All posts filed under: Secular

Atheism

Debating creationists

The 2001 discovery of the seven million-year-old Sahelanthropus, the first known upright ape-like creatures, was yet more proof of humanity’s place among the great apes. And yet Mike Pence, then a representative and now US vice president, argues for the opposite conclusion. For him, our ideas about our ancestors have changed, proving once more that evolution was a theory, and therefore we should be free to teach other theories alongside evolution in our classrooms. How to respond? The usual answer is that we should teach students the meaning of the word “theory” as used in science – that is, a hypothesis (or idea) that has stood up to repeated testing. Pence’s argument will then be exposed to be what philosophers call an equivocation – an argument that only seems to make sense because the same word is being used in two different senses. Just words Evolution, Pence argues, is a theory, theories are uncertain, therefore evolution is uncertain. But evolution is a theory only in the scientific sense of the word. And in the words …

Can You Be Good Without God?

“If God did not exist, then we would have to invent him,” said the French philosopher Voltaire. His point: that without a divine being to check right and wrong, any number of atrocities are possible and could go unpunished. A recent study (of more than 3,000 people in 13 countries) published in the journal Nature Human Behavior echoes Voltaire’s maxim. Looking at intuitive thinking—presumptions drawn by individuals through unconscious biases—researchers led by Will M. Gervais, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, discovered that most individuals intuitively conclude that a serial killer is more likely to be an atheist (approximately 60 percent) than religious (approximately 30 percent). While this assessment may resonate with many religious individuals, it undoubtedly is far from the conscious conclusions of most atheists, who find social prejudice difficult to overcome. The idea that atheism is a gateway to moral anarchy, for example, is not new. Other studies on public views of atheism indicate that 40 percent of Americans disapprove of nonreligion and 27 percent see atheists as not …

Censoring Richard Dawkins

A notoriously vocal critic of religion and the author of The God Delusion, Dawkins’ invite was rescinded because, according to KPFA, his comments on Twitter and elsewhere had “offended and hurt … so many people” in relation to their religious identity. In a letter of apology to those who had bought tickets to attend the event, and as a preemptive response to criticism, the station also stated: “While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech.” Dawkins responded to the claims in an open letter posted on his website. He denied that he had used such abusive speech against Islam, stressing that any critique he had made had instead been aimed at Islamism. He also challenged KPFA to provide evidence of their claims against him. Counter speech or gagging? The station’s decision follows a now-familiar pattern of similar incidents of no-platforming at various institutions. Responses to such cases are easy to predict, with those in favour lauding the decision not to provide a public platform for offensive views. Those who fiercely …

Atheists must communicate better

Atheism is so often considered in the negative: as a lack of faith, or a disbelief in god; as an essential deprivation. Atheism is seen as being destitute of meaning, value, purpose; unfertile ground for growing the feelings of belonging needed to overcome the alienation that dogs modern life. In more extreme critiques, atheism is considered to be another name for nihilism; a fundamental negation of existence, a noxious blight on creation itself. Yet atheists – rather than flippantly dismissing the insights of theologians – should take them seriously indeed. Humans, by dint of being human, are confronted with baffling questions about meaning, belonging, direction, our connection to other humans and the fate of our species as a whole. The human impulse is to seek answers, and to date, atheism has been unsatisfactory in its response. The shackles of humanism Atheist values are typically defined as humanistic. If we look to the values of the British Humanist Association, we see that it promotes naturalism, rational debate, and the pre-eminence of evidence, cooperation, progress and individual …

Why believers deem atheists fundamentally untrustworthy?

Skepticism about the existence of God is on the rise, and this might, quite literally, pose an existential threat for religious believers. It’s no secret that believers generally harbor extraordinarily negative attitudes toward atheists. Indeed, recent polling data show that most Americans view atheists as “threatening,” unfit to hold public office and unsuitable to marry into their families. But what are the psychological roots of antipathy toward atheists? Historically, evolutionary psychologists argue that atheists have been denigrated because God serves as the ultimate source of social power and influence: God rewards appropriate behaviors and punishes inappropriate ones. The thinking has gone, then, that believers deem atheists fundamentally untrustworthy because they do not accept, affirm and adhere to divinely ordained moral imperatives (ie, “God’s word”). Research has backed up the deep distrust believers feel toward atheists. For example, in one study, Canadian undergraduates, who are typically less religious than their US counterparts, rated atheists as more untrustworthy than Muslims – and just as untrustworthy as rapists! Still, it hasn’t been clear why the leeriness of atheists …

The conflict between religion and science 3

Santa Claus and the Origin of Belief  Religious persons will also engage in unscientific thinking in defense of their belief. Consider a child confronting the evidence presented by their older sibling about the non-existence of Santa Claus: the fact that Santa can’t do it all in one night, the fact that there is no workshop at the North Pole, etc. The child is not convinced; why would his parents’ tell an untrue story? The older sibling explains exactly why by retelling the story of how the myth of Santa Claus originated from a pagan god and a (supposedly) historical Christian bishop named Nicholas, and then morphed into a story that became popular for parents to trick their children into believing in the early 1800’s. By showing that the origin of the story, and the reason his parents tell it, does not trace back to an actual being named Santa Claus, the older sibling would seemed to have put the final nail in the coffin. But the younger child has taken a logic class, and argues …

The conflict between religion and science 2

Many scientists used to think that heat was the product of a material called phlogiston. It flowed into objects to make them hot and out to make them cold. But when they tested for this material, they could find nothing — objects weighed the same both hot and cold. Defenders of the theory insisted that phlogiston must be made of a material that, unlike all others, had no mass. Finding that heat is actually a result of the movement of molecules, phlogiston defenders suggested that making molecules move is just how phlogiston makes objects hotter. But they were only making ad hoc excuses to save their theory; there was no need to introduce phlogiston — it didn’t explain anything. Heat could be accounted for solely by the movement of molecules and atoms; no extra substance was needed. All the work that phlogiston was supposed to have done was now accounted for by other means. Of course, one can never disprove the existence of phlogiston — one can always make excuses. But, as we know, that …

‘No religion’ The fastest growing religion in Australia

DESPITE a scare campaign about Australia becoming a “Muslim country”, those ticking “no religion” in the Census has now overtaken the number of Catholics. It’s the first time in Australia’s history the number of people who claim “no religion” has overtaken Catholics. The latest Census drop showed those ticking “no religion” rose from 22.6 per cent to 29.6 per cent — nearly double the 16 per cent in 2001. Meanwhile, those identifying as Catholic dropped from 25.3 per cent to 22.6 per cent. The number of Christians in total still made up 51 per cent of the population, but this is much less than the 88 per cent in 1966 and 74 per cent in 1991. Islam (2.6 per cent) and Buddhism (2.4 per cent) were the next most common religions reported. Islam grew from 2.2 per cent in 2011, overtaking Buddhism, which dropped from 2.5 per cent, to become the most popular non-Christian religion. The religion question was controversial this year, with Australians warned not to mark “no religion” on the Census survey by …

Skepticsociety Magazine Blog

The conflict between religion and science 1

Many, both theists and atheists, acknowledge the conflict between religion and science. This includes New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and also academic philosophers such as John Worall, who argue that one cannot be both purely scientifically minded and religious. Others disagree. Stephen Jay Gould, an agnostic, famously defended the NOMA thesis — that science and religion cannot be in conflict because they are about non-overlapping magesteria. His sentiments have been echoed by some academic philosophers, such as Del Ratzsch, who argues that the conflict between science and religion is greatly exaggerated. Most recently this thesis was reiterated by Alvin Plantinga in Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism. If there is a conflict, it is supposedly only about minor ideas that are usually found in small movements — like creationism, which is (they say) only popular in certain Christian fundamentalist segments of America. I disagree. Contrary to Gould, Ratzsch and Plantinga’s arguments, religion conflicts with science, especially regarding religious issues, doctrines, beliefs and thought processes of major significance. I will demonstrate why. For brevity, …

Skepticsociety Magazine Blog

Why is it that some people do not believe in God?

Some popular religious writers have claimed that atheists reject God because they were presented with the wrong kind of God. Atheists reject a god that is too small, it is claimed, and most have not considered the more sophisticated God that is really worth believing in. If only atheists considered the proper sort of deity, these authors insist, they would have long abandoned their atheism. This is the position of several authors who have written popular books on the subject over the last two decades: Karen Armstrong, John Haught, and David Bentley Hart, to name a few. I think these authors are incorrect. There are good reasons for rejecting belief even in their gods. Here I will focus on Armstrong’s version, but several of my remarks will be applicable to a number of other theologies. What sort of gods do these writers have in mind? If the wrong sort of God is “too small,” the right sort of God is much bigger: a radically transcendent being about which human languages can only speak indirectly. Armstrong …