Thursday, February 24, 2011

Faith, Reason, and other mutually exclusive terms

It never ceases to amaze me how much believers want to convince me that they are not “blind followers”, that they have come to their religious beliefs through reason, just like me. No, I’m not going to refute the claim that atheism is a religion here. That will have to be another blog. What I want to address here is that people want me to believe that they have used reason, not “blind faith”, to come to religion. They say that they use logic and find Christ.

Now, I should start by defining my terms. Faith is believing in something without evidence, or in spite of contrasting evidence. If you have evidence, there is no need for faith. No faith is required to believe that if I drop a rock, it will fall. There is evidence that suggests a very reasonable expectation that the rock should fall. If, however, in the unlikely event the rock does NOT fall, that does not mean gravity is no longer valid. Further investigation is required to discover what caused the expected outcome to differ from the actual outcome. Faith requires no evidence. Again, if there is evidence, there is no room for faith. If faith only exists without evidence, then it is unreasonable. It is not reasonable to think that the sun will rise in the west tomorrow. There is no evidence that would support such a claim. In fact, there is good evidence to suggest otherwise. To say that the belief is based on faith does not make the claim more rational. It simply states why someone would have chosen to believe it.

Invariably, if I ask a believer why they think there is evidence to support the belief in god or gods, they fall to the usual arguments: the first-cause, the cosmological, and the argument from complexity, etc. They seem unaware these have been refuted over and over again. This is what they consider to be evidence. But if I press further, none of these are actually the reason they believe. They are reasons they still believe after having questioned their faith in the past. That is why they say they have come to faith from reason. They questioned faith at one point, learned of these arguments, and were satisfied with the answers provided. Some, most even, seem surprised the arguments have been refuted ever.

When I go over the standard rebuttals to their standard arguments, they go back to faith. This is where they like to attack me. A few have realized mid-step the circular nature of this, and stopped. But a few have actually stopped to think about why these arguments fail. They go back to faith anyway, but at that point I feel like I’ve succeeded.

There is no virtue in faith, and even the believer recognizes this. If they really thought faith WAS a virtue, they would not try to defend faith with reason. They would not try to use science to “prove” design. They would not try to “prove” jesus actually walked the earth or did anything reported in the bible. They’d just admit it’s all blind faith. But that makes them sound unreasonable, even to themselves. So they further delude themselves into thinking there are reasons to believe.

Those are two more mutually exclusive terms: virtuous faith.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Know-it-all Atheist

Every so often, someone will tell me that atheists are impossible to debate, because they think they know it all. Someone will tell me that I am dismissing their claims before I have even heard them. They accuse me of shutting out the “evidence” they have to “prove” god’s existence. They say I am doing what I accuse them of doing: sticking fingers in the ears and screaming, “La-La-la! Can’t hear you!”

Well, they may have a point. I guess.

The truth is I’m not really doing this. I’m not sticking my fingers in my ears. It’s just that I’ve heard this before. Care to guess how many times I’ve been approached with the first cause argument? Or the argument from design? Or pascal’s wager? Or the ontological argument? Seriously.

I help run a student organization at my local university. One of the things we are doing now is going over these arguments that are so common; they may as well be mantras. A few of the younger members haven’t heard these before, and I want them to understand that these are not new arguments and they have been refuted by people WAY smarter than I long before I could spell atheist.

So if I cut someone off when they begin with, “Everything has a cause…” and insert immediately, “What caused god?”, it’s not that I have fingers in my ears, it’s I’ve heard this before. When they begin with, “God is the greatest thing we can imagine…” and I cut them off with, “So you admit god is imaginary,” I just want to skip the long explanation I know is coming. And when they fall back to, “What if you’re wrong?”, I just smile and ask, “What if you’re wrong about Zeus?”

It’s not that I know everything. It is completely possible that there is an argument out there I’ve not heard and will actually have to consider. Thus far, that has not happened.

Oh, and back to my student group: We entertained briefly the idea of having “mock debates” where one of us would take the opposing side and argue for it. We wanted to be sure we were not attacking strawmen and that the actual arguments were justly represented. But when this came to practice, we couldn’t figure out how to do it in a way that would not at least appear that we were attacking strawmen. So we just present the argument and refute it in a discussion.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

An atheist’s profession of faith

An atheist’s profession of faith

Someone once asked what I did believe in if I did not believe in god.  This was my response.

I believe in freedom. I believe that choice is the backbone of freedom. As choice expands, so does freedom; as choice contracts, so does freedom. I believe the freedoms granted to Americans in the Constitution are awesome.

I believe in liberty, justice and equality for all. I believe these belong to everyone regardless of race, creed, color, national origin or sexual orientation. I believe that denying persons rights and liberties based on any of these is a slap in the face of liberty.

I believe adults should be able to make decisions about what does and does not go into their own bodies. I believe adults should be able to decide who they will and will not have for sexual partners. I believe laws governing what adults consume and the reasons they chose to have sex are wrong.

I believe consenting adults should be able to marry other consenting adults.

I believe love, not blood, makes a family.

I believe my family is the source of my joy, happiness and fulfillment.

I believe in fidelity.

I believe children have rights, and parents should enforce and protect those rights. I believe parents who do not do this should not be parents. I believe in coerced sterilization for such failed parents.

I believe people have the right to live as they see fit, so long as they harm none.

I believe people have the right to die as they see fit, so long as they harm none.

I believe it is the prerogative and duty of youth to carefully analyze and evaluate the institutions of the elderly.

I believe in honesty.

I believe “animal rights” is an oxymoron.

I believe the wisdom I have today will not be sufficient to solve tomorrow’s problems. If I am to meet the challenges of tomorrow, I must grow and expand my wisdom, or watch it stagnate and fail.

I believe I could be wrong.

I believe I may be right.

I believe I earn every dollar I make.

I believe the difference between love, lust and infatuation is hindsight.

I believe in education. I believe in comprehensive sex education for teens, and age-appropriate health education for younger children. I believe abstinence is cruel, dangerous, and unhealthy.

I believe science should be taught in the science class; history should be taught in the history class, etc. I believe much can be learned from studying the world’s religions in a religion class, but NOT the science class.

I believe yesterday offers experience, tomorrow offers hope, and today is all that is.

I believe in compassion.

I believe in kindness.

I believe in forgiveness.

I believe it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

I believe the meaning of life can be found in a combination of mastication, meditation, and masturbation.

I believe it is the duty and responsibility of each individual to create, follow and modify a personal code of ethics. I believe the goal of this code should be to become more moral today than you were yesterday. I believe this can only happen when we are honest with each other and ourselves in regards to our successes and our failures.

I believe in you.

I believe in me.

I believe there is no god; no omniscient, omnipotent being that watches us. I believe waiting and praying for miracles is a waste of time. I believe if we dislike what we see in the world, it is our charge to make change happen.

I believe god isn’t here; we are.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Afterlife is an illusion

I was listening to a debate between Dan Barker and Dinesh D’Souza. They eventually got to the afterlife as D’Souza has recently written a book about it. D’Souza explained his evidence for the afterlife as follows: There are thousands of people who have experienced a Near Death Experience, or NDE. Where are they? They are walking around, driving cars, going to work, etc. If the mind is producing hallucinations at the time of death, how did the brain reverse this death process? How can you explain these thousands of people having very similar experiences and ALL of them have had their brains shut off and come back? Why does the atheist dismiss all these thousands of examples and evidence? That’s crazy! Yes, D’Souza, that is crazy. Crazy wrong. Let’s begin at the beginning.

Have you ever seen a magic trick? It’s an illusion. A mind trick performed by someone who’s goal is to make you think you see one thing, while doing another. You don’t actually need a performer to trick you mind. Ever seen one of those optical illusion pictures? You know, is this circle bigger than the other? No, they are both the same size. Is this picture moving? No, it is your eyes playing tricks on you. Ever heard of “phantom limb syndrome”? This is when an amputee feels pain or an itch on the missing limb. An arm has been removed, yet the person feels the missing hand clenched tightly in a fist. To solve this issue, you can’t convince the brain that it is wrong, you have to trick it again. You set up a mirror so the person can see the reflection of the other hand relaxing a clenched fist.

Now my point in all this is that you have seen a circle before. In other words, you have a good frame of reference to be able to see if one circle is bigger than another. The illusion is actually using that against you. You have made a fist in the past. You know what it feels like to clench and relax a fist. And still your brain has been fooled. Still you have seen things that are not there; felt things that are not real. How many times have you died? Indeed if there is ANY experience that we should expect our brains to misjudge, it is death. We have no real reference to it until we have died. Thousands of examples, D’Souza? There ought to be MILLIONS or BILLIONS of examples. This isn’t exceptional; this is mundane. This is as common as the awful fart that stunned unsuspecting people in the room. This isn’t evidence for an afterlife. It’s a bad fart joke.

Now I know the NDE is common. We can actually produce them on demand. In training for space travel, astronauts are placed in a centrifuge that spins them so that the force is equal to several times that of normal gravity. The usual reaction is the passenger passes out. They often describe an NDE. You can do it on your own, but I don’t recommend it. But have you ever lost consciousness suddenly and seen flashes of your life, or a light in a tunnel or something like that? I bet you have. In fact I bet most people have. But I think most people just don’t bother to mention it, like the stinky fart that cleared the room.

And what value does an afterlife have, anyway? This is the life that is worth living. This is the life we have to make a difference. We are charged with leaving the world better than how we found it. Because god isn’t here; we are.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Holy Child Abuse, Batman!

Holy Child Abuse, Batman!

The weather ‘round these parts has been really bad lately. Snow, ice and all forms of frozen poo has fallen from the sky. So I was unable to tune into my favorite fundy radio station and had to listen to the Catholic radio station instead. I didn’t listen long. What I heard so disgusted me, I had to turn it off. That has never happened on the other fundy station.

The program was a call-in show. The host was a shrink who wanted to field questions about family and faith. She was telling her personal story so that she could relate to the potential caller. Her story shocked and appalled me. She said she was the oldest of nine children, and that her family was poor as she grew up. She recalled many times she was the “server” at the dinner table, and was happy if there was anything left for her to eat. She said that she served the other kids first, and if there was any left, she would be able to eat, but often, there was not enough to go around to her. I had to turn off the radio. I thought I was going to be sick.

It is one thing to have too many kids. This is selfish and repulsive in itself. These children did not ask to be born into a family so large the kids must raise each other. The “octo-mom” has been rebuked time and time again for thinking only of herself and not of her children. I think this is a fair assessment. But to have so many children you cannot feed them is outright abuse. Further, to force the children to choose who among them will and will not eat is nothing short of abuse. It is vile, sick and unacceptable.

What really pissed me off was the fact the host of the program was not condemning the actions of her abusive parents, but instead using this story as an example of her experience with sacrifice. She said this was how she was introduced to the concept of fasting and denial of the body. I was even more horrified. To think the parents of this child told her that this was a gift from god, that she would go hungry this evening as a part of some spiritual guideline, is abhorrent. I simply could not stomach it. I had to stop listening.

Perhaps she would have explained to me that it was her choice to go hungry, and that her parents also did not eat. I can’t see how that makes things better. More starving people as the result of these asshats not being able to budget for their family does not improve the situation, nor does it remove the abuse this poor child suffered. Worse, since she thinks this was a good experience, these child abusing asshats have not been brought to justice, and instead think they are pious, righteous and “good Christians”. How infuriating!

People wonder what the harm is in allowing people to believe in imaginary gods. Children are abused, in this story, both physically and emotionally. This is harmful. It must be stopped.