Atheism, Faith and Idiotic Confusion

It seems that all the PR work by Dawkins, Hitchens, PZ Myers, Harris et al., is still not fully driving home the message of what atheism is and what atheism means. Part of me feels that, for all the good intentions in the world this is something they will never achieve, and a small part of me feels that “organised” atheism is seriously a step in the wrong direction.

At its most basic level, being an atheist implies nothing about a persons intelligence, rationality, political leaning, attitude towards others, scientific literacy, education (and so on). All being an atheist means is the person does not believe in gods. Nothing else. Al Kafir Akbar is a recent example of an atheist who is not rational, intelligent or scientifically literate (and I dread to think what his political leaning is… 🙂 ). Campaigns such as the “Scarlet A” and “Brights” are, IMHO of course, eventually doomed to failure as the differences between any two atheists start to far outweigh their single shared characteristic. In the past people have mooted ideas such as atheists becoming “politicised,” will such a thing ever work? Would you, for example, vote for a raving right / left (depending on your own orientation) lunatic simply based on his atheism?

For me, the worrying thing about all this – along with the growing sycophancy which surrounds the more prominent atheists (Dawkins lost a bit of support when he dropped a clanger and used the term “Jewish,” but the others still get the hero worship…) – is that it starts to scream “religion.” I am sure everyone remembers election campaigns where one church or another pledges the support of its followers to Politician X because of his beliefs, as soon as the prominent atheists pledge their support (and the support of their sycophants, followers, readers) to a politician because s/he is an atheist the final difference will be gone [*].

In recent months, the furore over the the Scarlet A struck cynical old me as if people were starting to demand an atheist doctrine which was going to be laid down by the high priest (pontifex maximus? We all know where that took us…). People who disagreed with PZ Myers over the “A” for example, were savaged (online, rather than a visit to the lion enclosure) and for one reason or another, large numbers of atheists have fallen in line and display the A on their sites. Now, I must stress, I do not think this is a bad thing in general. If you want to put an A on your site to denote you are an atheist, great. I think it is really cool. I am concerned about the process which brought this about though.

Reading through the ever entertaining times online today, I came across an article by “Dolan Cummings” in the “Battle for Ideas” section. Titled “Count me out of atheism’s creed,” this article expresses some of the points of view I am trying to make, but mostly in a more readable manner… I found this bit quite relevant: (emphasis mine)

From attempts to popularise the term ‘bright’ as a positive identity to calls for atheists to be included on the roster of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’, it seems that some want to establish atheism as an alternative, non-religious camp for people to belong to. But atheism itself ought to be the least interesting thing about atheists, who surely have various and often conflicting beliefs and passions of their own.

Everyone who writes for this blog is an atheist, yet Heather and I have (at times) viewpoints which are at polar opposites. Calling us “atheists” with an implied commonality of purpose seems to gloss over that. If you search around the various atheist blogs, there are mountains of interesting, entertaining and educational blogs – all written by atheists. There are also lots (sadly too many on the blogroll now) of blogs which are little more than people shouting “I am an atheist” over and over.

For a long time people (famous or otherwise) have been trying to get the unthinking masses to realise that atheism is not a religion, chanting is as a mantra sets that task back considerably. If people want to challenge irrational belief then it needs to be done with logic and reason, not with formulating a “counter-church” for people to rally around. Take this idiotic comment on the Dolan Cummings’ article:

Atheism is not non-belief – it’s active faith in the non-existence of God – an unprovable hypothesis. Atheism is just another religion. Richard, Colchester, UK

Pure stupidity. Sadly, as atheism becomes more of an “active” process, people may start to think this even more.

Before I finish, I think I should stress I am not a supporter of the quisling atheists who seem to think religion should be tolerated and pandered to. Religion (any) does not deserve special status or special treatment. Irrational idiocy should be challenged at every juncture. I love to read Sam Harris, Pharyngula, Dawkins et al. I agree with an awful lot of what they have to say. However, there is no holy doctrine of atheism and I do reserve the right to disagree with the prominent spokespersons when they are (IMHO) wrong.

The greatest challenge for atheism is learning how to “cure” people of religion, without becoming a religion. Are people up to that task yet?

* I am more than aware that the chances of a prominent public figure in either the US or UK coming out as an atheist is close to zero at this time, the future may be different. Also, rather than the politician being an atheist per se, s/he could simply espouse atheist-friendly policies.

When Education Fails People…

Well, the wonderful Atheist Ethicist blog has pointed to some, frankly, insane ramblings coming out of one of the Professors at Baylor University. Alonzo has pretty much summed up the logical faults with the ramblings by Dr Roger Olsen so I am largely left to simply poke fun at the complete lack of any form of understanding or critical reasoning abilities his writing demonstrates.

Basically, it is shameful that a professor (albeit of theology) is so incapable of following the basic process of reasoning and it is a sad indictment of the effects of “faith” that it has made him blind to the monumental confusion his posts displays. If Dr Olsen were an undergraduate, you’d hope this sort of writing would pretty much end up with an “F.” At best.

If there were any form of World Justice, this sort of nonsense would soon cause people to stop enrolling at Baylor. Unfortunately, I suspect it will have the opposite effect when other members of the “faithful” see this sort of thing and decide they would rather avoid an education at Baylor than elsewhere.

Dr Olsen sets the tone for his gibberish article with:

I feel sorry for atheists. They are so much in the minority in American society and they are bound to feel some marginalization if not persecution.

Oh what wonderful patronisation. I am not an American so I have no idea if this is true or otherwise. However it speaks volumes as to the true nature of Dr Olsen. Here he is claiming “Atheists” are a tiny minority who feel persecuted. Rather than demonstrating the “Christian charity” he is more than happy to continue, and increase, the persecution. If the word “atheist” were replaced with any other minority group, he would never have had the temerity to write the words which follow on. Equally interestingly, if Atheists are such a minority, why does Dr Olsen care?

With an interesting twist of linguistics and some (frankly confusing) logic, Dr Olsen continues with this wonderful snippet:

Christians should be the last people to persecute anyone — including atheists. But that doesn’t mean Christians have to accommodate atheism as they tolerate and love atheists.

I am intrigued as to how you can “tolerate atheists” while not accommodating them? Obviously Dr Olsen is one of those confused people who believes that freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion and would rather someone worshipped Baal than didn’t worship any gods.

The confused diatribe continues. Dr Olsen seems to mainly hate atheists because:

So far, at least, atheists haven’t demonstrated their concern for others in any organized way.

Blimey. Here we fall once more into the weird idea that “Atheists” have to become an organised religious group before it can be tolerated. In some respects this is not completely different to some of the ideas kicked around by prominent non-theists such as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers, where there seems to be some urge to organise and politicise atheism. This is something which has been mentioned here in the past, and largely I am not in favour of it. Atheists only share one thing in common and can cover the full political spectrum as well as demonstrating varying levels of rationality. Creating a Church of Atheism is (IMHO of course) foolhardy and does nothing but pander to the thoughts of nutcases like Dr Olsen.

As Alonzo points out on his blog, atheists do huge quantities of good deeds, build hospitals and donate fortunes to charities etc., but they are generally not done under an “atheist” umbrella. From Dr Olsen’s post, he seems to acknowledge this but continues to rail against atheism for no reason other than the lack of organisation. This really confuses me.

Does Dr Olsen honestly think it is such a big deal? Is every religious organisation a “Good Thing” or are they a combination of good, bad and indifferent? Atheists support religious groups and non-religious groups. Is Dr Olsen completely unaware of any organisation which seeks to help others and is not religiously motivated? If so, I suspect he really does need to broaden his horizons somewhat.

As he continues, Dr Olsen shows that having a doctorate and a professorial appointment is no indication of anything beyond a basic education outside your own highly specialised field (in this case, invisible people theology):

And atheism has no answer to social Darwinism — the idea that society should not help the weak because it’s nature’s way to weed out the less fit.

This is mind boggling. Fifteen year olds come up with more robust arguments. Here, Dr Olsen shows he has no understanding of what “Darwinism” really means, so one is led to suspect he is firmly entrenched in the creationist corner. If he honestly thinks this is either true or a good argument against atheism, I am truly ashamed for Baylor university.

Sadly, it seems he does think this:

Helping the weak goes against nature and if nature is all there is, well, why should we fight it? A person might choose to, but not because of any transcendent, objective obligation (such as that all persons are created in God’s image).

Obviously, Dr Olsen believes that without belief in a deity (any deity) people will not help the weak. He is so woefully unaware of nature that he must either think animals have gods or he has never seen herd animals (for example) helping their weak and sick. That aside, it is simply an empty argument. Belief in a deity is not required to make people help others – atheists who help others disproves it immediately – therefore having this as his basic premise shows his entire line of argument is logically flawed.

Dr Olsen seems to think that if a person chooses to do good simply because they are good person it really means they are an evil atheist. Whereas a person who does good against their will because they are scared the invisible Sky Elf will punish them is actually a good theist.

Madness. Pure Madness.

For Dr Olsen, once he set off on this path of logical fallacy, there was no turning back:

The only logical option for the atheist is nihilism — belief that nothing has any objective meaning or purpose.

Wow. The only people who think this is true are poorly educated, ignorant, theists. I feel sorry for people like this because they really are lost sheep. They would be out in the streets killing, raping and stealing before they killed themselves if it wasn’t for the basic fear they have of the apparently kindly-yet-massively-vengeful deity who watches their every movement.

The reality is for atheists life on Earth tends to have much more meaning and purpose because it is all we have. There is no afterlife where we can relish the rewards for our Earthly behaviour. There is no atonement for every sin. There are no virgins waiting to serve us if we kill ourselves and take a few infidels along for the ride. All we have is here on Earth so, generally, Atheists will (or at least should) do their best to make it the best possible Earth.

As he gets his full head of gibberish going, Dr Olsen writes:

Küng admitted that atheism is a rational “basic choice” and it cannot be proven wrong in any kind of absolute way.

But most atheists demonstrate their basic trust in the meaningfulness of reality by being outraged at evil and injustice, thereby demonstrating that atheism cannot be lived out consistently.

What makes something evil or unjust if nothing like God exists — if nature is all there is? Only subjective choice either by an individual or a society. But that can change and it often does. Without God, the social prophet has no way out of relativism.

Wow. Küng wrote it therefore Dr Olsen’s interpretation must be 100% true…

The massive ironic part of this is that the Religious definitions of good and evil have changed over time along with society. Despite the stone-like qualities of the ten commandments, even these are not set in stone. Nations Under God are allowed to kill if the secular nation decided it is in its best interests. God does not decide, people do. Activities which were “sinful” a thousand years ago are commonplace now and vice versa. Can you imagine picking up a sword, killing fifty people then paying a priest to absolve you of your sin? Well if you believe in God this was acceptable for most of the history of Christianity.

Fundamentally, pretty much everything Dr Olsen has wrote is incorrect or logically flawed. His basic premises are complete nonsense:

  1. Being organised does not make good deeds better, not being organised does not make them worse.
  2. Religious definitions of “good” and “evil” have changed over time in keeping with society.

That such nonsense could be written by a “Professor” (even one of theology) is mind boggling. He seems unable to carry out basic research into anthropology, evolution, history (etc). What does this say about Baylor university…

Baylor and universities like it exist to promote objective values and meaningful existence.

Obviously anything resembling an education is a very distant runner up.

Dr Olsen finishes with:

Finally, let me repeat that I have nothing against atheists as persons and neither does Baylor University.

But in my opinion, they are people of character and virtue in spite of their philosophy of life — not because of it.

In a similar vein, I have nothing against people who believe in fairies, elves, ghosts, trolls, demons, deities etc. In my opinion they are, generally, people of character and virtue in spite of their madness belief, not because of it.