erikars: (Default)
Finished Why I became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity by John Loftus. An interesting book that tends toward high density, abstract arguments. Norman Geisler, author of A General Introduction to the Bible and The Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics says it "is a thoughtful and intellectually challenging work, presenting arguments that every honest theist and Christian should face." "Thoughtful and intellectually challenging" are simultaneously this book's strengths and the things that make it sometimes rather dull.

When reading this book, one should not forget that this is an explanation of why the author rejected Christianity. The book contains philosophical arguments, but they are the ones that convinced the author that Christianity is false. It is not meant to be an exhaustive catalog. The arguments generally focus on Christianity. Some of them may generalize to other religions, but arguing the implausibility of other religions was not the author's main goal.

In my opinion, the most interesting part of the book is the "Outsider Test For Faith". In general, what is convincing to an insider is not necessarily convincing to an outsider. Many arguments that seem flawless from the insider are laughable from the outside. This is true for any division of the world into "inside" and "outside".

The outsider test for faith asks you to "[t]est your beliefs as if you were an outsider to your faith." How would an outsider's view be different from an insider's view? First, it would take into account that there are many religions in the world, all of them faithfully believed. Does the sincere belief of those believers convince you that the religion they follow is true? If not, than the mere existence of your own faith cannot be expected to make a convincing argument. In an similar vein, an outsider viewpoint would take into account that for the vast majority of believers, the religion they follow is determined by their cultural, temporal, and geographic context.

Another feature of the outsider's viewpoint is that purely internal evidence is not convincing. For example, if one claims, without other arguments, that the Bible is true because it is authenticated by the Holy Spirit and that the feeling that you call the Holy Spirit is true and trustworthy because the Bible says it is, your claim will not pass the outsider test. Similarly, if you say that one should give their life over to Jesus because he is the son of God who died for our sins (according to the Bible), your claim also does not pass the outsider test. In both of these cases, the statement has nothing to stand on if one does not already accept the premises that would make them an insider.

The outsider test may sound like a harsh stance to take, but it is the stance you take toward every religion where you are an outsider. If you follow a certain faith, you are just applying the same standards to your own beliefs that you are applying to the beliefs of others.

Of course, no one can truly take on an outsider's perspective. Human beings are almost completely incapable of completely abandoning their own beliefs. Even so, the exercise can still lead to insights. And even if you are not willing to try the outsider's test for faith, acknowledging the difference between an insider's perspective and an outsider's perspective can, hopefully, help you understand why something that is so convincing to you is completely unconvincing to someone else.
erikars: (Default)
Once again I encountered an attitude that always surprises me. I was accused of attacking the Bible when I said that it contains events that, from my external point of view, can only be described as deity approved horrors. Yet this same individual did not consider it an attack when they said that someday I would be forced to kneel before God and would go to hell or when they said that loving, committed, same-sex relationships are an affront on morality.

To some degree, all humans fall prey to the bias of their own perspective. Both of us considered ourselves to be making statements which, from our own point of view, fall under the category of painful truths, not attacks.

Yet I have found that some Christians (not all) quickly jump to the conclusion that atheists are on the offensive when they say anything less than complimentary about religion. They assume that a very specific comment has a very general meaning. Often, these same Christians then go on to say things as bad or worse than what was said to them, but they do not see themselves as attacking and claim innocence if their statements are pointed out.

An much smaller subset turns this into a persecution complex. These are people who really believe there is a war on Christmas. They truly believe that they are like the early Christians and society is trying to crush them out of existence. When you point out that Christians are the vast majority in this nation, they claim that most of those people are not "real Christians" (I always imagine that followed by a trademark symbol). Fortunately, these people, despite their prevalence on the internet, are a small group.

In the end, this biased perspective no longer makes me feel angry or hurt or insulted. But it has become tiresome.

ETA: Apparently, 24% of Evangelical Christians (the single largest religious group in the US) feel like they are part of a religious minority.
erikars: (Default)
Daylight Atheism has a post refuting points that a Christian apologist "thinks would be the most effective at planting seeds of faith in an atheist's mind". Adam does a fine point of explaining why none of those points are persuasive (the comment have some good additions).

What I want to call out is a bit at the end of the post.
For me, when viewing all Strobel's questions, what stands out about them is their ordinariness. I concur with Greta Christina that these arguments, far from being anything new or unusual, are no different - and no more difficult to defeat - than those of the run-of-the-mill amateur apologists that most atheists encounter on a routine basis.
This is why I, like many other atheists, cannot be bothered to take a more in depth look at Christianity. The fare from the best apologists is no better than that from the mediocre apologists, and we have heard it and dismissed it man times before. Apologists are useful; they present a coherent belief system to believers. But the apologists who go from thinking they present a reasonable interpretation of some facts to thinking they present the only reasonable interpretation of those facts are overestimating their own ability.
erikars: (Default)
Having been hit before with the accusation that atheists only have negative ideas to add to the discourses of philosophy and moral theory, I was happy to chance upon an article which explains the problems with that claim better than I ever could.

The kernel of the response is this:
The problem is that they seem to expect to find people who identify themselves as "Atheist Philosophers" when in fact they should be looking for thinkers who happen not to believe in God. It may surprise them to learn, despite the Dawkins and Harrises of the world, that many atheists wake up in the morning without deciding how they can disprove God's existence today. Many people who don't believe in God have spent alot of time thinking about how to life a satisfying and proper life.

To put it another way: Just as religion is not an infatuation with God, atheism is not an infatuation with Nothing. The long and significant history of non-theistic philosophy and moral theory is full of the very positive arguments and metaphysical justifications your readers say they want.

Bonus! Huh, I never thought about that before. Streetcars don't actually need to run on top of ugly concrete.
erikars: (Default)
On the comment thread of my earlier post [ profile] includedmiddle claimed that for me to say that whole-Bible interpretation requires tricks to get a coherent (or semi-coherent) whole implied that I must be trying to interpret the Bible in an overly literal manner. However, I mean something far more basic than that.

When I read the Bible last year, I was struck by how much of it is full of violence and hatred (the author of Daylight Atheism has wrote it up much more throughly than I could here and here). The violence is more physical and explicit in the Old Testament, but it exists in the New Testament too. When you get down to it, in quantity, if not in some subjective measure of importance the Bible contains more bad than good. (I would contend it contains more boring than either of those, but that is likely because those parts just felt longer.)

I am not trying to be flippant here (well, except for the previous parenthetical comment). I understand that the Bible is not supposed to be an easy book to understand. I understand that every specific objections in the articles I linked has some interpretation that makes it all okay. I understand that I, as an atheist, am not visited by the Holy Spirit or the Grace of God or whatever is invoked by people who claim to understand the all or part Bible. I understand that Christians struggle with understanding it because it is a difficult book. But from a 10,000 foot level the Bible has the obvious problem that the good is like jewels scattered in a dung covered field, and it seems like this problem is completely ignored by those who believe it to be the word of God.
erikars: (Default)
I often see people speaking as if atheists have some sort of group identity. A useful fact to know: we don't, except in so far as it is forced upon us by society.

Atheists are less like a coherent group and more like people who refuse the bags at the grocery store. We bag rejectors have some commonalities, e.g. most of us use cloth bags. We are happiest when people just give us the time to indicate that we do not want to participate in their plastic bag rituals, and most of the time people do. But some people start grouping us together as "liberal tree hugging hippies", and at that point we have to start acting as a group and try to get bag rejectors treated like normal people. Yes, we hope that more will join us along the way and we realize that telling people they are dirtying up our sidewalks will make us unpopular. Some of us will cringe at the inaccuracy of statements that imply that plastic bags are single handedly destroying the planet. We do not speak in one voice; we do not even have shared goals. Some will want to get everyone using reusable bags. Others will just want to open people up to the idea that this might be a good thing. Still others just want to be able to go on their grocery trip without, once again, confusing the clerk and getting dirty looks from other customers for slowing down the line. However, we all recognize that, regardless of the particular statements we make, the only way to accomplish our goals is to get out there where people will see us.
erikars: (Default)
I saw a great statement on an otherwise less than enlightening Amazon discussion on religion:
If religion was true then the more we studied it the more its truth should shine out, instead the experience of many people is that the more they study it the less sense it makes.
erikars: (Default)
Apparently, Rick Warren would never vote for an atheist. That's fine; I would never vote for him either. However, I do take issue with the reason why he would never vote for an atheist.

Warren subscribes to the commonly held myth that because atheists do not believe in God, we believe that we, as individuals, are completely self-sufficient. He believes, or at least implies, that because atheists do not believe in God, they are not participants in the web of community and dependence that links all human beings.

The error here is a common one. In so far as I can tell, people like Warren think, "Because I believe in God, I know I cannot make it all by myself. Atheists do not believe in God, so they must believe that they can make it on their own." The mistake here is obvious. From "A implies B" and "not A" you cannot conclude "not B".

Many, I will even say most, atheists do not believe people are fully self-sufficient. We acknowledge that we depend socially, emotionally, and physically on other people. What those who believe this stereotype of atheists do not understand is that atheists, like Christians, believe we are not fully self-sufficient, but we believe this for a different reason..

What many religious people fail to recognize, refuse to recognize, are perhaps afraid to recognize, is that atheists generally have the same moral values as religious people (and have opinions that are just as diverse). Atheists are not some evil, amoral other. We are people who look at the world and see problems and suffering and want them to stop just as much as anyone else does.

To make any progress in understanding each other, we must all remember that different people can hold the same belief for different reasons, and having a different reason for holding a belief does not invalidate the sincerity of that belief.
erikars: (Default)
The "Debunking Christianity" blog has the rather long story of one Christian's deconversion. The author was trying to discover his fundamental beliefs.
I took a "first principles" approach, as a means for really doing the thinking and reasoning that would lay the foundation for decades to come as a faithful, enthusiastic and effective Catholic. For the first time ever, I think, I purposely put everything I believed on the table for review, and went to some length in making careful notes and comments in an MS Word Document and an Excel spreadsheet to keep things organized. My faith in God wasn't in question, but I "cleared the decks" as a kind of "provisional atheist", that I might clearly identify the grounding and basis for "non-negotiables" of my belief. ... More than anything, I wanted clarity about these issues that would stick.
For Touchstone, this process resulted in his becoming an atheist. However, I am less interested in the result than the process.

I challenge each of you (and myself) to figure out what your fundamental beliefs are. Take the time to write down what you believe (noting contradictions). Figure out why you believe each belief; a useful way to really get at the meat of why you believe something is to honestly consider all of the reasons against holding that belief. Finally, honestly assess which beliefs are fundamental, which are just opinions, which fall between the two, and which beliefs are incompatible with your fundamental beliefs.
erikars: (Default)
I am going to start using a new word. I am, until I find yet another word I like better, a humanist.

I do not like the word "atheist". It implies that the key point of my belief system is that I do not believe is any sort of God. Really, that is rather incidental. The invisible pink unicorn analogy is apt here. I (like most of you), do not believe in invisible pink unicorns (they are purple). However, I do not define my belief system as aipuism. The lack of existence of ipus or Gods really is only relevant when I am dealing with people who believe otherwise.

"Agnostic" is a technically correct term. I do not believe that we can prove or disprove the existence of something as redefinable as God. On the other hand, "agnostic" implies that I am undecided as to whether or not there is a God. While I admit to the possibility that there may be a God just as I admit to the possibility that our most established scientific theories may be incorrect, I do not stay up at night worrying about it. I leave myself open to the possibility that my opinion on what is true may change in the future and continue to accept the best explanation of our observations as truth.

All that said, I still think "humanist" is a stupid sounding word.
erikars: (Default)
So, as I was waiting for something at work, I clicked the link above my gmail. It led to this site (who would not be tempted by a link on "Christian logic"?). The article describes how logic fits in with the authors particular version of Christian apologetics. I was reading through it, becoming increasingly skeptical that they were really applying the logic to their own beliefs that they claimed should be applied to the beliefs of others when I came upon this
First of all, everybody knows there is a god – especially the atheists. There used to be men who tried to prove Hitler was still alive. Now there are men who try to prove Elvis is still alive. Why? Because they are worried about it. For some reason, they feel more comfortable in their worldview if he is not dead. I do not spend my time proving there is no tooth fairy. I am not worried about it. It is outside of my belief system. So why do atheists try to prove there is no God? Because the question of God's existence is fundamental to the belief system which they are building.
Obviously, these people are not applying logic to their own beliefs. It is true that no adult spends time proving there is no tooth fairy, however, if you were surrounded by people who claimed that there was a tooth fairy, you very well would spend time trying to justify your belief in the lack of a tooth fairy.

(There are some other choice gems in there (or rather, they would be choice if it was not obvious these people believed what they were saying). Search for "feminism" for an example.)
erikars: (Default)
A common response to atheism is that atheists must be purposeless because, in the world view of most religions, their God is the source of all purpose, happiness, and love. Daylight Atheism has an interesting post which illustrates by analogy why being an atheist does not mean that one has no purpose, happiness, or love.


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Erika RS

May 2012

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