Monthly Archives: July 2012

Common Misconceptions About Atheists and Atheism

Atheism has been garnering plenty of attention lately, mainly negative attention due to its position that disparages the beliefs of more than 80% of the world population. There are many outspoken Atheists – Dawkins, Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens to name a few – but Atheism remains very much an anathema within society. Spirituality, along with superstitions, is revered above all else, and to deny it is to declare war on personal beliefs. In this “war”, many absurd claims have been made about Atheists and Atheism. It is important that we confute these claims, filtering out the stupidity and foolishness just so we can move on to issues of actual significance.

Atheists eat babies
Probably the most ridiculous of all claims, but nonetheless, as an Atheist, I’ve learnt to turn every baffling statement into humour. This myth has its origins in blood libel, which is the (Christian/Catholic) false accusation that enemies of Christ murder children for ritualistic purposes. Christianity has a strong vampire-blood-flesh fetish, so it’s no surprise that the negative antipode of their claims would revolve around the exact same fetish.

A little note to theists, if you are inviting me over for dinner, I like my babies medium-rare, preferably with a side of steamed carrots and cauliflower, lightly salted. Thank you.

Yummy!

Atheists are satanist, devil worshippers
From an Atheist’s perspective, god – especially the Abrahimaic versions of god – is the bigger devil than the devil himself. He is misogynistic, homophobic, murderous, and cruel; all round not a very nice bloke. Not to burst the religious bubble or anything, but Atheism assumes the convincing position that there are no deities or any supernatural beings, which would include Satan or the devil. However, if I tried extremely hard to be stupid, I could understand the logic of this claim:  it originates from the religious arrogance that concludes if you deny god, you are on the devil’s side.

Atheists hate god
I’ll keep this sweet and short: We can’t hate an entity that does not exist; but the idea of god, along with the various fictionalized doctrines, will receive universal criticism from Atheists because of its detrimental effect on the human race.

Atheists are immoral
Morality (and its origins) is probably the most heavily-debated topic between the religious and the non-religious. I’ll shamelessly allow the words of Sam Harris to make this point for me, because he speaks my mind on this matter, a little more eloquently.

If a person doesn’t already understand that cruelty is wrong, he won’t discover this by reading the Bible or the Koran — as these books are bursting with celebrations of cruelty, both human and divine. We do not get our morality from religion. We decide what is good in our good books by recourse to moral intuitions that are (at some level) hard-wired in us and that have been refined by thousands of years of thinking about the causes and possibilities of human happiness.

We have made considerable moral progress over the years, and we didn’t make this progress by reading the Bible or the Koran more closely. Both books condone the practice of slavery — and yet every civilized human being now recognizes that slavery is an abomination. Whatever is good in scripture — like the golden rule — can be valued for its ethical wisdom without our believing that it was handed down to us by the creator of the universe.

On a more personal note, my experience with charity has shown me that Agnostics and Atheists tend to be more helpful than religious people. The religious herd tend to have conditions attached to their morality, riddled with hypocritical questions such as, “Are the orphans Christians/Muslims?”

Atheism is a religion
I wrote about this a while back (link). To reiterate my view on this:

I am sure there are long, drawn out arguments regarding the issue, often with the semantics being manipulated to suit the case. 

I am a staunch believer in Occam’s razor, which states from among competing hypotheses, selecting the one that makes the fewest new assumptions usually provides the correct one, and that the simplest explanation will be the most plausible until evidence is presented to prove it false. My stance on religion is rather simple and straightforward: Religion refers to the belief in a supernatural being, which in and of itself has some form of afterlife, may it be the Abrahamic heaven and hell concept, or Hinduism-Buddhism reincarnation cycle. These are all elements I reject, without having the need to dwell on the semantics and the complexities of the definitions.

Religion: The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods.

Belief: An acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists.

Atheism: The belief that God does not exist.

As the famous line goes,”Calling Atheism a religion is like calling bald a hair colour.”

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Notable Atheist: Lance Armstrong

On Religion

The night before brain surgery, I thought about death. I searched out my larger values, and I asked myself, if I was going to die, did I want to do it fighting and clawing or in peaceful surrender? What sort of character did I hope to show? Was I content with myself and what I had done with my life so far? I decided that I was essentially a good person, although I could have been better–but at the same time I understood that the cancer didn’t care.

I asked myself what I believed. I had never prayed a lot. I hoped hard, I wished hard, but I didn’t pray. I had developed a certain distrust of organized religion growing up, but I felt I had the capacity to be a spiritual person, and to hold some fervent beliefs. Quite simply, I believed I had a responsiblity to be a good person, and that meant fair, honest, hardworking, and honorable. If I did that, if I was good to my family, true to my friends, if I gave back to my community or to some cause, if I wasn’t a liar, a cheat, or a thief, then I believed that should be enough. At the end of the day, if there was indeed some Body or presence standing there to judge me, I hoped I would be judged on whether I had lived a true life, not on whther I believed in a certain book, or whether I’d been baptized. If there was indeed a God at the end of my days, I hoped he didn’t say, “But you were never a Christian, so you’re going the other way from heaven.” If so, I was going to reply, “You know what? You’re right. Fine.”

I believed, too, in the doctors and the medicine and the surgeries–I believed in that. I believed in them. A person like Dr. Einhorn [his oncologist], that’s someone to believe in, I thought, a person with the mind to develop an experimental treatment 20 years ago that now could save my life. I believed in the hard currency of his intelligence and his research.

Beyond that, I had no idea where to draw the line between spiritual belief and science. But I knew this much: I believed in belief, for its own shining sake. To believe in the face of utter hopelessness, every article of evidence to the contrary, to ignore apparent catastrophe–what other choice was there? We do it every day, I realized. We are so much stronger than we imagine, and belief is one of the most valiant and long-lived human characteristics. To believe, when all along we humans know that nothing can cure the briefness of this life, that there is no remedy for our basic mortality, that is a form of bravery.

To continue believing in yourself, believing in the doctors, believing in the treatment, believing in whatever I chose to believe in, that was the most important thing, I decided. It had to be.

Without belief, we would be left with nothing but an overwhelming doom, every single day. And it will beat you. I didn’t fully see, until the cancer, how we fight every day gainst the creeping negatives of the world, how we struggle daily against the slow lapping of cynicism. Dispiritedness and disappointment, these were the real perils of life, not some sudden illness or cataclysmic millennium doomsday. I knew now why people fear cancer: because it is a slow and inevitable death, it is the very definition of cynicism and loss of spirit.

So, I believed.

From Lance Armstrong’s book It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, published by G.P Putnam’s Sons 2000. pp. 116-118

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Notable Atheist: Douglas Adams

On the burden of proof:

“I don’t accept the currently fashionable assertion that any view is automatically as worthy of respect as any equal and opposite view. My view is that the moon is made of rock. If someone says to me “Well, you haven’t been there, have you? You haven’t seen it for yourself, so my view that it is made of Norwegian Beaver Cheese is equally valid” – then I can’t even be bothered to argue. There is such a thing as the burden of proof, and in the case of god, as in the case of the composition of the moon, this has shifted radically. God used to be the best explanation we’d got, and we’ve now got vastly better ones. God is no longer an explanation of anything, but has instead become something that would itself need an insurmountable amount of explaining. So I don’t think that being convinced that there is no god is as irrational or arrogant a point of view as belief that there is. I don’t think the matter calls for even-handedness at all.”

On the arguments for religious ideas, contrasted with those for evolutionary biology:

“What astonished me, however, was the realization that the arguments in favor of religious ideas were so feeble and silly next to the robust arguments of something as interpretative and opinionated as history. In fact they were embarrassingly childish. They were never subject to the kind of outright challenge which was the normal stock in trade of any other area of intellectual endeavor whatsoever. Why not? Because they wouldn’t stand up to it. So I became an Agnostic. And I thought and thought and thought. But I just did not have enough to go on, so I didn’t really come to any resolution. I was extremely doubtful about the idea of god, but I just didn’t know enough about anything to have a good working model of any other explanation for, well, life, the universe and everything to put in its place. But I kept at it, and I kept reading and I kept thinking. Sometime around my early thirties I stumbled upon evolutionary biology, particularly in the form of Richard Dawkins’s books The Selfish Gene and then The Blind Watchmaker and suddenly (on, I think the second reading of The Selfish Gene) it all fell into place. It was a concept of such stunning simplicity, but it gave rise, naturally, to all of the infinite and baffling complexity of life. The awe it inspired in me made the awe that people talk about in respect of religious experience seem, frankly, silly beside it. I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.”

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“I don’t teach children religion because I refuse to impart something that’s littered with doubt. Only give children certainty. Life will provide them with all the doubt they’ll ever need. I shouldn’t contribute to that.”

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Apologies for the hiatus. Work has been hectic. Look, cat. 

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