Friday, April 11, 2014

Compartmentalization

Like most non-believers, I have often wondered how any educated person can possibly believe in god.  The contradiction seems to be too much to understand.  Once one knows the history of science it becomes glaringly obvious that all religions are just primitive myths.  It also becomes glaringly obvious that the arguments used to support religious belief are not logically valid.

Or, to put it more succinctly, once you know of the way in which "gods" and "spirits" were used by more primitive people to explain away mysteries--to fill the gaps in our knowledge--then you can't help but notice that this is precisely the way religious people today use their "god".

The god of the gaps type arguments are really all that the religious have to rely on.  But, as I explained previously, this type of argument is simply not valid and the past instances of its failure are proof of that.  They prove it rather conclusively, in fact, because that argument has been proven wrong every single time mankind has put it to the test.

Mankind once thought the winds were caused by gods, now we know it is because the sun heats up the air at the equator more than the air at the poles, which caused sideways movement (wind) as the air at the equator rises leaving a vacuum that sucks in the cold air that is sinking at the poles.

Mankind once thought the Earth was flat and held up by a god.  Now we know it is round and that we are held onto it by its gravity, which curves space and holds us to the Earth.

As our knowledge of the natural world becomes greater, we learn that our supernatural hypotheses are false because they are not grounded in fact.  One cannot help but learn this lesson if one has even a little education.

So, how is it possible that some can cling to religion in spite of an education that appears to have been adequate to acquaint them with this knowledge?

One answer to this question that is often suggested is that the religious somehow "compartmentalize" the various ideas in their minds so that their religion doesn't have to face this challenge.  Personally, I don't know how this is possible.  I have long suspected it is true, but I simply could never do such a dishonest thing.

I no longer have any doubt, however, that this is exactly what some believers do because I read this article on Alternet in which a believer unknowingly provided a perfect example of this type of non-reasoning and an example of why it is illogical.

The article is entitled "Why Atheists Like Dawkins and Hitchens Are Dead Wrong."  The author, a young western Muslim woman, tells us that atheists are dead wrong to say that religion and science are irreconcilable.

The problem, however, is that she doesn't actually address the issue of whether or not religion and science are irreconcilable.  Here, in her words, is the solution to the "problem" and the explanation of her opinion that they are compatible:

There’s plenty of wiggle room and then some. On anything that is not established as theological Truth (e.g. God’s existence, the finality of Prophethood, pillars and articles of faith), there is ample room for examination, debate and disagreement, because it does not undercut the fabric of faith itself.
There you have it, the wall compartmentalizing religion and keeping it from the withering glare of science.  There is plenty of room for both religion and science, she tells us, provided that one does not debate, examine, or disagree with anything that would undercut the fabric of faith, which, of course, means that articles of faith are never even given a chance to conflict with science.  (It is also a one way street in which articles of faith can grow in number as the churches see fit, but science is not allowed to increase its domain in a similar way.)

It is not correct to say that two things do not conflict when the truth is that one has never allowed them to come into contact, much less examined and compared them.

This young woman's article is explicitly meant to debunk the assertion that religion and science are irreconcilable, which is defined as:  Incapable of being brought into harmony or adjustment; incompatible.

Notice first that the definition contemplates action or attempted action on the part of the person trying to determine if the word "irreconcilable" applies.  One cannot know if something is irreconcilable with something else if one does not ever try to reconcile them, and the author has not only not done so, she has told us it is forbidden.

Thus, it is clear that the author failed utterly to prove her point that Dawkins, et al., are wrong when they assert that religion and science are irreconcilable.  She makes no attempt to reconcile them or prove that it can be done.  In fact, it appears as if she has never attempted to reconcile these two things.  Instead, she walls them off from each other--the way one would with any two things that are incompatible or irreconcilable.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Thinking for Yourself

Many religious people actually think that it is immoral for anyone to think for themselves.  That alone is enough for me to think that religion itself must necessarily be immoral.

I would hope that the reason for this would be obvious, but I know it is not.  I know this because if it were obvious, then no one would ever spout the nonsense about the danger of thinking for yourself.  Yet, one hears it all the time.

The reason this phenomenon tells me that religion itself must be immoral is the following:  I think that it is not only possible but probable that most individuals will come up with moral rules superior to those promulgated by religion.  In fact, this is what has happened repeatedly throughout history.

An example of this type of moral progress exists in the history of slavery in the U.S. and the support and opposition to it.  As one of my favorite historical and literary figures, Mark Twain, noted about the Church's "evolution" on the question of slavery:

"There was no place in the land where the seeker could not find some small budding sign of pity for the slave. No place in all the land but one-- the pulpit. It yielded last; it always does. It fought a strong and stubborn fight, and then did what it always does, joined the procession-- at the tail end. Slavery fell. The slavery texts -in the Bible remained; the practice changed; that was all."

On the question of slavery, the churches did not lead the way toward greater morality.  They fought against it mightily.  And, one of their most oft employed weapons in that fight, as in most others where religion is fighting to retain or gain power (regardless of morality), is the admonition to its followers to lean not on their own understanding of morality, but to follow the church's ancient immoral teachings.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Why We Must Not Be Silent

Yesterday, I came across an essay at the Richard Dawkins' Foundation website that I think sets out very well many of the reasons that it is a moral imperative for atheists to speak up.  Anything as powerful and influential as religion must be examined closely.

Here is a link to the article:  Sorry Liberal Christians, But Jesus Is Dead To Me.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bullying

I saw an article this morning that I wanted to share.  It concerns the cumulative effect of bullying on children.  As you might imagine, the more a child is bullied, the greater his mental and emotional problems.  The article doesn't concern religion directly, but, as we all know, religion is the excuse for a great deal of bullying.

The tendency to bully those who are different and the resulting long term harm to the victim is exactly why school prayer should not be allowed.  It is also exactly why the religious want school prayer.

Here is a link to the article:  Effects of bullying may add up in kids: study.

(I don't know why the editors chose to flout the conventions regarding capitalizing titles, but there it is.)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Intolerant People

This morning I came across an article in Alternet--one of my favorite news sites.  It is a brief description of what the author calls "8 Habits of Intolerant People".  Without meaning to do so, the author has made the connection between narcissism, religion, and intolerance.  The author is a psychiatrist and author.  When describing the intolerant people he has met in his practice, he points out that they are fanatical know it alls--just exactly the sort of description that I have been advocating for years with regard to religious people.

Although not exactly about religious people, the article is good reading for those who want to learn or remind themselves about the sorts of traits to look for when deciding which religious people to avoid for self-protection.  I recommend it.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Lie that Nazism Was an Atheistic Movement X

In my last post on this topic I pointed out that atheists have no reason to hate Jews.  Nor do they have any history of persecuting Jews.  The christians, however, have a very well documented history of hating and persecuting Jews.  In fact, they even had published debates over the course of centuries as to whether or not they should kill all the Jews.  Again, I refer you to James Carroll's wonderful book "Constantine's Sword" for further reading documenting this history.

Until the 20th Century, most christians chose not to kill all the Jews, not out of the goodness of their hearts or their alleged moral superiority but because Augustine reminded them that the Jews were the one's whose holy prophecies Jesus supposedly fulfilled.  Thus, he reasoned, they should be allowed to live to serve as witnesses to the existence and genuineness of the prophecies.  Otherwise, someone might argue that the whole story was made up.  (Of course it was, but that is another topic.)

What is important to remember here is that Augustine felt the need to publish reasons for not killing the Jews back in the 4th Century.  This was less than a century after the christian church gained worldly power under Emperor Constantine.  In other words, the debate had been going between christians virtually throughout the whole of their history--at least since the time they gained political power and made genocide an actual possibility.

Given this history, it is nothing less than astounding to me that anyone could possibly believe that the Nazis were "godless" or pagan.  The history of this "debate" amongst christians is quite well documented and should be mentioned as one of the many reasons that the recent attempts to blame atheists for the holocaust are scandalous, disgusting, and falsely defamatory to the point where any such claim should be considered hate speech aimed at non-believers or pagans.

Anytime you hear or read of another person asserting that the Nazis were atheists or otherwise godless, you can add the fact of these long public debates amongst christians regarding the "Jewish question" (as the Nazis called their continuation of the debate) to the long list of reasons to consider the accusation that the Nazis were atheists or pagans an outrageous lie.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Moral Relativism

I want to point out briefly what I think is a decent reply to an oft heard criticism of atheists.  One of the last ditch efforts by the religious to defend their superstition is the allegation that atheists either have no morals or engage in moral relativism--which is to say that we are accused of not believing in fixed and immutable moral values.

The religious attach a lot of value to this notion because they believe it is the area in which they are inherently superior to us and in which their superstition is inherently superior to all other world views.  (This claim is, of course, a lie.  Their morality is every bit as subjective.)

But what good are fixed morals without an objective attempt to determine the facts to which those morals are to be applied?  If one can change the "facts" to suit one's self, then having fixed morals won't matter because then one could simply change the facts so that the morals don't apply to one's behavior.

One of the best examples of the way the religious change facts to excuse otherwise immoral actions occurs in the context of the supposed reverence for human life that the religious claim to have.  The religious spend a great deal of time and energy trumpeting their belief in the sanctity of human life.  Their record shows, however, that they are quite capable of killing.  They have killed millions and often in ways that are horrible to contemplate.

Particularly egregious, and particularly revealing, is the way in which the religious have treated non-believers.  They have done their best to exterminate non-believers whenever possible.  The religious in Western societies have stopped doing this, but that was a relatively recent development.  In other societies (Islamic ones), they still maintain this policy--though some claim that it is not always carried out in those countries.

When the religious kill non-believers, they historically have chosen the most heinous and painful methods of death they could devise.  Particularly, I want to focus on the way in which the supposedly pro-life christians have treated non-believers.  For centuries, they had an official policy of exterminating us by burning us at the stake.

Not only is burning people at the stake fairly strong evidence that christianity is NOT pro-life, it is also evidence that they don't follow their own morals--you know, the ones they claim are fixed and immutable.  In addition, I think this particular aspect of the history of christianity shows rather conclusively that christians do NOT follow the "golden rule" of treating others as you would be treated.

Personally, I cannot think of anything that could possibly justify burning anyone at the stake.  It is probably the most cruel and barbaric form of punishment imaginable.  I cannot imagine a situation where I would think it was appropriate.  I suppose you could make an argument that those guilty of something horrific (such as burning someone at the stake) deserve such a fate.  I would not do this to anyone under any circumstances, however, and I don't see how anyone who actually believes in the golden rule would do so.

How did the religious justify their behavior?  Simple, they used made up facts.  In particular, their belief in an eternal afterlife that will be spent either in heaven or hell.  If one accepts as fact the idea that we all face the choice between an eternity in hell or an eternity in heaven, then doing everything possible to make sure you and those you care about don't go to hell makes perfect sense.  Even burning some people at the stake doesn't look so bad in that context.

Think about what that means.  It means that anything can be considered moral if it can be said to serve the alleged purposes of the religion.

The religious are guilty of the same subjectivity with regard to their "fact" finding as they accuse non-believers of being with regard to morals.  They accuse us of "moral relativism" (of which they are just as guilty as anyone--if not more so--see my earlier posts on religion's lack of morality), but their "factual relativism" renders any "objective morality" irrelevant because the determination of which morals to follow is determined by the facts.

A "factual relativist" can simply choose to believe in "facts" that absolve him of moral guilt.  If that fails, all he has to do is as "god" to forgive him.

Thus, when accused of moral relativism, you can point out that the religious are themselves moral relativists based on the way they pick and choose which parts of their religion and holy writings to take seriously and you can also point out that they are factual relativists, as well.

See also:

Religion and Morality IV

Are People "Basically" Good?