Monday, June 30, 2008

Third time 'round: assumptions about atheists

Atheists can’t prove there is no god
Of course not; negatives are not proven. But the existence of any kind of creator deity is ruled out more and more, made less and less probable, as evidence accrues for natural processes such as evolution, plate tectonics and the big bang. These scientific theories do not disprove the existence of a deity; they are an explanation that does not require one. Yawn-inducing stoner conundrums like "Well, what came
before the big bang?" and "If man came from monkeys why are there still monkeys?" are not the atheist's problem; one can easily consult a science book for these answers. Whether one still believes in a god after that—Well, that's the real trick, isnt it?

Atheists are arrogant
Again, this has no bearing on the existence of a god. But I find it more than a little ironic that theists who believe the entire universe and everything in it was created solely for the outcome of their own existence to then accuse an atheist of being arrogant. Now, this can be true; nobody likes a smartmouth, as I’m sure your mother told you. Sometimes atheists or even believers of another faith can unfairly malign some theists or offer glib criticisms of faith; atheists hold no monopoly on good manners. But anyone who’s actually seen/heard Carl Sagan or Richard Dawkins—two critics of faith who are often branded as “arrogant”—take religious beliefs to task knows they are the very picture of civility and polite debate. It just seems that theists just don’t like a flat-out rejection of their beliefs delivered in calm, reasoned, and rational terms.

Atheism leads to nihilism
Again, if atheism leads to nihilism, so be it; atheism is a position about reality, not a prescription on how to live. Personally, I think theists are the nihilists: for them, without a deity, nothing means anything. They cannot imagine how to make sense of a cosmos without some sort of supernatural agent at work. Beyond their god is the great yawning abyss. Take away that god, and they shudder to think... In defiance of that oblivion we should find our common humanity,whether theist or atheist. But if theists can
t figure out that genocide or rape or lying are wrong on their own and need a trans-temporal everywhere-and-nowhere eternal invisible entity (and yet strangely confined to a Middle Eastern locale roughly the size of, what, New Jersey?) to tell them so, well, that says more about their moral compass than the atheists.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Assumptions about atheists debunked redux

Atheists say there is no god
As rhetorical shorthand, yes. Technically, atheists don’t like to say “There is no god” because then we are making a positive claim about reality. Some theists like to quote the bible, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no god.’” I like to follow it up with “And the wise man says it to the world.” I didn’t come up with that, but I think it’s clever in a bumper sticker sort of way. The point is, we believe none of what theists say about god or religion. We definitely think each and every religion is absolutely wrong about reality and about human nature and life and the earth and the universe and how it all came to be, and that if there is a deity, it is absolutely nothing like what any religion has ever claimed it was.

Atheists want to take god/religion out of public life
This one is actually true to an extent. Atheists and secularists reject the encroachment upon civic life by religion, outside the church and the home. Say all you want about god(s) in your home or place of worship, but schools, government buildings, the military and such, those are off-limits for theistic beliefs (if propounded by figures of authority). Atheists are secularists and feel civic life must be neutral on religion, neither for nor against--as of course do many theists. One can be both a religious believer and a secularist. That's called being an American.

Atheists have assumptions
No, atheists have conclusions. Some theists accuse atheists of assuming something called “naturalistic materialism” is true, and basing our beliefs on that. “Naturalistic materialism” or “methodological naturalism” is how science goes about figuring out stuff works. It has no need of the “supernatural” to conduct its experiments; indeed assuming there is a supernatural world would gum up the workings of the scientific method that gives us stuff which everybody, including creationists, likes, such as vaccines and airplanes and heart transplants and insulin shots. It is an attempt to understand the natural world. The atheist sees that there is simply no evidence in that natural world that reveals any type of deity, and has come to the conclusion one, or many, or an infinite amount, do not exist.

Atheists have killed more people than the religious
Certainly totalitarian regimes have killed millions in the 20th century, more than the Inquisition, say. But if Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor had had access to machine guns, gas ovens and the like, you can bet he’d have been using them. Leaders drunk on power and believing themselves invincible can be found throughout history, secular and religious alike. But even besides that, even if atheists killed more people than anyone ever, that would not be one bit of evidence for or against the existence of a god. Atheism isn't necessarily about what's good for society; it's simply a lack of belief in theism.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Some assumptions about atheism... debunked

As a regular reader of atheist blogs and articles, I've come across my share of objections to atheism by theists. These are a few of the most common arguments, with my short rebuttals.

Atheism is a faith/religion

The only time theists like to engage in irony is when they want to damn atheists for having faith. Never mind theists think faith is, like, the best thing ever! It’s funny and bad when atheists have it. No, I get it: they want us to get grumpy when they turn the tables on us. We proclaim we have no faith but then the sneaky theist declares, “But you have the most faith of all!” It misunderstands the meaning of the word faith, which is believing in things for which there is no evidence. Atheists lack faith, lack belief. It’s tiresome and obvious and a weak rhetorical trick.

Atheism has priests/orthodoxy
You know, Darwin, Sagan, Dawkins, Shelley, Rand, Hume, Russell, etc. To varying degrees these people have influenced atheist thought but they in no way define atheism. No one need feel ashamed by disagreeing or arguing with any of these folks. We are not told from birth that we must heed their every word.

Atheists’ morals are personal preference/opinion
Someone whose morals are “personal preference” or “opinion” and do not stem from cooperation and empathy already has a name, and it’s not “atheist.” It's sociopath. Atheists get their morality the same place everyone else does: from deep within our mammalian, and before that, reptilian, brains. We are learning more and more about the origins of morality in which field? That’s right: neuroscience. Not theology. I guess a theist could argue that those “hard-wired” moral impulses are planted there by a god, but that just pushes the question back: where did this god get its morals?

Atheists think humans/reality “merely” atoms and chemicals
We are still atoms and chemicals even if there is a god. Notice the weasel word “merely” (other theist weasel words are “just,” “only,” “but”). Reducing everything to atoms and chemicals means, from what I gather, that there is no intrinsic worth to anything. I fail to see how this follows. Indeed, there could be a god and we could still be worth nothing. One must accept many, many tenets of faith—such as a god created us with a purpose in mind, that we somehow know this because god told us somehow, that we can trust this god when it says it is good, that this purpose is worthwhile—before one can declare that without god, there is no meaning, there are only chemicals and atoms. Well, guess what? There are only chemicals and atoms. Not merely, but wonderfully.

Don't worry, I've got more to come.