Why Atheist Buses Rock

A comment (by this fellow) on the atheist bus advertising campaign caught my eye:

My question to Hanne Stinson would be “What has this appeal acheived?”

For an atheist like Dawkins, the statement seems a little weak to me. “There probably is no God” does not carry the tone as when Christians declare there definately is one. I’m suprised at the level of compromise.

I think its heartening for atheists, secular humanists, and agnostics to see something like this.  For myself – a theist – its a cheering thing to see (I live in the DC area, where we have our own advertisements for Atheism).

It isn’t a compromise, its truthful.  The logic of Atheism can be a bit counterintuitive to folks coming from a faith-based background.  Instead of starting with a neccesary belief and using logic to defend it, one starts with available evidence and uses logic to explore it.  So from an Atheist’s perspective, one might say there is no reason to believe God does exist.  But there is evidence to suggest God doesn’t exist (the Problem of Evil is  one example).  So its simply the most likely possibility that God doesn’t exist.

I think this bit from the campaign’s website clarifies the use of the word probably perfectly (emphasis mine):

As with the famous Carlsberg ads (‘probably the best lager in the world’), ‘probably’ helps to ensure that our ads will not breach any advertising codes Committee of Advertising Practice advised the campaign that “the inclusion of the word ‘probably’ makes it less likely to cause offence, and therefore be in breach of the Advertising Code.”

Ariane Sherine has said, ‘There’s another reason I’m keen on the “probably”: it means the slogan is more accurate, as even though there’s no scientific evidence at all for God’s existence, it’s also impossible to prove that God doesn’t exist (or that anything doesn’t). As Richard Dawkins states in The God Delusion, saying “there’s no God” is taking a “faith” position. He writes: “Atheists do not have faith; and reason alone could not propel one to total conviction that anything definitely does not exist”. His choice of words in the book is “almost certainly”; but while this is closer to what most atheists believe, “probably” is shorter and catchier, which is helpful for advertising. I also think the word is more lighthearted, and somehow makes the message more positive.’

The campaign  defines Atheism in a way theists ought to sit up and take notice of:

Atheism [/aythi-iz’m/] is defined as “a lack of belief in God”.

But atheism is much more than that. It’s about making sense of the world, thinking freely and feeling liberated because of it. It’s about using your intellect and sense of reason to learn what life is about, and having the courage to think for yourself. It’s about relying on evidence when deciding on your beliefs, and being brave enough to speak the truth.

While I do have a belief in God, I can absolutely embrace the ideal of thinking freely, using evidence, and speaking the truth.  When we stick to these principles we can be more honest in probing our own beliefs and internal consistency, as well as being accepting of other ways of viewing the world besides our own.  It frees us up to have the kinds of conversations that are fulfilling and healthy for society to have, those about ethics and purpose.

Which is why I see these buses as such a wonderful thing.  At the very least, they are letting people know how many Atheists are out there.  I’d also bet that the ads are inviting more than a few people to examine their own thoughts.

Hopefully more people check out the website.

Hilarious Anti Liberal Atheist Rambling

This is just too much awesome to pass up. Probably a parody site, but well worth tackling seriously.  Frank (Ignorant Christian) writes:

I’ve been thinking for a long time why liberals don’t beleve in God. Here’s what I learnt:

This is going to be extra special, so I’m going to go through point by point.

They don’t understand, but they never let that stop them!

Don’t understand what exactly? God? Theology wouldn’t exist as a branch of human study if anyone understood God and the philosophical implications of such a being perfectly. That said, notice the lack of a supporting statement. Frank just makes a flat claim, then leaves it hanging in the air, waiting expectantly for nods of approval from his audience.

Science. They think it replaced God somehow. They think sceince has all the answers. They think if they can anser questions with mumbo jumno that’s the only reason for God, instead of understanding God made this world. Real science keeps proving God over and again, but there’s a lot of psuedo science out there. Whatch out for anyone who tells you the world is somthing crazy like a billion years old, or dinosaurs could fly. But they keep having new laws of nature, handd down by God the law maker himslf. How can you have a law without someone to make that law, like the Sabbath.

What real science proves God exists?  The fundamentalists who play dress up in lab coats and explain that God exists because bananas fit in our hands?  Science is about repeatable, testable theories.  How do you test if God exists?  Do we stick a piece of holy litmus in the air and wait for it to turn blue?  I do dig his point about laws though.  Who enforces gravity anyway?  Let’s all break the law of gravity now!

It’s new and trendy. I read a good quote it said “People today are atheists not because of conviction but from indifference, distraction and confusion accelerated by mass media. Truth is not a democracy. Test the message.”

New?  There have been atheists since we’ve had recorded history.  The emergence of the monotheistic traditions that gave birth to Christianity are relatively recent.  The arrogance in his statement about conviction, again, offered not only without evidence, but in the presence of a mountain of contradictory evidence, simply underscores how utterly divorced from reality Frank is.

They feel popular.

This might be my favorite.  Yes, people become atheists to become more electable and generally well liked.  The fact is atheists are despised and seen as untrustworthy by far far too many in this society.

They don’t have to folow any rules. Big selling point for librals.

A handy little lie.  The idea that ethics come only from a Daddy figure in the sky telling us how to behave.  We can form our own ideas on ethics and morality, and live by them just as well without some concept of God who is “gonna getcha” during the afterlife if you misbehave now.  If anything I’d question how moral we can be if we outsource our own ethical reponsibilities to God.

They think God id boring. Not as fun as drugs and grand theft auto.

I guess non existent beings are kinda boring, huh?

Ignorance. Some of the critics on this web blog say they were born as athiests and never grew out of it.

Shame huh, some people weren’t indoctrinated into a religion when they were minors?  I guess knowing your own personal history does kinda count as ignorance in a bizarro sort of way.

They think God is a bully or something. I dunno how they can not believe in God and hate him at the same time?

You can hold the Biblical account of God to the fire.  This is a God who kills entire towns, and has the negative traits of jealousy and anger.

Ignorance. Libtards love to say “thats a strawman falsify” and the God they try to talk about is one to. They make up all kinds of things they don’t like, call it God, and then use that like it proves anything.

Ignorance, the point so good (and ironic) he had to hit it twice.  Again, with the lack of specifics.

Personality disordered. Athiests are always mad, you ever notice that? They can only decribe themselves being against something. God is always there.

Atheists mad?  Dear lord!  What delightful nuttery.  Atheism is simply not believing in God.  It is not an active belief like “I am against God”.  It is a simple lack of belief, usually due to a resounding lack of evidence.

Liberals are united by the desire to make the world a better place for everyone, including (gasp) the meek.  This is a feeling and a calling shared by the very deity worshiped by Frank.  Perhaps in his rush to condemn the scary people who don’t share his religious fervor and hate of science/reason, he forgot that.

p.s. For the curious, I myself am a liberal theist.

The Bible: Why Believe?

Commentor mdking has inspired me to ask a question:

People putting the God cart before the Morality horse are nuts. Period. Maybe it’s not medication nuts, but the mental wiring is all wrong.

Lot had sex with his daughters after the Sodom and Gomorrah ordeal. So, was God’s picker adjusted to drunken pervert in selecting Lot??

You can’t salvage an ethic from the Bible without being VERY selective.

What about people putting their holy book of choice before morality?  Scripture contains some very nasty takes on what it is to be moral.  Killing innocents to pay for the sins of their parents.  Killing people for loving outside of their faith.  Given this, why believe the Bible at all?  Why make excuses for the passages one rejects while clinging to the supposed truth value of the rest?  How can the faithful keep claiming it is a work of God when it contains errors that indicate a backwards view of morality and ethics? Defenders will state “the Bible was not meant to be taken literally”. I’ll buy that. But why ascribe to it a higher status than any other book of fables and morals? Why not use Aesop’s fables as a guide? If it is the infallible word of God, then why does it contain laws and rules that are immoral to follow? The cognitive dissonance this produces is one that plays a toxic role in the society we all have to live in.

God is Not Just

A random encounter on the metro yesterday turned into an unexpected debate.

Upon reflection, I realized that the evangelical mindset has a worrying impact on our justice system, and how we approach both crime and criminals. In other words, I had run smack into the premise of one of Amanda’s posts over at Pandagon.

During the course of our debate, we came to the question of Justice. I was taking the position that God would never commit murder, while my evangelical friend asked “what about justice?”. One particular story we sparred over was that of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Two points of contention arose. One was whether a perfect being can commit an imperfect action. If a person were to say, set off a bomb in a city, killing all of its inhabitants, this person would be rightly condemned to prison for life. The biblical god does it, and he is praised for his “justice”. This is a similar problem to the questions of God having emotions like anger and jealousy. Why would a perfect being possess imperfect, negative, human emotions? By the same token, one wonders why it is the biblical god gets away with murder.

Which leads into the second point of contention. “Do you suppose”, I asked, “that there were children under the age of two in Sodom?”. After this was affirmed, I asked whether such young children could be justly punished so violently and cruelly for their parents sins. The answer? “Its different because when God does it, it is just. The children would go to heaven, which is better than Earth.”.

This immediately raised a very worrying question. Was this evangelical suggesting that it was ok to kill children under 2? That sending them to heaven was somehow just, or even kind? What kind of a God was being worshiped, when his actions were cruel and evil enough that were they committed by a human being, they would be harshly condemned?

The actions we ascribe to God as moral are those we ourselves aspire to. I cannot think of a theistic religion in which the practitioner does not attempt to be like God. So how does one interpret scripture that insists God killed the innocent? How does one read this and continue to believe that those words describe or even approach perfection?

What does such a mindset bring to practical questions of law and justice as practiced in our country?

Huckabee’s Two Man Race With Reality

huckabee.jpg

Reality is beating the pants off Huckabee in a two man race (NYTimes):

“You know, over the past few days a lot of people have been trying to say that this is a two-man race,” he told his supporters in a suburb of Little Rock, Ark. “Well, you know what? It is. And we’re in it!”

Don’t get me wrong.  That’s a great quote.  The problem is it doesn’t even come close to the reality of the race.  Romney is still ahead of Huckabee, having pulled off wins in more states, and garnering more delegates.  McCain’s startling lead makes Huckabee’s position seem almost nonexistent by comparison.  So who does Huckabee fancy himself in a two man race with?  Mitt Romney for the honor of runner up?

Gay Teachers and Brains

My post mulling over atheocracy‘s thoughts on gay hating has generated some rather interesting comments.  I thought I’d share a few.  This stuff is really classic (and indicative of the mental clarity and logic brought to the table by both sides).  (The fun is at the bottom of the post).

Continue reading

Apparently Theists Can’t Argue

In a piece short on logic but long on bias, Simple Light attempts to present the killer arguments that support intelligent design.  The stage is set by presenting Christopher Hitchens as disoganized and cynical, and Jay Richards as rational and full of hope.  The painful illusion being cast over the debate becomes painfully clear early on, when the arguments show up to the party:

Jay Richards had the floor for the next 14 minutes and presented the most rational, well-thought out argument for theism that I’ve ever heard. He had 6 main points (and a seventh which he added later)

  1. Moral truth – we all know what it is, the question is where did it come from and atheism has no answer to that
  2. A finely tuned universe – basically a brief overview of the anthropic cosmological argument (every physical constant finely tuned for mankind and unlikely to have occurred by chance)
  3. A beginning to the universe in a finite past – therefore something caused the universe which must be God. He used the phrase “resting point” for the basis of a theistic belief and asked what the basis for atheism was
  4. Irreducible complexity – he didn’t get into details but cited the bacterial flagellum, asked why it’s obvious that Mt. Rushmore was ‘designed’
  5. Materialism – the atheist, materialist philosophers all conclude that consciousness is an illusion but most people are uncomfortable with that
  6. Free will – it’s incompatible with a mechanistic worldview
  7. The origin of biological information (added towards end of debate)

Let’s address this point by point.  For point #1, SimpleLight rushes to contradict his earlier statement:

His main argument was that if the world was designed by a creator, it was not a benevolent creator. He frequently resorts to this argument despite it clearly not belonging in a debate on Atheism vs Theism. (Just because one doesn’t like God, doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist).

If God could potentially be incredibly unethical, as SL posits, then how would moral truth come from God?

A larger issue is why SL is ignoring a central point of atheism.  It is not a religion, not a system of beliefs.  It is simply the idea that God does not exist.  So the source of ethics would naturally fall outside of its purview.  Fortunately there are plenty of efforts in philosophy to discuss the nature of ethics, and even our motivations for being ethical.  Arguably atheistic religions such as Buddhism have a spiritual basis for ethics in our intrinsic connection to each other as sentient beings.  So no, one does not need God for ethics.  Nor, in my opinion as a theist, should we.  A parent’s desire is not for a lifelong fear of punishment, but rather the development of an intrinsic sense of right and wrong.  We shouldn’t be do good deeds because some deity says so, but rather, because it is the right way to live.

2.  The whole “by chance argument” is really a “this is so complicated it couldn’t possibly have happened!” piece of nonsense.  It devolves rapidly into circular logic.  How does one know that complex things are necessarily created things?  That is a question that never receives a satisfactory answer from creationists.

3.  How do we know the universe is finite?  Why must we infer that a finite universe is a created universe?  Again, no answer.  This is to be expected when people try and play dress up with faith.  The lab coat alone does not a scientist make.

The idea that atheism needs a foundation is ridiculous.  You don’t need a foundation for not believing in sentient pink unicorns.  You just start with, oh, a lack of evidence, and go from there.  But Simple Light is not a person who understands what atheism is:

Am I the only one who has lost patience with the atheists? Apart from the fact that the abolition of theism would leave them without a worldview, most of them spend their time carping from the sidelines but refuse to put together a credo for examination.

Atheism simply describes not believing in God, due to a lack of evidence.  I’m pretty sure without theists, that might survive.  Furthermore, there is no credo.  There is no obsessive need to explain nature with nature gods and dryads.  Simply a “ok, where’s the proof?  Don’t have any?  That’s nice, maybe come back when you do”.

4.  Irreducible complexity is a great sound for a hollow phrase.  Where is the substance?  Where is the ability to test?  What makes me a little bit sad is that, in metaphysics we can successfully reduce almost everything in life down to the most basic elements.  The only exception is consciousness (which really has a lot of people rightly baffled).

5.  How is “most people are uncomfortable with that” even an argument?  People aren’t comfortable with death or taxes.  You going to deny either exist next?  Also, atheism is not the same thing as materialism, even if the two often coincide in the same person.  And not all atheists or materialists believe consciousness is an illusion.

Each of these statements (especially the laughable remainder), simply show that the creationist argument is more about making declarative statements than presenting an argument.

The commentators on the blog (Lev and Inmate1972) agree that the last paragraph betrays the motivations behind the article:

Basically there were two messages: one of hope, redemption and eternal life; and one of despair (he mentioned sex and schadenfreude as his two purposes for living), futility and constant railing against God. I guess people can bow their knee now or later.

That same bias is present beneath the surface of every attempt to force creationism into the mainstream, and choke science with its anti-intellectual flotsam.  The goal?  To get people to “bow their knee”.