Once again, a fair warning to all, this might be offensive as hell to some. Just try and understand that even though I think religion may be crazy or irrational, that doesn't mean I universally dislike religious people or that I think everything they do outside of religion is worthless. Point of Fact: This two-part series came about last evening during a friendly e-mail exchange with a Kossack friend who is definitely
a believer and s/he happens to be someone whose integrity, character, and compassion, I greatly admire.
Now a foreword and a suggested code of conduct since the post got so distended: Take some time to decide if something is really worth your time to respond to, there will be trolls on both sides looking to agitate you anyway they can.
Your religion may be inspiring to you. It may have stories that are inspiring to me. It may have mnemonic value; critically important value at that. It may be rich in tradition and culture, it may encapsulate important events in human history. It may offer hope to people who have no hope left. It may serve as a useful insight into human nature. Humans may indeed have a preexisting facility to acquire belief systems similar to the one for language. It may provide a valuable ethical and behavioral framework. It may spread like a virus and mutate like bird flu. I don't necessarily think you are weak minded for buying it, I think enculturation and peer pressure is some powerful gumbo. But this diary isn't about any of that.
This is about why I am an atheist, not why you should be one. And by atheist I mean that I strongly suspect that the core, underlying, supernatural claims of religion are nonsense. If you want me to not be an atheist and share your particular flavor of supernatural belief, you need to be able to perform the magic or produce the supernatural being you claim exists and subject that creature to a battery of tests under controlled conditions.
That's it folks. That's the criteria if you want me to believe that your underlying supernatural being or beings are for real. Spare me/us word games, meaning try and avoid twisting words into unrecognizable states of vague meaningless mush. EG: The assumption that Cap'n Crunch exists and the assumption that dogs exist are not on the same rung in the ladder of 'faith'. One requires extraordinary faith and the mind of a child or a 'tard, the other only requires a trip to my backyard. Same for redefining atheism as a religion. You can call atheism anything you want, but you may just confuse people if you do so. Because if atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby and baldness is a hair color.
And please, try and limit any long-winded philosophical explanations of why your particular deity or supernatural claim is untestable or perfectly resembles one that does not exist; if it cannot be tested and happens to perfectly imitate one that does not exist, skeptics are not going to buy it. Same for excuses that the magic doesn't work when a skeptic is present with a camcorder. It doesn't matter, even if it's written in a book that it worked once upon a time. Same for demanding I prove your magic wizard/dragon/powers/sea monster/pantheon doesn't exist or 'you win'. This is for your own good: You don't win anything outside of exposing yourself as logically clueless.
Speaking of which here's an exhaustive list of Logical Fallacies many of which were known to even the ancients and most of which are required topics for a degree in philosophy. If you regale us in comments with your philosophical prowess or try to snow anyone in that regard, and go onto commit even one of them, you will probably be laughed at and ridiculed by people who have real training in philosophy or formal debate.
Why am I an Atheist?
In my Santa Claus analogy I mentioned near the end to imagine why it is you don't literally believe in Santa and his North Pole factory. I bet for most of you, it's not because you hate Santa, I mean who would? It's probably not because you hate Christmas or despise giving or receiving gifts. I doubt it's because you detest having days off or eating kickass food with your family and friends. You probably can't prove there is no Santa and even if you try, I assure you from long experience in dealing with creationists* I can offer a counter argument.
No, none of that is the reason: Your disbelief in a literal Santa Claus, flying reindeer, nocturnal visits, toy factories, elves, etc., likely centers on three concrete objections:
- "It" makes no sense
- There is no evidence for "it"
- We're adults who can get by fine at Christmas time and enjoy ourselves without "it" having to be true
Evidence by far is the key. Something might not make sense, like Quantum Mechanics, but we accept it because of the evidence. OTOH something might make sense, like the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe, but we don't accept it as valid, yet, because we have no evidence. The reason for this asymmetry is, as the late Carl Sagan said: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Combine a bunch of bundled extraordinary claims that have no evidence to support them, not even mediocre evidence, with the fact that the set of claims don't make any sense at all kinds of levels, and that's a real problem for someone like me to get past.
Simply substitute "it" for religion in the above three points and you understand the framework of why I'm an atheist. Since most of the people who ask me about this are Christians and that's the religion I know the most about, I'll address that particular tradition under the three qualifiers I mentioned above. With the understanding that I don't think your religion is any sillier than any other as it can easily be extended to cover other supernatural cosmogonies.
It makes no sense
There is so much in the Bible (And the Quron and everything else) that makes no sense, it's pretty hard to pick a place to begin. I suppose a good enough place would be the beginning of the book: It makes no sense to create some kind of paradise in which man and woman have no inkling of right and wrong, and then hold them responsible for doing something wrong. It makes no sense to hold their descendants for all time responsible for them doing something wrong even if they did in fact have some mysterious way of determining right and wrong prior to being taught how to distinguish right from wrong.
It makes no sense for YVHW to kill off every living thing on earth with a flood or any other psychotic method of genocide if he can do whatever he wants and his goal is to engender love for His masterful and benevolent rule. It is in fact an act far, far, to the right of Hitler and Ghangas Kahn combined; it makes those two pikers look like candy-stripers. And the flood is just one of many monstrous acts.
It makes no sense to talk about an immortal being dying, because by definition immortal beings cannot die. It's like talking about a square circle, or an even number that is not divisible by two; it's nonsensical words strung together in a transparently vacuous parody of meaning.
Speaking of which, what generally makes dying such a big sacrifice in the first place is that you stay dead, forever. Another thing that makes torture and execution such an unpleasant experience is that you're utterly helpless throughout the ordeal. Being the omnipotent Creator of all space and time kind of takes the edge of that, and it makes no sense that someone would try to pitch it as a big sacrifice.
This example of what I feel is nonsense bears special emphasis by graphic comparison: Casey Sheehan was sacrificed; Pat Tillman was sacrificed; People in New Orleans were sacrificed; Every fireman that ran into the WTC was sacrificed. What makes those tragedies a sacrifice is not just that we know they happened or the cause they died for, but that it meant they were gone forever. OTOH, being unconscious for three days and then coming to as the Immortal Ruler of the Universe is not a sacrifice, it's a stunt. And the consequences for the stunt man are the sweetest deal in the history of mankind.
It makes no sense that God would disguise himself as a human, fake his death, and expect us to drop to our knees in abject awe at his 'sacrifice', because it pales in comparison to the ones we mere mortals face. In my view, it's frankly a grotesque insult to humanity to try and pass that off as anything close to the fear, horror, and pain that real people have to deal with under torture and execution. And it makes little sense to me that a being which creates Quasars and butterflies would come up with such an empty and downright bizarre stunt as a solution to problems they intentionally created in the first place and expect us to whimper in admiration at their sense of compassion. Especially since by all accounts they could have remedied it with the snap of their supernatural fingers, or just not let the problem happen in the first place.
This is how sense works imo, using the Bible itself: Either Jesus died and stayed that way in which case he did not rise and Christianity is built on an erroneous premise, or he did rise in which case he did not die and there was no sacrifice, and Christianity is built on an erroneous premise. It really is that simple.
It makes no sense that an omnipotent being who wishes so much to be recognized and loved would conceal its existence with a sustained vigor well beyond the designation of paranoid. It does makes sense that if H & R Block can open up a branch office in every small town, that a motivated, omnipotent being could do the same, and personally man it himself 24/7 with angels out front serving food and drink.
It makes no sense that a perfect being would need to create the universe or mankind, because by definition a perfect beings needs or wants for nothing.
Hell, even their own beliefs don't make sense as purely cultural precepts: Morality under God is absolute, never relative--> It's immoral to destroy children at any stage after conception because it is an absolute, regardless of what good may come of it for individual people or the society they live in, except it's perfectly moral we're told by wingnuts, to drop bombs on children in Iraq, precisely because of the good that may come of it for the individual or the culture; this is 'absolute morality'? Well, It Makes No Sense.
In general, and this one applies to all Abrahamic Faiths and most others: It makes no sense that the oral histories of a few bands of rival roaming shepherds during the bronze age would harbor the one and only true secret of how the Cosmos came to be. It's far, far, more likely that they made this shit up over many generations, and we can tell that is probably exactly the case, because again, it makes no sense at all, and there is a long line of historical antecedents in ANE Mythology leading right up to the early Christian version. We can literally read old scrolls and accounts and see the various components of the God of the OT come together from other deities.
And even if the entire universe turns out to be an artificially manufactured object made by Intelligent Agency, as fascinating as that would be, it makes no sense to automatically assume the entire 10^36 cubic light-year Cosmos was made exclusively for us.
It makes no sense to me that I have this indestructible, undefined, supernatural attachment called a 'soul' which gets reincarnated or goes to a vague 'afterlife'. And if that soul existed before I did, has little or no recollection of my life while I'm alive, does not interact with me in any discernible way, and retains little or none of what makes me 'me' after I'm gone, I have news for you: The soul and have very different agendas to say the least! It doesn't make any sense to me that I'd give a hoot what happens to it, it's an unsubstantiated supernatural parasite as far as I'm concerned and its future welfare is about as important to me as an imaginary tapeworm.
Lastly, no matter how sophisticated one's apologetics are, it makes no sense that a being can be simultaneously omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omniscient, while evil and pain exists and still provide us with free will while at the same time expecting us to choose door number two or be condemned to eternal torture. All those qualities and conditionals taken together are mutually exclusive in more ways than I can count. If you argue otherwise, no matter how slick and polished your arguments, you're arguing that circles can be squares. And it makes no sense to me that such convoluted apologetics would be required in the first place to reconcile all these crazy inconsistent claims, or explain why these supernatural creatures happen to exactly imitate ones that were made up, if all this stuff was The One Truth of the Universe.
That's just a handful Biblical claims that make little or no sense to me. I'm not saying they didn't happen or that they're impossible, only that they make little or no sense To Me. I'm sure others can provide other exemplars that make no sense to them in comments.
There is no evidence for it
I don't know how the Bible, or the Quron, or a Native American Creation Fable, could mean anything else other than literally happened ... when it states clearly that something literally happened. Make sense?
With that literal interpretation in mind for the OT then, there is no evidence the universe is a few thousand years old and a shitload of evidence that it is much older. There is no evidence that there was ever a Garden of Eden and there is a mountain of evidence that neither humans or many other species descend from a single mating pair in the geologically recent past. As would be predicted by both the Garden Story and the Ark Story.
And without that Garden and the whole bit of blaming Eve for disobeying before she knew what disobeying was, which remember makes no sense to start with, and blaming us for all eternity, which again recall makes no sense, there is no original sin and thus no need for salvation from it, which means your entire religion is built on something for which there is no evidence for. (And no I didn't invent this, Young Earth Creationists have used it for years as part of their spiel)
There is no evidence for a global flood involving trillions of cubic kilometers of water which somehow completely disappeared without a trace in the recent past, or in the distant past for that matter. And there is massive evidence against it.
No matter what kind of tests I propose for the existence of supernatural critters, the respective adherents always shoot it down as unworkable. But that's where you're stuck imo. Because there is no testable, reasonably clear evidence for fairies or invisible dragons or Zeus or any of the Gods, Godesses, Godlets, demi-Gods of any kind, and those are all extraordinary claims which therefore require ___ __ ?
I'm an adult
And just as a child must abandon comfortable fantasy, like Santa, if they're going to be a productive member of society and deal with real life, we as a species must abandon comforting fantasy, like YVWH, and face the cold hard truth if we're going to deal with it. The truth is, by every measure we can make, we're fragile, ephemeral sacks of meat just like every other animal species. The truth is, by every measure we can make, our minds, our sensation of love, hate, taste, sight, morality, science, sense of consciousness, everything, are all utterly dependent on the proper functioning of a mass of neurons housed in our skull weighing less than four pounds. And, if any significant portion of that mass gets heavily traumatized, it's bye-bye birdie for the owner. Asking where you 'go' when that structure ceases to exist, is like asking where your files on your hard drive 'go' when you melt it into slag. They don't 'go' anywhere, they no longer exist.
Yes, it would be nice if there was a magic invisible sky wizard who took care of us when we die and redress injustices committed against you while alive by others. It would be nice if your kid or your mom or your loved one who was cruelly cut down by painful lingering cancer was still 'out there' somewhere. It would be nice if there was a Santa Claus, and I don't mean that to sound flippant; Who wouldn't want there to be a Santa Claus? For that matter who wouldn't like to be able to think themselves into the air and fly like a bird at will? Well, it doesn't matter how nice the idea of Santa is, there isn't a real Santa, and you can concentrate for all your worth and flap your arms for days, you will not fly.
It doesn't make sense, there is no evidence for it, and I'm an adult. I deal in reality as it is, not as I wish it would be, so that I can perhaps change that reality. And that's important. Because if I could be said to 'believe in' anything, it's that I believe in the human potential for progress, problem solving, and flexibility. That's how we've managed to solve problems in the past.
If we put that proven methodology to work, I think probably, one by one, diseases will fall or be engineered out of existence. I think using that methodology we can get a handle on hunger, poverty, war, greed, natural disasters, and on and on. One day it may happen that we will conquer aging, that we can record and share our minds. Maybe, sooner or later, we will even eliminate death itself; or at least postpone for practical eternity.
This "we" I'm talking about is no doubt a very different we than exists now, this is our remote descendants. They may have linked minds, be cybernetic, meld machine and biology, design themselves at the molecular level. Their consciousness may be carried by silicon, nanodevices, ensconced in exotic dark matter, or housed in something we cannot even conceive of. These descendants might ply the ocean of space time as easily as you drive to the store, make planets, create stars, build black-holes and farm them for gravity waves. They, our children's children, might learn to reconfigure the entire universe.
But a spark of us will still burn in them, all down the ages, just as a vestige of the first hominid, the first tetrapod, the first cell, is part of us. And unless there is some kind of serious disruption in record keeping, they'll probably know that they came from a single planet orbiting a small yellow star, where generations of their ancestors busted their asses so that they could be free, truly free. If so, they'll probably be able to retrieve data on the 21st century, know there was a thing called the Internet, that on it there were blogs, maybe even know about the Daily Kos: They might be able to pull up this very post.
For the last few paragraphs I've left the world of the known and engaged in some pretty far out speculation, but I see no reason why it cannot be that way, or close to it, in the distant future ... IF. IF we want it, if we make it happen.
The quicker we accept that no one is likely to just hand us these wonderful abilities and gifts, the quicker we'll get to work developing it for real, on our own. Because ultimately, we are responsible for us. What becomes of us is not in the mythical hands of invisible Gods-- as best we can tell and for better or worse. It's in our hands; and it's high time we all started accepting that wonderful gift of self determination. Hell, we should be dancing on the rooftops that we get the chance to determine our destiny as a species, because we're the only one on earth that can!
We owe it to try, to shoot for the stars, for all the people who came before us and helped pull us out of the pit of animal savagery. We owe it to the wonderful diversity of life on earth of which we are a part and which gave birth to our species; an unbroken lineage stretching back four billion years of which we are the managing agent. Is there anyone who doesn't feel that's special enough?
We owe it to ourselves to keep that flame burning, keep pushing the boundaries, so that each and every generation will more and more inherit the promise of what can be, while leaving the grimmer world of what was behind. I may reject the deities that human intellects have cooked up, but I don't doubt the potential of that intellect. That's what I 'believe in' if I could be said to 'believe in' anything; I believe in our future, because I believe in us. I believe in you.
And that's why I'm an atheist.
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