There have been several posts this week about atheism [(1, here), (2, here), and (3, here)], and a fluid-mechanical analogy for how dumb conservapaedia is. There’s also been some humour! So many posts, in fact, that I think this can veritably be called Atheism Week at Learning to be Terse. I also think I’ll do this again sometime. You know, when some Religious H. Dumbfellow becomes more pious, preachy, or holier-than-thou than I can bear.
I feel like I should point out that this isn’t simply vanity. I don’t rant about religion because I want to make noise. Well, I do, a little, and it’s a ready-made topic to write about when nothing else is available, but this is one luxury I’d so rather not have.
I do this because I think religion is about as maleficent a concept, and god – especially the one of the old testament – as vile a creation as the human mind could cook up. I know quite a few people who feel the same way about faith, and would rather that religion disappeared overnight, at the very least from the public sphere. In the absence of that, I’m (we’re) prepared to make as much noise as will get the message across about how stupid, wrong, and dangerous faith is.
As Richard Dawkins says, the problem I have isn’t with this faith or that. It’s with the concept of faith itself. Especially when faith, and its expression, enter the public sphere. Even more so when religious faith is considered sacrosanct, in that criticism of this public expression of belief is not only socially unacceptable, but also illegal. You think that will never happen? Wake up. It already has. The United fucking Nations has ratified a ‘no-criticism of Islam’ doctrine. It may not be called exactly that, of course, and it is still a non-binding resolution, but it has wording that comes pretty close to criminalising blasphemy. It notes, for example,
with deep concern [that] Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism.
Yeah. And cigarettes are frequently (and wrongly, I’m sure) associated with causing cancer; germs are frequently associated with causing diseases, and thunderstorms are frequently associated with people getting drenched.
The resolution is non-binding, as in Nations aren’t required by United Nations decree to enact laws criminalizing blasphemy… Yet. I have a sinking feeling that that may not be too far from happening too.
Here’s something I read about only last night. It’s from Uttar Pradesh. The shame. Parents of a 4 year old ‘sacrificed’ her by burning her alive because a tantric told them they’d become rich by doing this. I mean, WTF. Even if one were stupid enough to believe the crap about becoming rich, what the fuck are you going to do with the money having killed your own daughter? Shove it up your asses? Do that and then light it on fire, why don’t you?
Since this seems to have become Atheism Week here at the blog, I thought I’d add a dash of humour into the mix. Here’s Pat Condell talking about why the ranks of the faithful are full of idiots. It takes time and (a lot of) effort to acquire knowledge, whereas any fool can acquire faith instantly and effortlessly. Damn straight!
I wrote this, saying that faith in the supernatural is unsupportable by evidence. Whoa! Hold your horses! Not so fast, even. It’s religious canard time. A commenter thinks there’s plenty of evidence. He offers a selection of arguments for the existence of god.
sabepashubbo said, on August 19, 2010 at 12:10 am
Sorry to intrude, but there is plenty of evidence for God’s existence if you take the time to study theism. The horizontal and vertical cosmological arguments, the teleological argument, the ontological argument, the moral argument. Not to mention that there is a lack of evidence in some of these areas from a naturalist’s perspective (the cosmological argument is a biggie here).
Read C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” for a good explanation of the moral argument. Watch a William Lane Craig debate on YouTube for the cosmological and teleological arguments. The evidence is out there if you know where to look.
Thanks for your time.
Here’s a rephrasal of those arguments (from here):
COSMOLOGICAL ARGUMENT, a.k.a. FIRST CAUSE ARGUMENT (I)
(1) If I say something must have a cause, it has a cause.
(2) I say the universe must have a cause.
(3) Therefore, the universe has a cause.
(4) Therefore, God exists.
ARGUMENT FROM BEAUTY, a.k.a. DESIGN/TELEOLOGICAL ARGUMENT (II)
(1) Isn’t that baby/sunset/flower/tree beautiful?
(2) Only God could have made them so beautiful.
(3) Therefore, God exists.
ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT (II)
(1) I can conceive of a perfect God.
(2) One of the qualities of perfection is existence.
(3) Therefore, God exists.
ARGUMENT FROM ABSOLUTE MORAL STANDARDS
(1) If there are absolute moral standards, then God exists.
(2) Atheists say that there are no absolute moral standards.
(3) But that’s because they don’t want to admit to being sinners.
(4) Therefore, there are absolute moral standards.
(5) Therefore, God exists.
Needless to say, I’m not very impressed with any of those arguments. Since there is no way in hell I’m paying to buy some religious apologist’s pablum, I did the next best thing. I went to Pharyngula and saw if PZ Myers had something to say about C.S.Lewis’ book. He did. The entire first chapter’s there too, if somebody wants to experience a little pain (you know, jebus might start liking you if you put yourself through a blender; allah will only like you if you put someone else through the blender, though, so you might be out of luck there). I didn’t want to.
I’ll say something about the argument from absolute morality here, since I’ve written about morality and science before. CS Lewis’ argument is that morality is absolute, and therefore needs a moral-law-giver.
1) Morality is not always absolute. Even in Sam Harris’ formulation, I think there’ll be certain issues that remain morally ambiguous.
2) Whatever morality is absolute, is almost always directly linked to species-survival. (Don’t kill each other). Everything else seems to be cultural. And for sure, neither absolute morality, nor the lack of it, needs a divine puppeteer for explanation.
Now, I know my writing might not appeal to everybody, but surely it isn’t so bad that people who read something I’ve written supporting atheism will run screaming in the other direction, and into the arms of jebus the saviour?
On a more serious note, this is just the cost of doing business. If you write something that contains words that are ‘controversial’, you can expect ads like this. Click on the ads you see here, if you want to. If WordPress makes some money off the loonies, maybe they’ll put the money they earn into making the blog’s software better. If you do, send me screenshots! The lunacy has to be breathtaking!
Size pointed me to this page at Conservapaedia (following PZ Myers, anytime I mention conservapaedia on this blog, I shall always refer to it by the ‘wrong’ spelling) which alleges basically that atheists have been trying to redefine atheism as the lack of a position on the existence of one or more gods. Says the page at conservapaedia:
In the article, ”Is Atheism Presumptuous”?, atheist Jeffery Jay Lowder, states [...] that anyone who claims, “God does not exist,” must shoulder a burden of proof just as much as anyone who claims, “God exists.”In short, the attempt to redefine atheism is merely an attempt to make no assertions so no facts need be offered. The attempt to redefine atheism, however, is not in accordance with the standard definitions of atheism that encyclopedias of philosophy employ which is that atheism is a denial of the existence of God or gods.
I shall say nothing here about the dangers of faith, or why I think the very nature of faith goes against curiosity, knowledge, and truth. I’ll only say that faith is, by ‘standard definition’, as it were, the belief in something without evidence, and atheism is the absence of faith in god. What that means is this: I refuse to believe in god until you show me evidence supporting its (I see no reason to give a non-existent entity a penis, and a male pronoun to go with it) existence.
Like PZ Myers argues, absence of evidence isn’t proof of absence, but it is indeed evidence of absence. The fact that even after millennia of trying, human beings haven’t been able to come up with evidence for the supernatural means that there probably isn’t anything supernatural going on. Again, this isn’t proof that there isn’t anything supernatural going on, but it is evidence.
Atheists do, therefore, make an assertion. I assert that I don’t believe in god, that I see no reason to believe in god and that this is because there is no evidence for the existence of a (or two or many or a few trillion) god(s). And, as Douglas Adams said, I am quite happy marvelling at the beauty of the garden without expecting fairies under the soil.
Which brings me to this: it’s stupid to brand a widely varied set of people with one tag, and allege that they are conspiring to ‘redefine’ something. But then, we’re talking about conservapaedia; this is probably the least stupid thing they’ve done in a while.
The ritual hatred of women (specifically their reproductive systems) seems to be fait accompli in any organised religion that’s been around for a while. The misogyny in Islam is especially ingrained, and particularly heinous. You might have read about a woman in a Taliban controlled part of Afghanistan being caged up for three days before being flogged in public, and then shot thrice… for the crime of having an ‘illicit affair’.
You might think that my using the Taliban as the archetype for an Islamic society is misguided; surely most muslims are peace-loving and the Taliban is an aberration, and not the other way around? Perhaps. But here’s, for me, the flaw in that argument: Any cult/religion that proclaims its own unquestionable moral superiority, the unquestionable moral inferiority of everything else, and violence as means of settling the question, will inexorably lead to organizations the Taliban might count as friends. The absence of this means that people aren’t following the rules of the cult/religion. Will this subversion of said cult/religion happen a lot of the time? Possibly. Will there be significant instances of the opposite, i.e. of people following the ‘good book’ to the letter? Sadly, it seems so.
This progression to full-blown psychosis doesn’t happen overnight, in one big step. Nobody takes a decision to start locking women up in kitchens, ‘starting on the morrow’. Interpretations of ‘holy’ scripture only ever get incrementally holier. It starts with pilot ideas like the salary of a woman being declared haram; withdrawals are issued, of course. Or with the hands of a teacher who set a question paper that ‘insulted’ the prophet being cut off. Here’s a hint: it’s been twelve centuries since the prophet kicked his bucket and turned into manure. He doesn’t feel insulted. He told me.
So, when activists protest against the burqa being imposed on Islamic women, they are not just fighting the mobile tarpaulins. They are also fighting to prevent these and similar monstrosities from becoming the norm, becoming acceptable, becoming part of the culture. So much so that self-righteous people who could never have known oppression start proclaiming that the ‘right’ to choose to wear one of these tents is important, and that this ‘right’ shouldn’t be taken away from Islamic women. Surely. And the right to get whipped in public shouldn’t be taken away. Neither should the right to stay cooped up in a room for weeks together, till one starts suffering from rickets (vitamin D deficiency is found frighteningly commonly among women in regions that have strict ‘holy scriptural ‘ interpretations of what women are allowed to wear).
I saw some of the interview of the current Dalai Lama on NDTV. I’m always peeved when some of these people, the Dalai Lamas, the Sankaracharyas, and their ilk are fawned over and deferred to.
To be sure, I’m not talking about Imams who can’t wait to issue their next fatwa, or evangelists who can’t wait to fleece their next victim. What one feels about them is not so much vexation as it is outright contempt. I’m talking about the people who are ‘bestowed’ with wisdom that is somehow assumed to be inaccessible to the rest of us, wisdom which they conveniently can’t explain to the rest of us lucidly because any attempt to put it in simple words destroys the wisdom itself. Some of these people actually claim wisdom or authority, like the Dalai Lama or any of the Shankaracharyas, and some others can’t be bothered about any of this, but that is itself taken as a sign of wisdom by people around them, as in the case of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa or Ramana Maharshi.
Peter Walker is attributed with saying:
“The supreme arrogance of religious thinking: that a carbon-based bag of mostly water on a spec of iron-silicate dust around a boring dwarf star … would look up at the sky and declare, ‘It was all made so that I could exist!’”
The claim is invariably that these people found their wisdom by, essentially, thinking really hard. I think this is what bothers me most about these people. That a bundle of goo on a speck of dust around a tiny spark of fire in the middle of eternities in space and time (atleast relatively) presumes to understand the universe and to claim wisdom is completely baffling to me. And this is to say nothing of people giving away their money to idiots who claim far less.
The logical fallacy of claiming that something is true because it claims it is true seems to be lost on organised religion and its proponents. Here’s the same thing said in verse, only funnier:
Hat Tip: Pharyngula
I’m often asked, being an atheist, what my motivation in life is. Okay, I’m kidding, nobody’s ever asked me that. But if someone were to ask me why, if I believe there is no purpose to life, I continue to be optimistic about (some) things, continue to believe that people are (basically) good, I would direct them to this wonderful passage-in-verse I found a while ago at Pharyngula:
I believe in time,
matter, and energy,
which make up the whole of the world.
I believe in reason, evidence and the human mind,
the only tools we have;
they are the product of natural forces
in a majestic but impersonal universe,
grander and richer than we can imagine,
a source of endless opportunities for discovery.
I believe in the power of doubt;
I do not seek out reassurances,
but embrace the question,
and strive to challenge my own beliefs.
I accept human mortality.
We have but one life,
brief and full of struggle,
leavened with love and community,
learning and exploration,
beauty and the creation of
new life, new art, and new ideas.
I rejoice in this life that I have,
and in the grandeur of a world that preceded me,
and an earth that will abide without me.
I would also point them to this comic at xkcd, and say I’m the guy in the hat.
For most people, I suppose life is hard enough without the burden of knowing that everything they do is ultimately meaningless; that they are relatively simple collections of goo in an extraordinarily complex universe with nobody pulling the strings to favour them or their existence. I think this might explain why the religious among us get as upset as they do about blasphemy. I do, however, prefer knowing the truth, even if it isn’t entirely pleasant at first, to not knowing the truth and living in false hope. (I also don’t presume to be better at being able to handle the truth than anybody else, which is one reason I’m not averse to arguing with people about belief and non-belief).