Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Atheism and Being Human

Evidence.

That is what atheists want; scientific evidence that God, and the supernatural exist. We Christians flounder about trying to come up with examples from the natural world to show the intricacies of nature, and convince atheists that natural selection is a poor way to explain the massively complex universe around us. We are bound to fail in this manner.

We cannot succeed in conveying "evidence" to atheists, because they have declared themselves the arbiters of what they will consider as evidence, and what they are unwilling to allow in the conversation. It is like a little boy wanting to belong to a club whose members find every reason not to allow him in. First, he needs a blue jacket. He gets one, but it is cerulean, not royal blue. He replaces it with a royal blue jacket, but now the buttons are 2 centimeters too large. He buys yet another jacket, but this one's stitches are too close together. Once more he returns with a blue jacket, but this one was made in China and they require a jacket made only in Belgium. Finally, exhausted from trying to meet a standard that is being controlled by those who don't want him in the first place, he walks away, leaving the club members in their tight little group.

Arguing with an atheist, from a scientific standpoint, is very much like this. You can point out A, B, and C in scientific studies and breakthroughs, but the response will be something like, "Well A was a study done by someone who might believe in God, so it's biased. B might indicate Intelligent Design, but the study was done in such and such a country whose standards are not quite the same as ours. C seems perfectly fine, but it is only one study and doesn't line up with other two that we like better." And so on, and so on. No matter what you bring out, it will never be enough.

Theoretically, atheism might seem intellectually appealing to its proponents, but the problem with atheism, is that no one actually lives in its sphere of thinking. Atheists go home and their everyday lives are much the same as the rest of the world's. They look for love, raise their children, and look for fulfillment in their careers, hobbies, or interests. Unlike what some would insinuate, atheism does not make one a Machiavellian monster, though surely they have their share, as does any group. And that is what is most interesting about atheism. Within the denial of God's existence, there is an implicit indication that there is no Moral Law to which people must ascribe. No God means No Rules. Yet, whenever engaging atheists in discussions, they seem to constantly rely on a set of Moral Laws.

Over and over they will cry for evidence. Why? Because they do not want to believe in something false. They have a quest to seek after Truth. In some ways it is a noble quest, being willing to release all things that might not be true, in order to live in truth. However, if there is no God, and therefore no Moral Law why are they so intent on living "truthfully"? There is no innate goodness in living "truthfully" because there is no "good." Why be outraged when people teach religion? How is it any different than someone teaching a particular dance step, or the way to paint a beautiful picture?

They will say that they want people to be free. They want to be able to live without the crushing oppression of religion. They will slander religious proponents in the most scathing ways, calling them hypocrites, bigots, and power-hungry maniacs, because they feel that humanity has suffered horribly under religious belief.

From whence comes this "moral" outrage that seethes in atheists? After all, if there is no Moral Law, then injustice and suffering lose their meaning. Why should a human care if people are oppressed or murdered? Do we care if a pack of wolves eviscerates a caribou? If people are simply more evolved animals, than the only Law to which they must answer is that of self-preservation. It would not be wrong to eradicate a people and take over their lands if not doing so meant your family would die. There would be no sense of right or wrong.

Completely frivolous comparison:

On Star Trek, the Vulcans were always portrayed as being highly evolved because they acted only out of logic, not emotion. I always wondered at the portrayal of this concept, because if people lived only out of logic, the world would be a very scary place and Vulcans would be a very evil people--albeit imaginary ones. Logic, in and of itself, would do anything to acquire the goal at hand. As long as the mission is accomplished, who cares how one gets there. Pure logic is about efficiency and ease. It makes more sense to cheat on an exam and get an A, then it does to study and get a B. It would be illogical not to cheat. Therefore, Vulcans should be morally untrustworthy and devious.

Of course, atheists are not Vulcans, their ears aren't pointy enough...and their blood is red, not green....and they've never traveled at warp speed.

Despite the claim that life should be lived purely on rationality and logic, it is impossible. The things that most people live for are completely beyond the scope of scientific logic. There is a push to try and explain away innate morality, intelligence, and self-awareness as nothing more than evolutionary necessities, but that simply doesn't hold water. Morality does not exist outside of God. Arguments can be made about the survival of the species and the need for order, but those also imply that the survival of the species is somehow good, worthy, and more important than the individual--a very morally, altruisitc view.

In some ways, the more atheists fight for Truth, the more they reveal about the reality that there is a Truth to fight for...a way of living and thinking that is right, and a way of living and thinking that is wrong.


Very familiar ideas to those of us who believe in God.

9 comments:

Hayduke said...

Hello Terri:

I am an atheist.

This post is inaccurate in several respects. I think it is because it tries to tell others what I feel. Only I can tell others what I feel.

First of all, I do not want "scientific evidence that God, and the supernatural exist." I already know there is no "scientific evidence that God, and the supernatural exist." It doesn't matter. God and the supernatural do not exist. Period. Full stop.

Natural selection is a mechanism of evolution. It is not "a poor way to explain the massively complex universe around us." It is, simply, a way to explain the massively complex universe around us, a way that is repeatable, verifiable and predictive. In other words, it works! That's all that is required of any explanation.

It is not true "that no one actually lives in its (atheism's) sphere of thinking." I live within atheism's "sphere of thinking." (I'm not sure what this means, since atheism doesn't think. I think. I think in atheist terms, i.e rationally.)

The following sentences are completely wrong: "Within the denial of God's existence, there is an implicit indication that there is no Moral Law to which people must ascribe. No God means No Rules. Yet, whenever engaging atheists in discussions, they seem to constantly rely on a set of Moral Laws."

Moral Law does not come from God or even gods. Rules are not written by a supernatural being, rules are written by humans. Moral law comes from human culture. Each culture has its own set of moral laws derived by members of societies over thousands of years of development. Of course, atheists have moral rules, just as any member of any society has moral rules!

"Over and over they will cry for evidence. Why? Because they do not want to believe in something false."

Again, this is completely false. I do not cry for evidence, nor have I ever cried for evidence. I do not "believe" in anything. My life is not a matter for belief. Reality is what hangs around when you stop believing in it.

"They have a quest to seek after Truth." I do not have a quest to seek after Truth. There is no "Truth," there is only reality as observed and interpreted by humans.

"Why be outraged when people teach religion?" Because religion blinds people to reality and causes them to look to others for authority, not seek their own authority within themselves.

I don't know anything about "Star Trek," other than it is fiction.

"Morality does not exist outside of God." It certainly does! I do not believe in gods and I live a perfectly moral life without such a belief." In fact, I live a life far more moral than many who profess belief in a god! Explain that!

"In some ways, the more atheists fight for Truth, the more they reveal about the reality that there is a Truth to fight for...a way of living and thinking that is right, and a way of living and thinking that is wrong.. "

I do not "fight for Truth," since there is no Truth. Nor do I profess that any way of living is right and any way is wrong. There are different ways to live in different cultures and different societies. I live the life I am comfortable with in the society in which I live.

I do not believe in gods. I am a moral person. Thats all I require.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

hayduke, you have done a nice job of giving evidence for Terri's point. You say you do not want evidence for whether God exists, you simply know that is not true. Whether you acknowledge it or not, that knowledge is based on something you consider evidence.

You say you believe that morality is culturally determined. To call yourself moral, then, is merely a tautology. If everyone has one, then the word does not have a value, but is simply a cultural descriptor. Yet it seems important to you to call yourself moral.

Your deep concern for the "authority" that others believe in, in contrast to those of you who have assembled your own code has so many unexamined assumptions behind it to be almost comical. You have no idea why you believe what you do. You are just quoting some ideas you've read or heard.

That is not to say that all atheists have no idea why they believe what they do. Knocking down the flaws in your logic does nothing to give evidence for the existence of God, of course. You could have the right answer for wrong reasons. But you simply have not understood the arguments you are attacking.

Hayduke said...

Assistant Village Idiot twists my words. I merely said, "There is no God." If others hold that there is a God, then it is up to others to prove their claim. I also say there is no unicorn on the dark side of the moon. Those who disagree must prove otherwise.

I do not believe morality is culturally determined. Morality is culturally determined. I am an anthropologist, having studied human societies for many years. It is very clear that there is no universal morality passed down from a supernatural being. Each society has its own set of moral values passed down through its culture. That's the way society works.

Yes, morality is a cultural descriptor. Is there a problem with this? I call myself moral because the author of this blog claims that atheists have no morals. My example disproves the claim.

I have no "deep concern for 'authority' that others believe in." No one can tell me what I believe or do not believe. Only I can state my beliefs and assumption. No one else knows what goes on in my head.

In fact, I believe in nothing, as nothing requires belief. I do not build a word view based on belief in the absence of evidence. The physical world as it is is sufficient. I do not need fables to explain away the world.

You do not know what I understand or do not understand. You may claim that I am mistaken, but you may not tell me what I think.

A large part of the response of religious thinkers to atheism is based on a mischaracterization of what atheists think. Since someone who is not an atheists cannot know how an atheist thinks about religion, one cannot assume what atheists think about religion.

Atheism is simply the absence of belief in supernatural gods. Full stop.

terri said...

Hi HayDuke.

"because the author of this blog claims that atheists have no morals"

Please, tell me where I said that. Actually, my point is quite the opposite. Athesists do have morals, thus the whole premise of my post. When I referred to atheists not really living in the sphere of atheisitic thought, my meaning is that of course atheists are not amoral, anarchist people. Without pondering too deeply about it, they try to live by a moral code, one that has naturalism and scientific thought at its core.

As an anthropologist you should already be aware of the baggage that people bring to a conversation unknowingly. I would say from your response that you are answering accusations I haven't actually made. I have not declared atheists thieves, liars and murderers. I am merely saying that beneath the initial arguments of atheists, there is deeper level of thought that goes unnoticed.

As far as Star Trek goes..it was a joke. Lighten up.

I think AVI nicely made some of my points for me, so no need to retype them.

AVI...thanks for stopping by.

Hayduke said...

"Within the denial of God's existence, there is an implicit indication that there is no Moral Law to which people must ascribe. No God means No Rules."

To me, this says, atheists have no morals.

"my meaning is that of course atheists are not amoral, anarchist people."

Inaccuracy again. Anarchy does not mean no morals. Anarchy means no rulers, not no rules. Anarchism is a body of political thought. It has nothing to do with morals and atheism.

I am an anarchist. I am an atheist.

"Without pondering too deeply about it, they try to live by a moral code, one that has naturalism and scientific thought at its core."

"They," meaning me, live by doing what I understand to be right. This is not so much a moral code as it is a sense of place in my culture. I do not steal, murder, covet my neighbor's wife, which is far more than I can say for most Christians I know. I simply live what I feel is right.

This feeling of "rightness" comes from the culture of my birth and upbringing. It has nothing whatsoever to do with religion.

"As an anthropologist you should already be aware of the baggage that people bring to a conversation unknowingly." As an anthropologist, I am aware of the culture that people bring to a conversation, knowingly and unknowingly.

"I have not declared atheists thieves, liars and murderers." Where have I said you did?

"beneath the initial arguments of atheists, there is deeper level of thought that goes unnoticed."

Why "goes unnoticed?" I notice it.

"As far as Star Trek goes..it was a joke. Lighten up." This assumes I share your cultural understanding. I have no way of knowing about this joke. I only know what I read here. "Star Trek" is fiction, written by humans. I don't understand the relevance.

The important thing to understand is that one cannot tell others about what atheists (and anarchists) think without being an atheist. "Walk a mile in one's shoes..." etc. I am writing about why I think as an atheist and an anarchist.

Ask me what I think!

terri said...

"I simply live what I feel is right."

What is the definition of *right*? Why do you care to live by something that is right? Why do you live by a certain set of rules or *morals*? Why do you contstantly make comparisons between yourself and others, especially Christians, who seem not to measure up to some sort of moral standard...a standard that I didn't even explore or define in my post? You seem intent on proving me to me that you, as an atheist, are a good, decent person. You very well may be. I have not implied that you weren't

What is of interest is that you should care what I or anyone else thinks about your moral behavior. If there is no such thing as absolute truth, why should I even listen to what you have to say? I can just shake my head and declare your relativistic, cultural truths as not having any bearing on my relativistic, cultural truths and ignore you.

However, you seem to feel that I have commited an offense or insult against atheists and atheism that must be rectified. You want to convince me about the truth, so that I don't ignorantly post about things in a misleading way.

That grain of thought, that urge to have some sort of "just" defense, is exactly what my post is about, and exactly what I have encuontered over the last few weeks as I have researched atheism and participated in discussions with atheists online. Over and over again I encounter their outrage that *falsehood* is being taught, their passion to teach people the *truth*, and an almost evangelical desire to convert the world to *right* thinking.

I think that's interesting.

Hayduke said...

A previous post made the claim that atheists have no morals. I am an atheist; I have morals. I write to correct that misinformation.

"You want to convince me about the truth, so that I don't ignorantly post about things in a misleading way."

Whenever someone tries to tell me what I think, I take great exception. No but me one can say what I want or don't want. I write to correct that misinformation.

"Over and over again I encounter their outrage that *falsehood* is being taught, their passion to teach people the *truth*, and an almost evangelical desire to convert the world to *right* thinking."

There is no *falsehood*, there is no *truth*, there is no evangelical desire.

However, when one makes a statement that is incorrect, it is my privilege to correct the perceived misinformation.

Notice that I have never made a statement regarding what others should do. I only talk about what I do and think. It is unfortunate that so many seek answers to their problems from central authoritarian religious organizations rather than relying on their own innate intelligence and abilities. The United States government would not be killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the Middle East were it not for fundamentalist Christians in control of the reigns of power.

Atheism is not a belief that there is no gods. Atheism is lack of belief.

terri said...

"The important thing to understand is that one cannot tell others about what atheists think without being an atheist"

"religion blinds people to reality"

"The United States government would not be killing hundreds of thousands of thousands of innocent people were it not for fundamentalist Christians in control of the reigns of power"

"Atheism is lack of belief"

Well, for someone claiming to have no beliefs, you sure seem to be full of them.

However, I won't continue to try and convince you otherwise. After all what's the point of trying to convince you to believe what I have to say if you don't actually believe in anything?

Hayduke said...

"for someone claiming to have no beliefs, you sure seem to be full of them."

These are not beliefs; they are statements of fact.

"I won't continue to try and convince you otherwise. After all what's the point of trying to convince you to believe what I have to say if you don't actually believe in anything?"

Indeed.

Understand that belief is the adherence to an idea in the absence of evidence. Therefore, it is unecessary to "believe" in anything that is self-evident. One does not have to believe in clouds, the screaming sun at noon, the apidictic rock beneath my feet, the beautiful curve of a woman's calf.

Since "God" only exists in the minds of human beings, "God" only exists as a belief. One does not meet "God" at the check-out line at the corner grocery, nor at the local pub of an evening. In fact, one could easily say that no one lives on the sphere of "God's" thinking, since "God" only exists as a thought. In fact, millions of thoughts, each different one from the other.

As Mark Twain noted, "Man is the only animal with the true religion... several of them!"