August 7, 2009

A beautiful day in the neighborhood

Atheism Defined

Atheism, as defined by atheists, is easy enough. Simply put, atheism is not theism. It isn’t the opposite of theism… it just isn’t theism. A more expansive definition might be, “a lack of belief in a god or gods.” Some atheists go a bit further and state explicitly, “there are no gods.” In my mind, rationality demands the weaker form of the argument, since the “strong,” or “explicit” atheist has the same burden of proof as the theist, and neither can claim sufficient evidence to support the position. Theists can’t prove the existence of gods, and neither can atheists prove without doubt gods do not exist. Therefore, my particular type of atheism fits the former, weaker definition. I simply fail to see the evidence, so I do not believe.

"Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason."

--Christopher Hitchens

Theists believe a god exists yet do not require evidence to support the hypothesis. Theists often turn science on its head by demanding proof of the absence of god. What they demand is not possible, so they offer the inability to prove the negative as proof of the positive. Not very good science. Some very bright people who hold the rest of the natural world to the high bar of the scientific method tend to fall victim to blind faith when dealing with the supernatural.

The “ism” actually disturbs me. The very term “atheist” should be unnecessary. After all, I don’t believe in astrology, or Santa Claus either, but we do not have specific labels for those. Neither is there a word to describe those who find too little evidence to believe in homeopathy, acupuncture, or chiropractic, but their number is legion on the various blogs I read. Why, therefore, is it necessary that a specific word exist as a label for an individual who fails to find evidence of a god?

Argumentum ad baculum

So I get asked… what if you are wrong? What if the theists are right? You’ll go to hell! Aren’t you afraid you might be wrong? Aren’t you afraid of hell? Shouldn't you believe just in case they are right?

The logical fallacy in this argument apparently escapes the inquisitor, and my answer is always no, I am not afraid that I might be wrong. I have nothing to fear in the afterlife because logic tells me that there will be no afterlife. They can threaten me with eternal damnation, but I still cannot believe. Logic will not allow it. Thankfully I do not live in a region where theistic adherents still mete out god’s justice on the spot.

When looked at from that perspective, it appears ludicrous, but many religions are based upon this “argument to the stick” or "argument to force" proposition. The threat is implicit, and it is all based on creating fear; if I don’t bow down before [insert name of diety here], I will be punished. With the Christian variants, the threat is in the afterlife, but other religions manifest a threat in the here and now. Being a non-believer in a country practicing Sharia law would tend to be dangerous to a person’s well being. Christians were once that way, but thankfully that religion has matured beyond the rack. Islam maintains a dark ages mentality.

"A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death."

--Albert Einstein


Out of every 10 people you meet on the streets, 1.7 of them has no belief in a god or gods. Can you spot them? Atheists are not criminals. Although some criminals do not believe in god, criminals in prisons are overwhelmingly theistic. Atheists are not evil by definition. In fact, I would venture that if there were a means to measure such, atheists would, on average, measure lower on the evilness scale than theists. Atheists do not have a god talking to them telling them who should be punished, where theists seem to recognize those deserving of god's punishment by some kind of divine measure, and often seem willing to mete out the punishment in god's stead.

"Most studies show that conventional religion is not an effective force for moral behavior or against criminal activity."

-- Spilka, Hood, Gorsuch et al, The Psychology of Religion

Even in this supposedly free country, atheists experience societal discrimination and bigotry. Many tales have been spun through the years blaming atheists for all manner of evil and woe. To protect themselves from persecution, many atheists feel they have to hide or disguise their lack of belief.

No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.”

-- Vice President George H.W. Bush, speaking at O’Hare Airport, Chicago, Illinois, on August 27, 1987

A beautiful day in the neighborhood

It may not be evident at first glance, but godless heathens are part of the fabric of this country. We marry, have families, raise children, go to work, pay taxes, contribute to worthy causes, watch god’s team whip the Redskins on Sunday, cuss when they don’t, play poker, play lotto, drink beer, shoot fireworks on the 4th, vote, cry when the dog dies, get angry when terrorists murder thousands of innocents in the name of Allah, fight America's wars alongside our religious counterparts, go deer hunting, grill ribs and burgers out back, fry bacon and eggs for breakfast, shoot pool, support our soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, local EMT’s, fire fighters and police.

In short, we are just like our neighbors. We are just like you. We simply don’t believe there are gods. Some of us feel compelled to try to explain all this to those who may not understand.

Why continue? Because we must. Because we have the call. Because it is nobler to fight for rationality without winning than to give up in the face of continued defeats. Because whatever true progress humanity makes is through the rationality of the occasional individual and because any one individual we may win for the cause may do more for humanity than a hundred thousand who hug their superstitions to their breast.”

-- Isaac Asimov



Anonymous said...

My compliments, Sir.

One Fly said...

Mine as well plus for believers to say our values don't count well----

Old NFO said...

Interesting logic chain, and an excellent post! Thanks for the education.

Mule Breath said...

I've been writing this piece for years without finding a way to say it in fewer than 1,000 words. Although I managed it this time, I forced this result and it does not say enough to satisfy me. Offering the full-meal-deal would have more than likely been futile anyway. Studies indicate that even the most curious and well read American will tolerate only about 1,000 words without losing interest. As bad as that may sound, it gets worse. A writer must maintain less than 200 words to hold the interest of the average American high school graduate, and must use very simple words at that. Anything more requires attention-grabbing pictures or you will lose your audience.

Still, the better read individual will suffer up to 1,000 bare, picturless words before clicking to the next page, so I ventured this thesis.

If you read carefully you may see my frustration. Do you realize how difficult it is to have meaningful dialogue with people who become so easily bored? Some individuals are open enough, and bright enough to desire debate... but the larger portion of the population are interested only in the comics. Those folks find stopping points for their curiosity because it takes too much work to keep inquiring. They simply get off the bus, and wherever they light defines what they believe, Reason, fact or truth are not necessary. Belief becomes a matter of convenience, with knowledge too expensive in terms of effort to be worthy of pursuit.

These are sheep... easily led to slaughter by shrill, emotional rhetoric. Reasoned voices have no chance. I find myself grateful that I have found a few reasonable individuals with whom to hold dialogue. We disagree on many things, but the dialogue continues.

This is good.

Anonymous said...

Again, my compliments. I think there is a genetic reason that some have a interest in learning, in communication, being interested in life. I don't believe it's related to one's intelligence level - but more to just being interested. Doesn't have to be "new" - just has to be.
I think the old category of humanist is the kind of person I'm thinking of - a person of wide interests, having an open mind no matter their personal beliefs or prejudices.
Whatever - want you to know I appreciate your efforts very much. It always lifts my spirits to see a new post here - no matter the subject.