Pharyngula

I think The Raw Story is supposed to be a progressive political web site…which, unfortunately, means I now have to be greatly embarrassed by my fellow travelers along the great liberal path. Melinda Barton has written a bizarre and poorly supported screed against atheism, or as she’d prefer to call it, secular whackjobbery, as opposed to her preferred position, which I will call theistic wank-offery.

She starts by making up a novel definition, always a bad sign. To Barton, the term “secular” refers to “those who disbelieve all religious and spiritual claims, not to those who merely support a separation of church and state.” That’s an interesting position for a progressive to take, since there are a great many liberal religious people who believe that a secular government is the best government, yet because they hold private beliefs about God, she gets to sweep them completely off the table in any consideration of the promotion of secularism. Sweet. It also means she gets to accuse those few remaining godless promoters of a non-religous government “whackjobs” and extremists. Not all the atheists, she is quick to note—just the evil ones who hold the outrageous claims she then lists. Strangely enough, when she lists these claims, she isn’t able to provide any evidence that anyone actually holds any of these positions.

You know, I’m a fairly extremist atheist myself, and I just find her assertions daffy.

Outrageous claim number 1: Atheism is based on evidence and reason and is philosophically provable or proven. Atheism is a matter of thought not belief. In other words, atheism is true; religion is false.

Well, yes, I believe religion is false; that’s no more a damning trait than the fact that Melinda Barton believes religion is true. But this claim that atheism is proven is bizarre; who says such things? She tries to quote a writer for the Atheist Foundation of Australia who defines atheism as “the acceptance that there is no credible, scientific or factually reliable evidence for the existence of a God, god/s or the supernatural”…tell me, where is the claim of provability there? She goes on to argue that both the presence and absence of a deity are matters of belief, setting up a false equivalence in which she tries to argue that both are therefore matters of faith. What nonsense; the absence of faith is not faith, any more than the absence of a sandwich is also a kind of tasty snack between two slices of bread.

Outrageous claim number 2: Since the natural is all that we have or can scientifically observe and/or measure, it is all that exists.

Now we get into some real craziness. This basic claim of metaphysical naturalism, which is a reasonable interpretation of the absence of evidence, is called a blatant logical fallacy and scientifically inaccurate by Ms Barton.

She claims it is a logical fallacy because absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. That’s an extravagant misuse of the aphorism, I’m afraid. Absence of evidence is a legitimate argument for the absence of a phenomenon. If I claim there is a unicorn living in my backyard, but repeated attempts to observe and record it, or to find indirect evidence such as footprints or unicorn scat all fail, it is perfectly reasonable to provisionally suggest that the claim is false, and to insist that any further consideration of the idea will require positive evidence from the claimant.

As for her claim that metaphysical naturalism is scientifically inaccurate…her defense consists of abusing quantum physics. I’m thinking there ought to be an exam and some kind of licensing requirement before people are allowed to use The Argument From Quantum Physics in public.

Outrageous claim number 3: All religion is oppressive.

I’m more sympathetic to this one. I think it’s true that most religion is oppressive, and I agree with The International Manifesto for Atheistic Humanism that she quotes:

Religion is oppressive. The act of subjugating human will to “divine will” is oppressive. The practice of obeying clergy, of letting them make our decisions for us, is oppressive and irresponsible.

The onus is on Ms Barton to show that this is false and only believable by whackjobs. She fails. She cites examples of commendable behavior by religious individuals, which I don’t disagree with at all—people are quite capable of transcending the limitations of their dogma. As we’ve come to expect, she has to ignore the actual words of her atheist targets to make her case. She doesn’t even try to address the issue of surrendering autonomy to an authority based on “faith” as oppressive.

Outrageous claim number 4: The eradication of religion in favor of secularism will bring about utopia.

Again, a straw man, and she has got to know it. She reaches for the usual extremist examples with which atheists are typically beaten, the anarchists and communists, and says that they believe “the total eradication of religion is an essential but not sufficient step in the creation of an atheist utopia.” The statement of her religious claim and her recitation of an example follow one after another; are we to believe that she doesn’t understand what the phrase “but not sufficient” means? Possibly. She’s not exactly dazzling us with her clarity of thought here.

Outrageous claim number 5: All religious people want to force you or convince you or coerce you to believe as they do.

Just a rhetorical tip to Ms Barton: it’s a bad idea to end a list of arguments for your position with the weakest, lamest, most pathetic claim you can think of, and also to immediately admit that it’s unsupportable. You know, like this:

I tried to find an “official” source for this hasty generalization with no luck, but chose to include it here based on personal experience.

Jebus. Never mind. Do we even need to try to rebut this kind of nonsense?

Fresh off that flabby reasoning, her conclusions stoops even lower. Why should we oppose these “secular whackjobs” on the left? Pogroms, baby, we’re all about persecuting you for what you do in your home and church. Step into my classroom or onto the sidewalk wearing a crucifix, and I might just rip it off and stomp on it. (Do I have to add, “not really”? Probably. The fevered imaginations of the Melinda Bartons of the world no doubt see sarcasm as a personal slight.)

While most who believe in the separation of church and state hold that only government support of religion in the public sphere should be forbidden, the secular extremist may take it one step further to forbid the private display of religious symbols in public places.

I hereby promise that if you want to wear a yamulke in public, or want to dab ashes on your forehead on some incomprehensible holy day, I won’t sic the cops on you. OK? There’s a difference between accusing all people with certain religious beliefs of conspiring to lock you up in prison, and insisting that government should be entirely secular, granting no preference to one religious belief or another. When you target the latter under the pretext of protecting us from the former, you’re promoting theocracy.

Just for the slow and witless who have difficulty figuring out the obvious, Ms Barton, theocracy is not a progressive value.

(Crossposted to The American Street)

Comments

  1. #1 coturnix
    April 23, 2006

    Do not forget to read the comments on that article – there are some excellent rebuttals there and her attempts at responding are feeble and disingenious.

  2. #2 Terry C, Coldplayer
    April 23, 2006

    “Religion is oppressive. The act of subjugating human will to “divine will” is oppressive. The practice of obeying clergy, of letting them make our decisions for us, is oppressive and irresponsible.”

    And that’s incorrect HOW?

  3. #3 tng
    April 23, 2006

    Thanks for actually doing a reasoned dissection of Ms. Barton’s ham handed attacks PZ. It’s the kind of rebuttal I wish I had written. I’d like to encourage all liberal/progressive atheists to blog about this gross mischaracterization of so many on the left.

  4. #4 Brett
    April 23, 2006

    PZ, did you realise that the link to you in the left column links to pharyngula.org? Maybe that should be updated?

  5. #5 nate-dogg
    April 23, 2006

    PZ, I just so happened to see Bill Maher in concert last night. He was talking about the religious right and said something like, “They tell me I don’t respect their religion. Well, I don’t. But I don’t have to. I tolerate it, which is all that’s required of me as an American. It’d be nice if they’d return the favor.”

  6. #6 Gaffer
    April 23, 2006

    Nice take-down. I think I’m as extreme an atheist as you’ll ever find but I don’t see myself in anything she has written. Puts me in mind of Amy Sulivan’s bleating about liberals not being sufficiently pro-theocracy.

  7. #7 Tom
    April 23, 2006

    I don’t understand why you even care what Melissa Barton even thinks. The idea of spending one’s time deconstructing her is just a waste. Do you really not have anything better to do, or do you just like disagreeing with people?

  8. #8 Ron McElroy
    April 23, 2006

    I’d say “nutjob” is more accurate.

  9. #9 Bob Nigh
    April 23, 2006

    I found point that her point 4 strawman was even more painful when she used the book of Genesis to rebut it. Oh the agony, to be told that we can’t have a secular paradise because the bible says that people are too evil to live with god in eden. I wish I could comment more on it, but as I attempt to write more, I am taken by its deep penetration into the realm of absolute nonsense and my mind spirals down into a vortex of confusion.

  10. #10 James Orpin
    April 23, 2006

    “Remember the laws forbidding the wearing of yarmulkes, crosses, hijabs, and the like in France.”

    I don’t remember those laws. I remember a law banning the wearing of religious symbols in State Schools and similar institutions. Mostly to enforce school uniform and to prevent bullying and prejudice.

  11. #11 Dan Koffler
    April 23, 2006

    “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”

    So Michelson and Morley should have just kept looking for that ether, huh?

    PZ, any idea who made this one up? Sounds like one of those CS Lewis half-witticisms that seem to impress religious people so much.

  12. #12 Angie
    April 23, 2006

    You know it’s a good day when so many come to the defense of atheists. But hey, if someone wishes to call me an extreme atheist so be it, but I’m not the one out there causing trouble or wanting to interfer with what goes on in your bedroom.

  13. #13 AndyS
    April 23, 2006

    She goes on to argue that both the presence and absence of a deity are matters of belief, setting up a false equivalence in which she tries to argue that both are therefore matters of faith.

    Exactly why on that old thread I wanted to be clear about the different meanings of “belief” and “faith.” Atheism and theism are both beliefs, but only one is a belief based on faith.

  14. #14 Comandante Agi
    April 23, 2006

    Wow. She really believes that “secular whackjobs” pose a threat to this nation? How about considering the real extremists who are threatening our democracy…

    Twenty percent of this country believes that Armageddon as described in the Book of Revelation will occur during their lifetime. These people would be happy to see President Bush lob a few nukes into Iran. They would support any “holy war” foreign policy in order to jump start the rapture.

    When was the last time you saw an atheist suicide bomber? Or an atheist who advocates war and genocide? It’s the religious extremists who are pushing the oppression on this world, not the atheists.

  15. #15 jimmiraybob
    April 23, 2006

    Crooks and Liars links to a video that will cure that atheism (click URL). Just scroll down to the guy holding the banana (4/18/06 @ 9:27:15AM). Really, if the banana argument doesn’t work there’s no hope.

  16. #16 Tiax
    April 23, 2006

    From the article:

    “The whackjob is a special sort of atheist, one so absolutely certain of the inerrancy of atheism and so virulently opposed to religion that he will latch on to any and all outrageous claims in defense of the former and against the latter.”

    Replace atheist with ‘blogger’, atheism with ‘her opinions’ replace religion with ‘atheism’, and that would be a correct defintion!

  17. #17 Dustin
    April 23, 2006

    You know what this is? This is the result of the “new” way of doing things in the Democratic party. You know, the one where we’re supposed to get religion? The pundits and strategists have spoken and, forthwith, we are the party of the religious, we have always been the party of the religous, and there never were any secular whackjobs in our ranks.

    My chocolate rations just went up too. Doubleplus good, that.

  18. #18 garth
    April 23, 2006

    Tom: Do you really need an answer for that?

    People say stupid things in a position for many people to read it.

    Other people, who are not idiots, respond, and take apart their weak arguements, and make sure they’re exposed for the jerks they are.

    Seriously. Come on now.

  19. #19 Dustin
    April 23, 2006

    Crooks and Liars links to a video that will cure that atheism (click URL). Just scroll down to the guy holding the banana (4/18/06 @ 9:27:15AM). Really, if the banana argument doesn’t work there’s no hope.

    I have seen the fruity light and been saved. Who knew I could be so wrong for so long, only to be unseated by such sound reasoning as that. We can hold a banana, we can eat that banana, therefore God, QED. Eat your heart out, Qalam!

  20. #20 D
    April 23, 2006

    I have to say I’m quite heartened by the response to that asinine article, though I don’t know anything about the site…is it just some kind of atheistic hangout?

  21. #21 Doran
    April 23, 2006

    ARGH! When will people stop bastardizing Quantum Mechanics and the problem of physical measurement. Yes the Indeterminacy principle states that one cannot measure two non-commuting operators (observables) like position and momentum with infinite precision. Ms. Barton also needs to learn that physicists work in a (3+1) space-time, ala General Relativity, not 3-space.

    So QM states we can’t know things to Laplacian like infinite precision and GR/SR means we have to wait a while for certain signals to get to us. These triumphs of early twentieth century physics in explaining purely physical phenomena should caution us from accepting strident atheism. HA! The “Warning: Technobabble ahead!” comment is recognized as an overt admission of being way over ones head but being to stupid to turn around.

    Little history lesson. The Michelson-Morley interferometry experiment of 1887 did not disprove the existence of the ether, it merely stated that there were no first order perturbations in the speed of light due to ether drift. Einstein in 1905, recognizing that second order effects in any ether theory (there were a few) was unlikely, he disregarded the ether hypothesis as unnecessary for explaining electromagnetic phenomena. Michelson to his grave held onto the ether drag hypothesis, for he and many others kept looking well into the 1930s.

    As is often said here, please know what your talking about before you open your mouth.

  22. #22 Dan Koffler
    April 23, 2006

    Very good, Doran. And the question remains, at what point do you stop looking for the ether?

  23. #23 Raindog
    April 23, 2006

    Right on PZ. Its even more annoying in some ways when alleged progressives write such annoying tripe. Aren’t we supposed to be the reality-based community?

    Here is a question: Why are there so few atheists/non-believers? One poll I saw put the number of atheists/non-believers in the US at around 15%. Are only 15% of us capable of critical thought?

  24. #24 dorkafork
    April 23, 2006

    “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”

    PZ, any idea who made this one up? Sounds like one of those CS Lewis half-witticisms that seem to impress religious people so much.

    Actually, that was Carl Sagan.

  25. #25 Doran
    April 23, 2006

    While it is a side issue to the religious left’s reflexive fear of atheists as destroying their cause for political dominance by existing, i’ll bite. The most common reason for giving up on a particular hypothesis or even well tested theory is that something better has come along. By better, and I am being rather vague here, I mean that it explains the phenomena of the previous theory under different suppositions and makes novel predictions as well.

    Now to be perfectly honest there is nothing stopping an individual from doing research on ether drag per se, though funding may be a bit hard to come by. PZ has already dealt with the Rumsfeldian phrasing of absent evidence, but as most of us here will recognize, the lack of such effidence wont deter the faithful. Especially if funding (oh blessed funding) is readily available.

  26. #26 greensmile
    April 23, 2006

    Liberal organizations don’t card people at the door, PZ, so a few of these misfiled humans will turn up now and then. You gave this person a more thorough reading than anyone else would have bothered to provide. You at least have a clear motive.

  27. #27 renato
    April 23, 2006

    When Ms. Barton cites Soviet communism as an example of what happens when atheists are in charge, she is conveniently forgetting the 2,000 years of torture, oppression, war and murder committed in the name of Jeebus and God. That’s a pretty black pot you’ve got there, Melinda, I’ll take the atheist kettle thank you very much.

    I could go into great detail, too, about the atrocities committed by supposedly godly people who had no compunction about uniting the powers of church and state, but it’s not necessary here.

    There’s a reason that Europeans turned their backs on the Church. They have first-hand experience with living under a theocracy and they’ve rightfully rejected it.

    I hope we don’t have to learn that lesson ourselves.

  28. #28 renato
    April 23, 2006

    Are only 15% of us capable of critical thought?

    Sounds about right to me.

  29. #29 Pete K
    April 23, 2006

    I love the sandwich analogy. Another good one is “if atheism is a religion, ‘off’ is a TV channel”.

    But here’s another interesting thing: think outside the box and one quickly realises that it’s all relative – the word “atheism” only exists because theists did first. Notice that folks who don’t believe in hobgoblins are not called “a-hobgoblinists”. The fact that people who don’t believe in something are vilified and patronised in such a way demonstrates the tenacity of the beliefs. Perhaps if theists reverted to deism things would be better overall?

    America is close to turning into a mirror image of Islamic Iran, necessitating its being renamed “UCFSA” – United Christian Fascist States of America…

  30. #30 Austin Cline
    April 23, 2006

    For some reason, by trackbacks still don’t seem to be getting through here – despite the fact that About is using all new software. Anyway, I posted about Barton’s article as well.

    Saying “in a nation comprised predominantly of those who believe in some sort of supreme being, our success as a movement depends on disavowing the secular extremist as a legitimate voice of the left” is no less bigoted than saying “in a nation comprised predominantly of whites, our success as a movement depends on disavowing the black extremist as a legitimate voice of the left” or “in a nation comprised predominantly of heterosexuals, our success as a movement depends on disavowing the homosexual extremist as a legitimate voice of the left” or “in a nation comprised predominantly of Christians, our success as a movement depends on disavowing the non-Christian extremist as a legitimate voice of the left” (remembering that “extremist” is a parody or straw man of what the groups in question really believe and say).

  31. #31 Mel
    April 23, 2006

    Shorter Melinda Barton

    “You know who I can’t stand? Those stuck-up atheists. They totally think they’re better than everyone else. Ohmigod, you’re an atheist? I was so totally not talking about you! I meant, like, those totally extreme atheists!”

  32. #32 Phoenix Woman
    April 23, 2006

    When Ms. Barton cites Soviet communism as an example of what happens when atheists are in charge, she is conveniently forgetting the 2,000 years of torture, oppression, war and murder committed in the name of Jeebus and God. That’s a pretty black pot you’ve got there, Melinda, I’ll take the atheist kettle thank you very much.

    She also ignores the fact that Marx stated repeatedly that Communism can only succeed in a culture that has first been prepped with a few hundred years of capitalism and democracy. That’s why it worked out much better in places like Sweden and the UK than in Eastern Europe and Asia, which were feudal societies less than a century ago.

  33. #33 Dan Koffler
    April 23, 2006

    Well, dorkafork got me good. The interesting thing about the “absence of evidence” remark is that, taken on its own, it’s true. The trouble arises when religiously inclined folks take a perfectly innocuous characterization of the problem of the verifiability of atheism as if it were any less a problem for their own views. In suitably sophistic hands, it becomes, in effect “absence of evidence of absence is evidence of presence,” which is bollocks.

  34. #34 Phoenix Woman
    April 23, 2006

    Reminds me: The one major nation I know of that has successfully managed to go from feudalism to something resembling democracy in less than five hundred years is Japan, and that only because their leadership realized that Something Had To Be Done, And Fast.

    It took a while (and a disastrous effort to emulate the Western world’s efforts at empire-building), but they jettisoned most of the feudal structures that held them back, emphasized education and working for the common good, while retaining a solid work ethic.

    Now, the Japanese, in addition to having a higher standard of living, better education, and better life overall than most “first-world” nations, are also among the least religious of the major nations of the world. I don’t think that this is a coincidence.

  35. #35 PopeRatzo
    April 23, 2006

    I work for a progressive religious school. I tolerate the faith of those with whom I work, I even respect it. I believe people should be able to believe and worship the way they want.

    But I really don’t respect or tolerate attacks on people who believe in God differently or not at all. I’ve encountered strident athiests who I readily classify as horses’ asses. But overall, if there’s any sense that Progressives (or liberals) as a whole are hostile to religion it comes from a overly defensive posture from those who take anyone else’s refusal to believe in the same God they do as a tacit attack. There are lots of people like that.

    In fact, it’s my main problem with most of the fundamentalists, evangelicals or pentecostalists I meet. They are defensive and it makes them offensive.

  36. #36 Sportin' Life
    April 23, 2006

    “in a nation comprised predominantly of heterosexuals, our success as a movement depends on disavowing the homosexual extremist as a legitimate voice of the left”

    Unfortunately, there are Democrats who go around saying exactly this.

  37. #37 aarrgghh
    April 23, 2006

    i have no idea if the folks who created “apocamon” are atheists but they have one hell of a talent for religious interpretation. i’d call this the “infidel’s guide to revelations” and it has to be the finest works of parody i’ve seen in a long time, considering the challenging nature of the source material. enjoy!

    http://www.e-sheep.com/apocamon

    (flash required)

  38. #38 JP
    April 23, 2006

    I have to say, I think your presentation of the alternatives is incomplete. It’s one thing to be an atheist, and I respect one’s choice and right to follow the path of his or her choice. It’s another to be a member of an organized relgion, and again, I respect that choice.

    Those do not have to be diametrically opposed. Note that there are liberal threads in religions, and even beyond that, there’s a pagan or Gnostic sense of spirituality where people recognize that we are all of a common source. This worldview renders all inter-faith arguments obsolete, as they come from ignorance of our common nature.

    I agree with the comment above that suggests that people on the right have a hard time with the elements of the Left that are unable to find anything in common with people of faith. I don’t even think it’s a question of whether someone validates or approves of an atheist’s viewpoint–whether they think it is rational or not. Agree to disagree.. but don’t ostracize, and don’t treat every person of faith as “out to get you” because they’re not.

  39. #39 Raindog
    April 23, 2006

    JP said:
    I agree with the comment above that suggests that people on the right have a hard time with the elements of the Left that are unable to find anything in common with people of faith. I don’t even think it’s a question of whether someone validates or approves of an atheist’s viewpoint–whether they think it is rational or not. Agree to disagree.. but don’t ostracize, and don’t treat every person of faith as “out to get you” because they’re not.”

    Who does this? I have never once heard an atheist state “all people of faith are out to get me,” or anything remotely like that. I also don’t know any atheists who cannot find things in common with theists. We’d all be in pretty bad shape if that were true. Most of the people I know are theists and I have good relationships with almost all of them. We all have to go to work and mow the lawn and take care of our kids, etc and have lots in common in these areas. As with Ms. Barton’s absurd article, just who are these “whackjobs”? I’d like to know the name of one atheist who is like this.

  40. #40 Ian H Spedding
    April 23, 2006

    Phoenix Woman wrote:

    She also ignores the fact that Marx stated repeatedly that Communism can only succeed in a culture that has first been prepped with a few hundred years of capitalism and democracy. That’s why it worked out much better in places like Sweden and the UK than in Eastern Europe and Asia, which were feudal societies less than a century ago.

    Communism worked out better in the UK? All those years and I never noticed…

  41. #41 Paidi
    April 23, 2006

    I no longer call myself an atheist, nor even an agnostic, which merely invites endless sermons and abuse from the ignorant.
    NOW, I tell anyone who asks, that YES – I DO believe in GOD- in fact, I believe in them ALL equally – Jehovah, Zeus, Jupiter, Brahma, Zoroaster, Baal, Hadad, Allah, Yaw, etc.

    Drives’em crazy!!! (And- it’s TRUE!)

  42. #42 marky
    April 23, 2006

    What a whackjob! Is Melinda Barton a pseudonym for Amy Sullivan?
    This was a timely post. I nearly lost my stack today when another academic told me that scientists cannot be atheists if they are true to the principles of science.
    Grrr..

  43. #43 Caledonian
    April 23, 2006

    Just because a faith isn’t one of the traditional religions doesn’t mean it can’t be a religion.

    Soviet Russia and Communist China obviously had state religions — essentially cults of personality around party leaders. They had ritual, they had doctrines, they had an emphasis on accepting the religion on faith… what they didn’t have was supernaturalism, and even that is open to debate if you examine some of their more bizarre claims about human nature and economics.

    They were certainly atheistic, though.

  44. #44 tim gueguen
    April 23, 2006

    The funny thing about Communism as originally presented by Marx and Engels is the similarity of its supposed future to Christianity’s. Specifically both claim that a final showdown between “good” and “evil” will occur at some unspecified, but hopefully soon point. This final conflict is inevitable, the “good guys” will win, and the final result will be the ushering in of the perfect world in which no strife or want exists. Communism replace the Devil with Capitalism, and it posited no Messiah, but the parallels are there.

  45. #45 LittlePig
    April 23, 2006

    One poll I saw put the number of atheists/non-believers in the US at around 15%. Are only 15% of us capable of critical thought?

    That’s a bit harsh. Natural caution probably prevents a lot of folks from admitting (perhaps even to themselves) that they are “non-believers” (whatever that bizarre word means). I know here in the South one does NOT causually disclose such information. I’ve been asked if “I’ve been saved” or “Are you a Christian” walking around my neighborhood. I just chirp “Sure!” and walk on – it neither “breaks my nose nor picks my pocket” to say so; it makes the questioner feel better and keeps me from being hit with wooden objects (or nailed to them). To quote a former governor of my home state, Orval Faubus (yes, THAT Orval Faubus): “Just because I said it doesn’t make it so”.

    Lots of folks here in the South (and probably elsewhere in the U.S.) say they are a Methodist or Baptist or whatever just because of social inertia: their parents were a Whatever, so they are a Whatever. Most of them mind their own business and don’t make a big deal about it. In those occaisions I talk about such things with them, I often find I know the Bible better than they do. They are not militant about it – and that’s the deal here, only the militant Theists are the problem, not all people that won’t acknowledge a particular stand.

    Part of it too is the “definiton” of “atheism” in the larger world. It’s formulated both as weak and strong, i.e. “There is no evidence for God” (which I agree with) or “There CANNOT be a God” (which I disagree with on epistemlogoical grounds). So I could truthfully answer Yes or No to the poll question and still remain in what I find to be common usage of the word (note, folks, “common usage” – a lot of the problem is that the Fundies get to write the dictionary of the public square way, way too often these days).

    So don’t get all self-righteous about being a “15% percenter”. Self-righteousness is a bad thing whether one is an atheist or a hard-shell Baptist.

  46. #46 WPB
    April 23, 2006
  47. #47 Phoenix Woman
    April 23, 2006

    Communism worked out better in the UK? All those years and I never noticed…

    Heh! Well, the application of Communist/Socialist principles worked out better there than it did in places like Russia and China, which were still steeped in feudalism and had no experience with democracy or capitalism.

    So of course, Iron Maggie had to work on destroying it, and Thatcher-in-Drag Tony is selling off what’s left of it to the qwangos, who are taking over formerly nationalized functions and doing them far worse and for far more money. (The infamous pension-plan privatization is a prime example. The privatization of energy utilities is another.)

  48. #48 LittlePig
    April 23, 2006

    I nearly lost my stack today when another academic told me that scientists cannot be atheists if they are true to the principles of science.
    marky

    Always ask for definitions. Natural language is a slippery thing. If “atheist” means to the questioner what I think you think it means, then being annoyed is a very reasonable response. If the questioner takes “atheism” to mean “PROOF there is no God”, then I’d tend to agree with the questioner on grounds of insufficient evidence (and from there we’d have to get into the questioner’s definition of “God’).

  49. #49 Phoenix Woman
    April 23, 2006

    Natural caution probably prevents a lot of folks from admitting (perhaps even to themselves) that they are “non-believers” (whatever that bizarre word means). I know here in the South one does NOT causually disclose such information. I’ve been asked if “I’ve been saved” or “Are you a Christian” walking around my neighborhood. I just chirp “Sure!” and walk on – it neither “breaks my nose nor picks my pocket” to say so; it makes the questioner feel better and keeps me from being hit with wooden objects (or nailed to them). To quote a former governor of my home state, Orval Faubus (yes, THAT Orval Faubus): “Just because I said it doesn’t make it so”.

    Henri of Navarre, the best king (and one of the better rulers overall) that France ever had, operated in much the same way. Though reared as a Protestant, he was for all intents and purposes unchurched. He’s the guy who gave us the saying “Paris is worth a Mass” because he, though of a Protestant family, converted to Catholicism so he could be recognized as King of France. He passed the Edict of Nantes, guaranteeing religious freedom to Protestants and members of other faiths, and generally encouraged people to mind their own business instead of indulging in piety-driven warfare. Unfortunately, his wives weren’t as broadminded as he was, and upon his death his second wife set about undoing much of his good work. What she didn’t undo, Louis XIV did, thus setting the stage for the Revolution.

  50. #50 Phoenix Woman
    April 23, 2006

    I nearly lost my stack today when another academic told me that scientists cannot be atheists if they are true to the principles of science.
    marky

    —————

    Always ask for definitions. Natural language is a slippery thing. If “atheist” means to the questioner what I think you think it means, then being annoyed is a very reasonable response. If the questioner takes “atheism” to mean “PROOF there is no God”, then I’d tend to agree with the questioner on grounds of insufficient evidence (and from there we’d have to get into the questioner’s definition of “God’).

    Posted by: LittlePig | April 23, 2006 10:58 PM

    Oh yes, the old atheist/agnostic confusion. What the fellow academic doesn’t realize is that the agnostic’s position isn’t just “I don’t know if there is a god”, but “I don’t know if there is a god, and you don’t, either”. In other words, the theists have yet to prove much of anything besides a willingness to kill people who don’t agree with them.

  51. #51 beervolcano
    April 23, 2006

    I think in the first part of the post you equate atheism to agnosticism. When I hear atheism, I think strong atheism, which says that there definitely is no god(s). This does indeed require faith to believe wholeheartedly.

    What is being defined here: “the acceptance that there is no credible, scientific or factually reliable evidence for the existence of a God, god/s or the supernatural” is agnosticism. There’s no reason to believe it because of the lack of evidence, but there is also a lack of evidence to totally discount it, which would require faith to do so.

  52. #52 breadbox
    April 23, 2006

    Absence of evidence may not be evidence of absence,
    but it sure-as-heck ain’t evidence of presence either!

  53. #53 JP
    April 23, 2006

    Raindog, here’s an example from a few years ago.. look at the proposal in France of prohibiting Muslim girls from wearing their traditional chadors (head scarves) in class. That scarf doesn’t imply that they believe others should be Muslim, but it does identify their faith. I liked this comparison, written in the Hoya, which contrasted this action with the posting of the 10 Commandments in Alabama. The 10 Commandments at a government site, I agree, is tacit endorsement. An individual wearing a certain type of attire (oustide of that which is revealing, for example) is not a matter for public consideration.

    The struggle is not allowing the right to confuse one with the other. They believe that ‘freedom of religion’ does not mean ‘freedom from religion,’ and it doesn’t–in a private sense, as in what one wears. No-one is asking them to not wear crosses on their attire, but the question is whether that display in a government institution is appropriate.

    Perception is reality, in a way, and when people consider that expression at a government site representative of the “majority” and consider attempts to prohibit it an infringement on their rights, it comes down to reframing the debate to illustrate that private expression and public expression are two totally different things.

  54. #54 Dabodius
    April 24, 2006

    “When was the last time you saw …. an atheist who advocates war and genocide?”
    Comandante Agi, I knew at least two atheist RW professors (philosophy and Englsih) who liked to strike that pose, though I wondered about the philosopher’s sincerity. But I don’t at all doubt Sam Harris’s sincerity in condoning torture, which gives him the same
    moral standing as defenders of rape or slavery, or predatory war and genocide. It’s Harris fault, nobody else’s, and atheism was no help. You cannot blame his public defense of naked evil on religion (or on a totalitarian atheist ideology like Pol Pot’s that you equate with religion), so his example nicely punctures Steven Weinberg’s fatuous pronouncement
    that “for good people to do evil– that takes religion.” Atheists who imagine that they are morally better than the common run of believing humanity either don’t know themselves and their religious neighbors, or flee the insight by flattering themselves. The reason human beings, believers and non-believers alike, cannot make a paradise is that we are only human, with the shortcomings as well as the glories our humanity entails.
    To head off a possible misunderstanding, I wholly agree with Dr. Myers about the civic necessity of defending our secular public sphere from e.g. teaching “Intelligent Design” in public schools and erecting 10 Commandments idols in public places. That institution of secularism has proved an effective and indispensable means of protecting individual consciences and communities religious and irreligious in our non-paradise. We couldn’t hope for anything better — and humanly possible.

  55. #55 James
    April 24, 2006

    This post is really misleading.

    The piece this is about isn’t well writte, but the author makes a huge deal of saying that she isn’t talking about all atheists. This is a really hateful straw man you’ve erected. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  56. #56 Dustin
    April 24, 2006

    Heh, did you guys catch that editor’s addition at the end of the article? I think all of the attention from PZ and the others made the Raw Story wet itself.

    For my part, I think everything that’s been said here is a pretty fair portrayal of that article.

  57. #57 Dustin
    April 24, 2006

    James seems to have missed this post:

    Shorter Melinda Barton

    “You know who I can’t stand? Those stuck-up atheists. They totally think they’re better than everyone else. Ohmigod, you’re an atheist? I was so totally not talking about you! I meant, like, those totally extreme atheists!”

  58. #58 Dabodius
    April 24, 2006

    “I know here in the South one does NOT causually disclose such information.”
    LittlePig, I’m a Southerner who lived about half his atheist years, now long over, in Southern states. I professed atheism whenever the subject came up, argued for it when it was discussed, and nobody punched my jaw or ran to get their children in behind locked doors. The worst reaction I ever got was at the San Francisco airport in 1976 when an ISKCON devotee I brushed off shoved me and called me names. Maybe now I garner more respect from my Christian neighbors as a believing Jew, I don’t know; but you can’t lose that much respect if you speak your mind with tact and conviction. Consider that your neighbors might benefit from knowing that atheists are as mundane and quotidian as they — unless you share the clueless vanity of Steven Weinberg^, for then you would bring atheism into disrepute.

  59. #59 AoT
    April 24, 2006

    “Religion is oppressive. The act of subjugating human will to “divine will” is oppressive. The practice of obeying clergy, of letting them make our decisions for us, is oppressive and irresponsible.”

    And that’s incorrect HOW?

    It isn’t incorrect at all. In fact, it doesn’t go far enough. The practice of obeying *at all* is oppresive and irresponsible. Religion is only one aspect of this.

    absence of evidence is not evidence of absence

    That’s right, and I have an absence of evidence for unicorns.

  60. #60 Kiwi
    April 24, 2006

    Wankers… each and every one!

  61. #61 neal
    April 24, 2006

    It also means she gets to accuse those few remaining godless promoters of a non-religous government “whackjobs” and extremists.

    You know, I’m a fairly extremist atheist myself…

    i’m confused here. it appears that you take offense with barton calling you an extremist, but it’s okay for you to characterize yourself as one? (or “fairly” extremist)

    whatever. small point. i found barton’s piece somewhat silly, and yes, you did deconstruct each of her “outrageous” claims in a way that makes them seem irrelevant/totally off the mark, but her primary claim is still seems to remain true for me: that there are still extremist athiests who seem to be quite intolerant of religious belief. and here lies the issue i have with your post: what is so progressive about a the vicious denial and belittling of someone’s else’s beliefs? there is nothing about the supernatural that can be proved or disproved, so atheism is thus also a belief. i think barton is just fed up with athiests shitting on god believers so much. and while i’m actually more sympathetic to your view of religion, i have to say that your post was a little unfair. adherents of positive atheism can often grow as militant in their rhetoric as a reflexive move against theists, allowing extremism to foster among the godless as well as the god freaks.

    -someone from the “middle”

  62. #62 Max Udargo
    April 24, 2006

    This idea that reason is just another kind of faith is the most insidious, corrosive idea ever to threaten the American way of life.

  63. #63 Kathy McCarty
    April 24, 2006

    Yeah, what is going on with RAW STORY? They had a very insulting piece a while back on women waiting to have children until they are financially able to care for them…calling it, let’s see, short-sighted and selfish, among other things, and telling us that we have exceeded our “expiration date”…it is almost asthough RAW STORY hopes to beef up readership by being CONTROVERSIAL, and are only succeeding at being offensive to their base (you know, us atheistic baby hating feminist progressives).

  64. #64 Max Udargo
    April 24, 2006

    I think barton is just fed up with athiests shitting on god believers so much. – neal

    Yeah, how do the “god believers” deal with it, the relentless, ubiquitous cacophony of atheist voices, shouting at them from every direction. There’s no escape from the assualt, what with atheists dominating politics, culture, media and society the way they do. I’m glad the poor, weak, scattered enclaves of the religious downtrodden are finally taking a stand and doing something to combat this great scourge. Perhaps, if liberals will wake up and divert their attention from less important matters and focus on breaking the tyrannical grip of atheism, we will someday live in a country where people are free to openly worship god. We can only hope it’s not too late.

  65. #65 G. Tingey
    April 24, 2006

    How about debating these instead …
    I know you’ve seen them before, but so what …

    1. God is not detectable
    2. All religions have been made by men.
    3. Prayer has no effect on third parties.
    Corollary: 3a ] There is no such thing as “Psi”.
    4. All religions are blackmail, and are based on fear and superstition.
    Corollary: 4a ] Marxism is a religion.
    5. All religions kill, or enslave, or torture.
    Corollary: 5a ] The bigots are the true believers.

  66. #66 Pastor Maker
    April 24, 2006

    Max,

    The reason the whispers of a few thousand atheists annoy the millions of theists so much is…the truth hurts.

    Try pouring cold water on an urban myth one day, after a friend has just finished reciting it as fact. The looks you’ll get could melt steel.

  67. #67 John C. Randolph
    April 24, 2006

    Tingey,

    #5 is wrong: no Pastafarian has ever killed, enslaved, or tortured another person for religious reasons.

    -jcr

  68. #68 Andrew
    April 24, 2006

    Neal-
    The problem with this article is mostly that these sorts of atheists DON’T exist or at least are very, very rare. That’s why people are saying things like “I’m a fairly extremist atheist myself…”, because even those of us who define ourselves as extremist atheists don’t make these ridiculous assertions. She’s arguing against a straw atheist that doesn’t exist or barely exists, and then telling us that she’s only targetting this very small minority of the atheist population.

    The problem is that when authors target a very small population like this, the reader’s don’t say to themselves “Well, I don’t know any atheists like that, so obviously she’s totally off her rocker,” they tend instead to think “Well, I don’t know any atheists period, so most of them must act and think exactly like this.” It’s a smear campaign and nothing more.

    Again, even the most extreme atheists on the web, many of whom you’ll find on this site, don’t hold the ideas she says we hold. How many atheists, then, do you suppose do hold these views?

  69. #69 derek
    April 24, 2006

    I nearly lost my stack today when another academic told me that scientists cannot be atheists if they are true to the principles of science.

    marky, I’m usually “yeah, whatever” with such twits too, unless they keep at it enough to piss me off, then I can make their day really interesting:

    “So, since the resistance is V/A…”
    “Wait, how can you say that as if it were a fact?”
    “Oh, for Pete’s sake, it’s half past four, we have got to get some work done today!”
    “No, no, you’ve shown me the light, we can’t be true to the principles of science if we go around treating unproven statements as a fact. So about this Ohms thing…”

  70. #70 The Oracle
    April 24, 2006

    The more freedom in any society, the less censorship promoted.

    The less freedom in any society, the more censorship promoted.

    Now, which one describes a liberal democracy and which describes a totalitarian police state?

    Thus, Communist Red China and Saudi Arabia are really run by people with the same mindset, even though the former society is controlled by Maoist atheists and the latter society is controlled by Islamic Wahhibists. How do I know this? The leaders of both countries censor the same things. The only difference is in the degree of censorship practiced.

    This has led me to conclude that the real split we see in this world is between control-freak conservatives and “live and let live” liberals, with a bunch of moderates sandwiched in between. And these moderates can swing either way depending on the societal issue involved.

    The key to recognizing if one is looking at a liberal democracy or a totalitarian police state is to study the “public square” in any society. In other words, if someone is monopolizing the “public square,” then it is not a liberal democracy. And the people doing this will butt into the private lives of individuals, too. Freedom? What freedom? The people pulling this stunt only care about their freedom, and could care less about the freedom of others, no matter what they might claim…or promise.

    Anyway, I’m a secularist liberal Christian who has much in common with secularist liberal atheists and secularist liberals of other religions, even though we might have dissimilar surface beliefs. Why? Forcing people, and their offspring, into certain belief patterns is the hallmark of control-freak conservatives.

    “Live and let live” liberals do not do this. Their view is that there is plenty of room in the “public square” and the marketplace of ideas for everyone, including the control-freak conservatives. Unfortunately, this is not the view held by the control-freak conservatives. Being righteous (and never wrong), they feel compelled to censor, and censor, and censor.

    This is why I value our liberal democracy and why I am aghast at what some control-freak Republicans, and even some control-freak Democrats, are trying to do to our liberal democracy. We are being pushed down the path to a totalitarian police state, freedom in the “public square” is under constant attack, and I, for one, don’t like it.

    And this should be the message of the Democratic Party, and even among more moderate Republicans. Do we want to maintain the freedom promised us and our children in our liberal democracy, or do we want to let the hounds of censorship tear apart our liberal democracy so they can replace it with their totalitarian police state?

    In other words, I see who’s calling for increased censorship of freedom-loving U.S. citizens in both the Republican and Democratic Parties. Often the control-freak members of both national parties join together to censor when certain issues get their attention. And freedom suffers another death blow. Our democracy, our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, are subverted little by little, piece by piece, until eventually all our freedoms will be so undermined that a totalitarian police state will replace our liberal democracy.

    Sorry, folks, that’s where we’re headed, unless we stop the control-freak conservative censors of both major national parties right now. Our nation’s children deserve our undivided attention to make sure a totalitarian police state is not what we bequeath them. Our liberal democracy literally hangs in the balance.

  71. #71 reason
    April 24, 2006

    No one ever seems to pick up on the week point of theists claims of metaphysical equivalence – in metaphysical arguments they never define what they mean by God. In spite of this they use this to support the feasability of their own very specific deity. This jump may not be logically possible. Saying that some sort of God is possible does not imply that ANY sort of God could exist. I wonder whether there actually are any two believers out their who believe exactly the same things. Well it seems like it must be that not only some sort of God is possible, but it must come in infinite variations.

  72. #72 Alan
    April 24, 2006

    I am an Athiest, not extreme or paraniod just a straight forward non believer in God as a universal being of great power that can dictate how my life is to be run through the voice of a priest, or other such religious dictator or dictatorship.
    A voice that tells me that if I obey I will have life ever after. Control freaks every one. have you every thought how Islam was founded, Prayer 1 One and a Half hours before sunrise, Prayer 2 Mid day, Prayer 3 Mid Afternoon, Prayer 4 sunset and Prayer 5 one and a half hours after sunset.
    Number 1 get them up
    Number 2 stop work mid day
    Number 3 re-start work after heat of day
    Number 5 stop work
    Number 5 bed time
    Repeat process daily, no work on Friday but keep up the pressure so they don’t forget for saturday. no wonder they want to commit suicide.

  73. #73 Shygetz
    April 24, 2006

    PZ makes an excellent example of the slipperiness of analogies.

    Absence of evidence is a legitimate argument for the absence of a phenomenon. If I claim there is a unicorn living in my backyard, but repeated attempts to observe and record it, or to find indirect evidence such as footprints or unicorn scat all fail, it is perfectly reasonable to provisionally suggest that the claim is false, and to insist that any further consideration of the idea will require positive evidence from the claimant.

    Yes, since you surveyed the entire space for a creature that you are equipped to detect and did not find it, you have sufficient evidence of the absence of unicorns in your backyard.

    Let’s now apply that logic to god(s). Have you searched the entire universe? Not even close–heck, even the sample you have is terribly biased and not even close to statictically significant. Are you equipped to detect god(s)? Maybe, maybe not; depends on its properties. Do you have sufficient evidence for absence? Not for a rigorous analysis, no.

    If you sent in a manuscript that stated that you have no fluorescent zebrafish in your tank (although you have only exposed them to light of a single wavelength, and only looked for emission at one other wavelength), therefore fluorescent zebrafish do not exist anywhere, you would be laughed out of the journal (I would sincerely hope).

    And I have a similar absence of evidence for one-dimensional extended objects, so all you string-theorists just stop it, already.

    Absence of evidence is only evidence of absence if you have sufficiently surveyed a large enough sample of overall space to satisfy your statistical confidence limit. When dealing with something as nebulous as gods, you really can’t say anything with our current evidence. We don’t know exactly what to look for, we’re not sure how we would find it, and we sure as hell haven’t surveyed a sufficient sample of the universe to say even that equine-like creatures with a single horn don’t exist, much less god. However, we can say that certain religious beliefs (such as a promiscuously interceding god, or a 6-day creation 6000 years ago) are wrong, and that equine-like creatures on Earth with a single horn are developmental freaks rather than a species of unicorn.

    I think there’s nothing wrong with having faith in the idea that there is no god; of all the opinions to have about god, it is probably the most likely to be true. However, it is still faith; just as I have faith that there are no slugs in my office, even though I haven’t really looked. But it is still faith in the absence of sufficient evidence. Hell, even non-controversial ideas require proof to 95% statistical confidence; we’re not even close to that when it comes to the existence or non-existence of god(s).

    I know you’ve seen them before, but so what …

    1. God is not detectable

    Neither are one-dimensional strings–doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Electrons were once undetectable, too.

    2. All religions have been made by men.

    All atomic theories were also made by men. Does that mean that atoms don’t exist?

    3. Prayer has no effect on third parties.
    Corollary: 3a ] There is no such thing as “Psi”.

    The current studies do support this assertion, and suggest that god(s) is not currently promiscuously intercessory, if it exists at all. Saying there is no such thing as psi is pushing the evidence farther than it should go I think; rather, psi has not been proven, and no mechanism exists for its action.

    4. All religions are blackmail, and are based on fear and superstition.
    Corollary: 4a ] Marxism is a religion.

    5. All religions kill, or enslave, or torture.
    Corollary: 5a ] The bigots are the true believers.

    And the fastest way to tell that a social scientist is wrong is when (s)he makes a universal statement about a social phenomenon.

    Sorry if I seem nitpicky; I just hate to see inductive reasoning abused.

  74. #74 PZ Myers
    April 24, 2006

    Correct. But what we can do with religion is assay specific claims; that does circumscribe the search space, and make it possible to examine them thoroughly.

    You will notice, though, that one of the skills of the religious is to make their claims so amorphous, so hedged about with qualifiers and pre-assembled excuses, that nothing is actually testable. That’s another way to detect the absence of a phenomenon.

  75. #75 speedwell
    April 24, 2006

    It’s also true that many negative claims are provable without the use of bean-counting statistical analysis, shygetz. “There are no positive even prime numbers greater than 2” is such a claim.

    I’m not a mathematician and I’m unfamiliar with the exact proof of this, but I can guess it begins by defining its wording something like this: “A positive number is a number greater than 0. A prime number is a divisible only by itself and 1. An even number is a number divisible by 2.” And then I would guess it attempts to show algebraically that the opposite statement, “There exists at least one positive even prime number greater than 2” is false or impossible, which it does successfully and thus proves that the original statement is true.

    I understand this is called the reductio ad absurdum and it’s a method of proof the average high school student learns in a first-year geometry class.

    Claims of God’s existence may often be defined and reduced in the same fashion. I ran across such an argument that attempted to disprove the existence of the Christian God by showing it to be self-contradictory and impossible. I can’t put my finger on it right now, and didn’t get a terrifically analytical look at it at the time, but it’s intersting that such an attempt was made convincingly.

  76. #76 wamba
    April 24, 2006

    Study the abolitionist movement or the civil rights movement and you will be hard pressed not to encounter the role of religion in these struggles for liberation.

    That’s a great idea! If anyone wishes to follow up on this, here’s a good starting place: Slavery in the Bible
    .
    I also recommend Freethinkers by Susan Jacoby, (C) 2004, ISBN 978-0-8050-7776-6.

  77. #77 Keith Douglas
    April 24, 2006

    Believers also often forget that if you qualify your god enough to avoid falsification (though, in passing I might add that I believe that any conventional use of the word is falsified) one cannot also have any warrant for believing in it. This is because there is an increasing lack of evidence which makes the decision possible.

  78. #78 Shygetz
    April 24, 2006

    It’s also true that many negative claims are provable without the use of bean-counting statistical analysis, shygetz.

    Only in math (including formal and symbolic logic). You can determine that a certain logic structure is internally inconsistent (for example, Biblical “literalist” creationism) and therefore untrue without the need for any evidence. This is useful for invalidating certain hypotheses and specific religions, but not for disproving the existence of most phenomena (including god(s)) in general, which has no convoluted logical structure to attack. Just so I am not misunderstood, I completely agree that any religion that makes a specific, testable claim is fair game (e.g. Biblical “literalism”). And one can also say that those religions that make no testable claims are not science, not supported by any evidence, incredibly unlikely to be true, and should be discounted as such.

  79. #79 Raindog
    April 24, 2006

    Beervolcano said:

    “What is being defined here: “the acceptance that there is no credible, scientific or factually reliable evidence for the existence of a God, god/s or the supernatural” is agnosticism. There’s no reason to believe it because of the lack of evidence, but there is also a lack of evidence to totally discount it, which would require faith to do so.”

    What you defined is atheism, not agnosticism. I completely disagree with this approach. Nothing should be believed until there is a reason to beleive it. Any belief in God should be discounted because there is no reason to believe it. Are you “agnostic” about whether there is a teapot orbiting Venus? To use the Bertrand Russell analogy: Would you say, “I can’t prove there isn’t a teapot orbiting Venus so I will stay open to this idea becuase there is a lack of evidence to discount it.” Or are you a “teapot atheist?” who would be comfortable saying “I don’t believe that there is a teapot orbiting Venus.” I think all but the most wishy-washy are teapot atheists. Just because something can’t be demonstrated to be false doesn’t mean you can’t discount it. God-belief falls into this category.

  80. #80 Njorl
    April 24, 2006

    ” adherents of positive atheism can often grow as militant in their rhetoric as a reflexive move against theists,” -Neal

    Neal,
    To suffer at the hands of these people, it is generally necessary to go to their blogs, go to their conferences, or somehow prod them with a stick first. It’s like going to an R-rated movie and complaining about the language. The religious extremists are on TV, writing editorials in major newspapers and speaking in congress. There is no comparisson.

    Atheist extremists are boogeymen. The stories people make up about them to frighten children are much more significant than anything the atheists themselves do.

  81. #81 Mike Nilsen
    April 24, 2006

    Ms. Barton is confusing an atheistic position based on the lack of evidence for a god with perfectly non-mystical criticism of religious institutions. One can criticise religion or religious institutions while firmly believing in a deity. Of course, from an atheist’s perspective, the flaws in organized religion become enhanced and obvious, but the two are largely independent. Anyone, believer or not, can (and many believers do) criticise the beliefs, institutions or religious practices of others. I can point out the flaws in, say, Scientology as an atheist, a Sufi Muslim or a Catholic.

  82. #82 Kristine
    April 24, 2006

    In what appears to me to be a badly-written junior high level debate outline, this woman claims not to label all atheists, then takes broadly written claims (so as to include most if not all atheists, and certainly me) and labels their claims “outrageous.” [Note the finger wagging: “And if you agree with these outrageous claims, you’re an extremist, too!”] Thus the lines are drawn. It’s not subtle, but it’s effective for the lamentable level of public discourse in this country.

    “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” My, what a profound retort to the question of what, in the absence of evidence, we should believe in as opposed to other, equally unsupported beliefs. Therefore, let’s all admit that we cannot disprove the existence of the teapot that may in orbit around Mars. It’s just as likely to exist as God, according to her logic!

    In misdirecting the issue (“She’s not talking about all atheists,” the editors apparently cannot handle the fact that her argument itself is puerile.

    What, in the absence of evidence, shall we believe and reject, if not upon evidence? Why shouldn’t I believe in the teapot, then? Why shouldn’t I believe that she’s an extraterrestrial? Absence of evidence of her nonhuman nature is not evidence of absence.

  83. #83 A Hermit
    April 24, 2006

    My comment posted at Raw Story:

    I understand, and to some extent, sympathize, with what you’re trying to say here Ms Barton: extremism of any sort is to be condemned, but here’s the problem.

    When I go after extremists I always take care to make clear which particular extremists I’m talking about; if I have an issue with Jerry Falwell I’ll complain about Jerry Falwell. You haven’t done that here, and we’re left wondering where (outside of the comments departments of some blogs, which are not what I’d call a representative sample) we might find these slobbering radical atheist whackjobs.

    It’s all well and good to cover your ass by saying not all atheists are extremist whackjobs, but unfortunately when you follow that kind of statement with a series of poorly constructed strawmen (which many others have dissected more ably than I could) and don’t (or can’t) make it clear exactly which whackjobs you’re taking on your qualifier has the same kind of impact as “not all Jews are greedy, but,” or “not all Blacks are lazy, but,” or “some of my best friends are gay, but,” followed by a poorly informed, bigoted screed against one of those groups. You started with a “some of my best friends” style disclaimer, but that doesn’t overcome the generalized, stereotypical tone of the rest of your article.

    In fact it might actually be worse in this case, since atheists, as a group, probably have even less influence in American society than any of those other minorities. A majority of Americans say they would vote for a Gay or Jewish candidate, but would vote against an atheist, even if they agreed with the policies of the atheist candidate, so I have to wonder why you felt it was so important to go after what must be a puny number of atheist “whackjobs” instead of Black, Jewish or Gay extremists…especially since you don’t tell us who the whackjobs are or what it is they’ve done to make it necessary to go after them like this.

    You need to avoid redefining words when you write an article on a subject like this one. Secular does not mean “those who disbelieve all religious and spiritual claims”. Never has, never will. There are plenty of religious people who believe in “rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s”. Abusing language like that does nothing to isolate those extremists who might actually be out there, it just serves to marginalize those who truly are secular (atheists and believers alike) by lumping them linguistically in with the whackjobs.

    You’ve also abused the term “agnostic. Sadly you’re not alone in this, too many people think agnosticism is synonymous with fence sitting. Agnosticism is a method, not a belief; one which maintains that it is better to withold belief in an entity (or phenomenon) in the absence of compelling evidence supporting the existence of that entity.

    I am an atheist because of my agnosticism.

    I know you didn’t mean to be bigoted here, but in my opinion you need to do a better job of writing (and your editors a better job of picking articles…it’s fine to want to provide some balance, but you shouldn’t lower your standards to get it).

    Sincerely

    A Hermit

  84. #84 A Hermit
    April 24, 2006

    Shorter Melinda Barton

    “You know who I can’t stand? Those stuck-up atheists. They totally think they’re better than everyone else. Ohmigod, you’re an atheist? I was so totally not talking about you! I meant, like, those totally extreme atheists!””

    Posted by: Mel | April 23, 2006 08:46 PM

    Wow. That summed it up perfectly!

    See, that’s good writing; Ms. Barton’s article, not so much…

  85. #85 A Hermit
    April 24, 2006

    “Pastafarian has ever killed, enslaved, or tortured another person for religious reasons.” -jcr

    Well, except the Pirates…a little….;-)

  86. #86 PZ Myers
    April 24, 2006

    And they deserved it!

  87. #87 Chris
    April 24, 2006

    I currently have no evidence that there is an elephant in my bedroom. Am I justified in believing that there is *not* an elephant in my bedroom, just on the basis of my lack of evidence that there is one?

    Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence *only if* it is reasonably likely that the phenomenon in question could exist without there being any evidence of it. Elephants in my bedroom don’t meet this test – if it was there, I darn well *would* have evidence.

    I suppose all we can really conclude about gods (by this type of reasoning) is that there probably aren’t any interventionist gods on or near the Earth. Gods aren’t *necessarily* as visible as elephants in the bedroom. (I once saw a very funny page explaining why God is a ninja, but lost the URL.)

    I don’t have any evidence for any of the following: there is an elephant in my bedroom, there is an ant in my bedroom, there is a ninja in my bedroom, there is a ghost in my bedroom, there is a god in my bedroom. What makes some of those statements more believable than others?

    I consider the elephant decisively refuted, the ant undetermined, the ninja very unlikely, and the ghost and god theoretically possible but so unlikely I can’t think of a word to describe how unlikely they are.

    More importantly: the only objects that I affirmatively do believe are in my bedroom are the ones which I *do* have evidence for. If there is no evidence either way, I don’t form a belief either way. I believe that there *might* be an ant in my bedroom, not that there *is* one. And that there probably isn’t a ninja, and that there almost certainly isn’t a ghost or a god, and that there *definitely* isn’t an elephant. When applied to gods, some people would describe this position as agnostic, others as atheist; I think although both terms are vague and ill-defined, I prefer atheist.

    Ontological naturalism is a tautology: whatever exists, exists. I really don’t understand why people think they can deny that and still be talking sense. Equivocation, maybe? There’s a strict sense in which concepts and abstractions don’t “exist” and a broader sense in which they do, and unless you declare one of those invalid, you have to be quite clear on which one you mean. Gods exist-as-concept – since you can talk about them – but there’s no good reason to believe they exist-as-entity the way trees or stars or squid do.

  88. #88 Bram
    April 24, 2006

    This author is an idiot. Of course the belief that there is no God is faith. Its just as irrational as belief in God. Open your eyes – realize that the foundations of your world, no matter what you purport to believe, are ultimatley irrational. Even rationalism is just a belief system, a tool for perception, and even it has limitations; the idea of causation requires faith that the world is going to continue to operate the way its been operating. The belief that rationalism – logic and observation – can somehow explain the entire universe is just as irrational as the belief that the Bible does. If this seems scary that’s because it is. Everyone needs to grow a pair and start realizing how our worlds are held together by nothing more than irrational beliefs that we have arbitrarily latched onto – including the extremely rational world of aethism.

  89. #89 JohnB
    April 24, 2006

    PZ, I’d definitely support an exam before people are allowed to use the “Quantum Physics” argument. As someone studying physics and trying to make teaching it his profession, hearing anyone use the “NOVA-special descriptions” of quantum phenomena as a catch-all for any ridiculous idea they have is simply painful.

  90. #90 skippy
    April 24, 2006

    he he he.

    you said “unicorn scat.”

    he he he.

  91. #91 illegitimi
    April 24, 2006

    Bram – If you think the assumption that “the world is going to continue to operate the way its [sic] been operating” is arbitary, I invite you to try crossing a busy street without it.

  92. #92 Blake Stacey
    April 24, 2006

    I’m with JohnB and PZ on the quantum physics exam requirement. Cf. all the What the Bleep nonsense we went through a few threads ago.

  93. #93 Jeffrey Brian
    April 24, 2006

    I wish all people would compose their arguments as thoughtfully as A Hermit.

  94. #94 Bill Cannon
    April 24, 2006

    Excellent thinking and writing. Raw Story is bringing you a lot of coverage. I’m putting you in my daily bookmarks right now.

  95. #95 mparker
    April 24, 2006

    Religion is based on faith not facts.

    It is not true that athiests believe in nothing.

    Athiests refuse to suspend their disbelief which is required to accept religious dogma unsupported by facts.

  96. #96 MWolfe
    April 24, 2006

    I would disagree that “absence of proof is proof of absence”. It MAY be proof of absence, or it may simply be an indicator that we don’t understand the nature of what we’re looking for well enough to devise an adequate test to prove it. Either way, I do agree that Ms. Barton is a real nutjob. Is there a God? – I don’t know, and neither does anyone else, either religious fanatics or atheistic fanatics. The available facts in no way indicate that God exists (and certainly NOT in the way any major religion proposes), but I do not think that proving nutjobs are wrong proves the opposite point. It could simply be that we don’t understand the problem well enough to devise a conclusive test.

  97. #97 Bram
    April 24, 2006

    Illigitimi – you make a good observation but you missed the point: Making a statement about the world based on assumptions about the future is irrational, however useful doing so is. Outside of conceptual structures where you create the rules like math or geometry, and hence can say with surety exactly what will happen in every case, statements about the world in the future are not provable – you have to wait and see what happens before they can be true. You hit on exactly what I am trying to say with the car example: I need to believe that the world will continue to follow the current laws of physics in order to cross the street succesfully. But in doing so, I am making an assumption about the future, which is not rigorously rational or provable. You absolutley cannot prove to me, in the same way that you can prove that every time you add 2 + 2 you get 4, that the cars aren’t going to suddenly fly into the air, or skip time, or turn into gremlins the next time I cross the street. To function in the world, I just have to beleive that those things aren’t going to happen. To function in the world you just have to believe that something is holding it all together for you, that something is going to keep time running the way its been running, that somethings going to keep gravity holding the Earth in orbit, that your identity will continue to attach to your body, that you are not just a brain in a jar, that the world is not continuously destroyed and recreated every five seconds with your memory revised every time: to fail to do this is to go insane. You must admit that there is something simply beyond our observation and beyond our logic holding it together. What do you call that something? Matter? Energy? Ask yourself what those words even mean. What if that something has an intelligence? When you start talking about the existence or nonexistence of God, you have left the realm of human understanding and entered the realm of faith, whether you’re trying to prove God’s existence or disprove it. Once you’ve reached the boundaries of your understanding you will find that you have a need to fill in the gaps or face utter insanity. I guarantee that you have filled it in with something if you are a functional human being. Melinda Barton’s (and my own) point was simply that filling in that gap with a statement against the existence of God is on exactly the same footing as filling it in with God. And imposing that belief on everyone else is exactly as indefensible as imposing whatever other ontology you can come up with, including all of those offered by religions. No matter what kind of picture you’ve painted yourself to function in the world, admit that the world is beyond you and let others paint the pictures they happen to want to see.

  98. #98 Adnihilo
    April 24, 2006

    Barton is a prime example illustrating religious adherents or faith-based believers as inherently intolerant. Her attack on atheists also illustrates what happens when folks at odds with this religiosity of the 21st century tolerates the inherent intolerance of religion.

    Religion depends on and demands intolerance. It is a requirement for obstinate and unreasoning attachment to any religious faith-based beliefs unfounded in fact. Intolerance is needed for indocrinaton and continued adherence to religious dogma. If believers are not intolerant of other religious beliefs or non belief, these faith-based adherents do not remain devout members of their religion. The trait of flexibility, which is so essential to proper emotional functioning, is blocked and sabotaged by religious belief. For the person who dogmatically believes in god, and who sustains this belief with a faith unfounded in fact, which a true believer must, clearly is not open to change and is necessarily bigoted.

    Religion, with such black and white absolutes from fictional god-given standards created by religious leaders, must make the adherrent self-deprecating and dehumanized when the err; and must lead them to despise and dehumanize others in an intolerant and bigoted fashion when they act badly. This kind of absolutistic, perfectionistic, bi dimensional thinking results in the two most corroding human emotions: anxiety and hostility.

    Religiously instilled Anxiety and hostility leads to its bigotry, hate, murder and genocide. Which tells us why all 3 monotheistic religions combined have and continue to be singularly the most destructive force in the history of civilization. To tolerate the intolerable monotheistic religions is tolerate this most singularly destructive force in the history of civilization. Meaning all faith-based social organizations, governments and culture are so diseased, that their total destruction is the only viable solution for its own sake, independent of any constructive plan or outcome. That I suppose is an extreme form of atheism…

    At least Raw Story realized their mistake by removing her editorial link from its front page and instead show a link to your rebuttal to it here. Barton’s irrational dribble pissed me off as well, so I too wrote a rebuttal to it on my blog you can read here
    http://lostvegas.us/LessThanHuman/?p=51

    Austin Cline,of Agnosticism / Atheism also wrote a rebuttal to her ‘whack’ editorial here
    http://atheism.about.com/b/a/257416.htm

  99. #99 Righteous Bubba
    April 24, 2006

    The apology:

    [The follow was not requested by, nor does it, or the original piece, necessarily reflect the views of Raw Story or its editors.]

    After the publication of my take on secular extremism on Raw Story, I received quite a lot of vitriol from many atheists who felt I was condemning atheism as a whole. While I feel that I made clear that that was not the case, I must admit that if so many people came away with this conclusion, then obviously the article was not as well prepared or well written as it should have been. This is due, in part, to the fact that I have struggled for quite some time with whether I should write it at all. Also, my use of the word “whackjob” was an intentional although perhaps badly chosen play on the common pairing of that word with the word “religious.” I apologize to any who felt that I was adding burdens to an already burdened minority in our country.

    I’d also like to take a few moments to clarify some points here. The separation of church and state is and always has been vital to the functioning of liberal democracy. It contains both freedom of and freedom from religion and should continue to do so. I strongly support the right of all peoples to believe or disbelieve whatever they wish within the bounds of respect for human rights. In other words, if it’s not hurting anyone, go for it. I would defend to my death (yes, I’m aware it’s a cliche) your right to believe or disbelieve and am strongly opposed to prayer in schools, the use of the bible in a courtroom, laws based solely on religious precepts with no accompanying social necessity, the teaching of religious belief in public institutions, etc. Although I disagree with atheist precepts, I have respect for the logic and reasoning upon which it is based. This continues despite my acceptance of faith in my own life.

    Finally, I do not believe that anyone should be silenced or purged, only that the progressive movement is not required to grant legitimacy to all leftist beliefs. I also believe that we should criticize ourselves with the same honesty with which we criticize others. I have regularly opposed religious extremism and have held it up to harsh criticism numerous times in my published work. I thought it only honest to take a look at the other side despite the fact that I consider religious extremism to be the greatest threat facing us today. If anyone came away with the impression that I consider secular extremism to be even an iota of the threat that religious extremism is, I apologize. I can only assure you that, I would hope, most of my work is better written and prepared and that I will take greater care in the future.

    Shalom Aleichem,
    Melinda Barton

    Melinda Barton | 04.24.06 – 12:46 pm | #

  100. #100 Beast of Bourbon
    April 24, 2006

    I read Raw Story’s news items regularly. I ignore the columns there regularly, too.

  101. #101 wamba
    April 24, 2006

    After the publication of my take on secular extremism on Raw Story, I received quite a lot of vitriol from many atheists who felt I was condemning atheism as a whole.

    Why of course not. Only those atheists who believe it is a logically superior position to reject grandiose supernatural claims which are not based on evidence. I’m sure all the rest of the atheists were not offended.

    Although I disagree with atheist precepts, I have respect for the logic and reasoning upon which it is based.

    As pointed out by numerous people commenting at the Raw Story site, you do not appear to understand the logic and reasoning upon which atheism is based, let alone respect it. Perhaps you could undergo some study in philosophy to address your weakness in this area.

    Live long and prosper.

  102. #102 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 24, 2006

    The links on this post and its comments is rapidly becoming a long list of Pet Peeves:

    1) On scientific theories (Barton):
    “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

    While this is useful if we are looking for things we know exist (like a lost kitchen knife), it is not true of theories. Without positive observations we can’t make theories, and negative observations assemble evidence for a decision.

    2) On Quantum mechanics, QM (Barton):
    “The known laws of physics and the discoveries of quantum physics show that our ability to observe the universe is limited by its and our innate properties.”

    QM is not a negative statement on observability but a condition on it – we can for example observe position as accurate as we wish. On the contrary it has provided definite positive statements on observability, such that hidden variable theories doesn’t work, that states develop in a deterministic manner, and that quantum chaos is probably nonexistent.

    3) On induction (Shygetz):
    Induction is a tool to suggest hypotheses, not a method to verify theories beyond reasonable doubt. Verifying theories are much stronger, using prior theories and falsification et cetera.

    4) On methods of science (Bram):
    Methodological naturalism has been a result of the successful use of the methods of science. Science use observations to make and verify theories beyond reasonable doubt. It has been a result, not a priori given by any philosophy of yours, that these theories has converged to be about nature. Dualistic theories of spirited mechanisms, souls, et cetera has lacked testable support.

    5) On atheism and ‘proofs of gods’:
    While atheism certainly is vaguely defined, it is clear that it is no faith or belief.

    An acceptable definition of atheism could be ‘We know there are no gods’ and of agnosticism ‘We can’t know if there are no gods’. It is clear by now that no philosophical ‘proof’ of gods or not can be made.

    However, there are at least four observational methods that supports the atheist claim. PZ mentions one: assaying specific claims enables decisions. Keith Douglas mentions one: increasing lack of evidence enables decisions. One other is to take it as an axiom and observe if it is consistent with evidence. It is, and as it makes away with dualistic objects such as gods it is most parsimonious, but it is not falsifiable. The one I prefer is falsifiable and relies on observing the natural dual of any universal dualism claims.

    Shygetz raises some problems with this. The detection problem is answered by observing conservation properties of natural phenomena, since we then know what nonnatural properties are. The idea that we need to search the entire universe is ludicrous. We need only verify beyond reasonable doubt, and we have known properties of universal isotrophy on natural properties. For example QM, or chemical reactions, are the same through the universe by theory – and we can even support that with observations. So a sieve of local observations for a restricted time with a restricted set of phenomena are fine to verify such a theory beyond reasonable doubt – and we can probably make supplemental nonlocal observations, depending on exactly which phenomena we are observing.

    It is the application of observational evidence that raises atheism above the simple ideas of ‘belief’. How much is up to everyone to decide.

    Secularism is an option, but I am happy with following the evidence where it leads. Doing that I find that deism is to use different criteria in different areas indiscriminately. It is tolerable, but not respectable. It is also faith based.

    I also find that agnosticism is to use different criterias in the same observational area where science resides and I indeed think *is* acceptable methods of knowledge. It remains to be shown that it can be made part of science and properly verified of course, but it is very hard to show that all sorts of evidence should be rejected indefinitely. However the exact status, for agnosticism the usual concept of beyond reasonable doubt is said to be not reasonable for the specific theory we discuss and residual doubt or possible falsifiability should be promoted to a special status. It is tolerable, but not respectable. It is also faith based.

    While science does not ‘prove’ that gods does not exist, it seems able to verify beyond reasonable doubt that dualistic phenomena and their causes, such as gods, does not exist. This is the more general claim of atheism I can respect until evidence says otherwise.

  103. #103 Gelf
    April 24, 2006

    G. Tingey:
    4. All religions are blackmail, and are based on fear and superstition.
    Corollary: 4a ] Marxism is a religion.

    Not that I don’t agree with you to an extent in the broad sense, but you’re affirming the consequent here.

  104. #104 JohnPhys
    April 24, 2006

    Torbjorn,

    Not to nitpick, but I believe QM says that hidden variable thoeries work, it’s just that they have to be non-local. Bell’s Theorem definitely puts local hidden variable theories out of the picture, if I remember correctly.

  105. #105 thomasmccay
    April 25, 2006

    I’m amazed that such retrograde garbage would appear on a supposedly ‘progressive’ site. The ideas this religiously obsessed person is promoting are irrational, intolerate in the extreem, and frankly belong with the Christian right.

    Personally, I will never again click on an ad at raw story and would urge others to do the same. It’s sort of like voting.

  106. #106 Keith Douglas
    April 25, 2006

    Chris: Ontological naturalism is not a tautology insofar as one can at least imagine things which (say) do not possess energy (which is useful to use as the essential property of matter in the broad sense). For example, if one considers numbers in themselves, they have no energy, and hence aren’t “natural” (better: material). The mathematical fictionalist, by contrast, claims that this is a pretense: there aren’t really any such objects, but we can often feign there are.

    Bram: scientific research shows that the assumption of a lawful world is justified, though, because of the fruits it brings. Even Hume realized that his “skeptical doubt” in this respect was unlivable. One can just take one more turn of the screw and run the pseudotranscendental argument I’ve sketched, too …

  107. #107 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 25, 2006

    JohnPhys,
    Correct. I think Bell’s theorem is universal. (Applies classically too.) OTOH nonlocal theories are thought to be unrealistic. And hidden variable theories have problems with Lorenz invariance due to nonlocality.

    To acknowledge my rudimentary understanding and quote Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohm_interpretation : “Response: Non-locality and Lorentz invariance are not in contradiction. An example of a non-local Lorenz-invariant theory is the Feynman-Wheeler theory of electromagnetism. … That said, it is true that finding a Lorentz-invariant expression of the Bohm interpretation (or any similar nonlocal hidden-variable theory) has proved very difficult, and it remains an open question for phyicists today whether such a theory is possible and how it would be achieved.”

    Note, I am suspicious about Wikipedia on “pet theories” of some people, so I can’t vouch for total accuracy here.

  108. #108 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 25, 2006

    Darn! “Lorentz invariance” of course.

  109. #109 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 25, 2006

    On hindsight, I find it hilarious to note that I have no qualms to make a broad claim on dualisms, while hesitating to make a similar statement on quantum chaos. QM systems develop linearly while classical systems may develop exponentially, which is the reason the later systems are so sensitive to initial conditions and gives chaos.

    So to be consistent and probably correct an error: quantum chaos is not a factor except where the system is in the semiclassical regime.

  110. #110 jpj
    April 25, 2006

    What would “evidence for absence” look like if not “absence of evidence” for the reverse of the proposition being discussed? In a disjunctive syllogism, for example:

    A or B
    A
    —-
    Therefore not B

    Has a theist ever put forth what they would take as evidence for the non-existence of god? It would seem the existence of evil would serve as proof for the non-existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, all-good being, but few theists have given up their faith in the face of evidence for evil. So, I think a legitimate question to ask is what counts as “evidence for absence?”

  111. #111 Chris
    April 25, 2006

    Keith: Did you not read the rest of the paragraph? It seems like you’re falling right into the equivocation I pointed out, failing to distinguish between the existence of objects and the pseudo-existence of concepts. You describe this distinction as “mathematical fictionalism” – which seems to me to be an obvious corollary of ontological naturalism. Things that exist exist, therefore things that don’t exist don’t exist. I don’t see how this is “by contrast”. Perhaps we’re just agreeing and don’t realize it because of semantic differences.

    jpj: Your syllogism is invalid. I think you meant for the major premise to be “A or B, but not both”, sometimes written “A xor B”. (Actually, “Not (A and B)” is sufficient as a premise in this case.)

    A good example of evidence for absence is the elephant in my bedroom:
    If there were an elephant in my bedroom, I would see it.
    I don’t see an elephant in my bedroom.
    —–
    There is no elephant in my bedroom.
    (The proof is simple: the contrapositive of the major premise is “If I don’t see an elephant in my bedroom, there isn’t one”.)

    The analogous argument
    If the universe were designed by an omnipotent and benevolent god, there would be no evil or suffering.
    There is evil and suffering.
    —–
    The universe was not designed by an omnipotent and benevolent god.
    is equally sound, so religious arguments center mostly on denying its major premise, i.e. explaining why a benevolent god creates and/or tolerates evil. Or to put it another way, why doesn’t god’s existence have consequences at least as visible as an elephant’s?

  112. #112 DianeW
    April 26, 2006

    FREEDOM OF RELIGION IS FREEDOM FROM RELIGION!

    That being said, the writers ill-conceived attempt at devil’s advocacy did create a lot of dialogue on the subject.

    And i think most people will at least agree on this…

    a loving DOG is a good thing….woof

  113. #113 Paladin165
    April 30, 2006

    “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”
    Absence of evidence?
    Existence of any kind is all the evidence you need to infer God’s existence

    The world is existing
    Every event has a cause
    Therefore, the world has a cause

    What is this cause? It must be something special.

    Yes I know there are many arguments that try to dissolve the force of this line of reasoning, but I think all of them fail quite miserably, so long as one is inclined to wonder about such things at all. I’d like to hear some responses to this.

    I’d also like to support the notion that atheists have “faith” in atheism, and aren’t that different from religious people. In other words, that atheism is a type of religion, when religion is defined in an epistemic or ontological sense, not as a social institution.

    I think this view makes a lot of sense. Think about it. Where do you discuss atheism? Probably in a religion or metaphysics class.

    As far as I can tell, all our knowledge depends on some set of metaphysical assumptions. Reason can’t start from scratch, it needs something to work with. We can’t prove these assumptions, because we don’t have anything to prove them with. At base, they just “feel right”.

    Technically the only difference between a theist and an atheist is whether something about a God or Gods in included in these assumptions. All assumptions rely on something you could call “faith”, something that makes them feel right, and we all have assumptions, so I think it makes sense to say we all have faith in some things.

  114. #114 madjoey
    May 1, 2006

    Paladin 165 asks: Where do you discuss atheism? Probably in a religion or metaphysics class.

    I get all my atheism needs satisfied at the First Church of Extreme Secularism. We meet on Saturdays at our local church-house for 4 hours; here’s the timeline from last week’s services:

    11:00am-11:05am: Pledge of Allegiance [without “under God”, of course]
    11:05am-noon: Mass —
    * Introductory Hymn: “Oh Infinite Universe, Meaningless and Random” (first 8 verses)
    * First Reading: A Reading from the Book of Darwin
    * Devotional Hymn: “Christ, Thine Followers Are Daft”
    * Second Reading: A Reading from the Book of Dawkins
    * Sermon and Offering – Brother Cthulhu will deliver a sermon titled, “Generosity: It makes no difference in a cold and Godless world, but please give all you can so we can fund our Church-building and atheist missionary programs” (checks, Visa, MC, AmEx accepted)
    * Communion (note to parishioners: We have been having trouble with our supply of Christian infant flesh; if you have taken communion in the past 2 weeks, we ask that you try the Soylent Green communion wafer this week, so that others may partake of yummy Baptist baby)
    * Processional Hymn: “Great and Wondrous Is the God-Free World”

    noon-1pm: Brother Abdul Wahabbi von Hitler will provide an update on Islamoterrorism activities in the San Jose area. Brother Ab is a popular speaker, so be sure to get to the Rec Room early; in addition to his always-exciting multi-media presentation (IEDs exploding, Christians being tortured, and our mullah leaders lecturing), you’ll have an opportunity to sign up for the next wave of suicide attacks! Punch and cookies will be served.

    1pm-2pm: Discussion — “Now That We Control the Media, Government, and Education Systems, What Next For Atheism?” Join us as we discuss how to identify the last remnants of Abrahamic nutjobbery and eradicate it, for once and for all.

    2-2:30pm: Insensitivity Training. Not getting your message across to the Christian crazies in your life? Sharpen your rhetorical skills in this highly interactive class, including: Ad hominem attacks; logical fallacies; Art of the Insult(tm); pointing out the obvious.

    2:30pm-3pm: Target practice on the back lawn: Choose your target from one of the following: Jesus; GW Bush; The Bible; or God (that one’s a joke, of course — since he’s everywhere, every shot you take is a direct hit!). Ammo not provided.

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