Tom Flynn and Ron Lindsay discuss holiday celebrations for humanists

December 16, 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  CFI President and CEO Ron Lindsay discusses humanist approaches to Christmas with the new Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism, Tom Flynn  

 

Comments:

#51 Chuck Nelson (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 12:02pm

As an atheist, I do not share Tom’s concern that our participating in the festivities promote Christianity. It is widely known that Christ was not actually born on December 25th. One very significant individual who was, in fact, born December 25th is Isaac Newton. Let’s put apples on our trees and celebrate “Newton Day” and acknowledge the fact that we live in a Newtonian world. I am grateful for Newton, arn’t you?

#52 Jane (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 12:14pm

Above all else, I wish each person in the world the right to choose his own philosophy/belief while respecting everyone’s right to do that.  To me, that means, not trying to somehow insult others over their celebrations.

Boycotting Christmas, oh, come on, this is just silly.  Anyone can simply not participate, which no one else really notices anyway (except for loved ones hoping to express their love to you, who then feel as if you have rejected their love), so I can only suppose that a boycott would mean publicly denouncing the holiday.  That would be nothing but rude and recognized as a beligerent act.
You might as well be boycotting all of the other religious holidays as well, but what kind of a negative life would that be? What would be the purpose?  What would you achieve? 

People who know me, know my values and lack of belief, and when I give a gift at any time of year, including Christmas, it’s given with love and all sorts of positive wishes.  My thoughts aren’t narrowed or left wanting because of what someone else in their mind adds to the meaning of my gift,  for example, if it’s given at Christmas to a Christian.

I can’t see why anyone would want to pass up an opportunity to celebrate life, which is how I see Christmas, especially here in the US. We can use all the reminders we can get to just stop and appreciate our loved ones and all that life offers.
Happy Holidays!

#53 Karen D. (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 12:16pm

To Kathy Ryan,
I suggest the book How Do You Know It’s True, by Hy Ruchlis, for your children.  It was written for children ages 11-14.  The book discusses various superstitions, including Santa Claus.

#54 nmtucson (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 12:36pm

Starman’s “answers” to Monica’s questions demonstrate most of the features I find most objectionable in religious beliefs.

He says: “This life is a temporary testing ground of sorts and so, having been given the freedom of choice, some make bad choices and perpetuate “sinning”.  This will end one day.” and “At some point those who suffered during their relatively short time on Earth (compared to eternity) will suffer no more and will enjoy an eternity of unspeakable joy.  Those who caused the sptd will suffer appropriate punishment, and then be terminated for eternity.”

I say: Religion promises a “reward” AFTER “this life”, in order to keep people servile and cooperative lest they risk damnation, rather than demanding equal access to the rewards of this life NOW.

He says: “When disasters happen Christians are usually the first to respond. “

I say: I doubt you can say this definitively. If you can prove this with numbers, I’d simply note that, since a huge majority of the world counts themselves “christian”, this becomes a tautology. The odds are greatly in favor of a first responder also coincidentally being a christian. For the same reason, they are also first in line at movies, first in line at unemployment, first to throw away stuff they could recycle, first to commit murder, etc etc, simply by the odds. This renders the comment meaningless.

He says: “We may suffer for a season, but ultimately the good will win out. “

I say: What do you mean by “we”? By “suffer”? and most of all, what do mean by “the good”? SOME people consider their CURRENT life “good”. SOME people would consider the imposition of strict religious law “good”. SOME would consider a return to nomadic, hunter-gatherer times “good”. If we secular humanists know nothing else, we know that words like “good” have no independent meaning, and thus, a statement referring to “the good” has no meaning either.

He says: “We often see two different people suffer the same negative circumstance.  One will allow it to defeat them and will live the balance of their life in dispair (sic), the other will praise God, remain faithful to Him, and even use the negative event in a positive way by helping others who face the same thing. “

I say: Give me a break. You have built in an assumption here that the religious one is the one who can handle negative situations better. I say baloney. As an atheist, I find I handle difficult situations far better than most believers. I don’t blame god, or feel guilty for blaming god, or wonder why, or worry about what I did to deserve my sadness. I recognize that I don’t count as any more special than anybody else to an indifferent universe, so I am free to find joy or sorrow or meaning or insignificance as I choose.

#55 Teamonger on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 12:40pm

I agree with Chuck; there’s nothing wrong with an atheist celebrating a Winter/Solstice/Newton holiday.  A day promoting “peace on earth, good will towards men (humanity)” certainly has value in bringing people together, reducing polarization, no matter whose birthday is being celebrated.
t

#56 nmtucson (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 12:43pm

To Jane, who said, “Anyone can simply not participate, which no one else really notices anyway (except for loved ones hoping to express their love to you, who then feel as if you have rejected their love)”:

That seems like a pretty heavy judgment to lay on a “loved one”, that by choosing to exercise your (non)religious beliefs, you have “rejected their love”. In what way does it express love to spend money on someone? Do you have to have a holiday (based on beliefs you don’t agree with) in order to make that expression? Your statement underscores my previous comments that religion and religious practices serve to keep us in line, to impose conformity, to ensure that we do not seek more “in this life”.

I personally consider it far more meaningful to act with kindness and love and spend time with family when no calendar tells me to.

#57 Madison (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 12:55pm

As this new blog site developed, one of the questions I mused over was “How long would it be before the ‘missionaries’ would soon roll up and try to ‘save’ us?”

Looks like maybe less than 24 hours? (Aaaargh!)

#58 Greg Peterson (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 3:29pm

But Madison, what a lame, ridiculous attempt, right?  I mean, nmtucson did a fine job of deconstructing starman’s “apologia,” but only scratched the surface.  The whole thing is riddled with incoherence and absurdity.  If this is the level of missionary activity we can expect, I am confident in declaring that its impact will be just to make us all the more confirmed in our atheism.  I would say, “Is that all you got?”, but usually that phrase is reserved for a moment of bravado in the face of an equal or greater opponent.  Starman’s weak effort doesn’t merit so worthy a rejounder.

#59 Jason (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 4:21pm

While my personal opinion is much closer to Ron’s than Tom’s, I think they both focused on the wrong issue.  The majority of their debate was about what everyone else (people who aren’t secular humanists) will think when a secular humanist celebrates Christmas.  The focus should instead be on what value secular humanists can or can’t derive from celebrating a holiday that has religious roots and religious overtones.

Individually and in the context of my family, I have derived great value from celebrating Christmas.  I don’t hide the fact that I’m an atheist from anyone, but if someone walks by my house and solely from my Christmas lights assumes I am a Christian—oh well.

The last thing the secular humanist movement needs is a culture of self-denial with the goal of “evangelizing” the world, or an orthodoxy about what constitutes the appearance of a “good” secular humanist.  It ought to go without saying that secular humanists are not called by some higher power to sacrifice their own values on the altar of what others may think.

If you derive benefit from celebrating Christmas (or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or Solstice, or whatever) then celebrate it.  If you don’t, then don’t.  What some stranger on the street may think about it is irrelevant.

—Jason

#60 Starman (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 7:11pm

nmtucson responded to my previous post by saying,

“I say: Religion promises a “reward” AFTER “this life”, in order to keep people servile and cooperative lest they risk damnation, rather than demanding equal access to the rewards of this life NOW.”

Yes, that certainly is an option, as is the view I presented.  I’ll agree that religion promises a reward after this life, but I would disagree with your “rather than” conclusion.  First, I do not DISagree that what you said would work in keeping people “servile and cooperative”.  That was the point in Voltaire’s statement, “If there were no God, it would have been necessary to invent him”.  He recognized that “religion”, even if false, tended to keep people in check to at least some degree.
 
But I would also disagree that the only reward for Christians is in heaven.  In Philippians 4:7 the apostle Paul writes of a “peace that passes understanding”.  He writes this not from a comfy sofa, but from a prison cell.  That seems to suggest that Christians can have peace even now under the most trying conditions.  Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.”  Personally, I think most Christians are too focused on the “reward” of heaven.  That should be viewed as an incidental blessing.  The Christian’s primary concern right now is to help others avoid the consequences of sin (missing the mark) so they (the others) can reap the benefit of Christianity both now and on into eternity. 

I see the role of a Christian as akin to that of a person who saw that half of a bridge had collapsed just over the crest.  That person would run to the base of the bridge and do their very best to persuade people to stop lest they reach the summit and plummet to their death.  They would be willing to stand out there in a blizzard if that’s what it took to help others.
In response to my statement, “When disasters happen Christians are usually the first to respond“ you wrote,

“I say: I doubt you can say this definitively. If you can prove this with numbers, I’d simply note that, since a huge majority of the world counts themselves “christian”, this becomes a tautology…. This renders the comment meaningless.”

I was only making a general observation.  Intuitively the Christian faith tends to promote altruism.  Actually, most faiths tend to do that.  When I was an atheist I lived consistently with my belief system.  I believed that this life was all there was, and so there was no reason for me to do anything that benefited anyone else unless it, at the very least, provided some benefit to me (i.e. stopping at stop signs, etc).  If someone was suffering, oh well, better them than me. 

As a Christian I do have a reason to help those less fortunate and those who are suffering.  Everyone is created in God’s image, and therefore everyone has intrinsic value.  Every life is important.  If an old lady drops her life’s savings out of her purse I’d pick it up and not hesitate for a moment to return it.  I would have had quite a struggle to do that when I was an atheist.
 
But I’m not suggesting that atheists actually live that way.  I was likely an exception.  I have atheist friends today who live very moral lives, moreso than most Christians I know.  I’m just saying that that is inconsistent with the concept that we are nothing but highly organized dirt.  If highly organized dirt offends you, destroy it.  If it inconveniences you, tear it apart.  If it gets in the way of progress, blot it out.  I have no problem with that.  But if it’s a human created by God and created in His image….

You responded to my statement, “We may suffer for a season, but ultimately the good will win out,“ with:

“What do you mean by “we”? By “suffer”? and most of all, what do mean by “the good”? SOME people consider their CURRENT life “good”. SOME people would consider the imposition of strict religious law “good”. SOME would consider a return to nomadic, hunter-gatherer times “good”. If we secular humanists know nothing else, we know that words like “good” have no independent meaning, and thus, a statement referring to “the good” has no meaning either.”

Gee, I knew exactly what I meant!  lol!  Okay, let me wordsmith that a bit.  First, I’m referring to an absolute standard of right and wrong.  I considered my life as an atheist as “good” because I had nothing else to compare it to.  What I knew about Christianity was unappealing, and I viewed Christians as total losers for two reasons.  The few that I had interactions with were hypocritical, and I had many misconceptions about what Christianity was all about. 

IF (capitol I, capitol F) IF God created us, and IF God told us how to live (in his written covenant with us) then “good” can be viewed as that which is consistent with his covenant.  If we accept the terms of His covenant and follow the stipulations, well, that is “good” because it then brings us the “blessings” as opposed to the “curses” that are outlined in the covenant, and vice-versa. So the “we” refers to those who are in a covenant relationship with God.  They may suffer (which I think needs no definition) while on earth, but “the good” (the blessings as stated in the covenant) will win out.  And by that I simply mean we’ll totally enjoy heaven ultimately, and tend to have less “issues” with this life in the meantime, which brings us to the next point.

You quote me as saying, “We often see two different people suffer the same negative circumstance.  One will allow it to defeat them and will live the balance of their life in despair (sic), the other will praise God, remain faithful to Him, and even use the negative event in a positive way by helping others who face the same thing.“

And you responded with: “Give me a break. You have built in an assumption here that the religious one is the one who can handle negative situations better. I say baloney. As an atheist…I don’t blame god, or feel guilty for blaming god, or wonder why, or worry about what I did to deserve my sadness. I recognize that I don’t count as any more special than anybody else to an indifferent universe, so I am free to find joy or sorrow or meaning or insignificance as I choose.”

I’m merely speaking from experience.  When a loved one dies, for example, the Christian understands that they will be reunited one day.  And again, even if it isn’t true and they’re believing a lie, the comfort faith brings is real nonetheless. The atheist has no such hope. Just saying “it is what it is” isn’t the same as saying “we’ll be reunited again”. 

I am the same as you in that I do not “blame God, or feel guilty for blaming God” (because I don’t blame God) and I don’t “worry about what I did to deserve my sadness”, because I God isn’t the source of such things. 

But where we are different is significant.  You say that you recognize that (you) “don’t count as any more special than anybody else to an indifferent universe…” and that, to me, was the worst part of my life as an atheist.  I could not stand the thought of dieing and never, ever existing again, of never having another conscious thought. 

There is something very special about life.  But as a Christian I have intrinsic value and share an entire planet with people who are all special in God’s sight.  And that is at least one negative situation (the way we view our value) that is better under Christianity than atheism.

#61 nmtucson (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 8:13pm

Hoo boy, where do I start….

At the end, I think, with the very heart of the matter. Starman says: “as an atheist…I could not stand the thought of dieing (sic) and never, ever existing again, of never having another conscious thought… But as a Christian I have intrinsic value and share an entire planet with people who are all special in God’s sight.”

My dear, I have to say, I don’t think you ever got to the point in your philosophical journey where I would have called you an atheist. You may have rejected the god you grew up with, the god you saw others worship etc, etc, but you did not, in your heart, ever give up on the possibility of some kind of god. Not surprisingly, you eventually re"discovered” your religious views which had only lain dormant during your brief sidetrip into self-centeredness.

After rejecting organized religion and the fantastical stories of believers, the atheist takes one more step—embracing the utter indifference of the universe and turning it to their own use. I don’t fear death, or the lack of an afterlife, because I know I will not *experience* it. And I do not regret the idea of my extinction because for 99.9999999999 percent of time, I didn’t exist anyway, before and after my time alive.

Because the universe cannot make me special, I make myself special. Not in the infantile way you describe: “I believed that this life was all there was, and so there was no reason for me to do anything that benefited anyone else unless it, at the very least, provided some benefit to me (i.e. stopping at stop signs, etc).  If someone was suffering, oh well, better them than me”.”

Rather, I first recognize and embrace the idea that I have the option to assign meaning to my existence. Because I consider my life enjoyable and valuable to me, I seek pleasurable experiences and avoid discomfort. I then recognize that others do the same thing. From that, I deduce that I can best ensure that those around me treat me well, or at least, don’t mistreat me, by treating them well, or at least, not mistreating them. I care when someone suffers because their suffering diminishes the overall happiness of my social unit, of my species, and increases the chances that I will at some point suffer too. In my ideal world, we all share equally in the bounty of our planet because that would ensure the highest overall probability of happiness for me and those I love. Nothing about this requires appeal to an outside authority for validation or control. I do what makes sense to me, which in my view would also make the best sense for the vast majority of other humans as well, if they only knew it.

If you do not understand that, I don’t consider you to have fully appreciated what I understand as the philosophy of the atheist. Your statements imply to me that you have not successfully freed yourself from the need to matter to somebody more than somebody else does. The atheist matters first and foremost to themselves, and that frees them to make rational decisions without the need for submission to a mythical overlord.

Enough for now. The rest does not really need refutation. In most cases, you have simply retreated from your original statements, or rendered them meaningless by qualifying them to apply only to your own narrow experience and ignoring what I have already told you about mine. Having lost my husband, my mother and my sister to difficult deaths, I know firsthand how I handle death, and having seen others founder on the same rocks, I know I handle it better than most. That you still don’t think an atheist can do so simply means you have shut your eyes and don’t intend to open them.

So be it.

#62 JHorn (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 9:31pm

It seems that the freethinkers here are mostly on board with keeping the holiday in a secular fashion, rather than doing away with it. Others are sort of melding it with New Year’s eve/day, making it an end-of-the-year retrospective and new year kick off. It does seem that the ones opposed to any holiday at all seem to be reacting to the gross materialism and over-the-top nature of xmas, not to the original and cross-culturally relevant basis of the holiday.

One point made early and then ignored was to try to present a unified freethinker position on the holiday, which is appealing but oxymoronic. But that raises a bigger question, and that is how to define a unifying philosophy for atheism, which is simply the lack of belief in divine beings. I do think that the Secular Humanists have done a good job by rejecting any reference/deference to supernatural entities as false, and reliance upon reason and rationalism as guides in life.

Which ties into the ideas being sold by our friend Starman. nmtucson has done a nice job pointing out some flaws (which are too numerous to be worth taking on), and also demonstrated why altruistic behavior is an important part of a rationalists skill set.

More on Starman next.

#63 Teamonger on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 9:35pm

“There is something very special about life.  But as a Christian I have intrinsic value and share an entire planet with people who are all special in God’s sight.  And that is at least one negative situation (the way we view our value) that is better under Christianity than atheism.”

First of all Starman, whether something is viewed as “better” under Christianity is irrelevent to the primary question: what does the evidence say?  To say Christianity provides a “better” view is an appeal to emotion, not to reason.  An atheist wants reason and evidence to decide beliefs, not carrots and sticks.

Second, from my reading of the Christian Bible, the majority of people on this planet are going to be tossed into a Lake of Fire.  (Jesus predicted only “the few” would find the “narrow way”, right?)  If people were so “special in God’s sight”, why do you think they were made so poorly as to deserve such a fate?
t

#64 JHorn (Guest) on Wednesday December 17, 2008 at 9:40pm

Starman, please. I for one, and I think I speak for many of us here, have already owned your world view at some point in life. It’s a house of cards and once it’s truly questioned it falls right down. The idea that there is a loving, all-powerful, all-knowing creator of the universe who cares about our species and then put us here and gave us the power to screw up and be eternally punished is such utter nonsense that all of humanity, or at least christianity, should collectively be embarrassed for even entertaining the thought.

Christianity is one of many mythologies that rose out of ignorance, changes with time and adopts its message to the world around it in order to survive, and will certainly run its course eventually. In the meantime those of us in the minority have to deal politely (because it’s the right and rational thing to do) with the delusional while they appeal to their imaginary leaders and try to explain things away as being god’s will, or simply god’s mystery.

There is nothing good accomplished by people in the world that is not attainable through the principles of secular humanism. Nothing. Good things happen because people are good - and the ones that are good because of god or christ or allah are less noble than the ones doing it because it makes the world a better place in which to live.

#65 Richard (Guest) on Thursday December 18, 2008 at 5:13am

Christmas, gift giving and its pomp and circumstance is just another way to popularize Christianity.  So many times we see the slogans “the reason for the season is Christ” (or some variant) and the point is missed.  The “celebration” is older than Christianity, and does not even do what it professes to do, namely celebrate the birth of Christ.  Today it has more to do with consumerism and getting, and not some higher meaning/purpose. 

Many of the self anointed who are saved, are mean spirited, sour individuals who evangelize for their purposes - salvation, rather than any true and meaningful good will towards others.  Dignity demands that one do something for ones self, because one believes in the inherent merits of the act.  To be good is not something born out of fear or reward.  To give is not something fostered by the various cults (by definition they take), but rather from the conscious belief that it is a good, nice sociable thing to do. 

I have an eight year old who gives because it makes her feel good and because she wants to bring happiness to her parents, the receivers of the gifts.  The lesson is that giving is something we all like to do, but as the innocence leaves us, it becomes replaced by consumerism and its ilk.  Christianity is just another layer of taking and a poor excuse of formalizing a time to give.

#66 JHorn (Guest) on Thursday December 18, 2008 at 7:45am

Richard -  You say that gift-giving and the associated “pomp and circumstance” are just another way to popularize xtianity. That might explain the genesis of gift-giving as it relates to xmas, but those of us on this list that engage in it are doing it for another reason, and that is the debate.

I think it’s best if we throw out the bathwater (the mythology and superstitions we call religious belief) and keep the baby! The ‘baby’ involved is a non-arbitrary, natural, and inherently meaningful event (Winter Solstice), along with other elements universally typical of human tradition including feasting, gift giving, and general good will towards others.

This would effectively distill the positive elements from religions without the associated baggage. It would allow what is the most popular holiday to continue, even among many nonbelievers, and not be the PR disaster that would follow if we were to unify around the idea of killing the holiday.

#67 qwistrod (Guest) on Thursday December 18, 2008 at 3:13pm

I think the choice of whether a nontheist can celebrate Christmas is a private decision that one has to make for oneself.  If I had no family I probably would not bother.  But part of Christmas is that it is a social gathering with your family and/or friends and I think I’d be missed if I opted out of Christmas.  That is one can participate in the secular aspects of Christmas without necessarily subscribing to Christian beliefs.  This is a view that even the Christian members of my family endorse. 

My family know that I am an atheist.  Moreover I think we can make ourselves visible by other means such as the slogan on London’s bendybuses ‘There is probably no god’.

#68 Lucretius on Thursday December 18, 2008 at 10:58pm

I’ll just give a few comments:

1.) The roots of the elements of Christmas (merry-making, gift exchanges, etc.) go back to the ancient Roman tradition of Saturnalia. Although Saturnalia originated in a pagan environment, it was not an especially religious celebration.

2.) I think it would be perfectly legitimate to have a generic Winter celebration for things like gift exchanges. I don’t see anything wrong with it.

3.) Different people have different situations, so a blanket declaration that humanists not celebrate Christmas, is I think unrealistic. That said, I fully respect Tom’s right to do what he darn well pleases during Christmas.

4.) I will quote from Ayn Rand’s letter in response to a fan’s question about whether an atheist should celebrate Christmas. “The secular meaning of the Christmas holiday is wider than the tenets of any particular religion: it is good will toward men… The charming aspect of Christmas is the fact that it expresses good will in a cheerful, happy, benevolent, non-sacrificial way. One says: ´Merry Christmas´ - not ´Weep and repent´. And the good will is expressed in a material, earthly form - by giving presents to one’s friends, or by sending them cards in token of remembrance…

The best aspect of Christmas is the aspect usually decried by the mystics: the fact that Christmas has been commercialized. The gift-buying…stimulates an enormous outpouring of ingenuity in the creation of products devoted to a single purpose: to give men pleasure. And the street-decorations put up by the department stores and other institutions - the Christmas trees, the winking lights, the glittering colors - provide the city with a spectacular display, which only ´commercial greed´ could afford to give us. One would have to be terribly depressed to resist the wonderful gaiety of that spectacle.”

#69 r strle (Guest) on Friday December 19, 2008 at 12:09pm

It seems to me that nmtucson’s first post said it all when it comes to the debate of religion and its conflict with reality.  If nmtucson’s view could be repeated and reported in any and all conversation or debate about the rationality of the atheistic approach to what is true about the universe, the irrational religious views that now present so many problems to the rational and reasonable running of an orderly and productive world would eventually evaporate. 

Jane says:
“Above all else, I wish each person in the world the right to choose his own philosophy/belief while respecting everyone’s right to do that.  To me, that means, not trying to somehow insult others over their celebrations.”

Jane, are you saying that philosophy and belief are the same things?  If I have a philosophy I also have a belief?  What does it mean to have ones “own” philosophy?  Also it is unavoidable, from my point of view, that everyone’s “right” to the beliefs or philosophy of their choice is to be respected but it does not follow that the actual beliefs or philosophy need be respected.  And if someone chooses a belief or philosophy and a celebration related to them, that is so out of touch with reality then the individual holding it probably needs to be insulted so that others, like their children, will see the absurdity of such beliefs or philosophies.

It seems that every year you hear the complaint by Christians that the secularists persecuting them or insulting them by protesting the public display of their faith on government property.  It never seems to occur to these same Christians that their public displays are a form of persecution to nonbelievers.  You want to believe weird irrational things?  Well go to your church, basement, living room, back yard or any other place you own and profess your beliefs and conduct your services.  Just don’t ask for a tax exemption and leave me and everyone else alone, as we leave you alone, to run their life rationally and reasonably without having to endure your ignorant and irrational public displays and proclamations about your fictitious god and his fictitious rules. 

Finally

I see no need to believe anything.  Why is it that since the invention of the scientific method we still have many humans, even scientists and atheists, that want to cling to believing?  I cannot count the number of arguments about truth and reality I have had that ended with my opponent stating, “Well you and the scientists have a right to believe what you want to believe and I have the same right.”  No logical argument based on evidence can trump the mind set that scientists and/or secularists “believe” things “just like everybody else.” 

I think this confusion and intractable defense with its nonsensical thinking could be easily trumped by abandoning the use of the words belief and believe in all scientific and secularist speaking and writings (voluntarily of course—wouldn’t want to violate anyone rights).  This would allow a vital distinction to be made between evidence based “belief “ and non-evidence based “belief.”  My suggestions?

“The evidence suggests” or “I conclude from the evidence” or “The evidence supports the conclusion.”

#70 Stephen Baird (Guest) on Friday December 19, 2008 at 3:57pm

Here are a couple of carols suitable for secular humanists who wish to celebrate the season.  The first may be sung to Adeste Fideles.

This year’s Winter Solstice is pretty much like last year
With singing and drinking filling folks with good cheer.
Why does this happen periodically?

Because the Earth is tilted
To its plane of orbit
The Earth’s axes are tilted
Twenty-three degrees.

The Earth’s solar orbit illuminates the north sky.
Then, six months later, it’s the south’s turn to fry.
It’s simply envisioned gyroscopically.

Because the Earth is tilted
To its plane of orbit
The Earth’s axes are tilted
twenty-three degrees.

And now in December there’s hardly any sunlight
And up north in Reykjavik the whole day is night.
But daylight’s returning automatically

Chorus:

And so, while we’re drinking, it’s not to Jesus’ birthday
Or to the Maccabees that we toast today
No, it is simple, astronomically

Chorus:

Clink glasses and drink with gusto.

Here’s a song about the shopping season.  It may be sung to O Tannenbaum.

Epiphany, Epiphany, it comes in January.
Epiphany, Epiphany, when sales are customary.
Epiphany, the Wise Men came
To give their gifts, let’s do the same.
Epiphany, Epiphany, it’ for the mercenary.

Post-Christmas sales, post-Christmas sales
Will save you lots of money.
Post-Christmas sales, post-Christmas sales
Get something for your honey.
Though there may be six feet of snow
Just bundle up; get out and go.
Post-Christmas sales, post-Christmas sales
They make a blizzard sunny.

Epiphany, Epiphany, thy very name entices
Epiphany, Epiphany, the thought of sales suffices
It’s time to start your shopping spree
If Jesus saves then so should we
Epiphany, Epiphany, how lovely are thy prices.

Happy Winter Solstice.  Here comes the sun!

#71 Starman (Guest) on Friday December 19, 2008 at 9:39pm

nmtucson says,” I don’t think you ever got to the point in your philosophical journey where I would have called you an atheist.”
Actually I was an atheist.  In fact, I am surprised by some of today’s leading atheists who suggest that there might be an ever-so-slim chance that God exists, albeit highly improbable.  That is not an atheist position.  But I’m still an atheist to the god I was exposed to as a child.  The “old man in the sky” just didn’t cut it for me.  I remember thinking that if god was “old” he must be aging, and I was all too familiar with the end result of that process.  So when I heard that “God is dead” (back in the 60’s) I believed it!  It certainly explained why there was so much evil in the world.  So while I did believe in God prior to that, once he died all bets were off.  But I had already rejected the concept anyway, again, based on the illogical construct of a physical god.  It wasn’t until, at age 19, someone showed me a scientifically reasonable alternative, that I was able to reconsider my options.  And then it was biology class that did the rest.
“You may have rejected the god you grew up with, the god you saw others worship etc, etc, but you did not, in your heart, ever give up on the possibility of some kind of god.”
I’ll grant you that I wished there was a god, but there was simply no way that I could fool myself by accepting the only option that was out there at the time.  Again, I was terrified of dying precisely because I knew there was no God.
“Not surprisingly, you eventually re"discovered” your religious views which had only lain dormant during your brief sidetrip into self-centeredness.” 
Actually, I never did rediscover religious views.  I’m as much opposed to “religion” as I suspect you are.  No, my, oh, we’ll call it “awakening”, had to be reasonable, rational, and scientifically feasible.  I related very much to passages such as “Come let us reason together,” and “Test everything, hold on to that which is good.”  My 7-year stint with atheism gave me one thing I will always treasure, the quote by Socrates to “Follow the evidence wherever it leads.”  I continue to do that today.  I see the “self-centeredness” as a logical outcome of true atheism.  I don’t view that as evil or anything.  It makes perfect sense.  In fact I’m more confused by atheists who lead highly moral lives.  I applaud it and I certainly recognize that it’s real, but it simply makes no sense to me, I mean, outside of keeping out of jail I suppose.
“After rejecting organized religion and the fantastical stories of believers, the atheist takes one more step—embracing the utter indifference of the universe and turning it to their own use. “
And that was exactly my problem.  I loved consciousness, and the thought of never existing again after death, well; I won’t rehash all of that.  But I never was successful at embracing an indifferent universe.  In fact, it downright depressed me.  Accepting an indifferent universe is one thing, but trying to give it a positive spin seemed rather pointless, especially compared to a Creator who is anything but indifferent.
“I don’t fear death, or the lack of an afterlife, because I know I will not *experience* it.”
That’s true, but we will all experience the light turning off - and in some cases for good.  And you’ll miss an eternity of not only consciousness, but an amazing existence as well.  If we can experience all the wonders of this life given all the limitations that we have in this physical world, just imagine what the future might hold if all the limitations were lifted.  Well, actually, we can’t imagine it.  Truth be told, I do wish for a little peak.  I’m not asking for much, not a months stay or anything, but I do wonder what the next life will be like.
“And I do not regret the idea of my extinction because for 99.9999999999 percent of time, I didn’t exist anyway, before and after my time alive.”
Ah, but once you’ve tasted pizza how can you ever go back?
“Because the universe cannot make me special, I make myself special.”
But you are special!  At least I view you that way, and I barely know you!  You’re not an accident.  The universe has no capacity to care about you, but while we are composed of “star stuff’ (hence the name Starman) we are more than just star stuff.  Much, much more.
“Not in the infantile way you describe: “I believed that this life was all there was, and so there was no reason for me to do anything that benefited anyone else unless it, at the very least, provided some benefit to me (i.e. stopping at stop signs, etc).  If someone was suffering, oh well, better them than me”.“
What is wrong with that logic?  Should I have said, “I believed that this life was all there was, and so I had every reason to sacrifice my time and money to help others”?  If we are created in God’s image we all have inherent value and we’re all essentially related.  That builds up society.  If we are the result of blind forces in an indifferent universe, well, life, whatever that is, is just one big joke.
“Rather, I first recognize and embrace the idea that I have the option to assign meaning to my existence.”
Seriously, what “meaning” would that be?  If we are just highly organized dirt, well, I’m not seeing much “meaning” there.  Meaning is a concept that comes from Christianity.  Outside of that what possible meaning could there be in life?  And yes, I used to answer, “Well, I might do many mighty things on earth and be remembered by future generations.”  But who will remember me in a thousand years?  In a million years?  In a billion years?  Not much meaning there.
“Because I consider my life enjoyable and valuable to me…”
As did I…
“...I seek pleasurable experiences and avoid discomfort.”
As did I…
“I then recognize that others do the same thing. From that, I deduce that I can best ensure that those around me treat me well, or at least, don’t mistreat me, by treating them well, or at least, not mistreating them.”
“Ensure” or “hope”?  I think reality is such that bad things happen to good people.  I love the concept, but I see quite the opposite in newspapers every day.  Good people get trampled asunder by bad people.  The Christian has a reason to ignore that plundering and not respond in kind.  I’m not sure that the atheist does outside of just basic survival.  As an atheist I did not respond to bad people in kind, well, not too often.  But I never said I was living a life consistent with my beliefs at that time.
“I care when someone suffers because their suffering diminishes the overall happiness of my social unit, of my species, and increases the chances that I will at some point suffer too.”
And that is that logical self-centeredness I was talking about.  I would only help others if it somehow would benefit me.  But caring doesn’t help.  It takes sacrifice to truly help others, and I just don’t see the point of sacrificing for others, of living altruistic lives, if we’re just organized dirt.  It’s the big So What?
“In my ideal world, we all share equally in the bounty of our planet because that would ensure the highest overall probability of happiness for me and those I love.”
You and I share the same ideology.  And for me I see that as God’s desire as well, and the potential there is to carry that happiness on throughout eternity.  It’s just that he doesn’t force his will on us.  We have choices to make for now.
“Nothing about this requires appeal to an outside authority for validation or control.”
No, it doesn’t require it.  But it doesn’t exclude it either.
“I do what makes sense to me, which in my view would also make the best sense for the vast majority of other humans as well, if they only knew it.”
But as an atheist, if there is no God, your view has no more validity than anyone else’s view.  You really can’t “help” people because there is no ultimate goal to work toward.  We live, we die, so what?
“If you do not understand that, I don’t consider you to have fully appreciated what I understand as the philosophy of the atheist.”
An atheist cannot have a “philosophy”.  There is no right or wrong.  It’s every man for himself.  It would be like chemicals in a lab having a philosophy.  I doubt that the salicylic acid will have much of a philosophical influence over the tretinoin. What would be the point in trying?
“Your statements imply to me that you have not successfully freed yourself from the need to matter to somebody more than somebody else does.”
If that were the case my lectures would be quite different.  If I presented the traditional Christian view of science and faith where science is considered evil I’d be an instant hero.  Heck, they’d probably build a statue in my name!  But alas, it was science that convinced me that God exists, and so to science I will be true.
“The atheist matters first and foremost to themselves…”
And unfortunately being good to others won’t work unless others have your best interest in mind as well.  So if everyone lived “first and foremost to themselves” the world would be quite different than if the world generally put others ahead of themselves. 
“...and that frees them to make rational decisions without the need for submission to a mythical overlord.”
Oh, I would never recommend a mythical overlord.  Sounds very unappealing.  I believed in one of those once.  Scared me to near death!
“...you have simply retreated from your original statements, or rendered them meaningless by qualifying them to apply only to your own narrow experience and ignoring what I have already told you about mine. Having lost my husband, my mother and my sister to difficult deaths, I know firsthand how I handle death, and having seen others founder on the same rocks, I know I handle it better than most. That you still don’t think an atheist can do so simply means you have shut your eyes and don’t intend to open them.”
First, I am truly sorry for your losses.  But I would never say an atheist cannot handle death.  As an atheist I had no problem with death.  My problem was with not living again.  I just feel that there is a more productive way to approach death, and it’s worth looking into since death will definitely touch us all sooner or later.

#72 Starman (Guest) on Friday December 19, 2008 at 10:33pm

JHorn wrote to Starman saying, “...many of us here, have already owned your world view at some point in life.”
Actually, you’d have to imagine what it would take for an atheist to become a Christian, especially have been “religious” prior to atheism.  Quite a journey!  And as you might imagine, that results in a world view that I suspect is quite unlike most Christians that you run into.
“It’s a house of cards and once it’s truly questioned it falls right down.
In my case the “house of cards” turned out to be my atheism, and I never would have figured that.
“The idea that there is a loving, all-powerful, all-knowing creator…(that) gave us the power to screw up and be eternally punished is…utter nonsense…”
I agree that it doesn’t make sense.  Who’d a thunk it?  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.  However, I’d rephrase it just a bit.  He gave us the “option” to “screw up” (make poor choices).  Otherwise we’re just robots.  If we make bad choices and reject God in spite of his offer to help, we will have to suffer the consequences of our actions.  I don’t see that as an unrealistic proposition.  That happens all the time outside of faith settings. To reuse an example, if I build my house in the mouth of a volcano can I really blame God if it erupts?
“Christianity…rose out of ignorance, changes with time, and adopts its message to the world around it in order to survive, and will certainly run its course eventually.”
Science came out of medieval Christianity. Christianity, right from the start, was based on reason where Christians were encouraged to use reason to understand the ways of God.  Plus I think that you would admit that one does not study junk yards.  We are encouraged to study the world and the universe precisely because we recognize design and just know we’ll find many wonderful and interesting things. As far as running its course, it’s been around a few thousand years so far, and is the fastest growing faith today.  And no, that doesn’t prove it to be true, but it should at least buy it a fair hearing.
“In the meantime those of us in the minority have to deal politely (because it’s the right and rational thing to do)...”
What makes something “right” or “rational”?  That’s an admission that there is an objective standard in place.  Otherwise “right” and “rational” have no meaning. 

“...and try to explain things away as being god’s will, or simply god’s mystery.”
Well what if some things really are God’s will?  Atheists are left with the unenviable position of trying to explain them away as chance happenings.  And I would expect to find “mystery” if God really is at the controls.  But it causes me to investigate things because I know there are answers.  Again, why study a junk yard?
“There is nothing good accomplished by people in the world that is not attainable through the principles of secular humanism.  Nothing.”
But who decides on a definition of good?  If there is no objective standard you end up with chaos.  And I’m not suggesting that atheists are not good people.  Most of them are.  I was a good person as an atheist.  But I was “good” based on a standard that I didn’t want to admit I was subconsciounsly accepting.
“Good things happen because people are good - and the ones that are good because of god or christ or allah are less noble than the ones doing it because it makes the world a better place in which to live.”
The Christian does not do good “because of God”.  I’m not even sure what that means.  They do good because they believe that people are created in God’s image, and that people therefore have intrinsic value.  Christians often put their lives on the line for complete strangers.  It is not at all unusual to find doctors and nurses foregoing potentially lucrative lives in the United States to live among 3rd world people, living in their huts, eating their food.  That sure sounds noble to me.  And when atheists do the same they, too, are being noble.  But I would ask why an atheist “should” make altruistic sacrifices.  I recognize that they do, but I simply wonder why?  If it is for selfish reasons that would not be noble.  It would be self-serving.

#73 nmtucson (Guest) on Friday December 19, 2008 at 11:10pm

We do not share the same ideology, starman.

In my experience, most anger, unhappiness, fear, dissatisfaction and discomfort about events, cosmic or personal, can eventually be traced to a little voice inside us that says “It’s not fair.” Becoming a mature adult, in some ways, amounts to learning how to get over that.

You want god to exist so you don’t have to worry about the dark. You think the lack of an “afterlife” makes this life a kind of cosmic joke, with you, personally, as the butt. You can’t believe that you could be “snuffed out” and cease to exist, and never grace the universe again. So you try to wipe out that horrible feeling by making yourself the personal concern of a cosmic being who knows and cares about you personally.

Meaning doesn’t come from Christianity, or any other religion, or from anything outside us. It comes from inside our heads. We don’t FIND meaning, we MAKE it. You choose to assign meaning to god, as if some of his importance could rub off on you and lift you above the mundane. I choose to assign meaning to my brief existence, and to people I love, knowing that the rest of the universe will not notice my existence or my extinction, so if I want to matter to someone, it had better be to myself. You choose to find significance in things that satisfy your craving for immortality, as if you believe that the only way to matter is if the universe cherishes you. I choose to assign significance to things that make me happy here and now, knowing that this is all I have, so if I don’t enjoy it, nobody else will enjoy it for me.

I think my choice makes more sense.

#74 r strle (Guest) on Saturday December 20, 2008 at 7:48am

Starman says:

“nmtucson says,“ I don’t think you ever got to the point in your philosophical journey where I would have called you an atheist.“ _Actually I was an atheist.”

No Starman if you go back and reread nmtucson’s first post and the rest of the post that you quote here you should be able to see that actually you were not an atheist, you just thought you were.  You were not actually an atheist because you did not actually subscribe to the view’s that nmtucson laid in his/her first post.  You never achieved a fully adult self-reliance in your thinking because you couldn’t deal with the reality of your insignificant and transient life in the universe.  If you had been able to do this you would not now be spouting the self-appreciating platitudes of the benefits a loving and caring personal god who will maintain you beyond death.

I must congratulate nmtucson for the well-reasoned and clear statements of truth that he/she has brought to this blog and sit in amazement at what seem to be rational people like Starman who just cannot seem to accept the obvious.

#75 Madison (Guest) on Saturday December 20, 2008 at 11:10am

Interesting exchanges! perhaps its time to introduce the word “agnostic”?  Who better than Ingersoll can put it so well?

“But honest men do not pretend to know; they are candid and sincere; they love the truth; they admit their ignorance, and they say, “We do not know.”
—Robert Green Ingersoll, “Superstition” (1898)

“The agnostic does not simply say, “l do not know.” He goes another step, and he says, with great emphasis, that you do not know. He insists that you are trading on the ignorance of others, and on the fear of others. He is not satisfied with saying that you do not know,—he demonstrates that you do not know, and he drives you from the field of fact—he drives you from the realm of reason—he drives you from the light, into the darkness of conjecture—into the world of dreams and shadows, and he compels you to say, at last, that your faith has no foundation in fact.”

—Robert Green Ingersoll, “Reply To Dr. Lyman Abbott” (This unfinished article was written as a reply to the Rev Lyman Abbott’s article entitled, “Flaws in Ingersollism,” which was printed in the April 1890 number of the North American Review.)

“A few years ago the Deists denied the inspiration of the Bible on account of its cruelty. At the same time they worshiped what they were pleased to call the God of Nature. Now we are convinced that Nature is as cruel as the Bible; so that, if the God of Nature did not write the Bible, this God at least has caused earthquakes and pestilence and famine, and this God has allowed millions of his children to destroy one another. So that now we have arrived at the question—not as to whether the Bible is inspired and not as to whether Jehovah is the real God, but whether there is a God or not.
—Robert Green Ingersoll, quoted from the book Ingersoll the Magnificent, edited by Joseph Lewis, which does not cite references

#76 r strle (Guest) on Saturday December 20, 2008 at 10:13pm

Madison writes:

“Interesting exchanges! perhaps its time to introduce the word “agnostic”? “

I do not question the brilliant eloquence of Robert Ingersoll in espousing the rational and honest approach of the agnostic but to say, I do not know, is quite different from saying I cannot conclude.  For this reason I have always found agnosticism an unnecessary and superfluous position of atheism.  To me agnosticism is just a useless and pointless statement of ignorance.  It reduces the god debate to the childish stand off of, “I don’t know and neither do you.”  If in the search for truth you start by saying I don’t know and leave it at that you will never get anywhere towards knowing anything.  The proper approach is “I don’t know but I am going to gather evidence and find out what I can learn.”  “What can be ruled out?”  “What can be ruled in?”  To throw up one’s arms and declare with finality “I don’t know” and just leave it at that is a useless gesture that gets you nowhere and it leaves you only one counter argument to belief.  Believers don’t know either.  To me this is the old, let’s all make nice and agree to disagree and stop all this arguing and unpleasantness.  Or to quote my wife “In conversation with friends and relatives it is improper to ever discuss religion or politics.”  This to me is the agnostic position and I liken it to being a pacifist member of a warring street gang.

As I developed my view of atheism it became obvious to me that it would be impossible to prove that there was no god.  It was just obvious that no matter what you did or how much data you collected you could not prove that there was not some sort of god somewhere in the universe.  So as an atheist I had to admit that when it comes to a gods possible existence it is just impossible to know with certainty that there is no god.  This of course makes the agnostic position part of the atheist position and there is therefore no need for agnosticism.  Knowing that there is no god is not the atheist position.  The true atheist position is that there is no credible evidence that supports the conclusion that there is a god of any kind so described by any current religious belief.  The true atheist position is that there is no credible evidence that demonstrates a need to believe in a god of any kind.  The true atheist position is that there is no credible evidence that god has any explanatory power and therefore god is unnecessary to any understanding of the universe.  Atheism is not a belief that there is no god.  Atheism is a conclusion that there is no credible evidence to support the existence of a god.

#77 Madison (Guest) on Saturday December 20, 2008 at 10:35pm

Perhaps we first need to “define”, then we may look to “conclude.”

_____________________________________

Larry King: Do you believe in God?

Stephen Hawking: Yes, if by God is meant the embodiment of the laws of the universe.

Larry King Live, December 25, 1999

Larry King: Do you believe in God?

Stephen Hawking: Yes, if by God is meant the embodiment of the laws of the universe.

Larry King Live, December 25, 1999
——————————————————————-

“When astronomer Carl Sagan was asked to quantify his belief in God, he would issue a predetermined clever response: “If you define ‘God’ as the sum of all the forces in the Universe, then, yes I do.” This was a response tailored to leave the critics of atheism and agnosticism sitting in a stunned and queried silence, trying to figure out exactly what the good Dr. Sagan meant, and whether it fit into either what they expected to hear or what they wished to hear. Sagan’s simple rhetorical trick was to redefine ‘God’ in his answer, to provide a true statement that fails to fulfill the intent of the petitioner.

What the individual making the inquiry likely meant (and does not think to specify) was “do you, Dr. Sagan, believe in ‘God’ defined as the God of my Bible, the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenificent Creator of the Universe who loves and cares for all mankind.?”

Sagan, again: “The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard, who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by “God,” one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying… it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity. “


“When astronomer Carl Sagan was asked to quantify his belief in God, he would issue a predetermined clever response: “If you define ‘God’ as the sum of all the forces in the Universe, then, yes I do.” This was a response tailored to leave the critics of atheism and agnosticism sitting in a stunned and queried silence, trying to figure out exactly what the good Dr. Sagan meant, and whether it fit into either what they expected to hear or what they wished to hear. Sagan’s simple rhetorical trick was to redefine ‘God’ in his answer, to provide a true statement that fails to fulfill the intent of the petitioner.

What the individual making the inquiry likely meant (and does not think to specify) was “do you, Dr. Sagan, believe in ‘God’ defined as the God of my Bible, the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenificent Creator of the Universe who loves and cares for all mankind.?”

Sagan, again: “The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard, who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by “God,” one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying… it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity. “

#78 Madison (Guest) on Saturday December 20, 2008 at 10:38pm

(Sorry about the “double submit”.  I didn’t think it “took” the first time.)

#79 r strle (Guest) on Sunday December 21, 2008 at 8:04am

“Perhaps we first need to “define”, then we may look to “conclude.“”

With all due respect to Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein before them I do not agree.  In my youth when asked the question “Do you believe in god?”  I would always ask the questioner to define the god they were asking about.  My experience was that whatever definition I was given, once I dispensed with it, it would be morphed by my questioner into a new more all inclusive definition that would then have to be dealt and dispensed with.  This could go on endlessly until the usual conclusion was “well you can believe in your god and I can believe in my god but we all believe in god and basically it is the same god just viewed differently.”  But I would say, “I don’t believe in god!” because there is no credible evidence for a god of any kind that I have ever heard a definition for.  This scenario would play out in almost the same way even if I used the approach of Albert, Carl and Stephen (I put Albert first because he came up with it first—Actually he borrowed it from Spinoza).  So to Carl, Stephen and Albert, or anyone else so inclined, I say “believing” in a god as the some total of all the forces and/or all the laws of the universe is the same as believing everyone believes in something and that something is a god that this god is the same god for everyone with the only the definition being different.  Isn’t that nice?  We can all have our cake and eat it too.  We can all believe in god but disagree about how to define god too! Now I ask you, Where does that get us?  If you don’t think what I say is true then I suggest you have a discussion with Francis Collins or Ken Miller.

There is a story I once heard about Bertrand Russell (I think) going to prison for his pacifist views.  Upon checking into prison he is interviewed and asked what religion he belongs to.  His reply is that he is basically an agnostic. The interviewer puzzled by this response and not finding it on a list of choices to be checked says “Oh well I guess it doesn’t matter it’s the same god for all of us.”  I do not know if this is a true story but I think it shows that attacking the “god question” through definition is a futile undertaking.  At least this has been my experience and I think that the evidence shows that the impact of the approach of Carl, Stephen and Albert has been basically nil, which I think proves my point.

Today when someone asks me if I believe in god I respond by saying I find it unnecessary to believe in anything.  In the pursuit of what is true about the universe the scientific method has made believing obsolete .  What I do is collect as much information, measurements and observations as possible, mix them together in a rational logical way, develop a hypothesis that is consistent with what I already know about the universe and try to test, disconfirm or confirm that hypothesis against data available to me, or anyone else, in the universe.  This of course is a description of the Scientific Method, which has no need for belief of any kind.  I fact all belief does is get in the way. 

I have promoted the “belief is unnecessary” view for many years now and have found that even the most ardent skeptics and scientists are reluctant to let go of believing.  I am frankly baffled by this.  I have advocated keeping the words “I believe or scientists believe or we believe” out of all scientific and secular writings and talks (voluntarily as a matter of correct practice of course) and in every case I am dismissed as the promoter of some sort of word police.  This is a great puzzle to me.  Dispensing with the need for beliefs of any kind will pretty much leave the Theist with no structure upon which to build a god and his/her consequent religious views.  Dispensing with belief will limit all arguments to the “real” evidence based universe.  It all makes sense to me but so far I cannot claim to have fully convinced anyone else and it looks like I never will.

#80 Madison (Guest) on Sunday December 21, 2008 at 10:47am

This was interesting: “This could go on endlessly until the usual conclusion was “well you can believe in your god and I can believe in my god but we all believe in god and basically it is the same god just viewed differently.“

Perceptions have consequences. 

One mind, as a “meaning-maker”, assigns one meaning to the symbol “God”; another mind yet another meaning.

Some meanings are benevolent in consquence; some horrendous. Where is the “same’, other than the symbol?

#81 r strle (Guest) on Sunday December 21, 2008 at 12:14pm

Where is the “same’, other than the symbol?

I think you answered this question when you said “One mind, as a “meaning-maker”, assigns one meaning to the symbol “God”; another mind yet another meaning.”  The “same” is that both meaning-makers are doing the “same” thing, assigning meaning.  The problem is that at least one of them thinks that they are both assigning the same meaning to the same symbol when they are not.

The best way I can describe it is to say that the meaning-maker mind of the believer assigns a sort of generic nondenominational meaning to the symbol of “God” that allows a great variety (maybe an infinite variety) of interpretations.  In this way the “same” comes in the form of a generic god that only differs as the meaning-maker differs (Christian vs. Muslim) in his/her understanding of the generic god.  It is sort of like believing in gloves.  There is this generic understanding of what gloves are but some believers see fingers in their gloves while others do not.  Some see gloves made of wool while others see them made of nylon.  Even though each believer in gloves may describe or define something quite different as a glove in the end all believers still believe they are describing the same thing and that thing they will tell you is gloves.  It bothers them not in the least that for some believers gloves are wool and for others they are nylon.  They still all believe in gloves.

In the case of god this is sort of a rationalization that allows the believer in god to escape the cognitive dissonance that comes from recognizing and having to tolerate the different understandings of god held by different believers.  I have many friends and relatives who profess to be catholic and after much conversation with them I have discovered they all believe different things about Catholicism.  If you question different Catholics about their beliefs you soon come to realize that there are practically no two Catholics who share the same exact set of beliefs about god and what god wants or even what rules god thinks all Catholics should follow.  I have found that this is true of even of priests and nuns.  It is even more confusing for protestants!  The only thing I find common to all believers is that they believe and this leads them to the illogical conclusion that they all really believe in different versions of the same thing.

#82 Madison (Guest) on Sunday December 21, 2008 at 3:37pm

Perhaps those “gloves” are somewhat different variations of God perceived as a PERSONAL God?

Dare one conclude that God does NOT exist, if the definition of God, as set out by Hawking or Sagan, is asserted?

#83 nmtucson (Guest) on Sunday December 21, 2008 at 4:53pm

How about we say that some of us have chosen to live where we just don’t need gloves for any purpose? So how we or anybody else defines gloves just doesn’t figure into our lives anymore.

#84 Madison (Guest) on Sunday December 21, 2008 at 6:09pm

Given that we invite comment in open discussion, I have to wonder a bit about the following, as the response reveals that there are at least two parts to it.  Earlier, I defined “gloves” as variations of a “personal” God. 

“How about we say that some of us have chosen to live where we just don’t need gloves for any purpose? ….”

That choice is certainly respected. 

Nevertheless, if some irrationally disturbed individual(s)—in the name of a definition of a personal god (9-11?)—acts in a wholesale destructive manner, does that also not figure into one’s life?

“So how we or anybody else defines gloves just doesn’t figure into our lives anymore.”

The concept of a “personal” god…what a hash it threatens to make of the lives of the innocent!

As an aside,Einstein remarked, “The main source of the present day conflicts between the spheres of religion and science lies in this concept of a personal God. …” and “ I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly.  If something is in me that can be called religious, then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as science can reveal it.”

I suppose some may call Einstein an atheist, when that word is defined as “...someone who disbelieves in a personal god…” but it appears Einstein more closely takes the position of the agnostic in that regard.

#85 r strle (Guest) on Monday December 22, 2008 at 6:21am

“Dare one conclude that God does NOT exist, if the definition of God, as set out by Hawking or Sagan, is asserted?”

One can dare to do so but the person who asked if you believe in god has just heard that you do believe in god.  This is why Sagan’s and Hawking’s little definition trick doesn’t work, the believer asking the question has already learned to deal with the innumerable and changing versions of the gods of other believers.  Many of them even share the same religion.

#86 r strle (Guest) on Monday December 22, 2008 at 7:58am

“How about we say that some of us have chosen to live where we just don’t need gloves for any purpose? So how we or anybody else defines gloves just doesn’t figure into our lives anymore.”

As I have come to expect you are right on target again. nmtucson.  And how to do this is what the discussion that opened this blog was all about.  I think your first post handled the issue about a well as it could be handled. 

“I come down firmly on Tom Flynn’s side in this discussion: as secular humanists and atheists, we can have the most positive effect on the perceptions of others by acting as consistently as possible in concert with our beliefs. In this case, that means seeing NO “reason for the season” and thus marking no season. I tend to observe the lighting of houses anthropologically—a pretty custom, too bad they don’t do it at other times of the year—and sociologically—damn, they spend an awful lot on crappy imported doodads and consume an awful lot of electricity for a pretty lame reason. Most of them seem to revere consumption more than redemption.
I suggest we eschew both as much as possible! Let’s celebrate each other throughout the year and forget about god-myths of all types.”

I think this pretty much say’s it all when it comes to handling the “holidays” and the family and friends who are believers. The only part of this I have a problem with is where you say “in concert with our beliefs.”  I would ask that you reconsider the proposition that you necessarily have beliefs.  My read of what you have written in this blog is that you do not have beliefs.  What you have are conclusions based on real world evidence.  I think that when you tell thesists that you have beliefs they will think that instead of their god you believe in your god, which could be yourself (you might think you are god) or the universe, or the laws of physics or the essence of life or whatever.  It has been my experience with theists that when you admit to believing something you are also admitting that there are things, like god, that that it is OK to accept without evidence.  While you and I and every other critically thinking atheist knows this is not true the theists do not because in their meaning-maker mind when you say “I believe” you mean the “same” thing they do when they say “I believe.”  But you don’t do you?

#87 r strle (Guest) on Monday December 22, 2008 at 8:21am

“I suppose some may call Einstein an atheist, when that word is defined as “...someone who disbelieves in a personal god…” but it appears Einstein more closely takes the position of the agnostic in that regard.”

I agree and this is why theists and atheists alike claim Einstein as one of them.  This is the problem with the agnostic position.  It is too vague and ill defined.  It’s “I don’t know but I am not sure that I don’t know but maybe I do?”  This was Einstein all the way.  If you read what he has to say in his various writings about god and religion you get the clear impression of a man reluctant to clearly state the conclusions he has drawn from the evidence.  I think it is because Einstein clearly understood his social political position in the world and realized that to clearly state his conclusions about god and religion would seriously hamper his life as a scientist which, if you read the many accounts of his life, he clearly valued over all else including his wives and children.

#88 nmtucson (Guest) on Monday December 22, 2008 at 9:50am

r strle said “I think that when you tell theists that you have beliefs they will think that instead of their god you believe in your god, which could be yourself (you might think you are god) or the universe, or the laws of physics or the essence of life or whatever. “

Great insight! Thanks for the reminder. Your comment very much echoes the work of George Lakoff regarding “framing”. Among other things he has done in this regard, Lakoff wrote a book for Democrats about how their use of language could actually undermine their support, because they tended to use the language of the opposing party when presenting their own views on various issues. For example, Dems often used the phrase “death tax” to say “we don’t consider it a death tax, but rather an estate tax on very rich people that didn’t pay taxes as they amassed their fortunes.” The Reps prefer “death tax” because it sounds like something EVERYBODY will pay, but of course only about 1% of the population actually does.

But according to Lakoff, simply by referring to this tax with the (to them) inaccurate term that the Reps came up with, the Dems “activate” all the (to them) negative associations that Reps have assigned to that term, which lend the term strength even when the rest of their argument might try to dispute it.

To apply that here, as you suggest, we can say that simply by using the terms “belief” or “god”, even in an otherwise negative statement, does indeed activate the religious associations that most people have for those terms and the listener does develop an extremely inaccurate picture of the non-believer’s position. I tend to consider that we can actually *know* very little, and I also consider “truth” to have no objective meaning. So I do tend to phrase my conclusions as lightly held and temporary, open to potential disconfirmation. And I find “belief” a handy short term for this. But I can well imagine that my definition of “belief” doesn’t come close to that of religious believers, and since I know it conjures up worlds of fantastical associations I prefer to ignore, I can see the value in avoiding using the term when I can to minimize misunderstanding and assumption on the part of others.

And getting back to the original theme of this post, I could also say that about “holiday” and “christmas” and even “solstice”. Of course, ultimately, nearly all words invoke some kind of frame, but rather than become mute (not something I could or would ever aspire to!) we can only make the effort to become aware of the ones that matter the most to us.

And for me, this “holiday” (holy day) frame sits close to the top of the list. It’s not “bah humbug” and it’s not “trying to spoil it for others” and it’s not “rejecting their love”. It simply means living without, acting according to what I consider the central theme of my adult life—non-supernatural, scientifically oriented, minimally abstracted, evidence-based living.

#89 Madison (Guest) on Monday December 22, 2008 at 10:31am

Perhaps this might be examined a little further:  “I agree and this is why theists and atheists alike claim Einstein as one of them.  This is the problem with the agnostic position.  It is too vague and ill defined.  It’s “I don’t know but I am not sure that I don’t know but maybe I do?”

Well, surely we would agree that atheists would take little comfort from this remark by Einstein:  “I am not an atheist. I do not know if I can define myself as a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds.”

We may respectfully disagree concerning how you may appear to have inferred a definition   characterizing the word “agnostic.” IMO,  Einstein was far less vague.  It seems to me that he did know that he did not know.

Here he is quoted: “My position concerning God is that of an agnostic. I am convinced that a vivid consciousness of the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment.” (Calaprice-“The Quotable Einstein”, p.202.)

As a scientist, Einstein, too, was a man of considerable faith, that is: “…faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that faith.” (Einstein—“Out of My Later Years”, p.24.)

#90 nmtucson (Guest) on Monday December 22, 2008 at 10:53am

At the risk of sounding heretical, I don’t know that I would willingly base my philosophical foundations on what Einstein did or didn’t say about his. We have plenty of evidence that a genius in one field does not necessarily have superior skills in other fields. I have the impression that he spent a great deal of time and energy trying to discredit some of the more uncomfortable (to him) implications of quantum theory. So much of our culture and upbringing in this world encourages us to want what science suggests we cannot have: certainty, security, truth, etc. When we don’t get it, we squirm, and fall back on childhood stories that offered a simple logic and made us feel safe.

As I see it, people who prefer the term agnostic in most cases feel that to eschew a supernatural belief system necessarily implies an unequivocal statement that “god does not exist” and this seems to contradict the general condition of uncertainty. This seems to pose a moral dilemma—since we can’t *know* whether god exists or not, how can we *say* it? In contrast, I think most atheists choose to live by the word’s original derivation: *without* a deity. The issue of existence of gods no more figures in our world views than the issue of the existence of any other mythical beings.

#91 r strle (Guest) on Wednesday December 24, 2008 at 2:44pm

“Your comment very much echoes the work of George Lakoff regarding “framing”. Among other things he has done in this regard, Lakoff wrote a book for Democrats about how their use of language could actually undermine their support, because they tended to use the language of the opposing party when presenting their own views on various issues.”

Nmtucson,

I had read much of George Lakoff’s work and I have promoted it to others because it is congruent with my 20+ year campaign of “belief is unnecessary.” 


“but rather than become mute (not something I could or would ever aspire to!) we can only make the effort to become aware of the ones that matter the most to us.”
And for me, this “holiday” (holy day) frame sits close to the top of the list.”

I think George Lakoff’s point is that when choosing words to promote a cause it is not the words that matter most to us, but the words and their definitions that matter most to our target audience that needs to be considered.

I find it very amusing and somewhat informative that the controversy over the greeting “Happy Holidays” vs.  “Merry Christmas” has become the big deal it has.  Obviously the Christians who are unhappy with Happy Holiday do not see or understand the relationship between holy day and holiday (as you do).  It also seems to me that any conscience effort to effectively use language in the promotion of views will have to contend with the changing nature of definitions as words are used in everyday speech.  It would also be wise to pay attention to those definitions of words as understood by those whose views you want to effect. 

Madison says,

“We may respectfully disagree concerning how you may appear to have inferred a definition   characterizing the word “agnostic.” IMO,  Einstein was far less vague.  It seems to me that he did know that he did not know.  Here he is quoted: “My position concerning God is that of an agnostic. I am convinced that a vivid consciousness of the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment.” (Calaprice-“The Quotable Einstein”, p.202.)”

I think you reinforce my point both about Einstein and agnosticism with what you say and quote above.  First he say’s “My position concerning God is that of an agnostic.”  And then he goes on to say “I DO KNOW” (My paraphrase for “I am convinced”) that “the primary importance of moral principles…..” does not need the idea of a law-giver (god?).”  Not only does he claim to be an agnostic that does know something about god but also he seems to confuse god with moral principles.  This to me is very vague (I think on purpose) and I think Einstein was too intelligent and politically astute to assume otherwise.  You of course may not agree.

Except for the above comment(s), I say ditto “#90 nmtucson (Guest) on Monday December 22, 2008 at 10:53am”

#92 Starman (Guest) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 at 10:01am

Help me out here.  I’m confused by the new definition of atheism being used today.  In the past it was quite simple.  “Atheist - n. somebody who does not believe in God or deities.” It now appears that a caveat has been added which includes something like, “...and is not sufficiently enchanted with life/consciousness to care at all that death is the complete end of consciousness/existence.”  I conclude this because of earlier comments that while I rejected the concept of God, I hated that I would never exist again, and that is presented as proof that I was not really an atheist.  Hmmmmmmm.

So by this new definition, if one concludes that there is no God, but loves life and hates that it will end, that person is not an atheist.  If that is true then an atheist must not truly love life, but I have trouble believing that.

My question is, if consciousness/life is truly enjoyed why must there be no disappointment that it will one day end?  Do atheists go to doctors when they get a disease or do they just say, “Oh well.  Life’s going to end anyway.  No point in prolonging it.”  No, they go to doctors to prolong life.  They often exercise to prolong life. They often avoid risky endeavors to prolong life.  They watch their diets to prolong life.  The atheist demonstrates a love for consciousness/life at all levels.  It is surely not unreasonable for an atheist to admit they’ll miss life when it’s gone if for no other reason than they are atheists and truly do believe it will be gone.

And now, to complicate this further, we have Dawkins claiming to be an atheist while leaving the door open that there is, in fact, a possibility, albeit remote, that God exists.  It is merely improbable.  That does not fit the traditional definition of atheism. 

I would agree with Dawkins that determining whether or not God exists is a matter of probability, but I would suggest that it is that way by design.  For some reason (we are not told why) we have to believe by faith.  Faith ends in sight.  Hence we cannot know 100% that God exists or it wouldn’t be based on faith.  Instead we go with the weight of the evidence.  This is supported by verses like 1 Thess 5:21 “Test everything.  Hold on that that which is good.”  The evidence from science supports the existence of God.  Romans 1:19,20 says that we can know there is a God through the things that he has made.  To me, that’s talking about science.  If God created everything and set the laws of physics in place that makes him the author of science.  If he gave us the bible that makes him the author of scripture.  If science and scripture have the same author they cannot possibly contradict each other.  If you do have a contradiction you either have bad science, bad theology, or both, and we’ve had a great deal of both over the years.

I personally believe that the evidence for God’s existence through the hard sciences (particularly cosmology) is so compelling that perhaps this is the reason that atheists like Dawkins cannot say with authority that God does not exist.  The weight of the evidence clearly points to God.  And so I am beginning to suspect that this is why atheism has to be redefined.

#93 nmtucson (Guest) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 at 11:34am

First things first: Like any abstraction, “atheism” has as many definitions as people who define it. We each bring to the definition our own perceptions and experience. More than most “isms”, atheism has no central core of belief or doctrine, so more than most isms, it will not fit within a few sentences. At most, you can say that MOST atheists prefer not to think about the world in terms of a creator.

Second, when I said that you didn’t qualify as an atheist because you couldn’t give up on the idea of living forever, I applied MY definition of atheism, which might not meet the approval of every atheist. However, I stand by the statement that not being able to give up your horror and disappointment that you will never have another conscious thought means, TO ME, that you did not really give up on the idea of a supernatural dimension and a god who can make you supernatural after death. Hence, in my definition, you did not qualify as an atheist.

Not fearing death in no way means I don’t love life. Rather, in my view, atheists have a far stronger motivation to love this life, since we have no reason to look forward to an afterlife. I have often wondered, if heaven is so great and everlasting life so appealing, why do religious believers go to the doctor to stave off death? I should think whatever shortens this life means getting to the “real” afterlife that much sooner. Maybe they have some concerns about how final death seems.

For me, I only have these 22,000 days (give or take) and for that reason, I treasure each one and do what I can to make them enjoyable, for me and those around me.

Finally, starman says: “If God created everything and set the laws of physics in place that makes him the author of science.  If he gave us the bible that makes him the author of scripture.  If science and scripture have the same author they cannot possibly contradict each other. “

Sure…IF…IF…IF…but IF everything came about without a god, then he ISN’T the “author of science” and IF humans wrote the bible without divine intervention, then he ISN’T the “author of scripture”. In that case, science and religion have different authors and can quite easily contradict each other. And do. Hence, they don’t have the same author. One is fiction and the other not. Me, I prefer to read non-fiction.

#94 Mark W Brandt (Guest) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 at 3:18pm

As a follow up to my previous comment, I was wondering whether Tom, since he doesn’t want to celebrate Xmas, worked on Dec25th?  Does he work on Sundays also, taking off on Thursday say?  Whoops, I forgot that’s Thor’s day, another religious day of the week.

#95 Starman (Guest) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 at 9:14pm

First, thank you for your thoughtful response.
nmtucson wrote:
“More than most “isms”, atheism has no central core of belief or doctrine, so…it will not fit within a few sentences. At most, you can say that MOST atheists prefer not to think about the world in terms of a creator.”

I definitely hear you on this.  It’s interesting to me that when I was an atheist I never gave a thought to joining an “atheist organization”, and, in fact, the concept of there even being one never occurred to me.  Perhaps “organized” atheism suffers the same ills that organized religion does.  It has to define itself to exist as a “movement” and before long the movement becomes larger than the individuals who make it up.  I’m a very “non-ism” kind of guy.

nmtucson continues with, “...when I said that you didn’t qualify as an atheist…I applied MY definition of atheism… (Your) statement that not being able to give up your horror and disappointment that you will never have another conscious thought means, TO ME, that you did not really give up on the idea of a supernatural dimension… Hence, in my definition, you did not qualify as an atheist.”

I guess my only problem with that is understanding why, if I really did harbor a “faith” to ANY degree, the concept of never existing again was so utterly unacceptable to me.  I would think that if there were any deep-seated doubt about the finality of death I’d have just blown death off and not had it continually come into my head.  I had no option regarding God.  The only concept I had was a physical, literal, old man in the sky, and even as a child I could figure out that wasn’t workable.

nmtucson writes, “Not fearing death in no way means I don’t love life. Rather, in my view, atheists have a far stronger motivation to love this life, since we have no reason to look forward to an afterlife.”

Very well said, and I completely concur.

nmtucson writes, “I have often wondered, if heaven is so great and everlasting life so appealing, why do religious believers go to the doctor to stave off death?”
I’ll grant you that most perplexing point.  It’s interesting that the apostle Paul said he would rather leave this life and go on to heaven, but he followed that by saying it was more important for him to stay here and help others get there as well.  That is the attitude Christians should have.  I find it curious that I hear almost no one talking about “heaven” in churches today.  Everyone seems very jazzed about “being saved” but as you point out they don’t seem all that interested in heaven itself.  Perhaps Christians have it too easy in the U.S.  Christians in other parts of the world willing sacrifice their lives for their faith.  So it may be a U.S. phenomenon.
nmtucson adds, “I should think whatever shortens this life means getting to the “real” afterlife that much sooner. Maybe they have some concerns about how final death seems.”

I think you’re on to something here.  No one can really have 100% faith in God while on earth.  So it seems that there is always going to be that little nagging doubt.  In my case I’m not all that concerned about death anymore, but it’s that darn “moment of impact” that we have to endure to get there!  I’m not likin’ that prospect much. But it’s also about leaving loved ones behind.  That no doubt plays on people’s minds as well.  So while death is a victory, the separation of loved ones tempers it a bit.

nmtucson writes, “For me, I only have these 22,000 days (give or take) and for that reason, I treasure each one and do what I can to make them enjoyable, for me and those around me.”

And that’s how I believe most atheists are.  Again, speaking from experience, I fully understand how repulsive “religion” is to the atheist.  As an atheist I could not imagine anything less appealing.  But the problem wasn’t with God or the bible, it’s what people have turned it all into. It was never meant to be a “religion” or an organization.  It was designed as a simple lifestyle where you treat your neighbor (which includes everyone) and even your enemies well. 

If it were somehow proven that there is no God I would still live by the outline of Christian living given in Matthew chapters 5 - 7.  While I can’t live that lifestyle perfectly (no one can) it has proven (in my experience) to be a better way of living both for me and for those I interact with.

nmtucson concludes with: “Sure…IF…IF…IF…but IF everything came about without a god, then he ISN’T the “author of science” and IF humans wrote the bible without divine intervention, then he ISN’T the “author of scripture”. In that case, science and religion have different authors and can quite easily contradict each other…”

It funny, I usually capitalize the “IF’s” myself when I write that.  What you said reminds me of the main difficulty in discussions of this sort.  Presuppositions.  I remember meeting up with Christians when I was an atheist, and since I “knew” there was no God there was nothing they could say that would give me pause.  If they tried to quote scripture I would interrupt them and ask why they were reading fairy tales to me.  And I’m still an atheist to the god I rejected.  I had to learn a new, reasonable, rational concept of God, and then I had to read the bible for myself before I could begin to change my worldview. 

What I discovered along the way as that there is a MOUNTAIN of misinformation on BOTH sides of this topic.  And I guess that’s what keeps blogs like this alive!  And thankfully so!
By the way, I spend all of my “spare” time trying to get Christians to understand that science and scripture cannot contradict each other for the reasons I stated.  There is a great deal of bad science in Christendom, as well as a very negative attitude toward science. And I see that as extremely unfortunate because it prevents people like you from even considering Christianity as an option.  Can’t say that I blame you.  But when I teach AGAINST the mainstream Christian concepts that the earth is only 6 - 10,000 years old, that dinosaurs and humans coexisted, and that all geological formations were caused by the flood of Noah, I am viewed with extreme suspicion even though I can support everything I say with scripture.  On the plus side this information is finally beginning to make its way into churches here and there.  S-l-o-w-l-y, but it is happening.

#96 Madison (Guest) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 at 10:32am

nmtucson,

I’ve really enjoyed your posts. I particularly appreciated this early one and the part about rationalizing “It’s not fair” and spinning it into a cosmic being, or skygod, who cares. What you wrote was well put.

Do you have a favorite book and /or a particular author who elaborates on this particular reaction / sequence? It certainly accounts for the “behavior of the billions.”

—————————————————————
#73 nmtucson (Guest) on Friday December 19, 2008 at 11:10pm

“We do not share the same ideology, starman.

In my experience, most anger, unhappiness, fear, dissatisfaction and discomfort about events, cosmic or personal, can eventually be traced to a little voice inside us that says “It’s not fair.“ Becoming a mature adult, in some ways, amounts to learning how to get over that.

You want god to exist so you don’t have to worry about the dark. You think the lack of an “afterlife” makes this life a kind of cosmic joke, with you, personally, as the butt. You can’t believe that you could be “snuffed out” and cease to exist, and never grace the universe again. So you try to wipe out that horrible feeling by making yourself the personal concern of a cosmic being who knows and cares about you personally….”

#97 r strle (Guest) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 at 11:22am

Masison says,

“Help me out here.  I’m confused by the new definition of atheism being used today.  In the past it was quite simple.  “Atheist - n. somebody who does not believe in God or deities.“ It now appears that a caveat has been added which includes something like, “...and is not sufficiently enchanted with life/consciousness to care at all that death is the complete end of consciousness/existence.“  I conclude this because of earlier comments that while I rejected the concept of God, I hated that I would never exist again, and that is presented as proof that I was not really an atheist.  Hmmmmmmm.”

I’ll be happy to help.  First the definition of an Athiest has not changed.  The point I was trying to make in my post (and I think nmtucson was trying to make in hers) was that while you thought you were an Atheist you really could not and did not accept the fact that there was no god(or reject the concept of god) because you did not and could not accept the finite aspects of your own existence.  Atheism is accepting there is no god because there is no credible evidence that there anything beyond the consciousness of your lifetime.  No life after death, no reincarnation, no eternity, and no god who will reward or punish you.  Atheism is accepting the proposition that the is nothing at all.  If you can’t accept the finality of the death of your consciousness then you must believe in something beyond this world.  It has been my experience that to “most people” this is the belief in the realm of god and it is obvious from your description of your return to belief that you belong to the category of “most people.  So from your own description of your rejection of the “concept of god” with your concurrent and contradictory inability to accept that your current is all there is for you to your return to god to resolve this contradiction I say you were never truly an atheist.

“So by this new definition, if one concludes that there is no God, but loves life and hates that it will end, that person is not an atheist.”

As I read your previous post you not only “hate death” you also cannot accept it as the end of your consciousness.  It is the inability to accept death as the end of your consciousness and your turning to the possibility of and acceptance of god that shows that you had not truly accepted the proposition that there “really” is no god.
Speaking for myself I hate the thought of the end of my consciousness but I have accepted it because I see no evidence for the survival of any human consciousness beyond death.  So for me it is all love and live life to the fullest for tomorrow I might die.
The End.

#98 r strle (Guest) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 at 11:29am

oops I did it again!!  Please change my post to read:

Starman Says,

Sorry Madison-my proof reading function has taken a holiday (holy day)

#99 Starman (Guest) on Thursday January 01, 2009 at 12:25am

To r strle; I need a tad more clarification.  As an aside I’m asking because I lecture on the existence of God and I am often asked about opposing views, and I don’t want to misrepresent them.  But I’m struggling with a few points that you have made, and again, I want to be able to present the concept accurately, so:

You wrote, “If you can’t accept the finality of the death of your consciousness then you must believe in something beyond this world.” 

I may not have stated my former position effectively.  Let me restate it for the purpose of clarity.  I hated the thought that I would never have consciousness again after death precisely because I knew there was no existence beyond the grave.  If I had the slightest inkling that there might be something beyond death I would have taken solace in that thought.  I didn’t, so I didn’t.

My current “...belief in something beyond this world” is based on evidence, not faith, or at least not “blind” faith.  I went kicking and screaming to God because the concept I had was illogical and what little I knew about “religion” made no sense at all.  First, finding a concept of God that worked required sorting through mountains of misinformation.  I was doing the research to attempt to prove that God did not exist and that the bible did not bear any Divine attributes.  But when I was given contrary information that made sense I would accept it, usually with a “yes, but” but still, if it made sense it raised my faith bar a tad and lowered my atheist bar. Then, when the faith bar eventually became higher than the atheist bar (due to the amount of evidence inching it up) I had to make a rational decision to switch teams based on Socrates’ admonishment to “Follow the evidence wherever it leads.” 

I did not go from religion, to atheism, and back to religion.  I went from religion, to atheism, to Christianity.  And within “Christianity I went from legalism to grace, and from a young-earth theology to an old-earth theology.  If nothing else I have demonstrated an open mind.  And (in anticipating a possible response) I was not merely wishy-washy as evidenced by the fact that each transition was in a positive direction, not backwards.

Regarding your conclusion to “...live life to the fullest for tomorrow I might die”; I’d be curious how you square that with Pascal’s Wager?  If you are right that there is no God then it makes perfect sense to live this life to the fullest.  If there were any chance that there is a God and eternity hangs in the balance, it would make even more sense to at least check out every possible option.  Our ~70 years here are nothing compared to eternity.  I realize the Wager alone can’t create belief, but it can motivate one to explore all options. 

Thanks,
Starman
game68

#100 nmtucson (Guest) on Thursday January 01, 2009 at 8:04am

Your misconception about how to evaluate pascal’s wager derives from the common believer’s misevaluation of god’s influence in life. You leave out at least half of the thinking….

If god exists, and has the ability and inclination to send me to heaven or hell for my behavior on earth, he would know if I had led a pious life SIMPLY on the off chance of his (to me unknowable) existence. Any god I could imagine “worshipping” would have to have more self-respect than to “love” those who based their morality on a bet.

In another post here, Ben Radford reports that NM Senator Pete Domenici claims to have been miraculously cured of a degenerative brain disease through prayer. Unfortunately, he has no documentation for having had the disease that later tests shows he didn’t have, so the notion that god cured him has no basis. I mention this because it led to me to note something I often note about the thinking process of believers: they regularly attribute the things they WISH god would do or had done in their lives to “his” power, but completely overlook or ignore the negative this that logic would require one to say ALSO came from him. I gave the inevitable annual example of the family who “lost everything” in a tornado, except that “god saved their lives”, and noted, hey, didn’t god also SEND the tornado in the first place, and hey, did he simply not love the ones that died as much as those he “saved”?

The logical contortions needed to preserve faith in the face of logic and genuine scientific evidence exceed my willingness to suspend disbelief.

I will try one more time to explain why you never qualified as an atheist in my book. You say “if I had the slightest inkling that there might be something beyond death, I would have taken solace in that thought.” This, to me, in my evaluation, indicates that you had not given up completely on the idea that you matter to the universe, that you feel entitled to an inherent importance that would make an afterlife necessary to preserve an existence that matters above all others.

To me, in my evaluation, having NO inkling that there might be something beyond death LIBERATED me. It gave me peace and contentment and a final release from the nameless, faceless anxiety caused by the irresolvable and illogical mystery of how to act directly against my human, earthly nature to follow irrational rules just to please the unknowable whims of an invisible, mute, fantastical, “all-powerful”, “all-knowing”, but never evident, looming overlord, just to ensure my potential place in a potential heaven that made no logical sense to me.

To me, you can’t call yourself an A-theist, until you are WITHOUT a belief in the ONE god that most people ACTUALLY worship—the all-important SELF, the one thing we truly believe MUST be immortal, since by definition, it is the only existence we know. Give up the self and you give up god, and all the complications religion creates. It’s Occam’s razor at its most effective and delicious. It’s the punchline of the cosmic joke. It’s a decision even god would approve of.

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