Furthering the Discussion about Atheism

Since the blogger “whyevolutionistrue” has urged me to chose between posting my response as either a comment, or a blog, and not both, I have decided to make my response in a blog; but only because I like that blog so much.

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    Emburii
    Posted October 5, 2010 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    You keep saying things like ‘false sense of absolute certainty’, even when people have mentioned that it is not absolute in the sense that they would be willing to change their minds if good evidence were proposed. As for the Renaissance, I’m sure there were some angry people involved in, say, bucking the Church? For the Information Age, the people who use its tactics and technology are often applying it to vocalize their anger over legitimate issues and then boost the signal on those same issues and their solutions. So while the Information Age itself didn’t need tension, its boom and spread might have been aided by many (not necessarily ‘quiet and peaceful’) social justice groups.

    You keep saying ‘surely there’s some rational way’ to the ‘Gnu’ Atheists, pretty clearly implying we’re not rational. You invoke our passion for truth and rational discourse and denigrate it as worthless emotion. Yet, like Phil Plait, you’re curiously light on footnotes and specifics. Practice what you preach and give us some substance, rather than playing the usual tone troll crap.

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Here is my response.

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“. . . it is not absolute in the sense that they would be willing to change their minds if good evidence were proposed.”

I agree with you, totally, in that sense, but that wasn’t the sense I was referring to, when I said;

“The fact that your atheism would be lost if in light of certain circumstance, does not mean that you cannot have an arrogantly false sense of absolute certainty.”

I agree that belief, or lack of belief, about the existence of God, is not absolutely certain if it is actually depended on evidence, but there are other beliefs to take into account, which may or may not be absolutely certain.
Just because one applies a skeptical outlook to some claims, that does not mean that one applies the same level of skepticism to all claims.

You might meet a stranger and believe, without skepticism, that the name they give you is actually their legal name.
You might be absolutely certain that you are justified in being angry.

You stated:
“As for the Renaissance, I’m sure there were some angry people involved. . .”

I never asserted that there was no angry people involved in the Renaissance. I said that the Renaissance required no anger for its movement, which basically disproved the statement that Greta Christina made in her blog;

“You’re telling us to lay down a tool (anger) that no social change movement has ever been able to do without.”

I also could use the Humanist Movement, which is a great contemporary example of social change that requires no anger; and, in fact, it is one that promotes altruism, and an exuberance for the beauty of life.

You’re next point was;

“You keep saying ‘surely there’s some rational way’ to the ‘Gnu’ Atheists, pretty clearly implying we’re not rational.”

Since when is relying on anger rational?

Also, I was never trying to argue that all “Angry” Atheists were necessarily irrational. I’ve stated that there are good reasons to be angry, and I have been angry myself about things. It is a human response.

Instead, I was merely stating that relying on anger, as a method of dealing with issues, is not only childish, but is much more likely to bring about a false sense of absolute certainty.

I’m not sure what is actually meant by Gnu or New Atheists.
If it is an atheistic skeptic, who indiscriminately tares down illogical arguments, then I might classify myself as one.
If it is an atheist who relies on anger, over reason, in order to foster some kind of equality, or social justice, then I’m not a New Atheist.

“You invoke our passion for truth and rational discourse and denigrate it as worthless emotion.”

I do not associate my passion for truth with anger. Dictionary.com defines Anger as, “a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a wrong; wrath,” and is not a passion for truth. Don’t conflate those two terms.

“. . . you’re curiously light on footnotes and specifics. Practice what you preach and give us some substance, rather than playing the usual tone troll crap.”

Where did you differ from me in that aspect?

I’ve given the evidence where it was required, but, if you had actually read what I’ve written, without just glossing over it, you would see that I’ve employed logic in nearly every sentence;

even though most of this is just opinion based, like when I said;

“You can live how you like, but I would prefer that we, as a society, be motivated by altruism, logic, and honesty, rather than our basest negative emotions.”

Or when I declared;

“There are plenty of reasons to be upset, but it is time to start acting like adults, and stop acting like angry preteens.”

What evidence would you have me provide for such opinion-based statements? At what points, specifically, were my statements untrue, or unsupported?

You should tell me specifically where I did not support my arguments, and where you feel I have failed to meet the burden of proof: unless you want to look foolish, running around, asking for evidence, as though that disproves everything I’ve stated.

Evidence of what?

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Even More Discussions on Atheism

These comments follows directly after the “Discussions on Atheism Revisited” post.

Hope you enjoy it!

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Torbjörn Larsson, OM
Posted October 3, 2010 at 7:32 am | Permalink

I think Kurtz is opposed to irrational dogmatism; which is usually exhibited in ‘angry atheism.’

What a pity that you didn’t read Christina’s post on Atheists and anger, because it would have thwarted your strawman right away:

“I get angry when believers use the phrase “atheist fundamentalist” without apparently knowing what the word “fundamentalist” means. Call people pig-headed, call them stubborn, call them snarky, call them intolerant even. But unless you can point to the text to which these “fundamentalist” atheists literally and strictly adhere without question, then please shut the hell up about us being fundamentalist.”

That is correct, the empirically incorrect idea that atheists, especially “angry atheists”, are dogmatic, is one of the things that we are angry about! You will meet very few, if at all, atheists that can’t tell you under which circumstances they would change their mind on supernaturalism. (I can remember one, but the most likely explanation for his claim was the obvious trolling he did.)

So angry atheists aren’t dogmatic. Nor is their anger irrational in any other observable point. Christina’s post goes to great length to test and reject such a claim.

“There are plenty of reasons to be angry about religion, but if you depend solely on your emotions to guide you, then it is a slippery slope back into close-mindedness.”

This is religious reasoning, confusing vocal criticism with personal feeling.

In fact there is a double barrier here, not only aren’t “angry atheists” espousing the anger Kurtz’ strawman claims, vocal criticism is a strategy as the comparison to the civil rights movement shows.

I’m not sure what you mean by characterizing an analogy as “close-mindedness”.

An analogy isn’t equality, so must be handled with care, not close-mindedness, so it seems a bad characterization. If you mean the analogy is wrong, I believe Rieux explained why it isn’t. And if you mean either of these movements were close-minded, it is trivially wrong.

Atheism isn’t dogmatic (see above). Similarly, the civil rights movement embraced diversity in groups and in thoughts as well as action as much as we do. Or at least we try, outside of when accommodationists like Kurtz doesn’t tell others to shut up or concern trolls in general tell us that our ideas are irrational.

  • Rieux
    Posted October 3, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    What a pity that you didn’t read Christina’s post on Atheists and anger, because it would have thwarted your strawman right away….

    Said it before, and I’ll say it again: that work is a foundational one, and Christina is a star

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Here is my response.

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  • Posted October 4, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    You said;
    “. . .the empirically incorrect idea that atheists, especially “angry atheists”, are dogmatic, is one of the things that we are angry about! You will meet very few, if at all, atheists that can’t tell you under which circumstances they would change their mind on supernaturalism.”

    The fact that your atheism would be lost if in light of certain circumstance, does not mean that you cannot have an arrogantly false sense of absolute certainty.

    I did read Christina’s post, and I agree with many of the points she made against the social injustices, but I disagree with her when she made declarative assertions, like:
    “Social movements are hard. They take time, they take energy, they sometimes take serious risk of life and limb, community and career. Nobody would fucking bother if they weren’t furious about something.”

    According to her, without anger, NOBODY would bother; then how does she account for people like myself, and Paul Kurtz, who do bother, but aren’t entirely motivated by fury?

    You see, when I talk about dogmatism, I’m not implying that you’re aligning yourself with some kind of sacred text–though, I’d say Christina’s Blog has you pretty enchanted at the moment–rather, I’m referring to the type of dogmatism which blinds you to the possibility of ever being wrong, and stops you from independent critical thought.

    Here’s another quote from the blog you use to defend your argument.
    “You’re telling us to lay down a tool (anger) that no social change movement has ever been able to do without.”
    Off the top of my head, I can name the Reniassance as a movement which required no anger. What about the Information Revolution? That was a social movement that required no anger. Her claims fall flat on their face.
    What about the anger of the reactionaries in the social movements she lists? What differentiates their anger from the anger of the reformers?
    Without employing methodological skepticism, in this instance, I fail to see anything other than a redress of the crimes committed by religions.

    “. . . anger is a difficult tool in a social movement. A dangerous one even. It can make people act rashly; it can make it harder to think clearly. . .”

    That is my point entirely!

    “So when you tell an atheist (or for that matter, a woman or a queer or a person of color or whatever) not to be so angry, you are, in essence, telling us to disempower ourselves.”

    Isn’t the truth more empowering than an emotion? Can’t social equality be achieved rationally?

    Skeptical inquiry can help prevent us from believing in dogmatic absurdities, but atheism cannot save us from any absurdities.
    Atheism isn’t a worldview; it is a response to a worldview.

    It is good to point out the atrocities committed by religions and governments, if only to make them accountable for those actions, and to remind us of the actions committed by those swept up in their own self-righteousness, but painting entire groups of people, such as the religious, with a broad-brush, as though their all complicit with all the misdeeds she listed, or failing to offer any positive solutions to these problems, does nothing to aide the progress of humanity.

    There are plenty of reasons to be upset, but it is time to start acting like adults, and stop acting like angry preteens.

    It is time to realize that the only way we can move forward is to stop playing the part of the martyr, and to start combining our efforts to disprove the oppressive misinformed reactionaries, and to make a positive change in our short lives.

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Discussions On Atheism Revisited

The exciting discussion about Atheism continues.
Please feel free to express your opinions on this issue in the comment section. If I’m wrong, or mistaken about anything, please correct me.

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  • Posted October 3, 2010 at 2:07 am | Permalink
Rieux

There are plenty of reasons to be angry about religion, but if you depend solely on your emotions to guide you, then it is a slippery slope back into close-mindedness [sic]

You exemplified this perfectly by comparing the Gnu Atheist movement to the fucking civil rights movement.

Whereas your argument by bare assertion, complete with F-bomb for emphasis, was the pinnacle of cool reasoning?

Please. Atheists are a minority that is widely mistreated by a majority that hates us. We are hardly the first group to be in this position, and previous such groups have improved their standing by using tactics that have utilized plenty of emotion, including anger.

The parallels between atheists and other despised minorities are rather obvious; if you’d like to argue that they are inapposite, you’re going to have to actually provide some reasoning to that end. Empty sneering at the comparison does not actually rebut it.

We, as pragmatic skeptics, not just as atheists, should tare [sic] down illogical claims that have no evidentiary support….

Indeed so. Your rebuttal would appear to be just such a claim.

[W]e should not, if we mean to maintain a rational mindset, become so arrogantly ignorant as to falsely think and act like we can never be wrong; which, I think, is the cornerstone of being angry.

Nonsense.That’s not what anger is, and you simply haven’t considered the legitimate reasons for, and constructive uses of, anger.

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Here is my response.

Posted October 3, 2010 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

“Whereas your argument by bare assertion, complete with F-bomb for emphasis, was the pinnacle of cool reasoning?”

So, whoever says “Fuck” is automatically angry?
Bullshit. It’s just a word. Grow up, and get over it.

In any case, I’m not endorsing stoicism. Emotions are a healthy human response, but moreover, they will not add to the progress of humanity;
it most certainly will not help anyone discover the truth.
I totally agree that anger can be a great motivator, but if left unattended, it can fester into a self-righteous sense of entitlement, that makes people seem unstable, irrational, and insecure.

You can live how you like, but I would prefer that we, as a society, be motivated by altruism, logic, and honesty, rather than our basest negative emotions.

“The parallels between atheists and other despised minorities are rather obvious; if you’d like to argue that they are inapposite, you’re going to have to actually provide some reasoning to that end.”

I agree that Atheists are a despised minority. How is relying on anger supposed change that?

Here are a few videos that depict some of the violence that occurred during the civil rights movement.
http://vimeo.com/1003161

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBPeCQzHu5w

We do not see this level of violence in the Gnu Atheist movement, so I don’t think it’s fair to compare ourselves to the blacks protesters of that time.

Here’s another video, that I find particularly pertinent to the claim that the blacks wouldn’t have succeeded without anger.

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Discussions About Atheism

The following post is a response I made in a comment section.

I thought it had some good points.

Paul Kurtz said:

“Angry atheism does not work. . . It has to be friendly, cooperative relations with people of other points of view.”

MosesZD comment was:
“Yeah. That worked so well for blacks… Be quiet. Be nice. Keep your head down.

How could that possibly fail as a strategy…”

And this was my Response:

Paul Kurtz is opposed to irrational dogmatism; which is usually exhibited in ‘angry atheism.’

There are plenty of reasons to be angry about religion, but if you depend solely on your emotions to guide you, then it is a slippery slope back into close-mindedness.
You exemplified this perfectly by comparing the “New” Atheist movement to the fucking civil rights movement.

I suggest you do some cursory research on that part of history.

We, as pragmatic skeptics, not just as atheists, should tare down illogical claims that have no evidentiary support, but we should not, if we mean to maintain a rational mindset, become so arrogantly ignorant as to falsely think and act as though we can never be wrong; which usually follows after long bouts of self-righteous anger.

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Requirements For Atheism

I once was mistaken about the meaning atheism, and I have encountered many others who are also mistaken about its definition, so I’d like to clarify.

Theism is the belief that some God or Gods exist.
Atheism simply lacks that belief.
Now, many people wrongly take this as, “Atheists believe no God exists.”
While there are some atheists who fall into this category, the additional belief that no Gods exist is not a requirement of atheism.

I think people have a difficult time understanding the difference between,
“Does not believe in God,” and “Believes that no God exists.”

Agnosticism is often described as the middle ground between
theism and atheism. But there is no middle ground.
Either you believe in a God or Gods, or you do not believe.
Agnosticism is a belief about knowledge, that we do not or cannot know.

A person can believe that they do not know, but still have faith in God, and likewise, a person can disbelieve in God(s), but still not know, to an absolute degree,
whether or not a God, or Gods actually exists.
Agnosticism is therefor irrelevant to whether or not a person believes in a God or Gods.

I hope this was helpful.

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