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Atheism could do without the naturalistic fallacy


An atheist yesterday?

I hear a lot of atheists laying into religion (well, duh), making the claim that atheism is the natural default we’re born with, and religion only exists because people are indoctrinated to believe it. I like that idea, and it rings true on several levels. We find it so easy to bring children up believing religious doctrines that are wild guesses at best. And we teach them these things as fact, not only introducing fables but loading them with emotional significance to ensure that they aren’t easily challenged and dismissed.

Unfortunately, this belief in “default atheism” is simplistic at best. Babies and small children don’t have any kind of comprehensive answer to major life questions, but I think the early tendency to see one’s parents as perfect, infallible paragons can fit into the most basic definition of theism without too much squeezing and breathing in. And even adults with no interest in religion can still be led down a theistic line of thought by a certain stirring at the wonders of nature, for example. Read More…

Atheism isn’t a guarantee of anything

BeggingSomething I’ve been reading and enjoying a lot recently is Kids Without Religion, Deborah Mitchell’s blog. Today, she posted another excellent piece about a heroin addict being given some money and finding God. Really, it’s very good. But there’s just one short passage that fired something in my brain and inspired this post. It doesn’t really relate to the basic story – as Deborah says, the addict never explicitly identifies as an atheist – but it touches on something I was thinking about anyway.

This is what prompted me to respond:

It’s also frustrating to hear people say, “I was once an atheist, but then god blessed me with ________.” And it is always some sort of perceived good fortune that recently happened. However, it seems that these folks weren’t really atheists to begin with. How do you suddenly talk yourself into believing there’s a higher power simply because you silently prayed and a stranger gave you cash the next day? This fails any test of formal logic. The two events, in reality, have no correlation.

What makes me uncomfortable about this is that it sounds uncannily similar to the sort of thing I used to hear Christians say in the opposite direction: If you lose your faith, you were never really a Christian; it’s just a superficial reaction to bad things happening; your reasoning makes no sense.
Read More…

Could liberal theology be a form of religious methadone?

Protesting BigotsIf you’re reading this, based on my typical readership, you probably agree that some conservative manifestations of religion are not just wrong, but dangerous, at least for certain values of “conservative” and “dangerous”. Extreme or hardline beliefs are easily criticised, but liberal positions cause a lot more disagreement.

Some people outside the church criticise liberal Christians for shoring up the bigots, or for denying the plain message of the religion they follow. Some are puzzled by their membership of a regressive organisation where they often seem to be unwelcome, but applaud them for being on the right side of the important issues. Some just react against the use of religious labels, whatever the underlying content.

What I’d like to suggest is a new, different way for atheists to relate to liberal religion of all stripes, which I believe would be both more realistic and more effective in reducing the harm that religion can cause. Why not support liberal churches, temples and synagogues? Read More…

Is there any point in an atheist community?

DifferentThe atheist community is a subject of some disagreement, often quite heated. Is there such a thing, should there be, and isn’t the very idea on a par with having a club for people who don’t collect stamps? Lurking behind all this is the additional question of whether and why such a community should make a conscious effort to convert people or attract new members.

Personally, I feel something of a pull towards some kind of community. I miss the church connections, and it would be nice to have a replacement. From my point of view, the basic idea sounds very appealing in principle, even if the details are fairly hazy. Read More…

No, I haven’t rejected God

Revelation CloudYou know the phenomenon I call Satan’s Fork, where people find ways of discrediting anyone who’s left a religion? Well, there’s another version which is similar, but used in slightly different circumstances.

“If you’re an atheist, you must never have read the Bible”
I have, all of it
“Then you must not have read it with an open mind”
I did, completely
“Then you must not have understood it”
I did, in minute detail
“Then you must not have accepted it”
I did, in full
“Then you must not have lived it”
I did, for my whole life
“Then you’ve rejected God, and you’re doomed for all eternity”
Read More…

Maybe I need to get down to basics

I’m not really interested in being obvious. I enjoy finding unusual angles and approaches, and I don’t want to waste my time proving that the world’s round, or grass is green. There’s nothing wrong with that in its place, but it’s not my thing.

That’s served me well enough until now, and it’s still true that if I’m ever reduced to posts with no more content than “What about those creationists, eh?” this blog will have passed its sell-by date. But then I experienced a sudden influx after being featured on Freshly Pressed (waves to new followers), and I found myself attracting sermons from people who didn’t know me, haven’t been following my story and in some cases, didn’t even convince me that they’d read and understood the post in question. Read More…

Proud to be an aphilatelist?

StampsHave you ever been in one of those discussions where someone with a religious belief attempts to mock and/or discredit atheists by asking why they spend so much time and effort on something they don’t believe in? It’s similar to the “atheism is a religion” nonsense, and it drives me nuts.

Why do you need a special name for people who don’t support a football club, they ask. Or why would you identify yourself as someone who doesn’t collect stamps? This non-stamp-collecting one seems particularly common, so as a public service, here’s a non-exhaustive list of reasons why I don’t identify myself as an aphilatelist. Read More…

What kind of atheist are you?

News reaches me from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga that a study of non-belief has identified six common categories within the unhelpfully broad category of “religious nones”. I doubt it’s the last word on the subject – the categories were formed based on interviews with just 59 people – but I rather like the idea behind it, although I think there’s a lot of overlap and I identify with at least three or four of their descriptions.

GaneshaYou can read the full details at their website, but here’s my attempt at a brief summary of the different sorts of atheist they’ve identified: Read More…

If you want to understand young atheists, don’t ask Larry Taunton

Larry Taunton, director of the Fixed Point Foundation, recently wrote an article for The Atlantic about what young atheists think. It’s been doing the rounds of forums and social media since it was published a couple of weeks ago, and it’s still prompting a lot of discussion about what it means, with Christians poring over it and fretting about whether their own children might catch the dreadful disease of atheism. I read it with interest when I heard about it, but despite a superficial appearance of objectivity and insight, I was very disappointed.

ChapelTaunton’s “surprising” findings really aren’t that surprising – in fact, they’re astonishingly self-evident, mainly products of selection bias that he either hasn’t noticed or chooses not to acknowledge. Any degree of thoughtful reflection reduces them to laughable statements of the bleedin’ obvious.

He finds that most of the atheists surveyed were brought up within Christianity. (What’s that? Brought up Christian? In America? Hold the front page!) Read More…

Richard Dawkins, winged horses, Islamophobia and a hierarchy of nonsense

I’m going to assume that anyone who’s interested in Richard Dawkins’ latest spat on Twitter already knows all about it, but in summary, he mocked Mehdi Hasan as a journalist (and the New Statesman for publishing him) over Hasan’s belief (common among Muslims) that Mohammed was carried up to heaven on a winged horse.

This caused a lot of fuss, with reactions to it ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, before Dawkins posted a more thorough explanation of what he meant by his tweet, without the constraint of a 140-character limit.

PegasusI don’t see any benefit in revisiting this in detail, but the question that’s been on my mind, given that there have been various accusations of atheist Islamophobia recently, is how atheists, particularly Western atheists in broadly Christian societies, should handle Islam and the beliefs of Muslims, and when rational criticism becomes prejudice and bigotry. Read More…

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