Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Coming out of the godless closet

A friend of mine, who I would probably describe as a deist and not a christian one at that, was telling me that he's recently heard a few people tell him that they now consider themselves atheists. First I'll say that I've had lots of great conversations about religion with this very good friend of mine partly because he's jewish and therefore knows the history of chistians quite well, plus he got a minor in religion in college so hes fairly well versed in all the major religions. The final reason for so many conversation on religion with him is because his girlfriend's family are fundamentalist baptists. So he gets an up-close and personal view of some serious wing-nuttery. Plus he is a very intelligent person, very rational and better educated than most, plus hes one of my oldest friends so it essentially impossible to insult each other. And like I said he's basically a deist which is much easier to get along with, if your god doesn't get directly involved with human affairs and there is no hell, then your probably not going to injure others for your beliefs.

I have feeling that you will see a surge in atheism, not because more people are shedding their beliefs but because more people are going to stop pretending to belief. I think the so called "new-atheists" or as UTI crew calls them, "The Atheist Justice League" has an impact, again not because they are converting people but by the simple fact that they have had numerous best-selling books between them has gotten them quite a bit of media coverage talking about atheism. And all publicity is good publicity. The biggest help this has is making people more comfortable with the idea of being an atheist. The other reason atheists are coming out is the reason these people gave which is that they simply can't stand what is happening in the name of christianity. In the past if you weren't christian you had to justify where you get your morals from (some are still arguing about this) now days if you ARE a christian you need to defend your morals. How can you justify hating gay? stem-cells? Schiavo? anti-abortion? In other words thank you to all of you bug-fuck crazy fundamentalists (can't spell fundamentalist without mental) for helping get so many people to leave their faiths. Again though I think the numbers will swing our way in the near future (I don't mean a majority) but I don't think it will be because peoples beliefs really change its just that they are going to admit it now. For a long time I would have called myself a christian if I was doing a survey, it doesn't mean I believed that crap it's just a social norm.

Oh one other fun little story was my friend describing talking with his girlfriends mom, she asked about hinduism so he tried to explain the many faces of vishnu in similar terms as the trinity in christianinty. He also mentioned that its been around for about 6,500 years to which she said, "but the world barely older than that, and the jews were the first religion." Oh yeah your one of those he thought then explain that while judaism is nearly as old they don't have any evidence that can date it back quite that far while hinduism they can prove back that far. He was also forced to mention carbon dating which of course is a crap-science to her, because much like the hitchhikers guide, if the bible is in conflict with reality its reality that is flawed.


franz said...

When discussing these topics, I think it's worth clearing up the definitions of two words. An atheist ("without god") actively believes there is no god; an agnostic ("without knowledge"), in contrast, does not actively believe there is no god but rather asserts the existence of a god is unknowable.

In your post, do you really mean to use the word "atheist"? My view is that the most rigorous thinker admits to great uncertainty and therefore is an agnostic rather than an atheist (or perhaps an agnostic agnostic: one who asserts that it is unknowable whether or not one can know there is a god).

Membership in a specific religion is, I think, often unrelated to particular beliefs as there is considerably more to a religion than belief: there is also culture, community, history.

For these and other reasons, I find the so-called "science vs. religion" and closely related "evolution vs. intelligent design" debates frustrating precisely because debate is impossible. My view is that the essential question is not whether we should teach a particular scientific theory in the classroom but rather whether American education as an institution is capable of instilling in students a strong sense of academic rigor and intellectual inquiry.

It does not bother me at all if my neighbor believes the earth is 6,000 years old. But it does bother me if he is unwilling or unable to consider deeply his beliefs or with them maintains a single, simple, and ultimately useless frame with which to view the exceedingly complex world around him and make decisions. It bothers me a great deal if my neighbor votes according to a simple opinion about, say, gay people, rather than according to the views one can form only after researching thoroughly politicians' positions on all foreign and domestic policies.

Kilgore Trout said...

Great comment, but I did mean Atheist. While I fully understand your point about agnostic being the more intellectually accurate term it has the fault of leaving the gate wide open for every believer to preach to you. In that sense by saying Atheist I do not mean that god or gods are an absolute impossibility. I mean that I have examined the evidence available to me and I had concluded after years of thought that there is no god. Like an honest skeptic I always leave the caveat that given sufficient evidence my mind can always be changed, but that evidence is going to have to come the deity in question not from an old book filled with stories that Eli Roth would be proud to have written. According to said book back in those days god was willing to provide plenty of evidece for himself, although usually by destructive means. If I saw a city destroyed by burning stones from the sky... Id assume meteorites, until everyone who looked at that city was turned into pillars of salt. I would take that as evidence. A flood that raised the sea level thousands of feet to cover the earth would change my mind. On a non-destructive end a talking donkey would work, unless he's got a voice over by Eddie Murphy, Shrek does not prove god. Sorry can't help but keep this light hearted.

As for the debates you mentioned, I'll agree that science vs. religion is an impossible debate, although that might not always be true. evolution vs intelligent design on the other hand is a perfectly viable debate as ID is said to be a scientific hypothesis and therefore can be examined as such. Although ultimately your correct that this is also a futile battle. Its a debate in the sense that in theory I could get in the ring against Evander Holyfield and box, it would be a fight, but it wouldn't be a fight. It's also an immpossible fight because no matter how many times creationism get shot down as an un-testable non-falsifiable aka non-scientific hypothesis people keep bringing it up anyway. So from that sense its an impossible debate which is why many respectable scientists refuse to get involved. In the words of Richards Dawkins, "I'm sure it would look very good on your resume to debate me, on mine not so much (paraphrase)."

My all time favorite refute of religion/ explanation of personal atheism is from one of my favorite authors, the late great Douglas Adams. He also covers the atheist/ agnostic issue with tenacity and his usual bit of humor.

Thanks again for the wonderful comment, it got me thinking even if I disagreed with much of it.