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Friday, November 29, 2013

The ahistorical atheist

Armarium Magnum explains why so many atheists are historically illiterate:
After 30+ years of observing and taking part in debates about history with many of my fellow atheists I can safely claim that most atheists are historically illiterate.  This is not particular to atheists:  they tend to be about as historically illiterate as most people, since historical illiteracy is pretty much the norm.   But it does mean that when most (not all) atheists comment about history or, worse, try to use history in debates about religion, they are usually doing so with a grasp of the subject that is stunted at about high school level.

This is hardly surprising, given that most people don't study history past high school.  But it means their understanding of any given historical person, subject or event is (like that of most people), based on half-remembered school lessons, perhaps a TV documentary or two and popular culture: mainly novels and movies.  Which is why most atheists (like most people) have a grasp of history which is, to be brutally frank, largely crap.

Worse, this also means that most atheists (again, like most people) have a grasp of how history is studied and the techniques of historical analysis and synthesis which is also stunted at high school level - i.e. virtually non-existent.  With a few laudable exceptions, high school history teachers still tend to reduce history to facts and dates organised into themes or broad topics.  How we can know what happened in the past, with what degree of certitude we can know it and the techniques used to arrive at these conclusions are rarely more than touched on at this level.  This means that when the average atheist (yet again, like the average person generally) grasps that our knowledge of the past is not as cut and dried and clear as Mr Wilkins the history teacher gave us to understand, they tend to reject the whole thing as highly uncertain at best or subjective waffle at worst.  Or, as Grundy put it, as "crap".

All this leads some atheists, who have fallen in to the fallacy of scientism and reject anything that can't be definitively "proven", to reject the idea of any degree of certainty about the past.  This is an extreme position and it's rarely a consistent one.  As I've noted to some who have claimed this level of historical scepticism, I find it hard to believe they maintain this position when they read the newspaper, even though they should be just as sceptical about being able to know about a car accident yesterday as they are about knowing about a revolution 400 years ago.
This is something I, too, have noticed with regards to many atheists, beginning with Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins. It is obvious they don't know any more about history than they do about theology; no one who knows anything about history believes religion causes war, thinks that the Spanish Inquisition was one of the most lethal institutions in human history, or finds the assumption that Jesus was not a legitimate historical figure to be a reasonable one.

However, I do have to take exception to this statement: "This rejection can be more pronounced in atheists, because many (not all) come to their atheism via a study of science." This observably isn't true. Armarium Magnum has the order reversed. The vast majority of atheists become atheists as teenagers, before they have embarked upon any course of study, and they become atheists for reasons that are entirely emotional by their own account. They then turn to science for the explanations that they can no longer seek in religion, and are understandably disappointed and embittered when they cannot find them there either.

The reason the rejection is often more pronounced in atheists is because they are observably less rational than most people who are interested in history. No one who does not believe in the existence of gods through a rational process can legitimately call himself an atheist, for the obvious reason that it is impossible to rationally prove the non-existence of gods. An agnostic's lack of god belief may have a rational basis, an atheist's non-belief never can. Their irrationality not only makes them unusually susceptible to swallowing falsehoods that thirty seconds on Wikipedia would render obvious, but makes it hard for them to give up their ahistorical dogma.
What’s worse is that I’ve also experienced atheists who have been shown extensive, clear evidence that the medieval Church taught the earth was round and that the myth of medieval Flat Earth belief was invented by the novelist Washington Irving in 1828, and they have simply refused to believe that the myth could be wrong.
Neat historical fables such as the ones about Christians burning down the Great Library of Alexandria (they didn’t) or murdering Hypatia because of their hatred of her learning and science (ditto) are appealing parables.  Which means some atheists fight tooth and nail to preserve them even when confronted with clear evidence that they are pseudo historical fairy tales.  
And before anyone angrily denounces Armarium Magnum as another theistic polemicist cut out of the same godbothering cloth as me, perhaps it should be noted that the gentleman is himself an atheist. It's a good piece and I even learned something. It's more than a little amusing to be informed that belief in the medieval belief in a flat earth is intellectually akin to belief in the Headless Horseman. And that will certainly make for a useful rhetorical device.

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82 Comments:

Blogger Eric I. Gatera. November 29, 2013 4:40 AM  

Tim O' Neil from the Amarium Magnum is still the only atheist i enjoy reading! Thanks for the post!

Just wondering, what have you learned from his piece? :)

Anonymous Red November 29, 2013 4:50 AM  

As an agnostic I believe that most atheists and agnostics are born with the religious portion of the brain overwriten by another brain function. This accounts for the higher IQ and just not getting the same experience from religion that most people get. I believe that religion provides a very valuable bond between the individual, other believers, and humanity itself. Civilization can't fundamentally exist without the ties that religion creates in a community. Due to this lack of bonding to the mass of humanity, atheists have committed some of the worst atrocities in history. They fundamentally don't care about others. The same maybe true with agnostics, but at least most agnostics are self aware enough to recognize that we're to stupid to be able to tell if there is a god or not and most recognize the value that religion provides the community even if they themselves don't believe.

Anonymous Manatee November 29, 2013 4:51 AM  

We interpret the world via our worldview spectacles. No thing new under the sun other than a good ole fashion woodshed ass kicking of all Humanist belief. If you're thankful for anything it's Imago Dei, not ego-centric Darwinism. Pathetic atheism, repent of your autonomous unbeblief and come and believe the unbelievable

Blogger Crude November 29, 2013 4:55 AM  

As an agnostic I believe that most atheists and agnostics are born with the religious portion of the brain overwriten by another brain function.

As a theist, I think that Cult of Gnu style atheists have a nasty habit of displaying some of the crazier traits of religious belief.

Anonymous The Great Martini November 29, 2013 4:59 AM  

I don't think there's much significance in saying that most atheists arrive at their lack of faith as teenagers, particularly when you figure that most people of faith probably date genuine thoughts about it at any level of sophistication to a similar age range. Before that, say in the single digit ages, children are mostly going along to get alone, following the lead of parents and family members. The great divergence between faithful and faithless begins to happen in teens, and it is only that those adults who later say their atheism began as teens have simply stuck with the determination, for whatever reason, while others might have questioned faith, but then concluded differently. I suspect one would find that many devout Christians would also date the seriousness of their faith to a similar age.

Anonymous VD November 29, 2013 5:07 AM  

I don't think there's much significance in saying that most atheists arrive at their lack of faith as teenagers, particularly when you figure that most people of faith probably date genuine thoughts about it at any level of sophistication to a similar age range.

That's obviously incorrect. You are forgetting how it completely nullifies the atheist narrative of having reasoned their way to their conclusions, to say nothing of the idea of having gotten there through the study of science.

I suspect one would find that many devout Christians would also date the seriousness of their faith to a similar age.

I will bet you won't. I suspect many devout Christians have either a) been that way through childhood, or b) come to their faith as intellectually mature adults. Christianity holds very little appeal during the hormone-crazed dependent years when one has some of the desires of an adult but few of the responsibilities.

Anonymous Manatee November 29, 2013 5:09 AM  

Agree. And if you could mold mines at that age....well, gov't schools will cover all vacuums

Anonymous Manatee November 29, 2013 5:12 AM  

Don't fret about da mines over in Amador gold country

Anonymous FrankNorman November 29, 2013 5:13 AM  

Regarding atheists being ignorant... any bets on how soon we see some version of the "Courtier's Reply" argument posted here?

Anonymous Manatee November 29, 2013 5:16 AM  

Adamic sin follows from your pappi...Adam.....you so much look like him

Anonymous Red November 29, 2013 5:17 AM  

>As a theist, I think that Cult of Gnu style atheists have a nasty habit of displaying some of the crazier traits of religious belief.

I don't doubt it. What you won't find from atheists is the ability to bond and empathize with other people of the same religion and even those outside it. The holier than thou religious wars seem to be hardwired into almost everyone.

Anonymous Manatee November 29, 2013 5:33 AM  

And then the New Adam redeems those who believe

Anonymous The Great Martini November 29, 2013 5:33 AM  


That's obviously incorrect. You are forgetting how it completely nullifies the atheist narrative of having reasoned their way to their conclusions, to say nothing of the idea of having gotten there through the study of science.


I don't really subscribe to the idea that the earliest of atheist ruminations are anything to do with science or even reason, though that seems to be oft iterated, as in this article. This is just my personal theory, not backed by any study, but I think the majority of atheists originate in the same manner as most theists, they're raised that way. They come from families that, while perhaps not explicitly atheist, are "secular" and don't place a lot of weight on religion. The whole "I came on my atheism through reason" thing is a later rationalization because older atheists don't want to just admit that lack of faith made common sense to them in an ordinary way. They think they have to say something more, and that's where they usually get into trouble--by the way, in a similar way that theists often get into trouble when asked to justify their faith. If you ask some faithless 16 year old how he justifies his disbelief, he's not going to start citing experiments from evolutionary biology. That's my theory. I could be wrong. By 25, he very well might, only because he thinks he has to say more than that it's just his impression there is no God.

Anonymous PhillipGeorge(c)2013 November 29, 2013 5:37 AM  

Red, that's just another teleological narrative .ie "Theists invented God because society needs one".

The problem is 'abiogenesis', [among a myriad of others] - hasn't got a frozen flying pigs chance of gliding through hell with one wing missing of being true.

Materialism is your religion. Richard Dawkins hates fellow evolutionist Rupert Sheldrake; Sheldrake's crime is discussing anomalies suggesting materialism is wrong.

Materialism's axiomatic apriori selection bias makes it religion pure and simple; and ideal for simpletons, regardless of their IQ.

Anonymous Carlotta November 29, 2013 5:46 AM  

As an agnostic I believe that most atheists and agnostics are born with the religious portion of the brain overwriten by another brain function. This accounts for the higher IQ and just not getting the same experience from religion that most people get.


Surely you have some kind of evidence for you faith?

Anonymous Stickwick November 29, 2013 6:09 AM  

Crude: As a theist, I think that Cult of Gnu style atheists have a nasty habit of displaying some of the crazier traits of religious belief.

As the great sage Arnold Rimmer once observed, you always become the thing you hate the most. It's amusing how easy it can be to identify the different sects of atheism by the type of dogmatic behaviors their adherents exhibit. For instance, Dawkins fanboys and their tendency to worship science as a superforce against God-belief and their preoccupation with their own intelligence. Objectivists are also easy to spot, since they've got memorable slogans, many of which are repeated verbatim (and ad nauseum) in arguments about religion.

Anonymous fritz November 29, 2013 6:28 AM  

@Red

Civilization can't fundamentally exist without the ties that religion creates in a community.

Dude, thus -- 'civil religion.'

You, as a a-gnostic just admitted this.

I wish O'Neill, (if he truly claims himself to be atheist) to have the intellectual honesty of yourself, as Huxley was forced by his own conviction to coin the term -- a-gnostic.

I challenge you Red. If you consider yourself of academic mind, to explore this 'civil religion.' Its origins. Its purpose. We all live it, day to day. Theist and non-theist alike. One cannot escape it.

Dr. Biermann tells you (He is the Lord of his classroom) the truth about Descartes and the Enlightenment. The truth about our "rights." To truth about our nation, and our national leadership.

From Sea to Shining Sea

Anonymous Crude November 29, 2013 6:40 AM  

For instance, Dawkins fanboys and their tendency to worship science as a superforce against God-belief and their preoccupation with their own intelligence. Objectivists are also easy to spot, since they've got memorable slogans, many of which are repeated verbatim (and ad nauseum) in arguments about religion.

I actually wonder about the 'worship science' bit. I think the Gnus pay a lot of lip service towards science, but have very little interest in actual science. I think even Jerry Coyne mentioned that whenever he ran a post on his blog that was 100% science - even evolutionary science - that has zero to do with religion, interest immediately dropped off.

Anonymous kh123 November 29, 2013 6:50 AM  

"Objectivists are also easy to spot, since they've got memorable slogans, many of which are repeated verbatim (and ad nauseum) in arguments about religion."

One of the things noted about Eichmann by Hannah Arendt was his apparent inability to think beyond memorized cliches and slogans, self-made or otherwise, partly as a form of comfort and partly as a way of staying in control while in a Jerusalem court dock. I think she tries to ascribe it to the larger picture of how most folks operated in the Reich.

Anonymous Red November 29, 2013 7:22 AM  

>Surely you have some kind of evidence for you faith?

I can explain my own experiences and what I've observed about other agnostics and atheists. My view may be my own self projection on the subject, I can't be sure. If your asking for a logical theological argument on the subject, I don't have one. I don't fundamentally trust words over what I've observed with my own eyes. I don't believe that words can fully express thought and I believe logic and reason are not very useful outside mathematics and artificial systems. Real world systems have far to many variables to safely simplify into a logical form.

>>I challenge you Red. If you consider yourself of academic mind, to explore this 'civil religion.' Its origins. Its purpose. We all live it, day to day. Theist and non-theist alike. One cannot escape it.

I fundamentally don't feel a kinship from civil religion. I find it useful, necessary, and competently empty for me, just as I found the Christan church to be. Whatever one else feels when they go through the rituals and fellowship is simply missing for me.

Anonymous Stickwick November 29, 2013 7:23 AM  

Crude: I actually wonder about the 'worship science' bit. I think the Gnus pay a lot of lip service towards science, but have very little interest in actual science.

A lot of them do seem to have little interest in actual science (including the history of science), as we see from the woefully uninformed comments from the likes of Lud VanB et al. What I mean by 'worship' is that they revere the idea of science and what they imagine it says about their worldview, sort of the way a low-status guy might worship a beautiful woman and, in the absence of any real knowledge about her, project on her all the virtues he wants her to possess.

Anonymous Stickwick November 29, 2013 7:25 AM  

kh123: One of the things noted about Eichmann by Hannah Arendt was his apparent inability to think beyond memorized cliches and slogans, self-made or otherwise, partly as a form of comfort and partly as a way of staying in control while in a Jerusalem court dock.

Ouch. Rather ironic considering Rand's ethnicity.

Blogger Antonio From Spain November 29, 2013 7:29 AM  

I think that the main problem is not historical illiteracy but a profound misunderstanding of historiography.

One cannot throw 8th-century Western Europe inside a beaker, by some decantation method, subtract religion, and then pick up this synthetic religion-less Western Europe and observe how it fares in the next centuries. But our contemporaries behave as if they believed this to be possible.

It is only natural for an atheist to think that religion is an alien element that should be extirpated from the social body. The results of attempting this through politics and propaganda are well known. But our contemporaries seem to think that this can be achieved theoretically in the context of history.

Anonymous Red November 29, 2013 7:32 AM  

>>Red, that's just another teleological narrative .ie "Theists invented God because society needs one".

Larger societies need civil religion to function. You don't need a god to make it work (See Shintoism, Confucianism, and Communism). Wither it works because man was created in the image of god and thus need something to worship or that it evolved isn't really anything that we can discover. It also doesn't really mater to me which way it came about.

Anonymous PhillipGeorge(c)2013 November 29, 2013 7:36 AM  

I don't believe that words can fully express thought

Red

There are a handful of cases of children raised in the wild, in the absence of human contact. Without language inputs/ human contact they appear to have been permanently brain damaged. Humans are more than their biology. It is among the most disturbing of propositions that you cannot conceive what it would be like non-man-made.

Your biological estate/ outcome, is man made; or substantially man-made. The innate biology is a plastic template [another oxymoron]

Anonymous NJartist49 November 29, 2013 7:44 AM  

@Red November 29, 2013 7:22 AM
I don't believe that words can fully express thought and I believe logic and reason are not very useful outside mathematics and artificial systems. Real world system have far to many variables to safely simplify into a logical form.

Dictionaries are helpful tools; and so is learning to read complex sentences and paragraphs; even the punctuation . So are parables, metaphors, and poems; and do not forget propositional statements (this was one of Francis Schaeffer's key positions): you know, His commandments, statutes, and judgments.
Google isn't working: NJartist49

Anonymous Krul November 29, 2013 7:45 AM  

All this leads some atheists, who have fallen in to the fallacy of scientism and reject anything that can't be definitively "proven", to reject the idea of any degree of certainty about the past. This is an extreme position and it's rarely a consistent one. As I've noted to some who have claimed this level of historical scepticism, I find it hard to believe they maintain this position when they read the newspaper, even though they should be just as sceptical about being able to know about a car accident yesterday as they are about knowing about a revolution 400 years ago.

I suspect that this extreme skepticism about non-scientific knowledge is a big contributor to the state of peer-reviewed science. After all, the question of whether a certain scientist obtained a particular result on this day at that time is a historical question, not a scientific one.

The professional scientific community seem to accept any published findings as Gospel Truth because "science" and to be exceedingly skeptical of all historical claims because "not science". Perhaps if they approached published science critically, the way historians approach sources, there would be more rigor and less fraud.

Blogger TontoBubbaGoldstein November 29, 2013 8:05 AM  

No one who does not believe in the existence of gods through a rational process can legitimately call himself an atheist, for the obvious reason that it is impossible to rationally prove the non-existence of gods. An agnostic's lack of god belief may have a rational basis, an atheist's non-belief never can.

Shouldn't that knife cut both ways, and apply to a theist's belief as well?

Anonymous PhillipGeorge(c)2013 November 29, 2013 8:19 AM  

Language is perhaps the single most impressive evidence of an acausal being, the Creator.

The basic theory of it suggests: Sender - Receiver relationship; or a being with a duality of being at an absolute minimum, Medium, Characters, Pretext,Text, Context, Semantic and Grammatical rules.

Without all of these, in and of themselves, constituting an irreducible complexity - language doesn't exist. Community therefor pre-existed individual being. Individuals didn't create community. Community created individuals.

Anonymous VD November 29, 2013 8:20 AM  

Shouldn't that knife cut both ways, and apply to a theist's belief as well?

It depends upon the logic presented, obviously. But unlike most atheists, most theists don't rely solely upon reason to justify their beliefs.

Anonymous PhillipGeorge(c)2013 November 29, 2013 8:27 AM  

The Christian Trinity, or the Elohim, YHWH, of plurality of being, is not arbitrary, but imperative.
the Fear of the Lord is the being of knowledge [all gnosis/ science] isn't arbitrary. It is the only logical cohesion to exist.

Minds are not lost without this - they are irretrievable.

Blogger Kate Paulk November 29, 2013 8:37 AM  

Speaking as an agnostic with two science degrees (geology and software engineering for those who wonder): my personal position is simply that I do not know. I haven't seen enough evidence to convince me of any religion's central creed. Some are much less convincing than others.

I do not consider any particular branch of science "settled" - in the classical sense, the theories simply haven't been disproved. Yet. At the moment the highly modified version of Darwin's theory of evolution is the best explanation available for the observable facts (as far as I know - evolutionary biology isn't my field), but that doesn't change the fact that the boundaries are decidedly fuzzy - if you ask two evolutionary biologists whether dogs have speciated you're likely to get three or more answers because the concept of what constitutes a species is more than a little vague. The classical thumbnail definition of "can't interbreed and produce viable offspring" doesn't handle ring species where each adjacent group can interbreed freely but the groups at the extremes can't. Nor does it handle modern dog breeds - imagine a great dane trying to mate with a chihuahua bitch. Then there's boxers which aren't viable without extensive human intervention because they can't give birth anymore.

My views on religion have changed through my life. I can reach my current position by reasoning from first principles. I can also reach the current views of modern Christianity by reasoning from first principles - but in both cases this is probably the most difficult way to get there. Religion in general and Christianity in specific offers a useful shortcut as it were to an ethical position towards others. I don't say that I'm correct - I reserve the right to change my position if I encounter sufficient evidence to convince me. I've been wrong in the past. I could be wrong now.

That said, I don't care to mock anyone's beliefs no matter how ridiculous they seem to me. I dislike radical atheism as much as I dislike the flavor of fundamentalist Christianity that wants to impose its views on me. I'm an adult: I have the right to take myself to whatever ultimate destination I choose so long as I don't take anyone with me who hasn't agreed to the journey.

As always, thank you Vox for another thought-provoking piece.

Anonymous You Got Mail November 29, 2013 8:54 AM  

@ Kate Paulk

I dislike radical atheism as much as I dislike the flavor of fundamentalist Christianity that wants to impose its views on me. I'm an adult: I have the right to take myself to whatever ultimate destination I choose

The State called, Kate.

It is time for your re-adjustment session.

Anonymous Stilicho November 29, 2013 8:55 AM  

OT, but important from WRSA: No consent, no peace

Mocking leftists, laughing at their ridiculous ideas also removes the air of legitimacy from them. It's why they cannot abide humor directed at them.

Anonymous Godfrey November 29, 2013 9:16 AM  

"The vast majority of atheists become atheists as teenagers, before they have embarked upon any course of study, and they become atheists for reasons that are entirely emotional by their own account. They then turn to science for the explanations that they can no longer seek in religion, and are understandably disappointed and embittered when they cannot find them there either."


Many a narcissistic effeminate male avows atheism because he is insecure. He is frightened of the world around him and he is angry about. His personal history is that of a doting mother and an absent father.

Anonymous Godfrey November 29, 2013 9:19 AM  

@ Kate Paulk "... I dislike the flavor of fundamentalist Christianity that wants to impose its views on me. I'm an adult: I have the right to take myself to whatever ultimate destination I choose"


I feel the exact same way about The State. Are you a libertarian?

Anonymous Stephen J. November 29, 2013 9:26 AM  

"An agnostic's lack of god belief may have a rational basis, an atheist's non-belief never can."

Out of curiosity, how many incidents have you observed of atheists and agnostics mislabelling themselves or each other? E.g., someone calling himself an agnostic when by behaviour and attitude he was really more an atheist, or vice versa?

Anonymous Godfrey November 29, 2013 9:26 AM  

The Great Martini November 29, 2013 4:59 AM "I suspect one would find that many devout Christians would also date the seriousness of their faith to a similar age."


Your suspicion would be wrong. Most Christians I know were atheist or agnostic in their late teens and during their twenties. I was so inclined.

Anonymous Big Bill November 29, 2013 9:28 AM  

Armarium, like Vox, cannot handle the "Feelings" People. i love this Vox-ish volley in the comment thread:

I have a small problem with your definition of Atheism.

I don't give a definition of atheism in my post, so I have no idea what you're talking about.

I tend to believe Atheism is simply non belief in gods, ala Sam Harris.

That would be what I mean by the word as well. So, again, I have no idea what you're trying to say.

You describe being a member of several Atheist organizations, this does not compute for me.

Well, I am. So I have no idea why you find me stating a plain fact so hard to compute.

If you're going to post here, try to make what you're saying clear. I have a low tolerance for people who post anonymously and a lower tolerance for non sequential gibberish.


OpenID cailcorishev November 29, 2013 9:28 AM  

I dislike the flavor of fundamentalist Christianity that wants to impose its views on me.

That does sound bad. Which flavor is that, and what views does it want to impose on you?

Blogger wrf3 November 29, 2013 9:59 AM  

Red wrote: Whatever one else feels when they go through the rituals and fellowship is simply missing for me.

That's true for some of us Christians, too. If Jesus hadn't risen from the dead, I probably wouldn't go to church much.

Speaking of which, since Tim has done such a good job reviewing various works where history is misrepresented (e.g. "Nailed", or "Hypatia", or "Religion for Atheists"), I asked him if he would consider doing the same with Licona's "The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach".

Anonymous DonReynolds November 29, 2013 10:15 AM  

John F. Kennedy gave the commencement speech at Yale in 1962, which I consider his best. He said that the enemy of truth is not the lie. The enemy of truth is the myth, because the myth goes on forever, unquestioned, and unchallenged. The myth also takes the place of more important truths that we might know if we could ever loosen our grip on the myths. And the myths leave us with a false narrative and agenda, imaginary lessons from events that never happened and people who never existed.

Sir Thomas Carlyle (an able historian during Victorian England) summarized history to a great extent when he said History is a fable......agreed upon. The fable itself is not very important to us today. What is important.....even vital......is the fact that we agree that this is the truth and this is what happened. Even the legends need to be valid in some small way by saying it was mostly true but given to some exaggeration or the legends were based on truth but got garbled in translation or mixed together in the oral tradition.

The truth is.....history is not much help.....just mostly for entertainment purposes. None of our ancestors created civilizations any of us would care to duplicate or recreate entirely. In our more noble moments, we entertain the idea that we could improve on what has already been tried but very few would care to be tele-ported back in time and space to any of human history..... unless it would be to try to change or alter the historic event that may or may not have occurred, by our understanding.

Anonymous HongKongCharlie November 29, 2013 10:59 AM  

I'm surprised no one has called Red on his statement that communism is a successful replacement for religion. Red would you care to list some examples that are not many times worse than Christian governments?

HKC

Anonymous Nero Tulip November 29, 2013 11:24 AM  

Christians tend to be devoted to primary source materials (the Bible.) Atheists are just standard SWPLs that only read secondary sources, or worse, MSM hype (or even more worse, accedemic papers outside of physics).

Anonymous Jill November 29, 2013 11:59 AM  

"It is impossible to read the different accounts of any great event, without a wish that truth had more power over partiality."--Samuel Johnson from Idler #20

And:

"We must consider how very little history there is; I mean real authentick history. That certain Kings reigned, and certain battles were fought, we can depend on as true; but all the colouring, all the philosophy of history is conjecture."--Samuel Johnson from Boswell's Life of

I would not call myself a historian; however, history is my pet study. It's one thing to file away facts, another matter altogether to extract the bare facts of truth from political propaganda. That the event occurred isn't as difficult to deduce as why it did. Regarding current events, I find it amusing to read foreign media sources reporting on our current events. The spin is generally quite different. Which spin will history remember? As far as the lessons that history offers us: most of us don't have the ability to make the errors of great men, and so history's lessons often fall on deaf ears (SJ probably said something about that, too).

Regarding historical myths, they are easy to de-bunk, but not so easy for people to disbelieve in. If people are determined to believe in, say, the Children's Crusades, then what are you going to do?

Blogger Kate Paulk November 29, 2013 12:58 PM  

@You Got Mail - the State can take itself for a long walk off a short pier. It doesn't get to tell me how to live my life either. To quote from Pride and Prejudice: " I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me."

@Godfrey - I guess libertarian is a decent description for it. My views tend to explode those survey things that purport to tell you where you sit in the political spectrum. I don't fit into anyone's box, but libertarian comes closest.

@cailcorishev - the flavor that mainstream media loves to catch certain idiot Republicans spouting (I'd respect the media a lot more if they went after the idiot Democrats with the same vicious glee, idiocy not being confined to any particular political party)

Blogger IM2L844 November 29, 2013 12:59 PM  

I haven't seen enough evidence to convince me of any religion's central creed.

Kate, how much time have you spent seeking out and thoroughly examining the evidence and the arguments? You seem to be saying you don't have enough information to draw an informed conclusion one way or the other. Is it because you don't think the issue is important enough to warrant spending your time and effort on a properly exhaustive investigation? For example, what are your objections, if any, to the various cosmological arguments?

Blogger LibertyPortraits November 29, 2013 1:05 PM  

I recently read Bertrand Russell's "History of Western Philosophy" and in it his main premise was to write about the historical context of the main philosophers, and he seemed to give a fair handshake to the importance of the medieval philosophers that I wouldn't normally expect an atheist to do.

I'm just genuinely curious where Bertrand goes wrong in his history and what readings or books I can peruse to learn more about it. I remember reading Hilaire Belloc's response to H.G. Wells distorted history of the West and enjoying it, and would like to further arm my understanding of history against Bertrand's views as well.

Anonymous Don Knotts November 29, 2013 1:09 PM  

M2L844:  For example, what are your objections, if any, to the various cosmological arguments?
Kate can obviously answer for herself, but I have to ask what the purpose of your question is given the cosmological arguments don’t get you anywhere near any religions central creed.

Blogger IM2L844 November 29, 2013 1:30 PM  

Kate can obviously answer for herself, but I have to ask what the purpose of your question is given the cosmological arguments don’t get you anywhere near any religions central creed.

Don, it's because the existence of a Creator God is a prerequisite for a self professed agnostic and we have in-house expertise on the topic. I would submit that the universe as God's creation is a central creed of Christianity...In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. ~John 1:1 and all that business.

Anonymous DonReynolds November 29, 2013 1:34 PM  

Kate Paulk...."@cailcorishev - the flavor that mainstream media loves to catch certain idiot Republicans spouting (I'd respect the media a lot more if they went after the idiot Democrats with the same vicious glee, idiocy not being confined to any particular political party)"

I would have more respect for the media if they did not find it necessary to invent news that never occurred, or write quotes that no one ever said, or attribute to someone those extreme views they love to write about and there actually be a real someone, other than a fictional character or stereotype. It is not enough to say the press is selective about their reporting, since they will gladly admit to that. We must look them in the face and say they are lying and they are liars, until they have no credibility left.

Anonymous VD November 29, 2013 1:42 PM  

I'm just genuinely curious where Bertrand goes wrong in his history and what readings or books I can peruse to learn more about it.

Read his writings with regards to atomic weapons and his advocacy of a global government.

Blogger wrf3 November 29, 2013 2:42 PM  

IM2L844 asked: For example, what are your objections, if any, to the various cosmological arguments?

They are arguments from familiarity as well as from ignorance. As quantum mechanics and relativity show, what our intuitions think has to be the case usually isn't. For example, unless you believe in super determinism, uncaused things are happening all of the time -- not just at time t=0. [See Conway's "Free Will Theorem" which makes use of Kochen-Specker and Relativity to prove his result].

OpenID cailcorishev November 29, 2013 2:50 PM  

@cailcorishev - the flavor that mainstream media loves to catch certain idiot Republicans spouting

Ah, so you weren't talking about any actual flavor of Christianity that you can name, or any actual attempts to impose any views on you. Gotcha.

Blogger Kate Paulk November 29, 2013 2:53 PM  

@IM2L844 - I would have said that for Christianity the central creed was Jesus' existence, his death on the cross and subsequent return and the salvation afforded to believers by his self-sacrifice. That does rather depend on on Genesis 1:1, but isn't the core.

My research has been intermittent and intense in bursts - possibly my biggest issue is that I find it impossible to believe without a lot of evidence from multiple sources. That makes me skeptical of a lot of things: if I can't follow the logic, math, or reasoning I can't believe it (which doesn't mean I don't think it exists, it means there isn't enough evidence to convince *me* it exists and I'll keep looking for more).

I have no difficulty with the concept of the existence of a creator God. I also see no evidence that such a being actually exists - and none that such a being does not exist, either. I'm wary of attempts to insert God into current gaps in understanding simply because there could still be a non-creator God explanation for those areas, albeit one that nobody's hit on yet.

Anonymous Don Knotts November 29, 2013 2:57 PM  

Cail; certainly those views espoused by lawmakers are in fact an “actual flavor” even if you personally don’t hold those views (or even recognize them as legitimate).  And who better to impose something, than a lawmaker?

Blogger Tom Kratman November 29, 2013 2:58 PM  

Kate, why not go to the Bar and search for the thread, Itty Bitty Epiphany? I don't know that it will answer your questions or doubts - indeed, I doubt it will - but it might give you something to muse upon.

Blogger IM2L844 November 29, 2013 3:11 PM  

Kate, I didn't quote Genesis 1:1. I quoted John 1:1. Let me add a few of the subsequent verses so you can see how it all ties together as a central tenet of Christianity.

John 1:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John.
7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.
8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.
11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—
13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Now, since the cosmological argument isn't something, even in principle, that could ever be overturned by science, it is, by necessity, not a God of the gaps argument.

Blogger Brad Andrews November 29, 2013 3:23 PM  

@Kate

I dislike radical atheism as much as I dislike the flavor of fundamentalist Christianity that wants to impose its views on me. I'm an adult: I have the right to take myself to whatever ultimate destination I choose

Christianity doesn't do that Kate, God does. Take up the argument with Him.

I suppose you don't use compilers either, since they force their views down on you. Right? Structure is required to build anything. You may not like the structure, but it is what it is. You may not like the fact you can't walk through the air, but walking off a really tall building will have strong consequences whether you want to believe in gravity or not.

Complaining about the laws doesn't make them invalid. Immoral, perhaps, as in the case of the modern State, but not invalid. God would be above it all and I think it is best to find out what His compiler requires rather than just site back and claim we cannot know.

Can't write too many successful programs if you refuse to investigate what you can do with the language.

I am mildly surprised how anyone with a background in software could not see a designer in the process of modern life. No programs or systems come together without a great deal of human intelligence. How could life have done so?

Blogger Tom Kratman November 29, 2013 3:36 PM  

Brad:

To quote those fantastic theologians from the University of Wooloomooloo, "God would never be fooled by such a cheap trick." It's an emotional thing, or perhaps an instinctive one, or more likely both, but if Kate doesn't feel it, then pretending she does will not favorably impress the Almighty.

Anonymous Shagrat's Friend November 29, 2013 3:53 PM  

For me, atheism and agnosticism answer two different questions. Regarding the religions that inhabit the earth (or have done so), X -1 must be false, since they're mutually exclusive (to the extent that there's any substance to their claims). If at least X -1 must be false, it's really not too hard to imagine that X -1 +1 are false. (I'm not going to get into any sort of veridical arguments about the "truthiness" of any given belief system. You want to believe that the New Testament tells a cohesive story that's internally logical, go right ahead. Just don't bother me with all the sophistical razzmatazz necessary to explain what exactly happened when Jesus was born or what happened to Judas after he counted his money.)

As for the broader picture, yes, it is impossible to disprove the existence of some hypothetical deity. Yeah, maybe that is who started the Big Bang (if it really happened) or makes the earth spin on its axis and revolve happily around the sun day in and day out or who winds up the clockwork that makes all that stuff happen. Sure, maybe there are some Epicurean entities who spend their existence in solitary blessedness beyond the travails of this mortal coil and outside the ken of us mere humans. So to that extent, I am an agnostic.

But if that's all "God" boils down to, who cares? I see no rational evidence for the day-to-day involvement of any deity in the regular affairs on earth. You want to believe that the sun stopped shining and an earthquake dumped the dead out of their tombs and they milled around for a while when Jesus died on the cross? Be my guest. Or that God held his nose or averted his eyes at Treblinka or Kolyma? Talk it over with Augustine and Orosius. But leave me out of that argument with all its a priori-isms that are invalid in my eyes.

In the meanwhile, my life goes revolving around the sun happily enough, and that's good enough for me.

(FWIW, in younger years, I felt the urge to argue with people about this stuff. At this stage, I really don't care. If people will leave me alone to believe what I want, I'm glad to return the favor. And I wouldn't want anybody to talk the somewhat jocular tone of the above as being intended to "diss" people who believe. I understand why it's important to you, and I sympathize with the importance of religion in the past. I simply don't believe in any of positive religious beliefs that I've come across, and since the matter of atheism/agnosticism has arisen on this generally interesting blog, I thought I'd contribute my two denarii. Vayan con dios, gente!)

Blogger Tom Kratman November 29, 2013 4:06 PM  

Your reasoning flaw, Shag, is in the assumption that false and true must necessarily be absolutes. Why cannot X religion be half right; perhaps decayed, as Islam would have it, from being wholly right? Why can there not be elements of truth, to include truths about the divinity, in just about all religions? Have you never noticed, say, the similarities between Prometheus and Lucifer? In short, maybe the truth is in all religions, to one extent or another.

Anonymous njartist49 November 29, 2013 4:23 PM  

People on this blog enjoy argument; it is fun; and it tends to emphasize one's education - self or otherwise - and IQ; but when it comes to faith and the belief that God - Yahweh - exists and that He is Who He says He is, then reason fails. We Christians especially, need to understand that there are those who are spiritually blind: they will never perceive or understand that God is; that He sent His Son to shed his blood, to die, and to atone for the sins of all who beleive on Him; more, we must understand that it is only by the agency of the Holy Spirit that one sees or one is blind. In short, this is election; it is about the elect.
Isa_6:10 Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.
Luk_24:16 But their eyes were holden that they should not know him.
Joh_12:40 He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.

Blogger IM2L844 November 29, 2013 5:13 PM  

In short, this is election; it is about the elect.

I already came precariously close to opening the Trinitarian can-o-worms. Now you want to open the Calvinism can-o-worms too.

And I hadn't even gotten to the virtual particles are not particles, but disturbances in the field can-o-worms in response to wrf3. This could become a convoluted clusterfutastophe as Nate might say.

Blogger Robert Blume November 29, 2013 7:34 PM  

Please do, it makes the blog more fun. Personally I agree with him but that doesn't absolve us of the responsibility or preaching the gospel to the non elect. We should act as though every one is elect, in the sense they can hear and be converted, because human judgement is flawed.

Blogger Duke of Earl November 29, 2013 9:06 PM  

Yes, Tim O'Neil (the writer) is a good bloke.

Blogger Duke of Earl November 29, 2013 9:20 PM  

But if you preach the gospel to the non-elect, who will be judged more harshly based on what they know, then you are condemning them to even greater anguish while, at the same time, dangling a false hope in front of them.

If God has not elected them, then telling them that they can repent and be saved is lying to them.

Blogger Brad Andrews November 29, 2013 10:55 PM  

Tom, I am not asking for faking anything. I am just saying it is completely illogical to think things "just happened" and we got the amount of order we see around us. She noted she didn't like being told "how things were." The first goes at odds with her "I don't know whether God exists" agnosticism and the second part goes at odds with observable reality.

She said she had a degree in software engineering and it is completely illogical to know that field and still think you can do things however you want. You have to follow many arbitrary rules in that field if you want things to work. Any compiler will reject input that is not in its precise formatting requirements, must to the consternation of those who want a "do what I mean" compiler.

I should have separated the cases more clearly, though they are inherently intertwined to some degree. Order implies something that caused that order. I have yet to see a software system that was produced purely randomly. Yet here we have those claiming insufficient evidence for a creator.

I could somewhat understand struggling with who the creator was, but to not believe something caused all that we see around us is utter stupidity.

@Duke,

I believe the Scriptures, not some faulty doctrine that claims some are already condemned. Everyone makes their choice. Salvation is freely available. God can "elect" those He know will choose it because He lives outside time and sees all time at once.

Anonymous physphilmusic November 29, 2013 11:21 PM  

No one who does not believe in the existence of gods through a rational process can legitimately call himself an atheist, for the obvious reason that it is impossible to rationally prove the non-existence of gods. An agnostic's lack of god belief may have a rational basis, an atheist's non-belief never can.

One can imagine a person who discovers arguments about how the idea of "God" is full of inconsistencies and contradictions, is convinced by them, and therefore thinks that he has a proof that God, as traditionally conceived, cannot exist. I think such a person could call himself an atheist, with some evidence to support his beliefs. I don't think it's relevant whether the arguments are actually sound, convincing to others, or even that the person himself is entirely without doubt about them - the important point is that a justified belief doesn't have to be true, and I think you can definitely be a justified atheist.

Blogger wrf3 November 29, 2013 11:33 PM  

Duke of Earl wrote: If God has not elected them, then telling them that they can repent and be saved is lying to them.

Express it as a conditional: "If you repent and believe the Gospel then you will be saved." That's not lying. That's also how Scripture presents it.

Blogger Tom Kratman November 30, 2013 8:59 AM  

Yeah...I don't know that it's "completely illogical." It would be completely illogical to say, "the universe is x and such way and therefore no God." But to admit of a possibility, in the absence of absolute proof to the contrary? Yeah...it's not my position but that doesn't make it "completely illogical."

OpenID cailcorishev November 30, 2013 12:23 PM  

Cail; certainly those views espoused by lawmakers are in fact an “actual flavor” even if you personally don’t hold those views (or even recognize them as legitimate). And who better to impose something, than a lawmaker?

Well, sure, lawmakers impose their views on people all the time; I had to wear a seatbelt today against my will, for instance. But I can point to the specific views that liberal lawmakers wish to impose on me (or already have). There were very specific things I feared from an Obama presidency; it wasn't just a general feeling of foreboding. I knew what they wanted to impose, and I didn't like it.

So I'd simply like to hear one or two of the fundamentalist Christian views that Kate fears might be imposed if such people were ever in power. We hear about that fear often, but it occurred to me that it's rarely followed by specifics, unless the speaker is talking about the "right" to an abortion. So I asked Kate to list a specifics, but since she doesn't seem able to and you seem to know what she means, perhaps you could help her out?

Anonymous Micah November 30, 2013 12:33 PM  

wrf3: "That's not lying. That's also how Scripture presents it."

That absolutely IS lying to them because the scripture you can't get around is 2 Peter 3:9 > "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for ANY to perish but for ALL to come to repentance."

What is it you Calvinists don't understand about ANY, ALL & WHOSOEVER?

Blogger Tom Kratman November 30, 2013 1:24 PM  

I suspect it's that 144k thing in Revelations, which - sadly for Calvinism - only refers to 144k Jews, means, in any case, nothing more that "a really big number," and establishes no limit for Christians at all.

Anonymous njartist49 November 30, 2013 1:29 PM  

Micah;
I know this is hard for you and your kind.
Here try this:
2Pe 3:9 The Lord is not slow in fulfilling His promise, in the sense in which some men speak of slowness. But He bears patiently with you, His desire being that no one should perish but that all should come to repentance.

Again
2Pe 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Neither of these phrasings present God as nice guy who is going to give the unrepentant sinner a pass into eternal life: you are neglecting, deliberately so, that God is just and loves Truth and Goodness.
Do you need more phrasings?

BTW. If the ilk could swallow this from VD: "THERE IS NO EQUALITY. EQUALITY DOES NOT EXIST IN ANY REAL, MATERIAL, LEGAL, OR SPIRITUAL SENSE."(Emphasis added.) then why does election and predestination stick in your intellectual craw? To be unequal in a spiritual sense means some are chosen some are not; many will suffer eternal death - perish, if you will; while many will have eternal life; or to make it clear: God loved Jacob; but Esau He hated: damned unequal if you ask me.

Anonymous Micah November 30, 2013 2:09 PM  

You're perfectly aware that I never suggested anything about God "giving an unrepentant sinner a pass into eternal life." What I do believe is that "whosoever" takes this path will see eternal life. "I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance." Job 42:6

Based on Calvin's idea of "doomed from the womb," it's unclear how God making some He caused to hate Him suddenly love Him would demonstrate His glory.
What kind of glory would that be exactly, njartist49?

Blogger Kate Paulk November 30, 2013 3:04 PM  

Tom Kratman - thank you for the thread reference. I'll definitely check that out.
Brad Andrews - As well as having met some of the people who write compilers, I have entirely too clear an understanding of the rules by which they work and the apparently arbitrary nature of them. Formal logic and trying to write working software in machine language will do that. I'm quite aware of the natural laws expressed (mostly) by physics and math. I don't presume to know *why* those natural laws are what they are. I've also seen what appears from the outside to be irreducible complexity produced *accidentally* by programmers in incremental steps, with everything working along the way. Either I've worked with some improbably talented programmers, or irreducible complexity isn't if you know the innards well enough (I've also seen the detailed studies and simulations that produce biological irreducible complexity - faster and more effectively than human design can do it through an algorithm best summed up as "throw as many variations as possible out there, keep the best X% (usually 50) and breed from them" - alas I can't give reference. The stainless steel lint trap that masquerades as my mind remembers things I've read years ago and doesn't retain where I heard them. Only that I did enough extra research to satisfy myself about it.)

I might add that I have seen software produced by random algorithms. I make use of it in my job as a tester: the combination of a very small set of base rules that don't change (simple things that can be expressed in formal logic) and random inputs generates very effective software tests, something I need when I'm dealing with software that has more potential paths than could be systematically tested in any reasonable amount of time.

To switch analogies, it's possible that what I'm missing is the one puzzle piece that makes everything clear. I honestly don't know. I appreciate those (like Tom K) who are pointing me to places where I can keep looking and possibly find something that I can accept. If you want to help me find my way to the truth you see, you'll get a better result if you don't talk down to me. I already know I don't see it.

Anonymous duckman November 30, 2013 4:39 PM  

It's more than a little amusing to be informed that belief in the medieval belief in a flat earth is intellectually akin to belief in the Headless Horseman.

You are so out of touch. Have you been asleep for 20 years?

Anonymous njartist49 November 30, 2013 4:46 PM  

The flat earth slander is from Washington Irving in 1828.

Anonymous Micah November 30, 2013 6:43 PM  

What year was the "doomed from the womb" nonsense written, njartist49?

Anonymous Anne December 01, 2013 1:41 PM  

Thank you for these links. I had always wondered what the real story with Hypatia was.

Blogger JCclimber December 02, 2013 4:57 PM  

@Kate,
the irreducibly complex argument is based upon a couple important points.
1) In a neo-darwinisitc model, it is the survival of the fittest.
2) With extremely rapid decay of complex elements in a reducing atmosphere, it is unlikely a particular set of atoms will assemble into amino acids, stay in that amino acid shape long enough to create a chain, and then stay in the chain, long enough to meet another astronomically improbable chain that it can interact with.
3) Non-helpful mutations will be weeded out quickly.

Take the simple case of having two genders. Why would the separate reproductive tracts and abilities spontaneously evolve? To actually get to the point of being of use to the organism, a compatible organism (same species) must evolve the complementary reproductive organs and tracts and hormones and structures. At the same time. Same geographic location. Meet. Figure out without anyone showing them exactly which actions will aid in gene transfer. Each one of these is incredibly unlikely by themselves.

Now throw in the fact that the result of the gene exchange must result in a superior product for a reproductive advantage, despite the fact that the odds are very high against that as well.

Now consider this is just for developing separate genders. I assume in your field you are familiar with math. You should run the math on the probabilities of each of the above events, then multiply them and get the sum.

Most people cannot fathom the math so they default to faith in evolution because it is easier to believe since that is what they are taught in school and is what the "scientific authorities" seem to be favoring (at least in the last 70 years or so).

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