Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Posts Tagged ‘atheism

Is Atheism a Religion Revisited?

with 6 comments


Many people of faith make the claim that atheism is a religion. Ask any atheist if this is true and the answer will be a resounding no. For the longest time I thought the comparison was absurd, as evidenced by my repeated quote: “Atheism is a religion the same way not collecting stamps is a hobby.” Alas, I am cursed with a tendency to think about things, especially a tendency to think about things from different perspectives, and as a result, I have concluded that the “atheism is a religion” argument is not entirely without merit. Here then, in no particular order, are some reasons why. (Note that I am not claiming that atheism and religion are identical, just that the theistic argument has some merit.)

The fact that atheists generally get annoyed to angry at the comparison is the first indication. Even worse, most of them don’t even want to discuss the issue, and dismiss it out of hand with truisms like my quote in the preceding paragraph. Um, getting angry at an accusation and responding to it irrationally and emotionally is a hallmark of religion, not a neutral secular belief. Just in general I’ve noticed that people get angriest when an accusation contains an element of truth, atheists are just as capable of denial as anyone else. And I think that this is an area where many atheist exhibit strong indications of denial.

Moving right along, atheists have formed organizations to both defend and promote their beliefs. Granted lots of different organizations do such, but the beliefs of atheists tend to revolve around religion to a large degree. They have meetings, they form groups, they often tend to associate with other atheists. And a lot of them have issues with people who aren’t atheists. Frankly I’ve had atheist trolls berate me for not being atheist enough. Again, I certainly see common ground here between atheism and religion.

Then there’s the definition. If there were no religious people, there would be no atheists. Granted some will say that everyone would be an atheist then. Still, the word atheist wouldn’t exist, and there would be no people that called themselves atheists. It’s certainly safe to say that atheism as we know it wouldn’t exist without religion. That to me indicates, again,  that atheism has some things in common with religion.

It should also be pointed out that atheists are not above using false, malicious, or misleading arguments in their attacks on religion.  Granted this is human nature, hell, I sometimes I think there must be a straw man argument gene, right next to the slippery slope argument gene, they seems so hard wired into some people. It’s hard for me not to notice when both sides of a debate are stooping to irrational lows. And boy, want to make an atheist mad, point this out when they post such on Facebook.

Speaking of anger and emotional responses, there is one final point in this argument that isn’t debatable. If one asks atheists, American atheists at least, which is the “worst” religion, the vast overwhelming majority of them will answer that it is Islam. Let’s think about that. Atheists in a Christian country, a religion that demonizes Islam and has been waging war on it more or less continuously since the seventh century … mostly agree that Islam is the worst religion. Since Islam and Christianity are essentially the same religion, and both have a history drenched in blood, it’s impossible for me to not notice the similarity between Islam hating Christians and Islam hating atheists.

I am saying is that American atheists have internalized some core Christian values and thought forms, and not the pretty ones. It makes it hard for me to understand how they can claim they are in no way religious. If one share’s a religion’s prejudices, there is common ground. Granted, I’m not an atheist, so I can’t speak for them. The only point I am trying to make in all this is that the religious contention that “atheism is a religion” is at least debatable. From some perspectives, there are a lot of similarities between atheism and religion. Whether atheists like it or not.

PS. After I published this I discovered I had written a previous post on “Is atheism a religion?” I knew this would happen sooner or later. :)

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, etc. It’s all over Facebook so I have no clue who the author is. Granted it’s not exactly germane to the topic, but close enough. It’s also funny, since it’s true. The American Christians agitating for prayer in school aren’t doing so out of some concern for freedom of religion, they are doing so because they want to promote Christianity among America’s youth. They are also off the mark since the Supreme Court not only didn’t prohibit prayer in school, they specifically said they weren’t prohibiting prayer in school. They prohibited organized religious services in school, big difference.)

Written by unitedcats

December 13, 2012 at 7:48 am

God Doesn’t Exist: The Proof

with 11 comments

First off, don’t anyone get their knickers in a twist, this post is an exercise in logic and debate, not theology or metaphysics. I’m not attacking anyone’s faith, just discussing something that came up in an atheist/theist debate group I am in. A theist pointed out that when an atheist claims “There is no God,” why shouldn’t they have to prove their statement? Atheists are always shifting the burden of proof to the theists, why shouldn’t they have to prove their assertions?

It was an interesting argument, and whenever it’s raised, atheists generally explain seven ways from Sunday why the burden of proof is on the person claiming that their invisible supernatural friend is real. And then they fall back on the “you can’t prove a negative” canard. OK, true enough, I do actually think that the burden of proof is on theists, but just for the purposes of debate, let’s grant the point and see where it goes. First we run right into our familiar “can’t prove a negative” canard. I say canard because there are a vast array of circumstances where it is most definitely possible to prove something isn’t possible, in some ways math and science is based on proving negatives. Can one divide 13 by 2 and get an even number? No, and vastly more complex negatives than that can be proven.

So I’m up to the challenge, can I prove that God doesn’t exist? And here we come to the first problem, what, exactly, do we mean by God? And to avoid a lot of discussion and codicils, I’m going to cut right to the chase. Who is usually the one asking atheists to prove there is no God? Evangelical Christians primarily, but fundamentalists in all the Abrahamaaic faiths have been known to raise the question. So for purposes of our discussion, I am going to try and disprove the literal existence of the Old Testament Biblical God. We’ll call him God for simplicity’s sake. I am going with three lines of argument. Lack of evidence, similarity to other supernatural mythical figures, and psychological/cultural need for.

The first thing  is that there is no empirical evidence for him. Science had shown by the late 18th century that the events described in Genesis didn’t happen. The Earth is billions of years old, and there was never any global flood, certainly not in human times. And none of God’s appearances in the Bible are documented by anything even remotely resembling historically trustworthy standards. At best the evidence for God is anecdotal, often FOAF (friend of a friend) anecdotal, including evidence for his supernatural powers.  And not only is there no evidence for God, there are no gaps in our scientific understanding of the Universe that require a God to fill. There are those that would dispute all these points, but the vast majority of modern educated people, including huge numbers of theists, would grant them. (I didn’t say I would convince anyone, I’m just making my case for the premise God doesn’t exist.)

Secondly, the Old Testament is not the only ancient text that references supernatural beings. Humans have worshipped thousands of Gods, some very similar to the God of Abraham, most very very different. And humans have recognized thousands of prophets, Jesus was by no means a one shot deal. And prophets have followed him, some with large numbers of followers who claim Jesus foreshadowed their real prophet. Like Joseph Smith for example. And innumerable sacred texts like the Bible. Hell, even what is exactly meant by the Old Testament varies depending on whom one asks. My point here is that there is a vast canon of literature about Gods and prophets, the old testament god is nothing special. Again, I suspect that most educated people, including many theists, would agree with this. Some wouldn’t.

Lastly, I think there are powerful reasons why the idea of God would naturally appeal to people, and powerful reasons why some people would encourage the idea. I will go into more detail, but this quote sums it up

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful”.Seneca (ca. 4 BC –AD 65)

A lot of people very much want an authority figure to explain a confusing and sometimes painful world to them. Religion fits the bill nicely. And there’s plenty of people perfectly happy to use religion to enhance their social status and manipulate the common people. This is probably the least debatable of my three points, which may explain why Evangelicals avoid it like the plague. There are powerful social and psychological reasons why faith and religion exist and prosper, the fact that we find variations of it in all human cultures testifies to that.

Add these three points together, and I think this is a powerful argument that the God of the Old Testament is no more real than Thor or Santa Claus. The arguments I have heard claiming otherwise have been weak at best, but if anyone has a new angle I would be glad to hear the argument as to why your particular God is the God and the rest are all imaginary. I think it’s interesting that a number of faiths, even ones with Abrahamaaic roots, have adopted to the arguments above and have adopted their beliefs to be in line with modern scientific thinking.

And others have dug in their heels and would rather we all die than admit that Genesis was allegorical. What the hell is up with that? Tomorrow’s blog post, maybe.

(The above post is being used legally as it is a NASA image, credit and copyright: Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), C. Conselice (U. Wisconsin/STScI) et al., NASA. It’s a warped spiral galaxy. Most spiral galaxies are flat, some are deformed by near misses or collisions with other galaxies. I chose it because it shows the universe we live in is grand and amazing and awe inspiring … without any God required.)

Written by unitedcats

March 5, 2012 at 5:50 am

Do you believe in an afterlife?

with 2 comments

“OK, I’m an atheist, and I’m offended by this. It’s a masterful compendium  of logical fallacies, and little more than an ad hominem attack on people who believe in an afterlife. This is why I am distancing myself from mainstream atheism, there are plenty of reasonable avenues to attack fundies of all stripes, but insulting everyone who believes in an afterlife strikes me as being a really counterproductive approach.”

I posted the image and comment above on Facebook last night, and boy, the fellow who originally posted it gave me endless grief. Apparently I am a “weak atheist” because I don’t countenance insulting everyone who believes in an afterlife. And between his various insults and straw man arguments, he never  addressed my main point, which is that the logic in the illustration is badly flawed. It starts off with “The only reason people believe in an afterlife … ” Um, saying that there is only one reason that people believe in an afterlife is a pretty sweeping declaration of fact, unless it’s supported by data, saying it doesn’t make it true. And while I suppose a case can be made that there is a narcissistic component to believing in an afterlife, that doesn’t mean that people who believe such are necessarily narcissists. It’s like saying someone who likes to watch football or hockey is a sadist.

I don’t believe in an afterlife, but I don’t care what other people believe as long as they don’t scare the horses. People believe all sorts of silly things, best to judge them (if one is going to judge them at all) by how they live their lives, not by their beliefs. In fact, it’s fundamentalists who judge people by what they believe, company I do not care to join. And now I know, there are fundamentalist atheists as well, quel surprise. Company I also do not care to join. I like having friends all or the spectrum, that’s both how I know they are my friends, and it means I get feedback from all perspectives.

The reason I don’t believe in an afterlife is very simple. There’s no evidence for an afterlife and no logical or scientific reason to believe there should be one. And there not only are no good scientific cases of people in the afterlife contacting the living, even the anecdotal cases are singularly unconvincing. If there is an afterlife, it apparently is one where people simply have no way to contact the living. In other words, the evidence for an afterlife is the same as the evidence for God, there isn’t any. Although to be fair, the two are unrelated, even if they are commonly conflated by some people.

I am open minded enough that if anyone knows of any good stories about contact with someone in the afterlife, I’d love to hear them. Heck, if I come across anything interesting, I’ll blog about it.

(The above image is posted all over Facebook, so it’s either public domain or no one cares. And since I don’t have anything to say about it I haven’t already said, a joke: Three buddies die in a car and go to heaven for an orientation. They are all asked, “When you are in your casket and friends and family are mourning over you, what would you like to hear them say about you?” The first guy says, “I would like to hear them say that I was a great doctor of my time, and a great family man.” The second guy says, “I would like to hear that I was a wonderful husband and school teacher which made a huge difference in our children of tomorrow.” The last guy replies, “I would like to hear them say, ‘Look, he’s moving!!!!!'”)

Written by unitedcats

July 6, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Is Atheism a Religion?

with 19 comments

There were two monks walking along a deserted country track. They belonged to an order where they had taken vows to have no contact with women whatsoever. They came a place where they had to ford a river, it was spring and the river was high and wide and fast. There was an elderly woman there, who obviously wanted to cross the river, and obviously could not do so. One of the monks took her on his back, carried her across the river, and set her down. The two monks then continued on their trek. Some miles later the second monk, obviously upset,  said to the first: “I’ve known you for decades, you’ve never broken your vows. I don’t understand it, how could you deliberately break your vows like that by carrying a woman on your back?” The first monk said: “I left her on the far side of the river.  Are you still carrying her?”

So I was on an atheist discussion board today, and an atheist had a question. They said that an old and dear friend, a friend who knew they were an atheist, had asked them to pray for their dying father who had but months to live. The atheist wanted to know what other atheists would do in this situation. Gentle reader, if you were an atheist, how would you handle a request such as this?

To my surprize, a number of atheists said that under no circumstances would they do so. I thought this was fascinating. If a person is truly an atheist, then a prayer is simply a string of words, and has no inherent significance. Yet some claimed that this was a superstitious ritual, and they simply could not comply. In other words, complying with their atheistic beliefs was more important than comforting an old friend. I don’t understand how this is any different that what atheists accuse theists of doing, following ritual and dogma instead of using compassion to guide their actions. In fact if an atheist is adamant about refusing to do anything theistic, be it prayer or using the Lord’s name or whatever, I would submit that they are just as superstitious as anyone.

Until I came across this discussion thread I maintained that atheism wasn’t a religion. And in the conventional sense, it isn’t. At least in the sense that their is no church of atheism or book of atheism or some head atheist in a  funny hat interpreting atheism for the rest of the atheists. However, if there is even one atheist who insists that acting like an atheist trumps all other considerations,  a person for whom acting like an atheist is what it means to be an atheist, then I have to admit that for some people, atheism is indeed a religion. Or at the very least a superstitious belief, but what is religion except groups of people with shared superstitious beliefs.

Speaking for myself, of course I would pray for a friend’s father in a  situation like that. In fact there’s all sorts of religious rituals I might participate in if loved ones asked me too. As long as a loved one’s beliefs cause no harm, it would be disrespectful of me not to. Politeness is also a meaningless ritual, yet most people do understand that it’s an important part of what makes society function. While I don’t believe in Jesus and his imaginary friend, nor any of the alternate imaginary friends, there is no harm and much good to be had by respecting the beliefs of my loved one who do. Compassion and caring come from the heart, not from following arbitrary rules.

Have a great weekend everyone.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and is central to illustrating the image. I got it from this fine web site, credit and copyright Ajay Jain. I first heard the zen story of the two monks in my Altered States of Consciousness class taught by the redoubtable Professor Charles Tart. I knew it would come in handy some day.)

Written by unitedcats

May 13, 2011 at 6:18 pm

The Power of Prayer

with 11 comments

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

Various random thoughts on God, atheism, and related topics. What can I say, I gave up my agnostic ways a few weeks back, and have been mentally exploring some of the issues surrounding God, prayer, atheism, religion, etc. since then. It’s kind of a mixed bag, but there are a number of points I wanted to mention and none of them is really enough for a complete blog post. OK, it’s a very mixed bag. Or can of worms. Or plate-o-shrimp. I’ll stop now.

Point one, prayer. I don’t have a problem with people praying for me or anyone, “I’ll pray for you.” is the equivalent of “I care about you and hope things work out for you.” If someone is offended by that, they need to lighten up. However, I noticed recently that when someone says “I’ll pray for you” to an atheist merely because the atheist doesn’t believe in any Gods, it sounds kinda patronizing and condescending. And it kinda is, because the implication is that there’s something “wrong” with the atheist. No, there’s nothing wrong with using the brain God (supposedly) gave us to live our lives according to reason and compassion.

Granted prayer is an irrational belief, or more accurately, believing that there is some supernatural being somewhere who is listening to prayers and granting some of them is an irrational belief. No, there have been no studies showing that prayer works. There have been biased “studies” by people trying to prove prayer works, those are no more science than creationism is science. Not to mention that as I type right now innocent children are dying the world over for want of a few dollars of food or medicine … despite the fervent prayers of their parents and loved ones. Still, I suppose there’s nothing wrong with believing in the power of prayer, as long as one makes rational decisions otherwise and doesn’t rely on prayer to cure their sick child.

Speaking of prayer, something that has always annoyed me is how some people claim  that the Supreme Court banished prayer from schools in the USA.  They did nothing of the kind. For starters, if a person is conscious they can silently pray anytime anywhere, so it’s beyond the Supreme Court’s power to ban prayer in school or anywhere else. However, the Supreme Court didn’t ban prayer, what the Supreme Court did was ban organized prayer from school. That’s becasue organized prayer is a religious service, and religious services have no place in public schools. Don’t like it? Send your kid to a private religious school, they’ll be glad to have him or her. The taxpayer pays for public school, not for religious services.

And worse than annoying is how the anti-science religious crowd is still trying to get religious instruction in public schools: The Scopes Strategy: Creationists Try New Tactics to Promote Anti-Evolutionary Teaching in Public Schools. Sigh, at the risk of repeating myself: You want your kids to learn your religion’s myths and fables, send em to Sunday School. Evolution is about as scientifically controversial as the idea that the Earth revolves around the Sun, just the fact that Creationists try to dress their fables up in scientific garb shows that they have already lost the high ground. If God exists, he used evolution and the Big Bang to create us, deal with it.

Lastly, to be fair, one thing a lot of atheists do that annoys me is give religion too much credit. I’ve again and again seen atheists claim that 9/11 was “caused by religion.” No, it wasn’t, 9/11 was blowback from American foreign policy in the Middle East. Osama Bin Laden took up arms against the USA because of US violation of Saudi soil, US support for dictators in the Middle East, and America’s collaboration and support for Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Yes, Osama is a religious man (in as much as any mass murderer can be considered a religious man,) and his supporters are motivated by religion, but their cause is secular. Which is why the Bush administration went bananas blaming Islam and the whole “they hate us for our freedoms” thing. I mean, wouldn’t want the American public to know that American foreign policy was about enriching the rich and who cares how many people it screws over and inspires to take up arms against us, right?

That however is a topic for another blog, as wikileaks has just revealed  to the world how much the US is screwing them over. And if they did hate us for our freedoms, why are they taking to the streets by the million us to get more freedom? In fact if they hated us for our freedoms, why, didn’t we install and arm the dictators who were responsible for taking away their freedoms? Anywise, my point is that when an atheist blithely says “9/11 was caused by religion” they are simply repeating US propaganda, because unless they also state a few other massacres by followers of other religions, they are just repeating the “Muslims are violent” propaganda. The very sort of religious propaganda that religious people have used to inspire their followers to violence throughout history. Old habits die hard.

Finally, just in case there is any confusion in the matter, atheism is not a belief. Neither is science for that matter, and it’s tiresome that some people of faith don’t or won’t understand that. Religion is a belief in some irrational doctrine, atheism is merely the understanding that there is no logical or empirical reason to believe in any supernatural being. I have decided to live my life guided by reason and compassion, not the dictates of Bronze Age mystics.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and is found all over the web. I don’t know who to attribute it to, but will gladly do so if so informed. I just thought it was funny and, well, accurate. If this post generates any interesting comments, there will be follow up posts. If not, well, back to Libyan street fighters.)




Written by unitedcats

March 6, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Posted in Philosophy, Religion

Tagged with , , ,

A nation gone mad, but otherwise things are just fine

with 2 comments

The first good picture I’ve taken with my new camera. This one photo alone has rekindled my interest in photography, or to be more accurate, my interest in taking pictures. I don’t really have an eye for taking pictures, but if I take enough of them, sometimes I get lucky. And this was one of the lucky ones, a view from my back balcony at dusk. Plus now that photography is digital, I have no excuse not to take pictures. I’m in fact starting to run around with my camera with me. It even takes videos with sound. All new and exciting to me, I’m kind of a late adaptor when it comes to a lot of technology. Speaking of which, I went into a couple of cell phone stores yesterday. They were creepy, like auto showrooms, all sorts of pizazz and promotions to make it seem like their products were glamorous. People, they are phones, and the sellers are charging enormous sums of money for products and services that cost almost nothing. Oh well, I guess phones and such are status symbols now, such is the power of modern advertising. I knew we were in trouble when they managed to make tennis shoes into a fashion accessory.

Actually, it was the mid/late seventies where we got into trouble as a nation, and it’s been downhill since. I know, I harp on this, but it’s been on my mind a lot lately as I try to fit the US Empire into an historical perspective. And it’s not a pretty perspective, but it’s not all hopeless either. Next week I think I’ll try my hand at some future history just for fun. This week has been a little slow because I needed a break. In any event before I leave this topic, there’s two articles of interest: The Future is rated “B” and This Country Just Can’t Deal With Reality Anymore. I recommend both, though the former is shorter and pithier than the later.

Moving right along, the Pope is running around stirring up trouble. He even managed to link atheism with the Nazi’s. Um, when someone tries to link their enemies with the Nazi’s, it’s almost always a sign of ideological desperation. Yeah, right, atheists are out to get us all. Give me a break. I mean, you can’t charge into battle yelling “For Nobody and Country!” Well, I suppose people could, but the next thing that happens is they stop and think, “Wait, why am I doing  this?” Which is of course why religion is so terrified of atheism, they are the people pointing out that the Pope has no clothes. I expect more of the same in the future, atheism is a rising force, not in that they have any agenda, but atheists are realizing they have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s OK not to believe in the existence of an invisible being with supernatural powers. In fact it’s the logical and scientific belief. However, religion, not to mention governments, don’t want their followers anywhere near logic and science for the most part. That’s why it’s the intellectuals that get rounded up first when someone is pulling a coup.

In local news part of the Bay Area exploded. No, not terrorism. Just ageing infrastructure. Fortunately the local utility company, PG&E, has a solution for this and other upcoming disasters expected as their ancient system of pipelines decays. Make the public pay for it.  Yes, you can’t make this shit up. This is the company that tried to get a proposition passed giving PG&E a permanent monopoly on providing public power in the state, while claiming that it was promoting democracy. Right. My point here is that the rich have no shame. I mean, we live in a  country where the bankers gambled away trillions of dollars, and instead of going bankrupt, they demanded … and got! … trillions of dollars of public money to cover their losses. Boy, I wish I could go to Vegas with that kind of backing.

Yes, it’s not too far off to call bankers “criminals” and say the recent cycle of bailouts and bonuses were “essentially a crime spree that benefits a social elite at the expense of many millions of victims.” At least that’s what the Real IRA just stated, when announcing they were going to be targeting England’s bankers and banking system. This could get exciting.

Have a great weekend everyone.

(The above image: Copyright © Stanley Douglas Stych 2010 All Rights Reserved. I can’t imagine anyone would want to use it for anything, but if asked, I’ll likely giver permission to use it. I will be posting more photographs that I will take, consider yourselves warned. And I think I’ll write several future histories next week. Fun times.)

Written by unitedcats

September 17, 2010 at 10:12 am

Posted in Berkeley, History, Religion, Terrorism

Tagged with , ,