Archive for the ‘Christianity & Atheism’ Category


Back in the Saddle Again

In Christianity & Atheism on July 30, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged:

After five states, four flights, a cruise (of sorts) to christen some friends’ new sailboat, some vacation, some lobbying, some fun, some family, a funeral and a long time being a long way from home, I’m back.  I have a lot of catching up to do, but wanted to comment quickly on this to re-open for business (from here):

“And as for the idea of the secular. Why can people not understand that the secular is not anti-religious? It is indifferent to religion or irreligion. It is the space in which religious and non-religious can gather to settle their problems and learn about the world without interfering biases from idiosyncrasies of belief.”

The secular needn’t be anti-religious, I agree.  Indeed, I want a secular government even though I don’t want a “naked” public square and have no axe to grind with the secular in general.  However, when so many of the leaders of what passes for secularism in this country are so loudly and clearly anti-religious and insistent upon the silly idea that religion and science are somehow “incompatible” and that much of what we hold dear “poisons everything” and ought to be eradicated, should we really be surprised by the confusion?  Moreover, is it reasonable to expect people routinely accused of being irrational, delusional and stupid to gather sweetly with their accusers to “settle their problems and learn about the world”?


Another False Claim

In Christianity & Atheism on July 7, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: ,

Eric MacDonald, here

“The problem of evil and pain is, it seems to me, decisive. There is, doubtless, much that is beautiful about life, but I have not met one person who has sufferred greatly who has thought of life as unproblematically beautiful. And some evils are so horrendous that belief in a benevolent god becomes a moral impossibility.”

I know of no Christian who argues that life is unproblematically beautiful, so that’s a straw man.  With respect to the arrogant universal claim of “moral impossibility,” one need only offer up Dietrich Bonhoeffer.


So Much for Free Speech

In Christianity & Atheism,Freedom of Expression on July 7, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: ,

Vandalized Charlotte Billboard

As reported by the Charlotte Observer and others, a billboard created by the Charlotte Atheists & Agnostics was recently vandalized.  The billboard, pictured above, quoted the original phrase from the Pledge of Allegiance — “One Nation Indivisible” — before “under God” was inserted after “one nation” in 1954.  The sign, which went up about a week ago, was controversial for its message and for its location along a road named for Billy Graham, the Charlotte-born evangelist who preached to hundreds of millions worldwide.  The Pledge was written in 1892 by a Baptist minister, but it included no religious language until “under God” was inserted by an act of Congress at the height of the Cold War.

The Institute for Creation Research put out a message affirming that the vandalism is wrong, but with insufficient conviction:

“While vandalism should not be condoned, these recent events shed light on what some Americans will do when they feel that their freedom of speech is threatened.”

Let’s be clear.  Absolutely no free speech rights are threatened by the billboard.  Indeed, the billboard is an obvious example of how speech rights work in a free society.  The Charlotte Atheists & Agnostics are free to put up the billboard.  Those who disagree with its message are free to speak against it or even to put up a countering billboard.  Simple.  The ICR should have sat this one out. 

Not to be outdone, World Net Daily published a commentary by Chrissy Satterfield that’s even worse, hard as that may be to believe.  Entitled My Kind of Vandals, the piece gives lip service to the idea that vandalism is wrong, but it’s clear that Satterfield has other ideas in her heart:  “Never would I encourage vandalism, but in this case I think I’ll let it slide.”  Indeed, Satterfield goes so far as to say that “[i]t’s nice to know that I am not alone in my beliefs and that some people are still willing to stand on the right side of truth.”  Last I checked, truth didn’t require vandalism.  She even makes this nonsensical claim:  “We will only take so much before we stand up against our oppressors.”

Let me say this as clearly as I can.  Speech isn’t oppression.  The answer to speech one doesn’t like is more speech.  It isn’t censorship.  It isn’t vandalism.  It isn’t threats.  Speaking the truth in love should always be good enough.  It was good enough for Jesus and should be good enough for the rest of us too.


More Hot Air

In Christianity & Atheism,Science & Religion on July 7, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged:

As so often happens, Jerry Coyne is full of hot air this morning.  In a post entitled What evidence would convince you that a god exists?, Coyne wonders what evidence might convince various non-believers that God exists.  That’s a reasonable and interesting question, and even more so since some in the comments essentially admit that since any such evidence could potentially be faked (by, say, sufficiently advanced technology), they can’t be so convinced.

But I was particularly struck by the specious claims Coyne makes along the way.  Let’s take a look.

“In contrast, the faithful do not (and cannot) specify what observations would disprove their beliefs—or the whole basis of their religion.”

Nonsense.  Good evidence that Jesus never existed would cause me to abandon my Christianity.  More generally, convincing evidence that we don’t have some measure of volitional freedom (as I think naturalism demands) would cause me to abandon my theism.  It’s amazing how cavalierly Coyne makes such obviously false claims.

“Religion is not a way of knowing because it doesn’t have a way of knowing that it is wrong. And without that, you don’t know if  you’re right.  This is why science makes progress in understanding the world while religion is still mired in medieval theology.”

More nonsense.  Most fundamentally, Coyne is stuck using the wrong measuring stick.  Matters of value are incapable of conclusive demonstration.  The claim — whether religiously based or not — that “torturing innocents is wrong” can’t be proven.  It must be argued for.  But unless Coyne is trying to jettison ethics, morals, and philosophy along with religion (is he?), his claim here is incoherent.  And if he is trying to jettison everything except science as a means of figuring out how to live, he’s just plain wrong.  I can’t prove with any degree of certainty that torturing innocents is wrong — I can’t establish that I’m right.  That fact doesn’t invalidate the effort or the attempt and doesn’t necessarily invalidate any conclusions I might draw.

In looking for comments, Coyne seems to seek out believers:

“If you’re one of the faithful reading this, feel free to post those observations that would convince you that God doesn‘t exist.”

I would have loved to have commented there, but Coyne hasn’t allowed me to post.  I have been advised of a number of people who are banned from Coyne’s site also.  Apparently, he doesn’t really want people to challenge his orthodoxy.


Sleeping with the Enemy

In Christianity & Atheism on July 2, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: ,

In response to my writing about why I didn’t think The God Delusion was very good (here), Hitch asked how I — clearly part of the ideal target market for that kind of apologetic — would write such a book.  It’s an interesting thought experiment of a sleeping with the enemy sort, and here are some of my preliminary thoughts on it, even though I don’t wish to be seen as telling atheists what to do.  But for me, the problem isn’t so much writing the right book, it’s implementing the right strategy. 

1.  I’d start with a different approach.  The stereotypical atheist seems to be an angry, young, white male, perhaps with Asperger’s, who hates religion and says so, loudly and incessantly.  As with most stereotypes, it’s unfair in general, but also has an element of truth.  The atheist apologetic literature, in toto, seems targeted towards the stereotype in approach and style.  I’d change that. 

2.  I’m all in favor of evidence-based thinking, but the common atheist apologetic focusing primarily on evidence misses a crucial preliminary step.  This literature seems to presume a major ethical obligation to examine the evidence intensely on every point and at every step.  I think that’s unrealistic and even a bit daft.  For most people, and especially with respect to their foundational commitments, if they see something as working in general, they’re not going to invest the time and energy to question it very much.  It’s a key point and one the atheist apologetic literature doesn’t get (and often can’t seem to conceive).  Most religious people think their religion is a positive force in their lives.  Harping about how evil and wrong it is, especially angrily, isn’t likely to change that anymore than foreign demonstrations about evil American imperialism are likely to change American minds.

3.  Atheists need to recognize all the reasons people find religion valuable and provide viable alternatives.  Despite the dispute between Josh Rosenau and P.Z. Myers over how much people actually believe of what they profess and what that means, everyone should recognize the powerful human benefits of religion and, at present, how devoid of those elements the atheist “movement” (to the extent that’s even a coherent idea) is.  Humans are social and thrive in community.  Churches provide that.  In most areas of the USA, church groups provide crucial services to people in need and a positive social outlet to the general populace.  To this point, the atheist “community” offers precious little of any of that.  Since this is a key component of how and why religion “works” for people, having similar outlets would make it more likely that you can be heard on why you’re right and seen as viable lifestyle alternative.  The atheist apologetic literature seems to suggest that it’s an intellectual and philosophical alternative.  But I don’t think it can hope to succeed without being a substantive lifestyle alternative.

4.  Atheists also need to stand for something.  This is a tricky point because, on the one hand, atheism implies no necessary affirmative belief and, on the other hand (as I’ll discuss later), pushing any sort of ideological purity isn’t likely to help either.  But if you’re going to ask people to jettison an important affirmative basis for who they are, I think you need to offer something in its place.  Offering little more than a lack of belief and general skepticism (as powerful and helpful as skepticism can be) is a pretty pitiful alternative.

5.  There is nothing particularly winsome about atheism as generally presented.  I suppose that some people are attracted to being one of the “Brights” (one of the most misconceived campaigns imaginable), but beyond the stereotypical atheist, I don’t think what’s offered looks particularly appealing.  I can appreciate that anger and vitriol can be useful means to attack prevailing paradigms, but atheists are asking people to choose them and their key life choices.  It’s one thing to be angry and harsh to get people to recognize you and accept your place in society.  It’s quite another to act like jerks and yet expect people to join you. 

6.  I suspect that atheist triumphalism is as tiring and off-putting to the general public as American triumphalism is to the rest of the world.  At the risk of sounding like Chris Mooney, is spending all your time telling people how much better than them you are really the best marketing strategy and is that really the brand niche you want? 

7.  Atheism claims that it implies no ideology but acts as if it does.  Generally speaking, based upon the polling data I’ve seen, 30% of the American population is politically liberal (by U.S. standards), 30% moderate, and 40% conservative.  Much of the atheist apologetic literature (including TGD) seems to say that only 30% need apply.  Since I think reasonable and secular grounds can be offered for the other general alternatives, I think it is a major mistake to do so.  It’s also a mistake because it enhances the us versus them divide that I think you should want to overcome.  Even if I thought the anti-accomodationist position were justifiable intellectually and philosophically, I would still see it as bad strategically. 

Am I on to something?  I hope not….


Faith, Hope & Charity

In Christianity & Atheism on July 2, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: , , ,

Arthur Brooks has undertaken significant research finding that atheists are decidedly less charitable than their God-fearing counterparts. Indeed, his research discloses that people of faith even give more money to wholly secular charities than their non-believing brethren, by any measure.  In Gross National Happiness, Brooks notes that atheists donate less blood and are less likely to offer change to homeless people on the street.  Since giving to charity makes one happy, Brooks speculates that this could be one reason why atheists are so miserable, referencing a 2004 study finding that twice as many religious people say that they are very happy with their lives, while the secular are twice as likely to say that they feel like failures. In a review published in Science, psychologists Ara Norenzayan and Azim Shariff discuss research on the connection between faith and morality. In one of their own studies, they primed half the participants with a spirituality-themed word jumble (including the words divine and God) and gave the other half the same task with nonspiritual words. Then, they gave the participants $10 each and told them that they could either keep it or share their cash reward with another (anonymous) subject. Ultimately, the spiritual-jumble group parted with more than twice as much money as the control.


Excessive Certainty

In Christianity & Atheism on June 29, 2010 by thesignalinthenoise Tagged: , ,

Daniel Dennett

Jerry Coyne quotes Daniel Dennett in response to Ron Rosenbaum‘s pitch for agnosticism:

Have you noticed how self-proclaimed (and self-satisfied) agnostics often sneer at us arrogant, over-confident atheists without expressing any parallel contempt for the Pope, Rick Warren, the imams, and so on for their similar if opposite avowals of certainty? In the future I plan to insist on agnostics being equal-opportunity sneerers.

You should note that I have repeatedly said that excessive certainty is a hallmark of both fundamentalism and fundamatheism alike.  As Einstein said, ” [t]hen there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is of the same kind as the intolerance of the religious fanatics and comes from the same source.”

Six of one, half a dozen of the other.