January 31, 2007

The New Atheism: A Boon to the Religious Right?

I have said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it again - the only thing new about "the new atheism" is that the mainstream media has started paying attention to it thanks to recent books by prominent atheists. Nevertheless, this recent media attention has thrust atheism into the spotlight, offering us a platform we haven't had for awhile. As a result, a growing number of atheists are coming forward and speaking out. In this brief window, the taboo of criticizing religious beliefs is increasingly fragile. And yet, some atheists and moderate Christians are starting to ask whether our efforts will have the opposite of their intended effects and end up bolstering religious extremism.

As atheists are given a greater voice, we become a more visible target for the religious right in rallying their base. Christian extremists have long cried persecution. Many Americans have found these complaints ridiculous, noting that control of the government isn't the strongest evidence of persecution. But our presence, as we become increasingly vocal, may signal a change. The uneducated may confuse our criticism of religion with persecution, benefiting the right. We must be careful that we do not play into their hands, strengthening them while thinking that we are making tangible gains elsewhere.

Next, there is a very real risk that atheism will be equated with another form of extremism in the minds of many Americans. Our more confrontational tactics must be balanced with an emphasis on education, critical thinking, and more subtle criticism. I am not suggesting that we abandon the assault on religion launched by our colleagues but that we supplement it with other approaches. If the American people come to perceive us as simply another form of extremism (and there are indications that this is already happening), our credibility becomes no greater than that of the Christian extremists we oppose.

I think that a backlash to our increased voice is almost inevitable, but we may be able to postpone or minimize it. I am not talking about the sort of immediate backlash evidenced in comments from prominent Christians (e.g., Falwell, Bush, etc.). Rather, I am referring to a larger scale cultural backlash which may rear its head over the next couple years. Those of us who are enjoying what we may experience as a new found freedom to speak out must be mindful of our tactics and their possible long-term impact. An over reliance on in-your-face confrontation just may assure a backlash. The American people will only have so much tolerance for attacks on their cherished values before we are again shut out from public discourse.

So what do we do? The first step involves widespread recognition of the pitfalls we face, some of which I have addressed here. Beyond this, I think our greatest liability remains our lack of organization. I see a fragmented constellation of nonbelievers, many of which belong to no organizations and some of which belong to redundant groups with little collaboration. This may well be the fatal flaw that stops us in our tracks. What is needed to avoid these and other pitfalls is a strategic approach through which nonbelievers come together for reality-based planning and craft a multi-pronged strategy to minimizes redundancy, improve resource utilization, and facilitate deliberate, coordinated action.

Tags: , , , , , ,

January 30, 2007

More on the Parental Licensure and Related Topics

My recent posts on parental licensure and child abuse generated quite a bit of interest, so I thought I'd draw your attention to a couple of related posts on other blogs.

First up, Spreading Mayonnaise has a good post disagreeing with me and making a case against parental licensure. I offered a brief response in the comments on the Spreading Mayonnaise blog, but I also want to acknowledge that there are serious problems with attempts to implement any sort of enforceable parental licensure system. My thoughts on this matter are far from being fully formed, however, I do believe that some sort of parental licensure system is an option that at least merits consideration.

I cannot help making one additional observation on this subject. I find it interesting that the focus on creating any sort of parental licensure system (protecting children) is almost immediately transformed into one of interfering with parental rights and punishing parents. It is almost as if people are more concerned with the right to parent any way they want than with the welfare of the children. I suppose that it is an inevitable consequences of viewing children as one's property or possessions.

Next, Friendly Atheist has an interview with Dale McGowan, author of Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion. I thought this sounded like a fascinating book for atheist parents or those atheists planning to have children. Best of all, Friendly Atheist offers to relay any questions you might have to the book's author.

Tags: , , , , ,

January 28, 2007

Most Christians Are Good People

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle. ~Plato When discussing the many adverse effects of religion with a Christian, one statement almost inevitably seems to enter the conversation: "But most Christians are good people." The Christian will surely acknowledge that many people have committed awful acts in the name of religion. Perhaps they weren't "real Christians." Perhaps they were simply misguided in their actions. Regardless of the reason, they are the exception and certainly not the norm. You might expect that I, as an atheist, would disagree with this statement. But I do not. Most Christians are indeed good people.

Saying that most Christians are good people poses no problem for the atheist.

As an atheist, there is no reason why I can't agree that most Christians are good people. Most Christians I have met in my life have been kind, trustworthy, honorable individuals who treat others as they would like to be treated. They have been my family, intimate partners, close friends, bosses, co-workers, neighbors, and so on. These Christians do their best to live productive lives, and many are genuinely concerned about the plight of their neighbors. Even though they may hold some beliefs I find strange, many care deeply about improving the world in which they live.

Of course, everything I just said applies equally to atheists and persons who are believers in other religious traditions. Most atheists are good people. Most Jews are good people. You get the idea. Most people are good people, regardless of which religious tradition (or lack thereof) they accept.

Saying that most atheists are good people poses a problem for the Christian.

Unfortunately, the Christian cannot seem to agree that most atheists are good people without adding an important qualifier, at least implicitly. The qualifier is comparative in nature, placing Christians on a pedestal above non-Christians. The atheist may be a decent person, but he/she cannot possibly be as good as the Christian. The atheist or the person from a different religion may be good in some respects, but he/she is still going to hell to be punished for all eternity. The Christian bible is quite clear that those of us who do not believe in the Christian god are not equivalent to those who do in many ways. Their fate in the afterlife will be very different from ours.

This is an example of what I mean when I say that religion is inherently divisive. Believers in any religious tradition are indoctrinated to believe that theirs is the one true faith, and that means that everybody else is necessarily wrong. Their god beats all others. Their morality trumps all others. Their fellow believers are more worthy, deserving, etc. than everyone else. As an atheist, I am not encumbered with this particular prejudice (although I am certainly susceptible to many others).

Claims about most Christians being good people have little relevance to the larger question about the costs of religion.

What some Christians fail to grasp is that claims involving how most Christians are good people have little relevance to the larger question about the dark side of religion. Religion does not make people good (or bad). It may at times inspire people to do great things; it may at times bring out the worst sort of atrocities and foster irrationality. As Steven Weinberg reminds us:
(Religion) With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.
To understand why this is the case, one simply needs to consider the earlier point about religion being inherently divisive. If I am taught to believe that people who do not share my beliefs are inferior to those who do, there is little to stop me from treating them accordingly. If I am indoctrinated from birth to believe that persons with different beliefs are morally inferior, condemned to hell, diabolical, etc., the door to atrocities opens wide. If this indoctrination has also diminished my ability to apply reason by convincing me that faith is superior, look out.

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

Tags: , , , , ,

January 27, 2007

Partisan Politics and the College Professor: Response to Pharyngula

English: Al Franken, Senator from Minnesota
English: Al Franken, Senator from Minnesota (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As a university professor with rather strong progressive political views, I was intrigued by a recent post at Pharyngula. The post concerns the complaints of Minnesota Republicans over a University of Minnesota professor sending e-mails from her campus e-mail account to rally support for Al Franken in his possible run for the Senate. Although the professor in question included a disclaimer in her messages that her message was not endorsed by the university and that she was acting as an individual rather than a university representative, that was not enough to stop the complaints.

The primary objections to this professor's use of her university e-mail account to promote Franken were political and financial. A state employee should not be allowed to use taxpayer-supported resources to promote political candidates. At least, that appears to be the core of the complaint in this case.

Pharyngula's PZ Myers disagreed rather strongly (to put it mildly). He seems to think that the complaints are totally without merit, arguing that the professor who promoted Franken is engaged in the sort of "civic outreach we should be pleased to see in a professor." The fact that she used her university e-mail account does not bother him because she was careful to include a clear disclaimer.

I think PZ is wrong on this one. I may be progressive and quite fond of Al Franken, but I still think he's wrong about this. Sending this sort of e-mail from a university account, regardless of the disclaimer, is suspect. Given the availability of personal e-mail accounts (as noted by PZ in his post), I'm not sure why this wouldn't have been a viable alternative. I use my university e-mail for university business, and I have other personal accounts which I would use for this sort of activity.

It pains me to say this, but the Republican critics seem correct here. Partisan political activity from a university-based office funded with taxpayer dollars is probably not appropriate. PZ is correct that university professors are going to have opinions just like anyone else and should be able to express them. However, complications are raised when such opinions are expressed during work hours and via taxpayer funded equipment.

PZ says, "When I signed my contract, I don't recall one of the conditions being that my blood would be drained and replaced with some colorless, odorless, flavorless fluid that was designed to be inoffensive, nor was I told I had to be neutered to work here." He's right, but I bet his university has a policy governing appropriate use of e-mail just like mine does. I'd also be somewhat surprised if the "civic outreach" to which he refers was intended to include partisan political activity.

Regardless, I don't think anyone is telling university faculty that we must be void of any opinion. That isn't the issue here. Many of us are community activists, bloggers who deal with controversial topics, etc. We do this on our own time, but we understand why it would be inappropriate to do so on our employer's time. I certainly do not pretend that I am "an objective observer with no opinions," but I know better than to use my university e-mail account to broadcast them. I recognize that the mantle of the university carries great weight, increasing my responsibility to use it wisely.

Atheist Values and Public Relations

If you haven't seen this article yet, check it out while it is still available. Ms. Appleby makes some good points. Among my favorites is also one of the simplest: "Atheists don't believe in God, but that is the only generalization you can make about us." Articles like this, published in a variety of newspapers around the country, may help to change the overwhelmingly negative attitudes about atheists.

Of course, Appleby also makes the controversial recommendation that more of us should speak out, identifying ourselves as atheists. In the abstract, this is a sensible suggestion. Can you imagine if every atheist in America were to "come out" as an atheist? The many Americans who claim that they've never met an atheists or that we are all evil would suddenly have to confront the reality that we were everywhere. We would be much harder to ignore, our political power would rise, and many of the myths about us would surely fall.

Unfortunately, there are parts of America where it is simply not safe to proclaim one's atheism. Of course, these are also the places where atheists are most likely to feel isolated, fearful of being identified, and at odds with their neighbors on many issues. The obvious dilemma is that large numbers of people "coming out" in these locations would improve our safety while there is tremendous pressure on not being one of the first to do so. We all know it is a good idea, but the personal costs are still quite high at this point.

This is why I like to see articles like Appleby's. By humanizing atheists, people without firmly ingrained intolerance may become more receptive to our existence. I'm not saying this will eliminate the safety issues, but I hope that it may lead to more allies over time.

Tags: , , , , ,

January 26, 2007

If You Haven't Done X, You Can't Talk About X: The Personal Experience Myth

One of the most common challenges heard by helping professionals who treat persons with substance-related problems is that people who have not personally experienced these problems having nothing useful to offer. "Have you ever been an alcoholic? If not, who are you to help me? You can't possibly understand what I'm going through." The erroneous claim that personal experience is a prerequisite for competence extends far beyond this scenario. It has been used by a couple readers to challenge me on some recent posts about parenting practices. It also has larger implications for understanding the religious mind (consider the concept of personal revelation). This is a myth worth exploring.

Much like the person suffering from a substance-related disorder challenging the competence their therapist, some readers ask, "Are you are parent? If not, what gives you the right to say anything about parenting?" The implication is quite clear. If I am not a parent, I hereby lose all credibility when it comes to parenting. It doesn't matter how much scientific literature I've digested. None of my opinions should be considered valid. It doesn't matter whether I've conducted scientific research on parenting practices, attending professional trainings on family law, parenting skills, or related topics. I have nothing of value to offer. You could pick any parent at random, and this individual would know far more about appropriate parenting than I could (unless of course I had children).

The nature of the claims I have just discussed provides a revealing insight into what psychologists call "dichotomous" or "black-and-white" thinking. If you have children, you are an expert on parenting. If not, you can offer nothing of value. No shades of gray are permitted. Not surprisingly, research has documented a relationship between this style of thinking and religious fundamentalism.

There are too many ways to shatter the personal experience myth to consider them all, so I'll focus on one. There are many ways to obtain knowledge, and personal experience is often relevant. However, it is widely recognized throughout the sciences that personal experience is deeply flawed with biases, cognitive errors, and a host of other human flaws. For this reason, it is rarely considered a valid form of knowledge in the pursuit of science. In fact, personal experience is considered alongside authority in virtually every introductory psychology text when the scientific method is introduced. Students learn that expertise is based on scholarly research and familiarity with the process of science, not on authoritarian pronouncements and personal experience. The books typically follow this presentation with several examples of how science has destroyed what was previously accepted as "common sense."

When believers say that their belief is based on personal revelation, they are treading on similar ground. They make claims about the natural world, justify these claims on the basis of religious dogma, and then attempt to validate the dogma through personal revelation. They know the words in their bible are true because they feel the presence of their god. How do they know they are not mistaken? Because they feel the presence so strongly. Why won't their god reveal itself to us so we can understand? Because we don't believe. Personal experience in the form of revelation trumps all.

Time to simplify this a bit to wrap up. The question: "What are the psychological effects of spanking on children of a certain age range over a specified interval of time?" How do we answer this question? Do we simply ask a parent? To answer this question, I want scientific research conducted by qualified experts. I want their qualifications to include advanced degrees because this tells me that they have vast expertise in many areas which will be relevant (e.g., child development, research design, statistics, etc.). Beyond this, I want replication of their findings by an independent research team, and I want everything peer-reviewed. It makes no difference to me whatsoever if these researchers have children.

A small minority of my readers may disagree. They would evidently take the word of pretty much any parent over the scientific process I described. And they question my credibility?

Tags: , , , , , ,

January 25, 2007

Christian Extremists Want Right to Abuse Children

The headline of a recent story on ChristianNewsWire caught my attention: "No-Spanking Bill is an Abuse of Parental Rights." It turns out that Christian extremists in California are up in arms over a bill brought by a California Democrat to prevent parents from spanking their children.

In today's America, thoroughly fractured by Christian extremism, the Democrat who authored this bill is being cast as anti-family.
Parents who love their children and want to train them to respect authority are rising up against a proposed bill in the California Legislature that would criminalize parents who spank their children during the "terrible twos," even if the spanking was a one-time occurrence or infrequently done.
To understand what is going on here, one must understand that Christian extremists have a very different view of family than rational folks do. Preventing parents from hitting their children is in fact anti-family if we construe "family" exclusively in the Christian extremist sense. To understand why this is the case, I refer the interested reader to George Lakoff's excellent Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think. You will discover that corporal punishment is entirely consistent with what he refers to as the "strict father" version of morality advocated by Christian extremists and social conservatives.

The article quotes Randy Thomasson, President of the Campaign for Children and Families, as saying the following:
Some parents spank and some parents don't, and that's their right as parents. Government regulation of parents' discipline wipes out the right of parents to raise their own children. This is wrong. God gave children to parents, not to the state.
That last sentence is terrifying because it implies that children are somehow their parents' possessions. It seems like this opens the door to a whole range of abuses. Going by strict father morality, any interference with parenting practices will be demonized because parents are thought to have free reign. Physical discipline is considered necessary to raise moral children.
When appropriate spanking is lovingly administered, it can help a disobedient youngster to become a well-adjusted adult who respects authority. But the lack of parental discipline and a philosophy of permissiveness can produce a rebellious, compulsive teenager.
I am becoming increasingly convinced that any meaningful analysis of religious extremism must confront their parenting practices. Clearly, this has implications for ongoing efforts to oppose Christian extremism.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

January 23, 2007

Stopped in My Tracks: Facing True Horror

I love horror films, but I recognize that most of them are garbage, with few redeeming qualities. I'm okay with that because I find them an entertaining sort of escape. Of the countless films I've seen, only a handful have been so disturbing that I had a hard time dealing with them. However, I saw just such a film tonight. You won't find it in the horror section (it is a documentary), but it was easily the most vile, gut-wrenching, despicable, nauseating, horrific, I'm-going-to-be-up-all-night movie I have ever seen.

The film was Jesus Camp, and I'm not sure I'm going to be able to get it out of my head anytime soon. I feel like I just watched more than an hour of sadistic adults psychologically torturing young children. I was not raised in an Evangelical tradition, and I had never actually seen the force of their indoctrination, its effects, and the spectacle that can only be described as mass hysteria. Atheist or not, watching that film made me feel ashamed to be human.

If I didn't already have ample reasons for being an atheist (not that any reasons are required when theists have no support for their case), this film would be sufficient. Whenever I am tempted to abandon blogging, avoid casting a vote, or decide that other issues are more deserving of my time, I need only to remember what I saw tonight. Something tells me that I won't have much of a choice.



Tags: , , , , , ,

January 22, 2007

Christian Compares Atheists to Jihadists

We atheists are used to being despised, especially in America. Whatever the predominant threat to America is perceived as being, you can bet we will be equated with it. For decades, we were all assumed to be Communists. As the Communist threat subsided, we are now being referred to as "jihadists." It would almost be funny if it didn't reflect the sort of intolerance about which Christians have repeatedly demonstrated their seriousness.

Writing in The Christian Post, guest columnist Chuck Colson whines that American Christians are being persecuted. His evidence is that Christians are called "theocrats" or "fascists" and are described as wanting to take over America. Of course, atheists are to blame. Evidently, Mr. Colson has never heard of Christian Nationalism, Reconstructionism, or Christianism.

By complaining about "anti-Christian literature," by which he means recent bestsellers by Dawkins, Harris, and others, Colson attempts to rally his Christian soldiers. However, it is his attempt to analyze our motivation which warrants discussion. According to Colson, our "witch hunt" (yep, a Christian is accusing atheists of hunting witches) is motivated by our desire to:
  • "drive Christians out of public debates"
  • "destroy belief in God"
According to Colson, our attack on faith is based on a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of actual religious faith. Not surprisingly, he offers no support for this claim other than the standard argument that some Christians have done some good things. Unfortunately for Colson, he falls into the trap of giving religion credit for "ending the slave trade" without acknowledging that his bible condones slavery or that Christianity was used to justify slavery throughout much of history. Similarly, he wants to give his religion credit for being "the source of all the great reforms and advances of Western civilization" while conveniently ignoring the many atrocities spawned by his religion.

I would have to say that Colson is partially right about one thing, however. He's at least partially right about our goal (at least my goal) of turning religion into "a cause for personal embarrassment." My goal isn't exactly to turn religion into this sort of thing because I am convinced that it already is such a thing. My goal is to assist others in discovering the irrationality and dysfunctional nature of religion so that it can increasingly be recognized as a source of embarrassment and eventually discarded.

Tags: , , , ,

January 21, 2007

Parental Licensure

Raising a child is one of the greatest responsibilities humans undertake. A child might grow up to cure diseases, prevent wars, or a host of other great accomplishments. A child might instead grow up to be a psychopath, leaving a trail of pain and misery in his or her path. Of course, it would be naive to claim that what you do as a parent could determine this. However, it seems quite reasonable to me to think that society has a vested interest in making sure that you are at least minimally competent as a parent. This is why I would like to see parental licensure.

Operating a motor vehicle is a tremendous responsibility. To ensure the safety of the individual driver and everyone else on the road, a system of licensing is required. We want to make sure the driver has at least minimal knowledge of the rules of the road and can demonstrate minimal competence in the operation of the vehicle. We may complain about the inefficiency of this system, but there are few who would argue that we should abandon it completely.

Raising a child is certainly no less a responsibility than operating a motor vehicle or the other activities for which licensure is required. But what exactly would be the minimal competencies that would be required? Fortunately, a model already exists in the form of the parenting classes already offered by hospitals and community clinics. Topics typically include basic nutrition, discipline, knowing when to take one's child in for medical care, etc. There is certainly nothing advanced about this, however, treatment providers will tell you that many parents lack these skills and are not always motivated to acquire them.

Assuming that a standardized curriculum could be developed and that it would prove beneficial (there is already evidence that this type of education reduces infant mortality, child abuse, etc.), the question becomes whether it should be mandatory. "I should have the right to raise my child any way I want!" Really? Why? You don't have the right to drive your car any way you want, hunt any way you want, etc. Your rights with regard to your child are already limited by the law as well. In fact, you do not currently have the right to raise your child any way you want. All parental licensure would do is make it easier for you to raise your child by making sure that you had minimal competencies to do so.

In our current system, it is extremely common for parents to be court-ordered to attend parent training classes. Of course, this happens only after harm has already befallen the child. This is unfortunate. Why should the child have to suffer before the parents receive education? Some parents do mistreat their children out of malevolence but many more do so out of ignorance. Parental licensure would not stop the former, but it seems like it could help to prevent the latter.

For more information on parental licensure, see The Case for Parental Licensure.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Democratic Primaries Could Be Interesting

With Edwards and now Clinton officially in the race and Obama almost certain to announce soon, the Democratic primary leading up to the 2008 Presidential election is getting interesting. For the first time since I can remember, our task may involve choosing from among a pool of qualified and highly desirable candidates. I'd have no problem getting behind Clinton, Obama, or Edwards in 2008, although I do want to learn more about each of them.

I typically evaluate candidates on many issues, however, one will almost certainly take priority in this race, and that is foreign policy. Bush's colossal mess of Iraq, starting with his decision to launch a pre-emptive war in violation of international law, assorted treaties, and the U.N. charter, severely damaged America's image abroad. Many commentators have compared Bush's unprovoked invasion of Iraq and the ideology which surrounds it with Hitler's early aggression in WWII. In addition to handling various hotspots, our next President is going to need to be quite skilled in order to repair our reputation.

Tags: , , , , , ,

January 20, 2007

Most Influential Christians in America

The Church Report just published its list of the 50 most influential Christians in America. Note that this is a Christian publication so it is safe to say that these are the 50 most influential Christians in America according to Christians. I think we can learn something from this list.

I suspect that your first question is something along the lines of "What the heck is The Church Report?" According to their website:
"The Church Report is a national business news magazine that is distributed to over 40,000 senior pastors and Christian leaders from across the United States. Published by Christy Media, headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona and founded by Jason T. Christy, CEO of Christy Media, The Church Report is the leading magazine Christians turn to for news and information on a range of topics from theology, politics, business, books, music, education and much more!"
With that out of the way, lets look at the list. I'd like to start by drawing your attention to numbers 5, 37, and 40. Here we have three well-known Christian extremists: James Dobson, James Kennedy, and Jerry Falwell. I highlight this because I repeatedly hear from Christians that these individuals do not represent their views, that they are every bit as horrified at what these men say and do as I am, and that these men have little resemblance to "real Christians." If any of these common objections has merit, then I can't help wondering what they are doing on a list of the 50 most influential Christians in America. Also, if these objections have merit, I must ask how the "real Christians" allow their President and other elected officials to regularly seek counsel from these men.

Now look at numbers 11 and 41. Here we have President Bush and Senator Sam Brownback, prominent American political figures who just happen to be counted among the most influential Christians. Are you starting to understand why many people are concerned with maintaining the separation of church and state? The views of these two individuals on many social issues places them squarely in the Christian extremist camp along with Dobson, Kennedy, Falwell, and other members of the American Taliban.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

January 19, 2007

U.S. Cultivated Islamic Extremism in Afganistan

Concerned with promoting American interests against the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s, the Reagan administration promoted Islamic extremism in Afghanistan. In The New American Empire, Rodrigue Tremblay describes how the U.S. provided Islamic schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan with free books celebrating Islamic law, praising militant Islam, and encouraging jihad against infidels (i.e., Russian atheists). According to Tremblay, these books "contained not only exhortations to holy war, but also many drawings showing soldiers, guns, bullets, grenades, tanks, missiles and antipersonnel mines" (p. 50).

Tremblay details how this "religious aid" program, which extended into the 1990s, spent over $51 million to develop textbooks for Muslim children which "glorified war and weapons." These textbooks would later be adopted by the Taliban as they rose to power in the mid to late 1990s.
"Observers agree that religious fundamentalism was effectively inexistent (sic) in Afghanistan and Pakistan before the U.S. government decided to finance them and to furnish ideological and military arms to combat the Soviets" (p. 51)
Many prominent neoconservatives believe that America is fighting a war not simply on terrorism but also on Islamofascism. Bush himself has repeatedly referred to "Islamic fascists," and similar terms such as "Islamic extremists" are popular in American culture today. However, I can't help wondering how many Americans realize that their own government had a hand in cultivating "militant Islam," "Islamic extremism," and the like.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

January 17, 2007

Religious Indoctrination as Child Abuse?

Cover of "The God Delusion"
Cover of The God Delusion
One of the more controversial statements made by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion is that raising a young child as Christian, Muslim, Jew, etc., should be considered a form of child abuse. According to Dawkins, we should be appalled to hear someone talk about "a Christian child" because this reflects nothing more than the parents' religion and its imposition on a child too young to make up his or her own mind.

Is there such a thing as a Christian/Muslim/Jewish child?

The first question we must ask is whether there is such a thing as a Christian child, Muslim child, etc. I think that Dawkins is correct in answering that there is not. No child is born into the world with an established set of religious beliefs. These beliefs are acquired through a lengthy process of indoctrination. Thus, it is accurate to say that all children are born atheists because one cannot believe in something of which one has never heard. Of course, most children do not remain atheists for long, especially in America.

As the process of indoctrination unfolds, the child acquires religious beliefs. These beliefs are rarely questioned prior to adolescence - just as most parental messages are not seriously questioned during childhood. Throughout this pre-adolescent stage, we do not have Christian/Muslim/Jewish children but children of Christian, Muslim, or Jewish parents. This is a very important distinction.

When the child's brain is sufficiently developed to permit abstract thought, the child begins to think about his/her various beliefs. During adolescence, some of these beliefs are wholeheartedly accepted, and others are discarded. Is through this process that the adolescent now can meaningfully be described as a believer

Is raising one's child in a particular religious tradition abusive?

For now, forget about religion. Suppose that a couple decides to raise their child as sort of a prolonged experiment in child development. Make them a pair of unethical child psychologists if you like. They deliberately teach their child a bunch of nonsense (e.g., incorrect names for all the colors, incorrect terms for basic words, strange magical notions, etc.). They homeschool their child until high school, carefully controlling all the child's interactions and media exposure to make sure that their teachings go unchallenged. They then send their child off to high school and monitor the consequences.

Is this abusive? I suspect nearly all of us would agree that it is. The parents are deliberately providing inaccurate information without correction, setting the child up for what will surely be series of traumatic events.

Time for another example, one which is much more realistic and unfortunately common. A racist couple who belong to the Klan and various other white supremacist groups are firmly committed to raising their child to have similar beliefs. If you've seen any of the documentaries on hate groups on the History Channel or other cable networks, you've seen this. Disturbing images of babies in Klan garb or with little swastikas. Makes you sick, doesn't it? Basically, these parents raise their child from birth to hate everyone who they hate. And yet, when you see their toddler, you recognize that this is not a racist child but a child raised by racist parents.

Is this abusive? I suspect that most of us would agree that it is; however, I'd argue that this case actually goes beyond child abuse. How? In addition to damaging the child, these parents are raising a child who is likely to be a potential threat to the rest of us. If you are going to stand by the "I have the right to raise my child however I see fit" claim, note that this is exactly what these parents typically say.

Now look at the parents who raise their child in a particular religious tradition. Like the first example, they might end up teaching their child a bunch of nonsense, ranging from incorrect information about the natural world to magical (i.e., supernatural) rubbish. But like the second example, they do this because they genuinely believe it to be true. Worse, like the second couple, they teach hatred and exclusion. "But Christianity/Islam/Judaism is about love!" How is fostering an us-and-them mentality where children are taught that they are members of a "chosen" group - an island of good surrounded by evil - who must adhere to ancient superstition or risk the hell to which all the nonbelievers are condemned, about love?

Is this abusive? In other words, is raising a child to value irrationality (i.e., faith) over reason and to accept an inherently divisive belief system a form of abuse?

Readers interested in pursuing this topic beyond this post are encouraged to explore:

Tags: , , , ,

January 15, 2007

Religion is a Great Buffer From Reality

Time and time again, we've seen examples of religious people who have successfully managed to wall themselves off from reality. Sometimes it appears that the person has a desire to escape and is using religion for that purpose; other times it appears that religious brainwashing has actually destroyed any connection with reality, leaving the person in a state of delusion. It now appears that President Bush has managed to separate himself rather completely from reality. Given his personality, this often comes across as a willful stubbornness, but I suppose only those who know him well can tell us how much is intentional and how much control over it he may have.

With his approval rating sinking to new lows, Bush seems unfazed. He plans to continue with his Iraq escalation strategy regardless of what Congress does (see The Raw Story). CNN reports that Bush told 60 Minutes that the Iraqi people should be thankful for what America has done for them and that he's "proud of the efforts we did."
"We liberated that country from a tyrant. I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude. That's the problem here in America: They wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that's significant enough in Iraq."
When confronted with his dismal popularity and the vast evidence that his leadership in Iraq has led to one mistake after another, one would expect Bush to be at least somewhat affected. "Quite the contrary. My spirits are strong, and I'm-- I'm-- I'm-- I'm blessed to be the president."

It appears that no degree of separation from reality is too great for a mind influenced by religion. It is tempting to reject the possibility that Bush can actually believe what he is now saying. Surely, he must simply be trying to save face, protect the institution of the Presidency, etc. But we must remember that this is someone who claims to be "born-again" and who manages to believe all sorts of other nonsense. Perhaps religion, or at least religious extremism, is toxic to the mind.

You can find the full transcript of the 60 Minutes interview here along with a great translation at Daily Kos.

Tags: , , , , ,

January 14, 2007

No More Faith-Based Investing

I hate to admit this, but yours truly has been guilty of faith-based investing. I haven't been basing my investment decisions on any nonexistent supernatural entities, but I have been making some bad decisions based on poor information and lack of knowledge. Fortunately, I am now on the path to recovery and am making excellent progress on a reality-based plan. As much as I've been learning about investing, this knowledge pales next to what I've discovered about myself and how easy it is for an otherwise rational person to behave irrationally.

The personal finance class I took in high school did not go beyond balancing a checkbook and other minimum competencies. My parents were never big investors until I had left home, and even then, they ended up being over-reliance on a financial advisor. Thus, I grew up without having any clue how the stock market worked, what a mutual fund was, etc. Even in college, when it would have been easy enough to seek out appropriate coursework, I had no idea how important it was and never bothered.

Fast forward a few years, and I find myself established in my career and armed with a retirement plan I don't adequately understand and which I attempt to supplement with a 403(b) and Roth IRA, filled with investments I selected on no reasoned basis. How did I get there? I followed the advice of people who weren't qualified to provide it. I figured that since they clearly knew more than I did that it would be wise to trust them. After all, it would certainly be easier to operate on this sort of blind faith rather than learn anything on my own.

As my doubts grew, I started reading some good introductory books on investing. Investing For Dummies, 4th Edition and Mutual Funds for Dummies gave me the background I needed and answered most of my questions about how investing worked. Both are recommended for anyone who can relate to feeling absolutely clueless about this stuff. I learned that I needed to take a step back and develop a rational investment plan before I continued buying stocks, funds, etc. It turned out that what I had been doing was better than nothing but that additional improvement was clearly needed.

Utilizing the time off from work during the recent holidays, I read the outstanding All About Asset Allocation. Wow! Filled with charts, tables, graphs, and citations from scholarly finance research, this book walked me through the steps of developing a rational, empirically-informed asset allocation plan. I discovered that most of my investments to date were so highly correlated that I had virtually no protection from poor market conditions. I'd be flying high as long as the market did well, but a downturn could easily wipe me out. I learned that the bulk of variability in portfolio returns is due to an informed allocation plan and willingness to stick to it (rebalancing to maintain allocation percentages) rather than to the exact funds/stocks/bonds one selects. I learned that asset allocation is an extremely effective way to reduce investment risk, and I actually learned how to develop an allocation plan. In fact, developing such a plan turned out to be rather straightforward. I should have done this years ago!

I'm now selecting specific funds in each of my asset classes, finding that I actually enjoy this (at least a little), and saying goodbye to faith-based investing. I know what I need to do and why I need to do it. Something tells me that many of my readers can relate to the joy I feel in freeing myself from the confines of faith and embracing the beauty of a reasoned approach.

Tags: , , , ,

Check Out Planet Atheism

Pedro at Way of the Mind has started a new blog-of-blogs called Planet Atheism. It is a good way for all of you atheist bloggers to get some additional exposure for your blogs. For information about how to join, click here.

Some of you may be concerned that it will cut into your blog traffic. After all, why would someone visit your blog if they can access all of your posts in their entirety on a blog aggregator? By signing up, aren't you really just giving Pedro more traffic?

I don't think this should be cause for concern. Planet Atheism does not allow comments. If a reader wants to comment, they must visit your blog to do so. Also, Planet Atheism includes the name of your blog and a link to your post on each post. If you are really worried about this, you can always monitor your traffic and make sure it doesn't drop.

Tags: , , ,

January 13, 2007

The Escalation in Iraq

You are thirsty as hell when you spot the soft drink machine. At last! You drop in the correct change and hit the button for your choice. Nothing happens, and the change return does nothing. Dumbfounded, you stand in front of the machine not knowing what to do. You dig into your pocket for more change. This is going to end up being one expensive can of soda, but you really want it. Again the money goes in, and again nothing comes out. Now from somewhere behind you, comes the words you had feared, "Dude, that machine's been broken for about a week now. The 'out of order' sign must have fallen off." Now what?

If you are George W. Bush and this vending machine represents Iraq, you keep putting money into the machine. When you have none left and it is obvious to all rational persons that trying again is not going to result in a different outcome, you borrow more and keep going. Nobody can talk you out of it, and even though a part of you must recognize the futility, you are compelled to continue.

After hearing about everything Bush was going to say in his recent speech days before the actual speech, watching the speech was not particularly informative. Little in this "new" plan seems new at all. Then again, maybe I just wasn't listening closely enough. I didn't even notice that he omitted any mention of his god and his Jee-zuhs who told him to invade Iraq in the first place!

What I did notice during the speech was how Bush still doesn't seem to get it. Despite the words about taking responsibility, there seemed to be an emotional disconnect. I do not believe for one second that he feels responsible or regrets any of his Iraq-related decisions. The speech only solidified this opinion. He continues to feed the soda machine in a defiant manner, daring reality to deprive him of success once again.

I also noticed that Bush (and the mainstream media at large) seem to have decided that it is appropriate to blame the Iraqi people for not having their country put back together by now. Every time I watch the news, I hear once again about how Bush is losing patience with the Iraqis and is going to use the growing domestic displeasure with his war as a way to pressure them.

This was America's war. America's unjust, unprovoked, preemptive war that Bush started because his god and a bunch of his fellow Christian extremists wanted it. Losing patience with the Iraqis for not cleaning up America's mess quickly enough just doesn't seem to fit the circumstances. We made mistake after mistake in toppling their government and destroying the infrastructure of their country. Worse, we don't even know why (not that we don't all have our theories). Now we have the nerve to blame the Iraqi people for the mess!

Perhaps this is what happens when one bases one's imperial conquests on faith while being openly hostile to reason. It is time for Congress to step up and reverse this dangerous trend. If the opinion of a majority of Americans are important to them, they will do so. If not, maybe we need to elect some rational folks.

For an excellent analysis of Bush's speech, check out this video. It is one of the best commentaries on Iraq I've seen, and I think it should be essential viewing for all Americans.

Tags: , , ,

Pruning the Blogroll

The explosion in the number of atheist blogs has been reflected in my ever-growing Blogroll. It is important to me to make sure that the blogs I recommend here really are worth recommending. I suppose this is the main reason I maintain my own Blogroll in addition to recommending the official Atheist Blogroll to which I also link.

This has led me to establish some criteria for periodic pruning. First, I will no longer recommend inactive blogs, defined as those which do not make at least one new post per month. If you end up being removed for this reason, contact me once you resume activity, and I'd be happy to add you again. Second, I will recommend a very limited number of blogs that are not primarily focused on atheism/freethought, religion, atheist-relevant activism, and similar topics. I'm not going to exclude all off-topic blogs, but I will be much more selective here. Third, I will no longer recommend blogs that I do not personally read on a regular basis. After all, I want my recommendations to reflect quality that will be useful to my readers. Finally, I discovered a couple of links in my Blogroll were not actually blogs, so I moved them to the list of atheist resources on the left side of this page.

January 12, 2007

Identifying the "True" Christian

English: Medieval miniature painting of the Si...
English: Medieval miniature painting of the Siege of Antioch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Pedro over at Way of the Mind recently did a great post on the "true" Christian issue. If you have ever talked with a Christian about immoral acts committed by another Christian, you have undoubtedly heard the "Well, I guess he/she wasn't a true Christian" claim. After pointing out the fallacy this represents, Pedro discusses 8 different ways of identifying a "true" Christian and notes problems with each. This is an important discussion which deserves more attention.

On the surface, the task of identifying a "true" Christian should be fairly straightforward. Christianity is an organized religion, rooted in a particular set of scriptures, which involves an identifiable dogma. People who believe this dogma are Christians, right? If only it were that simple!

As Pedro notes, the definitional problem begins with the observation that Christians themselves cannot agree on how the dogma should be interpreted. Two recent examples come to mind. First, prominent Christians are questioning how their god is to be defined. This seems to fundamental to a monotheistic religion such as Christianity that I wonder how "Christian" can even be a meaningful concept with a shared understanding of their god. Second, we see Christians questioning whether belief in the virgin birth is a necessary component of their religion. Now we grasp the scope of this problem to which Pedro referred. If Christians cannot agree on what they believe - at least some core set of foundational beliefs, how can they possibly differentiate between Christians and non-Christians?

Most Christians seem content to live with their individual understanding of their religion without awareness or concern that it is unlikely to be shared by a majority of other Christians. What is more likely to bother them, and where the "true" Christian statement is most likely to appear, are the cases where they see someone behaving in a manner which they consider to be inconsistent with their personal beliefs. I would argue that the heart of the "true" Christian claim amounts to something like this: "That person is not behaving in a manner consistent with how I personally define Christianity, and therefore, he/she is not a real Christian." Implicit in this statement is that the speaker defines Christianity for himself/herself and that this personal definition, even though it is not necessarily shared by others, is sufficient to permit the application of moral condemnation to persons who violate it.

Pedro is absolutely correct to bring up biblical literalism in this discussion. Whatever else can be said about Christianity, it is difficult to deny that it is rooted in scripture. I think the biblical literalists are right about one thing: If one believes that the Christian bible was inspired (directly or indirectly) though a god which has the attributes described in this same bible, a literal reading is the only viable option. To think that a human has any business interpreting the Christian bible at all is the height of arrogance. The words are there for all to read and to follow. To engage in even the slightest distortion through interpretation, especially symbolic interpretation which often departs significantly from the written words, is unjustifiable. Even if interpretation was somehow necessary, how can anyone seriously think that humans are competent to provide it?

Christians who read their bibles literally, truly believe the dogma therein, and make an honest effort to live in accordance with its contents (including handling serpents, stoning persons who commit adultery, etc.) can certainly be called "true" Christians. I'm not sure that anyone else qualifies. If you disagree (and I expect most of you will), then you need to be able to come up with a compelling rationale for ignoring or reinterpreting the many parts of the bible of which you disapprove. More importantly, you need to come up with a defensible way of evaluating your reinterpretations (i.e., determining how you know you are correct in your reinterpretation).

Tags: , , , ,

Stem Cell Update

The House vote on HR 3 was 253 to 174, meaning that the DeGette-Castle bill to expand stem cell research passed. The bad news is that the margin was not enough to override a veto. For more information and to see what you can do, visit the Secular Coalition for America and DefCon.

January 11, 2007

Action Alert: Support Stem Cell Research

I just received the following action alert from the Secular Coalition for America and e-mailed my representative about it. It took no more than 1 minute and couldn't have been easier. If you are equally appalled by the intrusion of Christian extremists into scientific research, I ask you to do the same.

--Action Alert--

On Thurs., Jan. 11 the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to act on the DeGette-Castle bill (HR 3), which would expand the number of stem cell lines eligible for federally-funded research. The stem cells to be used are generated from embryos that would otherwise be discarded by fertility clinics.

Current policy allows federal funds to be used for research only on those stem cell lines that existed when President Bush issued an executive order on August 9, 2001.

Please take a stand today by contacting your Representative in the House and urging her/him to vote yes on HR 3 to expand stem cell research. A sample letter and other resources can be found on our Web site.

We also invite you to visit our new Web collection of Secular Coalition position papers on stem cells and other issues we monitor in Congress.

Tags: , , , , ,

January 10, 2007

"A Christian Owned and Operated Business"

I just saw a cable TV commercial for a local company that provides RV sales and service. The ad mentioned that this company was "a Christian owned and operated business." In fact, this phrase was evidently so important to the company that it was used twice - once at the beginning and again at the end of the 30 second ad.

My first thought - at least my first non-profane thought - was "only in the South." But I then remembered that the American bible belt is not confined to the South. Now I am wondering whether this sort of advertising strategy could be more common that I realize even outside traditional bible belt. Have you experienced anything like this in your area?

I see three possible reasons a company would flaunt their Christianity in this manner, and I suspect all three may apply in many cases. First, the company might view this as an effective marketing strategy. I am not saying that the owners aren't actually Christians (in fact, I'd be surprised if any businesses in my area weren't owned by Christians) but that this is a deliberate attempt to market themselves to Christians. Second, the owners could be doing this less as a marketing strategy and more as a method of proselytizing. In other words, sharing their "good news" with the TV audience may be even more important to them than attracting Christian customers. Third, the owners may view their ad as a coded message about their ethics. That is, "a Christian owned and operated business" may communicate to believers and non-believers alike that the owners of this company adhere to the highest ethical standards in their business practices. After all, Christianity is widely (and mistakenly) thought to be the source of Western morality (for more on the topic of morality, see Goosing the Antithesis, Atheist Ethicist, and Atheist Alliance International).

I would love to see some research on whether flaunting one's Christianity was an effective method of advertising a business. The study would involve two commercials, identical in every way, except one would add mention of the Christian ownership. Then we'd compare how viewers rated the company and actual sales. If you are aware of anything like this having been done, please let me know.

Tags: , , , , , ,

January 8, 2007

The Two Prongs of Atheism

In a recent post, I responded to a Christian blogger's question about why atheists seek to undermine the faith of believers. In this context, I referred to "two primary prongs of the atheist's objection to religious belief." For the sake of brevity, I may have glossed over some important details. In this post, I'd like to discuss these two prongs of atheism more thoroughly.

At the outset, it is necessary for me to clarify that what I am about to discuss is not universally accepted among atheists. Because atheism is nothing more than the lack of theistic belief (i.e., an atheist is one who does not answer in the affirmative to the question of whether any sort of god or gods exist), the two prongs I will discuss are commonly held but not universal positions of the atheist. Atheists have many reasons for not accepting theism, and my selection of the two I will discuss here should not be mistaken as a suggestion that they are universal.

Prong 1: Faith is Irrational.

The function of thought is to promote understanding. For understanding to be possible, we must have some method of assessing the veracity of various claims. This method is reason. If I tell you that I believe in unicorns, you are in the position of evaluating the truthfulness of my claim. In applying reason, you expect me to provide evidence. After all, I'm the one making the claim. In your pursuit of the truth, you are likely to discover that my belief about unicorns is based on faith. Faith is required for me to maintain my belief because my belief has no justification, no supportive evidence.

Faith refers to the belief in something for which there is insufficient evidence to otherwise warrant belief. As George Smith compellingly demonstrates in Atheism: The case against God, the core of faith entails conflict with reason. Knowledge requires justification in the form of evidence, however, faith is belief in something without adequate justification. If evidence emerged that unicorns do in fact exist, faith would become unnecessary, even irrelevant.

Throughout time, many intellectually honest Christians have acknowledged that faith is the enemy of reason. Those who continue to insist that faith and reason are both valid ways of knowing must answer the question of why they need two ways of knowing when reason is sufficient for the rest of us. The inevitable answer, as Smith notes, is that the Christian wants to "claim as knowledge beliefs that have not been (and often cannot be) rationally demonstrated" (p. 104). Faith is the core of religious belief, and religion cannot exist without it.

Personally, I find this prong to be sufficient to reject the theistic claim about the existence of gods. However, I do not find it sufficient to stimulate in me any drive toward atheist activism. Demonstrating that religious belief is irrational is not the same thing as demonstrating that it is harmful. Thus, we come to the second prong.

Prong 2: Religion is Harmful.

This is a massive topic which will already be quite familiar to any of my atheist readers. That a number of bloody atrocities have been committed in the name of religion should not be surprising when one examines the contents of the "holy" tests which form the center for these religions (see this post at Ebon Musings for many examples from the Christian bible). However repulsive one finds these acts at which religion is the root, it would be a mistake to restrict our focus to bloodshed.

In the interest of brevity, I will leave it to others to catalog the many negative effects of religion. Instead, I'd like to keep this post as simple as possible by borrowing from Richard Dawkins' excellent The God Delusion. Whatever else religion is, I wholeheartedly agree with Dawkins that it is inherently divisive. He argues that religion divides us in ways that other types of human differences (e.g., nationality, politics, etc.) generally do not. Examples include labeling children, segregating schools, and taboos about marrying out of the in-group. The effects of this divisiveness have been widely documented and do not need to be repeated here.

I'll conclude on a more personal note. While neither of these prongs must be accepted for one to be an atheist, their combination fuels my atheism (prong 1) and my drive to challenge religion (prong 2).



Tags: , , , , , , ,

January 7, 2007

McCain Wants More Troops in Iraq

As the somewhat revised Bush plan for Iraq emerges, it appears that likely 2008 Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain supports a troop surge into Iraq. McCain also says that he is willing to pay the political price if he is wrong. Something tells me that this will change if he does end up being wrong. In any case, I hope the American people will remember that he said this.

For more information on the surge and how effective it is likely to be, I encourage you to read this great post at AlterNet.

January 6, 2007

Revising Definitions of the Christian God

Bishop Spong thinks that human definitions of the Christian god need revision. Given that the concept of the Christian god appears to be logically incoherent, he may just be right. The thing is, I'm not sure how many Christians will welcome his revisions.
I, for one, have no desire to worship a God who is thought to favor the war in the Middle East in order to accomplish some obscure prediction found in the late first century book of Revelation, who suppresses women in the name of ancient patriarchy, or who is so deeply homophobic that oppressing homosexuals becomes the defining issue of church life.

Such an irrational, superstitious deity has no appeal to me and the attack of atheists against this kind of God is welcome. I also do not want to be told that the “true God” can be found either in the inerrancy of the Bible or in the infallibility of a Pope. Both are absurd religious claims designed not to discover truth but to enforce religious authority and conformity.
Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Too bad he couldn't have stopped there. Instead, Spong is under the mistaken impression that atheists "are saying that the God they have encountered inside the life of the church is too small and too compromised to be God for their lives." Which atheists are these? I hate to disappoint the good bishop, but I think that most atheists would go well beyond this. At least, I know I would.

Tags: , , , , ,

Subscribe to Atheist Revolution

January 5, 2007

Year of the Atheist? I Hope So

While browsing Reddit for interesting blog posts related to atheism, I found one that merits a response. The blog is 'Ruthiness, and the post in question presents many questions of atheists which are commonly asked by believers. Like many posts by Christian authors, Ruth's post also reflects some important misconceptions about the meaning of atheism. I started to write a comment on the blog but soon realized that the length was becoming excessive and that I should take this opportunity to practice what I've been "preaching" about cross-blog collaboration. What follows is my response to Ruth's post, "2007: To Be the Year of the Atheist?"

Ruth, I certainly hope you are correct about 2007 being the year of the atheist. After thousands of years of being a hated minority, it would be nice to have at least one year of our own. Unfortunately, there are still some rather large obstacles in our way which prevent many of us from even being able to be open about who we are.

I'd like to take a stab at answering some of the questions you raised and clarify a misconception or two. Before I do so, I want to applaud you for asking questions and clearly committing yourself to struggle with some challenging issues.
"But why do people find it necessary to try to remove the faith of others?"
Briefly, we hope to help others get beyond the confines of faith because faith is inherently irrational and destructive. In fact, these are the two primary prongs of the atheist's objection to religious belief (i.e., that it is both irrational and harmful). Faith is defined as maintaining belief in something for which there is no evidence. To belief in something for which there is no evidence is clearly irrational. Next, religious belief is maladaptive in the sense that it poses a danger to all of us. As important as rational thought is, it pales in comparison to the threat posed by religious belief. I would argue that this is the primary reason any nonbeliever cares about helping believers overcome the problem of faith.
Do these same people [atheists] relish telling children there is no Santa Claus? Do they look forward to divulging that the Tooth Fairy is a myth?"
I will clarify the meaning of atheism in a moment, and you will see that Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and any other supernatural entities except for gods are irrelevant here. Personally, the amount of energy I expend toward eradicating belief in these things is proportional to the amount of harm this belief causes. Thus, I have no interest in matters of Santa or the Tooth Fairy and considerable interest in mainstream religion.
"What is the difference, really, between an atheist and a skeptic?"
Skepticism refers to a philosophical doctrine about the need to base conclusions on evidence. The attitude of skepticism (i.e., that one should remain uncertain pending evidence) is one of the components of the scientific method, without which the benefits of modern science and technology would not be possible. The skeptic suspends judgment until evidence accumulates and then bases conclusions on the available evidence.

Atheism is much simpler. From the root (a - theos), atheism is simply the absence of theistic belief. It is the default position from which everyone begins before they have heard of religion. A theist goes a step further and asserts that a god or gods exist. An atheist does not accept this assertion (i.e., that a god or gods exist). It is incorrect to say that an atheist "denies or disbelieves" because this implies a deliberate act. Rather, the atheist simply does not accept the theistic claim. Thus, non-believer is a more accurate characterization than disbeliever.

Skepticism and atheism are clearly separable and far from synonymous. Most atheists are skeptics, however many are not. I have encountered atheists who believe in a number of supernatural entities besides gods. Many skeptics are atheists; many more are not.
"But isn't faith believing without total proof?"
Actually, faith is often framed as believing without any evidence. With evidence, faith becomes irrelevant, and theologians have long recognized this. This is what leads many to actively oppose reason. If I can empirically verify that my car is in my garage right now, I need no faith in my car being in my garage. However, if such verification is impossible - indeed, if I have no evidence whatsoever - then faith would be required. As evidence accumulates that I have no car or no garage, continued faith turns to delusion.

As much as I like Dawkin's new book, I would not recommend it to a Christian wanting to learn about atheism, at least not as the first read. There are several outstanding atheist blogs which you can visit to learn more about atheism without paying anything. The vast majority of us are exChristians and can probably relate to where you are more than you realize.

Tags: , , , , ,

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Copyright © vjack and Atheist Revolution, 2005-2014. All rights reserved.