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Celebrity Atheists
June 23, 2003 7:09 AM   Subscribe

The Godless Celebrity: As a list, it seems no better or worse than the God-fearing crowd. But the world needs atheists, if only for keeping - or trying to keep - the believers from ripping each other's heads off in the name of the various exclusivist true faiths. As Woody Allen said, it's scary that there are so many groups who are convinced they have a direct line to God. I wonder how many religious people respect and believe in the usefulness, political and intellectual, of the atheist. [Via Bifurcated Rivets]
posted by MiguelCardoso (173 comments total)

 
Now I know just where Phyllis Diller stands. Oh joy...
posted by grabbingsand at 7:19 AM on June 23, 2003


I cannot WAIT to tell my husband that Dave Barry is an atheist. I have never found Barry's columns amusing in the least, while my husband thinks he's just about the funniest thing in the paper.

No insult intended.

Miguel, in all honesty, most* theists and atheists aren't all that different.


*of course there is a rather large subgroup of exceptions, but we all know who WE are.
posted by konolia at 7:21 AM on June 23, 2003


Atheists can be just as fanatical as anyone, so I don't think they're much help making with the nice nice between dueling monotheists, and I say that as an atheist.

They missed H.P. Lovecraft, whose entire oeuvre was thoroughly materialist.
posted by ursus_comiter at 7:23 AM on June 23, 2003


I cannot WAIT to tell my husband that Dave Barry is an atheist. I have never found Barry's columns amusing in the least, while my husband thinks he's just about the funniest thing in the paper.

Why? Does this revelation affect your opinion of his writing?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:23 AM on June 23, 2003


A great idea for a website, but I'm depressed at how few of the "celebrities" I've actually heard of. I think there must be some universal law which states "Well known actor = religious nutball". Although the fact that Bob Geldof is there is pretty cool. Given that he's a knight, and he's (more importantly) a decent, moral, humanistic force for good.

As to how many religious people respect and believe in the usefulness, political and intellectual, of the atheist. I'd guess that as a percentage, it's probably the same as the percentage of athiests that respect and believe, etc. Maybe what we need is some sort of metafilter poll. Count me down as an athiest that believes in the usefulness of religious kooks people.
posted by seanyboy at 7:26 AM on June 23, 2003


Of course all these celebrities are atheists. Having a God would take time away from worshiping themselves.
posted by jonmc at 7:28 AM on June 23, 2003


the vast majority of those people were writers or scientists - the number of actors / musicians was pretty small. We got jack and marlon, tho'.

For some reason surprised groening is agnostic instead of atheist, even though the simpsons is pretty nice to religion in general. Dunno why I had that impression...
posted by mdn at 7:37 AM on June 23, 2003


Atheists haven't been good at self-promotion. Their campaign consists mostly of making fun of the religious (usually Christians). For example, Richard Dawkins now wants atheists to be called "brights", and has started a promotional website for this meme. There's a half-baked explanation of why calling groups of people "brights" isn't, in fact, condescending as hell (something to do with how "gay" used to mean "happy" and now it means, well, gay), but I'm not buying it. Until this group (of which I am a member) learns how to market itself, it'll always be in the vast minority.

That said, this is a great link. Thanks MC.
posted by Succa at 7:38 AM on June 23, 2003


As an atheist myself, I'm (1) a little nervous about the existence of a list of well-known atheists -- I wonder whether that list could be used against them -- and (2) very nervous about the direction this thread might take. The reason why atheists haven't been good at self-promotion is that most of the time they figure it's safer to keep their heads down and stay quiet about it. In many places, no atheist could ever get elected to any significant political office.
posted by mcwetboy at 7:41 AM on June 23, 2003


I've decided I'm no longer an atheist. I now worship Hank, and I will kiss his ass with all y'all in mind. And beathing the shit out of all you people eating hotdogs with ketchup and mustard. Freaks.
posted by Cerebus at 7:42 AM on June 23, 2003


It's hard for atheists to market themselves unless they actually gather together. And doing so is rare - it's harder to build a cohesive group centered around not believing something than it is to do so around believing something.

That said, I know of a notable exception - the Atheist Community of Austin. I've gone to a couple of their activities and found them to be an agreeable bunch of down-to-earth folks, who on average are quite intelligent, from my experience.

They even have a call-in show on community access cable.

Miguel, in all honesty, most* theists and atheists aren't all that different.

I thought the difference was that we atheists are all amoral scumbags who are all going to burn in hell. (That's what I've been told, anyway).
posted by beth at 7:47 AM on June 23, 2003


that "bright" thing sounds like scientology to me - don't they have a word like that? Oh, no, they have "clears". Still, that's what it reminds me of. Sounds culty.

I don't know that atheists need to be a movement. I think a pretty high percentage of educated religious people are only sort of nominally religious anyway, and considering the percentages in that article on scientists in the US (93%!) I think atheism is more and more acceptable in mainstream consciousness.
posted by mdn at 7:56 AM on June 23, 2003


Why would atheists band together? As long as we're not persecuted (which we aren't in most western countries), why should atheists ape the theists' tendency to glob together?
As I see it, part of secular humanism is the belief that ideas stand or fall on their own merits, not on how many people you can pack into a faux-gothic building on sunday or how much money you make at bake sales.
posted by signal at 7:58 AM on June 23, 2003


Why would atheists band together?

Because it's nice to hang out with like-minded people sometimes - fellowship is a nice thing, for lots of people. Some people go to church and don't even believe, just so they can participate in the fellowship.

Another good reason is to protect our rights. I can't remember exactly where, but isn't there a quote from a famous politician stating that atheists shouldn't even be considered citizens? There's a lot of hate out there, doncha know...

And some people are worried about the current administration's tendencies in the religious direction - who better to oppose government favoritism towards religious groups (you know, that "faith-based" stuff) than atheists?
posted by beth at 8:03 AM on June 23, 2003


In many places, no atheist could ever get elected to any significant political office.

Neil Kinnock, former leader of the British Labour Party, is an atheist (along with a number of other British politicians)... could this be a transatlantic cultural difference?
posted by plep at 8:03 AM on June 23, 2003


I liked Dawson's essay, but think his bright idea (pun intended) is somewhat out of left field. I have always liked ther tern "freethinker", but some argue that it is too inclusive. There are also debates over the meaning of agnostic vs. atheist. It sometimes seems as if nonbelievers can be as dvided and dogmatic as believers. Great posts, everyone.
posted by TedW at 8:03 AM on June 23, 2003


I agree that this list could easilly be abused, but it would have been awesome to have seen this list when I was an atheist kid being told daily by the other residents of trailerparkistan that I was going to burn in hell. Most atheists that I know (a large percentage of the people that I know, but that says more about me than society) are cool with making unpopular choices, so the fact that we really are nominally persecuted in the US never seems like a big deal. I was just talking this weekend about how sweet it would be to have an atheist president.

Now I expect someone to produce an obscure link attesting to the fact that Rutherford B. Hayes was an atheist.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 8:05 AM on June 23, 2003


After a little googling, I see that it was the elder Bush who said that atheists shouldn't be considered citizens.
posted by beth at 8:06 AM on June 23, 2003


Celebrity atheists is one thing: atheist politicians is another, more significant thing entirely. Although plep mentions Neil Kinnock, I remember that he had to speak very softly about his atheism. Then again, there's definitely a transatlantic difference, to the extent that you can say 'I'm Church of England' and have it mean something very close to atheism.
posted by riviera at 8:07 AM on June 23, 2003


isn't there a quote from a famous politician stating that atheists shouldn't even be considered citizens

I am sure there are many, but here is one from the first George Bush.

On preview, I see was beaten to it.
posted by TedW at 8:08 AM on June 23, 2003


To heck with celebrity atheists -- which celebrities are involved in really exotic religions? I want snake handling, I want vodou, I want black magic!

C'mon, Jayne Mansfield can't have been the only one!
posted by Katemonkey at 8:11 AM on June 23, 2003


Wait, Asia Carrera is an atheist?

Where's the list of nice, Christian pr0n stars?
posted by Ufez Jones at 8:11 AM on June 23, 2003


That Bush quote makes me angrier everytime I see it. What a tiny minded man he is. Even if I wasn't in the offended group I would be mad at that quote.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:15 AM on June 23, 2003


You'll all be sorry when I get my million dollars and Hank beats the shit out of you after we all leave town! Then you'll wish you'd kissed Hank's ass like me.
posted by Cerebus at 8:19 AM on June 23, 2003


One thing that keeps atheism from making a big splash is that atheists, IME, tend to keep themselves very very closeted. I'm more out about being bi than I am about being an atheist.

Years ago, a friend of mine - also an atheist - and I spent about twenty minutes circumspectly talking around the issue until we finally felt comfortable enough to actually come out to each other about it.
posted by ursus_comiter at 8:20 AM on June 23, 2003


that "bright" thing sounds like scientology to me - don't they have a word like that?

Not to mention, it sounds a little high-and-mighty, which I thought is what atheists wanted to get away from. The fact remains though, that in certain intellectual circles, religious belief is considered a sign of stupidity, or at the very least, declasse. (witness: atheists="brights", the "kooks" comment above).

I'm not a member of any organized religion, although I was raised Catholic. I find the various hypocrises of religious figures and the violence committed in the name of God as repugnant as anyone.

But I still belive in God. For lack of a better word. What the nature of this deity might be and what it wants from me, if anything, is something I'm still trying to figure out. And believe me, in my travels I've had offers from most of the major religions and a few of the minor and none have satisfied me completely. My better half is a self-declared athiest. It's something we agree to disagree on.

But I realize there are probably those of you reading this who have mentally lowered your estimate of my IQ by about 20 points or have diagnosed me with a neurosis. Be my guest, think what you want.

Sadly though the only images of "religious people" we see at MeFi are gun-toting terrorists, pedophile preists, and backwoods snakehandlers. These people exist and are real threats, but to point to that as religion is bigoted stereotyping, as is the equation of athiesm with higher intelligence.
posted by jonmc at 8:21 AM on June 23, 2003


wtf!? ... nixon was a quaker??? and benjamin harrison was only 5'6"???
posted by danOstuporStar at 8:24 AM on June 23, 2003


I'm more out about being bi than I am about being an atheist.

You've got to be kidding me. Not that I don't believe you, but I'm astonished that you live somewhere where this is the case. Do you live in some psycho Alabama backwoods, or is this the norm in some places? I have dozens of atheist friends, none of whom I've ever seen persecuted (or even really criticized) for it. Like on MeFi, where it's the religious who are scoffed at, it seems to me that atheists are very much part of mainstream culture, and although old-fashioned misconceptions about atheist morality prevent them from getting elected, they're an integrated, accepted part of society.

But then, I live in the progressive nirvana that is central Canada.
posted by Marquis at 8:27 AM on June 23, 2003


Wait... Celebrity Aethists?... but who do they thank at award ceremonies?
posted by KnitWit at 8:30 AM on June 23, 2003


The current president of Chile, Ricardo Lagos, is an atheist. This is a country with like 90% catholics, where the constitution actually declares that it is a christian country.
posted by signal at 8:31 AM on June 23, 2003


jonmc: You could just join my nascent Church of Hank's Ass and be done with it. I promise you definitive answers so all that troublesome thinking can be avoided.

(Snark aside, at the very least, you're honest-- specifically, "What the nature of this deity might be and what it wants from me, if anything, is something I'm still trying to figure out"

Which is why I won't mark you down 20 points. I'll just give you a stern lecture instead, mmmkay?)
posted by Cerebus at 8:33 AM on June 23, 2003


For the benefit of those who haven't seen what Cerebus is referring to, here's a link about why you should kiss Hank's ass.

1. Kiss Hank's ass and he'll give you a million dollars when you leave town.
2. Use alcohol in moderation.
3. Kick the shit out of people who aren't like you.
4. Eat right.
5. Hank dictated this list himself.
6. The moon is made of green cheese.
7. Everything Hanks says is right.
8. Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.
9. Don't drink.
10. Eat your wieners on buns, no condiments.
11. Kiss Hank's ass or he'll kick the shit out of you.

posted by beth at 8:38 AM on June 23, 2003


I've known my share of dipshit atheists, jonmc.

I got over the "religionists are dubm" meme halfway through highschool.

On Preview: No Marquis, I'm not kidding. I grew up in Michigan, which is not exactly a hotbed of freethinking. I got out as soon as I could. Being queer there was not a picnic either, but I didn't realize I was queer until I was outta there.

I was outed as an atheist in second grade, and had to put up with the rest of my class have a hissy fit as they all very sincerely were deeply disturbed I was going to hell. I was lucky enough to have a teacher who didn't pile on, though, and she put a stop to it after it got disruptive.
posted by ursus_comiter at 8:40 AM on June 23, 2003


Heh

Cerebus, my man, walking through the Mall Of Belief [self-link] that is New York City, I've had offers for churches almost that weird. I dunno, they're more entertaining than the Tony Robbins/Zig Ziglar crowd.
posted by jonmc at 8:47 AM on June 23, 2003


I have dozens of atheist friends, none of whom I've ever seen persecuted (or even really criticized) for it.

Marquis, you may not have seen it happen personally, but I'll bet if you asked your friends you'd find at least one who had such an experience.

It's nearly impossible to go a whole lifetime being an admitted atheist without having at least one person get in your face and tell you you're going to hell, or endure even worse harassment.
posted by beth at 8:49 AM on June 23, 2003


Because it's nice to hang out with like-minded people sometimes - fellowship is a nice thing, for lots of people.

I don't know what I'd do without my regular pew by the stained glass portrait of Richard Dawkins at my local temple of secular humanism. I just love the music, and just last week old widow Jones, seized by the spirit of nothingness, rose up and spoke in logical discourse for 45 minutes, dancing ecstatically the whole time, until she collapsed in a swoon, praising randomness.
posted by timeistight at 8:55 AM on June 23, 2003


I got over the "religionists are dubm" meme halfway through highschool.

While I don't tend to think of the professed religious as less intelligent, I certainly do think that those who are absolutely certain of their particular brand of belief are at the least deluded.

The number of contradiction that your average Jew for Jesus must wrap his head around simply astounds me. Very of Zen of them, if you ask me. 8)
posted by Cerebus at 8:58 AM on June 23, 2003


Old news (but possibly interesting):-
'Almost half of all adults in the UK say they have no religious affiliation, according to a new survey ... The report found that 48% of people in the UK claim to belong to a religion, compared with 86% of people in the US and 92% of Italians. ' (BBC Online, 28 Nov. 2000).
posted by plep at 9:00 AM on June 23, 2003


It's not so much other people getting in your face, it's the constant little exclusions from various aspects of everyday life -- even the so-called multifaith activities, a byproduct of multicultural policies, implicitly assume that you're a member of a faith, and reinforce the feeling that "none of the above" is an option that doesn't quite fit in.

Not much, admittedly, compared with staring into the abyss knowing the awful truth that there is no God on the other side of it -- that there is no other side -- but it's something I'd prefer to do without.
posted by mcwetboy at 9:00 AM on June 23, 2003


SECOND GRADE!!?!? Man. I feel for you, dude.
posted by agregoli at 9:00 AM on June 23, 2003


Oh man. Life as an atheist in these United States is no picnic, it's true.

Life as an agnostic is even worse, because the few people who do understand the distinction are prone to telling you that someday, you'll come around. As though you simply took a semester off from college: "Oh, you'll go back someday".
posted by padraigin at 9:03 AM on June 23, 2003


padraigin, at least you know that logic is on your side. :)
posted by ursus_comiter at 9:11 AM on June 23, 2003


To answer the question poised in the thread, I don't believe that there's any particular intellectual advantage to atheism. There are those who will argue that a belief in any god compromises objectivity or clarity of intellect, but I'm not sure how that could be logically demonstrated.

Belief and knowledge are two separate realms. As a theist, I don't have any preconceived notions about science, for instance. Religious beliefs find their best expression in the moral sphere, where they teach us right and wrong and provide a moral compass. The teachings of Jesus, for instance, talk about being peaceful, nonjudgmental, humble and worshipful. None of those qualities has anything to do with the age of the Universe, or the process of natural selection, or whether any group of people ought to be refused civil rights.

The many atheists that I've known reach most of these moral conclusions on their own, with the exception that they choose not to worship any god. I think they're missing out on one of the fundamental joys of being human, but you can't bully anyone into believing in a god for which no empirical evidence exists.

What always floors me is the notion that many Christians seem to have, that Atheists have no right to exist, or that an atheist's knowledge of the universe is somehow less valid than their own subjective knowledge of God. Equally depressing are some atheist's assertions that religious people are simply lacking in intelligence or honesty, as though religion--a matter which has been examined deeply and thoughtfully since the beginning of history--was a mere child's folly that can be discarded without a moment's consideration.

Regardless, I don't buy that there's any particular societal advantage bestowed by a particular belief system. Except maybe the Shakers--they make kickass furniture.
posted by vraxoin at 9:19 AM on June 23, 2003


There's not a lot of women on the list - only 5 or 6 of the first 40 or so. Is that because women are more likely to be believers, are are under-represented in the subset of 'celebrities'?
posted by Jos Bleau at 9:22 AM on June 23, 2003


jonmc: re kooks, stupidity, etc of religious people. Frankly, I believe you are wrong. You can believe what you want and I'd fight your corner for the freedom to believe whatever, but I believe you are wrong. And part of my religious belief system demands that I have to try and work out (a) why you think something that is so plainly untrue, and (b) how I can convert you to my one true way.

(a) means I have to suspect that you're a kook, and (b) means I have to tell you.

Oh - And if you believe that when you die, your "soul" goes to a magic place, then in my book, you're right up there with the scientologists. At this moment in History, you're not as dangerous, but other than that, there's little to differentiate you. </troll>
posted by seanyboy at 9:23 AM on June 23, 2003


I also live in the "progressive nirvana" of Canada, and frankly, atheism simply isn't that common even up here. Canadian religion tends not to have the stream of millenarianism that makes American religion so nasty, but I (an atheist) tend to get into (admittedly mild) arguments whenever it comes up. People tend to correct me and say "You mean agnostic, right? You're just not sure if God exists." and I say "No, I'm sure that he doesn't." 88% of Canada still believes in God, last time I was following polls about such things. Just because someone is a fundamentalist doesn't mean they aren't religious, and once you factor that in, the rarity of outright atheists becomes easier to explain.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 9:26 AM on June 23, 2003


What the nature of this deity might be and what it wants from me, if anything, is something I'm still trying to figure out. And believe me, in my travels I've had offers from most of the major religions and a few of the minor and none have satisfied me completely.

I'm sure God eagerly awaits your determination--and your satisfaction--as to his ultimate nature.

Heh, sorry, don't mean to be snarky (though I inevitably am accused of same in threads of this nature), but this idea of "buffet religion" has become perhaps predominant in at least U.S. society, and I find it rather puzzling. If there were a God of some sort, how would one expect to encounter him by scanning the tracts-and-rituals du jour? By what mechanism would you sort and assess them? What would tell you when you'd found him? Some sort of innate "instinct?" Some sort of "logical process?" And if you truly believe that "I don't know what God is, but I'll know him when I see him," then why limit yourself to other people's historical attempts to describe/circumscribe him? Why not plod forward alone guided by this personal "intuition?" And if millions of other people also feel they have the ability to distinguish real-god from false-god, and yet most often come to different conclusions than you do, what does that imply?

Most organized religions (Christianity, for example) preach just the opposite approach. You sign a very specific and detailed contract and are bound by its terms, with very little wiggle room and stiff penalties for breach-of-contract. I disagree with this approach, but it at least makes sense, if you are willing to concede the underlying presumption that the "Truth" has been revealed to the practitioners. (The deal-breaker, of course, comes through the realization that each group claims a unique and exclusive knowledge of the "Truth," yet none can offer conclusive support for their claim.)
posted by rushmc at 9:28 AM on June 23, 2003


I don't particularly like "freethinker" either, it implies that other people are slave thinkers. :P
posted by Foosnark at 9:30 AM on June 23, 2003


Just because someone is a fundamentalist doesn't mean they aren't religious, and once you factor that in, the rarity of outright atheists becomes easier to explain.

Buh? Did you omit a negative Pseudoephedrine?
posted by ursus_comiter at 9:30 AM on June 23, 2003


vraxoin: I think they're missing out on one of the fundamental joys of being human. What's that - Believing what the elders tell you to believe. I'll pass that one on to Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. 'cos they sure made me happy when I was 7.
posted by seanyboy at 9:33 AM on June 23, 2003


Religious beliefs find their best expression in the moral sphere, where they teach us right and wrong and provide a moral compass. The teachings of Jesus, for instance, talk about being peaceful, nonjudgmental, humble and worshipful.

It is not clear that "moral teachings" derive any benefit from being based in historically authentic episodes. In fact, there are countless examples (Aesop, ad naseum) which strongly suggest that they do not. If you find value in the teachings of Jesus, would you suddenly reject them if you discovered that there had never existed an historical "Jesus?" Is the lesson of the briar patch diminished by the fictitiousness of Brer Rabbit?

Testimony requires an authentic speaker; "moral teaching" only requires a wise voice.
posted by rushmc at 9:36 AM on June 23, 2003


Why isn't Mao on the list?

[/troll]
posted by kaibutsu at 9:37 AM on June 23, 2003


Bret Easton Ellis an agnostic? You mean, there's actually something that he won't go completely off the deep end with?
posted by ed at 9:43 AM on June 23, 2003


it's the constant little exclusions from various aspects of everyday life -- even the so-called multifaith activities

can you please provide some 'everyday life' examples of what you mean, mcwetboy? i must be missing something because i read your statement as "those people with faith sure make things hard on us non-believers because i feel so unwelcomed when i where i wear my 'god my dead' t-shirt at church."

i'm sure that's not what you mean, but i can't quite quite grok what your getting at.
posted by danOstuporStar at 9:46 AM on June 23, 2003


err...that's 'sposed to be that ole nietzsche thing of course.
posted by danOstuporStar at 9:48 AM on June 23, 2003


My bumper sticker idea:
"Thank God For Atheism"
posted by sharksandwich at 9:48 AM on June 23, 2003


Benjamin Franklin quotes.
posted by plep at 9:53 AM on June 23, 2003


It's nearly impossible to go a whole lifetime being an admitted atheist without having at least one person get in your face and tell you you're going to hell, or endure even worse harassment.

not in new york... or academia... I know very few religious people; a few unitarians, a few reform jews, a few pagans, but most people around me are pretty amenable to the whole atheism thing. And I think even bush sr.'s quote from a decade ago would be beyond the pale now. A century ago, the intellectual community thought religion was going by the wayside; instead it just changed a bit, became more intermixed and open for a lot of people. But I think atheism has become kind of another option on the table. Maybe that's because of the internet, or maybe just 'cause I'm in a more atheistic circle now...

My general philosophy these days is do what works for you. I don't really get how people can believe in things that are patently not there in any ordinary sense, but I don't think it means they're less intelligent or worthy. When they start claiming that I'm going to suffer for not submitting to their beliefs, I feel sad about it, the way they're cutting themselves off from the rest of humanity, but I've learned to accept it. But people like jonmc, searching and feeling something bigger themselves, etc, that seems perfectly healthy and good to me, even though, like I said, I don't really get how you would actually believe it except metaphorically.
posted by mdn at 9:53 AM on June 23, 2003


It's a pity to see a great mind like Richard Dawkins consumed by this whole religion thing. It's turned him from a brilliant evolutionary biologist with an outstanding prose style into another intolerant, tub-thumping evangelist. He's like a lot of scientists who perfectly grasp the interrelatedness of living things in the biological environment, but fails to grasp the ecology of society, in which religious belief plays a critical stabilizing function. There is no society on earth without religion, and without religion there is no society. So the choice isn't between religion and no religion. It's between one religion and another. Dawkins wants to replace the religion of God with the religion of atheism. But atheism is unteneble, human nature abhors a religious vacuum, and atheism inevitably flips into some kind of pagan worship. Based on Dawkins' past writings, I could see him evolving a kind of cult of Charles Darwin.
posted by Faze at 9:58 AM on June 23, 2003


Faze: ..without religion there is no society..

...atheism inevitably flips into some kind of pagan worship...

care to back up these rather remarkable statements?
posted by signal at 10:04 AM on June 23, 2003


Also, atheism isn't "the religion of atheism" it's an absence of reilgion. Just thought I'd clear that point up for you.
posted by signal at 10:05 AM on June 23, 2003


Every time there's a prayer at a public function, danOstuporStar.

School comes to mind -- Canada didn't have the razor-sharp separation of church and state in the schools that Americans take for granted. There was school prayer in my ostensibly public school well into junior high. Until a few years ago, Quebec's school system was denominational and Newfoundland's schools were run outright by the churches, and publicly funded Catholic schools still exist in several provinces.
posted by mcwetboy at 10:07 AM on June 23, 2003


I wonder how many religious people respect and believe in the usefulness, political and intellectual, of the atheist.

Miguel: You may have heard of Charles Williams. Of his upbringing, Humphrey Carpenter wrote that his father "though a devout churchman... encouraged Charles to appreciate the force of atheist rationalism and to admire such men as Voltaire and Tom Paine. Above all he insisted on accuracy, impressing on his son that one should never defend one's opinions by exaggeration or distortion of the facts." (larger quote here, taken from Carpenter's excellent group biography The Inklings.
)


I'm a religious believer, but as a mathematics student, I think I understand what the "force of atheist rationalism" means, and like to think I have an appreciation for it.
posted by weston at 10:12 AM on June 23, 2003


but fails to grasp the ecology of society, in which religious belief plays a critical stabilizing function. There is no society on earth without religion, and without religion there is no society.

It may have been critical once, but it needn't always be so: societies change. There's no reason to think it's impossible that human beings could construct a humanistic, naturalistic social imaginary without need for invisible sky parents.

Dawkins wants to replace the religion of God with the religion of atheism. But atheism is unteneble, human nature abhors a religious vacuum, and atheism inevitably flips into some kind of pagan worship.

What kind of pagan worship? If you mean people appreciate the earth and celebrate on the longest day of the year, etc etc, that can still be atheistic. We can appreciate art and ritual without holding to irrational conclusions about supernatural entities. A humanistic world needn't be void of fellowship, celebration, and even ritual. The difference is simply that people understand that they're creating ways to express their love for existence and so on - they're not bowing to an all-powerful but amazingly elusive superhero.
posted by mdn at 10:13 AM on June 23, 2003


Marquis, you may not have seen it happen personally, but ... [i]t's nearly impossible to go a whole lifetime being an admitted atheist without having at least one person get in your face and tell you you're going to hell, or endure even worse harassment.

Everybody has had this happen, beth - though being an atheist could certainly be a cause of such hell-bound threats, it's not the necessary cause. People are told they're going to hell because they weren' t born to families of the "right" faith, because they had premarital sex, because they support gay marriage, because they had a bar mitzvah. This has nothing to do with the persecution of atheists, however - but is due to a bigoted sliver (or chunk) of the population. (To be clear: This 'bigoted sliver' contains Christians, but so too does it contain members of every other creed, including atheists.)

I still don't feel that atheists are piled-on to a degree that is in excess of the status quo in a multicultural, freedom-of-expression society. In my life, (and my social circles tend more towards secularism than fundamentalism), I've seen many more people harassed for being religious than the other way around.
posted by Marquis at 10:17 AM on June 23, 2003


The anthropologist Emile Durkheim famously said that religion IS society. The truly "bright" person does not deplore or debunk religion (possibly the world's easiest intellectual task), he or she tries to discover what function it serves and how it works to preserve and continue social forms. On a personal, psychological basis, we all have our own little religions and fetishes and superstitions that if we get to know ourselves well enough, we'll recognize. As G.K. Chesterton said, "People who don't believe in God don't believe in nothing. They believe in anything."
posted by Faze at 10:28 AM on June 23, 2003


Speaking of religion in school, mcwetboy;

Up until I was 16, I was taught in (public) Roman Catholic schools; that means from primary school until I got to college, there were school-mandated church services (and, in primary school, confessions and the like), prayers and hymns in assemblies.

Frankly, I'm saddened that such things are allowed. What right does anybody have to force a 7 year old kid to go to church, confession, etc based on one particular subgroup of one particular religion, with no suggestion that it's anything other than the Absolute Truth?

It was such a relief when I worked out it was all bs and that I wasn't really going to hell for swearing at the kids who bullied me...
posted by Freaky at 10:29 AM on June 23, 2003


ursus> Should be "...isn't a fundamentalist...", sorry.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 10:29 AM on June 23, 2003


I think that regardless of your beliefs you will always feel some form of persecution from others who do not share your beliefs.
posted by abez at 10:41 AM on June 23, 2003


I was always under the impression that athiests "believe there is no God" whereas agnostics "aren't sure if there is or is not a God." Now, people (okay, I'll include myself here...) *we* rail on Christians and other religious people for accepting things "by faith" and without "having scientific data" to prove that there IS a God. But can any athiest show me scientific evidence that there IS NOT a God? Isn't it far more intellectually justifiable to be an agnostic, where you just sort of say, "you know, I really have no idea because no one can seem to come up with any data."

I guess I fall in the "pan-religion" category -- it's all gonna pan out how it's gonna pan out so everyone needs to just settle down -- I guess I'm pretty tired of listening to both sides claim the moral high ground.
posted by lazywhinerkid at 10:44 AM on June 23, 2003


DanOstuporstar is correct - Richard Nixon was a Quaker in good standing with his meeting in Washington. (And so was Woodrow Wilson.) I first heard about Nixon being a Friend in meeting myself (I'm a Quaker) and the effect of that bit of information on those in the room was hilarious, though being Quakers we took it, well, silently.

Probably did us good though - it's best not to idealize whatever group you identify with.

I don't see how anyone can say they know there is or isn't a God. No one knows. One can say one believes, and either way should be no less respected for that. We're all just guessing based on our experiences of the world. I'm leery of people who don't admit any doubt whatsoever.
posted by orange swan at 10:45 AM on June 23, 2003


(The deal-breaker, of course, comes through the realization that each group claims a unique and exclusive knowledge of the "Truth," yet none can offer conclusive support for their claim.)

That's because generally (with some Gallilean exceptions), most religious groups deal in claims about truth that are difficult to verify scientifically. The only verification ends up being the experience.

"If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. " (John 7:17, New Testament).

It's almost empiricism.

And if you believe that when you die, your "soul" goes to a magic place, then in my book, you're right up there with the scientologists.

Really? Do you think we've so totally sussed the nature of consciousness that you can guarantee there's not something about people that can exist outside of their body?

Of course you have trouble verifying a negative, proving an absence, which makes this question ill-suited for verification via scientific means, which means that's it's outside the epistemological boundouries that most atheists are willing to use. And they resolve this difficulty by declaring anything unverified incorrect.

I think the agnostics have a much stronger case. They simply declare it unreliable, which is much more accurate under the rules of that came. Although you could argue that while the agnostics are more precise, the athiests are simply being pragmatic in assuming that which is unreliable to be incorrect.
posted by namespan at 10:46 AM on June 23, 2003


I've always been aware that my atheism is based on faith and a very deeply rooted faith at that. I always give props to agnostics.
posted by ursus_comiter at 10:52 AM on June 23, 2003


One thing that gets me about people who believe in supernatural beings and refuse to believe that some of us don't, or insist on qualifying ANY belief system as a religion, is that not only are they firmly convinced they're right, but refuse to even consider the posibility that somebody might disagree with them, and choose to resolve this cognitive dissonance by convincing themselves of our insincerity.
posted by signal at 10:53 AM on June 23, 2003


Belief is simply a statement of probabilistic calculation. I believe that the sun won't go nova today and destroy the earth, because although possible, the chances are statistically small (based upon current knowledge of the variables involved). To say that one "believes" something based upon nothing whatsoever is meaningless. The human brain cannot operate on zero data. Belief is always based upon an assessment of variables—the assessment may be valid or in error, but it occurs—and therefore it is silly to refer to belief as some sort of mystical, unfathomable phenomenon. Granted, much of the processing that leads to the belief occurs at a level that we may have little direct awareness of—but that is true of every kind of processing that we do.
posted by rushmc at 10:55 AM on June 23, 2003


Is it a point of irony that both agnosticism and atheism depend on theism in order to exist? It must be interesting to espouse truly 'independent' thinking when holding such reactionary beliefs.

I also applaud these celebrities on finding such fullness in logic. The ever-pervasive torchlight of the human mind and reasoning should never have to have a 'crutch' to explain the metaphysical. After all, we are all the center of our own universes, with nothing else larger than us. We are fully in control, right?
posted by jazzkat11 at 10:58 AM on June 23, 2003


I have a friend who is a non-theist Catholic, which causes no end of fun.
Christians (on the whole) think she is an athiest, or have problems comprehending the concept of non-theist christianity. Athiests (often) think she is just another confused 'kook'.
She is a person who has spent a long time analysing her faith, and becoming comfortable with it, not something that is common amongst my other religious friends (or areligious for that matter).
It seems to me that religion is like supporting a football team to some extent; the beliefs of your friends and family (esp. at a young age) can set your opinions for the rest of your life.
IMHO it is organised religion that leads to the worst excesses of 'faith'. Devisive language is often used to re-enforce the validity of the group.
I would rather spend time with a mixed group of people, like a religious pile-on thread here, a philosophical mono-culture can quickly become stale. This is one of the reasons why I find most religions so unappetising, the idea that all knowledge could be contained within one publication or philosophy is so limiting that it leaves me psyschologically gasping for air.
Which would be seen as a weakness, if you are looking to influence / control people it is much easier to do so when they are in a group. Athiests may not feel the need for the same kind of group validation, but that will also leave them open to attack from organised groups.
posted by asok at 11:08 AM on June 23, 2003


Is it a point of irony that both agnosticism and atheism depend on theism in order to exist?

It seems to me that without theism, nonbelief would still exist, it just wouldn't have (or need) a name.
posted by TedW at 11:08 AM on June 23, 2003


Aye... I can't believe I'm even touching this discussion, but here goes...

Is it a point of irony that both agnosticism and atheism depend on theism in order to exist?

No, it's not, because atheism does not depend on theism in order to exist. If theism did not exist, no one would go around calling themselves atheists, as the term would be meaningless, but everyone would be in a state of atheism. Remember, as Signal so aptly pointed out, atheism is not a belief system in itself; it is only the lack of a belief in a higher power.

And obviously we're not in full control, Jazzkat. We cannot break the laws of the natural world (which exist a priori and were not created), and they govern every person, plant, animal, other life form, molecule, and atom in existence.

Of course you have trouble verifying a negative, proving an absence, which makes this question ill-suited for verification via scientific means, which means that's it's outside the epistemological boundouries that most atheists are willing to use. And they resolve this difficulty by declaring anything unverified incorrect.

I rely on statistics here, as rushmc touched on above. If there has been no scientifically document evidence of supernatural phenomena in, say, four hundred years of relative modernity (one could say ever, but I'll, for example's sake, stay on the low side and stick to 400 years), I find it unbelievable that supernatural phenomena exist. Perhaps god will pop out of the sky tomorrow and say "hey guys, don't forget about me!" In such a case, well, I'd say that's pretty good evidence for the existence of god. But that has never happened (unless you believe the bible, which doesn't have a very good provenance for being taken literally), so I believe god does not exist. Just as the sun has risen each day for the past however millenia doesn't mean it will tomorrow, but given its unfettered track record, I think it's a safe bet that it will indeed rise.
posted by The Michael The at 11:19 AM on June 23, 2003


seanyboy: What's that - Believing what the elders tell you to believe.

The notion that "person of faith" = "intellectual drone" is a dull straw man argument. There's an enormous difference between using ancient teachings as a moral guide and blindly adhering to dogma. I've never been coerced into believing anything. I have never signed any contract. I can understand that assumption--when I was thirteen I thought going to church was boring and pointless, and I disdained my parents for forcing me to attend. But as an adult, the many benefits of participating in a religious community leave me the richer, not the poorer, for the experience; and it is all purely voluntary, I can assure you.

While there are certainly those who shove dogmatic ideology down the throats of their parishioners, most liberal denominations of Christianity encourage free thinking, questioning, and open discussion of ideas.

rushmc: It is not clear that "moral teachings" derive any benefit from being based in historically authentic episodes.

That's why I pointed out in the following paragraph that many of my atheist friends arrived at similar conclusions on their own, without the help of a divine interlocutor. The only added benefit of living those morals from a position of faith is the joy of making choices as an act of love for one's creator. This is a purely spiritual benefit that has none but spiritual and emotional consequences.

The historicity of Jesus as portrayed in the bible is deeply ambiguous. Much was elided or amended by early church fathers in a misguided attempt to make the church's teachings cleave more closely to their philosophical biases. The bible as received is full of contradictions and historical bias, but the central teachings leave little room for wiggling: love God, love others. Don't judge. Have faith.

Was Jesus really the son of God? Was Mary really a virgin? Is it sinful to eat shellfish? Are women who don't cover their heads an outrage against the Lord? Some of these questions don't even pass the laugh test in this day and age; others are interesting questions for theologians and historians, but they don't really matter in the daily life of a person of faith. When those things become a problem is when a theocratic government requires people to obey its interpretation of a religious text, which we don't have in America (yet). What we know about the historical Jesus is scant, and secondary. If, say, it turns out that George Washington was murdered and replaced by the Masonic stooge Adam Weishaupt (as legend has it), does that make the fundamental principals of the United States morally bankrupt? What's important are the tenets, not the "historical" details.
posted by vraxoin at 11:24 AM on June 23, 2003


Uncomfortable when asked about your agnosticism or atheism? No worries! Here's the script: "I'm not religious."

How hard is that? I've never seen a bad reaction to that. Among other things, it makes plain the elephant in the living room, that the religious are the actors in this sphere, the ones with something to justify.

And, if you're cranky and want a different spin, then it's: "I'm not superstitious."
posted by NortonDC at 11:27 AM on June 23, 2003


So, is this Hank The Father or Hank The Son? '
Cause if it's the latter, I'm issuing a fatwa on yore skanky ass.

Just sayin'

y2ayatollahkarl
posted by y2karl at 11:28 AM on June 23, 2003


But can any athiest show me scientific evidence that there IS NOT a God?

Why? Most atheists would defer to Occam's razor. So far nothing we've observed about the universe necessarily calls for such a hacky, complex explanation as an all-powerful, all knowing being. Once we encounter the thirty-foot high letters of fire on top of the Quentulus Quazgar Mountains in the land of Sevorbeupstry on the planet Preliumtarn, then we'll go along with you.

Is it a point of irony that both agnosticism and atheism depend on theism in order to exist?

No. It is a point of etymology.
posted by badstone at 11:30 AM on June 23, 2003


"There is no society on earth without religion, and without religion there is no society"



Could that be because (a) most western forays into "native" territories were headed by missionaries, and (b) most early anthropologists were religious. I'm not saying that they introduced religion to the natives, but that they may have seen religion where there was none.



We translate certain words as "spirit," thinking of the religious significance of that word. But what if such words, when spoken by the natives, have no metaphysical meaning at all, and it was only the naive anthropologists and missionaries who couldn't wrap their heads around it.



An analogy: imagine a technically advanced culture - advanced as much as ours is, with the exception of biology --- their anthropologists hear us talking about "genes" and "allelles" ---- isn't it likely they're going to mistranslate those as some terms with metaphysical-religious significance?



My point is that the belief that "all cultures have always had religion" is unsupportable, given that the historians, anthropologists, and missionaries who will comoprise the textual evidence for such a claim, were themselves not in a position to provide non-religious interpretations.
posted by yesster at 11:41 AM on June 23, 2003


To theists, I have a question: what are your opinions on the historic followers of Zeus, Mithras or Zoroaster? Would you consider them backward and superstitious? Or is their God as valid as yours?

And if they are backward and superstitious, what, other than the passage of time and fashion, distinguishes them from you?
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:49 AM on June 23, 2003


The only added benefit of living those morals from a position of faith is the joy of making choices as an act of love for one's creator.

So just what is so ooky about human beings that you can't take joy in making moral choices for our sake?
posted by badstone at 11:50 AM on June 23, 2003


yesster, Thanks for your comment. In fact, human beings have a natural propensity toward spiritualizing anything. The way the popular press uses the concept of "genes" and "alleles" is virtually religious -- since only one in a thousand journalists understands (or grasps how little is understood about ) these things, their acceptance of these concepts is a virtual faith.
posted by Faze at 12:02 PM on June 23, 2003


So just what is so ooky about human beings that you can't take joy in making moral choices for our sake?

Who says you can't? I only said that there's something particularly nice about doing something for God. Doing things for other people is very nice, too.
posted by vraxoin at 12:09 PM on June 23, 2003


So you are equating "religous thinking" and/or "faith" with ignorance, then, Faze?
posted by rushmc at 12:09 PM on June 23, 2003


" Remember, as Signal so aptly pointed out, atheism is not a belief system in itself; it is only the lack of a belief in a higher power."

You have very interesting boundaries for the concept of a 'belief system'. Under your definition it would be improper to label 'lack of belief in a higher power' as a belief system in itself? Not to get into semantics, but I hope you see what I am getting at.

"And obviously we're not in full control, Jazzkat. We cannot break the laws of the natural world (which exist a priori and were not created), and they govern every person, plant, animal, other life form, molecule, and atom in existence."

So you are hinting at an obvious hierarchy. So there is a power greater than yourself, and for you it is the laws of the natural world? Do you have faith in this system, that it works without you essentially understanding every component in it?
posted by jazzkat11 at 12:15 PM on June 23, 2003


I only said that there's something particularly nice about doing something for God.

Why would that be? It seems to me that it would be rather like trying to find a present for someone who had everything (literally). To think that one can "do something nice for God" presumes that a) you have it within your power to please God, and b) you know what it is that will please God. The only thing that can lead one to believe either of these things is specific human doctrine, which begs the question.

In any case, I have yet to see a formulation of the act of worship that isn't grossly and offensively demeaning to the worshiper (and, by extension, to the worshipee, as well). Even inequal beings should not demand obesience from one another, by any reasonable standard I can imagine. Do you want your dog to worship you, or do you feed him, house him, take him for walks, and try to cure him when he becomes sick because you care about his well-being and enjoy his companionship and what he has to offer, on his terms?
posted by rushmc at 12:21 PM on June 23, 2003


rushmc - any god who demands or requires worship doesn't deserve it
posted by yesster at 12:23 PM on June 23, 2003


But can any athiest show me scientific evidence that there IS NOT a God?

there is no such thing as certainty: this is the basis of philosophical skepticism, as in, how do I know I really exist / other people really exist / etc. All knowledge is limited; we can only assess things to the best of our knowledge.

We have exactly the same level of indication that there is no god as we do that there is no tooth fairy, that there is no Zeus, that there is no invisible pink unicorn behind you, etc. Would you consider yourself agnostic about fairies? I can certainly agree that there is no certainty, but I call myself an atheist because it is unlikely enough not to be taken seriously in my book. I'd say it is slightly less likely than our living in a computer simulation, for instance. Not completely impossible, and if new evidence were to turn up, I'd certainly reassess things, but as things stand I see no need to introduce additional hypotheses of "supernature" when nature makes more sense on its own.

So there is a power greater than yourself, and for you it is the laws of the natural world? Do you have faith in this system, that it works without you essentially understanding every component in it?

the laws of nature are not rules but descriptions of how matter behaves. There is no need to believe in anything; you experience it.
posted by mdn at 12:24 PM on June 23, 2003


Canada didn't have the razor-sharp separation of church and state in the schools that Americans take for granted

Not all Americans. I attended a public school in Missouri, and was forced to pray (rationalization: "a little God can't hurt you) with my class through elementary school. In junios high and high school, I was allowed to stay seated and silent, but the prayers went on. If it was only the other kids who gave me shit, that would have been one thing, but the most hateful shit I received was from teachers and adminstrators. I was kicked out of my high school's chapter of the National Honor Society because my atheism was construed as an impenetrable barrier to their "citizenship" requirement.

I want to make it clear that I don't feel sorry my myself or anything, and I would probably have ended up as incurable misanthrope anyhow. That being said, don't assume that the Constution is anything other than a piece of paper in many parts of the US. Except the 2nd ammendment. They love that one.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 12:37 PM on June 23, 2003


that there is no invisible pink unicorn behind you, etc

a very, very smart guy (not a MeFi user though) thought that you can't really say whether there's a rhinoceros in the room or not, by the way
posted by matteo at 12:43 PM on June 23, 2003


Regarding atheists getting together: I think there are tons or reasons why every city or region should have an active atheist/agnostic organization.

Politics:

The threat of lumping creationism (a religious doctrine) into a science class through federal or local legislation is something to be taken seriously. I'm sure an ath/ag group would be very interested in pooling its resources to prevent such a thing.

Watchdog policing pro-religious anti-ath/ag legislation to counter the big religious lobbies that are entrenched into the federal system. A counter-voice is badly needed by people who will be directly hurt by such legislation.

Social:

Some ath/ags want to help promote scientific cosmology and critical thinking skills.

ath/ags are simply hard to meet because of how closeted non-belief is in the US.

Non-believers have a huge incentive to get together and pool their resources for the greater good, simply because they will be on the defensive for a long, long time in a world of theists, theocracies, pro-religious laws, political leaders mentioning Jesus every ten seconds etc. There are such organizations like the American Atheists, but on the local level there doesn't seem to be much going on. I can't disagree more with the above statements of atheists having no real reason to get together.

Ath/ags haven't even reached the point where there's even a token quote from them in major media outlets when it comes to religious legislation. The most I've seen is a CSICOP member on some "Unexplained Things" shows getting 8 seconds to explain a natural cause for something that is probably already an a priori belief with most viewers.
posted by skallas at 12:44 PM on June 23, 2003


I'd say it is slightly less likely than our living in a computer simulation, for instance.mdn

Much less likely...
posted by nicwolff at 1:05 PM on June 23, 2003


I got the impression, from reading the superbly reasoned and admirably expressed comments in this thread, that some atheists, in their desire for proof, express an almost religious longing for belief.

Others are more like David Cronenberg, a film-maker I much admire, who considers himself "not just an atheist, but a total non-believer" (my emphasis] implying, quite intelligently, that there's still something theist, as it were, about atheism.

In a 1997 interview quoted in the link, when asked why his characters never deal directly with religion, he replies:

"The reason why is that I'm not interested. You're absolutely right. For me, it's not even worth discussion. It doesn't interest me. It interests me only to be discarded. If I start there, I'm mired in a discussion that is very unfruitful to me. I'm simply a non-believer and have been forever. To discuss religion is to put me in a debate with myself. I'm interested in saying, "Let us discuss the existential question. We are all going to die, that is the end of all consciousness. There is no afterlife. There is no God. Now what do we do." That's the point where it starts getting interesting to me. If I have to go back and say, "What if there is a God?" then I'm doing a debate that is not very interesting. You have to create one character who believes and another that doesn't. It's not an issue."

This seems to me to be an eloquent statement of the "extreme" atheist: the person who finds the discussion of the existence of God boring.

When trying to justify my belief in God, I find that my disbelief that we can ever understand or justify being - not just the world - and yet, at the same time, feel that there must be an explanation beyond our grasp, is always part of my own, personal answer.

Very inadequate, I know. But believing is, in no small measure, a recognition of human limitations - epistemologically and ontologically. It takes real courage or laziness not to care at all, as Cronenberg apparently doesn't.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:09 PM on June 23, 2003


You have very interesting boundaries for the concept of a 'belief system'. Under your definition it would be improper to label 'lack of belief in a higher power' as a belief system in itself? Not to get into semantics, but I hope you see what I am getting at.

Indeed. I see what you're getting at, but I stand by what I wrote. To clarify: 'Lack of belief in a higher power' is a belief, but not a belief system. I believe that there is no higher power. However, any belief system I hold, be it moral, ethical, physical, or otherwise, stands independent of the existence of a higher power. One's non-belief in a higher power does not prescribe any specific belief system for one's self, only the belief that there is no higher power. In fact, it is partially because my belief system stands independent of a higher power that I disbelieve the existence of a higher power.

So you are hinting at an obvious hierarchy. So there is a power greater than yourself, and for you it is the laws of the natural world? Do you have faith in this system, that it works without you essentially understanding every component in it?

No, I'm not hinting at an obvious hierarchy; in fact, I strongly affirm that there is no hierarchy.

Instead of saying "laws of the natural world", let me rephrase to a more precise description: all matter behaves in certain ways in certain situations. Modern science has observed and recorded many of these behaviors and codified them into what we now term "laws of nature." The laws of nature do not exist as things per se, but the behaviors described by the laws occur with perfect regularity according to scientific descriptions. If flaws are found with the laws (which are, after all, only human descriptions of natural phenomena), the laws are then revised based on updated information and observation. If necessary, substitute "human descriptions of natural phenomena" for laws everywhere in this paragraph you've just read.

There is no "power" greater than myself (though, at the same time, I am no greater than any other conglomeration of matter). The matter comprising myself behaves in certain ways in certain situations. My matter is not subject to laws, and these behaviors are not put upon my matter; such behaviors of my matter merely occur. In this I have faith, but the faith is based on repeated observation in an infinite number of moments between now and the beginning of time that matter behaves in certain ways in certain situations.

Hope this has been illuminating.
posted by The Michael The at 1:11 PM on June 23, 2003


my favorite quote (and that speaks for me) is from uma: "What I have learned is that I like all religions, but only parts of them."
posted by poopy at 1:17 PM on June 23, 2003


The more I study religions the more I am convinced that man never worshipped anything but himself. —Sir Richard F. Burton
posted by rushmc at 1:25 PM on June 23, 2003


To paraphrase myself: I am not agnostic or atheistic as much as I am apathetic. Religion doesn't seem to me to solve any problem I actually have. I am not sure what problems people have that they think religion solves for them, but I suppose they must exist.
posted by kindall at 1:37 PM on June 23, 2003


I have newfound respect for Chrisopher Reeves after reading his quotations on the link.
posted by goethean at 1:43 PM on June 23, 2003


But can any athiest {sic} show me scientific evidence that there IS NOT a God?

Maybe. First you have to define this lazy abstraction coherently or I won't know what I'm looking for evidence in favor of or against.

As for the definitions of God I have seen...welllll.....all I can say is, can you show me any scientific evidence that there are NOT married bachelors or GHG7847hgfhnghgs?
posted by dgaicun at 1:44 PM on June 23, 2003


If there has been no scientifically document evidence of supernatural phenomena in, say, four hundred years of relative modernity (one could say ever, but I'll, for example's sake, stay on the low side and stick to 400 years), I find it unbelievable that supernatural phenomena exist. Perhaps god will pop out of the sky tomorrow and say "hey guys, don't forget about me!" In such a case, well, I'd say that's pretty good evidence for the existence of god. But that has never happened

Well, you weren't there, but there's a number of people who claim that they were witness to more or less that scenario.

I expect that many people don't find that "scientific" evidence per se, and that's partly what I'm speaking of when I say it's outside of the epistemological boundaries some people set for themselves. But what exactly would you mean by "scientific" evidence that there was a God? That is, what kind of data in conventional scientific terms would you expect to be able collect from an omnipotent being? Blood samples? Photographs?

That's sortof ridiculous, and so you could drop back to what's really the standby of the scientific method: verifiability. Given a set of conditions, can you reproduce a result? Maybe not a direct appearance: conscious entities like human beings, for example, have ranges of predictability, but I'm not aware of any procedure for repeatably/reliably summoning ordinary human beings to a given location for verification of existence. But after you've seriously looked at various religions/organizations for a while, you realize there's a thread through many of them (and one I use to distinguish legitimacy). While some will simply tell you that you must accept their authority, most will at least say that *if* you adhere to the teachings, you can expect certain results. For most of us, this is a verifiable as most of the scientific facts we have available.

We have exactly the same level of indication that there is no god as we do that there is no tooth fairy, that there is no Zeus. Would you consider yourself agnostic about fairies?

I would, strictly, consider myself agnostic about fairies, but from a pragmatic standpoint, much like Miguel's David Cronenburg, pretty settled and uninterested in the question. If someone asked me if I believed in them I'd say no. If pressed about whether I was strictly certain I'd say no.

It's not a good comparison, though. The fact is I've met a number of people who've claimed to have some experience of contact with the divine. There's not a few of them, you can probably find some yourself if you ask around. I've followed some of the things I've learned from talking to them and had some similar experiences. Conversely, I have met no one who claimed any kind of encounter with Zeus, the tooth fairy, unicorns, and Harry Potter, and further don't expect that if I did they'd explain a particular method of repeating that experience.

Why? Most atheists would defer to Occam's razor.

The usefulness of Occam's razor is generally far overstated. For one thing, "simplicity" is as much a value judgement as not. For another, the simplest explanation that fits a subset of facts (which is usually, if not always, what we're dealing with), is very often not the one that most closely describes reality. It's useful when engaging in pragmatic decisions, though. Neglect friction, for example.
posted by namespan at 1:51 PM on June 23, 2003


Conversely, I have met no one who claimed any kind of encounter with Zeus, the tooth fairy, unicorns

You are severely limiting your sample set. At various times in the past, you could well have met with such people (okay, I'm not sure about the tooth fairy, unless you include 6-yr-olds and their half-remembered dreams). Conversely, at any time prior to 50 years ago, you could not have met anyone who believed in precisely the modern Christian conception(s) of God. Similarly, there were few reports of UFOs prior to the 1940s, and many more reports of fairies prior to the 20th century. What people expect to see, they may "see," and what they expect to see is determined by a number of factors, but cultural transmission ("prior art," if you will) is certainly one of the strongest.

The interesting question, it seems to me, is WHY our brains utilize fantasy to deal with reality, and there are a number of people in various fields who have studied and are studying this very issue. There is no question that our brains do this, but it would seem extremely difficult to justify leaping to the conclusion that these fantasies are externally, objectively real, as opposed to internally self-manufactured.
posted by rushmc at 2:06 PM on June 23, 2003 [1 favorite]


"...that some atheists, in their desire for proof, express an almost religious longing for belief."

You word it very eloquently, and it illuminates a fascinating point.

It seems, that since the very inception of man's walk on Earth, as can be told historically, there has been an open discussion on spirituality and belief in the ontological in its various forms. From the paintings on cave walls to bright neon signs visible from the New Jersey turnpike, man has always grappled with the concept of a 'larger, intelligent force'.

It seems to follow then, that it would be implausible that any one of us would not have our own dialogue about the subject, internalized or otherwise.

I found myself, as I get older, being urged by some internal dilemma towards a larger self reckoning. I begin to see myself no longer as an autonomous agent of self force, but more so an interactive element in a much larger tapestry, a single thread woven with many others. Can I claim credit that I am the weaver? Is it oblivious to my own and the many that have gone before me's dilemma to assume that the fabric weaves itself?

"There is no "power" greater than myself" (though, at the same time, I am no greater than any other conglomeration of matter).

Then I must assume that you've never waded into a current of a powerful stream and not lost control? Or that you've never realized your own lack of power in the instant before a car accident? Or that you are on equal authority with bolts of lightening, disease and death itself?
posted by jazzkat11 at 2:09 PM on June 23, 2003


I got the impression, from reading the superbly reasoned and admirably expressed comments in this thread, that some atheists, in their desire for proof, express an almost religious longing for belief.

Believing in certain things - e.g. "I believe that I exist" - does not in any way imply believing in gods or unicorns or whatever else. It certainly doesn't imply a "longing" to believe in more things, just for the hell of it.

For one thing, "simplicity" is as much a value judgement as not.
What do you mean by this? In any given context, relative simplicity/complexity is readily apparent and in some cases even quantifiable.

the simplest explanation that fits a subset of facts (which is usually, if not always, what we're dealing with), is very often not the one that most closely describes reality.
Of course. My reality is the subset of facts about "absolute" reality that are available to me. I will always go with the explanation that just covers those facts and nothing further. As soon as more facts come my way, I will go with updates of explanations as appropriate.
posted by badstone at 2:11 PM on June 23, 2003


Oops, and of course by "facts" I (and presumably namespan as well) mean "observations."
posted by badstone at 2:16 PM on June 23, 2003


There is no "power" greater than myself (though, at the same time, I am no greater than any other conglomeration of matter). The matter comprising myself behaves in certain ways in certain situations. My matter is not subject to laws, and these behaviors are not put upon my matter; such behaviors of my matter merely occur. In this I have faith, but the faith is based on repeated observation in an infinite number of moments between now and the beginning of time that matter behaves in certain ways in certain situations.

Not to pick on you, individually, The Michael The, but a point was made previously about how Ockham's razor would support an atheist view over that of a theist because many theists posit a superfluous, single, omnipotent entity as responsible for the known universe. Reading the universe as described in your post I, for one, don't see anything there that seems simpler than an unknowable, omnipotent entity.

For instance, you are described as a collection of matter that exhibits behaviors. All of these independently acting bits of matter somehow glom together to form you--another, superordinate independent agent. How do you explain a collection of independent (as you state--not guided by law, the behavior merely occurs) entities, or whatever you want to call your matter, grouping together to form you, another independent entity that acts with free will, not necessarily in accordance with the behaviors exhibited by your sub matter? Does your matter hold elections? Do you and the matter negotiate?

Or perhaps your free will is but a mirage, your actions are guided by your subordinate entities, your matter? If you grant that you have free will, you will be hard pressed to base your entire being on some collection of matter that either acts independently or else in accordance with some regular, predictable manner.

Further, is your identity necessarily tied to your physical being? If we were to perform an operation, would we be able to remove an identifiable portion of your matter and be able to point to it and say this is the part of your matter that contains your sense of identity?

Or perhaps your identity is not rooted to any particular collection of your matter but is an emergent property of the electro-chemical reactions that occur between parts of your matter. Now you are postulating that you are, in a sense, not real. You, as you identify yourself, are nothing other than some emphemeral whisp resulting from some electro-chemical reactions. You, this complex thing that enjoys poetry, music, and sex; this thing that forms opinions and posts them to Metafilter; this thing with an independent will and inalienable rights is nothing more than the byproduct of some electro-chemical process from an atheistic perspective.

Which is a simpler world view? I'm not wholely convinced either one could be declared more simple. Hence, Ockham has little to offer the (a)theist in this conversation.
posted by Fezboy! at 2:39 PM on June 23, 2003


The athiests have not only NOT proven there is no God, but have also NOT proven that they do not have weapons of Mass Destruction.

Wherever a godless people possess Weapons of Mass Destruction, it is up to the American People - one nation, under God - to remove the imminant threat of destruction.

In denying God, they have put themselves in Gods place - they believe that it is their will that is preeminent in their lives.

Brothers and sisters, you know what this means - Fires and brimstone coming down from the sky, rivers and seas boiling, Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes--
The dead rising from the graves! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!

It is our sacred duty to restart the witch trials and remove these godless hooligans by any means possible from our God-given planet.

Let the burnings commence!

God bless America.
posted by Perigee at 2:40 PM on June 23, 2003


Which is a simpler world view? I'm not wholely convinced either one could be declared more simple.

Well, whether you believe in God or not, you have to admit we're conglomerations of matter that seem to have certain traits and which can only be explained as the result of certain physical processes, which we already know exist regardless of whether God exists. So which is "simpler" -- a universe where all these physical processes exist and are sufficient to explain us, or a universe where all these physical processes exist and are sufficient to explain us -- plus a deity?
posted by kindall at 2:48 PM on June 23, 2003


In any case, I have yet to see a formulation of the act of worship that isn't grossly and offensively demeaning to the worshiper (and, by extension, to the worshipee, as well).

any god who demands or requires worship doesn't deserve it

These comments belie a deep misunderstanding of Christian theology. They are apropos if speaking of other people but they are not apropos of God. First, because the purpose of worship is not to entertain or otherwise enrich God--God has no need of such things--but rather to enrich the human spirit. Second, God is not a person, and worshipping God is not debasing or demeaning any more than a poet is debased by adoring Nature. For instance, consider the works of Bach, all of which were written as acts of worship. What, precisely, is demeaning about "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," one of the most beautiful (and worshipful) pieces of music ever made?

You're confusing worshiping with groveling; they're two very different things. The point of worshiping isn't to humiliate the worshippers, but to take them outside of themselves, to seek a connection with something greater.

To illustrate the question, here's C.S. Lewis's excellent explanation (which also explains the origin of the band name "Sixpence None the Richer"):

It is like a small child going to his father and saying, 'Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.' Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child's present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction. When a man has made these two discoveries, God can really get to work. It is after this that real life begins. The man is awake now...


The point is not that the father recieves something, but that the child gives something.

Lewis's book, Mere Christianity (from which the above is excerpted), is an excellent introduction to Christian theology for anyone who is interested in seeing it for what it actually is. No one could accuse Lewis of being a dogmatist or a brainless fanatic. If you can get through that book and still believe that the essence of Christianity is to fill the world with mindless sheep who enjoy debasing themselves, I'll eat my hat. Lewis wasn't a proselytizer and Mere Christianity isn't a tract. It's simply a deft explanation of what Christianity is and what it is not.
posted by vraxoin at 2:49 PM on June 23, 2003


Namespan: you are using the pop definition of Occam's Razor, i.e.:"the simplest explanation is true", which is in fact not what he was saying at all. A more precise statement is "one should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything". Beyond what is necessary. This means that in any given explanation of a phenomenon, any part of the explanation which isn't necessary, which doesn't explain the phenomena, can be safely cut out.
The point of applying Occam's Razor to debates about supernatural beings is that these beings aren't necessary to exlpain any phenomena, and in fact don't explain anything other than as a stand in for "and we don't know what happens here", as a God of the Gaps argument.
This is why I'm an atheist on even days, an agnostic on odd days and a strict Buddhist on all other days.
posted by signal at 2:54 PM on June 23, 2003


From atheist historian Eugene Genovese, the author of Roll, Jordon, Roll:

"'For if God is a socially conscious political being whose views invariably correspond to our own prejudices on every essential point of doctrine, he demands of us no more than our politics require. Besides, if God is finite, progressive, and Pure Love, we may as well skip church next Sunday and go to the movies. For if we have nothing to fear from this all-loving, all-forbearing, all-forgiving God, how would our worship of him constitute more than self-congratulation for our own moral standard? As an atheist, I like this God. It is good to see him every morning while I am shaving''" ("Pilgrim's Progress," The New Republic, 11 May 1992, p. 38 as quoted by Elder Maxwell in Popularity and Principle, Ensign, March 1995, p.15)"
posted by Jos Bleau at 3:01 PM on June 23, 2003


>The interesting question, it seems to me, is WHY our brains utilize fantasy to deal with reality

I've often thought that it’s an exaggeration of our normal tribal hierarchies. The deities are like our super-presidents and our super-kings. I've felt that the celebrity system in western cultures also suffers from from the same abuse of our natural hierarchies. Tom Cruise is a super-man, a super-alpha male and we must know what he doing all the time because he is one of our many leaders, etc.

I don't think it’s just limited to perversion of the natural mammalian organization. Religion plays to our ego vanities (we're all important in religion, outside religion we're just another animal) and a cosmology that endorses life after death with helps with our fears of the inevitable.

I found a great little resource written by a non-theist exploring how he can deal with his mortality without a religious framework. It’s a great read.

Dealing With Mortality: A Skeptic's Guide


I see religion is a stop-gap fix. It gave us a pre-scientific cosmology. It gave us a pre-rationalist understanding of mortality and psychological support to help with our fear of death. It gave us a power heirarcy and tribal identity. These things were once important, but in a modern scientific world they're just lumbering dinosaurs holding us back.
posted by skallas at 3:01 PM on June 23, 2003


kindall:

The second and third hypotheticals I put forth questions your assertion directly. Yes, we are all made of some independent bits of matter (the atheist positition wins here!), but where an atheist is bound by their position that the whole of identity is bound to that matter, the theist is freed from that sticky position.

The position that human identity is wholely contained by the physical matter of our bodies leads to some pretty difficult trade-offs when it comes to free will. It also has not explained what part of the physical matter manifests that which I identify as myself. In this way, the theist explains something while the atheist can merely raise their hands and say "I dunno."

Thus, in some way, the addition of the omnipotent entity posited by the theist is not superfluous, and the theist position also 'explains' more than the atheist.

Of course, neither position is as simple as I have painted them here as I am constrained by my desires to not monopolize all of Metafilter and to avoid retyping class notes from several semesters of philosophy.
posted by Fezboy! at 3:03 PM on June 23, 2003


monopolize away, Fezboy!

2 points:

1) most atheist don't accept "because god said so" as an actual explanation.

2) free will also faces some complicated tradeoffs in the presence of an all knowing, all powerful, out-of-time, omnipresent, singing dancing deity.
posted by signal at 3:11 PM on June 23, 2003


a very, very smart guy (not a MeFi user though) thought that you can't really say whether there's a rhinoceros in the room or not, by the way

yeah, that was my point. There is no certainty of anything. But wittgenstein, like phenomenologists, accepted this and moved on. Likewise, we can't be 100% certain there isn't a supernature, but beliefs aren't about certainty, they're about explanation. What makes the most sense?

Conversely, I have met no one who claimed any kind of encounter with Zeus, the tooth fairy, unicorns

a couple thousand years ago, many people claimed interactions with zeus - were they crazy then? What changed? anyway, there are people today who do believe in zeus. And just last century sir arthur conan doyle fell for fairies.

this thing with an independent will and inalienable rights is nothing more than the byproduct of some electro-chemical process from an atheistic perspective.

why all this "nothing more than", "byproduct" typa language? This thing is a complex interaction of organized matter; you are an amazing example of the possibility of patterns.
posted by mdn at 3:17 PM on June 23, 2003


signal:

1. The razor cuts both ways

2. exactly. that's why this is such a delicious topic.

It's probably obvious by now that I've got some pretty heavy theist leanings--a God of the Gaps if you will--with lots of mysticism thrown in for good measure. My point in leaping into this thread at all is that the atheist claim to superior intellectual rigor is seldom challenged and the discussion is poorer for this.
posted by Fezboy! at 3:18 PM on June 23, 2003


to put this "nothing more than a byproduct: thing into pesrpective, if we were discussing whether or not music is a natural or supernatural phenomenon, would you argue that music can't possibly be "nothing more than the byproduct of some vibrations in the air"? Would accepting this materialistic view of music lessen it's significance somehow?
posted by signal at 3:23 PM on June 23, 2003


great discussion. wish i could add something remotely valuable, but Fezboy!, jazzkat11 et. al. have done a superb job.

i'm agnostic myself and won't even pretend to know what IT is all about but i do believe in one thing: it seems that science has brought to the world a great many things but, like anything else, it's a double-edged sword. one of things we've lost is our sense of belonging in the universe and humankind seems to be almost desparate now to find something to fill that 'gap' that god used to fill.
posted by poopy at 3:30 PM on June 23, 2003


An atheist does not have anything to prove to anyone. It's the believer who claims there is a God, and it's up to them to prove it, not the other way around. It's just as if I claimed there were Unicorns on the planet, or Cold Fusion existed or I owned a box from 2000 years ago with the word Jesus on it. At some point, someone is going to call me on it and say "Prove it."

All atheists are saying is prove it.
posted by CrazyJub at 4:27 PM on June 23, 2003


one of things we've lost is our sense of belonging in the universe and humankind seems to be almost desparate now to find something to fill that 'gap' that god used to fill.

ah, my dear poopy, no atheist that i know personally--myself included--isn't amazed at the universe and at being a part of humankind. There is no gap that needs filling. I meet plenty of deists who don't feel like they have a place, and the occasional nihlist who just doesn't care. As an agnostic, do you feel that way?

excellent and amazing thread.
posted by th3ph17 at 4:29 PM on June 23, 2003


The position that human identity is wholely contained by the physical matter of our bodies leads to some pretty difficult trade-offs when it comes to free will. It also has not explained what part of the physical matter manifests that which I identify as myself. In this way, the theist explains something while the atheist can merely raise their hands and say "I dunno."

The theist is also saying "I dunno," only doing it in different words. An explanation that says we have free will or a sense of self because of something we can't see, feel, hear, smell, taste, nor detect in any other manner or find any unambiguous direct evidence of, is not an explanation.

Just because a theist has an answer doesn't make that answer correct or useful nor does it mean it explains anything.

It's true that the lack of a deity challenges free will and many of our deeply-held beliefs about ourselves. It also is true that many people would love to hold on to their deeply-held beliefs about themselves. That has no bearing on whether these beliefs are true. Believing in a deity because it allows you to continue to hold those beliefs is putting the cart before the horse.

From recent research in cognitive science, it is looking more and more like free will and selfhood are both illusions to some extent. To what extent is still to be determined. But it is possible that eventually the answer to "But if there's no God, how do we have free will?" will be "We don't."
posted by kindall at 5:03 PM on June 23, 2003


All atheists are saying is prove it.

That'd be agnostics, CrazyJub.

As an atheist, I flat out say there ain't no there there and I'm not interested in discussing it. I'm not open to changing my mind about it. Guess I'm a Cronenburg atheist, but I still hate his films.
posted by ursus_comiter at 5:06 PM on June 23, 2003


i wasn't too clear on my above comment. this is what i believe in regards to science: it seems that science has brought to the world a great many things but, like anything else, it's a double-edged sword. i also strongly believe that religion, science, and humanity's struggle to learn the 'truth' hasn't, isn't and will not make the world a 'better' place.

th3ph17 - personally, well... yes, but i've known many theists, atheists, etc. like myself who've felt the same way. we've all had times where we 'despair' or 'question' our existence, but IMO the historical rise of science over religion has had it's side effects, one of them being the arrogance of reason and progress to the detriment of faith and compassion. just my opinion though.
posted by poopy at 5:23 PM on June 23, 2003


In what sense is "reason" antithetical or in any way opposed to "compassion?" In what way is "faith" allied with it?
posted by rushmc at 6:12 PM on June 23, 2003


Odd, isn't it, how tithing members of specific religions breeze into these discussions conveniently shed of all of those religious particularities which most annoy/boggle atheists/agnostics.

For instance:
When trying to justify my belief in God, I find that my disbelief that we can ever understand or justify being - not just the world - and yet, at the same time, feel that there must be an explanation beyond our grasp, is always part of my own, personal answer.

This sort of statement may be a useful primitive on which to base a vague, fundamental belief, or from which to launch a search for an 'answer', but it is certainly a low-gloss, low-tech footnote beside so elaborate a tale as the one wagged by The Red Heifer.

IOW, it's difficult to grant to the religionist a day pass into the broader context; bizarre doctrine follows him around like a tangle of tolet paper stuck to his shoe, embarrassing honest discussion.

Yes, yes, I'm small-minded...
posted by Opus Dark at 6:36 PM on June 23, 2003


disclaimer: in no way am i knowledgeable in this kind of debate. i leave that to the experts.

i don't know rushmc. i realized after posting that the word 'compassion' wasn't correct, although i do stand by 'faith'.

however, at the same time, in many threads here on mefi (not this one really), i've noticed many people argue that 'salvation' lies in the hands of a reasonable/scientific mind to solve the questions and/or dilemmas that plague humankind. one thing is for sure: i don't have faith in that argument.
posted by poopy at 6:50 PM on June 23, 2003


Wow MC, what a great thread! All it needs is a reference to aching kittens or some such and the comments will easily go over the 500 mark!

Seriously, It has been an excellent thread from the FPP on, and the fact that people on all sides have been civil and intelligent about such a volatile topic reminds me of why I wanted to join MeFi in the first place.

If I were mathowie, I'd give you all stars.
posted by TedW at 7:00 PM on June 23, 2003


singing dancing deity

I just had to point out that in the original Hebrew there are Bible passages wherein He does exactly that.
posted by konolia at 7:09 PM on June 23, 2003


About organizing atheists/agnostics, my wife's uncle (a career librarian who keeps a small library of 'freethinking' books on his property north of Fresno as a kind of bomb shelter from bookburners...) once tried to start up an organization called "The Society of Evangelical Agnostics". Despite a cool logo (using abstract ocean waves to depict the acronym SEA), it never grew past a couple hundred members, and he shut it down after the organization's mailing list began to be dominated by some 'hard-core' prison inmates trying to bypass restrictions on outside communication through this 'religious' organization (I never quite groked what was happening, but that was not unusual in dealing with Uncle B.)
posted by wendell at 7:44 PM on June 23, 2003


Crap. Fez, I had a bunch written and lost it, so I'll try to briefly summarize:

I'm not saying each molecule in me is free-willed, that would be silly. What I'm really saying is that what we term "the laws of nature" exist independently of human definition and all matter behaves in such ways. When an object is unsupported in the Earth's atmosphere, it falls due to gravity. When my brain tells my arm to move, the atoms don't decide to do so by committee; my nerves make my muscles move because, in this situation, the nerves and brain control the muscles. When water falls below 32 degrees F, it freezes.

this thing with an independent will and inalienable rights is nothing more than the byproduct of some electro-chemical process from an atheistic perspective.

Yes, that is correct. I don't believe in inalienable rights, but evolution has allowed the emergence of beautiful creatures, humans included, and the brain's electro-chemical processes allows the self.

Note here the case of Phineas Gage. In the 1800s, he took an iron bar through the head and survived, and subsequently, he was another person. Occupying the same matter, of course, but the irreparable change in his brain made him an entirely different person. Prior to the accident, he was "most capable and efficient foreman, one with a well-balanced mind, and who was looked on as a shrewd smart business man", but after, he became "fitful, irreverent, and grossly profane, showing little deference for his fellows.  He was also impatient and obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, unable to settle on any of the plans he devised for future action."

Our electro-chemical processes, along with experience (here we can tie in our bodies, as our experience is related to our appearance, as a person taunted as a child for being too tall, or fat, or short, or otherwise can attest) and genetics. It's quite beautiful in the simplicity of interactions between systems (physical, chemical, biological).

Namespan:
I expect that many people don't find that "scientific" evidence per se, and that's partly what I'm speaking of when I say it's outside of the epistemological boundaries some people set for themselves. But what exactly would you mean by "scientific" evidence that there was a God? That is, what kind of data in conventional scientific terms would you expect to be able collect from an omnipotent being? Blood samples? Photographs?

Show me a quicktime VR of god, and I'll believe. No, really, I think rushmc did a good analysis of this: people believe a lot of things that aren't necessarily true. Did god really lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Super Bowl glory? Lots of players thanked god for it. Did god make the guy in detox stop shooting up, or did he realize that he was killing himself and then attributed it to a "message from god?"

jazzkat:
Then I must assume that you've never waded into a current of a powerful stream and not lost control? Or that you've never realized your own lack of power in the instant before a car accident? Or that you are on equal authority with bolts of lightening, disease and death itself?

Have you ever stomped on a spider and killed it? Have you ever shot a man (in Reno) just to watch him die?

By my saying there is no "power" greater than I, I'm not being hubristic. I'm only saying that, while there may be things stronger, there is no higher power, though I may be weak myself. In fact, most humans, me included, are pretty weak compared to forces of nature. That doesn't mean that, in some abstract hierarchy, nature is above me.

Look, I'll just refer you all to CrazyJub, when he says:

Prove it.

I don't care what you do or don't believe in, but if my beliefs are wrong, and there is a god, prove it. Until then, I'll be in my Ursus Comiter-David Cronenberg-ness, happy in the knowledge that when I die, I won't have to put up with bickering humans ever again.
posted by The Michael The at 7:50 PM on June 23, 2003


Wow, that came across as way more crotchety than I intended. That wasn't a big "kiss my ass," it was more like a "why am I trying to do convincing when I don't have to?" Hope this lightens up the mood.

How about a joke?

Did you hear about the math teachers arrested at JFK because of their compasses, rulers, and protractors? They were suspected members of the terrorist sect Al-gebra and were charged with possessing Weapons of Math Instruction.

Rimshot

A neutron walks into a bar, sidles up to the counter, and says "Barkeep! How much for a beer?" The bartender replies, "for you, no charge!"

Rimshot

Please don't ban me for these...
posted by The Michael The at 7:56 PM on June 23, 2003


The problem, The Michael The, is when you criticize the "faithful" for maintaining the exact same sort of beliefs as you, but reversed. The logic remains just as legitimate.

Try reading what you wrote from the other perspective:

Look, I'll just refer you all to CrazyJub, when he says:

Prove it.

I don't care what you do or don't believe in, but if my beliefs are wrong, and there is no god, prove it. Until then, I'll be in my Miguel Cardoso-CS Lewis-ness, happy in the knowledge that when I die, I won't have to put up with bickering humans ever again [or insert other afterlife theory here].

posted by Marquis at 8:08 PM on June 23, 2003


It is our tendency to group together into arbitrary tribes that is the problem, not the personal beliefs in question.

I have no problem with any individual believing (or not) what they choose, or plumping down at 'I don't know' after careful thought. What I have little but disgust for is those who choose or are indoctrinated into a belief system, and then identify themselves as part of a group based on that belief (or lack thereof), and by doing so automatically categorize those who do not believe similarly as The Other, another tribe whose members they can then conveniently demonize to whatever degree.

Would that we could burn churches and mosques, synagogues and temples to the ground (and no less 'atheist associations' and the like), and scatter their tribal members to the forests and the sea and mountains, where the divine does live, if it exists. Those buildings and the outmoded tribalism they represent have sheltered the roots of too much hatred.

[/sophomoric woolgathering]
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:32 PM on June 23, 2003


*joins Stav's tribe, just to irk him*

(smooch!)

The problem, The Michael The, is when you criticize the "faithful" for maintaining the exact same sort of beliefs as you, but reversed. The logic remains just as legitimate.

Not really. The absence of something is not necessarily its reverse; it requires no faith of any kind to see the baseline, or nothing. It is when theories are added to the baseline--like adding a Greek mythos to explain a capricious force of nature--that faith is required.
posted by frykitty at 8:51 PM on June 23, 2003


'Monks, the All is aflame. What All is aflame? The eye is aflame. Forms are aflame. Visual consciousness is aflame. Visual contact is aflame. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on visual contact, experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain, that too is aflame. Aflame with what? Aflame with the fire of passion, the fire of aversion, the fire of delusion. Aflame, I say, with birth, ageing & death, with sorrows, lamentations, pains, griefs & despairs.

'The ear is aflame. Sounds are aflame...

'The nose is aflame. Odors are aflame...

'The tongue is aflame. Flavors are aflame...

'The body is aflame. Tactile sensations are aflame...

'The intellect is aflame. Ideas are aflame. Mental consciousness is aflame. Mental contact is aflame. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on mental contact, experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain, that too is aflame. Aflame with what? Aflame with the fire of passion, the fire of aversion, the fire of delusion. Aflame, I say, with birth, ageing & death, with sorrows, lamentations, pains, griefs & despairs.

'Seeing thus, the instructed Noble disciple grows disenchanted with the eye, disenchanted with forms, disenchanted with visual consciousness, disenchanted with visual contact. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on visual contact, experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain: He grows disenchanted with that too.

'He grows disenchanted with the ear...

'He grows disenchanted with the nose...

'He grows disenchanted with the tongue...

'He grows disenchanted with the body...

'He grows disenchanted with the intellect, disenchanted with ideas, disenchanted with mental consciousness, disenchanted with mental contact. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on mental contact, experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain: He grows disenchanted with that too. Disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion, he is released. With release, there is the knowledge, "Released." He discerns that, "Birth is depleted, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world."

posted by y2karl at 10:40 PM on June 23, 2003


I'm not sure I agree, frykitty, that a belief in something is not equivalent to a belief in the absence of something, when both of these are "unprovable." The 'bassline' sounds like objective-scientific talk, and for us atheists, it sure seems like the no-brainer, but for most theists, the world (or their experiences) demonstrate the obvious ("bassline") existence of the Divine.

Furthermore, I'm not sure that your last sentence makes any sense. It's one thing to say "when religious explanations are given, they require faith" - but that seems obvious. What do you mean by "theories"? It's a very interesting choice of language (particularly if it's unintentional).
posted by Marquis at 10:43 PM on June 23, 2003


The default state of my desk is that it contains no bologna sandwich (sad, but true). I can clearly see that there is no bologna sandwich there. While there is the argument that a negative cannot be proved, I call semantics on this, because it's not useful in most discussions of the real world. I can find no evidence of said sandwich, ergo, no doggone sandwich.

You might believe in the sandwich. You may see it in your heart, smell it with your mind's nose, and know it exists. But I don't see it. Empirically, no sandwich. So to convince me, you will have to get me to engage in an act of faith.

It requires neither effort nor faith on my part to see that I have no sandwich. Belief in the sandwich requires a worldview that begins with a leap beyond logic, and beyond what can be proved.

If, for example, you want to explain why you briefly smell bologna in the vicinity of my desk, you might add on a layer of belief, and insist there is a sandwich. Since there's still no sandwich to be found, this could be termed a "religious explanation requiring faith."

Certainly, the belief systems that have arisen around deities have had much, much more impact on the world than my lowly, notional sandwich; however, to me, it's as clear as my empty desk that there is no god, and that absence without any evidence of presence is indeed the default.

Now, as for peanut butter...
posted by frykitty at 1:17 AM on June 24, 2003


But can any athiest show me scientific evidence that there IS NOT a God? Isn't it far more intellectually justifiable to be an agnostic, where you just sort of say, "you know, I really have no idea because no one can seem to come up with any data."

Trying to prove that something does not exist when it's existence is denied in the first place is illogical at best. The burden of proof lies squarely on the theist's shoulders; not mine/ours.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:03 AM on June 24, 2003


Uncomfortable when asked about your agnosticism or atheism? No worries! Here's the script: "I'm not religious."

How hard is that? I've never seen a bad reaction to that. Among other things, it makes plain the elephant in the living room, that the religious are the actors in this sphere, the ones with something to justify.

And, if you're cranky and want a different spin, then it's: "I'm not superstitious."


Thank you, you're my hero. Where I live (UK) people run screaming from self-declared church-going Christians, but on the other hand, the label atheist doesn't get a good reaction either - it sounds so aggressive and smug. But that's what I am and I'm not going to say agnostic. Not that the topic comes up much at all actually. You can broadly guess what someone's moral system is based on their nationality/gender/class/background without recourse to their religion/lack of religion. Values are the spontaneous product of society. Religion's just the justification. Or used to be.
posted by Summer at 3:06 AM on June 24, 2003


lot of people throwing up their values on the pavement these days ..........
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:38 AM on June 24, 2003


I have a friend who is a non-theist Catholic, which causes no end of fun ...

Of course, and non-theistic Buddhism is very common (Buddhism explicitly rejects the notion of a creator God, or even a soul; where there are 'gods' in Buddhism, these are more along the lines of states of being rather than an all-powerful creator Buddhists also tend to reject the 'atheist' label, as this is associated with materialistic ideologies).

So, religion != belief in God.
posted by plep at 4:18 AM on June 24, 2003


'Buddhism stands unique in the history of human thought in denying the existence of such a Soul, Self, or Atman. According to the teaching of the Buddha, the idea of self is an imaginary, false belief which has no corresponding reality, and it produces harmful thoughts or 'me' and 'mine', selfish desire, craving, attachment, hatred, ill-will, conceit, pride, egoism, and other defilements, impurities and problems. It is the source of all the troubles in the world from personal conflicts to wars between nations. In short, to this false view can be traced all the evils in the world.' (via Buddhanet).
posted by plep at 4:25 AM on June 24, 2003


::: thinks frykitty's sandwich is definitely not full of bologna :::

Values are the spontaneous product of society.

What an appalling notion! Do you leave, then, no room for introspection, study, and self-reflection?
posted by rushmc at 4:46 AM on June 24, 2003


I'm surprised to receive so many reactions (some thoughtful) to my "can any atheist show me scientific proof that there is NOT a god" comment. I suppose I didn't make myself very clear. My point is that atheists seem to have this opinion of, "well, if it can't be scientifically proven or if I can't see it, it's bullshit." Fair enough. The baloney (or bologna, lest I get {sic}'ed by dgaicun again) sandwich example is only somewhat appropos in this case, though, because you're talking about an animate object. Prove to me that you just had an idea... Can you? Sure, you can tell me about it, you can explain it to me, you can try to make me understand it, but you will never have enough "proof" to convince me that a thought has just passed your brain. I have to take the fact that you tell me you just had an idea, analyse it, process it, decide whether I believe it or not, then make a judgement. A thought is inanimate with no form or substance, thus cannot be "proven" to exist. Plus, when it comes down to it, even the "laws" of science are human inventions that explain the way things are...

But here's the critical difference, I am actually *willing* to give your aforementioned explanation of having an idea a fair shot. In my experience, atheists (and I've been one before, but would now term myself an agnostic) claim to be these intellectual, smart, critical folks, but when the mere suggestion that they could even be open to the possibility of the existence of anything notion religious, they totally and completely close their minds. I just wonder why this is...

It rather reminds me of a quote from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (which I'll probably get a bit wrong): "It is a strange thing - Truth knocks on the door, and you say,  'Go away, I'm looking for Truth,' and so it goes away." I repeat what I said before -- I wish people on both sides of the coin would settle down, keep open minds, and stop trying to claim the moral / scientific / whatever high ground.

ps: I totally echo Vraxoin's suggestion about Mere Christianity. A truly excellent book which should raise questions / doubt / provoke thought in anyone's mind -- as long as you're open-minded enough to read it seriously.
posted by lazywhinerkid at 5:16 AM on June 24, 2003


What an appalling notion! Do you leave, then, no room for introspection, study, and self-reflection?

Common values, such as we have them. Not your own personal values.
posted by Summer at 6:34 AM on June 24, 2003


Does anyone else find it cool that this list of "celebrities" is packed with cognitive scientists, evolutionary biologists and comic book writers/artists right next to the actors, singers and billionaire businessmen you would normally find on such a list?
posted by tdismukes at 7:07 AM on June 24, 2003


Common values, such as we have them. Not your own personal values.

Ahh. You scared me for a second. :)
posted by rushmc at 7:19 AM on June 24, 2003


Sorry LWK, nothing sucks like getting {sic}ed, eh? I'll hide an Easter egg for you to counter-strike me with ;)

But here's the critical difference, I am actually *willing* to give your aforementioned explanation of having an idea a fair shot. In my experience, atheists (and I've been one before, but would now term myself an agnostic) claim to be these intellectual, smart, critical folks, but when the mere suggestion that they could even be open to the possibility of the existence of anything notion religious, they totally and completely close their minds.

LWK, the appeal to "open-mindedness" is the last refuge of the terminally credulous. I was done with all things religious by the age of 15, and not only because the enterprise failed to deliver but because it spec-TAC-ularly failed to deliver.

Answer me this: How much investment do bad ideas deserve before they can finally be called on their own total lack of validity? Can we ever start on good methods of thought (which are few in number and hard-won) or are we forever indentured to bad ways of thinking (of which there are an infinite amount that are easily come across)? Do I need to spend 38 years of my life trying to absolutely w/o a doubt disprove that you can bend spoons with your mind like you claim, before I can in good faith reject your claims, or can we all agree that your claim was a no-starter from the beginning?

Furthermore, going back to my first post in this thread, the idea of God does not fail inductively (as your "prove it" example assumes), it fails deductively, meaning the conclusion does not follow from the premises invested in it*. Religion doesn't deserve one more minute of my time until it can show, at the very least, that its claims want to play by the rules of good-thinking, because I have no intention to ever waste minutes of my life deferring to the discredited terms of bad thinking. You can call that "close-mindedness", but I will continue to call it what it is: sanity. /puffy-chested rhetoric]


*meaning God, as popularly defined, is a patch-work of non-sensical and conflicting properties. See here for more.
posted by dgaicun at 7:25 AM on June 24, 2003


tdismukes...yeah, that is cool. Dawkins and Ani Difranco on the same list---thats a good list in my book.

lazywhinerkid...
But here's the critical difference, I am actually *willing* to give your aforementioned explanation of having an idea a fair shot. In my experience, atheists (and I've been one before, but would now term myself an agnostic) claim to be these intellectual, smart, critical folks, but when the mere suggestion that they could even be open to the possibility of the existence of anything notion religious

i accept the possibility that i may be completely wrong, and that when i die, i may go to the judgement that i was taught about--and Taught--most of my life. I merely find it so higly unlikely that it is too improbable for me to worry about.
posted by th3ph17 at 7:30 AM on June 24, 2003


who knows if this thread is still alive--real life got in the way of further posting yesterday...

The Michael The: Does granting that your self-awareness is nothing more than the by-product of a series of electro-chemical reactions leave you wanting? What is the difference between these reactions and, say, breaking complex sugars into simple ones or generating electricity with metal, magnetism, and motion? I'm not saying that the conscious self is completely independent of physical matter, but it would seem to be so much more than what science can account for at this time.

Also, sorry about ascribing the view that matter has will--sort of a rhetorical strawman. Still, if you are solely the product of your bits of predictably acting matter, all of your actions and behaviors ought to be predictable or are, in a sense, predetermined by the previous state of your matter.

As for the theist who ascribes to an ominiscient, omnipotent, entity that exists outside of time, well, they face the same sorts of questions. However, it is fairly painless to drop one or more of the traits ascribed to that entity. Why is it necessary for Christians to believe that their God lives outside of time? Other than a sense of 'my God can do anything yours can do, only better' causes them to make these claims. The Christian God makes no claims about Its existence in respect to time.

signal: I have no qualms about describing music as nothing more than vibrations. However, the appreciation of these vibrations would seem to require more than the simple fact that they cause my ears to fire some electric pulses at my brain.

kindall: You are right, there is no guarantee that the theist/deist's postulation of a deity is a correct or even helpful answer to the question. On the other hand, it is one of a set of competing theories and, until disproven, deserves more than the dismissive treatment that many atheists give it. I don't expect to convince anyone that I am right, on the other hand, until my belief is shown as false I am free to hold it.

On the other hand, if one wants to take the view that free will is an artificial construct (as recent discoveries in CogSci may indicate) then we've really got to do some serious restructuring of our society. Our notions of crime and punishment are grounded in free will. If someone is predestined to pick my pocket, what is the point of punishing them? The free market economy takes freedom of choice as its fundamental tenet. Without free wiil (and thus the ability to make choices), democracy sort of loses its appeal as an ideal form of government.

Finally, though I imagine there is no one left in the room, I want to point out that I am in no way trying to evangelize for a particular deity or even trying to convince an atheist to switch teams. I've been an atheist for most of my life--I make a pretty weak case for theism because I still have a foot in the atheist camp. On the other hand, considering more abstract questions about being and purpose has at least opened the plausibility of theism (to me anyway). Thanks for listening all!
~[[[8^)
posted by Fezboy! at 7:34 AM on June 24, 2003


I'm sorry, I had meant to add this in response to the Phineas Gage example:

A theist might look at that scenario and draw parallels to an individual typing at a keyboard. If we were to remove the 'e', 'g', and 'k' keys there is a range of words you would be incapable of expressing without resorting to some alternate means. Understanding Phineas' soul to remain constant only that his interface with the physical body being changed, the deist can also provide a plausible explanation of his situation.
posted by Fezboy! at 8:05 AM on June 24, 2003


dgaicun: Answering your question would imply that I think religion is a bad idea, which I do not, so I will not answer it. I actually wish I could be as "intellectually haughty" as you and simply discredit millions of religious thinkers and thousands of years of thought, but I'm not willing to do that either. Many people who are far more intelligent than you or I will ever be have given religion / faith much thought and come up with some really interesting ideas. I actually think it's too bad that you've closed yourself off from them, but c'est la vie.

The other problem I spot from my perspective, is that you made the statement that religion failed to deliver for you... Frankly, if you go into some kind of religious "quest" expecting anything (salvation, enlightenment, cherry popsicles, whatever) you are certainly going to be disappointed. Religion / faith in something isn't meant to deliver anything, my friend. It's what you take away from it, not what it gives you.

As for being "terminally credulous", I would rather be a wide-eyed idealist than a cynical "realist" anyday (though in all honesty, I definitely am more than latter than former). I realize that I'm travelling down the relativism route here, but that's fine by me... I'll say it again, *everyone* needs to chill and realize that given circumstances / geographies / histories, etc. people are going to believe different things -- and you know what? That's okay! In fact, it's fantastic! (I feel like Stuart Smalley here or something...)

Also, I find it rather ironic that you close your well-worded and well thought-out response with "I have no intention to ever waste minutes of my life deferring to the discredited terms of bad thinking". If you aren't interested, why put thought into it and reply to my seeming support for "bad thinking"?

th3ph17: If you aren't worried about "where you go when you die" that's fine, see above. The problem I have is when atheists get all bent out of shape about religious people pushing their "dogma" in other people's faces, when atheists are just as guilty of pushing a different sort of dogma in my opinion.
posted by lazywhinerkid at 8:25 AM on June 24, 2003


Actually, IMO this thread is the most interesting in a while, so I appreciate your continuance, Fez.

Does granting that your self-awareness is nothing more than the by-product of a series of electro-chemical reactions leave you wanting? What is the difference between these reactions and, say, breaking complex sugars into simple ones or generating electricity with metal, magnetism, and motion? I'm not saying that the conscious self is completely independent of physical matter, but it would seem to be so much more than what science can account for at this time.

The short answer is no, it does not leave me wanting. I'm quite satisfied with the idea that my self-awareness is a product of complex electro-chemical reactions. I'm not a biochemist, but I appreciate that the processes for thought and breaking down sugars are generally similar yes only one actually produces thought. I would love to know more about this, as I'm sure that humans don't know all there is to know about neural science, but I am indeed satisfied.

Also, sorry about ascribing the view that matter has will--sort of a rhetorical strawman. Still, if you are solely the product of your bits of predictably acting matter, all of your actions and behaviors ought to be predictable or are, in a sense, predetermined by the previous state of your matter.

Not necessarily. The aforementioned electro-chemical processes allow control over the amalgam of matter that is the body while the body still reacts predictably in the physical sense. If I step off a building, I will still fall due to gravity, but I can control my muscles through a series of stimuli and responses (which, if I were falling off a building, would probably result in lots of arm-flapping and screaming).

A theist might look at that scenario and draw parallels to an individual typing at a keyboard. If we were to remove the 'e', 'g', and 'k' keys there is a range of words you would be incapable of expressing without resorting to some alternate means. Understanding Phineas' soul to remain constant only that his interface with the physical body being changed, the deist can also provide a plausible explanation of his situation.

I don't find that to be a plausible explanation, as I disbelieve the existence of souls, but yes, I can see how the argument can be rationalized. Still, there's a problem, which I'll base on the premise that animals do not have souls as humans do (based in turn on a quick google search on the subject, so correct me if I'm wrong) and the premise that humans and chimps have a similar brain area that is responsible for similar behaviors. If a chimpanzee is injured in an analagous part of the brain to Phineas Gage's injury, it would exhibit similar behavioral changes. In this situation, the chimp does not have a soul, so the onus of responsibility for the behavioral change is the injury, and hence, the brain. Why would it be different for the human? Simply because the human has a soul?
posted by The Michael The at 8:26 AM on June 24, 2003


In my experience, atheists (and I've been one before, but would now term myself an agnostic) claim to be these intellectual, smart, critical folks, but when the mere suggestion that they could even be open to the possibility of the existence of anything notion religious, they totally and completely close their minds. I just wonder why this is...

It's hard to reach adulthood in the English-speaking world without encountering religion. Anyone who calls themself an atheist has most likely already heard the usual arguments, considered the issues, and concluded that religion is not for them. If you've heard it all before, why waste your time thinking it over again as though it were new?

I spent months reading and thinking carefully about religion, back when I was a 17 year old in a deeply religious family, examining each belief as it came into conflict with the world around me. I could not reconcile the Christian articles of faith with the world I actually lived in, and concluded that belief in the Christian god was impossible. What could you tell me in a ten minute conversation that would even make me curious? Why should I waste my time even considering a possibility I've already explored in detail and rejected?
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:26 AM on June 24, 2003


Still, if you are solely the product of your bits of predictably acting matter, all of your actions and behaviors ought to be predictable or are, in a sense, predetermined by the previous state of your matter.

The thing is, matter doesn't necessarily act predictiably once you get down to a small enough scale. The current "state of your matter" can never be determined with enough precision to predict the next "state of matter". Complexity, and emergent properties thereof, hold some (at first) contradictory and unintuitive properties.
posted by sauril at 8:28 AM on June 24, 2003


I am actually *willing* to give your aforementioned explanation of having an idea a fair shot. In my experience, atheists (and I've been one before, but would now term myself an agnostic) claim to be these intellectual, smart, critical folks, but when the mere suggestion that they could even be open to the possibility of the existence of anything notion religious, they totally and completely close their minds.

This is a terrible misconception IMO. Religion by its nature claims to explain the world. It's a mechanism for removing doubt and imposing order - it gives you an explanation of how the world began, why it began and why you should live your life a certain way. Yet those who reject this are called close minded? Seems a bit rich.
posted by Summer at 8:56 AM on June 24, 2003


Based on Dawkins' past writings, I could see him evolving a kind of cult of Charles Darwin.
Here's one.

I used to think I was agnostic, until my roommate pointed out that I do in fact, believe in god.
posted by black8 at 8:58 AM on June 24, 2003


LWK:

Answering your question would imply that I think religion is a bad idea, which I do not, so I will not answer it.

No, I didn't mention religion in that question. Its rhetorical purpose was to get you to understand that there is a point when it is indeed the intellectually justifiable position to move on.

I actually wish I could be as "intellectually haughty" as you and simply discredit millions of religious thinkers and thousands of years of thought, but I'm not willing to do that either.

A parable:

Man #1: 2 + 4 = 6

Man #2: 2 + 4 = 8787.3

Man #1: Umm..here let me explain why that is a mathematical non-starter.

Man #2: I'm never going to be an arrogant $&$%* like you. 2+ 4 might = 8787.3, and if you were honest you'd admit that.

Conclusion: I have already linked to some deductive problems that are easily demonstrated with Theism (i.e. the immaterial acting on a material plane), which you are, of course, free to challenge. Appealing to authority and/or majority is an intellectual fallacy if there ever was one. just because I am challenging a view-point that a lot of smart people have accepted doesn't make me wrong or arrogant in any way whatsoever. What makes my position justifiable is that I have challenges that Theists are unable to satisfactorily meet. If the counter position is tenable it is not because a lot of smart people have accepted it which is phenomenally irrelevant.

The other problem I spot from my perspective, is that you made the statement that religion failed to deliver for you... Frankly, if you go into some kind of religious "quest" expecting anything (salvation, enlightenment, cherry popsicles, whatever) you are certainly going to be disappointed.

You misunderstood me. At no point in my life was I religious. I meant I was introduced to religious claims, which then did not pass inductive/deductive methodology. Not by a long shot.

Also, I find it rather ironic that you close your well-worded and well thought-out response with "I have no intention to ever waste minutes of my life deferring to the discredited terms of bad thinking". If you aren't interested, why put thought into it and reply to my seeming support for "bad thinking"?

At no point did I defer to bad thinking. Challenging a viewpoint is not the same as playing by its terms.
posted by dgaicun at 9:07 AM on June 24, 2003


Many people who are far more intelligent than you or I will ever be have given religion / faith much thought and come up with some really interesting ideas. I actually think it's too bad that you've closed yourself off from them, but c'est la vie.

But how much of a fair shot are you willing to give Zeus, fairies, and spoon bending? Some very smart folks have believed in these things too; does that make them credible enough in your eyes?

The position of the atheist is not to dismiss or ignore evidence; it is simply to ask for it. If anyone were to ever produce any evidence for the existence of supernature, I would absolutely reassess my position. As it is, there is just simply no reason at all to posit an additional layer of reality to which we apparently have no direct access but which will somehow magically become the primary layer of reality after our neurons stop firing and we are no longer capable of sensory input or thought.

I would rather be a wide-eyed idealist than a cynical "realist" anyday

why is it ideal that there should be a god and cynical that there should not be one? Is the world not good enough for you simply as it is? What about an additional unseeable unknowable realm is so appealing that you are willing to ignore evidence in hopes of its existence?
posted by mdn at 9:22 AM on June 24, 2003


Mars Saxman: I'm actually not saying that I think you should give anything any thought -- I'm saying that athiests shouldn't be hypocritical and "preach" from the mountain tops about how stupid religious people are; for you are doing the exact same thing as you decry them for. As for people that call themselves athiests (yourself and many other people that have posted in this thread excluded), I don't think they actually have given the subject much thought. It's intellectually laziness in my opinion. And sure, you can say, "well, I don't believe in GHG98345GHs either and I don't really feel like giving it any thought." Fine. But billions of people past and current haven't believed in / died for / written about GHG98345GHs. Aren't you at least curious as to why so many people *do* believe in a God / god / Hank / higher power? I mean, when you live in a world where most people do, it's at least gotta make you intellectually curious, no? It's just too easy an answer to say, "meh, they're all fucking idiots."

Summer: If you replace "religion" in your post with "Christianity" then it makes more sense to me. Not all religions do what you describe. Even if you look at Christianity, lots of stuff that Jesus taught is pretty straightforward, "be nice to each other" and stuff like that. I guess I just think it's a shame that by closing off one's mind to *everything* religious, one misses some truly deep, interesting, sometimes beautiful thoughts and ideas.

To sum up, I would argue even more vehemently in an "everyone should believe in Jesus or go to hell" thread. But the takeaway is still the same: everyone, everywhere needs to chill. I fully understand that atheists feel like the persecuted ones, as religion seems to be everywhere, but shouldn't we (and I say we because I would tend to group myself more with athiests than theists) set the example of tolerance?
posted by lazywhinerkid at 9:25 AM on June 24, 2003


Yeah, I meant 'deist', not 'theist'.
Sorry.
posted by asok at 10:15 AM on June 24, 2003


I don't think they actually have given the subject much thought. It's intellectually laziness in my opinion.

Why exactly does your decision to believe involve more though, introspection and curiosity than someone else's decision not to? It's got nothing to do with laziness, intellectual or otherwise.

It's plenty easier, if not even easier, to suggest that devout religious people are simply sheeping along with their parents and other authorities who indoctrinate them with religion from day one, but it's equally as weak, dismissive and pointless.

If you're interested in an actual conversation, it's probably best not to belittle the intelligence of the people you're talking with. If you're looking to preach, it's especially difficult to convince people while insulting them.

I'd suggest, if you really are looking to have everyone believe in Jesus, that you don't assume their decision is made from laziness or ignorance, it's entirely likely they've been presented with the same evidence as you, and for them it's fell flat on it's face.

What's the difference between the people you believe are intellectually lazy -- presumably they haven't given the matter thought and are comfortable with their assumptions -- and your perception of them as being intellectually lazy? You have your opinon and apparently are comfortable with your assumption, and therefore you dismiss their opinions and arguments. That strikes me as just as lazy, intellectually speaking.
posted by cCranium at 10:21 AM on June 24, 2003


cCranuim: Have you even read what I wrote? Judging by your comments, I'd say you definitely haven't. Trying to get people to believe in Jesus? Right...
posted by lazywhinerkid at 10:32 AM on June 24, 2003


yeah cCranium, don't insult lwk. Jeebus. :-)

though i do agree somewhat-- "intellectually laziness" is a bit of an eye-catcher.

As for people that call themselves athiests (yourself and many other people that have posted in this thread excluded), I don't think they actually have given the subject much thought. It's intellectually laziness in my opinion.

ok for example, my father has a PhD and taught religion, as a church employee, as did my grandfather, and an uncle. I've read the OT and the NT numerous times [and numerous versions], as well as the supplementary scriptures of the religion i was raised in. Daily scripture study was something i was raised with--an hour a day in high school. I was a missionary for 2 years. My decision to finally admit i was an atheist after about 10 years of going thru the motions was a Huge thing, and was very well thought out. The fact is, studying my religion is what proved to me that it was False.

Example #2. My wife was raised in an equally religious family [who think that my family's religion is kooky and most likely satanic--funny] , full of preachers, missionary work and private religious schools. She believed everything UNTIL she had read the bible a few times. It is always something that she [we] are asked, "have you read Xscripture", usually by people who--while their faith may be strong--have never bothered to actually read the scriptures and the history of that faith.

so what is intellectual laziness? Certainly my choice--however flawed some may think it--to label myself a Radical Atheist has nothing to do with laziness. So, perhaps you could rethink that bit...seek and ye shall find you know, and some of us find proof against probability.

myself, i have great respect for people who dont' need to justify their faith--can't really argue with that. I think intellectual laziness is trying to stretch and cram "proof" where it really doesn't belong.

again, great thread.
posted by th3ph17 at 1:52 PM on June 24, 2003


Some random thoughts:

Regarding the sense of human identity, Fezboy argues that it couldn spring from "mere matter", but must have some supernatural component. This idea is predicated on the principles that:

a) there is an "I" which is somehow separate from the sum of perceptions and cavilations we all experience and

b) this "I" is pretty terrific, moreso than say redwoods, the Grand Canyon and the Milky Way Galaxy, and hence needs some "special" explanation to account for it greater than mere physics, chemistry, biology, complexity theory, etc.

Neither of these points is based on any actual facts other than humans' inflated sense of self worth. Not a very strong base for a whole ontology.

Just because something makes you feel warm and fuzzy doesn't mean it's true.

Just to ramble on, the whole distinction between natural and supernatural seems non-sensical to me. What does "supernatural" (or divine or god-given or spiritual etc.) even mean? How can something be out of nature? What kind of definition of nature leaves some events and objects out of it? If something happens at all, if it's real in any sense, it's part of the natural world, if it doesn't it's imaginary.
posted by signal at 6:30 AM on June 25, 2003


Good points, signal.

Has anyone other than me been watching America's Next Top Model on UPN? The thing that has kept me watching is that there's a strong subtext (which is actually taking over the show) about the clash between the atheists (Elyse and Adrinne) and the christians (Robin and the blonde girl). The dynamics are crazily interesting. They're not really having intellectual discourse about it, but Robin is up in the atheists' faces, quoting the bible with (and I paraphrase) "wicked is the man who does not worship the lord" and "you're going to hell," while the atheists are more or less like "um... you're crazy."

UPN's promo was a bit aggravating, though, saying "Next week... tensions mount between the christians and pagans." I don't think they quite understand that atheists are not pagans... or UPN is a christian network. Considering the latter is impossible, I'll guess the former.
posted by The Michael The at 7:14 AM on June 25, 2003


Probably no one's reading this anymore, but just wanted to address this -

Aren't you at least curious as to why so many people *do* believe in a God / god / Hank / higher power? I mean, when you live in a world where most people do, it's at least gotta make you intellectually curious, no? It's just too easy an answer to say, "meh, they're all fucking idiots."

what makes you think most atheists don't think about that? I'm totally fascinated, myself. I have studied a lot of comparative religion and I'm in graduate school for philosophy. The literalizing of myths and metaphor, the ability to cause oneself and others to believe things just through words, the claims that claims lay on us - it's really kind of amazing.

The difference is really only a question of how much you value critical thinking. Some people would rather participate in something which bears meaning for them rather than explore or try to understand its basis in reality. I actually don't mind participating in some religious rituals, but I just take everything metaphorically. To me, there is a distinction there which is primary to my ontology. For others, it does not seem important.

Nicely put, signal. You've had some great insights on this thread.

do you have any thoughts in response to my earlier post, LWK?
posted by mdn at 12:38 PM on June 25, 2003


I was thinking about writing a spiel for apatheism, but I suppose it doesn't matter.
posted by walrus at 4:57 AM on June 26, 2003


All I know is that the universe is so constituted as to contain certain parts of itself (us) capable of perceiving certain other parts (everything that isn't us, from sand fleas and lunchboxes to quasars and neutrinos). That we are one of the smart parts is astonishingly lucky, given the scale of things, and I'd hate to see us fuck this up. That doesn't imply the necessity of intelligent design, but it does drive home the fact that the universe is really really big and strange, and my brain is very very small (and slightly less strange).

I just think we should feed and clothe and provide succor to each other, and not waste too much of our time with theology or philosophy, other than the pleasureable release we may attain from such mental masturbation, which enables us to get on with the real business of living. Things will sort themselves out.

What a great thread.

Hand me a hot dog, plain.

It's good to be back.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:30 PM on June 29, 2003


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