Searching For Honest Atheists

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

The God ArgumentDamon Linker doesn’t see the need of another book about atheism. This time it’s British philosopher A.C. Grayling’s The God Argument – The Case against Religion and for Humanism, to be published on March 26. Linker quotes honest atheist and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche when Nietzsche proclaimed that the death of God would be an “awe-inspiring catastrophe” for mankind. Although numerous gods from humanity’s past have lost their imagined effect on the human condition without catastrophic results, Nietzsche seems to think the passing of this god will be different.

Linker writes:

If atheism is true, it is far from being good news. Learning that we’re alone in the universe, that no one hears or answers our prayers, that humanity is entirely the product of random events, that we have no more intrinsic dignity than non-human and even non-animate clumps of matter, that we face certain annihilation in death, that our sufferings are ultimately pointless, that our lives and loves do not at all matter in a larger sense, that those who commit horrific evils and elude human punishment get away with their crimes scot free — all of this (and much more) is utterly tragic.

The claim that “we’re alone in the universe,” attempts to lump all of humanity into one group that will be alone with Linker’s god. However, since only individuals can feel loneliness, humanity may be alone but will not be lonely. The search for intelligent extra-terrestrial beings echos the same need for humanity to not be alone.

The lament that “no one hears or answers our prayers,” reminds me of a child’s devastation when that child learns that Santa doesn’t read the letters that they have written.

Linker thinks that under atheism, “humanity is entirely the product of random events.” Evolution puts lie to Linker’s straw man fallacy. Natural selection is not a random process. Randomness shouldn’t scare us. Humanity is used to the randomness of which sperm will penetrate the egg, making everyone’s identity the result of a random event.

While atheism does hold that we “face certain annihilation in death,” that annihilation makes life all the more precious. The world got along just fine before we were born, it will get along just fine after we’re dead. We live on only in the minds of those who survive our death. How we’re remembered is all that matters because that is all that remains.

Linker’s religion inflates its followers’ egos by claiming an all-powerful being loves them. The loss of that all-powerful being is a blow to the ego few theists are willing to accept. The feeling of being special in a world teeming with humans is seductive. Religion’s seductiveness also extends to the human desire for revenge. However, it is this very seductiveness that should make us skeptical of its truth.

We have followed the repeated attacks on atheists by political and religious leaders and Linker can be added to hall of shame. Linker believes, contrary to the Constitution’s requirement of “no religious test,” that “radical atheists” are “simply incompatible with high office, and sometimes even active citizenship, in a democracy.” Jews are atheistic regarding the Christian god. Is being Jewish also incompatible with high office?

In the case of Torcaso v. Watkins (1961), unanimous in the result it was the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion that:

We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person “to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.”

H/T: Larry Moran, PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, Jason Rosenhouse.

57 thoughts on “Searching For Honest Atheists

  1. As an atheist, I am for more comfortable thinking that most deaths are the result of randomness, in accident or accidental encounter with bad humans, than thinking they were planned by a Supreme being.

    The premise that God has a “plan” that calls for innocent children to be tortured and raped to death for the perversely horrific pleasure of others is simply abhorrent to me. My youngest brother was a good kid, summarily shot through the heart for insulting a drug dealer. My youngest sister was not only a praying Christian but a woman trying to protect her two-year child when she was murdered (but her child was saved). My next-youngest sister was burned over 60% of her body as the result of a prank by neighborhood kids and it has ruined her life and potential. My next youngest brother choked to death in a random accident. A cousin I grew up with was struck and killed by a car while walking on the side of the road due to his own broken car. If all that was part of His plan, screw the plan.

    I find it far more palatable to believe there is nobody deciding anything, there is no “plan” except for the ones we make ourselves, and bad things happen to good people because of randomized bad luck, dumb human decisions, and morally defective humans, and that we can try to engineer a society that minimizes our losses without minimizing our freedoms. That view is not filled with contradictions and impossibilities, it is just reality.

  2. Teji Malik 1, March 16, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Dredd: Please read my whole post again and perhaps slowly this time. You know very well what I meant by Revelation.If you do not, it was in the religious context. Nothing to do with your babble by twisting the meaning I mentioned.:-)
    =============================================
    All words have various meanings of course.

    Many of the meanings are fabrications.

    Knowledge by revelation is not limited to religion.

    My “babble” is about the nexus between what we call “knowledge” and who we get it from.

    In that context, scientists reveal knowledge to us and we believe it or we do not, depending on our faith / trust in that individual and science.

    Often that “knowledge” turns out to be wrong. In fact most major scientific teachings eventually are shown to be in error in some degree. Sometimes the degree is 100%.

    Likewise, religionists reveal knowledge to us and we believe it or we do not, depending on our faith / trust in that individual and religion.

    Often that “knowledge” turns out to be wrong. In fact most major religious teachings eventually are shown to be in error in some degree. Sometimes the degree is 100%.

    It is your faith / trust that is driving your ideology. And mine. And theirs.

  3. rcampbell 1, March 16, 2013 at 1:09 pm
    … Why doesn’t walking around in a permanent state of suspended disbelief and/or the ardent belief in spirits controlling human activities qualify as a mental illness?
    ===========================================
    It does qualify as a mental illness, as does believing human civilization is in control.

    But it is not an individual illness, it is a group illness:

    “Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

    “I would not say that such an attempt to apply psychoanalysis to civilized society would be fanciful or doomed to fruitlessness.” – Sigmund Freud

    IMO this thread is not about which side is crazy in this ideological war, because both sides are a part of a crazy group called “human civilization.”

    Both are hurtling towards catastrophe that will destroy civilization, but instead of choosing to avoid the catastrophe, the crowd is more concerned about their origin than they are of their destination:

    “One would say that [man] is destined to exterminate himself after having rendered the globe uninhabitable.” – Lamarck (1817)

    “Mayr, from the point of view of a biologist, argued that it’s very unlikely that we’ll find any [extraterrestrial intelligence]. And his reason was, he said, we have exactly one example: Earth. So let’s take a look at Earth. And what he basically argued is that intelligence is a kind of lethal mutation … you’re just not going to find intelligent life elsewhere, and you probably won’t find it here for very long either because it’s just a lethal mutation” – Dr. Noam Chomsky paraphrasing Dr. Ernst Mayr

    This war of origins that conducts various forms of knowledge production while driving down the road to the future — steering by viewing only what is in the rear view mirror — is not going to be successful for either religionists or scientists, both of which have some common beliefs from time to time:

    “Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world.” – Charles Darwin (1881)

    Our knowledge production on either side tends toward increasingly “sophisticated” violence based on who has the best “knowledge.”

    Knowledge that is determined by who one believes.

  4. I do not believe anything about religion that I have not seen. I have been through the Pearly Gates routine on the reincarnation routine and it is not all that holy or roller. It is kind of like Ellis Island. I went to the little seminar called Come Back As A Dog. It was a pretty good show. The deal is that they place you with a family in a civilized nation state, not a Pirate Territory like Morroco where dogs are sold in the markets hangin by their rear feet while still alive for food. You get a bowl of dog food and a a rather healthy family. The rest is up to you. You have to provide guidance and comfort in the tryhing times.

  5. AY,
    the only thing Francis I has going for him is that he is a Jesuit. His record also reflects that he is a hardliner on many issues that Catholics everywhere do not agree with or follow. When he orders all Bishops to turn over all pedophile priests to authorities, then we may have something. I might even go back to church if that happens!

  6. “The lament that “no one hears or answers our prayers,” reminds me of a child’s devastation when that child learns that Santa doesn’t read the letters that they have written.”

    Wow, another validation of the theory “Santa Syndrome” which states that atheism is caused by Santa Claus. It is observed that atheists will almost always attempt to tie the belief in God with Santa Claus, as well as other strawman arguments like pasta monsters, unicorns, teapots in space, etc…

    “We have followed the repeated attacks on atheists by political and religious leaders and Linker can be added to hall of shame. Linker believes, contrary to the Constitution’s requirement of “no religious test,” that “radical atheists” are “simply incompatible with high office, and sometimes even active citizenship, in a democracy.” Jews are atheistic regarding the Christian god [sic]. Is being Jewish also incompatible with high office?”

    This is peculiar, where we see references to fictitious “repeated attacks” on atheists. Really? Just about daily, we read or hear about yet another attack by atheists on people exercising their freedom of religion. Whats more, atheists pervert laws and use the court system to force their belief on others. Attacks on atheists? That’s the funniest thing I’ve hear in a while. SMH

  7. Hubert: At my university, one of the student organizations is an Atheists club. Faculty (like me) are welcome, and I try to attend when my schedule permits. (Quietly; I like to hear them discuss atheism on their own).

    In particular, I am interested in the new members recruited every year, we have a meeting where people are invited (not required) to tell the story of how they came to be an atheist.

    One particular story I heard went like this, and is representative of about half of them. A young man said,

    “In high school I was a Christian, and vocal about it, but other Christians seemed to know the Bible so well, and I hadn’t even read it. So one summer I sat down and I read the Bible, cover to cover. When I put it down, I was an atheist.”

    That wasn’t my own story, but the cause is similar. Atheism isn’t caused by Santa Claus, the disbelief in Santa Claus and a disbelief in God just spring from the same well: An insistence that things make sense and are logical and cohere. Santa Claus is the easier problem, the evidence for his non-existence is more readily available and more readily admitted.

    God is much the tougher problem, the story is constructed to be circularly reinforcing, and His non-existence is adamantly and angrily denied by adults, many willing to commit violence over it; from punishing or beating their children into submission, to murdering the infidels.

    Which to me, makes those that arrive at atheism on their own heroes, people with fortitude and vision clear enough to find the true path despite 95% of the people they meet (and often their parents, family, friends and peers) vehemently insisting they are wrong, wrong, wrong.

  8. Raff,

    I cannot disagree based upon how I feel as well….. What this guy has going for him…. Is he is not acting like his predecessor in anyway…. Thus far….. We can’t say that about politics here….

  9. “DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
    “Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
    “Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
    “Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

    “VIRGINIA O’HANLON.
    “115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.”

    VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

    Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

    Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

    You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

    No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

  10. Here are some more cases of honest athiests:

    “The ascription of all changes in form to chance has long caused raised eyebrows. Let us not dally with the doubts of nineteenth-century critics, however; for the issue subsided. But it raised its ugly head again in a fairly dramatic form in 1967, when a handful of mathematicians and biologists were chattering over a picnic lunch organized by the physicist, Victor Weisskopf, who is a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and one of the original Los Alamos atomic bomb group, at his house in Geneva. `A rather weird discussion’ took place. The subject was evolution by natural selection. The mathematicians were stunned by the optimism of the evolutionists about what could be achieved by chance. So wide was the rift that they decided to organize a conference, which was called Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Theory of Evolution.

    The conference was chaired by Sir Peter Medawar, whose work on graft rejection won him a Noble prize and who, at the time, was director of the Medical Research Council’s laboratories in North London. Not, you will understand, the kind of man to speak wildly or without careful thought. In opening the meeting, he said: `The immediate cause of this conference is a pretty widespread sense of dissatisfaction about what has come to be thought of as the accepted evolutionary theory in the English-speaking world, the so-called neo-Darwinian theory. This dissatisfaction has been expressed from several quarters.”

    (G.R. Taylor, Great Evolution Mystery, 1983, p. 4.) The thing is, these atheists and evolutionists are honest enough to argue like Shia and Sunni at a blasphemy conference at Mecca:

    “The immediate cause of this conference is a pretty widespread sense of dissatisfaction about what has come to be thought as the accepted evolutionary theory in the English-speaking world, the so-called neo-Darwinian theory … These objections to current neo-Darwinian theory are very widely held among biologists generally; and we must on no account, I think, make light of them.”

    (Paul Moorhead and Martin Kaplan (ed.), Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution). It is a good thing when scientists can be honest and disagree about a theory:

    “Throughout the past century there has always existed a significant minority of first-rate biologists who have never been able to bring themselves to accept the validity of Darwinian claims. In fact, the number of biologists who have expressed some degree of disillusionment is practically endless. When Arthur Koestler organized the Alpbach Symposium, in 1969, called `Beyond Reductionism,’ for the express purpose of bringing together biologists critical of orthodox Darwinism he was able to include in the list of participants many authorities of world stature, such as Swedish neurobiologist, Holgar Hyden; zoologists, Paul Weiss and W.H. Thorpe; linguist, David McNeil; and child psychologist, Jean Piaget. Koestler had this to say in his opening remarks: `. . invitations were confined to personalities in academic life, with undisputed authority in their respective fields, who nevertheless share that holy discontent.

    “At the Wistar Institute Symposium in 1966, which brought together mathematicians and biologists of impeccable academic credentials, Sir Peter Medawar acknowledged in his introductory address the existence of a widespread feeling of skepticism over the role of chance in evolution, a feeling in his own words that: `… something is missing from orthodox theory.’ “

    (Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, 1985, pp. 327-328). Even if one considers all the questions to have been resolved, one cannot deny that there were honest atheists arguing amongst themselves at times:

    “The doubt that has infiltrated the previously smug confident certitude of evolutionary biology’s last twenty years has inflamed passions . . There has been a total lack of agreement even within the warring camps . . Things are really in an uproar these days . . Sometimes it seems as though there are as many variations on each [evolutionary] theme as there are individual biologists.”

    (Niles Eldredge, “Evolutionary Housecleaning,” in Natural History, February 1982, pp. 78, 81). The honest atheists are much like their counterparts, the creationists, when those creationists are heard when arguing about the age of the Earth.

  11. If Christianity is true, it is far far worse than the bleak portrait painted of the universe by the atheist viewpoint in the Linker quote above. If Christianity is true, it means that billions of human beings will not have their sufferings in this life ended – instead they will have them multiplied for eternity – all not because of any evil deeds they may have committed in this life, but because they failed to smooch the butt of a egotistical God. However nihilistic the atheist outlook may be, it is far more rosier than this scenario.

  12. I think humans will always have more dignity that a tree because we know we will die and rot yet carry on despite that. The more humanely we carry on while living with this knowledge, the more dignity we have. We don’t need god to do that; in fact, a god would reduce the dignity of that.

  13. What if you were a god and never died? Do we have to blame or praise one big god & give him a capital G? Now that last one is a lot harder to prove than the first. If you think not, examine your argument: its probably based on blind faith.

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