Liberty is an inherently offensive lifestyle. Living in a free society guarantees that each one of us will see our most cherished principles and beliefs questioned and in some cases mocked. That psychic discomfort is the price we pay for basic civic peace. It's worth it. It's a pragmatic principle. Defend everyone else's rights, because if you don't there is no one to defend yours. -- MaxedOutMama

I don't just want gun rights... I want individual liberty, a culture of self-reliance....I want the whole bloody thing. -- Kim du Toit

The most glaring example of the cognitive dissonance on the left is the concept that human beings are inherently good, yet at the same time cannot be trusted with any kind of weapon, unless the magic fairy dust of government authority gets sprinkled upon them.-- Moshe Ben-David

The cult of the left believes that it is engaged in a great apocalyptic battle with corporations and industrialists for the ownership of the unthinking masses. Its acolytes see themselves as the individuals who have been "liberated" to think for themselves. They make choices. You however are just a member of the unthinking masses. You are not really a person, but only respond to the agendas of your corporate overlords. If you eat too much, it's because corporations make you eat. If you kill, it's because corporations encourage you to buy guns. You are not an individual. You are a social problem. -- Sultan Knish

All politics in this country now is just dress rehearsal for civil war. -- Billy Beck

Monday, October 30, 2006

Atheists and Anti-theists

Or: "Brights?" Don't Make Me Laugh!

You know, I sometimes hesitate to write these pieces. Partially because they're the ones that draw 100+ comments, and partially because they generally serve only to piss some people off. However, it's a topic that I find pretty fascinating, and (given the 100+ comments) others obviously do too.

I noted recently that Rev. Donald Sensing had written a piece entitled Can Atheism Be Justified?. I greatly respect Rev. Sensing - in fact it was to him I addressed an Important Question. I said then, and I believe now, that Rev. Sensing is one of the not-so-common deep thinkers in the blogosphere. The Reverend's essay begins:
Dinesh D’Souza writes,
A group of leading atheists is puzzled by the continued existence and vitality of religion.
What an interesting thing for atheists to ponder. In the modern day one either has to accept some kind of deistic understanding of the origin of the universe or an evolutionary understanding that excludes any sort of deity from contributing to the origin of the universe and all contained therein. I am not saying that one must either be religious or non-religious, for the dichotomy is true even for adherents of non-deistic or nature religions. Either deity (or deities) had a hand in existence itself, or it/they did not.
So why would a deity-denying atheist be puzzled that religion is thriving? If evolution as they describe it is true, then religion is itself a product thereof. Not only that, but Judaism is an evolutionary product, so is Christianity, so is Islam, so is Buddhism, so is Shamanisn, so is … well, you get the idea.
And so is the theory of evolution itself. And astrology. And tarot-card reading. And medical science. And faith healing. And everything else. So why do materialists single out religion as a particularly puzzling thing to exist? Why religion and not, say, athletics or stamp collecting or consumption of alcohol?
See what I mean? Cuts right to the quick of it, doesn't he?

I took some time to read D'Souza's column. In it, he references Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and E.O. Wilson - all of whom I have linked to or quoted myself in Why I Am an Atheist. D'Souza's arguments for why religion is popular and atheism is not are (in my opinion) irrefutable. Example:
(I)magine two groups of people -- let's call them the Secular Tribe and the Religious Tribe -- who subscribe to one of these two views. Which of the two is more likely to survive, prosper and multiply? The religious tribe is made up of people who have an animating sense of purpose. The secular tribe is made up of people who are not sure why they exist at all. The religious tribe is composed of individuals who view their every thought and action as consequential. The secular tribe is made up of matter that cannot explain why it is able to think at all.

Should evolutionists like Dennett, Dawkins, Harris and Wilson be surprised, then, to see that religious tribes are flourishing around the world? Across the globe, religious faith is thriving and religious people are having more children. By contrast, atheist conventions only draw a handful of embittered souls, and the atheist lifestyle seems to produce listless tribes that cannot even reproduce themselves.
Oooh! Ouch! (Truth hurts, or so they say.) And that last paragraph on the fact that secular societies are not breeding while religious ones are is a telling one. D'Souza, too, turns the question around most effectively in his last paragraph:
My conclusion is that it is not religion but atheism that requires a Darwinian explanation. It seems perplexing why nature would breed a group of people who see no purpose to life or the universe, indeed whose only moral drive seems to be sneering at their fellow human beings who do have a sense of purpose.
This is a question I've fielded here in comments on more than one occasion.

But bear with me a few more minutes.

In this month's issue of Wired magazine, editor Gary Wolf looks into The Church of the Non-Believer, and it's a very interesting exposé. Wolf starts off with fire and brimstone (sorry about the mixed-metaphors.):

It's a question you may prefer not to be asked. But I'm afraid I have no choice. We find ourselves, this very autumn, three and a half centuries after the intellectual martyrdom of Galileo, caught up in a struggle of ultimate importance, when each one of us must make a commitment. It is time to declare our position.

This is the challenge posed by the New Atheists. We are called upon, we lax agnostics, we noncommittal nonbelievers, we vague deists who would be embarrassed to defend antique absurdities like the Virgin Birth or the notion that Mary rose into heaven without dying, or any other blatant myth; we are called out, we fence-sitters, and told to help exorcise this debilitating curse: the curse of faith.

The New Atheists will not let us off the hook simply because we are not doctrinaire believers. They condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God. Religion is not only wrong; it's evil. Now that the battle has been joined, there's no excuse for shirking.
You know, I sort of understood that there was a battle going on, but I hadn't before realized just how virulent it was. I've repeatedly stated that I'm a small "a" atheist. I guess that makes me "noncommittal" in the war on faith. Actually, that's not completely accurate. I found this quote somewhere, but I failed to link to the source:
Consider the two statements:

"I don't believe there is a God."

"I believe there is no God."

One has a belief, the other does not. The latter is the position of what's thought to be the true atheist (though the nomenclature is screwed up, because atheist should really mean no theistic beliefs, e.g. asexual, or amoral, and antitheist is the word we should use for someone we currently term an atheist).
I'm an atheist. They are ANTItheists.

I'll stop here for the moment. Please read the entire, quite excellent Wired piece. There will be a discussion later.

Oh, and it runs just a bit over 7,000 words. I don't want to hear how long-winded I am anymore! ;-)

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