Category Archives: Atheism

Response #1 to the Non Sequitur program with Tim O’Neill: MOTIVES

Last weekend I watched Tim O’Neill present his arguments against the idea that there was no historical Jesus. I said I would respond in a post to his points and expected to cover it all in one or two sessions. But time is getting away from me this evening so here I will address just one point, Tim’s opening claims.

Tim begins by arguing that mythicism is appealing because it pulls the rug out from Christianity.

My response:

I am not interested in and do not refer in my comments to conspiracy theorists and cult-like following of a certain kind of mythicism that I equate more with interest in aliens, UFOs, Holy Grail, type theories. I am referring to the serious scholarly stuff led by the likes of Wells, Doherty, Price, Brodie and Carrier who ground their research and arguments in the publication of biblical and other recognized scholars.
  • I don’t know of any evidence to support that claim, the claim that, in general, people who are attracted to the mythicist viewpoint do so because they are motivated by some anti-Christian animus. No doubt. In fact, the evidence that I have been able to collate suggests that this is not true.  Some mythicist authors have in fact expressed the deepest respect for Christianity (e.g. Francesco Carotta, Paul-Louis Couchoud, Hermann Detering, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, Tom Harpur, Edward van der Kaaij, Robert M. Price).
  • Some mythicists have even remained Christians after embracing mythicism and it is through acknowledgement of Jesus as a “mythical” creation they find deeper meaning in their faith (e.g. Thomas Brodie, Tom Harpur, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy).
  • I do not recall reading a single scholarly mythicist work that attacks Christianity as a faith. One of the most prominent warriors against Christianity is John Loftus and he has said that arguing mythicism would be the worst way to try to turn someone away from Christianity. I have posted the same thoughts here. Tim O’Neill tells us that Richard Carrier has said the same. So I don’t know if anyone is seriously attempting to attack Christianity by means of arguing that Jesus did not even exist. (No doubt there are some less well informed people who do this sort of thing, or I assume there must be in a universe as vast as ours, but I am speaking throughout of those who are focused on the scholarly arguments for mythicism by such authors as Brodie, Carrier, Doherty, RM Price and RG Price, Detering, Lataster, Fitzgerald, Ellegard, Wells, Parvus, Onfray and such.)
  • Further, if many who are attracted to mythicism are already atheists, then it hardly seems likely that they are motivated by a desire to find pretexts to undermine Christianity. I suppose some atheists are on a vendetta against Christianity, but not even the New Atheists like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens used mythicism as a deadly cudgel. They did nothing more than refer to its possibility in passing and with some diffidence. They certainly held back from using it as serious weapon.

read more »

Speaking of us little devils…

After reading and posting a comment on Greta Christina’s 9 Questions Asked of Atheists… I have just caught up with Mano Singham’s The Morality of Atheists. And Mano’s post is about another post, How a Huguenot philosopher realised that atheists could be virtuous, by an assistant professor of philosophy, Michael Hickson. I’m a history lover so Hickson’s opener grabbed me:

For centuries in the West, the idea of a morally good atheist struck people as contradictory. Moral goodness was understood primarily in terms of possessing a good conscience, and good conscience was understood in terms of Christian theology. Being a good person meant hearing and intentionally following God’s voice (conscience). Since an atheist cannot knowingly recognise the voice of God, he is deaf to God’s moral commands, fundamentally and essentially lawless and immoral. But today, it is widely – if not completely – understood that an atheist can indeed be morally good. How did this assumption change? And who helped to change it?

One of the most important figures in this history is the Huguenot philosopher and historian, Pierre Bayle (1647-1706). His Various Thoughts on the Occasion of a Comet (1682), nominally dedicated towards taking down erroneous and popular opinions about comets, was a controversial bestseller, and a foundational work for the French Enlightenment. In it, Bayle launches a battery of arguments for the possibility of a virtuous atheist.

So if the same interests you and is new to you then you have the links above.

One more from Hickson’s article:

Moral action, which concerns outward behaviour and not inward belief, is motivated by passions, not theories. Pride, self-love, the desire for honour, the pursuit of a good reputation, the fear of punishment, and a thousand customs picked up in one’s family and country, are far more effective springs of action than any theoretical beliefs about a self-created being called God, or the First Cause argument. Bayle writes:

Thus we see that from the fact that a man has no religion it does not follow necessarily that he will be led to every sort of crime or to every sort of pleasure. It follows only that he will be led to the things to which his temperament and his turn of mind make him sensitive.

 

9 Questions Asked of Atheists

Alternet has posted a useful guide for those too afraid to ask certain questions of atheists, of for those too cock-sure about atheists they don’t believe they need to ask them. It’s by Greta Christina, ‘How Can You Be Moral?’: Here Are 9 Questions You Don’t Need to Ask an Atheist — And Their Answers.

Greta’s point is that certain questions “have insult or bigotry or dehumanization woven into the very asking”. That may be so for many, but her answers are there for the genuinely curious nonetheless.

1: “How can you be moral without believing in God?”

I think that question genuinely perplexes many people who have always been taught and mix with others who never question the idea that God is the source of morality.

2: “How do you have any meaning in your life?” Sometimes asked as, “Don’t you feel sad or hopeless?” Or even, “If you don’t believe in God or heaven, why don’t you just kill yourself?”

Oh, that one, especially, genuinely perplexes many believers.

3: “Doesn’t it take just as much/even more faith to be an atheist as it does to be a believer?”

4: “Isn’t atheism just a religion?”

Now those two questions do bug me just a little as per Greta’s larger point. Just a moment’s half-attentive thought should alert one that they are silly questions.

5: “What’s the point of atheist groups? How can you have a community and a movement for something you don’t believe in?”

There I do feel myself parting ways with Greta’s thought. Greta’s answer: read more »

Atheist Hostility to Jesus Mythicism … making sense of it

I’ve been thinking through how best to complete the second part of my post, Atheists Do Not Understand Religion, trying to figure out the clearest way to present the results of the anthropological research which means trying to get them ever more clear in my own mind first. At the same time I have found myself attempting to apply these particular ways humans work to understanding the answer to the question of why some atheists are so hostile towards Jesus mythicism.

I was working towards an understanding back in March this year but what I have read again in Boyer’s book I think has helped crystallize my understanding with a theoretical or research backing.

We “essentialize” things. Or the words used by Boyer are “essentialist” thinking and “essences”. So in many cultures there is something about, say, blacksmiths that makes them essentially different from “respectable society”. There is some indefinable internal quality about blacksmiths that make them different from everyone else, that makes it unthinkable that your daughter would ever marry one (unless you yourself are a blacksmith). Boyer speaks of an “essentialist inference system” that applies to the way we recognized different classes of objects and even groups of people.

One of the “essences” that many atheists see characterizes their “group identity” as atheists is a sense that they are smarter, more intelligent, more reasonable, than other groups of people who believe in angels and miracles. One essential difference perceived between the two is that the atheist sees himself accepting of the world’s scientific heritage while others either reject much of it outright (young earth creationists) or at least accept it only with qualifications (evolution but with God’s guiding finger).

Other groups that contain the same essential quality of rejecting established scientific and scholarly wisdom are holocaust deniers, flat-earthers, moon-landing deniers, anti-vaccers.

What they all have in common, or the “essential” difference between them all and the atheist, is that they all reject some plank of the scholarly wisdom as established in the trusted centers of learning, public universities and research centres.

One constant that has come through loud and clear from atheists who scoff at the very idea that anyone would claim Jesus did not exist is their pointing to “what the scholars say”. They appeal, always, to the mainstream intellectual academy, and its “consensus”. That appeal, I think, is a constant. We even see some biblical scholar comparing the rejection of the beliefs marking their field of study with the rejection of evolution among biologists or paleontologists.

I think what is happening when certain atheists ridicule or deplore Jesus mythicists is they are intuitively “essentializing” them with the same classes of people who reject the mainstream scholarly institutions in favour of their own idiosyncratic views about the shape of the earth or how old it is and how life got here.

We know they do equate mythicists with such people because they say so openly. But I think many others of us have never understood quite why they do and we have tended to think that if only they heard the arguments they would see things our way. But it doesn’t work like that, does it.

We know they will sometimes listen to the arguments but then reject them outright, often misrepresenting some of them in return. What is going on here?

Boyer also speaks of “coalitional” intuitions. We seek out coalitions that bring likely reward and reduce likely costs in our lives. And sometimes this means that we have to rationalize away certain assumptions about our “essentialist” thinking with other groups:

Now Fang lineages span territories so huge that everybody has lineage “cousins” they seldom interact with. In these rare cases, essentialist understandings of lineage would suggest that you can trust them anyway (these people are the same substance as you are, you know their personality type and therefore their reactions) whereas coalitional intuitions would recommend caution (since this is a first-time interaction and will probably remain a one-time event, why should they do you any favors?). People in such cases generally follow their coalitional intuitions but then reconcile this with their essentialist concepts by saying that they are not in fact certain that these people really belong to their lineage.

(Boyer, Religion Explained, p. 289)

We find ad hoc reasons to reject evidence that contradicts our interests. Atheists who see themselves as “bright” or at least intelligent enough to know God is not real and that genuine knowledge is found in the halls of academic and research institutions will as a rule side with those institutions to maintain their self-image or identity. Evidence that would otherwise lead them to challenge such a position is rationalized away.

Yet there are indeed a good many academics themselves who do indeed question the historical existence of Jesus, or are at least open to the possibility that there was no such figure. We have seen most recently PZ Myers “come out” here; others we know of are Jerry Coyne, Hector Avalos, Philip R. Davies, Paul Hopper, Burton Mack, Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Greta Christina, Michel Onfrey, Thomas Brodie, Kurt Knoll, Arthur Droge…. and others. I believe what is happening here is that a good number of people long embedded within the institutions of academe know full well just how flakey some scholarship can be and they do not hold the same unqualified reverence for all its branches and persons as many outsiders do.

 

What’s wrong with these atheists?

Another atheist’s experience on an atheist community has echoed my own experience with an online Australian atheist forum. Mano Singham recently posted Well, that was interesting!

PZ at Pharyngula recently alerted me to what happened to Chrys Stevenson when she pointed out to the people on a Facebook group that is called Atheist Safehouse that claims to have 42,4114 members that their page featured a montage of eight atheists, all of whom were male and only one was non-white.

She suggested that they might want to make the image a little more inclusive. She promptly got banned from the group because apparently raising the issue of the photo alone is sufficient to get you banned!

. . . . .
But then a moderator from Atheist Safehouse named Brad Hoschar chimed in and said that the reason Chrys got banned was not because she raised the topic of the photo but because (I kid you not) she did not speak politely!

That’s my own emphasis there. It echoes my brief experience on AFA, the Atheist Foundations of Australia forum. I have not yet been banned (though I have not revisited the site for some weeks to know for sure) but it was obvious that moderators and others there were seizing on every word of mine to twist in a way to represent me as a homophobic(!) arrogant, bullying, pig-headed intruder who had the gall to not politely accept their abuse over my attempt to point out the logical flaws in arguments in support of the historicity of Jesus. They clearly wanted me off their site.

Why are atheist communities like that?

Daylight Atheism has a new contributor

Adam Lee’s Daylight Atheism blog has added a new contributor, James Haught. Jim, now 86, is adding one post a week from his store of 140 published essays.

His first two

 

The Idea of an Atheist Movement is Nonsense

I have some disagreements with PZ Myers but I also have some ironclad agreements, such as his post back in mid-March:

I ought to be getting used to atheists embarrassing me

He concludes (with my own emphasis)

You want to defend the skeptical and atheist community? We’re going to have to face up the fact that the popularity and persistence of terrible people who wave the banner of atheism has already compromised us, and realize that when some of our ‘heroes’ go further and commit sexual harassment, that doesn’t mean that they’re exceptional, but are perhaps more representative than we like to admit. At the very least, we have to recognize that being a misogynistic scumbag does not disqualify you from claiming to be an “amazing” atheist.

Further, that so many atheists insist that no moral stance can be assigned to atheism means that the awful people can not be repudiated as atheists; we can do so as individuals, as human beings, and as humanists, but the lack of any principle but “there is no god” in atheism means there are no grounds for forswearing or dismissing these people within the atheist movement.

So what’s the point of the atheist movement? There is none. It’s killed itself.

Agreed. So when theists mock “angry atheists” I cannot deny that many atheists deserve that charge.

The idea of an atheist movement gives those atheists who do not welcome a tribalist or group mentality are going to be embarrassed by those who do.

Some will say, But hey, look at the encouragement the atheist movement has given to atheists suffering persecution in places like Bangladesh. My reply is that such people would find encouragements in any atheist author in the West or anywhere else. I did not become an atheist because of any “atheist movement” and I suspect the same is true for many others.

An “atheist movement” seems to me to invite a tribalist mentality with all the negatives and intolerant attitudes towards outsiders that that brings.

 

Postscript on Atheist Tribalism

I am an atheist but for the life of me I cannot see how atheism is any basis for a social community. There are good atheists and bad ones; atheists on the political left and atheists on the political right; classical-music-loving atheists and hard-rock-loving atheists; atheists who loathe anything associated with any religion and atheists who highly respect the religious mindsets of others; atheists who live by conservative moral standards and atheists who are libertine.

If I want to do my bit to help alleviate suffering among victims of a natural disaster or help raise public awareness of the needs of a disadvantaged group, join a political pressure movement or support a charity, I will not do so as an atheist. I will do so because it is the cause that is my prime concern and my atheism, I believe, is irrelevant.

Churches (and government agencies) may well advertise their identity when they send food and medicines to places wracked with famine but I have no interest in exploiting such opportunities to make a statement about my personal belief system. I am sure churches are often sincere when they give but to do so in a way that draws attention to their church identity strikes me as a little compromised. There are few logos apart from that of the International Committee of the Red Cross that I can support.

Last month I wrote what a piece attempting to think through my experience with an online atheist community. I used the term “cult atheism“. On further reflection I wonder if “tribal atheism” or “atheist tribalism” would have been more appropriate. Soon after I wrote that post a number of people informed me that that atheist community site had begun a somewhat heated discussion about me personally. I thought that was strange since so few persons had attempted to engage me in discussion during my time there. So yesterday I finally caught up with that discussion on the AFA site. That’s one more to-do item I can now cross off my list.

Comment: The Vridar Discusses AFA thread seemed to underscore the comparison I made in my earlier post between cultish (should I rather say tribal?) behaviour and that atheist community. Recall in my first post I spoke of excommunication. Let me expand on that. When one is excommunicated from a cult or fundamentalist sect the members pull together and opine on how bad, how “in the grip of Satan”, the banished person both “is” and “always was”. It is as though the one who is excommunicated takes the place of the Azazel goat of the ritual on the Jewish festival of atonement: all the sins of the community are placed on that goat as it is driven into the wilderness.

The same generally (there may be rare exceptions) occurs when a member leaves the fold, willingly, without any formal excommunication announcement. For the group to engage in introspection, to try to examine if their own behaviour may have been at least partly responsible, is rarely part of the script. Rather, the “lost sheep” will be portrayed according to the stereotypes set out in the Bible: they were never truly part of us to begin with; they are in the grip of all sorts of sins; they are in the bond of bitterness; and so on. I find the parallels with the AFA community’s discussion about me after I left the group to be so very familiar.

Anyway, there was one remark made towards the end of that discussion thread that sparked my curiosity. It was suggested that I should have engaged in an “Ask Me Anything” session prior to leaving. Curiosity did get the better of me and I volunteered to do just that and face my accusers and any others also curious. The AFA Forum rules say that “AFA members especially have a duty to portray to the public a disciplined attitude in postings.” We’ll see what happens, if anything.

Part of me would like to try to contribute where I can and no doubt there are many lurkers or members of the forum who do not share the inconsistent and hostile attitudes of a some of the more outspoken voices there. (We’ll see. If anything.)

 

Discovering Why “Even Atheists” Deplore Jesus Mythicism. (Or, Thoughts on “Cult Atheism”)

This is an exploratory essay, not much more than a diary of disorganized thoughts on my recent experience with an atheist discussion forum.

After much delay I finally enrolled as a member of the Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) Forums to contribute to a discussion on the historicity of Jesus. I had been encouraged by the report that a growing number of members there appeared to be open to the view that Jesus possibly had no historical existence but I still should have done my own homework on the nature of the site and character of its members before submitting my first comment there. After thinking over my time there and doing some rather belated review of the forum (or congregation of forums) I believe that the best comparison I can make to that “atheist community” is that it is very like a religious cult. It is certainly a form of a religious or church substitute for the newly faithless or for the long-time faithless who have never managed to outgrow their childish level of thrill at discovering they can break rules and social norms (like, ooh, so very naughtily using offensive words as often as they feel like it) without the fear of hell hanging over them.

I also think I finally understand why so many atheists viciously attack the Christ Myth theory.

Before continuing let me list a little of the distant and immediate background to my thoughts. Firstly, I spent too many years in a religious cult in addition to a number of years doing a lot of reading of works by psychologists and others who explained the cult experience and provided assistance in recovery. (See the links in the side bar to Vridar profiles for a few details.) I know a little about cults and the cult experience. Secondly, I have recently read the following and these have no doubt more immediately helped crystallize certain thoughts on the AFA experience:

  • Do intelligent people realize that they are smarter than anyone else surrounding them?
  • Herwig, Holger H. 1987. “Clio Deceived: Patriotic Self-Censorship in Germany after the Great War.” International Security 12 (2): 5–44. https://doi.org/10.2307/2538811.
  • Benda, Julien. 2006. The Treason of the Intellectuals. Translated by Roger Kimball. New Brunswick, NJ: Routledge. (Originally published 1928 by William Morrow, NY.) 
    • —  I took up the Benda book in pursuing an argument made some time ago by Noam Chomsky. The Treason of the Intellectuals foreshadows Chomsky’s criticisms of today’s liberal intellegentsia. It was the Herwig article on German intellectuals that reminded me to finish reading Benda at last.

When I became an atheist I don’t recall ever having the slightest interest in searching for and associating with “an atheist community”. When I heard that such communities did exist I was perplexed. What could they possibly have in common? Atheism simply means not believing in the existence of supernatural powers. That’s hardly a basis for a club of any sort. Haven’t atheists been responsible for historic crimes against humanity? I am sure many atheists are as burdened with ugly prejudices and bigotries as anyone else. And one hardly needs to be a Stephen Hawking to come to the conclusion that “there is no god” so I squirmed in some pain when I read Richard Dawkins’ suggesting that atheists should call themselves “Brights”.

But look at the AFA Forums site. It’s like a church or cult website, a place where all the converted (or de-converted) can go to find “like-minded” people, others with presumably an accommodating perspective, to discuss any problem in life:

There is a place where you can introduce yourself and be welcomed; just like a church group where all new members are welcomed, or screened.

Then there is a “Getting Started” room for those “new to the [faith or lack thereof]” can find mutual assistance.

But I love the “conversion stories” page. “Coming Out Stories”, its called, and I am reminded of so many church gatherings where people stand up and share their stories about how they came to Christ.

Next we see a space where one can learn about an “atheists’ viewpoints on things . . . . to better understand the atheist worldview”! Do you see what is happening here? Atheism is being presented as a group identity that sets apart its members as different from others. How many atheists have really needed to consult a community or “nonspiritual” guides to learn the “atheist viewpoint or worldview” on things?

I should at this point backtrack to the site’s banner: AFA Forums is identified as “a celebration of reason”.

Ah yes, the place for the Brights. I will return to the irony of that banner’s logo.

And just like so many fundamentalist type churches we have community-run places where members can share and learn how to resolve

  • Family matters
  • Educational issues
  • Ethics and justice
  • Women’s issues
  • Sexuality issues
  • Mental health issues
  • Political issues . . .

How convenient. It sure helps to have a place to go to relieve one of the anxiety of having to think through such questions truly independently and with one’s own research and reflection. Safety, security, nurturing, … all in the group.

Again just as cults and evangelicals have literature and go-to persons for information on science questions (how do we answer this or that question, for example) AFA helpfully provides forums to share that sort of knowledge, too.

Of course there is also the obligatory magazine. Presumably this is in part meant to evangelize and in part meant to support existing members.

Nor, of course, is the enemy forgotten. There are places one can discuss the enemies of the Brights and the Free: places bearing signs such as read more »

On Provisional Judgments and Operational Atheism

In a recent blog post, I said I don’t believe in the supernatural. This statement, I realize, takes a pretty broad swipe at the universe. But if you have read my previous statements on belief, unbelief, atheism, etc., you’ll understand my lack of belief is, for the most part, not characterized by active disbelief. Instead, I consider it a provisional judgment on how to deal with life. To me, the natural world is the world.

Similarly, when I say I don’t believe in gods, angels, demons, leprechauns, elves, or any other magical beings, I’m not saying I positively know they don’t exist; I’m merely saying I lack belief in them. Operationally, I find no need for them. Can I prove they don’t exist? No, I cannot — nor do I wish to waste time trying.

A commenter on Vridar, John MacDonald, recently wrote:

It’s just as much a paralogism to think (i) There is sufficient evidence to conclude there is such a thing as the supernatural, as to think (ii) There is sufficient evidence to conclude there is no such thing as the supernatural. Both theism and atheism are factually incorrect and intellectually lazy. Agnosticism is the “Thinking-Person’s Position.”

If you haven’t studied for the SAT, the LSAT, or the GRE recently, a paralogism is “A piece of illogical or fallacious reasoning, especially one which appears superficially logical or which the reasoner believes to be logical.” [OED] In the realm of logic, it normally refers specifically to an argument that is invalid, but unintentionally so. However, in the general sense, it has come to refer to any invalid argument as well as any invalid conclusion. I’ll assume he means that I have reached an incorrect conclusion, since I presented no formal argument. read more »

Four Atheist Responses to a Theist’s “Three Easy Questions”

Since we’ve entered James Bishop’s territory with So far, but no farther… or maybe the journey has just begun let’s respond to one more of his blog posts before moving on. This time James relays a post that originally appeared on Shadow to Light: How to Defeat Modern Day Atheism With Three Easy Questions. (James points out that he does not agree with all of the views expressed so I will focus entirely on the core argument itself and ignore the character slurs.)

No doubt some readers are more practised at this sort of discussion and can provide better responses than mine.

Question 1: What would you count as “actual, credible, real world evidence for God?” If the atheist refuses to answer, he/she will be exposed as Hiding the Goalpost, demonstrating the inherent intellectual dishonesty in such a demand. If the atheist finally answers, there is a very, very high likelihood he/she will cite some dramatic, miraculous, sensational demonstration of God’s power. And that leads to the second question.

Response 1: First define what you mean by “God”. Without a clear definition we can hardly proceed with a meaningful investigation.

Response 2: What I would count as evidence for X (whether a particular God or law or event or person or anything) is the setting up of tests or predictions of what we would expect to find in the evidence given that X is true. That is, I would accept any evidence that was derived from the scientific method.

So if our God is one who is defined as the source of all ethical or moral awareness or consciences, then what would we expect to find in the universe that is evidence of this particular type of God?

We would then look for those sorts of things we expect to find if God was the creator of the universe. The scientific method also requires us to test our findings against alternative explanations so we would need to see in each case if there are simpler explanations for the sorts of evidence we find. The same method requires us to look for evidence that contradicts our thesis, too.

Whatever passes these tests would be evidence that God as a source of morality exists.

Question 2: Why would that dramatic, miraculous, sensational event count as evidence for God? At this point, the atheist will likely try to change the topic. But persist with the question. What you will find is that the reason why the atheist would count such an event as evidence for God is because it could not possibly be explained by natural causes and science. In other words, because it was a Gap. Modern day atheism is built on God of the Gaps logic.

Response 3: A hypothesis becomes acceptable when it accounts for the observed data more simply or more comprehensively than any other hypothesis. If our hypothesis of a particular defined God explains data that no other hypothesis can explain, then yes, that God hypothesis is a great advance in our knowledge. But if other hypotheses can explain the data, and a greater range of the data, than the God hypothesis, then other hypotheses “fill the gaps”.

Question 3: Is the God of the Gaps reasoning a valid way of determining the existence of God? If the atheist has not bailed on you yet, he/she will likely run now. For if he/she answers NO, then it will become clear that nothing can count as evidence for the existence of God. Why? Because if the only “evidence” the atheist “Judge/Jury” will allow in his/her kangaroo court is a Gap (something that cannot be explained by science/natural law), and God-of-the-Gaps reasoning is also not allowed by the atheist, then it is clear the atheist demand for evidence is a sneaky, dishonest game of “heads I win, tails you lose.

Response 4: All scientific is provisional and subject to revision in the light of new findings. That’s the nature of human knowledge. Evolution and gravity are laws that are arrived at by “gaps logic” insofar as they derive from the hypotheses that best explain the evidence to date. In other words, those hypotheses can be said to have filled the “gap” left by the failure of other hypotheses to explain the observed data.

I am reminded of Arthur Koestler’s biography of Johannes Kepler’s search to explain the orbits of the planets. Kepler was bugged by some minute discrepancy in the observations and struggled for a very long time trying to make all sorts of geometric shapes explain the movement of the planets in a way that removed this discrepancy. He worked with orbs, circles, cubes, — all kinds of mixings and matchings of “perfect shapes” that surely had to define the heavenly spheres. Eventually, exhaustingly eventually, he conceded that no “perfect” shape or movement would work. The gap could only be explained by positing an elliptical orbit! And it worked. The gap was filled by the hypothesis of elliptical orbits of the planets and by no other hypothesis.

Now if that elliptical orbit can best be explained by angels who like to move the planets in less than a perfectly circular motion…..

 

If there is no God, is murder wrong?

Michael Shermer (head of The Skeptics Society and whose book Why People Believe Weird Things I liked; some of its arguments actually apply to many Christian believers, academics included) has posted a video challenging the fundamentalist/conservative Christian claim that without God there is no secure basis for morality.

Dennis Prager, someone better known to US readers, posted the usual dogmatic nonsense @ ‘If There Is No God, Then Murder Isn’t Wrong’.  (See below for the video)

Now Shermer has responded with – ‘If There Is No God, Is Murder Wrong? He pretty much knocks out the argument with his first question or point one of four. Happily both videos are short.

Pros and Cons of Antitheism

My thoughts exactly, as posted by Trave Mamone on his By Any Means FreeThought blog . . . . The Pros and Cons of Antitheism

http://freethoughtblogs.com/bianymeans/2017/01/04/the-pros-and-cons-of-antitheism/
So does that make me an antitheist? I don’t know, and I really don’t care. . . . I just do whatever I can to make the world a less shitty place. Sometimes it includes calling out religion’s bullshit, and sometimes it’s working with a religious person for a common goal. Sometimes it’s having conversations with people who disagree with me, and sometimes it’s telling them they’re full of shit. Make of it what you will.

Excerpts

When I first became an atheist . . . . . After seeing so many angry atheist trolls online, I didn’t want to join their camp. Plus, shortly before deconverting, I was (loosely) involved with the liberal Christian scene, so I knew not all Christians were fundamentalists.

. . . There is literally no need for religion in the 21st century. That doesn’t mean religious people are fools; most of them just don’t know you can have a fulfilling life without a god.

. . . even though I’m happy to work with progressive believers for secular social justice work, progressive religion still has a lot of fucked up theology. . .  I’ve seen way too many progressive Christians turn it into another form of shame.

. . . So does that make me an antitheist? I don’t know, and I really don’t care. I find labels like “antitheist, “faitheist,” “firebrand,” and “diplomat” to be superficial. I just do whatever I can to make the world a less shitty place. Sometimes it includes calling out religion’s bullshit, and sometimes it’s working with a religious person for a common goal. Sometimes it’s having conversations with people who disagree with me, and sometimes it’s telling them they’re full of shit. Make of it what you will.

 

 

Atheism, Vridar and Blogging Research in Religion, History, Politics, Science. . . .

With Vridar’s addition to the Top 30 Atheist Blogs it is apropos to discuss my position on atheism and religion.

The Feedspot site Top 30 Atheist Blogs And Websites Every Atheist Must Follow updates atheist blogs regularly. From the site:

The Best Atheist blogs from thousands of top Atheist blogs in our index using search and social metrics. Data will be refreshed once a week.These blogs are ranked based on following criteria

  • Google reputation and Google search ranking
  • Influence and popularity on Facebook, twitter and other social media sites
  • Quality and consistency of posts.
  • Feedspot’s editorial team and expert review

The name Vridar originated as a pseudonym for the American writer Vardis Fisher who explored his personal journey from Mormonism to atheism in the two part novel Orphans of Gethsemane. From Wikipedia:

This is a book about what has led us to be the way we are, and makes sense of our male-dominated, Judeo-Christian western society, its families, its values, and its wars. The book is semi-autobiographical. The work is divided into two parts – For Passion, For Heaven and The Great Confession. The first novel deals with the Western, pioneer influences and especially the sexual evolution (and psychological implications) for ‘Vridar’ (Vardis). His actual life was tragic with divorce and suicide. The second book describes an intellectual journey, in particular the research, reading and discussions undertaken before writing the Testament.

Since I identified with so many aspects of the life portrayed in the first part of that novel and then again with his intellectual journey in the second, I chose the author’s fictional name, Vridar, for a blog where I discuss my own intellectual journeys, including lessons drawn from a religious background. (Thanks to Earl Doherty for introducing me to Vardis Fisher’s work, especially his Testament of Man series.)

Like Vardis Fisher what interests me is an exploration into what the scholarly research seeks to uncover about the nature of religion itself and why people embrace religious ideas. Simply attacking religion in today’s world “because it is irrational and bad” does not strike me as a carefully thought-through plan. Rather than react viscerally to religion I am inclined to believe that a more productive exercise is to find out what we can “know of our enemy”. That means serious engagement with the specialist research. That’s why I find myself so often at odds with Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne and others: they demonstrate over and over that they have not done their homework and instead of contributing towards public enlightenment they are doing more to fan public ignorance and bigotry. But don’t get me wrong. There’s certainly a place for exposing the dangers of particular religious groups and arguing for a more enlightened world, but let’s do it with some genuine understanding of what we are talking about and the psychology involved.

For a brief while after leaving religion and still raw with the pain I had both experienced and observed I was feverishly hostile to the very idea of any religious faith. My bias was obvious to others and I could scarcely ignore it myself. A more productive path, I soon enough decided, was to try to understand why people embrace all kinds of religious ideas. It was not enough to simply say faith and beliefs in unseen powers are irrational and therefore stupid and dangerous. If religion is the opiate of the masses as Marx wrote then it is difficult to accept that every religious person is partaking of the same doses. Some are best described as being on mild aspirin, others on heavy narcotics. There is a range. Does a single explanation really cover it all?

As for the posts on the Bible, ditto. There’s nothing “anti-Christian” or hostile about any of those studies. Again, what does the research tell us about the origins of our Judea-Christian heritage? That’s what interests me.

Then we have politics, history, science — all from the same perspective of wanting to understand what’s going on. I have learned enough about history and the media to know that news reports very rarely provide an understanding of the issues. News reports tend to act more like buttons that switch on public prejudices. National identities are often grounded in myths, the exposure of which can have the potential to foster more civil societies. To understand what’s going on and how we got to where we are is the main preoccupation of this blog.

I’m looking forward to a personal change in circumstances soon that will enable me to devote more time to reading and blogging ideas that should not be confined to the limited readership of academia.