Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Why Should I Not Be An Atheist?

Okay, here's your big chance. Tell me why I should not be an Atheist.

You see, I'm an Atheist because I have no reason not to be one. Atheism is simply the default state in the absence of any reason to believe in a god. From the time at the age of nine, when I realised there was no more reason to believe in the locally popular god than there was to believe in any other god, I realised I had no reason to believe in the locally popular god either. Being an Atheist wasn't a conscious decision; being an Atheist is simply the consequence of not having any reason not to be one.

Now, you can change all that. All you have to do is to tell me what it is that convinces you that there is a god and what convinces you that it is your particular god. This has to be something I can verify for myself so don't just expect me to take your word for it. I never took the word of my parent's, my grandfather, my uncles and aunts, the local vicar, the headmaster of my school, my close Muslim friend, my Christian fundamentalist work colleague or of my devoutly Catholic assistant when I was a departmental manager, so I won't take your word for it either.

Just a few things to remember, though:
  1. Don't expect me to believe because you believe I'll burn in some mythical fiery pit if I don't, because I don't believe in the god you're afraid may have made it.
  2. Don't expect me to believe because you threaten me with your god. That threat only works on someone who believes in your god in the first place.
  3. Don't expect me to believe because you tell me your god will like me for believing or will give me some special reward. That also only works on someone who already believes in your god.
  4. Don't expect me to believe because you can't think of a purpose for your life. I can, and have, and it doesn't require a god and I certainly don't need a god to tell me what I should do.
  5. Don't expect me to believe because it makes you feel special. It would make me feel ashamed to believe something for which I had no evidence or so I could tell myself I am superior to other people.
  6. Don't expect me to believe because you can't tell right from wrong and need a book you believe was written by a god to look those up in. I have no problem with telling right from wrong.
  7. Don't expect me to believe because you need an invisible friend to say sorry to when you have done wrong. I try to avoid doing wrong and I am accountable to the person wronged if I do. I don't need an invisible friend to let me off instead.
  8. Don't expect me to believe because you believe you once had some contact or other with a god. I can think of several physiological, psychological or psychiatric reasons which could explain your experience.
  9. Don't expect me to accept that you are privy to some secret knowledge acquired by some mysterious process because, frankly, I won't believe you.
  10. Don't expect me to believe in your god because you have a gap in your knowledge, or believe there is something science hasn't yet explained and so you have filled that gap with a god. I don't believe in a god, remember, so I don't fill gaps with them.
  11. Don't expect me to believe in your god because it has been written about in a book, otherwise I will wonder why you don't believe Harry Potter or Peter Pan are real too, and I will realise you have had to use double standards to persuade yourself.
  12. Don't expect me to be convinced by a quote from a book you believe was written by a god. To convince me the book was written by a god you first have to convince me the god exists.
  13. Don't expect me to believe in a god because someone else does. It does not matter how famous or clever they are or were. Unless they have provided any verified, definitive evidence, their opinion counts for nothing. If they have, you should tell me what it is and how it proves the god exists.
  14. Don't expect me to believe because a lot of other people do. No known religion has ever been believed by a majority of the world's people and truth is not determined by opinion poll. This will simply tell me that you are afraid to think for yourself and seek safety in numbers.
  15. Don't expect me to believe 'on faith' because that just tells me that you have no evidence and that someone has fooled you into believing that something must be true just because you believe it is.
  16. Don't expect me to believe because you believe someone died for you a long time ago. I do not believe in a god so I do not believe I carry 'sins' the consequences of which someone needed to die to save me from. I do not believe in a god which would need to sacrifice itself to itself in order for it to do something it wanted to do. And I do not believe someone else's death absolves me of any personal responsibility. To ask me to do so would be asking me to abandon reason and to believe something I find morally repugnant.
  17. Don't expect me to take any leap of 'faith', or to abandon logic and reason, or to ignore facts or to distrust reality or to accept evidence-free assertions as fact because that will simply tell me that your reason to believe is based on intellectual dishonesty.
  18. Don't expect me to believe because you insult me or post abuse because that will tell me you are not worth taking seriously and don't believe what you claim to believe. It will tell me my question had threatened you and made you react aggressively, almost certainly because you think you believe a lie.
  19. And lastly, don't lie to me because that will tell me you know your belief is a lie.
So there you are. If you are sincere and genuinely believe you have a good, solid, irrefutable basis for your belief in your god, whichever one it is, you should have no trouble telling me what it is and why it should convince me.

If you cannot, you may wish to consider just what it is you believe and why you believe it. The chances are that you don't know either but are too afraid to admit it to yourself.






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33 comments :

  1. I would love to argue you in some fashion because I think playing devil's advocate is fun. Unfortunately, you disarmed me of any possibility to do that.

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  2. Yes - how do you have time to blog so thoroughly? :)) People ask me how I have time, and I use far fewer words than you every day, and far less expertly.

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    1. I often outline a blog whilst driving to or from work. Actually, I wish I could write as well as you do. I'm far too wordy at times.

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  3. I love your blog. You're an amazing writer. That's quite an eloquent way to challenge any theist.

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  4. You should believe in Odin because norse is a pretty col guy and doesn't afraid of raiding Greenland. If that meme doesn't entice your sensibilities then you sir are far beyond needing to be convinced of anything. Continue to be awesome.

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  5. Great Blog Rosa!...Keep it up. :-))

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  6. The "smart" people of faith will tell you that the religion not only doesn't have any evidence for what it claims, but that it SHOULDN'T have any evidence for what it claims.

    Faith is an integral part of their religion and is viewed as a quality. They will claim that it is your ability to believe in the Holy word without real evidence that makes is valuable to the God. Indeed if there was proof that God existed, what value would there be in having faith in God? It would require no effort, no conviction, nothing of value.

    They're idiots for thinking that makes them right, but it is still a valid argument.

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    1. I don't think ANY unsupported assertion is ever a valid argument.

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    2. I think what he means is that there would be no value in it because it would be the right, reasonable way to go. Just like there's nothing special about believing 1 + 1 = 2.

      As for why people do think faith is virtuous, that's beyond me. But I guess it is true that (for the theists) there is more value in faith without evidence than there is in believing something because of evidence.

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    3. An argument is valid if and only if the truth of its premises necessarily entails the truth of its conclusion from logical principles. It doesn't speak to the truth value of the premises. Therefore, asserting Faith as a premise is irrelevant to the question of the validity of the argument but rather goes to soundness, where we consider the truth of the premises. I assume this is what you really meant when you said 'valid argument'.

      The question then, is the premise of Faith in a proposition, a true premise.

      We know for a fact that people have Faith in false propositions all the time, so it is not, a priori, a true premise. Therefore, no argument based on a premise of Faith can be held as sound. The premise MIGHT be true regardless of someone having Faith in it (or not), but you need some other way to determine the truth value. You cannot get there by asserting Faith.

      My other response to people of Faith making these arguments, that there shouldn't be any evidence, is Doubting Thomas (John 20:24-31) and Elijah and Ahab (and the 100's of priests of Baal and Asherah who are slaughtered when they fail to prove their God is real, 1 Kings 18).

      Can any Christian today prove their God is real as in 1 Kings 18? If not, should they, by their own supposed inerrant holy book, be taken out an slaughtered? Perhaps they should “Shout louder! Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened?”

      Of course they shouldn't be slaughtered -- that is sick, demented, ignorant, and immoral. And it was sick, demented, ignorant, and immoral when it was written into Kings several millennia ago.

      The second order critical thinking about this passage is to consider the true nature of the evidence. Is bull meat bursting into flames REALLY sufficient evidence to establish a God claim?

      A careful reading of 1 Kings 18 shows a common stage magicians trick being deployed... when it comes time for Elijah to demonstrate his claim he suddenly changes the rules of the test. Pouring water over the Bull Meat gives the APPEARANCE of making the test even more of a challenge, but it stinks of trickery. The water is not challenged so we don't know that it was really water, and there are numerous chemicals that can combine with water to create heat and fire (and some of these might well have been known by secretive priest sects).

      So I would like to see this feat performed under the watchful eye of a group like JREF. Does anyone honestly doubt that such claims would go up in smoke when trickery is controlled for?

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  7. Belief is not a step in the dark. Most people confuse belief with opinion. Theists tend to mistake an opinion for belief. On the other hand, atheists tend to think that belief is opinion. Now belief is a form of knowledge because it is predicated upon reason, wisdom, facts, etc. but not direct empirical experience. For example, a teacher might teach his students that men from china go by their last names followed by their first names. A child holds this piece of information in their head as belief based on several factors. Now belief becomes direct knowledge when the child learns more about things through first hand experience.


    There are degrees by which we have knowledge about things and to say that we only know things if we have empirical evidence is to ignore a great deal of epistemology let alone how humans actually process information.


    My choice to be a theist follows from the natural progression of knowledge from opinion to direct unmediated knowledge. As a Christian, I greatly look forward to and anticipate the day when the beliefs that I hold in faith become things which I know directly. However, that which I hold in Faith is not opinion but rather a lesser form of knowledge akin to the child holding what he has taught in school before he has experienced those things directly. He has knowledge, as I have knowledge, but it is an indirect and mediated knowledge.


    One of the things that you really desire is to have experiential proof that there is a God. But isn't that sort of backwards in the order of how we come to knowledge about things? The road to theism doesn't start with "I'd like you to meet God", it starts much more basic than that. As you have pointed out, you will not accept that the person that you are introduced to is God unless you have a prior acceptance of god.


    So let me start you off with something sort of small and along the way. Consider for a moment charity. Charity isn't affection and we can explain affection by evolution. Charity/ altruism, are not things that can arise in a darwin evolutionary manner because they go directly against it. If there is no god, then the universe is a close system and all that arises in it should have a natural origin. However charity/ altruism exist and indicates that there is a higher order.

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    1. That's just not a strong argument, Lurker. We do see instances of charity/altruism in nature. It is evolutionarily beneficial because it benefits social groups as a whole. There even arise social pressures in some species, so that those members of a group who are not inclined to share may be ostracized by others. Take a look at the latest research into altruism among primates, and you'll see it's been well-established by observation.

      The difference with Humans is that we can choose to consider others as being members of our group, or not, and so choose to be more liberally altruistic than those species who lack our level of cognition.

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    2. >My choice to be a theist follows from the natural progression of knowledge

      Knowledge of what, exactly. You forgot to say.

      Or are we just expected to take you word that there is something you know? Did you not understand when I said "Don't expect me to accept that you are privy to some secret knowledge acquired by some mysterious process because, frankly, I won't believe you."?

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    3. "charity/ altruism, are not things that can arise in a darwin evolutionary manner because they go directly against it."

      Absolutely and fundamentally untrue. Any evolutionary scientist will tell you what an important role altruism has played in our evolutionary history. Pick up any textbook and you will see it forms an important part of community which benefits individuals collectively.

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    4. Clearly altruism has indeed played an important role in our evolutionary history (although being pedantic, I am not sure that the motivations are purely selfless).

      Thinking about our current society, the benefits of being altruistic in some contexts are very obvious. But there are other cases where at first glance it is not necessarily the most evolutionary beneficial course of action for social groups as a whole. For example, it could be argued (emphasis on the "could") that when Haiti was ravished by natural disaster the most evolutionary beneficial course of action for the rest of the world would be to leave them be. After all, there are concerns about over-population and what we do with our limited resources; it does not necessarily follow that showing compassion to the Haitian people was the most beneficial course of action for those in other parts of the world.

      Now, I am not so cold-hearted and neither am I accusing anyone else of being so. I am just using this deliberately provocative example to question whether evolutionary benefits are the only reason for altruism. I'm not trying to score cheap points in any sort of debate here - this is a question of genuine interest and I would be very interested to know what others on here think.

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    5. > Charity/ altruism, are not things that can arise in a darwin evolutionary manner because they go directly against it.<

      I think what you meant to say there was "Charity/ altruism, are not things that can arise in the Creationist parody of darwin evolutionary manner because they go directly against it.<

      Of course they go directly against the Creationist parody of Darwinian Evolution because it was designed to be absurd, the easier to fool the credulous simpletons upon whom those who designed it rely for their income.

      For proper, grown up, scientific Darwinian Evolution however, there is no problem at all in explaining charity and altruism. Charity and altruism leads to more descendants carrying the genes and memes which facilitate and induce charitable and altruistic behaviour so they will evolve in a social animal and especially an intelligent one.

      Thank you for allowing me to show how professional Creationists use lies to fool their credulous and ignorant victims. Are you a professional Creationist or just one of their unfortunate victims?

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  8. This is an amazing post, and will be put to use immediately in a discussion I am having with a theist. Thank you!

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  9. Rosa:

    One favor to ask--as I (and undoubtedly others) will be showing this post to educated believers, please correct the spelling "beleiving" --> "believing" in the third "don't" paragraph. Yes, I know that I am annoyingly pedantic; if fact, it constitutes a good percentage of my personal charm! ;-)

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    1. Thanks. I need a resident copy-reader. :-)

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  10. "I can think of several physiological, psychological or psychiatric reasons which could explain your experience."

    I'm sure you can, and in many cases you might be right. But the fact that you can think of an alternative explanation does not automatically guarantee that you are right.

    "Don't expect me to believe in your god because it has been written about in a book, otherwise I will wonder why you don't believe Harry Potter or Peter Pan are real too, and I will realise you have had to use double standards to persuade yourself."

    I don't believe in Harry Potter because I know that he is a character created by JK Rowling in works of fiction written with the aim of entertaining her readers. There is nothing to suggest that Harry Potter the wizard exists beyond the realm of her novels. On the other hand, the ancient writers Mark and Luke claim to be writing about their experiences of a real person (whose existence is also referenced by other writers at the time). Similarly, Paul wrote letters to groups of people at the time who had a Christian faith, and it is evident from his writing that he too had a firm belief in Jesus Christ. Whether you think there is truth in these accounts or not is another matter, but to suggest that these writers were writing novels in the same vein as JK Rowling is quite frankly absurd.

    "Don't expect me to be convinced by a quote from a book you believe was written by a god. To convince me the book was written by a god you first have to convince me the god exists."

    I don't believe in a book which was written by a god, so perhaps this is a moot point. But if I were to show you a book by the aforementioned JK Rowling would you also expect me to provide extra evidence of her existence?

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    1. I'm sure you can, and in many cases you might be right. But the fact that you can think of an alternative explanation does not automatically guarantee that you are right.

      -This can be viewed as a valid argument for both athiesm and theism, for which only evidence can eventually make one alternative explanation more or less valid

      For the J.K Rowling/Mark and Luke comparison, the intent of the writer gives the writing itself exactly zero increase or decrease in validity. Quite easily J.K. Rowling could come out and claim that she is "writing about [her] experiences of a real person" Since Harry Potter is at this time an enormously popular character there are countless other writers referencing his "existence" This would likely in know way cause the above commenter nor any modern rational person to believe in the world of or even character of Potter, although it is clearly outlined in Rowling's books that the Wizarding World is highly secret, and as "Muggles" we should expect to not see any evidence of it. The argument for Potter and the Wizarding World, scientifically, is exactly as valid as the argument for Jesus Christ and the Heavenly World.

      The final argument regarding proof of Rowling's existence is easily dismissed, as pictures, interviews, videos, etc exist of her in multitudes. Most damningly, if sufficient effort is put forth one can meet in person J.K. Rowling. The same cannot be said about any god, at least not while one is alive and capable of producing evidence.

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    3. -This can be viewed as a valid argument for both atheism and theism, for which only evidence can eventually make one alternative explanation more or less valid

      > It does indeed work both ways.

      - The intent of the writer gives the writing itself exactly zero increase or decrease in validity.

      > This is arguably true for the "stated intent" - as in what the author themselves claims about the work (so yes, I could agree after all that the claims of Mark/Luke/Paul themselves do hold little weight on their own). But I am not sure that it holds true for the "observed intent." What I mean by this is that if you went in to a bookshop and picked up a book about Harry Potter you would - presumably - not think that you were reading about a real person. Yet if you went and picked up a book about William Wallace you would be quite likely to think that you were learning something about a real person from history.

      - The argument for Potter and the Wizarding World, scientifically, is exactly as valid as the argument for Jesus Christ and the Heavenly World.

      > As far as I am concerned, the jury is still out on this one. Depending what you mean by "scientifically" you may be right. But then, scientifically, the argument for Harry Potter the Wizard is just as valid as it is for William Wallace yet at the end of the day there is a consensus that one was a real person and one is fictional.

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    4. Anonymous.

      I'm afraid even if you were right, my inability to prove you wrong doesn't make you right by default. You have to prove your claim. Trying to divest yourself of that responsibility merely raises the suspicion that you know you can't, as well as betraying intellectual and moral bankruptcy.

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    5. JP, do you believe in the existence of S. Morgenstern? (Google _The Princess Bride_.)

      It's surprising, perhaps, the degree to which fiction writers will create truly elaborate fictions, and the extent to which people will play along. Goldman has played up the existence of S. Morgenstern repeatedly and has even fictionalized his own (Goldman's) life. This has actually fooled large numbers of people into believing in the existence of S. Morgenstern, and some people who know better will play along, just because, I guess.

      I sometimes wonder if this is the same as the early history of Christianity.

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  11. I am an Apollonian. My chosen god is Apollo. The reason I have chosen Apollo to be my deity is that he symbolizes mankind's aspiration towards self-knowledge.

    When I meditate I form an image of Apollo in my mind; in one hand he holds out a cup of healing; in the other the bow of disease and death. His look says to me "it's your choice.".

    I know that Apollo is "real" because he is a symbol and a concept that I formulate and embrace. As rationale humans we deal in symbols all the time.

    Of course I don't make the foolish mistake of imagining that my personal, symbolic deity has any empirical grounding in physical reality.

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  12. It would be nice if the "Don't expect me"s were numbered for reference. And maybe even with direct in-page links, so when in an argument with a theist, ona can link directly to a certain "Don't expect me".

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    1. Thanks for the suggestions.

      Numbering is no problem. Not sure I know how to make in-page links. I'll see what I can do.

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    2. Links now added - learning html as I go :-)

      Click on [Link] then highlight and copy the url in the address bar, or right click the [Link] and select 'Copy link address' (may differ according to browser).

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  13. Rosa: you should revise this one, for a very specific reason.

    Christians, and perhaps other religious groups, use a *double meaning* of belief -- a conflation. Or perhaps it's a triple meaning more more. You have to make it clear that you mean the absolutely ordinary everyday meaning of belief, the one which applies when you say "I believe there is coffee in the fridge", not the meaning used when people say "I believe in democracy" (i.e. "I believe democracy is a good idea").

    Christians routinely and deliberately conflate these. This is specifically so that people will confuse the statement "I believe that (a particular) god exists" with "I believe it would be a good idea if (a particular) god existed".

    They also conflate these with a bizarre third meaning of "belief" which seems to exist only within religious jargon contexts, in which belief is some sort of mental act of worship.

    Because of this confusion about the word "belief" (which is part of their brainwashing), they will be unable to understand half the sentences you wrote, most of which use the word "belief".

    In order to get through to them at all, you have to emphasize upfront that when you say "believe in your God" you mean "believe that there is such a thing as your God (outside your head)". You do not mean whatever their conflated jargon meaning of "believe" is.

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  14. Thank you for an excellent summary! I will save this for future reference.

    When I was younger, I used to be a believer. I believed in Santa Claus. And I had definite proof of his existence in the form of annual gifts I received from him. Sadly, now that my faith in Santa has evaporated, the gifts have stopped coming! Is Santa a vengeful being?

    Most people, including the most religious, usually outgrow their belief in Santa. But, why do they cling to their belief in other supernatural beings? Can't they see they are just blindly believing in a bunch of fairy tales?

    On a different level, the universe is stranger that we think and there is still a lot we don't understand about it. There may be other dimensions, other universes, there may be strings and membranes, and black holes might be links to other worlds, ... but there is absolutely no evidence that my body or even my spirit may survive a transition to any other world or dimension, any more than we can survive the transition from flesh to dust.

    And there is also absolutely no evidence that there is any supernatural being controlling the universe. If anything, all the evidence points to the fact that universe doesn't care one bit what happens to us. Even if there is any such thing as a god, he/she/it is supremely indifferent to anything that happens in our corner of the universe. Floods, holocausts, famine, war, death, .... only we humans care about these things; nobody else does.

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  15. One day,moments like these will be brought to remembrance,they will be coupled with a chain of memory's,the end conclusion will be disastrous for some,better to sit on the fence about this one rather than aggressively promote it...

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    1. But if you're not theophobic through childhood mental abuse, that fear won't be a consideration, of course.

      Nice concealed threat though.

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