Thursday, December 31, 2009


In the past century, nothing has been the catalyst of more grief, hatred, war, and crime than atheism. Atheism allows a person to hate, kill, torture, or steal, while allowing him to recuse himself of all blame. Atheism causes people to break the laws of ethics and morality for they have no God to answer to. The only morals they posses, if any, are those they pick and choose for themselves.

Atheism dulls the mind and weakens the senses. It makes "I felt like it" seem like a reasonable answer to anything at all, squelching questions of why, and how, and when. It gives rise to the reasoning such as Social Darwinism that states giving aid to the poor, workers rights, universal education, and welfare should be avoided as they interfere with the natural order of social competition*.

Atheism spreads like disease through societies, rarely coexisting with pre-existing mythologies, rather preferring to conquer or be conquered. Atheism is anything but tolerant.

Theists are not afraid to point out that which is true: atheism is ridiculous. Mental delusion and atheism are synonymous, and none is better than another. Atheism is malicious, malevolent, and unworthy of respect.

You probably knew that already.

We're respectful of the American People's individual rights to practice as they see fit (equal to our rights to do the same), but this does not mean we have to respect the decision. If you choose to ignore faith and reason in order to deny a higher power, you've made a ridiculous decision and we're not going to pretend it's "just another way of looking at things".

We challenge the ethics of the professional liars who claim to speak for atheists to bilk other people into giving away their faith in exchange for mere pleasures of the flesh and immorality. We also challenge the ethics of the politicians who use government to further their atheist agenda, and vice versa. We will not let anyone's atheism infiltrate our schools, our government, or our pockets, at least not without a good fight.

Atheism, the antagonist of religion, is the only "ism" that claims a monopoly on intelligence and rational thinking. Atheism is the complete lack of what makes human beings special, the ability to believe there is something more. In atheism the only thing one can look forward to is the finality of death and the realization that they are meaningless specks in this universe that could not care less about their existence. The only real contribution they could achieve in death is to leave their rotting corpse out in an open field in hopes that some equally poor and meaningless wandering animal may gain one more meal before it too succumbs to the inevitable of being wiped from all existence as if the universe cared. After all, feeding their bodies to wild animals would be the greatest contribution an atheist could ever hope to give to the world. And judging from the screams of world climatologists it would be better if atheists did this sooner rather than later.

Well if you have made it this far and are still reading you can relax now and know that I am not being serious. The article above was originally from American Atheists and directed towards religion. I took it and altered the wording sufficiently to make it refer to atheism while still conveying basically the same, illogical, point. I originally posted this on a religious debate forum as a kind of social experiment. The original article had come up in a thread and, after being pointed out that it was nothing more than polemic bigotry by a couple posters, was defended by atheists who claimed it was perfectly legitimate “criticism”. A few even claimed that those who found the article to be offensive were nothing but self martyrs. I decided to post a variant of the article, directed towards atheism, in a totally different thread, as if I were a troll, to see what would happen. As one would expect I got a string of responses from atheists who were *gasp* offended. I decided not to intervene in the frenzy and waited till another poster figured it out and let the cat out of the bag. Some people were relieved I was not serious, some tried to save face, and others were a little impressed with the experiment.

Ultimately, the main point I was going for became clearly visible for many to see. It is much easier to see bigotry and hatred when it is directed directly at you. And further, it can be extremely difficult to spot such behavior when it is directed towards a group whom you already disagree with (confirmation bias).

*You can read more on this from Kenneth Miller's Finding Darwin's God, pg. 174-5. I did a series of posts on his book you can view here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

No Gods Solstice Sign

This holiday season the Freedom from Religion Foundation will be, again, placing a sign upon the Illinois Capitol Hill. They originally placed the sign in 2008 as a response to a Nativity scene.

The Foundation put up its first solstice display in 2008 in Springfield in response to the state's decision to allow a religious group to plant a nativity display in the Capitol. The state granted the Foundation's permit application.
"We don't think religion, or irreligion, belongs in state capitols," noted Dan Barker, Foundation co-president and author of the book, "Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists."
"But if a state is going to permit a nativity display and create a public forum, then we want to be sure that the views of the 15 percent of the U.S. population who is not religious are also represented."

First let’s start with their reasoning for putting up the sign, shown above. There is nothing wrong with thinking that religious displays should not be placed on government property. However, if they are going to be allowed, and all different views are welcome as they most obviously are in this case, what is the problem? The main point that is usually brought up in these cases is discrimination and the government forcing one particular religion. In this instance, that is not happening. The government is allowing multiple views to be represented, not just one. I fail to see how one could construe one religion gaining favor or preference when dissenting views are also allowed to be expressed.

Second, there is the exact wording of the sign itself. My main response is, “And people wonder why atheists have a reputation for being ass holes?”. When there are groups like the FFRF claiming to represent all atheists, as they do in the quote above, the general reactions are bound to be negative. For example here is one atheist’s reaction to the sign,
To me it is obviously offensive and targets religion and I think takes advantage of freedom of speech. Basically it is a "low blow" and feels like they are going to the same level of religious fundamentalists and I think we can rise above childish things like that and put something intelligent out there.
There is also the blatant lie that their sign claims to represent all atheists in the United States.
we want to be sure that the views of the 15 percent of the U.S. population who is not religious are also represented.
They do not represent the views of the non-religious in the US. They represent some of the views of the non-religious; there is a very large difference. Frankly, if they did represent all of the atheists I would be severely disturbed and slightly scared for my safety if 15% of the population held me in an equal amount of contempt as the FFRF appears to.

It is also extremely ironic, and a little hypocritical, that the FFRF would mention the Winter Solstice in their hope for “reason to prevail” this season. For in their condemnation of a modern religious celebration, Christmas, they reference an event that is, historically, even more mired in religion and religious symbolism than Christmas is today in its present state.

I wonder what the FFRF thought the reaction would be to their sign. Any religious person who reads it is going to find it purposefully insulting and the only ones who are going to fully agree with it are the militant anti-theists, basically preaching to the choir. Do they honestly think being insulting is going to cause religious groups in the future to refrain from putting up displays? If they do I would place that right at the level of second grade bully tactics. The reactionary character of their sign also intrigues me. One group is allowed to place a religious display so the FFRF must respond, and the response must be negative and insulting. It is like a child who is initially offered a toy and turns it down, yet proceeds to throw a tantrum should their sibling be allowed to play with it.

And one last note:
There is no such thing as “Freedom from Religion”. There is “Freedom of Religion”. The two are completely different as one mandates an infringement upon a person’s individual rights while the other does not. An atheist is no more free from my religion as I am free from their atheism. Stating a person is to be free from religion is equivalent to stating a person is to be free from being offended. This is ironic considering if the freedom to never be offended actually did exist than the FFRF certainly would not.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tis The Season

The holidays are here again. The stores are packed with shoppers, lights and decorations adore homes and buildings, I ritualistically listen to my Celtic Christmas CD, and atheists feel the need to let the ignorant masses know the “true” meaning of Christmas, wait, what?

It always surprises me the number of atheist posters, bloggers, organizations, and groups who feel an incessant urge to announce the true origins of Christmas to Christians. The exact reasons for wanting to do so seem to vary but there are three main ones I have seen.

First is an apparent hopefulness that some Christians will become “enlightened” and deconvert. This reason is nothing but wishful, and ideological, thinking that usually falls under the Assumption of Peculiarity. They think they have found some kind of damming evidence and are just dying to let others know about it thinking that we, Christians, will read it and go “Oh my, my entire faith must be a sham!”. The reality tends to be closer to “oh look, another atheist ‘exposing’ the origins of Christmas” followed by either a soft chuckle of amusement or sigh of annoyance.

Some claim they bring up the origins of Christmas as a response to the War on Christmas controversy. They are annoyed by people who clamor about the War on Christmas so they, in turn, bringing up the roots of Christmas as their way of retaliating. Basically it is two wrongs make a right. Not much explaining needed here.

Finally, a reason I have seen it brought up has to do with sayings such as “Jesus is the reason for the season”. They argue that Jesus cannot be the reason as the holiday had different origins.  So what? The meaning people had for a particular holiday centuries ago has no bearing upon what meaning people give to it today. This argument I find particularly hypocritical considering that many atheists celebrate Christmas as well despite not believing in either the God associated with it today, or the gods/pagan celebrations associated with it from long ago. If they can celebrate the holiday without adhering to its origins I see no reason other people can not as well.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Will The Real Fundamentalist Please Stand Up

This was posted on a forum I participate on. I think it sums up the current militant-atheist vs. religion debate quite well.

Evangelizing Religious Person: "You're damned for rejecting the WORD OF GOD"!!!!

Me: "You mean the Bible? I don't reject it, I just don't read it the same way you do. I read it to try and understand....".

ERP: "DAMNED!!!! DAMNED i SAY"!!!!!!

and then....

Evangelizing Anti-religious Person
: "You're deluded for thinking the Bible is the infallable WORD OF GOD"!!!!

Me: "I don't think it's "the infallable word of God", I just read it to try and understand..."


No really,
I don't see any difference.

Live Intelligence Squared Debate

There is a live debate going on right now that will most likely be very interesting. You can view it at the following link.

"Atheism is the new fundamentalism"
In partnership with, from 6.45pm (GMT) this evening, you will be able to watch online as Richard Dawkins, author of ‘The God Delusion’ and Professor A C Grayling, take on Richard Harries, the former bishop of Oxford, and Charles Moore, former editor of The Daily Telegraph, at this sold-out Wellington Squared event held at Wellington College, Berkshire. It will be chaired by the Headmaster of Wellington (and political historian) Anthony Seldon.

You can view the live comments from people watching the stream through twitter. The first speaker is from the Catholic Church which spawned the usual trite comments. Ill post my thoughts on the debate as it goes.

*facepalm* Hardly 20 minutes in and one of the atheist speakers, A C Grayling, has already brought up farries and pixies...

So far the two first speakers did not seem to address the topic of the debate.

Current speaker,  Moore, just got applause for a quip at Dawkins. Was not expecting that.

Moore is spending way too much time on Dawkins...
It is not like there is a lack of fundamentalist type thinking in other famous atheists.

Moore leaves the stage with both applause and boos.

Dawkins claims there is no equivalent of the Bible in atheism. While he may be technically correct, he underestimates the number of atheists who treat his book, The God Delusion, as holy scripture.

Dawkins just described religious people as inherently believing in "God of the gaps". Time for another facepalm.
And now he has pulled 911 into the debate as describing religious belief.

Well I tried to reopen the stream to see if it would reduce my CPU load as it was getting kind of high the page wont load again. It seems their server wont allow anyone to reconnect. Overall I thought the debate was fairly pointless. No one really addressed the actual topic. It largely gave me the impression of being a very verbose and erudite name calling contest.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Ray Comfort's Origin

As many have heard last week roughly 100,000 copies of Ray Comforts edition of the Origin of Species were handed out to college students across the nation. The difference with his version is a few of the chapters have been removed, apparently due to cost restrictions on length, and a special “introduction” was added by Comfort. The introduction is essentially a diatribe on evolution. Originally the books were planned to be distributed on the 19th but campuses were surprised when they were handed out a day early. A lot of critics cried foul saying that it was a detestable tactic, Comfort disagrees. While I agree with his critics that his attacks on evolution are baseless and, frankly, stupid, I have to side with Comfort on this one. He was met with threats of book burnings, people who were planning on ripping out the introduction, and others who were planning on taking as many copies as possible to prevent them from being handed out to anyone else. There is nothing wrong with counter protests, but physically preventing the books from being handed out goes a little too far. Besides that, it adds a little more drama to the situation, and drama makes for high volumes of blog posts. And it looks like there will be more drama. It seems Comfort is planning on having 1 million more copies handed out, as this article explains. A recent interview with Comfort was done over at Friendly Atheist and can be read here. It is pretty interesting as the questions asked were purposely not about creationism but more about things dealing with Comfort exclusively.

I do not know if the next round of distributions of his book will include Purdue again. This past time they handed out the copies on our campus on the originally planned date. When I heard they were hear I went to see if I could get a copy but by the time I was able to get there they had already ran out of copies and left. Luckily Mike, over at Politics and Pucks, had an extra copy and was willing to give it away. I have not been able to read it yet as I just finished Finding Darwin's God but from what I have seen the introduction, the part written by Comfort, is pretty sad.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Finding Darwin’s God (Part 3)

The book discussion I have been attending here at Purdue finished last week. You can view my previous two posts over this here and here. We finished Kenneth Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God and had a final discussion over it. Here is a quick rundown. The beginning of the book Miller dedicates to discrediting various creationist arguments and gives a multitude of evidences and proofs for evolution. In fact, the entire first half of the book is dedicated to this. He then redirects his attention from attacks by religious believers, mainly creationists, to attacks originating from within the scientific community. He explains that scientists themselves are partly to blame for the reactions against science from the religious community. He again provides quite a long list of examples of well known scientists using evolution to try and exterminate religious belief.

I believe much of the problem lies with atheists in the scientific community who routinely enlist the material findings of evolutionary biology in support their own philosophical pronouncements.

He explains that these atheists are attempting to put forth at type of absolute materialism in place of religion. He continues this section by explaining that evolution does not necessitate disbelief in a creator God. He also gives examples of how the two are perfectly capable of living in harmony with each other. I also liked his explanations how how if evolution were truly false, and the creationists were correct, the resulting god would be a "charlatan" and a "magician".

One part that came up during our final discussion over the book is Miller’s use of quantum mechanics as a way to explain the method of which God could allow humans to be truly free of a predetermined existence. He only spends a brief amount of time on this subject but it comes off as a kind of God of the Gaps theory, albeit a much more supportable version. He uses the fact that science has shown that there is an absolute limit to our knowledge to support his point (Look up the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle if you are unfamiliar with this). His theory is in stark contrast to the general God of the Gaps theory which tries to use phenomena which science has yet to explain, but still may, to provide support. I think this is the weakest part of his book but it also happens to be the smallest, and in the end is not critical to his final argument.

Overall I thought it was a good book and worth reading. I would recommend it to both the religious and atheist alike.  Miller provides a good explanation of the current state of the Religion vs. Science controversy. And I think he, again, does a good job at explaining that the two fields are not inherently opposed to each other.

There is no religious reason, none at all, for drawing a line in the sand at the origin of life. The trend of science is to discover and to explain, and it would be foolish to pretend that religious faith must be predicated on the inability of science to cross such a line.

There will be another book discussion next semester. The actual book has yet to be decided upon as they are  taking suggestions. When one is decided I will post which book and what dates we will be meeting.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

PZ Myers Comes to Purdue

The local Non-Theist Society had PZ Myers as a guest speaker today at CL 50. If you are not familiar with him he runs a very popular blog called Pharyngula and is a professor of biology. His talk was entitled A Few Things I’ve Learned from Creationists. Due to flight delays the talk started about 20 minutes late but no one seemed to mind. The basic structure of his talk was outlining several attributes he ascribes to Creationists, all of them highly negative, such as disingenuous. He would then go on to explain how creationists fit this description and how many of the ideas they try to push have been flat out proven wrong. While, on the surface this may look like a fairly arrogant way to prove a point, it actually was not that bad and fairly funny at many points. Initially I did not know what to expect as I am not familiar enough with his blog to know exactly what kind positions he holds. To my relief he did not do what I have seen many other atheists do, that is take all theists, mainly Christians, throw them all in a predefined box and proceed to rip it apart. His talk seemed to only focus on those Creationists who are attempting to make a mockery of science. He did not toss the rest of us in with them. I also enjoyed his sense of humor which was very light if a little blunt. Overall I thought it was a very interesting talk, his biology examples were really neat since I understand very little of that material being an engineer, and was well worth attending.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Atheism 3.0

Continuing with my previous post about the Rift Among Atheists is this opinion expressed by a poster on one of the religious discussion forums I participate on. From what I have been reading, both on that forum and in other places where the original npr article has come up, is that many atheists are dismissing these arguments on the basis that, they claim, the article is categorizing all atheists, as a single group, as splitting into two groups. That is to say, all atheists, or the majority, belong in either one group or the other. However, this was not how I interpreted the article, nor do I think it was meant to be interpreted as such. I took it to mean that with in atheism, you have two subgroups forming that are, or may end up, at odds with one another. There was another article on USA Today that was similar in nature that defines yet another group of atheists that the article dubs, for convenience, Atheism 3.0.
The old atheists said there was no God. The so-called "New Atheists" said there was no God, and they were vocally vicious about it. Now, the new "New Atheists" — call it Atheism 3.0 — say there's still no God, but maybe religion isn't all that bad.
One of the atheists they quote in the article is the author of the book I am currently reading, An Atheist Defends Religion (although I have currently put the book on hold while I work on Finding Darwin's God for a discussion group I am participating in). Again, many atheists dismissed this article as categorizing atheists as a whole. The following post, I think, is worth reading and helps sum up the situation fairly nicely.

The suggestion that modern American atheists are not united is, in my opinion, a serious misunderstanding of that community and its underlying philosophical principles. It's not atheism itself that unifies the atheist community. Rather, it is the epistemological principle underlying their atheism that is uniting them. That epistemological principle is science. Atheists don't seem to realize it yet, but they are fairly strongly united by their belief in science. It might even be said that American atheists are behaving as if science were a religion.

In spite of that, I don't believe we're seeing a schism in the atheist community. Atheists are united, in the sense that they have strong epistemological agreement, but they have little organization. A couple of sensationalist authors calling themselves "New" isn't much leadership. There are starting to be more real life meetings, and more and more writing about atheism, but there isn't any robust social infrastructure like there is in any other religious community. "Schism" implies that one order is leaving another order. But there isn't much order among American atheists. Instead of a schism, I'm sure that what we're seeing the start of is the emergence of a new order.

The idea of "Atheist 3.0" seems fairly correct, assuming that the so-called "New" atheists are 2.0. The "New" atheists are only different from the old atheists in that they are getting a lot of media coverage and expressing their atheism quite publicly. However, Atheist 3.0 can be described as a group of atheists who are searching for more order in the community, and are making the effort to create order. I know this because I am one of them.

I've been a strong atheist for well over a decade. About two years ago, bashing Christians online started to get boring. Especially when the smarter Christians started posting thoughtful arguments for their positions. Now, I don't support mythology or Christianity, but I've been able to put aside my hate and bias towards Christians and start looking at them objectively. What I discovered is that, regardless of all the atheist smears of Christians, they have a robust social infrastructure. That is the kind of order that American atheists need. After that, I started treating Christians as individuals, and it became obvious that there are a ton of good Christian people in America, people that, despite my philosophical disagreements with, I know I can trust.

I'm now at the point where I am looking at Christian communities as models for "atheist" communities. But of course, the idea of a strictly "atheist" community doesn't make much sense. The American Secular Humanist movement has already resolved this problem by adapting the Christian Humanist tradition to an atheist society. Secular Humanists are taking what is good from the Christian tradition, and adapting it to fit the modern, rational age. I know Secular Humanism has been around for the last few decades, but I predict that its numbers are going to start swelling as American atheists start looking for more than another online forum to bash Christians on.

By the way, this post might seem a bit random, but the fact is I just got banned from an atheist forum for expressing ideas like these. I was accused by several people of being a Christian in disguise, trying to troll their forums. So I definitely agree that there is starting to be a "bitter rift" dividing atheists.
Original Post

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Idea that Religion Rules Out Rationality

Over at Friendly Atheist Jesse Galef wrote a post where a variant of the question “Could you date someone religious” is posed. This variant is “Could you date someone who could date someone who is religious?”, keep in mind this is from an atheist point of view. At first I thought this was a weird question. For when I pose the same question to myself from a theist point of view “Could I date someone who could date someone who is atheist” I consider the question to have a “no duh!” response of “yes”. Then I read the posters response to their question,
I don’t think that I would immediately reject such a girl, but I don’t know if the relationship would last in my case. I consider certain traits central to my identity – my skepticism, my rationality, my willingness to accept what I think is true rather than what I wish were true. If a girl has no problem dating a religious person, how much could she value those traits in me?
When I read this I immediately got the impression that at least a little bit of bias and ignorance, if not a lot, was coming to the surface. I am referring to how the poster implies that if someone is willing to date a religious person, then they automatically do not value certain traits such as skepticism and rationality. This further implies that being religious means one is incapable of skepticism or rationality. This is simply, and utterly, false.

Being religious does not automatically make a person incapable of skepticism and rational thinking. In fact, many people arrive at their particular religious beliefs through the acts of first being skeptical about a belief, thinking critically about that belief, and finally coming to what they consider a rational decision about whether or not to believe it. In other words, they exercise these exact traits. I have noticed that the idea that the religious are incapable of exercising certain traits, such as skepticism and rationality, is a trend that is becoming more common among, mainly younger, atheists.Skepticism and rational thinking do not, by default, lead to atheism.

The second thing I noticed in the post is the comment “my willingness to accept what I think is true rather than what I wish were true”. I realize that atheists consider religious beliefs to be false or non-existent. However, this comment goes a little farther and describes religion as “wishful thinking”. There are ways to express your opinion respectfully about something you disagree with, and there are ways to express your opinion that comes out as ridicule, whether intentionally or not. Implying religion is wishful thinking is the latter. My post Criticism vs. Ridicule touches on this issue.

I am not implying that the poster was intentionally trying to imply these things or even that they were aware of it. I also realize that this issue is one that stretches across both atheists and theists. It is something that I think everyone needs to work on when talking about points of view that they disagree with. If you express an opinion about something you do not believe in, read it over a couple times. Try taking your opinion and pointing it back on yourself. For example, if it is directed towards atheism, try replacing “atheist” with “theist”. Then ask yourself the question if you still would consider it respectful. Generally doing so will help you avoid instances where your own bias may be playing too large a role in your thinking and help you express yourself in a more rational manner so that others may take what you say more seriously.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Who Killed Jesus?

On my way to my Intro to Religion class today I came across a group standing on the Memorial Mall with a large sign that read "Who Killed Jesus". One of the people stopped me and asked if I would fill out a survey. I had heard about this group yesterday but was unaware they were continuing through today and tomorrow. I decided to stop and talk with one of them. Turns out they are a local Christan student group called Purdue Bible Fellowship. The guy I was talking to introduced himself and asked me what my name was and major. He asked me if I was religious, I said I was and that I was LDS. As I expected he did not know what LDS meant so I explained it was the same thing as Mormon. It did not really surprise me as many people only know us by "Mormon" and not "Latter-day Saints". He then asked me the question that was the theme of their event "Who killed Jesus". I hesitated a little and responded that the answer can vary according to what view you take towards the crucifixion and what religion, if any, you believe in. He agreed with me and said his answer was that he, meaning people in general, killed Jesus. I understood what he meant in referring to Christ's need to die for everyone's sins. The conversation then switched a little to our respective religions and the comparison between the two, Mormonism and mainstream-Christianity.

He was interested in the differences in mainstream-Christianity and Mormonism which is what we ended up discussing up until I had to leave. I told him one of the main differences being the Trinity, we do not adhere to it. I also talked to him about baptism and the works for the dead. We continued with works and faith and the slightly different view we each had on the issue. I thought that their event seemed to be very respectful and useful. It would be nice to see more religious groups holding such events on campus. From what I understand they will be continuing with their booth tomorrow. I may stop by again for another discussion.

On a side note it was also interesting to notice standing next to me was the president of the local Non-Theists Society. She was talking with another one of the members hosting the event. However, I did not get a chance to hear what they were discussing before I had to leave.

Image from: Politics and Pucks

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Finding Darwin’s God (Part 2)

Today I attended the first in a series of book discussions on Kenneth Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God. It is being held by the Religious Studies program and the Purdue Religion and Science Group. You can read more about the specifics from a post I wrote previously about the event. We met in the round discussion room on the top floor of Beering overlooking campus which was very nice. That was the first time I had ever been in that room. There were roughly sixteen people who attended this first discussion although it sounds like there are around twenty who are participating as some were unable to be there today. Apparently, we also caused nearly every book store in the city to sell out of the Finding Darwin’s God as they ran out of copies to give out to those participating. The discussion was started by going around the table and having everyone introduce themselves. The group was largely made up of faculty and staff with some graduate students largely from the Religion and Philosophy departments. There were a couple people from the Biology department and even one professor from Civil Engineering. What I found interesting is, as far as I could tell, the only two undergraduate students were engineers, a girl from Civil Engineering and then myself. I would have expected at least one or two undergrads from the Liberal Arts department or possibly even the Biology department. During the course of the discussion a couple people came out and stated their religious position including one atheist who, if I understood him correctly, believed that evolution does not, in and of itself, lead to a belief in God but supports a naturalistic view of life. We also had another person identify herself as a Christian Biologist who saw no problems with the compatibility between religion and biology.

One of the topics that was brought up by one of the coordinators of the discussion was how, or if, science and engineering courses teach about the classics of their fields, such as Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and Newton’s Opticks. She mainly asked this of the engineers in the room as the majority of the people there were from liberal arts backgrounds and did not know how we, engineers, were introduced to this material. We basically had to tell her that we do not go over any kind of classic engineering or science material. That those works have become almost exclusively relegated to classes on literature or the history of science and technology.

The topic of evolution in High School came eventually came up as well. Professor Ryba, one of the coordinators of the discussion, brought up a point from Miller’s book were Miller said he never had any introduction to evolution through his High School classes. Many of the people there were roughly the same age as Miller and thought that kind of strange as they had evolution in High School. A possible reason that was brought up for this is the differences in location. Different areas of the country, and world, have brought evolution into the classroom at different points in time.

A good point was made by the person who stated they see evolution as supporting a naturalistic view brought up a point about one of Miller’s statements in the first chapter. In it Miller makes the statement,
And does [evolution] rigorously exclude belief in God?
He made the contention with Miller’s choice of the word “rigorous”. He argued that science rarely ever can be said to be rigorous in its definitions or predictions, possibly making the point of the book kind of specious.  Another point was brought up dealing, again, with Miller’s choice of words. This time it was with his choice of using the term “traditional” in reference to religion. It was brought up that the definition of “traditional” can by very vague and spread across a fairly large spectrum of beliefs. It will be interesting to see how Miller defines it further.

The next meeting is in two weeks for which we were asked to read up to chapter six and to come with questions and pages highlighted.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Rift Among Atheists

Over at the Thomas Society a link to an online article from npr was posted that I think very accurately describes a current transition within the atheist movement. The article is titled A Bitter Rift Divides Atheists. It describes a current rift among New and Old Atheists. The New Atheists being the ones who actively rely on ridicule to get their points across. This is something I have been witnessing both on my local campus and online. It is a movement that I believe will only do more harm than good, as the article points out. You can read the full article from the link above as it does a much better job of explaining the current situation. Here are a few excerpts I found interesting.

During the previous Blasphemy Day an art exhibit was held, in D.C., displaying art works that many Christians would find highly insulting. It was hosted by The Center for Inquiry.
Another, Jesus Paints His Nails, shows an effeminate Jesus after the crucifixion, applying polish to the nails that attach his hands to the cross.
"I wouldn't want this on my wall," says Stuart Jordan, an atheist who advises the evidence-based group Center for Inquiry on policy issues.
Naturally, this kind of stuff created a fairly big controversy. The article explains that it is a controversy that is not simply limited to Blasphemy Day, but has a much larger scope.
"It's really a national debate among people with a secular orientation about how far do we want to go in promoting a secular society through emphasizing the 'new atheism,' " Jordan says.
"What we wanted were thoughtful, incisive and concise critiques of religion," he says. "We were not trying to insult believers."
They may not have been trying to insult believers, but many others are perfectly happy doing so.
For example, Hitchens, a columnist for Vanity Fair and author of the book God Is Not Great, told a capacity crowd at the University of Toronto, "I think religion should be treated with ridicule, hatred and contempt, and I claim that right." His words were greeted with hoots of approval.
The article ends with a quote from the founder of the Center for Inquiry that I very much agree with.
"I consider them atheist fundamentalists," he says. "They're anti-religious, and they're mean-spirited, unfortunately. Now, they're very good atheists and very dedicated people who do not believe in God. But you have this aggressive and militant phase of atheism, and that does more damage than good."

Friday, October 16, 2009

I Hate Religion Because...

Yesterday a local student group, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, held and event titled "I Hate Religion Because...". They had a board set up for people to come and write down reasons they disliked, or hated, religion. I wish I would have had more time to actually stop and talk with the people who were holding the event but yesterday was fairly hectic for me. I only had time to briefly pause and read some of the comments on my way to, and from, an exam (free time for engineering students is a highly valued, and rare, commodity). I emailed the group and asked if they will be holding any kind of discussion at a latter date about the various comments that were written on the board. I will post the date if they are planning on doing anything when I get a response back. There is a very informative blog post about the event here, written by the president of the local non-theists society. It sounds like she got to spend a good amount of time talking with those hosting the event.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Western Religion Partially Responsible for Secularization?

As I referenced in my first post about An Atheist Defends Religion we have been going over Peter L. Berger's book The Sacred Canopy in my Introduction to the Study of Religion class. On Friday the professor went over a section in Chapter 5 about secularization. The basic idea is that Western Religion, particularly Protestantism, carried the "seeds of secularization within itself". I will try to do a quick summary of the idea while trying to decipher Berger's obsession for using overly complex language. He essentially states that, originally, the Catholic religious world was one where God could be seen in many aspects of life. It was one of complex imagery, saints, rich sacramental rites, and so on. When Protestantism came on the scene it got rid of nearly all of this. Reducing the religious life of the Protestant to the bare essentials, the believer and God.

Protestantism may be described in terms of an immense shrinkage in the scope of the sacred in reality, as compared with its Catholic adversary.

At the risk of some simplification, it can be said that Protestantism divested itself as much as possible from the three most ancient and most powerful concomitants of the sacred-mystery, miracle, and magic. (pg. 111)
He calls this process "disenchantment of the world". Through this process God was more and more removed from this Cosmos. It became more about a relationship between the believer and God. The outside world was no longer part of the process. He argues that this eventually helped in the secularization of the natural world.

In doing this, however, it narrowed man's relationship to the sacred to the one exceedingly narrow channel that it called God's word [not to be confused with the Bible].

It needed only the cutting of this one narrow channel of mediation, though, to open the floodgates of secularization.
 I think the point Berger makes here is, at least, partially valid and one that many people either ignore or do not know about. It implications for many of the fundamental Christians (who are mostly some variety of Protestant) that rail against the "secular world" are, in fact, partially responsible the spawning of the very world, and train of thought, they claim to be a curse upon the Earth. It also holds some implications for many of the new militant-atheists. Basically, they are in debt, in some form or another, to the same people they consider to be deluded and ignorant. This can be viewed as some kind of strange interconnected web. Two groups at each others throats who are ignorant of the fact that each is responsible for the other.

Finding Darwin's God @ Purdue

The Purdue Religious Studies department is having a discussion of Kenneth Miller's book, Finding Darwin's God, on Wednesday Oct. 21. If you are unfamiliar with the book here is a quick editorial review off of Amazon.
Though he takes a different tack than Wyller (above), Miller tries to draw a straight line between two apparently opposing ideas: the theory of evolution and belief in a creator. In a more humanistic account than Wyller's, Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University, explains the difference between evolution as validated scientific fact and as an evolving theory. He illustrates his contentions with examples from astronomy, geology, physics and molecular biology, confronting the illogic of creationists with persuasive reasons based on the known physical properties of the universe and the demonstrable effects of time on the radioactivity of various elements. Then standing firmly on Darwinian ground, he turns to take on, with equal vigor, his outspoken colleagues in science who espouse a materialistic, agnostic or atheistic vision of reality. Along the way, he addresses such important questions as free will in a planned universe. Miller is particularly incisive when he discusses the emotional reasons why many people oppose evolution and the scientific community's befuddled, often hostile, reaction to sincere religious belief. Throughout, he displays an impressive fairness, which he communicates in friendly, conversational prose. This is a book that will stir readers of both science and theology, perhaps satisfying neither, but challenging both to open their minds.
The discussion is being led by Professor Ryba. I took a class from him last year on Western Religions and really enjoyed it. I am sure this discussion will be very interesting and plan on attending. The Religious Studies department has a listing under its events page for the full information. Also, if you are quick, you can get a free copy. Click on the pdf flyer above the listing and you can get the information to acquire a free copy if you email the contact by the 14th, tomorrow. I was a little skeptical at first but I received an email saying my copy of the book is waiting for me.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Dissenting View About Blasphemy Day

I stumbled across this article about the recent Blasphemy Day and thought it was well worth sharing.

A Dissenting View About Blasphemy Day

The celebrating of "Blasphemy Day" by the Center for Inquiry by sponsoring a contest encouraging new forms of blasphemy, I believe is most unwise. It betrays the civic virtues of democracy. I support the premise that religion should be open to the critical examination of its claims, like all other institutions in society. I do have serious reservations about the forms that these criticisms take. For example, cartoons have been recently circulated ridiculing key figures in Christianity, such as a cartoon depicting a feminine Jesus painting his "nails" with red nail polish, or the drawing of the Pope with a long nose like Pinocchio.
When we defended the right of a Danish newspaper to publish cartoons deploring the violence of Muslim suicide bombers, we were supporting freedom of the press. The right to publish dissenting critiques of religion should be accepted as basic to freedom of expression. But for CFI itself to sponsor the lampooning of Christianity by encouraging anti-Catholic, anti-Protestant, or any other anti-religious cartoons goes beyond the bounds of civilized discourse in pluralistic society. It is not dissimilar to the anti-semitic cartoons of the Nazi era. Yet there are some fundamentalist atheists who have resorted to such vulgar antics to gain press attention. In doing so they have dishonored the basic ethical principles of what the Center for Inquiry has resolutely stood for until now: the toleration of opposing viewpoints.
It is one thing to examine the claims of religion in a responsible way by calling attention to Biblical, Koranic or scientific criticisms, it is quite another to violate the key humanistic principle of tolerance. One may disagree with contending religious beliefs, but to denigrate them by rude caricatures borders on hate speech. What would humanists and skeptics say if religious believers insulted them in the same way? We would protest the lack of respect for alternative views in a democratic society. I apologize to my fellow citizens who have suffered these barbs of indignity.
 From Center For Inquiry

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Final Letter Over FSM Demonstration

Another letter appeared in the Exponent yesterday about the FSM demonstration by the Non-Theists Society. Unfortunately the Exponent has a limit on the number of letters it will publish on any particular subject and this letter reached that limit. So there will be no more letters in the Exponent about this topic. It would be nice to have another forum of communication on campus for these kind of subjects.

Here is the final letter for those interested. Note, I do not necessarily agree with all of it's points.
Jennifer McCreight: First of all you talk about persecution as if non-theists have gone through years of hardships. The only persecutions non-theists endure are the religious nutcases who state their radical views. As for your satire, which was a blatant attack on religions that does nothing to educate, all it shows is that your group feels that life is one big joke and that those who seek more in life and after life are crazy. So yes parading a flying spaghetti monster is discriminating towards religion not just Christianity. My feelings are far from hurt because of childish antics, but it is sad organized attacks are now being planned as campus activities.
Jennifer McCreight: “It’s impossible to communicate with someone whose beliefs are based on emotion.” But as far as I can tell you know neither about belief nor faith. You’re too concerned with how things work instead of looking at why they do; yes, science can show us how living organisms ADAPT over time. But when asked why or even how life started on this earth you have no guesses, no beliefs, and no “evidence” as to what started it all. I’ve listened to so-called rational arguments and none disprove a god.
Evidence by definition, does not mean the answer. Through my faith I may not be able to run tests in a laboratory to prove to anybody but myself. But that’s what faith is and if I am wrong so be it; Religion has made my life better and gives me a moral center. What has non-theism done lately besides give you a reason to dress up like pirates?
Also why Blasphemy Day? What was the need for segregating rights away from religious individuals? Absolutely none, just some whiny brats’ attempt to gain attention.
Michael Ebert
Senior in the College of Consumer and Family Sciences

Thursday, October 8, 2009

An Atheist Defends Religion

While browsing the religion section at my local Borders I noticed a new book I have never seen before, An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity is Better Off with Religion Than Without It. The title stood out at me as it appeared to be differing from the norm of current titles dealing with religion. That being either atheists ranting about how religion is the root of all evil and theists are all deluded degenerates, or theists, mainly Christians, screaming that atheists are going to burn in Hell. After reading the synopsis on the back it seemed this book may be a breath of fresh air in the ongoing God debate. The author does not attempt to either disprove, or prove, the existence of God, but attempts to show that religion can be, and has been, a positive influence on humanity in its ability to provide many benefits, such as moral, psychological, and emotional benefits to society, and that religion does this better than any other social institution. I will be doing a series of posts on this topic as I go through the book.

One of the first things that I noticed as I started reading is how the first couple chapters parallel a class I am currently taking, REL 200, Introduction to the Study of Religion. In class we have, so far, covered two books. The first is Mircea Eliade's The Sacred & The Profane (of which I will be doing a latter post on a particular section in the book about secular man). On just the second page of An Atheist Defends Religion the author quotes Eliade's book,
One of the most insightful observers of religion was the late Mircea Eliade, who understood the core of religion to be a relationship with the sacred:
Whatever the historical context in which he is placed, homo religious always believes that there is an absolute reality, the sacred, which transcends this world but manifests itself in this world, thereby sanctifying it and making it real. He further believes that life has a sacred origin and that human existence realizes all of its potential as it participates in the sacred.
Chapter one is basically a rough summary of Eliade. It attempts to quickly explain some key concepts and terms that readers need to be familiar with in order to better understand the study of religion. Some of these concepts are the explanations of the sacred and the profane, homo religiosus, sacred time, myth, and ritual. The author then ties these together with modern man and attempts to explain how the modern secular world has lost many of these meanings. He also talks about the inadequacy of science to replace religious myth and secular rituals.

Chapter two follows the basic ideas in the second book we have been studying in my class, The Sacred Canopy by Peter L. Berger. One warning about this book, while, as my professor says, it is one of the most important books in the study of religion, it is boring as hell (something my professor also agrees with). While Eliade's book is easy to read and comprehend, this one is neither. The main point in The Sacred Canopy is that religion, as a construct of humanity, serves as the best means to give society meaning and morals. Religion legitimates the world in which we live. In An Atheist Defends Religion the author follows this same reasoning through chapter two. He begins with a discussion on how religion is morality and community. He also asks if we can be good without God, which, the author says, we can but with one caveat, on page 39,
In our modern secular society, many moral values have already been institutionalized and on some level we can possess these values apart from the religion that developed them. These values will not disappear if we eliminate religion, but the infrastructure that has held those values aloft will substantially weaken. Of all the cultural templates we have, religion is the most robust and explicit about moral behavior.
He goes on to finish the chapter talking about how science is inadequate when used to derive a moral culture from.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Exponent Letter

Looks like my letter to the Exponent was published after all. I guess they have stopped calling people for verification. Here is the link.
There have been a series of letters on this topic in the paper over the past three days. Here are a few of them.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Blasphemy Day Posters

The posters placed up during last weeks Blasphemy Day by the local Non-Theists student group have been placed online. Here are a few of them. The comment I left is in the center of the last poster shown bellow. You can view all the other posters, and there are quite a few, here.
Free Image Hosting at

Free Image Hosting at

Free Image Hosting at

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Useful Religious Debate/Discussion Guidelines

I have been participating in religious debates/discussions online now since I was a Senior in High School (2004). I have participated on boards that were staunchly conservative ChristianTM (if you don't know what ChristianTM means just say so in the comments and I will explain), and other forums reaching all the away across the religious spectrum to the board I currently participate on, which is largley atheistic with anti-theist, mainly anti-Christian, tones. Over the years I have seen many different methods of debate, some useful, others horribly counter productive. This list, in its original form, came from one of the sites I participated on a year or two ago. It was origionally meant to be used for new members as a "things to know before you post" list. However, I think it's main points can be very useful as guidlines for all religious debate and discussion. For reference purposes, and following Swart's 3rd Law, which you will see in the list, here is the origional, and here is an adapted form I used on a different forum. The origional, to be placed in context, was on a forum meant for debate between mainstream-Christians and Mormons. I have adapted it to be more general. You may notice I used a couple of these rules in my Criticism vs. Ridicule: Recent Demonstration By Local Non-theist Student Group post.

Guidlines For Religious Debate/Discussion:

Swart's 1st Law
To participate you need three things:
  1. A Grip
  2. A Life
  3. A Thick Skin
If you don't have both 1 & 2, lurk but don't particpate. If you don't have #3, don't even bother lurking.

Swart's 2nd Law
Make it logical.

Many of the arguments with religion, atheism included, consist of logical fallacies. It helps to have an understanding of common logical fallacies before engaging in debate or discussion. That way, not only are you less likely to make one, when some describes your argument as tu quoque, you'll know what they mean.

Swart's 3rd Law
References. References. References.

Did I say something about references? If you post something that isn't original from you, you MUST provide a reference. Otherwise you are plagiarising. If you are copying from a secondary source, simply pasting the primary sources is not sufficient. You must post the secondary source as well, otherwise it means you are attempting to pass off another persons research as your own.

1. Godwin's Law is incorporated by reference.
2. Whoever knows the most Greek wins.
3. In the end, it all comes down to ecclesiology.

Lee's Two Laws of Posting:

  1. If you haven't read this forum for at least 2 weeks, do not post anything.
  2. If you don't understand the reason for the first law, make it at least a month.
Bowie's Corollary:
Make it a month, anyway.

Woods' Theory of Wisdom:

A wise poster does not start a new topic until s/he has contributed something _of value_ to an existing topic.

Bowie's Inequality Constant:
Utah != Mormon (Utah is not equal to Mormon)

Quagmire's Postulate:
1. Not everybody on a religious debate site is a theist.

2. Not every theist is a Christian.

3. Not every Christian is a YEC who reads the Bible literally or considers it the infallible word of God.

4. Not every YEC spends his off time standing on street corners yelling at passers-by that they're going to hell.

5. Most religous members did not get their world view, theology, or understanding of history out of a Chic tract.

 The Law of Assumption of Peculiarity
Just say you've read a book or pamphlet on Christianity showing how rediculous it is, seen a movie showing how dumb atheists are, heard a tape talking about how horrible Muslims are to women etc. and you're itching to unburden yourself and prove to everybody else they're totally and utterly wrong.

Congratulations! You've just succumbed to the fallacy of an assumption of peculiarity. Remember that your source of information is what is known as a secondary source. Chances are that any secondary source has been hashed out within five minutes of publication if not earlier. In all likelihood, it's been discussed several dozen times.

So, to avoid the possibility of proving yourself to be a clueless newbie, check through previous discussions around the net to see what discussions have already taken place.

Remember: Google is your friend.

Swart's Laws of Titles
Titles give away a lot. The first rule is to not make basic spelling and grammar mistakes. That sort of thing says a lot about what you have to contribute. Thread titles like "Why x-ians are stuppid!!!!11" is not going to attract much attention other than amusement.

The Second Law is not to talk with authourity about a subject you know little about. I was Presbyterian until the age of twelve before I was baptised as a LDS. That doesn't make me an expert about all things Presbyterian. Sure I can comment about my experiences, impressions, understandings at that time, however that doesn't mean I can tell a Presbyterian minister what they really believe.

The Third Law is to not to use mindless titles. The Fourth is not to respond to them.

The Law of Charity
When presenting any material that is negative about another's beliefs. Be sure to present it in the most positive light. That way you can critique from a position of strength without being cast as polemic.

If you can explain the beliefs of another person to their satisfaction, then you are in a position to critique those beliefs.

Stendahl's Rules
(source: FAIRLDS)

These were written by Lutheran Theologian Krister Stendahl as a guideline for critiquing any faith different from your own:

Rule One: Ask Adherents what they believe, not their enemies

The first rule was that when you want to learn about a religion you should ask the adherents to that religion and not its enemies. Now that seems fairly obvious but it is ignored an awful lot.

Rule Two: Don't compare your best with their worst
The second rule was a little more interesting. Don't compare your best with their worst, which is often done. You know, we Christians believe in the ideal of loving everyone, but the Muslims, look at those terrorists in Algeria. What you do is take the worst example of the other guy's religion and compare it to the ideal, almost never reached in your religion and that's apples and oranges, right? If you are going to compare terrorists, you should compare Christian terrorists with Muslim terrorists. If you are going to compare ideals, you should compare the ideal in the other faith with the ideal in your faith. If you are going to compare your saint to something in their religion, find one of their saints and compare them. That's the only fair way to do it.

Rule Three: Leave room for Holy Envy
The third one, I think, is even more interesting. His principle was [to] leave room for what he called "holy envy." By holy envy, he intended the idea of looking at another faith and saying, you know, there is something in this other religious tradition that I really envy. I value it. I wish we had it. I can learn something from it.

I remember going with a Muslim friend of mine to visit a chemistry professor at the University of Cairo. And this is a very educated man, obviously, holder of a doctorate, I think European educated, as I recall, and we got to talking about what I was doing there, that I was studying Islam, and so on, and he asked me, "Are you a Muslim?" and I said "No." And he asked me the question that I always dread, "Why not?" which can get you into a very awkward position. Well, I tried to answer it positively and said, "I'm a Christian, I believe in the divinity of Christ and, therefore, I can't be a Muslim."

He said, "How can you possibly believe in that? Everybody knows that God doesn't have a son. God can't have a son. 'He nether begets nor is he begotten'," he quoted from the Koran. And then he said, "And let me tell you something else. Is this what you believe? Do you believe that God had a son and that to buy himself off because he wanted to destroy and damn everybody, he had to send his son down and make sure he was tortured to death so that he wouldn't have to damn all of humanity?"

I said, "Well, that's not quite the way we typically put it but that's a relatively fair statement of the idea."

He said, "Well that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Everybody knows that's not true. It's absolutely inconceivable."

Well, what struck me about that was that religions often look silly to people outside. He said no intelligent person could possibly believe in a doctrine like that. Well, besides the fact that it was somewhat personally insulting, I thought, "But intelligent people have demonstrably believed in that doctrine, whether you think it's right or wrong." I mean, St. Augustine wasn't stupid. Thomas Aquinas wasn't stupid. Calvin wasn't stupid. Kierkergaard wasn't stupid. There are a lot of bright people who have accepted a doctrine much like this.
Does this approach sound familiar? Dr. Peterson makes an excellent point. Outsiders view particular religions as just plain silly, one that no person in their right mind would believe. But, in fact, there are many people--good intelligent people--who believe in that particular religion. I'm sure you have had times where you have asked yourself, "how can they really believe that? I just can't believe it."

So, what is Peterson's Rule?
So the principle that came to me on this was that if you are looking at a religious tradition that has a large number of adherents...then there must be something in it that appeals to different people.

Mormonism, for example, has clearly lasted long enough and has clearly appealed to a wide enough cross section of people that you don't have to concede that it's true to say there must be something there that appeals to people; bright people, practical people, highly educated people, uneducated people; all sorts of people in all sorts of cultures have found something appealing in this movement. The same is true of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity in general.

If you have any others to add just say so. If they are good enough I will probably add them to the list.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Blasphemy Day

(This was originally part of my previous post but I thought it deserved its own separate post)
I attended the NTS's Blasphemy Day that was held yesterday. I was able to stop by around three while walking home after finishing some homework. They had several poster sheets taped to the pillars of CL50 with markers available for people to write whatever they wanted to. I spent some time reading the comments on the boards, some were funny such as the comment insulting the Bronze bus loop (although I personally loathed Silver loop when I lived on campus), some were random, "I like this pen", and many were about religion. Naturally, when you let people write whatever they wish at en event with religious, mainly atheistic, overtones, you are going to get some very blunt opinions. Many comments could be boiled down to the classic "F*** Religion!". While other comments were pro-religion such as "I am a Christian who does not believe in Hell" which was written in very bold letters across nearly an entire poster. I saw that the NTS had thought ahead and had placed a sign up stating the views expressed on the posters where not necessarily the views of the club. That was probably a good idea. I also left a comment, the tittle of my blog, "Knowledge Is Not Very Far". Overall I thought the event was really nice. You can find more info about it here. If the NTS's president puts up pictures of the posters Ill be sure to put them up here as well.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Letter To The Editor

It seems the recent demonstration by the local Non-Theist Society on campus has stirred up a hornets nest. So far there have been three or four letters in the Exponent about the demonstration, some respectful, some not. I sent in a letter to the editor responding to the first of these, found here, written by Josh Phillips, and to the NTS as well. In case you did not click the link to Josh's letter, summarized, it describes the NTS as a "club of whiny brats" and "bigoted assholes". However, I doubt my letter will get published as it has been two days so far and the Exponent has yet to call.
Religion and Criticism
With the recent “Pastafarian Preaching” demonstration, the appearance of Jed Smock, and then the Gideons, I have a few observations I would like to share. First, could we raise the level of discourse to a slightly more intellectual level? I completely agree with the Non-Theist Society’s main message that everyone should be able to criticize religion. But, going about criticizing religion by comparing other people’s religious beliefs to a cartoon character comprised of two meat balls, spaghetti, and two eyes, is not going cause theists to take what you say seriously. If you wish to promote atheism as a valid belief system, then by all means utilize the FSM. But using the FSM as a legitimate criticism of religion, instead of a satirical symbol for atheism, is not going draw any kind of intellectual discussion. To those such as Josh Philips, who wrote a response to the FSM demonstration on 09/28, responding to such demonstrations by calling the Non-Theists “whiny brats” and “bigoted assholes” adds absolutely nothing to the discussion. It only serves to cast you, and those you represent, as angry, bitter, and intolerant. If you have problems with their actions then list them, specifically, and state why you disagree in respectful terms. Responding with name-calling only serves to give the impression to other readers that your behavior is on the same, “kindergarten”, level that you accused them of.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Criticism vs. Ridicule: Recent demonstration by local non-theist student group

Criticism vs. Ridicule: Recent Demonstration By Local Non-theist Student Group
This past Friday the local student group of atheists held a demonstration meant to “criticize” religion. I put criticize in quotes because I question whether their actions actually led to a valid criticism of religion or merely ended up only ridiculing it instead. Criticism and ridicule are not the same things. A page on TvTropes effectively explaines the difference with the usage of “trolling” in place of “ridicule”.
"Okay, I've read your script, and I have a few things to say about it. It needs work, but you've got something going here. I wasn't impressed by the car chases, but those aren't my thing. But I do know that cheesy one-liners aren't really done anymore, unless you're spoofing those kinds of movies, and this isn't a parody. I did like the romance scenes. You should probably expand that relationship. These kinds of movies don't do relationships well, and this would help your movie stand out." "Okay, I've read your script, and it's retarded. You should just use it for toilet paper. Nobody likes car chases anymore, and your crappy jokes make Arnold look like Shakespeare. You thought that **** was funny? Oh, the love scenes were good. I always knew you were gay." The above two paragraphs aren't quotes. They're to illustrate the difference between Trolling and Constructive Criticism (hopefully, you know which is which). While trolls want to put people down, constructive criticism is meant to help an artist improve his/her work. It's rarely shown in fiction, but it's important to it, since it's meant to help people improve their writing.
An article in the campus newspaper gave a description of their demonstration. You can find it here. In the article it explains that,
Members chose to dress as pirates to satirize religious teachings that certain followers are better than everyone else by sarcastically saying that pirates are the chosen people.
While this may be a valid criticism against some specific religions, it is not valid against religion as a whole as their demonstration was publicized as. Here they make the mistake of placing religion in a box of their own design to make religion fit certain restraints.
The article goes on to explain their main purpose by quoting their president,
Our main message is that everyone should be able to criticize religion just like every other idea, especially if it is silly or hateful.
The first part is something I completely agree with but am slightly puzzled at. The only people who try to claim religion is above criticism are generally fundamentalist extremists. Also, the only people who claim that society sees religion as above criticism are generally the militant atheists. Taking a trip to your local book store can show that religion is not considered to be above criticism. I went to my local Borders this Saturday and looked through the religious section. I saw many books meant to criticize religion such as The God Delusion, God Is Not Great, God: The Failed Hypothesis, Letter to a Christian Nation, The End of Faith and many more similar titles. If the book store has these titles on the shelves and not only available through online orders then there is, at least, a sizable demand for them.
The second part of their message is also puzzling. I can find nothing wrong with criticizing hateful messages within religion. I know they exist and they deserve to be corrected. However, criticizing something because you find it “silly” seems a bit much. Simply because you may find something to be silly does not automatically make it worthy of criticism or ridicule. The following is a rule posted by on a website I frequent that explains this very well.
Peterson's Rule I remember going with a Muslim friend of mine to visit a chemistry professor at the University of Cairo. And this is a very educated man, obviously, holder of a doctorate, I think European educated, as I recall, and we got to talking about what I was doing there, that I was studying Islam, and so on, and he asked me, "Are you a Muslim?" and I said "No." And he asked me the question that I always dread, "Why not?" which can get you into a very awkward position. Well, I tried to answer it positively and said, "I'm a Christian, I believe in the divinity of Christ and, therefore, I can't be a Muslim."     He said, "How can you possibly believe in that? Everybody knows that God doesn't have a son. God can't have a son. 'He nether begets nor is he begotten'," he quoted from the Koran. And then he said, "And let me tell you something else. Is this what you believe? Do you believe that God had a son and that to buy himself off because he wanted to destroy and damn everybody, he had to send his son down and make sure he was tortured to death so that he wouldn't have to damn all of humanity?"     I said, "Well, that's not quite the way we typically put it but that's a relatively fair statement of the idea."     He said, "Well that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Everybody knows that's not true. It's absolutely inconceivable."     Well, what struck me about that was that religions often look silly to people outside. He said no intelligent person could possibly believe in a doctrine like that. Well, besides the fact that it was somewhat personally insulting, I thought, "But intelligent people have demonstrably believed in that doctrine, whether you think it's right or wrong." I mean, St. Augustine wasn't stupid. Thomas Aquinas wasn't stupid. Calvin wasn't stupid. Kierkergaard wasn't stupid. There are a lot of bright people who have accepted a doctrine much like this.
Dr. Peterson makes an excellent point. Outsiders view particular religions as just plain silly, one that no person in their right mind would believe. But, in fact, there are many people--good intelligent people--who believe in that particular religion. I'm sure you have had times where you have asked yourself, "how can they really believe that? I just can't believe it."
So, what is Peterson's Rule?
So the principle that came to me on this was that if you are looking at a religious tradition that has a large number of adherents...then there must be something in it that appeals to different people. Mormonism, for example, has clearly lasted long enough and has clearly appealed to a wide enough cross section of people that you don't have to concede that it's true to say there must be something there that appeals to people; bright people, practical people, highly educated people, uneducated people; all sorts of people in all sorts of cultures have found something appealing in this movement. The same is true of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity in general.
The article continues with explaining that the group carried signs with depictions of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and read verses from the Gospel of the FSM. Referencing the Gospel of the FSM the article states,
The book challenges religious teachings and contradictions the Non-theists find absurd.
Peterson's Rule applies here as well. Simply because one may find something to be absurd or silly does not, by itself, make it worthy of ridicule or criticism. Something extra is required to push it into the realm worthy of criticism. This is also the point where I think they went from attempting to criticize religion to ridiculing it. Most theists are not going to take criticism of their belief system seriously by involving the FSM. Many also consider it, in most uses, to be a thinly veiled attempt to mock religion. The Law of Charity explains this very well.
The Law of Charity When presenting any material that is negative about another's beliefs. Be sure to present it in the most positive light. That way you can critique from a position of strength without being cast as polemic. If you can explain the beliefs of another person to their satisfaction, then you are in a position to critique those beliefs.
Casting someone’s belief system as comparable to belief in a cartoon character consisting of two meat balls, spaghetti, and two eyes, and then proceeding to criticize the persons beliefs from that comparison will almost never result in positive results. Generally, the person whose beliefs are being criticized will merely ignore the criticisms as too childish or too simplistic and possibly, in more extreme situations, become severely offended and be put off from listening to anything more the criticizer may have to say.
Continuing with how I believe they did not offer criticism, but ridicule. This is a picture from this same event last year (It appears to be a yearly occurrence). In the picture you see a central figure reading from what is most likely the Gospel of the FSM surrounded by people mocking religious adherents bowed in prayer. I assume this is most likely one of those things the president was referring to when she said “silly”. Again, Peterson’s rule applies here. Simply because one may find religious ritual, or prayer, "silly" does not make it worthy of criticism.
Not to be misunderstood I am not attacking this group or their right to protest. Nor was I actually offended by their demonstrations. Their actions appear, to me, to possibly have good intentions but have become stuck in the current fad of the FSM among college students.