Thursday, June 30, 2011

Five Not Really Myths

There has been this article going around internet called “5 Myths Atheists Believe About Religion” by Be Scofield that has caught a few people’s attention. A couple of my friends shared it on Facebook, and people like PZ Myers have written blog posts about it. Ever since reading the article, I’ve been wanting to respond to it because I feel that it is really lacking in substance. Here are the myths and my responses to them.

5. Liberal and Moderate Religion Justifies Religious Extremism

This idea is a complicated one which I don’t know if anyone has done any justice to; especially Be Scofield. I think that liberal and moderate religious believers can help justify what I consider religious extremism by claiming to be members of overarching religious institutions and tithing to those institutions. For example, a liberal Catholic who doesn’t believe in a lot of the Catholic church’s position on social issues such as homosexuality, birth control, and abortion but attends church and tithes justifies these extreme positions by adding to their numbers and financing them. Does this mean that these believers are terrible people? Of course not, but they are supporting an organization which holds extreme positions that often cause suffering across the world.

Scofield makes some bad analogies to prove that this is a myth and later makes an analogy to government to make his case. I didn’t think that this his analogies were very good, but Sastra in the comments of Pharyngula makes an analogy that I think is very apt. Sastra uses “absolute monarchy based on the divine right of kings” to illustrate how this myth might not be a myth. Sastra explains that people may try to use the fact that there are “good kings -- kings who were tolerant, virtuous, compassionate, and eager to listen to the will of the people” to justify the existence of absolute monarchies and say that “it's wrong to condemn absolute monarchies as if they were all the same.” But nobody is saying that there aren’t good kings, but the main problem is the system itself. And that’s the same problem with religion. The system of religion itself just isn’t that good. Read her full comment itself to clear up any confusion.

4. Religion Requires a Belief in a Supernatural God

This may be a myth but it is a superficial myth. Sure, religion doesn’t technically require belief in a supernatural God, but I would argue that it requires belief in something supernatural to be called a religion. And for the sake of argument, let’s assume that religion doesn’t require the belief in anything supernatural. Would this change the fact that the majority of religions on the planet require belief in the supernatural and most religious people believe in the supernatural? No, it would not. Non-supernatural believing religions would such a tiny and insignificant minority that it would make sense to just assume that when people were talking about religion and religious believers, they are talking about the supernatural variety.

I think the main problem here is that Scofield is making the definition of religion incredibly wide that almost anything can fit within it. Was Thomas Jefferson really religious? Or did he just think that Jesus was an extraordinary person who provided us with some good moral insights? Can you say that is a person is religious if they do not subscribe to the party dogma of that religion? If so, then what is the difference between a religious person and a non-religious person. I think that a set of beliefs that involves dedication to a particular doctrine or dogma and includes the belief in some sort of supernatural entity or entities or metaphysics is a more coherent and gives us a clear indication between people who are religious or non-religious. Those who do not fit within this definition of religion belong to either an ideology or a philosophical tradition.

3. Religion Causes Bad Behavior

I don’t know if this qualifies as a myth because I don’t think there are really that many atheists that think that religion causes bad behavior. Because of this, I think this is really a strawman that Scofield is setting up to easily knock down. Perhaps most atheists think that religion contributes to bad behavior or gives excuse for bad behavior. Bad behavior is first and foremost a human problem, but religion can set up the stage to allow bad behavior to become something that is justified and even praised. I think this what atheists really mean when they criticize religion.

2. Atheists are Anti-Religious

I would say that this is a myth that religious people have about atheists rather than a myth that atheists have about religion. I don’t think I know any atheists who think that to be an atheist that you have to be anti-religious (whatever that means). I do think that the majority of atheists are against religious faith as something that should be used to justify a person’s positions. I also think that atheists, by definition, don’t think that any theistic religion is rationally justified. Atheists, of course, may be part of atheistic religions and believe them to be true.

While we’re talking about myths, the belief that atheists are people who “assert that god does not exist” is a pretty common myth that religious people have about atheists. Atheists are simply people who lack a belief in any gods. Or to put it in other words, an atheist is someone who answers “no” when asked whether or not he or she believes in god. There are many people out there who assert that the probability of god existing is very small, and I don’t think we should not include them as atheist simply because they don’t “assert that god does not exist.” This may be Scofield’s personal belief about what atheists are, but I don’t have any reason to accept his definition.

1. All Religions are the Same and are “Equally Crazy”

This myth comes from a Greta Christina article called “Are All Religion Equally Crazy?”  Greta Christina eventually answers that she thinks they are. And I disagree with Greta Christina on this one. First, I don’t like the use of the word “crazy” here because I don’t think it accurately conveys what she means (maybe does though, but it definitely doesn’t accurately convey what I mean). I prefer to use the term “implausible.” The main reason I don’t think they are equally implausible is because some religions build upon other ones and add even more assumptions and beliefs into the mix. For example, I would say that Mormonism is more implausible than Christianity because it adds a whole lot more assumptions and metaphysical baggage to what is already contained within Christianity. I think adding this extra layer of stuff makes it much more implausible than Christianity. If you take something that is already implausible and add even more implausible stuff to it, I think you have made it more implausible. This same argument can be used when comparing Judaism and Christianity. Christianity adds more implausible baggage to Judaism and, hence, is more implausible. I don’t think that this makes Judaism or Christianity even remotely plausible, but it does make them less implausible when compared to other religions in the same family.

But I don’t think Scofield’s position is correct either. Because at the end of the day, nearly all religions rely on the same irrational system to arrive at their beliefs, faith. And they all have beliefs that are equally implausible. The only variable is how many they have. And that numerical variable is what causes one religion to be more implausible than another one even though the beliefs themselves are equally implausible. These beliefs that are not justified on by logic, evidence, and reason. And this is the position that most atheists take issue with in regards to religion. Martin Luther King and Osama Bin Laden may have widely different views on God and religion, but they both justify their implausible beliefs by faith. This is what religions have in common. They both act on those beliefs in incredibly different ways, but that doesn’t change the fact that their religious beliefs are justified by the same method.


I’m not exactly sure what the purpose Scofield had in mind when writing this article, but if it was show most atheists that they were wrong about their position and beliefs about religion, I don’t think he made a very good case. I think his arguments are basically a bunch of strawmen that don’t accurately portray what most atheists actually believe about religion. At the end of the day, it seems like Scofield is projecting his beliefs about atheists onto atheists instead of exposing supposed myths that atheists hold about religion.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Why Faith Should Not Be Lauded

I do not understand why faith is something that is so highly regarded around the world and especially in America.  The idea that faith, which is essentially belief without evidence, is something that something that is seen as a good thing is totally beyond my understanding.  Why is it acceptable to believe something is true when there is a complete lack of evidence or evidence to the contrary.  There are so many people in America who dismiss the wealth of evidence in favor of evolution in favor of Biblical creationism, for which there is no evidence.  And the belief that the Bible is inerrant goes right along with Biblical creationism.  We know that the Bible is not inerrant.  All you have to do is read the Bible to find the many glaring contradictions contained within it.  And it is pretty obvious that something that is inerrant cannot have contradictions.  But in spite of all the evidence against these two positions, people believe them anyways.  Because they have faith.  But that’s not good enough.

But if I were to apply the same idea of faith to something that is not socially acceptable, then I am sure I would be called crazy.  For example, if I were to say to a group of people that I had received a message from a group of inter-dimensional aliens that told me that I would be rewarded with infinite pleasure if I worshipped them and followed what they said, I would be thought of as crazy by those people; and rightfully so.  The reason for this is because I have no evidence to believe such an outlandish conviction.  This situation is not much different than the faith in the case of religion.  Instead of aliens, we have God and/or Jesus.

The other reason why faith shouldn’t be lauded or accepted is that faith can be used to justify any belief.  Faith is often used to justify racist, anti-gay, anti-woman, and xenophobic beliefs.  When someone has a belief that they are justifying using faith, there isn’t really any way to debate the issue.  Faith is typically used as a discussion stopper rather than a discussion raiser.  And I’m not saying that people who have faith are racist, anti-gay, anti-woman, and/or xenophobic, but simply that it is the same kind of faith that other people use.  Faith is not praiseworthy, and people shouldn’t be lauded for simply having faith.

So instead of using faith, what should we use?  I suggest that we should base our beliefs on reason, experience and evidence.  We should adopt the belief that we are fallible creatures that are capable of being wrong.  We should do our best to learn formal and informal logic.  We should try our best to not take things simply on people’s word and investigate a topic as much as we can.  We shouldn’t simply take things on faith.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Farscape: Second Best Science Fiction Television Show

As the title suggests, Farscape is my second favorite science fiction television show.  Farscape follows an American astronaut named John Crichton who gets shot through a wormhole while testing out a theory while orbiting the Earth.  Crichton eventually finds himself on a living spaceship with a variety of alien companions most of which are escaped convicts.  The living ship is named Moya and is operated by a pilot that is symbiotically linked to it.   The show follows their adventures on the run from a military named Crais who is after Crichton because Crichton accidentally killed his brother after exiting the wormhole.

Farscape ran for four seasons on SciFi before it was cancelled.  There a great deal of outrage at its cancellation because the show was incredibly popular and the last season ended in a cliffhanger.  Because of the outrage, SciFi produced a miniseries called The Peacekeeper Wars to wrap up the dangling plot elements and to appease angry fans.  Farscape was also known for its use of muppets.  And we all know that muppets are cool.

Farscape was, in my opinion, a character driven show.  Nearly all of the characters in this show were interesting, compelling, and complicated.  They all had their own stories and issues that were dealt with on the show.  The characters also grew and developed over the course of the show.  By the end of the series, all of the main characters had been changed by everything they had went through.  The show also had an interesting set of villains in the form of Crais and Scorpius.  In fact, Scorpius is one of my all-time favorite villains because he has interesting motivations behind his actions.  Crais is also an interesting character who changes much over the course of the show.

My favorite character in the show is John Crichton.  He possesses many of the qualities that I respect about human beings.  He is intelligent, brave, hopeful, and batshit crazy.  Well, maybe the last one isn't a quality that I respect, but it's damn entertaining to watch.  Over the course of the show, Crichton goes through so much shit it's crazy.

Farscape is not just a great science fiction television show.  It is a great television show.  If you have never watched it before, then you should find it and watch it.  And remember, it has muppets.

Friday, June 10, 2011

NBA Finals 2011

This year's NBA Finals between the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat have been really awesome.  Every game has come down to the wire.  Dirk Nowitski has stepped in every game while LeBron James has been nonexistent in the 4th Quarter of every game in the finals.  Since I've always been supportive of Cleveland sports teams because of family here, I've been rooting against LeBron James and the Miami Heat all year.  And also I'm rooting for Dirk Nowitski because I have a soft spot for Germans since my family was originally from there, and I actually have a cousin that still lives there.  So the fact that the Mavericks are up 3 to 2 in the series makes me extremely happy.  Here's hoping that the Mavericks are able to win Game 6 on Sunday and take the series.

Bad Arguments are Bad Arguments

I ran across a story on The Friendly Atheist today that really irritated me.  A group of black atheists in Atlanta have a public access television show called the "Black Atheists of Atlanta."  On an episode that aired on May 23, 2011, they talked about homosexuality that was straight up wrong.

The first thing they talk about that is absolutely wrong is that homosexuality is selfish and is about "me me me."  I don't really understand where this line of thinking comes from.  How is being attracted to people of the same sex any more or less selfish than being attracted to people of the opposite sex?  They are just simply different.  There is no good reason to think that homosexuality is selfish.  Is it because homosexual relations cannot with assistance produce children?  If that is the case, then any heterosexual relationship that doesn't produce children is equally selfish.

The next thing that talk about that really pisses me off is that there is some scientific "Law of Reproduction" which seemingly means that all animals are being to reproduce, so homosexuality is solely based on custom and people aren't born that way.  I've never heard of a "Law of Reproduction."  I've heard that animals reproduce, but I've heard that animals engage in homosexual activities as well.  And if that is the case, then it seems that there is not a "Law of Reproduction."  And, for the sake of argument, even if there was a "Law of Reproduction," that tells us nothing about the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality.  You can't take an "is" and turn it into an "ought."  So basically these guys are talking out of their asses on this.

Finally, they talk about how homosexuality is "sex-based" and not "family-based."  Once again, they are making a claim about homosexuality without any evidence to back it up.  Homosexuality is not any more sex-based than heterosexuality is.  And even if it were, is that a morally bad thing?  Also, this is insulting to all the homosexual men and women who are attempting to raise families in a country that is extremely unsupportive of them trying to do this.  I'm pretty sure that these homosexual couples are as family-based as any heterosexual couple.  Does this make them better than heterosexual relationships that are sex-based?  I don't think so.  This line of thinking is a holdover from religious thinking even though they are trying to justify it with science.  It's just plain and simple bigotry.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sorrowful Beauty

Eric MacDonald's blog Choice in Dying is quickly becoming one of my favorite skeptical blogs out there.  He was an Anglican priest who left religion chiefly because of it's opposition to assisted suicide.  And this topic hits very close to him because his wife was crippled by an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis.  It caused her great suffering and also paralyzed her.  She made the decision that she wanted to die, but she couldn't make that a reality in Canada (where they are from) because there were laws against it.  So she had to travel all the way to Switzerland to die.

Eric MacDonald wrote a beautiful piece about his wife and their journey to commemorate the fourth anniversary of her death (which is tomorrow).  The piece is incredibly powerful and made me almost tear up a few times.  He talks about love and loss, and it is just so beautiful.  I think that he shows quite well that you don't need God, religion, or any metaphysical baggage to experience love and compassion.  Our lives have meaning, beauty, and wonder without the need for anything inherent.  He also shows that religious dogma gets in the way of compassion by influencing laws that do not allow people to get the help they need to end their suffering.

Just read and experience the love that he obviously felt for his dear departed wife.  Experience the sorrowful beauty that it holds.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Answer Is Really Easy

The question is "Is there anything wrong or immoral about homosexuality?"  As the title of this blog post states, the answer to this question is incredibly easy.  The answer is no.  There is nothing wrong or immoral about homosexuality.  There is no good argument for the position that homosexuality is wrong or immoral.  And, no, because the Bible or Koran says that it is wrong, is not a good argument.  And there are plenty of good arguments against that position.

The only reason to accept that a religious text should be an authority on morality is faith that this text is telling us something important.  And faith is never a good reason.  And most of the people who use religious texts as their justification for their position against homosexuality never follow all the rules that those religious text require them to follow.  Their lack of consistency does not impress me, and it shouldn't impress anyone else.

One argument people offer against homosexuality is the argument that it is unnatural.  This argument is bad because "unnatural" is not really a coherent term.  And even if it were, that means that things like cars and medicine would also be immoral because they are unnatural.  And if you say that unnatural means "against god," then we're back to using a religious text or divine revelation to make a claim.  That's not rational.

James Rachels' Elements of Moral Philosophy has a really good chapter that takes all the arguments against homosexuality and mercilessly breaks them down and destroys them.  He does so in a very clear and concise way, and I highly recommend it.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

This is Evil

I read this story today and could not think of any word to describe it other than evil.  You have to read the incredibly heartbreaking story to fully appreciate how evil it is.  And beware, if you don't feel like reading something very emotional and sad, then you might want to stay away.

The story is about a gay teen who was taken from her home and sent to a camp to "fix" her.  The people who run these camps can be called nothing other than evil and my book.  I think they should be locked up for the rest of their lives or potentially executed (and I'm not a fan of the death penalty).  The scale of damage that they cause to the teenagers they supposedly "help" is so off the charts that it is ridiculous.  This is the damage that blind faith that you are absolutely right that something is wrong does.

Any parent who sends her child to one of these camps should be have their children taken away from them so they can't potentially harm them.  It might also be reasonable to sterilize them so they can't have any more children that they can harm.  Any parent like this is a worthless piece of scum.  This is what extremely irrational beliefs do.  They make parents harm their children while thinking they are doing good.  It is despicable.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Why Libraries Are Important

Public libraries are, in my opinion, a great example of the best parts of our country. When you step into a library, you are effectively equal as everyone else. You won't be denied service because of your race, gender, religion, or potential economic disadvantage. The public library gives everyone the opportunity to improve themselves without asking for much in return and nothing up front. And it doesn't matter why you use the public library. You can use it for entertainment, improving yourself, community meetings, or whatever. The library is a place for everyone and where everyone is equal.  And public libraries are also equalizers as well because they allow disadvantage people a place where they can go to accomplish tasks that they wouldn't normally have.  So please, go and support your local public library!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Is What I See Groupthink?

I have to say that I'm really happy that I discovered the atheist blogosphere a few months ago.  There some blogs that I like more than others, but I enjoy reading most of them.  I'm particular fond of Rationally Speaking and Russell Blackford's Metamagician blog because they are usually the most well-reasoned and interesting blogs I read.  I am not as big a fan of PZ Myer's blog and Jerry Coyne's blog, but they often have some insightful things to say.  The main problem I have is that it seems that within the comment sections of these latter two blogs and some others, I often witness what I think are textbook examples of groupthink.  I have often noticed that if someone comes into the comments and disagrees with the author of the blog, everyone jumps on him and will often rip him to shreds with insults and the like.  This will occur even when someone presents a well-reasoned argument.  Sometimes the argument won't even get addressed once the sharks sense to blood in the water.  And often the victims of this are fellow atheists who merely disagree with the author.

This may be a symptom of the Internet and the ability to be anonymous.  But I expect more out of a community that is supposed to hold reason and evidence in high regard.  I expect people in this community to address the arguments without name-calling or any other childish stuff.  You don't necessarily have to be nice, but at least address the argument.  The argument can be right or wrong.  That doesn't matter to me.  I just want people to care about the argument first rather than attacking the person who disagrees with them.  And I don't think it's that hard either.

Maybe the Internet just brings out lowest common denominator out of every community.  It's probably true.  But I don't buy it as an excuse for bad behavior.  And I'm certainly not going to accept that it is just the way things are done.  What I am going to do is make sure that the people who do a good job on these blogs know that they're doing a good job and to keep up the work.  And I'm going to remember to not feed the trolls.