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October 21, 2008 5:34 AM   Subscribe

“There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

The Atheist Bus Campaign rolls out today in London.
posted by plexi (273 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't think an atheist should use the word "probably" there.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 5:43 AM on October 21, 2008 [6 favorites]


Back then, I was just keen to counter the religious ads running on public transport, which featured a URL to a website telling non-Christians they would spend "all eternity in torment in hell", burning in "a lake of fire".

Okaaay, then. I think in that environment, I would find an atheist-positive message rather comforting, too. You know, when you don't have an afterlife to look forward to, it's nice to spend the only time you've got not feeling like you're completely surrounded by fuckwads.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:47 AM on October 21, 2008 [6 favorites]


"Probably" is exactly right. Most atheists take the scientific view that you are never really sure, you just have a huge preponderence of evidence. It's a refreshing distinction from the religious claims of absolute certainty.
posted by localroger at 5:47 AM on October 21, 2008 [45 favorites]


That's nicely encouraging. I wonder how this sort of thing would go over in America. My guess is like a lead balloon. That has been shot at by a number of locals at night.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:52 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ah, C17H19NO3, atheists don't really do faith-based claims. It's a belief, not an empirically testable fact. Thus Occam tells us that God does not, but there is necessarily some issue in pronoucing metaphysical 'facts'.

Also, *it's a joke*.
posted by jaduncan at 5:52 AM on October 21, 2008


Most atheists take the scientific view that you are never really sure

That sounds agnostic to me, unless I'm way out there.

If preponderance of evidence is good enough in civil court cases, then I think it's ok to leave that "probably" out.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 5:53 AM on October 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


The tone of 'now stop worrying and enjoy your life' is a bit too much of an order for my liking. Should be more like 'you can discover your own values'.
posted by leibniz at 5:56 AM on October 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


I speak for all of humanity when I demand the formation of a blue-ribbon panel to determine the provenance, validity, and acceptability of the word "probably," both in this particular usage and in all other uses both spoken and written.

It's the only way we can be sure.

And we must, at all times, be sure.
posted by aramaic at 5:59 AM on October 21, 2008


Donated.

"Probably" makes it so much better than the religious ads. Friendlier. I'm glad it's there.
posted by dickasso at 6:02 AM on October 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


Very funny.
The tone of the message is lighter than the generally angry Dawkins' admonitions.
"Enjoy life" is way better than "you are stupid and we are bright".
Cool link, plexi.
posted by bru at 6:02 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's a refreshing distinction from the religious claims of absolute certainty.

They should try not being totally in our face by the busload, that would be a distinction worth noting...
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 6:08 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think it's probably ok to leave that "probably" out.

Fixed that for you, C17H19NO3
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:09 AM on October 21, 2008 [9 favorites]


So, the campaign rolled out today, not the buses, right? The campaign started today and they already have three time the amount of money they were asking for? Pretty awesome.

Also, while this atheist thinks the probably is unneccesary, I think that other atheists as well as swing-vote agnostics might prefer it. I would probably include probably in my bus campaign, should I have one.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:12 AM on October 21, 2008


Are we going to have an strong/weak atheist/agnostic slapfight? If so I can make popcorn.
posted by Skorgu at 6:13 AM on October 21, 2008 [8 favorites]


This post made my day. I bet there was a lot of hand-wringing over the "probably," but I understand why they had to use it.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 6:16 AM on October 21, 2008


Strong atheists drive a car like this, whereas weak atheists drive a car like this.
posted by milquetoast at 6:17 AM on October 21, 2008 [14 favorites]


They should try not being totally in our face by the busload

Yeah, seriously, like that atheist preacher always haranguing people outside the Old Navy on State, or the atheist posters in the buses telling me the End is Near. What a bunch of douchetools.

As far as the probably, it's not agnosticism because as a weak atheist, while I cannot be absolutely sure there are no gods, I just don't see any reason to believe in their existence. I don't assign existence and nonexistence equal probabilities, which is what agnostics seem to do.
posted by adamdschneider at 6:19 AM on October 21, 2008 [6 favorites]


I wonder how this sort of thing would go over in America.

Like a fart in church.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 6:20 AM on October 21, 2008


Which church?
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 6:22 AM on October 21, 2008


Quick question about atheists here: (little back ground into my mindset first)

Atheists don't like people who believe in religion because they think it is stupid right? That we are wasting our lives for nothing. Because when we die that is it correct? Well religion people do not see it that way. We feel that this part of our existence is a drop in the bucket when you look at the total picture. Once we die if we live a good honest life (not perfect) God will welcome us to land of clouds and (hopefully) hot chicks with plenty of beer, wings, and a year round football season. (please note the authors perfect heaven might differ from yours). Now from my understanding atheists believe that when we die... we are gone for good. Nothing happens, tada! Here comes my question: Why if life is so short do atheists really care what someone else believes? Shouldn't they be out living? If I was an atheist I would handle things a bit differently. I would say to religious people, "that's nice, believe whatever. I got a long bucket list that isn't going to complete itself." So seriously why do atheists really care if a person is religious?
posted by Mastercheddaar at 6:29 AM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


You should probably decrease your worrying and consider enjoying the degree to which you are alive.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:30 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


So seriously why do atheists really care if a person is religious?

I, for one, don't. It's when their religion is pushed in my faced or presented as policy that I get perturbed. I like plenty of religious folks.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 6:32 AM on October 21, 2008 [24 favorites]


Atheists don't like people who believe in religion because they think it is stupid right?

Nope. Some like people who believe in religion, some don't, each for his/her own reasons.
Hope that clears it up for you.
posted by signal at 6:34 AM on October 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


Down Up with this sort of thing.

Careful now.
posted by mandal at 6:38 AM on October 21, 2008 [12 favorites]


So seriously why do atheists really care if a person is religious?

Why do some (but not all) religious types care if a person is homosexual? Or an atheist? Or part of a religious group not their own? And why do some (but not all) get so unpleasant about it?

Also, I'm not sold on the suggestion that because you're not of a religious bent, that life is suddenly empty and devoid of reason and that you would therefore clearly not care about anything.
posted by panboi at 6:38 AM on October 21, 2008 [15 favorites]


Mastercheddaar:
Atheists don't like people who believe in religion because they think it is stupid right?
No.

Why if life is so short do atheists really care what someone else believes?
Because in democratic society beliefs can motivate votes which can motivate actions and religions are pretty good at causing actions that many are opposed to.
posted by Skorgu at 6:40 AM on October 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


Atheists don't like people who believe in religion because they think it is stupid right?

Wrong.

Why if life is so short do atheists really care what someone else believes?

I don't give a shit what someone else believes. I care about how what they do impacts my life, and the lives of people I care about. Which, here in the US, is non-trivially. (insert list of wedge-issues driven by fundamentalist wackos here)
posted by god hates math at 6:40 AM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


But what does God think?
posted by blue_beetle at 6:42 AM on October 21, 2008


C17H19NO3, from my understanding, there are two branches of atheism: Anti-theists and Non-theists. Anti-theists make a seemingly flawed argument by saying that there is no God while Non-theists simply do not have a belief in God before they are given substantial evidence. Agnostics consider a belief in God with a "perhaps something is out there" stance; however, they may do so with or without evidence. Non-theists won't believe any random old thing said simply because someone said that it might be true. Evidence before belief thanks.
posted by Knigel at 6:44 AM on October 21, 2008


Regular use of London transport would surely inspire belief in the existence of a wrathful & capricious Deity: I'm not sure any amount of advertising could counter that.
posted by misteraitch at 6:46 AM on October 21, 2008 [11 favorites]


That sounds agnostic to me, unless I'm way out there.

Yes! Sophomoric atheist/agnostic definition wank in under six posts. Now if we can get the Hitler wank, Dawkins is a jerk wank, and natural disasters are caused by secularism wank in the first 50 posts, this thread will be complete!
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:49 AM on October 21, 2008


Also, I'm not sold on the suggestion that because you're not of a religious bent, that life is suddenly empty and devoid of reason and that you would therefore clearly not care about anything.

The way I've seen it, is that the only difference between an athiest and a religious person, is that a religious person is open to heirophanies, where an athiest is not.

Either way of living can involve happiness, the religious life can go to more extremes on either end of the scale, much like manic depression, as it involves both letting go and experiencing joy...which can be somewhat painful, dreadful, and yet profound.

The confusing part is its hard to put a solid label on athiesm and religion...as it is as diverse as the people that participate. One thing's for certain, there are jerks on either side...
posted by samsara at 6:50 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Mastercheddar: Atheists don't like people who believe in religion because they think it is stupid right?

And we have strawatheist wank! Have you stopped beating on your lover/girlfriend/mom/cute animal companion yet?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:52 AM on October 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


Nekobasu was always more of a "Where is your God now?" bus.
posted by kid ichorous at 6:53 AM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


How nice of them to share this information! It'll do so much good for so many people! It's delivered in such a helpful way!

In the same spirit, how about this?

"You'll probably never accomplish the things you set out to do. You won't write a novel, you won't be in a band, and you'll probably be forgotten a few years after you're dead. Now stop worrying and enjoy the television."
posted by jbickers at 6:54 AM on October 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


People, in general, are busybodies that want everyone else to follow the same rules they do and have the same beliefs that they do.

This applies to people with religion and people without. It also applies to all sorts of things like vegan vs carnivore or cubs vs sox.
posted by garlic at 6:54 AM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


I dunno, the way I've always looked at it, if there is a God, he's irrelevant, like a parent you never knew. And if he'll punish you in the hereafter for enjoying the many pleasures he afforded to the flesh, then fuck him, because that's just spiteful.

Also, this campaign is good. Enjoy life. This life. The one you're living right now. Because it's really short.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:55 AM on October 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


Speaking as a believer in - well, some abstract thing I can't possibly define, I think this is pretty awesome.
posted by naju at 6:55 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


So what is wrong with marketing campaigns that direct people of an interested persuasion to internet resources? And certainly this is no more snarky than the dozens of Christian-oriented billboards I see when I take a drive.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:57 AM on October 21, 2008


Atheists don't like people who believe in religion because they think it is stupid right?

I don't care. I used to care, back when I was the only "out" atheist in my Catholic high school, but I've mellowed out considerably. I'm still friends with a lot of people I went to high school with, and the fact that some of them are religious doesn't bother me in the least. We can have discussions about religion and even the Vatican/Church and in the end, they're still my friends and I still respect them. Religious people don't bother me, and I don't really think about people in the context of their religion (other than stuff like making sure people get Kosher meals when needed and such, but you understand my point).

Ok, I take that back slightly. It bothers me when people say something like, "oh, you're having surgery? I'll say a prayer for you tonight. And I know you don't believe in that, but I do.. etc." My dad does this all the time. Why the hell do you have to point out that I'm different than you? I understand that you saying a prayer for me is just a nice thing you're doing for me; don't make it into some judgmental apology because I don't believe in god.

So I only don't like religious people when they make a big deal out of me not being religious, I guess. Oh, and I don't really want to see the ten commandments in a courthouse.
posted by giraffe at 7:02 AM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Atheists don't like people who believe in religion because they think it is stupid right?

No. It again comes down to being a fuckwad about it. And when you're a fuckwad about your religion, it motivates me to be a fuckwad about my atheism. Otherwise, I'd really rather we just got along.

Also, you can not like (a) religion and still like people who believe in religion. If you have trouble liking people who believe different things than you, I feel rather sorry for you, my man.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:05 AM on October 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


Mastercheddaar, I have to agree with you. If someone seems perfectly happy with their religion, I just keep my mouth shut. Who cares? I think this is why there is so little advertising on the atheist side. We don't need to indoctrinate people.

Unfortunately, this view that we don't have to organize ourselves and band together doesn't give us as much political swing in America as the Christians. I don't care about converting anyone, but it would be nice to have some representation out there. Just a little, "We're here. We're godless. Get used to it."
posted by buriednexttoyou at 7:06 AM on October 21, 2008


> Atheists don't like people who believe in religion because they think it is stupid right? That we are wasting our lives for nothing. Because when we die that is it correct?

One thing fer shurr - atheists don't like being told by non-atheists what they (atheists) believe (or don't).

I have friends and co-workers who are religious. We do manage to get along. I find that most people who are secure and honest about their belief are generally more balanced than people who have no "faith" or who haven't given the matter any consideration.

As pointed out earlier, you can find assholes in any denomination or non-denomination.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:09 AM on October 21, 2008


I dislike being called an atheist - it just seems odd to be defined in terms of something I don't believe in. Similarly, it might get annoying to have people continuously telling you that you are an adogist, meaning you are one who does not believe that the universe is merely the dream of a great dog. Well, yeah, I don't believe that, but can't I be defined in terms of stuff I do believe in?

Like existence - I take that as an axiom, can't I be called an existentialist? Oh darn, guess that's already taken. How about a uniformist? I take it as an axiom that there exists a knowable physical law which is uniform over the universe. I just want a label that doesn't invoke the premise that a big ol guy created the Earth in six days.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:12 AM on October 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


"We're here. We're godless. Get used to it."

I think the most important thing to impress is that one can live a good life and contribute positive things without being beholden to a higher power. The great misconception is that a life without moral guidance from religion has to be wicked or random.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:16 AM on October 21, 2008 [8 favorites]


If everyone would just become fluent in Arabic, Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew, Sanskrit, Maya, and Latin then none of this would be an issue.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:17 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


"“This campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think- and thinking is anathema to religion."

I don't think Dawkins has thought much about how slogans work. Slogans are anathema to thought.
posted by Eideteker at 7:19 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sorry to misinterpret you, Mastercheddaar. I replied before getting to the end of your post.

Short answer: yes, it makes sense that while religious folk might spend time prosyletizing because, after all, your immortal soul is on the line, atheists would seemingly be making the best of the time they have. I would agree with others here that atheists largely want to be left alone, and a primary concern is that my rights as a non-believer are as respected as those of a believer.

However, it's also a concern when religious belief works itself into matters of the world as we know it. To take an obvious example, if I had a spouse who wanted to treat our children's ailments with prayer instead of medicine, I'd be concerned. It's pretty much like that with everything. If my mechanic prays to God/Allah/Thor, I really, really don't care. I don't. But if he prays to one of the above as a replacement for good automotive maintenance, we have a problem.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:20 AM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Cthullu says "Don't make me come up there!".
posted by panboi at 7:20 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Mastercheddaar: Skorgu had a good answer for you, but for my two cents, no, of course I don't dislike religious people (well, not all of them, and not just because they're religious). I do, sometimes, dislike that some of the people close to me are religious, because I feel it limits them in some ways.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:20 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


there's probably a driver - now quit worrying and enjoy your ride
posted by pyramid termite at 7:23 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Slogans are anathema to thought"

Yeah! put that on a bus!
posted by Artful Codger at 7:25 AM on October 21, 2008 [23 favorites]


So seriously why do atheists really care if a person is religious?

Atheists don't like people who believe in religion because they think it is stupid right?


I think the answer to these two is the same. Atheists, in general, don't care if a person is a religious, what they care about are the things anyone in a liberal democracy cares about: are they equitably represented in the government and its policies? Does the inclusion of religion in public policy make things better or worse for everyone? Will they have to undergo a social stigma for not believing in this or that god? Will they be able to raise their children without fear of having their value system undercut by an oppressive majority?

Etc.

Right now, for example, religious extremists control one half of the major political parties in the USA, so much so that anyone from the other party who runs for office has to pretend to share that religion. Our president believes God told him to invade Iraq. One of our vice presidential candidates believes God wants woman to always give birth when they become pregnant, even if they were raped by their fathers. Our country was attacked by religious extremists who believed God would reward them for murdering innocent people.

So, your common religious person poses pretty much no threat, and is, if objectionable, usually merely annoying, but the ones who get their voices heard most often are truly dangerous people whose ideas and policies pose a genuine threat to our liberal democracy, which is not an inevitability of history, but rather, a lucky happenstance which, if we don't take care to protect it at every turn, could easily become "a boot stamping on a human face forever."


*disclaimer: I consider myself a liberal Christian.
posted by eustacescrubb at 7:28 AM on October 21, 2008 [7 favorites]


On the 'probably' issue, from the Facebook group:

Unfortunately, transport advertising regulations are more stringent than normal advertising regulations (for billboards, etc) and the decision of whether to run the ad or not is very much at the discretion of the bus companies. It's their private space, and their criteria for this (I know it'll make all atheists reading this bang their head against a wall, but here goes) is that the advert "must not offend religious people".

In their view, the "probably" gets us around this (and even with it, I'm anticipating that the Advertising Standards Authority will receive several dozen complaints from religious people and organisations). Also, as Dawkins writes in The God Delusion, being an absolute "7" on the faith scale (insisting "there is no God") doesn't make sense, as nobody can ever state this as an absolute. The alternative Dawkins proposes is "almost certainly", but "there's almost certainly no God" doesn't make for an overly catchy advertising slogan!


Best money I've spent this week.
posted by Acarpous at 7:28 AM on October 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


I know there is a God because He speaks to me. Although it's mainly through robocalls.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:30 AM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


God will welcome us to land of clouds and (hopefully) hot chicks with plenty of beer, wings, and a year round football season.

There are NO WINGS in heaven!!!! HERETIC!!!! BURN IN HELL!!!!!!!

(Angel wings maybe, but chicken wings, no.)
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 7:30 AM on October 21, 2008


Mastercheddar: Atheists don't like people who believe in religion because they think it is stupid right?

And we have strawatheist wank! Have you stopped beating on your lover/girlfriend/mom/cute animal companion yet?


No, not the same. He posed a premise, then asked for confirmation that he was right. That's not the same as assuming the premise in the question. An analogy is "The sky is green, right?" That's not a strawman, it's just wrong, and can be refuted accordingly.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:32 AM on October 21, 2008


(Angel wings maybe, but chicken wings, no.)

Lab-grown and cruelty-free, surely!
posted by naju at 7:35 AM on October 21, 2008


"Atheists don't like people who believe in religion because they think it is stupid right?"

No, we like you fine. We just believe in one fewer god.

"So seriously why do atheists really care if a person is religious?"


Most of us don't. But you don't exactly see us taking out billboards that say "Hey, whatever you want to believe is cool." Remember, there are atheists, and then there are antitheists. Except antitheists like to pretend they're atheists. Makes atheists look kinda bad.

There are two kinds of people at work here. There are people who think religious (or irrelegious, at Katullus put it) beliefs are a public matter, and those who keep it private. When two private religious people come together, there is no friction. When two people who wear differing beliefs publicly on their sleeves come together, that's when you get friction. But also, a public-religious person can force a private religious person to go public if they're overt enough, like trying to influence public policy.
posted by Eideteker at 7:36 AM on October 21, 2008


To rephrase another way, for people who don't want to slog through Watts' piece: the Abrahamic religions are inescapably authoritarian, there is fundamentally a greater good to which you will subject yourself or be punished. Yes there are denominations which treat this sanely or as a metaphor, etc, but for at least the loudest of the strongly religious this is a central part of their platform and hence arouses my ire.

Which isn't to say that I understand religious or spiritual beliefs; they're baffling to me but I ignore them unless they seem to inspire or support effects that are detrimental to me in the real world.
posted by Skorgu at 7:37 AM on October 21, 2008


Ugh. Dawkins. He certainly beleives in Richard Dawkins.

Why couldn't we have kept Douglas Adams instead?
posted by Artw at 7:40 AM on October 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


People who get upset about such things seem like sure proof of the non-existance of god.
posted by Artw at 7:42 AM on October 21, 2008


pardonyou?: Well, that's assuming that it was an honest question and not a purely rhetorical hedge. From where I sit, he is assuming that atheists give a shit and just asking a bunch of rhetorical questions to make atheism seem hypocritical as a result. Now perhaps I am jumping the gun just a tad here, but I've just seen that particular wank far too often for me to buy the fish story that it's not a leading question.

I generally don't care what other people believe, except when it leads to the kinds of annoying and stupid statements that Mastercheddar made.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:46 AM on October 21, 2008


On the issue of probably, I prefer: "Whether or not there's a god, it has no effect on your life." Then, perhaps add: "Just be excellent to each other and life will be alright."
posted by Eideteker at 7:48 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Regular use of London transport would surely inspire belief in the existence of a wrathful & capricious Deity

On the contrary, I've often found that it inspires the absolute certainty that you are alone in a directionless universe, with no higher power to help carry your burden in times of strife.
posted by flashboy at 7:49 AM on October 21, 2008 [8 favorites]


Also, as Dawkins writes in The God Delusion, being an absolute "7" on the faith scale (insisting "there is no God") doesn't make sense, as nobody can ever state this as an absolute. The alternative Dawkins proposes is "almost certainly", but "there's almost certainly no God" doesn't make for an overly catchy advertising slogan!

Nothing says "stop worrying and enjoy your life" like good old-fashioned athiest/agnostic navel gazing.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:50 AM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Someone remind me again: which group is it that thinks I'll spend eternity burning in hell?
posted by mandal at 7:50 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


It reads like a subtle ad for Carlsberg to me.

...or is that just me...?
posted by Phanx at 7:51 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


FWIW, I'm an atheist who recognizes that the question of a god or no god is always a matter of belief, no matter what your belief is. There is, and can be, no scientific approach to the question, because faith and science both rest on mutually incompatible answers to the same foundational question: "Does the universe operate according to fixed rules that are, in principle, discoverable?"

If you're religious, the answer to that is "No." An omnipotent god or higher power is by definition able to alter the rules at whim. So all the science you'd like to do could be overturned tomorrow. There are many religious scientists, so I can only assume they're ok with that, and feel like while god permits it, it's interesting to figure out how things work. That strikes me as a bit hollow though, personally.

The other possible answer is "Yes, there are immutable rules and in principle we can figure them out, however difficult that might be." This is the basic axiom of science -- the fundamental belief. And it is a belief, because there is no way to positively prove a hypothesis in the scientific method. You can only fail to disprove it for long enough and in enough varying ways for it to be taken as provisionally true. And even so, if your fundamental belief was wrong, all the rules you figured out could change as soon as the god you didn't believe in decided to change them.

My point here is that trying to approach religion "logically" or "scientifically" is folly. You have to either believe in something or decide not to choose. localroger's "Most atheists take the scientific view that you are never really sure, you just have a huge preponderence of evidence" is probably true, but to my mind those aren't atheists -- they're still agnostics. Agnostics who haven't quite got to the realization that science is a belief too.

But enough about this. What I want to know is whether anyone's starting a fund to pay them to leave the panels on the sides of buses blank. I'd contribute to that.
posted by rusty at 7:54 AM on October 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


And we have strawatheist wank! Have you stopped beating on your lover/girlfriend/mom/cute animal companion yet?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:52 AM on October 21 [+] [!]

Ok for the most part I read the comments and I understand now why some atheists would have a stake in religious views. It makes sense and thank you for explaining it to me. My comment wasn't meant to be snarky in anyway. Please note that you who were civil and nice are not in any way shape or form part of the below message.

First: Kirkjobsluder, what the fawk are you talking about? "strawatheist?" Make sense. Secondly where did the part of me abusing loved ones come from? Just because I believe in God I beat people that I love? What the fawk is wrong with you? I for one hope that you are right and when you die you just don't exist anymore. Asshole.

Secondly Burn.... I agree with you. There are times when you cannot say "God heal my cold!" I'm sorry that is stupid and will not work. But there are times when I can say "God I'm out of answers, please help me, help myself." Would I ever put the health of a loved one in the sole hands of prayer when a medical cure is readily available? Hell no again that is plainly stupid.

Third, "As pointed out earlier, you can find assholes in any denomination or non-denomination."
posted by Artful Codger at 7:09 AM on October 21 [+] [!]

Then you met my brother right? I know more than my fair share of religious nut jobs. I've seen some thing and heard things too. I've met people that spit venom on you if your not corner 1500th second street baptist. But nothing rings out more than what you said. You are correct. In every walk of life there are assholes. And they usually smell like shit!

Lastly thanks to all who shared their views with me. I swear I learn more from metafilter about different views then I do anywhere else. Maybe it is the fact that it is faceless and people know that they can stand up for what they believe in. So believe or not believe in whatever you choose and I promise to vote with a mindset that separates my church from our state. Someone has to stand in the middle of the bell shaped curve right?
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:54 AM on October 21, 2008


@masterchedaar

I'm an agnostic jew. Other peoples' personal beliefs do not effect me. When other people push their beliefs at me that bothers me. I'm slightly irritated by people asking if I've found Jesus. I'm fucking pissed off at people in power forcing their own beliefs on people around them.

How would you feel if I became president and made pork illegal because it's not kosher? That's ridiculous, right? Well, that's how I feel when someone else tries to put their religion into law.
posted by valadil at 7:57 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ugh. Dawkins. He certainly beleives in Richard Dawkins.

Why couldn't we have kept Douglas Adams instead?


Yep, Adams is dead, Dawkins alive. Once again, Dawkins proves there is no god.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 8:03 AM on October 21, 2008 [15 favorites]


First: Kirkjobsluder, what the fawk are you talking about? "strawatheist?" Make sense. Secondly where did the part of me abusing loved ones come from? Just because I believe in God I beat people that I love?

KirkJobSluder was implying that your original comment was a mixture of straw men and loaded questions. It wasn't an insult (well, not much of one), it was two references to some commonly known and understood forms of bad argument. Your initial assumptions about atheists were off-base, setting up an imaginary opponent to whom you then asked questions which couldn't be fairly answered under the premises you'd established.
posted by flashboy at 8:05 AM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


I've heard a bit about the creep of evangelists into education and other public spheres back home, but is this really necessary yet? I always though England at least of the home nations rejoiced in being about the most secular, godless society in the world.
posted by Abiezer at 8:13 AM on October 21, 2008


God will welcome us to land of clouds and (hopefully) hot chicks with plenty of beer, wings, and a year round football season.

In heaven there is no beer
That's why we drink it here
And when we're gone from here
All our friends will be drinking all the beer.
posted by owtytrof at 8:15 AM on October 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


Why do Atheists care?


So these days does the Pope yet condone or support the use of condoms (even in particualrly disease raveaged countries)? just an example of the insensible crap that the religious are driven to inflict on the rest of our the earths population.
posted by mary8nne at 8:16 AM on October 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


“This applies to people with religion and people without. It also applies to all sorts of things like vegan vs carnivore or cubs vs sox.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa there. Let’s keep the discussion about God and the foundation of existential thought on a light note. We don’t want to argue the heavy stuff like Cubs vs. Sox here and get people riled up.

“I dislike being called an atheist - it just seems odd to be defined in terms of something I don't believe in.”

Indeed. ‘Athorist.’

“Our country was attacked by religious extremists who believed God would reward them for murdering innocent people.”

Very true.
...oh, wait, you meant on 9/11? Yeah, that too.
(In the early days of the country, pre-U.S., Jews were hanged, Catholics burned, etc. etc)

“Also, as Dawkins writes in The God Delusion, being an absolute "7" on the faith scale (insisting "there is no God") doesn't make sense, as nobody can ever state this as an absolute.”

I completely disagree. One can insist there is no God given certain definable parameters. It’s all about the definition.
Either you can define God, or you can’t. If you can - God’s existence can be refuted.
If you can’t ... no one can state there is no ‘infinite’ God. But - see below.

“Anti-theists make a seemingly flawed argument by saying that there is no God while Non-theists simply do not have a belief in God before they are given substantial evidence.”

I disagree on the non-theists.
Essentially what Eideteker said. I’m a philosophical Taoist (apparently in the non-theist category). I fundimentally believe in what is basically equavalent to God, but that this is not only undefinable, but *necessarily* unknowable and therefore the question is nonsense (precisely so, non-sense).

Sort of the ‘does a dog have buddha nature?’ question. Whether it does or it doesn’t has no bearing on your existence and relationship to the world.
Furthermore ‘Mu’ unasks the question in that - it’s not possible to settle the question conclusively given the unknowable nature of fundimental being.

Like asking what color a quark is. Photons are too big to interact with them. They have no color. Well, what color would they be, if they could? What color is a thought? Or a dream?
Fruitless to go down that road. The answer is anything you want it to be. So too with most people’s conception of God.
Trying to bring something of the senses, the reasoning we use to examine things made of particles, into the realm of thought and dream and speculation.
(Not that thought and dream and speculation aren’t useful).
posted by Smedleyman at 8:19 AM on October 21, 2008 [7 favorites]


Masterchedaar: Kirkjobsluder, what the fawk are you talking about? "strawatheist?" Make sense. Secondly where did the part of me abusing loved ones come from? Just because I believe in God I beat people that I love? What the fawk is wrong with you? I for one hope that you are right and when you die you just don't exist anymore. Asshole.

My goodness, someone didn't get the basic literary reference, don't they teach these things in school anymore?

Your entire post was based on the premise that atheists don't like people who are religious, and care about the religious beliefs/faith/orientation of other people. You set up a weak and offensive generalization of atheism as a whole, for the purpose of knocking it down with a few rhetorical questions. This is commonly called a strawman position, and strawatheist is an obvious portmanteau of the words "strawman" and "atheist." It's quite useful because I've found that arguments about atheism never really argue about atheism, instead, they argue about some mythological beast who suffers from chronic existential angst, act in some arbitrary immoral ways, and don't like religious people.

And I'm sorry if my analogy went over your head. Of course I'm not actually accusing you of beating on anyone. I'm making the point that you were making loaded questions that force atheists onto the defensive.

There is no correct answer to "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" If you answer yes, it means you used to beat your wife, and if you answer no, it means you are still beating your wife.

And likewise, I can make no correct answer to "Atheists don't like people who believe in religion because they think it is stupid right?" If I answer yes or no, I still am in the position of not liking people who believe in religion.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:22 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Atheists don't like people who believe in religion because they think it is stupid right? That we are wasting our lives for nothing. Because when we die that is it correct? Well religion people do not see it that way.

On behalf of all of us religion people, we'd prefer to just speak for ourselves, okay?

Here's what this religion person thinks of this story: I like free speech and the strict separation of church and state.
posted by nanojath at 8:23 AM on October 21, 2008


Hi Valadil: "I'm fucking pissed off at people in power forcing their own beliefs on people around them. " "I promise to vote with a mindset that separates my church from our state."

You won't get any of that from me!

Flashboy: Thanks for the explaining that to me. I really didn't know I was doing that. I could have worded it differently but the point I was wondering was " religious people believe in this and atheists do that, then how does faith bother atheists?" But it was answered in the form of religious assholes like to push their agendas through that effect society as a whole. I felt that it is wrong in this country for religious people to indirectly force views on someone so I said that I would keep church out of state.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 8:24 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Generally I'm an apatheist ("I don't know, and I don't care") until asked, and at that point all the available evidence leads me to the working hypothesis that there is no god.

What bothers me is the "until asked" bit. Because usually the question comes in the form of a "have you found jesus yet". Well, if you'd keep better track of him you wouldn't lose him, right? Unfortunately that's not what they mean. If they'd just phrase it as "will you please join my church" I could give them a short "no" and be on my way, but again, that's not what the people who ask me those questions are after...

So, please, stop bothering me, and I will indeed try to enjoy my life...
posted by DreamerFi at 8:28 AM on October 21, 2008


It reads like a subtle ad for Carlsberg to me.

Atheism: probably the best belief system in the world.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:28 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]



I think there are better ways to encourage people to enjoy their lives as opposed to entangling the religion debate into it. That just makes life all the more unpleasant, as can be seen by some of the head butting happening on here.
posted by scarello at 8:28 AM on October 21, 2008


To be fair, I think people who use "impacts" as a verb when there is no physical impact are far, far stupider than folks who believe in any kind of sky-father.

Well, damn. I'll be sure to just run right out and change the way I use language (from a perfectly acceptable use, I feel compelled to point out) just so you don't think that I'm stupid.

Ass.
posted by god hates math at 8:29 AM on October 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


So seriously why do atheists really care if a person is religious?

So, I'm involved in a campus "atheistic community group" (we're conflicted as to whether to adopt the term Bright), and I get this question a lot.

For me what it comes down to is not being certain about the nature of the world, and very incredulous about the existence of the supernatural. If we stand up in public and say "hey, this doesn't make sense to us" we get more people to examine what they believe in, and discuss it with us. Personally, I want to understand where they're coming from, and to reach a mutual understanding. When I say that, I don't mean agreeing to disagree, I mean reaching a common conclusion. Now, the reasoning behind my conclusions seems sound to me right now, and so when I start those conversations, I do think of it in terms of convincing them. But I do listen, I do want to hear what faith groups have to say, I'm not dogmatic.

So part of it is wanting to benefit from other people's thought and experience. Another part is feeling that these beliefs make an important difference in our lives as individuals and interdependent sentient beings.

"For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring." - Carl Sagan

No man is an island. If I disagree with people's beliefs, especially ones as fundamental as the belief in the supernatural, I'm morally compelled to respectfully engage them about it. If we do it with the right attitude, we both stand to gain. Life is hard enough without everyone making up their minds and retreating in to their own heads.
posted by phrontist at 8:31 AM on October 21, 2008 [6 favorites]


"have you found jesus yet"

Yeah, I think he's over there. [Points; picks pocket.]
posted by uncleozzy at 8:33 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


stop worrying and enjoy your life.

These people call themselves English?
posted by Greg Nog at 8:34 AM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Secondly where did the part of me abusing loved ones come from? Just because I believe in God I beat people that I love?

No. It's a famous logical fallacy.

I for one hope that you are right and when you die you just don't exist anymore.

Christ, what an asshole.
posted by tzikeh at 8:34 AM on October 21, 2008


The rotating museum of why religion is a bad idea: this morning's exhibit
posted by fleetmouse at 8:35 AM on October 21, 2008


These people call themselves English?

To be honest, I don't really believe it's aimed at us. I think its a very subtle attempt at pissing off the Americans.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:37 AM on October 21, 2008


As a believer, I think its unfortunate that people associate the existance of God with 'worry'.

I'd like to blame the atheists for getting it all wrong, but I suspect the fault for this lies with believers who miss the point and see God as vindictive and really do spend a lot of time worrying about whether they meet some arbitrary level of piety that they have determined is 'good enough'. Compared to that (mis)understanding of God, I can see how his non-existance could be seen as good news.
posted by jpdoane at 8:40 AM on October 21, 2008


It's real, it's happening: you can sponsor the first atheist advert on a bus – and Richard Dawkins will match your money

The former host of Family Feud will match me? Well, I used to think it was creepy when he kissed every woman on the show, but he's redeeming himself.
posted by ALongDecember at 8:48 AM on October 21, 2008


“There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Should I assume that these two things are related?
posted by symbollocks at 8:56 AM on October 21, 2008


we're conflicted as to whether to adopt the term Bright

Please don't.
posted by Artw at 9:00 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, I'm still doubting the existence of this "god" guy everyone is talking about. Instead, I'm going to dedicate my worship to the Bus.

They are really big.
They are helpful.
Some of them have TVs, so they are kind of all knowing.
They are full of others who believe in the Bus.
Yet, they carry anyone, regardless of their other faiths.

But you have to be careful, like all deities, the Bus is wrathful, and if you are not cautious, and you cross (in front of) the Bus, it will likely strike you down.

The Bus: Believe in It.
posted by quin at 9:00 AM on October 21, 2008 [9 favorites]


stop worrying and enjoy your life.

These people call themselves English?


You mean "Stop worrying and enjoying your life"?

Hmm. This bus is more mean-spirited than I thought.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:04 AM on October 21, 2008


C17H19NO3, from my understanding, there are two branches of atheism: Anti-theists and Non-theists. Anti-theists make a seemingly flawed argument by saying that there is no God

I would disagree with this. Atheists do not believe in gods. That's all. Anti-theists are against theism. That's all.

It is quite possible to disbelieve in gods without being against theism (examples abound in this thread), and it is also possible to believe in gods and be against theism (e.g. misotheism and some forms of deism), so I'm not sure why these positions are almost always conflated this way. Unbelief does not necessarily equal "there is no god" or even "I dislike religion" -- it could just as easily equal "I don't really care about religion one way or the other, and I don't personally believe in it".

Personally, I'm atheist and anti-theist, but the latter has little to do with the former -- I've been atheist since birth, but anti-theist only since the age of 16 or so. Even if I believed in a god, my personal value system would probably still demand that I despise its worship.

Also, "there is no god" is only a "seemingly flawed argument" if "the sun will rise in the morning tomorrow" or "there are no dragons" also are. Which is to say: technically, yes, because none of these statements can be proved, and there's always a chance that they are wrong. That said, we make statements like these all the time, and it's interesting that statements of atheism are the only ones which are generally held to this "lol flawed argument" standard...
posted by vorfeed at 9:05 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Masterchedaar: So kirkjob you don't like religious people?

I don't like people who ask loaded questions about atheism. I love religious people, have long term relationships with them even.

You, however, are a jerk. Yeah and there is no double meaning here, pretty straight forward, it means that you are a jerk.

Yes, I'm a jerk for pointing out the bias in a loaded question, and not playing the rhetorical game.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:10 AM on October 21, 2008


we're conflicted as to whether to adopt the term Bright

if you have to tell us you're bright, you're not
posted by pyramid termite at 9:11 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


"there is no god" is only a "seemingly flawed argument" if "the sun will rise in the morning tomorrow" or "there are no dragons" also are.

That's where we get into Popper.
posted by Artw at 9:11 AM on October 21, 2008


Mastercheddaar, KirkJob really did use a pretty well-known example of a loaded question. Like "Is god so powerful he can make a rock so big that even he himself cannot lift it?" question, you are not meant to try and answer it. His only fault is that he assumed that you were familiar with it.
posted by c13 at 9:15 AM on October 21, 2008


No offense Mastercheddaar, but you might want to spend a little more time absorbing the Metafilter ambiance before you go off on other people and their relatively tame snark. From my reading, your initial comment came off more "in your face" than Kirkjobs. His references are par for the course in your standard Metafilter thread, imho.
posted by shen1138 at 9:16 AM on October 21, 2008


Yeah, the Bright label. Oy.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:19 AM on October 21, 2008


That is just awesome.
posted by Mr_Zero at 9:27 AM on October 21, 2008


Let's reserve "the Bright Label" for this, mmkay?
posted by DreamerFi at 9:30 AM on October 21, 2008


"there is no god" is only a "seemingly flawed argument" if "the sun will rise in the morning tomorrow" or "there are no dragons" also are.

"To doubt is to live. To believe is to reject responsibility."

See also: The Certainty Epidemic
posted by symbollocks at 9:40 AM on October 21, 2008


Unfortunately, transport advertising regulations are more stringent than normal advertising regulations (for billboards, etc) and the decision of whether to run the ad or not is very much at the discretion of the bus companies. It's their private space, and their criteria for this (I know it'll make all atheists reading this bang their head against a wall, but here goes) is that the advert "must not offend religious people"."

Kind of. They can have their own criteria for the medium, but the message doesn't have to be pre-screened in the same way radio and TV advertising does. I'm a media regulator for t'telly and we allow religious advertising only if it's not doctrinal - I'd be really interested to see how we felt about these as not causing offence of any kind is a good part of our decision-making process. We allow blasphemy only if it's time-restricted.

Incidentally, Stagecoach buses (who have a virtual monopoly on services in some parts of the UK) is run by a man who funded his own private campaign to keep Clause 28, the law brought in by the 1980s Conservative government forbidding 'the promotion of homosexuality in the classroom'. London buses have separate operators for different parts of the city, all regulated by Transport for London. I have seen the religious ads mentioned on them near me - they were heavy on the blood and fire - and they made me gape.
posted by mippy at 9:47 AM on October 21, 2008


"You get more flies with honey." Oh wait you never heard of this because you don't go to church.

what
posted by rtha at 9:47 AM on October 21, 2008


Most atheists take the scientific view that you are never really sure, you just have a huge preponderence of evidence. It's a refreshing distinction from the religious claims of absolute certainty.

Anti-theists make a seemingly flawed argument by saying that there is no God while Non-theists simply do not have a belief in God before they are given substantial evidence.

I don't know why so many modern atheists seem only to be aware of the scientific arguments against god, when there are logical arguments that are equally convincing and much much older.

Most atheists are materialists. That is they believe that the physical world and the rules that govern it are all that exists. If you take this position, then miracles are logically impossible, because by definition a miracle is something that defies operates outside the normal laws of physics. Since working through miracles is one of God's fundamental properties, God is not merely scientifically unlikely but is logically impossible.

If you believe in materialism, what is seemingly flawed about this argument?
posted by afu at 9:48 AM on October 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


“I think there are better ways to encourage people to enjoy their lives as opposed to entangling the religion debate into it.”

I agree in spirit. There are some atheists that are just as bad as dogmatic religous folks. But that’s to be expected really. Most things give rise to an opposite.
If I go about proclaiming ‘5’ to be the key to things, and if I do it well enough, then my opponents are cast as ‘anti-5ists’ or ‘non-5ists’ etc.

Which is bullshit, because it’s clearly 5. I mean what kind of idiot doesn’t believe 5? You’d have to be stupid not to see the pure and simple 5isms that...
...But I digress.

It gets down to that definition and meaning thing. ‘God’ wouldn’t be a a problem at all - whether he existed in a finite form or not - if so many people weren’t wrangling over the meaning of it; what God wants; what God wants you or someone else to do.

Formerly the God concept was a superior conceptual framework. (Superior in the sense that it was more sophisticated. In much the same way movies are a product of a huge complex system of codifying and illustrating interesting thoughts in contrast to a shaman telling a story by a fire with shadow puppets.)
So it spread as any sophisticated method spreads. I’m not going to argue it’s not needed (it is a crutch, but some people need a crutch, doesn’t make them bad folks). But I will say it’s outmoded in terms of conceptualization. For the mere fact that communication (and other things) have leveled the heirearchy of thinking.
Back in the day the missionary came out to the primative and told him about God and there you go.
And the primitive guy was then dependent upon the missionary for the social narrative in much the same way we’re dependent on T.V. for ours.
And so a social heirarchy developed as well.

That’s changing. Especially in ‘places’ like MeFi. I mean, what is this but a very useful conceptual framework of sharing ideas and perspectives?

I think the bus thing is quaint. I agree with Neil Postman that secondary sources - less sophisticated - media are eventually co-opted by the masses.
Bibles were translated into the common tongue f’rinstance (and gee, who opposed that?) and so forth. Now you can print pretty much anything.
The ‘net is unique in that regard. Although clearly there are forces trying to stop that.
Such is the constantly renegotiable nature of consensual reality.
(and I’m proud to say I have no grasp of it. *sails the seas of cheese*)
posted by Smedleyman at 9:49 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


See also: The Certainty Epidemic

Your link here is to the home page of Salon.com. Not sure if that's what you had in mind but thanks anyway because it put me in touch with this interview with "... French provocateur Bernard-Henri Lévy on how the left is being destroyed by tolerance -- and why Europeans love Obama."

Good stuff.
posted by philip-random at 10:05 AM on October 21, 2008


I gotta say as someone who generally takes a non-atheist position when push comes to shove and discussion turns to argument, I love those buses. They remind me of a wall-sized chunk of back alley graffiti outside an office I used to work out of in Vancouver back in the 1980s.

YOU CAN NEVER GO HOME

We were editing a movie at the time and, often as not, struggling vainly to make things work. You'd stumble out of work at the end of a hard day's night and there it was, stoic and resolute, a cold face slap of pure existentialism. I felt like I was growing up or something.
posted by philip-random at 10:12 AM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Funny thing about evangelism (sort of a societal application of Pascal's wager): it occurs to me that it is a moral imperative of anyone who really believes I will suffer an eternity of damnation for my atheism to convince me to accept whatever dogma they believe could save me.

In fact, it seems that any true believer who does not attempt to convert me, knowing the eternal consequences for my soul, must be severely deficient in empathy! How can they just sit by while I slide closer and closer to hellfire!

Therein lies the paradox - I, as an atheist, mostly just want to be left to myself, but I can't really respect any believer who doesn't try to convert me :)

"Shouldn't you be off bringing religiosity to the fuzzy-wuzzies or somesuch?"
"Oh, I've got heathens a-plenty right here."

posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:27 AM on October 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


When I was about eight, maybe younger, the Scientologists in Manchester had bus posters with text along the lines of "When this bus turns the corner, will it still exist?" The possibility that it might not led to nightmares, uncertainty, a weakening of the Jewish faith I then held, and eventually to interests in philosophy of mind, A.I. and sceptical rationalism. I've never thought Scientology to be other than balderdash of the worst kind, though.

So, it's fair to say this new campaign has some potential. I'm glad that children will once again be tormented by radical viewpoints.
posted by topynate at 10:28 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


That's where we get into Popper.

Yes, but again, it is instructive to note that we do not tend to "get into Popper" when we make these kinds of statements in almost any other subject. People in the street do not tackle you and shout "you can't say that! That's an unfalsifiable statement!" when you say "I'll never win the lottery" or "I will have steak for dinner tonight" or "my husband loves me". We constantly hold beliefs which cannot be falsified; when it comes up over and over again with regards to atheism, even though we believe a thousand equally unfalsifiable things, and even though religion is just as impossible to falsify as atheism, I suspect heavy cultural bias.

Oh, and here's a perfect example:
"To doubt is to live. To believe is to reject responsibility."

Come on. We do not require (or even value!) this extent of doubt on any other subject save this one. Yes, it is always important to keep in mind that one might be wrong, and to question one's certainties and assumptions, but the idea that human beings cannot justifiably be convinced of anything is bunk (or, to please you, is 99.999999% likely to be bunk). It is important to be open to changing one's mind if one turns out to be wrong, or if one encounters an idea which better fits one's self and/or the situation, but I challenge the idea that we should (or even can) decide never-to-decide from the outset.

I mean, do you believe that "to doubt is to live, and to believe is to reject responsibility"? If not, why is it that you are so certain of this that you took the time to post it? For that matter, why is it that Dr. Burton was so certain of uncertainty that he wrote an article and had it printed in Salon? Could it be that he, and you, are still operating under the very same biological illusion of certainty, just with regards to uncertainty itself?

The problem with statements like "Science has given us the language and tools of probabilities. That is enough. We do not need and cannot afford the catastrophes born out of a belief in certainty" is that they imply a certainty of belief in catastrophes, language, probabilities, certainty, and even belief itself, as well as in the central premise of the article. This way lies madness, or at the very least, a smug dismissal of people's convictions which has been disguised as madness.

By the way, I am not sure, nor would I ever presume to be certain, but I will venture to say that your link might maybe possibly be broken. Or not, clearly. And there's always a chance of solipsism, in which case purple spaghetti huffalumps. I'd hate to take a position one way or another on the existence of links, or on the nature of what it means to you for a link not to lead to where it's fair to say that it seems to me that you may or may not have meant it to, as that'd be gauche.
posted by vorfeed at 10:32 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm a lapsed atheist.
posted by slimepuppy at 10:37 AM on October 21, 2008


Cool. I hope they do more of these, in more areas.

And while I like the concept of the "Brights" movement, they picked a horrible, horrible name. I'm surprised more people don't use my personal preference, "heathen". Sure, it stretches the original meaning ("neither Christian nor Jewish"), but not unduly. When you can turn a word others intend as an insult into a term of pride, it's all the more powerful.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 10:42 AM on October 21, 2008


Next up: handing out atheism tracts on the corner.
posted by Krrrlson at 10:43 AM on October 21, 2008


People in the street do not tackle you and shout "you can't say that! That's an unfalsifiable statement!" when you say "I'll never win the lottery" or "I will have steak for dinner tonight" or "my husband loves me".

Not that it goes directly to your point, vorfeed, but the first two of those statements are in fact falsifiable, the third falsifiable to beyond any reasonable doubt by a wide range of actions. It's a trope, also, that a woman who claims her husband loves her, but has nothing more than faith to support that claim, is usually very wrong indeed.
posted by topynate at 10:48 AM on October 21, 2008


To those arguing against using the term bright: the implied elitism concern does not rank too highly for me. It's a noun, not an adjective. We are not describing ourselves as bright, we are Brights. The alternative of "super" for those believing in the supernatural has been suggested.

vorfeed: "I'll never win the lottery" or "I will have steak for dinner tonight" or "my husband loves me"

The last one is a bit problematic, due to the other minds problem, but the first two are very straightfowardly falsifiable. If I have a veggieburger, the prediction is falsified. If I win the lottery, the prediction is falsified. What's the problem?
posted by phrontist at 10:52 AM on October 21, 2008


vorfeed - Popper pretty much comes up every time empiricism is questioned and the whole sunrise thing is mentioned. It's not a special dig at theism.
posted by Artw at 10:53 AM on October 21, 2008


Salvor Hardin: it occurs to me that it is a moral imperative of anyone who really believes I will suffer an eternity of damnation for my atheism to convince me to accept whatever dogma they believe could save me.

Absolutely. I think this is what most non-religious people fail to understand; evangelists feel they are doing the right thing FOR YOU when they try to convert you. They don't get any toaster ovens. I agree that it can be exceedingly annoying especially when you're being told that your beliefs (or lack thereof) are going to cause you to burn in hell. Note the distinction, though - they're not telling you that YOU are a bad person; they're saying your beliefs (or lack thereof) are going to cause serious consequences. This is not that much unlike the intention of someone who tells a crack addict that they're going to die miserably unless they quit. The crack addict may not believe this either, or care. But to the person trying to help them, the concept is self-evident.

[Note that I am not calling atheists "crack addicts" or anything similar. I'm not even religious. I just wanted to get at the mindset of the people who try to "help" others who don't necessarily want to be helped.]
posted by desjardins at 10:53 AM on October 21, 2008


I'm not sure where all these idiots get the dumb idea that atheists & christians can't say god probably does or doesn't exist. You guys have some seriously poor grasp of basic epistemology and even basic language use.

Agnostic today means "undecided" which is radically different from the atheists "I doubt god exists". It's plain stupid to lump 99% of atheists with the real agnostics who really have feelings both ways.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:56 AM on October 21, 2008


I'm surprised more people don't use my personal preference, "heathen".

I've actually seen "heathen" used a fair amount by various neo-pagan groups in describing themselves, so I suppose the atheists don't want to lump themselves in with other non-Christian religious folks.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:06 AM on October 21, 2008


So seriously why do atheists really care if a person is religious?

I think my fellow atheists have covered the more practical answers to this question, but I'd like to say that just because someone doesn't believe in god, doesn't mean he doesn't care about the people who do. I have a relative who's gay and an evangelical Christian. I've known homosexuals who have found real happiness in gay-friendly churches, but he's not one of them. His life is a constant struggle. He keeps his homosexuality a secret, and when he "lapses" and sleeps with a man, he fasts for days to punish himself and make himself "right" in the eyes of god. One time he fasted himself right into the emergency room. His is not a happy life.

So atheists can muster up some real sadness when seeing someone they know or love in misery that seems to spring from a rigid adherence to their religious beliefs.

Not me, of course. As far as I'm concerned, you can all go to hell.

I kid!
posted by Evangeline at 11:08 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've been annoyed by far more atheists than Christians. I think it's because they're ists. It's not enough to just not believe - they have an agenda. What exactly is the purpose of having an agenda based on not believing?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:08 AM on October 21, 2008


jeffburdges: all these idiots get the dumb idea

Tell us how you really feel.
posted by phrontist at 11:11 AM on October 21, 2008


miracles are logically impossible, because by definition a miracle is something that operates outside the normal laws of physics. Since working through miracles is one of God's fundamental properties, God is not merely scientifically unlikely but is logically impossible.

If you believe in materialism, what is seemingly flawed about this argument?


Nothing. The flaw, if there is one, would be the belief in materialism.
posted by philip-random at 11:13 AM on October 21, 2008


You guys have some seriously poor grasp of basic epistemology and even basic language use.

Agnostic today means "undecided" which is radically different from the atheists "I doubt god exists". It's plain stupid to lump 99% of atheists with the real agnostics who really have feelings both ways.


How about this?

Fundamentalist Theist: absolutely certain there is a god.
Theist: believes there probably is a god.
Agnostic: undecided.
Atheist: believes there probably isn't a god.
Fundamentalist Atheist: absolutely certain there is no god.
posted by philip-random at 11:18 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Light Fantastic: The "beleiving" versus "not believing" is essentially semantic when it comes to real conversations between people. You could just as well say that some religious persons disbelieve in the monistic nature of reality. So it makes as much sense as having an "agenda" for anything. It's a stance either way, the characterization of one stance as being less worthy of propogation by virtue of being "negative" seems to be the result of misunderstanding, as it's linguistic difference born of historical circumstances. This is why I think the term Bright is useful and important (concerns about lingustic prescriptivism and neologisms in general aside) - we need a term to describe our stance that says something other than not-theism. The FAQ on the Brights page addresses things well.
posted by phrontist at 11:19 AM on October 21, 2008


Atheists don't like people who believe in religion because they think it is stupid right?

Let's not do that.

I consider myself a person of faith, but most of my friends are atheists. I can't say with absolutely certainty whether or not they snicker behind my back when I'm not around, but I'm pretty sure they don't, because I can count the number of times we've talked about religion on one hand, and in each of those rare instances, they'd asked a couple questions out of genuine curiosity, and responded with respect. Maybe because I'm not knocking on their door at seven in the morning with a handful of pamphlets, or trying to find some way to sneak God into whatever the topic of conversation is. And as far as I know, they haven't rented a bus to go rolling about the city shouting directives at people.

My point is, caring too much about what other people believe spiritually almost never ends well, nor does jumping to conclusions about what those beliefs are.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:20 AM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


miracles are logically impossible, because by definition a miracle is something that operates outside the normal laws of physics.

Miracles are not defined this way anywhere in the Bible, that I know of (I can't speak for other religions).

Ontological naturalism (a form of monism - which is not necessarily materialism) is not compatible with the dualistic nature of god(s) in most religions.
posted by phrontist at 11:27 AM on October 21, 2008


i pretty much like my christian girlfriend, but i'm not too keen on being told that i don't because she's "stupid." she's not.

on the other hand, now that her grandfather has found out that i'm an atheist he doesn't speak to me except to shower me with bible verses, which pretty much precludes any kind of actual conversation. this, i'm not so fond of. he's not stupid either, just rude.
posted by klanawa at 11:37 AM on October 21, 2008


Not that it goes directly to your point, vorfeed, but the first two of those statements are in fact falsifiable, the third falsifiable to beyond any reasonable doubt by a wide range of actions.

Yeah, you're right. I was trying to avoid the usual unicorn thing... don't know why I bothered. Feel free to substitute your favorite unfalsifiable statement.
posted by vorfeed at 11:40 AM on October 21, 2008


Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but unwilling?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

-Epicurus
posted by SaintCynr at 11:44 AM on October 21, 2008


SaintCynr,
The problem I have with that logic is that being unwilling to prevent evil doesn't necessarily mean that god is evil or wishes evil on others. I'd counter that god acts the same way a parent does when they allow their children to suffer. It's a growing experience, and the child is the better for it in the long term. When it comes to the great suffering we see in the world today, perhaps the answer is that we just don't understand the reasoning why god would allow it to occur.
Alternately, maybe god is malevolent. That still doesn't prove he doesn't exist. If god does exist and is malevolent, all the more reason to try and be in his good graces, right?

I'm by no means arguing god exists, but I don't think the logic displayed by Epicurus is as air-tight as some do.
posted by ShadowCrash at 11:54 AM on October 21, 2008


It's a stance either way, the characterization of one stance as being less worthy of propogation by virtue of being "negative" seems to be the result of misunderstanding, as it's linguistic difference born of historical circumstances.

My point is this exactly - disbelieving in something doesn't require a "stance." The absence of belief is not equivalent to a difference in belief, no matter how many semantic hoops one wishes to jump through. There is no need to advocate for a vacuum.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:58 AM on October 21, 2008


I like the bus signs.
posted by everichon at 11:59 AM on October 21, 2008


I'd counter that god acts the same way a parent does when they allow their children to suffer. It's a growing experience, and the child is the better for it in the long term.

I don't think many parents let their children go running and jumping around in a mine field...
posted by c13 at 12:01 PM on October 21, 2008


The Light Fantastic: The absence of a belief is a difference in belief.
posted by phrontist at 12:03 PM on October 21, 2008


>>I'd counter that god acts the same way a parent does when they allow their children to suffer. It's a growing experience, and the child is the better for it in the long term.

In the Old Testament, God directs his followers to commit multiple acts of genocide. Makkedah, Jericho, Libnah. All destroyed. Men, women, and children murdered. Again, God commanded it. How precisely do you defend that?

A human parent who did so would be sent to prison or executed, and most people would applaud their fate. But if it's "God", it's all good.

>>If god does exist and is malevolent, all the more reason to try and be in his good graces, right?

Worship a tyrant? No thanks. It's all right for you, I guess. But I have to question the motives of any God that commands genocide, something I was pretty sure the twentieth century had exposed as bad. YMMV.
posted by SaintCynr at 12:09 PM on October 21, 2008


If god does exist and is malevolent, all the more reason to try and be in his good graces, right?

Sure... if you're the collaborating type. However, I think it's safe to say that Epicurus was not, and I don't think it's valid to assume that everyone else is OK with it, either.
posted by vorfeed at 12:13 PM on October 21, 2008


I've been annoyed by far more atheists than Christians. I think it's because they're ists. It's not enough to just not believe - they have an agenda. What exactly is the purpose of having an agenda based on not believing?

Stereotypes are bad, mmmkay? Most of this whole discussion has been correcting the people who make a statement about "athiests" that is really just a self-serving stereotype.
posted by Axle at 12:14 PM on October 21, 2008


perhaps the answer is that we just don't understand the reasoning why god would allow it to occur

Which is no answer at all.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:16 PM on October 21, 2008


I don't think many parents let their children go running and jumping around in a mine field...
That's because the parent's don't have the ability to stop the child's suffering at any time and undo any damage caused. I see lots of parents that let their kids risk a few scrapes and bruises. Perhaps god's main concern is the soul, and god realizes the soul will not be damaged by the mines, and any suffering the person experiences will be offset by rewards in the afterlife?

The question about why god permits suffering has been addressed by just about every religion. Religions will argue god has valid reasons for letting suffering/evil occur (free will?), and just because we don't understand or know his reasons, doesn't mean they don't exist. If they accept this statement, the argument posed by Epicurus falls apart.

Besides, anyone who reads the old testament knows the judao-christian god is malevolent.
posted by ShadowCrash at 12:17 PM on October 21, 2008


I hate proselytizing, specifically, I don't like being proselytized to. I don't believe in God, but that doesn't mean I believe in atheism as a movement. I find the struggle to find meaning in one's life to be a fascinating topic. It's fun to discuss with people, whether they believe in a god or not, whether they are religious or not, if they are intelligent and respectful.

I don't mind if people believe in a god or participate in religion. I mind when my government uses our tax money to support religion. I want separation of church & state, but it's clear that our moral/religious philosophy has everything to do with our laws. Morality, among other factors, drives laws and for many people, religion informs morality.

For instance, theft is against the law. It is illegal for me to take Warren Buffett's extra money, even though he has vastly more money than he can possibly use. You can make a case that it is immoral for a person to accumulate vast wealth, and not use it to feed the starving, or house the homeless.

The "stop worrying and enjoy your life" slogan is irritating, and not a logical outcome of atheism.

There is probably no God:
"You're on your own"
"You'll have to make your own moral decisions"
"Go ahead and behave badly if you can get away with it; there's not going to be any consequences in the afterlife"
"No Rapture either, you self-righteous gits"

The best part of the campaign is how much it will annoy and befuddle people who take religion way too seriously. The worst part is that it's a step towards atheism being another organized (non-)religion. Waste of time, for the most part.
posted by theora55 at 12:21 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


>>Besides, anyone who reads the old testament knows the judao-christian god is malevolent.

And yet so many take him seriously. That's what I can't understand. Anyone, man, woman, or god, who orders murder should be vilified, not praised.
posted by SaintCynr at 12:21 PM on October 21, 2008


The Light Fantastic: The absence of a belief is a difference in belief.

No. It's an absence. Differences in belief require some belief to begin with.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:24 PM on October 21, 2008


....and - this is the error in thinking that leads to proselytizing atheists. You can argue that the cup is half full, or the cup is half empty - but if it's absolutely full or absolutely empty - there is no reason for argument.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:28 PM on October 21, 2008


Wow, lit quite the fire there.

My point was only that the Epicurus quote isn't a bullet proof logical argument that god doesn't exist (first mentioned by afu for exactly this purpose). It boils down to the argument that since there is suffering in the world, god must not exist. I fail to see how those two items are mutually exclusive.

SaintCynr, yes, the old testament's god is very different than the new testament's god. That's probably a better way to go about arguing against a specific religion, but still doesn't address the concept of god in general.

Again, I'm not arguing against the scientific argument for why god doesn't exist. I'm just stating that holding up the epicurus quote as logical proof that there is no god seems a bit of a stretch. It may be an argument why if god exists you shouldn't worship him, but that seems off topic on this thread.
posted by ShadowCrash at 12:34 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


You can argue that the cup is half full, or the cup is half empty - but if it's absolutely full or absolutely empty - there is no reason for argument.

Or perhaps your understanding of the situation is incredibly simplistic. I told you, stereotypes are bad. And what you've done, is set up a delightful strawathiest that has no belief in anything, and proceeded to exclaim that you just don't get why strawathiests have an agenda based on nothing. Maybe it's not that simple. And maybe you should go find out what athiests really do believe first.
posted by Axle at 12:41 PM on October 21, 2008


Perhaps god's main concern is the soul, and god realizes the soul will not be damaged by the mines, and any suffering the person experiences will be offset by rewards in the afterlife?

Unless, of course, the afterlife you get is "eternal suffering"... which is the real minefield in question, at least from a Christian perspective. The Bible makes it perfectly clear that while some will have their "suffering offset by rewards in the afterlife", there are also many, many human beings God will punish forever. As Spice 3:37 makes clear, "If you wanna avoid torture / you gotta get with my kid."

If they accept this statement, the argument posed by Epicurus falls apart.

No, it doesn't. Epicurus does not finish with, "therefore we should not call him God", he asks, "why call him God". He leaves the conclusion up to us. The point is to think about what these questions say about God, and what they imply about people who worship such a God. If your conclusion really is that you should be a total quisling, paying obedience to an entity you know is evil just so you can have an afterlife, more power to you. All Epicurus asks of you is to make that conclusion explicit.

It may be an argument why if god exists you shouldn't worship him, but that seems off topic on this thread.

Bingo, and I disagree. This thread has been about "various alternatives to religion" since post #20 or so, and misotheism is an important and oft-overlooked possibility.
posted by vorfeed at 12:45 PM on October 21, 2008


Or perhaps your understanding of the situation is incredibly simplistic.

It's a pretty simple thing. If you claim that there is no God, then you remove yourself from the God argument. If I hate sushi, I'm not picking the sushi restaurant.

Maybe it's not that simple. And maybe you should go find out what athiests really do believe first.

At the germ of my argument is that atheist should not "believe" anything. If they do, they are not atheists.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:54 PM on October 21, 2008


vorfeed: look up top to where afu first links to the Epicurus quote. He specifically calls it a logical argument that can be used in place of the scientific argument against god's existence. That's what I had issues with. Perhaps SaintCynr was mentioning it for the second time for different reasons. If that's the case, we can disagree about it being on topic or not, but we seem to agree it's not a logical argument against god's existence.
posted by ShadowCrash at 1:03 PM on October 21, 2008


To those arguing against using the term bright: the implied elitism concern does not rank too highly for me. It's a noun, not an adjective. We are not describing ourselves as bright, we are Brights.

Yes, what could be more convincing than adopting a word commonly used as praise for someone's intelligence to describe oneself, and then insisting that praising your own intelligence was not your goal?

Whatever the intention of someone who describes him- or herself as a "Bright," refusing to acknowledge the inevitable linguistic assumptions it is likely to raise is....not too bright, actually. Either stand up and say, yep, (your group of) atheists believe they deserve to be considered brighter than the common run of humanity, or pick a better term.
posted by emjaybee at 1:05 PM on October 21, 2008


Well, that's not the minefield I had in mind. Maybe I should be more direct. There, for example, were a lot of children, babies even, that were gassed and burned on an industrial scale not that long ago. Some of them were even old enough to have some concept of god and they prayed pretty hard to be spared, which really didn't help them all that much and they were turned into cute little piles of carbon residue. Which, you must agree, is a little more than just some "scrapes and bruises". Now then, I don't know if they all got an extra cookie once they got to heaven, but what puzzles me is that presumably a lot of other kids got there in a much more conventional way. Namely living out their full life and dying of old age. There might indeed be a reason for it, but since religious folks, by your own admission, don't understand or know them, they probably should not be the ones talking abut them.
posted by c13 at 1:11 PM on October 21, 2008


Hope I can help clear some stuff up, in addition to the helpful people above.

Atheists don't like people who believe in religion because they think it is stupid right?

A few things are wrong with this statement. I'll address both as best I can.

First, "atheists don't like people who believe in religion" is not always true. Some atheists do, some atheists don't. At least half my friends are theists, but most aren't terribly religious. I think what is fair to say here is that I don't like their beliefs. Given that theism is the default where I live (the United States), I would probably not like very many people if I bothered to hate them because they're theist. Most people are theists because their parents are theists. To a large extent, I don't hold that against them. Generally religion doesn't come up much anyway. The "afterlife" in general sometimes comes up, but it's not a huge deal on a one-on-one social level.

I would find it difficult to be friends with a proselytizing religious person, though. I don't expect we'd have much in common, and they are sometimes pushy about saving atheists, or else regard them with scorn. It might be helpful to think of how you would feel if I said "religious people hate atheists." Certainly some might, but then some might feel love for them and want to save them, and some might not care, right?

Do some atheists hate religious people? Eh, probably. I don't personally know any but I'm sure they exist. All the atheists I know personally have theist friends, but none of them are very religious theists.

The other thing that is misguided in that statement is "because they think it is stupid," but that's going to take more time to untangle.

That we are wasting our lives for nothing. Because when we die that is it correct?

I would venture to say that this has very little to do with any dislike atheists have towards theists. I mean, if someone does not believe in god, yes, it seems that religious people live religious lives for a reward they're never actually going to get. The thing is, I don't think any atheists care much about that as far as religious individuals are concerned. Lots of non-religious people do stuff with their lives that others might judge as pointless. Who cares?

Furthermore, I think there is an atheist argument against that. Lots of atheists do not believe in objective meaning in life, only subjective. I personally think that people should do whatever makes them happy as long as it doesn't harm others. In that sense, happy religious people's lives are just as meaningful as mine. The life of someone who devotes their life to collecting stamps is, as long as they're happy, just as meaningful as mine.

Now, that's not the only way I would judge meaning, but basically I think meaning is whatever people want it to be so it's not something I'd force on anyone. Not harming others is the most important thing, though, and something that, yes, I'm willing to have legislated on people.

Now from my understanding atheists believe that when we die... we are gone for good.

I only have a quibble with this. In the same way that the bus campaign will say that god "probably" does not exist, so is death "probably" the end. Strictly speaking, atheists generally do not assign the same probability to existence of god (unlikely) as non-existence (very likely). The same is true of the afterlife. I can't 100% say that there isn't some form of consciousness that survives after we die, because I've never died. I think that the more we learn about the consciousness, the more concrete the answer will be. But for the time being, I see no solid reason to believe it exists, so I live my life as it if doesn't.

The reason many atheists do not flat out say "God does not exist" is because you can't prove that anything doesn't exist, you can just reasonably assume it doesn't. There are lots of philosophical essays devoted to this, but a usual example goes like this: "Prove there is not an invisible purple elephant in the room." You can't, you'd just be foolish to believe that there is. Atheists are often wary of making absolute, unprovable claims, since that's one of the things they feel is wrong with religion. It would be silly to say someone is agnostic about invisible purple elephants, though; so goes god.

Why if life is so short do atheists really care what someone else believes?

I would venture that most atheists don't care unless it harms others. And there are a lot of arguments to be made why religion is harmful.

Things that do not apply to all religions:
1. It can engender hate in people, and lead to violence.

2. It can encourage people to not appreciate the time we have alive; people can have a sense that they're going to have infinite time to accomplish things, or that even if they do not make the most of their life here, there will be time for that later.

The finality of death is motivating to many atheists; knowing that you'll never have another chance is a good motivator to be the best person you can be, to accomplish all you can, and to be good to people who, for all you know, could die tomorrow before you get a chance to apologize. It also encourages people to be happy as much as possible since you don't get that time back; I personally do not dwell on depressing things anymore, and it's much easier for me to anchor myself to the good parts of even terrible situations.

3. It can make up children's minds for them, since many parents would never allow their children to believe in a different religion than they do. Depending on the extent of scare tactics and shaming in a religion, some things are even considered child abuse by atheists. Personally, I think that brainwashing a child is psychological abuse, but there's a spectrum there where it's not any worse than, I dunno, teaching them your opinions about anything.

This is the rejoinder to your question about life-wasting. A person wasting their life isn't inherently my concern. But the fact that many theists don't have much say in wasting their lives is tragic. A great deal of home-schooled children in the United States are fundamentalist Christians. They have few opportunities to be exposed to new ideas or think for themselves.

4. It is all too often a factor in legislating discrimination.

5. It is all too often a factor in legislating things that simply do not work and harm more people than they help, i.e. abstinence-only education.

6. It makes a lot of people feel unhappy and ashamed when there is no rational basis for it. This is tragic and cannot be underestimated. If god does not exist, then those people are living their lives in misery for nothing, and they will never get another chance.

7. It can lead people to do irrational, delusional, harmful things like refusing medical treatment, or getting harmful alternative medical treatments with no basis in fact.

8. It encourages people to leave things in god's hands, or say horrible things are "his will" or superstitiously blame unrelated people instead of taking rational action.

A more general things that (off the top of my head) applies to any theist religion:
1. It encourages the absolute belief in something for which there is no proof. This is antithetical to science and any other rational belief, and in varying degrees can spill over into other areas of people's life. When people are willing to believe in things without proof, they are easily manipulated, and religion is the foot in the door. That is not good for society.

Religion is not 100% bad 100% of the time. It can help people pull through in difficult times, it can encourage people to love one another, etc. The thing is, you don't need religion to do those things and atheists tend not to think the side effects are worth it. Is it better for people to get through grief because they think a Happiness Fairy cares about them and will somehow make things better, or is it better for them to get through grief through personal strength and appropriate actions based in reality? Is it better for people to love each other because the Happiness Fairy says so, or because they fear retribution from the Judgment Fairy, or is it better for people to love each other because they are confident that peace and love are accomplished through nothing but humanity taking the action to make those things possible?

I'm not asking you to agree or anything, just explaining the mindset.
posted by Nattie at 1:26 PM on October 21, 2008 [11 favorites]


If you claim that there is no God, then you remove yourself from the God argument.

By the same logic, if you claim there was no government conspiracy to fake the moon landings, then you should remove yourself from the government conspiracy to fake the moon landings argument (even, presumably, if you're Neil Armstrong). Rejecting a belief does not exclude one from having an intelligent discussion about the belief.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:28 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't know many religious people who are worried because of the existence of their God. Mostly their belief seems to calm them in times of turmoil. Hence, the slogan doesn't make a lot of sense.
posted by desjardins at 1:31 PM on October 21, 2008


By the same logic, if you claim there was no government conspiracy to fake the moon landings, then you should remove yourself from the government conspiracy to fake the moon landings argument (even, presumably, if you're Neil Armstrong).

Yes, that's exactly my argument. Glad someone gets it.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:42 PM on October 21, 2008


c13: Again, my issue was with using the Epicurus quote as logical proof that god doesn't exist. I'd have similar issues with someone posting St. Thomas' cosmological proof. Neither can be considered logical arguments for or against god's existence.
posted by ShadowCrash at 1:42 PM on October 21, 2008


Atheists like this care about what religious people believe and do because of people like this.

Both links lifted from Pharyngula.
posted by dirty lies at 1:43 PM on October 21, 2008


vorfeed: look up top to where afu first links to the Epicurus quote. He specifically calls it a logical argument that can be used in place of the scientific argument against god's existence. That's what I had issues with. Perhaps SaintCynr was mentioning it for the second time for different reasons. If that's the case, we can disagree about it being on topic or not, but we seem to agree it's not a logical argument against god's existence.

Actually, given the Christian definition of God as both entirely good and completely omnipotent, I'd say that the Problem of Evil is a killer logical argument against God's existence as so defined. You're correct that it's not an argument against the existence of God, per se -- God could still exist as long as he is either non-omnipotent or non-good -- but it is a devastating attack on the Christian definition, so much so that it is still largely unresolved thousands of years later.

The free-will excuse works to explain suffering on Earth, but fails to explain why a truly benevolent God would send people to eternal Hell as a punishment. This is a rather fine discussion of the problem, and the conclusion is a lovely example of exactly what I was talking about regarding quislings here.
posted by vorfeed at 2:09 PM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


c13: Again, my issue was with using the Epicurus quote as logical proof that god doesn't exist.

Well... You know.. If it was such an airtight logical proof, we probably wouldn't have this discussion in the first place.
posted by c13 at 2:12 PM on October 21, 2008


Is it better for people to get through grief because they think a Happiness Fairy cares about them and will somehow make things better, or is it better for them to get through grief through personal strength and appropriate actions based in reality? Is it better for people to love each other because the Happiness Fairy says so, or because they fear retribution from the Judgment Fairy, or is it better for people to love each other because they are confident that peace and love are accomplished through nothing but humanity taking the action to make those things possible?

Just wanted to point out that this isn't necessarily an either/or situation here. Faith can pervade and be a part of every aspect of your life without it excluding things such as personal strength, appropriate actions based on reality, and through being confident that peace and love are accomplished through action.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:12 PM on October 21, 2008


>>My point was only that the Epicurus quote isn't a bullet proof logical argument that god doesn't exist

But blindly believing is bulletproof?
posted by SaintCynr at 2:13 PM on October 21, 2008


But yes, you make excellent points, Nattie, and it's much appreciated.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:13 PM on October 21, 2008


I've been annoyed by far more atheists than Christians. I think it's because they're ists. It's not enough to just not believe - they have an agenda. What exactly is the purpose of having an agenda based on not believing?

My atheist agenda eloped with my gay agenda to California when same-sex marriage was legalized. They actually live in a polyamorous commune with my environmentalist checkbook and my transgender coinpurse, but hey, whatever floats their boat, as long as it doesn't cause a murder.

At the germ of my argument is that atheist should not "believe" anything. If they do, they are not atheists.

Ohh, I believe in a lot of things. I believe in the sacred power of a good cherry pie, which I've been craving ever since I moved to Savannah. For some reason it is all red velvet cake and key lime pie.

Behold! The power of pie!

My point is this exactly - disbelieving in something doesn't require a "stance." The absence of belief is not equivalent to a difference in belief, no matter how many semantic hoops one wishes to jump through. There is no need to advocate for a vacuum.

Of course, we don't advocate for a vacuum. We advocate for the sensible position that the freedom to doubt is as central to human rights as religious freedom, and that those who are reluctant to profess a religious belief or creed shouldn't be subjected to discrimination or compulsory worship.

But like it or not, in contemporary language "atheism" is pretty much interchangeable with "secular humanism" these days, with a few Marxists or old-style Epicurians running around in the mix. You can certainly continue to pedantically whine about it, along with "PC" to mean computers running a variant of MSWin, "hacker" to mean one who breaks into computer systems, and "grammar" to mean the stylebook taught in English class. But its become something of a lost cause.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:17 PM on October 21, 2008


No, we like you fine. We just believe in one fewer god.

Yeah, I don't believe in Hermes either.
posted by thivaia at 2:21 PM on October 21, 2008


At the germ of my argument is that atheist should not "believe" anything. If they do, they are not atheists.

Really? I'm an atheist and I believe lots of things. I believe it is the responsibility of every human being to do right by their fellow man in all their actions. I believe in the rights enshrined in our good old US Constitution, and the method of government which it outlines. I believe in doing unto others as I would have them do unto me. I believe there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, but that it has not ever contacted the Earth and will not within my lifetime. I believe that Franz Schubert was the greatest composer who ever lived and that brass instruments are way better than woodwinds. I believe that I have the best friends in the world, that my mom is a better cook than any chef in any restaurant, and that my nieces and nephews are the cutest darn kids you can find anywhere on this planet.

I also believe that it is a person's actions, and not their views on the supernatural, that are the best evidence of their values and character. This is why I prefer to call myself "non-religious" rather than "atheist," particularly when speaking to someone I don't know well. I would prefer to be judged by and to define myself in terms of my actions rather than my semi-arbitrary beliefs about unanswerable questions.
posted by Commander Rachek at 2:27 PM on October 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


At the germ of my argument is that atheist should not "believe" anything. If they do, they are not atheists.

Yeah, I knew I should have taken more time writing that comment - way to take it out of context, folks. My point is this - atheism is not a belief - it's the lack of a belief in God. Believing that there is no God doesn't make sense to me, what stretch of faith is required to decide that?

Of course, we don't advocate for a vacuum. We advocate for the sensible position that the freedom to doubt is as central to human rights as religious freedom, and that those who are reluctant to profess a religious belief or creed shouldn't be subjected to discrimination or compulsory worship.

I think you'll find a lot of Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Pagans, (and any 'ims, isms, or 'ians that I left out) that agree with your assertion (as does the ACLU). Why then do Atheists™ spend so much time trying to un-prove the existence of God? If the mission were freedom to worship/not worship then why the big dance number? Because the Atheists™ (not counting the agnostic or unitarian atheists) believe that there is no God - and that belief leads to proselytizing and intolerance that would put any radical militant fundamentalist Christian to shame. It's been turned into the "anti-religion."

Belief has no place in rationalism.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:40 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


"We're here! God's not! Get used to it!"
posted by Pronoiac at 2:49 PM on October 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


Believing that there is no God doesn't make sense to me, what stretch of faith is required to decide that?

The same one which is required to decide that there is no teapot orbiting Mars. Yes, such certainty does involve a stretch of faith (as does, to be perfectly logical, the assertion that anything exists outside of myself). That said, the stretch in question is rather smaller than yours, which demands that I never believe any negative statements at all, despite the fact that many of them, including this one, may be comfortably assumed to be true in the absence of evidence to the contrary.

Besides, belief has no place in rationalism, eh? What, exactly, is that statement (and rationalism itself) based on, if not belief?
posted by vorfeed at 2:53 PM on October 21, 2008


Why then do Atheists™ spend so much time trying to un-prove the existence of God?

Because beliefs don't exist in a vacuum, and some types of belief in god lead to other, less benign beliefs (e.g., that condoms are impermissible in all situations). Addressing these peripheral beliefs individually is like fighting a hydra: every time you put down one, two others spring up in its place. In the long run the more productive strategy is to address the core types of belief in god that lead to these additional beliefs.
posted by Pyry at 2:55 PM on October 21, 2008


Believing that there is no God doesn't make sense to me, what stretch of faith is required to decide that?

I can respect your POV regarding people of faith and tolerance of belief ("I think you'll find a lot of Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Pagans, (and any 'ims, isms, or 'ians that I left out) that agree with your assertion"), but seriously, even I would admit that it doesn't take faith to not believe in God.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:56 PM on October 21, 2008


Atheists™ (not counting the agnostic or unitarian atheists)

Begging your pardon, but what are "Atheists™", "agnostic atheists", and "unitarian atheists"? I'm especially confused by the last one, since I thought "unitarian" was a concept that applied strictly to Christians.

I'm not trying to pick on you, I'm just trying to understand what you mean. I've never seen any of those phrases before.
posted by Commander Rachek at 2:58 PM on October 21, 2008


Besides, belief has no place in rationalism, eh? What, exactly, is that statement (and rationalism itself) based on, if not belief?

Ok. Belief is not rational, it's emotional. I don't believe the Earth orbits the Sun - I know. It's been proven beyond any doubt. I don't need to believe in it. If one is absolutely sure that there is no God, then they are an atheist (and I'd love to see the paper). If they believe there is no God, then they are an agnostic that likes to argue.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:59 PM on October 21, 2008


Begging your pardon, but what are "Atheists™", "agnostic atheists", and "unitarian atheists"? I'm especially confused by the last one, since I thought "unitarian" was a concept that applied strictly to Christians.

I'm not trying to pick on you, I'm just trying to understand what you mean. I've never seen any of those phrases before.


It was a joke.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:59 PM on October 21, 2008


“I'm by no means arguing god exists, but I don't think the logic displayed by Epicurus is as air-tight as some do.”

And logic is itself a form of thought to interpret the sensual/material world, not a thing *of* that world.
Does logic exist? I mean in the same way we’re demanding God exist as in the mighty planet Neptune or pop tarts or gold molecules?
No, not really.
And what’s ‘evil’? Especially given the world view that the world itself is an illusion or ephemeral. Is a movie character who kills another ‘evil’? No. He’s just an actor in a temporary illusion. From certain perspectives, evil is fundimentally subjective. So too - God would transcend notions of good or evil. God’s goodness is predicated on the temporary nature of life (as akin a movie) and suffering. What is any given amount of finite time to an infinite amount of time.
Of course, there’s some very solid physics to be discussed on the nature of reality. Many definitions of God do not reconcile with those...

Seems one can arrive at the same conclusion as Epicurus by different roads.

“I'm a lapsed atheist.”

Are those the ones who believe that while God may or may not exist, God is in fact, closed, and therefore they won’t take the ‘trip’ out to ‘Winnepeg’ in the ‘family camper’ to ‘see’ God in this ‘season’ of...wait what the hell am I talking about?

“Next up: handing out atheism tracts on the corner.”

Man, I would so love to see a Chick version of that.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:01 PM on October 21, 2008


Yeah, and the only response to this is for the churches to roll out some "God Buses". I would ride one just to giggle at the water spilling out of the fonts when the vehicle takes a tight corner. Nice windows, though.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:09 PM on October 21, 2008


Or actually, I'll put forward another view. Atheism is a starting assumption for much of modern ethical philosophy. Go take a look at the Declaration of Independence which lays out the ethical justification for a revolution grounded in the divine rights of man granted by God. With the increasing problems trying to invoke some sort of created natural law foundation for ethics, a variety of different schools stepped in and said, "what kind of ethics can we build without assuming the existence of a god."

Believing that there is no God doesn't make sense to me, what stretch of faith is required to decide that?

Well, I'll argue that absence of evidence provides strong evidence of absence. If experiment after experiment fails to deliver s sound rejection of the null hypothesis, then it's reasonable to accept that the null hypothesis is probably true. If it is reasonable to tentatively hold that babies don't experience significant gains in intelligence from being exposed to Mozart, then it's reasonable to tentatively hold that god does not exist.

I think you'll find a lot of Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Pagans, (and any 'ims, isms, or 'ians that I left out) that agree with your assertion (as does the ACLU). Why then do Atheists™ spend so much time trying to un-prove the existence of God?

Well, some people find it fun. But wow, here we have the return of the strawatheist, and even a causal reading of the current state of atheistic philosophy these days would find that with the 20th century, it's taken a turn away from ontology to epistemology. The primary argument is no longer that god doesn't exist, or can't exist. The primary argument is that in the absence of evidence, skeptical doubt is the most justified position. Dawkins and Hitchins just follow Russel in this. Russel identified himself philosophically as an agnostic, in that he could offer up no hard proof regarding god, but practically as an atheist in that he saw no reason to believe in any of them, and JHVH was no more valid in his eyes than Odin.

Because the Atheists™ (not counting the agnostic or unitarian atheists) believe that there is no God - and that belief leads to proselytizing and intolerance that would put any radical militant fundamentalist Christian to shame. It's been turned into the "anti-religion."

Ahh, my mistake. I thought you were actually asking a question rather than engaging in a rhetorical setup and takedown based on your own sophomoric and circular masturbation in which you can define all the terms in such a way as validate your own argument. Please, get some good porn and keep your spunk to yourself.

Ok. Belief is not rational, it's emotional. I don't believe the Earth orbits the Sun - I know.

Eeeeeg, get a room.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:11 PM on October 21, 2008


Dawkins and Hitchins

That's going from bad to worse...

Soon I’m going to have happy memories of when people would only use Hitler and Stalin as examples of famous atheists.
posted by Artw at 3:15 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Can we have Hitler wank, pretty, pretty, pretty please? I'd much rather read wank about how we are responsible for the holocaust than more sophomoric definition wank.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:17 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


It was a joke.

I see. I am afraid that still doesn't answer my question. Really, I'm quite curious: who are you referring to (jokingly or not) when you use those words?
posted by Commander Rachek at 3:18 PM on October 21, 2008


Oh yes, lets have Dawkins is a jerk wank. That's definitely better.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:19 PM on October 21, 2008


Can we have Hitler wank, pretty, pretty, pretty please? I'd much rather read wank about how we are responsible for the holocaust than more sophomoric definition wank.

Please use a tissue this time, the last maid quit.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 3:28 PM on October 21, 2008


On the topic: the "atheist bus" advertisement campaign.

That's an interesting start, as it seems to convey the message that it is possible to have a better life without worrying about god. I particularly liked the fact that the absence of god isn't proposed as an undeniable fact, but as a possibility, as that leaves room for discussion as opposed to a dicotomous fight.

A second step will probably be that of providing answers, as questions may be rised by onlookers. A religion is likely to provide answers that are reassuring and that don't leave much room to further questioning, thus settling the question with an article of faith or a set of articles that invariably end any further scrutiny into a not yet understood "will of god".

Another difficult point: disentrenching the learned fear of atheists as "evil, amoral, ruthless inhumane beings" and the appeal at baculum of horrible consequences, should atheists "seize power" , and the idea that a free religion in a free states implies that you cannot question the veracity of a teneth without being "disrispectful".

A long term investment indeed, but one in which I am surely interested.
posted by elpapacito at 3:42 PM on October 21, 2008


Or I'll ask my question again. What, in particular, is wrong with an advertising campaign designed to get interested people to websites where they can get more information about a topic? Why is this seen as an attack on people of faith?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:44 PM on October 21, 2008


I'm not godless. You're godded.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:47 PM on October 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


Why do Atheists care?

I, personally, don't. But for those atheists who do, I submit that it might be the "equal and opposite reaction" to church-funded or church-based lobby groups pressuring the government to legislate the fuck out of our lives:

"Nipples are Satan's raisins!"

"Blastocysts have souls!"

"Playing Grand Theft Auto is just as bad as fucking my daughter in the hole in her neck that you put there in order to force-feed her opium!"

"Jesus is genuinely concerned by what you look at on the internet!"

"Gays = terrorists!"

"Rah-rah-fucking-rah!"
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:47 PM on October 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


I do believe in the Teapot orbiting mars. My second hand Amiga 500 came with a bunch of floppies. I inserted one that had a stain that looked JUST LIKE a TEA stain into the drive, randomly clicked on the icons, and there it was, in it full 0xFF0000 wireframed glory: A TEAPOT! A rotating three dimensional Teapot! And what was on the screen before the Teapot manifested itself? A bumpmapped, procedurally textured, 200 x 200 pixel PLANET MARS I had made the night before in POVRay, and waited 10 hours for it to render. What is that if not a miracle?

All my values, my moral code, I found in the comments in the Teapot's source file. I do not despair when life sucks, for I know that after my death, somewhere. sometime, I too will be render in glorious green wireframe, and become one with the teapot.

I pity those who don't believe in the Teapot. Poor rationalists, atheists, if they could only open their hearts. How can anyone who does not believe in the teapot have any morals? Any values? How can they appreciate the beauty of a sunset, the ecstasy of sex? All they see is numbers and logic. They can not, they refuse, to see the green wireframe that joins us all in the cosmic 3D MODEL overlayed over their children when they hold them, they can't see the holly polygons of their mother's face when they put her to rest into the earth. Life must be so empty, so flat, so senseless for the unbelievers.

I brew my bitterest gunpowder tea for them.
posted by dirty lies at 3:55 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


An agnostic technically means you believe that some metaphysical claim isn't knowable, usually god. So agnostic has no bearing on whether you believe in god, but many atheists & christians are also agnostic. Well, you've even got atheist christian priests writing books about their beliefs, so hey. Btw, atheist traditionally meant merely not christian, including pagans.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:59 PM on October 21, 2008


MetaFilter: Nipples are Satan's raisins!
posted by c13 at 4:04 PM on October 21, 2008


Btw, atheist traditionally meant merely not christian, including pagans.

I didn't know that! How very binary.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 4:04 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ok. Belief is not rational, it's emotional. I don't believe the Earth orbits the Sun - I know. It's been proven beyond any doubt. I don't need to believe in it. If one is absolutely sure that there is no God, then they are an atheist (and I'd love to see the paper). If they believe there is no God, then they are an agnostic that likes to argue.

What? You apparently do not believe in the dictionary. Wait, or maybe should that be "you don't know the dictionary"? You'll have to tell me, because this distinction is pretty clearly your own invention.

Seriously, though, there is absolutely no evidence in favor of God, and I don't tend to believe (as in "to accept as true, genuine, or real", not "the funky 'emotional' definition you just made up out of whole cloth") in things which I've seen no evidence for. And I am inclined to believe (again, as in "to accept as true, genuine, or real") that fantastic stories are not true unless there's some evidence for them. The alternative is the sort of solipsistic nonsense I pointed out earlier, in which endless doubt is harbored over things which frankly aren't all that doubtful.

I am always willing to admit that there's a possibility I'm wrong, and I'd change my mind if any convincing evidence appeared, but I am just as secure in saying "there is no God" as I am in saying, "there is no teacup orbiting Mars" (sorry, dirty lies, I guess you can brew me some tea). If it makes you feel better to call that "knowing" rather than "belief", whatever, good for you, but your definition is really bizarre.
posted by vorfeed at 4:15 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


What, in particular, is wrong with an advertising campaign designed to get interested people to websites where they can get more information about a topic? Why is this seen as an attack on people of faith?

Depends on how you perceive the message. You may remember times in which it was considered unpolite, "disrespectful" to question the very truths proclaimed by any religion as if any questioning necessarily implied a concealed desire to proclaim your truth as "the only true truth", thus winning acolytes.

Effectively, questioning was to be associated with fear of being socially reprimanded for attacking freedom : you shouldn't question some other faith, just make your own or shut the fuck up about others. Similarly, some words were immediately associated with the idea of racism, so that for instance saying the taboo word "nigger" implied that you necessarily were a "racist", because most racist people used to use that word. Yet it's just a word, without a context or some racist behavior, it's just an harmless label, but one can learn to react emotionally to it, without considering that there's a difference between Kris Rock lampooning some black skinned people he calls "niggers" and a KKK clan burning alive a man they call "nigger".

The almost taboo word "atheist" appears to be quite associated with the idea of an "evil bad person, amoral and vile" , yet again without a context and some behaviors, it still remains a word that literally means "without god". Further associations were made with despicable invididuals such as Hitler, so that his actions were associated with "atheist".

So showing by an mean, including a billboard, or suggesting that "atheist" is NOT always "evil bad etc" opens doors to doubt that maybe atheist aren't as they often are described and that it may be ok to be an atheist. That isn't welcome by sacred scriptures thumpers whose arguments usually don't hold for long, as they must revert to faith or a stream suggestive evidence that, under closer scrutiny, no longer seem to explain as well as other theories. It's taboo breaking.
posted by elpapacito at 4:29 PM on October 21, 2008


“Nipples are Satan's raisins!”

*PPPFFFFFFTTTT* Gah! Why am I drinking this orange juice?!?!

“I am always willing to admit that there's a possibility I'm wrong, and I'd change my mind if any convincing evidence appeared,”

WHAT?! You fascist!
sorry, it’s the orange juice talking

“I particularly liked the fact that the absence of god isn't proposed as an undeniable fact, but as a possibility, as that leaves room for discussion as opposed to a dicotomous fight.”

I completely agree with everything you said. I have minor quibble with this.
I suppose you’re right that it leaves the acrimony out of it. So of the maybe 5% I’m taking issue with -

To my mind there’s the ‘absence of evidence’ argument. Which is an empirical argument.
And there’s an A priori argument (that is, knowlege independent of direct observation) over meaning.
And these two seem to cross a lot.
That is - when someone says skepticism is the most justifiable position, the counter is that there is no irrefutable evidence there isn’t a God.
To which any empiricist has to answer: true (albiet with a variety of very deep caviats).
The second argument seems to get short shrift (although logic is a form of A priori knowlege, that is, not derived from direct experience).
That’s the one over meaning.
How can anyone assert they know the ultimate nature of reality?
I mean - what does ‘God’ mean?

There are a number of religions, a number of philosophies, etc. and those argue over meaning. Atheism (it’s been argued) champions either no meaning, or doesn’t champion anything or refutes all “God”’s yet asserted, and/or all possible connotations, etc.

What we’re arguing here, at least within that sphere, is who is to decide, ultimately, what ‘God’ means.

I think that conversation needs to be brought up. Not only because of the religious perspective.
But because the state and the church used to be alloy.

And, while I don’t think they should be again. I do think there were some very real, human community and meaning based functions the state served - purely in a secular way - that it either no longer serves or has completely ceded to religion.

I’m thinking of the writings Cicero here (”we are obliged to respect, defend and maintain the common bonds of union and fellowship that exist among all members of the human race”, et.al on superstition etc) but more of the acts of Cato the Younger (Cato and the Optimates - name of my band in high school)

I’m not arguing for state rituals of course. More a sense of community and derivation of meaning from a secular source. Doesn’t have to be to any state of course. But there doesn’t seem to be many institutions like that.

In that regard, the church is a monopoly and atheist activists are trust-busters.
But some of the criticism there is warranted - replace it with what?

I dig - an idea, a philosophy, etc. But some folks need a sense of place and belonging. An institution. Voting is great. Politics are swell. But that doesn’t really cut it as a regular, stable thing. And it can be divisive.

I don’t know what it could be. In the modern age, offhand, only school comes to my mind.
I mean - yes, I get the message. But it’s not really ‘for’ something.

(yes, yes, I see the inherent problem there: ‘How shall we fuck off oh lord?’ I didn’t say I was some kind of genius I could figure it all out, man)
Still - I’m all for secular groups doing community stuff. Doesn’t seem to reach the breadth the churches do tho.
Anyway, yeah, the search for meaning.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:33 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


You apparently do not believe in the dictionary. Wait, or maybe should that be "you don't know the dictionary"? You'll have to tell me, because this distinction is pretty clearly your own invention.


"...philosophy has traditionally defined knowledge as justified true belief. The relationship between belief and knowledge is that a belief is knowledge if the belief is true, and if the believer has a justification (reasonable and necessarily plausible assertions/evidence/guidance) for believing it is true."

I think they put it a lot better than I did, but this is the gist of what I was trying to say. When I compare the belief sets of both Christians and Atheists, I find very little factual evidence on either side. Atheism is much a belief as theism.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 4:37 PM on October 21, 2008


er...is as much a belief....
posted by The Light Fantastic at 4:38 PM on October 21, 2008


BTW, I recommend this essay to anyone that has an interest in what truth and belief and all that stuff means.

Then I recommend this one, to get an understanding about the difference there exists between "believing" that Earth's gravity is 9.8 meters per second per second and believing There is an allpowerfull allseeing God.
posted by dirty lies at 4:39 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


What we’re arguing here, at least within that sphere, is who is to decide, ultimately, what ‘God’ means.

Clearly, God is a teapot.
posted by Commander Rachek at 4:42 PM on October 21, 2008


Ohh, look wikipedia wank!

When I compare the belief sets of both Christians and Atheists, I find very little factual evidence on either side. Atheism is much a belief as theism.

I see a big difference there. The more liberal branches of Christianity admit that they can't prove there is a god, that he created the universe, and that he sent his only son in the form of Jesus Christ, a historical figure who was crucified, dead, and buried, and on the third day he rose from the dead to visit with his surviving desciples, whereupon he ascended into heaven, where he will judge the quick and the dead. (Cribbed from the Apostolic Creed, which seems to be a common denominator across mainstream churches.) In the absence of evidence we are expected to make a leap of faith that we consider those claims to be historic events, just like Gettysburg. Christianity is only plausible if and only if, you assert its truthfulness a priori by faith. Liberal Christians, young-earth creationists, and intelligent design advocates will admit this with varying degrees of forthrightness. The evidence justifies the belief, if you massage the evidence to fit the belief.

In contrast, I'll make the case that atheism has a reasonable, and necessarily plausible justification. It's called the principle of parsimony, or Occam's razor. There are an infinite number of invisible and intangible things that could exist in our world. In the absence of compelling evidence, that something must exist, we are obliged to provisionally exclude it from our models of how the world works.

I can't prove that invisible fairies don't exist, or that they are not translating your thoughts into bytes transmitted over the ethernet while simultaneously subjecting you to a glamour that makes you think you are entering keystrokes. However, lacking evidence, such a model for your discourse becomes unnecessarily complex, and open to an infinite regression of conceptual possibilities for the real ontological reality of your posts. Those fairies could be under the spell of dragons who make them think they are doing the translation. Those dragons could be under the spell of demons, who could be relaying messages to angels, and so on, and so on...

If it is reasonable to provisionally believe that there is no supernatural hocus pocus going on every time you press the keyboard, then it is reasonable to provisionally believe that there is no god.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:28 PM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


"God is an overwhelming responsibility."
(Gerald Bostock)
posted by philip-random at 5:29 PM on October 21, 2008


Oh hey cool we're doing this one again! So how's it going, everyone?
posted by Baby_Balrog at 6:15 PM on October 21, 2008


A quick reminder: Occam's razor is just a heuristic. It's a rule of thumb. It's not a necessary principle of logic, like modus ponens or something. It can be useful in some contexts; probably works fine on interplanetary teapots and such. It's not up to slicing the Ground of Being, though. Just thought you'd want to know.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 6:16 PM on October 21, 2008


A quick reminder: Occam's razor is just a heuristic. It's a rule of thumb. It's not a necessary principle of logic, like modus ponens or something.

Well, no, it won't infallibly lead you to a correct answer with every application. That is, apparently, the standard against which you are judging it.

However, it certainly fits the bill here. One need only consider the options to see what KirkJobSluder was talking about. So you posit a creator. Maybe Thor is the man. Or Osiris (well, ok, the bird). Anu? Ukko? Shiva? Tony the Tiger? The Michelin man? Don't laugh or sneer. These are all real possibilities. There aren't any limits.

Any choice, when you stray from the evidence, is a vote for one of an infinite number of imaginable possibilities. Of course, maybe some are arguing for the existence of any creator, unspecified, but strangely enough that's not what people seem to do. And that's if any creator is necessary at all.

This is no different than apply the Razor to the results of any experiment. I release my grip; the ball hits the floor and bounces, comes to rest, and stops. Maybe this is gravity. Maybe invisible spectres are moving the ball. Maybe angels. Maybe demons. Maybe one angel and one demon in eternal struggle for control of round objects. Two angels, one demon, and a leprechaun? There is no end to this. The Razor, the heuristic, is there because once you start theorizing beyond the evidence there is no end.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:30 PM on October 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


afu: Your logical argument is interesting but I don't think it works.

Assumptions:
1: The physical world and its rules are all that exists (Fine, since "existence" as we know it doesn't apply in any meaningful way to a hypothetical non-physical entity)
2: God is a being that, in order to exist, must operate outside the physical world and its rules.

Therefore: God cannot exist.

In other words, if (you believe) X and Y are true, then (you must believe) Z is false. Bingo.

But like other purpoted proofs for or against God, it doesn't actually prove the presence or absence of any actual thing in the world through logical reasoning.
posted by magic curl at 6:37 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


"...philosophy has traditionally defined knowledge as justified true belief. The relationship between belief and knowledge is that a belief is knowledge if the belief is true, and if the believer has a justification (reasonable and necessarily plausible assertions/evidence/guidance) for believing it is true."

I think they put it a lot better than I did, but this is the gist of what I was trying to say. When I compare the belief sets of both Christians and Atheists, I find very little factual evidence on either side. Atheism is much a belief as theism.


You seem to be contradicting yourself here, for atheism is not a 'justified true belief' in a non-deity, but it contends that the belief in a deity is improperly justified and likely untrue.
posted by ageispolis at 6:44 PM on October 21, 2008


Now, I completely agree. God probably doesn't exist and nor does Odin and nor do invisible teapots. In all probability. Indeed I've never seen any serious argument to the contrary.

But look at the conclusion of the ad: "Enjoy your life".

Lately I've been reading a history of Muhammad. The way this story has it, the Quraysh Arabs of Mecca in the 7th century were, for the first time, materially wealthy and strategically secure. And not particularly religious. Yet their society was steadily fraying as the tribal ethos of sharing and mutual protection broke down in the face of capitalism and individual greed. For all their money they were an unhappy lot. And Muhammad's conviction, long before he had any visions of Gibreel, was that Mecca needed a new spirituality to reorient its people from satisfying their own personal desires, to something more transcendent.

Not that I expect so much of an ad on a bus.

But the UK, maybe more than any other country, needs a guiding principle to cohere its fragmented mess of a society, and I suspect it isn't "enjoy your life".
posted by magic curl at 6:53 PM on October 21, 2008


But the UK, maybe more than any other country, needs a guiding principle to cohere its fragmented mess of a society, and I suspect it isn't "enjoy your life".

Howz about "Make Tea, Not War?"

But seriously. Is there a single guiding principle that will cohere (and I'd require a definition of that, BTW) a multicultural, multi-ethnic modern society? I don't think there is. At least not completely. I think the best we got is imperfect but simple.

"Do unto others."
posted by tkchrist at 7:21 PM on October 21, 2008


Look, you are either on the bus or you are off the bus.
posted by Sailormom at 7:35 PM on October 21, 2008


"Do unto others."

... with the 10 Commandments added as an appendix.
posted by philip-random at 8:50 PM on October 21, 2008


In response to my comment about Occam's razor, Durn Bronzefist says the following:
Well, no, [Occam's razor] won't infallibly lead you to a correct answer with every application. That is, apparently, the standard against which you are judging it.
I'm not judging it against that standard because I know what it is. I just wanted to remind folks that it's an heuristic, not a law.
However, it certainly fits the bill here.
No, it doesn't. That's what I said in my comment. Perhaps you don't understand what I was referring to in my remark about the "Ground of Being". You see, I'm talking to you about That than which nothing greater can be conceived, Being Itself, the Ground of all Being. You're talking to me about Tony the Tiger. I'm talking to you about a metaphysical entity (if you will) of which, by definition, there can be at most One. So, you see, there are not multiple possibilities. There aren't any possibilities. God Is, or God Is Not. (But that "Is" refers to a higher order of Being than that of random things in the world, such as teapots.) Occam's razor doesn't help with the question of why there is something rather than nothing.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 10:11 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


It most respects I don't think it matters whether God is transcendental or imaginary or both. To me, we are all just just rationals trying to live our algebraic lives as best we can on this complex plane. Try not to randomize other people's functions and try not to divide by zero.
posted by wobh at 10:35 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


My point here is that trying to approach religion "logically" or "scientifically" is folly. You have to either believe in something or decide not to choose. localroger's "Most atheists take the scientific view that you are never really sure, you just have a huge preponderence of evidence" is probably true, but to my mind those aren't atheists -- they're still agnostics. Agnostics who haven't quite got to the realization that science is a belief too.

The only logical choice is not to choose. :)

Anyone who believes in science unconditionally doesn't really understand science. Scientific knowledge is always relative to some set of assumptions that are only established by induction or weaker justifications like simplicity or analogy.

Despite that limitation, there is only one approach to religion that doesn't contradict science. It's to say, "I don't know." Whereof one cannot speak, one must remain silent. But when one opens one's mouth, there can still be rules for what statements can be made based on the evidence available. In other words, any statements that claim to be absolute truth are nonsense, and can be rejected even if one doesn't "believe" in science, because one is free to reject any unconditional statement.
posted by mubba at 11:07 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ohh, look wikipedia wank!

Like that word, do you?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:14 PM on October 21, 2008


But the UK, maybe more than any other country, needs a guiding principle to cohere its fragmented mess of a society, and I suspect it isn't "enjoy your life".
Why? We're one of the wealthiest and most stable societies in the world with a remarkably low level of social violence (far from perfect still, of course, and perhaps soon to be caught cold by the absence of a real economy). The idea that the UK is in some terrible way is really only tenable from a very narrow view based on rosy nostalgia for the days when the particular op ed columnist sounding off was a bit younger and the summers were longer. I suspect that "fragmented messiness" with its mix of hypocrisy and pragmatism is one of the factors in limiting the appeal of extremism; certainly one of the problems I would run up against when promoting my particular brand.
posted by Abiezer at 12:59 AM on October 22, 2008


"The Personal God, sometimes called God One, became Alpha. It was the hypothetical entity supposed to watch over the affairs of everyday life--every individual--every animal!--and to reward god and punish evil, usually in a vaguely described existence after death. You worshiped Alpha, prayed to it, carried out elaborate religious ceremonies, and built huge churches in its honor . . .

'Then there was the God who created and might or might not have had anything to do with it since then. That was Omega. By the time they'd finished dissecting God, the philosophers had used up all the other twenty or so letters of the ancient Greek alphabet, but Alpha and Omega will do very nicely for this morning... ten billion man-years were ever spent discussing them..."
from "Songs of Distant Earth" by Arthur C. Clarke.

Not the most the most elite of literary references, probably, but this section of a book that I enjoyed a great deal led me to ponder what I did and didn't believe and gave me a reference when it came to explaining these beliefs (and/or lack thereof) to people who were interested.

Anyway, I believe in buses (not that I have much faith in them siss boom bah) and a message on the side of them asking people to try and enjoy themselves during their short lives sounds rather nice regardless of where (or from whom) it's coming. Not that I think it's going to have any effect whatsoever but there you are.
posted by h00py at 2:27 AM on October 22, 2008


The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity


You see, I'm talking to you about That than which nothing greater can be conceived,

FFS, Anselm? Further proof that a religious mindset is an abdication of intellectual responsibility. It you couldn't cut through Amselm's faulty rhetorical assumptions by the time you left your teens you're really not worth talking to about the subject. And the 'Ground of Being'? Spare me. Three words, two of which are capitalised, do not make an argument, a construct, or a point, however magical a sense of import you wish to attach.

Now go away and play in traffic, kids. God will look after you.
posted by Sparx at 3:01 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Crabby Appleton: ou see, I'm talking to you about That than which nothing greater can be conceived, Being Itself, the Ground of all Being. You're talking to me about Tony the Tiger. I'm talking to you about a metaphysical entity (if you will) of which, by definition, there can be at most One. So, you see, there are not multiple possibilities. There aren't any possibilities. God Is, or God Is Not. (But that "Is" refers to a higher order of Being than that of random things in the world, such as teapots.) Occam's razor doesn't help with the question of why there is something rather than nothing.

Ahh, but here again. There are an infinity of theoretical possibilities to describe that "ground state of being" of which a creator god that set the parameters of the universe and got things rolling is only one. Why should we give a special warrant for privileged belief to "god did it" over any other.

Here it becomes something of a matter of semantics. While many people believe that there is a "ground state of being" out there, not everyone believes that the language of theism, along with all of its human-centric baggage that the universe exists for our benefit, is the best direction for talking about it.

The bottom line is that at the end of the day, you are forced into a belief, an action. You place your bets and roll the dice based on what you feel is the most likely answer. You say that we can't be 100% certain that god doesn't exist? Fine. We can't be 100% certain that we live in a heliocentric solar system either. But astronomers feel justified playing the odds and flinging millions of dollars of equipment to other planets, and I feel justified in living my life as if god doesn't exist.

Light Fantastic: Like that word, do you?

I find it to be a perfect word to describe the non-discussion you have been bringing to the table here.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:22 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


mubba: The only logical choice is not to choose. :)

Anyone who believes in science unconditionally doesn't really understand science. Scientific knowledge is always relative to some set of assumptions that are only established by induction or weaker justifications like simplicity or analogy.


On this count, I'm inclined to agree with James and Russell. In our day to day life, you must choose. Few people have the luxury of staying in bed all day, and even that is a choice. You make thousands of probabilistic choices in the course of a given day, most of them reflexive and without thinking. It is one thing to wank about not knowing and the lack of certain knowledge in a philosophical discussion. But as a practical matter, you have to make commitment to avoid paralysis.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:32 AM on October 22, 2008


If You put random Words in upper Case they take On a much greater Significance, don't You Think?
posted by signal at 6:07 AM on October 22, 2008


Why do religious People always feel The need to randomly Capitalize words, as If to give them Greater importance?
posted by GhostintheMachine at 6:11 AM on October 22, 2008


I believe in buses, not that I have much faith in them - h00py

Oh, you've tried catching the 515 (or the 509 or the 508 or the 503) on a Thursday, too?
posted by b33j at 6:23 AM on October 22, 2008


I think you'll find a lot of Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Pagans, (and any 'ims, isms, or 'ians that I left out) that agree with your assertion (as does the ACLU). Why then do Atheists™ spend so much time trying to un-prove the existence of God?

According to this abc study, almost half of Americans would disapprove of their child marrying an atheist, and 40% feel atheists don't share their vision of american society. I also remembering a poll showing the majority of Americans wouldn't vote for an Atheist for public office. So while the ACLU might support Atheists, there's a significant number of Americans who discriminate against them, and think it's ok to openly discriminate against them.

I'd love to see an ad campaign in the US like this. I think it would help bring awareness or at least start conversations and hopefully lead to more tolerance.

SaintCynr: I'm not arguing for blind faith. I'm arguing that using Epicurus' quote as proof that atheists are right is logically wrong, regardless if the conclusion is correct or not. It's clear people disagree with me about using this quote, but I'm not attacking atheism or arguing that because this argument is flawed, god must exist. It's just a flaw in logic posted much earlier in the thread that I pointed out.
posted by ShadowCrash at 6:24 AM on October 22, 2008


This is no different than apply the Razor to the results of any experiment.

Occam's Razor is a tentative means for choosing between different hypotheses which could theoretically be distinguished by future experiments. It is not clear to me that it is correct to apply Occam's Razor to untestable hypotheses.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:52 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Occam's Razor is a tentative means for choosing between different hypotheses which could theoretically be distinguished by future experiments. It is not clear to me that it is correct to apply Occam's Razor to untestable hypotheses.

I don't see why not. Untestable hypotheses are assumptions that make no difference in the observable predictions of an explanatory theory, and therefore are justifiably excluded.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:01 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Or to put it another way. Atheists justify the provisional disbelief in the existence of god using the exact same reasoning that is commonly understood to justify disbelief in the existence of a whole mess of more mundane claims, as well as disbelief in religions that are not currently mainstream. If it is reasonable in contemporary western cultures to withhold belief in regards to Guan Yin, Odin and Bacchus, then it's reasonable to withhold belief in regards to Moses and John the Revelator.

The arguments for belief or even uncertainty in regards to a "ground state of being" are based on arbitrarily changing the rules such that some supernatural claims are privileged beyond others.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:14 AM on October 22, 2008


There are an infinity of theoretical possibilities to describe that "ground state of being"

the infinite rhetorical possibilities of description are not states of being
posted by pyramid termite at 7:32 AM on October 22, 2008


Untestable hypotheses are assumptions that make no difference in the observable predictions of an explanatory theory, and therefore are justifiably excluded.

I'm not sure I follow you here. If "A" is an untestable hypothesis, so is "not A."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:38 AM on October 22, 2008


In fact, I'll take issue with just the first four words I quoted: a hypothesis is not an assumption. Simply by calling something a hypothesis you acknowledge that it may not be correct, so it's not an assumption.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:40 AM on October 22, 2008


pyramid termite: But that just begs the question. Lets assume there is a ground state of being. So what? What's significant about it? What implications does it have? Claiming there is a ground state of being is meaningless unless you start talking about properties attached to it. And there you start getting into whether its appropriate to use the language of theism or not.

DevilsAdvocate: I'm not sure I follow you here. If "A" is an untestable hypothesis, so is "not A."

Well, if you want to unpack it at that level, scientific hypothesis testing isn't "A" or "not A." It's "the measured effect is unlikely to be measurement error" or "the measured effect is too small to be distinguished from measurement error." As a practical matter, it's a safe bet to act as if a failure to falsify the null hypothesis means no effect.

DevilsAdvocate: In fact, I'll take issue with just the first four words I quoted: a hypothesis is not an assumption. Simply by calling something a hypothesis you acknowledge that it may not be correct, so it's not an assumption.

Of course a hypothesis is an assumption. There are an infinity of hypotheses that could be constructed, of which a subset are hypotheses that can be tested. We generally only give weight to those hypotheses that are considered to be justifiable lines of inquiry grounded in prior theory and experience. There is very little grant money out there for random guesswork.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:13 AM on October 22, 2008


mubba: Thank goodness. I was starting to think my comment was invisible to everyone but me, especially considering how The Light Fantastic went on to make a whole raft of comments, the misunderstandings of which I had already answered.

Anyway -- I sort of disagree that "anyone who believes in science unconditionally doesn't really understand science," or, more specifically, I think you and I are talking about different things.

Scientific results are indeed not to be believed in except in the context of other results, inductions, available evidence, and so forth. I think that's what you're talking about, and in that we agree completely. Complete faith in any particular scientific result (or even the entire known set of collected results) is misplaced and misguided.

What I meant was the core belief underlying science, which is that the whole thing isn't a waste of time. The belief that at any given moment, we may be more or less wrong in our results, but that the process works, and can work. If there is in fact a power that is outside of nature and not subject to it, then science itself is just a parlor game, not a serious way to understand our universe. There is no proof, and due to the nature of the question there is no way to prove, that the rules of the universe are immutable and discoverable. Science is based on the belief that they are. On top of that belief is built the method of doing good science, and the application of that method produces the results that we currently accept as provisionally true, or at least useful.

Hopefully that clarifies.
posted by rusty at 8:36 AM on October 22, 2008


pyramid termite: But that just begs the question. Lets assume there is a ground state of being.

if there isn't one, why are we here? - (don't mistake that for an argument for theism, it's not)

So what? What's significant about it? What implications does it have?

see above

Claiming there is a ground state of being is meaningless unless you start talking about properties attached to it. And there you start getting into whether its appropriate to use the language of theism or not.

which brings us to the basic question of whether that ground state of being is god or just a property of the universe, which is two possibilities

rattling on about tony the tiger, thor, the michelin man, etc etc is mere rhetoric and multiplies entities unnecessarily, which i believe you've declared yourself against - first, we deal with the basic question, then we deal with the implications of our answer to it

your answer seems to be, it's just a property of the universe, therefore you don't believe in tony the tiger, thor, the michelin man, so you needn't waste my time or yours speculating further about things you don't believe in
posted by pyramid termite at 8:48 AM on October 22, 2008


Well, if you want to unpack it at that level, scientific hypothesis testing isn't "A" or "not A." It's "the measured effect is unlikely to be measurement error" or "the measured effect is too small to be distinguished from measurement error."

By definition, an untestable hypothesis is not a scientific hypothesis. It is meaningless to speak of "scientific hypothesis testing" when "A" and "not A" are untestable.

I am happy to apply Occam's razor to testable hypotheses. I see no evidence that it applies to untestable hypotheses (how could there be? "Occam's razor is valid when applied to untestable hypotheses" is itself an untestable hypothesis), nor any line of philosophical argument which suggests it applies to untestable hypotheses except perhaps "untestable hypotheses are like testable hypotheses" which I find unconvincing.

Of course a hypothesis is an assumption. There are an infinity of hypotheses that could be constructed, of which a subset are hypotheses that can be tested.

Yes, that demonstrates that the choice of which hypotheses to test involves assumptions. Not the hypotheses themselves. Not that I think that choice, or the assumptions made in making that choice, have any relevance to the philosophical discussion of untestable hypotheses.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:50 AM on October 22, 2008


pyramid termite: rattling on about tony the tiger, thor, the michelin man, etc etc is mere rhetoric and multiplies entities unnecessarily, which i believe you've declared yourself against - first, we deal with the basic question, then we deal with the implications of our answer to it

Well, no its not mere rhetoric. It's pointing out that contemporary atheism is simply an extension of a form of reasoning that theists accept as valid, except in regards to their particular god. If it is reasonable to be skeptical in regards to those other entities, and most theists are, it's reasonable to be skeptical in regards to all god claims.

DevilsAdvocate: By definition, an untestable hypothesis is not a scientific hypothesis. It is meaningless to speak of "scientific hypothesis testing" when "A" and "not A" are untestable.

Certainly, the obvious problem you run into is that scientific hypothesis testing is not the only valid method about which we can get knowledge. For a trivial example, the existence of an infinity of prime numbers is not scientifically testable.

I am happy to apply Occam's razor to testable hypotheses. I see no evidence that it applies to untestable hypotheses (how could there be? "Occam's razor is valid when applied to untestable hypotheses" is itself an untestable hypothesis), nor any line of philosophical argument which suggests it applies to untestable hypotheses except perhaps "untestable hypotheses are like testable hypotheses" which I find unconvincing.

The problem here is that I see no evidence that it's a principle that applies only to scientific hypotheses. "Entities should not be multiplied more than necessary," seems to be a maxim that is as valid to mathematical proof and logic as much as scientific hypotheses.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:03 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


The problem here is that I see no evidence that it's a principle that applies only to scientific hypotheses.

And I'm certainly not offering any. I can't make an argument that Occam's razor doesn't apply to untestable hypotheses, but I don't see one that it does either.

"Entities should not be multiplied more than necessary," seems to be a maxim that is as valid to mathematical proof and logic as much as scientific hypotheses.

Here I disagree quite strongly. As you're probably aware, there a very often a large number of different proofs for a single mathematical or logical theorem. For example, here are 79 proofs of the Pythagorean theorem. Some of these are more complex than others; some of them have more "entities" than others. All of them are equally valid proofs of the Pythagorean theorem. We might consider the ones with fewer entities more elegant, but that does not make them more or less valid.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:16 AM on October 22, 2008


That's a bit of a warped analogy, Mr Advocate. Mathematical theorem proofs are fulfilling a different purpose, they're not explanations, but demonstrations - each of which has as many entities as its needs to complete the particular demonstration. If we take proof number three from your link and added a circle 'k' over to one side and then claimed it was a vital part of the proof - that would be adding unecessary entities.
posted by Sparx at 9:44 AM on October 22, 2008


DevilsAdvocate: Some of these are more complex than others; some of them have more "entities" than others. All of them are equally valid proofs of the Pythagorean theorem. We might consider the ones with fewer entities more elegant, but that does not make them more or less valid.

But very few of them have unnecessary entities. Which is the point. Occam's razor doesn't say that a proof with three necessary steps is better than a proof with eight necessary steps. It says that a proof with eight necessary steps shouldn't be made even more complex by adding unnecessary entities.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:47 AM on October 22, 2008


That's a bit of a warped analogy, Mr Advocate. Mathematical theorem proofs are fulfilling a different purpose, they're not explanations, but demonstrations

It was KirkJobSluder, not me, who made the analogy between hypotheses and theorems. I agree that it's warped. (And if it's warped, why do you go on to attempt to defend the analogy?)

If we take proof number three from your link and added a circle 'k' over to one side and then claimed it was a vital part of the proof - that would be adding unecessary entities.

But adding the circle k would not make the proof any less valid. It would make it much less elegant, but the unnecessary entities would not make the proof any less valid.

The reason the proofs don't contain many unnecessary entities is because they are, well, unnecessary, and could potentially confuse a reader, and offer no benefit to understanding. But they wouldn't make the proof any less valid.

This is why the analogy between hypotheses and mathematical theorems doesn't work. If you're trying to determine the mechanism of a chemical reaction (i.e., what happens on an atomic level), and you propose a one-step mechanism and a six-step mechanism that would explain the current evidence equally well, Occam's razor says the one-step mechanism is more likely to be correct. It says the six-step mechanism is more likely to be wrong, and likely to be found to be wrong if additional experiments were done to distinguish between the two proposed mechanisms. It's not that the six-step mechanism is merely "inelegant" or "likely to be confusing," it's probably wrong.

A six-step proof of a mathematical theorem, where a one-step proof exists, is not wrong, even if the proof includes utterly unnecessary steps. Inelegant, sure. Confusing, possibly. But not wrong.

It says that a proof with eight necessary steps shouldn't be made even more complex by adding unnecessary entities.

It says no such thing. I'll agree that proofs shouldn't be made unnecessarily complex by adding unnecessary entities, but that's because it makes the proof more confusing, not because it makes the proof invalid. Adding unnecessary entities to a scientific hypothesis is likely to make it incorrect.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:19 AM on October 22, 2008


Well, no its not mere rhetoric. It's pointing out that contemporary atheism is simply an extension of a form of reasoning that theists accept as valid, except in regards to their particular god.

the form of reasoning isn't the issue, the issue is the basic proposition - and as with any other proposition, you don't get to "refute" it by basing insincere* arguments about what god could be called or described as, any more than i would get to refute the proposition that the ground being is just a property of the universe by calling it sub-quarkian "butterscotchness" or "frosted-flakiness"

*insincere, because you don't believe in tony the tiger and we both know it

it's a lot like if we were to argue about there being a bear in the woods and you were to say there couldn't be one because the bear could be called gladly, or petunia, or snorfwinkle and no one could ever believe in a bear called that

your ability to speculate on entities you think are fictitious is not an argument against anything except the consistency with which you apply occam's razor
posted by pyramid termite at 10:45 AM on October 22, 2008


To Mastercheddar:

Atheists don't like people who believe in religion because they think it is stupid right?

Who says "atheists don't like people who believe in religion"? Where'd you get that idea?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:58 AM on October 22, 2008


Regarding the following three (separate) comments:
Three words, two of which are capitalised, do not make an argument, a construct, or a point, however magical a sense of import you wish to attach.

If You put random Words in upper Case they take On a much greater Significance, don't You Think?

Why do religious People always feel The need to randomly Capitalize words, as If to give them Greater importance?
I capitalize certain Phrases because they are often Capitalized in The Literature. Also, it indicates that these are well-established concepts that one might expect to find in an encyclopedia. (Given the ambient level of ignorance about theology, giving a hint here and there seems in order.)

But thanks for evoking a fond memory for me. You see, when I was a boy, I'd sometimes go outside in the evening with my dog, Toby. If the moon was looking particularly spectacular, I'd point at it. "Look at the moon, Toby! See the moon?", I'd say. But Toby would only look at my finger. I never did get him to see.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:52 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


DevilsAdvocate: This is why the analogy between hypotheses and mathematical theorems doesn't work. If you're trying to determine the mechanism of a chemical reaction (i.e., what happens on an atomic level), and you propose a one-step mechanism and a six-step mechanism that would explain the current evidence equally well, Occam's razor says the one-step mechanism is more likely to be correct. It says the six-step mechanism is more likely to be wrong, and likely to be found to be wrong if additional experiments were done to distinguish between the two proposed mechanisms. It's not that the six-step mechanism is merely "inelegant" or "likely to be confusing," it's probably wrong.

It says nothing of the sort. Occam's Razor as simply stated is just, "entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity." It does not place odds on correctness. And in fact, there are many cases in which the more complex theory did turn out to be a better explanation. (As well as cases in which multiple pathways occur naturally.)

It says no such thing.

Of course it does, "entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity." That's Occam's Razor. A proof that includes unnecessary steps should be simplified.

pyramid termite: the form of reasoning isn't the issue, the issue is the basic proposition - and as with any other proposition, you don't get to "refute" it by basing insincere* arguments about what god could be called or described as, any more than i would get to refute the proposition that the ground being is just a property of the universe by calling it sub-quarkian "butterscotchness" or "frosted-flakiness"

I don't know where you are getting the Tony the Tiger fixation from, did you skip breakfast?

The argument isn't that theistic metaphysics are silly because they are equivalent to worshiping Tony the Tiger.

The argument is that theistic arguments such as "Ground State of Being" and the "transcendental argument" arbitrarily favor one possible explanation and exercise skepticism in regards to other explanations. Why should I give a special privilege to monotheism, that I don't give to karmic action in a world of illusion, n-dimensional branes, a clockwork universe, or Zeus killing his father? (All of which are quite serious proposals for explaining certain existential questions.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:08 PM on October 22, 2008


Occam's Razor as simply stated is just, "entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity." It does not place odds on correctness. And in fact, there are many cases in which the more complex theory did turn out to be a better explanation.

That's not how I understood it, but if you want to argue that point, I'm game. Let's say, for the sake of argument, Occam's Razor does state "entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity." Why not? Why follow Occam's Razor at all, then? Because some guy in the 14th century said so, and we blindly follow what people said in the 14th century? If it doesn't say that the simpler explanation is the more likely one, then what's the point?

At least my possibly erroneous formulation had the benefit that it itself was testable, at least when applied to testable hypotheses—not that it's always right, of course, but that it's right more often than not. But given the version you have provided, I'm not sure why we should accept that even with regard to testable hypotheses, let alone untestable hypotheses or mathematical theorems.

The Wikipedia article indicates that Occam's Razor is generally taken today as a heuristic—something that is often right, though not always—which agrees with what I had understood it to be. But if you're not even going to claim that it's often right, what status, exactly, are you arguing that the Razor should have above any other proposed heuristic?

A proof that includes unnecessary steps should be simplified.

Yes, it should, but as I stated repeatedly before, for the sake of clarity, not for validity.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:31 PM on October 22, 2008


Or, assuming there is a Ground State of Being why not call it Tony the Tiger or Guan Yin or The Monkey King or Buddha or Marduk or Zeus or Tara or Gabriel or Bob or Sally or the Wizard of Oz?

Why name it after a literary character who cast Adam and Eve out of Eden, flooded the world in pique, and mooned Moses?

This points to the other reason why I'm skeptical regarding god. This is why I'm no longer a neo-pagan, although I'll at least give them credit for recognizing that if you claim there exists one supernatural something, you might as well claim there are billions.

Liberal theologies don't put forward a coherent definition of god that obligates me to give a crap. Instead, what we have is word games like "god is love." Ok, why not just celebrate love as we find it and experience it, without all the anthropomorphism? No wait god is the Ground State of Being? Well, that's even worse. It's like saying we should worship infinity. I find infinity to be a marvelous theoretical construct but I never feel the need to sing hymns to it. "God is that something that created the big bang," ok, sure, I'll grant that particular god of the gaps is possible. But why use anthropomorphic language to talk about something that probably isn't potent or sapient in regards to day to day life?

DevilsAdvocate: If it doesn't say that the simpler explanation is the more likely one, then what's the point?

The problem here is that you are conflating complex with including unnecessary entities. You can't reject a six-step process in favor of a one-step process if there are some strong theoretical reasons to consider that all six steps are necessary. And I see a dramatic distinction in degree between the heuristic language you quote, and the "probably wrong" you claim. Certainly I'd place my bets on the less complex mechanism, but if there are theoretical reasons behind the more complex mechanism, I'd be hedging quite a bit.

A proof that includes unnecessary steps should be simplified.

Yes, it should, but as I stated repeatedly before, for the sake of clarity, not for validity.


Well, I think you are focused on the idea of choosing hypotheses rather than excluding unnecessary entities within hypotheses. If those steps are unnecessary, and they can be removed without damaging the proof, then skepticism regarding those steps is warranted, is it not?

Bringing this back around to topic. It certainly is possible that "god did it" at certain key stages in our evolutionary history, acting in ways that can't be distinguished from the results of natural selection and leaving ambiguous signs that demand faith-based interpretation of the evidence. However, god is not necessary to the history of life on our planet, and one is justified in skepticism as to god's agency on that topic.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:29 PM on October 22, 2008


I never did get him to see.

I expect Toby felt the same way.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 1:34 PM on October 22, 2008


The problem here is that you are conflating complex with including unnecessary entities. You can't reject a six-step process in favor of a one-step process if there are some strong theoretical reasons to consider that all six steps are necessary.

No, I'm not. Perhaps I haven't expressed it well, but I am well aware that Occam's Razor does not say we should favor the one-step process if there is in fact evidence which supports the six-step process over the one-step process.

Well, I think you are focused on the idea of choosing hypotheses rather than excluding unnecessary entities within hypotheses.

I think this is a semantic distinction which makes no real difference: If we are trying to decide on the causes of X, and we are comparing the possibilities "A, B, and C" versus "A, B, C, and D," what difference does it make whether we call those two different hypotheses or differences within one hypothesis?

If those steps are unnecessary, and they can be removed without damaging the proof, then skepticism regarding those steps is warranted, is it not?

Back to proof, rather than experiment, is it? OK, I'll take that one on, reminding you that we are now discussing the applicability of Occam's Razor to a mathematical or logical proof, not to a scientific experiment. Suppose you ask me to prove the Pythagorean theorem. I scribble a bit on a piece of paper and hand it to you, and you see that I have indeed proved the Pythagorean theorem. However, at one point in the proof, I construct the bisector of a certain line segment, then use the fact that the two halves of that segment are congruent to go on and prove other things—but none of those other things connect back to proving the Pythagorean theorem, and are unnecessary to the proof thereof. Should I have left them out as unnecessary? Sure. But skepticism? Skepticism to what, exactly? To the existence of the bisector of the segment? To the conclusions I've drawn? No, if my assumptions are good and my reasoning valid, the conclusions are still correct even if they're not relevant to what I was trying to prove. OTOH, if you're skeptical that those elements are necessary to the proof, well (at the risk of being dismissive) duh. We said up front the elements were unnecessary to the proof. Congratulations on the tautology: you've shown that unnecessary elements in a proof are unnecessary.

Let me ask you the following, which may help me to understand your position better, as I get the feeling I'm not fully understanding it yet: Why apply Occam's Razor? What is the goal in doing so? And do the answers to those differ depending on whether you are applying the Razor to a testable hypothesis, an untestable hypothesis, or a mathematical or logical theorem?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:03 PM on October 22, 2008


DevilsAdvocate: I think this is a semantic distinction which makes no real difference: If we are trying to decide on the causes of X, and we are comparing the possibilities "A, B, and C" versus "A, B, C, and D," what difference does it make whether we call those two different hypotheses or differences within one hypothesis?

Because often we don't test ABC vs. ABCD as is. Lets take for example a typical multivariate study in which I collect data on ABCD as independent variables and X as a dependent variable. And when crunching the numbers, I find that ABC together explain most of the variance, while D's contribution to that variance is not significant. It's reasonable to exclude D from the final model, correct?

Now of course, here is where the problem of creeping unnecessary entities comes in it is highly unlikely that ABC will determine all the variance of X. And there are an infinite number of factors that could be predictors of X given enough study power. I can't prove that GHI don't predict X, I can only say that GHI are excluded because their effects are below the threshold of measurement.

However, at one point in the proof, I construct the bisector of a certain line segment, then use the fact that the two halves of that segment are congruent to go on and prove other things—but none of those other things connect back to proving the Pythagorean theorem, and are unnecessary to the proof thereof. Should I have left them out as unnecessary? Sure. But skepticism? Skepticism to what, exactly?

Skepticism in regards to the utility of those steps to the proof. For example, the transcendental argument says god exists, therefore numbers exist, therefore we can construct logical and mathematical proofs. However, those proofs work equally well if we leave out "god exists" as an axiom. As you point out, slipping "god exists" into the axiomatic framework doesn't render that framework invalid. But our ability to construct the exact same axiomatic framework without including "god exists" casts some doubt as to the claims of the transcendental argument.

Why apply Occam's Razor? What is the goal in doing so? And do the answers to those differ depending on whether you are applying the Razor to a testable hypothesis, an untestable hypothesis, or a mathematical or logical theorem?

To create leaner models, or failing that, to have a preference when models can't be empirically tested. It is impossible to exclude the action of God from the theory of Evolution. Intelligent design is possible (provided that it produces results identical to natural selection) but it isn't necessary (or sufficient). Therefore, I'm not obliged to consider it. Divine law is possible in regards to ethics, but one can certainly construct a valid ethical system without needing rules from God. Therefore, I see no need to consider God a source for ethical conduct.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:06 PM on October 22, 2008


Or to put an example from this thread. Lets propose a ground state of being.

Does it necessarily have omniscience? No.
Does it necessarily have omnipotence? No.
Does it necessarily have benevolence? No.

Since none of those are necessary for a ground state of being to exist, we are not obliged to consider the ground state of being as having any of those properties.

Lacking those properties, does this necessarily have any properties separate from the observable universe or the multiverse as it is?

Doesn't look like it.

Is it necessary for a "theory of the universe"? No.

Therefore, I'm not obliged to consider "god is the Ground State of Being" as a useful philosophical construct.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:25 PM on October 22, 2008


Fascinating. I don't know about you, but if there's Something on which even the possibility of my being at all is utterly contingent, then that Something looks pretty omnipotent to me. But then, I'm not sure what KJS's "Ground State of Being" really is. It's not a term I've heard before. Well, whatever.

Anyway, for anyone still reading out there, please don't take this Amateur Hour Theology discussion as definitive in any sense. Do some research on your own. Look into Paul Tillich's Systematic Theology; check out the Ontological Argument (which a number of eminent philosophers have had difficulty dismissing); find out what "liberal theologians" really think. Don't let the misapprehensions and straw men trotted out by atheists be your only exposure. Even if you're an atheist and are certain you'll always be one, you might want to learn something about these ideas, if only because you might come up against a real theologian (which I'm not) who'll hand you your ass if you don't know what you're talking about.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 6:01 PM on October 22, 2008


Crabby, Guanilo put a fork in the Ontological Argument with his "perfect island" refutation. It took much longer for people to understand that the OA says a lot more about the imperfections of human language than it does about the Universe, but anybody can see that the "perfect island" doesn't exist merely because it would be more perfect if it possessed the quality of existence.

For me, God died once and for all when I wrote my first fractal-drawing code in the early 90's. Here, finally, was the essence of Creation, proof that a simple algorithm working iteratively could create surprisingly complex forms. It can be shown very straightforwardly that the Universe itself implements just such an algorithm. One can argue on and on about just how and why it does, but one can say quite positively now that it does not require the application of conscious will to make the Universe progress from a state of simplicity to the complex state of our living world. And a "ground state of being" however important which is not conscious, which cannot be appealed, which does not have goals and desires, is not God.
posted by localroger at 6:17 PM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


The "perfect island" objection is a joke. An island is finite and bounded by definition. God is unbounded by definition (and generally considered to be infinite, although it's not clear to me that infinity is something than can be truly conceived of). If you imagine that an island could even remotely qualify as a Being than which nothing greater can be conceived, you're making a serious category error. I don't know why this point is so difficult for people to understand. Surely you can conceive of something greater than an island.

As for fractals, well, Stephen Wolfram thinks its cellular automata. (And what a disappointment A New Kind of Science turned out to be.) If you think the Universe is equivalent to a Turing machine, you might want to go off and think about it some more.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 7:10 PM on October 22, 2008


If you think the Universe is equivalent to a Turing machine, you might want to go off and think about it some more.

This is a sound point, but, as a mathematician, I must begrudge Computer Science some of the profoundest and most compelling insights into the phenomenal world. If anything, it's been sold short, under-applied to the more macrocosmic questions of nature, and for this reason I think I can understand Wolfram's zealotry.
posted by kid ichorous at 8:10 PM on October 22, 2008


I don't know where you are getting the Tony the Tiger fixation from, did you skip breakfast?

you mentioned him first, as you very well know

The argument isn't that theistic metaphysics are silly because they are equivalent to worshiping Tony the Tiger.

then why did you mention him?

The argument is that theistic arguments such as "Ground State of Being"

one explanation of that is theistic - i've mentioned that the other possibility is that the ground state of being is an innate property of the universe with no deity involved

so, now you're misstating the argument

Or, assuming there is a Ground State of Being

are you saying there is none? how do you explain our existence, then?

why not call it Tony the Tiger or Guan Yin or The Monkey King or Buddha or Marduk or Zeus or Tara or Gabriel or Bob or Sally or the Wizard of Oz?

because that's not the basic question raised by the ground state of being

Therefore, I'm not obliged to consider "god is the Ground State of Being" as a useful philosophical construct.

trust me on this, you haven't - no, you seem to instead be obsessed with the idea of "proving" it can't be by raising occam's razor to the level of a metaphysical law with tony the tiger as comic sidekick

unless you're arguing that a 14th century monk's concept of parsimony is the ground state of being
posted by pyramid termite at 8:44 PM on October 22, 2008


Crabby Appleton, if you actually think the ontological argument is satisfactory, you should probably read more philosophy. The ontological argument is nothing more than pure unadulterated Roman Catholic wankery.

"How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?", you say? Why, as many as God wills, of course. Come let me show you my a priori argument.

In all seriousness though, there are so many problems with the argument it's ridiculous.

1. The argument asks you to imagine an infinite being. Seriously? Me, a finite being, imagine an infinite object? I think not. Apparently you don't think so either: "although it's not clear to me that infinity is something than can be truly conceived of".

2. It's not clear to me what exactly the most perfect being I can imagine would look like. I mean, obviously a conscious god would be more perfect than an unconscious god. But I can conceive of a more perfect thing than consciousness, i.e. a god containing many consciousnesses. More perfect still is the god who contains many consciousnesses where all of them are hyped up on the Spice drug from Arrakis. And don't tell me that I make no sense here; just because you can't imagine it doesn't mean I can't.

3. Even if I accept the conclusion of the argument, you've got a God who is essentially meaningless and prone to paradox.
  1. What exactly is this god you've proven to exist? An infinite, all powerful, all knowing thing. What the hell does an infinite being even look like? Basically, point at this god so that I can know who/what/where it is.
  2. You've made it all-powerful. Can it make a stone so heavy it can't lift it? Alternatively, can it pose a question to itself that it cannot answer? In another direction, you've now created a god that is prone to the problem of evil.
4. You can't prove existence a priori. Period. Until you can prove that it's true, I do not accept this axiom.
posted by Axle at 8:50 PM on October 22, 2008


Axle, I agree that I should read more philosophy (in my copious spare time...). I'm not convinced that the ontological argument is valid, by any means. I do think it's not an argument that can be casually dismissed (as some dumbfuck did above). Hell, even Bertrand Russell believed it was sound, at one point. (I think he changed his mind later on.)

I brought it up mainly to illustrate a concept of God that is not childish. Many atheists don't seem to know that there is such a thing. Either that, or they prefer to argue against the more childish conceptions of God; I suppose that's easier.

In any event, I'm not going to defend the ontological argument as a compelling proof of the existence of God. I'm not qualified to do so. And if you're not at least somewhat open to the possibility that faith in God is something you might want (or even need) in your life, then there's no logical argument that could change your mind about the existence of God. (Well, at least, I don't know of any, and I've looked at quite a few.)
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:00 PM on October 22, 2008


Uh. Open to faith or not: There IS no logical argument for the existence of God.
posted by tkchrist at 12:50 AM on October 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


There is no logical argument for the existence of an interventionist god (thanks, Nick Cave). There are lots of logical arguments (see above) for the one/thing/whatever that started everything. It's all very fascinating to read about. I think the two should be separated, however, because it really makes a difference when you're trying to deal with people who are talking about this 'god' thing when they are coming at it from completely different points of view.
posted by h00py at 1:38 AM on October 23, 2008


(as some dumbfuck did above)

Oh, Hai. I haz philosphy degree b4 I'z twenny. You haz defensive need to credit worthless arguments with magical staying power so God can hide behind them. LOLZ@U!!.

But thanks for evoking a fond memory for me. You see, when I was a boy, I'd sometimes go outside in the evening with my dog, Toby. If the moon was looking particularly spectacular, I'd point at it. "Look at the moon, Toby! See the moon?", I'd say. But Toby would only look at my finger. I never did get him to see.

Perhaps he was bored by your warmed over buddhist analogies. I would have gotten all Gutei on your arse.
posted by Sparx at 2:31 AM on October 23, 2008


/strikes "be alarmingly rude to someone on the internet" off list of things to do today.
posted by Sparx at 2:34 AM on October 23, 2008


Mecca needed a new spirituality to reorient its people from satisfying their own personal desires, to something more transcendent.

That's a decent argument. Of course, intra-tribal bonds tend to exacerbate inter-tribal friction. There are still some states out there that are not yet heavily dealing with the question of immigration if not originally multicultural states to begin with, but not many, and not for long. I would argue that the need for tolerance outweighs the need for cultural solidarity at this point in time. I also don't see any religious model in the west that poses much of a threat to capitalist greed and the erosion of morals.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:40 AM on October 23, 2008


There are lots of logical arguments (see above) for the one/thing/whatever that started everything.

Partially. One can employ the machinery of logic within such an argument. But ultimately the argument itself will always end with some disguised for of "because I want to believe in it." Which is fine. If you do.
posted by tkchrist at 10:08 AM on October 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


O, Hai, Sparx. I was so impressed with your erudition that I looked back at your original comment to see whether I had missed any important insights. I found this:
Now go away and play in traffic, kids. God will look after you.
What you don't seem to realize, for all your knowledge, is that we're all playing in the traffic. I pray every day that God will look after us.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 11:36 AM on October 23, 2008


to see whether I had missed any important insights.

I know. I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to provide any. I should stay out of Atheism threads, because they really annoy me for various reasons it would be inflammatory to mention and I end up just being snarky and dismissive about arguments I've had too many times before. Don't let me being the token obnoxious atheist put you off pursuing further philosophy, though - it can be a really good way of examining your pet ideas and biases.
posted by Sparx at 8:33 PM on October 23, 2008


Sparx, my calling you a dumbfuck was way out of line, and I'm sorry. You're clearly not (a dumbfuck, that is). I should probably stay out of these threads, too. I probably won't, completely, but I'll try to keep a tighter rein on my own tendency to take offense too quickly. I do have a lot to learn, and I intend to continue learning. I think we're all seeking the truth, and I can't find fault with that. Cheers!
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:10 PM on October 23, 2008


pyramid termite: Re: Tony the Tiger you mentioned him first, as you very well know

No, that was Durn Bronzefist, as you very well know (or should know if you've been following the discussion.) I only use cereal metaphors when I'm talking about Toucan Son of Sam. That's me. Tony the Tiger is someone else.

then why did you mention him?

Because you seem to keep throwing him at me.

because that's not the basic question raised by the ground state of being

Actually it is because the next step always seems to be "therefore, God, of a specific flavor in line with my spiritual tradition."

trust me on this, you haven't - no, you seem to instead be obsessed with the idea of "proving" it can't be by raising occam's razor to the level of a metaphysical law with tony the tiger as comic sidekick

Well no, I admit up front that I can't prove or disprove a Ground State of Being.

My argument is that a Ground State of Being seems to be a pretty useless concept whether or not it actually exists or not. It doesn't necessarily need to have any of the qualities associated with it by any of the various theisms. And there doesn't seem to be a strong argument for even talking about a Ground State of Being rather than just the Universe.

unless you're arguing that a 14th century monk's concept of parsimony is the ground state of being

I'm arguing that the concept of parsimony provides a strong warrant for skepticism. Is there a Ground State of Being? The fuck if I know. Am I justified in doubting that there is a Ground State of Being that can be considered separate from The Universe? You betcha.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:53 PM on October 23, 2008


What am I missing about the ontological argument? God must exist because nothing more perfect can be conceived than a God that exists? But I can conceive of something more perfect, more powerful, and greater than God... a universe that can create itself.

Really, what is more of a miracle - a universe with a creator, or a self-created universe?
posted by GhostintheMachine at 5:26 AM on October 24, 2008


You know, I get the sense that most of the problems caused by belief could be resolved if only folks with differing attitudes would sit down good-naturedly and talk about why they believe what they do, and earnestly try to understand why the other person believes the way they do, rather than just throwing up their hands and saying "they believe that way because a wizard did it/because they're stupid/etc."

But of course, we can't teach philosophy and critical thinking in our schools. We need to train folks to work in factories so they can make guns and bombs that we wouldn't need if... hey, wait....
posted by Eideteker at 6:15 AM on October 24, 2008


Actually it is because the next step always seems to be "therefore, God, of a specific flavor in line with my spiritual tradition."

i've explained several times that that's only one of the two possibilities presented here and you continue to misstate the proposition

there's no sense in having a discussion with someone who's deliberately not listening
posted by pyramid termite at 6:34 AM on October 24, 2008


pyramid termite: i've explained several times that that's only one of the two possibilities presented here and you continue to misstate the proposition

The problem is, a Ground State of Being that isn't a part of religious apologetic is even less compelling or relevant than those that are.

So, go for it. Present a convincing argument that a Ground State of Being is a necessary entity for understanding the Universe we inhabit. Until such an argument is put forth, I have no obligation to believe.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:16 AM on October 24, 2008


Present a convincing argument that a Ground State of Being is a necessary entity for understanding the Universe we inhabit.

i've given that argument - you've yet to address it and once again, you have refused to address the basic proposition i've presented

you're refusing to conduct a real dialogue - bye
posted by pyramid termite at 10:07 AM on October 24, 2008


"My God, it's full of wank"
posted by Burhanistan at 10:20 AM on October 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


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