Showing posts with label atheism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label atheism. Show all posts

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Damon Linker: Atheism Cannot Explain Self-Sacrifice

 
Feeling energetic this Sunday morning? Well, Damon Linker is at it again. After telling us atheists how we can be honest about how miserable and self-loathing we're suppose to be, he's now reminding us that atheism doesn't have the upper hand over religion. You know, like it's all a big popularity contest anyway.

Why atheism doesn't have the upper hand over religion
"There are certain experiences that atheism simply cannot explain"

First, let me get the initial paragraph out of my system.
In my last column, I examined some of the challenges facing religion today. Those challenges are serious. But that doesn't mean that atheism has the upper hand. On the contrary, as I've argued many times before, atheism in its currently fashionable form is an intellectual sham. As Exhibit 653, I give you Jerry Coyne's latest diatribe in The New Republic, which amounts to a little more than an inadvertent confession that he's incapable of following a philosophical argument.
It would appear that I, Jerry Coyne (exhibit nº 653), all atheists who open their mouths against superstition, and a large swath of scientists everywhere are all duped by this intellectual sham. Or so says Linker, who, I'm sure, understands these things better than all of us. We're just not smart enough to grasp the wafer thin and ever so intricately subtle philosophical arguments which undeniably show Linker's deity exists. We've been unconvinced for hundreds of years. Indeed we must be very dim.

I would just chuckle about this and leave it there, but Linker goes a step further here.
The fact is that there are specific human experiences that atheism in any form simply cannot explain or account for. One of those experiences is radical sacrifice — and the feelings it elicits in us.
Maybe I'm reading between the lines here, but it seems like Linker is saying that self-sacrifice really relies on Christianity - somehow, hanging by some kind of philosophical thread thingy. Well, I guess he's right. Sacrifice is a Christian trait that was somehow vacant from us before Christianity came along. Just take a look at other mammals, I'm certain mommy moles would have never defended her young to her death before Jesus.

What a load of hooey. I would suggest that Linker cut through some of his mumbo jumbo and have a frank discussion with the soldiers over at the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers about self-sacrifice and how it is Christianity that truly compels one to lay down their lives for fellow soldiers and country.

Linker demands an explanation for human behaviour. Can Science explain it?
Pick your favorite non-theistic theory: Rational choice and other economically based accounts hold that people act to benefit themselves in everything they do. From that standpoint, Vander Woude — like the self-sacrificing soldier or firefighter — was a fool who incomprehensibly placed the good of another ahead of his own.
Newsflash: atheism is the non-belief in any gods. Of course it doesn't explain empathy and self sacrifice. These are two completely different and unrelated questions: Is there a God? and Why do mammals self-sacrifice? How is this so unclear? Why is this so difficult? A lack of an explanation does not prove religion or God.

Oh, and who has time to pick their favourite non-theistic theory? People feel compassion for others, this is Humanism. It's part of being human. This happens naturally because it works. People who must rationalize this constantly frighten me a little.
Other atheistic theories similarly deny the possibility of genuine altruism, reject the possibility of free will, or else, like some forms of evolutionary psychology, posit that when people sacrifice themselves for others (especially, as in the Vander Woude case, for their offspring) they do so in order to strengthen kinship ties, and in so doing maximize the spread of their genes throughout the gene pool.
Altruism, in its purest sense, is unlikely to be 100% detrimental to the one doing the altruism - or them passing their genes on. And don't get me started about free will, which I do subscribe to as compatibilism. Free will is free within the very real limitations of our own bodies which are machines bound to physical needs and brain processes.

Linker seems to attribute some kind of goal or motivation necessary for evolution. There is no motivation here. Nobody is doing anything to spread their genes through the gene pool. It just so happens that some behaviours have resulted in this outcome more than others. That's it really.

And just when I thought, perhaps, he got evolution above, we get this.
But of course, as someone with Down syndrome, Vander Woude's son is probably sterile and possesses defective genes that, judged from a purely evolutionary standpoint, deserve to die off anyway. So Vander Woude's sacrifice of himself seems to make him, once again, a fool.
There is no deserve when it comes to natural selection. It's perfectly possible for someone with Down syndrome to pass on their genes. I'm often left speechless at just how much contempt folk like Linker have for evolution driven by natural selection. This is how things work on a daily basis.

Look, life is not fair. Truly, can we not all see this with our own eyes? To help those in need is a human trait that has had the effect of softening the blow of a heartless and mindless reality which cares not for what is right or wrong. The ability to feel empathy for others and the revulsion we feel when justice is undermined are evolved traits that have proven very useful for us as a species. They have gotten us to where we are now and they are essential for us to save ourselves on this planet with a short term sacrifices needed for long term survival in a climate the grows more fierce.
But why is that? What is it about the story of a man who willingly embraces a revolting, horrifying death in order to save his son that moves us to tears? Why does it seem somehow, like a beautiful painting or piece of music, a fleeting glimpse of perfection in an imperfect world? 
I suppose it seems this way to Linker. To me it seems utterly tragic. The father's behaviour is commendable and worthy indeed, but I would never call it beautiful.
I'd say that only theism offers an adequate explanation — and that Christianity might do the best job of all. 
Okay! Let's see this explanation then! It must be really good because Science is still working on it with fields like evolutionary ethics.
Christianity teaches that the creator of the universe became incarnate as a human being, taught humanity (through carefully constructed lessons and examples of his own behavior) how to become like God, and then allowed himself to be unjustly tried, convicted, punished, and killed in the most painful and humiliating manner possible — all as an act of gratuitous love for the very people who did the deed.
Well that sounds fucking insane. Proof for creator, please? Proof for diving incarnation, please?

It turns out today is Easter Sunday. On it some celebrate the Son of God (who is also his own father) who allowed himself to be nailed to a tree.  He did this to appease himself because he was very angry at humans. Apparently God is into self-destructive behaviour.

God went through all this pain and suffering so he could forgive human transgressions of his many laws - some of which are rather silly and even Christians no longer follow them. Naturally, his divine mind would have foreseen all this. With complete foreknowledge,  he crafted humans who were indeed perfectly free but were too weak and stupid to control themselves so they deserved eternal torment. They were perfectly free to go through all the motions God had already seen for himself. They were free to dance - at the end of strings.

What sane being would have to torture and murder himself, go live with Lucifer for a couple of days and pop back up and sit at his own right hand so he can feel better with himself for not eternally punishing the human race for being unable to properly behave? What being could ever be so melodramatic? Well, no being we've ever reliably detected so far; thank goodness for that!

Of course, none of it makes any sense at all. Vander Woude was better than his God because unlike Yahweh, Woude was human.

If Vander Woude were like God, he would have personally thrown his son down the well. He would have declared that his son deserved it - perhaps because he was disabled. Unlike the tragedy that did occur, Woude would have remained dead for only two days and would have risen on the third unscathed. He would have then demanded that his son bow down to him and worship him so that he may continue to pad his ego into eternity without end.

Someone needs to tell Linker that atheism means lack of belief in gods. A system like his own Christianity possesses a great deal of baggage that can be examined, critiqued or attacked. Christianity is making a positive truth claim. Perhaps he should identify more substantial movements like secular Humanism when launching attacks.

Otherwise, it just looks like that old Christian habit of building atheism into a tall straw man.

Friday, 11 April 2014

About the FL Atheist who attacked his roommate with a butter knife...

Gustav Potthoff, 51, has had a history erratic behaviour which suggests mental illness (image source)
So it's impossible to avoid. All over the Internet we have reports of a man, Gustav Potthoff, who clearly has some serious mental health problems - perhaps schizophrenia? - and they've all latched on to one detail: he's an atheist.

Atheist Attacks Roommate He Thinks Is Jesus: Cops
Gustav Potthoff has a cross to bear: He's a self-proclaimed atheist accused of attacking his roommate whom he thought was Jesus.  
As such, he believes that only an atheist attorney can defend him properly.
Oh come on. Does anyone actually believe this has anything to do with religion?

Let's back up. Can anyone spot the ridiculous contradictions in this very headline? I know many atheists who believe that a guy called Jesus existed a couple of thousand years ago around the Palestine area. Sure, it's possible, but none of them I know believe he's the son of God because there is no God. So he was just this guy - a human like any other. Potthoff's belief places him squarely into woo territory.

Furthermore, Potthoff would need to believe that the Jesus exists still in present day - supernaturally? Aliens dropped Jesus off in a UFO maybe? A Jesus Tardis? This poor man is clearly not well. Some stories also fail to report that he's behaved erratically in the past as well.
Last May, he was arrested for calling the Secret Service with a fake bomb threat, according to a police report dated May 2, 2013. 
He told police he made that threat because he felt people, mainly family and attorneys, would not leave him alone. 
I don't think he requires an atheist defense attorney - although it certainly wouldn't hurt either. He most urgently requires a psychological evaluation.

I haven't read much about this story in the atheist blogosphere yet. It's possible, I suppose, that some people may try to distance themselves and atheism from Potthoff - claiming that his apparent thin grip on reality along with his apparently belief in a guy called Jesus possessing magical time travel abilities render his claims to being an atheist invalid.

Well, if he says he doesn't believe in a god, then he's an atheist. I'll own this fact the same way Muslims and Christians need to own those dangerous people who share their faith - most often in purer more fundamentalist ways. Yes, it's odd that he believes in Jesus but, in his current apparent state, I'll forgive this apparently compartmentalization with the son of God existing and God not existing - assuming his idea of Jesus is an orthodox one that actually has something to do with God. Who knows? and it doesn't have to make sense either.

So, this man appears to be one sick and paranoid person who happens also to be an atheist. It wasn't his lack of belief in a god that triggered his violence. If I were a betting man, I would say it's a serious condition that causes paranoia and fear inducing delusions. I hope he gets the help he needs and not just a jail cell.

Can we move on now please?

Sunday, 23 March 2014

How a Templeton Prize Winner Sees Atheism: Essay One

(source)
Last week, I read a short series of very small essays by the latest Templeton Prize winner, Tomáš Halík. I find it fascinating to read pieces like this, they give me an insight on how even very intelligent Christians misunderstand atheism.

Why Have You Forsaken Me? Five Theses on Faith and Atheism

Halík has been praised for his soft, gentle touch - much like Pope Francis. He's also rather wily.

Since time is a rare commodity for me these days, I'll start out here with a couple comments about his first essay. I'll follow up with more if the Muse moves me.

He begins the first essay by pointing out a curious commonality between Abrahamic religions and atheism - they are both not polytheisms. Isn't that sort of clever?

Although, I might raise my eyebrow at such a statement when considering the fervent Catholic devotion to Mary and the Saints, I do admit that monotheism in general has nicely consolidated the multiple gods of antiquity into a single godhead. It's just that atheists like me go one step further and abandon belief in this single god.

Yes, we both do not believe in the real existence of multiple gods but atheists do not believe in the Christian god for the very same reasons. There is no special pleading there.

Which brings me back to Halík who makes it clear that his god is, of course, nothing like some uber version of the gods of pantheist faiths - ancient of modern.
It is very important to recognize that our God is not merely one exemplar of a group of beings called "gods." ...
Sounds good! Whereas Minerva or Durga may be discrete expressions of some kind of numenus out there, this Christian god is much more. So what is it?
He is a great Mystery. Sometimes I find myself agreeing with atheists when they say there is no God, if by that they mean there is not a God who is "a thing among other things." In this they are correct.
Or, in other words, he is even less well-described then these gods of old. Halík's god is not a thing, which makes it pretty damn hard to defined, describe, investigate or prove. Upon reading this, I was pretty let down.
That is why I like to begin my dialogues with atheists with the question, "What does this God, in whom you do not believe, look like?" ...
Do you see what happened here? Halík just ducked any responsibility to define the God he believes in by waiving his hand about and calling it a Mystery - which is no description at all! It is not my job as an atheist to define God, it is up to the theist to describe his god so that he may prove it to me - or at least persuade me.
... and sometimes, after my partner in dialogue tells me about his image of God - as a heavenly policeman or a big daddy behind the scenes of our world - I say, "Thank God you do not believe in such a God! I don't believe in such a God either."
Hey, wait a minute! Isn't that my job as the atheist?

I find this so hilarious. Haliík's amazing schtick  - within the confines of this article at least- is to admit he has no idea about God and that he cannot describe him and so asks the atheist to define God for him; which he admits, more or less, is an impossible task.

Brilliant! No wonder he won the prize.

He then brings out the common religionist definition of materialism: a souless, vaccuous, empty world with no meaning. How could it have any meaning without God? Halík's imagined dialogue partner calls this the something beyond us.
People believe that there must be something, even though they will not call it "God." And this is a challenge for the theologian, to continue this dialogue and to interpret this "something."
Many atheists would tell you need not mean a god or anything supernatural at all. It can mean the humanity in humanism - the energy a group makes in song and dance at a Sunday Assembly or even working at a soup kitchen.

Then there is the thrill that runs down the spine when one contemplates their ultimate smallness compared to the Cosmos.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Count Words! Make Graphs!


A couple of weeks ago, I read Douglas Todd's short post about a new linguistic analysis study. It compared the frequency of certainty words in New Atheist books versus fundamentalist Christian books (read: religious extremists).

I sat on this for awhile. It was one of those posts that started a lot of conversation in my head but I didn't really quite know how to react to it.

Famous atheists more ‘certain’ than religious extremists: Study

So I guess that's sort of interesting. It reminds me a bit of the Twitter study that was done awhile back that seemed to show that Christians were happier than atheists (or at least pretended to be so on Twitter). I remain dubious about how useful a statistical survey is when determining the degree of certainty in one's language.

Douglas Todd, on the other hand, is all for this. He even calls the researcher a wise American psychologist. This surprises me coming from a man who writes for a living. Surely he must realise the nuances of language which make it a challenge to write and be properly understood. Imagine a computer program being able to understand the written word properly? What a challenge that must be.

As far as I can tell, a certain Prof. Jonathan Haidt at NYU-Stern School of Business used a linguistics computer program, Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC), to analyse the frequency of phrases that convey certainty in books by both religious extremists (e.g. Glenn Beck) and non-religious extremists (e.g. Sam Harris). He apparently did this because New Atheist books sounded angry and their level of certainty seemed higher than within scientific writing (which is not surprising)
I analyzed Glenn Beck’s Common Sense, Sean Hannity’s Deliver Us from Evil, and Anne Coulter’s Treason. (I chose the book for each author that had received the most comments on Amazon.) 
As you can see in the graph, the New Atheists win the “certainty” competition.
Of the 75,000 words in The End of Faith, 2.24% of them connote or are associated with certainty. (I also analyzed The Moral Landscape—it came out at 2.34%.)
Graph from Haidt's article here.

Also note that it's probably not such a good idea to choose the books with the most Amazon comments for each author. It's possible these might be the most charged up out of all of their books. A better approach would be to select several or all books from each author.

Anyway, all this is quite interesting in its own way. From my Computer Science background, it seems to me like this program is just trying to pluck out common phrases from a dictionary from the texts. I just don't see how this can bring our meaning or context. I guess the writing style can bring forth personality traits from the author - or writing style but who's to say that what's in the books isn't affected by how they codify their meaning in print or what the publishers encouraged them to modify their language to?

This same text with a high degree of certainty could also very well be the most understandable and economical fashion to convey the point. This is how textbooks work - they are laced with certainty. What a bunch of dogma and fundamentalism.

Also, from a publisher/editorial point of view, I may be more likely to promote crisp, confident and certain sounding language than weasely doubtful language. If these books are meant to arouse passions of activism (eg. Greta Christina's Why Are You Atheists So Angry?) or stir emotions of wonder or awe at the universe or science, words of doubt or concession are hardly apt.

Furthermore, it is ultimately up to the reader to analyse what the author believes and decide for themselves.

So, what am I supposed to do with this information? What is Todd trying to say here? What's he trying to prove with all this? Going back to the beginning:
Who is more rigid in their thinking — atheists or religious fundamentalists? 
It’s often said that Christian, Muslim and other religious fundamentalists are very “certain” in their beliefs. Another term for this is  dogmatic.
Has some kind of point been horribly missed here? Who cares which group is very certain? How does this relate at all to the validity of the truth claims? Not one jot, that's what.

Facts and reality is not a popularity contest. You could be the world's most obnoxiously certain person and still be 100% correct. You could be a Dr. House or a Sherlock Holmes. You could also have an open mind but lot leave it so open your brain falls out!

Look, nothing is 100% certain, but once something reaches a threshold level, you can begin to use the certain language. Questions like does a narrowly defined fundamentalist Christian god exist? or is evolution true? are certain nos. In fact, the sillier the religious belief, the higher the degree of certainty it's false and the stronger the language admonishing the ridiculousness is appropriate.

Todd ends his work by letting us know that not all atheists are so closed minded. He links to his piece on Albert Camus, where he sings praises for the 20th century existentialist who could accept very little as true. You'll find my response to that here.

Todd wrote:
For me, Camus stood out from more celebrated atheists, including Jean-Paul Sartre. And, in his humility, Camus remains in a different class entirely from today’s know-it-all atheists, such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.
Now I know why Todd called Haidt a wise American psychologist. He was looking for someone to confirm his personal bias against know-it-all atheists.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

How Dare Mean Atheists Disrespect Everyone Elses Beliefs! Fundamentalists!

(source)
So, Diane Bederman, who has in the past come to Rex Murphy's defence against those whiny atheists and then sounded a tad whiny herself when she accused atheists of ruining Christmas (with all their poo-pooing of Christians for believing what an old book told them), is back again.

This time, she's talking about how mean atheists are always making fun of religious beliefs and challenging them. She also covers how people who actually believe they are right and question the beliefs of others are uncouth fundamentalists. Challenging the beliefs of others disrupts social cohesion and is totally not cool when everyone's got their own truths and they're all good.

She also talks about how all this ridiculing can lead to persecution, USSR, Communism and how all this God unbelief leads to much death. Because it was the atheism that lead to those disasters, not rampant corruption, obsession with power and religious devotion to The Party.

Oh let's not forget Mr Putin and his chumminess with the Russian Orthodox Church that has led to all manner of human rights violations. Or Nigeria. Or Uganda. Truly, those must be exceptions to the rule.

Incidentally, to illustrate her point on this, she provides a link to a definition of  militant atheists from Conservapedia. Conservapedia is the Trustworthy Encyclopedia that has a fascinating and oh so scientific article linking obesity to atheism.

The One Thing Atheists and Fundamentalists Have in Common

Let's just cut to the conclusion for now.
... It's the idea that it's considered acceptable, even fashionable to attack people who believe in God because in the eyes of atheists, there's something wrong with us. It's just as objectionable as proselytizing a particular religious belief. 
Let's all agree to respect the beliefs (theist, deist, atheist, agnostic) of others, as long as those beliefs are compatible with Western Culture.
In general,  New Atheists are not attacking people who believe in God. However, I've seen it happen here and there. It depends on the particular manifestation of religion in question and what Bederman means by attack.

If someone believes crazy things for which there is no evidence whatsoever, it's possible there is something wrong with the person. Much of religion is completely irrational and ridiculous so this makes sense. However, I believe that the majority of cases are simply a lack of knowledge of metaphysical positions outside of their own. This ignorance could be unintentional or deliberately nurtured from a desire to cloister oneself away and blot out anything having to do with the secular world. 

One thing's for sure. It is wrong to confuse questioning and ridiculing of one's unfounded beliefs and theories with an attack on the person - no matter how deeply held these beliefs are. At some level, we all likely believe some amount of whacky stuff. The trick is to get over the fear and defensiveness associated with open questioning and examination of your beliefs so you can cut out the crap.

Furthermore, whether it's considered acceptable or fashionable is purely secondary in this matter. One's rights are not curtailed by whether what they're saying is in some religious person's realm of good taste.

And look, who says there is anything objectionable with people proselytizing their beliefs? If one really believes that I am hell-bound for my lack of belief, is it not reasonable for them to do everything in their power to save me? I would expect nothing less. The same could be said for atheists who see religious people as utterly deluded. Who wants people living their lives and affecting other people's lives based on lies?

That said, because of competing views, a functional society must set limits. The Mormon at my door has the right to knock on it and annoy me and I have the right to send him away or lock the gate.

At base, a healthy public square is a space where ideas and arguments are free to be expressed and criticized with other ideas and arguments. No idea should be elevated above others artificially. Those who subscribe to a particular idea do not have the right to suppress others who question or ridicule them.

People have rights. Ideas do not.
Let's all agree to respect the beliefs (theist, deist, atheist, agnostic) of others, as long as those beliefs are compatible with Western Culture.
No, let's not. Beliefs - as truth claims - are either true or false and aesthetically they can come in various shades that have no impact on their truth.

I have little respect for the beliefs of parents, for example, that use their religious beliefs to withhold life saving medical treatment for their children. I have no respect for their beliefs nor do I have any respect for them:
Telling another or even suggesting that their way of believing is wrong is to attack their identity, their very essence.
Which makes placing your very identity into a belief that's patently wrong or ridiculous even more tragic.

By the way, I also have no respect for the belief that a man rose from the dead and is now sitting at his own right hand.

Finally, what is this Western Culture litmus test and where do we draw the line? Like the Bible, Western Culture contains a broad spectrum of beliefs that can be picked from at will. It's really a rather meaningless statement.

Speaking of meaningless statements, after quoting Bill Maher, who said that people who believe in a magic spaceman have a neurological disorder and need help, she responds.
I'm looking forward to Maher's retort to Matthew McConaughey's Best Actor Oscar acceptance speech: 
"First off, I want to thank God, 'cause that's who I look up to. He's graced my life with opportunities that I know is not of my hand or any other human hand. He has shown me that it's a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates."
What does this even mean? So, Matthew McConaughey also believes in a magical spaceman. Yes, people who are religious are able to succeed and thrive. So? He's still wrong and his belief is still ridiculous. 

Is it because he's an actor? Tom Cruise is a very successful actor and he believes in Thetans, e-meters and ancient atomic bombs blowing up volcanoes. What is the point here?

She goes on to speak about Dawkins.
He encourages people to not only challenge religious people but to "ridicule and show contempt" for their doctrines and sacraments. 
How liberal, how open-minded of him.
Notice how he's advising to ridicule the doctrines and sacraments who feel no pain. 

So what could be more liberal and open-minded than this? Imagine a world where no idea is too sacred or taboo not to be challenged; a world where people cannot be silenced by threat of breaking the feelings of those who are not themselves strong or brave enough to critically examine their beliefs.

In the end, what's more important? Finding out the truth and making decisions based on scientific facts or keeping our warm and fuzzy feelings?

I respect your right to express your beliefs and you should respect mine, no matter how sad it makes you when I disagree or laugh out loud.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Atheists Shouldn't Call Religion A Mental Illness: Chris Stedman

"Well, you're cray cray!" (source)

Chris Stedman has published a thought-provoking and no doubt controversial post in the Religious News Service.

5 reasons atheists shouldn’t call religion a mental illness
It seems clear to me that religion isn’t a form of mental illness, and that calling it one reflects a shallow understanding of both mental illness and religion—or, worse still, a knowing attempt to use mental illness as an insult.
Go read it, a couple of times. Like me, you could very well get annoyed at it. Now read it again.

I cannot say I agree with all of it, but I am still thinking it over. It's quite thought-provoking.

Anyway, my first reaction -- like most atheists, I think -- was to angrily dismiss all this as some kind of underhanded attempt to shield religion. When I see people behaving in a completely crazy irrational way, my brain often reaches for the C-word. That's just what it is. It's cray, okay?

I also felt like a very solid rhetorical tool was being threatened; that perhaps we were being asked to banish the obvious in some act of political correctness. 

The article referred to a Facebook post by American Atheists president David Silverman, whom I greatly admire. He is talking about a recent horrible act of religiously-motivated criminal negligence by Christian faith-healer parents that left their second child dead.
We must recognize religion as brainwashing. We must recognize the (hyper) religious as mentally damaged. We must take responsibility as a society, because we permit this to happen as a society. 
I completely agree with David and, if I hadn't read Stedman's article, the assignment of mentally damaged to the parents as being somehow inaccurate or even harmful to others with legitimate mental illness would have never even crossed my mind.

I thought about it though. Do mentally ill people out there deserve to be lumped in with people who are so deluded that they believe a magical man in the sky will come down and save their children from illness? Don't they have a hard enough time already without extra stigma?

Now take this excellent point by Sam Harris:
If you think that saying a few Latin words over your pancakes is going to turn them into the body of Elvis Presley, you have lost you mind, but you think more or less the same thing about a cracker and the body of Jesus, you are just a Catholic.
You see, I agree with this and I think it's a powerful demonstration of the sort of blind pass faith and religion get in our society.

Now, I don't think Chris Stedman is saying we should dispose of such arguments. You can take that last argument and substitute been deluded.

It all comes down to how accurate we wish to be when we throw around terms like crazy or mentally ill and I would be the first to admit that I sling these around like a pro. Basically, it means we should always do our best to think before we speak.

I'll cut to the point. I know people who suffer or have suffered with mental illness. I think it's much more common than people realize and I believe there is still a stigma associated with it. Some of these people do not believe in God or religion.

Furthermore, I myself believed in this religion stuff. Was I mentally ill? I would answer no (well at least not for that reason!). I was deluded, brain-washed and indoctrinated.

Now, some strong religious beliefs might cause enough trauma to result in some mental illness - PTSD for example. However, these are not the result of all religious beliefs. They can flow out of religious beliefs.

Don't get me wrong, please. This doesn't get religion off the hook. I still think it's dreadful and virus-like, impedes progress and, when implemented, can cause great harm. I just find myself agreeing with Chris here. It's not a mental illness (although it can trigger mental illness). And faith in particular, when understood as believing something for which there is no evidence, is delusional and can be dangerous, but it is not an illness.

After I thought about this, I came to this compromise when it comes to what I say or write. I will not use terms like mentally ill or mentally damaged unless I really mean it in the clinical sense of the word.

When it comes to terms like crazy or cray cray or insane or nutty or fruit-loops, I think these have enough grounding in colloquial speech that they can be kept. I am not diagnosing someone with a medical condition. I'll have no problem calling inanimate objects these things but will still think twice before using the terms to describe individuals or a group of people. If at all possible, I'll reserve these terms for the beliefs or ideas these people may have - their delusions.

The same goes for terms like lost your mind.  It's not in the same league as armchair diagnosing someone as mentally ill.

I'm not getting all preachy here. This is just for me. It's a little editorial meta.

What did you think of this article?

Sunday, 16 February 2014

My Reactions To Nicholas Frankovich's Comments



A long time ago, I wrote a post reacting to a piece by Nicholas Frankovich over at the National Review: Do Atheists Exist? I found the article about as irritating as anyone would if their own identity was being existentially challenged. Yes, it was pretty annoying.

Well, my post must have shown up in one of Nicholas' Google filters and he was kind enough to respond to my post in a comment. This is fantastic, by the way. I mean, I'm always really impressed when someone takes the time to leave a comment, especially someone who writes for the National Review.
Re religion and atheism: The definition of "religion" is disputed, even among scholars of religion. I don't attempt to define it in the article. I don't say that being morally or philosophically serious necessarily means one is "religious." I only note that it's a position that was argued by Dworkin, for example. It's also held by Ethical Culture Societies, which self-identify as a religion and are officially atheist (though emphatically not antitheist). 
If religion as you define it is bad, you'll reject the label, as many do (including some Christians). Dworkin and the Ethical Culture Societies define religion as good, and so they claim the label. That's all. 
It sounds like you're unfamiliar with Jurgen Habermas. Check him out. He's been prolific over the years, so no one except him (and not even him, given that he thinks a lot and so probably changes his mind about things now and then) will agree with all of it, but you might find in his writing some nuggets of insight that you value. 
Re atheism and sidestepping the mystery of Being itself: If you don't sidestep it, you're probably not an atheist, insofar as classical theism, commonly understood, is the response to that mystery. Are you sure that your experience of it is different from that of those who consider themselves theists? I'm not. 
The God of faith, the God of the philosophers: It's a longstanding distinction, and helpful. I gather that your identity as an atheist is based on your rejection of the God of faith. I'm not convinced that you reject the God of the philosophers, though it's clear that you reject the term "God" and the identification of the God of the philosophers with the God of faith.Re "nothing": The concept is problematic in mathematics, formal logic, and philosophy, for reasons that I touch on in the article. Heidegger's treatment of the question in "What Is Metaphysics?" is good, and I recommend it. 
A couple of corrections: 
Moses does not ask God why there is something rather than nothing. 
I say not that atheists are too quick to assume they've understood God but that they are too quick to assume they've understood someone who ventures to speak about the mystery of being. 
So, I'm by no means a theologian. And I'm sorry to say that although this response took a very long time, it's far from a masterpiece -- I spent much time avoiding it. In fact, it's really nothing more than a reaction to his comments. I guess it's no much more than one end of a conversation.

Anyway, I think his first point has to do with definitions and I think that, in a sense, Frankovich's original arguments rests primarily definitions of theism and atheism. More on this later.

Okay, I've never heard of Jürgen Habermas, but he sounds interesting enough. Still, I'd like to take this opportunity to vent a little about some of the Catholics with whom I converse. They all seem to be a well-read lot with rather ornate and complicated minds; with plenty of intricate folds which could be used to stash away difficult things. In other words, I mean this in a good way and a bad way too.

Several years ago, after my first wave of doubt, I settled into a sort of neo-pagan position and the very first Catholic I encountered then calmly told me I was dismissing a religion that I didn't properly understand. When I asked him to please clarify, he advised me to tolle lege my way through Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica. It was all there, I just had to read the whole thing, come up with arguments against them and demonstrate them. Well after I get through all that, wouldn't it be a shame if it were all a big waste of time.

An analogy. The Hindu, of course, could demand that I read all of the Vedas to discount Hinduism. Muslims could refer me to the Hadith.

More recently on the Catholic front, I have been prescribed Frank Sheed's Theology and Sanity by Catholic Blogger Stacy Transancos.  I went forth valiantly into the material and penetrated fairly deeply until mind recoiled in horror several times. Such warping and bending of the very fabric of reality in this work caused a sort of shock and awe to my intellect - which I was advised to put on pause when it came between me and believing.

Christianity is just not easy, apparently. Whenever I ask for straight answers I get sent off to many a long tome. After awhile, it sort of begins to feel like being led down a bunny trail.

In the end, it's really up to Christians to package the information in such a way that it is solid convincing evidence for the atheist. The burden of proof is on them and it seems like after 2,000 years of work, they still have a ways to go.

Editor's Note: Shortly after publishing (less than one day), I changed Catholic to Christian in the last two paragraphs.
Re atheism and sidestepping the mystery of Being itself: If you don't sidestep it, you're probably not an atheist, insofar as classical theism, commonly understood, is the response to that mystery. Are you sure that your experience of it is different from that of those who consider themselves theists? I'm not.
Again, a sort of definition game. because, apparently, theism is the response to the mystery of Being. No, I'm not sure that my experience, whatever that is supposed to mean, is different than those who consider themselves theists. I'm reasonably sure we experience being in similar ways but we have different ways of processing it.

Responding to mystery by feeling the wonder, awe and emotion but not slapping a God label on it is the intellectually honest response to that mystery.

When it comes to the god of the philosophers, I did consider myself a neoplatonist for some time. I read Plotinus and some of the others. Then I realized that the closer one went towards the monad, so to speak, the slimmer god got until it was hardly anything at all.

Too much ado about nothing. Nothing, for me, means nothing at all. In a sense, nothing can never exist because it doesn't exist. If I were to put my bets on the table, I would say that there is no nothing and as a God comes closer to this, he too disappears into oblivion.

Nicholas responded also to a reader, Fallulah, who asked what was meant by God of the Philosophers. To which Nicholas responded:
"What is the God of the philosophers"? Classical theism, based in ontology, the mystery of being. Forget labels ("atheism," "theism"), tribal loyalties (to atheism or theism), and semantics ("atheism" and "theism" again). 
The fact of being elicits wonder in you when you think about it slowly enough. It elicits wonder in me too. It elicits wonder in people who call themselves atheists and in those who call themselves theists. 
Over the centuries people have established linguistic conventions for naming the mystery of being, though no one can explain it. We can only point to it. 
If we're going to use the word "God," either to deny or to affirm it, let's define the term. If you're allergic to it, fine. We can call what it points to something else. It's not a proper name. It's only a label.
As I explain in my article. It's not that long. Tolle, lege. 
Why don't we stop trying to define God? Because it seems like this word has billions of subtly different definitions and we're no closer to knowing what it is. It seems like this word has so many meanings that it means nothing at all. Nothing can be pinned on it anymore.

Why not leave this wonder at the fabric of being as the awe that Carl Sagan spoke about? Isn't it amazing how both theists and atheists can agree on the compelling -- nay spiritual -- emotion of this mystery of why we're here and how we're here? The atheist may look to Science for explanations, spurred on by his feeling of wonder and excitement at the world, not unlike a child. While it seems like the theist must slap their God word on top;  a pointer which, as far as I can tell, means very little on its own... practically nothing.


Saturday, 15 February 2014

Canadian Office of Religious Freedom Defends Atheist Blogger!... Discreetly... Shhhhh...

Scientists are studying public signs of the support now and the search continues for any other mention of this on the ORF
website and across the Internet. (source)

The Toronto Star has a feature on Andrew Bennett and the newish Office of Religious Freedom.

LINK: Meet Canada’s defender of the faiths

Defender of the faiths? Well, coming from someone who would like to discourage faith - the belief in anything for no good reason - as much as possible, this title is not all that encouraging. But it turns out the Office does work to help religious people around the world. When it comes to helping people, I'm all for this!

That's why this section of the article, a challenge from Canadian Secular Alliance's Justin Trottier, caught my attention. Here he is making the case for my people who are being persecuted around the world for their lack of faith by those who do violence in the name of their faith.
“We’ve been pushing (the Office of Religious Freedom) to defend apostates who have left religion, people who are atheists in countries where they face the death penalty,” says Justin Trottier of the Canadian Secular Alliance. “Other than flowery language about their stand on atheism they haven’t done anything to back up their claims.”
I've brought this up many many times before. While Andrew Bennett has told us Canadians several times that it is also his mission to protect atheists across the world, I have seen zero actual press releases and official condemnation by the Office of the treatment of atheists around the world.

So then the article author throws in this statement by Bennett.
Bennett maintains that freedom from religion is also a human right to be defended, and he has spoken out for an atheist blogger in Kazakhstan.
Holy smokes! Really! This is huge! What did I miss?

Well, that's it. Just that. Not a single peep about this anywhere else on the ORF's website, anywhere. Google: nothing. 

I'm guessing he's here talking about Aleksandr Kharlamov, who's incarceration at a mental hospital for merely publicly saying he's an atheist drew the criticism from the ORF's US counterpart, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2013. 

As for the ORF? Well, apparently not in public; just behind closed doors.

Oh and, as far as I can tell, Kharlamov is still on trial for being a terrorist.

I find it interesting that this information should come out apparently purely in response to a CSA statement by Justin Trottier and not posted to the ORF's well-maintained media release page.

Or perhaps the ambassador is shy to speak out in public because of strong forces that keep the Conservatives in power?
“You have to see it as the Conservatives looking to build a winning coalition that can deliver a majority,” says Nik Nanos, president of Nanos Research. “I believe the strategy is to rely on the core support of fiscally conservative voters, and graft on top of that special issue and interest groups, which could be faith or culturally based.”
Yes, I can see how support of atheists might upset the base.

Look, I know diplomacy can probably be a very opaque thing. So who knows what the office may be doing in the background for imprisoned atheists?  However, it does seem interesting and frustrating to me that the Office has taken public stand after public stand - nearly weekly - against the persecution of the religious leaving atheists like me grabbing at microscopic crumbs of action like these.

I'm glad the Office is formally condemning awful abuses of human rights against religious people; don't get me wrong. But why is it that defending human rights violations against atheists seems to involve discreet whispers off camera and off record? Are we dirty goods?

Scientists have yet to confirm what exactly this last diplomatic move of support for atheists is. I seems small and mysterious; and the search goes on to discover others.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Columnist: "Why Atheist Church Is Dumb"


Rebecca Savastio over at the Las Vegas Guardian Express has a few words to say about atheist churches like the Sunday Assembly. Okay, she mostly has one thing to say about them.

Why Atheist Church Is Dumb
Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of notifications on my Facebook newsfeed about a new, dumb idea called “atheist church.” Every time I see it, I just shake my head in disgust. Atheist church is dumb, and here’s why.
What a minute. So what you're saying here is ...
First and foremost, atheist church is dumb because one of the best things about being an atheist is not having to get up on Sunday morning to go to church.
ATHEIST CHURCHES = DUMB 
Right! Got it! Well, you could just stop reading here, but why not test your perseverance?

A quick aside, since this article goes everywhere anyway. I have a four year old, so sleeping in until 1pm on any day is out unless the child dies unexpectedly. So scratch that for being one of the best things. Incidentally, Sunday Assembly's Sanderson Jones brought up that many of his churches provide some form of child care. Believe me, the next best thing to getting sleep on a Sunday morning is to have someone else look after your kids while you go into another room and have fun with other adults for a change.

As for piles of dirty laundry on Sunday mornings, I have memories of this sort of thing back when I was living in my university residence dorms and later on as a bachelor. I do fondly remember using the smell test more than once before embarking on the weekly trek to the laundromat. But these days, I own my own washer-dryer and tend to have clean clothes on hand. Although there is no Assembly in my town, I do believe I could be persuaded to put on a pair of jeans and t-shirt to venture off to meet other like-minded people and have a little fun. You know, that's what this is supposed to be?

Oh, and then she tops her dumbs with a duh. If we were at Sunday Assembly we could even sing!

Dumb... Dumb... Dumb.. Duh! 
Dumb... Dumb... Dumb.. DUH!

Right, so It's at this point that I begin to wonder if this piece is actually some kind of voodoo reverse psychology experiment to make Sunday Assembly look cool and those who eschew it look rather pathetic.

Listen, I can understand why some people may not be into the dorky or cheesy singing and clapping that seems to be involved with the Assembly -- although the last U2 concert I attended also had us all doing this as well, as do most concerts

It's really the odd sarcastic self-abasement that has me wondering whether the author is truly being sincere here. 
[attend a service] ...with a group of (most likely) well-educated people who are smarter than me an undoubtedly more charitable too. Why would I want to be surrounded by people who are better than me? I think I’ll stick to the self-esteem destroying power of Facebook, where the confidence busting happens virtually with no real human interaction required, thank you very much.
So long as these people are not condescending, one could learn something. But this sounds pretty sad to me. I'm sure it's meant to be self-deprecating humour, but it didn't work - at least as far as I can see.

And again.
Yeah, like I really want to watch some super accomplished guy who’s younger than me remind me that I’m not really doing much with my life. Ugh.
Playing on the whole self-esteem and self-conscious theme a little further, Rebecca points out that Christians may call us hypocrites for going to church and claiming we can be good without god. I sort of see her point there, a bit.  Some Christians may not realize that church is not the same thing as god and need not include god -- the whole point of the Sunday Assembly and similar churches.  But since when do we require the approval of Christians to have fun together on a Sunday? She links to this sorry video where the commentator calls atheists the R-word for wanting to get together and organize themselves.


Well at least she's citing her sources.

As for lack of diversity. Yes, I know. But these churches are no whiter than what we already know atheists and nones to be.

She then offers her most compelling reason for thinking the churches are dumb. I've been waiting for this. I'll quote it here in full.
Possibly the most compelling reason why atheist church is dumb is because it is so freaking embarrassing. It’s really dorky. I dread every time someone asks me about these atheist churches because I don’t want to be associated with the concept in any way, shape or form. What the heck do they do there, anyway? Congratulate each other? I don’t understand the purpose. Some say it’s for “community.” Why not spend time with your friends and neighbors? Why not bring the old lady down the street a casserole? Wouldn’t doing actual community building activities be more productive than sitting around patting other atheists on the back? Supposedly, the service includes “sing-alongs” (dorky) and “poetry” (ok) along with “trying to figure out life.” It sounds suspiciously like some weirdo 1960s Hippie commune mentality; and there’s a reason why that mentality never got anyone anywhere.
Just, wow. Yes, 'dumb' and 'dorky.' What's most compelling about this paragraph is the question what the heck do they do there anyway. Well, before you slam it, why don't you find out? And what's wrong with saying nice things to each other? And there is nothing wrong with casserolling people. And, according to Sanderson's interview, they are doing worthwhile things. I mean, more worthwhile perhaps than sleeping in until 1pm -- not that there is anything necessarily wrong with that.

I give up commenting about the rest of this article. I think I've made it far enough and it just goes down hill into over-generalizations and name calling (pushy vegans and naval-gazing intellectuals).

Anyway, please excuse the frenetic nature of this critique. After the introduction, no single point gets any more play than one  paragraph in this story. I must admit that I felt compelled to just slap bullet points in front of each paragraph and call the post 8 Reasons Atheist Churches Are Dumb. Alas, the point lurches to and fro so rapidly that I find myself suffering from a kind of acute cerebral whiplash. Or that could be my palm smacking against my forehead.

Look, I know a lot of atheists out there have problems with these godless church and offer their well thought out critiques. More power to them. In fact, the most common negative reaction to the Sunday Assembly by atheists has been declarations that it's just not for me and this is reasonable because it's not one size fits all. This is not meant to be some kind of Borg-like catholic church.

Rebecca, I think we get it. You think atheist churches are dumb. Feel free to sleep in on Sundays then and I'm certain the folks at Sunday Assembly and other similar organizations are perfectly cool with you giving their services a miss.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Pastor Justin Vollmar Comes Out as Atheist On Youtube In American Sign Language

From Justin Vollmar's Youtube vlog. (VirtualDeafChurch)
Now here's something unique that you don't see every day. Not only is Justin Vollmar a preacher who has revealed he's now an Atheist, but he came out using Sign Language on his blog at Youtube.

He is pastor at the Virtual Deaf Church and has been putting out videos in ASL for several years. Now he's joined the Clergy Project which has ballooned to over 550 members.
In this video, I am coming out of closet. I no longer believe in God. I am an Atheist now. This video explains my journey to doubt. This video is signed in American Sign Language. This video consists subtitles.
In the video he mentions:
“A profound wonderful change occurred in my life. My mind just completely shifted to the other side,” he said, noting that he could not allow himself to continue posting Bible-based videos. “After a long and mighty struggle, the answer finally became clear. This may shock you completely. Yes, I have become an atheist.”
Congratulations to Justin for this very brave act! Check out his video where he breaks the good news.


Thursday, 6 February 2014

Yes, We Can Be Frustrated by Theism Without Believing in God!

(source)

So John Pearrell, pastor at the Gateway Community Church, recently wrote a small essay in several online publications about how Christians shouldn't just pray to god when things get tough but rather every day. God is sort of like your mom, if you're not going to give her a call at least once or twice a month, don't go calling her when you need rent money! Things could get icy.

JOHN PEARRELL: Don't save God for emergencies; call on Him daily
One does not have to be incarcerated to experience one of these jailhouse conversions; one needs only to find themselves in some difficult situation and suddenly they are bargaining with God, who otherwise they totally ignore, making Him all sorts of promises, that as soon as the trouble is past, the promise will be forgotten.
Here he's talking about those religious who find themselves in grave situations, such as in a US prison, and suddenly find themselves bargaining with god. The same might be said for some situationally religious folk stuck in foxholes or adrift at sea for 13 months. When the going gets tough, those who do not regularly pray might make calls to God. I wonder what that says about their relationship with God? I mean really, people.

When I started reading this article, it looked like the usual sermon to the faithful about the utility and necessity of prayer and I wondered how it fell into my Google traps. Then I came across some rather profound misunderstandings about the atheist. I just know that when a broad diversity of people are reduced down to a single word that I should swallow my coffee before proceeding.
Then, there’s the atheist. Many atheists I know are a walking contradictions in terms. They claim they don’t believe in God, but as soon as something bad happens they spew venom about how a good God could allow such a thing. More often than not, it is this anger that has caused them to turn away from any belief in God.
This all boils down to that classic chestnut, how can you be angry at a being you say doesn't exist? Clever isn't it? Well, Pearrell anticipates some of the atheist responses to his silly question.
In fairness, I am sure my atheistic friends would respond to that by saying, “We’re not angry at a being, we’re angry that people like you promote such a being in the face of the pain and suffering that happens in this world!”
I like how he says atheistic friends. If he has such friends, then I suggest he ask them and get back to us about what they responded with. Because in general I'm not angry with people who promote a God who not only allows suffering via natural disasters and humans hurting other beings but also promotes suffering himself (e.g. hell).  I'm rather confused and frustrated that anyone could ever see such a god as worth worshipping.

But there's more than this. It's also perfectly plausible for a person to despise a non-existent god and be completely justified in doing so. This is because, much like fascism, racism, or self-loathing, god is, in essence, nothing more than a bad idea. It's a theory that, in the case of its Christian incarnation, self-contradicts and has been used to fuel a great deal of harm throughout history. It's perfectly right to be angry with such an idea as god and to be frustrated and, in some cases, angry with those who wish to foist this idea onto others.
Funny thing is I have never heard an atheist complain after a natural disaster that this just proves natural law does not exist. Furthermore, I have never heard anyone raise even a hint of complaint against Mother Nature after a natural disaster; the complaint is always leveled at God.
I have no idea what this means. No natural event has ever been demonstrated to disprove natural law. And by natural law I take it to mean non-supernatural events. In fact, scientists make their living at observing how the world works and so far not even a pinky finger of a supernatural god has been observed to interrupt all this Mother Nature business.

And I think we're mixing up different meanings of complain here. An atheist may complain that it's a very hot day or the flood just washed away his car, but he's not complaining to the weather or to the flood in any way where he expects it to hear or understand him. He may just be complaining to other humans. I'm Canadian and complain about the weather pretty much every day.

But it's also perfectly reasonable for an atheist to be saddened and feel negative emotion against the typhoon that killed a half million people or the twister that levelled his house. This is no different in kind to me bashing the (CRT) monitor on my computer when my program freezes up - although obviously more serious a problem. In the big picture, it's not very productive to yell at your car that refuses to start, but on some emotional level it could be cathartic and is a very human response.

In short, it's pretty normal to be upset with a lightning bolt for burning down you shed, but it's ridiculous to hold it responsible because there's simply not a brain there to be held accountable.

As for ragging on (the idea of) God rather than natural events. Think of it this way. If you were on a cruise ship and the toilets never worked, the food was awful, there were cannibal rats and you ended up adrift going to the wrong destination, who would you blame? Would you blame the boat itself? Would you blame the ocean? How about the laws of physics? Would you blame gravity or the biochemical reactions that caused the food to go rancid?

Of course not, you would blame the captain or even the cruise company. 

Of course, atheists see no proof of a universal captain so they don't blame him. But Christians claim that such a captain does exist in some capacity. They even claim to know how to communicate with him. 

Atheists like me find it frustrating that this belief could even exist given the obvious contradictions and wonder how anyone could ever be satisfied with the idea of such a being who apparently either causes suffering or stands idly by and lets it happen - human caused or naturally caused (acts of God, shall we say?).

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Atheism is an Offshoot of Deism Says Guardian Writer

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (source)
In an sort of ominously entitled Guardian series, How to believe, Theo Hobson, makes an interesting analysis of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and paints an even more "interesting" picture of atheism.

Atheism is an offshoot of deism

Apparently, atheism is not distinct from the deism of Rousseau because it inherits the semi-Christian assumptions of this creed.

I'm sure you can see where this is going. Sit tight and prepare yourself for yet another interesting definition of atheism given to us for free from a theologian . I'll start out with my definition of atheism though, which seems so utterly unsatisfying to Hobson or writers like Damon Linker, that they feel the need to add to the definition.
Atheist: One who does not believe in gods.
That's really it. Any other so-called extra attributes are simply that - they simply describe other beliefs or opinions the person has which could very well flow from their atheism but not essential. Atheism is just lack of belief in a god and I wish folks like Theo would simply accept this.
Atheism derives from religion? Surely it just says that no gods exist, that rationalism, or 'scientific naturalism', is to be preferred to any form of supernaturalism.
Actually, no. Let me stop you there. In the proper sense of the word, atheism does not assert that no gods exist. Atheism is a lack of belief in gods not the claim there are no gods. Now some atheists may take things a step further and proclaim there are no gods, but this is not a requirement for atheism.

Likewise, this bias towards rationalism and scientific naturalism over any supernaturalism is also quite common, but not required by any stretch. Many atheistic Buddhists do not believe in a god but they still cling to belief in an elaborate mechanism of universal justice in the form of reincarnation -- completely supernatural. Then there are atheist UFO groups like the Raëlians.
Actually, no: in reality what we call atheism is a form of secular humanism; it presupposes a moral vision, of progressive humanitarianism, of trust that universal moral values will triumph. (Of course there is also the atheism of Nietzsche, which rejects humanism, but this is not what is normally meant by 'atheism').
What? I think what Hobson really ought to say is secular humanism is a form of (secular) humanism.

Personally, I see his proposition as being utterly upside down. Humanism may derive its inspiration from the very human sense of justice, empathy, compassion and morals -- often to be found (somewhere) within the practitioner's religion. Those who do not believe in a god would then be secular humanists. This is not a difficult concept.

This way of seeing it makes more sense and is what the majority of atheists and Humanists out there would agree with. However, such a point of view jettisons any requisite god and this seems to be disturbing for some theists who wish to see god where it is not to be found.

Put another way, atheism is a starting point that cuts off the path towards a god- or faith-based ethical and moral system for living. What might sit on top of it could be some manifestation of Secular Humanism or Atheism+ or some atheist religion or philosophy (Taoism) or an eclectic and likely self-contradicting system assembled organically over time.
So what we know as atheism should really be understood as an offshoot of deism. For it sees rationalism as a benign force that can liberate our natural goodness. It has a vision of rationalism saving us, uniting us. For example, AC Grayling, in his recent book The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism, argues that, with the withering of religion, 'an ethical outlook which can serve everyone everywhere, and can bring the world together into a single moral community, will at last be possible'. This is really Rousseau's idea, that if we all listened to our hearts, there would be 'one religion on earth'.
Well, not all atheists see the world this way.

And, oh, I don't know, maybe they both had the same idea?

In fact, from mere anecdotal experience myself and various discussions, I've noticed that many people start out with rigid theist beliefs and then drift across the spectrum towards atheism. I myself never drifted through Deism, but I did pass through a form of Pantheism and many of my acquaintances also seem to have. Could it be that atheism owes to pantheism because they both deny the existence of a god existing outside of time and space?
On one hand atheism is more coherent than deism – it neatly eliminates the supernatural. But on the other hand it has less self-knowledge: it does not understand that it remains fuelled by a religious-based vision of human flourishing.
Wow. Is this ever irritating. Why, exactly, is atheism -- a idea, a term not anything material -- fueled by a religious vision of human flourishing? I feel as if I missed the memo here. A whole point of humanism is to recognize and celebrate human flourishing with no need of paying lip service to some god.

But apparently, there is no escaping this God, according to Hobson. He seems to be saying that even disbelief in God is somehow based on a religious belief. Why does this seem utterly insane to me?

The assertions made by Hobson are so bold and general that I cannot take them seriously. It all reads like nothing more than wordplay.

Two comments do a much better job of expressing my exasperation with articles like this.
Certain (rather more arrogant) religious people insist on seeing atheism as a reflection of theism rather than a rejection of it. It makes them feel better I guess, but of course is absolutely misguided. (Topher)
And...
Yes what a bag of bollocks this is. Atheism is an 'offshoot' of deism the way that absence is an offshoot of presence. 
It seems that what theists can't stand about atheism is the sheer absence of belief. Get over it. (dogfondler)
 Okay, got that out of my system!

Monday, 3 February 2014

Claiming Desert Climate Makes Six Year Old Girls Marriageable! What Could Drive Otherwise Sensible People to Such Twisted Logic?

Well, she looks around 8 years old. But she's obviously not in the desert so she's off limits.

Awhile back, I made a very positive review of Jaclyn Glenn's response to lebo2196's response to Jaclyn Glenn's video about Islam - which lebo advised everyone not to watch... because, it's better to just listen to his side of the argument, you know. Well, I would rest my case right there, but it seems like lebo has gone and made a response to Glenn's response.



Well, in Glenn's original video and in her response video she made very specific charges and asked very specific questions. And during lebo's responses, I saw nothing but a bunch of sentimental fluff put to overly emotional and needlessly aggrandizing music. It was like I was watching some sort of church service.

But I felt hope that maybe we'd get somewhere with this latest response. Maybe he'll actually start addressing some of Jaclyn's problems with Islam. Wow, do I ever find lebo's solutions to her problems disturbing.

He starts out at around 2:00 with the old lame chestnut since you don't believe in God, you don't have any "objective code of morality", you have no basis for determining whether little girls in the desert should be married off to old men. Of course, I paraphrase here.

And so I couldn't believe my ears. He believes that Aisha -- a little girl -- was actually mature enough to enter into marriage with an old man because children mature faster in the desert! And so, Aisha was actually mature enough to marry at the age of six... or nine... or whatever.

Then, right after poo-pooing Jaclyn about having to base her morals on ever-changing human subjectivity while his magic god-written book never had editors, he refers to a work by a seventeenth-century French political thinker to prove that little girls grow up much faster in the desert (2:50)!
The French philosopher Montesquieu, who just like yourself, was a staunch critic of Islam and religion in general, stated in the Spirit of Laws, which was used in developing of the American Constitution,  that in hot climates, women are marriageable at eight, nine or ten years of age. While by the age of twenty a women would be consider old. So if you do want to comment on the Prophet's marital relations, please learn your history.
Is this meant to be a joke? Is this the best he can do? A single French social commentator and political thinker who had a wacky idea about human biology in the seventeenth century! He's accusing Jaclyn of not knowing her history instead of showing her some science. It leads me to question whether he knows what Science is or if he just holds an amazing contempt against it.

There's some discussion about this over at the Skeptics group at StackExchange.
As stated by “Classic Encyclopedia”: [Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911 edition] 
“In northern countries males enter upon sexual maturity between the age of fourteen and sixteen, sometimes not much before the eighteenth year, females between twelve and fourteen. In tropical climates puberty is much earlier.”
Yeah, a 1911 publication non-scientific publication. And what is maturity? Because if it means the ability to get pregnant then sure, young girls can get pregnant with disastrous results. How is a pregnant 9 year old even remotely okay? Having the baby could kill her.

But even if these desert girls were able to grow the bodies of young women in 9 years, what about their mental maturity? I mean, did anyone actually care about this during that time? Is this not child abuse plain and simple?

The justification of this with pseudo-philosophical nonsense -- child rape -- makes me rather fearful of those who make such claims. Is it now okay for nine year old girls in, say, southern California or New Mexico to wed? Is this what he's suggesting? Is this where his objective code of morality leads him?

And then there is mention of the great legal system in Islam. Where apostates are given the chance to repent their beliefs before being punished (7:10). You know, sort of like the Salem witch trials. How the hell is this justice? Does he even hear what's coming out of his mouth?

And is there any way I can get Google to remove his constant droning background music? Please!

I could go on and on with this for much longer, but I'll leave it to Jaclyn to take care of and I'm looking forward to the response.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Alexander Aan Released From Jail

Alexander Aan was brutally beaten for saying he is an atheist on Facebook. Then they threw him into jail.
According to the Jakarta Post, Alexander Aan has was released from jail a few days ago after spending around three and a half years incarcerated.

Atheist Alexander Aan gets of prison
Alexander Aan, who was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison on June 15, 2012 under the Blasphemy Law for publicly declaring himself an atheist on Facebook, was released from prison on Jan. 27. 
That's right. He declared himself an atheist on Facebook. Really. That's it.

I'm happy to see he's final out, but I worry about his safety and I'm seriously wondering whether it makes sense to get him out of Indonesia. Perhaps he should seek refugee status in Europe, the US or Canada?

I mean, he got so utterly brutalized after his Facebook posts and his face is, no doubt, highly recognized in the country that I worry.

It's also a shame that Canada didn't freaking mention a peep to Indonesia about his case and that petitions launched by human rights organizations didn't really seem to have much effect at all. Or at least that's how I see it.

Still, glad to see him out! I hope he keeps safe and reaches a safe place.


Update 2014-01-31 16:18EST: 

Since this morning's original post a couple of things happened.  Hemant Mehta over at The Friendly Atheist also covered this story with the same original Jakarta Post article and I thank him for the mention!

Michael De Dora from USA Centre For Inquiry has written up a nice press release about what he knows about Aan's now somewhat precarious situation.
We wanted to publicly celebrate Aan's release when we heard about it on January 27 but, because of the high sensitivity of his case and the precarious nature of the release, we proceeded cautiously. I have been in constant contact with Alex's friends, as well as other activists working on his case, to make sure all the reported facts were correct, and that announcing his release would not put him in further risk. It was only after the Jakarta Post published their story that we felt comfortable finally announcing Aan's release. 
You see, Aan is unfortunately not yet completely free. Aan was released "on license," which means he is required to report regularly and frequently to Indonesian authorities. Furthermore, Aan is vulnerable to vigilante retribution, which means he will be forced to keep a low profile for some time. As such, I urge everyone to not draw attention to Aan or his physical whereabouts.
I had a brief discussion with Michael this morning on Facebook and I had briefly took down this post after he voiced similar concerns to mine. However, I put it back up when I realized that other, much larger blogs and media outlets than this blog have covered it -- and most importantly, the local Indonesian media is ramping up their coverage.

Here's hoping all turns out well for Aan. Perhaps he can still make it out of his country someday and seek refuge elsewhere.

If you would like to help Aan or people in similar situations visit the CFI's Campaign for FREE Expression page!