February 5, 2011
Age of Reason: 10 Misconceptions of Atheism by Sam Harris

ageofreason:

Several polls indicate that the term “atheism” has acquired such an extraordinary stigma in the United States that being an atheist is now a perfect impediment to a career in politics (in a way that being black, Muslim or homosexual is not). According to a recent Newsweek poll, only 37% of Americans would vote for an otherwise qualified atheist for president.

Atheists are often imagined to be intolerant, immoral, depressed, blind to the beauty of nature and dogmatically closed to evidence of the supernatural.

Even John Locke, one of the great patriarchs of the Enlightenment, believed that atheism was “not at all to be tolerated” because, he said, “promises, covenants and oaths, which are the bonds of human societies, can have no hold upon an atheist.”

That was more than 300 years ago. But in the United States today, little seems to have changed. A remarkable 87% of the population claims “never to doubt” the existence of God; fewer than 10% identify themselves as atheists — and their reputation appears to be deteriorating.

Given that we know that atheists are often among the most intelligent and scientifically literate people in any society, it seems important to deflate the myths that prevent them from playing a larger role in our national discourse.

1) Atheists believe that life is meaningless.

On the contrary, religious people often worry that life is meaningless and imagine that it can only be redeemed by the promise of eternal happiness beyond the grave. Atheists tend to be quite sure that life is precious. Life is imbued with meaning by being really and fully lived. Our relationships with those we love are meaningful now; they need not last forever to be made so. Atheists tend to find this fear of meaninglessness … well … meaningless.

2) Atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes in human history.

People of faith often claim that the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were the inevitable product of unbelief. The problem with fascism and communism, however, is not that they are too critical of religion; the problem is that they are too much like religions. Such regimes are dogmatic to the core and generally give rise to personality cults that are indistinguishable from cults of religious hero worship. Auschwitz, the gulag and the killing fields were not examples of what happens when human beings reject religious dogma; they are examples of political, racial and nationalistic dogma run amok. There is no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too reasonable.

3) Atheism is dogmatic.

Jews, Christians and Muslims claim that their scriptures are so prescient of humanity’s needs that they could only have been written under the direction of an omniscient deity. An atheist is simply a person who has considered this claim, read the books and found the claim to be ridiculous. One doesn’t have to take anything on faith, or be otherwise dogmatic, to reject unjustified religious beliefs. As the historian Stephen Henry Roberts (1901-71) once said: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

4) Atheists think everything in the universe arose by chance.

No one knows why the universe came into being. In fact, it is not entirely clear that we can coherently speak about the “beginning” or “creation” of the universe at all, as these ideas invoke the concept of time, and here we are talking about the origin of space-time itself.

The notion that atheists believe that everything was created by chance is also regularly thrown up as a criticism of Darwinian evolution. As Richard Dawkins explains in his marvelous book, “The God Delusion,” this represents an utter misunderstanding of evolutionary theory. Although we don’t know precisely how the Earth’s early chemistry begat biology, we know that the diversity and complexity we see in the living world is not a product of mere chance. Evolution is a combination of chance mutation and natural selection. Darwin arrived at the phrase “natural selection” by analogy to the “artificial selection” performed by breeders of livestock. In both cases, selection exerts a highly non-random effect on the development of any species.

5) Atheism has no connection to science.

Although it is possible to be a scientist and still believe in God — as some scientists seem to manage it — there is no question that an engagement with scientific thinking tends to erode, rather than support, religious faith. Taking the U.S. population as an example: Most polls show that about 90% of the general public believes in a personal God; yet 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences do not. This suggests that there are few modes of thinking less congenial to religious faith than science is.

6) Atheists are arrogant.

When scientists don’t know something — like why the universe came into being or how the first self-replicating molecules formed — they admit it. Pretending to know things one doesn’t know is a profound liability in science. And yet it is the life-blood of faith-based religion. One of the monumental ironies of religious discourse can be found in the frequency with which people of faith praise themselves for their humility, while claiming to know facts about cosmology, chemistry and biology that no scientist knows. When considering questions about the nature of the cosmos and our place within it, atheists tend to draw their opinions from science. This isn’t arrogance; it is intellectual honesty.

7) Atheists are closed to spiritual experience.

There is nothing that prevents an atheist from experiencing love, ecstasy, rapture and awe; atheists can value these experiences and seek them regularly. What atheists don’t tend to do is make unjustified (and unjustifiable) claims about the nature of reality on the basis of such experiences. There is no question that some Christians have transformed their lives for the better by reading the Bible and praying to Jesus. What does this prove? It proves that certain disciplines of attention and codes of conduct can have a profound effect upon the human mind. Do the positive experiences of Christians suggest that Jesus is the sole savior of humanity? Not even remotely — because Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and even atheists regularly have similar experiences.

There is, in fact, not a Christian on this Earth who can be certain that Jesus even wore a beard, much less that he was born of a virgin or rose from the dead. These are just not the sort of claims that spiritual experience can authenticate.

8) Atheists believe that there is nothing beyond human life and human understanding

Atheists are free to admit the limits of human understanding in a way that religious people are not. It is obvious that we do not fully understand the universe; but it is even more obvious that neither the Bible nor the Koran reflects our best understanding of it. We do not know whether there is complex life elsewhere in the cosmos, but there might be. If there is, such beings could have developed an understanding of nature’s laws that vastly exceeds our own. Atheists can freely entertain such possibilities. They also can admit that if brilliant extraterrestrials exist, the contents of the Bible and the Koran will be even less impressive to them than they are to human atheists.

From the atheist point of view, the world’s religions utterly trivialize the real beauty and immensity of the universe. One doesn’t have to accept anything on insufficient evidence to make such an observation.

9) Atheists ignore the fact that religion is extremely beneficial to society.

Those who emphasize the good effects of religion never seem to realize that such effects fail to demonstrate the truth of any religious doctrine. This is why we have terms such as “wishful thinking” and “self-deception.” There is a profound distinction between a consoling delusion and the truth.

In any case, the good effects of religion can surely be disputed. In most cases, it seems that religion gives people bad reasons to behave well, when good reasons are actually available. Ask yourself, which is more moral, helping the poor out of concern for their suffering, or doing so because you think the creator of the universe wants you to do it, will reward you for doing it or will punish you for not doing it?

10) Atheism provides no basis for morality.

If a person doesn’t already understand that cruelty is wrong, he won’t discover this by reading the Bible or the Koran — as these books are bursting with celebrations of cruelty, both human and divine. We do not get our morality from religion. We decide what is good in our good books by recourse to moral intuitions that are (at some level) hard-wired in us and that have been refined by thousands of years of thinking about the causes and possibilities of human happiness.

We have made considerable moral progress over the years, and we didn’t make this progress by reading the Bible or the Koran more closely. Both books condone the practice of slavery — and yet every civilized human being now recognizes that slavery is an abomination. Whatever is good in scripture — like the golden rule — can be valued for its ethical wisdom without our believing that it was handed down to us by the creator of the universe.

(Source: ageofpuppy)

December 21, 2010
"

Why don’t you believe in God? I get that question all the time. I always try to give a sensitive, reasoned answer. This is usually awkward, time consuming and pointless. People who believe in God don’t need proof of his existence, and they certainly don’t want evidence to the contrary. They are happy with their belief. They even say things like “it’s true to me” and “it’s faith.” I still give my logical answer because I feel that not being honest would be patronizing and impolite. It is ironic therefore that “I don’t believe in God because there is absolutely no scientific evidence for his existence and from what I’ve heard the very definition is a logical impossibility in this known universe,” comes across as both patronizing and impolite.

Arrogance is another accusation. Which seems particularly unfair. Science seeks the truth. And it does not discriminate. For better or worse it finds things out. Science is humble. It knows what it knows and it knows what it doesn’t know. It bases its conclusions and beliefs on hard evidence -­- evidence that is constantly updated and upgraded. It doesn’t get offended when new facts come along. It embraces the body of knowledge. It doesn’t hold on to medieval practices because they are tradition. If it did, you wouldn’t get a shot of penicillin, you’d pop a leach down your trousers and pray. Whatever you “believe,” this is not as effective as medicine. Again you can say, “It works for me,” but so do placebos. My point being, I’m saying God doesn’t exist. I’m not saying faith doesn’t exist. I know faith exists. I see it all the time. But believing in something doesn’t make it true. Hoping that something is true doesn’t make it true. The existence of God is not subjective. He either exists or he doesn’t. It’s not a matter of opinion. You can have your own opinions. But you can’t have your own facts.

Why don’t I believe in God? No, no no, why do YOU believe in God? Surely the burden of proof is on the believer. You started all this. If I came up to you and said, “Why don’t you believe I can fly?” You’d say, “Why would I?” I’d reply, “Because it’s a matter of faith.” If I then said, “Prove I can’t fly. Prove I can’t fly see, see, you can’t prove it can you?” You’d probably either walk away, call security or throw me out of the window and shout, ‘’F—ing fly then you lunatic.”

"

— Ricky Gervais, “A Holiday Message from Ricky Gervais: Why I’m an Atheist

I’m not a big fan of Ricky Gervais’ comedy but this is a serious piece and a good read even if his story as to when he became an atheist seems a little glib. (However, that’s probably more a reflection of how I’m used to people placing such a big deal on that kind of realisation than actual glibness. It’s not like it should be a particularly big deal, but people’s sense of importance is skewed to allow such trivialities a big part in their own lives and they usually try to impact other people with such trivialities as well).

December 3, 2010
Stream of thoughts on existence of a god or group of gods.

This isn’t totally mapped out or written prettily but I thought I’d put it out there anyway.

biblebeltatheist and seekthetruth-islam have been having a bit of debate about Islam the Qur’an. seekthetruth-islam seems to put a lot of stock in the Qur’an being a miraculous text. biblebeltatheist disagrees and rightly asks for proof. However, what I want to note is that even were biblebeltatheist to grant that there was proof that the Qur’an was miraculous, it would still not be proof of Allah’s existence. It would only be proof that the Qur’an is miraculous. To say otherwise would be to make an assumption of attribution.

There are significant problems for those attempting to prove any god’s existence and it becomes even more problematic when attempting to prove a specific god or a specific group of gods.

Firstly, you must coherently and logically define what a god is. If you say a god is ineffable, you lose: if god is ineffable you cannot know god or attribute anything to god. If your definition is illogical based on premises you accept, you lose: for example, god cannot be omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent if evil exists; god cannot be omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent if god is the creator and the creation is flawed, and so-on.

Secondly, you have to prove that a god exists. This will be tough. You need evidence. As explained above, miracles are not evidence. I, for one, have my doubts as to whether there can even be evidence. But feel free to try and prove me wrong.

Of course, after that, you still have a significant problem in that even if you have a coherent and logical definition of god and you have proved its existence, you still have not given me reason to care. Even were god to exist, I am fine living without it. You have no way to make your god meaningful to me without the threat of coercion or it directly interfering. And so, we get religion.

Now you have a problem in that you have to prove that your religion is correct. Unfortunately, this means you have to have defined god coherently, proved god exists as according to your definition of god and you have to link that god to your religion.

Once again, I note that miracles are not proof that your religion is correct because the existence of god does not preclude other reasons for what is seen as miraculous. It does not even mean god is the most likely reason for what is seen as miraculous. (Of course, that may hinge on your chosen definition of god.)

The most logical first step would seem to be to see if the traits of the coherently and logically defined god you have proved the existence of line up with the traits of the god of your religion. If they do not, your religion is wrong.

Another step you could take would be to check for contradictions in your religion. If there are contradictions, your religion is wrong.

If you do manage a solid link to this god you have defined and proved and the traits do not line up or there are contradictions, surely you have to ask if you should take your religion seriously. (“What are the motives of god?”)

December 2, 2010
Atheist bus adverts

Some people are getting upset about bus adverts which state: “Millions of Americans are Good without God”. Some companies refuse to accept them. There is even a reasonably subtle bias in the article. But what exactly is the problem? The advert does not say that those Americans who feel they are with God are not good. The implication is not even there.

Keep on with the religious hysteria. Those nasty atheists sure are out to get you. Or maybe they just expect fair and equal treatment from society. Maybe they just want to put it out there that one does not need religion to be “good”.

You may as well have a look at the Euthyphro Dilemma while you’re at it.

October 20, 2010
stfubelievers:

inherhipstheresrevolutions:

stfubelievers:

youareasmellypiratehooker:

stfubelievers:

youareasmellypiratehooker:

-potbrownies:

satisfactionguaranteed:

I just snorted. I’ve never snorted before:

I feel there are so many things wrong with this, I can’t address them all. So who wants to make something mocking homosexuality or atheism? Apparently everything is fair game, right?

i fucking hate this. shut the hell up everyone. you condemn us for mocking homosexuals or other things, but you can mock our whole belief system. there are so many things wrong with this picture. this is what i believe in. if you don’t believe in it, keep it to yourself.
i’m sick of everyone believing they can push Christians around. i’m not standing for this. at least we have faith in something. we believe in something more. we’re not hopeless. keep your ideas to yourself. and stop making fun of people for what they believe in.
i’m sure that if a picture spread around about gays, atheists, or any of that shit, you guys would pounce on it. you guys would destroy us. but you can say shit like this, and think that it’s okay.
you need to go and realize that people do believe in something. and mocking their beliefs is just absolutely disgusting.
and this picture, is just about the most revolting of all.

The Rodent Queen asked my followers and me to respond to this so I’ll start with what bugged me most: “if you don’t believe in it, keep it to yourself.” Well if you do believe it, keep it to yourself.
“mocking their beliefs is just absolutely disgusting” I can’t speak for the person writing, but just yesterday I had the pleasure of hearing two fellow college students mocking atheism. Quite loudly, in a public place. What you probably meant was mocking YOUR beliefs is disgusting.
Religious privelege has existed for thousands of years, sometimes a specific religion, more often belief in a diety or deities in general. Get over yourself. (Oh, and how did “gays” get brought into it anyway? Is that a belief system I am unaware of?)

i’m proud of what i believe in. sorry you can’t deal with it. i don’t force my beliefs down anyone else’s throat. but i’m not going to sit back and deny what i believe in. i am a Christian. and i don’t care what you think about me. i believe in the Lord, and His love. i don’t tell people they’re wrong. i don’t put people down for what they do or don’t believe in. i never said anything of the sort. so don’t put words in my mouth.
and don’t group Christians as a whole for what two stupid people were doing. and how does mocking Christianity make it any better? you are hypocritical. a couple of people mocking atheism doesn’t make mocking Christianity any better. i don’t go around making fun of what people believe in. it’s just wrong. and the fact that i can’t go around, saying what i believe, is terrible. i have so many friends that don’t believe in the same things that i do. and that’s okay. i move on. i don’t make fun of them. i let them believe what they believe in.
you guys need to think about the fact that maybe we’re proud. i don’t go shoving ideas, beliefs and all of my thoughts into other people’s heads. but, i’m not going to deny what i believe in. what i love. and what means the most to me.
I’M NOT TEASING ALL THESE OTHER RELIGIONS. i know we all have freedom of religion. and that’s okay with me. people have their ideas, and i understand. but can’t we have ours and not get made fun of for it? why don’t you get over yourself, and realize that it hurts when you do this to us. or anyone else for that matter. we have feelings. and just because we’re a majority doesn’t mean we’re any less human.
oh, and the gay thing, just another point brought up in the conversation. just another thing that people aren’t allowed to poke fun at, but when Christianity is brought up, it’s fair game. i never said homosexuality was a belief system.
i’m sick of having to stick up for myself. and what i believe in.

“but can’t we have ours and not get made fun of for it?” Nope. Free speech.
“oh, and the gay thing, just another point brought up in the conversation. just another thing that people aren’t allowed to poke fun at, but when Christianity is brought up, it’s fair game.” Everything is fair game when you have freedom of speech. Everyone can make fun of everything, and they will.
In a truly free society, nothing is beyond reproach or being mocked; that was where I was going with the example of the people making fun of atheism. Everything gets mocked, it is a common human way to deal with things we don’t agree with or understand the purpose of. Its also funnier than actually criticizing a belief system. If nothing can be mocked, life would be really boring.

 Um. This person may not personally push their beliefs onto others, but the Christian church actively works to do this: It strives to deny people who are homosexual of their human rights. It activiely works to deny women of having full control over their uteri. I could go on, but you get the jist. So, when I hear/see people bashing the Christian/Catholic church, in fact any religious organisation that does any of the above, I thoroughly welcome and understand that.
The core ethics and beliefs Atheism are based around do not consist of denying people human rights and encouraging bigotry. They do however, consist of pointing out blatant idiocy and bigotry when it’s seen.

I am going to leave this convo at this for me because:
1. this response from inherhipstheresrevolutions is perfect
2. a bunch of you have reblogged with equally awesome responses and I know there will be more. You guys rock.

Beliefs are not worthy of respect in and of themselves. That is the difference here. Homosexuality is not a belief system, nor is atheism. Homosexuality is an individual characteristic not chosen by an individual, while by definition atheism is only a lack of belief in a deity or deities. It is not a proscriptive belief system which states you must believe x, y, and z (unlike what a person above asserts), although as an atheist one may be more likely to be a secular humanist or even a Communist. I will note that a lack of belief is also not worthy of respect in and of itself, but it is much harder to generalise about atheists as a set of people as they are not a mass with a relatively homogenous set of beliefs.
Now I’m going to try and go through this once more, given that so many people have such a hard time understanding this.
A theist is a person who believes in a deity or deities. While they believe in a deity or deities, they are not necessarily willing to make truth claims as to knowledge of the existence of a deity or deities. As such, a theist can be either agnostic or gnostic.
An atheist is a person who lacks belief in a deity or deities (lack of belief in a higher power). This does not mean they therefore believe there is no deity or deities. It just means they do not believe. As such, an atheist can be an agnostic or gnostic.
Agnosticism is about knowledge, or more precisely absolute claims about knowledge. An agnostic is a person who believes absolute claims are unable to be made as the absolute truth is either unknown and/or unknowable. In this case, an agnostic believes that the question of the existence of a deity or deities is ultimately unknown and/or unknowable. In other words, they will not make an absolute claim of knowledge and although they may ascribe probabilities to the existence of a deity or deities, the probabilities will be less than one-hundred percent.
Gnosticism is also about knowledge. It is a term that has moved away from its initial definition to encompass a belief that the truth is not only knowable but known. In this context a gnostic can be either an atheist or a theist. Not only do they respectively believe that there are no deities and either a deity or deities, but they also believe this can be known with certainty and they know this.
People tend to believe that agnosticism is the middle ground between atheism and theism. It is not, at least not in the sense that most people believe. I will make this clear. A person can be either a theist, or an atheist. By definition a theist believes while an atheist lacks belief. A person cannot believe and lack belief at the same time, as many believe agnostics do (although they perhaps do not characterise it as such, as they would hopefully recognise that the two states are mutually exclusive). So more clearly, a person can be an agnostic atheist, a gnostic atheist, an agnostic theist or a gnostic theist. There are no other options. There are no fewer options.
How a person chooses to define themself, however, is also important. Most people, even those who understand that atheism/theism is a continuum dealing with belief while agnosticism/gnosticism is a continuum dealing with knowledge claims, tend to define themselves with one term only. For example, I tend to term myself as an atheist when asked, despite being an agnostic atheist, because while I believe the absolute truth is unknown and possibly unknowable, I lean much more heavily to there being very little probability of a deity or deities. Others may even define themselves as ignostic, people who hold the belief that the ideas of what a deity is are too poorly defined to have any relevant meaning; or apatheist, people who essentially believe that belief in god is unimportant - they may not only lack interest in deities but potentially may also believe that the existence of a deity or deities would not change how they live their life. While these terms come under the auspices of atheism and theism, they show there is a certain complexity to a person’s position that may not initially be apparent if only making black and white considerations as to the nature of an individual. How a person defines themself is thus important as it can usually be taken to imply something about their position.
Finally, on the subject of you Christians who are getting upset about this poster, I have a few questions: What exactly is the problem? Is this an accurate portrayal of your beliefs or not? If not, what is incorrect about it? It is all very well getting offended, but you have not actually shown where this poster is wrong, if at all. Furthermore, on the topic of justification of your theism and getting all snooty, consider this: Firstly, as an atheist I am much more likely to be called to justify my lack of belief than you are, despite atheism being a default position - you are born without belief in a deity or deities. Secondly, people are far more likely to look down upon me for my atheism than your theism and believe that I lack a moral compass because for whatever reason and in my eyes wrongly, religion has an association with morality.
Actually, given there is a reasonable likelihood that you believe I lack a moral compass, I am impelled to ask another question predicated on the premise that your belief is true: If all non-believers lack a moral compass, why would they come to God? Would it be based on random chance? If so, why does belief in God have any meaning? Yes, it might change you fundamentally, or so you believe, and undoubtedly your interaction with the religious and the religion will have an impact on who you are - much as anything else, but to come to the actual decision of believing will require no desire to be good if it is the case that non-believers do not have a moral compass, not that I believe religion is a good provider and arbiter of morality, but it seems a reasonable assumption to think that you do.
Furthermore, while I am asking questions, why do you think faith is a good thing? It is belief without, or even in the face of, evidence. It seems odd that this is considered some kind of virtue. Religious belief might give you comfort but so do many other beliefs which you have likely discarded over the years. How can you be proud of faith? Why?
Yes, I realise some of you may have had seemingly inexplicable experiences you have attributed to the God of your religion, but so have followers of Allah, so have followers of Buddha, so have followers of the Hindu pantheon and so have many other followers of vastly different beliefs. Even non-religious people have had such experiences, although they will not attribute them to a deity or deities, but rather more likely physiological causes. How can you rationalise and assert the validity of your belief in the face of such evidence which suggests that you are making fundamental attribution errors as to the cause of your experience? Given the beliefs tend to be mutually exclusive (in a religious sense, you can’t be a Christian and a Muslim, for example), there is a suggestion that the majority of believers are not truth-seekers and, furthermore, that the probability of it being any of the beliefs which do not cover all of those affected by the experience is extremely low. The non-religious experience is the only one that stacks up in terms of attribution as it can fit for all, while presumably from the religious perspective such experiences will or should only occur for believers unless one engages in some form of apologetics (for example, Satan causes the experiences in non-believers and those who believe in different deities). The problem with such apologetics, however, is that it offers a much more convoluted reason. That is to say, it introduces even more assumptions and entities to that which the religious belief has (which is more than that of the non-religious experience already) which again decreases its probability of being correct.

stfubelievers:

inherhipstheresrevolutions:

stfubelievers:

youareasmellypiratehooker:

stfubelievers:

youareasmellypiratehooker:

-potbrownies:

satisfactionguaranteed:

I just snorted. I’ve never snorted before:

I feel there are so many things wrong with this, I can’t address them all. So who wants to make something mocking homosexuality or atheism? Apparently everything is fair game, right?

i fucking hate this. shut the hell up everyone. you condemn us for mocking homosexuals or other things, but you can mock our whole belief system. there are so many things wrong with this picture. this is what i believe in. if you don’t believe in it, keep it to yourself.

i’m sick of everyone believing they can push Christians around. i’m not standing for this. at least we have faith in something. we believe in something more. we’re not hopeless. keep your ideas to yourself. and stop making fun of people for what they believe in.

i’m sure that if a picture spread around about gays, atheists, or any of that shit, you guys would pounce on it. you guys would destroy us. but you can say shit like this, and think that it’s okay.

you need to go and realize that people do believe in something. and mocking their beliefs is just absolutely disgusting.

and this picture, is just about the most revolting of all.

The Rodent Queen asked my followers and me to respond to this so I’ll start with what bugged me most: “if you don’t believe in it, keep it to yourself.” Well if you do believe it, keep it to yourself.

“mocking their beliefs is just absolutely disgusting” I can’t speak for the person writing, but just yesterday I had the pleasure of hearing two fellow college students mocking atheism. Quite loudly, in a public place. What you probably meant was mocking YOUR beliefs is disgusting.

Religious privelege has existed for thousands of years, sometimes a specific religion, more often belief in a diety or deities in general. Get over yourself. (Oh, and how did “gays” get brought into it anyway? Is that a belief system I am unaware of?)

i’m proud of what i believe in. sorry you can’t deal with it. i don’t force my beliefs down anyone else’s throat. but i’m not going to sit back and deny what i believe in. i am a Christian. and i don’t care what you think about me. i believe in the Lord, and His love. i don’t tell people they’re wrong. i don’t put people down for what they do or don’t believe in. i never said anything of the sort. so don’t put words in my mouth.

and don’t group Christians as a whole for what two stupid people were doing. and how does mocking Christianity make it any better? you are hypocritical. a couple of people mocking atheism doesn’t make mocking Christianity any better. i don’t go around making fun of what people believe in. it’s just wrong. and the fact that i can’t go around, saying what i believe, is terrible. i have so many friends that don’t believe in the same things that i do. and that’s okay. i move on. i don’t make fun of them. i let them believe what they believe in.

you guys need to think about the fact that maybe we’re proud. i don’t go shoving ideas, beliefs and all of my thoughts into other people’s heads. but, i’m not going to deny what i believe in. what i love. and what means the most to me.

I’M NOT TEASING ALL THESE OTHER RELIGIONS. i know we all have freedom of religion. and that’s okay with me. people have their ideas, and i understand. but can’t we have ours and not get made fun of for it? why don’t you get over yourself, and realize that it hurts when you do this to us. or anyone else for that matter. we have feelings. and just because we’re a majority doesn’t mean we’re any less human.

oh, and the gay thing, just another point brought up in the conversation. just another thing that people aren’t allowed to poke fun at, but when Christianity is brought up, it’s fair game. i never said homosexuality was a belief system.

i’m sick of having to stick up for myself. and what i believe in.

“but can’t we have ours and not get made fun of for it?” Nope. Free speech.

“oh, and the gay thing, just another point brought up in the conversation. just another thing that people aren’t allowed to poke fun at, but when Christianity is brought up, it’s fair game.” Everything is fair game when you have freedom of speech. Everyone can make fun of everything, and they will.

In a truly free society, nothing is beyond reproach or being mocked; that was where I was going with the example of the people making fun of atheism. Everything gets mocked, it is a common human way to deal with things we don’t agree with or understand the purpose of. Its also funnier than actually criticizing a belief system. If nothing can be mocked, life would be really boring.

 Um. This person may not personally push their beliefs onto others, but the Christian church actively works to do this: It strives to deny people who are homosexual of their human rights. It activiely works to deny women of having full control over their uteri. I could go on, but you get the jist. So, when I hear/see people bashing the Christian/Catholic church, in fact any religious organisation that does any of the above, I thoroughly welcome and understand that.

The core ethics and beliefs Atheism are based around do not consist of denying people human rights and encouraging bigotry. They do however, consist of pointing out blatant idiocy and bigotry when it’s seen.

I am going to leave this convo at this for me because:

1. this response from inherhipstheresrevolutions is perfect

2. a bunch of you have reblogged with equally awesome responses and I know there will be more. You guys rock.

Beliefs are not worthy of respect in and of themselves. That is the difference here. Homosexuality is not a belief system, nor is atheism. Homosexuality is an individual characteristic not chosen by an individual, while by definition atheism is only a lack of belief in a deity or deities. It is not a proscriptive belief system which states you must believe x, y, and z (unlike what a person above asserts), although as an atheist one may be more likely to be a secular humanist or even a Communist. I will note that a lack of belief is also not worthy of respect in and of itself, but it is much harder to generalise about atheists as a set of people as they are not a mass with a relatively homogenous set of beliefs.

Now I’m going to try and go through this once more, given that so many people have such a hard time understanding this.

A theist is a person who believes in a deity or deities. While they believe in a deity or deities, they are not necessarily willing to make truth claims as to knowledge of the existence of a deity or deities. As such, a theist can be either agnostic or gnostic.

An atheist is a person who lacks belief in a deity or deities (lack of belief in a higher power). This does not mean they therefore believe there is no deity or deities. It just means they do not believe. As such, an atheist can be an agnostic or gnostic.

Agnosticism is about knowledge, or more precisely absolute claims about knowledge. An agnostic is a person who believes absolute claims are unable to be made as the absolute truth is either unknown and/or unknowable. In this case, an agnostic believes that the question of the existence of a deity or deities is ultimately unknown and/or unknowable. In other words, they will not make an absolute claim of knowledge and although they may ascribe probabilities to the existence of a deity or deities, the probabilities will be less than one-hundred percent.

Gnosticism is also about knowledge. It is a term that has moved away from its initial definition to encompass a belief that the truth is not only knowable but known. In this context a gnostic can be either an atheist or a theist. Not only do they respectively believe that there are no deities and either a deity or deities, but they also believe this can be known with certainty and they know this.

People tend to believe that agnosticism is the middle ground between atheism and theism. It is not, at least not in the sense that most people believe. I will make this clear. A person can be either a theist, or an atheist. By definition a theist believes while an atheist lacks belief. A person cannot believe and lack belief at the same time, as many believe agnostics do (although they perhaps do not characterise it as such, as they would hopefully recognise that the two states are mutually exclusive). So more clearly, a person can be an agnostic atheist, a gnostic atheist, an agnostic theist or a gnostic theist. There are no other options. There are no fewer options.

How a person chooses to define themself, however, is also important. Most people, even those who understand that atheism/theism is a continuum dealing with belief while agnosticism/gnosticism is a continuum dealing with knowledge claims, tend to define themselves with one term only. For example, I tend to term myself as an atheist when asked, despite being an agnostic atheist, because while I believe the absolute truth is unknown and possibly unknowable, I lean much more heavily to there being very little probability of a deity or deities. Others may even define themselves as ignostic, people who hold the belief that the ideas of what a deity is are too poorly defined to have any relevant meaning; or apatheist, people who essentially believe that belief in god is unimportant - they may not only lack interest in deities but potentially may also believe that the existence of a deity or deities would not change how they live their life. While these terms come under the auspices of atheism and theism, they show there is a certain complexity to a person’s position that may not initially be apparent if only making black and white considerations as to the nature of an individual. How a person defines themself is thus important as it can usually be taken to imply something about their position.

Finally, on the subject of you Christians who are getting upset about this poster, I have a few questions: What exactly is the problem? Is this an accurate portrayal of your beliefs or not? If not, what is incorrect about it? It is all very well getting offended, but you have not actually shown where this poster is wrong, if at all. Furthermore, on the topic of justification of your theism and getting all snooty, consider this: Firstly, as an atheist I am much more likely to be called to justify my lack of belief than you are, despite atheism being a default position - you are born without belief in a deity or deities. Secondly, people are far more likely to look down upon me for my atheism than your theism and believe that I lack a moral compass because for whatever reason and in my eyes wrongly, religion has an association with morality.

Actually, given there is a reasonable likelihood that you believe I lack a moral compass, I am impelled to ask another question predicated on the premise that your belief is true: If all non-believers lack a moral compass, why would they come to God? Would it be based on random chance? If so, why does belief in God have any meaning? Yes, it might change you fundamentally, or so you believe, and undoubtedly your interaction with the religious and the religion will have an impact on who you are - much as anything else, but to come to the actual decision of believing will require no desire to be good if it is the case that non-believers do not have a moral compass, not that I believe religion is a good provider and arbiter of morality, but it seems a reasonable assumption to think that you do.

Furthermore, while I am asking questions, why do you think faith is a good thing? It is belief without, or even in the face of, evidence. It seems odd that this is considered some kind of virtue. Religious belief might give you comfort but so do many other beliefs which you have likely discarded over the years. How can you be proud of faith? Why?

Yes, I realise some of you may have had seemingly inexplicable experiences you have attributed to the God of your religion, but so have followers of Allah, so have followers of Buddha, so have followers of the Hindu pantheon and so have many other followers of vastly different beliefs. Even non-religious people have had such experiences, although they will not attribute them to a deity or deities, but rather more likely physiological causes. How can you rationalise and assert the validity of your belief in the face of such evidence which suggests that you are making fundamental attribution errors as to the cause of your experience? Given the beliefs tend to be mutually exclusive (in a religious sense, you can’t be a Christian and a Muslim, for example), there is a suggestion that the majority of believers are not truth-seekers and, furthermore, that the probability of it being any of the beliefs which do not cover all of those affected by the experience is extremely low. The non-religious experience is the only one that stacks up in terms of attribution as it can fit for all, while presumably from the religious perspective such experiences will or should only occur for believers unless one engages in some form of apologetics (for example, Satan causes the experiences in non-believers and those who believe in different deities). The problem with such apologetics, however, is that it offers a much more convoluted reason. That is to say, it introduces even more assumptions and entities to that which the religious belief has (which is more than that of the non-religious experience already) which again decreases its probability of being correct.

September 30, 2010

Grr. This is a video of Richard Dawkins on the O’Reilly Factor. O’Reilly is annoying, but then he pretty much always annoys me. Key points to take from this:

"Leap of faith." O’Reilly is the one who takes a position of certainty. Atheism by definition is a lack of belief and agnosticism is a lack of knowledge. In and of themselves they are not positions of certainty (although there are atheists who go further than lacking belief in a deity believing there are no deities).

"Being humble is a Christian virtue." Being humble may be a virtue but it is not an exclusively Christian one and you don’t get it by becoming a Christian, so no, it’s not a "Christian virtue". Furthermore, Christians believe the universe has been made for them and that there is a god out there watching their every move. How is that a humble belief? It’s the height of egocentrism.

Ignoring the incorrect lumping of Hitler in with the others, O’Reilly misses the key point that Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot had more in common with the religious than the non-religious in the sense that they were pursuing goals in the name of dogma. Dogma is a core plank of religion and probably the major problem with it. Atheism in and of itself is not dogmatic: it is a lack of belief, not a proscriptive belief in that which does not have proof.

September 6, 2010
Moral barometer?

Many Christians (and those of other religions?) seem to believe that if one is an atheist (or even an agnostic?) that one lacks a moral barometer: “Without belief in God”, they say, “why would the atheist be motivated to live a moral upstanding life?” This confuses me. Surely, if their creator-god exists and has given humans free will to make the choice whether or not to join the flock, there is an inbuilt moral understanding of right and wrong so that the making of such a choice has meaning. Furthermore, just because the atheist(/agnostic) hasn’t made one choice to do what is “right” by joining the flock, they still have that inbuilt morality which means they have motivation to make the “right” choices in other situations. Am I barking up the wrong tree here or is this common belief about atheists/agnostics lacking a moral barometer somewhat contradictory?

August 31, 2010
Tony Blair makes noise. Shouldn’t. Remains irrelevant.

World religions are threatened by forces both from within themselves and from the wider world, said Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister, today.

Christians and Muslims represent about half the world’s total population between them.

“Each was made to feel an outsider. Each stood out against the conventional teaching of the time. Each believed in the universal appeal of God to humanity. Each was a change-maker.”

“We face an aggressive secular attack from without. We face the threat of extremism from within.”

Arguing that there was “no hope” from atheists who scorn God, he said the best way to confront the secularist agenda was for all faiths to unite against it.

He said: “Those who scorn God and those who do violence in God’s name, both represent views of religion. But both offer no hope for faith in the twenty first century.”

(http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article6864775.ece)

Upon reading this piece, this came to mind:

We’ve been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture

— Rev. Ray Mummert (http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2005/3/29/101723/142)

Read More

April 18, 2010
Links dump.

Technology
DIY Cleanroom
: How to make a basic cleanroom.
Garage Biology: Considering garage biology and detailing a garage biology lab in silicon valley.
Micro-brewing the Bioeconomy: Craft brewing as an example of distributed biological manufacturing.
Chat Roulette: Somewhat amusing chat roulette image. Oh the mighty advances of technology, eh? Bringing meaningful communication to the masses.

Politics/Economics
The Three Horsemen of the Global Depression: Positing the drivers of the current depression and postulating that the recovery is fragile and probably perceived rather than real.
The Collapse of Complex Business Models: Positing eventual collapse because of sophistication in the system which has led to inflexibility in responding to change.
The Financial Oligarchy Tax: Considering the costs imposed by the global financial oligarchy.
Technology, Human Development and the Social Energy Grid: Considering the necessary expansion of technology for the creation, storage and allocation of social energy.
Huckabee Rips Steele, Romney, LGBT Activists: Huckabee expresses his homophobia and infers that atheists live as if they have no moral groundings - making the false conflation of religion with morality.
Six Psychological Reasons Consumer Culture is Unsatisfying: Considers why purchasing goods can often be unsatisfying with reference to maximising and satisficing.

Religion
If There Were No God: Offering the perspective that the world is as it is because there is no God.
Trouble in Paradise: Giving a critique of Lisa Miller’s book, Heaven.
FML: Religious person tells their five year old son about God.
The Logic of Intelligent Design: Shown in a hypothetical debate where a scientist uses the logic of intelligent design to highlight its absurdities. Very funny.
Why Every Moral Person Must Take a Stand Against the Bible: Explains that the Bible makes claims which people base their decisions upon and negatively impact others with and that as such, as moral people, a stand against the Bible must be taken: “Agreeing to disagree is only an option for beliefs, NOT CLAIMS.”

Psychology
How to Increase your Self-Control Without Really Trying: A study suggesting abstract thought can automatically and unconsciously bolster one’s self-control.
Boost Creativity: Psychological techniques to boost creativity.
Belief Biases: Biases in belief which can reduce pleasure.

Art Miscellany
Parkour: Generations: Parkour training camp. This is not a mistake. Parkour is an artform.
Night Moves, 2.19 A.M.: Insomnia-inspired piece of art.
So You Need a Typeface: Typography infographic.
The Sky Before Katrina Struck: Beautiful images of the sky prior to Katrina striking.

Alcohol
The Beer Mapping Project: Beer-related places near you.
Scotchka and The Room: The Best Bad Drinks for the Best Bad Movie: Drinks from and also how to get through the movie, The Room.

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