Atheist serpent eating own tail

We will now bow our heads in worship of the marvellous Mojoey’s Atheist Blogroll (see below right – or elsewhere, depending on whetherTW is experimenting with another new theme at the moment) The serpent eating its own tail bit means that this blog, being on the blogroll, is about to discuss the blogroll.

This blog has leapt from Technorati insignificance to the lower reaches of the blogistocrcay thanks to its magical touch.

Firstly, there are some blogs on the roll that I find utterly infuriating. I’m buggered if I can identify any logical connection between a miltant pro-Israeli stance and atheism, for a start, but there seem to be more than their fair share of blogs emitting very pro-Israeli rants. I’m obviously missing something here, but isn’t Israel by definition a Jewish state?

I seem to remember that Judaism is normally considered a religion. Couldn’t you even argue that the behaviour of Israel has been the biggest single spur to the rise if militant Islamic fundamentalism. Just saying. (There are no problems with the “Jewish atheist” site, which is totally what one would expect to belong on the blogroll. I.e. It’s by an atheist who was brought up into the Jewish tradition.)

I’m going to ignore these odd blogs. Free speech and so on. Instead, I’m going to unfairly pick out the most stunningly brilliant atheist blogs in case you haven’t read them. (Unfairly because this is on only the basis of the most brilliant ones I’ve read recently.)

Blog of the gods God’s own blog, written in the first person. As infernally brilliant as you’d expect from the creator of the universe. Can be almost unbearably funny. The Sycophants section is particularly good, with God slagging off the people who are shamelessly flattering Him/Her to get in His/Her good books. S/He writes a few more new commandments, sends a few deserving people to Hell for all eternity. You are even guaranteed eternal life in heaven if you click on a sponsored link. (This appears to involve you getting pop-up spam, sadly, though, maybe for ever.)

Nullfidian The blog would collectively say Nullfidian was God, were it not for the fact that the Blog of the Gods suggests the post has been filled. Never seen a boring post on his blog. That’s not a challenge, by the way.

There would be some danger of turning this blog into a scraper and just posting content from Pharyngula, Nullfidian or Blog of the Gods, if we let ourselves do that. So I won’t point you to nullifidian’s 2000-years-of-learning/ blogofthegods’ godmen-tyler-durden-meets-ned-flanders/ (These are just tasters, linking to their most recent posts. Trawl the rest.)

I was going to add another half dozen links here, but I started worrying about choosing excellent blog x over equally excellent blog y. Or the list would have been massive, Ah, isn’t that what the blogroll is for?

How to Defend Religion?

(found from Nullfidian’s excellent blog)

I was reading the write up on the various Times Online sites of the “Intelligence Squared” event which tool place recently. Basically this was a debate on the motion “We’d be better off without religion.” On the side For the motion were Richard Dawkins, AC Grayling and Christopher Hitchens. On the side Against the motion were Julia Neuberger, Roger Scruton and Nigel Spivey.

Ruth Gledhill, the Times’ Religion reporter, has written an interesting summary of the proceedings titled “Articles of Faith.” Gledhill describes herself as someone who is sure God exists, yet there is not much in the way of a pro-theist bias in the reporting. All in all, it struck me as a reasonable post (not least because she says the “For” argument was better than the “Against” one :-) ).

Towards the end of the piece it gets a bit strange though. When talking about the dangers of creationism, she writes:

Well I’d be upset if my son became a creationist but there is no chance of that, not in the Church of England at least.

Which, while reasonable, is a risky proposition to take. Creationism / ID is a fundamental part of the monotheistic doctrines, so while [insert religion] may not overtly push it, it is there below the surface. I would love to see a Christian doctrine which does not assert the universe was created by God, and that man was not made in his image. Although I may be biased, I find it hard to see how some can reconcile this belief with anything else.

Next she comes to something I find very strange, yet it seems used all the time by “reasonable” people when they want to defend their faith:

[Dawkins] problem is that he takes religion too literally, and as many have pointed out, is too fundamentalist about his own atheistic creed.

Wow. All over the net, on TV, the radio and in papers people try to defend religion, and deflect criticism, by saying the critic is taking religion “too literally.” Personally I am at a loss for any other way to do it. Either God exists or he doesn’t. I assume Christians (and Jews/Muslims) believe God exists – is that taking religion too literally?

Religion is built around doctrine and “rules” which are claimed to be the word of God. If the faithful get to pick and choose which ones they follow, doesn’t that make a mockery of that which is already comical? If the best defence for “religion” is that it is something which gives people the chance to get together with each other and has some vague good ideas (don’t want to take the doctrine literally, do we?) then it strikes me it really is an idea which has passed its sell by date.

If religion is not meant to be taken seriously, what is it?

On a different note, as always, the comments in response to a post like this produce much more entertainment. Gledhill is too good, too reasonable, a writer to really froth properly – unlike those who comment … :-)

Some examples include:

I agree with Richard Dawkins, we WOULD be better off without religion.
But Jesus… without Him, we are all – literally – lost! (David Smith)

Not sure if that was supposed to be a joke or what.

This kind of format suits both Dawkins and Grayling if they speak in the same way that they write. They like to write controversial bluster which they don’t need to provide references for or explain further. (Phil Craig)

I assume that was a joke. Both write books which are filled with references, unlike the religious apologists or more relevantly the holy books themselves. When the Bible claims that “In the beginning…” where is the reference to back this up? Interesting when Phil Craig is challenged about his comments, David Smith responds:

Mike George:
‘To suggest that [Dawkins] offers ‘controversial bluster’ with no explanation is to ignore the fact that the whole of his writing offer rational arguments and link to scientific study and theory.’

Richard Dawkins:
1.’It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane, or wicked… ‘

2. ‘I believe, but I cannot prove, that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all ‘design’ anywherein the universe is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection (i.e. evolution).’

Still, at least Dawkins is consistent with Darwin himself.

Having made an exhaustive study of Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’, which set the evolution ball running, American engineer Henry Morris wrote: ‘One can search the whole book in vain for any real scientific evidences for evolution – evidences that have been empirically verified and have stood the test of time. No proof is given anywhere – no examples are cited of new species known to have been produced by natural selection, no transitional forms are shown, no evolutionary mechanisms are documented… One can only marvel that such a book could have had so profound an influence on the subsequent history of human life and thought.’

Which broadly shows a lack of understanding (two references out of context – sounds like Uncommon Descent to me..) about both Dawkins’ work and the actual mechanics of the theory of evolution (and how science works). For some reason, UD may be to blame, anti-evolutionists seem to think that the whole current theory was written by Darwin in Origin. Madness. I suppose this is what comes of being tied to a book which is not supposed to ever change…

There are more, but I could end up spending all month writing about them so I will stop now. Have a look, see what you think and if there are any more howlers please let me know.

Theistic Follow Up

Previously I made a post which examined the logic (or lack thereof) in a post made on parabiodox. Today I see there has been a follow up post that addresses some of the “issues” I made, so I think it is only fair that I (in turn) address some of the new comments.

First off, I have to say “thank you” to parabiodox for his reasonable, and generally kind comments. I am flattered. The blog post begins:

This is a very readable, calm and intelligent response to a rather bombastic blog entry from me.
Of course the only reason I wrote it was I was hoping that someone would come along and write the kind of response that Why Dont You Blog? has provided.
Myself I do indulge in a bit of calm and measured article writing once in a while, but what’s wrong with a bit of mud-slinging as well ? Variety is the spice of life I think.

I couldn’t agree with the sentiment here more. There is nothing wrong with a bit of mud-slinging and, to me, the reason people blog is to get issues of their chest. At least this way no one gets hurt (unless they are very thin skinned..). Blogs would be boring places indeed if people did not rant, rave and froth every now and then.

Talking of mud-slinging I did detect a bit of it in the article Theistic Logic, the implication being that this is the way all theists think, of course as I know only too well it definately isn’t.

This, I am not to sure about. Where ever possible I try to avoid stereotyping people into a particular school of thought, and I certainly pounce on it when people try to do it to me, so I hope this is an interpretation issue more than anything else. Looking back on the previous post, the closest example I can find is when I begin “Sadly this is an infuriating example of the theistic line of logic.”

Now, that was never intended to mean it was the way all “theists” think – but it is a common fallacy which is used in many, many, blog posts where theists refer to atheists. Parabiodox continues:

The blog entry was parabiodox thinking, and there’s only one member of that particular philosophy to date.

While that is reassuring, ( :-) ) it is not completely accurate. IMHO most blog posts only speak for the line of thought adopted by the person who made the post, however this is a line of thought which is echoed across dozens of blogs (and is often found in the comments section on atheist blogs). While parabiodox does indeed seem to follow a unique philosophy, the fallacies in this particular post are reasonably common.

Theistic Logic

(or lack thereof). The joys of Technorati have brought me to a post on parabiodox today, titled “Moderate Christians, Fundamentalists and Atheists (where’s the connection?)”

Sadly this is an infuriating example of the theistic line of logic. Obviously when I say logic, I mean fallacies…

The post (in full) reads:

Wednesday, March 21, 2007 Ignorant and Proud Labels: rants

“One does not have to be a fundamentalist to put a Jesus fish on one’s car. Some of those who do so are certainly fundamentalists, but many more would better be described as moderate Christians. And yet, they share at least something with the fundamentalists – some degree of pride in their faith (i.e., their belief of something without evidence).”

Also shared with the Atheist faith of course, if you accept the author’s premise.

But of course there’s a lot more evidence for the existence of Jesus than there is for the non-existence of God.

Now, for so little words there is so much “illogic.” Starting with the first sentence: There is no such thing as the “Atheist faith.” It is meaningless. Any argument surrounding such comments is crying out to be accused of woo.

The second sentence is interesting – mainly in the way it is constructed. I actually know people called Jesus so I agree there is a lot of evidence that Jesus exists. If we are talking about a Jewish carpenter, 2000 years ago then I am also happy to accept that Jesus existed. The important issue is: Was this Jesus the Son of God (while being God at the same time)?

Now here the evidence retreats to the land of woo. What “evidence” is there that this Jesus is the son of God?

In addition to this, the argument uses a fairly blatant form of fallacy (False Dilemma). It tries to present the existence of Jesus and the non-existence of God as the two opposing sides with the implication that proving the existence of Jesus falsifies claims of the non-existence of God. This is nonsense.

There is more evidence for the existence of Reindeer than for the non-existence of Santa, therefore there is a Santa Clause. Evidence for the non-existence of something which doesn’t exist is notoriously hard to come by (what evidence is there that the tooth fairy, unicorns, floating teapots etc dont exist?). In general terms, what is required is evidence that something exists. The more fantastic the claim, the stronger the supporting evidence has to be for it to be accepted. Unless of course you are a devout theist, when no evidence is required for belief…

[tags]Religion, Theist, Theism, Christian, Christianity, Belief, Philosophy, Logic, Logical fallacies, Rants, Society, Culture, Atheism, Atheist, Evidence, Faith, Jesus Christ, God, Fundamentalist, Santa Claus[/tags]

A bit extra on McGrath’s response to Dawkins

One common criticism of Dawkins, that is central to Eagleton’s critique and reprised by McGrath, is that he is ignorant of theology.

This seems to me to be the silliest argument. If you don’t believe in a basic premise of alchemy, that base metal can be transformed to gold, it doen’t matter if you’ve read every obscure alchemical treatise. It’s still not possible, or it certainly wasn’t before we could mess with the nuclear structure of the universe. So, it doesn’t matter that alchemy created much of our knowledge about chemistry. It was still mistaken.

In the same way, some theologians may have developed deep philosophical insights. Their beliefs may even serve as if they are metaphorically “true”, in providing structures within which we can develop our thoughts about our place in the universe. (As in Einstein’s “God doesn’t play dice with the universe” – if he ever said it – you don’t have to believe in god to understand what he was saying.)

However, most believers are, almost by definition, not very deep thinkers. Faith has an immediate emotional appeal to people. They generally don’t care about theology, which even its best friends would have to admit was pretty dry. Few people are converted to a religion by reading a convincing theological argument, except in the case of the more-or-less godless religions like Buddhism or Taoism.

So Dawkins’ argument that belief in the Abrahamic God is a founded on a delusion doesn’t depend for its validity on his having read Biblical quantities of theology. He’s supposed to earn his living as a biologist. How many hours are there in a day?

I am sure that there are very sophisticated theologians who conceive of their deity as some underlying principle of the universe. These probably aren’t very different from the average non-believer. Consciousness and life and the nature of matter and space and time are indeed fantastic and engaing mysteries. I personally feel that our human mental capacity will never allow us to comprehend them adequately Nevertheless, we only have our capacity for thinking and understanding to go on. There is noone alive with certain knowledge of the existence of the Abrahamic god. So it doesn’t matter what theologians say. They know no more than I do.

I can’t believe that there is a superhuman being who knows all the answers, who planned every event in the infinite universe but somehow decided we were its chosen species. And decided to let us mess everything up for its own amusement, because it gave us Free Will. But only to test whether we would follow its commands. Who responds to personal pleas according to the degree of sycophancy its creations can muster….. The whole idea is genuinely ludicrous.

My life is too short to read the stuff written by theologians who believe in such a being, however sophisticatedly they express this belief. I am sure that Dawkins has seen enough of their works to have reached the same conclusion.

Dawkins Delusions – Deluded Reviewers?

The current issue of New Scientist has a review of “The Dawkins Delusion” by Alister McGrath. Now we have looked at McGrath in the past (here and here, and this has also been looked at on Nullfidian’s blog) so there is no pressing need to revisit that aspect – suffice it to say McGrath is confused on several issues and wraps up what is basically one big ad hominem into a book. Sadly for the theists, criticising Dawkins personally does little to undermine the points he makes. Even atheists find him personally annoying but still agree with him.

While the review, by Brian Appleyard, is some what soft on McGrath, and actually says very little about the book itself it is reasonable enough. There are a few odd paragraphs such as:

To say that there is no evidence for God is merely, therefore, an interpretation, justified in one context but quite meaningless in another. Everywhere we look, there is evidence of something, but it is by no means clear that that something is, in fact, nothing. Rather, it seems something of a startling intelligibility.

This strikes me as an argument from personal incredulity if ever there was one. In a nutshell this is saying everywhere he looks he sees amazing things, because he finds it too incredible for this something to come from what he sees as nothing, there must be a creator. It begs the question who created the creator, unless of course there is the anticipated special pleading that unlike everything else in the universe, the creator did not need creating…

The bit in Mr Apleyard’s review which did amaze (and somewhat annoy me) came at the end:

Any view that religion is the source of all evil and atheism the origin of none is plainly absurd when confronted with the largely atheist bloodletting of the 20th century.

Blimey, what on Earth can this mean? While it is fairly obvious that calling religion the source of all evil is an exaggeration, it remains the case that “Religion” creates a set of circumstances where one side can demonise the others and act with “divine support.” To paraphrase the old saying “Religion is what allows good people to do bad things,” without religion they are just accepted as being bad people.

Now the crucial part is this supposed “largely atheist bloodletting” of the last century. Now, I am not a poor historian but I am at a loss as to what this may refer. The genocides which marked the end of the century were certainly not atheistic in origin, nor were the treatment of the Jews at the hands of the Catholic Nazis. The best I can come up with is the oblique usage of Stalin’s terrors and the killing fields of Cambodia – yet as far as I recall neither were carried out in the name of Atheism. Neither targeted “theists” per se. While both were carried out by overtly “Atheistic” governments this misses the major point Dawkins made in his book, and numerous famous atheists have made since.

People carry out atrocities in the name of their religion (Bosnia, Somalia, the Middle East etc). People de-humanise their opponents through religious rhetoric. When Atheists do things like this, they just do them out of being bad people.

One common theme amongst the theists, and religious apologetics, seems to be this misunderstanding about atheism. This is why God is defended by attacks on Dawkins (remember he is not the Atheist Pope), Creationism is promoted by strawmen attacks on Evolution, and theism is defended by creating an image that Atheism is just a different religion.

As I keep pointing out, I can not speak for others but when I fill forms in which ask for my religion, I invariably write “none” as I have no religion. If some one asks do I believe in God, then “no,” as I am an atheist…. :-)

Atheist Belief

I know it is done to death in the past, and this is probably preaching to the converted but it constantly amazes me how many theists (and even some atheists) labour under the idea that “atheism” means believing there is not a God.

On YouTube there is a video from davidbpearson2 (calling himself FireFly515) about Atheists (which I strongly suspect is a joke anyway) which provides a good example of this thinking (I am not going to mention the rest of the nonsense in the video because he is either trolling or doing it as satire). (There are quite a few posts by FireFly515 in which he rants about destroying Atheism and the numerous responses but that is the subject for another post one day).

In a nutshell, lots and lots of the religious propaganda which mentions Atheism describes them as people who believe there is no God.

I don’t think I can agree with this.

I can only speak for myself (remember this is no Atheist Doctrine which tells all Atheists how they can think…), but I personally do not believe in any deities existing and to me this is an important difference. Saying I do not believe in God takes the prior assumption that God exists and makes it appear I am wilfully refusing to accept this.

Saying I believe there is no God is equally weak (again, please remember this is my personal opinion), belief is a characteristic of faith. Atheism is not a faith. I do not hold a belief in the face of evidence. I do not hold a belief on the basis of there being no evidence.

All I can say is, I do not believe in imaginary things, this includes deities, Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy, Elves, Faeries, The Grinch, Goblins, Bogeymen, Little green martians, Witches, Ghosts, Hobbits, Treants, Orcs, Mordor, Harry Potter, Angels, Demons, The Devil, dragons and so on. To me a theist is some one who has cut this list a little bit shorter.

It would be interesting to see how others describe their Atheism.

. . . then why are there still humans?

...then why are there still humans?
…then why are there still humans?,
originally uploaded by Alun Salt.

Another great Creationist trading card from Alun Salt. At the start of the year I made a post about some of his other trading cards and this seems to be one of the newer ones.

These are funny and really well put together – it would almost be worth printing them out and trying to get WoTC to make a game out of it!

Dawkins and Eagleton

A few of the atheist and pro-religion blogs have referenced Terry Eagleton’s views on Dawkins. I can’t miss the opportunity to bore you to death with more on this.

Eagleton is not a bad writer. He uses quite an impressive turn of phrase when he’s insulting Dawkins. He is a cultural studies lecturer of a certain kind – was brought up as a Catholic, was a Marxist in the 1970s. He was in one of those rather sweet Trotskyite groups that appeal to idealistic students, The defining characteristics of these are usually that they direct their intellectual attention to ripping apart the views of other such groups, in “how many angels can fit on the head of a pin” debates. I.e. they appeal to people with a religious nature but no belief in God.

Sadly , Cultural Studies in the hands of a lot of university dons becomes stuff that you would rather pull your teeth out wiithout anaesthetic than read. The subject meanders away from the facsinating and illuminating work of people like Stuart Hall, Roland Barthes and Umberto Eco (I’m talking about the last two when they are writing for a popular audience :-) of course.) It becomes “an angels on the head of a pin” debate subject, with arcane rules and procedures that are neither art (because lots of the works are ugly) nor science (because they make endless unproven assertions). Unlike Hall or Barthes, they don’t care much whether their work has any relevance to human society. It often becomes a way of showing off to their fellow Cultural Studies intellectuals. The world outside the University is as alien to them as the world of the average worker is to Posh and Becks.

I suspect, maybe unfairly, that Eagleton may be one of those lecturers with little concept of “too dull”, witness his reverential mention of Derrida. OK, fair point, the piece was in the London Review of Books, hardly a mass market publication. Still this gives a flavour of it:

What, one wonders, are Dawkins’s views on the epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus? Has he read Eriugena on subjectivity, Rahner on grace or Moltmann on hope? Has he even heard of them?

Well, nor have I. But I’m still going to mouth off about it.

Dawkins often seems to be a very traditional Enlightenment rationalist, with an optimistic belief that logic and reason have some sway over human actions. Dawkins is writing on the assumption that it is enough to draw attention to errors in their thinking and people will give them up. I wish that were true. Yes, the “God” concept that he attacks most often is the concept of a child, not of a theologian. Dawkins’ arguments are addressed to the general public. Who have usually been fed a lot of “God” nonsense that bears no relation to Eurigenia. And I would be very surprised if one in a million people had heard of the “epistemological differences between Aquinas and Duns Scotus” etc.

I can’t begin to see what possible relevance these arguments could have to the point of whether God is a delusion. (The people banning evolution teaching in schools can probably barely read, for a start. I suspect Rahner’s words are as unknown to them as they are to me.) The abstract arguments of theologically sophisticated thinkers are not what get taught to kids in Sunday schools and Maddrassas. Imagine an infinitely complex and elegant argument about how Father Christmas could get round everyone’s house in the same night (by bending the space-time continuum, creating his own warp space, or merely amending our consciousness so we thought it was one night but it really takes years.) The debates would throw lots of light on our thoughts about the nature of space and time. But guess what? Father Christmas doesn’t really bring your presents. (Sorry to be the one to break that news.)

I am not a big Dawkins fan, I’m still miffed about the sociobiology…. I think he is utterly naive in terms of sociology and doesn’t understand how the power of religion is indeed rooted in power. He often writes as if ideas have an existence of their own outside of the material world. tA best, can influence the world, but don’t really grow out of social relations. I think this is called “Idealism”, as a Philosophical concept, or it should be. He is not a social scientist. Unlike Eagleton, I don’t this disqualifies him from having views about society though. It just shows that he isn’t the infallible authority on atheism, (thank Void.) There is a lot more to be understood about the role of belief in social relations, and to do it effectively does need a grounding in social science rather than biology.

However, Dawkins isn’t talking about sociology. Nor is he discussing theology, Eagleton. He is talking about whether there is a personal God who made the universe and performs miracles. He is absolutely right about the illogicality of Faith. Dawkins expresses views that you would imagine would be all-but universal in the 21st century and is attacked from all sides.

Hence, he makes us realise we live in a time when human intellectual progress is in reverse and he’s prepared to challenge this state of affairs. In the popular media. Repeatedly. Lucidly. And his influence has encouraged lots of people to actively assert their rationality in a world which is abandoning the whole awkard rationality thing at a rate of knots.

What’s Eagleton doing? He’s turning to the Church he was brought up in, like many lapsed Catholics in their later years. He’s looking only at a Church that appeals to socially-unengaged and pampered intellectuals. He doesn’t seem aware that the world is becoming a battleground and religion is being used to stir up the fighters on every side. For at least a thousand years, religion has been the excuse for committing atrocities, obscuring the battles over land and property that were really taking place. It does matter that people speak the truth about it and question what they are told.

Dawkins considers that all faith is blind faith, and that Christian and Muslim children are brought up to believe unquestioningly

Of course, all ordinary believers don’t seek to brainwash their chilldren. (Although the faith schools and vicars and pastors and priests and Imams all have a good stab at it.) In fact, many people feel compelled to make their children observe religious tradtions that they don’t really believe themselves. That’s why children are brought into territory of the Church or Mosque or synagogue before they can speak, let alone reason. And the old Jesuit saying of “Give me a child before the age of seven and he’s mine for life” (or words to that effect) seem to be proved by Eagleton’s own leanings.

In any case, I think by definition, faith in the unknowable is blind faith.

Theistic Readership

Once more Nullifidian has spotted a great example of theistic madness. On the “Dear Alice” post there is an excellent send up of the nonsense a “concerned” reader has sent to a newspaper. This was funny enough, I decided to have a quick look round the internet to see if I could find out the source of the letter and any more details on it.Isn’t the internet grrrrreat.

It seems the letter was sent to the Peninsular Clarion, a newspaper which covers the Kenai Peninsular (The Kenai Peninsula is a large peninsula jutting from the southern coast of Alaska in the United States, Wikipedia). I wont stoop to discussing the perils of inbreeding for remote communities, but suffice it to say the Clarion’s letters pages make entertaining reading. Fortunately, the vast (and I mean vast, the cranks are only a tiny minority of the letters) majority of letters seem to come from sane, reasonable people (whatever their religious beliefs). Not so fortunately (although it does provide me with hours of merriment) there are still a vociferous few who rant nonsense!

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