Saturday, July 25, 2009

With Friends Like This...

Well, there seems to be a new one every week, a Christian who claims atheism is a kind of faith. So let's parse this nonsense and explain again the chasm of distinction between belief and non-belief. (You'd think it would be so obvious they aren't the same thing, but you'd be surprised.)

Irish Times Op-Ed writer Breda O'Brien claims
Atheists often appeal to science to underwrite their disbelief, but the decision not to believe in God lies ultimately in the arena of gut feeling, or hunch, or intuition. That decision is something that the scientific method cannot arbitrate on.
Oh, I see. So it's just a "gut feeling". Well, that is a good description of faith - an ultimately emotionally driven institution. When I believed I did so because I'd been indoctrinated as a child, and then later on as a young adult, because I desperately wanted it to be true. There was no evidence, no proof, no real good logical defense for my belief. I just felt it; I felt such certainty I thought I knew it was true, although if you'd asked me why I'd have been pressed to defend my belief. I probably would've have said it was a matter of faith, if forced to have such a conversation at all. I certainly would not have presumed to understand atheism.

The author goes on to assert that
The decision to live as if there isn’t a god requires a leap of faith, as does the decision to live as if there is. Religious people and atheists have a great deal in common. And now that Irish atheists are banding together, planning good works and hoping to influence Irish society, it looks more and more like a religion.
Because after all, sleeping in on Sunday morning requires so much investment! Seriously though, saying "I don't know, but there's no real evidence" doesn't require faith. Saying, "I know there's a God, and I know what he wants, and he wants me to worship him"? That requires faith. Undoubtedly. Can you see how those are not truly equivalent though? Stating a positive claim ("There is a god") asserts that something is true. And, as Tracy often says on The Atheist Experience, "Things which exist manifest in reality." Since there are NO manifestations of a supernatural all-powerful deity in our reality (zip, zero, zilch, nada, nein, none), disbelief seems only rational. It is not the same as asserting the positive claim "There is NO god". Lack of evidence is not necessarily evidence of lack. But I have to say it seems more likely to me.

That said, although I blog about it regularly here and on Atheist Nexus, I'm not so invested in my atheism I'd be unwilling to chance my stance. If I was presented with sufficient evidence, I would discontinue my disbelief, and have to accept the existence of whatever deity was proven. (Whether or not I'd worship a god would be entirely dependent on the character, attributes, and actions of said deity.) It is rather rich of the author to try to hijack secular good works as making atheism "more and more like religion". That might be a more valid argument to make if atheists were say, depriving their children of medical care or killing them for demon possession. Those actions really are more and more like religion.

Our author now claims to have many atheist friends. This gives me de ja vu thinking of racists who always preface their comments with, "One of my best friends is black!" In quoting an atheist friend, the author misrepresents Richard Dawkins by suggesting
Dawkins takes the Bible as literally as any Protestant fundamentalist. The only point of disagreement is that Dawkins finds it unreliable about science, whereas fundamentalists do not.
This is categorically false. What Dawkins does do is illustrate through a literalist, non-apologist reading of the Bible (which is what your typical American non-theologically trained Christian will do) that if the character of Yawhew was real, He'd be a right immoral prick. The quote she is almost certainly referring to is from The God Delusion
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
And you know what? He's got a really valid point going on here. (See my comment above re: Even if a god exists, it might not be worthy of so abject a thing as worship.)

The author next claims new atheists don't care about the poor, human rights, or justice, and that we are instead content to blame everything that's wrong in the world on religion. (Join Atheist Nexus on Kiva, as the largest "religious group" micro-lender!) Finally, religious atrocities are brushed aside as nothing more than a "dark side" of this era, and in no way actually the responsibility of organized religion. As a closing (clumsy) shot the author quips
With apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma !, the atheist and religious person can be friends.
Well yes, obviously. I don't know a single atheist who doesn't have at least some theist friends. In this country for instance, over 80% of the population claims to be a follower of some kind of faith. The question isn't whether or not atheists can be friends with religious people. The question should be, why on earth would they want to be friends with Breda O'Brien?


  1. Brenda, here’s my leap of faith. I see apples falling directly to the ground—every time. So my leap of faith is to induce there’s a force pulling the apples to the Earth.

    I make similar observations about religion:

    God never does anything.
    People of faith believe in the supernatural.
    How the heck could Eve be made from Adam’s rib? (You have to admit, this one’s pretty far out.)
    If the Bible were inspired by God, why does it condone slavery, war, sexism and homophobia?
    Why did God the Father need to appease Himself? Let’s say God is a farmer that doesn’t like the way the pigs are behaving. Would He turn his Only Begotten Son into a pig to get killed?.
    I’m innocent of Original Sin. I had nothing to do with it. So how can God hold it against me, if He’s perfectly just?

    These are a small fraction of my observations . I could go on and on describing the nonsense of religion.

    Atheism has little to do with faith. It’s simply the refusal to believe flimsy evidence.

    On the other hand, the scientific evidence for evolution is very cogent. I stole the following from a post on my blog.

    The anatomical connection between mankind and the animals is evident—we have the same organ systems as the great apes, for instance. The human oxygen-carrying metaloprotein hemoglobin, containing hundreds of components in a complex heterocyclic ring, is exactly the same in gorillas—atom for atom. Why did it take so long to make the connection? Here’s the link.

    I could provide many more arguments, but this is one of my favorites. I’d be glad to discuss them.

  2. @Aristupus - Thanks for comment. Sadly I must admit I was a creationist a short 1.5 years ago. So I like to see myself as hope that other fundies can be rescued. If a person feels emotionally secure enough to examine and question their beliefs, THEN they can really listen to and consider logical arguments regarding the evidence for and against the existence of god, or why there's no reason to believe the Jonah & Fish story anymore than Rumpelstiltskin (and hey, straw into gold at least seems possibly if there's some crazy alchemy going on with that spinning wheel).

  3. Good question. I see the religious claim that atheism = religion as a desperate attempt to claim what we know is true just isn't so: religious believers are quite simply insane, and they even know it. Why else would they spend so much time trying to claim that atheists, we who have been excoriated throughout religion's history, demonized, cast out, portrayed as the evil in the world - are just like them?

    They know they've lost. We know it too, which is why you rarely see attempts by atheists to claim we are a religion. We're not, we know it, and we're more than just okay with that.

  4. "The decision to live as if there isn’t a god..."

    This is so aggravating. There is no choice in what you believe. The only people who 'choose' what they 'believe' are people who are deluding themselves. Making an informed decision is not a choice. Does one choose to believe in big foot despite the evidence? Even those who believe in big foot do so based on evidence, faulty evidence, but evidence nontheless. People who believe or don't believe things based on their desires are either children, delusional or, um, theists!

  5. This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 7/26/2009, at The Unreligious Right

  6. Those who've had the strength to break the grip religion has on most of the human race must realize how fortunate they are. Whether that grip was broken yesterday, forty years ago or whether it was never a factor in their lives. They might be only 20% of the human race but they are the most functional, most caring, most intelligent and most compassionate members of the specie. I'm proud to be one of them and I hope you are also proud Angie. Let's celebrate our good fortune and continue to do good while we're here. Doing good, not to please some god, but because it feels good to do good.

  7. @mindbuilder - proud, pleased, and pissed off - the perpetual state of my atheism :) I took in a Christian girl who was escaping religious abuse for awhile so she could get on her feet. She may still be a believer, but at least she won't think all atheists are automatically angry, lazy, christ-blamers.

  8. I am Larry Carter Center, 843-926-1750 American Atheist posting here about when xians attack Atheists, you can frequently apply their irrational words into their mirror & find their delusions are mere projections of themselves onto those of us who have the compassion and honesty to confront their lies. Both Allen & the woman above have recently gotten some attention for attacking Atheist authors. Typical of the media that gives little time to genuine Atheism of rank & file people BUT THE MEDIA WILL ELEVATE THESE COMPLETELY INCOMPETENT no-name people into prominence. Censorship is rampant. When was the last time a competent xian actually quoted one horrific passage or scripture and then proceeded to make an apology & "explain" away how Jehovah/yhwh is really their beloved triune alleged deity of "peace, love & redemption?" Dismissive at best do the low life xians respond when I corner them, pretending "context" of Hosea 13:16 makes it "ok" for Jehovah to allow countless thousands of Samarian pregnant women "to be ripped up" meaning violent mass abortions? And of course they lie incompetently instantly there too, pretending this is the only bible verse some Atheist has found THEREUPON I QUOTE 2 Kings 15:16, 2 Kings 8:12, Amos & Nahum & Ezekiel for dozens of choice violent words of "holy bible" phantasmagoria. It is the kindly honest Atheisst who reads a bad book & tells the truth about it. It is the dishonest or incompetent illiterate xian who DOES NOT READ THEIR OWN BOOK and proceeds to invent all manner of gibberish to pretend the alleged deities written about in the King James Bible are worthy of "worship!" Bring it on xians, I'm one American Atheist who will not back down, peace, Larry Carter Center 843-926-1750