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Atheist Sign Included in Holiday Display on Public Property:

An atheist sign proclaiming that "Religion is but myth and superstition" has been included in a holiday display on public property in Olympia, Washington. The display at the Washington state capitol building also includes symbols put up by religious groups.

I'm not convinced that this sign is a good way to promote atheism. Passers-by who are not atheists themselves are likely to find it more offensive than persuasive. As a legal matter, however, I think that atheist groups should have the same rights to put up displays on public property as religious groups do. I don't object if theists are allowed to put up creches, menorahs, and so forth on public property so long as agnostics, atheists, and others are accorded similar privileges.

Oren:
Well said. I've often hoped that fellow skeptics could find less asinine ways of expressing their views.
12.1.2008 9:39pm
DangerMouse:
The sign seems inconsistent with the rest of the displays. Nobody else is posting arguments, they're posting items celebrating the religion/culture. Is it impossible for atheists to post something celebrating atheism, or is atheism only capable of survival with something it can attack?
12.1.2008 9:41pm
FantasiaWHT:
I agree, but I think it's tacky to display the sign at the same time as the holiday displays. If the displays are up for, say, 3 weeks, if I were the local government I would allow the atheist sign to be up some other 3 weeks.
12.1.2008 9:45pm
David Warner:
In my experience atheists who are likely to make converts are those who've found something better than theism in which to ground their lives. A sign promoting humanism, say, or space exploration might be more effective than one explicitly attacking the other displays.

Most religions themselves have tenets which condemn other religions, but they do not choose those tenets to promote themselves in public.
12.1.2008 9:48pm
Chris Bell (mail) (www):
This will simply result in outrage, which will result in no displays at all.

I've argued for a while that diversity alone would kill many of these displays. I realize that the atheist sign stands out, but there are lots of other religions that people don't want to see promoted on public property either.

Is there a scientology Christmas?
12.1.2008 9:50pm
Ilya Somin:
In my experience atheists who are likely to make converts are those who've found something better than theism in which to ground their lives. A sign promoting humanism, say, or space exploration might be more effective than one explicitly attacking the other displays.

Possibly. But support for humanism and space exploration is consistent with believing in God.
12.1.2008 9:51pm
GV:
I'm not sure this should be okay. I mean, if a Christian wanted to put up a display saying "Muslims worship a false god" or "Muhammad was a child molester," why would that be okay? At the very least, I think the State would have been within its rights to refuse to put the sign up.

And another atheist voting that regardless of whether this is legal, I wish other atheists wouldn't do it.
12.1.2008 9:51pm
Smokey:
Atheism is itself a religion.
12.1.2008 9:55pm
Gilbert (mail):
What display do you imagine agnostics would want to put up?

This whole thing is stupid, no taxes on churches, no religious displays on the capital lawn. Would it really be so awful?
12.1.2008 9:56pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
What we *really* need are lots of good-sized Thorr's Hammer signs, since he is the REAL reason for the season :-)
12.1.2008 10:02pm
1Ler:
GV, I'm slightly concerned by your premise: "why would that be okay?" v. "what business would the state have in restricting speech based on content?". Of course the right isn't absolute, but I think we should start with the spirit of the protection.
12.1.2008 10:06pm
TruePath (mail) (www):
DangerMouse:


To turn the point around: Why can't religious people celebrate their religious beliefs without being needlessly antagonistic of my belief that supernatural claims are false?

All the groups are presenting displays communicating their most significant beliefs on the subject of religion. Given that for atheists this belief is that religious beliefs are unjustified whatever they put up to communicate this will be in direct conflict with the religious messages.

-------

This having been said I do agree it's both bad form and unproductive to put up an actual argument. I mean the religious groups didn't put up signs saying "Without Faith salvation is difficult/impossible." The atheists should have put up a display of the flying spaghetti monster. This would both symbolize their beliefs and avoid being quite so directly antagonistic.
12.1.2008 10:06pm
GuestChris (mail):
@DangerMouse
@GV

You guys have got it right, I think. The signs are not equal. There is no reason that an atheist sign has to appear at the same time as the religious signs, anyhow.
12.1.2008 10:09pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):

I've argued for a while that diversity alone would kill many of these displays. I realize that the atheist sign stands out, but there are lots of other religions that people don't want to see promoted on public property either.


I dunno. We have an aweful lot of deeply institutionalized Greek and Roman paganism in or public institutions and iconography.
12.1.2008 10:10pm
Randy R. (mail):
Smokey: "Atheism is itself a religion."

Please elaborate. Can you direct me to a statement of their beliefs? What are their religious practices? Are they organized, and if so, do they have IRS non profit status? Are there atheistic ceremonies that are conducted?
12.1.2008 10:12pm
DangerMouse:
Randy, last I checked, atheists believe that there is no God.
12.1.2008 10:14pm
Curt Fischer:

But support for humanism and space exploration is consistent with believing in God.


...and acceptance of Christ as the savior is consistent with a belief that karmic reincarnation awaits one's soul until attainment of nirvana. But so what? Christians put up a cross, not a sign that says "Buddhists are wrong about reincarnation". And that was David Warner's point, as I understood it. Atheists would stand to gain by promoting some other aspect of their belief than "those guys are wrong".

If I had to pick an idea for agnosticism to promote or symbolize, it would be "I don't have to know an answer" or "doubt is ok, probably", or something along those lines.
12.1.2008 10:15pm
Cornellian (mail):
If I were choosing an atheist display to go amongst a collection of displays from different religions I'd have it say something like "These other guys can't ALL be right."
12.1.2008 10:23pm
Smokey:
Randy R.:
Smokey: "Atheism is itself a religion."

Please elaborate. Can you direct me to a statement of their beliefs
Yes:

Atheists believe that there is no God.
12.1.2008 10:32pm
Slobiously:
Who gets to pick what goes up for the atheists? The local branch of NAMBLA?
12.1.2008 10:33pm
ARCraig (mail):
Probably a bit snobbier than a promotional sign for atheism should be ("Imagine No Religion" is just one example of a much more positive slogan), but they are absolutely right. Religion is nothing but myth and superstition. Every religion, from Christianity to Buddhism to Satanism to the Jonestown kool-aid drinkers, has exactly the same amount of actual fact supporting its theological tenets: none.

Having said all that, even as an evangelical atheist I still celebrate holidays like Christmas. There's nothing wrong with traditional annual celebrations just for their own sake, and if holidays with a religious historical veneer over their largely secular purpose didn't exist, then we'd no doubt invent something similar to satisfy the same desire.
12.1.2008 10:35pm
Behringer:
Well it's a tasteless attack and makes atheists look bad - and it's clearly meant to get a rise out of people. Is it me, or do atheists resort these attacks way, way, way more often than religious folks? I've always kinda wondered why. (What religious people do in other countries isn't really relevant here.)
12.1.2008 10:37pm
ARCraig (mail):
Smokey: Belief is an positive act. Atheism is simply the lack of it: Atheism is not believing in any supernatural entities.

Yeah, atheists might think there's no god, but that's not a belief. It's a rational analysis of the facts, not an act of faith which is by definition an irrational act- believing what's hard to believe.

Atheism is not a religion, it is a rejection of religion and the common foundation upon which all religions are built.
12.1.2008 10:38pm
ARCraig (mail):
Behringer-

You obviously haven't seen the vitriol that gets directed at the vaguest hint of irreligiousity in the political sphere.
12.1.2008 10:39pm
Unhealthy Skeptic (mail):
Behringer:

Why is it out-of-bounds to bring up faith-motivated attacks that have occurred abroad? After all, many faiths frame themselves in global terms.

I look forward to your answer.
12.1.2008 10:42pm
JamesInSeattle (mail):
Cornellian -

Join that with the Flying Spaghetti Monster - a monster carrying all the other symbols in its tentacles...

As a basically atheist Washingtonian, I'd vote (metaphorically) that the "Religion is but myth and superstition" mixed in with religious symbols is just weird. Surely a more fitting message could have been chosen. A tinsel-covered double helix?
12.1.2008 10:43pm
CaseyL (mail):
Well, atheism, being nondenominational and non-authoritarian, with no established dictates or doctrines, nor officials in funny robes and hats to create any, therefore has no agreed-upon symbols or sayings. That makes it difficult to come up with pithy, billboard-worthy slogans. The closest thing to one I've ever seen, which I like very much - "I don't need an invisible Sky Fairy to tell me what to do" - is a bit too confrontational.

That being said, if the local atheists were going to insist on equal time, they ought to have come up with something that was at least witty. "Religion is but myth and superstition" is a damp squibb of a public pronouncement. It neither entertains nor challenges the passerby.

We in the carpool talked about this today. I said a billboard of the "COEXIST" symbol-cum-bumper sticker would have been better, even though it's ecumenical rather than atheist.
12.1.2008 10:44pm
Brian K (mail):
Randy,

please don't feed the trolls. it will get you no where on this one. believe me, i know. people like smokey are immune to logic, reason and honesty.
12.1.2008 10:46pm
TerrencePhilip:
Behringer wrote: Well it's a tasteless attack and makes atheists look bad - and it's clearly meant to get a rise out of people. Is it me, or do atheists resort these attacks way, way, way more often than religious folks? I've always kinda wondered why. (What religious people do in other countries isn't really relevant here.)

In a country of 300 million people, where atheists could be between .4% and 10% of the population, and where they are considered by the majority to be "the most distrusted of minorities, more so than Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians, and other groups [and where] Many of the respondents associated atheism with immorality, including criminal behaviour, extreme materialism, and elitism"-- I'm going to suggest that if your question is simply who, numerically, does MORE obnoxious things to their disfavored group, it's the people in the overwhelming majority. How much that may factor into the number you hear about, pay attention to, or think significant, may influence your perception of "who does more bad things."
12.1.2008 10:49pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
To those who say Atheism is or is not "a religion:"

1) Are Buddhists atheists? Why or why not?

2) Are Taoists atheists? Why or why not?

Are all heathens godless?
12.1.2008 10:53pm
gasman (mail):

Smokey: "Atheism is itself a religion."

The real fear of theists is to have to think about the possibility that they are irrational. They really want to prove that everyone 'believes' in something in a non-mindful manner, and therefore belief (non-mindful) being universal is not something they have to consider in its whole for themselves. More than they want us to believe in the god thing, they want to prove that we believe something.
They simply cannot fathom that rejecting to believe on the basis of lack of evidence differs substantially from either believing without evidence, or believing despite evidence.

The other theist trap is the idea that atheists have no basis for which to form a moral view. The simple retort is to view what a man does when no one is looking. I behave in consistent moral manner when no one is there to see. Yet are theists any better overall? In their view someone is always looking over their shoulder, yet despite this, they don't seem to do any better at staying out of trouble than anyone else.
12.1.2008 10:54pm
roy:
Festive.
12.1.2008 10:57pm
David Schwartz (mail):
Randy, last I checked, atheists believe that there is no God.
Some do, but many don't. For example, a significant group of atheists believe that the notion of "god" is incomprehensible. So they are incapable of believing there is a god, but do not believe that either there is or is not a god.

To put their belief more precisely, they would argue that the ratbag assortment of incomprehensible properties theists attempt to assign to god (omnipotent, holy, timeless) do not amount to a sufficient description to make it possible to even determine what it would mean for god to exist or for god to not exist.
12.1.2008 10:58pm
one of many:
ARCraig, you are confusing what is usually termed agnosticism with atheism. Atheism, in religious terminology, is the affirmative belief that there is no divine being, and results in positive statements like "[r]eligion is but myth and superstition" instead of an agnostic (tentative?) statement like "religions might have things wrong". Agnosticism however is a rejection of faith based belief and refuses to commit itself to the existence or non-existence of the divine, something fundamentalists reject as being possible to know.

Atheism is based upon the unknowable, the non-existence of the divine and fundamentalist hate it when atheists try to confuse atheism with agnosticism. Can you prove that the divine does not exist? Can you prove that the foundation of all religions is false? Unless you can prove the non-existence of the divine then atheists are merely substituting faith based belief in the non-existence of the divine for faith based belief in the existence of the divine.
12.1.2008 10:59pm
jweaks (mail):
"...included in a holiday display..."

So what holiday is the atheist celebrating?
12.1.2008 11:04pm
Buddy (mail):
This is as lame as me putting up a poster extolling my lack of a second testicle.
12.1.2008 11:08pm
David Hecht (mail):
ISTM that--as others have suggested--if the atheists want to put up a sign on the public common, they should identify the festival they are celebrating and the day they are celebrating it.

That's what all the other religious beliefs are doing, after all: you don't see Christmas stuff up at Eastertide.

To shoulder your way into a display in which you are not a participant, and in which your only intent is to rain on someone else's parade just strikes me as rude.
12.1.2008 11:12pm
roy:
Under very strict definitions of proof and faith, I can have a faith-based belief that my lottery numbers will win, and a faith-based belief in the non-existence of unicorns. We can reasonably use the word "faith" to describe either belief, but that does mean it's useful to put them in the same category.
12.1.2008 11:12pm
David Warner:
one of many,

"Unless you can prove the non-existence of the divine then atheists are merely substituting faith based belief in the non-existence of the divine for faith based belief in the existence of the divine."

Not necessarily. They could just have come to the empirical conclusion that theism is inimical to that in which they do believe. The difficulty that atheists might encounter in attempting to present themselves more affirmatively is that these things in which they believe are so various.
12.1.2008 11:12pm
Behringer:
Unhealthy S., I don't think other countries are relevant primarily because they're just so different. A lot of those governments are theocracies that promote religion and punish everything else. OTOH, in America, both sides are more or less on equal footing. There's thus no reason for atheists to act like they often do, other than to piss religious people off. You don't see a problem with that?

ARCraig: fair enough, although in my experience atheists tend to be slightly more (unnecessarily) condescending and insulting. Richard Dawkins, e.g.
12.1.2008 11:15pm
Brian K (mail):
Can you prove that the foundation of all religions is false? Unless you can prove the non-existence of the divine then atheists are merely substituting faith based belief in the non-existence of the divine for faith based belief in the existence of the divine.

you have it backwards. it is not up to the atheists to disprove religion, it is up to the theists to prove their religion. those making affirmative statements bear the burden of proof. this is a common fallacy among those seeking to denigrate atheists.

all an atheist has to say is that "there is no proof that god exists, therefore he does not exist." it is the same line of thought that most people take with unicorns, magic and santa claus.
12.1.2008 11:16pm
David Warner:
Ilya Somin,

"But support for humanism and space exploration is consistent with believing in God."

As is support for Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Contradiction is a necessary but not sufficient condition for distinctive traditions and thus plural displays.
12.1.2008 11:17pm
Smokey:
ARCraig:
Smokey: Belief is an positive act. Atheism is simply the lack of it: Atheism is not believing in any supernatural entities.
Not believing = believing. Is that so difficult for you to understand?

gasman: Belief entails faith, not your 'evidence.' Sorry you don't understand that.

Paul of Tarsus didn't understand it either -- until the scales fell from his eyes on the road to Damascus.

Atheists should recall Hamlet: "There are more things under Heaven and Earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy."

Word up.
12.1.2008 11:17pm
David Warner:
gasman,

Arational does not equal unmindful. The mind does not only operate in rational ways. Then again its a little dicey to question the rationality of a religion which calls its Savior "the logos".
12.1.2008 11:19pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
I think an FSM juggling presents, with a Santa's hat on his head would be neat.

Or maybe cut a deal with Tim Burton to use the image of Jack Skellington in his Santa's hat.

"In your face" is always perceived as aggressive and insulting, so it rarely makes for effective PR or persuasion.
12.1.2008 11:20pm
Bruce:
I don't understand why they couldn't have just put up a sign that said "Peace and good will -- Happy Holidays from your local atheists"
12.1.2008 11:22pm
Brian K (mail):
I don't understand why they couldn't have just put up a sign that said "Peace and good will -- Happy Holidays from your local atheists"

i don't understand why people have to stand on street corners and tell me that jesus died for my sins and if i don't repent i'm going to hell. so i guess we're even.
12.1.2008 11:29pm
Gregory Conen (mail):
That is kind of tasteless, and counterproductive. There are any number of more effective and less offensive signs that could have been put up.

Even if you want to be aggressive, you could do something like: "Celebrating another year of loving my neighbor because of who they are, not because of a line from a book."
12.1.2008 11:31pm
Syd Henderson (mail):
Gilbert (mail):
What display do you imagine agnostics would want to put up?


A six-foot-tall question mark.


Buddy (mail):
This is as lame as me putting up a poster extolling my lack of a second testicle.


You'd have to wait for Valentine's Day.
12.1.2008 11:37pm
DangerMouse:
those making affirmative statements bear the burden of proof. this is a common fallacy among those seeking to denigrate atheists.

Those making affirmative statements bear the burden of proof? Guess who's making the affirmative statement at issue here? Who's the one saying: "Religion is but myth and superstition." As I said earlier, they're the ones making the argument.

I think it's fair to say that atheism is a belief. It's a really stupid complaint to assert that one's entire philosophy, which can't be proven either way, isn't something like a religion. It certainly is. And it's a really stupid thing to assert that ONLY religion has to prove itself. Heck, I think religion's done a fine job of proving itself. Paul didn't travel the world for his health, after all.
12.1.2008 11:39pm
Brian K (mail):
Guess who's making the affirmative statement at issue here?

go look up the definition of myth and superstition. then go reread my post.


Heck, I think religion's done a fine job of proving itself.

i'd love to see some of this proof. a story in the bible doesn't exactly count...you can't prove something by referencing that which you are trying to prove. seriously, did no one teach you this stuff?

by the way, when are you going to prove that you don't beat your wife? or rape kids? i'll wait patiently by my computer.
12.1.2008 11:50pm
Hey Skipper (mail) (www):

Atheism is itself a religion.


Just like not collecting stamps is a hobby.

English really needs some new words in its vocabulary, as atheist cannot capture everything piled upon it: the existence of God, and the instantiation of that existence in a specific religion.

With regard to the existence of God, one may be a deist, agnostic, or, (my made up word) adeist: there is a god; the question is unanswerable (the stance of a dunnoist, also my made up word); there is no God.

With regard to religion one may be a theist or an atheist: there is a theology that is objectively or subjectively true; there is no theology that is objectively or subjectively true.

By objectively true, I mean that one is both a Deist, and a Theist. That is, one is certain God exists, and that God endorses a specific religion.

By subjectively true, one is either a Dunnoist, or an Adeist, but believes in the importance of a specific religion to a society. The religion may be a complete concoction, but necessary nonetheless.

It is worth nothing that essentially all theists are atheists who suspend skepticism at their own church's door.

Unfortunately, the "atheist" is tossed at very Cartesian cross-product of the variations on hand.

Of course, when, say Christians put up their creches, they are stating that every other religious belief is wrong.

That is true for every religion: every mosque is a statement that all churches and temples are complete errors.

Atheism is a religious belief (while not being a religion) that is making a statement about all other religious beliefs. It just takes them one religion further.

So, why should an atheist sign should be any more offensive to a non-atheist than a creche is to non-Christians?
12.1.2008 11:56pm
ARCraig (mail):
No, I can't prove there is no God. I can't prove there is no herd of magical unicorns orbiting Jupiter, either. The idea that there is no intelligent overmind-creator-controller of the universe is "unprovable" as any number of other rrandom assertions that we all know are absurd.

Atheist and Agnostic answer two different questions. Atheist/Theist is a binary choice- either you believe in some kind of deity or not. Whether you think you know or can prove the existence of the deity is beside the point, that's what "Agnostic" answers (though "Gnostic" has a different meaning for historical reasons).
12.1.2008 11:57pm
Barry P. (mail):
Atheism is itself a religion

And not collecting stamps is itself a hobby.
12.2.2008 12:00am
FoolsMate:
I guess I too will weigh in on this pointless argument over whether or not atheism is a belief...It certainly can be but not necessarily. It is certainly possible to lack theistic belief without consciously rejecting it. Infants are atheists of this flavor (whatever that's worth). Some adults, too, are non-theists who are undecided or open-minded as to the existence of the supernatural, if presented with credible proof.
12.2.2008 12:08am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
BrianK:

Look up the original (pre-Sophist) meaning of "Myth" and then re-read your post. Also, while you are at it, check out a copy of F. M. Cornford's classic work "From Religion to Philosophy" at your local library.
12.2.2008 12:11am
ARCraig (mail):
People who are "non-theists who are undecided or open-minded as to the existence of the supernatural, if presented with credible proof." are atheists, plain and simple. They have decided that the balance of the evidence before them is against the existence of the supernatural.
12.2.2008 12:14am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
I know this may not be "super-nice" so I may need to leave this blog but.... ;-)

Actually, regarding modern secular humanism, my own view is that it is nothing more than Christianity without God. In other words, it is a fully secularized version of Christian doctrine. This came out of the 17th century as a rebellion against scholasticism. In this sense it is a religion.

This sign strikes me as the same sort of attention-getting tactics as one sees with the crazy street-corner preachers holding "The End is Near" signs.

Me? I have more or less left the Abrahamic tradition for good. My beliefs about morality are somewhat further apart from the Secular Humanists and the Christians than they are from eachother.

BTW, secularizing religion is nothing new. F. M. Cornford convincingly showed in 1912 that the main Greek philosophical trends all originated in Greek religion.
12.2.2008 12:20am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Barry K Wrote:

i don't understand why people have to stand on street corners and tell me that jesus died for my sins and if i don't repent i'm going to hell. so i guess we're even.


Is that really the association you want?
12.2.2008 12:25am
FoolsMate:
ARCraig, I concur that they are atheists since they exhibit the absence of belief in the supernatural, but it's far from clear that such a one must have decided on the question at hand. For example, they may conclude there is not enough evidence to decide the issue. Or, they may not care one way or the other.
12.2.2008 12:29am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
ARCraig:

Then there are agnostics, who understand that solid and proof of the divine is beyond any reasonable epistemological model we have to work with and therefore neither affirmative nor negative statements have any real value.

Me? I more-or-less am a polytheist with pantheistic tendencies, and an understanding of the problem which makes me both an agnostic and a gnostic ;-)
12.2.2008 12:48am
jweaks (mail):
There are anti-theists as well... which I suppose could be described as militant atheists. The chap with the sign could fall into this category. -jw
12.2.2008 12:50am
Dave534 (mail):
I would suggest that the fools who do such things in the name of atheism are anything but athiests. The fact is that religious symbolism of any kind would not "offend" an athiest any more than a Bus Stop sign. Religious symbols neither inspire actual athiests nor offend—they're neutral, meaningless and benign. Hang your crosses and stars and crescents and Flying Spaghetti Monsters or whatever anywhere you want for all most athiests care. But, like any group, there are always vocal fringe elements that, of course, come to represent the whole.
12.2.2008 1:00am
Rosooki:
As an atheist who grew up in a strict protestant home, I can say that for me atheism is something like what has already been said above - it is not so much about the (non) existence of god as it is a rejection of the idea that god can stand as a sufficient answer to any real question.

Either my car stops when I hit the brakes because of friction between the disc and the brake pad, or it stops because god made it stop. Throughout my life I have found the second answer to be entirely meaningless at best and pernicious at worst. "God made the car stop." Now what? Or the car didn't stop not because the brakes were malfunctioning, but because god let them fail.

Every question of this type has two answers - the real one and one with god in it somewhere. Theists seem to talk a lot about the answers with god in them, but when the question really matters, really matters, no one is ever satisfied with that sort of answer.

Yes, the laws of physics and god can coexist. That's fine but it is also makes god irrelevant. Atheism is then less about believing that god does not exist and more about believing that so long as the laws of physics DO exist, whether god exists or not doesn't matter.

Real answers allow us to ask another question and predict with reasonable certainty the answer. Real answers give understanding.
12.2.2008 1:05am
sobi:
It seems to me that the problem lies in the nature of the displays which are, at core, recruitment. I am an atheist and am tired of religious bombardment and the constant war to slip religion into government. If a group of atheists struck back, so what? There's a lot of room before the score board can mark atheists as the aggressors in the propaganda campaign regarding faith.
12.2.2008 1:16am
sobi:
They did make a mistake though. All they should have said was "Atheism is smarter." Best recruitment, sums up the argument.
12.2.2008 1:18am
Randy R. (mail):
"Every question of this type has two answers - the real one and one with god in it somewhere. Theists seem to talk a lot about the answers with god in them,"

Recently, some legislator wants to insert language in a bill that would credit God for protecting the US from terrorist attacks.

That's all well and good. So can we blame God for when terrorist attacks occur? Like in Mumbai? Why is it that all good things happening are credited to God, but when bad things happen, no one blames him/her?
12.2.2008 1:20am
Cornellian (mail):
That's all well and good. So can we blame God for when terrorist attacks occur? Like in Mumbai? Why is it that all good things happening are credited to God, but when bad things happen, no one blames him/her?

As they say, nice work if you can get it.

When a plane crashes and 200 passengers die, but 1 survives, people say it's a miracle he survived. But if a plane crashes, one passenger dies and 200 survive, they don't say it's a miracle that the guy died.
12.2.2008 1:34am
Matteo (mail) (www):
"i don't understand why people have to stand on street corners and tell me that jesus died for my sins and if i don't repent i'm going to hell. so i guess we're even."

Well, one possible motivating reason would be that Jesus died for your sins, and if you don't repent you're going to Hell. If such were the case would you want people to not tell you?

What's the urgent atheist message? "If you repent your sins before undergoing personal annihilation at death, then you're a sucker and the rest of the annihilated dead will laugh at you and call you a loser?" Will the annihilated atheist hold an eternal grudge against all of the Christians who bugged him during life? Should we all embrace atheism, so that in our annihilated eternities, we will not suffer the embarrassment and shame of disapprobation from all of the annihilated atheists?

Why would any being whose ultimate fate is absolute nothingness give a rip about what an atheist has to say about anything?

Ironically, it is precisely to the extent that atheism is true that it is utterly unimportant and may be safely ignored.

Theism, not so much.
12.2.2008 1:47am
epeeist:
I've worked with and had as friends a few "open" (publicly stated their belief or lack thereof) atheists/agnostics and we had no problems getting along because we didn't act like a**holes (and they, and other non-Christian friends, wished me a Merry Christmas and didn't blow a gasket if I did likewise to them). I find it ridiculous that it's a "holiday tree" (not a "Christmas tree") to begin with (though there is a Nativity scene based on an earlier lawsuit following a Menorah being permitted which isn't there this year, etc.). Maybe they'll start calling the Nativity scene a secular "tribute to families" which will lead to competing displays with different types of family units...

I would argue there's a difference between a display or symbol indicative of (or arguably supportive of) a particular religion (a Menorah, a Nativity scene, a Christmas tree etc.) vs. one which denigrates adherents of other religions (as this sign does of all adherents of other religions, except for believers in atheism).

I know there are big problems with non-content-neutral restrictions, but still, if you allow this sign "promoting" atheism (I doubt it does so, it suggest atheist=a**hole and so arguably should be supported by any believer in God as bringing more people to reject atheism...), then it seems displays denigrating other religions or specific ones should be allowed, as the original post suggested.
12.2.2008 2:07am
Randy R. (mail):
Matteo: "Theism, not so much."

if there were just one religion in the world, your argument might make sense. But there are thousands. Many of them don't consider Jesus to be anything at all. So why didn't you reference Hinduism, with it's various gods and goddesses? If it's true that it's important to know the message, then you better high tail it on to India and learn what the Hindu gods have in store for you if you don't worship them correctly! Wouldn't you want to know that, so as to avoid eternal damnation? What happens if you don't conver to Mormonism? Or pentacostalism? Or Calvinism? There are dozens of tribal religions that require certain sacrifices for the gods, or else they will be angry. Wouldln't you want to know about them as well?

You'll need to cover all your bases, because how do you know which religion is the correct one? They all claim that, but what's the yardstick for measuring their accurateness? Unless you know something that no one else does, I wouldn't ignore all those other religions if I were you
12.2.2008 2:07am
epeeist:
Brief addendum, something like a sign saying "It's okay not to believe" or "If you have doubts, call us" or whatever are two examples that spring to mind of signs that might promote atheism without denigrating other religions. For all I know one of those phrases might be one of the ones I read about being used on buses in the UK.
12.2.2008 2:09am
Guest12345:
Yes, the laws of physics and god can coexist. That's fine but it is also makes god irrelevant. Atheism is then less about believing that god does not exist and more about believing that so long as the laws of physics DO exist, whether god exists or not doesn't matter.


Except the laws of physics don't exist. They're just an attempt by human beings to describe the universe. And so far humans have been 100% wrong every single time.

Real answers allow us to ask another question and predict with reasonable certainty the answer. Real answers give understanding.


The only thing physics allows you to do is say "this is how it's always happened before, so I'm going to go with it." It's the smart bet imo, but it does not explain anything. At the root of physics is belief in the unexplainable. There isn't a physicist alive who can tell you the cause of any of the four fundamental forces.

Randy:
Please elaborate. Can you direct me to a statement of their beliefs? What are their religious practices? Are they organized, and if so, do they have IRS non profit status? Are there atheistic ceremonies that are conducted?


This particular group of atheists is organized, they do have a statement of their beliefs. They are tax exempt. And reading through their website briefly they don't seem to provide any rational, scientific, provable basis for their morality. And their nice little monument might be a wonderful place for someone to put up a cross. It'd also be nice if their dedication poem was a little more grounded in reality and acknowledge the millions of people killed in the last hundred years in the name of secularism.

------

Put me down as another atheist who finds this sign offensive. I see the behavior of these nut cases to be indistinguishable from that of Fred Phelps.
12.2.2008 2:15am
trad and anon (mail):
As an atheist, I agree that this is obnoxious and in very poor taste. It's not a good way to promote atheism, and probably does the reverse. I vote for Bruce's suggestion for something bland and cheery, though I would pick a more traditional-sounding wording like "Peace on Earth, Goodwill Towards Men--Merry Christmas from your local atheists."
12.2.2008 2:22am
Rosooki:
Matteo, There is no one urgent atheist message. There are many. None of them have anything to do with sin, repentance, or annihilation. I nominate the following as potential samples.

Reject fundamentalism and revealed truth.

Live life like life is precious. Not like the afterlife is precious. (too bad the terrorists in Mumbai didn't read this one first)

Hope is not a method. Faith is not a plan.

Do the right things only because they are the right things.

Your post points to the problem at hand. If there's no heaven we shouldn't "give a rip" about anything? If there is no eternal reward or punishment then right and wrong can be "safely ignored"? It is the mindset of a child and it is this type of simplistic thinking that scares atheists.
12.2.2008 2:24am
eyesay:
Ilya Somin wrote, "An atheist sign proclaiming that 'Religion is but myth and superstition' has been included in a holiday display on public property in Olympia, Washington." (The article he linked to said, "The sign reads, 'Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.'")

The words "is but" I take to be short for "is nothing but."

Religion is not nothing but myth and superstition. Most religions, in addition myth and superstition, include instructions or commandments or codes of behavior. The Jewish scholar Hillel condensed these commandments to the maxim "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor."

While some hearts may be hardened by religion, other hearts may be softened by religion. Or, the heart-hardening may be in the form of cour-age (literally, heart-ness) that gives its possessor the strength to stand up for a good cause. Notably, many of the leaders of the civil rights movement in the United States, as well as the earlier movement to abolish slavery, found their courage in religion.

I believe the sign is both factually incorrect and unhelpful to the atheist cause.
12.2.2008 2:29am
BRM:
"I am a false prophet! God is a superstition!"
12.2.2008 2:36am
Rosooki:
The only thing physics allows you to do is say "this is how it's always happened before, so I'm going to go with it." It's the smart bet imo, but it does not explain anything. At the root of physics is belief in the unexplainable. There isn't a physicist alive who can tell you the cause of any of the four fundamental forces.

Not exactly. The laws of physics are laws in so far as they allow us to predict behavior - not useful only in hindsight. If a prediction is wrong, we have to retest or rethink something we based the prediction on. So long as predictions hold true (every time), the assumptions underlying them are sufficient as an explanation of the phenomenon. Things are only unexplainable at the very bottom, and whether or not you can wrap your brain around them is not an issue so long as they produce the required result.

The type of 'explanation' you are referring to is meaningless. There is no such knowledge that would satisfy your definition of an explanation. Certainly not religious revelation. Scientific theories of fundamental things like the four forces are not equatable in any way with 'faith'.

You may find brake pads and discs and god as equally valid explanations for why your car stops but I doubt you live your life like it.
12.2.2008 2:40am
Cardozo'd (www):
I love that this is complained of as offensive...

Meanwhile I drive by a church and on its sign has something to the effect that non believers go to hell, or come in or burn in hell, or repent or burn or something like that.

Personally I am of the opinion that public places should have no mention of religion at all, that way nobody is upset...then you can do as you please on private property.

Thats just the point, how can someone tell me the religion I just made up this second is any less "good" than any other religion. There is as much evidence for Timboism (my name is Tim) as there is for other religions. I have just as much faith as you do in yours. But I don't get a banner - you know why, because it's silly, but logically it makes as much sense as yours. Take em all down and hang what you want on your house/church.

However, the atheists here are just provoking. Saying something like Have a good Winter Solstice or Enjoy the Winter would suffice. Though I'm an agnostic...I guess mine would be Happy Holidays - which I guess is the agnostic sign.
12.2.2008 2:54am
Hei Lun Chan (mail) (www):
They should have put up a Festivus pole instead.
12.2.2008 5:52am
Malvolio:
There definitely seem to be two strains of atheism out there.

The first strain is a guy looking around and saying to himself, "I don't see any reason to believe in God and so I don't. Nice day though."

The other is a guy running up to strangers, seizing them by the lapels, and screaming, "There is no God! If you believe in God, you're going to go to Hell! No, wait.."

My guess is 99% of all atheists are the first sort, but you can see why the other 1% gets the attention.
12.2.2008 6:05am
quadrumanous (mail):
As an atheist I've found that any outright denial of god leads to a nonscientific chat about what terms like Truth and Certainty mean.

I prefer instead to say that there are many gods. This elicits a far stronger reaction. Now you're playing their game in terms of silly terminology.

If you want to really get a reaction then just claim that God aka yahweh and satan and any other supernatural being are all gods with full legal status as divine beings. A second tier god is still a god. Diversity in Divinity as they say.

So I would love to put up a sign there that reads
"ONE NATION UNDER ALL GODS"
12.2.2008 6:06am
quadrumanous (mail):
As an atheist I've found that any outright denial of god leads to a nonscientific chat about what terms like Truth and Certainty mean.

I prefer instead to say that there are many gods. This elicits a far stronger reaction. Now you're playing their game in terms of silly terminology.

If you want to really get a reaction then just claim that God aka yahweh and satan and any other supernatural being are all gods with full legal status as divine beings. A second tier god is still a god. Diversity in Divinity as they say.

So I would love to put up a sign there that reads
"ONE NATION UNDER ALL GODS"
12.2.2008 6:06am
quadrumanous (mail):
As an atheist I've found that any outright denial of god leads to a nonscientific chat about what terms like Truth and Certainty mean.

I prefer instead to say that there are many gods. This elicits a far stronger reaction. Now you're playing their game in terms of silly terminology.

If you want to really get a reaction then just claim that God aka yahweh and satan and any other supernatural being are all gods with full legal status as divine beings. A second tier god is still a god. Diversity in Divinity as they say.

So I would love to put up a sign there that reads
"ONE NATION UNDER ALL GODS"
12.2.2008 6:07am
quadrumanous (mail):
sorry please delete those repeat posts
12.2.2008 6:09am
Mike S.:
What is the purpose of the athiests' sign?

If it is to recruit more atheists, it is so poorly suited to the task it would be offensively stupid.

It does not seem to be celebrating a holiday or attempting to cheer anyone up.

I have a hard time imagining that the sign offers any inspiration to atheists. As a religious believer I would certainly draw no inspiration from a sign that read "Atheism is hyper-rationalist arrogance."

That would seem to leave the purpose of the sign as offering a gratuitous insult to religious believers. While that is certainly permissible, it is generally regarded as impolite to offer gratuitous insults to others.
12.2.2008 7:01am
David Warner:
Rosooki,

"Theists seem to talk a lot about the answers with god in them, but when the question really matters, really matters, no one is ever satisfied with that sort of answer."

And what am I, chopped liver? That statement is so ahistorical it hurts.
12.2.2008 7:22am
Pete Freans (mail):
I don't object if theists are allowed to put up creches, menorahs, and so forth on public property so long as agnostics, atheists, and others are accorded similar privileges.

Now that's funny...say, a nativity scene with a menorah next to Joseph and Mary (which probably is historically correct), with a handwritten atheist sign on manger wall, which is adjacent to a Sufi symbol, and Santa Claus lovingly watching over the baby Jesus...one of the many absurd consequences of the 1st Amendment.

Is there not an atheist day where atheists can celebrate the infinite nothingness of it all?
12.2.2008 8:17am
Ryan Waxx (mail):
There are several commenters here engaged in a dishonest shell game.

They fight hard to include those who merely do not believe that there is proof that god exists in the definition of "atheist", to stand alongside those who actively hold an affirmative belief that deities do not exist.

One isn't left long to wonder why that inclusion is important to them, as they immediately use that expanded definition to "prove" that atheists aren't merely 'believers' in an equally-unprovable thing.

Then they pretend that this is relevant to a sign reading "Religion is but myth and superstition", which clearly belongs to the atheist-believer camp.

Thus their response to criticism is mere word games, and if they have anything other then that, they sure haven't shown it.
12.2.2008 8:35am
AntonK (mail):

"I'm not convinced that this sign is a good way to promote atheism."
No convinced, eh Ilya? Well, let me fill you in on something: this sign has nothing to do with atheism, and everything to do with juvenile antagonism. That is why it's offensive, the content of the message has nothing to do with it.
12.2.2008 8:45am
Horatio (mail):
"God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent - it says so right here on the label. If you have a mind capable of believing all three of these attributes simultaneously, I have a wonderful bargain for you. No checks, please. Cash and in small bills."

"History does not record anywhere at any time a religion that has any rational basis. Religion is a crutch for people not strong enough to stand up to the unknown without help. But, like dandruff, most people do have a religion and spend time and money on it and seem to derive considerable pleasure from fiddling with it. "

--Robert Heinlein, Notebooks of Lazarus Long
12.2.2008 8:45am
Horatio (mail):
And of course....

"The most ridiculous concept ever perpetrated by H.Sapiens is that the Lord God of Creation, Shaper and Ruler of the Universes, wants the sacharrine adoration of his creations, that he can be persuaded by their prayers, and becomes petulant if he does not recieve this flattery. Yet this ridiculous notion, without one real shred of evidence to bolster it, has gone on to found one of the oldest, largest and least productive industries in history"
12.2.2008 8:50am
Sarcastro (www):
Atheists are fine, as long as they don't get all evangelical about it!
12.2.2008 8:54am
ray_g:
Well, I'm a long time atheist, and I'll tell you what I believe, quoting AntonK "...this sign has nothing to do with atheism, and everything to do with juvenile antagonism..."

And I wish they would stop.

Through personal experience I have found that it is far more effective to lead by example than to confront. I become militant only when confronted by militancy (for example, some of the "born again" Christians I met in college,)

As far as Christmas goes, it may surprise the theists among you that I wish Christmas in the USA would head back to its religious roots. The commercialization and secular rituals are far more annoying and intrusive on my life than the religious aspects.

Now, for my answer to Matteo's question, "What's the urgent atheist message?"

My message would be - "Don't live your life in fear of things for which there is no evidence of existence, be it gods, monsters, ghosts, Y2K glitches or whatever. And don't give money or political power to those who offer you something in the name of, or protection against, those things, without a lot of thought and something tangible to back up what they are claiming."

A bit too long for a bumper sticker or a sign, I'm afraid.

And if you say to me "Merry Christmas" I'll smile and respond with something like "and the same to you", because while I may not share your beliefs, I can appreciate and acknowledge the sentiment. I figure it is a two for one - tolerance and courtesy. That's sort of like "Peace on Earth, good will toward men", I think.
12.2.2008 10:15am
ruralcounsel (mail):
The message has nothing to do with the seasonal celebration ... and so it is out of sorts. It's as if the Catholic Christmas sign said something about burning witches instead of something about Christmas as the Catholics understand it.

One should be able to be an atheist/agnostic/pagan and still have something nice and positive to say about one's community during the "holiday" season without deliberately attacking their beliefs. Or does being an athiest mean being an antisocial grinch and sourpuss?

I have no problem with the atheists being given a spot for their sign, but they should have the good grace to use it for the intended purpose, and not to just throw verbal 'sticks and stones' at their "competitors".
12.2.2008 10:32am
Ben P:

As a basically atheist Washingtonian, I'd vote (metaphorically) that the "Religion is but myth and superstition" mixed in with religious symbols is just weird. Surely a more fitting message could have been chosen. A tinsel-covered double helix?


What in the world is a Santa Claus? Oh sure, it has Christian "origins" but the Santa Claus of today is a de facto secular symbol completely all but detached from whatever christian roots it once had.

If even the idea of a secular "Xmas" is too much for a militant Athiest, why not a sign that says "Buy gifts for people because we have to help the economy?" I think most would get a chuckle out of that. Likewise if it was a Flying Spaghetti monster wearing a santa hat or with gifts.

Some people, religious and athiest, just spend too much of their lives angry at something. I think it's a waste.
12.2.2008 10:45am
David Schwartz (mail):
One isn't left long to wonder why that inclusion is important to them, as they immediately use that expanded definition to "prove" that atheists aren't merely 'believers' in an equally-unprovable thing.
As opposed to you, who must equate a belief that there are no invisible magic elves with a belief that there are invisible magic elves to "prove" that atheists are just as foolish as theists.

When no evidence supports a theory and massive amounts of available evidence contradict a theory, it not equally unsupportable to believe that the theory is false as it is to believe that the theory is true. In fact, this justifies believing that the theory is false.
12.2.2008 10:51am
D Lacey (mail):
Atheists who get annoyed when someone wishes them Merry Christmas and take it as aggressive evangelism are as annoying as Christians who get upset when someone wishes them Happy Holidays and take it as a 'war against christmas' - the chips on their shoulders are visible from outer space.

Atheism is not a "religion" in the same way that religion is not a "superstition" - both are ways of attacking. Peace and goodwill can be had by all and should be - this time of year and every other time of year - but aren't because people can be numskulls.
12.2.2008 11:14am
james (mail):
Smokey: You are making an inductive reasoning error.

All Religions are made up of beliefs.
Atheism is a belief.
Therefore atheism is a religion.

The use of beliefs is not exclusive enough. As in the following example:

All apples are fruits.
A pear is a fruit.
Therefore a pear is an apple.

The argument that Atheism is a religion gains strength as Atheists start acting more like members of a religion. Proselytizing and demanding equal space in an area set aside specifically for Religious speech being two examples.
12.2.2008 11:24am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Rosooki wrote:

Not exactly. The laws of physics are laws in so far as they allow us to predict behavior - not useful only in hindsight. If a prediction is wrong, we have to retest or rethink something we based the prediction on. So long as predictions hold true (every time), the assumptions underlying them are sufficient as an explanation of the phenomenon. Things are only unexplainable at the very bottom, and whether or not you can wrap your brain around them is not an issue so long as they produce the required result.


As far as the laws of physics go, this is correct. However, you might find Werner Heisenberg's Physics and Philosophy quite interesting. In part, based on Heisenberg's thoughts I have concluded that there is a fundamentally symbiotic relationship between non-scientific philosophy (and for that matter theology) and science, and that science cannot survive without the other.

Who was the first one to tell us that all matter was made up of energy? Hint: More than two thousand years before Einstein.....
12.2.2008 11:36am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Guest12345:

Except the laws of physics don't exist. They're just an attempt by human beings to describe the universe. And so far humans have been 100% wrong every single time.


That isn't much of a case for religion there, however.

The fact is that the laws of physics are not simply attempts by human beings to describe the universe. Werner Heisenberg (the one who came up with Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle) placed the process much closer to the attempt to project meaning onto the universe, insofar as data does not really imply theory (theory is what you get when you project your own ideas onto the data). In this regard the basic process is fundamentally in common with religious thought, though the structure of inquiry may be different.
12.2.2008 11:41am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
BTW, the problem with defining atheism as "a religion" is that it is sort of like defining "monotheism" or "polytheism" as a religion. It is a category of religious thought but doesn't really tell you anything about it.

Many Buddhists are atheists, but some are not. Some Taoists are pantheists, others are atheists. Hence atheism is an approach to religion rather than a religion in itself. Many world religions may accept atheists as members. I am not even sure it would be fundamentally impossible to be a Hindu and an atheist at the same time.

It isn't a matter that "not collecting stamps is a hobby" in the sense that no atheists have religion, but rather that atheism is an approach to one (and only one) religious question-- the existance and nature of the divine. As I have said, in the Modern, Western world, secular humanism is just a secularized form of Christian humanism.
12.2.2008 11:49am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Ben P:

If even the idea of a secular "Xmas" is too much for a militant Athiest, why not a sign that says "Buy gifts for people because we have to help the economy?"


Actually the tradition of splurging for Yule goes way back to Heathen Northern Europe. The idea was that splurging with the best things one has saved up will bring prosperity in the new year. So as one who follows and seeks to be like Odin, I see this sort of thing as a religious duty ;-)
12.2.2008 11:57am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
James in Seattle wrote:

Join that with the Flying Spaghetti Monster - a monster carrying all the other symbols in its tentacles...


Well, some of us know the Flying Spaghetti Monster's true identity.....
12.2.2008 12:00pm
Floridan:
Slobiously: "Who gets to pick what goes up for the atheists? The local branch of NAMBLA?"

I think NAMBLA is more likely to be picking the sign for the U.S. Catholic Church.
12.2.2008 12:13pm
AndrewK (mail):
The discussion of whether atheism is or is not a religion misses the point. The statement "religion is but myth and superstition" is a religious statement.

I'm curious how far this inclusiveness goes. Starting with the least absurd (in my opinion) and moving towards the most absurd (in terms of permitting these on public property), how can we, in principle, distinguish between permitting the following:

(1) Merry Christmass!
(2) Jesus is the reason for the season
(3) Allah wishes you a happy new year
(4) Xenu wishes you a happy new year
(5) There is no god
(6) The flying spaghetti monster wishes you a joyous holiday season
(7) Chocolate cake is the best kind of cake

This is mostly directed at Somin: which of these should be permitted on public grounds, and which (if any) excluded? Are these distinguished by the critical mass of adherents? I can't see any semantic difference, except that (1) expresses an intention of the author and (7) could be (implausibly) written off as a different kind of pre-rational belief.
12.2.2008 12:30pm
AndrewK (mail):
To clarify, my question is, which ought to be permitted (must be permitted), and which might be excluded as a matter of (some form of) official discretion?
12.2.2008 12:33pm
lonetown (mail):
Clearly the sign is a finger in the eye to religion.

This is why Muslims are so instransigent, they know there is no reasoning with the other.

There can be no joy in Mudville. Every act5 is a political act. Just hope the Christians don't go all fundamentalist on you.
12.2.2008 12:36pm
DangerMouse:
Regarding holiday displays in general, I think Santa Claus is almost entirely secular. He's a manifestation of consumerist culture and has no longer has anything to do with the religious aspects of Christmas. The real St. Nicholas would be appalled.
12.2.2008 12:36pm
Matteo (mail) (www):
Randy,

Your attitude seems to be, "Gosh there are so many religions and they can't all be right! So what's the use in even trying to figure it all out?" A great moment in intellectual bravery! No other field of intellectual endeavor would accept this attitude as a ground rule.

And, for the record, I have, in fact been to India, and for the specific purpose of conducting such a quest. I thought I'd find the answer there, but as it turned out, my trip around the world instead led me to Catholicism.

If atheism is true, what is the atheist's ultimate reward for being correct? Nothing whatsoever. What is the theist's cost for being wrong? Nothing whatsoever. Even if the atheist is 99.999% probable of being correct, his reward is zero.

The math on the other side: If Christian theism is true, what is the theist's ultimate reward for being correct? Everything. What is the atheist's ultimate cost for being wrong? Everything.

Pascal's Wager is not a proof of anything. However, it is an encouragement to be prudent in placing the benefit of the doubt. Atheist arguments seem pretty good as long as you've already assumed atheism. Assume theism as far as giving it the benefit of the doubt, and things look starkly different. Such being the case, where would a spiritually sane person place his bets?
12.2.2008 12:37pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
The problem is that the atheists' message is negative: 'Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.' The other groups are celebrating what they believe in, not criticizing others' beliefs.

The closest parallel would be a banner over the creche reading, "Jews are retards for rejecting Christ."
12.2.2008 12:38pm
Bryan C (mail):
The most obnoxious of atheists are uncannily like the most obnoxious of Christians. Anxious to advertise their righteous superiority at every opportunity. People don't appreciate that approach any more than God does:

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank Thee that I am not like other men--extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess'.

But the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18.10-14)


I can't agree with Smokey's tone, but I think his point is sound. "Religion" does not require a church, a holy book, or belief in a deity. Atheism is one religious belief system which, in common with certain other such systems, asserts that no deities exist. Welcome aboard. Feel free to mingle with the other passengers.

FWIW, I don't think agnostics should be automatically lumped in with atheists. They may self-identify as atheists, or maybe not. That's up to them.
12.2.2008 1:01pm
David Schwartz (mail):
Matteo: You can't be serious. What if there is a god, but he only admits people into heaven if they wear green hats more often than not? Do you wear green hats? What if he excludes those who wear green hats?

It is absolutely sheer insanity, as well as a psychological impossibility, to decide what one will believe by this kind of reasoning. One can, however, attempt to rationalize one's beliefs this way.
12.2.2008 1:48pm
The Oracle of Syracuse:
I'm surprised no one has noticed that the link has a picture of the sign, which is much longer than Ilya's quote. In its entirety, the sign reads:

There are no gods,
no devils, no angels,
no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world.
Religion is but
myth and superstition
that hardens hearts
and enslaves minds.
12.2.2008 2:07pm
bearing (mail) (www):

"The real fear of theists is to have to think about the possibility that they are irrational. They really want to prove that everyone 'believes' in something in a non-mindful manner, and therefore belief (non-mindful) being universal is not something they have to consider in its whole for themselves."


If there is variety among atheists and among agnostics, then surely one has to accept that there is also variety among theists.

F'rinstance, you'll find plenty of theists who would rather prove that everyone believes in something in a quite explicitly mindful manner.
12.2.2008 2:16pm
roy:
Matteo,

Your argument only holds if you assign absolutely no value to truth, outside of what it can get you in practical terms. That's not absurd, but I don't think it's typical. It's especially questionable in the context of a bunch of people arguing over what's true and what's not.

I will never visit Pluto, but I think knowing Pluto exists is better than not knowing, and knowing Pluto to be lifeless is better than mistakenly believing it to be bountiful. With some hand waving to allow for being mistaken. I think my valuation on these points is pretty ordinary, even among those who will also not visit Pluto.

Moreoever, there is practical value in believing atheism, in the joy of using your mind and being true to your self. We might disagree whether this is "a sense of accomplishment" or "smugness", but it feels good and that's of benefit. Some people do academic work in pursuit of the same benefit; is it irrational for a person to study a subject he doesn't expect to apply in life? I once read a book about the history of salt taxation in India; was that wrong? I do not, btw, mean to suggest that theists do not use their minds.

Shorter: truth is its own reward, and falsehood is its own cost.
12.2.2008 2:21pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):

Regarding holiday displays in general, I think Santa Claus is almost entirely secular. He's a manifestation of consumerist culture and has no longer has anything to do with the religious aspects of Christmas. The real St. Nicholas would be appalled.


Ever wonder why Christmas was placed on the calendar to coincide with Saturnalia, Yule, and the birth of Mithra?
12.2.2008 2:23pm
whit:

Randy, last I checked, atheists believe that there is no God.



for pete's sake. we have this frigging discussion over and over again. the same points get hashed over.

google it.

atheism is a religion (specifically strong atheism).

weak atheism is not, nor is agnosticism.
12.2.2008 2:47pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Matteo

If atheism is true, what is the atheist's ultimate reward for being correct?


Smug self-satisfaction?

Actually, I am glad you found spiritual fulfilment in your quest. Of course, being a polytheist, I don't have to deny other religions' validity.

I would furthermore point out that although I disagree with many points of Catholicism (which are irrelevant to this post), I think the overall approach is not too bad.
12.2.2008 2:50pm
whit:

The first strain is a guy looking around and saying to himself, "I don't see any reason to believe in God and so I don't. Nice day though."

The other is a guy running up to strangers, seizing them by the lapels, and screaming, "There is no God! If you believe in God, you're going to go to Hell! No, wait.."


this issue has been discussed ad nauseum and there is a name for the two flavors of atheism.

the first paragraph is weak atheism. saying you don't believe there is a god is weak atheism. it is also NOT a religion/belief system.

the second is strong atheism. saying you KNOW there is no god, is a religion/belief system.

strong v. weak atheism. well established distinction and ENDLESSLY wanked over in the past.
12.2.2008 2:54pm
whit:

Atheism is itself a religion

And not collecting stamps is itself a hobby.


false analogy.

strong atheism (the brand of atheism that is a religion) does not merely NOT engage in theism.

it claims knowledge that god does NOT exist.

that is completely disanalogous to your above example.
12.2.2008 2:59pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Roy:

Moreoever, there is practical value in believing atheism, in the joy of using your mind and being true to your self.


I am not sure I follow you. In my tradition (as in Hinduism) we get a choice of gods to follow and a choice on how to follow them. This can help us be true to ourselves.

The second problem with your argument has to do with the concept of truth and knowledge. I will agree with you 100% that if scientific knowledge and material fact are the main measures of truth, then atheism is probably accurate. However, if we don't define truth about the divine to be in the same category as "there is a tree in my back yard" then the argument falls apart.

If "There is a god" is in the same category as that statement, I will argue that "there is a god" is false and you might find this to be an atheistic common ground. However, in any meaningful way, those statements are not in the same category. The gods and myths of whatever religions we follow (including both secular and Christian humanism) provide patterns for our own thoughts and actions.

So I would put statements like "There is a god" in the same category as "She has a tender heart." In terms of material facts, neither one makes a lot of sense but both statements are meaningful in other ways and once we get beyond the questions of material fact, we can determine whether or not they are true on a different sense.
12.2.2008 2:59pm
calmom:
To Tony Tutins: I agree with you but I don't think the public authorities should censor speech even bigoted speech like this sign.

The positive celebratory message, in the spirit of the season, would have been "Happy Winter Solstice". But instead this group put up a sign that demeaned and denigrated the beliefs of others. The public officials not censoring it is good for public discourse though, because by letting them put up the message they wanted, the true nature of this atheist group is shown for one and all to see. And that is the purpose of the First Amendment after all.
12.2.2008 3:07pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
'I see the behavior of these nut cases to be indistinguishable from that of Fred Phelps.'

You need to get your distinguisher fixed.
12.2.2008 3:12pm
Matteo (mail) (www):
David Schwartz,

Show me that there are millions of believers in your absurd green-hat God, and show me a library of books arguing for his existence and examining his nature based on philosophy, history, science, theology, and human experience, and I'll concede that you have a cogent point. Otherwise, not.
12.2.2008 3:50pm
Matteo (mail) (www):
einhverfr,

Thanks for the response. If you are a polytheist (a much more sensible position than atheism), then aren't you inherently denying monotheism, and hence the validity of monotheistic religions? Also, are you truly a polytheist, or more someone that believes that all the various gods are different masks of the divine unity (something more like Hinduesque pantheism)?
12.2.2008 3:55pm
Guest12345:
You need to get your distinguisher fixed.


Perhaps a better phrasing would have been: "I see the personality traits of these nut cases to be indistinguishable from those of Fred Phelps." On the basis that they seem incapable of letting others choose how to live lives in the public space.
12.2.2008 4:12pm
Matteo (mail) (www):
Roy,

To those whose fate is eventual non-existence, nothing you've stated counts as an ultimate reward. All of the rewards you name can only be entirely fleeting if atheism is true.

I confess that I have a thirst for the "ultimate big win". It is simply not possible for an atheist to enjoy eternal vindication as an atheist. He will either find out he was utterly (perhaps disastrously) wrong, or he will cease to exist. Theism offers the possibility of a "victory dance in the eternal endzone", as well as providing the benefits you've listed (after all, it's not as if the theist doesn't also use his mind to the utmost, enjoy studying creation, and enjoy being true to himself). The type of atheism that results in public displays saying "Religion is but myth and superstition" is absurd, since it is based on the bald assertion of a universal negative, as well as an outright confession of ignorance (according to the judgment of anyone who has taken a deep look at both sides of the question; as far as I'm concerned, folks that assert that religion is but myth and superstition are theological know-nothings, whose ignorance is deep enough to include the fact of their ignorance).

It would be one thing if atheism had a 99.999% chance of being correct. However, I wouldn't even grant it a 50% chance of being correct. But even if it had a 70% chance of being correct, considerations of risk/reward would militate against it. Those who take the risk/reward considerations seriously ought to consider theism to be a very live possibility and seek out the strongest arguments in its favor, and see how they hold up to arguments against it. Many who do find that it becomes much more intellectually acceptable, and judge it as being much more probable than they originally thought.

For myself, I've found that atheist arguments seem somewhat convincing if you've already assumed atheism. And I've found that theist arguments seem even more convincing if you allow yourself the assumption of theism. Risk/reward considerations break the tie.

That and the possibility of eternal vindication. So why set your sights low only to win small?

The alternatives are fleeting victory (atheism is true and you're an atheist), fleeting defeat (atheism is true and you're a theist), monumental defeat (theism is true and you're an atheist), or totally bitchin' kick-ass unending glory.

As for me and my house, we'll take door number 2.
12.2.2008 4:48pm
roy:
einhverfr,

I was not very clear in my writing about being true to one's self. I just mean that acting on your beliefs is more satisfying that acting in opposition to them. And I don't suggests that theists can't be true to themselves too.

I like your point about the difference between "there is a tree in my back yard" and "she has a tender heart", but I don't see the same key distinction between them that you do. It's not about material versus immaterial, it's about objective versus subjective. A statement about tenderness is actually a statement about how the person (or group of people) making the statement judges things; it's subjective. A statement about a tree's existance is sensical independent of whoever makes the statement; it's objective. Similarly, the statement "1+1=2" is objective even though it's immaterial; it is sensical and means the same thing whoever says it, even though there is no material 1 or 2. "1+1=3" is immaterial too, and we know its wrong because we evaluate it in objective terms.

Plato, btw, would disagree with me.

As most people mean it, the statement "there is a god" is objective too. It is not a statement about how the speaker judges things, it's a statement that a self-aware and very powerful entity exists and interacts with the world. That existance might not be material, but it is still defined in objective terms and still subject to truth as strictly as the existence of a tree.

Or do you mean something more like "we ought to believe in a god" or "the ideals represented by a god are virtuous"? That sort of statement really is more like "she has a tender heart", but it's entirely separate from whether that god exists.
12.2.2008 4:48pm
roy:
Matteo,

Are you arguing that it is a good idea to believe in god, or that god is real?
12.2.2008 4:51pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Matteo asked me:

Thanks for the response. If you are a polytheist (a much more sensible position than atheism), then aren't you inherently denying monotheism, and hence the validity of monotheistic religions? Also, are you truly a polytheist, or more someone that believes that all the various gods are different masks of the divine unity (something more like Hinduesque pantheism)?


Great questions, for which I am not 100% sure of my answers. Any simple answer leads to more problems than it solves. For example, if I believe in absolute reality of my gods, then the question becomes whether Thorr and Indra (and for that matter Zeus) are the same god or not and if not, whether they multiply like amoebas as cultures bifurcate. If they are the same god, we end up with questions as to how we come to understand them.

Furthermore, we can run into questions of whether the Zeus/Apollo/Demeter oath formula of the Greeks, the Odin/Thorr/Freyr formula of the Norse, and the Christian trinity are all existentially the same (note that there are genetic connections between these formulae). If we assert that they are, then we run into questions which complicate things and if not, then we run into other problems.

If I had to provide an answer (this may make a lot of sense to you as a Catholic particularly if you have studied historical theology) I would say that the divine is an impersonal nature, of which the gods function as hypostases as the result of essentially a structural language formed by the mythic tradition (and hence religions function like languages of the soul). I suppose that makes my intellectual beliefs somewhat patheistic.

However, as much as that provides a basis for comparative studies, it is not very helpful in understanding life. In terms of practical religion, I see the gods as very much "real" and that they ignore the boundaries we see in the modern world of psyche vs mundi.
12.2.2008 4:59pm
Matteo (mail) (www):
That god is real.

Risk/reward enters into the question of how much effort to put into the investigation of the question, and how open minded to be to theistic evidence/arguments, as well as how skeptical to be toward atheistic arguments. The goal being fair-mindedness. I find that all too many evangelical atheists are rather close-minded to theistic evidence/arguments and rather unskeptical toward atheistic arguments. They act as if the whole question is far more cut-and-dried in their favor than it actually is.

IMHO, it is far more rational to believe that God is real than to believe that he isn't.

I am not myself presenting specific arguments that God is real. Instead I am arguing for folks to take the question a hell of a lot more seriously than spouting off that "religion is but myth and superstition", which only illustrates to me that they haven't taken the question seriously at all, besides, perhaps, reading their Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, et al.
12.2.2008 5:11pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Roy:

You have some good points there. However, suppose getting back to my examples:

"There is a tree in my back yard" has a meaning in the same sense that "1 + 1 = 2." In both cases, we can take the words or symbols at face value, and apply them in a material sense. If I say "she has a tender heart" I don't mean that in the same sense that "This stewed deer heart is really tender! Good job, chef!" "Heart" in the sentence does not refer to something which has a material applicability. In the second sentence, it is used in the same way as "tree" in my original example.

On the whole, we mean something fundamentally more abstract, as to the character of a person. And this abstraction is only imperfectly applied to material words "heart." Furthermore, this application is very subjectively based. "Heart" has different connotations in Hebrew, for example, then it does in English, for example. And if I translate the Indonesian phrase "Hati-hati" (meaning "Caution!") literally, I get "Livers!" In order to agree with Plato's theory of Ideas in this way, one would have to make those ideas contingent on language, which somewhat defeats the purpose (and brings us around to Kant but that is another matter).

So the point is that "she has a tender heart" is a sentence where the physical meaning of the words is not quite served by what we really mean. "There is a god" similarly seems to be another case where, if we are intellectually honest, must be in the same category if it is to be a valid statement.

I don't doubt that most people say "I believe in God" in a way which suggests that they see statements about God to be in the same category as statements about the physical nature of the tree out my window. However, many of these people can be proven wrong in the sense that one ends up having to choose between fundamental structural inconsistencies.* Furthermore, you are correct about most religions forcing people to choose between their understanding of right and wrong in a human sense and their understanding in a religious sense.

* For example, Christians say that God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and benevolent. They say that he sent his son to the world to deliver humanity from sin, and that belief in the ideas of Christianity is required to obtain this promise. However, if we are to believe this, why only save really the people in the old Roman Empire? Why would people from other parts of the world have to wait longer for such deliverance? Since most people believe in the religions of their parents, why make Christianity and hence a positive afterlife a matter of a lucky birth? Is this really benevolent or just?
12.2.2008 5:19pm
Brian K (mail):
saying you KNOW there is no god, is a religion/belief system.

just because these topics were discussed before, doesn't mean that the matter is settled. nor does it mean that your belief on how the argument went is how the argument actually went.
12.2.2008 5:22pm
Matteo (mail) (www):
einhverfr,

Have you read "The Everlasting Man" by Chesterton? If not, you might find it quite fascinating, as it examines (in splendid language), the relationship between the various polytheistic myths and the Incarnate God-Man of Christianity. The idea being that while God provided a direct revelation to the Jews via the Old Testament, he also provided an indirect, intuitive (and somewhat murky) revelation to the gentiles via polytheistic mythology. Eventually, Christianity would finally synthesize the revelations of both Athens and Jerusalem in the definitive revelation (via God becoming Man) of the New Testament. It's a great book!

Given that you believe in a higher realm of archetypes you might be greatly fascinated by the book "Meditations on the Tarot" by an anonymous author. The book is quite esoteric and "deep" and rocked my world about a decade and a half ago. It brought me from a state of India-influenced pantheism to full-bore Catholicism, by completing and then utterly transcending my pantheistic, archetypic understanding. Honestly, the book is nothing short of thermonuclear. It's the real juice.
12.2.2008 5:25pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Roy--

Just noting the math side of our discussion only holds up if we are using the same assmumption that we are talking integer arithmetic (floating point arithmetic is another matter).
12.2.2008 5:30pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Matteo,

Might be an interesting book, but have you considered the influence that Platonism and Neoplatonism had in the early church and how many of these parallels might be better explained by borrowings? Plato, for example, first formulated the Trinity, and Georges Dumezil has largely shown how homologous structures have their roots in older Greek religion (F. M. Cornford also suggested that most Greek philosophical thought had its origins in the religious thought-- this too largely means that any Christian philosophy derived from Plato via St Augustine or even earlier sources, or from Aristotle via St. Aquinas are ultimately pagan in origin).

Perhaps in the end, the quest is more important than the path.
12.2.2008 5:36pm
ray_g:
Pascal's Wager is not very useful, and is an insult to the memory of it's namesake. There are (at least) two holes in the argument, one huge and one subtle (or maybe not so subtle). The huge hole is that the choice is not between "no god" and "god", where it might have a chance of working, but between "no god(s)" and one or more of the set of {"god A", "god B" ....}. Which is worse, believing there is no god or worshiping a false god? Pascal's Wager doesn't help me decide which god is the true one.

Now, even if the choice was between "no god" and "god", here comes the subtle hole. If I say that I believe in god because of the Pascal's Wager analysis, do I really believe, or am I just claiming to, perhaps falsely. And won't this powerful entity know if I am lying? (I may fool even myself, but not Him/Her/Whoever/Whatever).

(Now I best stop, lest I start into the "possibly proper litany", a satire of political correctness written before political correctness was even named as such.)
12.2.2008 5:42pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
One more point to Matteo:

Given that you believe in a higher realm of archetypes you might be greatly fascinated by the book "Meditations on the Tarot" by an anonymous author. The book is quite esoteric and "deep" and rocked my world about a decade and a half ago. It brought me from a state of India-influenced pantheism to full-bore Catholicism, by completing and then utterly transcending my pantheistic, archetypic understanding. Honestly, the book is nothing short of thermonuclear. It's the real juice.


It is amazing what the Western Mystery Tradition has to offer, is it not?

A lot of people look Eastward in search of what they think does not exist in Europe, but it does exist as you discovered.
12.2.2008 6:05pm
David Schwartz (mail):
Show me that there are millions of believers in your absurd green-hat God, and show me a library of books arguing for his existence and examining his nature based on philosophy, history, science, theology, and human experience, and I'll concede that you have a cogent point. Otherwise, not.
Show me that 54,000 invisible elves have your name tattooed on their biceps and I'll concede that you're not just making random rules up to justify ignoring my arguments. I can make up irrational reasons to ignore your arguments as easily as you can make up ones to ignore mine.
12.2.2008 6:12pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
David Schwartz:

Ok, I will one-up you. There is a growing understanding that pre-literate cultures organize their knowledge of the world, society, etc. through mythology and hence religion. There may be hence an evolutionary advantage to be open to religious thought over a hundred thousand years that a few thousand years with writing cannot erase. It seems quite possible to my mind that the religious experience points towards something we might be able to consider "real" and has positive benefit to society and the individual.

At very least, I would argue that the divine is as real and as meaningful as love, and even if one can reduce both experiences to chemical pathways in the brain, you can't get rid of the deep personal meaning, can you?
12.2.2008 6:22pm
Xanthippas (mail) (www):

I'm not convinced that this sign is a good way to promote atheism.


It's not, but it is funny.


the second is strong atheism. saying you KNOW there is no god, is a religion/belief system.


This is a silly distinction. There is no equating the belief that there is no God for which there is no justifiable evidence, with the belief that there is a God for which there is no justifiable evidence. My strong belief that there are no unicorns is not a religion, as it is premised upon by the utter and absolute lack of any evidence of the existence of unicorns. If anything, this is merely a handy rhetorical trick for religious believers who want to demean atheist arguments.
12.2.2008 7:07pm
David Schwartz (mail):
einhverfr: You may well be right. But that has no bearing on whether religious theistic claims are in fact true. If theistic claims were factually false, would you argue that people should believe them anyway, perhaps because this has survival value?

Suppose I don't believe that I'll win the lottery. Suppose someone could convince me that I'll be a lot happier if I believe I'll win the lottery. Maybe I'll live longer. Does this justify believing I'll win the lottery? Or is only evidence that I will in fact win the lottery justification for believing that?

At least for me, it is not psychology possible for me to believe something absent evidence that it is in fact true. I am simply incapable of it, no matter how much I may believe it will benefit me to believe something.

In any event, the dispute between theists and atheists, to the extent there is one, is over whether the theistic claims are true. Many atheists will readily concede that some people are better off believing in God and society is better off with some people having such a belief.
12.2.2008 7:15pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
David Schwartz

But that has no bearing on whether religious theistic claims are in fact true.


Perhaps. However you didn't get to my main points which involve meaning. Once we get to points involving meaning we can get to questions of truth. See my point about the sentence of "she has a tender heart" vs "that beef heart is very tender and well cooked, thank you."

If I say "she has a tender heart" it probably has absolutely nothing to do with her physical heart, and hence you may argue that I have no way, absent cannibalism, of determining whether she has a tender heart. But that would be missing the point. In the end we must define meaning before we can assess truth.

BTW, I think the general theist claims about specific deities having an existence independent of our traditions is wrong (and the same sort of misunderstanding mentioned above). However one might eventually conclude that this could lead to pantheism as easily as atheism, but the question comes back to in what way the experience of the divine suggests some form of reality behind it. I dont think one can simply dispute the validity of the experience because you don't like the conclusions, but at the same time, most of the conclusions out there are problematic.
12.2.2008 7:38pm
Matteo (mail) (www):
David Schwartz,

If you have an actual argument or point to make, I haven't detected it.

ray_g,

All that Pascal's Wager asks you to do is to take the question seriously. You'll have to use your noggin to figure out what the true religion is. And in the event you reach the point that you could go either way on the question, the Wager may help clarify things. It is not intended for the atheist who has convinced himself of a universal negative. Another premise of the Wager is that giving faith the benefit of the doubt and living as if God were real will most probably result in spiritual contact with God, confirming that choosing faith was the right move. At least to the inner sense, God then becomes an empirical fact rather than merely the conclusion of an argument.

An atheist denying that such an inner sense can perceive God as an empirical reality carries about as much argumentative weight as a blind person denying the existence of colors. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
12.2.2008 9:23pm
Matteo (mail) (www):
einhverfr,

"Meditations On The Tarot" discusses the Platonist/Neoplatonist question pretty extensively...
12.2.2008 9:33pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Matteo--

It is amazing how one man living 2500 years ago can shape theological discussions so much regarding every religion in the modern world. Even Mahayana Buddhism and Vedantic Hinduism show Platonic influence.

Since you probably have studied the Tarot and Platonic philosophy to some extend, what do you think of the correspondences between some of Plato's images (for example the chariot of the soul drawn by the good/bad horse pair in Phaedrus) and images on most tarot decks?
12.2.2008 9:37pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Matteo--

Does God exist in the same way as colors? Since colors are how we perceive a different underlying reality (certain frequencies of light), are colors entirely in our mind?
12.2.2008 9:39pm
roy:
A blind man will never understand the experience of seeing color, but he can understand the physical phenomena that the experience corresponds to as well as a sighted person can. More importantly, he can compare various (supposedly) sighted peoples' claims about the phenomena of color, and recognize that they are reasonably consistent with each other and consistent with what the blind man does experience about the world. When atheists compare theists' claims about god, the opposite occurs.

If some people told a blind man that the object in his hand was green, and some red, and some invisible, and some ultraviolet, and some polka-dotted, I would not be surprised if the blind man rejected claims about color. He might conclude that people who claim to experience color really do experience something, but he shouldn't conclude that they are correct about the nature of their experiences.
12.2.2008 10:05pm
David Schwartz (mail):
einhverfr: You've simply added another obstacle to the theist as he must establish his claims are meaningful before he can even make his claim that they are true coherent. Certainly one can make vague claims (like "she has a tender heart") where there is little precise difference between a world where the claim is true and one where the claim is false. But an existence claim for an entity with physical causative power would not seem to have any way to be similarly vague. That an omnipotent, omnibenevolent being can perform miracles at his whim is simply not analogous to having a tender heart.

Matteo: My point is that you have no point. Pascal's Wager is simply a threat -- "believe or else bad things will happen to you". It has no place in rational debate which seeks to determine what is actually true and not whether it is to our advantage to believe various things independent of their truth.

Yes, if someone points a gun to my head and insists that I claim to believe in god, I will make that claim. But if someone points a gun to my head and insists I do believe in god, what can I do? Rational people's brains don't work that way.
12.2.2008 10:09pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
David Schwartz:

You've simply added another obstacle to the theist as he must establish his claims are meaningful before he can even make his claim that they are true coherent. Certainly one can make vague claims (like "she has a tender heart") where there is little precise difference between a world where the claim is true and one where the claim is false. But an existence claim for an entity with physical causative power would not seem to have any way to be similarly vague. That an omnipotent, omnibenevolent being can perform miracles at his whim is simply not analogous to having a tender heart.


So, in this regard, you have largely shown that my objection doesn't apply to Abrahamic religious thought. But what about Mahayana Buddhist thought, or Taoist thought? I would argue that these traditions are open to the ambiguities I am trying to elucidate.

For that matter, I argue that even polytheistic religions pose that problem.

If you want to say "I don't believe in the Abrahamic thesis" that is one thing, but if you want to then generalize to non-Abrahamic religions, and argue that the case unconditionally generalizes, then that is not valid IMO.
12.2.2008 10:15pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

the second is strong atheism. saying you KNOW there is no god, is a religion/belief system.

This is a silly distinction. There is no equating the belief that there is no God for which there is no justifiable evidence, with the belief that there is a God for which there is no justifiable evidence.


I would say whit's "strong atheism" is distinguished by the desire of its adherents to convert others. "Live and let live" atheists are "weak;" Richard-Dawkins-type atheists are "strong."
12.2.2008 10:37pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

If you want to say "I don't believe in the Abrahamic thesis" that is one thing, but if you want to then generalize to non-Abrahamic religions, and argue that the case unconditionally generalizes, then that is not valid IMO.

This reminds us that many religions lack a God or gods, and still operate perfectly well. Confucianism, for example. This suggests that atheism could indeed be a religion, provided that it had a system of beliefs.
12.2.2008 10:41pm
Matteo (mail) (www):
David Schwartz,

Pascal's Wager a threat? What, if you don't listen to it the Wager is going to come after you with brass knuckles? The Wager only asks you to take the question seriously and evaluate it soberly, with the benefit of the doubt correctly placed. That's it. It is not in itself an argument for God. It invites you to consider such arguments with an open mind. It does not assert the existence of God as a truth. If you are so damned sure of atheism it has nothing to offer you. Interesting, though, that you feel threatened by it.

You're like a person who sees a sign that says "Danger: Thin ice." and responds, "I'll be damned if I'm going to obey anything that threatens me with an ice-cold dunking if I don't heed it! I WILL NOT BE THREATENED!!!" Well fine. But you just might find yourself getting dunked anyway.

If it is logically possible that you could f*ck up your eternity via an ill thought-out rejection of God then I can't see what's wrong with the Wager.

In any case the Wager is addressed to seekers who haven't quite found yet, not to scoffers who sit in smug assurance of a universal negative. If you are 100% certain of yourself, then more power to you.
12.2.2008 11:08pm
Matteo (mail) (www):
einhverfr,

"Since you probably have studied the Tarot and Platonic philosophy to some extend, what do you think of the correspondences between some of Plato's images (for example the chariot of the soul drawn by the good/bad horse pair in Phaedrus) and images on most tarot decks?"

That's a good question that I do not have a ready answer for. The Meditations book does get into the exceedingly deep archetypical symbolism of the Tarot deck and ties it to all sorts of things from "golden Dawn"-style Hermeticism, through Neo-Platonism, through the Kaballah, to the Christian Revelation. I probably would need to reabsorb myself in that work before I'd have anything specific and intelligent to say. For me it became a jumping off point for embracing Catholicism, so detailed knowledge of Tarot or Neoplatonism are not really part of my "mental furniture" at this point.


"Does God exist in the same way as colors? Since colors are how we perceive a different underlying reality (certain frequencies of light), are colors entirely in our mind?"

Another good question. Science can tell us about the wavelength and quantum energy level of yellow light, as well as which elements and compounds can radiate it or reflect it, but it cannot tell us the tiniest thing about what the color yellow looks like. How it looks is a strong primary fact about reality that science is in principle incapable of addressing. Consciousness and sense perception within consciousness are operations on the spiritual plane. Since God is a spiritual being, perhaps there is a kind of correspondence. Colors objectively exist, but are only ultimately perceived in a spiritual operation. God objectively exists as a spiritual being, and can be perceived spiritually by those whose interior faculties have been awakened by God via the act of faith. Absent the awakening of these faculties by God via the act of faith, a person will only see what the atheist sees. That is, nothing. Which, perhaps, is precisely what the atheist wants to see, given his unwillingness to make the act of faith and his unwillingness to carefully consider reasons why the act of faith would be a rational choice (and being willing to be convinced of such; in my case a friend helped me by asking me to temporarily pretend that all of the theological arguments and descriptions I was reading were true. This allowed me to finally allow the arguments to sink in enough to see that the whole thing held together pretty well. Absent this willingness to believe, I would have disparaged each particular argument individually and never seen the forest for the trees. Once I saw how it all hung together I was on firm enough ground to try honestly making the act of faith, with the resultant awakening of interior spiritual perception).

In my opinion, to find atheist arguments at all convincing, and to find theistic arguments wholly unconvincing, one must already have settled the question in advance of the investigation. God exists. He can be known to exist. Anyone who wants to find Him and thirsts to find Him will find Him.
12.2.2008 11:46pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
'I'm not convinced that this sign is a good way to promote atheism.'

Good way or not, if promoting is the intention then it has no business on public property.

I prefer the Walt Kelly interpretation: If good fellowship and the brotherhood of man is the program, then I as an atheist want to be at the party.

If the religionists can stand 'Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,' they should be able to handle a Christmas card with an atheist sentiment.
12.3.2008 12:45am
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
for those saying the display should be at a different time, that's why it mentions the solstice so it is just as topical as the other displays.
12.3.2008 12:53am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Matteo wrote:

In my opinion, to find atheist arguments at all convincing, and to find theistic arguments wholly unconvincing, one must already have settled the question in advance of the investigation. God exists. He can be known to exist. Anyone who wants to find Him and thirsts to find Him will find Him.


As I said before, perhaps the quest is more important than the path. Also I will confess that my interest in Platonism (as an Indo-Europeanist) would probably be different from yours (as a Catholic). I.e. I am more interested in comparisons of structures to Vedic, Norse, Iranian, and Celtic sources than I am how things have survived in Christainity. So perhaps the Tarot question was unfair.

The existance of colors question though is really interesting. The fact is that, from a scientific perspective, colors don't exist in themselves in any reasonable way. Yet we perceive them. From a scientific perspective, God probably doesn't "exist" either. ("Exist" in scare quotes because I am not sure the statement is meaningful in this context).

I have yet to meet a Theist who believes literally that there is a God who resides up in the sky (i.e. heavens), nor have I met an atheist who denies the existence of colors. Perhaps the discussion needs some adjustment....
12.3.2008 1:34am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Tony Tutins:

What makes "Atheism" "a religion" any more than "monotheism?"

Would you say that monotheism is "a religion?"

Would you say that pantheism is "a religion?"

Would you say that polytheism is "a religion?"

Secular humanism may be "a religion" but atheism is an approach to religious thought. It is not "a religion" any more than the above examples are. One can be an atheist Buddhist, or an atheist Confucian, just as you can be a monotheistic Christian or a monotheistic Muslim.....
12.3.2008 2:05am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Just a note on my arguments with Mr Schwartz and Roy.....

People have been arguing the merits of theism vs atheism since before the time of Plato. No, I don't expect to convince you of anything, and no, I don't expect that this argument will accomplish anything more than both sides having fun. After all, what can be said now that hasn't been said in the last two and a half millenia?
12.3.2008 2:08am
sobi:
I think the sign should be changed to: Atheism is more succinct. That's a selling point for me.
12.3.2008 3:45am
whit:

The existance of colors question though is really interesting. The fact is that, from a scientific perspective, colors don't exist in themselves in any reasonable way. Yet we perceive them. From a scientific perspective, God probably doesn't "exist" either. ("Exist" in scare quotes because I am not sure the statement is meaningful in this context).


kant covered this stuff pretty extensively. take it from a philosophy major : noumena vs. phenomena (color would be the latter) etc.

some other points. how do you know god "probably" doesn't exist (from a scientific or any other basis)? i really don't want to get into statistics and probability, let alone game theory, but i see no justification for such a statement.

the problem with such metaphysical wanks is that we have no "ground" to stand on. we can't assign probability (or even likely or less likely) because we don't have a sample.

iow, we don't have 100 universes that exist without god, and 50 that exist with a god, therefore it's more likely than not... given a universe... that god doesn't exist.

we can;t step outside our frame of reference because that's all we have ever had.

it's metaphysical wank. we'll find out when we die. or we won't (cause if we don't have an afterlife, there will be no we there to find out...)

all we KNOW is that we (or actually, all i know is that *i* exist) exist.

we have *no* way of knowing if stuff can exist without a prime mover or not. we have no way of assigning probability.
12.3.2008 4:43am
whit:

"saying you KNOW there is no god, is a religion/belief system. "

just because these topics were discussed before, doesn't mean that the matter is settled. nor does it mean that your belief on how the argument went is how the argument actually went.



we know stuff exists. we have no idea how it could exist (iow if a god is required to make stuff or not).

you can make a leap of faith and say ... god(s) did it
or take a leap of faith and say god(s) did NOT do it.

either is necessarily a leap of faith, and a belief system. it's definitional.

saying "i don't know" or "it is not possible for me to know given the available data" is not a belief system.

it's really that simple.
12.3.2008 4:47am
whit:


I would say whit's "strong atheism" is distinguished by the desire of its adherents to convert others. "Live and let live" atheists are "weak;" Richard-Dawkins-type atheists are "strong."



it's not "my" strong atheism. for pete's sake. google it. these are not my invented terms.

they are a way to differentiate a belief sytem (god does not exist) which falls under atheism, with a non-belief (i don't believe in god).

saying you don't believe in god is NOT the same thing as saying god does not exist. that's just basic elementary logic.

you can be a strong athieist and have no desire whatsoever to convert anybody. you are simply not understandign what the terms mean. google if you need more explanation. i've provided it as clearly as i can.



This is a silly distinction. There is no equating the belief that there is no God for which there is no justifiable evidence, with the belief that there is a God for which there is no justifiable evidence.



i didn't "equate" them . nor do the millions of others who use these terms. i didn't invent them. they are merely descriptive of what exists in the world. equating means i am assigning them equal value. i did not. i merely said they are both belief systems because by definition they are. they require a leap of faith into the unknown.

example: assume two futures trading systems. one chooses positions based on whether a commercial is on channel 5. in other words, go short when there is a commercial and stay short until it's over then go long. that's a trading system. assume another that uses analysis of the NYSE tick, the NYSE trin, the putcall ratio, pit information (i get an audio feed from the spooz pit), market profile development, and sector rotation. they are both trading systems. acknowledging that they are both trading systems doesn't EQUATE them. one may be excellent and the other completely stupid.

whether or not there is "justifiable evidence" is of course purely your opinion. but it's largely irrelevant.

what is clear is that "stuff exists"... like a universe man!

and it is a natural question (i am not aware of any society on earth that has not asked it and pondered it extensively)... to ask why? how? etc.

we have no way of knowing if universes can exist without god(s) since we can't step outside our frame of reference.

we do know ours exists, and we do know god(s) either exist or they don't, as a direct cause of ours.

you can make a leap of faith and say: god(s) did it.
or make a leap of faith and say god(s) didn't do it

or you can say "i don't believe in god" or "i don't know if god exists" which requires no leap of faith, and is thus not a belief system/religion.
12.3.2008 4:58am
Brian K (mail):
we know stuff exists. we have no idea how it could exist (iow if a god is required to make stuff or not).

you can make a leap of faith and say ... god(s) did it
or take a leap of faith and say god(s) did NOT do it.

either is necessarily a leap of faith, and a belief system. it's definitional.


this is little more than a rephrasing of the god in the gaps theory. it is only persuasive to those who already believe in god(s). if this was already as extensively discussed as you say, then you should already know this.
12.3.2008 7:09am
David Schwartz (mail):
So, in this regard, you have largely shown that my objection doesn't apply to Abrahamic religious thought. But what about Mahayana Buddhist thought, or Taoist thought? I would argue that these traditions are open to the ambiguities I am trying to elucidate.
A claim that is too vague to be true is false. Every claim contains an implicit claim that it is meaningful and sufficiently specific to be capable of being true.

When a person says, "your wife is cheating on you", it is irrational to respond, "how interesting, you've just stated a logical proposition that may or may not be true". We understand what when a rational English speaker says "your wife is cheating on you", he means (roughly) "I have reason to believe that your wife is in fact cheating on you". A statement of a claim is in fact vouching for it, and vouching for a claim includes vouching for its meaningfulness and specificity.

If these claims are ambiguous to the point where they are not capable of being true (or even denying a set of facts that is capable of being true), then they are false claims.

A claim implicitly also claims to claim something.
12.3.2008 11:30am
David Schwartz (mail):
If it is logically possible that you could f*ck up your eternity via an ill thought-out rejection of God then I can't see what's wrong with the Wager.
It is logically possible that you could mess up your eternity by an ill thought-out rejection of God, then it's logically possible that you could mess up your eternity by *anything* *at* *all*. An argument that applies equally well to absolutely anything is not a valid argument. It's simply yet another claim to treat the claims of theism differently from every other claim.
12.3.2008 11:33am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Whit:

some other points. how do you know god "probably" doesn't exist (from a scientific or any other basis)?


What I am really saying is that the scientific perspective is circumscribed by an assumption of atheism. This doesn't mean that scientists are not able to be theists, nor does it mean that they can't draw from religious frameworks in the building of theories, but that such theories are circumscribed by an assumption of natural mechanism. For "God" to "exist" in a "scientific" way, we would have to redefine one or more of those terms.

Hope this helps.

As I say, theoretically I am a pantheist, but in practical religion, I am a polytheist.
12.3.2008 11:51am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Actually the assumption is that of natural mechanism.

Note that miracles would be outside the scope of scientific inquiry.
12.3.2008 11:54am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
David Schwartz:

A claim that is too vague to be true is false. Every claim contains an implicit claim that it is meaningful and sufficiently specific to be capable of being true.


Ok..... So you are an atheist from the perspective of popular views of God, but an agnostic as to other possibilities?

Just seeing if I correctly understand you.
12.3.2008 11:59am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
BrianK:

Also, I am not a Catholic, though I understand similar reasoning to be behind the Catholic doctrine of Non-Overlapping Magisteria.

The problem with gaps theory is that a lot of things don't properly fall.

From a scientific perspective, the assumption is that of a lack of knowledge. I.e. "we don't understand this so therefore there must be a natural mechanism we don't understand." Note though, that there is a debate among certain groups of quantum physicists whether this assumption holds true for quantum probability matters (are, say, electron spins like dice in the sense that they behave according to natural mechanisms? Or are they "strictly probabilistic").

However, this assumption from a scientific perspective, IMO, only works for things which are valid subjects of scientific inquiry. If a miracle occurs, that is not properly subject to the scientific method and therefore one may have to fall back on other assumptions.

The point is that different categories of phenomena may demand different assumptions.
12.3.2008 12:07pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
whit:

I guess the question is what you assume to be just before what we can be reasonably certain of from a scientific perspective. However, let me throw out an alternative idea for you.

Suppose that the universe as we are capable of perceiving it is a product of our own perception. Let us further suppose that although large developments generally behave according to predictable rules which we can understand, occasional, personal events do not. It seems that in these cases, personal religious faith makes a lot of sense as does the idea that the mechanisms of the universe are natural and that scientific inquiry as to the origin of the universe is also valid.
12.3.2008 12:13pm
BobDoyle (mail):

Yeah, atheists might think there's no god, but that's not a belief. It's a rational analysis of the facts, not an act of faith which is by definition an irrational act- believing what's hard to believe.


I am an agnostic, but find the attitude of SOME of those who profess to be atheists (the "Brights" for example) rather offputting, at times arrogantly condescending, and, to be honest, incredibly intolerant.

So ARCraig, please enlighten us all, especially we agnostics who'd just love to get our butts off the fence, with the "facts" that rationally prove beyond any doubt that there is no God.

You've made a strong claim, so it should be straight forward, right?

Maybe not, Hah?
12.3.2008 1:12pm
David Schwartz (mail):
Ok..... So you are an atheist from the perspective of popular views of God, but an agnostic as to other possibilities?
I can't have a position on concepts of which I am not aware. I'm pretty sure I'd be atheistic towards any possibility I would be willing to describe as "god". Precisely the same things that would lead me to consider it as qualifying as a "god" would lead me to reject it as impossible.

I think your statement is based on giving theistic claims special treatment. For example, if someone said "I've considered the possibility of a luminiferous aether and have rejected it", would you respond, "well, all the popular views of a luminiferous aether, but what about other views of a luminiferous aether?"

Either "luminiferous aether" means something or it does not. If it means something, then I've rejected that something. If it doesn't mean something, then I can't possibly accept that something since there would be no something, so what would you even be asking about?

But I reject the agnostic position on anything. I don't believe it's logically possible for something to be both a continuously true meaningful statement about the state of affairs in our universe and be demonstrably unprovable. (Explaining precisely why would probably exceed the scope of this blog or any relevancy to this subject, it gets into deep notions of what it means for something to be 'true'.)
12.3.2008 1:32pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
'I have yet to meet a Theist who believes literally that there is a God who resides up in the sky (i.e. heavens)'

You need to get out more.
12.3.2008 1:35pm
BobDoyle (mail):
I will grant a plenary indulgence to anyone who can prove that God does not or can not exist!
12.3.2008 1:51pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

Secular humanism may be "a religion" but atheism is an approach to religious thought. It is not "a religion" any more than the above examples are.

To be more precise: as there are non-theistic religions, so could there be atheistic religions, because belief in god is not essential to a religion's existence.

"my" strong atheism. for pete's sake. google it

whit's post introduced the concepts to this discussion, as well as to me. And googling is a low yield way to learn about anything.
12.3.2008 2:11pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
David Schwartz:

Ok. There are two questions here:

1) Existence of the divine.
2) Form of the divine.

It seems that rational inquiry would start of asking if there is something behind the worlds' religions without addressing the question of form, and then, if this pans out, moving to the form question. In short the inquiry should be:

1) Can we show that there is or is not something behind the religions of the world? (the religions don't have to understand this correctly for the answer to be "yes"-- this is not a question of validating specific religious views.)

2) If there is, what form does it take? (This need not suggest that any religion is entirely correct either.)

In my opinion, most people go about this backwards. They start out by asking "Do I believe in the Christian model?" and then generalize that answer to theism vs atheism.

On question one, I would suggest reading The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto and Myth and Reality by Mircea Eliade. Both of these works are fairly strongly anthropological works rather than religious ones and help shape the discussion relating to the function and experience of religion. No, neither one is trying to convert you to anything and both are fairly academic. Just to round this out with some additional background, Walter Ong's Orality and Literacy would also be worth reading to provide a different perspective.

My own view is that religion covers certain topics that are not readily subject to normal language. The works by Otto and Eliade provide some windows into this process.

If we can get on the same page regarding the first question we can address the second question which raises as many problems as the first.

However, like difficult problems, they probably have solutions.
12.3.2008 2:34pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Also, asking for a fully fleshed out theory of religion which is fully correct seems like expecting Issac Newton to provide a grand unification theory of quantum physics and relativity.
12.3.2008 2:41pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
You really need to get out. I can introduce you to any number of people who will assure you that they do, indeed, have a fully fleshed out theory of the one true religion.

True, it's an argument from authority, but what an authority!
12.3.2008 4:40pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Harry Eagar:

Are these people sufficiently literalist to believe that the space shuttle might give concrete proof of God's existance?
12.3.2008 4:54pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
(you are taking two of my posts and confusing them-- the literal belief post and the question of one true religion)

I too know plenty of people who believe in one true religion. I think they are wrong, but none of them believe we can reach God in a rocket ship.....
12.3.2008 4:55pm
whit:

whit's post introduced the concepts to this discussion, as well as to me. And googling is a low yield way to learn about anything.



it is staggering to me that people will argue a point without even doing BASIC research. iow, they form opinions, THEN do research to support that opinion. that is of course , backwards.

there is a qualitative difference between saying "i don't believe in god" and saying "god doesn't exist". that is intuitively obvious.

so, the concept of strong and weak atheism was developed. it's nothing new. people arguing about whether or not atheism is a belief system who don't understand the difference (whether or not they know the terms) are arguing from ignorance.
12.3.2008 5:21pm
David Schwartz (mail):
einhverfr: "Divine" simply means, roughly, of or relating to a deity. If there exists a deity, there will likely exist things of or relating to him. If there does not, there will not. So the "existence of the divine" question is the same as the "is there a god" question.

1) Existence of the divine.
2) Form of the divine.


Without 2, we cannot investigate 1. We cannot ask "are there elves" and then say "ahh, so there are elves, now what are they?" This is another example of trying to give theistic claims a special status that no normal claim gets. No other claim gets its validity investigated before we try to figure out what it's claiming.

I hold theists to the same standards I hold those who make other existence claims. They must explain what it is they are claiming with sufficient specificity so that I can understand what it is they are claiming. If not, their claims are false because they violate the implicit claim that they are in fact claims.
12.3.2008 5:29pm
whit:

What I am really saying is that the scientific perspective is circumscribed by an assumption of atheism.


absolutely false, when it comes to strong atheism. the scientific perspective does not assume "there is no god", any more than it assumes there is no bigfoot.

it doesn't assume the existence or nonexistence. it looks for evidence of stuff.

again, there is a big qualitative difference between strong and weak atheism.

what science doesn't do is see an effect, and ASSUME that god has anything to do with it. it looks for a rational basis to explain X.
12.3.2008 5:41pm
whit:

What I am really saying is that the scientific perspective is circumscribed by an assumption of atheism.


absolutely false, when it comes to strong atheism. the scientific perspective does not assume "there is no god", any more than it assumes there is no bigfoot.

it doesn't assume the existence or nonexistence. it looks for evidence of stuff.

again, there is a big qualitative difference between strong and weak atheism.

what science doesn't do is see an effect, and ASSUME that god has anything to do with it. it looks for a rational basis to explain X.
12.3.2008 5:41pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
David Schwartz:

They must explain what it is they are claiming with sufficient specificity so that I can understand what it is they are claiming


In short, I claim:
1) There is something behind the divine or mystical experience.

2) This "something" defies our ability to comprehend in normal language.

3) This "Something" does not respect the boundary of inner vs outer, and hence is not a valid subject for scientific inquiry.

4) One function religious systems have is helping us comprehend this experience and hence bring us closer to what we experience of the divine. Religions function like language system in this regard.

Let's start here and see where we go....
12.3.2008 5:45pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):

absolutely false, when it comes to strong atheism. the scientific perspective does not assume "there is no god", any more than it assumes there is no bigfoot.


Not formally, but there is an assumption that every phenomenon has a natural mechanism behind it, which effectively amounts to an absence of theistic activity in our world.

In reality, what this actually does is simply place things like miracles outside the scope of scientific inquiry.
12.3.2008 5:48pm
David Schwartz (mail):
einhverfr: All of that has nothing whatsoever to do with the issues on which theists and atheists disagree, specifically whether or not god exists. I disagree with the substance of most of those claims, but it's for reasons that are philosophically largely distinct from the reason that I'm an atheist.

For example, for your third claim, I think scientific inquiry is the only rational way to evaluate claims, whether inner or outer. Scientific inquiry is not just one tool, it is the toolbox. To put it another way, there is no other form of inquiry, and if there were one, its results would have no persuasive force because they would not contain any reasons to believe they were correct.

Your fourth claim assumes what you want to prove.
12.3.2008 7:02pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
David Schwartz:

All of that has nothing whatsoever to do with the issues on which theists and atheists disagree,


Am I a theist in your viewpoint? We certainly disagree, do we not? Or am I different because I don't believe what you are reacting against?


For example, for your third claim, I think scientific inquiry is the only rational way to evaluate claims, whether inner or outer. Scientific inquiry is not just one tool, it is the toolbox.


So unique, non-repeatable events which defy a natural mechanism explanation should be examined using a toolbox which was built for looking at natural mechanisms?

Furthermore, if you look at the development of the scientific method, it was almost entirely a reaction against the idea that an observer can discover truth by observing itself. Hence inward reality is not subject to scientific inquiry in the way that psychological behavior is (see Carl Jung, Synchronicity for more on this problem).


Your fourth claim assumes what you want to prove.


No. You wanted some claims we could address. All claims here are built on the ones which come before. I.e. unless we are prepared to accept the first claim, none of the other claims are valid. The fourth claim largely assumes a set of things:

1) That the first three claims are valid and
2) That religion has some role relating to forming the specifics of the mystical experience.

So.....

What is your take on the mystical experience?
12.3.2008 7:32pm
whit:

Not formally, but there is an assumption that every phenomenon has a natural mechanism behind it, which effectively amounts to an absence of theistic activity in our world.


that is an entirely different thing than assuming there is no god. sorry.

for example, many claim that god works through the natural world and the natural laws that he created. thus, assuming a natural mechanism says NOTHING about god existing or not.

it is simply a false claim that science assumes god does not exist. it is correct to say that science makes no claim that god does exist.

furthermore, what is or isn't a "natural mechanism" has changed over time, especially with the discovery of quantum aspects of nature.

iow, science is not a "strong atheist". i have yet to hear any scientist claim science has proven god does not exist.

your point is simply false. sorry.


In reality, what this actually does is simply place things like miracles outside the scope of scientific inquiry.


again, not at all.

a TRUE miracle would exceed scientific inquiry, or else it wouldn't BE a miracle. i'm not aware of any "proven" miracles, fwiw.

it's largely tangential to the point. science is about a method. that method does not say "god does not exist". it makes no assumptions one way or the other about god.

individual scientists may come to different conclusions about god, but that's irrelevant to what the scientific method has to say about god - which is nothing at all.
12.3.2008 8:56pm
Brian K (mail):
The problem with gaps theory is that a lot of things don't properly fall.
...
However, this assumption from a scientific perspective, IMO, only works for things which are valid subjects of scientific inquiry. If a miracle occurs, that is not properly subject to the scientific method and therefore one may have to fall back on other assumptions.

The point is that different categories of phenomena may demand different assumptions.


so in other words, what you are saying is that miracles are proof that god(s) exist, if we assume that god(s) exists. this is not a very meaningful argument because it forces you to assume what you are trying to prove. in order for miracles to be proof of the existence of god, you have to show that god caused the miracle. you don't get to wave your hands in the air and say "therefore god must exist".
12.3.2008 10:24pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
'Are these people sufficiently literalist to believe that the space shuttle might give concrete proof of God's existance'

Yes.

Some of them are sufficiently literalist to believe that they could nominate Jesus for president of the United States and elect and seat him.

I suggest you spend some time with your radio listening to the show "To Every Man an Answer" presented by Calvary Chapel. There will be a station in your neighborhood, probably several. (6 out of about 24 in my county)
12.4.2008 12:05am
David Schwartz (mail):
So unique, non-repeatable events which defy a natural mechanism explanation should be examined using a toolbox which was built for looking at natural mechanisms?
Every event is unique and non-repeatable. Other events can only be similar. If there were actually unique, non-repeatable causal mechanisms, there is simply no way we could hope to understand them, by any conceivable mechanism.

If there were a single once-only unique non-repeatable causal mechanism, we would lose very little by not understanding it. If there were frequent multiple non-repeating causal mechanisms, they would form a repeat by which we could understand them.

As for "natural mechanisms", it's not clear to me how you're using the word "natural".

What is your take on the mystical experience?
I haven't had any mystical experiences. And nobody else has been able to describe their mystical experiences such that I have any idea what they're talking about. So I don't have a take on mystical experiences, except that I think most people are simply being credulous in order to justify beliefs that they have psychological attachments to.

I do know that people's mystical experiences have been used by different people to justify contradictory conclusions. So whatever they are, they are definitely not evidence of contradictory conclusions. Any mechanism that yields equally persuasive evidence for contradictory conclusions is not a valid way of providing evidence to support conclusions.
12.4.2008 12:34am
einhverfr (mail) (www):

that is an entirely different thing than assuming there is no god. sorry.


Ok, perhaps it is limited to any concept that I (or most other world religions) would recognize as God (and is explicitly outside what logical positivism finds meaningful).
12.4.2008 1:02am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
David Schwartz:

I always thought Thomas Merton's point (as a Catholic) about mystics being more similar around the world than Catholics (yes he was including Buddhists too) might be fairly apt. I don't think Merton was merely justifying his prejudices since not all Buddhist mystics are theists anyway, at least not in any sense that makes sense to Christians.

Unfortunately, you have to pursue mystical experience via a religious path, this doesn't require belief but getting the experience does require effort.

My suggestion-- go to a silent Quaker meeting for a year. Don't worry about what you believe. Most Quakers probably won't be able to tell you what they believe in ways that will make sense to you anyway. Just spend an hour in silent meditation every week. Come back and maybe we can talk more.

BrianK:

Take the following two questions:

1) What is behind the mystical experience?
2) If I take two entangled electrons and separate them in a non-entangling way, does each electron have a definite spin?

In the first case, you run into problems approaching the matter with the scientific method because the question makes no sense from a logical positivist perspective.

In the second case, you can, and it does make sense.

For me proof of the divine is in the mystical experience. As an occultist, I do believe we can accomplish things that seem to violate the laws of physics, but that these are somewhat untestable from a scientific perspective because of the specific mechanism (manifestation of ideas along a path of least resistance) involved.
12.4.2008 1:13am
TruePath (mail) (www):
Not going to get into the big argument but I will point out that the question of whether "Atheism is a religion" is not what people are debating when this question comes up.

Atheism is not a religion by simple word usage. If I ask, "Are you religious," we expect an atheist to say "No," and indeed if asked by someone else "Is he religious," we would say, "No, he's an atheist."

When people say "Atheism is a religion" they don't actually mean what they literally say. Rather they mean something like, "Atheism is similar to religion in the ways that the atheists themselves are critical of." Now to make this clear and useful you really need to be more precisce about the way it is similar and so forth.
12.4.2008 2:38am
whit:

Ok, perhaps it is limited to any concept that I (or most other world religions) would recognize as God (and is explicitly outside what logical positivism finds meaningful).


it's simply not an assumption (not God).

iow, science does not assume notgod(tm). it makes no assumption either way.

that is a HUGE difference.

just as the difference between strong and weak atheism is.

strong atheism has the primary attribute of weak atheism, fwiw, non-belief in god, but ALSO has a stronger belief , there IS NO GOD.

that *is* a leap of faith, and it is a belief system. and it does claim knowledge about that which the strong atheist has no certain knowledge, just as the theist has no certain knowledge.

it's really that simple.

for all we know (KNOW) there is no god, or there may be an actual dood with a grey beard and a slight case of acne. god only knows. science does not claim to know whether there is god or not. science does not even address that question. maybe one day it can. but it certainly can't now.
12.4.2008 4:02am
whit:

so in other words, what you are saying is that miracles are proof that god(s) exist, if we assume that god(s) exists. this is not a very meaningful argument because it forces you to assume what you are trying to prove. in order for miracles to be proof of the existence of god, you have to show that god caused the miracle. you don't get to wave your hands in the air and say "therefore god must exist


for pete's sake. there is no proof that god exists. it's a leap of faith. it's that simple. much like strong atheism is. which is a smarter leap of faith (if either is), is another question entirely. but there is no proof god exists (except my daughter's love, says live (the band)), and there is no proof he doesn't exist. therefore, either belief is a leap of faith.

i have no problem with strong atheism. i have a problem with strongatheists who are so devoid of logic (when it comes to their religion), that they can't admit the unavoidable truth. they claim knowledge about that which they have no knowledge.
12.4.2008 4:06am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
whit:

it's simply not an assumption (not God).


Maybe I read more into the demarcation problem than you do, but the general criteria for science has historically been based on two prongs:

1) A proposition must be testable or at least falsifiable.
2) The proposition must address phenomena which are observable via the senses (though use of appropriate tools does not invalidate this rule).

This means certain sorts of questions are fundamentally excluded. This includes such things as an invisible, omnipresent, and omnipotent being, for example. Carl Jung makes a clear argument that it also excludes questions of the structure of the psyche because these violate the second prong (phenomena don't include the results of self-observation).

(Personally, I would demarcate science in such a way that mathematics was excluded since that is basically a set of closed systems of deductive logic rather than a system of exploring any set of phenomena. Mathematics being useful to the sciences no more makes it a science than it does logic, of which it is a proper subset.)
12.4.2008 11:11am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
In case my initial point was misunderstood, science only makes these assumptions within its own domain (scientific inquiry).
12.4.2008 11:16am
Brian K (mail):
there is no proof that god exists.

exactly. therefore, it is not a leap of faith to say that god doesn't exist. it is a leap of faith to say that god does exist. no matter how many people may believe in something, saying that something does not exist in the face of absolutely no evidence that that something does exist is not a leap of faith.

it's the same way as unicorns, santa claus, tooth fairies, etc. saying that santa claus does not exist is not a belief system because there is no proof that he exists.
12.4.2008 1:40pm
Brian K (mail):
einhverfr:

a simple "yes, god exists because i assume he exists" would have sufficed.
12.4.2008 1:41pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Brian K, one quibble:

it's the same way as unicorns, santa claus, tooth fairies, etc. saying that santa claus does not exist is not a belief system because there is no proof that he exists.


Not quite the distinction I would make.

Any of those statements could be an element of a belief system, but you don't have enough there to create a real system of belief out if it.

Atheism is not a religion because it doesn't tell me what you *actually* believe. You could be a Buddhist, a secular humanist, and/or a Taoist....
12.4.2008 2:08pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
(A belief system might be "I doubt anything I can't observe with my senses" but that would be only a subset of atheism per se.)
12.4.2008 2:45pm
David Schwartz (mail):
My suggestion-- go to a silent Quaker meeting for a year. Don't worry about what you believe. Most Quakers probably won't be able to tell you what they believe in ways that will make sense to you anyway. Just spend an hour in silent meditation every week. Come back and maybe we can talk more.
This is the baldest claim for special treatment for the claims of theists I've seen in a long time. If you can't win by the rules everyone else has to play by, you're in the wrong game.
12.4.2008 8:39pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):

This is the baldest claim for special treatment for the claims of theists I've seen in a long time. If you can't win by the rules everyone else has to play by, you're in the wrong game.


Why?

My belief is based on experience, not the other way around. Your view seems to be that you have never had a mystical experience, so I am providing a path for you to have one even absent revisiting your views. (Note: Quakers do not even have a formal creed, and so they are not even united in belief.)

Failing that, take up yoga. I don;t think you need to be a Hindu to get the benefits of that.

My view simply is that if you want an experience that might cause you to reconsider (note I did not say change your mind-- I have already noted that atheism and mysticism might not necessarily be mutually exclusive), this is the way to go. However, if you don't want to seek out such an experience in such a way that you don't first have to change your beliefs that is your choice. But then it is a matter of faith on your part rather than a rational search.
12.5.2008 12:41am
einhverfr (mail) (www):
(Quakers don't have a formalized creed in part because one of the core principles in their religious system is that belief should be informed by experience rather than the other way around.)
12.5.2008 12:43am
whit:


Maybe I read more into the demarcation problem than you do, but the general criteria for science has historically been based on two prongs:

1) A proposition must be testable or at least falsifiable.
2) The proposition must address phenomena which are observable via the senses (though use of appropriate tools does not invalidate this rule).

This means certain sorts of questions are fundamentally excluded. This includes such things as an invisible, omnipresent, and omnipotent being, for example. Carl Jung makes a clear argument that it also excludes questions of the structure of the psyche because these violate the second prong (phenomena don't include the results of self-observation).

(Personally, I would demarcate science in such a way that mathematics was excluded since that is basically a set of closed systems of deductive logic rather than a system of exploring any set of phenomena. Mathematics being useful to the sciences no more makes it a science than it does logic, of which it is a proper subset.)



which again supports my point. you keep doing that, yet denying (or imo not understanding the point).

think long and hard about the difference between the two statements

1) god does not exist
2) i don't believe in god.

and get back to me. it's really that simple. there is a substantial difference between the two.

one is a statement about ultimate truth. (whcih can only be reached by a leap since there is not convincing proof either way). the other is a statement about how one parses the evidence and whether one decides to make a leap of faith to go beyond evidence.

it makes all the difference in the world. science does not assume (1). not at all. i've made it about as clear as i can.
12.5.2008 4:03am
David Schwartz (mail):
However, if you don't want to seek out such an experience in such a way that you don't first have to change your beliefs that is your choice. But then it is a matter of faith on your part rather than a rational search.
You don't see why that's a claim for special treatment?! What if I claimed that if you went through a certain one year process, you'd believe in unicorns or pixies but if you don't follow my process, your disbelief in unicorns and pixies is a matter of faith?

Nobody else gets to say, "I see that you and I disagree, but if you follow this one year process, you'd agree with me". Everyone else presents evidence and argument.

But then it is a matter of faith on your part rather than a rational search.


A rational search?! It's rational to spend a year doing something because someone assures you that you will believe in pixies (which he can't explain) after that year? Seriously?!
12.5.2008 10:01am
einhverfr (mail) (www):

A rational search?! It's rational to spend a year doing something because someone assures you that you will believe in pixies (which he can't explain) after that year? Seriously?!


I never said anything about belief. I was just saying it would help you challenge assumptions. That is all.

The point is that my belief in my own specific theory is based on two prongs, and currently we don't have anything we can talk about. The two prongs are:

1) The mystical experience (This is NOT the same as the religious experience, and it is NOT predicated even on belief IMO)
2) The function of religion relative to the mystical experience.

My views are not related to believing in things I can't experience. I figured we had that common ground at least.

My purpose was not to challenge your beliefs but rather offer you what you asked for, which was a description of the mystical experience so we could continue the dialog. I recommended the Quakers because they are the mystics I have known who are most welcome to those who "believe" "differently" and for whom "religious belief" is a phrase that probably doesn't apply to them anyway in the usual sense.

Personally, I don't *care* what you believe. I don't even think that belief has anything to do with an afterlife (religious traditions can help in other ways, but belief is irrelevant). However you have helped me see that you, like the vast majority of Theists I have met, believe what you do based on your own fears and prejudices, rather than an attempt to explore the subject. I suppose that is more of a human problem than a religious one though....
12.5.2008 12:08pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
As an off-topic sidenote: My views on the afterlife are based on the observation that every culture I have studied which allows multiple possibilities of the afterlife fundamentally ties those not to good deeds or beliefs, but rather to the state of consciousness at the moment of death. This is even true to a large extent in Christianity (which admittedly borrows heavily from the others in this list), but it is also true in old Egyptian mythology, old Greek religion, Viking religion, Vedic religion, and the like. Thus dying a good death is at least as important as living a good life.
12.5.2008 12:15pm
David Schwartz (mail):
einhverfr: If you want to present evidence and argument to defend your views, I'm all ears. If you want to tell me how to live my life so that perhaps I'll understand what you're talking about, I'm not interested in your advice.

However you have helped me see that you, like the vast majority of Theists I have met, believe what you do based on your own fears and prejudices, rather than an attempt to explore the subject.
Right, because I haven't invested a year your way, I haven't explored the subject. All the explorations I've done of the subject were wrong, and if I'd just invest one more year your way, I'll see the error of my ways.

The first few times I heard claims from mystics and theists, I did investigate. I went to their churches, read their holy books, you name it. The next few times, I still did. And again. And again. Over and over.

At some point, am I allowed to say I've had enough? I mean, I try to keep an open mind. But how many times do I have to investigate the same claims that aren't even comprehensible?

I've earned the right to say, "Okay, that's enough. If you want my attention with a new variation on the same ideas that I've already investigated and found to not even be comprehensible, you have to come to me with evidence."
12.5.2008 1:30pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):

If you want to present evidence and argument to defend your views, I'm all ears.


Ok. The only problem is that I am not convinced that the mystical experience can be reduced to simple words, and it certainly cannot be reduced to propositions acceptable to logical positivists.

Personally *I* am not certain what shape the divine takes in itself or even if it makes sense to assume that it is a being as opposed to, say, a higher level of order ("Heaven" to the Confucians), or even hidden capacities of the psyche (restricted to an inner god-self with some ability to shape elements around us).

I simply suggested that you look for such an experience without predicating it on belief. You might conclude for example, that there is nothing more to the experience than the effects of quiet on the mind, and that quiet meditative contemplation can provide breakthroughs but that these are simply neurological in nature. At least we would have something to talk about rather me being asked to undertake a task equivalent to defining colors to someone who has never seen them.

IMO, you have fallen into some of the traps of the scholastics of the Middle Ages by expecting truth to be something which can be found divorced from experience, and of which science was a reaction against.

Furthermore, I provided some ideas on how you could obtain such an experience. I hardly told you how to live your life any more than I might have if you told me that Siberian shamans didn't exist and I told you to tell me that after visiting them. Of course this is not exactly the same because I personally believe that the mystical experience is shaped to some extent by religious belief system and hence the experience is only the beginning rather than the end of the inquiry.

If you feel that I was giving you too few ideas, here are some others:

1) Take up Tai Chi and Chi Kung.
2) Take up Buddhist meditation techniques (just use the techniques, avoid studying the theory)

I think it would be interesting to see what sort of mystical experience an atheist would have, don't you? It might even help change some of my views and help us all move a little closer to a truer theory. Consider it a bit of a meta-scientific experiment.


At some point, am I allowed to say I've had enough? I mean, I try to keep an open mind. But how many times do I have to investigate the same claims that aren't even comprehensible?


THat is the problem that I am offering a solution to. Perhaps there are others, and certainly saying you don't want to find a way of comprehending the claims is one way forward :-)
12.5.2008 3:01pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
David Schwartz:

Just a note that maybe such a thing is not worth your time and effort. That is fair. Truly understanding analytical topology is not worth my time and effort either. But at least it clarifies where we stand.
12.5.2008 3:12pm
David Schwartz (mail):
Furthermore, I provided some ideas on how you could obtain such an experience. I hardly told you how to live your life any more than I might have if you told me that Siberian shamans didn't exist and I told you to tell me that after visiting them. Of course this is not exactly the same because I personally believe that the mystical experience is shaped to some extent by religious belief system and hence the experience is only the beginning rather than the end of the inquiry.
The difference is that you could explain to me what shamans are such that I can understand it. Also, you could collect objective evidence of their existence such as photographs and comprehensible eyewitness accounts.

Honestly, I don't even know how I would know a mystical experience if I had one.

In any event, even assuming for the sake of argument that mystical experiences exist and if I followed your recipe I would have one, it still self-evident that they're not evidence of anything. Such experiences have led people to a variety of contradictory claims and provide no mechanism to filter the valid claims from the invalid claims. So to the extent they produce beliefs, they produce false beliefs at least as easily as they produce true ones.

So as a means to validate claims (other than, perhaps, that such experiences exist), mystical experiences are useless.
12.5.2008 4:04pm
David Schwartz (mail):
Suppose I offered you a drug. I said, "If you take this drug, you will acquire some new beliefs. Others who have taken this drug have acquired a variety of contradictory beliefs." Would you take the drug? Wouldn't it be reckless to advise someone to do so?

Why isn't this is precisely what you are asking me to do?
12.5.2008 4:06pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
David Schwartz:

So as a means to validate claims (other than, perhaps, that such experiences exist), mystical experiences are useless.


Not quite useless. I am not even sure we agree that mystical experiences exist. The next question becomes after that, whether there is something transpersonal and "real" behind them.


Would you take the drug? Wouldn't it be reckless to advise someone to do so?

Why isn't this is precisely what you are asking me to do?


First, I was not asking you to do anything that would necessarily change your belief, just something that had the potential to challenge your assumptions. What you find on the other side may only be subtly different than what you find right now, but at least it would give us grounds to continue discussing the key questions.

Ok. Suppose instead I hand you a large pile of anthropology, psychology, and such texts. Would that be a better way forward? In which case, I recommend:

"Psycosynthesis" by Roberto Assaglioli (Clinical psychology) and
"The Idea of the Holy" by Rudolf Otto (comparative religion/anthropology).

Note that the drug question comes up sometimes in groups I do belong to. I think there is a fundamental difference between a disciplined act (routine meditation) and a rapid chemical effect (drugs). My biggest concern with drugs in a religious or mystical environment is the question of atrophy (something is easier to access, so one loses one's natural abilities). I also have concerns about losing critical thought when seeing drug experiences as legitimate.

But hey, if we want to talk about the nature of the drug experience itself, it helps if we both are talking about the same experience and presumably have had the same drugs.... Otherwise, as here, one side simply has no basis to understand the other.
12.5.2008 5:11pm
David Schwartz (mail):
But hey, if we want to talk about the nature of the drug experience itself, it helps if we both are talking about the same experience and presumably have had the same drugs.... Otherwise, as here, one side simply has no basis to understand the other.
For what it's worth, I've found people's descriptions of their drug experiences to be much more coherent than their descriptions of their purported mystical experiences.
12.5.2008 6:51pm
Momo (mail) (www):
"Are they organized, and if so, do they have IRS non profit status? Are there atheistic ceremonies that are conducted?"

My ex boyfriend's grandfather is a big time atheist. He actually went to meetings, so I wouldn't put it past them. It sounded pretty organized, having meetings. I wondered what in the heck they DO at the meetings?

"Hey Bob."

"Hey Larry."

"Still no God, eh?"

*sips coffee* "LOoks that way."

"How're the wife and kids?"

"Oh, they're doing good, ya know. Billy's getting A's and Sally's learning the violin. How about yours?"

"Eh, Marge got into a car accident but she's ok thank -- " *sheepish look* "Well, you know."

"Ya."

"Ya."

*sips coffee*
12.5.2008 7:17pm
Momo (mail) (www):
FTR, I think this sign is just plain hate speech. Like someone else said, you can believe what you want but you can't put up "fighting words." If atheists believe this stuff, fine. If Christians or whoever believe that everyone else is doooomed, fine. But you can't put a sign up condemning and attacking people based on their religion. This is against freedom OF religion. Saying that religious people are unreasonable and have hardened hearts and enslaved minds etc. is a straight out attack on all people of faith.

I can't imagine we would want signs saying Jesus is Lord and you're gonna burn if you don't believe in Him. We just don't go around sticking signs up like that because that's pretty hateful. At least, I HOPE no one's doing that. It's really not loving.

And I hardly see how atheism is a great example of soft hearted people with such hate going on towards people of faith. Doesn't look like the ole atheism is doing much good for their hearts and minds if this is all they can focus on.

(BTW, what is with them only putting up signs at Christmas and Hanukkah etc.??? Isn't atheism a year-round thing? Don't they have all those other months where there aren't any Nativities? Why take such offense to it being displayed for a few weeks when it's NOT displayed for the rest of the year?)
12.5.2008 7:22pm
David Schwartz (mail):
Momo:
But you can't put a sign up condemning and attacking people based on their religion. This is against freedom OF religion.
No. Just no. If that were true, freedom of religion could not be permitted, since it would constantly lead to irreconcilable contradictions.
12.5.2008 11:55pm