Thursday, 24 July 2014

Charles Moore: 'Atheists Are So So Sad'

I've been sitting on this review of Nick Spencer's new book, Atheists: The Origin of the Species, by Charles Moore over at the Telegraph for awhile now and figured now's as good a time as any to unload it onto my beloved readers. I did, however, write a little about Michael Collins' review of the same book where I was actually more fascinated by a strange Christian admiration of Nietzsche and Camus.

The sad business of trying to disprove God

Well, let us now examine this new textbook quality screed against the New atheists together, shall we? Please feel free to take out any common tired chestnut bingo cards you may have -- I really ought to make some.

First off, the title, The sad business of trying to disprove God. Nobody is trying to disprove God in the general sense -- well, not people like Dawkins anyway. Although, it is possible to find internal inconsistencies with God theories when they are defined properly -- or at all -- which can disprove those Gods.

The really tough gods to disprove are the vast majority, which are so ill-defined as to be utterly meaningless. The cannot be addressed in any logical fashion and hence cannot be proven to exist in any substantial way. You can squint your eyes and make believe, but that is not basis of proof.

The burden of proof lies squarely on the shoulders of the theist. Dawkins, like many New Atheists have merely examined what proof he has found or has been given and is unconvinced.  It would be nice if Charles Moore would provide proof for God in this article, but instead we're left with the same chestnuts.

Chestnut: They're all emotionless, robotic, science, man nerds.

Moore starts out with a light stereotyping of the average teenage atheist, who is a male, nerdy science type with no knowledge of the arts whatsoever.
You often meet them for the first time at secondary school. The typical teenage atheist is more likely a boy than a girl, stronger on science than the arts, and at the high-ish end of the academic spectrum. He tells you that he has studied the nature of matter, the universe etc, and can prove that God does not exist.
The problem with this teenager and Moore's argument is he's failing to say which God is being shown not to exist. This archetypal teenager is making the same critical error as many theists who claim to be able to prove their god -- prove 'what' exactly? Who knows, not my job. How this teenager is an example of New Atheists is a mystery to me.

Chestnut: Religion cannot be studied by science.

Moore predictably pulls in non-overlapping magisteria and with a sort of smug omniscience, puts a boundary on the scientific enterprise. Apparently, science can have nothing to say about God -- it's verboten. This tool which has proven so useful in examining the evidence for any other truth claim out there is ill-equipped to deal with religion and I would have to agree. It's because any concrete claims religions out there have are so ill-defined or completely unfalsefiable that they seem to reduce to utter gibberish when examined under the critical eye of the scientific method -- that is, if they do not disintegrate utterly under the weight of their own internal logical inconsistencies first.

Like art, religion can be comforting, beautiful, inspiring and utterly nonsensical. Unlike art, religion does make truth claims which affect our physical world. Wherever it interfaces with the physical world it can be assessed by science.

Chestnut: Atheists are just rebelling against god/state/society.

Then we get that old idea that atheism is born from rebellion against authority. While in reality, it is nothing more than a non-belief in god. I would add that it is a rejection of a mostly nonsensical and ill-defined theory with about as many flavours as religionists.

Chestnut: Atheists are all smarty pants intellectuals elites.

We also find the canard that atheists are all smarty pant know-it-alls who believe theists are all dumb dumbs. I'll concede that some do and this is unfortunate. Still, the whole point of the Brights was to be a positive term for atheists, not to imply anything derogatory of believers.
In the current era of Richard Dawkins and the New Atheism, many atheists call themselves the “Brights”, pleased to make the rest of us out as dullards.
This is not the case and I would point out that there are quite a few theists out there who claim to know all the important answers, including what science is capable or not capable of doing.

Chestnut: Dawkins believes he's proved religion is hogwash and he's anti-woman and anti-poor(?) Moore's proof is? I suppose it's nothing more than an analogy.
Some atheists – Dawkins, Sigmund Freud, AJ Ayer – resemble, in essence, that clever young schoolboy. They believe they have brilliantly proved religion to be a load of hogwash. In their minds, it seems an advantage that their creed does not appeal as much to women or the poor and ignorant. 
Chestnut: Once again, the curious Theist Cult of Nietzsche:
Indeed, Friedrich Nietzsche saw more deeply how European society’s moral order would collapse with the destruction of faith – but welcomed it.
Chestnut: Required reference to Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler, Lenin, etc.
People such as Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Hitler took up such thoughts with deadly enthusiasm.
Chestnut: New Atheism is an expression of anger.
Spencer believes that the New Atheism is an expression of anger at the curious phenomenon that all over the world, except among white Westerners, God is back.
Of course it's a reaction to theism! New atheism is just atheism that is not afraid to make itself heard. Point finale. Although atheists do have plenty to be angry about and there is nothing whatsoever wrong with this anger.

But here's a particularly new charge that I've yet to see until now.
This leads to the question: “Is atheism parasitic on religion?” There is something unsatisfactory about building your thought around an anti-faith. Some atheists – amusingly catalogued here – have noticed this, and set up Cults of Reason, secular societies and atheist chapels, trying, rather unsuccessfully, to reproduce the communal creativity of faith. Hamlet says: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Any imaginative atheist must sometimes be troubled by this thought, and worry that his ideas are so dependent on the very thing he opposes.
What the hell?

No, actually there is something wholly satisfactory about not building my thought around faith! I was fundamentally unhappy and dissatisfied during my religious days when I would examine the tenets and have them all fall apart utterly under with the slightest inspection. It was sad days wandering about from religion to religion looking for one that made the slightest bit of sense and could stand up to even a modicum of examination. I would find a new one and it would unravel into absurdity the longer I would test it.
... Cults of Reason, secular societies and atheist chapels, trying, rather unsuccessfully, to reproduce the communal creativity of faith.
No, actually there is something to be said for not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. This is a reflection of the human need for community as well as the recognition that the only way atheists can ever hope to be heard in the public sphere is by banding together into groups.
Hamlet says: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Any imaginative atheist must sometimes be troubled by this thought, and worry that his ideas are so dependent on the very thing he opposes.
How utterly ironic of Moore to tell atheists that they ought to be troubled by there being more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy! Set the Bible, a Bronze Age book with talking bushes next to either Cosmos series to start. If these things are beyond this book, then perhaps someone could share the details so they can be properly studies. I'm willing to learn.

Because I'm wholly unimpressed with what I've read in the Bible or Quran.

Chestnut: Atheists cannot possibly understand Love, because only love can believe the Resurrection. Whatever the hell that means, it certainly sounds rather dehumanizing, doesn't it? This one hurts the most.

Toronto Book Launch: Carolyn Hyppolite's "Still Small Voices"

Last week, Canadian author Carolyn Hyppolite was nice enough to send me a copy of her new book Still Small Voices: The Testimony of a Born Again Atheist. I'm just on page 50 but I'm already fascinated by her story. It recounts the story of a black woman grappling with faith -- coming to grips with her own irrational and ultimately unsatisfying reliance on religion. It's very much about a struggle between what's comforting and what's real. You can read more on the book's website.
Still Small Voices is a frank, personal account of a young woman’s struggle to have a personal relationship with Jesus and the freedom she discovered when she gave up on God. This book is a mixture of personal testimony, analysis and arguments. In her reflection, she recounts stories of particular moments during her eight year experience as a Christian when she found herself hearing another “still small voice,” the voice of reason, which constantly whispered that something about the Biblical worldview does not add up. Throughout the book, she records her efforts to ignore and suppress that voice and how ultimately, she had to relent. 
A full review is on its way as soon as I finish the book but until then, if you're in the Toronto area, why not drop by the book launch, tomorrow? It's being hosted by the CFI.

Date: Friday 25 July 2014
Time: 7-9pm
Location: At the new CFI Canada Office
55 Eglinton Avenue East
Suite #307
By Yonge and Eglinton
Free admission.

How A Moroccan Atheist Deals With Ramadan

Moroccan chicken, vegetables and couscous is one of my favourite things. (source)
There is an excellent interview in Morocco World News with an anonymous atheist who explains how he and other atheists in the country cope with Ramadan. This comes just a couple of weeks after another news story about atheists in Muslim countries who face jail time for not going along with state enforced fasting and abstinence. So there is at least an encouraging increase of discussion about atheism in the media in Muslim countries.

Interview: Moroccan Atheist Reveals How He Spends Ramadan

First off, this is not a joke. The Moroccan Penal Code specifies that eating in public during Ramadan, during daylight hours, can bring up up to six months in jail and a significant fine.

The interview is with Karim El Quamch (probably not real name). He describes Ramadan as "a period of agony and torture at all levels, physical and psychological." He points out the possible issues with starving oneself during the day while altering one's sleeping patterns in the night.

He describes the trouble he has to go through to avoid offending his family members and perhaps even go to jail. At this time, his family suspects nothing of his secret atheism.

He sleeps through a good part of the day to avoid the agony of fasting for something he has no belief in whatsoever -- or in other words, a theocratic imposition onto his own freedoms from religion.
“I go to bed at 6 or 7 a.m to kill time…usually that’s the best period to work in Ramadan because during the night all members of my family are asleep after dawn…thus I can eat and smoke while working without worries of being caught up.”

He goes on to add, “I wake up around 2 or 3 p.m..and I go outside to buy some food to eat… Eating and drinking happens inside my locked room. I always try to make sure that cigarette smells don’t escape from under the door using simple techniques.”
Remember, Karim is not a child. He is 36 years old yet the government is treating him like a mere boy. He is forced to hide in his room to eat -- not only by his family but by the State! This is a degrading human rights violation.

The article surprisingly doesn't go into any of that -- and we don't hear the Office of Religious Freedom bringing this up either. However, a Muslim commentor, Yassin Moutaouakil, apparently hailing from Université Mohamed V Rabat -Souissi, did come to Karim's defense, which I found encouraging.
Karim, I declare my solidarity with you. I respect you, though I am a muslim, who fast Ramadan. But, it us unfair that you have to memic following the beliefs of this damned society.
i don’t think any majority-islamic country allows freedom from and of religion. you can’t be an atheist in these nations. that means the entire religion is that way. pray to my god or die. wow, what a choice.
Well, there is hope in the next generation after all.