Expanding on atheism

Yesterday I posted a quote from Gary Zukav which stated that religion accepts beliefs without evidence whereas science is precisely opposed to such a notion. I noted the similarity in atheistic thought. I want to expand a bit.

The foundation of atheism is that there are no gods. When delving into the position of most atheists, it becomes clear that this isn’t a firm statement. In truth, most atheists will not reject the possibility of a god. Of course, some will and that’s downright silly. Unfortunately, anti-atheist arguments are often mounted upon that idea. It’s a persistent little strawman.

It’s key to the point I wish to make here that it be well noted that atheists do not reject certain possibilities. If one wished to play semantics, there are actually very, very few atheists in the world. Most of them are actually agnostic. But that isn’t very useful terminology. We’re all agnostic to the flying teapot in the semantic world, but in a useful sense we all reject its existence.

The reason atheists reject god is largely based upon what Zukav said about science. Belief without evidence is no good belief at all. It may be acceptable in every day life to believe what Susie Q tells us about her day – she went to work, got some groceries, ran into an old friend – even though we have no real evidence of this. There are two good reasons for this. First, practicality. Demanding evidence for every nuance of life isn’t really worth one’s time, nor even possible to ascertain. Second, our every day experiences are really that incredible. If Susie Q talked about that friend just the day prior to running into her, there is no need for evidence of all these things. That is a common occurrence which is statistically probable when considering the experiences of the population as a whole. In other words, it’s far from incredible. Indeed, it is credible on its face. But the game changes when the claim Susie makes is extraordinary.

If Susie tells us she stopped a train in its tracks a la Superman, we would rightfully demand some real evidence of this (assuming we didn’t outright reject her claim as obviously false). We would even call Susie’s claim impossible. But that isn’t to actually say it is impossible. In theory, at least, it could have happened. All the atoms which made up the train could have spontaneously disassembled in a manner consistent with how they would have been altered had Superman actually been standing in front of the train. Of course, there is a huge difference between something being possible and something being plausible. This scenario fits the former while falling far short of the latter.

Atheism is much the same. The claim that such-and-such god exists is unevidenced. There isn’t any way one can confirm or deny the existence of a supernatural being, much the same way celestial teapots or fairies cannot be disproved. The theist can only rely upon faith and personal experience. Faith is nothing more than belief without evidence. If it was belief with evidence, it’d just be called evidence. Personal experience may be useful to an individual, but it cannot be used to make a very convincing case to anyone else. Only one person can have that precise experience. A mere description of it does nothing to confirm it actually happened. All that is confirmed is that the individual believes he experienced something. His claim tells us nothing of what he actually experienced. A theist may also use his theology, but it is false to believe that is evidence. Ignoring for a moment two important factors – theology is nothing more than literary criticism with a horribly narrow focus, and Biblical writers and scribes are horribly fallible – any theology inherently assumes the existence of its particular, cultural, local god. Assuming the premise in an answer is a logical fallacy (“begging the question“) and not evidence.

So the atheist has a major fact on his side: there is no evidence for any gods. Again, the average atheist does not therefore rule out the possibility of a god existing. He is ruling out the plausibility and probability of a god. This is scientific in its nature.

Science is all about disproving. The scientist has his hypothesis and he seeks to falsify it. Through repeated falsification, he narrows down the possible explanations for the observed phenomenon. This becomes his proof. No person has ever falsified modern gravitational theory. This is very strong evidence for its existence.

With gods, they cannot be falsified. They therefore cannot have any evidence. To be clear: evidence is had in falsification. By saying “It isn’t this or this or this…” the possible answer is whittled down. So if there are 10 possible answers to a question and we show that 9 of them are actually false, we have de facto proof of the remaining 1 answer even though it has never been proven. Of course, science goes a bit further and is far more rigorous, but this does explain its essence. And in this essence does atheism live. There is no good evidence for believing in supernaturalism, so the rejection of any given god* is a reflection of scientific values at their core.

*Of course, some may claim a natural existence for their god. But that isn’t much of a god at all, is it?

Thought of the day

Acceptance without proof is the fundamental characteristic of Western religion. Rejection without proof is the fundamental characteristic of Western science.

~Gary Zukav

This is what makes atheism scientific in its nature. It doesn’t fit the conventional definition of science, but it does fit its essence.

Obnoxious as hell

I just got through watching a debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox. It’s well worth watching. Lennox comes across as one of the more convincing Christians, and that’s primarily due to his style of rhetoric. “And so I would like to suggest” is usually his lead from the set-up of his argument into his conclusion/main points. He does it well. Of course, when all seems lost for the atheist position, Dawkins always fires back with an argument that completely defeats whatever falsehood it is that Lennox convincingly said. Watch it.

But I’m not making a post to merely encourage people to watch a debate. I want to point out a specific part. In this part, Lennox obnoxiously says “hmm” over and over. He does it several times between the 3 and 4 minute marks.

In this context, “hmm” is used somewhat in the sense that “really” is used when someone is being sarcastic.

1. Obama was elected president.
2. Really? Thanks, Captain Obvious.

But there’s a little more to it than that. It isn’t that Lennox is saying that what Dawkins is stating is obvious. He’s saying that it’s obvious that Dawkins’ statement supports Lennox’s position. Let me clarify.

The two are discussing the different between faith and evidence. Lennox asks Dawkins how he knows his wife loves him (or how anyone knows someone else romantically loves them). Dawkins then goes on to explain that there are any number of little signs that constitute real evidence. He’s right. “A catch in the voice” or a “look in the eye” aren’t issues of faith. Those are indications of love when given in the proper context. But all throughout this Lennox keeps saying “hmm”, “hmm”, “hmm”, as if Dawkins is describing faith. In the end, it appears Lennox was playing a silly game of semantics and Dawkins recognizes this. But that isn’t what irks me. It’s that I’ve had personal experience with believers using their sarcastic, condescending, arrogant, obnoxious method. It’s as if once an atheist starts to speak of love or sympathy or any other soft, so to speak, emotion, Christians think they’ve won the point. I don’t get it. If anything, the total capacity of love for humanity from an atheist is higher than the total capacity of love for humanity is from a Christian. Afterall, the atheist’s love can be totally focused upon humanity. It isn’t distracted by the faux sense of love a believer feels for his god.

Atheist group wins lawsuit in Kentucky

If you recall, an atheist group sued in Kentucky over a stupid law requiring Kentucky Office of Homeland Security to stress “dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the commonwealth.”

They won.

State Rep. Tom Riner, D-Louisville, a Southern Baptist minister, placed the “Almighty God” language into a homeland security bill without much notice.

Riner said Wednesday that he is unhappy with the judge’s ruling. The way he wrote the law, he said, it did not mandate that Kentuckians depend on God for their safety, it simply acknowledged that government without God cannot protect its citizens.

“The decision would have shocked and disappointed Thomas Jefferson, who penned the words that the General Assembly paraphrased in this legislation,” Riner said.

Riner doesn’t know his history too well. Jefferson would have hated this blatant attempt to join one religion over the expense of all other beliefs. He also would have rejected the very premise of stressing God’s role in securing the protection of Kentucky. The man did not believe in miracles or the general intervention of a particular, cultural god in human affairs. He was a deist who didn’t have such an incredibly small-minded notion of a creator.

Attorney General Jack Conway defended the law in court, arguing that striking down such laws risked creating a secular society that is wholly separated from religion.

Uh…that’s exactly what Jefferson and the other founding fathers intended the United States to be. I’m glad the court agreed.

Oh, the pride

At the risk of Christian chastisement (something I take oh so seriously), I find myself unable stop from feeling a bit of pride. It turns out that when searching “dangerous man cancer stress” in Google, For the Sake of Science comes up as the first result. And which post? Why, the one about snake oil salesman Andreas Moritz, of course. It feels good to know that people searching out information about cancer, stress and danger will have the opportunity to avoid being duped by this crook.

Thought of the day

To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with natural events could never be refuted, in the real sense, by science, for this doctrine can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot.

But I am persuaded that such behavior on the part of the representatives of religion would not only be unworthy but also fatal. For a doctrine which is able to maintain itself not in clear light but only in the dark, will of necessity lose its effect on mankind, with incalculable harm to human progress.

~Einstein

Limbaugh, Republicans, and Lies

I heard Rush Limbaugh talk about death panels today. He’s a rhetorical, moronic machine. Not ten minutes later, just after a commercial break, a caller explained what the bill actually says. He noted that it primarily and merely offers to pay for doctor visits for those who wish to discuss end-of-life care. This primarily concerns those who have been given terminal diagnoses. As it stands, Medicare and Medicaid do not cover this visits. People, should they CHOOSE, to speak with their doctors over their end-of-life care, they should not have to pay out of pocket.

After the called explained this, Limbaugh claimed that he never uses the term “death panel”, except in quoting that gem of genuine stupidity that is Sarah Palin. He is a liar. A huge, fucking liar. He uses the term regularly, including just moments early on that very airing. This sort of behavior is highly typical of Republicans and conservatives. Lie, lie, lie. No need to help those who aren’t already wealthy.

I think a lot of this, to be frank, dumbness, comes from Reagan. He encouraged economic policies of “trickling-down” money from the rich to the poor. It predictably failed. It caused the economic downturn in the early 90’s. Clinton corrected a lot of this. Then Dubya went ahead and messed things up again. Now it is left to a Democrat to YET AGAIN clean up this inanity.

It’s possible to identify, again and again, why Republican policies are complete and utter failures. But to say why they are so stupid about everything is beyond me.