Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Atheism

Unity has a superb article up which tears a new arsehole in the Theos report on Darwin.
So, naturally enough, when I heard, last year, that the Templeton Foundation had awarded a ‘major grant’ to the religious ‘think-tank’ Theos to allegedly ‘rescue’ Darwin, my expectations of such an exercise were extremely limited.

I expected a trite, tendentious and thoroughly sophistic exercise in abject intellectual dishonesty and, as this week’s publication of Theos’ ‘research’ neatly demonstrated, I have in no sense been disappointed by the outcome.

In the course of said screed, Unity also sums up why he is an atheist—and it struck a chord so I'll reproduce it...
I am not a religious person and never will be, for no better or worse reason than the fact that I simply cannot manage the degree of self-deception and intellectual dishonesty necessary to sustain any kind of belief in a supernatural ‘god’ of any description.

That pretty much sums up why I, too, am an atheist. I am not a "militant" atheist: you chaps can believe what you like. It's just that, if you like to believe in a god, then I think that you're wrong.

A bit like if you believe that socialism is the best way to organise human society...

37 comments:

Thatcher's Child said...

There is a big difference between religion and faith. I know all religions are a waste of time. I also understand that nature is the way things happen.

However, the universe is so big, to dismiss the idea that something intelligent had a hand in starting the whole thing off is extremely arrogant!

Maybe, just maybe, we are just a Petri disk experiment put in place by some being 14 billion years ago. What did start the big bang?

To dismiss these things without leaving space for the possibility is just childish - and no better than saying the world was made in 7 days by a ghostly being with a number of fan clubs!

Devil's Kitchen said...

TC,

"However, the universe is so big, to dismiss the idea that something intelligent had a hand in starting the whole thing off is extremely arrogant!"

The universe is so big and complicated, how could any being plan and create the whole thing?

"Maybe, just maybe, we are just a Petri disk experiment put in place by some being 14 billion years ago."

And maybe we're not.

"What did start the big bang?"

I suspect that we will never know, although there are a large number of scientifically-argued theories out there.

"To dismiss these things without leaving space for the possibility is just childish - and no better than saying the world was made in 7 days by a ghostly being with a number of fan clubs!"

If there is a god and I see evidence for his existence then I shall no longer be an atheist.

DK

OMG said...

For the record I believe in God, but I won't go to any churches or temples or even (heaven forfend) a mosque.

My God just wants us to have fun and do the best we can where possible, but of course my God is hated by all sorts of people who would rather we bow and scrape to the idea of an angry, petty being who has all the human failings of jealousy and rage.

And I really don't think God cares who likes him (or her or it) at all, just as the ants in my garden have no concept that I support a certain football team. I have tried informing them, but it doesn't work at this level at all...

Sure, science pushed back the boundaries of any god, but it also tends to make people start to see patterns and makes them wonder. And providing as they wonder they don't think killing people over their beliefs makes it all okay, I don't have a problem with it.

After all, if there is a God I expect he or she or it has seen worse. And if there isn't a deity, then it really doesn't matter much what anyone believes.

Thatcher's Child said...

If there is a god and I see evidence for his existence then I shall no longer be an atheist.

and that sums up the whole argument - the child like insistence of proof!

How do you prove that photons exist?

How do you prove that black holes exist?

We use the scientific process to prove as much as we can - mostly based on an effect on something else - and the rest is fluff until we know better.

Remember when ulcers were caused by rich food and stress?

Remember when the continents certainly didn't move?

We don't know what started the big bang, but the idea that it was an intelligent design is no more mad than any other in the circumstances.

By the way - I don't go with the idea that nature is planned, that we are planned or that the future is mapped up - its the various religious nuts who came up with that idea.

If you don't understand the difference between religion and faith, It may explain why you are having a problem understanding my comments.

All I'm saying is that there is no reason why an intelligent being could not have started the universe for one reason or another.

To dismiss this possibility is to be atheist - and my mind is more open than that!

Devil's Kitchen said...

TC,

From Unity's article...

"The NeoDarwinian synthesis, alone, may not absolutely rule out the existence of such a hypothetical supernatural agent but the combination of evolution and quantum mechanic, specifically Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle does.

"The uncertainty principle precludes the possibility of any entity that is not ubiquitous in its knowledge, understanding and control of the universe right down to the sub atomic level generating the precise arrangement of random events necessary to arrive, after the space of either 14 billion or 4.5 billion years depending, on your preferred starting point, at the existence of a small blue-green planet orbiting a yellow star on which, at this precise moment, a human being is explaining precisely why the idea of non-interventionist god who takes a direct interest in the human race is entirely meaningless.

"The uncertainty principle is the clincher in the sense that it places a clear limit on the nature of ‘god’ if one wishes to believe that such an supernatural entity exists. If we reject the creationist view that the earth, the universe and everything in it was created out of nothing in its more or less present state, give or take 6,000 years or so of wear and tear, then incredibly complex sequence of events necessary to get from the ‘creation’ of the universe via the Big Bang to where we are now can only have come about via either, from our point of view, an entirely fortuitous sequence of random events any one of which, had it spawned a different outcome, might mean that I wouldn’t be here to write this, and you wouldn’t be here to read it or because the entire universe and everything in it, to a subatomic level, is being directed but a truly omnipotent and omniscient supernatural agency.

"Thanks to Heisenberg, there is no middle ground and no room for compromise."


And, from your comment...

"and that sums up the whole argument - the child like insistence of proof!"

Are you being serious? To ask for proof is child-like? So, to how many children have you proved the existence of Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy? How many children have asked you for proof of those entities?

"How do you prove that photons exist?

How do you prove that black holes exist?"


Um... By empirical observation and scientific testing.

"We use the scientific process to prove as much as we can - mostly based on an effect on something else - and the rest is fluff until we know better."

Er... No, the "fluff" is not actually a proven fact, only a theory or a hypothesis (words which have quite rigidly defined meanings in science). Although, actually, there are no facts in science: you cannot prove anything, only say that it has not yet been disproved.

Saying that one cannot prove that there isn't a god, which is the way that you are going, simply doesn't work.

Or perhaps you would like to devise an experiment in which you prove that protons or black holes do not exist?

DK

polaris said...

And that DK is why I am an antitheist. Woolly headed thunking and the scientific understanding of a sheep; TC sums up the spiritual non-religious happy-claptrap ID followers everywhere, just why should they add to the gene pool?

Islander said...

DK said:
"It's just that, if you like to believe in a god, then I think that you're wrong.

A bit like if you believe that socialism is the best way to organise human society..."

Main difference being that if you believe in god, there is a chance you are right...

Thatcher's Child said...

Saying that one cannot prove that there isn't a god, which is the way that you are going, simply doesn't work.

OK, big guns time. ;)

You are telling me that you would like proof of the existence of God because you cannot accept there to be an intelligent being involved somehow in your existence otherwise?

Are you really so arrogant to think that we understand everything there is to understand? Do you really think that just because we cannot prove that some kind of intelligent being at this moment, then they don't exist?

Imagine trying to explain nuclear reactors to a caveman. I might as well be taking with my dog.

This is perhaps the level we are today. We are getting closer - but only to the point that only the brightest minds on the planet can visualise a light bulb!

The safest position to hold in this argument is agnostic. To insist that something doesn't exist, when you can't prove it, is sheer folly!

Devil's Kitchen said...

That's your big guns?

OK, how about if I tell you that there is, on this planet, a mammal that has three legs, has fur striped in green, blue and day-glo orange, eats poisonous mushrooms, has six different varieties of horn on its head, six eyes and a tail like a lizard's?

Do you believe me?

DK

marksany said...

TC, your god hypothesis does not explain where our universe came from.

No logical difference is made by introducing a god into the question: "How did the universe come into being?"

All you have done is change the question into "How did god come into being?"

marksany said...

DK, have a read at "Why won't God heal amputees?"

http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

you'll like it.

polaris said...

Great site marksany, thanks.

Has TC given up?

Anonymous said...

If two of the mammal's legs are shorter than the third one, I believe you DK. Knowing you lived in Scotland for years tells me you are describing a haggis and obviously you saw them living in their natural environment. Most people only get to see them in the supermarket after they're dead and cleaned up. Just like a pork chop is a dead pig.

TC: "and that sums up the whole argument - the child like insistence of proof!" So,if you end up in court and the judge says, "Guilty", and you protest that no evidence has been given; you'll accept his/her dismissal of your protest: "Don't be childlike asking for proof."

Alec

Chalcedon said...

DK et al

If an omnipotent being 14 billion years ago set 6 universal constants to their present values or to reach their present values now that would be all that would be required after the dreaded big bang. Hery presto, today's complexity.

I must say that the membrane theory deived from string theory which accounts for the bang and the matter and energy in this universe is intriguing because it postulates time existing before the BB plus of course the entities described as membranes. It all doesn't arise from bugger all.

I'm not an atheist, but I think Dawkins has it spot on regarding evolution with his many explanations and defences and refutations of creationists and special/creative designers and so on.

Go on any website re evolution and just see how many (Americans mostly) fundamentalist Christians come on blathering away about evolution being ONLY a theory etc. They do this without realising or understanding what a scientific theory actually is. they think it's just an idea plucked out of nowhere. So sad. The last I heard it was the mechanism(s) of evolution that were the actual theoretical bits, and that evolution was accepted fact by virtually all scientists.

cookie said...

Thatcher's child wrote:
'All I'm saying is that there is no reason why an intelligent being could not have started the universe for one reason or another.

To dismiss this possibility is to be atheist - and my mind is more open than that!'

Your position cannot be probabilistically quantified either objectively or subjectively; perhaps the very definition of an 'open mind'. An atheist can at least attempt to quantify their beliefs. For example, I am an atheist because many things that once were thought of as inexplicable without a god are now understood pretty well. I have faith that human rationality will continue to push back the boundaries of what is currently unquantifiable (unless political pressures push human progress back beyond the point of recoverability).

dr cromarty said...

I've never heard such trite fucking rubbish in my puff. If that's the best you can do - smug Dawkinsite sixth-former platitudes "I'm an atheist because you're all liars - yeah, that's you Jesus, Chesterton, Duns Scotus, John Donne etc etc" forgive me but I'll stick to Thomas Aquinas and Augustine.

cookie said...

Dr C

The gods may exist or not. However, beyond a few dubious and mutually-contradictory books there is no primary evidence in support of the thesis. I take it, however, by your outraged tone that you have discovered something new. Please feel free to share it with us.

dr cromarty said...

My outrage is at hearing DK and Dawkins putting forward such smug fucking nonsense as wisdom. It isn't - it's about as dogmatic and irrational as anything put out by Iain Paisley Sr.

I repeat, it boils down to "All theists are liars therefore I'm an atheist"

Can you see that there might be a problem with that thesis?

Devil's Kitchen said...

Cromarty,

"
I repeat, it boils down to "All theists are liars therefore I'm an atheist""


*sigh*

No it doesn't. It actually boils down to "there is no evidence -- none, not one scrap -- for a supernatural god, and I am not able to lie to myself in order to have faith in something for which there is not one single shred of empirical evidence."

OK?

DK

Devil's Kitchen said...

P.S. It is not a question of "do not" or "don't want to" believe: it is that I cannot believe.

DK

cookie said...

Maybe (or maybe not) DK has called any or all of those names from the past 'liars', but I doubt that Dawkins has. More likely DK and Dawkins would categorise them as being 'mistaken' or 'self-deluded'. Assuming my understanding is correct, what evidence do you have that they are wrong?

dr cromarty said...

Either way it implies theists are in bad faith. How else is one to take the line:
simply cannot manage the degree of self-deception and intellectual dishonesty necessary to sustain any kind of belief in a supernatural ‘god’ of any description

That's a disgusting attitude. Disagree all you like, but at least trust to others' good faith.

dr cromarty said...

And btw DK absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence, allowing, of course, for the fact that you discount millenia of religious experience.

Unity said...

If an omnipotent being 14 billion years ago set 6 universal constants to their present values or to reach their present values now that would be all that would be required after the dreaded big bang. Hery presto, today's complexity.

But nothing to guarantee that that complexity would include us, which is spanner that the Uncertainly Principle throws into the Theist/Deist works.

As I pointed out, if you rule out the possibility of the universe being created 'as is' then Heisenberg limits your scope in terms of an interventionist theist god to the Calvinist version, where nothing at all happens in the universe but by the will of god.

Tee problem with that is that it results in a universe in which every single event is predestined and out the window goes any notion of free will or moral agency.

How could such a god hold a human responsible for committing a sin when the human's actions are ultimately commanded by god and known in advance. You also run smack in the problem that omnipotence and omniscience are, logically, mutually exclusive, but that another can of worms.

The 'light the blue touch and stand well back deist' god who configures the six fundamental constants and leave everything to run according to the law of physics remains a logical possibility but can in no sense ensure that the outcome of its initial tinkering would be us, and that leads to the question of why would a deity that genuinely did play dice with the universe have the slightest bit of interest in us, let alone answer prayers and all the other guff that a personal interventionist god is supposed to get up to.

Such a god could, hypothetically exist, but there would no point whatsoever in praying to them or asking them for favours because, by definition, they don't intervene in the universe once they've set the initial configuration.

Quantum mechanics screws with the whole concept of a personal god at such a fundamental level that even the most ardent religious apologists steer clear of arguing with the cosmologists and trying to take on the uncertainty principle.

They just ignore it and hope that everyone but a few physicists will go on thinking that quantum mechanics is way to difficult to bother trying to understand.

cookie said...

'And btw DK absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence...'

But believe in gods despite an absence of evidence is the same as 'self-deception' and 'intellectual dishonesty'.

Unity said...

How else is one to take the line:
simply cannot manage the degree of self-deception and intellectual dishonesty necessary to sustain any kind of belief in a supernatural ‘god’ of any description


As nothing more than a personal statement based on the fact that my education and my understanding of the NeoDarwinian synthesis and quantum mechanics would require me to mount a supreme act of self deception in to allow me to believe in a supernatural god.

I don't consider anyone who is simply ignorant, by way of lacking in such an understanding, as acting in bad faith, its only those who are wilful in cultivating a studied ignorance in themselves and in others who act i bad faith.

dr cromarty said...

'Lacking in understand' or 'wilful in cultivating studied ignorance'. Not much of a choice is it?

Clearly Professor Dawkins' arrogance is a conagious meme.

dr cromarty said...

But believe in gods despite an absence of evidence is the same as 'self-deception' and 'intellectual dishonesty'.

Well only if you disregard Augustine, Aquinas, Duns Scotus, etc etc. and millenia of human experience. It makes life so easy, doesn't it?

El Draque said...

Phew - to all the erudite reasoning above.
Personally, I understand agnostics, but not atheists. While I - a Christian - fully accept that I cannot "prove" with any shred of evidence that God exists (as if that was all that mattered)neither can an atheist disprove his existence.
I firmly believe that no evidence can be found either way, because evidence would have to be physical and would therefore have an explanation founded in the laws of physics and chemistry etc.
So I read Darwin and Dawkins, I try to grasp the concepts of Uncertainty and nuclear physics, and especially read about human evolution. And then I praise God the Creator of all things, in whom we live and move and have our being.
To my mind, they are not exclusive concepts.
But I think I am one of a minority of evangelicals.

Neal Asher said...

I cannot disprove the existence of an invisible insubstantial pink elephant pissing on me every time it rains. However, if someone tells me they have faith this elephant exists I will consider him a berk. An absence of proof is not proof of absence is not an argument that cuts it. As for big bangs etc, why can't people accept that just maybe the thing evolved between our ears might not be sufficient to understand it all.

You guys keep on believing in your invisible friend in the sky. It'll make no difference, you'll still die and rot and that's all.

Chalcedon said...

Unity, you are assuming that the uncertainty principle works at a macro level I suppose. Also that it applies everywhere. What about outside of this universe?

It only kicks in if you dare to observe something, such as the position of an electron.

As for us, well, chemistry is universal so I expect as a matter of probabilities based on the number of appropriate stars (you know, not blue giant short lived ones. nor red giant dying ones, or very cool ones etc) and planet formation that our universe is teeming with life. Even based on the Drake equation with lots of caveats it gives 300 intelligent civilisations just in our galaxy.

ENGLISHMAN said...

The problem with people who do not believe in god is that they never cease to tell you about it.Religion and politics were two taboos that existed in pubs for obvious reasons,in that more enlightened age,people were left to believe whatever they believed and it was no concern of any-one else and left to the privacy of ones own concience,now however we have a situation similar to maos little red book where ones concience is no longer private and every-one seems to believe that they have an absolute right to invade that privacy simply because one happens to hold beliefs that they do not.the devil thinks that there is far too much government intervention in peoples lives,so why can he not leave thier minds inviolate also.Religion ,wether true or false,has provided much comfort for many people in this country for many centuries,if they delude themselves ,it is no skin off any-one elses nose,and if you look out of the window,can you see any-one ,any system comparable or capable of building such wonders to the glory of thier god as we have in the past,take a walk around winchester,st pauls,salisbury,petersbury,ely,chartres,notre dame and tell us that it is worthless,tell us that your spirit does not soar with the fluted coloums to the fan-vaulted ceilings,tell us that the sheer majesty of the rose windows do not tug at your guts,this is belief,this is the belief that has been lost.

Neal Asher said...

Oh do fuck off, the problem with people who believe in their invisible friend in the sky is that they never fail to tell you about it. The problem with atheists is that they don't speak out enough. Only recently have there been some speaking out and ain't that causing some pain. People who believe this shite are suddenly realising that there are large numbers of people who otherwise kept quiet who really thing they're fucking idiots.

El Draque said...

Neal Asher - it's a long time since anyone believed God was "in the sky".
Also I query whether we "never fail to tell you about it". I perceive the atmosphere nowadays to be so hostile that I am generally careful about mentioning the subject unless someone's attitude and approach suggests that we have something in common. Perhaps it's different where you are.

marksany said...

I have various evagelists knocking on my door more often than the milkman. I have never had an atheist knocking on my door, or handing out atheist leaflets at train stations, trying to convert me to atheism.

Samuel Skinner said...

"DK said:
"It's just that, if you like to believe in a god, then I think that you're wrong.

A bit like if you believe that socialism is the best way to organise human society..."

Main difference being that if you believe in god, there is a chance you are right..."

Well, it depends on how you define socialism- we DO have a government run military, police force, electric companies, etc.

"Are you really so arrogant to think that we understand everything there is to understand? Do you really think that just because we cannot prove that some kind of intelligent being at this moment, then they don't exist?"

It is called "science".

"Imagine trying to explain nuclear reactors to a caveman. I might as well be taking with my dog."

We use fire to heat steam that pushes these petals which turn wheels. The wheels make this magic substance that we use to power lights and other objects. Careman aren't stupid you know. They would be most dazzled by the sheer size.

"If an omnipotent being 14 billion years ago set 6 universal constants to their present values or to reach their present values now that would be all that would be required after the dreaded big bang. Hery presto, today's complexity."

Wait- there is 6? I thought we had 5 max.

"The last I heard it was the mechanism(s) of evolution that were the actual theoretical bits, and that evolution was accepted fact by virtually all scientists."

The parts they are arguing is what has the most effect, how the effects work, etc.
Here is an example:
http://news-service.stanford.edu/news/2003/february19/aaassocialselection219.html

"Either way it implies theists are in bad faith. How else is one to take the line:
simply cannot manage the degree of self-deception and intellectual dishonesty necessary to sustain any kind of belief in a supernatural ‘god’ of any description

That's a disgusting attitude. Disagree all you like, but at least trust to others' good faith."

Have you read the book of Mormon?

"And btw DK absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence, allowing, of course, for the fact that you discount millenia of religious experience."

Actualy, it is for something that is supposed to be universal.

"'Lacking in understand' or 'wilful in cultivating studied ignorance'. Not much of a choice is it?

Clearly Professor Dawkins' arrogance is a conagious meme."

If a person believed the Earth is flat today, you would be the first to apply the label to them. But hypocricy can't look itself in the face.

"Well only if you disregard Augustine, Aquinas, Duns Scotus, etc etc. and millenia of human experience. It makes life so easy, doesn't it?"

Do we still use the geocentric model? Oh wait- we don't! Ptolemy was smarter than I will ever be, but he was WRONG. The same goes for these guys- we take apart their arguments in basic logic.

"neither can an atheist disprove his existence."

Depends on the God. Zeus? Nope. Logically contradictory gods? Oh yeah.

"I firmly believe that no evidence can be found either way, because evidence would have to be physical and would therefore have an explanation founded in the laws of physics and chemistry etc."

I know- it is like God would have to interact with reality in soem manner.

"So I read Darwin and Dawkins, I try to grasp the concepts of Uncertainty and nuclear physics"

I would highly recommend reading someone else for basic physics- those two are biologists.

"Even based on the Drake equation with lots of caveats it gives 300 intelligent civilisations just in our galaxy."

Dude- lets not open up the Fermi paradox. It is interesting, but a long problem.

"Religion and politics were two taboos that existed in pubs for obvious reasons,in that more enlightened age,people were left to believe whatever they believed and it was no concern of any-one else and left to the privacy of ones own concience,"

It is the fault of the US. Sorry about that.

"Neal Asher - it's a long time since anyone believed God was "in the sky"."

Which is why people look to the heavens, right?

"Perhaps it's different where you are."

Either the US, the Muslim world or Africa it is rather...different than most civilized places.

Anonymous said...

The simple fact of the matter is that god isn't real and most people on this planet are idiots who think their knowledge is sufficient to judge others on a moral or spiritual level without knowing or attempting to understand other people's reasons for atheism.

There is no such thing as god, and it is scientifically proven by consistent evidence found in several different areas of science that disprove any and all rational physical characteristics within the theist-delivered definition of god.

Theists opt for telling long stories and allegories, interpretations of centuries old mythical texts as their "proof".

And we blindly nod our heads and accept their ways.

Faith is a mental illness, a corruption of our ability to think freely, to learn to critique, to understand and accept our minds as a powerful unrestricted sentient learning being.

It gives us false, empty answers to meaningless, substance-less philosophies, and gives credence to the sociopaths and judgmental in society.

Just as an anti-virus software removes the computer virus, we must learn to clean our minds of the virus of ignorance = faith.