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

Monday, 10 March 2014

Stop Banging On At Me With Your Science!

Sometimes I read an article and just end up sitting there with my mouth hanging open wondering to myself how I'm supposed to react to it, what does it mean, do the tubes is my brainbox have enough capacity to process it?

It’s no good, Dawkins. No one’s going to abandon religion because some atheist is banging on at them about science
There’s a religious slot broadcast every morning on the radio, called Thought for the Day, and it’s marvellous. Because it usually involves some bishop telling you what he did the day before, and shovelling Jesus into it somehow. So it will go: “Last night I was watching an episode of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, in which a poor hapless restaurateur once again found himself on the wrong end of Gordon’s somewhat ribald invective. And I began to think to myself ‘Isn’t this a bit like Jesus’? Because Jesus too went out for supper one night, and that turned into a bit of a nightmare. Good morning.” 
The fact that this quaint tradition endures with few complaints, despite a campaign led by the National Secular Society, suggests that the modern atheists are losing. So does the popularity of The Book of Mormon, the gloriously blasphemous musical I’ve finally seen, which, despite a swearing, camp Jesus and a plot revolving around religion being made-up nonsense, is strangely affectionate towards religion. You’re invited to judge the evangelists on what they do, rather than on what they believe, and that may be a vital part of its success, compared with the modern atheists whose attitude is: “Of COURSE Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, you idiots.”
So religion, the once all-pervading ruler of kings, emperors and countries has been reduced to a morning radio segment about how Jesus helped the line cook get through Gordon Ramsay's potty mouth. This is somehow a sign that religion's still doing just fine? Checkmate, atheists!

The broadway musical Book of Mormon, written by two atheists and sure to have been banned only a century ago and to have led to the burning of said atheists a couple of centuries before; how is this not a sign of religion losing its relevance and grip on our culture? A song and dance routine that affectionately undermines the primary claim of religion by pointing out it is merely a made up human artifice is not indicative of a weakening of the religious resolve? Really?

What could author Mark Steel be talking about? It's hard to say because then he goes on a well-worn attack against those nasty New Atheists who dare to question, ridicule or mock those who believe myths for which there is no credible evidence.
Richard Dawkins, for example, complained that a Muslim political writer wasn’t a “serious journalist” because he “believes Mohamed flew to heaven on a winged horse”. I suppose if Dawkins had been in Washington when Martin Luther King made his famous speech, he’d have shouted: “Never mind your dream, how can Jonah have lived in a whale, you silly Christian knob?”
I still don't see what the big fuss is with Richard Dawkins' comment. For me, the job of a serious journalist is to be skeptical and to dig for the facts. They should be as close to reality as possible. A journalist who seriously believes someone flew into heaven on a winged horse doesn't strike me as someone who has done all of his homework. In principle it's no different from a journalist who believes Obama is a shape-shifting lizard; John Smith found gold tablets in his backyard and translated them with a magical hat; or Thetans are the ghostly remains of a civilization that was blown to smithereens inside of a volcano with nukes billions of years ago.

Of course, this is all technical. I'm absolutely certain one could be a Muslim in name but not believe such fairy stories - a secular Muslim. And even if this were not the case, humans are gifted with a well-developed ability to compartmentalize competing beliefs. So the same mind could hold everything else up to a strong and rational critical eye and still believe in the most insane mythologies simultaneously. The journalist could be an excellent one, just don't trust him with any stories about religion that intersect this compartmentalized woo. Dawkins has every right to call him out on the Pegasus myth.

As for the comparison between Martin Luther King and journalist Mehdi Hasan, it is a false equivalence. It's Hasan's job to report on facts and communicate them to his readers. It was King's 'job' to stir the hearts and inspire America to rise up and fight for civil rights. Steele should be aware that facts are seldom required to arouse the passions of one's readership.

Steele seems to go on to say that folks like Dawkins are vile for judging the religious based on what they believe.
It’s almost as if the modern atheist is in agreement with the religious fundamentalist that a person’s attitude towards God is the most important aspect of their character.
As a modern atheist, I cannot help but feel rather sorry for those who believe in God, but this is their right. However, the real problem is those who let their religious beliefs affect their actions in ways that affect others in negative ways. Do not limit my rights based off some bronze age myth that would fail any modern day ethical sniff test.

I too am happy to judge anyone based on their actions but I'm also aware that one's beliefs inform their actions and that ridiculous beliefs are not above ridicule.

And when it comes to banging on about science: It has been an effective approach. Scientists and science popularizers have been doing this for years. Carl Sagan's Cosmos had a profound effect on me and many others and no doubt the modern Fox reboot will too. The only way to convince others their points of view are delusional is to expose them to as much reality as possible.

Okay, this is getting rambly. There seem to be four points here, I think.

First, religion is doing just fine thanks regardless of what the atheists are doing.
Religion is certainly losing a grip on power and influence in our society but I suppose many people still have warm fuzzy spiritual feelings? It remains to be seen whether this is directly due to the atheists, I would suspect it's a combination of things. I know I get warm and fuzzy spiritual-like feelings while watching Cosmos. I wonder if that's the direction things will go?

Second, mean atheists like Dawkins aren't helping to convert people to atheists:
Certainly, when I was on the fence atheist, The God Delusion helped push me over the edge and gave me the courage to tell myself for the first time that I was atheist. I would imagine it had the same affect on others.

Third, pushing science (e.g. reality) onto deluded religious folk is just not going to work. 
People leave religion for different reasons. However, from my personal experience at least, an increase in scientific literacy did weaken my belief in religious fairy tales.

Fourth, one should not judge people based on their religion but on their actions.
The modern atheist often points to atrocities carried out by religious institutions, such as the tyranny of the Taliban or the child abuse of the Catholic Church, but isn’t it the actions of these people that are vile, not the religion itself?
I've never been able to grasp this logic and this is why I cannot imagine how decent people can keep calling themselves Catholic and keep paying lip service to the Pope.

If mail carriers were found to quite frequently rob homeowners while delivering the mail, one would blame the postal service and demand a criminal investigation. The executives at the top would be severely punished if it was shown they knew this was going on. Well, the Catholic Church claims that the being ultimately at the top is God and God Knows.

I wonder if Steele has ever actually picked up a Bible or a Koran and read it. I would say that it's often the actions of the religious that are good in spite of their religions either being seriously flawed or vile - or at least large parts of their holy books. This is why the really nasty pieces of work are often the most religiously literate when it comes to knowing - nay, memorizing - the holy books upon which the religions are supposed to be based.

There is so much here to address that I hardly believe I was even able to begin.

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!

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.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Guardian Writer Thinks Atheists Need More Theology To Attack The "Right" God

The Guardian writer Oliver Burkeman thinks that atheists really need to beef up their theological skills if they want to be taken seriously by serious theists.

The one theology book all atheists really should read

Where to begin with this one other than the beginning?

One reason that modern-day debates between atheists and religious believers are so bad-tempered, tedious and infuriating is that neither side invests much effort in figuring out what the other actually means when they use the word 'God'. This is an embarrassing oversight, especially for the atheist side (on which my sympathies generally lie). After all, scientific rationalists are supposed to care deeply about evidence. So you might imagine they'd want to be sure that the God they're denying is the one in which most believers really believe. No 'case against God', however watertight, means much if it's directed at the wrong target. 

What Burkeman should realize is that it's often not through a lack of trying that atheist end up attacking the wrong god. If theists could actually come up with some kind of coherent definition of what God is supposed to be, and agree on it, it's then up to them to provide evidence for the existence of their god. Actually, I'll even take several competing theories for God if we can try to narrow it down to less than one God per theist.

I mean, who would expect any other outcome if theists are unable to first agree and then define the meaning of this God thing they posit? We are left only able to question and attack what few scraps of reasonably articulated sense happen to fall out of any theistic belief after deep prodding. We can only test testable claims and point out those that are not testable. Any other items are the burden of the believer to properly formulate as their case.

As a scientific rationalist, I do care deeply about evidence. Theists are making a claim that their god exists. Please, show me the evidence!
So you might imagine they'd want to be sure that the God they're denying is the one in which most believers really believe. No 'case against God', however watertight, means much if it's directed at the wrong target. 
This is so backwards I suspect it must be some kind of joke. If someone claims to be in touch with his wonderful wampersneezle, is it my duty to fully understand it before disbelieving him? What if his explanations are no more than an emphatic feeling or emotional story? What if his beliefs are internally inconsistent? Do I need to make a watertight case against his wampersneezle? I mean, really now.

He goes on to throw a little scorn on Christian and Muslim "fundamentalists" by saying they support a kind of superhero god that can do anything he likes to the universe, including creating it to begin with. Well, Burkeman will have none of this simpleton pablum - that's for babies and shame on atheists like Dawkins for attacking this incorrect view of God!

Most theists may not believe in a superhero god. No, wait, I would say that many theists believe in this to some degree or why would they pray? Why would they take any of the Bible seriously? Why would they believe in a god-man resurrection?

And so, thank you, Oliver. By dismissing the most common view of God, you're essentially doing my job for me. I mean, aren't I the one who's supposed to mock these beliefs?

Now Burkeman posits a much better definition of God, which we should at least consider attacking instead. Finally, some clarity, because, God knows, we haven't seen anything but moving targets when it comes to God anywhere else. Let's get down to the brass tacks!
"'… according to the classical metaphysical traditions of both the East and West, God is the unconditioned cause of reality – of absolutely everything that is – from the beginning to the end of time. Understood in this way, one can’t even say that God "exists" in the sense that my car or Mount Everest or electrons exist. God is what grounds the existence of every contingent thing, making it possible, sustaining it through time, unifying it, giving it actuality. God is the condition of the possibility of anything existing at all.'" 
God, in short, isn't one very impressive thing among many things that might or might not exist; "not just some especially resplendent object among all the objects illuminated by the light of being," as Hart puts it. Rather, God is "the light of being itself", the answer to the question of why there's existence to begin with. In other words, that wisecrack about how atheists merely believe in one less god than atheists do, though it makes a funny line in a Tim Minchin song, is just a category error. Monotheism's God isn't like one of the Greek gods, except that he happens to have no god friends. It's an utterly different kind of concept.
Right. This doesn't seem clear to me. It reminds me of the sort of view of God I had shortly before I became an atheist. Ever dwindling, safely reduced to a few words tied to nothing really tangible. Vaporware.

So am I to understand that God has been reduced down to not an object at all - you know, nothing?

Has God been reduced down to a condition? What the fuck is "the light of being itself?" This is supposed to be philosophy, not a greeting card.

This is hard to attack because there's nothing there at all!

Burkeman correctly predicts my reaction and gives this interesting challenge.
If you think this God-as-the-condition-of-existence argument is rubbish, you need to say why. And unlike for the superhero version, scientific evidence won't clinch the deal. The question isn't a scientific one, about which things exist. It's a philosophical one, about what existence is and on what it depends.
Because God is no longer an object it is beyond the touch of science. This safety puts God aloof of all reality to the point of it being impossible for it to have any interaction with it at all. How do we even know anything about such a God if it's not a thing?

Well, some kind of logical or mathematical proof would be required, I guess. So what are the parameters? Apparently, existence must depend on something. I leave it to Burkeman to provide the proof for how existence is anything but a description of an object or concept and not really anything at all in itself. I also leave him to demonstrate to me why this mythical object-thing called existence must depend on some other (non) thing?

Or are we just throwing around words? Because I'm certain that my wampersneezle ate his God and is now the condition of existence because it has very large non-object-teeth.

I leave you with this nugget and my response.
... even if you could show that most believers believe in a superhero God, would that mean it's the only kind with which atheists need engage? If a committed creationist wrote a book called The Evolution Delusion, but only attacked the general public's understanding of evolution, we'd naturally dismiss them as disingenuous. We'd demand, instead, that they seek out what the best and most acclaimed minds in the field had concluded about evolution, then try dismantling that.
If some atheists want to spend their time attacking these acclaimed minds in theology, then they are welcome to. But in the big picture, it is most important to address what those mere spiritual hoi polloi believe. Otherwise, atheists like Dawkins would be no more relevant than those very few spiritually enlightened who seem to believe in hardly any god at all.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Nicholas Frankovich Wonders If Atheists Really Exist

William F. Buckley Jr. leaning precariously, as he often did. To my knowledge
he never fell while on the air.
Back in 1955, legendary conservative brain-person, William F. Buckley Jr. -- with whom I would have loved to hang out in his younger days were I alive and had enough cash on hand -- founded a magazine called the National Review.

He was no doubt a very smart and charming sort of fellow. This made him all the more aggravating to listen to back in my proto-liberal childhood days.

I was subjected to near lethal doses of him on his Firing Line programme, where he always seemed to win pretty much any argument. I didn't understand the topics at hand, but I can remember waiting and hoping he would fall over on his chair from over extending the upper part of his body to the side.

I suppose this made me a mischievous little runt, but please forgive me. If memory serves, he came on right after the Lawrence Welk Show and no amount of bubble machine could save me from that sheer boredom. So by the time Buckley's stuffy baroque theme song bounced around our living room, I was already desperate for stimulus. I'm sorry, Bach.

I also recall eating a lot of roast beef with horseradish and Yorkshire Pudding on those evenings. Honestly, if we were any white-Traditional-Catholic-conservative the albedo of the planet would have increased and global cooling would have surely set in.

Buckley wrote this:
“I believe that the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world. I further believe that the struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced on another level.” 
Meanwhile, Nicholas Frankovich writes for the National Review and he wants to know if atheists exist.

Do Atheists Exist?

A new “godless” church makes you wonder. 

What other kind of church would atheists make?

Of course, William F. Buckley Jr. had that one right. Yes, Nicholas, they do exist. Let's dive a little into his interesting essay anyway.

He's talking about the Sunday Assembly phenomenon, which I've been covering on and off since their beginning.
“Church has got so many awesome things going for it (which we’ve shamelessly nicked),” Jones and Evans confess in a short piece that appeared in the New York Times to mark the launch of their venture. Stuart Balkham, an earnest convert, told the Guardian that at a London meeting he attended the Assembly was “unashamedly copying a familiar Church of England format,” which he thought was great.
Frankovich can't understand how atheists, agnostics and nones can just get together in a room and be happy together while celebrating life and science and feeling awe at existence.

His first mistake seems to be to assume that atheism could actually be a religion -- which it isn't. But even if it where, this doesn't make it something other than atheism. Like many other religious writers I've seen, he seems to smuggle extra meaning into a word that ultimately means nothing more than non-belief in any gods and then tries to cancel it out.
If “religion” remains the inevitable word for a certain moral and philosophical seriousness, however, atheism is, or should be, counted as religious after all.
No. A certain moral and philosophical seriousness does not have to be religion. In fact, I would say that religion lowers the bar, muddies and dilutes proper consideration of ethical questions. Anyway, he makes a pretty good point that some mainline Protestant religions and some world religions are either so watered down or overtly atheist. It then sort of gets thrown away.

Okay, I love this sentence!
We live in a post-secular age, having run up against the limitations of procedural liberalism, which, while regulating the market on which God and the Devil compete for souls, remains scrupulously disinterested in the outcome.
I believe the theory is that secularists now have control over the rules of war between these two fictional characters and they don't care -- maybe because they are made up characters.

He then mentions a few atheists whom I've never heard of who are actually suggesting more religion for us all because our culture derives its morals from religion. My only response to this is relief that I've never heard of these so-called atheists, because they sound like terrible human beings if their only solution for us is to feed more delusions to the hoi polloi. Really, shame on them for thinking so lowly of human kind.

He then proceeds to pick away at the stated goals of the Sunday Assembly.
Wonder more: No one disputes that atheism is compatible with wonder at the physical universe and how it works. Wonder at how it came to be just so, however, soon leads to wonder at how it came to be at all, a question that atheists typically sidestep. The pleasure of contemplating it is forbidden fruit to which the Sunday Assembly approaches nearer than a good atheist ought.
Wow, does this ever annoy me. It's astounding that the finger is pointed at us for sidestepping the question of why there is something and how it came to be. While an honest admission of we don't know (yet) is apparently a sidestep, the bold and unsubstantiated claim that some magical man in the sky did it all by snapping his fingers is a perfectly reasonable solution to the problem? He then caps this off by throwing in what a good atheist ought not to do. This motif of defining our proper behaviour - what a good atheist should be -- from without is showing up with ever increasing frequency in theist essays.

He seems to almost recognize that accusing atheists of not having a proper answer for everything demands he back it up with his own theory. He does this in the ever predictable way: Mystery that nobody can ever hope to understand!
Philosophically if not historically, the theism of Judaism and Christianity, as well as of Islam and major religious currents outside the Western tradition, begins with the observation that the mystery of being is irreducibly mysterious, absolutely immune to attempts at demystifying it. 
You atheists don't have an answer! But we do! It's God! What's that, you ask? Mystery!

Then, like Dante, we are whisked down into several strata of something, I guess. The path is so windy, it's hard to say where we're going. Once someone pulls out Wittgenstein, you can bet that all hope for clear understanding is near totally lost.
The articulation of thought about what that mystery is — “Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is,” in Wittgenstein’s succinct rendition of the matter — has been so honed by succeeding generations of thinkers descended from the union of Greek philosophy and Jewish, Christian, and Islamic theology that it’s now difficult for anyone, whether theist or atheist, to improve on their exact formulations. So the atheist seeking to communicate an accurate answer to the question “Why is there not nothing?” will find himself borrowing theologically inflected terminology. Inescapably, he affirms the most fundamental of theological precepts. He agrees with it implicitly. He asserts that he doesn’t. His disagreement is first of all with himself.
Yeah, sure. Now which shell is the peanut under? I've completely lost track.

Well, once that's all been explained, he moves the post further by claiming that the God folks like Dawkins is attacking isn't the real God anyway. How convenient. 

Next stratum: Talking about Greek and Hebrew translations of the verb to be.

Next stratum: Hellenism's spread over the Mediterranean. Plato. Aristotle. Thomas Aquinas. Latin translation of the verb to be.

Next stratum: Moses asking God why there's something other than nothing and God can't stop talking about himself.

Next stratum: Atheists attack a personal god who's a patriarch -- you know, the one in the Bible -- but that's not really God (see above).

Next stratum: He blames Atheists for being too impatient in their understanding of God. They are too quick to assume the've understood God (something that apparently cannot be understood at any intellectual level) before dismissing him (as some kind of funny feeling). Apparently, the closest answer to the question is a feeling. Yeah, not good enough. The burden is on the theist to make their case.

Next stratum: Quantum theory. The nothing of vacuum that still has the random coming into existence and bursting away into non-existence of particles. Brace yourself for a possible Chopra Maneuver.

Finally, God is stripped of any sort of personal or knowable structure and reduced down to Nothing at all! Because, nothing is still something.
It’s become too familiar, this ordinary English word for what we tend to talk around rather than talk about. So forget “God.” Call him “Nothing,” if you prefer
The mistake Frankovich seems to make here seems to be common among theists. Everything is something in language. Nothing, like God, is a word. I can make up another one -- blauberbluch. I define this word to mean both nothing and something at the same time. After all, nothing is something... it's a word. 

There is no such thing as nothing because as soon as it's something it's not nothing -- unless you're just talking about words.
Notice how “nothing” can function for the atheist as “God” does for the theist. Are the two only using different linguistic tokens in parallel efforts to express the same ineffable thought? 
It's amazing. It's like God and nothing are somehow equivalent!
No, following wonder to its logical conclusion does not by itself make an atheist suddenly Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. It only means he’s not an atheist. Someone should tell him. 
No. He's still an atheist who is filled with awe for life and the world and happy to be on this planet.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The 'Nightmare' of an 'Atheist Utopia'

I just read a piece in the Guardian by Antony Loewenstein.

An atheist utopia? Talk about a nightmare

Now that's a pretty intense article title.
Too often aggressive atheists, perhaps rhetorically competing with the most militant religious fanatics, argue that religion is a disease that needs a cure. They are wrong.
Well, it's nice that the atheist's aren't being called militant in this article. We're just aggressive -- opposite of docile. We've seen it a lot in the press lately, it's the kind of silent, pensive, nodding atheist many religious writers seem to yearn for these days.

But here's the twist, Loewenstein is himself an atheist.
A dangerous trend has developed in the last decade with the advent of the "new atheism" movement – it often states that people in business, politics and entertainment should avoid discussing religion, and how faith affects their lives. According to its proponents, belief is pathetic and tired, anti-intellectual and predictable. Anybody who follows the Qur'ran, Bible, Torah or other holy book should "grow up" and stop following the teachings of old, bearded men from a time when women were little more than ornaments and baby makers.
I'm not sure where Loewenstein gets this from. As an atheist, I aggressively encourage all people in business, politics and entertainment to discuss their religious beliefs and how they affect their lives in the greatest amount of detail possible. It's really the only way I can know what sorts of delusions they entertain as reality. Then I can assess just how dangerous they may really be to society should they, say, form policy or be responsible for educating future generations of children.

Anyway, I guess Loewenstein has me pretty well described when he says that proponents of this new atheism consider belief as pathetic and tired, anti-intellectual and predictable. But, I would contest that last adjective. Religious belief is anything but predictable and comes out differently in all of its varied manifestations.

Shockingly, I believe that anyone who follows these holy books should indeed stop taking them seriously, and the two reasons Loewenstein gives are valid ones. However, I do not think it's a simple matter of growing up - since the sort of intense brainwashing a religious upbringing often entails cannot be escaped with maturity. Religion dwells in an irrational, immature place. It often takes decades to unravel painfully with intense thought and introspection.

Luckily, -- and I think Loewenstien and I would agree here -- very few people really take these books literally. In fact, the less literally you take them, the more reasonable you become.

According to Loewenstein, I am a bigot -- because I think believing in the claims of these ancient holy books and in ghosts and spooks in the sky is ridiculous and potentially harmful. It is apparently hateful and bigoted to challenge the truth claims of the religious.

And although he does seem to see religion as sometimes standing in the way of progressive political change, he has a solution.
All these concerns are valid: religious views must not influence governmental decisions about abortion, reproductive health or gender parity.
Argh... but, Antony, they do.

And there is nothing at all you can do about this.

We continually see religious politicians who do nothing but complain about how they are being forced to leave their religion at the door and they refuse to do such a thing. They complain that this is forcing religious out of the public sphere and the encroachment of the secular religion. They assert over and over again that it's impossible to disentangle their beliefs from their policies. Many are doing everything they can to restrict access to abortion, reproductive health and suppress gender parity.

Let's not forget marriage equality.

Don't overlook undermining science education.

Then there's global climate change.

How could religious belief not influence government decisions? Please, I'm curious to know.
But too often aggressive atheists, perhaps rhetorically competing with the most militant religious fanatics, argue that religion is a disease that needs a cure. Taking comfort or lessons from religion is a perfectly legitimate way to live life. Private atheism is as harmless as quietly praying in a church, synagogue or mosque. New atheists are always quick to forget that some of the finest advocates for human rights and justice are religious believers.
Forgive me, Antony, but as an atheist, do you believe in gods? What I mean is, do you think that the truth claims of religions are true? Because I know that many religious people know in their hearts that what they believe is True and are not afraid to tell atheists that they are sorely mistaken in their disbelief.

With that said. I believe it's only logical, sincere and compassionate for someone to attempt to cure those who are, for lack of better word, deluded into believing something that is not true. Although, the stakes are perhaps not as high on the atheist side of the equation. There is no Hell for the believers to burn away in forever if they are wrong in their belief -- so I do not see it as an imperative (unless there is physical or mental abuse involved).

And I wholeheartedly agree that taking comfort or lessons from religion is a perfectly legitimate way to live life. I like Greco-Roman mythology and have used it in such a way. As an atheist, there is also nothing stopping me from doing the same with the Bible.

If only this were an accurate portrayal of most religion! Is this what Loewenstien thinks religion is?

I have yet to meet anyone religious, in my circles at least, who merely takes comfort or lessons from their holy books or mythology. They are not inspired with the Hebrew stories of old like so many strains of Virgil' Aeneid or Homer's winged words in his Iliad. They really believe this stuff.
Private atheism is as harmless as quietly praying in a church, synagogue or mosque
And other than wasting time, quietly praying in church is harmless. In my experience, this is not what most atheists have a problem with -- although they reserve the right to tease and ridicule. It's everything outside of the pew that compels atheists to find their voices.
New atheists are always quick to forget that some of the finest advocates for human rights and justice are religious believers.
Which new atheists? No doubt some of the finest advocates for human rights and justice are religious believers. Perhaps I might entertain some possible causation if I didn't also see so much religion being used to advocate the human rights abuses and injustice in this world.
The ideal secular nation is one where people of all faiths, or none, believe that everybody is encouraged to not feel ashamed of public displays of faith. The richness of humanity, after all, lies in the desire to avoid sterility and uniformity.
I'm surprised he didn't work the word tapestry in there somewhere.

I'll remember this the next time someone laughs at my FSM holy garb. What exactly does this mean?

Does it mean we cannot point out that, for example, that the idea of a man translating golden tablets found in his backyard using a magical rock and a hat appears to be complete nonsense without being thrown in jail? Does it mean we cannot poke fun at believes that are patently impossible or ridiculous without fear of what exactly?

Does it mean all beliefs are equally true?

Perhaps we can all become adults and not scream like a baby and lash out violently like a child when someone else doesn't believe our own pet mythologies or cherished beliefs. How about this for a new secular utopia?

And can we please stop using this media-generated term new atheists?
“This crime called blasphemy was invented by priests for the purpose of defending doctrines not able to take care of themselves.”  ― Robert G. Ingersoll
I do not believe that the Bible, when properly understood, is, or ever has been, a comfort to any human being. Surely, no good man can be comforted by reading a book in which he finds that a large majority of mankind have been sentenced to eternal fire. In the doctrine of total depravity there is no "solace." In the doctrine of "election" there can be no joy until the returns are in, and a majority found for you. ― Robert G. Ingersoll

Monday, 2 December 2013

Albert Camus, The Atheist Christians Love

Albert Camus (source)
Douglas Todd recently wrote a piece in the Vancouver Sun blog about how Albert Camus is his very favourite atheist.

My Favorite Atheist: Albert Camus

Often, when I read a an essay written by a theist about their favourite atheists, I cringe.

Here's a couple of observations about this latest piece that describes the sort of atheist you must aspire to be if you wish to be liked by theists.


As a budding atheist, I resonated with Camus’ views that life was replete with unexplainable suffering, alienation and apparent absurdity.

At the very start of his piece, Todd dishes up the well-worn picture of atheists. Without a belief in God, they see the world as full of unexplainable suffering and absurdity. Although I have my doubts whether the majority of atheists out there dwell on this sort of thing -- they are too busy living their lives which bring them meaning -- these sorts of statements really bewilder me.

I have yet to see just how the existence of the Christian god explains suffering, alienation and absurdity. In fact, the introduction of an all-knowing, all-good, all-powerful God only brings in the intractable problem of theodicy.

Meanwhile, although deeply tragic, suffering is anything but unexplainable. It is the result of concrete physical forces in the case of diseases and natural disasters and of all too human deficiencies in the case of people doing harm to one another. There is no mystery here when you drop God from this equation. The mystery and absurdity only comes when one attempts to read some ultimate meaning into a system that simply is.

From the little Camus I have read, I always suspected that he was searching for some kind of logic or meaning whereas many atheists recognize that such a rational principle to the universe simply doesn't exist.

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.
What a cheap pot shot this is. Since when did either of these men say they knew it all? They're just not buying your magical book. They're not shutting their mouths and accepting the words of those who, in pompous dress, claim to have all the answers.


With enough sophistication, sophists (intentional or not) can argue anything into existence and lose any true signal in a sea of jargon-induced noise.
Camus, in many ways, was also the opposite of today’s well-compensated atheist celebrities, who sorely lack his (and Sartre’s) philosophical sophistication.
I'm sure you could find some atheists with some philosophical sophistication, but you'll also find that even in the days of Camus, the truth-seekers that own this century - the scientists. It's possible that Dawkins and the New Atheists lack the poetry of Camus because they are grounded in this land we call reality and they are in search of facts.

As I wrote in a post about the last time I ran into a Christian pining for more atheists like Camus, this man of "philosophical sophistication" himself denied he was even a philosopher. He denied even believing in any kind of coherent system of thought! That is indeed the very opposite of what New Atheists like Dawkins, Krauss and Harris are.
Was Camus actually a philosopher? He himself said no, in a famous interview with Jeanine Delpech in Les Nouvelles Littéraires in November of 1945, insisting that he did “not believe sufficiently in reason to believe in a system” (Camus 1965, 1427). This was not merely a public posture, since we find the same thought in his notebooks of this period: he describes himself as an artist and not a philosopher because “I think according to words and not according to ideas” (Camus 1995, 113). Still, Jean-Paul Sartre saw immediately that Camus was undertaking important philosophical work, and in his review of The Stranger in relation to Sisyphus, had no trouble connecting Camus with Pascal, Rousseau, and Nietzsche (Sartre 1962). After they became friends Sartre spoke publicly of his friend's “philosophy of the absurd,” which he distinguished from his own thought for which he accepted the “existentialist” label that Camus rejected.   (source)
As such, Camus was in no position to posit any concrete position about anything, really. His was a position of pointing out the absurdity of things. I would imagine this would make him best friends with the religious establishment. If all is ultimately absurd, then who's to say what's really true or really false? All we have is pathos and religion has been playing that game for millennia.

Another quick point. Unlike the New Atheists, Albert Camus is, of course, dead. As such, Christian scholars can safely study his works, comment on them and speculate about whether, deep down inside, he had a Christian soul that had simply not bloomed due to lack of proper fertilization. For this he can be forgiven. He wasn't all atheist.
Since he was mostly a novelist, he could be forgiven for not learning about the fertile spiritual thinking going on among the far-sighted Western philosophers or religious intellectuals of his day. 

I grow weary of so-called great atheists being set up from the outside as our leaders, prophets and  Popes of a kind of atheist-religion -- a religion apparently based on the non-belief in something! Once they are appointed to rank of general, the religious seem to believe that tearing down their names somehow undermines atheism as a philosophical position and, by unusual proxy, strengthens their own case for the existence of some deity. I'm sorry, atheism doesn't work that way.

Alas, perhaps, if he lived still, Camus may have somewhat agreed with that last point.

I don't want to be too hard on Todd. Well, in this one case, at least. We must remember that he is telling his own story and there are many good descriptions of Camus and the effect his writings had on Todd's own life. I wouldn't want to belittle or diminish this for a second as it is an authentic testimony of his relationship with the author over the span of his life up until now. And although I find Christianity sorely lacking, I still enjoyed this piece.

However, when it comes to painting a picture of atheists and atheism, it's Todd's own palette which lacks sufficient colours to paint an adequate portrait.

He and I both are no Albert Camus.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

If Only Those New Atheists Could Be A Little More Like Camus

Albert Camus looking like he requires a strong
coffee to go with that cigarette. (source)
“Je ne suis pas un philosophe. Je ne crois pas assez à la raison pour croire à un système” (Camus 1965,1427)
I can remember the first Albert Camus book I ever tried to read. The Myth of Sisyphus was a Sisyphean feat that I was never able to achieve. I put it the book down many times before giving up on it.

It wasn't until a New Atheist, Christopher Hitchens, referred to Camus' novel La Peste (The Plague), that I gave Camus a second chance and I'm glad I did. Camus is not what I would call a philosopher, based on the book I read at least. He is a master painter of highly descriptive and emotive tableaux of the human condition.

John Carlson, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Associate Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict at Arizona State University, yearns for the mythical ages of the Old Atheists - the Albert Camus.

In those golden days of old, atheists were not like Christopher Hitchens. They were more like Albert Camus.

Remembering Albert Camus and Longing for the Old Atheism
To begin with, Camus was humble about his unbelief, recalling Benjamin Constant's caution that there is something "worn out" about being too intensely against religion. Camus freely admitted that he didn't believe in God, but he chose to speak "in the name of an ignorance that tries to negate nothing." In other words, his own lack of faith did not presume that others must be wrong about theirs -- certainly not in a way that he could prove with certainty. For this reason, he resisted "atheism," adopting instead the mantle of the "unbeliever" (incroyant).
I can never know exactly for sure, but I can guess at what the most desirable atheist would be for Mr. Carlson.

He is is someone who is not intensely against religion - because there is nothing worse than an outspoken atheist. It's so tiring to those who are religious and it's uncouth.  It is better to claim that you are speaking out of an ignorance than with any sort of confidence or doubt. In short, he is quiet, ignorant (of God) - surely not an atheist -  he is merely an unbeliever. This keeps the waters calm. He is everything about atheism framed from a believer's point of view - for their benefit - so as to not cause discomfort to them.

He would also admire religion and the heroes of religion (like the dreadful Augustine).  Shared interests always make for better friendships.

Perhaps, however, there would be something deficient in him that would not allow him to find faith. Maybe, secretly, he longs for faith? Perhaps then, God would have mercy.

Carlson wishes not to be mocked for his so called irrational beliefs.
Indeed Camus makes us long for the days of the "old atheism" when religious people weren't mocked for their so-called irrational beliefs
Perhaps Carlson is confusing "old atheism" for the days of old when mocking religion could quickly buy you an old fashioned burning at the stake, either physically, professionally or socially. The absolute dominance of religion is all social spheres and the rather unquestioning adherence it demanded may have helped temper the criticism of many who found themselves unable to believe holy dogma.

Anyway, as for irrational beliefs, if I translate Camus' above statement - the one at the top of this post - then we can see that he would be last to question one's irrational beliefs.

("I am not a philosopher. I do not believe enough in reason to believe in a system.")

I am no philosopher, but from what I've read, Camus questioned the very foundation of philosophy and reason itself. He reduced all to absurdity. In this, he is the perfect friend to those who hold irrational beliefs.  He writes wonderful and emotive books, but when it comes to Reason, he just doesn't seem to be interested. In such a world view, muddy systems of thought or unfounded belief no doubt fade into the same haze of doubt as everything else.  God becomes lost in rampant skepticism of all systems.  He is safe in ambiguity.

Camus is therefore in opposition to those who would use reason to uncover the truth and expose, question and ridicule ideas without any basis in reality; the New Atheists. 

We've of course seen this sort of thing before. Chief Rabbi Sacks yearns for a return to the Old Atheism of Friedrich Nietzsche.

It seems like those now dead atheists who live on only in books are a kind of harmless seasoning to be sprinkled into a paper or article to taste. They are most desired by religious intellectuals. The living ones, however, who speak to the masses and question the validity of religious claims cause too many headaches and introduce discord.

Carlson sees the plague within men as a metaphor to the darkness that rests in the heart of all - the human condition.
Contrary to new atheists like Hitchens -- who suggests that religion is the carrier of plague -- Camus recognized that evil is a human problem. As Dr. Rieux remarked in Camus's superb novel The Plague, "each of us has the plague within him; no one, no one on earth is free from it." 
He is referring to this section at the very end of the book.
And indeed, as he listened to the cries of joy rising from the town, Rieux remembered that such joy is always imperiled. He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in the furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city. (Camus, La Peste)
With his words, which drew me to Camus' novel, Hitchens is in complete agreement with Carlson. It is a metaphor for evil but religion is one of these evil human predilections.

Among the many evils of humanity is that of false belief which can inform our actions. Invalid assumptions - all important lies - that can be reached for in beastly and irrational times to justify the most horrendous acts of inhumanity - in the name of religion.

Carlson admires the ecumenicalism of Camus.
In a famous talk delivered in a Dominican monastery in Paris, Camus extolled the importance of pursuing simultaneously cooperative engagement and respectful disagreement. "I shall not try to change anything that I think or anything that you think .... in order to reach a reconciliation that would be agreeable to all."
Indeed, if you find the above discussion with Hitchens about Camus and listen on, you'll find him coming out against ecumenicalism, strongly.

Here's the truth of it. If your faith is strong then challenges from non-believers will be no different than the words of one who is deluded - perhaps spouting ideas that the Earth is flat. If this is not the case, then perhaps a little introspection is in order - or perhaps a little growing up is in order.

Working alongside those with whom you fundamentally disagree - and who's ideas you find ridiculous - has been done for centuries - by Atheists, Jews and sometimes Christians. By Conservatives and Liberals. By Republicans and Democrats. It is a kind of humanism that requires finding the humanity in others and rising above tribalism.

This can, and should, be done without any ecumenical gags or filters, but rather as adults who are not afraid to question each others' beliefs and ideas - and let our own be challenged or even mocked.

In the end, we must all be reasonable and work together while being free to point out falsehoods when we see them.

I wonder if Robert Ingersoll qualifies as an Old Atheist?

Friday, 1 November 2013

Video of Conversation Between Michael Enright & Bishop Oulton Is Kinda Dull

So awhile ago I posted about how CBC radio's Michael Enright was going to be holding a discussion with Anglican Bishop Michael Oulton.

Discussion organizer, Eric Friesen, wanted to have this meeting at St. George's Cathedral to make up for a debate between Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens. I think they were upset because Blair got an unholy Hitch-slapping.
As someone who was there on the evening at Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, when Christopher Hitchens demolished former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a debate on “Is Religion A Force for Good in the World,” it seemed to Eric  that a serious, truthful exploration of the question was lost in the verbal pyrotechnics of the combatants.  Unfortunately, God was represented by the less competent debater (Blair) and lost out in what was not a fair fight.
To resolve this supposed issue they got Michael Enright to discuss God with a Bishop in a church. Enright had recently accused atheists of being whiney and playing the victim card - of just not shutting up. So you can bet this conversation would be nothing like the Hitchens debate - a huge shame.

You can find the video of Michael Enright and Bishop Oulton truthfully exploring the question below.

I listened to the whole thing - well mostly - and I have one overall reaction: I sure wish Christopher Hitchens were there. If I were in the audience, I may have resorted to a prayer, however futile. It would been a plea to the Universe that some kind of gaping chasm would open up under me and swallow me whole. In other words, I found it very dull.

Life's much too busy right now for me to actually go very deeply into this - for which I'm actually a little thankful. Then I would have to watch the thing again. So I'll just sum up some of my general reactions.

I suppose tame would be the word here. A lot of the conversation felt like filler to me.

A couple of things were very apparent here. Enright is not what I would call a Christian fellow, and he's certainly not anywhere near a hard atheist. He strikes me as someone who grew up Catholic - with Latin Masses and all, like me - and is now lapsed. He even mentions going down to Vermont to be quiet in a monastery for awhile and appears to be rather into Buddhism.

They go into some rather detailed theological mumbo jumbo and at one point Enright even mentions the kind of fear and lack of direction modern people have these days.  This seems to lead right into Oulton making his pitch for religion. It all seems very convenient.

At one point Enright even mentions that he envies people with faith.

Anyway, the conversation is harmless, tame, likely difficult to follow for many and boring.  The only meat you'll find on this bone is when the conversation opens to audience Q&A. That's when someone actually asks Enright and Oulton a relevant question: whether or not God actually exists. The answers are anything but enlightening.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Another Day, Another Screed Against "Cry-Baby" Atheists

Michael Coren.
So, Michael Coren, host of Fox News Sun News Network's The Arena and regular contibutor to the Catholic Register, is the latest Canadian media personality to dump on atheists and, in particular, Richard Dawkins with a near-incomprehensible rambling screed. It's no surprise, I suppose. He gets paid to say controversial stuff.

LINK: Atheist doesn’t believe in sensibility, either

After introducing his screed with a generous dump on Richard Dawkins, he moves on to the Jesus & Mo t-shirt controversy at the London School of Economics.

He points out that the only reason the shirts were banned was to placate the large Muslim student population at the school.
These annoying atheist kids were told to cover up their T-shirts because this college has a very large Muslim student population, and there was genuine fear that there could be serious violence. Muslim youth had complained that unless something was done, they would make their displeasure obvious.
You know, this very well might be the case and I could almost find myself agreeing with him on this small point. But then he launches in against atheists.

He takes a pot shot at the Reason Rally and Tim Minchin's funny Pope song before whining that Christians - Catholics in particular - are the real victims of prejudice and abuse these days. This is, of course, amusing after we've had the Rex Murphys, Diane Bedermans, Elizabeth Renzettis and Michael Enrights accusing atheists of playing the victim and being whiny.
It’s been open season on Christianity for almost a generation now, and the last acceptable prejudice in so-called polite society is anti-Catholicism.
Right. The Christians are the abused and downtrodden minority majority these days.

He then suggests that if Christian or Muslim students worn t-shirts against gay marriage or abortion, Dawkins and his hard left crowd would have stood up and protested against them.
But back to the T-shirts. Imagine if Christian or Muslim students had worn T-shirts proclaiming, “Gay marriage is no marriage” or “Women, do not kill your babies.” 
There is no way they would have been permitted by the authorities to even enter the building, so spare me the nonsense about free speech and lack of censorship.
You know, I don't know if they would have. So long as these t-shirts are attacking an idea or point of view rather than a person or group, I would allow such shirts. It would clearly identify to everyone in the school who the homophobic anti-choicers are so they might be more easily avoided.

He ends with, of course, accusing atheists of being cry babies.
Now I’m about to make a T-shirt with the words, “Atheists are Cry-Babies with Double Standards” and see what happens.
Add another name to the list.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

"Atheists, Stop Whining" Michael Enright To Discuss God's Place In the 21st Century With Anglican Bishop Tonight

So a few days ago, in the great tradition of Rex Murphy, Diane Bederman and Elizabeth Renzetti, Michael Enright put out a nasty little screed against those whiny atheists on his CBC radio show. Of course, he's only getting away with this sort of thing because it is still socially acceptable to tell atheists to shut up here in Canada.
"It's just that instead of shouting their assertions and beliefs in a booming voice, they could maybe whisper.  
"As though they were in a library. Or a church."
How... should... I... respond?

Oh, yes sir. We should whisper as if we were in a church. 

I think we shall scream it out on the mountain tops and if Mr Enright has any problems with this then I suggest he purchase a pair of earplugs. In fact, I offer to mail him some, if he would prefer.

As for Dawkins. It seems to be a common battle cry for these lot lately to accuse us all of idolizing him as some kind of Pope. I have no idea why. This is certainly not the case and blatantly obvious to any person who would care to ask even a handful of atheists. Why can't they understand this?

Hemant Mehta at the Friendly Atheist and Veronica at the Canadian Atheist have done a good job responding to this and I am sure more responses are on the way. So for now I would like to present you with this interesting bit of information.

It seems he's got a speaking engagement at a church with a bishop about God's place.

TONIGHT! Does God Have a Place in the 21st Century?

Editor's Note 2013-10-02: The previous link started giving 404 error, so I had to change the link to the "Successful" blog post. The church doesn't seem to maintain a blog in the usual way with old links seemingly breaking often.

Editor's Note 2013-10-07: Obviously the content manager over at St. George's cares little about people linking into their site. For a second time the content has gone missing and the link doesn't work.  I found it in Google Cache and I froze the page.

So it turns out that only days after releasing this article, Enright is going to be involved in a public discussion at St. George's Cathedral with Anglican Bishop Michael Oulton. The conversation seems to be a friendly discussion exploring whether or not God exists. This is in response to the heated debate between Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens where "a serious, truthful exploration of the question was lost in the verbal pyrotechnics of the combatants." 

Oh, and Blair lost. Yes. That couldn't have been helpful at all.

So this is supposed to be a new dialogue that attempts to avoid all that nasty debate.
Religion tells us that secular people are nihilistic, pleasure-chasing relativists: and the effect is to make us flee what sounds like a punitive and sanctimonious religion.  Secularism, in the voice of the celebrated New Atheists, tells us that religion is mental slavery, reaction and prejudice; and this shallow condescension makes us close our ears to secularism.”
If only they'd shut up, eh? And again we have this media-concocted term New Atheist thrust at us.

Anyway, this discussion is to be much more civilized.  It is "to explore the case for and against God (and the Church) in an intelligent conversation, where people of differing views listen to each other, explore common ground, and respectfully agree to disagree."

And then perhaps atheists, if they're honest and open, could see the value of who do believe and who faithfully practice their religion. Or in other words, shut up about how strange, wrong, silly, unproven and potentially dangerous their beliefs are - which inform their actions and decisions. Just nod and smile and don't hurt anyone's feelings.
The format for this evening will include plenty of opportunity for members of the audience to ask questions.  The event is in the Cathedral and free.
So after reading Enright's essay about the whiny atheists, does anyone have any questions?



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Friday, 16 August 2013

Chief Rabbi Says The Sky Is Falling And New Atheism Is The Cause

Chief Rabbi's got the answer.
Oh no! The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Everyone is turning all atheisty and Civilization is dooooooooooomed!

Oh, I'm sorry I have just read that I'm part of a problem that could cause the Occidental Downfall.

I always suspected that I was a bit of a klutz and now it turns out that my disbelief in something has gone and pooched the destiny of an entire hemisphere. So, let me catch my breath while the barbarian hoards are sill at the gates sharpening their man-skewers.

It turns out that Atheism - or what is being termed the New Atheism -  has completely and totally failed and we all need to get religious again to fight the barbarians.  Or so said Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in the Spectator magazine.

Chief Rabbi: atheism has failed. Only religion can defeat the new barbarians

The subtitle the article states that the West is suffering for its loss of faith. Unless we rediscover religion, our civilisation is in peril.  Wow, this is grave news indeed!

It seems that while I wasn't looking, Atheism, has had pretty much complete control over the West and has now done broke the thing. And here I was thinking that atheism in the West is just now beginning to get its voice. How wrong I was.

And move over Climate Change and Global Warming. This planet has bigger problems - lack of belief in God!  And the only thing that can solve its woes is more religion. After all this new atheism has just been spilled all over the place, who doesn't want a little more civilization-cleansing God now and then?

Stacks starts out by calling New Atheists superficial. They just don't get the whole life thing as religious folk like him do.
I love the remark made by one Oxford don about another: ‘On the surface, he’s profound, but deep down, he’s superficial.’ That sentence has more than once come to mind when reading the new atheists.
Let's just start out by stating that the New Atheists usually refers to just four guys, one of which has passed away. (And his body was hardly cool before religious writers hopped out of the woodwork to discredit him - really kicking him when he was down.) I consider myself a modern atheist and I do get a little annoyed when the entire modern atheist movement is reduced down to four men when it really is much broader than that.

That said, yes these are four intelligent men who dared to write books calling the clergy out on their bullshit rather than living quiet lives in academia and reserving their godless views for other initiates in their exclusive club - which no doubt also includes some of the cream of the clergy.

Supposedly, there was a time when those classic atheists of yore stood silent ant let falsehoods be worshipped in holy places. No sense in disturbing the naive religious fantasies of the hoi polloi. Atheism would only upset minds that require a delusion to provide moral codes and reasons to live. But the four horsemen refused to play this game and began courting the clergy clientele all in the name of seeking the truth and living in reality.

The popular appeal of the New Atheists and the rise of the Nones in the West is no doubt bad for business for those who make their business from religious belief.

In his piece Sacks looks forward to the day when intellectual historians will look back at these four men and wonder how they could ever think their books, which attempt to elevate the minds of millions of religious believers from the intellectual doldrums of religious fundamentalism to some more evidence-based state.

As for me, I believe this enterprise in enlightenment had to be undertaken by someone - for the sake of not only the truth but also the very future of the planet itself. And it certainly isn't something that very few religious intellectuals seem to have the time to do.

He then makes New Atheists out to be simpletons who believe that with the expunging of God belief would come a new utopian world of problem free bliss and happiness.  Of course this is not the case, but it would be a world where the beliefs of men are not based on fairytales and good feelings; a world where the thoughts of people are closer to the truth.

Straw man? Yes, I think so.

In another article Alexander Lucie-Smith over at the Catholic Herald agrees completely with Sacks, Lord Sacks is right: 21st-century atheism is descending into nihilism : Many of today’s God-haters have nothing of significance to say about life.
By contrast, many of the God-haters of today have nothing of significance to say about life. Indeed, many of them claim philosophy itself is unimportant.
I'm not sure about that. Dennett himself is a philosopher. I think the message that Lucie-Smith could be missing here is that philosophy has very little grounding in the material reality we know as humans if it cannot be somehow tested by science. Philosophy and science can work hand in hand - otherwise, it is nothing more than vapid religion. Meaning with nothing to back it up is nothing more than a fantasy.

He then pulls out the same chestnut about a foundation being required for morals in our society. I really don't get why they obsess about this so. Is it anything other than it being a kind of cache they can fit their God into?

He moves on to meaning. Because without God and religion, he is apparently unable to conceive of any meaning to his lives whatsoever. Well, any meaning worth talking about. These ghosts must be real independent beings for him, I think, or else he would need to take credit for creating his own meaning and values and worths in this Universe - a task I suppose he doesn't feel he is up to?
But this last simply cannot be true. There is meaning in the universe which we discover, and which we do not create. Well, how did that meaning get there? 
Of course, atheists could argue that these are stupid questions, a tale of sound and fury told by an idiot and signifying nothing. This nihilist position seems to me to be the position towards which most contemporary atheism is tending. Instead of answering the question, the tendency is to mock, ridicule and belittle the question. But the question – What does it all mean? – presupposes that there is meaning of some sort, and it is this surely that should form the basis for discussion amongst all people, whatever their beliefs about God: there should be a common search for meaning and for truth.
I'm sorry if this makes you feel sad or scared but, no. There are scientific facts and phenomena we discover in the universe. We then put our own interpretations and values onto them. We build our own meaning of life around things that we care about.  It's as simple as that. I don't know why this is such an enormous problem.

How did the meaning get there? We put it there.

And I don't mean to mock anyone here. Really, honestly, there is no grand meaning behind the universe. Please try to deal with this reality. Please insert your own meaning - it's easy, humans are wired for it. Everyone searches for their own meaning.

There is a common search for truth. It's the enterprise of science. Philosophy also fits the bill in measure with how much it grounds itself in reality (using science to underpin it). Philosophy and ethics must be grounded in science and not religious mumbo jumbo.

The truth is, it's mainly the religious clergy who are suffering from the West's loss of faith. As the numbers of those who would consider the post of priest or rabbi anything special or worthy of praise dwindle, less meat remains for those who stand solely on their priestly credentials.

"And every meat offering, mingled with oil, and dry, shall all the sons of Aaron have, one as much as another" - No more. Religious institutions are at risk.

In his own country, Sacks can now see precious little support for religion and even less support for religious leaders like himself.
Asked which figures had influence in their lives, religious leaders came bottom, with only 12% saying they were influenced by them.
Sacks opened his piece with this lament.
Whatever happened to the intellectual depth of the serious atheists, the forcefulness of Hobbes, the passion of Spinoza, the wit of Voltaire, the world-shattering profundity of Nietzsche?
Perhaps I missed the show, and I could ask where are all today's great Christian philosophers? Let me sink my teeth into some of their work. Let them convert the masses if they can. But instead I'll close with some words from one of the great atheists according to Sacks at least, Friedrich Nietzsche.
“As is well known, the priests are the most evil enemies—but why? Because they are the most impotent. It is because of their impotence that in them hatred grows to monstrous and uncanny proportions, to the most spiritual and poisonous kind of hatred. The truly great haters in world history have always been priests; likewise the most ingenious haters: other kinds of spirit hardly come into consideration when compared with the spirit of priestly vengefulness.”
I'm not sure if I would agree with Nietzsche, mostly when it comes to the level of hatred clergy have. Here's something Voltaire, who was more likely a Deist,  said about clergy.
"The first priest was the first rogue who met the first fool."
I wonder if Sacks would really like to see the New Atheist movement produce more minds and hearts like Nietzsche and Voltaire.

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