How does atheism defend “the truth”.

Wow. Today Markus has a big one for us, and since it’s so big, I’m going to break it up to answer it…

Name: Markus
Message: Dear Erick,

Here are some of my thoughts and questions I have on your recent blog posting: “God, morality, religion and evolution?” My apologies if you have already answered my question(s) below in another post, but a quick search could not find anything related.

A bit about myself to give you some context. I am a Christian, a theologian, and a pastor, but I am most certainly open to the insights of science. For example, in my post below, my questioning is not about the validity of evolution (I fully accept I am a highly evolved hominid), but related to epistemology.

You give your reason for being an atheist as follows:

“… it’s because I have a love affair with the truth. I believe that the hardest thing for anyone to do, is to see things as they are and not just how they wished they would be. This means that when faced with the truth of something, even if that something is unpleasant, I am compelled to accept it.”

It is your notion of “truth” that captured my attention. Most of us will agree that there is some form of “truth”, or the ability to acquire rational knowledge about the world, no matter how slippery that truth may be to pin down.

Hi Markus. Thanks for the intro. Lets get down to business.

But as a theist (maybe leaning towards panentheism), I would like to ask you, an atheist, is your love affair with the truth not a delusion? What truth are you speaking about? You speak about truth as if it really exists (I agree it does), but I question the epistemological grounding of your “truth”.

When I say “truth” I mean that which aligns itself the most with reality, that which is grounded in fact. For example, it is true that if you are on the earth, and you drop a ball, it will fall. It is true that if you cross the street directly in front of a car, you will get hit. It is true that the half hour before a lunch break is longer then the hour of the lunch break itself. (okay, maybe not that last one. lol )

You have faith that your atheism is true. You have faith that your ability to reason gives reliable knowledge, and is not mere epiphenomenal froth. You have faith that the world around us is rationally intelligible. Why? Why do you believe that your subjective experiences, opinions or knowledge is in any way real or reliable?

You are wrong here. I don’t have faith that atheism is true. I have a reasonable expectation that it is true. Faith is most often defined as “that which is hoped for but not seen.” It is belief without evidence. “Reasonable expectation” is based on evidence. For example I don’t have faith that my light switch in my bedroom will turn on, I have a reasonable expectation that it will based upon my understanding of how light switches work plus previous experience with them. If it doesn’t turn on I know it’s because of some type of mechanical failure. All evidential. I hold that the rejection of theism is sound because of the lack of evidence on the theists part. I do not accept faith as a reasonable way to determine existence. I believe that my experiences are reliable until such time that they are not. If you do not believe that the world around us is rationally intelligible then there is no point in having this discussion. The question of theism is based upon the assumption that both parties believe that existence has a rational explanation to it.

From a purely naturalist perspective, evolution on its own has no concern for truth, cognitive processes, or your atheism. All our mental faculties, beliefs, etc. are seen as evolutionary spandrels and exaptations, the product of blind processes or chance. But then should we not take this to its logical conclusion? I mean, the very same chance that produced our minds, certainly it should also randomly produce mental phenomena? In fact, your atheism (and my theism) is just a method of “natural selection” to propagate genes. (And research shows that religious people have more children than atheists – is this merely a sign of reproductive fitness? 😉

 

The point is, our cherished beliefs, opinions or knowledge appear to be a means to an end (selfish genes/evolution), and not an end in itself. It is something that can only be haphazard or random. Truth has no ontological status or inherent quality about it. Why then, should atheism (or theism) or any form of knowledge be deemed reliable and true?

 

If there is no God, or Ultimate Reality, that is, an objective quality about our world that is not subject to random and blind processes, then any notion of “truth” is a massive exercise in self-delusion. So is our experience of the “I”, intentionality, responsibility, and personal agency. We are puppets manipulated and deceived by the strings of physics and evolution.

 

My question to you is: how does atheism ground, support, or defend the existence of “truth”? Truth presupposes a universal, super-arbitrary standard that cannot be obtained from nature.

Again the question of theism starts with the assumption that existence has a rational explanation to it, and that reality is that which exists despite our observation of it and that the truth of that existence can be understood rationally. If your contention is that one can not know the true nature of reality because of subjective observation, then you have subsequently removed yourself from the discussion of theism. (this is why more often then not philosophical discussions end up going no where)

Well Markus, I’m not sure if I answered your questions to your liking, so if you have more questions on the subject feel free to ask in the comment section below. I’ll do my best to expand on my answers there. Thanks for joining us.

 

God, morality, religion, and evolution?

Todays question comes from Rachel who says…

Name: Rachel
Message: Hi there, I wanna start off by saying that I don’t call myself a Christian because let’s face it, people who claim to be Christians have given Christians a bad name. So, I call myself a believer in God. I just have a couple questions when it comes to what Atheists may believe. I’m not here to argue or convert anyone, I just wanna ask some questions.

If you say you don’t believe in God, what are your reasons for that? Do you believe people have a moral compass that is aligned with the Bible, even though they don’t believe in God? Do you feel religions not just Christianity, have had a positive or negative affect on humanity? Do all atheists believe in evolution?

I don’t know these are just some questions that I have been thinking about. I’m curious to hear your response!

Well Rachel those are all great questions, and most have already been answered here, so feel free to use the search box in the upper right corner if my answers aren’t enough for you.

Why each atheist doesn’t believe in a god is different from atheist to atheist. Some don’t believe because they haven’t been convinced. Some don’t believe because they’ve never been introduced to the idea. The only thing one atheist has to have in common with another is a lack of belief in a god or gods. How they get to that point is their own personal journey.

For me though, it’s because I have a love affair with the truth. I believe that the hardest thing for anyone to do, is to see things as they are and not just how they wished they would be. This means that when faced with the truth of something, even if that something is unpleasant, I am compelled to accept it. My problem with the evidence that people bring to me of their gods is that it always violates how we determine everything else exists. I think I explained it best in this post here where I said…

First of all. Before we evaluate any claim. The first thing that we need to do is define the type of claim. In the case of theism the claim is that a god exists. This is a claim of existence. The next thing we do is we look for a criteria, or in other words a method, with which we can evaluate the claim. When it comes to existence, the only valid criteria is the objective one. For a claim to be objective, it must produce the same results every time. For example if I hold out a rubber ball to you and say to you, “This is a rubber ball” and you understand that a rubber ball is a spherical object made out of rubber, you will naturally accept my claim. Then, you can turn to another and do the same, and so on, and so forth. You can do this over and over and each person will say “That is a rubber ball”. However if I were to approach you with my empty hand held out and told you that “This is a rubber ball” you would see that not only is there nothing in my hand, but that the nothing is neither rubber, nor a spherical object, and it becomes easy to dismiss my claim because it can not be objectively evaluated. We use this criteria every day to determine what exists and what doesn’t exist. It’s how we know when someone has a mental illness and claims that they see elves or pixies or tall 6 foot invisible rabbit named “Harvey”.

So when someone comes to me and says that they know their god exists, and their evidence goes against the criteria that we all use every day to determine existence, I tend to dismiss it. I believe that if there is a god, that he would want us to discover him using the criteria that he set up to discover everything else. To do otherwise would be like saying that the only way to get into heaven would be to study math your entire life but then at the end he gives you a history test. This to me would be deceitful and unless the god in question is a trickster god, I find it hard to accept.

Now as for morality, I think you have it backwards. I think the bible is a reflection of mans moral compass at that time, not the other way around. I explain it in this video…

Do I think that religion has a positive or negative effect on humanity? I believe it’s mostly negative. Whenever you have a belief system that insists that you deny facts it’s going to be bad no matter how much charity work is involved with it. Religion has set back medicine, has denied people basic rights of equality, has started wars, etc. I don’t believe that people help others because of their religion, I believe they do it despite their religion. They do it because they recognize the value of helping others and because it makes them feel good inside. We are social animals, and giving help to others is a great way of furthering the social contract that I described in the video above.

Do all atheists believe in evolution? That’s kind of like asking if all atheists believe in gravity. It’s not a requirement to be an atheist or anything so I suppose there might be a few out there who don’t. I guess those atheists who have never heard of a god or evolution would obviously not have a belief in it. Usually though it’s religious people who can’t accept facts that fly in the face of their religious beliefs that don’t accept the truth of evolution.

Well Rachel I hope that answers your questions. If you have further questions feel free to ask in the comment section below or use the search box to find similar questions and join in on the comments there. Thanks for stopping by!

Fear of loved ones dying.

Eric rolls in with this question….

Name: Eric
Message: Hi. I’ve been an atheist for about a year & couple of months now, I was just wondering if any of you fellow atheist could help me out, see…my problem is I’ve found myself worrying about the death of my love ones. I just can’t bare the thought of loosing a loved one specialy those closest to me family. Got this fear that I just can’t get rid off. Sometimes just looking at my mum or granny makes me sad, see I’m not rich & don’t have money to seek profesional help, I don’t even know what this fear is. So what would you have done if you were in my shoes, see I’m not afraid of death, the only thing keepin me from not commiting suicide is the grieve I will give em if I do so, I don’t want to be selfish. Please just need advise. Thanks.

First Eric, if you are having problems dealing with your emotions to the point where you are considering suicide, get help now. There are low cost and even free assistance that is out there. You can try asking your local college if their graduate psych classes have a program. Many do. Whatever you do, don’t let it go to long without getting help.

As for your fear of losing a loved one, that’s understandable. When one looses their faith they can also feel an emptiness that was once filled with their religious belief. It can be difficult to learn to fill that void, especially when you’re not being told what to think or do, as religion tends to do. Learning to deal with the fear of loved ones dying can be difficult. What I and others have found that helps is surrounding yourself with people who have gone through it. Try looking for an atheist meetup in your area or try joining your local Atheist Alliance group (or whatever group may be in your area). If you can’t find one, start one, you may be surprised how many people show up. Along with that, try getting some advice from atheist forums like The Rational Responders and listen to the stories that other atheists have to share.

Keep in mind that the reason we usually fear things is because we don’t understand them. A boxer who studies his opponent doesn’t fear him because he has an idea of what to expect. By trying to understand where your fear is coming from, and by facing it directly, you may find your fear slowly start to fade away and discover that you’ve replaced it with an understanding that you didn’t have before. In the truest sense, knowledge is power.

I hope that helps. If you have further questions feel free to ask them in the comment section bellow. I’m sure a few of our regulars would be happy to give you their advice as well.

Atheist church?

Today’s question is an interesting one…

Name: Cody
Message: As a fellow non-believer, how do you suggest we unify other non-religious and atheists to certain moral, societal, etc positions?

This is something I tend to think about a bit, one of the fascinating things religious groups have is the fact that they can at least relate through a core doctrine, whether it be they believe in reincarnation, salvation, etc. Although they can disagree on minor details, such as is it okay to wear mixed fabric, they end up coming back to agreed upon positions within their doctrine.

Since we are at the most common point atheists (since there are religious atheists such as Buddhists), it seems the only thing we agree on is that deities are either not real or that we don’t have good enough reason to believe they exist.

So what are some things you’d suggest to find more common ground with our fellow non-believers?

 

You’ve touched on a very divisive issue in the “atheist community”. There are some who believe that atheists need a replacement for the social activity provided by churches, like the one that just started in Dallas. Then there are others who believe that trying to replicate churches is a recipe for disaster.

Personally, I understand both sides. For those atheists who have just rediscovered their atheism, the desire to feel accepted, especially after being shunned by their family and friends, is understandable. We are after all social creatures. We like to be around people who will validate our ways of thinking. Birds of a feather, and so on. For these people, there may be a hole inside of them that they long to fill and because they’re so new to the game, having someone show them how to play it, can be comforting.

On the other hand, I agree with Gene Roddenberry who, in his creation of the Vulcans on Star Trek, gave them the credo, “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations” or IDIC. The idea was that through diversity we are able to see past our own preconceptions and get a clearer picture of the world around us. There are those who believe that a church like group, even for atheists, would eventually create rules of conduct and behavior that would stifle diversity, and become more like a religion then a social group.

No matter what side you fall in the one thing that all atheists must have in common with other atheists is a lack of belief in a god or gods. Anything after that is simply what makes that person who they are through their likes and dislikes. To me, there is no one path of atheism. There are as many paths as there are people, and each person has to discover for themselves the path that they will follow.

Hope that helps. Feel free to continue the discussion using the comment section below.

Justification for punishment?

Our next question comes from Joel who asks…

Name: Joel
Message: Hi, I’m an open-minded Christian and I have a question for an atheist.

Is there any justification for punishment? For example, if a person murders a little child in cold blood, is there any just penalty for the offender? If so, what is it, and who gets to have the final say?

Hi Joel. Great question.

We learn about consequences at an early age. Touch fire, you get burned. Step on a sharp rock, you feel pain. Animals often teach their offspring lessons using consequence. A dog may nip it’s pup if it goes to far from it’s mother. An ape may bop it’s youngling on the head if it’s greedy. A father may take away tv privileges if his kid hasn’t done their homework. If you don’t support yourself, you may become homeless. Consequence is part of life.

When a society creates rules, as in, don’t steal from your neighbor, or don’t hurt another, it also includes consequences based on the severity of the rule that was broken. Steal, and you may spend a few months in jail. Murder, and you may spend your life there. The justification of consequence is that it will hopefully teach the person not to commit the crime again, or at the least be a warning to anyone who is considering doing something like it. The idea of hell is a psychological manifestation of consequence. Don’t obey god, and you might be tortured for eternity. For some, the fear of eternal damnation is enough to keep them honest. Some don’t need that fear however.

So there’s my answer Joel. If you need further discussion on the topic, feel free to use the reply link below.

 

If I don’t come out, am I being honest with myself?

Todays question comes from Mike who asks….

Name: Mike
Message: Out or in?  I was raised in a conservative Christian household, but can remember questioning my faith from an early age.  I played along for the sake of my family, but finally decided about five years ago that I am in fact an atheist .  Now in my 40’s, I have a wonderful fiance’ and friends who share and/or respect my beliefs, but I am wondering if I should “come out” as atheist to my parents, siblings, and childhood friends.  The prospect of this terrifies me.  My family are not just believers – they are committed Christians that feel you should be constantly in prayer, commit bible verses to memory, have a daily “walk” with Christ, etc.  I’m worried that this revelation would kill my mother.  Literally.  My father would probably react with anger and dismay.  I KNOW that they would spend the rest of their days praying for my lost soul.  I could face being ostracized by my sisters and childhood friends.

What should I do?  Do I spare my family the heartbreak of this news and continue to go through the motions?  Or am I betraying myself and lying to my family by not coming out?

Well Mike. That’s not an easy question to answer. In my own experience I was able to “come out” to most people in my family except my grandmother. I knew it would hurt her and I didn’t want to do that to her, so I avoided talking about it around her. To me, it wouldn’t have done any good.

Some people will say however that by not telling your family that you are somehow not being honest with yourself. I think the flaw in this argument is that there are things that we already keep to ourselves because we don’t consider them to be appropriate. For example most don’t share their sexual kinks with their family. Why not? It’s part of who we are isn’t it? Aren’t we lying by not telling our families that we may be into tentacle porn? (Just an example people. Keep calm.)

I think it’s a case by case basis. If you want to come out to those who you know won’t think less of you or that wont be hurt, than do so. I see nothing wrong though with keeping it to yourself if you think it will do more harm than good. That’s not being dishonest, that’s being compassionate.

One last thing, and this is something I always say to those who want to come out. Before you do, be an example. Be better then they expect you to be. Be kinder. Be more compassionate. Be more. Then when you do come out, if they judge you, they will be judging their prejudice of you, not you. Eventually with time, they may see that, and it may give them peace.

Hope that helps.

Abortion. Is it wrong?

Todays questions comes from Francesca who asks….

Do you believe abortion is wrong? If yes, why? If no, why not?

Wow Francesca, you’ve picked a controversial topic here haven’t you? I’ll do my best to answer.

First things first. Since atheists don’t have any tenants or rules to follow, what I’m about to tell you is my opinion and my opinion only. Just like theists, there are atheists who are pro abortion rights, and there are atheists who are anti abortion rights. The only thing that one atheist must have in common with another is a lack of belief in a god or gods. That’s it. Now with that out of the way….

My personal opinion on the subject is in 2 parts. The first part is that I believe that every person has a right to decide what happens with their body. I don’t believe in forced organ donation, or forced blood donation. I don’t believe that anyone has the right to tell another person what he or she should put into their body. I believe that this right extends in to death and that a person should have the right to decide what happens to their body when they are dead. I also believe that a person has the right to decide when he or she reproduces. No ones right supersedes the individuals right to control their own body. This is why if my kidney fails, I don’t have the right to take yours.

The second part is simple. I don’t have a uterus. Since I will never be faced with the decision of aborting a fetus, I don’t think that I have the right to tell someone who does, what she should do with her body, unless I am asked. If a woman becomes pregnant because of me, then I believe that I gave up my reproductive rights the moment I decided to have unprotected sex.

That’s pretty much it for my opinion on the subject. The main thing I want to reiterate, since this is Ask The Atheist, is that the only thing that one atheist must have in common with another is their lack of belief in a god or gods and that any opinion an atheist has on the subject of reproductive rights is theirs and theirs alone. If you have further questions feel free to ask in the reply section below.

 

Am I an atheist even though I believe in the paranormal?

Keith asks an interesting question…

Message: I don’t believe god exists. Why should i? What i know of religion is unbelievably contradictive and I’ve studied them all. I believe we all have a personal heaven as well as a hell. Depending on our choices in life. I believe in angels because I’ve heard ones voice. I believe in demons because I’ve come face to face with several. Not including my own.and i have never met a truly religious person who has been able to hold on to a shred of sanity. And to me the biggest BS about religion is people like
rapists can still go to Heaven if they sit in a box and say their sorry. I consider myself an Atheist but Im curious to know if I’ve labeled my self right?

Hi Keith. Great question.

In short, yes, you are an atheist. For a clearer understanding of what an atheist is, you can check out my video here. An atheist is just someone who has no active belief in a god or gods. That’s it. Nothing more than that.

As for your experience with angels and demons, the mind is a powerful thing. As I stated in my last post here the mind is always trying to justify itself. When I was a mormon I had experiences akin to the ones you’ve stated above and eventually came to understand that it was more likely that it was my mind creating these events then it was any type of paranormal event.

I hope that helps. If you have further questions on this subject please feel free to reply in the comment section below.

Letting go of the soul.

Today’s question comes from Eva who writes…

Message: Hello! I’m so glad I’ve found this site! I’ve recently separated myself from Christianity but its been quite difficult. My question is this. Can an atheist be spiritual? Spiritual meaning believing in spirits and an afterlife ect. Now obviously I understand that athiests believe in pure logic and science and therefore a spirit world per say would seem like an unlikely belief however I can’t shake the feeling that there’s a spirit world out there beyond this life. Would you agree? What are your thoughts?

Hi Eva. First, you’re right. The transition from theist to atheist can be a difficult one. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of our old ways of thinking even when presented with better ways. When I left theism it was a two year journey into atheism. I let go of Jesus, then god, and then finally the soul. Believe it or not, it was the last one that was the most difficult. The idea that we will continue on after death has more to do with how our mind works then anything else. The simplest way to explain this is that the mind always wants to justify itself. For example when we drop a pencil off of a desk and don’t realize it. We reach for the pencil that we swear we just saw a second ago, and it disappears. Our brain thinks the pencil is there, and because we didn’t see it fall, tells us that the pencil is still there. Magicians have been exploiting how our mind justifies itself for hundreds of years. I believe when it comes to souls, our brain, which knows it exists, can’t conceive of not existing because of the very fact that it does exist. It’s like telling someone not to think of a pink elephant and the first thing they do is think of a pink elephant. When we try to think of nonexistence our brain can’t imagine it without a perspective of existence. So it sends our minds into confusion. I believe this is why letting go of the idea of the soul is so hard.

There’s no easy fix for letting go of the idea of a soul. Maybe we have them, maybe we don’t. The truth is that there is no objective evidence for souls and until someone discovers it, there’s no reason to accept it. The way I see it is this, much like Schrodinger’s cat you wont know if there is no soul until after you die (open the box). If there is a soul, you’ll know after you die (open the box). So until you die, or someone comes up with a way to discover it, there’s no point in worrying about it. For me, I live my life as if I have no soul. I live it as if this life is the only one that I have, and that my true immortality exists in how I impact others around me. It’s why I do things like this website.

So ask yourself. How will you live on, after you die? What will be your immortality? Feel free to discuss it in the comment section below.

Christian question buffet.

Today we get several questions by J …..

Name: J
Message: As a Christian, I will readily admit that I have faith (as the Bible defines it: “..the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1)

I cannot prove to anyone the existence of God.  In fact the whole idea of being a Christian is to have faith in God without having to prove He exists scientifically or otherwise–and that being a personal decision devoid of coercion.  Though there is some science, history, and fact in the Bible, it is not a book on such topics.  I personally see the need for God and His Bible in my life and in society.

I respect the decisions, philosophy, and path that atheists choose, though I may agree to disagree with them.  Here are my questions to atheists (if I may ask more than one):

-Is religion needed in the world?
-Can atheism become a religion?
-Do you have to have faith to be an atheist?
-Can an atheists prove that God doesn’t exist?
-What’s more beneficial, being an atheist or agnostic?
-Where do atheists get morals?
-Why is it wrong to murder?

Respectfully, J

Those are a lot of questions J. Most have already been answered and you can use the handy search box on the upper right side of this page to search for them. In the mean time I’m going to give you short and to the point answers that can be expanded upon in the comments if you need more info.

Okay? Here we go…

Is religion needed in the world?
I hope not.

Can atheism become a religion?
Religion is the politics of mythology. Since atheism has no such mythology, I would say no. (Read more here.)

Do you have to have faith to be an atheist?
No. Don’t confuse faith with reasonable expectation.

Can an atheist prove that god doesn’t exist?
Can you prove that I don’t have an invisible intangible dragon living in my garage?

What is more beneficial? Being an atheist or an agnostic?
Being both. They are not mutually incompatible. (More here)

Where do atheists get morals?
The same place everyone else does. (More here)

Why is it wrong to murder?
If you don’t know the answer to that you should ask yourself why your god would create you without being able to understand why murder is wrong on your own.

And there you go. Feel free to ask follow up questions in the comment section below.