Monday, July 9, 2007

It started at Easter time

Easter has been and gone amidst the usual cry of Christians claiming “the reason for season” and the anti-Christian lobby in full cry demanding the obliteration of everything religious from Easter. Claiming intellectual high ground atheists profess to have the answer and to be seeking an end to the mythical nonsense and a return to rationality. Did they have a point I asked myself? Atheism appears to have real appeal; it professes to be rational, logical and to embody the scientific method – it proves God does not exist. I had not thought much about people actually being right or wrong in their belief or not in God. Perhaps there really is an answer. Easter seemed like a good time to explore the atheists’ claims – it just took a bit longer than I thought.

What started out as a challenging intellectual quest for an answer, researching arguments around the existence or not of God, ended in the conclusion that it is actually matter of choice. A choice of how we weigh the arguments and evidence. In the final analysis, a choice of what we choose to believe. The atheist arguments, while presented as rational and logical are often little more than vain exercises in semantics. Atheist reasoning around the God question does not appear to hold true to the scientific method, drawing what seem to be inappropriate conclusions. The theist case structure is different. It does not seek absolute rational proof and relies in part on reasoning and in part on anecdotal evidence. Neither case is proven and a firm belief in either requires an act of faith.

I did not expect to emerge from my research really worried, but I am. There are elements within atheism that project a growing militant fundamentalism as scary as the worst of religious fundamentalism. Given their own way, militant fundamentalists on either side would see our liberty curtailed and knowledge managed by their own “thought police”. Reading some of the extreme atheist rhetoric it is not hard to imagine the return of the excesses of the inquisition or ‘the cultural revolution’ and their repression of religious groups. Perhaps I was naïve, I thought atheists stood for intellectual freedom, freedom of speech and association - clearly many do not.


BEAST said...

Get over it. Easter's a pagan holiday, damn it.

akakiwibear said...

I know it was and in today's materialist world it is financial celebration! But that does not stop me being disappointed that kids in school are deliberately not allowed to be taught the history. Don’t get me wrong I favour secular schools – they should avoid a lot of trouble, but they need to get a grip on the difference between proselytising and educating. Are you not also concerned by the intolerance so rife in our society and its likely outcomes?

BEAST said...

Intolerance is always prevalent. Christians are intolerant of gays, atheists are intolerant of religion in schools, everyone is intolerant of crime.

My concern is that intolerance of any nature must not be allowed to escalate to violent actions, and that common sense must prevail.

akakiwibear said...

"My concern is that intolerance of any nature must not be allowed to escalate to violent actions, and that common sense must prevail." Well said!!!

akakiwibear said...

An interesting discussion on "Atheist Revolution" blog on intolerance. In order to promote my own views I repeat my contribution here:
“I see two conflicting needs, the need you identified to avoid heresy (either theist or atheist) and a need to seek the truth. The clash between these two occurs when those who hold ‘the truth’ believe that theirs is the perfect truth (wow what a concept) and that there is nothing more to learn, so any new thought must be a heresy, hence intolerance of the new ideas.
If were all comfortable enough with our beliefs (yes atheists have them too) to subject them to scrutiny and debate we have tolerance. Hopefully the debate leads not refining the beliefs rather than simply to dilution for the sake of accommodation. This does not imply that agreement will always be the outcome, a better understanding of what we believe and where we differ yes.
So what happens when we disagree? I admit there are times when I get really frustrated with someone’s view, their pigheadedness etc. – perhaps I even get angry. The anger management types tell us that these feelings are natural, but social responsibility lies in controlling them.
Perhaps the same is true of intolerance? When we let it out to create ‘us’ & ‘them’ we sow the seeds of strife. When we internalise it as hatred we entrench ‘us’ & ‘them’ to nurture those same seeds.”

BEAST said...

I do not totally agree with the need for dilution for the purposes of accomodation.

Allow me to state my case. If, for example, someone tells me he believes in a flat Earth. Now, this will sound very outrageous to you, and I don't think you can be very "tolerant" of such an idea, given the mountains of evidence that point to the other direction.

Sure, the flat-Earther can get all puffed up and angry. Simple, show him the evidence, the pictures taken from satellites, and so on.

Should you be intolerant of this guy? Yes, if he gets pushy and still insists on his story, even if all evidence is shown.

Its the same with atheists. We are intolerant of stupid beliefs of deities because there is absolutely no evidence to suggest the existence of invisible fathers in the sky. We have evidence to show you Christians that evolution takes place, but Christians become all defensive and tell us that Creation supercedes Evolution. Now, how tolerant do you want us to be? To accept that "maybe" creationism is right? No freaking chance!

akakiwibear said...

Sorry about the 'typo' on dilution. It was meant to be "Hopefully the debate leads to refining the beliefs rather than simply to dilution" the opposite meaning of what it said originally! I am not a fan of dilution and need to seriously work on proof reading!!

Hey Beast, get over misguided Christians! They do as much to muddy the water as do know it all atheists.

I presume by "invisible fathers in the sky" you mean God - if you so you should seriously rethink the "absolutely no evidence" part of your statement. There is lots of evidence, you may choose to ignore it or disbelieve it, but that does not mean it does not exist. I struggle with the claim of being privy to absolute truth or certainty that many atheists make. It seems very much to be intellectual arrogance without substance. Approached with an open mind there is considerable evidence that God exists, but it is evidence not concrete proof and it has to be viewed as a whole to be persuasive. On the whole it stacks up far better than the rather weak atheist proofs against the existence of God. Indeed I have far more respect for agnostic than atheist thinking.
Many see the creation/evolution debate as the defining point in the a/therist argument. Far from it! Yes if we could prove creation it would be defining, but proving evolution does little one way or the other. The problem with both sides of the argument is that they both wind back to the very beginning of the universe, when, depending on your view, there was God or energy and/or matter. So either we debate the nature of God (does God = energy, is God part of a realm of spiritual consciousness that exists in parallel to or independent of the physical universe) or ask the question that neither side can really answer “and before that where did whatever come from?” There is no conclusive outcome to the debate, even to say there was ‘no before’ (i.e. time is a bit like a Mobius strip) is neither here nor there.
Interesting, but only as a fun comment, if time is a cyclic continuum which is where current origin of the universe theory seems to be heading it puts the early Judaic thinking that God ‘is, always was and always will be’ a few thousand years ahead of scientific thinking … I know a cheap point!

BEAST said...

Yes, that is a cheap point indeed.

In any case, Evolution does not exactly go back to the beginning of time. It really just talks about change within the biological ecosystem.

When you talk about changes in time, we are talking physics. But since my quantum physics suck (I am more of a biology based guy), I usually don't debate about it, because I don't really understand the whole mathematics behind it (I am terrible in maths). I understand the theory of parallel universes and space time theories, and even the theory of relativity, but since these things require a far more complex mind, I usually leave it to more capable atheists to dessiminate such info

But so far, as far as I know, more physicists than biologists are atheists. So it goes to show how much "faith" these scientists have for the existence of God. And since the laws of science dictate that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, we haven't seen why the universe requires any sort of deity.

And neither has biology, for that matter.

akakiwibear said...

The creationist debate addresses both evolution and origins of life. As I said I don't see that contributes in any significant way to either the a/theist position as it leaves too much unanswerable.

BEAST said...

Creationism addresses nothing, as Richard Dawkins has elucidated very clearly.

I would suggest you read the God Delusion. Its a real eye opener, even for an atheist like myself.

akakiwibear said...

Hey Beast, you really need to raise the standard of your reading list – there are far better (i.e. rational and thought proving) exponents of atheism than Dawkins. I get the impression that he is as much of an embarrassment to many in the atheist community as Omar Bakri Mohammed is to moderate Muslims.
That said, perhaps his book is worth a read, but mainly to appreciate how wrong someone can be and yet still have the guts to publish it! Personally I find Dawkins attempts to convince himself of atheism to be intellectually bankrupt and his use of vitriol to mask his flawed reasoning is rather pathetic.

I suspect my review of the book would not carry much weight with you, but a good review of the book by an atheist can be found on:
I suggest you read it if you can stomach atheist criticism of one of your prophets.

But the book is not all bad, some of his criticism of religion has merit although it lacks balance - but I guess balance is not part of his PR plan to fortune. It is a shame though; he detracts from the merit of his case by exhibiting extremism almost indistinguishable from that which he finds so objectionable in religious groups!
His a/theist arguments are so weak as to be misguided if not just simply bad. Of course the book is well received by the blindly unthinking adherents to atheism.
So many atheists claim to be thinkers – “God Delusion” is not evidence of this!! If you can find real merit in any of Dawkins' a/theist arguments I would love you to point it out!

BEAST said...

Excuse me, Akiki:

Mr Dawkins was voted the top scientist and intellectual in Britain by a overwhelming majority, so before you criticize him, ask yourself if you are intellectually superior.

I have read his book, and I understand why certain people may be critical (didn't read that critic you gave me, the link didn't work), but I presume much of the criticisms has a lot to do with some people not being happy that a biologist should be making commentaries on theology.

His explanations on the flagellum and the subsequent destruction of Michael Behe's charlatan career is highly informative. And his writings are far more succinct than his more literal counterpart, Hitchens.

I have personally read it, and frankly I do not find his atheist arguments to be weak. As I have read his book, I suggest you quote his book so that I can perhaps address your questions.

Lastly, he is not my atheist messiah. I respect him immensely for the work he has done for the scientific and atheist community.

akakiwibear said...

Sorry about the link – it seems to have evolved into something else or the comment editor won't accept long URLS so I have split it up.

I confess to not having had the boredom tolerance to work through the book, initial diligence was replaced by skimming, so perhaps I missed a gem of wisdom there somewhere. To me it seemed like a two point polemic, religion is the root of all evil and evolution proves there is no God. The first is too general, although contains elements of truth, the second is simply a flawed conclusion. As for the skirmish about a little bacterial flagellum, I am not a biologist and admit to not being able to form an informed opinion on either Dawkins’ or Behe’s take being right. But again the creationist debate is in my view irrelevant to there being a God or not.
I have always been averse to ‘quoting contests’ to me they are on the same level as pissing contests. But since you have asked for a quote and set such store by his writing perhaps one from River of Eden:
"Never say, and never take seriously anyone who says, 'I cannot believe that so-and-so could have evolved by gradual selection.' I have dubbed this kind of fallacy 'the Argument from Personal Incredulity.' Time and again, it has proven the prelude to an intellectual banana-skin experience."
From this I take Dawkins would concede that God could have evolved. Perhaps not the creationist God, but that is only a single and somewhat simple fundamentalist view of God.

BEAST said...

Actually, you may have misread Dawkin's books.

His views on religion are not merely polemics: He argues that religion is a division force, and that children should not be identified by their parent's religions. He provides evidence that religion has been the cause for many of history's and today's wars, and I don't really see what is the problem.

As with evolution, Dawkin's stand is that since we cannot see the hand of God in any of the stages and mechanisms of Evolution, it is highly improbable that God is not required. I agree with that.

As for the Dawkin's quote you gave me, I can't find it, but judging from the words I don't think he is talking about the evolution of God.

akakiwibear said...

I don't think I missed his points, I just don't rate them as significant.

Religion can be a divisive force - yes, so is nationality, race, language etc. so what? You can't eliminate diversity because you don't like some of it.

We should not label children with their parent's religion - the use of any one of the identifiers of a parent group and transferring it to label their children is a social convenience. But it is stereotyping and as such is generally not helpful.

Dawkins' trick of taking the
obvious and inferring the specific to weave into his anti-religious platform is simply a common ploy of the rabble rouser. A good scientist, maybe, but a noteworthy philosopher or theologian he certainly is not.

Do you really think that if you eliminate religion you would eliminate war and atrocities? Religion is just one of the many divisive labels that have been used to promote one group in a power or resource grab. Religion may well be an effective way to stir up group feelings, but in truth it is just "us" and "them". The name does not matter.

I am not sure how we should see the hand of God in evolution. Certainly some fundamentalists think so. Perhaps we should see God in the values of the constants in the equations that describe the laws of physics - hell I don't know. I ACCEPT your point, God may not be a necessary condition for evolution, but so what? I still don't see this as a relevant argument, its a non-sequitur. All it proves is that we can't see the hand of God in evolution - you can't infer that therefore God does not exist. IF the evolution question is of any relevance (& it is a big IF in my mind) then it is that evolution would logically lead to God evolving.

BEAST said...

I agree with you that Dawkins is not a philosopher, for if I were to choose between Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens, Hitchens stands out because of his deep understanding of theology and literature.

But I don't think I can simply dismiss him as a mere "rambler".....he makes very good points, especially when he says that religion is a systematic child abuse.

In his book, The God Delusion, he also cites the case of John Frum, the mythical western "God" of the cargo cults, which originated from a white man who chanced upon one of those islands in the Pacific. There was a lot of similarity between the cargo cults phenomenon and the Jesus cults of Israel.

I certainly think Dawkins is an excellent intellectual who should not be dismissed as a charlatan. After all, he is definitely a million times more convincing than Michael Behe, and definitely far more than Kent Hovind, the Creationist jailbird.

akakiwibear said...

With regard to Hitchens, another atheist's view

I apologise for resorting to second hand material but I have lost some momentum and allowed myself to be side tracked. I will try for better.

By the way, Beast, I compliment you on a higher standard than where I was side tracked to.
If you visit I trust you will see what I mean.

BEAST said...

Lol. Such barbaric nonsense.

Thank you for your compliments. As it is now, I am busy with work, and still thinking about my next post on morals (Gasp!), and my part time writing assignments are beginning to trickle in.

I will keep track of your posts. You sound more authentic and rational than your good friend, Tim.


Neil Turton said...

Hi Akakiwibear,

I don't agree with mtdew's definition of faith, but I'm interested in your reply to his question: “Is there anything that can convince you that your belief in god is wrong?”

Peace, Neil.