Thursday, December 20, 2007

Atheism and the Avoidance of the SBO

Idly scanning the incomparable Amanda for festive cheer, I came across this post. You don't have to read it - it's the usual under-informed nonsense - but this quote is worth considering - 'Atheists believe that humans are enough, that our lives are with something by themselves and that we have the power and freedom to invest value in ourselves and others'.  Well, actually, some atheists - most senior Nazis, Mao, Stalin - believed that the lives of hundreds of millions are worth nothing and that only the Party had freedom to invest value in people. The one thing the twentieth taught us with absolute certainty is that atheists are as likely to do evil as any other faith or cult. In fact, we shouldn't have needed the twentieth century to teach us this - it's staggeringly bleeding obvious (SBO). But the current wave of militant atheists - Dawkins and friends - are making a very handsome living out of denying the SBO. The reason is obvious. They could just say, 'God doesn't exist', but that wouldn't shift many books. So what they actually say is, 'The world would be a better place if people accepted that God doesn't exist'. This is the wishful thinking typical of any cult or ideology. What it really means is, 'The world would be a better place if everybody agreed with me'. So here's a Thought Experiments Christmas message and New Year resolution: Never forget the SBO.

40 comments:

  1. Bryan, I like the concept of the SBO. It seems to me that it applies to our news media and especially the 24 rolling kind. They constantly tell us things over and over, avoiding the SBO because they'd be finished in an hour otherwise.

    ReplyDelete
  2. this chestnut's overdone but I want to say that the statement and the quote immediately before don't appear to be contradictory (cars are a good means of travel. well, no actually, some break down!)- but after JW and JB yesterday, I can't be arsed to dig deeper.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Atheism and the ASBO? If only it wasn't another bleeding anagram!

    ReplyDelete
  4. If we all agree with you Bryan, will the world be a better place?

    ReplyDelete
  5. The Incomparable Amanda has a delightfully apposite ring to it. Like the Venerable Bede, I do hope it sticks.

    ReplyDelete
  6. d would be an incomparably better place if everybody agreed with me, Brit. My problem is I'd need somebody to tell me what I'm saying.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Come on, atheism isn't a faith or a cult, as you suggest. It's the absence of faith. And certainly could not be considered a cult. Now that is staggeringly bleeding obvious (despite what your mate says). Further, while Mao, Stalin and other fruitcakes might have been atheists, it is a footnote and not really that relevant in the wider debate about evil. Their atheism didn't define them ideologically. I can't think of any great evil that has been done explicitly in the name of atheism. Can you?


    In my view, evil, stripped of its religious connotations, is just a fact of human existence. However, evil done in the name of religion is one particularly virulent type, its perpetrators locked in a mindset that is utterly irrational and impervious to other interpretations of reality.

    ReplyDelete
  8. "...that we have the power and freedom to invest value in ourselves and others".

    Lord, save me from atheists trying to invest value in me.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Any group, whether for or against an issue is inherently bound to the issue.

    MLK said that he wanted to be regarded as a man, not as a black man. Being pro-black is still racist.

    The existence of god is unknowable. There is no way of proving it either way.

    People accept the value and meaning of money and so it has substance. If enough people believe in god, then god exists - for them.

    Ultimately what you believe or don't believe is unimportant. Belief is not fact. It does not extend to the real.

    Religion is not about god or belief. It is about control.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Mao and all the others were well summed up by Runciman as the Crusaders waded into Jerusalem "knee-deep in gore": "High ideas were besmirched by cruelty and greed, enterprise and endurance by a blind and narrow self righteousness, and the Holy War itself was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is a sin against the Holy Ghost." Whether you believe in God or not (or think Runciman's ideas a little outdated), some nutters always end up thinking they have the power of life and death over others, i.e. the power of God. That's why conditions of peace and freedom are always fragile and always a struggle to obtain.

    I've nothing against the good Prof. As for atheism being the absence of faith, I've found people on the web describing themselves as "committed atheists", whatever that means, which suggests that atheism of some kind is capable of becoming a matter of faith.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Neil

    The quite staggering and willful blindness of your comment deserves an essay in response. I shall, however, avoid the temptation.

    Of course Atheism didn't define Stalin and Mao ideologically: it was an essential part of their philosophy. And we all, including you, know there isn't enough room on the page to catalogue the evils done in the name of atheism. Yes, we could also do the same for religion too.

    For 'an absence of belief' atheism does seem to have an awful lot of people willing to go into literal or rhetorical battle for it.

    ReplyDelete
  12. it isn't an absence of faith or belief, it's an absence of god. that's my SBO for the day.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Recusant, I may be blind, but I am not willfully so.

    Go on, then, give us at least one or two examples of great evil having been done, explicitly, in the name of atheism.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Careful, recusant, remember how this works. When the religious do evil it is because of their faith. When atheists do evil it's because they are bad people.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Man must have religion, as Blake i think wrote; if not the religion of Christ then of Satan.

    Or i'd say once basic needs are supplied people automatically 'feel' and 'think' about for a reason for living (man cannot live on bread alone), an underlying pattern. If it's not Christianity it'll be New Age jive or militant atheism.

    Perhaps a strong and pleasing culture - the underlying habits, customs and arts of a place & people - can act as a kind of religion, a benign & subtle one.
    But of course such things are being exterminated by, well, lots of things.

    ReplyDelete
  16. No, Peter, not at all. In many, perhaps most, cases, religious faith or the lack thereof is not the issue. However, some very wicked people have worn their religion on their sleeve and used it as a justification for their acts.

    ReplyDelete
  17. The most interesting thing though is just how much both Nazism and Communism were in themselves more akin to religions than anything else. Both, for example, had a holy book, a charismatic leader, a rather strict way of dealing with heretics and unbelievers, a distrust of rationality and reason and much much more. In fact it often helps to explain them to think of them as new 20th century attempts at creating new religions.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Neil and ah004 are right. The great ogres of the last century were not atheists - they didn't believe in the usual imaginary friends, but worshipped at the alter of different gods. It is faith in irrational belief systems of all types that causes insane behaviour, whether the Catholic inquisitions, the genocides of the 20th c. or 9/11 etc. Atheism is based on rational, logical thought processes, and the requirement for
    evidence - none of which is much in evidence in faith based belief systems.

    ReplyDelete
  19. this is daft. there's no more rationality to atheism than any other faith. anyway, what men do in the name of religion doesn't alter what religion essentially is. It is the absolute truth and once you hold the absolute truth you can close the lid on any doubt. And that is what's fundamentally wrong with it.

    so, more crazy evangelising atheists please!

    ReplyDelete
  20. I'd like to argue on the side of atheism being a position of faith - to be an atheist you are putting your trust in everything that you see around you being exactly as it seems; faith in the universe to create, propagate and evolve itself; faith that this is the be-all and end-all; faith that despite the wonder and intricacy and complexity and beauty of the world, this is it. To many this sounds like more of a risk than believing something is behind it.

    As for religious 'nuts' who do evil in the name of God: sometimes people do indeed wear their faith on their sleeve and use it as an excuse for battle. It's no real faith then. In justifying their position in the name of God, people silence God.

    And as for evil done in the name of atheism, what about the treatment of Christians behind the iron curtain in communist Russia? Torture in the name of atheism. (Look up the Rev. Richard Wurmbrand.)

    I would argue that we cannot blame atheism or religious beliefs for the evil perpetrated by man - if a man seeks to do such, he will do it, and one or the other will merely give him the excuse, albeit unfounded. No atheist will promote acts of harm, and the bible or Koran or other religious texts would not incite it either.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Atheism is no more rational than is Roman Catholicism.

    i don't mean to sound like an academic asshole but try reading Wittgenstein or Wallace Stevens or at least thinking for a few hours (perhaps with some booze) about epistemology, then think what 'rational' means, exactly.

    If need be i'll mud wrestle you into submission, by the Lord Harry.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Selena Dreamy is right: "if a man seeks to do such, he will do it, and one or the other will merely give him the excuse, albeit unfounded."

    A bad man will abuse Xianity or atheism or any creed to justify and further his inclinations.

    The fault lies not in the creed so much as the man. The creed may perhaps encourage some inclinations but the man must have hate in his heart, or there will be no dark blossoming.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Oh, alright then, atheism is just another faith-based system of belief. I give up. Now let's just forget about it. I just hope and pray the sun shows up tomorrow, planes don't fall out of the sky and Elberry doesn't announce he's marrying, settling down and planning a large family.

    ReplyDelete
  24. i am actually, Neil, in the process of wooing the formidable Anaj to be my bride. My seduction tactics consist of gross indecency, insults, and pornography. Oh, and belittling her.

    i predict she will be my bride before Iraq is peaceful again. And we will have 17 children. For simplicity's sake the boys will all be called 'Murgatroyd' and the girls 'Suzette'. They will be raised in my image and taught my doctrines.

    Would you like an invitation to the wedding? It will, by the way, end in the police tear-gassing us all.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Ian - you are trotting out the same tired old nonsense.Saying something is so does not make it true. You obviously have no evidence or rational arguments to support your position.
    Elberry - you don't sound like an academic asshole, merely an ignorant one.

    ReplyDelete
  26. sj - have you actually read the bible or the koran? Obviously not, as both - particularly the koran - are full of exhortations to kill, destroy the infidel, commit to jihad, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Hi lesw,

    You wrote, "Atheism is based on rational, logical thought processes, and the requirement for evidence - none of which is much in evidence in faith based belief systems."

    You are confusing atheism with (possibly) scientific method. Atheism, however, is either a doctrine or part of a doctrine that precludes there being a god or gods--and thus it is an adherence to some school of thought or some belief system. Or it is a lack of belief in a deity or deities.

    An atheist need not be rational nor logical to qualify as an atheist, but might very well be dogmatic. In each such case, the resulting atheism would be a faith-based belief system, an acceptance and adherence without proof, even the personal proof a fool might accept.

    We must now go the step further to say that because it cannot be proven that there are no deities, (logically and rationally it can be asserted that) all atheistic belief systems, and all atheistic systems of disbelief, are either faith-based or foolish.

    Yours,
    Rus

    ReplyDelete
  28. Lesw, that's the nicest thing anyone's said about me since i was called a disgusting white supremacist over the weekend.

    i want your babies.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Now, don't let all this adulation go to your head, Elberry.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Exactly Rus. Show me an atheist and I will say to him or her: "so tell me all about the universe then 'cos you clearly know". Doubt of course isn't flashy. One can't flaunt the cloak of Lucifer at parties and get the birds. BECAUSE: Atheism is social posturing: "I don't believe in God. He-he! What do you think o'that?!". WHICH LINKS NICELY TO PSYCHOPATHS: From what I understand a really nasty case of enacted atheism/nihilism (same thing if only they'd think it through) is that of the Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.

    ReplyDelete
  31. i know, Neil, it's just really nice to have people find some good in me, after so many decades of insults and scoffs. i was never popular at school, you know.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Look, if atheism is a 'faith' or a 'cult' then so is every other kind of non-belief. Don't believe in Atlantis? Then you are part of the cult of non-Atlantisists! Have your doubts about Theosophy? Then you have clearly adopted the faith of the anti-Theosophists and worship at the shrine! This is a silly and hysterical game and a dishonest one.

    There is nothing 'militant' about Dawkins and co either, unless 'militant' has now been redefined to mean 'writes books' in which case Mr A must consider himslf a militant of some kind too, but I'm sure he doesn't. When Prof Dawkins starts hurling molotov cocktails through church windows it will be fair to call him a 'militant atheist'. Until then, plain 'atheist' will do nicely.

    ReplyDelete
  33. 'ah004' + 'lesw' (strange names, both)

    I can't believe you are trying to push that ridiculous trope that Nazism and Communism are both religions. When you produce any evidence of their belief in an afterlife or the supernatural I might credit it with some validity. Those two features tend to be the defining ones of anything we might call a religion. As for scientific rationalism, weren't the Soviets rather big on 'Scientific Atheism'?

    ReplyDelete
  34. I don't know of any serious religious thinker who wouldn't readily admit that religion can be and has been a powerful force capable of being abused and hijacked for evil ends, but one of the striking things about the merry gang of modern angry atheists is the lengths they will go to to deny their beliefs have ever inspired to murder, oppression, halitosis or anything unpleasant at all. They have their own personal histories of the world and even at times their own personal dictionaries. The revisionist legerdemain is astounding, particularly among those who insist Stalin, Hitler, Robbespierre, etc. were really religious and heirs to Judeo-Christianity or whatever. No serious intellectual of those times (unless employed by the Kremlin) would have said anything so daft--everybody understood they stemmed from applied secular rationalism and hyper-modernism, but today so-called serious folks wile away their hours trying to draw links to Aquinas or monks or whomever. Same with Islam. Nobody before 1979 ever thought Middle Eastern turmoil and anti-Westernism (of which there were a lot) were related to Islam, but now we are all amateur Koran scholars discovering the seeds of 9/11 in writings from the 7th century.

    It's a neat trick because it frees you from any responsibility for your teflon beliefs and makes everybody else the bad guys by definition. You can let your anger rage away and are exempt, not only from the rules of historical inquiry, but also from the rules of civility, so you can even indulge in a progressive, rationally-based anti-Semitisim that would have impressed Julius Streicher and still be welcome at the dinner tables of the brights.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Professor Peter Atkins, author of the ultra-reductionist tract The Creation and uber-atheist described himself as a militant atheist on television back in the eighties. His bitter visage on saying this - a mask of sheer void-beholding horror - haunted me for years until I exorcised it in a painting in 2004'ish entitled... The Militant Atheist.

    ReplyDelete
  36. John M,

    You said: "Look, if atheism is a 'faith' or a 'cult' then so is every other kind of non-belief. Don't believe in Atlantis? Then you are part of the cult of non-Atlantisists! Have your doubts about Theosophy? Then you have clearly adopted the faith of the anti-Theosophists and worship at the shrine! This is a silly and hysterical game and a dishonest one."

    Look yourself. Having doubts is not the same as either lack of belief or deciding not to believe. Lack of belief does not pass the Dead Man's Test, and would stem more from never having come across the idea of something. For instance, if someone were never to have heard of Atlantis, they would not have the opportunity to assess the situation and draw a conclusion. This would not be a faith or cult.

    Such a case must be distinguished from having received information and hypotheses. Because, if I wanted to argue with someone who said they never heard of Atlantis, I would first need to inform that person of what I know of Atlantis. But, I would rather not use your loaded Atlantis example, but shift to the hypothesis that the moon has cheese, since explorers may be free to link archaelogical findings with the develpment of the legend of Atlantis. Thus I leave it to other types of theorists, broaching the subject from a different argument, to decide whether certain civilizations or one certain community was at the root of the Atlantis stories.

    Given the opportunity to believe that the moon is made of cheese, most of us have decided that we go the other way. Astronauts have actually scooped from the moon's surface and discovered no cheese.

    Like Atlantis, there are slippery slopes created when you bring up Theosophy. But, theosophy is more "dishonest" because of its two different definitions. Both examples seem to contain ideas meant to hijack the conversation. You could have, for instance, likened the development of religions to the development of Atlantis.

    But the argument of whether atheism is faith based, or possibly foolish, lies in where the concept of old-time theosophy lies, prayer for instance, before the development of Theosophy in the 19th century (a not unlaudable development, by the way, with its processes that can lead to insight. In other words, Theosophy probably attracted mystics).

    If an atheist cannot disprove old-time prayer and theosophy, then that person's atheism is faith-based. To say otherwise would be dishonest, and might even lead one into dishonest games in discussion threads--or at least into skirting such dishonesty.

    Yours,
    Rus

    ReplyDelete
  37. All discussion should be grounded in sound definitions of terms, which of course means to establish the lines of demarcation by which the terms are distinguished from each other. The key terms here should be faith, belief, religion, and church. They are not identical, nor are they coextensive.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Hi Frank,

    Let me begin, then, while at work covering a desk for a short period.

    I grew up belonging to what might be considered the Congregationalist church, the religion the Pilgrims began. In this sense, my belief system will always owe to the Congregationalist Church.

    However, we learned that the church includes all those who have accepted (by faith), the Christ as savior. So, a church is all believers of a faith. When I would go to a Catholic mass, the rule there was that I could not accept communion, not having been baptized Catholic. So, the Catholic Church included all those who had been so baptized.

    beliefe is interesting, because I can say I believe one thing, for instance that I am a Christian, but then do selfish harm to another. In such a case, I could be called on not being Christian, thus not holding to my beliefs. In this sense, for the time I was being hurtful, I was not believing in Christianity.

    In such a case, my faith as a Christian would either need to be strengthened, or I would enter a crisis of faith.

    No check for ttypos, I must leave the thread, probably to check back in after work.

    Yours,
    Rus

    What is SBO, by the way, is our first experience, the essence of who we are, which is not physical as science studies it.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Whilst I have read the Bible, I'll admit to not having read the Koran.

    I would be interested to know, les.w, where exactly in either you are claiming that there are direct incitements to kill or cause harm? For the former of the two texts, I have not come across anything that would give me justification to do either. Rather it seems fairly clear that we are directed against such actions.

    Conversations with a Muslim friend indicate to me that jihad is not something that can be taken into lightly, and not just by any member of the Muslim faith. It is a response to a direct act against Islam, and I'm not entirely sure that it is always meant to be a violent reaction. My knowledge on this is very limited and so I don't feel it appropriate to talk as though I know more than I do, and perhaps say something incorrect.

    My point was to say that we can be guilty of doing just this - thinking we know more about religion than we do. By seeing or hearing people explain their violence by their religion we then take this as read without questioning it ourselves and so are lead to believe that such texts permit and encourage violence. It seems to me that were either to do this, it would be such an obvious contradiction that it would be impossible for people to believe anything else the text says.

    If you are to say that the Bible or Koran justifies violence, then you need to know exactly where and, importantly, confirm that you are considering the context as well as the statement itself. Otherwise you are no better than a religious nut who may pick and choose from their faith to suit their own ends.
    (For example, John 11:35 says, "Jesus wept." Out of context, you could argue that Jesus went around balling his eyes out the entire time, or you could try to say that because Jesus cried, all Christians should cry too. It is important, therefore, to read the rest of the chapter and arguably, the rest of the book. This is obviously and exaggerated example, but I am merely using it illustratively.)

    ReplyDelete