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Neil DeGrasse Tyson on Atheism

I’m pretty sure most people have seen NDT’s video on why he doesn’t call himself an atheist. (If you haven’t, here it is).

I just want to put a spotlight on a recent Facebook post of his where he wrote:

Thanks for all your candid comments on this wall regarding my short atheism-agnosticim clip on “Big Think”. I found them illuminating for their breadth as well as their depth. I note a few other possibly unexpected things about me: Not only do I not embrace labels, you will never see me debating people on the subjects of UFOs, Religion, Alternative Health practices, Astrology, or Pseudoscience in general. My speeches at TAM 6 & 9 were given reluctantly (I don’t normally attend). I don’t sign petitions. I don’t write to, or lobby congress (although I am happy to testify when asked). I don’t lead or participate in rallies. I don’t picket. And I don’t publicly align with organized causes. Meanwhile, labels and causes have, now and then, aligned themselves with me. In any case, I’m rather specific about how I invest my energies. As an educator, I have found that people are more receptive to learning when they know you don’t have an agenda, and when they determine that your goal is to teach them how to think rather than what to think. Such is the universe I have created for myself

I have to agree 100% with his reasoning, both in the video and his quote here. Because of the current juncture in history, “atheism” is a cause; an identity. And it needs to be, because the adjective “atheist” has been one of the longest lived insults in the history of the human race and that has to change. The fact of the matter is that NDT is an atheist, he just chooses not to apply that label to himself because the people who do that usually have some agenda. And being associated with that agenda he argues would hinder his primary goal as an educator.

Agnostic is in another class altogether so creating a dichotomy between the two is nonsensical. Agnosticism can be a reason for atheism, but it could also be a reason for theism. The way I see it, the way you live your life determines your brand of theism or atheism (or deism or polytheism or misotheism etc.). If you go about your life as though a god exists, then you’re a theist. If you go about your life as though no god exists, then you’re an atheist. You can be agnostic about either proposition, but what you do more accurately reflects your “real” beliefs more than what you say.

What you do will always be more powerful than what you believe. Which is why I think the biggest crime against the human spirit is to reject someone, not because they treat you badly, but because they believe the “wrong” thing.

As a counterpoint to bring up an issue where “agnostic” makes sense, I’m agnostic about whether Jesus existed or not. The existence or non-existence of Jesus makes absolutely no bearing on how I go about my life, so how I act wouldn’t be a good gauge for what I think in regards to that guy’s historicity.

So yeah, even though he might not like it, I consider NDT to be on “my team”: Team atheism (the same is true of Bart Ehrman, sorry lol). But it’s not only because NDT is an atheist, but because we went to the same high school (of course about 20 years apart) 😉

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2012 in atheism

 

Respecting Religion

I was reading this post over at The Friendly Atheist about respecting religion. Here is what might be the money quote:

The highest respect one can pay to another’s idea is to scrutinize it and explain what might be wrong. This is what “respect” means in the intellectual domain.

Is this an accurate statement? Let me think about it for a second.

If a two year old came up to you trying to explain how the world works (e.g. attempting to explain gravity, sunlight, etc.) would you take the two year old’s explanation seriously and refute his logic point by point? Or would you politely smile and say “Aww, what a cute kid! He’s such an angel; he’s always willing to help people like when he helps mommy with the laundry” ? In other words, completely ignore his contribution to world knowledge and only concentrate on how cute and adorable the kid is.

Actually engaging the kid with his reasoning would be to treat the kid like an adult. As an equal. Completely ignoring the kid’s factual claims and concentrate on his other qualities would be to treat the kid as, well, a kid; someone who is not an equal.

Now imagine an adult, or a peer of yours coming up to you and explaining something that is factually incorrect (e.g. 2 + 2 = 99). Would you have the same reaction to them that you had with the little kid? Or would you attempt to have a rational conversation with them about why they’re wrong?

So by not engaging with religion’s truth claims, and only pointing out other qualities (like it makes people feel better, etc.), is to treat religion like a sensitive little kid. I would think that this is disrespectful. It’s no less disrespectful than outwardly calling religion stupid and ignorant. It’s actually passive-aggressive disrespect. On the other hand, to actually engage in religion’s truth claims, as an equal in the marketplace of ideas, would be the only respectful recourse. Somehow, this is seen as “disrespectful”.

The only way this could be “disrespectful” is if you actually thought of religion as the two year old in the above analogy. It would be equally “disrespectful” — to the poor kid — if you shattered his truth claims about gravity with the more accurate description. Imagine how the little kid would feel if you actually took his assessment of gravity like an adult and corrected him matter of factly. It would probably hurt his feelings. What would be more disrespectful is if you threw in some personal attacks about the kid while correcting his truth claims. Analogously, by not correcting the truth claims of religion because we might hurt religious people’s feelings, is to passively-aggressively call religion the equivalent of a two year old.

So I say respect religion: Challenge their truth claims, without the personal attacks. Like an adult. Don’t passively-aggressively belittle their truth claims by ignoring them, like you would a clueless little kid.

 
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Posted by on April 4, 2012 in atheism

 

Atheists Are Arrogant?

Quote of the year lol:
 
"Wait, you think that because I'm an atheist I'm arrogant? How do you figure that? I think that we're here by accident, by lucky chance. Anyone who feels lucky, by the nature of "luck", can't be arrogant. Luck implies that the chances were against us but we got something anyway. What's arrogant, I'm afraid, is the belief that the universe was created for us. What's even more arrogant than that, is that, is the belief that you, you, have a personal relationship with the creator of the ENTIRE universe! That is arrogance on a literally galactic scale! On a cosmic scale! What the hell! That is arrogance literally the size of the whole universe! And the universe is HUGE!
 
(…) …Think about it like this, man. Every single time you wash your hands, or take a shower, or clean anything, you're not killing 100% of the germs you're attempting to clean. No, there is usually like 0.01% of germs left on your hands after washing them, or still on your body after taking a shower. Now, the universe itself is just as hostile to us as your soap is to germs. As a matter of fact, even more so because the universe is a couple hundred levels of magnitude more hostile to human life than your handsoap over there. To think that the universe was created for us is to think that you took a shower for the benefit of the germs on your skin. That is how absurd a belief that the universe was created for us is. I want you to think about this every time you take a shower: I am taking a shower for the benefit of the germs on my skin, because the universe is just as hostile to, and even more hostile to, human life that this soap I'm using is to the germs on my skin. That's how absurd it is!
 
But that's not even the worst of it. No, the worst of it is that not only are you arrogant enough to think that the universe was created for our benefit, and that you have a personal relationship with the creator of this universe, but that the creator of this universe, that you have a personal relationship with, actually took time out of his massive universe creating and maintaining duties to take on human form and preach a bunch of nonsense for a year and get executed. That he basically took human form and killed that human likeness of himself for you! I mean, there are only two ideologies, two philosophies, that are more arrogant than that: literally thinking that you yourself are the creator of the universe and then solipsism. Solipsism! One of the most batshit insane ideas ever created! (…)
 
As a matter of fact, now that I'm talking about it, even that part is not the worst of it. No, the most appalling part of this entire worldview is that all of this arrogance is packaged under the guise of humility! I can't even fathom how… I dunno, how offensive that is! HUMILITY! It boggles the mind! That's like 1984, like war is peace, freedom is slavery, and all that stuff."
 
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Posted by on December 7, 2011 in atheism

 

The Nazis Were Atheists and Darwinists

On the contrary, Nazi racial ideology was religious, creationist, anti-materialist, and anti-Darwinian in nature. Some highlights from that blog post: 
Chamberlain is totally dismissive of the Darwinian idea that man could ascend from “a bestial past” and that “… natural selection, in its blind choice, is forsooth to transfigure us into an exalted being”.

This passage is worth quoting more fully, since the usual accusation is that the Nazis took from Darwin an idea of using selective breeding to create a “master race”. Chamberlain, the foremost intellectual founder of Nazism, totally and explicitly rejects this, instead wanting to preserve the past:

“Darwin specially recommends his theory for our acceptance in that it also promises to mankind that all corporal and mental endowments will tend to progress in the direction towards perfection. I, on the contrary, should have thought that we might have contented ourselves with the gifts of a Plato, a Descartes, a Leonardo, a Goethe, a Kant … how far better this than that we, fooled by delusions out of a bestial past that is no past … should with outstretched greedy hands, without cease or rest, clutch at a phantastic future in which natural selection, in its blind choice, is forsooth to transfigure us into an exalted being, the like of which is beyond the imagination of the great and holy and sublime men of the present generation!”

Thus, to Chamberlain, Nazi theory was not about using selective breeding to perfect a master race, Nazi ideology was that the Aryans were already a master race, and had always been, since an original creation by God. And that the Aryan master race was now threatened by interbreeding with “lesser” races of human, which it was their duty to prevent. This theme was later to make up a large swathe of Mein Kampf.

[…]
 
[Nazis] disliked Darwinism precisely for the reasons that other Christians do, that it points to man as a product of material, natural world, whereas the Nazi’s preferred to regard man as divine special creation endowed with a spiritual soul.
 
[…]
 
Ironically, the blaming of “atheism” for the Third Reich is itself a Nazi-style tactic: the Nazis blamed the ills of society on Jews, building on centuries of antipathy towards a group that refused to acknowledge the Christian god. Blaming the ills of society and history on “atheists”, as by Ratzinger and other Christians, has the same motive: antipathy towards a group that refuses to acknowledge their god. One can excuse Ratzinger for having joined the Hitler Youth at the impressionable age of 14, at a time when it was expected of all German boys; but he should not be excused for displaying Nazi-style prejudice at an age when he should know better. 
Hitler, and many other Nazis, actually equated Jewishness with atheism
Mein Kampf does not mention Darwin even once. Where atheism is mentioned (twice) it is pejorative, associating atheism with Jews and Marxism (e.g. “They even enter into political intrigues with the atheistic Jewish parties against the interests of their own Christian nation” and “… atheistic Marxist newspapers …”).
It might stand to reason that Hitler hated Marxism (thus Communism) because it was Jewish in origin; Karl Marx was Jewish. Hitler even went out of his way to eliminate freethought organizations:
One of the early acts of the Nazis one gaining power was to disband and outlaw atheist groups. By 1930 the German Freethinkers League had 500,000 members. It was closed down in 1933, with Hitler saying in a speech that year: 
“We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.” (Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Berlin on Oct.24, 1933) 
Chairman of the German Freethinkers League was Max Sievers, who was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943 and executed.
Nazi ideology had the same hatred for “materialism” that modern Creationists have: 
In the introduction to “Foundations” [Houston Stewart] Chamberlain writes of Darwinism as “A manifestly unsound system”. He explicitly advocates a dualistic and spiritual vision of man, rejecting “monism” (the idea that humans are simply physical material) and saying that Darwinism and “so-called `scientific’ monism, materialism” were “shallow and therefore injurious systems” … “which have nevertheless in the nineteenth century produced so much confusion of thought”. He then says that as a result of such “errors” … “theists become in the twinkling of an eye atheists, a strikingly common thing in the case of Jews …”.
 
[…]
 
Thus to the Nazis Darwinism was something they largely rejected and opposed. As with many Christians they opposed Darwinism because it saw man as an evolved ape, whereas they saw man as God’s special creation, and they opposed Darwinism because it was materialist, stripping mankind of the spiritual dimension, and because it did not give man a moralistic destiny.

That is why, in a list of books they banned from the Third Reich libraries, the Nazis listed:

“Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (Haeckel).”

“Monism” is the idea that mankind is solely material, with no spiritual soul.

[…]

Gunther Hecht, who represented the National Socialist’s Department of Race-Politics (Rassenpolitischen Amt der NSDAP), issued a monitum:

“The common position of materialistic monism is philosophically rejected completely by the volkisch-biological view of National Socialism. . . . The party and its representatives must not only reject a part of the Haeckelian conception — other parts of it have occasionally been advanced — but, more generally, every internal party dispute that involves the particulars of research and the teachings of Haeckel must cease.”

To equate atheism and the Theory of Evolution to Nazism and the Holocaust is a grave, abject, and abhorrent historical error. It's actually Creationism that contributed heavily to the Holocaust. This doesn't mean that Creationism is false, it just means that Creationism actually has the moral failing that it projects onto Darwinism.
 
 
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Posted by on November 17, 2011 in apologetics, atheism, history

 

Existential Angst

I read this post a while ago, but I read it again and something jumped out at me. It was his comment about how according to theists, atheist have no purpose in life. Of course he counters it by saying that atheists feel the same about the “big questions” that everyone else does: 
Finally, Gutting is correct that many people need convincing that atheists can have fulfilling lives… but then treats that like it should be a grand philosophical project, which is bizarre. A more natural approach is to find some atheists who can say, “Hey! Over here! I have a fulfilling life!” Luke Muehlhauser is excellent on this: 
When I was a Christian, I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like be an atheist. From what my parents and pastors told me, I imagined it would feel like an aching hole in my stomach, a purposeless sadness in my chest, and a taste of cardboard in my mouth. Of course, I was asking the wrong people. I should have asked some atheists what it felt like. 
The truth is that atheists feel pretty much the same as everybody else. We feel happy and sad, excited and bored, nervous and peaceful, ashamed and proud, lonely and connected, horny and disgusted, transcendent and confused and small and breathless. 
This reminds me of something I wrote in a journal about four years ago. I titled it “existential angst”. That musing of mine I can honestly say was a precursor to my more recent post God Has No Reason For His Existence. Here it is in total, with my profound profanity and all (redacted to hide personal names though): 
So I've been thinking… about my thinking. Meta-thinking, to coin a neologism. My thinking, most of which before I started this journal, the thinking that kept (and keeps) me up at night besides my daily troubles are thoughts about existence. Excogitating just why… the… FUCK… there is something rather than nothing.

Not believing in god, existence is simply an axiom. It is THE fundamental axiom. And if I believed in a god, the question of existence, and therefore that fundamental axiom, would simply be pushed back one peg. In other words, all of this existential pondering equally applies to a theistic or atheistic universe. Even though existence is axiomatic (whether it's the universe's or god's), axioms should still be questioned… but I'm starting to think that the questioning of some axioms is an exercise in insanity. For instance, what happens when you start to question why 1 + 1 = 2? There are some fundamental axioms that everyone accepts when they read that.

“Of course 1 with another 1 will give you 2. What the fuck are you on about?!” Well what do you mean by “1”? What do you mean by “+”? What do you mean by “=”? What do you mean by “2”? We assume that we're talking about first grade math, and not binary… so therefore, 1 + 1 = 2 would be wrong in a binary paradigm. 1 + 1 in binary is 10. What about if it were in a programing language? While the answer is the same, the methodology arrived at is different. 1 + 1 = 2 basically says that “1 + 1 contains 2”.

In the military, my first deeply existential excogitational exegesis [ed. this isn't supposed to make sense, 'tis just alliteration for alliteration's sake] was “Who made it law that one plus one equals two?” It's a nonsense question, but basically the answer to that question is the answer to whether the universe was created or not. I mulled over that for a while before finally solidifying my “atheism” (Einsteinian pantheism). But what about the rest of it? What about what happened after 10-43 seconds after the Big Bang? The universe is fucking HUGE. What the fuck; driving from here to Virginia Beach seems like a long time when I'm speeding at like 80 mph, but if it were possible for me to travel at the speed of light (3 * 108 meters / sec, or 186,000 miles per second) it would take me:

  1. 8 minutes to get to the sun
  2. 4 years to get to the nearest star
  3. A couple million years to get to the other side of the galaxy (did you know that “gala” is greek for milk?)
  4. A couple BILLION years to go from one part of the visible universe to the other.
Imagine how long it would take me to drive to the sun only going a measly 80 mph. In other words, like I said before, the universe is goddamn HUGE.

What is all of this space for? It ain't for life, because 99.9% of the universe is hostile to life. There's a whole sea of quantum potentiality in space, none of it affords the possibility of life any time soon. So we're in this sandbox, that stretches for miles and miles as far as the eye can see, and it's only us in it. What the fuck, man. Running with the “sand” analogy, if the Earth were a GRAIN of sand – just ONE GRAIN of sand – the Solar System would be like the Pacific ocean.

Imagine that.

And what about “life” anyway? What's the point? Even if god exists, Christianity is true and Jesus and Satan are having a poker match over our souls… so what? Still – what's the point? We play the holier-enough game to get into heaven and spend trillionstrillions of years singing kumbaya and […]. What was the point of it all? Like I said before, putting a “god” in the equation does nothing for the answer – it only pushes the question back further.

Why do we live? We eat, sleep, fuck, and die. This has been getting to me more and more as “globalization” keeps happening. You see more stories of people getting fucked over and/or dying at an alarmingly random rate. I get older and my inexorable mortality comes into my mind more and more. I could finish writing this post and then a meteor hits me in the head as I leave my house to go out drinking and die. What will the purpose of my life have been? What, when I'm a grain of sand on a grain of sand? WTF mate.

So that's my problem. I understand the vastness of the universe and my place in it. “Insignificant, am I?” to quote Nevermore. This is existential angst, and not some teenage angst about […]. I not only see the forest instead of the trees, I see the surrounding areas and cities, the construction trucks coming to plow down the forest because some rich tycoon overseas wants his little piece of the pie to inflate his ego. He's inflating his ego and fattening up his wallet so that he'll have enough money to run for the most powerful position in the world to be able to wage his own personal war on some other country that has what he wants. But wouldn't it be nice to just ignore all that for a second, look at the forest for what it is – a whole bunch of trees – select an awesome tree like “Hey, this tree is fucking awesome, I'm gonna take a nap under it” and just chill for a spill?

That's why, I think, I occupy myself with other things. Dancing. Drinking. Playing guitar. Writing music. Listening to music. Working out. […]. Randomly searching the internet for more information on just whateverthefuck I happen to land on. These little things don't matter in the grand scheme of the universe, just like that tree doesn't matter at all to something like the War on Terror, or the fact that in 5 billion years the sun is gonna run out of its hydrogen fuel and swell up like a big fat pimple on prom night, searing away the Earth's atmosphere destroying all life on the planet… but… where was I?

Oh yeah, the little things in life. It's the little things in life that we have to carry on about. Kinda like the Principle of Mathematical Induction. A whole bunch of little things can take on (maybe) the one big thing. Make it all bearable. An axiom of mine – whenever I get asked “what's the purpose of life” the answer has always been simple. The purpose of life is to live. It's an axiom, just like existence is an axiom. 1 + 1 = 2 isn't itself an axiom, but it's about as basic a mathematical axiom as it gets. Don't let Godel hear about that, though.

The purpose of life is to live. It's both insanely profound and incredibly simplistic, while at the same time answering nothing. Tautological. “Existence Precedes Essense” to quote some motherfuckers older than me. But… critical thinking, folks – what does it mean to live, in that axiom? The fuck do I know – that's up to you. It's like life is a 10 billion dollar check you find on the street made out to you personally (nevermind that this analogy about life presupposes that you live… but whatever). What do you do with your 10 billion dollars?

I dunno, but fuck it – I'm gonna go take a nap under that tree. In other words, it's 9 pm, Thursday, and I'm gonna go out drinking and dancing… maybe see [S].

It's probably not the answer tha atheists look for when trying to rebut the Christian claim of feeling meaninglessness in an atheistic worldview, but here it is. Of course, I think Christians also cleave to a meaningless existence when the entire purpose of their lives seems to be following a god who cannot have any meaning for its existence, as I argue in that previous post. Like I said, we're in the same boat. So we should probably choose the life and worldview that will give us the most joy and fulfillment in this life while minimizing as many empty promises as possible.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2011 in atheism

 

Canadians losing faith in religion

This makes a good follow up to my previous post:

Religion seems to be a key player in many of today’s top stories, from  stand-alone events – such as the 2005 riots in the suburbs of Paris linked to  the French government’s proposed burka ban, and rightwing Christian Anders  Behring Breivik’s shooting rampage in Oslo, Norway – to more drawn-out sagas,  such as child abuse in the Catholic Church, and the perception that Christians  are constantly campaigning against gay marriage and abortion.

Canadians who don’t participate in religion themselves experience it in the  news, which can sensationalize the negatives aspects of religion, said Dr.  Pamela Dickey Young, the principal of the School of Religion at Queen’s  University, in Kingston, Ont.

Can it be said that Canadians are actually starting to think that belief in belief is a negative trait? Or are they just thinking that belief is a negative trait? This part is telling:
Dickey Young said when she asks most of her firstyear students if they're religious, they say no. When she asks if they are spiritual, they say yes. She said this follows a general trend among Canadians who are turning away from organized religion – which is seen as a concrete set of pre-ordained rules – in favour of a more personalized spiritual journey.
It seems like they still think tha belief in belief is a positive trait.
 
 
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Posted by on September 21, 2011 in atheism

 

The Religious Significance of 9/11

The September 11th terrorist attacks happened almost a decade ago. What has changed in the world since then? Since this blog is mainly about my notes or thoughts about religion, I think that I would shine a light on the affect that 9/11 had on religion.

But first, let me go back in time a bit, as is the main focus of my blog: the emergence of Christianity and 2nd temple Judaism.

Judaism as we know it is really a post 2nd temple phenomenon. And as far as I can tell, so is Christianity. But there’s a general trend that I noticed in the major changes in those two religions.

Judaism and Samaritanism split due to a national tragedy: the destruction of the first temple and the exile of the Jewish elite from Judah. Upon their return, the Judean elites put the finishing touches on Judaism and split with their Samaritan bretheren. The Jewish religion before the exile would probably be almost unrecognizable to most modern viewers.

Similarly, another national tragedy happened in 70 CE: the destruction of the second temple, effectively shattering the national pride of the Jews. This national tragedy sparked the more recognizable forms of both Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.

Now back to the present. My thinking is that the national tragedy of 9/11 will create a similar shift in religious thought in the modern world. It won’t be a new Christianity or a new Judaism. It will be atheism. For most people, 9/11 was encouraged by religious thinking. Without a 9/11, there would have been no “New Atheist” movement.

Of course I’m not exactly the most knowledgable about sociological and historical shifts in religious thought. But the trend in history that I’ve seen is that major religious shifts are brought on by spectacular disasters and shifts in consciousness. The most obvious result of 9/11 to me is the spreading out of atheism, much like the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE led to the spreading out of Christianity.

For good or ill, I think that September 11th 2001 marked the beginning of the rise of atheism.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2011 in atheism, september 11

 
 
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