Friday, January 28, 2011

Ad Hominem, Ad Nauseam

A theme has formed in my discussions recently online. People are telling me that I'm attacking them, not their ideas. Now, I'm pretty careful not to do this. I want a discourse about how we disagree on a topic, not whether or not you have a deformed head. If your opinion is different than mine, perhaps it is because you know something I don't. Perhaps I've not considered what you have to offer. Perhaps I have, and dismissed it as false or unreliable. Perhaps you would also care to know if your position is false.

Look, I am not my ideas. My ideas change all the time, and I think I'm a fairly constant person. If I begin wanting a cheeseburger and end up eating a taco, I don't feel as though the core of my person has been challenged or changed. So when I propose that your ideas are wrong, I do so for my benefit, not necessarily yours.

See, I'm the kind of person that cares if my ideas are accurate or not. I want to believe as many true things as possible, and as few false things as possible. The best way for me to examine my ideas is to find people who disagree and discuss it. Of course I think I'm right. Why would I hold a position if I was convinced it was wrong?

So this is what's bringing this to the blog. I got an email a while ago from a dude who supposedly had the best argument for the existence of god ever. You remember that guy; I refuted him here. Now he claims I've gone on a rant of ad hominem attacks. I disagree, but he didn't actually quote anything I said that he claimed was an attack. He only accused me of attacking him. On Facebook, I got into a bad debate over a different idea. When I tried to offer a counter argument, the original poster accused me of attacking her personally. I didn't. So I explained that I expected her to be able to defend her position. She again claimed I was attacking her right to be herself.

This happens a lot when I challenge a position people hold not because they came to the position through reason and logic, but through emotion and feelings. Belief in a god might make you feel good, but so would heroin. Putting heroin users in jail might make you feel good, but that doesn't make it the right thing to do. Further, if you think we should base ANY form of public policy on this position that makes you tingle, you better be able to defend it with REASON when challenged and not tell people who challenge you that they hurt your feelings.

Let's be clear. I have some dumb ideas. But how will I be able to identify them if they are never challenged? That's why I keep the wife of mine around. She has NO problem telling me when I have a dumb idea. And I know she's not attacking me as a person; she's pointing out the dumb idea. You might imagine the look of surprise I get when this happens, and you might also imagine how often I must recant or revise my position due to her argument. That's called growth, people.

So to the dudes who get offended personally when their ideas are challenged: "Bugger off!" If you don't like your positions challenged, don't say them out loud, ever. Don't type them online, don't speak them to anyone, ever. Have a reason for your position, or abandon it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How I answered a Stump an Atheist Question

You can find this at Stump an The following is how I answered, ""So what do you believe happens when you die if there is no God? You don't believe in any afterlife AT ALL?! If so…doesn't that bother you?"


I hate to make it sound like the atheist was stumped, but I feel the uncontrollable urge to comment and re-direct. The question was, "Doesn't the idea of no afterlife bother you at all?" It once did. Very much.

Back when I was a believer, I contemplated the afterlife all the time. What heaven would be like, who I would meet, where I would go, etc. I even contemplated hell, and the torture the people there deserved. Since I was Catholic, I also considered limbo and purgatory. As apostasy became inevitable, the afterlife became an obsession.

It bothered me that my path was paved in reason, guided by logic, and led to hell. It bothered me that I still WANTED to believe, but if I wanted evidence, I could not. It bothered me that I could not unlearn or undiscover what it meant to unleash logic and reason onto my religious faith. It bothered me that the only advice I got from clergy and teachers and friends was to pray.

It bothered me that I can easily see how our flawed human system of justice has multiple layers of punishment, and an all-just, all-loving god has but one. It bothered me that even Star Wars knew that only Sith think in black and white and the Jedi understood the world is grey. It bothered me that the people around me didn't seem to be bothered at all.

Now I focus my attention on living. I fear not death or what it brings. My life is what is important, not my death. How I live is more important that how I die. I guess for most atheists, we just don't consider the afterlife to be worth worrying about anymore. We're too busy living to be bothered with it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What Happens to the Former Believer’s Salvation Story?

If you're a believer, and you don't have a salvation story, you need to get one. Fast. Every believer has the story of that unexplainable thing that happened to them that has convinced them god exists and he cares about what we do and think. So many atheists today are former believers. What happened to the salvation story?

I suppose it would be best for me to tell you my old salvation story. When I was young, 8 or 9, I would tell my family that after an exceptionally grueling session of prayer, I could FEEL grace pouring over me. I still remember the sensation. Like water, only there was no water, running down my back. Cool, refreshing, and pure. I remember I loved that feeling I got, and regularly experienced it after a grueling prayer session. Later, in the pre-teen years, I would tell people that after a particularly intense session of prayer, I could feel god speak to me in feelings, emotions and images. I would read the bible for hours and report intense feelings and at the same time a strange and powerful calmness. In my teen years I remember thinking I could almost hear the voice of god.

I rarely shared my salvation story. It didn't seem to be something anyone else could understand. The feelings and sensations were mine. What would I gain by sharing them?

So what happened?

I realized I had fooled myself. I recognized that this was not evidence at all. I came to understand what evidence is and what it is not. I found that I ought to be able to find evidence OUTSIDE myself for a being so great it made the universe. I turned logic and reason loose upon the superstitions I held. I didn't think they would fall apart. I honestly thought they would come through unscathed. How else could religion have survived all these years if it was not true? I had so much to learn.

The former believer has re-evaluated the salvation story. I had to come to a place where I knew what an appeal to emotion is, what an argument from ignorance is. That is not to say this story holds no merit for me today. It serves as a reminder that I was once fooled by the same mechanisms that fool the believers today. Once I held the position that if there is no better argument, I am justified in holding any position until proven wrong. There was a time I thought the first-cause argument was solid.

Perhaps it is good for the former believer to remember his former salvation story. It may give him a place to start the conversation with a believer.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pining for Piety

Pining for Piety

Back when I was a believer, I was sure of so many things. I, or god, had everything under control. There was no need to worry about global warming. God would not allow the earth to run out of resources. Fallen people and dark angels were the cause of all bad things, and god still had everything in his plan. I was safe, and jesus would make sure I stayed that way. Then, I lost my faith, and things changed.

One thing is certain: I can’t go back to fooling myself into believing in god. Even if I wanted to do so, I could not. Not without evidence, and that is unlikely. I may not have arrived in my old faith by way of reason, but that was indeed the road I took to atheism. To leave this position, I’d have to be able to reason my way out. Evidence would have to be a central part of such a journey.

I was talking about this with my wife, who has shared my apostasy with me. She’s been a part of the end of my journey. She asked if I ever missed the old days of knowing for certain. I reminded her that I was certainly wrong, and she agreed, but also said that there was a time when I thought I was genuinely right. And that was comforting. Wasn’t there a part of me that wanted to put the bubble back together?

I had to say no. I care too much about believing things that are true and not believing things that are false. I want my beliefs to be able to withstand scrutiny. I need to be able to show the supporting evidence for what I say is true and what I say is false. I may no longer be able to claim piety, but I can now claim intellectual honesty. That is way better to me.