Friday, May 2, 2008

Why Blabber About God?

I seem to be encountering this question frequently these days: if I don't believe in god, why do I blog about god so much? I actually think this is a stupid question, but that's not a constructive reply.

Greta Christina has written a lot of great blog posts in her time, but her answer to this question, Atheists and Anger, has to rank as one of the All Time Greatest Blog Posts in the History of Blogs.

Do read it if you haven't already; read it again if you already have. Enjoy!


Spherical said...

When Christians don't have an answer they just say, "Because God made it that way." When Atheists don't have one, apparently they say, "I'm angry, and it is your fault."

Greta has lots of reasons to be angry, so do I and everyone else for that matter. Anger doesn't change the world, angry people doing something positive does.

If anything, I felt that my posting showed that you are guilty of the same tactics you fault others for. You want to deny others their faith in God and cry foul when they can't tolerate your faith in atheism.

You are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.

Anonymous said...

I did not get through all of Greta Christina's post, but her points only seem tangentially related to being an atheist. Isn't it really about power and oppression? Anger is effective for getting things done history has shown us, but it seems like it's most effective for preaching to the choir rather than making any converts, that is, unless through anger the angry can get power and start doing the oppressing. I'm more for well reasoned arguments communicated effectively to an audience that result in change over time. It sucks that it's usually very slow, but it has legs.


Dale said...

Spherical, "I'm angry and it is your fault" has the virtue of being true in many cases. Not only true but actionable: it identifies the source of the problem and implies a resolution, namely, stop the person doing it. Do you live in a moral world in which nothing is ever the fault of some other person? I would think not. And even if you do (or think you do), I don't want to join you there. In my world, sometimes people do terrible things, and a major stop along the journey of setting things right is noticing their guilt and setting the proper emotional tone about the fact. Sometimes that proper emotion is anger.

But I quibble. It's my blog, and I can quibble if I wanna.

Since you brought it up: if anything, I felt that your posting showed that you have a very limited background on the arguments for and against the existence of god, together with a very poor grasp of science (especially evolution). Tip: if you ever find yourself in a science classroom -- physics, chemistry, biology, whatever -- don't say "How can you have a law with no law-giver?" out loud. You'll be the class dumbass from that point forward -- the example the teacher cites every time he/she needs to make a point about flaming retards. But of course I realize you didn't request my advice, and based on your your self-descriptions, maybe you relish the role of dumbass. I leave that to you.

I don't actually care if you tolerate my atheism or not, and I regret having left any kind of impression that your opinion about my atheism matters. The Constitution cares about whether you, as part of a majority, can get away with not tolerating it, and I'm glad of that; but that's far afield of anything we've discussed.

I'm not out to make atheism popular. I am out to show that faith is poisonous to morals, a danger to the future of human civilization, and a mother lode of poor thinking; but I am also out to show that it is amenable to critical scrutiny in all its forms, up to and including ridicule. I am out to be the change, that change being a world in which people can't say "because my religion teaches so" to excuse utter, baseless bullshit. They continue to have the legal and human right to say such things, and I defend that right staunchly. But they don't have a conversational, informal, interpersonal right to be "respected" just because they're fond of a set of fables. I will not nod along with noxious bullshit no matter how sacred someone finds it. Not here. (If you're interested, and I doubt you are, you can read my earlier posts about "conversational intolerance" on this precious, precious blog.)

But to be abundantly clear and candid: no, I don't tolerate everything. I think "tolerate diversity" makes for an idiotic bumper sticker. I don't tolerate bullshit -- or rapists, murderers, molestors, racists, aspiring theocrats, anti-gay bigots, among others. I don't and I won't. (Again, the exercise of government power is a different, subtler matter -- and surely of greater import than what I will ever say, think, or write on a blog.)

Bullshit matters because the truth matters, and also because people's acceptance of bullshit has consequences sooner or later. For the reasons Greta Christina gave and more besides, I emphasize the rather deep well of bullshit and unreason known as religion, particularly Abrahamic religion.

I fault others -- by which I take you to mean god-believing others particularly -- for believing baseless things, and for allowing these baseless beliefs to carry them into terrible deeds and/or create the space for others to commit those same deeds with the same flimsy justifications (e.g., letting a child die because a book says that prayer, rather than modern medicine, is the only proper way to treat illness; flying planes into building to punish The Great Satan; justifying hatred and discrimination of gay people because an old book says it's OK to do so; etc.)

If I am guilty of this same pattern -- clinging to poorly-grounded beliefs that lead to, generate, create space for, or otherwise buttress foul deeds -- please make it known to me, and if possible, support your claims with evidence, reason, logic, and clarity. Until you do so, I don't have the slightest idea what you mean by your claim that I am "guilty of the same tactics" that I "fault others for."

Spherical said...

Exactly my point, YOU DON'T SEE your own intolerance because you are blinded by your anger and even hatred. Aren't you the kid in my second grade class who started telling everyone that Santa Clause wasn't real? As far as PROVING it to you, I can't. Not because there isn't proof out there, but because whatever proof is offered, you wouldn't accept it. To borrow from a former atheist, if I wanted to convince someone that man had landed on the moon, and they did not want to believe it, they could and would reason away any evidence I presented. (I found that idea when I clicked on a google ad that came up on your site, how ironic is that!)

You want to call me the class dumb-ass because I say that you cannot have a law without a law-giver. Perhaps in a class full of atheists I would be.

So if you want a specific way in which you are JUST LIKE THOSE who blindly believe, answer just one question for me: How did life begin? Doesn't Darwin credit spontaneous generation? Yet previously you stated that we can only accept that which we have observed. Haven't scientists tried to do this and failed? Neither spontaneous generation nor macro evolution has been observed, nor is it likely that can it be. So your anger and intolerance is based on the same thing that those you wish to eliminate, FAITH (yet I firmly don't expect you to agree with that. Here, try these glasses on for size). Your truth is your truth, their truth is their truth. Both cling to their faith and neither will budge.

Reread Andrew's post above. You preach to atheists and you will get a standing ovation. Others preach to their own and get the same response. Their only answer is to "get rid of the Great Satan" meaning America. Your ONLY answer is to get rid of the Great Satan of Abrahamic Religion.

BTW, Jesus had a hard time with Abrahamic Religion too. Not with what God had done with it, but in the way that man had taken and twisted it to fit his own agenda. I see an eerie parallel here, not just with your attitude, but with that of the plane crashers, gay bashers, and others who preach intolerance. So I stand by my statement, that you are guilty of the same tactics you fault others for: INTOLERANCE BASED ON FAITH!

But as you say, it is your blog, and you can say what you like, I appreciate the opportunity to participate on it. And while I may not be the most seasoned scientist or theologian, I am growing, thanks in some part to you.

Dale said...

I don't see my own intolerance? I just spelled out my own intolerance in great detail. I see it. I think there are things worth being intolerant about. I have never said otherwise. I have said, at most, that our criticisms of things in the world -- the drawing of the line between what we'll tolerate and what we won't -- should come with sound reasons. So do please continue accusing me of intolerance. I'll keep agreeing. It'll be a hoot!

I'll make it more concrete by putting it in terms of a relevant example.

I am indeed intolerant of people who a) hate gays and b) justify the hate, wholly or partly, by citing passages in an old book. If they want to make headway in convincing me that gays are something to be not-tolerated, they're going to need to do a damn sight better than that. But please do take the chance to note what I did not say: I did not say I am forever and absolutely closed to the argument. If there is something about gays that really and truly places them beyond the pale, I would hope someone would point it out to me. But the reasons I've seen to date -- and I've seen plenty, believe me -- have struck me as spectacularly weak, and none weaker than the "god says so" line.

How did life begin, you ask. My candid answer: I don't know. I have read some hypotheses, and insofar as I can make sense of them (only so far), they strike me as what they themselves claim to be -- plausible but unproven.

Therefore Jesus? I don't think so. That's quite a logical leap. A few long leaps, actually.

Therefore I am succumbing to mere faith -- mere faith that it wasn't god, mere faith that there's a purely materialistic, naturalistic explanation? Um, no. This is important so I'm going to turn it into its own post, so stay tuned.

Or don't -- you're free to do as you wish, believe as you wish, read as you wish, write as you wish. It's a free country and we have rights. We don't have a right to be agreed with in our views, and we don't have a right not to find ideas we find repulsive and dumb and contrary, and we don't have the right for others to experience the emotional states and reactions we would wish, and we don't have a right never to suffer a category five asshole such as myself, but we do have significant rights and freedoms.

Huzzah for that. On that, at least, I would hope all agree.

Dale said...

spherical, two smaller points before I rage on about other things: a few times in this body of exchanges you've invoked errors made by Charles Darwin (most recently, something about spontaneous generation). You should recognize that this is an extremely fruitless way of criticizing evolutionary science. The theory of evolution doesn't depend on Charles Darwin. Evolution is its own free-standing theory that has long since left Charles Darwin, very imperfect and completely dead Victorian, behind.

Here's a fuller statement on the relationship between Darwin and evolution:

Not that the ideas expressed there are the most original, or best expressed, but since I wrote them, they're easy for me to find.

Other smallish point: for what it's worth -- not much to be sure -- Darwin didn't spend much time, effort, or ink on the question of life's origins. His theory of natural selection explains the origin of species (the diversity of life), not the origin of life.

Even today, many (most?) evolutionary biologists agree that the origin of life -- abiogenesis -- is beyond the scope of Darwinian natural selection. But it is a fuzzy line, and I've seen reputable evolutionary scientists on both sides of it.

Dale said...

Andrew, yes, the god question tends to come down to power. But the legitimacy of power makes all the difference, and assertions of power grounded in faith, revelation, books of fables, miracle tales, and the like are exceedingly weak assertions of power, and therefore illegitimate assertions of power. This is what marks them as oppressive, and what can I say? Oppression irks me.

Anger has a place. Anger gets things done and gets people to take notice and take a stand. It has its well-known flaws, I realize.

As I have said, I am not the worldwide spokesmodel for atheism -- not only am I not, I should not be. I am not a diplomat. I don't want to be a diplomat or a politician about this. Certainly not here.

For whatever it's worth -- spectacularly little, I would think -- I am not always angry as I issue snarks about religion. Sometimes I'm outraged, other times I'm depressed, other times I'm disgusted, other times I'm genuinely amused, dumbfounded, or just surprised.

And then there are the many, many times I just don't care. Consider: the Pope himself came to the USA recently, and I didn't hurl the phrase "child rape" even once while he was close by. Not once! I kinda-sorta wanted to, but I didn't. I didn't even make fun of his hats or shoes.

Believe me when I say I don't boil with rage every time someone walks into a church or enters into a prayer pose. Really I don't. Much in the realm of 'god stuff' happens in the world every day that fails to evoke an emotion from me. Some of it even seems positive.

Spherical said...

Okay, I have read your article. Well written. It still leaves me with some unanswered questions: What about the origin of life? One would think that this is an important question to answer, both in the realm of theology and science.

As for evolution, I still don't see the evidence of macro evolution (change in species) taking place. You posting about the adaptation of the lizard is interesting, but the lizards are still lizards. And what of the other species on this island? Shouldn't they have adapted so they would not have been eliminated? If you follow this thought to the end, then one would think we would be down to just one superior species by now.

As I understand your article, even evolutionary thought is evolutionary, changing over time as new information is discovered. Here's a thought: perhaps we all need each other. Muslims, Jews, Atheists, Christians. Here's my attempt at an analogy: Let's start with the gays, because they are a benign group when it comes to social injustice. But wait, don't some gays abuse children. Then, according to some, if we eliminate homosexuality we can stop child abuse. But wait, straights do that too, so let's eliminate the straights too. That leaves the asexuals. But aren't priests asexual? Haven't some of them abused children too. Out they go. Let's see, that leaves us with no one. So in order to completely get rid of social injustice, all we have to do is eliminate 3 groups, gays, straights, and asexuals. You make the point in your last comment that it is possible that some of what Christians do might actually be positive. What about all of the donations and mission trips churches made after Katrina (and this is still going on), get rid of Christianity and you lose that. What about my friends, who believe that God wanted them to adopt a child from Haiti? Lose that too. What about Martin Luther King? Lose that too. As Jesus said, Let the weeds grow with the wheat until the harvest, for if we pull the weeds now, some of the wheat will be harmed too. (My paraphrase). I go back to the story of the St.Matthew Island Mystery. Scientists were puzzled when an entire population of reindeer died, when they had no preditors on the island and no known parasites. A reindeer utopia! So what did the reindeer do? They ate themselves out of house and home. (Maybe in much the same way humans are ravishing the earth of its resources). I'm not saying that we tolerate the "predators" or let them go unpunished. But I think we need to focus on the people causing the problem, and not get focused on general lifestyles or beliefs.

So perhaps the problem is not God, but the problem is peole using God as a justification for unacceptable behavior. There is no group that has a lock on moral superiority. Both believers and unbelievers have their rapists, murderers, molestors, racists, aspiring theocrats, anti-gay bigots, etc.

"People ruin their lives by their own stupidity, so why does God always get blamed?" (Proverbs 19:3)

Dale said...

spherical, a clarification or three: when I listed off some things of which I am intolerant, I did not state, nor did I mean to imply, that these things are the fault of religion. Nor do I think getting rid of religion (in whatever fashion) would get rid of these things. I am fully aware that non-believers do lots and lots of terrible things, things I do not tolerate. I have never said otherwise.

I do not advocate the violent or forceful removal / destruction / banishment / punishment of *anyone* unless under the umbrella of legitimate law. I'm 100% for due process, rule of law, the presumption of innocence, habeus corpus, etc. I am also damnnear absolutist on freedom of expression, freedom of belief, and freedom of religion. But as I stated before, there is no right to be agreed with. There is no right not to have one's cherished ideas criticized.

Your discussion of "getting rid of" this or that group really doesn't belong in the conversation. I am not looking to "get rid of" persons or groups; at most I would be pleased to see that I've changed someone's mind about something, but as I've said, I realize my shortcomings in this area.

I am criticizing ideas.

In some cases I am citing crimes against persons and in those cases I support -- again under the rule of law -- making that stop. I would hope you agree. We don't let rapists go in the name of "tolerance" -- that would be insane.

The emergence of species has been observed plenty of times. Speciation resource: