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Can an Atheist be a Fundamentalist?
Posted: 15 May 2006 03:11 AM   [ Ignore ]
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This article was published in the Guardian in Britain, what do you all think? We have a problem with one person who might well fit this bill.
Jim


Can an atheist be a fundamentalist?
AC Grayling

May 3, 2006 11:06 AM

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/ac_grayling/2006/05/can_an_atheist_be_a_fundamenta.html

It is time to put to rest the mistakes and assumptions that lie behind a phrase used by some religious people when talking of those who are plain-spoken about their disbelief in any religious claims: the phrase "fundamentalist atheist". What would a non-fundamentalist atheist be? Would he be someone who believed only somewhat that there are no supernatural entities in the universe - perhaps that there is only part of a god (a divine foot, say, or buttock)? Or that gods exist only some of the time - say, Wednesdays and Saturdays? (That would not be so strange: for many unthinking quasi-theists, a god exists only on Sundays.) Or might it be that a non-fundamentalist atheist is one who does not mind that other people hold profoundly false and primitive beliefs about the universe, on the basis of which they have spent centuries mass-murdering other people who do not hold exactly the same false and primitive beliefs as themselves - and still do?

Christians, among other things, mean by "fundamentalist atheists" those who would deny people the comforts of faith (the old and lonely especially) and the companionship of a benign invisible protector in the dark night of the soul - and who (allegedly) fail to see the staggering beauty in art prompted by the inspirations of belief. Yet, in its bleeding-heart modern form, Christianity is a recent and highly modified version of what, for most of its history, has been an often violent and always oppressive ideology - think Crusades, torture, burnings at the stake, the enslavement of women to constantly repeated childbirth and undivorceable husbands, the warping of human sexuality, the use of fear (of hell’s torments) as an instrument of control, and the horrific results of calumny against Judaism. Nowadays, by contrast, Christianity specialises in soft-focus mood music; its threats of hell, its demand for poverty and chastity, its doctrine that only the few will be saved and the many damned, have been shed, replaced by strummed guitars and saccharine smiles. It has reinvented itself so often, and with such breathtaking hypocrisy, in the interests of retaining its hold on the gullible, that a medieval monk who woke today, like Woody Allen’s Sleeper, would not be able to recognise the faith that bears the same name as his own.

For example: vast Nigerian congregations are told that believing will ensure a high income - indeed they are told by Reverend X that they will be luckier and richer if they join his congregation than if they join that of Reverend Y. What happened to the eye of the needle? Oh well, granted: that tiny loophole was closed long ago. What then of "my kingdom is not of this world"? What of the blessedness of poverty and humility? The Church of England officially abolished Hell by an Act of Synod in the 1920s and St Paul’s strictures on the place of women in church (which was that they are to sit at the back in silence, with heads covered) are now so far ignored that there are now women vicars, and there will soon be women bishops.

One does not have to venture as far as Nigeria to see the hypocrisies of reinvention at work. Rome will do, where the latest eternal verity to be abandoned is the doctrine of limbo - the place where the souls of unbaptised babies go. Meanwhile, some cardinals are floating the idea that condoms are acceptable, within marital relationships only of course, in countries with high incidences of HIV infection. This latter, which to anyone but an observant Catholic is not merely a plain piece of common sense but a humanitarian imperative, is an amazing development in its context. Sensible Catholics have for generations been ignoring the views on contraception held by reactionary old men in the Vatican, but alas, since it is the business of all religious doctrines to keep their votaries in a state of intellectual infancy (how else do they keep absurdities seeming credible?), insufficient numbers of Catholics have been able to be sensible. Look at Ireland until very recent times for an example of the misery Catholicism inflicts when it can.

"Intellectual infancy": the phrase reminds one that religions survive mainly because they brainwash the young. Three-quarters of Church of England schools are primary schools; all the faiths currently jostling for our tax money to run their "faith-based" schools know that if they do not proselytise intellectually defenceless three and four-year-olds, their grip will eventually loosen. Inculcating the various competing - competing, note - falsehoods of the major faiths into small children is a form of child abuse, and a scandal. Let us challenge religion to leave children alone until they are adults, whereupon they can be presented with the essentials of religion for mature consideration. For example: tell an averagely intelligent adult hitherto free of religious brainwashing that somewhere, invisibly, there is a being somewhat like us, with desires, interests, purposes, memories, and emotions of anger, love, vengefulness and jealousy, yet with the negation of such other of our failings as mortality, weakness, corporeality, visibility, limited knowledge and insight; and that this god magically impregnates a mortal woman, who then gives birth to a special being who performs various prodigious feats before departing for heaven. Take your pick of which version of this story to tell: let a King of Heaven impregnate - let’s see - Danae or Io or Leda or the Virgin Mary (etc, etc) and let there be resulting heaven-destined progeny (Heracles, Castor and Pollux, Jesus, etc, etc) - or any of the other forms of exactly such tales in Babylonian, Egyptian and other mythologies - then ask which of them he wishes to believe. One can guarantee that such a person would say: none of them.

So, in order not to be a "fundamentalist" atheist, which of the absurdities connoted in the foregoing should an atheist temporise over? Should a "moderate atheist" be one who does not mind how many hundreds of millions of people have been deeply harmed by religion throughout history? Should he or she be one who chuckles indulgently at the antipathy of Sunni for Shia, Christian for Jew, Muslim for Hindu, and all of them for anyone who does not think the universe is controlled by invisible powers? Is an acceptable (to the faithful) atheist one who thinks it is reasonable for people to believe that the gods suspend the laws of nature occasionally in answer to personal prayers, or that to save someone’s soul from further sin (especially the sin of heresy) it is in his own interests to be murdered?

As it happens, no atheist should call himself or herself one. The term already sells a pass to theists, because it invites debate on their ground. A more appropriate term is "naturalist", denoting one who takes it that the universe is a natural realm, governed by nature’s laws. This properly implies that there is nothing supernatural in the universe - no fairies or goblins, angels, demons, gods or goddesses. Such might as well call themselves "a-fairyists" or "a-goblinists" as "atheists"; it would be every bit as meaningful or meaningless to do so. (Most people, though, forget that belief in fairies was widespread until the beginning of the 20th century; the church fought a long hard battle against this competitor superstition, and won, largely because - you guessed it - of the infant and primary church schools founded in the second half of the nineteenth century.)

By the same token, therefore, people with theistic beliefs should be called supernaturalists, and it can be left to them to attempt to refute the findings of physics, chemistry and the biological sciences in an effort to justify their alternative claim that the universe was created, and is run, by supernatural beings. Supernaturalists are fond of claiming that some irreligious people turn to prayer when in mortal danger, but naturalists can reply that supernaturalists typically repose great faith in science when they find themselves in (say) a hospital or an aeroplane - and with far greater frequency. But of course, as votaries of the view that everything is consistent with their beliefs - even apparent refutations of them - supernaturalists can claim that science itself is a gift of god, and thus justify doing so. But they should then remember Popper: "A theory that explains everything explains nothing."

In conclusion, it is worth pointing out an allied and characteristic bit of jesuitry employed by folk of faith. This is their attempt to describe naturalism (atheism) as itself a "religion". But, by definition, a religion is something centred upon belief in the existence of supernatural agencies or entities in the universe; and not merely in their existence, but in their interest in human beings on this planet; and not merely their interest, but their particularly detailed interest in what humans wear, what they eat, when they eat it, what they read or see, what they treat as clean and unclean, who they have sex with and how and when; and so for a multitude of other things, like making women invisible beneath enveloping clothing, or strapping little boxes to their foreheads, or iterating formulae by rote five times a day, and so endlessly forth; with threats of punishment for getting any of it wrong.

But naturalism (atheism) by definition does not premise such belief. Any view of the world that does not premise the existence of something supernatural is a philosophy, or a theory, or at worst an ideology. If it is either of the two first, at its best it proportions what it accepts to the evidence for accepting it, knows what would refute it, and stands ready to revise itself in the light of new evidence. This is the essence of science. It comes as no surprise that no wars have been fought, pogroms carried out, or burnings conducted at the stake, over rival theories in biology or astrophysics.

And one can grant that the word "fundamental" does after all apply to this: in the phrase "fundamentally sensible".

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Posted: 15 May 2006 03:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Can an Atheist be a Fundamentalist?

This article was published in the Guardian in Britain, what do you all think? We have a problem with one person who might well fit this bill.
Jim


Can an atheist be a fundamentalist?
AC Grayling

May 3, 2006 11:06 AM

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/ac_grayling/2006/05/can_an_atheist_be_a_fundamenta.html

It is time to put to rest the mistakes and assumptions that lie behind a phrase used by some religious people when talking of those who are plain-spoken about their disbelief in any religious claims: the phrase “fundamentalist atheist”. What would a non-fundamentalist atheist be? Would he be someone who believed only somewhat that there are no supernatural entities in the universe - perhaps that there is only part of a god (a divine foot, say, or buttock)? Or that gods exist only some of the time - say, Wednesdays and Saturdays? (That would not be so strange: for many unthinking quasi-theists, a god exists only on Sundays.) Or might it be that a non-fundamentalist atheist is one who does not mind that other people hold profoundly false and primitive beliefs about the universe, on the basis of which they have spent centuries mass-murdering other people who do not hold exactly the same false and primitive beliefs as themselves - and still do?

Christians, among other things, mean by “fundamentalist atheists” those who would deny people the comforts of faith (the old and lonely especially) and the companionship of a benign invisible protector in the dark night of the soul - and who (allegedly) fail to see the staggering beauty in art prompted by the inspirations of belief. Yet, in its bleeding-heart modern form, Christianity is a recent and highly modified version of what, for most of its history, has been an often violent and always oppressive ideology - think Crusades, torture, burnings at the stake, the enslavement of women to constantly repeated childbirth and undivorceable husbands, the warping of human sexuality, the use of fear (of hell’s torments) as an instrument of control, and the horrific results of calumny against Judaism. Nowadays, by contrast, Christianity specialises in soft-focus mood music; its threats of hell, its demand for poverty and chastity, its doctrine that only the few will be saved and the many damned, have been shed, replaced by strummed guitars and saccharine smiles. It has reinvented itself so often, and with such breathtaking hypocrisy, in the interests of retaining its hold on the gullible, that a medieval monk who woke today, like Woody Allen’s Sleeper, would not be able to recognise the faith that bears the same name as his own.

For example: vast Nigerian congregations are told that believing will ensure a high income - indeed they are told by Reverend X that they will be luckier and richer if they join his congregation than if they join that of Reverend Y. What happened to the eye of the needle? Oh well, granted: that tiny loophole was closed long ago. What then of “my kingdom is not of this world”? What of the blessedness of poverty and humility? The Church of England officially abolished Hell by an Act of Synod in the 1920s and St Paul’s strictures on the place of women in church (which was that they are to sit at the back in silence, with heads covered) are now so far ignored that there are now women vicars, and there will soon be women bishops.

One does not have to venture as far as Nigeria to see the hypocrisies of reinvention at work. Rome will do, where the latest eternal verity to be abandoned is the doctrine of limbo - the place where the souls of unbaptised babies go. Meanwhile, some cardinals are floating the idea that condoms are acceptable, within marital relationships only of course, in countries with high incidences of HIV infection. This latter, which to anyone but an observant Catholic is not merely a plain piece of common sense but a humanitarian imperative, is an amazing development in its context. Sensible Catholics have for generations been ignoring the views on contraception held by reactionary old men in the Vatican, but alas, since it is the business of all religious doctrines to keep their votaries in a state of intellectual infancy (how else do they keep absurdities seeming credible?), insufficient numbers of Catholics have been able to be sensible. Look at Ireland until very recent times for an example of the misery Catholicism inflicts when it can.

“Intellectual infancy”: the phrase reminds one that religions survive mainly because they brainwash the young. Three-quarters of Church of England schools are primary schools; all the faiths currently jostling for our tax money to run their “faith-based” schools know that if they do not proselytise intellectually defenceless three and four-year-olds, their grip will eventually loosen. Inculcating the various competing - competing, note - falsehoods of the major faiths into small children is a form of child abuse, and a scandal. Let us challenge religion to leave children alone until they are adults, whereupon they can be presented with the essentials of religion for mature consideration. For example: tell an averagely intelligent adult hitherto free of religious brainwashing that somewhere, invisibly, there is a being somewhat like us, with desires, interests, purposes, memories, and emotions of anger, love, vengefulness and jealousy, yet with the negation of such other of our failings as mortality, weakness, corporeality, visibility, limited knowledge and insight; and that this god magically impregnates a mortal woman, who then gives birth to a special being who performs various prodigious feats before departing for heaven. Take your pick of which version of this story to tell: let a King of Heaven impregnate - let’s see - Danae or Io or Leda or the Virgin Mary (etc, etc) and let there be resulting heaven-destined progeny (Heracles, Castor and Pollux, Jesus, etc, etc) - or any of the other forms of exactly such tales in Babylonian, Egyptian and other mythologies - then ask which of them he wishes to believe. One can guarantee that such a person would say: none of them.

So, in order not to be a “fundamentalist” atheist, which of the absurdities connoted in the foregoing should an atheist temporise over? Should a “moderate atheist” be one who does not mind how many hundreds of millions of people have been deeply harmed by religion throughout history? Should he or she be one who chuckles indulgently at the antipathy of Sunni for Shia, Christian for Jew, Muslim for Hindu, and all of them for anyone who does not think the universe is controlled by invisible powers? Is an acceptable (to the faithful) atheist one who thinks it is reasonable for people to believe that the gods suspend the laws of nature occasionally in answer to personal prayers, or that to save someone’s soul from further sin (especially the sin of heresy) it is in his own interests to be murdered?

As it happens, no atheist should call himself or herself one. The term already sells a pass to theists, because it invites debate on their ground. A more appropriate term is “naturalist”, denoting one who takes it that the universe is a natural realm, governed by nature’s laws. This properly implies that there is nothing supernatural in the universe - no fairies or goblins, angels, demons, gods or goddesses. Such might as well call themselves “a-fairyists” or “a-goblinists” as “atheists”; it would be every bit as meaningful or meaningless to do so. (Most people, though, forget that belief in fairies was widespread until the beginning of the 20th century; the church fought a long hard battle against this competitor superstition, and won, largely because - you guessed it - of the infant and primary church schools founded in the second half of the nineteenth century.)

By the same token, therefore, people with theistic beliefs should be called supernaturalists, and it can be left to them to attempt to refute the findings of physics, chemistry and the biological sciences in an effort to justify their alternative claim that the universe was created, and is run, by supernatural beings. Supernaturalists are fond of claiming that some irreligious people turn to prayer when in mortal danger, but naturalists can reply that supernaturalists typically repose great faith in science when they find themselves in (say) a hospital or an aeroplane - and with far greater frequency. But of course, as votaries of the view that everything is consistent with their beliefs - even apparent refutations of them - supernaturalists can claim that science itself is a gift of god, and thus justify doing so. But they should then remember Popper: “A theory that explains everything explains nothing.”

In conclusion, it is worth pointing out an allied and characteristic bit of jesuitry employed by folk of faith. This is their attempt to describe naturalism (atheism) as itself a “religion”. But, by definition, a religion is something centred upon belief in the existence of supernatural agencies or entities in the universe; and not merely in their existence, but in their interest in human beings on this planet; and not merely their interest, but their particularly detailed interest in what humans wear, what they eat, when they eat it, what they read or see, what they treat as clean and unclean, who they have sex with and how and when; and so for a multitude of other things, like making women invisible beneath enveloping clothing, or strapping little boxes to their foreheads, or iterating formulae by rote five times a day, and so endlessly forth; with threats of punishment for getting any of it wrong.

But naturalism (atheism) by definition does not premise such belief. Any view of the world that does not premise the existence of something supernatural is a philosophy, or a theory, or at worst an ideology. If it is either of the two first, at its best it proportions what it accepts to the evidence for accepting it, knows what would refute it, and stands ready to revise itself in the light of new evidence. This is the essence of science. It comes as no surprise that no wars have been fought, pogroms carried out, or burnings conducted at the stake, over rival theories in biology or astrophysics.

And one can grant that the word “fundamental” does after all apply to this: in the phrase “fundamentally sensible”.

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http://secularhumanism.meetup.com/1/
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. (MLK Jr.)

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Posted: 16 May 2006 10:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Interesting thoughts on theist.

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Fighting the evil belief that there is a god(s).

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Posted: 17 May 2006 03:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Well I don’t know about fundamental, but I have met overzealous (as in zealotry) and dogmatic Atheists. Penn Jillette would be one if he didn’t laugh at himself and state clearly and often that he is usually wrong about everything.

Strong atheists who insist there is no god and will allow no room in their philosophy and discussion for opposing views, could certainly be seen as atheistic zealots. Some of these people have tried to force the opinion down my throat that agnosticism (since I consider agnosticism a more honest position for me to hold) is just a yellow bellied and an illogical position. The truth is; science can never rule out god completely. It can only greatly diminish or support specific descriptions for specific periods of time. To quote Bertrand Russell:

 

An atheist, like a Christian, holds that we can know whether or not there is a God. The Christian holds that we can know there is a God; the atheist, that we can know there is not. The Agnostic suspends judgment, saying that there are not sufficient grounds either for affirmation or for denial. At the same time, an Agnostic may hold that the existence of God, though not impossible, is very improbable; he may even hold it so improbable that it is not worth considering in practice. In that case, he is not far removed from atheism. His attitude may be that which a careful philosopher would have towards the gods of ancient Greece. If I were asked to prove that Zeus and Poseidon and Hera and the rest of the Olympians do not exist, I should be at a loss to find conclusive arguments. An Agnostic may think the Christian God as improbable as the Olympians; in that case, he is, for practical purposes, at one with the atheists…

...No sensible man, however agnostic, has “faith in reason alone.” Reason is concerned with matters of fact, some observed, some inferred. The question whether there is a future life and the question whether there is a God concern matters of fact, and the agnostic will hold that they should be investigated in the same way as the question, “Will there be an eclipse of the moon tomorrow?” But matters of fact alone are not sufficient to determine action, since they do not tell us what ends we ought to pursue. In the realm of ends, we need something other than reason. The agnostic will find his ends in his own heart and not in an external command. Let us take an illustration: Suppose you wish to travel by train from New York to Chicago; you will use reason to discover when the trains run, and a person who though that there was some faculty of insight or intuition enabling him to dispense with the timetable would be thought rather silly. But no timetable will tell him that it is wise, he will have to take account of further matters of fact; but behind all the matters of fact, there will be the ends that he thinks fitting to pursue, and these, for an agnostic as for other men, belong to a realm which is not that of reason, though it should be in no degree contrary to it. The realm I mean is that of emotion and feeling and desire.

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Posted: 18 May 2006 01:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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[quote author=“cgallaga”]Well I don’t know about fundamental, but I have met overzealous (as in zealotry) and dogmatic Atheists. Penn Jillette would be one if he didn’t laugh at himself and state clearly and often that he is usually wrong about everything.

Strong atheists who insist there is no god and will allow no room in their philosophy and discussion for opposing views, could certainly be seen as atheistic zealots. Some of these people have tried to force the opinion down my throat that agnosticism (since I consider agnosticism a more honest position for me to hold) is just a yellow bellied and an illogical position. The truth is; science can never rule out god completely. It can only greatly diminish or support specific descriptions for specific periods of time.

Certainly we are all free to believe what we wish, and nobody should ever be entirely closed to opposing views about anything. But as I argued in another thread , the position you (and, apparently, Russell) take is rather infelicitous in that it puts belief in God in a different position from beliefs about other things.

Let’s take some ordinary beliefs:

—Belief that it is going to rain tomorrow.
—Belief that there is going to be a total eclipse at noon.
—Belief that there was a total eclipse last August 12.
—Belief that the Eiffel Tower is safe to ascend.
—Belief that Darwinian evolution happens.
—Belief that the Easter Bunny exists.

OK, can science ever “rule these out completely”, as you say? Can it ever “rule them in completely”?

Clearly, if by “completely” you mean “in some logical sense that precludes even the possibility of error” the answer is “No.” Science can’t completely rule in or out anything that way (except mathematical and logical theorems).

But nevertheless we do claim to believe or disbelieve such things all the time. That’s how we use the word “belief”—I plan not to go to the park tomorrow because I believe it’s going to rain. I go up the Eiffel Tower because I believe the engineers have done their jobs. If a child says that the Easter Bunny exists, I smile at his navet. And so on for a literally infinite number of other day-to-day beliefs.

Why do we take these stances? Because we know that science doesn’t work by ruling in or out options in a mathematical or logical sense. (Unless we are talking about the “mathematical sciences”). It works by giving evidence, or failing to give evidence, for particular beliefs. The scientific method can’t prove that it will rain this afternoon, or that the Eiffel Tower will stand another tourist, but it gives a more-or-less probable argument that that is the case. And that sort of probability we standardly accept as “believable”—that is, we change our beliefs in accord with the probabilities as they are given to us by science.

I would argue, any rational method of investigation will produce no evidence that God exists, and plenty of counter-evidence. Hence, by our ordinary use of the word “belief”, following the scientific method of evidence and reason, we should be led to believe that God doesn’t exist.

To do otherwise is to basically claim that “belief” has one sort of meaning and usage generally, and another totally different sort of meaning or usage when it comes to God. And that doesn’t make sense.

My supposition here, as I said earlier, is that I don’t think that’s really what’s going on in these sorts of arguments though. I think many people believe that the word “atheist” has a negative connotation. (If it does, of course, it’s one given the word by the religious orthodoxy). So people just instinctively distort their use of language and logic so as to escape from having to label themselves “atheist”. “Agnostic” just seems a much more comfortable position to be in, since it doesn’t entail a positive belief about anything theistic.

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Posted: 18 May 2006 06:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I’ve been thinking about the question that led of this thread (“Can an Atheist be a Fundamentalist?”) ... and tried to give something of an answer in this thread here .

Of course, the question I was answering is really more like “Am I a fundamentalist atheist?” or, “Is an atheist with strong beliefs a fundamentalist?”

If you ask can an atheist be fundamentalist ... well, I’m not sure, perhaps so, if the atheist were:

(1) Very socially and culturally conservative,
(2) Believed in some sort of “fundamental” doctrine or creed,
(3) Was unwilling to consider any anti-atheist, anti-doctrinal evidence or arguments.

Where, remember, “consider” isn’t the same as “agree with”. Typically, a fundamentalist isn’t even going to consider (e.g.) an argument from the evidence that shows the Bible couldn’t have been the perfect word of God. Or, if he is willing to take a look at it, it will only be to wilfully misinterpret it.

A non-fundamentalist Christian, of course, may not agree with some atheist arguments, but I think there is a clear difference between an intellectually honest believer and a fundamentalist.

In that sense, yes, there can be fundamentalist atheists. But I don’t know any. We could perhaps imagine an atheistic religion, with a strong conservative creed, and fundamentalist believers; something like Scientology. But that’s nothing like what a naturalist, pro-science atheist believes.

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Posted: 23 May 2006 08:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Only in the same way that I put string theory or other unifying propositions in a different category: Untested, un-testable, but possible and worthy of further consideration.

The reason I select agnosticism as my overarching theological position is to avoid hubris. Not because I think atheism is tainted.

I am currently suffering from a chronic pain in my upper abdomen (the hypochondria in fact) that no doctor has been able to diagnose, but all rule as stress related. A very educated and experienced clinical psychologist who knows me well, does not see where this stress or psycho part of the psychosomatic is coming from. In short she (and I) are skeptical of the diagnosis. Just a few years ago all MD’s thought stomach ulcers were caused by stress. Now, through scientific exploration we know it be bacteria related.  Are my doctors correct? Maybe, but to assume certainty, is hubris.

Current cosmological models admit to only being able to directly account for only 4% of all everything. Those same models, while based on the scientific method are nearly supernatural in appearance to us.

No matter how GW may mangle it: Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

To claim that are is no divine aspect to nature based on a poll of only 4% of reality is to me pretty bad science. And it is just as faith based as believing in Christian dogma.

I am atheistic about specific descriptions of god, particularly those that add personality, emotion or supernatural aspects to the divine. I am also “atheistic” about the FSM and the Easter Bunny, but these are specific descriptions that can and have been tested. In the end they are descriptions of one human to another and may be almost right, so as with any proposition of reality may come back again refined and more plausible.

There are greater things in heaven than are dreamt of in my philosophy. I don’t yet know of all descriptions of god and have no reason to suspect that our reasoning and knowledge in that area of study is at all played out.  Atheism (strong or weak) assumes the book is closed unless someone else (perhaps a madman in an atheists mind) brings forward new evidence. To me this is hubris, and so unappealing as an overarching philosophy.

There are two quotes I enjoy that to me can sum up what I am saying and why I am agnostic.

“The” scientific method is nothing more than a system of rules to keep us from lying to each other”, Ken Norris

“The Science you don’t know looks like magic” - Kona

Cheers

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Posted: 24 May 2006 01:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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[quote author=“cgallaga”]No matter how GW may mangle it: Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

To claim that are is no divine aspect to nature based on a poll of only 4% of reality is to me pretty bad science. And it is just as faith based as believing in Christian dogma.

I am atheistic about specific descriptions of god, particularly those that add personality, emotion or supernatural aspects to the divine. I am also “atheistic” about the FSM and the Easter Bunny, but these are specific descriptions that can and have been tested.

Hello cgallaga,

I don’t exactly get the force of your argument here. The cosmological models that show that conventional matter is only some small percentage of the universe give no space for “divine aspects” or god. They aren’t saying “the other 90+% of the universe is god”, or even “we know nothing at all about the other 90+%”. The other 90+% is made up of dark matter and dark energy.

Dark matter is a sort of unseen matter that appears to cluster around galaxies and holds them together. We know this because the orbital speed of galaxies is much greater than would be supposed from the stuff we can see. Probably what is responsible is some sort of undetected particle with weak gravitational interaction.

Dark energy is posited to explain the apparent acceleration in the expansion of the universe. Probably what is responsible is some quantum force in the interstellar vacuum.

All of this stuff is controversial and “cutting edge”. That means that it is still very open to reinterpretation, and perhaps the phenomena could go away with better measurements. But anyhow all the mechanisms here are physical ones. None relies on “divine aspects” for explanation. So claiming that we have only “polled” 4% of the universe (whatever that means) is very misleading. So far, 100% of the universe is without divine aspects, including dark matter and dark energy.

And anyway if what you mean is that we don’t know much about faraway galaxies, I don’t think anyone expects God to be living over in M31 —not even the believers. On the other hand, there is always a possibility that we could find the Easter Bunny over there, so I don’t know what you mean when you say the existence of the Easter Bunny “can and ha[s] been tested”. We haven’t been over to M31, so haven’t tested it over there. Yet we are still pretty happy to say it doesn’t exist.

In the series Root of All Evil? Dawkins quotes an argument from Bertrand Russell: there could be a teapot orbiting the sun, and we’d never know about it. After all, it’s too small to see with our telescopes. But should we then be agnostic about the existence of a teapot flying around near Pluto? No. We are all “teapot atheists”. The same argument works with God.

[quote author=“cgallaga”]There are greater things in heaven than are dreamt of in my philosophy. I don’t yet know of all descriptions of god and have no reason to suspect that our reasoning and knowledge in that area of study is at all played out.  Atheism (strong or weak) assumes the book is closed unless someone else (perhaps a madman in an atheists mind) brings forward new evidence. To me this is hubris, and so unappealing as an overarching philosophy.

Well, a couple of things:

First, yes, it’s certianly true that god could exist if we are allowed the right sort of description. Some people (pantheists) believe that god is just the universe. If that’s what you mean by god, then I am a very convinced theist! But I don’t think that’s a very illuminating definition of god—it’s not what most people mean by “god”. When I say I’m an atheist, that just refers to the standard definition of god: a person who is omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good (“omnicompetent”) and the creator of the universe.

Second, it’s not fair to say that in order to be an atheist you have to be closed-minded. That’s a kind of slur. It’s just the same as saying: “You are a teapot-atheist. So that means that no evidence would ever convince you that a teapot is orbiting the sun.” No, that’s not true. I could be presented with evidence that there was a teapot out near Pluto, and then I’d change my opinion. Until then, I’m a “teapot-atheist”. Precisely the same is true of my belief about God. If you can give me evidence that God exists, I am willing to consider it. If the evidence is good, I’ll become a believer. Until then, no, I’m an atheist.

I am an agnostic about things like extraterrestrial life. There is no evidence either way about that, yet.

But about God, the existence of evil is enough to persuade me that the evidence is firmly against there being an omnicompetent being in charge here. Until we get evidence otherwise, that’s the clearly more reasonable conclusion.

Best,

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Posted: 24 May 2006 02:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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All of that relies on you considering an exclusively anthropomorphic diety. Much of the world; even many Christians and Muslims do not believe in an anthropomorphic diety.

As to dark matter and dark energy, it is right now just something we infer, so in that sense it is rather super natural. We cannot experience it directly, but rather have come up with a construct in our math to explain effects we see in other matter. That would probably a much more concrete thing if we only had 4% or reality measured in that way, but when 96% is well you can hardly say you have a very clear view of reality.

And then add in the time factor. Our cosmology talks of times (for lack of better concepts) before space and time that are unimaginable to us. Even our brightest can only refer to these situations in very exclusive mathematics. We even suppose that the speed of light has changed through time, thus some fundamental laws of our science are only applicable at this moment in time.

There are also strong speculations about bubble universes (multiverses) and strings etc., ad nauseum.

The entire time we have been human is not even a blink in the eye of the universe (to wax poetic). For my part to claim I do or can know such universal and unshakable truths is hubris, to claim it is up to someone else to imagine and search for us is sloppy.

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Posted: 24 May 2006 03:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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[quote author=“cgallaga”]All of that relies on you considering an exclusively anthropomorphic diety. Much of the world; even many Christians and Muslims do not believe in an anthropomorphic diety.

Well, I don’t know about that. Certainly there are a few people who believe in a non-temporal deity, that exists in an abstract sense like a number or mathematical entity. But I would argue there are very, very few such people. This is a very sophisticated sort of theology. It is also very inhuman. Such a theology makes prayer useless and heavenly intercession impossible, since god exists outside of time.

Anyone who believes in the efficacy of prayer, in a god who “likes” certain things and “dislikes” others, in a god who has beliefs and desires, ipso facto believes in an anthropomorphic deity (or a “personal god”, as I would prefer to put it).

[quote author=“cgallaga”]As to dark matter and dark energy, it is right now just something we infer, so in that sense it is rather super natural. We cannot experience it directly, but rather have come up with a construct in our math to explain effects we see in other matter.

I don’t know what you mean that dark matter and dark energy are “super natural” or that we “can’t experience it directly”. If dark matter and dark energy exist, we do experience them directly. Dark matter exists in galaxies like ours, and dark energy pervades the universe. It’s true that their effects are very slight, but so is the gravitational pull of Mars, and we experience that.

[quote author=“cgallaga”]And then add in the time factor. Our cosmology talks of times (for lack of better concepts) before space and time that are unimaginable to us. Even our brightest can only refer to these situations in very exclusive mathematics. We even suppose that the speed of light has changed through time, thus some fundamental laws of our science are only applicable at this moment in time.

Nobody outside of a few crackpot theorists that I know of believes that the speed of light has changed. Not saying it couldn’t be accepted in the future, but it hasn’t been accepted yet.

To be a fundamental law, it must be true at all times and places in the universe. So if the speed of light were to have changed over time, this rate of change would be the law.

It is a fundamental belief of the sciences that the laws in our part of the universe work everywhere, and at all times. If we could not assume that, we could not assume that gravity held the stars together in a far off galaxy.

And it would be even worse. If we could not assume that these forces worked everywhere and at all times, we could not assume they worked in Africa, or next February. Because why should we be more skeptical about 10 billion miles than 10,000 miles? Why should we be more skeptical about 1 billion months than 10 months? The sort of skepticism you are proposing is fundamentally antiscientific. It would lead to the conclusion that we can never know any regularity.

Now, I can hear you saying, “But we can’t ever know a regularity. We can’t ever know anything about the real world.” No, we can’t know it the way we know mathematical truths. But we can know it to a high level of probability.

[quote author=“cgallaga”]For my part to claim I do or can know such universal and unshakable truths is hubris, to claim it is up to someone else to imagine and search for us is sloppy.

Is it hubris to claim you know if someone falls out a 30 story building he will die? That’s due to the law of gravity after all.

Is it sloppy to allow a biochemist to tell us about the workings of the cell? Or are we expected to do all the work for ourselves? If the latter, really it’s not clear how much you would be allowing. Even Newton said he knew what he did because he “stood on the shoulders of giants”. Was Newton being sloppy?

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Posted: 24 May 2006 05:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”][quote author=“cgallaga”]
Strong atheists who insist there is no god and will allow no room in their philosophy and discussion for opposing views. The truth is; science can never rule out god completely. It can only greatly diminish or support specific descriptions for specific periods of time.

Certainly we are all free to believe what we wish, and nobody should ever be entirely closed to opposing views about anything. But as I argued in another thread , the position you (and, apparently, Russell) take is rather infelicitous in that it puts belief in God in a different position from beliefs about other things.

Let’s take some ordinary beliefs:

—Belief that it is going to rain tomorrow.
—Belief that there is going to be a total eclipse at noon.
—Belief that there was a total eclipse last August 12.
—Belief that the Eiffel Tower is safe to ascend.
—Belief that Darwinian evolution happens.
—Belief that the Easter Bunny exists.

 


Yes I must agree with Doug on this matter.

We keep on hearing the “excuse” from agnostics that science cannot rule out the existence of God.

This all depends on how you would define science. As I understand it the domain of science is based on a material world. A spiritual world would by definition be a world which is not material and therefore be beyond the scope of science.

God, angels etc would be regarded as part of this spiritual world.

Now either this world exist or it does not, immaterial of science.

Since we are using science as a yardstick to see what exist and what does not exist than no other dimension besides the material world exist. Therefore spiritual world does not exist and God cannot exist.

However if you use religion as a standard for claiming what exist or does not exist than you would arrive at a different conclusion.

Since agnostics claim to use science as their standard to arrive at a conclusion that “they do not know”, I think it is here they have a fatal flaw in their argument.

Sounds confusing but it makes sense to me! rolleyes

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Posted: 24 May 2006 07:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I’ve seen this topic appear repeatedly on several message boards, and to be perfectly frank, it disturbs me every time I see it. But I suspect the real Fundamentalists “praise the Lord” every time this discussion pops up on a message board because it promotes division between atheists and agnostics.

I don’t believe in God. And even though I conceed that no one can technically be sure,  I’m absolutely certain God is as much of a myth as are Santa Claus, the tooth fairy and the Invisible Pink Unicorn. Obviously, I’m an atheist. But if someone wants to insist I’m no different from Oral Roberts or Tammy Faye Messner, I think they’re sadly mistaken.

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather see Pope Ratzinger duke it out with Jerry Fallwell over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

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Posted: 24 May 2006 07:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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[quote author=“nancy2001”]I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather see Pope Ratzinger duke it out with Jerry Fallwell over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

LOL  LOL

Well, I think they realize that the last time that happened it caused a decades-long european war and hundreds of thousands of deaths ...

:wink:

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Posted: 24 May 2006 07:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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After reading the whole thread what I think comes through very clearly is we all are atheists when it come to the anthropomorphic god of the monotheistic religions.

By we all I mean every darn one of us the atheists, the agnostics, new agers even!!

And isn’t that what counts, isn’t that what the religious right means when it talks about atheists? Isn’t what the religious right defines as an atheist what is important in the daily lives we lead??

A person who is an atheist to them is someone who doesn’t believe in their god. That’s what this whole business is about, in my opinion anyway.

The fact that we divide at times over atheism and agnosticism is fun because we can discuss almost anything in the topic and it fits, but it doesn’t really matter at all in the real world we must deal with every day of our lives, short as they are.

Jim.

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Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. (MLK Jr.)

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Posted: 28 May 2006 10:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I Generally I agree with Jimmy; that in terms of specific descriptions of god, particularly the definitions of radical Islamists, Christian’s and Jews, we are all on the same side and in the same corner.

I also agree that in terms of scientific method, no theology or philosophy of such; can claim to be scientifically testable, and thus it cannot be a science.

I do think it is important that if we are to work towards a world where these oppressive beliefs and practices no longer disable humanity from reaching towards what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature; we do so in a spirit of skeptical inquiry. Only in this way, can we supplant the dogmatic and oppressive with a freedom for the individual to seek meaning through life; in line with their experience and reasoning.

Strong Atheism is no more tenable or less faith based than Christianity. It is certainly an appealing philosophy, but requires faith (not evidence) to support.

Weak atheism is so similar to agnosticism that it appears to me to be agnosticism dressed for battle. This can be very useful and certainly appealing, particularly in times when we are dealing with zealots of every stripe.

Agnosticism is, (especially in this age of knowledge and information) a very hard row to hoe. It requires baring your ignorance to the world. To be agnostic one must admit: “I don’t know.”

I don’t intend to present my beliefs (whatever they are) as a certainty. Thus, to me, the honest (and most yielding to the scientific method) position is the suspension of judgment"the agnostic position.

Some last tidying up. Dark Matter/Energy at present is not an observable testable part of nature. It is a bit of math made up to fill a big gap in our very well tested mathematical model of observable nature. That is why I said it SEEMS to have a supernatural quality. The difference (an important one) is that scientists ARE trying very hard to observe and test it. 

And Jimmy, you’re right. Life’s too short in single person span’s to worry much about this stuff. But if we are thinking to lay the groundwork for future generations it is up to us to ensure that it is on as stable and flexible a foundation as we can imagine.

I hope you all find yourselves well and having the time of your lives!

Chris

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Posted: 29 May 2006 03:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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"Strong" and "weak" atheism

Chris wrote
“Strong Atheism is no more tenable or less faith based than Christianity. It is certainly an appealing philosophy, but requires faith (not evidence) to support.”

You have that right.


“Weak atheism is so similar to agnosticism that it appears to me to be agnosticism dressed for battle. This can be very useful and certainly appealing, particularly in times when we are dealing with zealots of every stripe.”

You have that right too. Paul Kurtz said that we should never be dogmatic about our atheism.

“Agnosticism is, (especially in this age of knowledge and information) a very hard row to hoe. It requires baring your ignorance to the world. To be agnostic one must admit ‘I don’t know.’”

I agree. And to admit that we don’t know when we don’t is what we must do.
Bob

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