Monday, 16 December 2013

The three main strategies that prominent atheists use to de-convert believers.

1. Ridiculing beliefs.
People like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens prefer to use unapologetic ridicule. They mock flaws in the theology, morality, history, and confidence of believers.
Pros: This approach is the most controversial and therefore puts atheists directly in the public eye. They end up on news programs for interviews and fill auditoriums for debates. The approach also works well with actual de-conversions. I should know because this very approach is what contributed the most to my atheism. As a confident believer, I felt compelled to prove just how wrong they are. They must be wrong because their accusations are so ridiculous! It caused me to research my position and when I fell short time and time again, I realized I was tricked! I see what you did there...
Cons: This approach certainly doesn't help the image of atheists in the public eye. The people that aren't won over with this approach will often double-down on their religion. When they see a battle line drawn and a vocal opposition, they run back to their team cheer louder than before. Also, the people without a team may come to negative conclusions about the moral fiber of atheists so willing to piss people off.
Recommended reading: The God Delusion and God is Not Great.

2. Educating with science.
People like Lawrence Krauss, Bill Nye, and the late Carl Sagan prefer to educate people. They see the problems that religion and superstition cause for mankind, and they believe the problem will solve itself with scientific literacy.
Pros: Ultimately, as people come to understand the grander alternative, their old myths seem petty and uninspiring. This is the least offensive method because they usually aren't directly telling believers they are wrong, just slipping in an alternative. At some point down the road the believer will compare Genesis with cosmology. They will contrast creationism with abiogenesis and evolution. They will juxtapose a world made for them with a vast universe in which they are a speck of a speck. There is a beauty and poetry with this approach. The other two approaches may leave a certain type of believer feeling fearful, alone, and without purpose. Science fills the holes left by religion, so it's a less intimidating transition. Ex-believers feel more inspired, more joyful, and yet more humble than they did with their old myths.
Cons: This isn't a quick process, and there's no guarantee that they'll actually confront their cognitive dissonance. There are plenty of authors out there seeking to harmonize science with religion. Believers may get stuck in this thinking because they aren't pushed or challenged further. Another problem with this approach is people often replace their established religion with a pseudoscience or spirituality. (Especially if the believer doesn't develop a skeptical mindset)
Recommended reading: The Demon Haunted World and A Universe From Nothing.

3. Undermining "faith."
People like Peter Boghossian, Michael Shermer, and Matt Dillahunty attack how and why believers know what they know. They reveal to believers that their faith isn't a virtue, but rather a way they pretend to have knowledge they actually don't.
Pros: People are shown that hope and faith are not synonyms. Faith is a knowledge claim for topics where evidence is absent. There is less preaching and more inquiring. How do you know Jesus is real? and How do you know the Bible is more reliable than the Koran? and How much time did you spend ruling out Buddhism? They nudge people toward the cognitive dissonance they didn't know they had. Believers confront their own beliefs. They begin to examine why they believe in cultural, evolutionary, and psychological contexts. They examine the relationship between evidence and knowledge.
Cons: This approach is offensive to people who fundamentally disagree with the premise. Some people love their faith. They depend on it to get them through the day. Faith feels like a safety net. Whether the believer has fallen on hard times or has a depressing fear of death, they would rather preserve that safety net - even if it means maintaining ignorance. Attempting to take that away can be taken as a personal insult.
Recommended reading: A Manual for Creating Atheists and The Believing Brain.

All three strategies have a place in public discussion. Where one approach fails, exposure to another may succeed.

Monday, 4 November 2013

"I Don't Believe In Atheists" Audiobook Breakdown. Chapter 2.

Claim: There are some things the human mind is incapable of knowing. Science can't even attempt to answer the purpose of existence.

This claim has two responses.
1. I agree that we may never know some aspects of the universe and I would challenge Chris to show an example of a prominent atheist that claims we can. From watching many speeches and debates featuring Richard Dawkins or Lawrence Krauss, I know they would agree with Chris on this. Our brains evolved in the trees, and later, on the plains of Africa. We evolved to hunt antelope and evade lions. How can we be expected to understand everything in universe? Richard Feynman showed how small antimatter particles actually move backward through time! Our minds evolved experiencing time as a one-way street. Our previous understanding of physics featured cause and effect relationships. Can a universe cause itself? Maybe! Can we intimately grasp what it means to move backward in time? We will certainly try! What about quantum super-positioning where one atom can being in more than one place during a single moment in time? Yes! We have a photo of it happening! The complexity of nature is amazing and surprising, but saying atheists think we can or will understand it all isn't something I have heard. Besides, most atheists have a sentiment similar to Richard Feynman:
"I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs, in different degrees of certainty, about different things. But I'm not absolutely sure of anything and of many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here and what the question might mean."

2. Questions like "How did we get here?" may or may not be beyond the reach of science. Questions like "Why are we here?" are false questions. They presuppose a purpose exists. Why assume it has a purpose? Lets illustrate a similar situation. The question "What does pink look like?" may or may not be answered by science. The question "What does pink taste like?" is just a nonsense question. It's a loaded question that assumes taste is a quality of pink. There have been many "purposes" throughout history before science took a swing to explain. The purpose of the Bubonic Plague was to punish an unbelieving Europe. The purpose of AIDS was to punish homosexuals. The purpose of sheep and cattle was to keep meat fresh for humans. (My own confrontation of this "purpose" is partially what led to my recent conversion to vegetarianism.)
History shows that the "purpose" of purpose is wishful thinking, human-centric ego-boosting, and a tool for promoting political or ideological goals. Purpose isn't a quality of nature. It's a product of human thinking. It's an illusion. Don't get me wrong; to us, purpose can be useful and good. It's just unscrupulous to believe it to be inherent in nature.

Claim: The new atheists class people using social Darwinism. They seek to wipe out morally inferior people.

For atheists, life is precious. We only get one life. So it's no surprise that secular Americans are more likely to oppose the death penalty than any religious group. The idea that atheists want to wipe out anyone is just plain wrong. We want to alleviate suffering through Humanism.
We do want discussion about morality, which is exactly what happens in the universities and courtrooms of America. I cringe when people claim the morality in the U.S. Constitution is based on the bible rather than through secular discussion. To quote John Adams: "It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service [creating the Constitution] had any interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the inspiration of heaven."
We don't want people who derive their morality from the bible to keep us from discussing morality. The idea that morality is unquestioningly defined for us in an ancient book is abhorrent to atheists. When someone uses the bible like a trump card during a discussion of morality, they throw reason out the window.

Claim: New atheists believe that we can evolve morally. In fact, we can break from evolution and redesign ourselves. Which is a religion-like belief. They believe humans can be perfected. It becomes a mission and a hope.

He must be referring to something posited by atheist author Sam Harris. I haven't read his books on morality yet, but I have a feeling this topic will be revisited in detail later in the book. So I won't deal with it now. My current thoughts on this are highlighted in a quote by Carl Sagan:
"It will not be we who reach Alpha Centauri and the other nearby stars. It will be a species very much like us, but with more of our strengths and fewer of our weaknesses, a species returned to circumstances more like those for which it was originally evolved, more confident, farseeing, capable, and prudent"

Friday, 25 October 2013

"I Don't Believe In Atheists" Audiobook Breakdown. Chapter 1.

I've been given an audio book called "I Don't Believe in Atheists." I've decided I will take it slowly and dissect the contents of each chapter in blog posts. This will be the first of many!

Chris's main point in this chapter is that atheists are fundamentalists. They seek a new utopia which they hope to gain through absolutism ideals on morality and with intolerance of others who disagree.
WOW! I have no idea where he gets this. The prominent atheist authors and YouTube personalities hate absolutism. They speak against false certainties and espouse doubt as a humble trait. Science drives away absolutism and instead views the world in relative probabilities. Nothing is 100%. I'll try and reveal this while going through his more nuanced claims.

Claim: We don't move forward morally. We are inherently sinful and do not progress. We may have societal rules in place that give the appearance that the people are morally superior, but on the individual level, a person from 500 AD has the same internal morality as someone from the 21st century.

I definitely disagree with this. I would point to the abolition of slavery and the empowerment of women as proof that we are more moral than we used to be. He would say "That's a societal morality!" But how does a society's moral law imrove without the individuals improving? If the individual morality is forever stagnant, why should we expect our institutional morality not do the same? The laws are PROOF of changes on the individual level. Morality is influenced by empathy, education, and understanding. He discounts those components when judging an individual's morality; clearly not considering them as a part of morality. He sees animal instinct and nothing more. People are damned from his perspective, and it isn't a surprising viewpoint coming from a theologian.

Claim: Science can't perfect human society. It is useless in the world of ethics and morality. People use science to justify their current opinions and agendas. In fact, slavery was a scientific racism because the scientists of the day came to the conclusion that other races were inferior and made to serve.

Science doesn't seek to perfect society, it seeks to understand the natural world. It isn't a perfect process and selfish people will cherry pick for their own agenda. One modern day example of this is the Heartland Institute. Energy sector lobbyist money as well and religious climate deniers founded the Heartland Institute to show the world how science denies climate change. Science does NOT deny climate change. 97% of climate scientists agree that human caused global warming exists. Still, we see how the Heartland Institute cherry picks the data to misrepresent the science found. They do not use the scientific method in hopes of uncovering reality. Instead, they start with their conclusion and then try to find data that fits their conclusion. Real scientists doing real science do not do that.
The scientific method we have today is actually a modern thing. In the not so distant past, most doctors, engineers, and astronomers went about science much more loosely. They often espoused things like phrenology, bloodletting, and astrology. Today, we have labelled these non-evidence based ideas as "pseudoscience."

Claim: Atheists assume Christianity is represented by fundamentalists like Pat Robertson. They dismiss modern, liberal Christians who are the vast majority.

I wish this was true. A vocal minority is a small dog with a loud bark. Unfortunately, the issues that need defending are supported often by the majority of Christians.
-65% of Americans want prayer in public schools.
-54% of Americans think creationism should be taught in science classrooms.
-40% of Americans oppose gay marriage.

I'll give Chris credit. He doesn't believe in the traditional form of Christianity. He dropped out of seminary because he couldn't take the hypocrisy. I'm interested in his book "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America" and I will be reading it in the coming months. His dad was a pastor who supported gay rights. He doesn't believe in angels or demons. He does NOT represent Christianity! More than two-thirds of Americans believe in angels, demons, the devil, and hell!

If America's Christians looked like him, there wouldn't be "militant atheists" like me.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Gay Christians Shouldn’t Just Leave the Church; They Should Leave the Faith

Recently, The Friendly Atheist published an article breaking down a fictitious interview on Christianity Today between a pastor (Pastor Jones) and a gay Christian (Todd). It gave a lot of good critiques, but I want to add a couple things they missed.

Todd: Some friends say that the Bible condemns homosexuality, and others say it does not. I hear some evangelicals accept monogamous gay marriage, based on the argument that the Bible simply does not address monogamous same-sex relationships, but I hear most evangelical churches insisting that marriage is only between a man and woman.
 We worship a God who speaks into the dark areas of our lives with enough moral clarity that we can understand the rough outlines of how he wants us to seek him, in purity and holiness. The Bible has much more to say about heterosexual sin in all its crazy varieties than it does about homosexual sin, but in every place where homosexual conduct is mentioned, most clearly in Leviticus 18:2220:13Romans 1:26-27, and 1 Corinthians 6:9, it is clearly condemned.
From my own research on this issue, I have found that there isn't a single Christian denomination that preaches homosexuality is alright.
-There are some that say it isn't a sin to be gay, only to act on it. (This is not the majority opinion due to verses like 
Matthew 5:27)
-There are some denominations that don't mandate doctrine, and thus, their churches can choose their own theology. (such as United Church of Christ)

At the heart of Christianity is the belief that each person is "broken." Nobody is perfect. We all have our faults and everybody struggles with different things. Of course, even if you are a saint among sinners, you are still "broken" thanks to your inherited "original sin." Regardless, the only way to be "mended" is through Jesus. Whether or not this is a healthy way to think about yourself or others could be debated on its own. The issue I want to drive at is the fact that every top-down, theology-minded denomination believes homosexuality is a type of "brokenness."

I find this to be horribly untrue. To equate homosexuality with the other sins like murder and theft is to see a human being in the wrong light. This is the same light the anti-choice crowd embraces as they work against the empowerment of women and oppose their emancipation from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. Is sexual reproduction all a person is good for?! Is it how you measure their contributions?

Addressing the latter type of church I mentioned earlier: Is it really worth twisting countless verses and ignoring countless more so you can continue to view the bible as the word of god while living as an open and active gay person? So many gay people have found it harmful to try and have the cake and eat it too. Maybe you haven't given it thought, but to quote a recent campaign by the Center For Inquiry "Millions are living happily without religion." If you still cling because you assume you can't have hope or happiness without religion, you would be wrong.

Todd: Well, I'm grateful for this information, but I can't say that you have solved things for me.Jones: I apologize if my own inadequacy, mediocre scholarship, or lack of Christian maturity have failed you in any way. But Christian maturity is not about solving things; it is about faithfulness. We are confronted in this area with the uncertainty of our paths, the modesty of our knowledge, and the mystery of the human condition. My appreciation of these uncertainties has only grown over the years.
To me, this is the worst thing a person could do. If it's not possible to reconcile your faith with reality, don't just believe anyway. Don't so casually throw away your rationality, self-respect, or happiness.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

To the Abrahamic religions of the world:

I think we can agree that religion is man-made when it comes to all of the other religions out there. Why would your god throw in another religion? Why would it appear to spread entire naturally like all of the other religions out there? (colonialism, wars, missionaries, etc) Why would your god use the same flawed human method of transmitting information (oral/written tradition, councils/committees, private revelations, etc) when he could have written instructions into the stars or something to set it apart? Why throw a "divinely inspired" religion into thousands of religions and expect we would be able to divine which one is right? Why trivialize such an important message?

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Science Converges, Religion Diverges.

As time progresses, the various scientific fields converge. Findings in geology, biology, paleontology, oceanography, etc come together to create a more accurate view of the world. We see them supporting each others' conclusions. Like putting together a puzzle, or coloring in different parts of the same picture. This confirms their pictures of reality are leading them to the same truth.

In contrast, as time progresses, religions diverge. They become more numerous, their conclusions differ ever more, and even exclude each other. Looking at Christianity alone, how many versions of the "one eternal truth" have been created in this century alone? How varied are they from 1500 A.D.? From 33 A.D.? The number of answers show this "shot in the dark" method of determining the truth is fatally flawed. It leads humanity further from truth and into the realm of useless and unsatisfying (although comforting) speculation.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

God allows, commands, and in some cases commits abortion.

Pro-lifer: God is against abortion! Don't kill babies!

Psalm 137:9: "Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks."

Pro-lifer: Stop that! Out of context!

Isaiah 13:16: "Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted and their wives violated."

Pro-lifer: Those are evil Babylonians! Justifiable!

Hosea 13:16: "their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open.”

Pro-lifer: That was Sumeria! Also evil! Justifiable!

Exodus 12:29: "At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well...there was not a house without someone dead."

Pro-lifer: That was Egypt! Justifiable!

It seems to me that God is okay with killing babies as long as they aren't Hebrew babies...oh wait:

Numbers 5:27-28: If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse.

If your wife cheated on you and she is pregnant, God will give you an abortion...Hebrew style!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Gay rights isn't the only civil right to be impeded by religion

The 1960s civil rights movement is against the bible:

"I'd sure like to help the colored, but the Bible says I can't."

- Senator Absalom Robertson to Senator Eugene McCarthy when asked to support some mild civil rights legislation in 1960s

The abolition of slavery undermine's God's covenant:

1832 Thomas Dew of Virginia argued that many of the patriarchs of the Old Testament, God's chosen people, owned slaves. God's covenant with Abraham was an agreement with a slave owner. God even rewarded him by giving him more slaves.
In the experience of Frederick Douglass, the former slave and abolitionist, religion served only to harden the hearts of slaveholders. In his Narrative (1845), Douglass recounted how one of his owners tied up a lame young woman and whipped her naked shoulders until they bled, all the while quoting scripture: "He that knoweth his master's will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes." This was a close paraphrase of Luke 12:47.

Women's rights undermines the Christian marriage:

"The whole order of Christianity, its constitution, we may say, is based on the relations of the conjugal ordinance. When we level up the woman, we mean, take her out of the established order of God’s arrangement, we level down man; and we level down Christ. For the gospel affirms and reiterates the regular sequence, in various modes. As a dogma: in the declaration “that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God; ”...As a command: “Likewise ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands. ”...As a mystery: the beauty of the allegorical marriage in the Revelation, is wholly in the understood moral relation between bride and bridegroom. “The marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. ”Again: “The holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. ”The church of God is in these verses declared to be in the same relation to Christ, as the wife to the husband. Destroy the integrity of the Christian marriage, —and the symbols employed to represent to us the dependence of the church and the providence of Christ, lose their whole significance."
"Even at the fall, it is woman only who is addressed "in the declaration: “He shall rule over thee;” the man is not told to exercise his authority as a punishment..."
-John L. O’Sullivan (Feb. 1852 edition of ”The Democratic Review"

Of course, if you want to go really far back, the bible was used to defend the divine authority of kings and to argue that seizing land from the Native Americans was ordained by God.

Perhaps I should clarify the purpose of this information. I view the bible, written by man, inspired by man, to be a reflection of ourselves. It displays our courage, and our fear, our selflessness and our selfishness, our good and our evil. From this perspective it is a relic of culture and history. If, however you view it as a divine work filled with the intentions of a deity and a moral code, it causes much pain and suffering. The people who used it to defend these contemptible acts probably viewed themselves as moral; their righteousness unquestionable and intentions admirable. Yet, their misplaced faith turned them into instruments of suffering as they echoed a moral code built in the iron age, and last refined during the Roman empire.
Frederick Douglass told in his Narrative how his condition as a slave became worse when his master underwent a religious conversion that allowed him to justify slavery as the punishment of the children of Ham.
Mark Twain described his mother as a genuinely good person, whose soft heart pitied even Satan, but who had no doubt about the legitimacy of slavery, because in years of living in antebellum Missouri she had never heard any sermon opposing slavery, but only countless sermons preaching that slavery was God's will.

"With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion." -Steven Weinberg.

"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction" -Blaise Pascal

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

A start of things to come.

You know a dream is like a river,
Ever changing as it flows,
and the dreamer is just a vessel,
that must follow where it goes.

Trying to learn from whats behind you,
and never knowing whats in store.
Makes each day a constant battle,
just to stay between the shores.

And I will sail my vessel,
'til the river runs dry.
Like a bird upon the wind,
these waters are my sky.
I'll never reach my destination
If I never try,
So I will sail my vessel,
till the river runs dry!

Too many times we stand aside,
and let the water slip away.
And what we put off till tomorrow,
has now become today.
So don't you sit upon the shore line, 
and say you're satisfied.
Choose the chance to rapids,
and dare to dance the tides.

I started this blog to help me organize my thoughts. I find that Garth Brooks song to be very accurate in its description of life. I just got married and already I can tell some very transformative years are ahead. Too often I come to some new conclusion that I later forget. Hopefully writing them down will provide some stability in my mind. Here's to commitment! :)