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Matts (1087)

Matts
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I work for MessageLabs [messagelabs.com] in Toronto, ON, Canada. I write spam filters, MTA software, high performance network software, string matching algorithms, and other cool stuff mostly in Perl and C.

Journal of Matts (1087)

Tuesday April 10, 2007
07:34 PM

Bad anti-atheism arguments

[ #32960 ]
For some reason I managed to stumble across The Trouble with Atheism on YouTube, which seems chock full of bad anti-atheism arguments:
  1. "If we all became atheists tomorrow, would the world suddenly become a better place?"

    Unfortunately religion (or lack of it) can't influence this. Some people are just "bad", and religion can't change that. Why would you assume it could, when your next argument pretty much says it can't?

  2. "The soviet union's atheist regime killed 20 million"

    Yes they killed many. For political reasons though. Should we be only allowed to say that one type of dogma is bad?

  3. "Atheism is becoming a religion of its own, with its own Gurus (implied: gods) and its own sacred texts (showing The Origin of the Species)"

    I think it's fair to say that most atheists come to atheism from a perspective of science. And as such, no atheist would argue that TOotS is the one-true-word - we treat it like any scientific paper - as data that has some truths and some misinterpretations, but some very interesting observations that required more study. And there has been MUCH about TOotS that has been proved and disproved over the years.

  4. "Belief in a negative"

    No, atheism is simply a lack of blind faith. A lack of "just believing" for the sake of it. We tell people all the time it's not natural to believe in things that don't have any basis for belief (the tooth fairy, santa claus, the flying spaghetti monster) yet we blindly accept religion because the book is old.

  5. snide comments about being "Fundamental Atheists"

    You can't be a fundamental atheist. I'm sure as I can be that 100% of atheists would welcome some proof that there is a god that should be worshiped. And if such proof were presented there would be no more atheism. We're (pardon the pun) fundamentally not fundamentalists. We believe in proof before belief.

  6. Particle accelerators can only show what happened 1 millionth of a second after the "big bang" so therefore choosing god or "no god" is just a matter of preference.

    I'm sorry, but wasn't the earth created about 6000 years ago according the bible? Religion doesn't even begin to cover the scientific discoveries about the origins of the universe, so I don't see how you can get into a religious argument about it. Did "God" just decide in his infinite wisdom to omit that stuff from the Christian bible, or did the true authors of the bible simply have no concept of how far back the universe went?

I could go on. The whole documentary is a bizarre concoction of strawmen. I'm surprised it even got aired.

For anyone wanting to reply to this: only reply today if you agree to comment (good or bad) on one of my photographs tomorrow.

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  • The Origin of the Species

    With my pendantry hat on, that book is actually called "The Origin of Species". It's all a little confusing given that the plural of "species" is "species", but the book is supposed to explain the origin of all species (although it prevaricates slightly on Man and doesn't really make that connection clear - for that you need "The Descent of Man")

  • "If we all became atheists tomorrow, would the world suddenly become a better place?"

    That is a bad anti-atheism argument, but it is a good anti-atheist argument, depending on the atheist, as some atheists actually do, like Dawkins, push the view that religion is the primary cause of many of the world's problems, especially war.

    "The soviet union's atheist regime killed 20 million"

    Same thing here. This does not prove atheism is bad, it proves that those, like Dawkins, who claim that belief in God is worse than atheism are smoking crack.

    No, atheism is simply a lack of blind faith

    Atheism has two distinct meanings, and in the U.S., it more commonly means -- in my long experience here -

    • The blind part is admittedly subjective. The belief is in your "soul" or your "heart" or in some way invisible to the rest of the world. As such it is without external validation.

      A good counter example would be the sun rising every day. I don't just believe that because it has always happened (though that would be a perfectly valid reason for believing it), but because there is a whole bunch of other information about how things rotate around the sun, how the gravitational field affects those things, how fa
    • “The soviet union’s atheist regime killed 20 million”

      That just takes the cake – the irony is killing me. The Nazi regime had the Vatican’s full blessing, y’know?

      Well ... no. It didn't. The Vatican did not give a full blessing. It played politics and tried to stay out of it, and you could call what it did appeasement, which I suppose you could awkwardly turn into a blessing of some kind, but it was not a "full" blessing, certainly.

      That said, as I mentioned to Matts, this argument is offered in response to the notion that Christians are bad (because of the Crusades etc.) and atheists are good. Dawkins spends pages going on about the Inquisition, and yet never ex

        • The only data-based stuff I've seen suggested that the higher the rate of secularism/atheism (important difference between the two, but I can't recall which one it was) the higher the commitment to christian values, statistically.

          That is, the stronger religious a country was, the less it followed religious morals.

          Or something like that.

          I've seen such studies, and they do not even attempt to control for other factors. For example -- and I know this does not hold true across the spectrum of nations, it is just an example -- perhaps a "Christian nation" like America allows more freedom than an "atheist nation" like China, and thus has more social problems like murder and abortion. Does that mean America is worse than China, or that its Christian values (in this case, freedom) have more negative results than those of its atheist counterpar

          • From Wikipedia:

            The Crusades were a series of military conflicts of a religious character waged by Christians from 1095-1291, usually sanctioned by the Pope in the name of Christendom,[1] with the goal of recapturing Jerusalem and the sacred "Holy Land" from Muslim rule and originally launched in response to a call from the Eastern Orthodox Byzantine Empire for help against the expansion of the Muslim Seljuq dynasty into Anatolia.[2][3]
            Looks pretty christian to me.
              • I actually read that and I don't agree with wikipedia.
                You should go in there and fix it then :-)
                • Well, it is a mixed bag with the Crusades. Not as Christian as many atheists want to believe, but not devoid of Christianity either.

                  It's similar to the Iraq War: many people think it is a religious war, when it clearly is not, but there are certainly religious motivations and influences behind many of the people involved (on all sides).

                  As to fixing Wikipedia ... jeez, one simple fix can take weeks to defend and then it will still be removed anyway. :-)
    • Why can't the believers be called irrationalists instead?
      Because that would be fundamentally irrational.
        • He also once captured it this way: “Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt.”

          He must not have known very many religious people. Nearly all of the great Christians in history have had tremendous doubt, from the Apostle Peter himself down through C.S. Lewis.

          Faith is not in opposition to doubt; faith expects doubt. That is why, for some of us, the practice of apologetics is so important: because we prove to ourselves the logical consistency of belief, so we have something solid to fall back on when we doubt our faith. As Steve Taylor sang (borrowing from Flannery O'Connor): "Shiver

            • You don’t give Feynman enough credit. He said religion is a culture of faith; he did not say religion is a culture of blind faith.

              But I am not saying he is saying that. I am saying, rather, that he implies that it is a faith that is without doubt (since he contrasts it to doubt). He completely misunderstands and misrepresents religious faith.

              This is the crux of the entire issue: the doubt you describe is a means, not an end.

              Neither is doubt with science an end, but a means ... as you describe well through the rest of your post. It is what drives you to attempt to come up with answers, to learn more, and to become more certain.

              In contrast, doubt is not a state to be resolved for a skeptic.

              A skeptic attempts to resolve questions as much as a religious person, and he acknowle

              • Sometimes it is like what Einstein did; the theory was so good he refused to abandon it in light of evidence against it, which is much like common religious faith.
                I can't see how that's anything like religious faith at all - because with religious faith there's absolutely zero evidence. If there were evidence (and I mean that in scientific terms) then there probably wouldn't be any atheists.
                • I can't see how that's anything like religious faith at all - because with religious faith there's absolutely zero evidence.

                  That is absolutely false. ;-)

                  evidence (and I mean that in scientific terms)

                  Ah, *scientific* evidence. I was saying that faith in scientific evidence is similar to faith in religious evidence, so saying that scientific faith is not at all like religious faith because religion is not based on scientific evidence is question-begging. We are talking epistemology here: yes, scientific knowledge is different from other kinds of knowledge (religious knowledge is largely philsophical, while scientific knowledge is largely experimental), but in what way is

                  • I've yet to see religious evidence that is anything more than "I don't know the answer, so I'll assume a God". That's exactly what Kalam's cosmological argument is. I'd welcome something better than that, if you can provide something.

                    The scientist's answer to this is that to assume a "mystical" answer where there isn't a good scientific answer simply isn't good enough - we must strive for more knowledge to get at the answer, and for now to simply be happy that we don't know the truth to that question (or wh
                    • I've yet to see religious evidence that is anything more than "I don't know the answer, so I'll assume a God". That's exactly what Kalam's cosmological argument is.

                      No, you misunderstand the argument and the issues surrounding it. The argument claims there is a Cause for the universe. Then there is a second part to the argument which argues that the cause is Personal. It argues affirmatively that the universe must have been created by a personal, willfull, cause, and that no other beginning is even possible (not merely unknown).

                      I was not entirely clear by linking merely to that one Wikipedia page; William Lane Craig touches on this a bit in the conclusion of his ka [leaderu.com]

                    • The way I like to explain it is that if the first cause were not personal, acting from infinity (that is, outside of time), then the universe would have been created an infinite time ago (which was already argued in the first part of the discussion to be, at best, unlikely, though I'd claim it impossible), because an impersonal cause could not decide to create the universe, and being outside of time, nothing else could cause the cause to do so either. In order for a finite universe to have been created, the cause must have decided to create it, which means it must have been a personal cause.

                      You can, of course, argue against this logic, but the argument is a sound and strong one.

                      I don't argue against the logic, just that the logic does not imply a God. The universe could have been pooped out by a Cosmic Squirrel. That's not a god, or an almighty being (just an almighty poop). It's just something we don't understand yet.

                      It also flies in the face of general relativity which (without digging out "A Brief History of Time" so I'm going by memory here) equations predict an elastic time, stretching out until the singularity only to reverse once they get to that point (i.e. the big bang w

                    • Any argument that rests on causality, however convincing, is a castle built on sand, as far as I can tell.

                      To assume causality past the beginning of the universe seems like a questionable position to me, not a strong one.

                      I am not assuming anything, I am deducing it.

                      That everything that begins to exist has a cause is a compelling claim, but to the best of our knowledge so far, at the deepest level, existence in this universe is acausal

                      Heh, now YOU'RE the one who is assuming. Just because you can't see a cause doesn't mean it's there.

                      Any argument that rests on causality, however convincing, is a castle built on sand, as far as I can tell.

                      Shrug. I believe it is infinitely more reasonable than the alternative explanation, that it exists without a cause.

                    • I don't argue against the logic, just that the logic does not imply a God.

                      It implies a being who is powerful enough to do it, who is capable of making the willfull decision to do it, , and who lives outside of time. Whatever you call it, it is outside of the realm of any science known to man, and it is some sort of "supreme being," and that's the point. It is a given that it doesn't describe much about the nature of this being, and I was not using it in that way.

                      It also flies in the face of general relativity which (without digging out "A Brief History of Time" so I'm going by memory here) equations predict an elastic time

                      Well. Sorta. That was a theory Hawking proposed, there is no significant evidence supporting it, and as best I ca

                    • It implies a being who is powerful enough to do it, who is capable of making the willfull decision to do it, , and who lives outside of time. Whatever you call it, it is outside of the realm of any science known to man, and it is some sort of "supreme being," and that's the point. It is a given that it doesn't describe much about the nature of this being, and I was not using it in that way.

                      Well another possibility is that the universe was some sort of accidental experiment from a super-large-scale collider of some sort, built by ancient civilisations billions of years ago. And it's "colliders all the way down". Nothing supreme or supernatural about that at all, unless you consider humans to be supreme and supernatural.

                      But for now I'll accept your point: All hail the Cosmic Squirrel. :-)

                    • Well another possibility is that the universe was some sort of accidental experiment from a super-large-scale collider of some sort, built by ancient civilisations billions of years ago. And it's "colliders all the way down".

                      Yes, it is possible our universe was created by another universe, but then what created that one, or the one that created it, and so on? The same laws we're discussing that say you cannot traverse an actual infinite demand that at some point, there was a beginning, in my opinion.

                      Not that I am always right. :-) But it seems like the most rational position, given the evidence, to me. Which was really my only point. :D

                    • there was a beginning, in my opinion
                      I agree (despite the wonderful elegance of "turtles all the way down"). However I think the beginning being a "god" is far too simple an explanation.

                      What's unfortunate is that if we ever do experimentally try and prove how a universe is created, we will probably instantaneously blast ourselves out of existence. Ah the sweet irony :-)
                    • However I think the beginning being a "god" is far too simple an explanation.
                      I understand that view. I just think that no other posited explanation thus far fits the evidence.

                      The problem is, of course, that we are extremely dumb creatures, when it comes to understanding the universe. :-) I realize I may be wrong. Still, we can only do our best to understand given what we've got.
                    • You did notice that I qualified the claims as being to the best of our knowledge, so far (twice)? :-)

                      Sure, but my point is that I disagree, that the best of our knowledge does not agree that existence is acausal.

                      I’m wary of such calls for a deterministic explanation where they are demanded merely because a stochastic nature for the cosmos is counterintuitive

                      But that's not what I am doing. I think, rather, that the evidence shows that a personal cause to the universe is the only possibilty. I am open to other evidence, of course. But I just don't think, at this point, any argument has yet come up that makes me think it is possible that the universe has always existed, or that it could have sprung into existence from infinity without a personal cau

                    • Your “almost literally” exclamation does not even need the “almost” qualifier. “I think, therefore I am” is, in fact, a tautology.
                      I was just playing a little joke with the word "self."
                • But the theory was not “good” just because it sounded rationally convincing. It was good because it rested on special relativity, which rested on the results of the Michelson-Morley experiment and the many variations on its theme, which had shown beyond reasonable doubt that prior theories which were in contradiction with special relativity were wrong. Einstein didn’t incorporate an artificial fix just because he fancied his theory a lot.

                  And how is that different from religious belief? I believe in Jesus for many solid reasons too. It is not just that it "sounded rationally convicing," although that is true too.

                  Along the same lines, I’m rather skeptical of much of the accepted model of contemporary mainstream cosmology, because so much of it relies on so much less observation than, say, electromagnetism.

                  Sure, and you should be skeptical. Just like I am skeptical of global warming, which has similar observational difficulties.

                  PS.: it just occured to me, after writing the above, that you chose to accentuate your argument by pointing to a belief of yours (that Jesus was real (which I believe as well; and hey, Einstein did too, despite his stated disbelief in a personal god)), whereas I chose to accentuate mine by pointing to how much I have no confidence in. Surely Mr. Feynman must have been joking…

                  Actually, I had some other beliefs that I have less confidence in (like the evolution of man), but excluded it since I didn't want to stray too far from the point.