Tag Archives: Atheism

Who Needs God to be Good?

Pew Research Center surveyed 40,000 people across 40 countries between 2011 and 2013 to find what proportions of populations believe it is necessary to believe in God to be moral. The results (and explanation of how they conducted the survey) are online here.

As probably expected, the more highly one is educated the less likely one is to believe that belief in God is necessary for morality.

Also depressingly as expected, the USA is the exception among affluent nations, being the only such country where a majority of the population believes one can only be a moral person if one believes in God. Atheists be damned.

Tables follow: read more »

Richard Dawkins’ Al Jazeera Interview on Religion

Professor Richard Dawkins at a book signing fo...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Richard Dawkins is confronted with all the hard questions and criticisms he has raised with his book The God Delusion in an interview on Al Jazeera — with an otherwise very intelligent interviewer who, it turns out, believes Mohammed flew to heaven on a winged horse!

The questions he faces pull no punches and I personally thought the interviewer had the better of him when it came to citing the evidence for the motivations of suicide bombers. Richard also faces all those other criticisms his book has provoked — is religion a force for good or evil, faith, science, liberal religion, atheism, what is the worst form of child abuse, facing up to the good done in the name of religion, the meaning of life . . . . .

Special Programme — Dawkins on Religion

(Unfortunately I cannot embed this video. If anyone can tell me how, do let me know. . . . )

Tim has since embedded the video in the Comments section below.

Jesus Agnosticism: Believing vs. Knowing

What we can and cannot know

Huxley at about 55, scanned & cropped slightly

Huxley at about 55, scanned & cropped slightly. Note: The photo was cropped, but the sideburns were not. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I confess I have often shown little patience for people who hide behind the label of agnosticism when asked whether they believe in God. It smacks of evasion, since it answers a question concerning belief with an assertion about the state of knowledge. That is, it redirects our attention to the axis of knowing — how much we know or can know — instead of telling us where one stands on the axis of believing.

So you can perhaps imagine how annoyed I’ve become at myself lately for describing my own position on the historicity of Jesus as “Jesus agnostic.” Have I fallen into the same trap as atheistic agnostics, too timid to answer the question that was asked, so I answer one that wasn’t?

Does agnosticism describe anything meaningful?

Most atheists are also agnostics. We lack the belief in God in the same way that we lack the belief in many things we can’t definitively disprove. However, we hold the existence of a supernatural being that fits the description of God to be so unlikely that we operate under the assumption that he does not exist.

Do we actively believe God does not exist? Actually, no. It takes no effort at all to lack a belief. For example, if you grew up as a Christian, you probably lack the belief in the transmigration of souls. Same here. People might reincarnate after they die, but I think it’s extremely unlikely. So I can truthfully say, “I don’t believe in samsara.” But I don’t spend any time thinking about it or actively disbelieving in it.

If by knowledge we mean rational knowledge based on human reason and physical evidence, a good many Christians are also agnostics. They believe without proof — “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29b, KJV) They have made the “leap of faith.” Should they claim to have any knowledge at all, they will maintain they possess a knowledge of the heart, a feeling of the divine presence.

So if a great many of us — theists and atheists alike — agree that we can’t know whether God exists, is the term “agnostic” all that meaningful? Well, it is if you mean it in the loose, vernacular way that the popular media often intends it, namely as a description of someone who cannot decide. Perpetual fence-sitters, they simply can’t make up their minds. read more »

Atheist and ex-Muslim — an absolutely enjoyable interview with Alom Shaha

From arthwollipot, flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/arthwollipot/6796189874/sizes/m/in/photostream/

If you are atheist, a bit worried about Muslims at the same time, like ideas like love and compassion as the glue that holds us together, might respect reading recommendations from A. C. Grayling, are curious about where and why Australians have a different take (at least from North Americans and the British) on atheism and religion in the world — how to be laid back about it all — and basically what atheism means to all of us of whatever religious background and in particular how ex-Muslims handle it all, then do yourself a well-deserved favour and listen to the interview with Alom Shaha on Australia’s national radio program  Big Ideas:

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/monday-19-march-2012/3894112

The ABC blurb is:

Atheist Alom Shaha: Imagine you live in a strict Muslim community. You’re taught not to question your religion. But you don’t actually believe any of it. Your interest lay in the world of science, ideas, and books. This is the world of atheist, Alom Shaha – a Bangladesh born science writer, film maker and teacher, who’s lived in London since he was young boy – who is in conversation with Paul Barclay.

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Atheist writers respond

English: Atheist Bus Campaign creator Ariane S...

Image via Wikipedia

Professor R Joseph Hoffmann has a reputation for his pompous diatribes against the “New Atheists”, very often written in a style so pretentious they are (probably deliberately) incomprehensible to most readers. The professor has kicked off the new year with another Re-made in America: Remembering the New Atheism (2006-2011) and this time some of his targets have responded.

PZ Myers has posted a Nice List on Pharyngula of the names Hoffmann despises and that is therefore “a rather useful guide . . . to who’s cool in the atheist movement”.

Richard Dawkins is found among the commenters responding to Myers’ list: see comments #47 and #54.

Eric MacDonald has also written a lengthier but more analytical response, Spleen, on his Choice In Dying blog. MacDonald shows how Hoffmann’s piques are so completely off the mark, missing the point and substituting his own straw men, etc. He points out that Hoffmann appears to be most upset over the fact that religion and atheism really are issues that every layperson has a right to discuss for the simple fact that religion really does do an awful lot of damage to lots of people.

The comments on these blog posts are also recommended reading.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/le-shamrock/2984121228/in/photostream/

Spleen @ La Maroquineri. Image by LeShamrock on Flickr

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I left the cult and met the enemy

My past cult experience taught me that no matter how clever and diligent one was in researching and “proving” a set of beliefs, the results of such studies were all an illusion if the whole enterprise had been built on faulty assumptions.

The teachings of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are quite logical, quite rational, to anyone who accepts their starting assumptions.

Belief that one has been abducted and experimented upon by aliens is quite reasonable if one begins by accepting as true the requisite propositions.

(What also worries me a bit are those split brain experiments that show just how clever we are at fabricating rational tales that are in fact all bollocks.)

It was during my process of leaving the cult that I fully appreciated just how easily we can embrace faulty assumptions under certain conditions, and how of utmost importance it is to guard one’s thinking and examine every layer of one’s beliefs and every facet of new propositions before embracing any of them.

I had been so cocooned in the cult world that when I was leaving it I naïvely expected to meet a world full of people smarter than I had been. I thought, well, they didn’t fall for what I fell into, so how refreshing it will be to rub shoulders with the rest of the world who can think critically about what they hear, and examine the foundational assumptions to test the validity of any logical edifice.  read more »

The need to challenge liberal religion as well as fundamentalism

I’ve been catching up (thanks Mary) with other blog posts addressing atheism, in particular the New Atheists and their strident criticism of religion, in particular those appearing in response to R. Joseph Hoffmann’s views and posts by Stephanie L. Fisher. One that has particularly caught my attention, along with its related comments, is The Irrationality of Atheist Opposition to Atheism by Eric MacDonald. Part of my initial curiosity Eric’s post was learning that it was related to a lead post by Stephanie L. Fisher, and that Fisher’s post had subsequently been taken down. This is the second time this has happened recently — presumably on her own requests after others responded critically. (R. Joseph Hoffmann has since explained in a comment below that he removed Steph’s guest post as a matter of routine policy. I am sure Stephanie will like to repost it somewhere where it can have a more stable history.)

I enjoyed Eric’s post enough, and many of the related comments to it, and was incensed enough over assertions by some who like to be called humanists but object to being called atheists (even though they apparently do not believe in god/s), to join the fray with my own thoughts on the importance of atheists publicly challenging religious belief systems. My own thoughts are amateurish and inchoate compared with those expressed by Eric. But one has to start somewhere. Perhaps feedback can help me sort out with a bit more depth and rationality my own ideas. So here goes. read more »

Survey Results of the Deconverted into Atheism, Skepticism and Agnosticism

The survey results are now online at Rick Dean’s website: http://teologye.com/survey-results

Great to see there were over 500 respondents.

For those in the dark, an initial post — here — invited readers to participate in Rick Dean’s questionnaire that he intends to incorporate into a forthcoming book.

Survey questions include:

  • Prior religious affiliation
  • Do you miss your former faith?
  • What initiated your loss of faith”
  • What arguments for the existence of God did you find particularly powerful?
  • What arguments against the positive existence of God do you find the most persuasive?
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Atheist Christmas

Incarnation of Vishnu/Krishna
Image by ellenm1 via Flickr

I was going to keep this a Christmas-free zone but the quiet here today is screaming at me to say something. I can understand atheists in Western countries who feel uncomfortable with Christmas. There it is closely tied up with religious associations.

The strength of these religious trappings varies, I am sure, with each cultural locale. There are many who can and do love Christmas without giving a thought to its religious origins.

While living in Asia I could not resist asking some Chinese whom I knew were either Buddhists or Taoists, if anything, why they were wearing Santa hats and wishing all and sundry Merry Christmas. Their answer: “It’s Christmas. Everyone loves Christmas.”

I even saw a Moslem girl happily wearing a Santa cap over her head-scarf.

But seeing Christmas being celebrated alongside the Chinese New Year alongside Deepavali alongside Hari Raya and a half dozen others it drove home to me that it just one of many social rituals that would have to be invented if it did not exist from time immemorial. Humans are social creatures and rituals are important to us as social creatures and that’s that. There’s always room for the odd individual to bow out for a time, shorter or longer.

The fact that it has religious associations probably has more to do with the centrality of religion in the lives of people than with the festival itself, if that makes sense.

Here are a couple of other views: read more »

Would the world really be better without religion?

Tamas Pataki

http://www.atheistconvention.org.au/tamas-pataki/ The Rise of Atheism: 2010 Global Atheist Convention

And it gets better. This is the link to the second part of Tamas Pataki’s address: http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2010/08/13/2981969.htm

I was moved by humanity expressed in Pataki’s 2007 book, and it is refreshing to find this expounded once again from a secular humanist viewpoint. read more »

Giving atheism a bad name (On Atheism, Religion, Humanism)

There is a wonderful article by Tamas Pataki at http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2010/08/10/2979163.htm

Tamas Pataki is honorary senior fellow at the University of Melbourne and honorary fellow of Deakin University. His most recent book is Against Religion (Scribe, 2007). This is the first part of an edited version of the address he delivered at the 2010 Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, on 12 April 2010.

I have discussed his book Against Religion a few times on this blog — collated in the Pataki archive.

The whole article should be read for his nuanced views on atheism, religion and humanism.

I’ve tried to bottle a few of the passages that struck a chord with me below, but more for my own record. Read the full article at the above link. read more »

The right side of politics Down Under: Muslims good; atheists bad

Black-eyed Sue and Sweet Poll of Plymouth taking leave of their lovers who are going to Botany BayNo sooner do we read of one Liberal Party’s candidate being dumped by his party leader for suggesting that there is no place for Muslims in the Australian parliament, than we read of another Liberal Party candidate attacking the “ungodly” Labor leader and PM for being an atheist — and getting away with it! (The Liberal Party in Australia, to oversimplify somewhat, correlates with the Conservatives in the UK and the Republicans in the US.)

So what’s the lesson here? It’s politically correct at election time to be seen as tolerant towards Muslims; but as for being an atheist. . . ? Who cares?

Actually I don’t mind this approach to criticism of atheists. Let it all hang out. Let everyone see where everyone stands. It’s no big deal. It’s kind of funny to have politicians get up and rave about Australia being built on Christian values and how they always expect a “godly” leader. Australia? Founded on convicts, lashings, prostitution, petty tyrants among the good ‘uns, rum rebellion, — oh, and an Anglican pastor to keep it all in check? What’s the ratio of church goers to non-practicing Christians and “others” in Australia?

I suspect the Liberal Party leader’s decision to ignore the atheist jibe was quite healthy and a “true blue” Aussie response. I’d hate to see political correctness go mad and send to the guillotine anyone who raves about not believing in god and decrying how a godless prime minister simply cannot be a “godly ruler” etc. All a bit of a laugh for most in the audience.

It is the season, however, to be prudent with respect to Muslims. Hate crimes and bigotry and all that are all too real — it goes without saying. (Whoever planted a bomb outside an atheist’s convention in Australia?)

It is still real enough for a Liberal candidate to be quoted as saying that just one Muslim in Parliament must be seen as a march towards the day when Parliament will be all-Muslim! But of course, the mere fact that the sight of one of them in the “wrong place” leaves him down the slippery slope into nightmares of a taliban takeover of Australia, does not mean he has anything against Muslims personally.

Which leaves me in a delicate position at times. When I was once arranging for a leading State Muslim to conduct a public presentation to a general audience, I found myself being offered a copy of the Koran. As a gesture of good-will I accepted it, but later I had the misfortune to read it. It left the taste in my mouth of being just as mind-controlling and fear and authority obsessed as the Jewish and Christian books, only more blunt and obvious about it. So there I was, finding myself in a situation where I was seeking to foster community tolerance among two religious groups, Christians and Muslims, yet ironically having no personal sympathy or time for either of them!

As far as their beliefs were concerned, I saw (still do see) both as potentially harmful psychologically to individuals who took them too seriously. When I see some humanist scholars advocate a humanism that embraces the religiously minded as well, I do feel some revulsion. What has the anti-intellectualism at the heart of Christianity and Islam (and Judaism) to do with humanistic values? Why on earth does “spirituality” or the sense of the poetic and mystery and awe of life have to be tied exclusively to religion of any kind? But I also find myself recoiling from a few of the anti-Muslim statements of some such as Harris and Hitchens. Sure I have no time for the Muslim religion either, but these authors do seem to be unable to tease out the geo-political issues from the more universal religious concepts.

So I decided to focus entirely on the project I had got myself mixed up with as an entirely “social enterprise”. Strictly a civil service.

We’ll probably be stuck with religion as long as we will be stuck with astrology, witchcraft and the occult. If one can’t beat them, the least one can do, I guess, is to support any endeavour that promotes mutual understanding and respect.

Australia Day - Muslim Style

Image by gxdoyle via Flic

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Atheist Group Breaks Blasphemy Law

Atheist Ireland, a group representing atheists in the Irish Republic, has defied a new blasphemy law by publishing a series of quotes by writers Mark Twain and Salman Rushdie, Jesus Christ, the Prophet Mohammed and Pope Benedict.

Check out more details on the BBC news site: Irish Atheists Challenge Blasphemy Law.

Atheists Ireland says:

From today, 1 January 2010, the new Irish blasphemy law becomes operational, and we begin our campaign to have it repealed. Blasphemy is now a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine.

In response, we have published a list of 25 blasphemous quotes, which have previously been published by or uttered by or attributed to Jesus Christ, Muhammad, Mark Twain, . . . . . Rev Ian Paisley, . . . . Pope Benedict XVI, . . . . .

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Can a fundamentalist believer avoid pejorative language among friends?

(slightly edited 18th june 2009)

A strongly religious friend of mine recently wrote me, in kindness, that she understood I was not the first to decide to stop following God. This may have been the only way she knew how to express something she wanted to raise with me and maybe she had no awareness of how judgmental, pejorative, such a statement really is. Did I really knowingly, with arrogance or bitterness, turn my back on a great divine power, regardless of whether I thought such a phenomenon was worthy of worship or not? Yet that’s clearly what is implied.

Because I wanted to find a way to keep our friendship on an even keel over time, I replied that no, there was no question of my choosing not to follow God, but rather, that after much study and thought, I realized the only way I could be honest with myself, and true to the best lights I had sought out, was to no longer accept the existence of God. I concluded that each of us has to walk according to the lights we have, and we are all at different places in our life’s journey.

To recast that decision, that at the time was for me a matter of integrity, and even at the time involved considerable personal cost, into an assertion that “I chose to no longer follow God”, is judgmental.

I do not address my believing friends by telling them they are superstitious, or deceived, or too closed minded and fearful to investigate their faith rationally. To do so would of course be, well, rude and judgmental. I might think such things in a general sense of many believers, but there’s a difference between addressing these issues in a general or public way on the one hand, and in addressing friends in normal day-to-day getting along on the other.

If my religious friends wish to preach a jeremiad, let them do so on a street corner or from a soapbox in a park or at their keyboards. But to bring in the pejorative language when communicating with friends only runs the risk of losing those friends over time.

Maybe part of me is becoming more sensitive as a result of living in truly multi-cultural and multi-religious Singapore. The only people I have heard of here in the news (where Buddhists and Hindus and Moslems and Christians truly do rub shoulders daily, and where the State has even decreed national holidays for each of the religions’ holy days) who have gotten into trouble over their religious practices are a couple Christians who were penalized by the courts for distributing offensive literature to peoples of other faiths (especially Moslems).

By no means do I recommend Singapore as a model society for others to follow, yet nor can I deny the good things about Singapore. There is something very encouraging about living in a society where, for most part, the different religious and ethnic groups do generally express respect, even harmony, living and working together. At least publicly there is no sign of pejorative statements made against one another. The government even has a positive option for atheists or any nonreligious people who have to fill out official forms identifying their religious status: “Freethinker”.

Now that might be the better way to approach my friend next time the pejorative language emerges. “Nope, officially you are a Christian, she’s a Buddhist, he’s a Moslem or Hindu, while I’m a Freethinker”.

In a three-way discussion with my friend, I did ask our other colleague if she was also a Christian. She replied, No, I’m a Freethinker! It has a very nice positive ring to it.

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