Squashed Asks: Do you consider atheism as a rejection of essentially all elements of all other religions? Does the categorical rejection of beliefs shared (to one extent or another) by the vast majority of the world bother you?
Atheism really is simply the belief that there is no god or gods. Inasmuch as any religion is based upon the belief in a god and that belief is a basis for inclusion in that religion, then yes, atheism is a rejection of that. As far as a rejection of general spiritual beliefs, specific points of doctrine, moral rules, and even religious traditions, I would say that every atheist is a little different.
For example, I reject all religious arguments in favor of persecuting LGBTQ people and oppressing women because those are bad things. However, I continue to celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday and I rather like Easter because of bunnies and eggs. Also, since my family is moderately religious, refusing to participate in family celebrations of major holidays would mean largely cutting myself (and my daughter) off from people I love.
It’s complicated, but I would guess that most atheists (like most everyone) pick and choose practices that fit into and enrich their life, and this can sometime include practices that have their roots in religious tradition. Since atheism is not itself a philosophy or religion, the broader beliefs of atheists are highly diverse. Continue reading
Squashed Asks: How much evidence do you need to “know” something—particularly where double blind experimentation is not a practical approach? Does direct experience work? The word of somebody trusted? Personal review of scientific journals? How do you make decisions when you don’t have all the information you would like—or when you have to rely on other people to provide the evidence?
I think we live in an uncertain universe in which we, with our limited minds, physiology, and lifespan have only limited ability to know anything with certainty. That being said, I would say that the quantity of evidence necessary to be convincing is sometimes variable, depending on the degree of certainty required. Even more important than quantity is, of course, quality of evidence, and some types of evidence are more convincing than others.
I would also like to point out that the quantity and quality of evidence necessary for something to be consider “known” or “proven” also depends heavily upon the consequences of being incorrect. Continue reading
Squashed Asks: Are you comfortable with the actions of other atheists whose attempts to portray religion as something that is fundamentally at war with science have led (predictably) to the absurd reactionary things like efforts to keep basic science out of schools? Do you think there was a deliberate attempt to get some religious folk to take an absurd position? Do you feel atheists (or a subset thereof) bear any responsibility for the disastrous consequences of their (frequently successful) attempts to link science and atheism succeeded in the minds of many believers?
Efforts to push science out of schools are, sadly, not a reactionary thing, although they are absurd. Religious people have, throughout pretty much the entirety of history, been the enemies of scientific progress, so the current efforts to restrict the teaching of evolution should come as no surprise to anyone.
In the US, over 40% of the populace still maintain that the earth is young and that the Biblical account of creation is accurate. It’s not as if this is some fringe group of weirdos. Only about a quarter of the country accept evolution as being an accurate theory of the development of life. People like Ken Ham, creator of the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky (I have visited! It was weird!), are the driving forces behind much of the insistence on the incompatibility of science and religion. Ken Ham, Ray Comfort, Kent Hovind, Rick Warren, Tim LaHaye, Joel Osteen and others have often claimed to greater or lesser extents that if the Genesis account of creation is false, then it would invalidate the rest of the Bible. Some, like Ham, have even claimed that if you do not believe the Genesis account and reject the theory of evolution you may not really be saved.
With such an enormous pressure even within mainstream Christianity, it seems disingenuous at best to imply that somehow it’s “the atheists” making people believe absurdities. Continue reading
Squashed Asks: Are love and suffering anything more social constructs or evolutionary by products? Does our suffering have a purpose?
Short answers: Probably not, and no, not really. Meaning and purpose are things that we all figure out for ourselves, and one person’s “purpose” is sometimes another person’s soul-crushing hopelessness.
We human beings take ourselves incredibly seriously considering just how tiny and insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things. It’s not enough, for most of us, to try and live good lives, be kind to each other, raise our children, and die–we all want to live forever, or at the very least do something that will cause us to be remembered forever.
I know I do, anyway. I consider it a great tragedy that I won’t be here to see what humanity turns into a hundred or five hundred or a thousand years from now. We have so much potential that I’d like to believe it’s going to be good. If I can’t live forever, it would be nice to be remembered forever. How profoundly sad to think of a time when no one will remember my name!
When I finished reading The Five Ages of the Universe, years ago, I cried myself to sleep pondering the inevitable heat death of the universe–just imagine, all those molecules so far apart. Imagine the loneliness of all those trillions and trillions of years in the future when there is no one there to see as waves lengthen and strings stop vibrating and things just begin to fall apart at the quantum level. Even if that’s not how it all ends–and there’s no certainty, I suppose, that that’s how it will go–it’s a sobering thought, all that unimaginable cold and emptiness and no one there to see it. Continue reading
When I originally posted my 10 Serious Questions for Religious Believers, I cross-posted it on my Tumblr blog, and it started some good discussion. As part of that discussion, Squashed posted his own 10 questions in response to mine. A few of them were the same as my own, only for atheists, but some of them were pretty substantially different, so over the next few days I will be re-posting some of my answers to him here in no particular order. Enjoy!
Assuming that you are fairly content with your religious beliefs or lack thereof, what kind of evidence would convince you to change your mind?
Of my original 10 Questions, this is actually the one I think is most important for everyone, atheists and believers, to have an answer for, so I’m not certain why I added it at the end as a bonus question. In order to be considered open-minded, people must be willing to change their minds on issues where there is some level of uncertainty, and if we are willing to take a stand on any issue that we can’t be certain about we must at least have some idea of what kind of evidence would change our minds.
I see an awful lot of quibbling these days over the definitions of and differences between atheism and agnosticism. A lot of the arguments seem to stem from the common belief that agnosticism is somehow humbler or more open-minded than atheism, that those of us who self-identify as atheists are arrogant know-it-alls or simply mean. To a large degree, this is simply a tone argument in which atheists get called strident, rude, ideologues, and so on, but there is a question underlying it as well. How can we know there is no god, after all? Continue reading
What if you are wrong? How important is it to you to be part of the “right” religion? What consequences do you foresee if you have chosen incorrectly? How much doubt would you say that you have about your religious beliefs?
This question is one that I generally won’t ask a believer unless they have asked me first–because it’s a nonsensical question to ask an atheist (or anyone, really). What if I’m wrong? Well, so what if I am? I hope that if that’s the case I find some evidence to actually indicate that I’m wrong so I can change my mind before I’m too late. That’s not really what this question is about, though, is it?
“What if you’re wrong?” is a question designed to end conversation, to put a stop to dialogue, and to shame the person you are talking with into silence. It’s a question with no right answer, and it’s a question to which a real answer is only rarely expected or desired. Nonetheless, I think it’s an important question to have an answer to if for no other reason than to avoid letting it be the conversation stopper it’s intended to be. Continue reading