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Atheists vs Believers

Entry 1622, on 2014-01-27 at 22:08:17 (Rating 4, Religion)

In another entry in this blog I am debating a religious person regarding the problem of evil, that is: why does god allow bad things to happen to good people. At least, that's what I thought we were debating because he seems to consistently divert the thread into other issues.

A point he has tried to make a lot in various discussions is that my opinion is just as biased as his because he has the perspective that god is involved where I deny that possibility. He thinks that I offer non-religious explanations for things because I am an atheist therefore I must reject any possibility of the supernatural being an explanation.

Not really...

1. Being an atheist rarely means that you have decided for sure that god doesn't exist (maybe some atheists think this but I've never met one). It usually means that you think the evidence for god (and other aspects of the supernatural) are insufficient at this time. If there was real evidence a god did exist it would be great. Just imagine how fascinating that would be as a subject of study!

On the other hand I often hear religious people say they are absolutely certain that god does exist (and not just any god, it's always their particular god) and that nothing would convince them they are wrong. Clearly they are the ones who are close-minded on the subject. And yes, I know there are some believers who at least claim to leave room for doubt but I think most of them are being a bit dishonest about this (including to themselves).

2. The most prized attributes for an atheist are skepticism and a scientific approach to looking at questions. These have been used by science and philosophy to tackle the big questions for many years. They may not have answered every question but at least they show us honestly where no answer yet exists.

But if there is one word which I see associated with religion most it is "faith". This is highly valued by many religions an it's obvious why. Without faith people could not accept the religion's doctrines. But faith can't be used to discover anything new or to confirm or reject any idea of truth. With faith the conclusion has already been reached before the process is even applied. It's a deeply dishonest approach to truth.

3. Is atheism just another belief system with all the built-in biases that the others have? And if it is does that mean it is no better at discovering the truth than anything else? Does it mean that atheist are prevented from examining perfectly reasonable supernatural explanations for phenomena?

Well no. As I said above, atheists don't generally reject the supernatural completely. If some sort of intelligence was shown to be guiding evolution, for example, that would be something worthy of study, even if it might lead to a conclusion which might be labelled as "supernatural".

So atheism is the rejection of built-in belief systems. It doesn't reject religious explanations because it is too narrow-minded, it rejects them because they should be rejected. It is the believers who accept the religious explanation too easily. Just remember that there are hundreds of mutually contradictory religious explanations for many phenomena. This is a clear indication that religions accept ideas which fit what they want to believe far too easily.

4. Atheism has very little emotional and social content. It's unusual for atheists to meet and reinforce each other's beliefs. It's unusual for atheist to get all emotional about how great their worldview is.

Religious people commonly meet and tell each other how great their god, or saviour, or whatever other character they might happen to believe in, is. They sing, pray, recite pledges, and read old books over and over. It's almost like they need that constant reinforcement to maintain their beliefs because they are so weak.

5. In fact atheism doesn't really exist. Someone who doesn't believe in a god doesn't do that because he has a doctrine which forces him to. He doesn't do it because that's just what his group does. He just doesn't belong to any of the groups with those (mutually contradictory and incompatible) beliefs.

As the well-known quote goes: everyone is an atheist about most religions, atheists just take it one step further. So the Pope, for example, is an atheist towards about 30,000 types of Christianity alone, but for some bizarre reason he doesn't include Catholicism in that list of rejected doctrines - no doubt primarily because of faith! But if he had been born in India instead of a country with a Catholic heritage he would probably be atheistic towards every form of Christianity, including Catholicism, and accept Hinduism.

I'm not saying religion is all bad, because many people enjoy the social, emotional, traditional, and narrative aspects of it. But I am saying it isn't true... at least that's what current evidence strongly indicates!

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Comment 13 (3872) by OJB on 2014-01-31 at 12:25:13: (view earlier comments)

You keep making claims and fail to back them up when asked. For example, please support your claim that "a HUGE number of scientists and philosophers DO take the supernatural more seriously" by quoting a significant number of papers in scientific journals which support the supernatural. Please either do this or admit there is no scientific support for it.

And your claim that I reject ideas based on a label I apply (or don't apply) is also untrue. I don't care what label they have, if they publish real research showing support for the supernatural then I am interested.

At the quantum level events with no cause are a well accepted and observed phenomenon. I have mentioned this before. For example there is no cause and no way to predict when a radioactive decay event will occur.

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Comment 14 (3875) by richard on 2014-02-02 at 11:29:41:

Firstly, I assume you cannot seriously suggest that the supernatural is not a huge topic in accepted Philisophical journals at the highest level, so I'll assume you are restricting this critique to Science journals.

Whether there are a huge no. of scientists who take it more seriously is not quite the same thing as a significant no. of scientific papers in scientific journals which support it.

By very definition, 'science' journals have a tendency to rule out direct evidence for the supernatural because likewise (by very definition) the supernatural cannot be 'observed' in the same way as the 'natural'. If it could be observed that way - it would BE a natural cause.

Any such 'direct evidence' of an event that denies physical laws should it be recorded, becomes then by definition 'only' an 'eye witness historical' record - which is a different category of truth record, but one we also routinely rely completely on - as 'History'. They are by definition 'miracles' ONLY because they do not occur routinely - if they did, we would have long ago re-written our physical laws to account for them, like gravity!

As an aside - You have already denied the most obvious historical record of supernatural evidences recorded as eye witness accounts (the Bible) - without any other sufficient reason for denying the accounts than you don't believe in the supernatural? There is no OTHER reason for doing so, that you can offer, because you cannot do it from an 'unreliable record pov', The bible is accepted as without question by nearly all historians as THE historical document that is by far the most reliably passed down historical record, compared to ANY other ancient document we know of.

Anyway, be that as it may, I agree it is fine to accept that the supernatural can only be INFERRED from observed natural evidence, using well accepted (in Science) straightforward logic and mathematics, like probability theory. In spite of that however, attempts to publish such inferences to the Supernatural have undeniably been attacked by the Science community - the classic example being ID, others being papers that treat similar various arguments such as fine-tuning. You have done exactly the same, every time the topic comes up and unfortunately this has (in spite of your denial above) always been by attacking the label. I have never ever seen you provide any scientific evidence based refutations to their inferences, only references to either the arbitrary definition of science - which I have agreed exists above, or the unreliability of the messenger.

Having said that, I will try to compile some specific examples in the next few days for you. That they exist is obvious - I just don't know 'em off by heart.

As for no cause events - I am intrigued that you are happy to accept a 'quantum level' event as a feasible (let alone plausible) causal event for the creation of the entire universe, remembering to account for all it's incredible features, and complexity, culminating in US (not from arrogance here - just our current level of knowledge - as agents with the capacity to even do this analysis, ie you have to account for 'mind as well as matter').

Apart from the fact that is it more plausible to assume we haven't detected the cause yet, as for radioactive decay specifically, this is simply an irrelevant matter of 'observable resolution' - if what you said was really true, how then do we calculate half-lives and rely on them for accurate dating? Obviously at a 'relevant' level of observation - they are entirely predictable.

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Comment 15 (3876) by OJB on 2014-02-02 at 17:00:09:

Regarding philosophy. I know that in the past it has been pretty much "anything goes" but after discussing this with some modern philosophers they are now trying to stick to more empirical, logical work rather than the "looser" stuff form the past. A pity really... Anyway, that's just an anecdote. Not sure if it holds true for philosophy in general.

So it sounds like you are admitting that there is no significant scientific evidence for the supernatural. And you are suggesting that this is because the supernatural cannot be observed in the same way as natural phenomena. That seems to imply that the supernatural has no effect on our world at all. In that case what possible point is there in even hypothesising it's existence?

There is no credible historical evidence of the supernatural. Or do you mean the Greek myths, Aboriginal creation stories, and the Bible?

As I have said before, the Bible makes many claims about events (mostly by unknown authors who weren't eye witnesses and wrote many years after the alleged events occurred) and most cannot be checked against other sources, but those that can (the star, the zombie saints, the darkness at the crucifixion, etc) have no support at all. I would suggest the Bible is a book of myths set in an historical context and cannot seriously be used as a source of facts.

Attempts to introduce the supernatural have been discredited, not attacked. And they have been discredited because they have been the result of poor research, usually because the researcher is more interested in supporting his nonsensical superstitious beliefs rather than really finding out what is true.

In fact according to theory there is no cause for radioactive decay, it's not just that we cannot detect it. And there is no doubt that the early universe was in a quantum state, so the idea of applying quantum effects isn't so ridiculous, is it? The half life is a statistical effect, individual events cannot be predicted. This is all pretty basic physics.

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Comment 16 (3877) by Jim on 2014-02-08 at 08:31:49:

Well I'm glad we got that all settled then /sarcasm.

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Comment 17 (3879) by OJB on 2014-02-08 at 17:16:46:

You can never settle these things with believers because - whatever they claim - the truth is they have accepted a belief for some reason other than logic and truth, and part of that belief is the inability to consider that it might be wrong. They must cherry-pick the evidence and avoid the facts so that the delicate mechanism supporting their chosen belief system is maintained. And they spend a lot of time listening at meetings, viewing propaganda web sites, and reading material on the subject to prepare them for people like me who show beyond any reasonable doubt that they are wrong.

All I can really hope for in these situations is to instil a little bit of doubt in their minds which might help them break free from the mind-virus of religion at a later date.

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