Measured Against Reality

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

My Favorite Argument For Atheism

My favorite argument for atheism can be summed up in one Bertrand Russell quote, “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

Throughout human history, there have been too many gods to count. Why, exactly, is any current religion better than the Greeks’, Romans’, Vikings’, Zoroastrians’, Celts’, Mayans’, or Incans’ religion? And why is any current religion better than any other?

Personal revelation has to be out, because for every person who believes that Zeus spoke to him there will be one who thinks Buddha came to him, and another who will go to his death knowing that Allah talks him. Who is right? Better yet, if god exists as any religion today says he does, why does he appear differently to different people (although most often in the guise of the culturally-prevalent religion)? Does god get a kick out of appearing before a young Muslim man as Allah, who then blows up a bus full of Jewish people to whom he had revealed himself as Yahweh? Why don’t all personal revelations come from the same god?

The most parsimonious hypothesis is that God does not exist, and there are simply complex phenomena at the heart of revelations. For instance, epileptics are, on average, far more religious than non-epileptics. Perhaps the brain of an epileptic is especially vulnerable to revelation. Further evidence for this hypothesis are the experiments where electromagnetism is used to induce revelation (There’s also a nice list of articles on the so-called “God Module” in the brain here).

But at the heart of Russell’s statement is that believers will dismiss offhand all religions except their own, which they almost never begin to consider as being wrong. From the outside, all those other religions just look like silly myths and superstitions, but from the inside it’s harder to see that. Who knows, after taking a good, hard, honest look at your own, maybe you’ll start to see the same silly myths and superstitions.

Labels: ,

21 Comments:

  • It's not all about the stories, Stu. It's about the moral lessons behind those stories.

    Let's see if I can explain this in a way you can understand.

    All modern religion tends to offer a rationalization for a common moral code. Where you see "myths" or "fables", I see the moral lesson figuratively written into the story. I think when you're reading religious text, you're reading literally the words on the page, but you're not processing the actual meaning of the stories.

    You're thinking of religion as a crutch for the simpleminded. It isn't, and by believing this, you're falling into the elitist trap.

    I like the Bible, and consider myself a monotheist or a believer in the Abrahamic God (I'm still on the wall as to considering myself a Christian, but I go back and forth) because I believe in the moral code informed by that belief.

    I've said it before. Just try reading Ecclesiastes (in the Old Testament, preferably in the King James Version for the elegant language) and just try to tell me you don't see some beautiful- and eternal- words of wisdom.

    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic, at 10:21 AM, October 04, 2006  

  • And morality can't be derived independently of religion? Please don't tell me you've fallen into that fallacy. Personally, I prefer morals based on rational thought rather than dogma, because they tend to be more applicable to the world. I wonder how many people have died from AIDS in Africa because the Pope condemns birth control (to pick just one example).

    Ecclesiastes being beautiful has nothing to do with it being right. There's plenty of beautiful and inspirational literature around.

    By Blogger Stupac2, at 10:45 AM, October 04, 2006  

  • What are you talking about?

    I honestly defend my beliefs against your constant anti-God abuse and suggest something worth reading to you, and you blame the Vatican for AIDS deaths in Africa?

    I repeat... What are you talking about?

    Those people spread AIDS by unsafe sexual contact. They know about the AIDS epidemic and they choose to have sex anyway. That is not my fault, nor is it the fault of my religion, which is not Catholic.

    I still have no idea what you're talking about, and why you can't simply respect peoples' decisions to believe there is something more important than worshipping onesself.

    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic, at 11:03 AM, October 04, 2006  

  • I can understand the elegance in an argument such as above, but I can also understand why a religious person wouldn't be convinced by it.

    A religious person has chosen a religion above all others. The person already has excluded all of the ‘other’ religions as false. Even in the case of universalism which essentially says they’re all wrong because they are exclusive. It is easy for a religious person to wave off all non-conforming religious experiences as false also. For example a Muslim, having a ‘real’ experience with Allah, can easily dismiss a charismatic Christian’s testimony about seeing God. In their mind this isn’t a contradiction, the other person is probably ‘deceived’ or a liar.

    By Blogger Desmond, at 11:22 AM, October 04, 2006  

  • "It's not all about the stories, Stu. It's about the moral lessons behind those stories."
    Typical obfuscation and equivocation totally lacking in clarity.
    "Let's see if I can explain this in a way you can understand."
    Amusing sense of superiority.
    "All modern religion tends to offer a rationalization for a common moral code."
    Any statement that begins with “All modern religions…” in meaningless.
    "Where you see "myths" or "fables", I see the moral lesson figuratively written into the story." That’s what a fable is. You are very good at equivocation and obfuscation.
    "I think when you're reading religious text, you're reading literally the words on the page, but you're not processing the actual meaning of the stories."
    You are not very good at accurately asserting what other people are processing.
    "You're thinking of religion as a crutch for the simpleminded. It isn't, and by believing this, you're falling into the elitist trap. I like the Bible, and consider myself a monotheist or a believer in the Abrahamic God (I'm still on the wall as to considering myself a Christian, but I go back and forth) because I believe in the moral code informed by that belief."
    Religion is many things. One of those things is a crutch for the simpleminded. If you insist on stating that the earth is flat, dancing affects the weather, people return to life from death, or that mythological creations actually exist in reality, then you are either foolish, dishonest, or mentally ill. Stating this does not make me an elitist.
    "I've said it before. Just try reading Ecclesiastes (in the Old Testament, preferably in the King James Version for the elegant language) and just try to tell me you don't see some beautiful- and eternal- words of wisdom." The Bible says many things. Some of it being good does not justify all the immorality, hatred, bigotry, murder, cruelty, dishonesty, and superstition advocated in the Bible.
    You are free to believe whatever nonsense you wish. I will continue to verbally attack, in an attempt to destroy, evil cults in whatever guise they may take, whether Nazism, the KKK, Christianity, Islam, or Judaism.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:19 PM, October 04, 2006  

  • Wow, that was a lot of hate in one post. Good work, anonymous!

    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic, at 6:24 PM, October 04, 2006  

  • How does atheism comfort the widow? The orphan? The sick? The dying? The atheist may acknowledge that there are two kinds of truth—but still asserts that atheistic truth is actually the right truth. Furthermore, science has caused as much damage to society through its own abuses as religious dogma has I refuse to acknowledge that atheism has any greater benefit for me than my religious beliefs, especially if it is presented to me in some Orwellian-like concept that all truths are created equal, but yours is more equal than mine. Atheism, in as much as atheists think that the rest of us are caught up in some sort of mass delusion, is as much a religion as are the belief systems the rest of us are following.

    So what if our beliefs seem illogical? So does “dark matter”. You might just as well use Ockham’s razor to tell science not to invent new particles to explain why the galaxies don’t fly apart as you do to tell us not to invoke a supernatural being to explain how the universe got here, even if it is billions of years old.

    Ultimately, I don’t like the self-righteous tone that atheism tends to use—just as much as I don’t like the self-righteous tone that fundamentalist Christianity, or any other religion, tends to use. And so, if the atheists don’t mind, I’d like to ask that they keep their modernism to themselves, and we’ll keep to our (generally) harmless “delusions”. Certainly no harm can come from mutual tolerance…

    By Anonymous beckster, at 10:45 PM, October 04, 2006  

  • ..."It is not enough to show a coincidence of phenomena (psychological needs and God) to assert a causal relation. Atheists must also show that man's need for a higher being preceded God's existence if they are to assert that the needs created God and not vice versa. Atheists must show why their belief in the non-existence of God is any more credible than the theists' belief in God. The rationalist assertion that God only exists if he is perceived by the subject is surely not how we approach the world. It would be ridiculous to claim that the existence of DNA depends on whether I am convinced of its reality. Though we routinely believe in many things we cannot see or fully understand, atheists have chosen not to believe in God."

    www.catholic.com

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:18 PM, October 05, 2006  

  • You might want to hold off on the "G-d module" as further studies have called both the methodology and the results into question. (Links below) Also, you might want to be careful at implying that finding a neurological explanation for an experience negates the existence of the things experienced. It is difficult if not impossible to tell the difference from neurological activity alone between a real thing being experienced and a hallucination unless the person reports experiencing something that you can verify does not exist.

    http://www.economist.com/printedition/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=3500228

    http://www.bioedonline.org/news/news.cfm?art=2758

    By Blogger Melinda Barton, at 6:56 AM, October 06, 2006  

  • er Beckster, dark matter has in fact been found. That is the point of science- you observe something, make a theory, and test it. See the Bad Astronomer or Angry Astronomer for more details on "dark matter".

    By Anonymous Thinker, at 4:59 AM, October 09, 2006  

  • And if the only thing your religion did was comfort widows and orphans, that would be great. Unfortunately people read the same book as you and find reasons to make widows and orphans. The beauty of the lie hides its deadliness from people who prefer the elegant language to the plain meaning of the words.

    By Blogger The Ridger, FCD, at 1:04 PM, October 12, 2006  

  • I'm an Atheist. But the argument the Jewish people make is that the Jewish revelation happened on Mount Sinai in front of 600,000 people. Different from Jesus, Buddha & Mohamed; which were only private revelations. I was raised Jewish, and i studied other religions, and thats the same argument that keeps getting brought up. But I doubt that historical truth about it.
    What do you think?

    By Blogger The Haimsonian Principle, at 3:08 PM, October 12, 2006  

  • The Haimsonian Principle, I would say that that "revelation" probably never even happened. The Bible isn't very good history, and it's impossible to prove events like that, especially given that it supposedly happen many hundreds of years before it was written down.

    But even if it did happen, crowds can also be deluded (like at Fatima). It's completely within the realm of possibility for 600,000 people to all see something and misinterpret it, or be convinced that it was something that it wasn't. UFO sightings often have many witnesses, but I highly doubt we're being visited by aliens.

    By Blogger Stupac2, at 5:57 PM, October 12, 2006  

  • I couldn't get a trackback to work, but I wanted you to know this post is in the Carnival of the Godless this time!

    By Blogger The Ridger, FCD, at 5:24 AM, October 15, 2006  

  • Mr. Fantastic:
    I agree that some of my fellow atheists have made the mistake of challenging you on the evil effects of religion, a complaint which can always be deflected by pointing out that man can misinterpret the word of whichever god is supposed to have written/inspired a particular 'sacred-text.'

    I'll take up a different sort of challenge and ask you to defend the 'moral code' exemplified by three stories in the Old Testament -- I pick this one because it is one basis of all four main Abrahamic religions. (I consider Mormonism as a separate religion from Christianity, and say 'one of the bases' because much of both Christianity and Islam have as an unacknowledged source Zoroastrianism and the Avesta. You might check out the Internet sacred-text archive for a wider perspective, btw. www.sacred-texts.com)

    The three stories I want you to defend are

    1: Elsiha and the bears (2 Kings 2)(where a group of children or youths are mauled and killed by God merely for mocking Elisha's baldness -- and I too am 'follically challenged' but I wouldn't want a god who did this on my behalf)

    2: Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38) Perhaps one of the greatest examples of hypocrisy in the Bible. Note that Tamar does not 'solicit' Judah. Shre merely sits at a corner where he will pass, KNOWING he will attempt to 'purchase her favors.' Note that he is willing to condemn her and have her killed for prostitution until she provces he was her (only) client. Then see what moral the Bible draws from this. Not that Judah is a repulsive hypocrite, but that he was wrong not to let her marry his third son, because God has already smitten the first two and he wants to protect the only remaining one.

    Finally, the Passover. Egypt was a 'totalitarian monarchy.' Pharaoh's subjects were not democratic citizens complicit in his plans, they were almost as much slaves to him as were the Israelites. Certainly their children were totally innocent. Yet God slays thousands of the 'first-born' of them as a way of influencing Pharaoh, punishing the innocent children, and their innocent parents. How does this differ morally from the action of any terrorist? How is Herod condemned for his 'slaughter of the innocents' but this is praised. (Yes, slavery is wrong. Yes, the Israelites were under YHWH's protection. But does this excuse these murders?

    By Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton), at 9:23 AM, October 15, 2006  

  • Beckster asks "How does atheism comfort the widow? The orphan? The sick? The dying?"

    As an atheist widow of an atheist who sickened and died of lung cancer, I can tell you that we got far more comfort from our naturalistic world view than many religious widows I know.

    As existentialists, we acknowledged that the universe does not care about us, which freed us to care about each other with undivided devotion. Because we didn't expect an afterlife, my husband and I put all our energy into appreciating each other in the time he had left.

    I didn't have to imagine him "in hell" because of some capricious decision on the part of God to classify his life as "bad". And I don't have to imagine him "in heaven", able to see what might happen after his death, but unable to be with me or affect my life (sounds like hell to me!) I didn't have to wonder what I could have done different to deflect God's decision to "call" my husband from me many years too soon. I didn't have deal with a crisis in faith that resulted from my questioning why a "good" God would visit such a horrible death on a man who never harmed anyone or committed a crime in his life. I didn't have to resent the necessity of putting God's will before my own.

    Finally, I don't have to worry that some inadvertent sin might prevent me from "rejoining" him when I die. The closest I will ever get to rejoining him is when (or if) my son carries my ashes to the foot of the same redwood where we scattered my husband's ashes. And since I don't consider those ashes to have much to do with who he was, that's not very close.

    By Blogger Nora, at 12:31 PM, October 16, 2006  

  • That's not Bertrand Russell.

    It's Stephen F. Roberts.

    http://freelink.wildlink.com/quote_history.htm


    From newsgroups.alt.atheism back in the old days of usenet.

    By Blogger Bruce, at 9:30 AM, October 17, 2006  

  • The fact that all traditional God-stories are obvious nonsense, albeit culturally and socio-psychologically protected nonsense by means of tricks like the claim that "you'll burn in a lake of fire forever if you don't believe this story and kowtow to the priests who tell it", doesn't disprove the existence of a unique "God" if the definition of "God" is "the Creator of the Universe". Imagine a maple tree out in the forest. You could collect ten thousand stories about that maple tree. You could stand in front of that tree and describe it to the best of your ability, or you could phone someone in India and ask them to make up a story about the tree. All such stories have one thing in common: They are not the tree. A story about a maple tree is not the maple tree. And a story about the Creator is not the Creator. Our perennial error has been to worship stories about ideas about "God", not God itself...or more commonly, we have worshipped men who have told stories about ideas of God, and claimed some sort of special status for themselves and their stories as "revelation" or "inspired sacred truth" or "prophesy". All such men have been, are, and always will be liars. Whatever created the Universe is what it is. It is no more affected by our stories about it than the maple tree is affected by our stories about it. And if the Creator happens to actually be an automatic, non-sentient 'physical' process of some sort, a special case of a common phenomenon of universes-generation within a multi-dimensional spacetime 'multiverse' matrix of some kind, or if the Universe somehow creates itself in a space-time loop in which the end feeds back into the beginning? Then there is no sentient Creator. But we do not know, and probably cannot know, the ultimate origin of the Universe or that which gave rise to it. We are wasting our time and energy on associating our pathetic tales of wonder-workers and charismatic schmoo salesmen with the notion of a universal Creator. Not one of these people is telling a true story; it isn't possible to tell a true story about the Creator, because we know nothing about the ultimate origins of the Universe, and probably never will.

    By Blogger Jasper Sky, at 3:16 AM, October 19, 2006  

  • So what if our beliefs seem illogical? So does “dark matter”.

    The Earth is dark matter, so is the Moon and the other planets, asteroids, comets, and everything in the Solar System outside the Sun. Does the existence of the Earth really seem so illogical to you?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:36 PM, October 20, 2006  

  • That was a beautiful post, Nora.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:58 AM, October 22, 2006  

  • A lot of people dismiss other religions and gods as absurd but they can't see the strangeness of their own beliefs, as if Yahweh is anymore probable than Zeus.

    By Blogger Bertsura, at 4:37 PM, October 05, 2007  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home