A Different Kind of Blog

news and things sacred and irreverent put together by opinionated people.

Caveman is Back…

Posted by lawman2 on January 11, 2009

evolutionman

After a long week here, I think a good dose of working on the site will be a welcome change for the ol’ caveman!  Last week my wifes mother passed away and it hit her family pretty hard.  We would like to put in a personal thank you to one of our authors here on the site Kayms!  Kathy kept the site up in our absence and we really do appreciate it! 

My wife’s family seemed to handle their recent loss pretty well,or as well as it could be expected, but they aren’t handling my being an atheist well at all anymore.  I know their worries are genuine (to them) and heart felt.  There have been times this week, that I just wanted them to get off my back (and to make them feel more at ease) I would have liked to have told them, hey no worries here… I believe!   BUT instead I just decided to be honest when I had too, and when I could just try to avoid any conversation about the after life.  I can’t help but feel kind of sorry for them because they allow their fear of eternal damnation to rule every aspect of their lives. 

Anyway, it got me to thinking about a post I started to post but decided it would be to contraversal before…

“What is atheism?”

Atheism is characterized by an absence of belief in the existence of gods. This absence of belief generally comes about either through deliberate choice, or from an inherent inability to believe religious teachings which seem literally incredible. It is not a lack of belief born out of simple ignorance of religious teachings.

Some atheists go beyond a mere absence of belief in gods: they actively believe that particular gods, or all gods, do not exist. Just lacking belief in Gods is often referred to as the “weak atheist” position; whereas believing that gods do not (or cannot) exist is known as “strong atheism.”

Regarding people who have never been exposed to the concept of ‘god’: Whether they are ‘atheists’ or not is a matter of debate. Since you’re unlikely to meet anyone who has never encountered religion, it’s not a very important debate…

It is important, however, to note the difference between the strong and weak atheist positions. “Weak atheism” is simple skepticism; disbelief in the existence of God. “Strong atheism” is an explicitly held belief that God does not exist. Please do not fall into the trap of assuming that all atheists are “strong atheists.” There is a qualitative difference in the “strong” and “weak” positions; it’s not just a matter of degree.

Some atheists believe in the nonexistence of all Gods; others limit their atheism to specific Gods, such as the Christian God, rather than making flat-out denials.

There are many philosophical justifications for atheism. To find out why a particular person chooses to be an atheist, it’s best to ask her.

Many atheists feel that the idea of God as presented by the major religions is essentially self-contradictory, and that it is logically impossible that such a God could exist. Others are atheists through skepticism, because they see no evidence that God exists.

There are a number of books which lay out a philosophical justification for atheism, such as Martin’s Atheism: A Philosophical Justification and Smith’s Atheism: The Case Against God. A few such books are in the document listing Atheist Media.

Of course, some people are atheists without having any particular logical argument to back up their atheism. For some, it is simply the most comfortable, common sense position to take.

“But isn’t it impossible to prove the nonexistence of something?”

There are many counterexamples to such a statement. For example, it is quite simple to prove that there does not exist a prime number larger than all other prime numbers. Of course, this deals with well-defined objects obeying well-defined rules. Whether Gods or universes are similarly well-defined is a matter for debate.

However, assuming for the moment that the existence of a God is not provably impossible, there are still subtle reasons for assuming the nonexistence of God. If we assume that something does not exist, it is always possible to show that this assumption is invalid by finding a single counterexample.

If on the other hand we assume that something does exist, and if the thing in question is not provably impossible, showing that the assumption is invalid may require an exhaustive search of all possible places where such a thing might be found, to show that it isn’t there. Such an exhaustive search is often impractical or impossible. There is no such problem with largest primes, because we can prove that they don’t exist.

Therefore it is generally accepted that we must assume things do not exist unless we have evidence that they do. Even theists follow this rule most of the time; they don’t believe in unicorns, even though they can’t conclusively prove that no unicorns exist anywhere.

To assume that God exists is to make an assumption which probably cannot be tested. We cannot make an exhaustive search of everywhere God might be to prove that he doesn’t exist anywhere. So the skeptical atheist assumes by default that God does not exist, since that is an assumption we can test.

Those who profess strong atheism usually do not claim that no sort of God exists; instead, they generally restrict their claims so as to cover varieties of God described by followers of various religions. So whilst it may be impossible to prove conclusively that no God exists, it may be possible to prove that (say) a God as described by a particular religious book does not exist. It may even be possible to prove that no God described by any present-day religion exists.

In practice, believing that no God described by any religion exists is very close to believing that no God exists. However, it is sufficiently different that counterarguments based on the impossibility of disproving every kind of God are not really applicable.

“But what if God is essentially nondetectable?”

If God interacts with our universe in any way, the effects of his interaction must have some physical manifestation. Hence his interaction with our universe must be in principle detectable.

If God is essentially nondetectable, it must therefore be the case that he does not interact withour universe in any way. Many atheists would argue that if God does not interact with our universe at all, it is of no importance whether he exists or not. A thing which cannot even be detected in principle does not logically exist.

Of course, it could be that God is detectable in principle, and that we merely cannot detect him in practice. However, if the Bible is to be believed, God was easily detectable by the Israelites. Surely he should still be detectable today? Why has the situation changed?

Note that I am not demanding that God interact in a scientifically verifiable, physical way. I might potentially receive some revelation, some direct experience of God. An experience like that would be incommunicable, and not subject to scientific verification–but it would nevertheless be as compelling as any evidence can be.

But whether by direct revelation or by observation, it must surely be possible to perceive some effect caused by God’s presence; otherwise, how can I distinguish him from all the other things that don’t exist?

“God is unique. He is the supreme being, the creator of the universe. He must by definition exist.”

Things do not exist merely because they have been defined to do so. We know a lot about the definition of Santa Claus–what he looks like, what he does, where he lives, what his reindeer are called, and so on. But that still doesn’t mean that Santa exists.

“Then what if I managed to logically prove that God exists?”

Firstly, before you begin your proof, you must come up with a clear and precise definition of exactly what you mean by “God.” A logical proof requires a clear definition of that which you are trying to prove.

“But everyone knows what is meant by ‘God’!”

Different religions have very different ideas of what ‘God’ is like; they even disagree about basic issues such as how many gods there are, whether they’re male or female, and so on. An atheist’s idea of what people mean by the word ‘God’ may be very different from your own views.

“OK, so if I define what I mean by ‘God,’ and then logically prove he exists, will that be enough for you?”

Even after centuries of effort, nobody has come up with a watertight logical proof of the existence of God. In spite of this, however, people often feel that they can logically prove that God exists.

Unfortunately, reality is not decided by logic. Even if you could rigorously prove that God exists, it wouldn’t actually get you very far. It could be that your logical rules do not always preserve truth–that your system of logic is flawed. It could be that your premises are wrong. It could even be that reality is not logically consistent. In the end, the only way to find out what is really going on is to observe it. Logic can merely give you an idea where or how to look; and most logical arguments about God don’t even perform that task.

Logic is a useful tool for analyzing data and inferring what is going on; but if logic and reality disagree, reality wins.

“Then it seems to me that nothing will ever convince you that God exists.”

A clear definition of ‘God,’ plus some objective and compelling supporting evidence, would be enough to convince many atheists.

The evidence must be objective, though; anecdotal evidence of other people’s religious experiences isn’t good enough. And strong, compelling evidence is required, because the existence of God is an extraordinary claim–and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

“OK, you may think there’s a philosophical justification for atheism, but isn’t it still a religious belief?”

One of the most common pastimes in philosophical discussion is “the redefinition game.” The cynical view of this game is as follows:

Person A begins by making a contentious statement. When person B points out that it can’t be true, person A gradually redefines the words he used in the statement until he arrives at something person B is prepared to accept. He then records the statement, along with the fact that person B has agreed to it, and continues. Eventually A uses the statement as an “agreed fact,” but uses his original definitions of all the words in it rather than the obscure redefinitions originally needed to get B to agree to it. Rather than be seen to be apparently inconsistent, B will tend to play along.

The point of this digression is that the answer to the question “Isn’t atheism a religious belief?” depends crucially upon what is meant by “religious.” “Religion” is generally characterized by belief in a superhuman controlling power–especially in some sort of God–and by faith and worship.

(It’s worth pointing out in passing that some varieties of Buddhism are not “religion” according to such a definition.)

Atheism is certainly not a belief in any sort of superhuman power, nor is it categorized by worship in any meaningful sense. Widening the definition of “religious” to encompass atheism tends to result in many other aspects of human behavior suddenly becoming classed as “religious” as well–such as science, politics, and watching TV.

“OK, maybe it’s not a religion in the strict sense of the word. But surely belief in atheism (or science) is still just an act of faith, like religion is?”

Firstly, it’s not entirely clear that skeptical atheism is something one actually believes in.

Secondly, it is necessary to adopt a number of core beliefs or assumptions to make some sort of sense out of the sensory data we experience. Most atheists try to adopt as few core beliefs as possible; and even those are subject to questioning if experience throws them into doubt.

Science has a number of core assumptions. For example, it is generally assumed that the laws of physics are the same for all observers (or at least, all observers in inertial frames). These are the sort of core assumptions atheists make. If such basic ideas are called “acts of faith,” then almost everything we know must be said to be based on acts of faith, and the term loses its meaning.

Faith is more often used to refer to complete, certain belief in something. According to such a definition, atheism and science are certainly not acts of faith. Of course, individual atheists or scientists can be as dogmatic as religious followers when claiming that something is “certain.” This is not a general tendency, however; there are many atheists who would be reluctant to state with certainty that the universe exists.

Faith is also used to refer to belief without supporting evidence or proof. Skeptical atheism certainly doesn’t fit that definition, as skeptical atheism has no beliefs. Strong atheism is closer, but still doesn’t really match, as even the most dogmatic atheist will tend to refer to experimental data (or the lack of it) when asserting that God does not exist.

“If atheism is not religious, surely it’s antireligious?”

It is an unfortunate human tendency to label everyone as either “for” or “against,” “friend” or “enemy.” The truth is not so clear-cut.

Atheism is the position that runs logically counter to theism; in that sense, it can be said to be “antireligion.” However, when religious believers speak of atheists being “antireligious” they usually mean that the atheists have some sort of antipathy or hatred towards theists.

This categorization of atheists as hostile towards religion is quite unfair. Atheist attitudes towards theists in fact cover a broad spectrum.

Most atheists take a “live and let live” attitude. Unless questioned, they will not usually mention their atheism, except perhaps to close friends. Of course, this may be in part because atheism is not “socially acceptable” in many countries.

A few atheists are quite antireligious, and may even try to “convert” others when possible. Historically, such antireligious atheists have made little impact on society outside the Eastern Bloc countries.

(To digress slightly: the Soviet Union was originally dedicated to separation of church and state, just like the USA. Soviet citizens were legally free to worship as they wished. The institution of “state atheism” came about when Stalin took control of the Soviet Union and tried to destroy the churches in order to gain complete power over the population.)

Some atheists are quite vocal about their beliefs, but only where they see religion encroaching on matters which are not its business–for example, the government of the USA. Such individuals are usually concerned that church and state should remain separate.

“But if you don’t allow religion to have a say in the running of the state, surely that’s the same as state atheism?”

The principle of the separation of church and state is that the state shall not legislate concerning matters of religious belief. In particular, it means not only that the state cannot promote one religion at the expense of another, but also that it cannot promote any belief which is religious in nature.

Religions can still have a say in discussion of purely secular matters. For example, religious believers have historically been responsible for encouraging many political reforms. Even today, many organizations campaigning for an increase in spending on foreign aid are founded as religious campaigns. So long as they campaign concerning secular matters, and so long as they do not discriminate on religious grounds, most atheists are quite happy to see them have their say.

“What about prayer in schools? If there’s no God, why do you care if people pray?”

Because people who do pray are voters and lawmakers, and tend to do things that those who don’t pray can’t just ignore. Also, Christian prayer in schools is intimidating to non-Christians, even if they are told that they need not join in. It is particularly bad if the prayer is led by a teacher, or otherwise officially endorsed.

The diversity of religious and nonreligious belief means that it is impossible to formulate a meaningful prayer that will be acceptable to all those present at any public event.

This is one reason why the public school system in the USA is not permitted to endorse particular religious beliefs through official prayer time in schools. Children are, of course, quite free to pray as they wish in their free time; there is no question of trying to prevent prayer from happening in schools.

“You mentioned Christians who campaign for increased foreign aid. What about atheists? Why aren’t there any atheist charities or hospitals? Don’t atheists object to the religious charities?”

There are many charities without religious purpose that atheists can contribute to. Some atheists contribute to religious charities as well, for the sake of the practical good they do. Some atheists even do voluntary work for charities founded on a theistic basis.

Most atheists seem to feel that atheism isn’t worth shouting about in connection with charity. To them, atheism is just a simple, obvious everyday matter, and so is charity. Many feel that it’s somewhat cheap, not to say self-righteous, to use simple charity as an excuse to plug a particular set of religious beliefs.

To “weak” atheists, building a hospital to say “I do not believe in God” is a rather strange idea; it’s rather like holding a party to say “Today is not my birthday.” Why the fuss? Atheism is rarely evangelistic.

“You said atheism isn’t antireligious. But is it perhaps a backlash against one’s upbringing, a way of rebelling?”

Perhaps it is, for some. But many people have parents who do not attempt to force any religious (or atheist) ideas upon them, and many of those people choose to call themselves atheists.

It’s also doubtless the case that some religious people chose religion as a backlash against an atheist upbringing, as a way of being different. On the other hand, many people choose religion as a way of conforming to the expectations of others.

On the whole, we can’t conclude much about whether atheism or religion are backlash or conformism; although in general, people have a tendency to go along with a group rather than act or think independently.

“How do atheists differ from religious people?”

They don’t believe in God. That’s all there is to it.

Atheists may listen to heavy metal–backwards, even–or they may prefer a Verdi Requiem, even if they know the words. They may wear Hawaiian shirts, they may dress all in black, they may even wear orange robes. (Many Buddhists lack a belief in any sort of God.) Some atheists even carry a copy of the Bible around–for arguing against, of course!

Whoever you are, the chances are you have met several atheists without realizing it. Atheists are usually unexceptional in behavior and appearance.

“Unexceptional? But aren’t atheists less moral than religious people?”

That depends. If you define morality as obedience to God, then of course atheists are less moral as they don’t obey any God. But usually when one talks of morality, one talks of what is acceptable (“right”) and unacceptable (“wrong”) behavior within society.

Humans are social animals, and to be maximally successful they must cooperate with each other. This is a good enough reason to discourage most atheists from “antisocial” or “immoral” behavior, purely for the purposes of self-preservation.

Many atheists behave in a “moral” or “compassionate” way simply because they feel a natural tendency to empathize with other humans. So why do they care what happens to others? They don’t know, they simply are that way.

Naturally, there are some people who behave “immorally” and try to use atheism to justify their actions. However, there are equally many people who behave “immorally” and then try to use religious beliefs to justify their actions. For example:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners… But for that very reason, I was shown mercy so that in me… Jesus Christ might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the king eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.”

The above quote is from a statement made to the court on February 17th 1992 by Jeffrey Dahmer, the notorious cannibal serial killer of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It seems that for every atheist mass-murderer, there is a religious mass-murderer. But what of more trivial morality?

A survey conducted by the Roper Organization found that behavior deteriorated after “born again” experiences. While only 4% of respondents said they had driven intoxicated before being “born again,” 12% had done so after conversion. Similarly, 5% had used illegal drugs before conversion, 9% after. Two percent admitted to engaging in illicit sex before salvation; 5% after. [Freethought Today, September 1991, p. 12.]

So it seems that at best, religion does not have a monopoly on moral behavior.

Of course, a great many people are converted to (and from) Christianity during adolescence and their early twenties. This is also the time at which people begin to drink and become sexually active. It could be that the above figures merely indicate that Christianity has no effect on moral behavior, or insufficient effect to result in an overall fall in immoral behavior.

“So are you really saying that widespread belief in religion indicates nothing?”

Not entirely. It certainly indicates that the religion in question has properties which have helped it to spread so far.

The theory of memeticstalks of “memes”–sets of ideas which can propagate themselves between human minds, by analogy with genes. Some atheists view religions as sets of particularly successful parasitic memes, which spread by encouraging their hosts to convert others. Some memes avoid destruction by discouraging believers from questioning doctrine, or by using peer pressure to keep one-time believers from admitting that they were mistaken. Some religious memes even encourage their hosts to destroy hosts controlled by other memes.

Of course, in the memetic view there is no particular virtue associated with successful propagation of a meme. Religion is not a good thing because of the number of people who believe it, any more than a disease is a good thing because of the number of people who have caught it.

The memeticapproach has little to say about the truth of the information in the memes, however.

“Even if religion is not entirely true, at least it puts across important messages. What are the fundamental messages of atheism?”

There are many important ideas atheists promote. The following are just a few of them; don’t be surprised to see ideas which are also present in some religions.

  • There is more to moral behavior than mindlessly following rules.
  • Be especially skeptical of positive claims.
  • If you want your life to have some sort of meaning, it’s up to you to find it.
  • Search for what is true, even if it makes you uncomfortable.
  • Make the most of your life, as it’s probably the only one you’ll have.
  • It’s no good relying on some external power to change you; you must change yourself.
  • Just because something’s popular doesn’t mean it’s good.
  • If you must assume something, assume something easy to test.
  • Don’t believe things just because you want them to be true.

And finally (and most importantly):

  • All beliefs should be open to question.

Thanks for taking the time to read this document.

You can read more caveman’s perspectives from lawman Just A Caveman

If you are interested in reading this article in it’s entirety please click here http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/mathew/intro.html

Advertisements

12 Responses to “Caveman is Back…”

  1. tothewire said

    There are times when I wonder if you try to be an ass or if it really does come natural to you.

    Why would you post this at THIS time?

    Like

  2. leftcoastlibrul said

    I agree with the vast majority of what you posted; it was well presented and factual. I still don’t like the term “weak atheist,” however. It feels like arguing from a position of weakness, and it isn’t. Agnosticism is a perfectly valid position.

    Like

  3. Lawman2 said

    @tothewire no,actually i try very hard to not be an ass.sorry if i offended you.

    hey there leftcoastlibrul thank you for reading!i see your point maybe i should change that a bit,but needed to clarify with one of our other authors the difference.

    Like

  4. tothewire said

    Psalms 33:12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.

    Like

  5. SewDucky said

    My condolences to your wife and her family. I’ll ask my mom to say remember y’all in her prayers.

    It’s an interesting read, and I understand being the odd one out there lawman, but this is as far as I’m going to go into religion. 😀

    Like

  6. Lawman2 said

    hey there elaina!good to read ya here!thank you and i am sure my wife will appreciate the prayers.

    so have you come across a good pattern for my wife to create my christmas stocking? hehehe

    Like

  7. justice4mothers said

    For tothewire:

    I am so sorry sweetie for the loss of your mother….other than losing one’s child, I can think of no other greater loss. My thoughts are with you and your family; know she will be with you in spirit…

    Take care…

    Like

  8. SewDucky said

    I’ll have to sit down and draft it, actually. Then write the instructions, not too much of a big deal to be honest. But she’s got what? 10 months before she needs it?

    Like

  9. tothewire said

    Thank you Justice. I’m fine most of the time. I worry about my dad. And I can’t help but think she will never know my children, and my children will never meet her. I find comfort in knowing someday we will meet again in heaven, and my children will know her then.

    Thank you Elaina, your prayers are most welcome.
    My sister is actually working on a pattern for me (and promised to help me sew it up) I have never sewed even a button on… 😦 BUT I do think it would be fun to learn how to sew, just worried I may not be any good at it. Lawman keeps telling me he can sew…lol I am tempted to tear something up just to see if he can mend it for me!

    Like

  10. SewDucky said

    LOL if you run into problems, let me know, it will take about 30 minutes to get it ready to post. If not, no worries.

    Like

  11. Lawman2 said

    hey there elaina,post it and i will show my little wife i can sew….you are going to post instructions too right? hehehe
    then we can compare the two and post some pics…mine vs hers i like the sound of that lol

    Like

  12. SewDucky said

    rofl, sure I’ll sit and figure out how to do a PDF file tomorrow and post it in Wed. blog post.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: