The Benefits of Atheism

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“Imagine that the brain is a computer and that religion is a virus. Atheism is the wiping of that virus.” – Nick Harding[1]

 

What does atheism offer?”, “What good is it?”,  “What benefit can be gained from not believing in God?

Well that depends on how much you value intellectual honesty? How valuable is reason? And I say this without a hint of hubris or intellectual snobbery, although it is often taken to be the very height of just that by theists. But I mean this with the utmost sincerity born out of a genuine caring for people and concern for the future of my children and humanity as a species. For me, intellectual honesty and reason are incredibly important. I’d argue that progress as a person, a society, and as a species is contingent upon it. So when it comes to beliefs that shape our very lives, that provide the foundation from which we conduct ourselves and how we see the world, then nothing could be more important. Now before we delve deeper, let’s be clear, atheism is not a worldview, ideology, or philosophy[2]. Atheism doesn’t provide a foundation of it’s own. But it provides firm ground free of the debris of theism and clears out the religious weeds before they can crack through the foundation of rationality. Allowing instead for solid foundations to be laid. Well grounded foundations such as naturalism and secular humanism, for example. So then what good is it? Well provided that one accepts how rationality, knowledge, and human flourishing are of the utmost importance to the continuing development and progress towards the betterment of humanity as a whole, then one must also give consideration to how these are able to be derailed by bad reasoning, dogmatic ideologies, and faith-based beliefs[3], then the benefit of atheism becomes clearer. To make an important distinction, I’m not arguing that atheism is more rational than theism, I’m arguing that theism is irrational and must be rejected and/or removed from the methods of reasoning altogether. We even see this in the cases of credible scientists who are in fact religious. Those scientists who hold such a belief only hold to it when the white coat is off. They reason like atheists in the lab. Atheism in the context of this discussion is that acknowledgement. The crux of my argument is simply this… atheism clears the way for reason to properly operate.

 

There is a clarity in thinking that comes with having a foundation unfettered with underlying supernatural assumptions. Assumptions like a supernatural deity created the whole of reality and is pulling the strings. And that this deity has an ultimate plan and is watching everything with divine judgment. This foundational clarity allows for the methods of sound reasoning to build. We must be diligent in our efforts to be clear in our thinking and to be objective and honest in our analyses. It’s crucial to build our knowledge on a solid foundation. Even if it means arriving at conclusions that force us to abandon our most cherished beliefs. And the problems that are brought on board when one adopts a god belief chokes reason off at the root. These problems are found in the methods a believer must adopt of defending that belief at all costs. It’s in the fideistic attitude that reason is inadequate and ill-equipped or even an outright misology. It’s also found in the demonization of reason whenever reason challenges the belief in a god and the methods of attaining it. According to theism, faith trumps reason. The best reason can accomplish is to compliment faith. Reason serves to merely placate faith. Reason alone is the trickery of Satan or the product of a prideful fallen creation. Atheism, at this fundamental level, doesn’t allow for such manipulation to take hold. And thus allows for honest, critical analysis. That is all atheism needs to do. But let’s not think this as some trivial thing. Far from it.

 

“It is the absolutism of theism, its pernicious influence upon humanity, its paralyzing effect upon thought and action, which Atheism is fighting with all its power.” – Emma Goldman[4]

 

But there’s another, more personal reason how atheism can be a benefit. It must be acknowledged that many atheists were religious at some point in there lives. And given that religion is deeply ingrained in practically every society around the world. There’s no escaping it’s influence in some capacity. For those that escaped the grip of religion, or are constantly having religion shoved down their throats, atheism can be liberating. Many have witnessed first hand the harm these beliefs have on relationships and we are bombarded daily with news displaying the immense tension caused by religion in societies around the world. Many have been shunned by their community and ostracized by their own family. But consider those who live in regions of the world where harsh religious oppression is everyday life. Where religion isn’t a free choice and apostasy is punished. Where religious totalitarianism suffocates every independent thought of the people around you. Just uttering the words “I’m an atheist” is like a breath of fresh air. Even if it must done clandestinely behind closed doors out of fear of punishment, including death. It is a push-back against the unrelenting inculcation of dogma and religious extremism. Taking into account these two points discussed here, the necessity of atheism couldn’t be more apparent and its benefits are far-reaching. The fewer false, irrational, faith-based things we believe, the better we will be able to grasp reality and thus flourish. And atheism eliminates the biggest offender.

 

-Rich

 

Notes:

[1] Nick Harding, News Talk, January 25, 2016

[2] This isn’t to say that one’s atheology doesn’t contain philosophy, or the reason for one’s rejection of theism. But that’s irrelevant to the topic as atheism doesn’t require any. One can be perfectly justified in simply saying they have no place for a belief in a god belief in their lives.

[3] see my blog where I argue against faith and it’s incompatibility with reason… https://coupleofatheists.com/2013/11/05/unreasonable-faith/  

[4] Emma Goldman, Mother Earth, Feb. 1916

Further Up The Mountain: A Response to Robert Jastrow’s Infamous Quote

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“At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”[1]

For those who haven’t encountered this quote before, it’s from American astronomer, physicist and cosmologist, Robert Jastrow. This statement has been championed by theists and has even found its way into high profile debates against atheists[2]. I probably wouldn’t have given much consideration to it had it not been thrown at me on more than one occasion. I assume it’s touted by theists so ardently because they think it carries significant weight simply because of his scientific credentials (and not on the scientific merit of the statement itself, proving once again that in apologetics, it’s not what is said but who is saying it). It would seem that Jastrow’s renown is all that is needed to confer the stamp of legitimacy, even if the statement itself doesn’t pass muster.

So what are we to make of this? Many of us will no doubt balk at such an irresponsible utterance, having heard such rhetoric before, but it deserves a retort if for nothing else than the widespread patronization of it by crass apologists.

In taking a closer look, right away we see there are problems. Not just with the statement itself, but also with the way theists present it. For example, it is often used as a point of argument by theists that Jastrow was a self-professed agnostic, but given the many interviews he’s given in various Christian forums, and by the tone of his books, like as evident by the statement on offer here, he’s pretty clearly of a theistic (or at least deistic) slant[3]. Funny how these same theists that prop up this tripe as an honest concession of a skeptic fail to take into consideration that an agnostic can in principle be a theist and continue on portraying him as if he were of the more common atheistic type.

Also, I could spend quite some time addressing other obvious issues that jump out to me. Like in the use of the word “faith” here or the way theology is expressed to take precedent over science (It is a bit surprising to hear such a dismissal if science coming from a scientist). These two issues alone could fill an entire book. But I’d rather focus on analyzing the symbolism of the analogy itself because there’s several problems contained within that I don’t think Jastrow anticipated. In my analysis, I noticed how this analogy could easily be used against theology instead of in support of it. And the finale is that it actually exposes what has been argued by my fraternity to be true of theology in the modern scientific climate all along, and that is that science has passed this antiquated ideology by and left it far behind. Allow me to illustrate what I mean, then offer a response to Jastrow’s analogy in kind.

First, it could be asked if they’re even on the same mountain as theology never answered any such questions about reality. But for the sake of argument, we’ll assume they are. If they did happen to reach any point of the mountain before the scientist, it wasn’t because they knew where they were going nor did they even know where they were. They were essentially wandering in the dark and lost[4]. But it’s even worse for the theologians because in their faith induced self assuredness, they stopped climbing the mountain (the scientist is greeted by the theologians who are just sitting there). Their religious faith gave them the illusion that they have reached the top. We see that the theologians here assume they have met the scientist at a pinnacle that, as science has shown us, hasn’t been reached. Their faith essentially serves as clouds obscuring their view to what lies beyond. And this is the obstacle religious faith creates.

So now that I laid a bit of foundation, allow me to offer (oh so humbly) my response to Jastrow’s careless analogy. This is what the logical conclusion to the story would be…

“As the scientist sat amongst the theologians, he found that he was not content with just faithfully sitting on the rocks. His commitment to reason and scientific inquiry compelled him to explore further and he discovered that the mountain continued past the clouds that had kept the theologians from seeing any higher. So he began climbing further up and out of the clouds to find the vast universe beginning to open up to him as he left the theologians below to gloat by their dwindling fire beneath the cover of the clouds. Left clouded by their faith, they arrogantly thought they had reached the highest peak and so they just sat… as they have for centuries.”[5]

– Rich Hess


Notes:
[1] From God and the Astronomers, Robert Jastrow (1978). Jastrow’s allegory was about the Big Bang Theory (which many fundamentalist Christians still deny). This isn’t relevant to this particular discussion however and I only mention it here for accuracy. But for further research, I recommend looking up works from philosophers of science, such as Quintin Smith, and any number of contemporary physicists and cosmologists (Lawrence Krauss, Stephen Hawking, Victor Stenger, just to name a few) who explain the Big Bang and why the theologians are wrong.

[2] The example I had in mind was the debate between Frank Turek and Christopher Hitchens (23:44 mark) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVZnwZdh-iM

[3] Now I’m not going to go out on a limb and speculate that he was a believer in God, but it’s enough to point out that there is a distinction in how we are to understand “agnosticism” here. It’s certainly safe to say that he was sympathetic to theology.

[4] After all, it’s theologians that teach as fact Noah’s Flood, the Genesis creation myth, talking animals, etc. Even if they were to stumble onto some observation that turned out to be factual (or even partially factual), we can hardly credit their “methods” of getting there.

[5] The “clouds” here represent the theologians faith. In thinking they had all the answers they were looking for as prescribed by their religious dictates, they were ignorant of the possibility of there being anything beyond. And thus they have stopped searching. Unlike religion, in science, the climb is never ended. 

The Arrogance of Theism

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“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom.” – Thomas Paine [1]
“I suppose that one reason I have always detested religion is its sly tendency to insinuate the idea that the universe is designed with ‘you’ in mind or, even worse, that there is a divine plan into which one fits whether one knows it or not. This kind of modesty is too arrogant for me.” – Christopher Hitchens [2]

As atheists, we have all at some point been charged with arrogance. While it is sometimes aimed at a generalization regarding attitude or conduct, it is more often than not about the simple fact that we don’t hold a belief that a god(s) exists. But let’s explore why this charge is grossly misplaced and why the theist should take a long, hard look in the mirror before accusing anyone else of such a disposition. Especially when we consider that those casting this accusation are the same people who claim the entire universe was created as part of a plan for them; all the while claiming to be so humble. It’s difficult to imagine the “humility” it must take to accept that humanity’s actions and beliefs are so relevant to the functioning of the universe that the very laws of nature are altered by them and their God will destroy everything completely when not satisfied. When it comes to arrogance, theists have it in spades. We see it in the way they tout their faith around with such pageantry and in the expectation that their faith be given special privilege. We see it even more in the way not having a belief in their particular God is to be treated. To simply not believe in God (which is seen as the rejection of God by many theists) is itself a sin, in fact, it is said to be the ultimate sin. Many consider non-belief to the work of Satan, or of other demons, leading us astray. Non-belief is the surest way to earn a one way ticket to hell for eternity and apparently justifiably so. According to theists, the rejection of a God that is so self-evident, so axiomatic, is not as simple as just rejecting the validity of this claim, it requires that we must “disprove” their God’s existence altogether. Often times God is regarded as knowledge that every human possesses and to not believe is simply to suppress this knowledge in rebellion. It is as if we willfully reject our very existence. We can begin to understand why any dissension from their ideology is considered a direct affront to their God when we see how the theistic worldview functions in the adherents life. God is everything good, without God there is no morality, without God there is no meaning, there is nothing without God, and so on.

As I mentioned, there is a profound arrogance in the way opposing views are regarded. I admit that I have taken no small insult from the likes of Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, and many of their contemporaries that continually misrepresent atheists and atheism in the most grotesque manner. While these supposedly scholarly theologians seem to let the basic definition of atheism somehow escape their grasp, they apparently have no problem attributing their contrived definition of atheism to the most heinous crimes in human history. The popular apologetic assumption is that simply discrediting any opposing views leaves theirs as the correct one by default. In defense of the theistic argument, the focus seems to be an attempt to portray atheism as an “irrational” position, but the very formation of this argument is itself irrational. Not holding a belief in a baseless, undefined concept that not only lacks scientific credibility, but that it’s very existence would seem to violate the natural laws as we know them, seems to me the rational position to hold. When we hear things like “the absurdity of atheism” or “atheism is unreasonable”, what is really being said is “the absurdity of not believing in my conceptualization of God” and “not believing in MY God as I envision Him is unreasonable”. They are devoid of any practical meaning when taken in the proper context. Intellectual honesty doesn’t allow for such fallacious argumentation and atheism essentially strips these arguments of their privilege and holds theistic claims accountable for justification under scrutiny, Atheism points out that in religion[3], facts and truth are often operating in two separate spheres and reason is replaced by faith to connect the dots. While it could be said that these are problems within particular religious ideologies, theism in general is at the heart of it.

Now to address one of the prime examples of the arrogance of theism, we’ll take a look at the false dichotomy that’s being circulated ad nauseam by theists that one either believes in something (God) or in nothing (atheism). This clever bit of sophistry is merely a convenient attempt to put atheists in a situation of defending a position of “nothing” while theists get to enjoy the lofty position of “something else out there”. But let’s put this in its proper context. Theists are not simply arguing for a “something”, they are claiming to know what this something is and claim to even know it’s will. They make such unsubstantiated assumptions that this something possesses intelligence and other anthropomorphic qualities such as emotions that conveniently fits their particular religions concept of what God is. While there are variations in these concepts, theists seem to all be in agreement that this something is an intelligent, loving, authoritarian deity that created everything and is itself beyond natural laws and is transcendent of space and time while also simultaneously able to interact with the natural universe. We must then assume that this “something” exists in some unfounded, unknowable supernatural reality and can interact with the natural world unabated by natural laws, and this is to be believed on anecdotal evidence, speculation, and faith. By what right is their position so privileged as to encompass all of what this something might be and claim that their something is the only possible something and that their something is excused the same standard of justification and to subject their belief to the same investigations that all other scientific proposition are subject to? Theists are claiming to know more than the most brilliant minds that exist, or have ever existed.

I want to make one very important point here, it is ultimately the atheist that is free to inquire what else might be out there, and not the theist, as they are bound to their presupposition with no escape or be guilty of apostasy. Nothing about atheism suggests there is “nothing” else, nor does atheism rely on such dubious conjecture to fill the gaps in our knowledge. The theistic position ultimately ends the search for whatever something else might be out there. It is an end to investigations and to thinking critically as it purports to already have the answer. Also, the arguments in favor of theism are less than convincing. Atheists are constantly confronted with Intelligent Design as if this is some profound, enlightened argument that is irrefutable proof for an intelligent creator of the universe. For the sake of argument, even if the “design” argument is to be accepted, this still only leaves us with evidence for a designed universe. It speaks nothing of what the “designer” may actually be. Positing God is not only presumptuous on the theists part, it doesn’t have any explanatory power. Nevertheless, the best a theist can hope for with this argument is to infer a deistic conceptualization of God, the God being invoked by theism is a far cry from say, the kind of “god” Spinoza proposed. This problematic argument proves to be a very weak platform for theists to launch a defense from and we see that it fails for several reasons. By following the evidence, the only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that things can simply appear designed. The human mind looks for patterns and we see examples of this in all sorts of other apophenia. Here is no different. But theists insist on committing to fallacious argumentation and intellectual dishonesty to tailor scientific evidence to fit an otherwise unsubstantiated conclusion. Theists operate from extreme presumption and hubris, using scientific terminology to expound supernatural concepts to appease a deeply held religious belief. Ignoring that it ultimately collapses under scientific scrutiny, they opt for equivocal word games or a complete dismissal of contrary evidence. We would be hard pressed to find a better example of this than with the war between creationism and evolution.

Another display of extreme arrogance by theists, and in my opinion one of the most insulting, is the assumption that we can’t have meaning and purpose without a belief in their particular god. I personally see this as a hindrance to any practical application of these terms. According to theism, what purpose does THIS life ultimately serve? I matter to my loved ones around me and they matter to me regardless of any deity. Furthermore on a larger scale, we all matter as part of a functioning society in whatever capacity we can, which ultimately reverberates through the entire world. Such as a doctor matters to his or her patients, using treatments developed over time and perfected by others. The people who maintain bridges matter for safe travel everyday using tools and technology developed and made by others. Everyone involved with getting food to our table to feed our families. Our purpose is in doing our part to take care of one another as well as ourselves and ensuring we do everything we can to make the world a better, safer, healthier place to pass on to the next generation. While the universe will continue functioning without us, we as a species cannot function without our contributions and the responsibility falls on us and us alone. To posit that there is some alternate purpose that is beyond this reality is to undermine this very important point. The level of arrogance displayed to assume these things are not meaningful enough on their own and there has to be something more beyond this is quite disheartening. It reduces these meaningful things to merely serve as a pathway to salvation for the believer, to gain favor from their inculcated concept of god when facing “him” to be judged (even though this deity supposedly has no spacial or temporal properties). The afterlife becomes their sole purpose to either spend eternity in paradise or, in many beliefs, in eternal torment (which none actually think they are personally going there). The doctrine of salvation only extends to the individual, ultimately making it a self-serving proposition with no thought for the future. The believer is then  exonerated of any moral responsibilities that promote growth, human dignity, and the deep respect for human life that ensures the greatest amount of human well-being for the future while also alleviating the suffering of the next generations. Atheism has no such restrictions and in fact provides the open-mindedness that is needed to promote such values that is essential for a society to flourish. The fact that theists attempt to portray atheism as nihilism is to say these everyday meanings and purposes are illusory and is an insult to those of us who live meaningful and purpose-filled lives. The theist cannot account for how an absence of their belief diminishes these values. True meaning and purpose is not predicated on an afterlife and is found here in reality. If the theist wants to argue this, then lets see if they would actually follow the disgusting example of Abraham with his son Isaac. While this usually gets a rehearsed apologetic response as to why they are excused of this, it is still sad to see how someone can put God before their loved ones and defend such an ugly doctrine.

We should also take notice of the arrogant attempts by religions to monopolize terms like “God”, “morality”, “faith”, “love”, “belief”, and the list goes on. Basically everything good and worth valuing is considered to be their God. We won’t even get into the absurdity of how a “creator” that’s purportedly responsible for all of creation is somehow not responsible for all the evil, chaos, and suffering also. The idea that we can only be good with God is of the highest arrogance and nothing is more demeaning to our basic human dignity that this. But I will address the issue of morality and religion later as I can’t give it the treatment is deserves here. But back to the topic at hand, there is a sense from believers that their god is the ONLY possible one while looking at other religions as silly, contradictory, or self-defeating. Dismissing the dogmas of other religions out of hand, but expecting preferential treatment of their own. The point they seem to miss is that many of the same flaws they find in other religions are also found in their religion, and why theism is an untenable position. Theism’s inherent absolutism renders its outrageous claims immutable and is precisely why theism is unscientific. We don’t need “absolute” certainty to reasonably reject the claim that God exists, or any supernatural deity. We get along in life just fine without such presumptions. The pretentiousness of the theist is really displayed in the way they adhere to this antiquated, speculative belief with such pomposity, despite all of theism’s glaring flaws and lack of evidence. When we inquire openly and honestly about not only the veracity of the claims, but also what purpose does it really serve, we see the true nature of arrogance and why it is that atheism is on the other side of the spectrum. Theism ultimately leads to stagnation with potential for very real consequences, and the level of arrogance it takes to ignore that is disconcerting, to say the least. I think that it is clearly the case that theism takes far more arrogance than atheism is even capable of.

– Rich  

[1] Thomas Paine, Common Sense 1776

[2] Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22 2010

[3] “Theism” is not necessarily “religion”. They can, however, be used interchangeably here.

A Uterus from Nothing (part 6)

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Here is the latest picture of my little thinker, Arabella… you just can’t beat the hand on the chin, am I right? This was taken on April 1, 2014 when they performed a biophysical profile. Baby passed with flying colors receiving an 8 out of 8. She was moving around like crazy, practicing breathing and her heart rate was strong, just like it always is. The doctors were incredibly impressed considering that I was only 24 weeks at the time and wasn’t even feeling her  movements yet. The first kick I did feel came just a few days later and now the amazing feeling happens like clockwork.

Going along with her incredible development was another milestone, Arabella has reached the “viable fetus” stage, which means that if I was to go into labor and have to deliver her, most likely she would survive. When I told my father about this important stage of pregnancy he said “I don’t think that they had a viable fetus stage when your mother was pregnant”. In fact he is correct about this, it was not so long ago that a baby born earlier than 37 weeks (the earliest “full term”) was put into an ICU, given oxygen and fingers were crossed in hopes baby would survive. Thanks to scientific research and advancements we now have much more time than we did before…and even a baby earlier than 27 weeks has a fighting chance. Treatment is now so specific that premies are put into one of 3 categories: Late preterm (34-37 weeks), Very preterm (less than 32 weeks) or Extremely preterm (less than 25 weeks). The slew of tests that can be run on a premature baby to determine exactly what it is experiencing is overwhelming. From ultrasounds of the brain to pediatric respirators we are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were before.

Another big moment we experienced was not quite so positive, but I can still thank science for helping put my mind at ease. I had to go to labor and delivery because I was experiencing incredibly painful contractions. It took about seven hours of being closely monitored and pumped with fluids before they went away, apparently Braxton Hicks contractions can be brought on by dehydration…and silly me, I didn’t even know I was dehydrated. The part of the experience that amazed me the most was the fetal fibronectin test which allowed them to determine if it was labor or not through a swab of my cervix. Even though I was petrified by the contractions this tiny test gave us a 99.9% negative on if it was true labor or not. Once I knew I was in the clear the relief was overwhelming. Sure I was still in pain, but I knew baby was not leaving the womb and that was all that mattered.

So now as I finish writing this baby girl is kicking away and it feels amazing. Thank you science for keeping me and baby safe.

A Uterus from Nothing (part 3)

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We had our first sonogram last week. Witnessing the heartbeat and seeing the little fetus brought to life exactly how amazing of a gift science gave to us. That’s right, I said science. Ever since I started this process people have had plenty to say about the lack of credit I give to God.  In support groups, acquaintances will tell me that I have been blessed by God with a miracle baby… this doesn’t bother me… I know that they are just excited and expressing it the best way they know how. On the flip side- it was brought to my attention that though some of the believers in my life are excited for the baby, and happy for us, they don’t want to read negativity here. This does bother me.

When I discuss this pregnancy and give credit to scientific advancements and my body’s reaction to them- I am doing so in a positive way. During this exchange it was explained to them that I am sorry they don’t enjoy reading but if the content makes them uncomfortable, it is probably best they don’t read it. Apparently this is not the right answer and instead, since they don’t like it, I shouldn’t write it. This is not going to happen- I am excited to document my pregnancy and express my gratitude to the scientific community for making it possible.

I have loved observing each change in my body during the past few weeks of pregnancy. I knew I would change physically and heard that mannerisms and moods will change as well- but experiencing is believing! It blows my mind that a simple burst of hormones could make someone who ordered extra bacon on everything suddenly not desire any meat at all. And no, I have not been craving loaves and fishies… so I think we can take God out of the equation.

So far I was able to go from tests revealing that I was having anovulatory menstrual cycles… to taking a medication watching follicles grow and an egg releasing…to seeing a fetus growing inside of me… this is not a miracle, it is my body and science working hand-in-hand to make the impossible, possible… and this just the beginning. I still have to see a specialist to find out how my Epilepsy medications will effect me and the baby in later stages of pregnancy. That happens in a month or so and I am pretty sure that I will not need an exorcism. I will be receiving genetic testing to make sure the baby is developing properly and to see if we have risk factors that will need special observation and care. I put my trust in the doctors and plan to do everything that is medically necessary to keep my baby safe.

Unlike believers, when I work for something and accomplish a goal I give credit where credit is due. I don’t believe in the typical copout that we are powerless against God and he makes all the decisions and is responsible for all accomplishments and failures.   I am proud to say that it was me, Rich and a slew of doctors who made it possible for this fetus to grow. Up to this point it has been an amazing ride and I cannot wait to see what lies ahead.