Friday, April 19, 2013

Behold Religion in the 21st Century

This week, religious people committed an unspeakable atrocity in Boston.  Other religious people immediately described the act as "godless."

I've had enough.

I am, at least for the time being, suspending all online activities related to religion, including this blog.  I have decided that those who promote religion are no longer worth engaging in dialog, and they are deserving of nothing but scorn.

I'm happy to defend your right to have your religion; I just don't want to hear about it.  Religion simply has no place in reasoned discourse in the 21st Century.

As Christopher Hitchens pointed out, there is no benefit that religion provides society that cannot be achieved without it. 

Keep your religion to yourself.  I don't even care enough to talk about it any more.

Friday, April 5, 2013

This solves a big mystery for me

Great euphemism over at American Vision:

A fetus is a "pre-born baby."  That explains why Christian activists care more about fetuses than actual living human beings: we're simply pre-dead corpses.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

All atheism is "McAtheism"

Confusing piece from Graham Veale that conflates YouTube sound bites with some of the in-depth writing on religion by folks like Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens.  I'll select a few points to respond to:

"The result was what Chuck Colson labelled ‘McChurch’3 . The Christian message was sliced down to easily digestible portions. The nutritional value of the church’s message was neglected in favour of more appetising nuggets with mass appeal. We believe that in the 21st century many atheists are making the same mistakes that evangelicals made in the late 20th century. It is this general ‘dumbing down’ for mass appeal that we label ‘McAtheism’."
How do you "dumb down" the belief that no gods exist?  That's about as digestible a portion as you get.

"Maher is incredibly ill informed — his film inexplicably states that there is no historical evidence for Jesus,"
Oh, is there?  Let's see it.

The result of these three movements — online atheistic communities, the literature of ‘New Atheism’ and iconoclastic satirists — has been what we call ‘McAtheism’. McAtheism is marketable, popular with the young, and fun. It is also ill-considered, wilfully ignorant and on the rise. McAtheism has no time for complexities, for once careful thought enters the equation the product ceases to be fun."
He's really suggesting that reading the works of the "New Atheists" detracts from the use of careful thought?  The "ill-informed" charge is pretty ironic, if so.

"As an illuminating example, the ‘Problem of Evil’, once the bedrock of atheism, is not central to McAtheism."
It's not central to atheism at all.  It's irrelevant to the belief that there are no gods.

"Feelings are central to McAtheism, arguments are peripheral."
No atheist is required to make a single argument.  If religious people can't show evidence for the existence of gods, atheism results by default.

"It is an attempt to give atheism a mass appeal by avoiding serious thought and dialogue."
What attempt has the author made to engage in such dialogue?  This is an easy conclusion to reach when you're not even trying to make the connections you're saying "McAtheism" lacks.

"What is it about your faith that offends them so very much?"
In my case, it's your desire for it to have special treatment under the law.

"What merits such ill-considered ridicule?"
The fact that your beliefs are ridiculous.

"We should not answer in kind, with marketing campaigns and sound-bites of our own."
Sounds good.  I'm sure Christian activists everywhere will quickly abandon billboards, TV commercials and YouTube videos, on your advice.

"McAtheism answers mankind’s deepest questions with witticisms and clichŽs. If the Church can have the courage to whisper God’s answers to anyone who will listen, God’s kingdom will continue to grow."
Criticizing the use of cliches with a big fat cliche.  Well done.

There's just nothing to this "McAtheism" thing.  What they're talking about is plain old atheism, which has not changed in and of itself.  What has more and more young Americans are finding it appealing.  Since people like Veale can't wrap their heads around the fact that society is starting to wise up to religion's bogus claims, they have to try to minimize it with goofy labels.  Tough luck, fellas; atheism's here to stay.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Source Analysis: "Scientific Racism, Militarism and the New Atheists"

Murtaza Hussain published a rambling piece on the Al Jazeera website that is one big exercise in bald assertions, misrepresentation and argument from analogy.  The whole point of the piece is to discredit the "New Atheists."  To his credit, he links out to lots of sources.  Let's have a look at them:
Hussain uses this entry to establish that atheism has a history of "scientific racism."  However, the entry doesn't support that; it merely states that phrenology was "accused" of promoting atheism.  No real connection.
These are also intended to establish his premise, but they don't even mention atheism or atheists at all.  So still nothing.
Hussain cites these two sources but then immediately backs off on them, saying they're not representative.  Okay, then his inclusion of them is dishonest; it's an obvious attempt to provoke a reaction.  This isn't a rational argument Hussain is making; it's anti-atheist propaganda.
Now we get into the only areas of potential legitimate criticism of one of the New Atheists, Sam Harris.  Great.  So how do these things tie back in with his earlier points?  Does the author refute what Harris is saying?  No, he doesn't; he simply tosses them out there as if to say "See? Bad!"  Hussain's refusal to engage, refute or address the quotes he's providing actually supports Harris's claims about dishonesty among Muslims, at least with regard to its activists. 
Here Hussain references peaceful protests by Muslims to refute the idea that all Muslims are evil.  However, he has failed to establish that the New Atheists believe that, rendering this a red herring.
Here's the only actual parallel we've seen Hussain try to draw so far, saying that Harris's ideas are an "echo" of George Fitzhugh's.  However, Fitzhugh is not an atheist, at least not that Hussain establishes.  Given that he was a 19th-century Southerner, my money's on his being a Christian.  Do Hussain can't even hit the target when he does finally decide to shoot at it.
From this source, Hussain pulls a quote from Harris stating that Muslim outrage tends to be on theological grounds.  He then fails to refute that idea, and moves on.
This is thrown in for sheer shock value, never bothering to establish the percentage of those deaths that came at the hands of atheists.
Here's a link to a book about South Africa; we have no idea why.
This is quote-mining, since Harris is lamenting the fact that only fascists seem to have sensible policies, not supporting it.
Here's a link that says "recent murders" but documents only a single murder; the article never mentions atheists or atheism.
References to atheism in either of these?  None.

So what Hussain has done is said, "Here's a bunch of bad stuff.  Here's a bunch of bad stuff.  Therefore, atheists are bad."  No connections drawn, no refutations of the points criticized; he's just throwing against the wall and hoping enough sticks to outrage his readers.

And look at the sources he's using!  Christian Post, for fuck's sake?  This piece would get laughed out of any serious intellectual discourse.

But that's okay with Hussain.  Critical thinking and analysis is not the point here; this is pure, unadulterated propaganda.  This is designed to provoke an "Atheists bad!" gut-level, emotional response.  It's irresponsible and shameful.

Hussain ends with this gem:
"Just as it is incumbent upon Muslims to marginalize their own violent extremists, mainstream atheists must work to disavow those such as Harris who would tarnish their movement by associating it with a virulently racist, violent and exploitative worldview."

Okay, yeah.  You go talk to those Muslim terrorists, I'll go talk to Sam Harris, and we'll see who commits the next suicide bombing.

A Big Thank-You

Many thanks to everyone who clicked through to my April Fools blog post.  But even more thanks to everyone who DIDN'T!  You see, I got a lot of "praise Jesus" and advice on what to do from here, which means that people only saw what I posted and didn't bother to read what I linked to.  I think that's telling.  It goes a long way toward explaining why sites like Christian Post get away with posting sensationalistic headlines that the bodies of the articles don't actually support.  Apparently, for many Christians, you only need to read enough to decide you agree with it, rather than get all of the information and think critically about it.

We Have We Learned from American Vision

Over at the American Vision website, they have a signature approach to apologetics (by which I mean the doomed attempt to provide a rational basis for something that requires faith).  It consists of three elements:

1) Assume the Bible is 100% true, but only in exactly the way you interpret it, and get butthurt when someone asks you to support that idea.  When you do provide support, use only circular logic and documents that don't actually back up what you're saying.  Since this is pretty standard for apologetics, it's the next two elements that really set the website apart.

2) Lie.  Lie about atheists to their faces and to anyone who will listen.  Tell them what they believe, even when they express the exact opposite, and pretend they've said things they never did.  Because, really, what better way to promote the belief in a loving God that to be dishonest in the most ridiculous and offensive ways?

3) Repeat this mantra, over and over:
Atheism makes no claim about morality
Atheists have no "basis" for morality, except what they get from Christians [I really wanted to explore the reasoning behind this idea, but no one could provide it. -DVDB]
For atheists, nothing is right or wrong
Atheists cannot say anything is wrong
Atheists believe that lying, stealing and genocide are right.

Two glaring issues here...  The first is one I've pointed out before; you can substitute any belief that says nothing about morality, and the "logic" would still hold up:
The belief that the earth goes around the sun makes no claim about morality
People who believe that the earth goes around the sun have no "basis" for morality...  and so on.

Second, even if you could honestly get from the start of that process to the end (which you can't), the final conclusion violates the premise only two steps earlier.  That is, if nothing is right or wrong for atheists, then you CANNOT conclude that atheists believe that lying, stealing and genocide are right!  So they can't even keep from violating their own bogus logic!

Since I've been banned from commenting there (adding another trophy to my case), all further thoughts on that website will be related on this blog.  I look forward to seeing if they come up with anything new.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Responding to Jeff Paschal

In today's News-Record, Jeff Paschal took on "new atheism" and is so often the case, offered no support the claims he makes in defense of religion.

Here are a few of his points:

"Talk-show host Bill Maher produced an entire movie, “Religulous,” devoted to deriding religious faith of any kind. During a “Tonight Show” appearance with Jay Leno, Maher proclaimed, “Faith is the lack of critical thinking.” This haughty assertion was not challenged by Leno or the studio audience, and television viewers were simply left with Maher’s final words."
So challenge it.  How does believing something without evidence constitute critical thinking?  We don't know, because Paschal, given an opportunity to defend that idea, chooses not to.

"While decrying the dogma of religions, these new atheists themselves demand rigid adherence to their own dogma that, as Haught summarizes, “there is no God, no soul, and no life beyond death, ... nature is self-originating, ... the universe has no overall point ... and all causes are purely natural and can be understood only by science. ... Faith is the cause of innumerable evils and should be rejected on moral grounds. ... Morality does not require belief in God, and people behave better without faith than with it.”"
These are, of course, not atheist dogmas.  While individual atheists may or may not believe any point mentioned, there is nothing in the definition of atheism that requires such.

"The new atheists reduce and define faith as mere credulity, rather than a direction of the heart, the commitment of one’s being to the Holy. They seem to be ignorant of any scholarly criteria for the interpretation of the Bible or other holy texts."
Great, so what are they?  Again, Paschal fails to tell us.  He criticizes atheists for missing things but then can't articulate what those things are.

"But they establish their own criteria for how something must be judged to be truthful or not, namely it must be something provable by science."
Not really.  We'd just to see evidence that any gods exist.

"But can you scientifically prove such things as love, beauty, wisdom and eternity?"
There's evidence that those things exist.  Except maybe eternity; Paschal fails to explain what he means by that one.

"And while ostensibly discarding God, the new atheists unwittingly retrieve God as they lift up their own “absolutes” and notions of what is “right” and “wrong.”"
Support for this idea?  None given.

"But if we are going to judge all religion by its misuse by some, then we should also judge all atheism by its abuses as well, e.g., Communist Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Stalin in the Soviet Union, etc."
I don't judge religion by its misuse.  But if Paschal wants to count bodies, I'm game; I don't think he'll like the results.

"The answer to faith practiced oppressively is faith practiced with its true intent: love of God, people and God’s world."
Ah, so those people are not TRUE Christians.  This is the definition of the "no true Scotsman" logical fallacy.

"Many Christians, for example, believe that in Jesus, God experiences suffering, evil and death, and ultimately overcomes them all to redeem the universe. The resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday is evidence of that."
No it isn't, since there's no evidence that the resurrection happened.

"Nobody can prove the existence of God, and nobody can disprove the existence of God, either."
Right, which is why we reject the idea until evidence supporting it can be provided.  The default position is skepticism.  I can't prove Odin exists.  You can't prove that he doesn't.  So we reject the idea, pending evidence.

"But atheism has other questions to answer. A core one is: Why is there something rather than nothing?"
Atheism makes no claim about something and nothing.  But invoking God to answer that question doesn't answer anything; it merely changes the question:  Where did God come from?

"“Just as believers in a beneficent deity should be haunted by the problem of natural evil, so agnostics, atheists, pessimists and nihilists should be haunted by the problem of friendship, love, beauty, truth, humor, compassion, fun. Never forget the problem of fun.”"
Why are those things problems?  Atheism doesn't postulate a god who hates fun, and it isn't accurate to lump them in with pessimists and nihilists.  Also, he quote arrogantly assumes that Christians have cornered the market on these things (just like they did back in the Middle Ages, huh? Wooooooooo!)

"Atheism must also be puzzled by people such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose commitment to justice flowed from his knowledge of Jesus and the prophets of the Bible."
King was also heavily influenced by Ghandi.  Are you suggesting the Hindu gods exist as well?

"Faith has an answer: God."
It just offers no reason for that answer.  If it did, it wouldn't require faith.