkins for allegedly telling lies.  He framed this allegation by quoting Dostoevsky’s all-too-familiar canard which states, essentially, that absent God-belief, anything goes.  As Bill wrote,

Without God and immortality, the case for an objective, transcendent moral order is awfully hard to make. And therefore the case for moral obligation is difficult to sustain as well. If life is simply about survival, and the replication of genes, then things like morality in general and truth-telling in particular seem quite out of place.

I replied with a simple question:

You link Dr. Dawkins’ alleged lying with his lack of belief in God (citing the fiction writer Dostoevsky as an authority).  When theists lie, deliberately set out to misinform, and deceive, what is the cause?

Like most Christian blogs, the owner has comment moderation turned on (blog owner approval is required before a comment appears to everyone).  But despite a number of allowed comments posted later from others, mine remains “awaiting moderation.”

It’s not difficult to see why Bill has failed so far to open my reply to general viewing.  It places him in a quandary.  He cannot deny theists lie, deliberately set out to misinform, and deceive; they do that all the time.  He’d look extremely foolish, or a liar himself, doing so.  But if he identifies a cause for theistic immorality, it’s unlikely it wouldn’t apply to atheists as well.  He’d then have to acknowledge that non-belief is an insufficient explanation for immorality, which defeats the point of his post.

Not to mention a long-standing prejudice.

Why, as an atheist, am I moral?

I think one of the major reasons atheists are so distrusted or reviled is due to the widespread impression that we are “amoral.”  Theists are so used to having morality dictated to them that they cannot conceive how a person can be moral absent divine decrees.  This explains why they get themselves worked into such a fuss over displays of the Ten Commandments.

Copious evolutionary and sociological evidence that contradicts this impression seems ineffectual in changing it.  It appears to simply be an article of faith, immune to reason and rational analysis.

Pondering why this is so, it occurred to me that perhaps one reason why atheists have failed to make significant headway in dispelling the myth is because we don’t speak often enough of morality in personal terms, in ways that theists can relate due to our shared humanity.  Our arguments may be too abstract, too detached, and thus easily dismissed.

Consequently, I will explain some of the reasons why I, an atheist, act the way I do.  I only speak for myself, but it seems the reasons are actually widely shared, even among theists.  After all, millions of atheists go about their lives virtually indistinguishable from believers, who are alleged to possess the only logical foundation for their actions.  This is an anomaly which theists have a hard time accounting for within the framework of their theology.

Mostly, my actions boil down to application of the ethic of reciprocity, aka the Golden Rule, which is one of the oldest ethical principals known to man.  Its utility is obvious and elementary.  Our personal growth and enhancement typically depend on the cooperation of our fellow human beings.  Treating others as we like to be treated significantly increases the odds for successful cooperation.  Since I can’t predict when and where I’ll need such cooperation, it’s in my best interest to apply the ethic as widely as possible.  The ethic seems so essential for our well-being and advancement as a species, it appears to have evolutionary origins, as demonstrated by the fact that it’s been observed among chimps and even canines.

While the ethic of reciprocity encourages me to do good, empathy discourages me from doing ill, even when it appears advantageous to do so.  It’s difficult for me to even imagine inflicting pain on someone who’s done no harm to me.  I can no more do it than I can cut off my arm.  Once again, empathy is an emotion widely shared among different species.  Injuring those within a community has never been a successful method for promoting its long-term health and potential. 

There are a few individuals who have had an especially poignant impact on my life.  They’re people who’ve either been with me for much of my life’s journey or have touched it in a special and unique way.  These are people I love, and for them I’ll go any length to please or protect.  This is a pretty universal human behavior, existing long before any bronze-age books commanded them to do it.

Another motivation is hard to categorize, but it seems to be a timeless trait, one specific to humans alone.  Where it comes from, I don’t know, but it’s probably one of the most powerful forces we share.  I don’t know of any religion that celebrates it, however.  What am I talking about? The desire to advance the human cause.  Yes, there’s no agreement how to go about this; instead, we do what seems most reasonable to us as individuals.  For some, it may involve obtaining an advanced education and applying their considerable intellectual talents toward scientific, medical, artistic, or philosophical pursuits.  For others, it may involve raising children, who, it is hoped, exceed their parents.  Still others focus on improving the human condition, so that succeeding generations are better off than the ones before.

There’s really nothing special about any of the above.  Pretty much everyone on the planet can identify with most or all of them, and probably have a few more of their own.  While some may amenable to logical calculation, it is not a necessity to be a motivator.  So see?  There are plenty of sound reasons one is good without God.