Paula Kirby: Why I’m an atheist

Paula Kirby is rapidly becoming an eloquent voice for atheism.  You might have a look at her piece in yesterday’s Hibernia Times, “Atheism is the true embrace of reality.”  You won’t find any new arguments here, but it’s worth reading because it describes her personal odyssey from theism to atheism. She was a devout Christian until 2003—so devout that someone suggested she should be a nun.

Then she discovered that every Christian had a different conception of God, and, mirabile dictu, everyone’s conception of the deity comported with their own personality and predilections:

We all knew we were right, and we all based that knowledge on the personal relationship we had with him.  How could any of us possibly be wrong?

What was striking about these observations was that those of us whose personalities led us to embrace the world and other people in a spirit of openness, generosity, warmth and tolerance “knew” that God did the same. And those who lacked the confidence for that, and consequently saw the world as threatening and evil and bad, “knew” that God saw it that way, too.

This is why subjective experience cannot tell us anything about God.  Knowing what kind of god someone believes in tells us a great deal about that person – but nothing whatsoever about the truth or otherwise of the existence of any god at all.

And this brings us to something very important about atheism.  Atheism is not in itself a belief. Few atheists would be so bold as to declare the existence of any god at all utterly impossible.  Atheism is, quite simply, the position that it is absurd to believe in, much less worship, a deity for which no valid evidence has been presented.  Atheism is not a faith: on the contrary, it is the refusal to accept claims on faith.

314 Comments

  1. joe
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:03 am | Permalink

    But that’s a non sequitur. Atheists do not believe in god, but they still come in flavours of open, generous, embracing vs. anxious, etc.

    The only difference is that atheists suppose the world or universe to be that way – rather than some god.

    • Paula Kirby
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:15 am | Permalink

      I don’t think I understand this comment, Joe. When I wrote about some of us embracing one kind of god and some embracing another, I was referring to Christians and simply pointing out that the kind of god they believe in reflects their own character/desires/fears, rather than telling us anything about external reality; that the idea that a Christian’s ‘personal relationship with God’ can be a form of evidence for God is therefore flawed, to say the least.

      Of course atheists come in all flavours too, but that’s a separate point from the one I was making in this article. Atheists are less prone to offering their personal feelings about the world as though they were evidence for their claims about reality.

      • joe
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:46 am | Permalink

        Ok, now I understand. I thought you were taking the fact of a projection as disproof of a god. And the inpossibility of (dis)proving god is as old as philosophy, I guess.

        • Posted June 7, 2011 at 7:31 am | Permalink

          Disproving gods is only impossible if they’re not defined. As soon as they’re well-defined, they’re universally (and generally trivially) revealed to be either impossible and nonexistent or mere idols (if they do happen to exist).

          Cheers,

          b&

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

        And the inpossibility of (dis)proving god is as old as philosophy,

        That is besides the point, what use would _that_ be to atheism? As soon as you have a putative proof, it would be tantamount to a belief, resting on the assumptions you make.

        So that doesn’t pass a smell test. On the contrary, it is easy to identify that materialism is a fact; everything we see is explained in such terms. Conversely you can raise it to theory. (Testable say by prayer research; one solid observation for agency would be enough.)

        That would pass a smell test, because you don’t claim the impossibility of alternate explanations. You claim that they don’t work reasonably well to explain the world.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted June 7, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

          Oops. That was a reply to joe, not Paula. My bad.

      • Papalinton
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

        “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” Anne Lamott, American novelist and non-fiction writer.

    • Lenoxus
      Posted June 10, 2011 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      In contrast to joe’s original point, I think quite a lot of atheists demonstrate an immense respect and welcoming of their fellow humans, while seeing the universe as a hostile place. Indeed, you could argue that the two naturally go hand in hand.

  2. Paula Kirby
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:09 am | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this, Jerry. It’s very much ‘Atheism 101’, I’m afraid: my brief from the editor was to write about my ‘personal faith in atheism’, my ‘unwavering lack of faith in a god’, and what makes me ‘sure beyond all questioning that people were not created by a god and will not have a life beyond this’. It seems that, no matter how often we keep repeating the basics, something very elementary about our position is still failing to get through!

    • Dominic
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:21 am | Permalink

      Paula, did the editor understand what atheism is? The problem I have is with the phrase “faith in atheism”. We have to go back to JC’s definitions of ‘faith’ the other week, but that refers to scientific ‘faith’ as opposed to religious faith.

      • Paula Kirby
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:28 am | Permalink

        Did the editor understand what atheism is? I suspect not! That’s why I decided the Atheism 101 approach was called for! But he’s far from being alone, as we all know. It is sad how many people take the view that, since any claim on the subject of gods cannot be proven, they must all be equivalent in terms of their underpinning. It is important to keep repeating the message that atheism is not a claim based on faith, it is the rejection of claims based on faith.

        • Dominic
          Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:37 am | Permalink

          Good article – do not knock yourself (calling it atheism 101!) – there is nothing wrong with simplicity & clarity.

          • GordonWillis
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 6:30 am | Permalink

            Seconded. It was a brilliant article, precisely because it made such an important point so clearly.

            • Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

              Thirded:-) Most of the time, simplicity and clarity are exactly what’s needed. *Excellent* essay– thank you for writing it and commenting here!

              • Diane G.
                Posted June 7, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

                And fourthed!

        • Posted June 7, 2011 at 7:55 am | Permalink

          There’s that weasel-word “faith” again. It’s frustrating that so many believers think they can score points by engaging in “deliberate and disingenuous equivocation,” as another commenter once put it. The “deliberate and disingenuous” part makes it doubly frustrating. Polysemy is not a difficult concept. Would these believers ask you how you managed to carry all your groceries 10 miles in your arms when you said you “ran to the store”? No. I believe the equivocation is most often quite “deliberate and disingenuous,” and that’s angering.

        • articulett
          Posted June 7, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

          I think people like to call it a faith so they can dismiss it like they do conflicting faiths. It probably causes them too much cognitive dissonance to understand that we disbelieve in their supernatural beliefs for pretty much the same reasons they disbelieve in Islam, gypsy curses, Scientology, etc.

          I often ask people if they consider their lack of belief in gremlins or reincarnation a “faith”. This idea that atheism is a faith is a persistent meme in the indoctrinated mind.

      • Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:28 am | Permalink

        …scientific ‘faith’ as opposed to religious faith.

        The former is really TRUST.
        The latter merely Gullibility.

    • Pete Moulton
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 6:06 am | Permalink

      Paula, it’s not for lack of lucid, reasoned pieces like yours that the message doesn’t get through. People of faith are simply incapable of understanding a non-faith-based existence. I think this helps account for why they persist in characterizing atheism as a religion. They really can’t envision any other possibility.

      • articulett
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        I think they are afraid they might lose faith if they understand this… and that this loss of faith can lead to dire consequences.

        • Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:31 am | Permalink

          Such as:
          * Having to personally account for one’s actions.
          * Cease being intellectually lazy.
          * Risk the opprobrium of one’s brain-washed fellows.

  3. Ludo
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:13 am | Permalink

    That gods ‘mirror’ the persons inventing them was already known in ancient times: Xenophanes of Kolophon already said so several centuries before our era. And he added that if horses would have gods, these would of course be horse-like.

  4. Pliny Hayes
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:43 am | Permalink

    Pedant alert: sorry Jerry, but it’s mirabile dictu, not miribale. Thanks, as always.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:46 am | Permalink

      Hee hee; that was just a plain typo, and I’m sticking to that story. I’ve fixed it; thanks.

  5. Greg Esres
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    Kirby does a good job highlighting some of contradictions between common man views of god, but I still didn’t get a sense of her “personal odyssey”. The article suggests she had this one insight and “boom”, her belief was gone. That doesn’t seem likely to me; most people struggle for years with their questions and only gradually find themselves, reluctantly, in the atheistic camp. I’m very interested in that journey, because it may provide insights into how we can induce it in others.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 6:05 am | Permalink

      A reluctant atheist? Never met one.

      • Greg Esres
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 6:15 am | Permalink

        A reluctant atheist? Never met one.

        Yes, you have. You’re confusing the end result with the journey. Most atheists end up being delighted at having given up religious belief, but that doesn’t mean it was delightful to start doubting. If it were so, atheism would be an easy position to adopt, but it clearly is not.

        • Hempenstein
          Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

          I’m confusing nothing. The reluctant types are the theists who start their arguments with, “I like to think of it as…” They have doubts, but they’re hanging on. That does not make them reluctant atheists.

          • Greg Esres
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:59 am | Permalink

            They have doubts, but they’re hanging on. That does not make them reluctant atheists.

            Most atheists go through that phase.

            • Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:56 am | Permalink

              Most atheists go through that phase.

              Is that assertion merely a provincial one (temporally or geographically), or supported by statistics?
              I contend that most of the population of the Earth today are by default atheists: infants.
              They have never been through the aforementioned phase, never having been subjected to its necessary prior(ry) corollary phase of submitting to irrational theist indoctrination.

              • Posted June 8, 2011 at 5:07 am | Permalink

                I contend that most of the population of the Earth today are by default atheists: infants.

                I’ve always found that assertion disingenuous. To my mind, atheism is an active worldview, not a passive one. I don’t think it’s meaningful to ascribe such a worldview to someone who can’t articulate it; at minimum, who can’t answer the question, “Do you believe in any god or gods?”

                /@

              • Posted June 8, 2011 at 5:22 am | Permalink

                “disingenuous”?
                Most certainly NOT!
                For such implies deception.
                And that is most certainly not the case in respect of my above assertions.
                That you choose to define the word ‘atheism’ to mean that which it does not, is at the very core of our dispute.
                “atheism” means nothing more, nor less, than “without theism”.
                That you should choose to actively and artificially restrict that solid etymological definition is not my problem, but yours.
                And you it is incumbent upon you to proffer exceptional reasons for your throttling of a perfectly serviceable term.
                (Vis: The ‘active’ versus ‘passive’ distinction)

                Your artificial definition would (for example) exclude the patently atheistic tribe of the Pirahã tribe of Brazil from being atheists! (Amongst many other counter-examples).

              • Posted June 8, 2011 at 6:43 am | Permalink

                Oh, I wan’t trying to imply that you were being deceitful. But, elsewhere… 

                I think that you confuse etymology with meaning. One can find many diction definitions that imply an active sense (e.g., NOAD “the theory or belief that God does not exist”) – and, granted, many that don’t.

                Flew made a similar distinction between “positive” (“active”) and “negative” (“passive”) atheism. Nagel used “atheism” only in the positive/active sense: “Thus, a child who has received no religious instruction and has never heard about God, is not an atheist – for he is not denying any theistic claims.”

                I think you have to accept that “atheism” is a mutable term.

                Importantly, many fundies, in my experience, equate atheism with only antitheism.

                /@

              • Posted June 8, 2011 at 6:44 am | Permalink

                *wasn’t

              • Posted June 8, 2011 at 6:46 am | Permalink

                *dictionary

            • truthspeaker
              Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

              Maybe atheists who come from a religious background go through that phase, but I never did. I had no faith to lose so I was never reluctant about my atheism. I was just glad to find a word to describe what I already believed.

      • joe
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 6:22 am | Permalink

        The last paragraphs sound like agnosticism to me. That’s what I usually consider myself to be. Isn’t that third category considered in America?

        • Posted June 8, 2011 at 3:00 am | Permalink

          Agnosticism is about a lack of “Knowledge”.
          Atheism is about a lack of “Belief”.
          Which part of the last paragraphs sound like professions of a lack of knowledge, rather than an absence of belief?
          I am genuinely keen to know.

          • Philip
            Posted June 8, 2011 at 10:50 am | Permalink

            This is an important distinction. The two words are not mutually exclusive, even though most think they are.

        • Rob
          Posted June 8, 2011 at 9:16 am | Permalink

          Anyone claiming agnosticism is a wuss.

          Technically, I’m agnostic. It is theoretically possible there are god(s)*. I place so many nines on the probability of none that I just call myself atheist.

          *Not the Abrahamic one. That’s been soundly disproven.

      • Posted June 7, 2011 at 6:24 am | Permalink

        What Greg said. ‘Nother reluctant atheist here. But now that I’m here, I ain’t looking back.

      • Aratina Cage
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:28 am | Permalink

        @Hempenstein

        Agreed. I think “reluctant” is the wrong word to use because it carries the connotation that one is being dragged into atheism unwillingly. (If that were the case then it should be a simple matter to deconvert people from their religious beliefs against their will.)

        Instead, it is the process of reversing the damage done by years of brainwashing from a young age and the act of going against the cultural grain that cause the struggles experienced by theists who are coming around to atheism. Those things, self reeducation and individuality of purpose, require a bit of curiosity and stamina on the part of a theist–the open-mindedness so sought by many believers that remains just out of reach of the still deluded.

      • Marta
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 10:49 am | Permalink

        I’m a reluctant atheist.

        You would not believe how much I wished it was true that believing in a god was the escape hatch to life after death.

        • Tacroy
          Posted June 7, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

          Totally! Not only that, but if some religions were true, that would literally mean that magic exists – and therefore, if I tried hard enough, someday I could learn how to cast fireball.

          Which actually brings up an interesting point! If faith had concrete, physical effects, you would totally expect evolution to have leveraged it. I mean, what snake would go through the hassle of reproducing normally if it could just turn sticks into other snakes like Moses did? It would be a gigantic reproductive advantage!

          This is actually something that bothers me when reading some fantasy; you can’t just have “like medieval europe, except magic! and dragons!” – if magic existed, animals would almost certainly be leveraging it. Squirrels should be casting cantrips and pigs should clairvoyant, damn it!

          • Marta
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

            If Hogwarts was real, I’d be at the station, standing at stop 9 1/2 TODAY.

          • Lenoxus
            Posted June 9, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

            To be fair, humans in our world can seemingly do a number of things animals can’t, such as our sophistication in communicating and tool use. Perhaps magic would be like our Giant Powerful Brains. Or, more likely, it would have nothing to do with evolution, seeing as it’s hard to create a scientifically coherent model of magic anyway, especially on that would be somehow “genetic”.

            As for Platform 9 3/4, I strongly suspect that a number of people will visit the one that King’s Cross had set up in honor of the books — specifically, on September 1, 2017, because that’s when and where the last book’s epilogue takes place (going by the few internal signs of its chronology).

        • Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

          On reluctance:

          I’ve known one or two people who have “reluctantly” left relationships that were abusive or psychologically harmful. Some (myself included) even spent a fair while afterwards in states nearing depression, grieving over the loss.

          The fact that your partner is a borderline (or actual) sociopath who doesn’t notice, care or just won’t acknowledge that their behaviour humiliates or hurts you doesn’t preclude you from experiencing a deep sense of loss once the relationship is over.

          Insecurity plays a part too; no matter how damaging & clearly unhealthy a relationship, it becomes not just a part of your life that you can excise, like an expensive hobby or futile course of study, but your life in its entirety. It even becomes, for want of a better word, comfortable, as you don’t know/cannot conceive of any alternative. Leaving the comfort and reliability of an established paradigm is difficult, no matter how positive or negative the effects of that paradigm are. You always wonder, as you walk away, what the hell you’re going to do now, where you’ll go, who’ll love you, who’ll be there when you get home.

          This wasn’t my experience with religion; even as a Christian I distrusted organised religion & evangelism, raised an eyebrow at the many “interpretations” people made of the Bible and especially loathed the hypocrisy of the elevated priestly classes. But I have had to make a sudden, painful break with a controlling, jealous and humiliating partner. I imagine that someone from a strong fundamentalist or devout religious backgound would have a similarly difficult time leaving the tyrannical god behind; that god may fill you with rage and guilt and shame, but he’s all you’ve ever known. Leaving someone who mistreats you leaves a hole; it can be very daunting contemplating how to fill or repair it.

      • Diane G.
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

        I can see reluctance arising in those who know that giving up theism will damage family and perhaps friend relationships. And especially for those who will face shunning.

    • Ravi
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 6:21 am | Permalink

      I can’t speak for others, but my start in atheism was neither reluctant nor slow. At a relatively young age (13-14), I realized that there was no evidence for god nor was there any answer to the question of evil. I had no idea of evolution, nor did I understand what the scientific way was, nor was I aware of sophisticated arguments for and against god’s existence. Simple logic and curiosity led me to realize that there was no evidence for god, none whatsoever. Hence, there was no point in following any religion.

      As an aside, both my sons are atheists and here’s how they became so at a very young age. My wife kept telling them about our religion and kept on claiming that god exists. The older one asked me a few years ago (at 5 or 6 years of age) and I told him there was no evidence for god. He took my word for it and became an atheist even though he was too young to understand what it was all about. Fortunately, here in Canada, several of his classmates are atheists and so it is quite acceptable to be one.

      My second son was a believer until the age of 8 or 9. I never told him to change his views nor did I preach atheism to him. As a freethinker I simply would not do it. One day he asked me why I didn’t believe in god. I told him about the lack of evidence, and asked him why there would be evil if a good god existed. After about an hour’s discussion, he announced that he was an atheist, too.

      Maybe the trick is to catch them young, when they have not yet been brainwashed into a belief system. But not all families have an atheist parent, and most people don’t know someone who is an atheist as a trusted family friend. So this approach is not practical. The internet, though, does provide the means of learning about various belief systems.

      • Newish Gnu
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 6:52 am | Permalink

        Ravi ~ You left out the most intriguing part of your story: the subsequent conversation(s) with your spouse.

        I’m in a similar situation: wife a believer, kids being raised in her religion, me answering questions when asked. I was completely taken aback a few days ago when she took umbrage at my characterization of prayer as “supernatural intervention.”

        • Ravi
          Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:06 am | Permalink

          There was no problem with my spouse. My religion of birth is tolerant enough to even admit atheists as members of the religion!

          • Dean Buchanan
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

            Ravi ~ You left out the most intriguing part of your story: the subsequent conversation(s) with your spouse.

            My spouse was there before me, she just didn’t have the words to express her feelings. It turns out that she is not just an atheist, she is an anti-theist. She would fight a god if there was one. These feelings come from her history as a Jewish woman and watching the division of labor on the holidays. Watching the hypocrisy of those ‘practicing’ their religion. And, the way she was treated during the slow death of her younger brother due to blood cancer.
            I have a hard time convincing her to let our 9 year old form his own opinions. Who am I kidding…? He already announces that there is no god whenever it comes up.
            Brings a tear of pride to my eye really…

      • Newish Gnu
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 6:53 am | Permalink

        “…asking for supernatural intervention.”

      • Greg Esres
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:02 am | Permalink

        I can’t speak for others, but my start in atheism was neither reluctant nor slow.

        I acknowledge that this is true for some people, but I do think it’s a minority who can ditch religion with so little angst. The majority, I think, go through an increasingly liberal interpretation of their religion before they are able to eliminate it entirely.

        I would be interested in knowing what determines how it goes for each person.

        • Posted June 8, 2011 at 3:05 am | Permalink

          Greg, you appear to be commenting from one who is residing within the sociologically insular Theocracy of the non-Republic of the un-United States of America.
          Is my guess correct?

    • Paula Kirby
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 6:39 am | Permalink

      You’re quite right, Greg, that it’s not the full story. Articles like this are always a compromise between what I want to say, what the editor has asked for, and a word limit. (And the deadline too!) But actually, although the process took place over a few weeks rather than in a ‘Road From Damascus’ flash of enlightenment, at its heart was this questioning of how I could be confident that what I believed was actually true.

      I don’t think it was a painful process for me, or one I entered into reluctantly. I was very happy as a Christian and certainly wasn’t looking for an excuse to abandon my faith; but the reason I valued my faith was that I believed it to be true. If, when I considered it more objectively, it turned out that there was no good reason to think it was true, then I had no reason to hold on to it. Despite my 6-year long aberration, I am not normally given to preferring fiction over reality! So it was something I embarked upon seriously and quite rigorously, but I really wasn’t scared of following my reasoning processes wherever they led. And they didn’t lead me immediately to full-blown atheism. I fairly quickly realised that the Christian God had to go, but for a couple of years after that I thought there might be ‘something out there’, though it wasn’t something I spent a lot of time thinking about – and it wasn’t that long before I subjected that to the same kind of thought process and realised that had to go too.

      For me, the experience was an entirely liberating one, and I don’t remember having any regrets about it at any stage: not even early on. It felt a bit odd at first, since so much of my time and thinking had previously been taking up with religion, but I was acutely aware of looking at my whole life through different, fresher, more curious eyes once I had recognised that the supernatural ‘answers’ didn’t have anything to support them. Every new day felt to bring fresh surprises. It was a good feeling. It still is!

      • Greg Esres
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:11 am | Permalink

        Thank you Paula for the elaboration. You say “6-year long aberration”; I don’t recall this from the article. Had you only been a committed Christian for 6 years?

        You mentioned that for a while you thought there might be “something out there”, which conforms to my observation that increasing liberalness of religious interpretation is most characteristic of the journey towards atheism. That’s what I describe as “reluctance” of most people to embrace atheism.

        • Paula Kirby
          Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

          Yes, I’m ashamed to say I got into Christianity as an adult.

          I don’t remember being emotionally attached to the idea that there might be ‘something out there’ after I’d realised Christianity had nothing to support it. It just seemed possible. At that time I hadn’t got into science at all, and lacked even basic scientific understanding, so for me at that time the existence of the old cliché, Something Rather Than Nothing, was a bit of stumbling block to full atheism. I’d probably have described myself as agnostic.

          The final push came a couple of years later, when I started taking part in some online forums: a Christian Beliefs forum (where I was interested to see whether my new-found lack-of-belief could stand up to challenge) and an Atheist forum (where I was interested to see whether they could resolve my residual doubts). The difference in the approaches was palpable. Post a question or a request for elaboration or even a challenge on the Atheist forum, and I would get several sensible, rational answers, which made every attempt to answer my questions and point me towards further reading. I learned something worthwhile with almost every answer I was given. It was through that forum that I began to get my first inkling of everything I had been missing by ducking out of science.

          Do the same thing on the Christian forum, by contrast, and what I got was either endless reams of obscurantism and dogma, or howls of offended sensibilities. In many ways I have a group of online Christians to thank for my final full recognition that there wasn’t even a fence to sit on.

          The small amount of science in The God Delusion gave me the confidence to try Richard’s other books, which, to my amazement and delight (you have to remember I was a complete science novice), I absolutely adored. From there came Carl Sagan, Victor Stenger, Bill Bryson, Peter Atkins. And a number of Open University science short courses. And although I don’t kid myself that I’m anything but an enthusiastic beginner when it comes to science, there is no doubt that even a small amount of basic science knowledge is hugely helpful in settling any lingering questions along the lines of, ‘But how do you explain X if there isn’t a god?’ Never underestimate the role of lack of basic scientific understanding in keeping people clinging to the possibility of gods.

          Actually, in many ways,that has been the best thing about embracing atheism. As a Christian there’s no real need to get into science if it doesn’t grab you, because, whatever the nitty-gritty in the detail, you always think you have the ultimate answer already. But once you take God out of the equation, the details assume far more importance. I have learned SO much since abandoning religion – more in the last 4-5 years or so than at any time since I graduated from university in 1985. It has been an exciting time. And although this is becoming almost a cliché, the real world really is endlessly fascinating, endlessly stimulating, endlessly rewarding of enquiry, in ways that the faux-mystery of religion can only dream of.

          • Sastra
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

            You discovered the difference then between what Dennett described as two approaches to reality: understanding cranes, vs. invoking skyhooks.

          • Greg Esres
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 10:49 am | Permalink

            In many ways I have a group of online Christians to thank for my final full recognition that there wasn’t even a fence to sit on.

            I agree with that observation. The way that religions deal with questions is more damning than the dogma that you’re questioning in the first place.

          • articulett
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

            Congratulations on seeing your way out. It is an exciting journey. You’ll be called “arrogant”, of course (not to mention, shrill, strident, and militant)– but you are now free to learn about some of the coolest things we humans are discovering about our world. Great article! I look forward to more.

          • Posted June 7, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

            Thanks, Paula.

            It would be interesting to know what it was that had led you to Christianity and what, until 2003, sustained your belief that it was true.

            Personally, I don’t think I’d ever believed in God with any more conviction than I’d believed in Father Christmas. (Possibly less, as I’d had annual evidence of FX.)

            /@

          • truthspeaker
            Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

            I’m struck by how little exposure you had to science. That’s really sad. I’m constantly reminded that my PBS-watching, National Geographic-reading parents were not the norm.

            • Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

              It’s not until recently that I realised how liberal my parents – both ostensibly religious, although my father wasn’t a churchgoer – were. My mother stopped going when, after my grandmother died, she fell out with the priest, and I never felt any pressure to (continue to?) believe.

              And we had the Encyclopædia Britannica. I remember from an early age being fascinated by the anatomy plates, printed on clear plastic, so you could move through layers of organs to skeleton by turning the pages!

              And the embryology article.

              And on…

              The best thing to have at home before the internet!

              /@

  6. Curt Cameron
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    Very nice article Paula. The thesis reminds me of a recurring segment of the Reasonable Doubts podcast, which they call “God Thinks Like You.” I highly recommend that, by the way.

    Many articles by atheists that I see are trying to refute creationist claims, or they’re pointing out the fallacies in apologist arguments like the Cosmological Argument, Fine Tuning, or Pascal’s Wager. But if you talk to the typical Christian, their reasons for believing in God never are based on those. Instead you’ll typically hear that they know God exists because they have a personal relationship with him (or Jesus).

    A very good approach for an “Atheism 101” article is to get people to look at that logically. Not only does someone’s personal revelation not convince me that their God exists, it shouldn’t convince them either.

  7. Phosphorus99
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Does atheism permit free will and a true capacity to make choices such as Paula did in moving from theism to atheism ?

    • Paula Kirby
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 7:21 am | Permalink

      Yes. There have been several lengthy discussions on http://www.richarddawkins.net recently which will explain exactly why, if you’re genuinely interested.

      • Phosphorus99
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 7:25 am | Permalink

        Thanks, will take a look

    • Curt Cameron
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 7:22 am | Permalink

      Not sure what you’re asking here – does not believing in a God allow a person to make choices?

      Uhhh, I think that would be a “yes.”

      The only people I know of who would deny this are theists of the pre-destination sort.

      The subject of free will is a little different – does “free will” as thought of by your typical religious person exist? I don’t think so, I don’t even think that kind of free will is a coherent concept. But we still make choices.

      • Phosphorus99
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 7:30 am | Permalink

        It would seem to me that if all we are can be reduced to physics and chemical reactions and,as a simple example, :

        acid + base = salt + water

        where is the wiggle room for free will here?

        • Posted June 7, 2011 at 7:42 am | Permalink

          Some thinkers do hold that our behavior is the inevitable result of material processes. Check out Sam Harris’ blog.

          Others, like Dan Dennet, have attempted to show that free will and materialism are compatible. There are some videos of Dennett discussing this on YouTube.

          • Tim Martin
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 7:45 am | Permalink

            You’re making a false distinction between Harris’ and Dennet’s views. BOTH of them believe that our behavior is the result of material processes. Dennet redefines “free will” to be just that ability to make choices that we have. Harris sticks with the old metaphysical definition of free will, and says we don’t have it. But they essentially believe the same thing.

            • Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:18 am | Permalink

              Well, I may be making a distinction, but it’s not the full-fledged false one of which I’m accused. I understand that Dennett also sees our behavior resulting from material processes, as evidenced by his oft-quoted quip about our “soul” comprising “lots of tiny robots.”

              But I think it’s clear from Sam’s recent postings that he (Sam) doesn’t go for any kind of compatibilism.

              • Tim Martin
                Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:36 am | Permalink

                I will say it again- Harris and Dennett have the exact same view. Neither of them believe that “our agency rises above the field of prior causes.” Dennett just decides to call this free will. Harris does not, and if you’ve read his latest post you know why.

                “…the free will that people presume for themselves and readily attribute to others (whether or not this freedom is, in Dennett’s sense, “worth wanting”) is a freedom that slips the influence of impersonal, background causes.”

                Exactly. It’s folly to call chemistry “free will” when no one else does – it just leads to confusion or false hope. Dennett is guilty of this, as Dr. Coyne seems to agree.

              • Posted June 7, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

                In the philosophical literature, one finds three approaches to the problem of free will: determinism, libertarianism, and compatibilism. Both determinism and libertarianism are often referred to as “incompatibilist” views, in that both maintain that if our behavior is fully determined by background causes, free will is an illusion. Determinists believe that we live in precisely such a world; libertarians (no relation to the political view that goes by this name) believe that our agency rises above the field of prior causes—and they inevitably invoke some metaphysical entity, like a soul, as the vehicle for our freely acting wills. Compatibilists, like Dan Dennett, maintain that free will is compatible with causal determinism (see his fine books, Freedom Evolves and Elbow Room; for other compatibilist arguments see Ayer, Chisholm, Strawson, Frankfurt, Dennett, and Watson here).
                The problem with compatibilism…

                (from Sam’s most recent post at samharris.org)

                My original intent was not to paint Dennett as a proponent of the magic version of “Free Will” as understood by, say, theists. It was only to show that there are different approaches to considering an elusive concept.

                Perhaps we could dispense w the middleman and you could take up your argument directly w Sam and Dan. They seem to think there is a distinction (however subtle) to be made between their views.

              • Tim Martin
                Posted June 7, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

                I would be happy to talk with Harris or Dennett if I had the means and they had the inclination, but I haven’t the former and I doubt they have the latter.

                You, apparently, do… and so here we are.

                “Free will” as traditionally defined is *not* an “elusive concept” – it’s a nonsense one. You keep insisting that there is some difference between Harris and Dennett, and you’re absolutely right- there is a difference of semantics. Both believe we have deterministic brains (possibly with quantum randomness), and both believe that we use our deterministic brains to make choices. They differ only in what they call this state of affairs.

                You seem to be confused about this, and I blame the likes of Harris and Dennett for fomenting this semantic confusion. Phosphorus99 made it clear in his question what type of free will he was asking about (the kind where you can make choices independent of brain chemistry), and you brought up Dennett, which was wrong. Dennett knows just as well as Harris, and you, and me, that we cannot make choices independent of our brain chemistry. Phosphorus99 wants magical free will, and you implied falsely that Dennett could give that to him.

              • Posted June 7, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

                I’m merely taking S&D at their word.

                Look, I can see the point you’re making. But you can’t ignore the fact that Sam sees a distinction when he puts himself in one camp (determinists), and Dan in another (compatibilists), and proceeds to explain the problems w compatibilism.

                You’ll notice I haven’t been, and was not originally, arguing for or against a particular stance on free will. I was implying nothing in my original comment. It was posted when it still wasn’t obvious that Phos was a troll. I was simply offering a couple of avenues for investigation, along w a little taste of each.

                Notice, again, I’m not refuting your idea about the confusion Dennett engenders w his misapplication of the term “free will.” I’m simply clarifying and defending my original intent.

                If it was unclear, by golly, I do apologize.

                This will do it for me on this particular derailment.

            • Aratina Cage
              Posted June 7, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

              Yes. Dennett actually likes to call the freewill of the religious sort real freewill since, like real magic (as opposed to conjuring tricks), that kind of freewill is, ironically, not real. So, he is basically reclaiming the term for materialists.

        • Tim Martin
          Posted June 7, 2011 at 7:43 am | Permalink

          There is no wiggle room for free will in atheism or anywhere else, because it’s a nonsensical concept. What you’re asking for is the ability to make choices for no reason. Adding the supernatural into the picture does nothing to change that.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:07 am | Permalink

          I don’t see the problem. Why would being composed of chemicals eliminate the possibility of free will?

          • Tim Martin
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink

            Because people define free will as the ability to make different choices given the same brain state.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted June 7, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

              I don’t see how physicalism eliminates even that definition of free will.

              • Tim Martin
                Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

                Uh.. because you can’t make different choices given the same brain state.

            • Posted June 8, 2011 at 3:15 am | Permalink

              But not the same environment, sureley?

    • Posted June 7, 2011 at 7:53 am | Permalink

      If you take things to extremes, you’ll find that the very concept of “free will” is itself so meaningless that it can’t be answered.

      Either something is deterministic (such as Newtonian mechanics); it’s random (such as radioactive decay); or it’s a blend of the two (such as a Rube Goldberg contraption with a geiger counter).

      If something is deterministic, there’s no room for free will; it’s just following the inevitable path.

      If something is random, there’s no room for free will; it’s just…well…random.

      If it’s a mixture, there’s still no room for free will; it just follows the rules until something random makes it do something else.

      Espousing dualism doesn’t help, either: are the soul’s actions deterministic or random?

      That writ, atheism doesn’t “permit” (or forbid) anything. It’s simply a description of the way the universe is and not how we might wish it to be. Religions don’t “permit” “free will” either; they merely facilitate wishful thinking and fantasizing.

      Cheers,

      b&

    • Greg Esres
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      Does atheism permit free will and a true capacity to make choices such as Paula did in moving from theism to atheism ?

      Atheism isn’t a comprehensive worldview, but atheists are more likely to pull from science and philosophy for their worldviews than a committed theist.

      Science and philosophy both point to the fact that no one really possesses free will, but we just think we do.

      • articulett
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        Yes– I think this is because religionists are more likely to reject science when it conflicts with the stuff they are told they are “saved” for believing; whereas, an atheists has no such reason for rejecting science. The atheists understanding of nature aren’t influenced by the fear that they’ll go to hell for believing the wrong thing, so they are freer to accept basic fact. Many theists have an underlying fear of hell that influences what they understand and accept about science in a way they are seem unaware of.

    • Lenoxus
      Posted June 9, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      Of course an atheist can believe in free will. Atheism doesn’t entail metaphysical materialism or whatever.

      I would say that the kind of thinking that rejects deities will almost always reject supernaturalism of all stripes, and perhaps it’s incoherent to accept one or another form of dualism, but it would be mistaken to conflate these things. After all, Christians can somehow be monotheists depite their assertion of the Trinity. An atheist can be anything from a homeopath to a homophobe, even if the first mindset is usually defended with New Age rhetoric and the second with reference to Scripture.

  8. lamacher
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    It is so nice to have Paula commenting here. Great post! Hope to see more of you, Paula!

  9. KP
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    More well-timed ammunition for debates with believers that I keep having. Thanks Paula!

  10. Phosphorus99
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    If,according to the atheist paradigm, we really do not have free will are justice and “Courts of Justice” simply illusions?

    • truthspeaker
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      No.

    • Tim Martin
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      Jesus man, put some thought into your phrasing before you hit “Post.” What the hell are you even asking? You’re asking if justice is an illusion without first telling us what you mean by “justice?” How can someone give a good answer to such a vague question?

      • Phosphorus99
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink

        justice |ˈjəstis|
        From the Oxford Dictionary

        noun
        1 just behavior or treatment : a concern for justice, peace, and genuine respect for people.
        • the quality of being fair and reasonable : the justice of his case.
        • the administration of the law or authority in maintaining this : a tragic miscarriage of justice.

        Isn’t there a concept of what “ought” to be in the definition?
        My question is where does that concept of “ought” come from ?

        • Tim Martin
          Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

          Ought’s come from our values and the programs of our brains.

          I think Curt and Eamon below have already explained what follows from that.

        • Sastra
          Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

          My question is where does that concept of “ought” come from ?

          Goals.
          IF you do X, then you will get Y.
          Therefore, you ought to do X, IF you want Y.

          The issue of free will vs. determinism doesn’t effect the existence of goals: each system simply explains them in different ways.

          • Posted June 7, 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink

            I couldn’t have put it better, myself.

            If you want to enjoy the fruits of a civil society, then you ought to be civilized, yourself. If you’re uncivilized, society will come down on you like a ton of bricks.

            Pretty much everything else about morality can be extrapolated from that.

            What is it you want? What’s the most effective way to achieve those goals? I’ve yet to encounter a situation where not being a good, upstanding, moral citizen is the effective ways of achieving one’s ultimate goals.

            In all instances where people think otherwise, they’re being incredibly short-sighted. That $1,000 you got by knocking over a convenience store? You know, the one that landed you in prison for six months? Even before you add in all the restitution and fees and everything else, it still “earned” you less than $1 / hour. Even a pimply-faced teenager flipping burgers part time would have made waaaaaaaay more profit.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Sastra
              Posted June 7, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

              What is it you want? What’s the most effective way to achieve those goals?

              I find it really screws the theist up when the atheist announces that their ultimate goal is “Love:” to live in and with love. Love for truth, love for beauty, love for nature, love for justice, and love for each other. “If you want to live in and with love, then you ought to do X.” Now find the X through trial and error.

              Now where the hell are they? They’re suddenly stuck having to try to argue that God is not only different than, but better than, a goal of living-in-and-with-love. You can then ask them why you (or anyone) ought to choose God, if you’re not seeking love as the higher goal.

              Really messes with their heads. Mass confusion and panic, hidden below the smiles. I highly recommend it, if only for that alone.

              It usually shifts the debate to whether God exists or not … which is where it ought to have been in the first place, of course.

              • Posted June 7, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink

                Ooh! I like!

                Then again, this has always been one of my favorites:

                So true!

                Cheers,

                b&

    • Curt Cameron
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      Illusions?

      If your brain is a very complicated but deterministic machine that makes choices given the inputs it has had and how it’s wired together, then the function of punishment is to be one of those inputs into your brain. Your mind knows that a likely outcome of stealing your neighbor’s car is that you’ll be locked away. Your deterministic brain takes that information as an input, making it less likely that you will actually steal the car.

      That’s simple cause-and-effect applied to your brain.

      If we do have this “free will” that is not something dependent on past experiences and how your brain is wired, how would a criminal justice system fit into that view?

      • Phosphorus99
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink

        I like your construct but it appears to start after the assumption that one “ought” to be punished for stealing your neighbor’s car. Why should this be so and is this not simply the imposition of one set of chemical reactions on another ?

        Within the paradigm our criminal “justice” system will really reflect an infra-structure of power not right or wrong as typically defined and should be so stated.

        • Tim Martin
          Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:07 am | Permalink

          He’s saying that punishing people for stealing cars makes them less likely to steal cars, and is therefore a good idea.

          • Phosphorus99
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:13 am | Permalink

            A good idea for chemical reactions who wish to keep their cars. A bad idea for chemical reactions who wish to steal cars. All positions consequent on chemical reactions.

            • Curt Cameron
              Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:18 am | Permalink

              Right – now you’re getting it!

              And since most of us want to live in a society where we’re secure in our persons and possessions, those chemical reaction factories we call “brains” who want a peaceful existence are in the majority, and we enact laws to help achieve this.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted June 7, 2011 at 10:49 am | Permalink

              Yes. And?

              Most people don’t want their cars stolen.

              Humans, like some other apes, evolved a sense of property ownership.

              • Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

                Loads of non-primates too, to an extent. Just try and get between a dog and his dinner bowl once he’s started eating. His bared fangs and snarling are giving you a clear choice between an action: “Fuck off” and a consequence for not taking that action: “Get bitten”. It’s clear, informative and simple enough that other animals, not just dogs, understand it straight away. No supernatural “free will” need be invoked for you, a cat or another dog choosing to go away, just good old innate self-preservation. Even motile bacteria attempt can sense harmful environments and attempt to move to beneficial ones; some plants can react to a harmful stimuli in order to protect themselves. It’s not uniquely human to be able to make a choice between multiple options.

                Our social contracts such as “Leave my property alone or I shall summon a constable” are really just sophisticated updates of “Fuck off or get bit”. The vast majority of people know about and abide by them – most people dislike being stolen from or harmed and don’t wish to inflict the same on others; they also would like to avoid unpleasant things like arrest, trial & incarceration. Clearly though, some people choose to ignore these contracts because of, among other things, the potential rewards (not just financial but psychological) of criminal behaviour and/or pathologies which simply preclude such things as the experience or knowledge of empathy or propriety; in my experience there’s often a combination of those and other factors.

                OK, enough of that 🙂

        • Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:22 am | Permalink

          “Ought” and suchlike language are psychological constructs expressing the pragmatic rules necessary to regulate interactions in a social species.

          While it would be nice to have these concepts written in some quasi-Platonic way into the fabric of the universe, there’s no indication they exist outside the heads of human beings. Yes, that can be a bit unsettling to realize — but the security promised by the alternative turns out to be illusory. Systems based on assuming morals to be absolute and universal don’t have a great track record of being humane or just — the gods have a way of agreeing with whatever serves the interests of the PTB. Much better to formulate a humanist ethic based on an agreement that everyone has a set of basic rights, and we all want some reasonable level of personal security.

      • Rob
        Posted June 8, 2011 at 9:41 am | Permalink

        I doubt it’s deterministic. Or rather, it’s not effectively deterministic.

        Given the state, to infinite precision, it’s probably deterministic. There is no such thing and that state is trivially perturbable from the outside so that the current state would effectively include a chunk of the state of the universe. (see: Weather)

        • Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

          Weather? Deterministic but chaotic, and thus unpredictable (beyond the very short term). Similarly the brain/mind: hugely complex (a quadrillion synaptic connections), likely more so than any weather system. Quantum effects at some level add further stochasticity. See, e.g., “Does Chaos Theory Have Major Implications for Philosophy of Medicine” by S. Holm, British Medical Journal.

          /@

          (Edited from earlier reply elsewhere on this post.)

    • Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      What’s the alternative?

      Without an effective criminal justice system, we would live in fear for our lives and our possessions. Whether or not I have any choice in preferring to live in safety than in fear, I really would much rather live in safety.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Phosphorus99
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

        There is no alternative.

        We must be coherent.

        Nietzsche was right.

        When we kill God we must go to the logical conclusions of our actions

        • Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:27 am | Permalink

          The “logical conclusion” being what exactly? That we should all go out and commit maximum mayhem, before someone does it unto us first? What exactly does Nietzche recommend?

          • Phosphorus99
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

            Dr. Will Provine is correct.

            Within the atheist paradigm,

            “There is no basis for ethics”.

            It is a part of the package.

            • Phosphorus99
              Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:59 am | Permalink

              The truth may have overwhelmed him or he may have been crazy along.

              He had a mental breakdown.

            • Posted June 7, 2011 at 10:07 am | Permalink

              Phew, but the reek of Troll is getting overpowering in here! Of course, the phrase “atheist paradigm” was an early warning — almost no one except religious apologists uses that.

              So, Troll: Do you have anything intelligent to contribute to the discussion? Or even any honest questions, the replies to which you would actually listen? Or is this just about congratulating yourself on how you put those atheists in their place?

            • Posted June 7, 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

              Damn. Just when I thought you were coming to your senses, there you go off the rails at full throttle.

              How dare you!

              As a rule, the atheists I know are significantly more moral and ethical than the religionists I know.

              This calumny of yours is completely uncalled-for.

              While you derive your ethics from the sociopathic ravings of patriarchal Bronze Age goatherding nomadic warlords, we derive our ethics on careful consideration of the most effective means to achieve a healthy, comfortable, and prosperous society.

              This “atheists are immoral” lie is one of the most odious and spiteful ever conceived. It’s a libel that goes back to some of the earliest propaganda in recorded history, where religionists falsely accused those who didn’t believe in their gods of being corrupt as a way of drawing new converts to their folly.

              You have no basis for your accusations, and I must insist on an apology.

              b&

            • Aratina Cage
              Posted June 7, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

              That’s entirely too brash, especially since once one concedes that atheism is right, then all those other theistic ethical systems that so many theists think got us from there to here in history turn out to be built on false premises. Explain that, will you?

            • articulett
              Posted June 7, 2011 at 11:42 am | Permalink

              This appears to be a common delusion in the mind of theists; the evidence does not support the conclusion, but who needs facts when you have faith, eh? http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-do-americans-still-dislike-atheists/2011/02/18/AFqgnwGF_story.html http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article571206.ece
              http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2005/2005-11.html

              Every religionists thinks that people of their religion are the most moral of all, but the evidence shows that they are just creating their gods in their own images and then imagining that their morality comes from that god. http://www.pnas.org/content/106/12/4876.full Of course you are free to believe whatever you want to believe and obfuscate as need be to keep your unsupported beliefs alive in your head– just as the Muslims, Mormons, and Moonies will do. But I don’t think you’ll be fooling anyone here except yourself.

              Atheists appear to be more ethical than theists without a magic guide book, threats of hell, or promises of salvation.

            • articulett
              Posted June 7, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

              Whether atheists have a “basis for ethics” per your opinion (or those of Will Provine)– when we go to measure ethical behavior, the atheists do as well or better than their religious counterparts and religiosity is associated with societal dysfunction. Although each theist may imagine those of their religion to be the most moral, when we actual measure things like homicide rates, STDs, teen pregnancy, civil rights, views on torture, etc. religious areas of the country and world do worse than their secular counterparts. Secularity is associated with societal health. (I posted links but they are awaiting moderation.)

              Belief in god is clearly not necessary for morality and may in fact be detrimental for it. Maybe YOU need threats of hell to keep from causing the suffering of other, but I don’t. (Nor does my soulless dog.) By all means, I encourage YOU to keep the faith if YOU’d be unethical without it.

            • Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

              1) Who the flying fuck is Will Provine?

              2) Why should we care what he has to say?

              3) Why do you?

              Consider the above, then consider that atheists clearly DO behave ethically and morally. Why? A combination of things: culture, upbringing, empathy, consideration of the potential results of decisions we might make, the highly developed version of innate awareness of & consideration for the needs of group members that even schools of pilchards display, fer crissakes.

              As a social animal, whether part of a school of fish, hive of bees or troupe of babboons, you don’t get far being selfish and violent toward your brothers and sisters. Same applies in a human society with laws and punishments; we’ve just managed, with our evolved capacity for abstract thought & language, been able to codify as groups how we want our societies to run (and this is an ongoing process; few if any societies have ever existed in legal/moral stasis).

              Finally: you’ve done a grand job of wedging yourself in here under the guise of an honest questioner; you seem to have now outed yourself as nothing more than a blatant troll. You deserve no more fodder.

        • Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink

          You’re almost there.

          Your only remaining hangup is in seeing this particular god whose name, confusingly enough, is “God,” as somehow privileged. This “God” god is the only real god you’re contemplating; all the others are obvious fables that those silly primitives (and Hindus, etc.) should have known better than to believe in.

          I now refer you to The Quote:

          “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
          …Stephen F Roberts

          Cheers,

          b&

    • Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      I should add: there’s something you need to come to grips with. It may be the most important realization of your life.

      Reality couldn’t give a flying fuck what you want it to be like.

      You may like the picture painted by your religion better than the real world you actually live in, but that won’t do you a damn bit of good when you run into situations where your religion commands you to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Phosphorus99
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink

        Reality couldn’t give a flying fuck what you want it to be like.

        We agree on that.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted June 7, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

          So, if you accept reality, why all the fairy-bothering? Then justice is just there, because it is a used* concept.

          ——–
          * The idea that it is used because it is, duh, useful, suggests itself, doesn’t it?

  11. daveau
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    …once you have faced up to the reality that there is no evidence to suggest there is another life after this one, it becomes all the more important to live this finite life to the full, learning and growing, and caring for others, because this is their only life, too, and there is no reason to believe there will be heavenly compensation for their earthly sufferings.

    Very movingly stated. Thank you.

  12. Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Paula, let me join the chorus of congratulations. Yeah, it’s ATH101, but the overwhelming majority of your readers haven’t even looked at the syllabus.

    Your article brings to my mind what I find to be the biggest problem with ecumenicalism: the fact that all these religions clearly aren’t worshipping the same gods. Indeed, they’re all worshipping radically different gods. That fact should be self-evident; if they were all worshipping the same gods, there wouldn’t be any disagreement to reconcile.

    For example, there’s the Catholic god named, “God,” who’ll roast you for all eternity if you ever perform an abortion. Mainline liberal Protestants also have a god, confusingly enough also named, “God,” who would prefer you didn’t perform an abortion but would never be so crass as to roast you for all eternity if it was medically necessary. And the Jews have a god — again named, “God” — who’ll roast you if you don’t perform a necessary abortion and the woman dies.

    And that’s just abortion! The Christian “God” had a son who was also a god; his name is “Jesus,” and he’ll have you roasted for all eternity unless you bow down before him in worship. The Jewish “God” will roast you if you suggest he would be so crass as to have a son. The Muslim “Allah” (who we’re led to believe is synonymous with all these other gods named “God”) will roast you for that as well, and he’ll roast you if you refer to Mohammad as a god while failing to treat him as one.

    These aren’t trivialities about what color robes to wear on the third Sunday of August; these are fundamental, foundational, irreconcilable differences. Sure, the names are (mostly) the same, but that means nothing; at work, there’re more “Chris”es than I can count, and they’re most emphatically all different people (even though they all share a name).

    Cheers,

    b&

    • daveau
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      I always think that if there actually were a god, we’d know what s/he was, and would all be able to agree on those characteristics. As it is, gods turn out to be exactly as diverse as our imaginations. More than a coincidence?

      • Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:24 am | Permalink

        One is left with but one inescapable conclusion:

        Either the gods (if they exist) are incapable of making themselves universally known and understood, or they don’t want to be universally known and understood.

        If they’re incapable, they’re hardly worthy of worship, wouldn’t you think? And if it’s not something they wish, who’re we to argue with them?

        (Yes, it’s Epicurus all over again. Centuries before the invention of Christianity he unambiguously and irrefutably demonstrated the irrelevancy of all theistic religion, and yet, still to this day, there’s a neverending chorus line of new gods being fabricated.)

        Cheers,

        b&

        • daveau
          Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

          Actually, that’s two inescapable conclusions…

    • Tacroy
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      For example, there’s the Catholic god named, “God,” who’ll roast you for all eternity if you ever perform an abortion.

      It’s even more complicated than that! There’s the Official Catholic Church God who will roast you for performing an abortion or using birth control or having sex with someone who has the same equipment as you, but there’s also the unofficial Liberal Catholic Church God who is totally okay with birth control, dudes touching other dudes’ junk, and still doesn’t like abortions very much but thinks it’s okay if you pinky swear that you really really I promise need it.

      The former primarily lives in The Vatican and other big buildings dedicated in his name where the practicalities of living in the real world are basically ignored (enforced celibacy of the all-male priesthood? Makes sense!), while the latter is the one who lives in quite a few Catholic communities throughout the world (generally, proportionally to their wealth) and is taught in the more expensive and academically inclined private Catholic schools.

      Even the Catholic Church itself doesn’t all believe in one God, despite claiming to.

      • Posted June 7, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

        Even the Catholic Church itself doesn’t all believe in one God, despite claiming to.

        The Catholic Church is as polytheistic as they come.

        There’s the Trinity, of course — never mind that bullshit about each of the three being different manifestations of the same singular god.

        And there’s the Heavenly Host — gods all, as surely as were the Olympians.

        And there’s Satan, every bit as much a god as Hades.

        And, if Roman ancestor gods were…well…gods, then so to are all the saints.

        I’ll stop there, as I’m just getting warmed up and I know some of you’ve heard this before….

        b&

        • Posted June 8, 2011 at 3:25 am | Permalink

          You forgot t’ Holy virgin Merry, begorrah, who was, sorry IS, even holier dan t’ wee baby Jebus.

  13. Gayle Stone
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    I have always thought that there are as many gods (imaginary) as there are people who believe in one. Yes, nothing new in her piece but it makes one feel good to read it again. I say that the image we have of atheism is much closer in agreement than any two persons’ who SAY THE BELIEVE in some god.

  14. Phosphorus99
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    For those interested:

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/morality-without-free-will/

    This article does does not allow wiggle room for free will on morality or anything else.
    The implication is that, in her new paradigm, Paula Kirby simply was theist and is now atheist. She exercised no free will in the decision.

    An atheist with free will is an oxymoron.

    • Sastra
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      She exercised personal choice unhampered by coercion. That’s the “free will” worth having. And it’s as “real” as it ever gets — or needs to get.

      Standing very far off on a metaphysical level and wondering whether her unforced choices would have been different had the universe been different enough to make her different is philosophical wanking. Paula was “free” on the human-level scale of our experience. That’s the important way that matters to us.

      • Phosphorus99
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 11:16 am | Permalink

        The persons seeking to coerce her one way or the other will also be without free choice

        • Curt Cameron
          Posted June 7, 2011 at 11:24 am | Permalink

          “Free choice”? Are you talking about choice, or free will? We all can make choices, but we don’t have free will, at least not the contra-causal kind.

          Pay attention to Ben Goren’s request below: please define what you mean by free will. If you’re trying to define your version of it as the contra-causal idea, you’ll find you can’t even present a coherent definition.

          • Phosphorus99
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 11:27 am | Permalink

            correction taken “will”

    • Posted June 7, 2011 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      If you’re going to keep harping on this “free will” nonsense, you at least owe us a definition of it.

      I ask because every time I’ve tried to pin somebody down on what, exactly, they mean by the term…well, I’ve yet to actually get a sensible, coherent definition.

      Perhaps you’ll be the first? I rather doubt it, but there’s always the possibility.

      b&

      • Phosphorus99
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink

        I go with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

        http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/

        “Free Will” is a philosophical term of art for a particular sort of capacity of rational agents to choose a course of action from among various alternatives.

        • Posted June 7, 2011 at 11:40 am | Permalink

          Please, do yourself and the rest of us a favor.

          Stop quoting authorities. Just stop.

          In your own language, what do you mean by the words, “free will”?

          That essay you linked to goes on and on and on about why free will is so important without ever bothering to actually establish what the term means. It assumes that the concept is meaningful (and, indeed, that it refers to something that actually exists) without first establishing a non-circular definition.

          I mean, the very first example it gives is, Hume: “a power of acting or of not acting, according to the determination of the will.” Anybody with a thesaurus could have written that.

          What is this “will”? What are its characteristics? how does one distinguish two candidate entities from each other to identify the one as a “will” and the other as “not a will”? How is a will manifested?

          What does it mean to be “free”? How would one will be free and the other will not be free?

          Start with that before you get all hot and bothered about why it’s so important to free teh willies, please.

          b&

          • articulett
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 11:48 am | Permalink

            My guess is that he doesn’t really have a good definition of what it means– it’s just that he imagines his salvation depends upon him believing in it and defending it.

            All obfuscation is good obfuscation if it helps him keep the faith.

          • Phosphorus99
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

            Authorities a a good place to start though not necessarily to end.

            In my words: free refers to being independent of physics and chemistry – we can only have free will if we can think and make choices independent of the laws of nature. Without this we are no more accountable for our actions than a fly is for its action.

            • Posted June 7, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

              Accountability is a psycho-social abstraction. If you screw me over, I retaliate in ways that discourage you from pulling that again. If your behaviour is bad enough, then maybe we all get together to discourage you (because even those you didn’t personally screw over this time recognize that you’re a danger to everyone). At that point, we have a social code of conduct, hopefully arrived at by some sort of group consensus. We are all accountable to the community because the community holds us accountable to behave in ways that enhance, rather than harm, the common welfare.

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 7, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

                My point exactly – An issue of power

              • Posted June 7, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

                My point exactly – An issue of power

                …which is why democracy, backed by strong guarantees of basic rights and widely-scoped civil liberties, is the least-bad (in the Churchillian sense ;-)) form of government — power wielded collectively, with checks and balances and flexibility. Beats government by divine fiat any day (we’ve been there and done that).

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 7, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

                “which is why democracy, backed by strong guarantees of basic rights and widely-scoped civil liberties, is the least-bad (in the Churchillian sense 😉 ) form of government — power wielded collectively, with checks and balances and flexibility. Beats government by divine fiat any day (we’ve been there and done that)”.

                can there be “rights” when there is no free will?

              • Posted June 7, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

                can there be “rights” when there is no free will?

                What a silly question.

                Can there be gold if there aren’t any Leprechauns at the end of the rainbow to harvest it?

                b&

              • Posted June 7, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

                can there be “rights” when there is no free will?

                Sure there can be — many countries have Bills of Rights or Charters of Rights and Freedoms, etc. There they are, written down: you can do these things, and no one is allowed to prevent you. There’s even a Universal Declaration of Human Rights (honored more in the breach by many of the signatories, but at least the ideal has been stated).

                I have no idea what that has to do with free will (especially in your magical non-causal sense of the term).

            • Curt Cameron
              Posted June 7, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

              Good, thanks for doing that. If your ability to make choices is not just a function of the physics and chemistry in your physical brain, then what *is* it a function of otherwise? If there is some other agent outside of the physics of it, making these choices for us, is that agent not also dependent on cause-and-effect?

              About your fly – if you view a fly’s brain as being just electrochemistry, what about a fish? Or a dog? Or a chimpanzee? All those animals have brains, so does a chimp’s choice of action make it accountable like humans, or not accountable like a fly?

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 7, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

                This is the atheist paradigm.

                All creatures ,human or otherwise are subject to the same consideration.
                Any group consensus is merely the result of power.

              • Posted June 7, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

                As I wrote above, reality doesn’t give a flying fuck whether or not you like it.

                What matters to you and those around you is what you choose to do about it.

                Would you rather live in a world in which power is used wisely and justly, or one in which it is used wantonly for the benefit of those who wield it at the expense of everybody else?

                If the former, use what power you have wisely and justly. If the latter…be prepared for those who disagree with you to combine their power to overwhelm yours.

                Yes, it starts with power. But, as with pretty much everything else in the universe, there are checks and balances, actions and reactions. Start thinking beyond the immediate consequences and to the inevitable reactions and counter-reactions, and you’ll see that you no more need your gods to guide each and every moral action than Kepler needed them to guide each and every planet in its orbital motions.

                You might start with introductory game theory. Acting like a spoiled two-year-old-brat is not the most effective way to succeed in life, and it’s not because Mommy and Daddy said so.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Curt Cameron
                Posted June 7, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

                Phosphorus, you didn’t answer my questions about this non-physical agent that you seem to be advocating. What is it? Where is it? Is it subject to cause-and-effect?

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted June 7, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

                I believe I see what you reach for, but Maxwell’s Demon ain’t it. You can operate a demon as long as you don’t run out of memory. (Memory erasure is then needed, which is what gives you your proportional energy loss).

                Since a brain can store very much memory it could theoretically run with such “free will” under a lifetime.* Simpler yet is to amplify quantum stochasticity, which is genuine, to make “decisions” independent of any laws governing the deterministic parts.

                The direct reason why there is no “free will” is because there is no dualism. That there is no dualism involved in the brain is easy to verify, Coyne’s favorite argument of anesthesia shutting off consciousness is more than enough IMO.

                —————-
                * If it used lossless calculations for its functions, which CS assures us is theoretically possible at least.

              • Posted June 7, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

                Even if the demon didn’t need any energy for its remembery, it’d still need energy to observe the particles and to operate the gate. And it’d need energy for its own metabolism.

                Besides, how is it supposed to read to and write from its memory without moving around matter and / or energy?

                b&

              • articulett
                Posted June 7, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

                Free will is not a coherent concept to me.

                But how does your “free will” effect your brain so that you believe whatever it is you think you’ve freely chosen to believe? You believe it in your brain which, in turn, controls what you write and think and do, right? So where does this “free will” or “soul” think intersect with the brain and how do you know? How does it make your brain believe or do you believe in your god somewhere other than your brain?

            • Posted June 7, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

              In that case, your will could trivially power a perpetual motion machine.

              Read up on Maxwell’s Demon. The executive summary is that you have a volume of gas at thermal equilibrium. A barrier is placed in the middle. A “demon” observes all the molecules as they approach a gate in the barrier. If the molecule is moving faster than average, it gets shuffled to the one side; slower, to the other. Soon, the one side will be hotter than the other.

              It’s trivial to exploit a thermal gradient to extract usable energy.

              It has been well established that the demon, in deciding when to open and close the gate, must consume energy proportional to that which is stored less efficiency losses.

              If you can make decisions not dependent on the laws of nature, you can mystically know when to open and close the gate, thereby violating the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

              So, you have a choice: your concept of a will or the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I know which one my money is on.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • articulett
                Posted June 7, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

                Without his “ghost in the machine”, there is no part of him that he can imagine lives on after he dies.

                And so he’s forced to argue for the “ghost in the machine” (or obfuscate understanding of purely naturalistic explanations) in order to keep the faith.

                Otherwise, he has to face the hard fact that he’s going to die like all those soulless animals out there. Tsk

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted June 7, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

              we can only have free will if we can think and make choices independent of the laws of nature.

              That isn’t a naturalistic model of how the brain works. Even with the decoupling under emergence, say the optical properties of a crystal emerging from a repeated arrangement of bound atoms, the substrate is essential. Modify it too much and the emergence goes. So no independence.

              We abridge the gap between the Scylla of your proposed but non-evidenced dualism above, and the Charybdis of too simple behavior, by having the mind observably be an emergent epiphenomena of brain processes. (Observable by, say, being able to map types of thoughts to metabolism in specific volumes the brain.)

              Then you may well ask, what of free will? It is an ‘efficient theory’, a simple model that we use to explain our own behavior after the fact. (IIRC, that is observed; deliberation comes _after_ muscle action.)

              • Posted June 7, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

                To elaborate a bit: if “free will” is independent of physics and chemistry, then it would be entirely unaffected by blood alcohol content.

                You, as a self-described medical doctor, should be well aware of the foolishness of proposing that consciousness is independent of physics and chemistry. Just think of all the extremely-predictable ways you can alter a person’s “will” simply by careful administration of various controlled substances — for good or for ill.

                b&

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted June 7, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

                I have to assume the comment nesting is FU, since a) my comments ends up on weird places b) ‘weird’ comments ends up on ‘my’ places. I don’t think BGs comment is a reply to mine (it seems directed to something else).

                More specifically, I don’t answer to “a self-described medical doctor”. Perish the thought! =D

              • Posted June 7, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

                Sorry — you’re right.

                I was addressing Phosphorus99 in my response to you….

                b&

              • Posted June 7, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

                I have to assume the comment nesting is FU,

                Torbjorn: we’ve reached the maximum allowed nesting level on this branch, thus things get confusing (especially the quotes in the emails, if you’re subscribed). Max nesting is necessary to prevent the right-margin squish.

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

                Does the fact that our mental capacities are affected by chemicals negate the concept that if we are solely the products of physics and chemistry we can have no free will ?

                Our behavior may be more complex than other animals, as a pig’s behavior is more complex than that of a fungus but can the fungus, the pig or humans have free will ?

                If there is no free will can there be free critical thought, science, “rights”, morality etc ?

              • Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

                Sounds like you already know the answer but don’t want to admit it.

                You seem to be acknowledging that, yes, our consciousness is a purely natural phenomenon.

                It should be self-evident that critical though, science, rights, morality, and all the rest do all exist.

                Your only hangup is that you think you need a ghost in the machine to explain that which has already been amply explained without ghosts.

                Cheers,

                b&

          • Tim Martin
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

            You actually spent time reading that link, Ben?

            I don’t see the point.

            Phosphorus99, you start new comment threads at will and do not engage in the discussions going on in the earlier ones. For example, we already told you above that the facts about free will have nothing to do with atheism. You had nothing to say in response. Now you’re again stating the same thing (“An atheist with free will is an oxymoron.”), as if the supernatural made “free will” any more sensible of a concept.

            You’re not at all careful with your questions – they are often so vague as to make intelligent response impossible. (That some of the other commenters have given intelligent replies anyway is impressive, and I salute you.)

            Lastly, your comments are phrased more like corrections than part of a discussion. This…

            “There is no alternative.

            We must be coherent.

            Nietzsche was right.

            When we kill God we must go to the logical conclusions of our actions”

            makes it look like you’re here to correct us and tell us what’s correct. There is nothing mature or intelligent (let alone correct) in comments such as these. Congratulations – you’ve “corrected” us. We’re moving on now.

            • Posted June 7, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

              You actually spent time reading that link, Ben?

              Well, not thoroughly. I skimmed it to look for a definition. Those are easy to spot, and their omission is rather glaring….

              Besides, the “Stanford” label is worth enough to grant the benefit of the doubt — at least slightly more than Wikipedia.

              b&

            • Phosphorus99
              Posted June 7, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

              “we already told you above that the facts about free will have nothing to do with atheism”.

              How could this be ?

              With respect to making statements ,as I understand it was asked if there is an alternative to my analysis of the function of the judicial system.My answer, which you are free to disagree with is no.
              The other comments are merely elaborations on the answer.

              • articulett
                Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

                Does this obfuscating and semantics help you hang on to your faith?

                There are no “atheist paradigms” or anything else, bozo. That’s what this thread is about– not your obfuscating tangents. It seems no matter how carefully this is explained, the brainwashed just can’t seem to get it… I suppose this is because they are afraid they’ll lose faith and suffer eternal consequences if they do, eh?

                Atheism is a lack of belief in gods. As such it is no more a paradigm (nor does it involve any of your other straw men) any more than your lack of belief in gremlins or Scientology or reincarnation does. Really. Claims made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. Real things should be coherent, as well as distinguishable from their imaginary counterpart and illusions of such. Gods aren’t. Souls aren’t. Demons aren’t. Free will isn’t. Bummer for you– but all the obfuscating in the world doesn’t make them real.

                The magical things we don’t believe in do not define what we DO believe– even if your indoctrinators told you otherwise– even if you imagine you know what atheists think just as ardently as you imagine your god exists.

                Your purpose for posting seems to be other than truth or engaging in dialogue– so what do you tell yourself your purpose is? You seem bent on proving your own prejudices against atheists in order to maintain your own faith in your particular supernatural beliefs. Could this be because you have no evidence for the stuff you feel so saved and special for believing? Could it be because we atheists cause you to realize that the magical stuff you believe in is as unbelievable as the magical stuff you reject? If your faith is good or true why is societal dysfunction directly correlated with religiosity? Why does it matter that we find your beliefs as silly and harmful as you find all the supernatural beliefs that conflict with yours?

            • lamacher
              Posted June 7, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

              Per his moniker, Phosphorus99 will shortly burst into flame and spontaneously combust.

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 7, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

                Uh. That’s harsh
                I probably should have called myself Phosphoros on this blog.

                I would like to thank Dr. Coyne for the blog and allowing me access.

                He also puts up some beautiful pictures. Thnk you ,Sir.

              • Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

                Phosphorus99 is a physical impossibility, of course.

                /@

            • Phosphorus99
              Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

              You’re right I have unwittingly started new blogs, my apologies to all.

              I am sometimes unable to post at the site of a question as I am unable to now. However for those who queried my concern about the validity of ” rights” in the absence of free will.

              My understanding is that “rights” imply a concept of “ought” but without free will and an independent basis for ethics aren’t “rights” simply a manifestation of power ?

              • Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

                My understanding is that “rights” imply a concept of “ought” but without free will and an independent basis for ethics aren’t “rights” simply a manifestation of power ?

                Yes. So?

                b&

              • Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

                I should add: you don’t need a free willy to independently derive morality and ethics. That’s actually trivial to do from first principles using game theory.

                b&

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 7, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

                Oxford Dictionary

                Rights

                noun
                1 that which is morally correct, just, or honorable : she doesn’t understand the difference between right and wrong | the rights and wrongs of the matter.
                2 a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to act in a certain way : [with infinitive ] she had every right to be angry | you’re quite within your rights to ask for your money back | there is no right of appeal against the decision.

    • articulett
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      Speaking of Sam Harris, I loved Sam Harris’ exposure of the psychopathy of Christianity in this clip from the WLC debate:

  15. Phosphorus99
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    “Phosphorus, you didn’t answer my questions about this non-physical agent that you seem to be advocating. What is it? Where is it? Is it subject to cause-and-effect”?

    Science is the only way to determine truth which can be empirically verified by our senses and the technologies we have been able to develop to date. Neither our senses nor our technologies have allowed us to detect anything other than physics and chemistry. However we seem to be missing 96% of the universe

    http://www.space.com/11642-dark-matter-dark-energy-4-percent-universe-panek.html

    and how much do we really know about the 4% within reach.
    Could the universe be a computer simulation as Zuse has suggested

    http://www.idsia.ch/~juergen/digitalphysics.html

    and what are the implications of that ?

    Lack of knowledge is not evidence for anything, however, philosophically atheism appears to be internally incoherent

    • Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, but your gods aren’t hiding in dark matter. The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Are Completely Understood.

      If you’re familiar with Turing’s Halting Problem, similar logic can be used to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no way of eliminating the possibility that what we see around us is a computer simulation. However, if you’re familiar with the Halting Problem then you also know that the exact same logic applies to any and all entities in the universe — your gods included. If Jesus were real, even with all his super-powers, even he wouldn’t be able to eliminate the possibility that he was inside his very own personalized simulation.

      As to your dilemma of replying…when threads reach a certain depth, WordPress doesn’t permit any more depth. Convention at that point is to reply to the most recent post with a “Reply” link so it’ll appear, non-threaded, under the one you really want to reply to.

      b&

      • Phosphorus99
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

        “the exact same logic applies to any and all entities in the universe”

        is “in the universe” a significant consideration ?

        • Posted June 7, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

          By “universe,” I mean, “all that exists and is real.” Substitute Sagan’s Cosmos, if you will.

          If your gods are real, they’re part of the Cosmos, even if they’re not anywhere accessible by spaceship.

          b&

          • Phosphorus99
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

            Why must God be a part of the cosmos ?

            • Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

              If God exists and is real “he” must be part of the cosmos because Ben defined the cosmos to contain all things that exists and are real.

              Just as all bachelors are single,

              /@

            • Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

              We need a term to describe all of reality. “Universe” has been the usual term for that, but you don’t like it. You don’t like “Cosmos,” either.

              What term would you like to use for, “all that is or ever was or ever will be”?

              The term must be truly all-encompassing, including your gods as well as us.

              b&

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

                Ok we can agree on a concept.

                By cosmos I refer to the concept of the

                space – time continum which is the subject

                of scientific enquiry

              • Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

                That’s not how I use the term, “cosmos,” but I’ll run with your definition for the purposes of this discussion.

                What term do you therefore use to describe the set that includes your cosmos in addition to the realms of the gods and anything and everything else which exists?

                b&

          • Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

            Yes, I think cosmos is a useful term here. “Universe” has, in some usages, a narrower meaning, denoting only the subset of “all a that exists and is real” that is amenable to observation and behaves consistently with a known set of models, sometimes distinguished as a “pocket universe”. And sometimes “universe” means all of these in toto. See are Many Worlds and the Multiverse the Same Idea, by Sean Carroll. As all these different “universes” are described by cosmology, “cosmos” seems very apt.

            All of these are of course things that (are postulated to) exist and are (postulated to be) real in a naturalistic sense — and, thus, free of supernatural agents.

            /@

    • Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Lack of knowledge is not evidence for anything, however, philosophically atheism appears to be internally incoherent

      Srsly? Is this the old “absence of evidence is not evidence for absence” saw?

      In what sense is it incoherent not to believe in the existence of an agent — “God”, broadly understood — for which there is no evidence?

      Science, grounded in philosophical naturalism, has infinitely more explanatory power than any notion of such an agent. (Laplace quotation goes here.) Is that incoherent?

      Given widespread beliefs about such an agent, it is reasonable to expect that there would be evidence that would validate its existence. Yet there is not one shred of evidence. From which it is a rational inference that the agent doesn’t exist. At the same time, evidence from anthropology, sociology, evolutionary psychology, and so on explains how those beliefs arise in the absence of any such agent. Is that incoherent?

      /@

      • Phosphorus99
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

        The incoherence is not in the choice to believe or not to believe in God.
        The choice,in itself, is no more incoherent than choosing or not choosing to believe some axioms in geometry or that 1 + 1 = 2
        The incoherence is in what follows. Such as “rights” , morality, ethics

        • Posted June 7, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

          The incoherence only exists if you start with the a priori assumption that such things can only manifest as a consequence of the actions of a faery godfather.

          All these things you’re obsessing over are emergent properties that follow from the simple interactions of individuals.

          You know how a flock of birds seems to move as if with a single mind? There isn’t some sort of flock overmind; it’s just a matter of all the birds following a similar set of flight rules. All our morality, laws, and the rest are extensions of the same principle.

          b&

        • Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

          But ‘“rights” , morality, ethics’ don’t follow from atheism. Atheism qua atheism doesn’t say anything about them, beyond the implication that they do not originate from “God”.

          /@

          • Phosphorus99
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

            I am not only saying that they do not follow from atheism I am saying that they cannot logically follow from atheism

            • Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

              Yes, you’ve been typing that over and over again.

              What you’ve yet to do is explain why. Other than, of course, by bare assertion from your own authority.

              Even on its face, it’s an obviously fallacious assertion. In the grand scheme of human history, your gods — whichever ones you worship — are but an insignificant blip on the radar. All sorts of societies with all sorts of pantheons have had all sorts of takes on morality and ethics. Your repeated, unsupported, and baseless assertions that your sect alone has a monopoly on good behavior is arrogant and insulting in the extreme.

              b&

            • truthspeaker
              Posted June 8, 2011 at 7:40 am | Permalink

              They’re not supposed to. Atheism is about the existence or lack thereof of supernatural entities. That topic has nothing to do with rights, morality, and ethics, which are all human concepts that only make sense in the context of human societies.

      • Phosphorus99
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

        I am committed to science and the scientific method.
        I have reservations on the imposition of worldviews on the interpretation of scientific findings

        • Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

          Then I think you are being disingenuous and putting the cart before the horse.

          It seems to me that you are the one who’s imposing your worldview on the interpretation of scientific findings if you maintain the existence of “God” when no scientific theory has need of that hypothesis.

          Philosophical naturalism, on the other hand, can be viewed as a hypothesis which is continually validated by every application of the scientific method. Far from being imposed, it’s a worldview that is entirely coherent with science.

          /@

          • Phosphorus99
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

            Did Newton need philosophical naturalism to do science ?

            • Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

              Fundamentally, yes.

              However cock-eyed his other ideas were, the notion that he could determine facts about the world through experimentation and describe the behaviour of things mathematically are implicitly naturalistic. His failing was to look for supernatural assistance when his maths didn’t quite map to reality; he insisted, for example, that divine intervention would eventually be required to reform the solar system, due to the slow growth of instabilities. If he hadn’t been thus distracted by imposing a theistic worldview on the interpretation of his own work, he may well have anticipated the work of later scientists.

              /@

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 7, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

                “the notion that he could determine facts about the world through experimentation and describe the behaviour of things mathematically are implicitly naturalistic”.

                did his theistic worldview tell him that he could not determine the facts about the world through experimentation or did it encourage him to experiment with the expectation of results?

              • Posted June 8, 2011 at 12:31 am | Permalink

                Neither.

                /@

    • articulett
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      Lack of knowledge is not evidence for anything, however, philosophically atheism appears to be internally incoherent

      Theism is incoherent to me. And I find when I ask theists for details, it really is pretty incoherent to them as well.

      If lack of belief in invisible/divine beings is incoherent to you, then you obviously are not of the right intellectual caliber to ever be an atheist. Myself, I could never get any “theism” to make sense. It seems more than obvious to me that all theisms are myths. Lack of knowledge about demons, gods, fairies, curses, ghosts, wormhole visitors, etc. is enough for me not to believe in such things. But you are free to pick which magical things to believe in at will, of course. I expect real things to distinguish themselves from illusions when scientifically tested, however. If they cannot, then as a rational person, I will treat them as illusions.

      Your inability to understand our lack of belief in your invisible savior is really not a problem for rational folks. I don’t expect Tom Cruise would understand why I find Scientology to be delusional too nor would a Muslim understand why I think it’s dangerous to promote faith over facts. I do understand why manipulations from people like you are what eventually drove Kirby to atheism. When you have the truth on your side, then semantic games and obfuscations shouldn’t be necessary and there should be increasing agreement on matters of fact.

      When science doesn’t know the answer to something, no guru does either, I’ve found. But lots of folks will use these gaps in knowledge as “bias confirming evidence” that their “woo is true”. Look at all the stuff Joseph Smith could get away with claiming before the science caught up and showed that he was full of shit. Your preacher-men are too.

    • articulett
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      We don’t have to know anything about the universe or have any hypothesis on the subject to conclude that believers in the supernatural are unlikely to have real answers either.

      We can conclude that Christian supernatural “answers” are as likely to be as valid as answers that come from Greek Myths– and for similar reasons.

      We can also conclude that the best understanding and refinement of the most accurate knowledge will come from science and not those who imagine themselves “saved” for having particular supernatural beliefs.

      We can also be certain that delusional people will deny that they are delusional and use the same sorts of arguments that you use to obfuscate in a way that helps them keep the faith despite a complete lack of evidence for what they feel must be true. This will be as true for the Muslims, Mormons, and Moonies as it is for you. It will be as true for the reincarnation believers as it is for the believers in all the various hells and heavens humans have come up with.

      • Phosphorus99
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

        “We can also be certain that delusional people will deny that they are delusional and use the same sorts of arguments that you use to obfuscate in a way that helps them keep the faith despite a complete lack of evidence for what they feel must be true”.

        I agree with the above and much of what you say here.

        Do you believe that the prescpritive information in living organisms is real or metaphorical and why?

  16. Phosphorus99
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes there is no Reply option so I am unable to post at the site of a specific question. Any help on this

    • Posted June 8, 2011 at 3:33 am | Permalink

      Reply at the next most accessible upper level, and pray to Minerva.

      • Phosphorus99
        Posted June 8, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

        Much Obliged

  17. Phosphorus99
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Ben Goren
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    My understanding is that “rights” imply a concept of “ought” but without free will and an independent basis for ethics aren’t “rights” simply a manifestation of power ?

    Yes. So?

    So morality is all about power – My point exactly

    • Posted June 7, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      No, no, no, no, no. A thousand times, no.

      Morality is all about your best strategies for success — however you yourself define “success.”

      It “just so happens” that the only way to succeed is by being a good, moral, upstanding citizen.

      b&

      • Posted June 8, 2011 at 3:35 am | Permalink

        Indeed.
        “Morality” for a Papua New Guinea tribesman is to brutally murder as many of your neighbours as possible.

        • Posted June 8, 2011 at 3:37 am | Permalink

          Oh, and this applies millennia prior to their being read the genocidal murder, rape & torture manual that is the Old Testament.

    • articulett
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      So now that you’ve confirmed your biases, will you be running along posting at blogs where you find the posters “coherent” believers in magic like you? Atheism is, by your own admission, too difficult for you to fathom (even though you are an atheist to most gods that people have believed in.)

      Frankly, I’ve found most of your posts pretty incoherent. I assume that they are just part of the semantic games believers play to help them keep the faith– on par with what Kirby found on Christian websites.

      One thing you might want to consider as you are imagining yourself “moral”- do you care about the truth more than you care about faith? Would you WANT to know if your beliefs were as wrong as you are sure other supernatural beliefs (Greek Myths for example) are? I think you are dishonest and would rather keep the faith– which makes you immoral in my book. I think Paula Kirby is more moral in that she is more honest and she wanted to know if she was wrong. I don’t think you or your ilk could ever admit to such an error.

      • Phosphorus99
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

        We all have biases and, I agree, we should

        all seek truth.

        To me, and I hope you will take this for

        what it is ,an honest statement of confusion-

        how can there be morality on a sliding scale

        i.e without the transcendent ?

        This is one of the reasons that I find

        atheism incoherent.

        • Sastra
          Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

          There are different ways of being “transcendent.” Emergent layers of complexity are enough.

        • Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

          To you, morality is the law established by a celestial dictator.

          To me, morality is the most effective strategy an individual can follow to attain whatever goals that individual has. Because so many of those goals are best achieved through cooperative effort, and because antisocial behavior inhibits cooperation, the result is a emergent set of similar shared strategies that emphasize not harming others, helping others, and helping ourselves.

          Of what use is your morality if the celestial dictator decides, as the Bible would have us believe, that it was right for Moses to do unto the Midianites what Conan did to everybody?

          If you follow through the various possibilities of my morality, unless you’re individually more powerful than the rest of humanity combined, it’s always in your own best interests to align your interests with those of the rest of humanity. Your “sliding scale” then becomes how productive a member of society you actually are.

          b&

          • Phosphorus99
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

            I am simply saying and I rest my case :

            1.If we are simply the product of the laws of nature we can have no free will. No more so than a fly, a pig ,a goat etc. We may behave differently but the principles informing our behavior, at its core the laws of nature, are identical to those other animals

            2.with no free will how can the concept of “ought to do” be coherent?

            3.similarly with ourselves as the reference point what,save for power to impose, can be the basis for “rights”, “ethics” and such concepts

            4.why aren’t the above the the logical outcome of atheism ?

            • Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

              Your #1 is half-right. “Free will” is an incoherent, meaningless concept, akin to a married bachelor. Your second sentence, though, taken in isolation, is correct.

              Your #2 has been addressed elsewhere, repeatedly. You’re a big boy, now. It’s time you decided for yourself what you want to accomplish with your life and the best way to go about it. And, if you’ve got even half the brain of one of those pigs you’re obsessing about, you’ll realize that being a sociopath isn’t a very effective means of accomplishing those goals.

              You #3 is going waaaaay off the rails. Rights, ethics, morality — these are simply the collective consensus for the most effective way for each of us to get done that which we individually have decided we want to do.

              Since not a one of your initial three premises are coherent unto themselves — let alone logically derived from each other or anything else — your #4 isn’t the logical outcome of anything at all.

              b&

              • Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

                But Ben, he “rests his case!” He even used numbers! Surely you must do the honourable thing, declare him Right and renounce atheism. And probably call a mate to help you with the seppuku ritual.

            • Posted June 7, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

              Quite apart from Ben’s deconstruction, you’re putting the cart before the horse again re #4.

              #1 at least flows directly from naturalism — and so does atheism (at least for gnu atheists). N > (1,A), not N > A > 1.

              /@

        • Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

          Do you really believe that Christian morality is based on a transcendent absolute and not on a secular sliding scale? Consider the church’s stance on slavery: Is that the same now as it was historically? Is that the same in the modern world as it is in the Bible? So, what on earth is the church for, if its morals are as malleable as those of secular society?

          /@

          • Phosphorus99
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

            “So, what on earth is the church for, if its morals are as malleable as those of secular society”?

            Good question. I agree with your concern.

            Would you say that David’s morality was not based on an absolute because he slept with Uriah’s wife and killed Uriah ?

            • Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

              What do random fictional characters from ancient mythology have to do with anything? Why pick that pair as opposed to Iago, the Baron Scarpia, or Darth Vader?

              b&

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

                Because of the question which was asked

            • Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

              I connot say as I’m unfamiliar with that, um, scenario.

              /@

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

                You haven’t answered the question.

                Its been a good day ladies and gentlemen but

                I have to get some shut eye.

                What fun is there in atheists agreeing with

                themselves when in addition to doing so you

                can beat up on an informed believer in

                fantasy such as myself.

                Good night. Sleep well

              • Posted June 7, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

                Nor am I going to, for the reason I already gave.

                /@

        • Posted June 7, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

          It seems that you find atheism incoherent because you falsely assume that atheism is, or is meant to be, a complete philosophy or belief system, on a par with any religious faith, containing (one presumes) prescriptions and proscriptions on various behaviours; a set of “commandments” if you will. That simply isn’t the case. Atheism is simply a single position – “not proven” – on a single issue – the claimed existence of gods by theists. Atheism at its simplest is just answering “No” to the question “Do you believe in gods?”; as such it does not have to, “lead” to anything else. Among any group of atheists you won’t find indentical moral or ethical positions on everything: disagreements on political policies and economics and law abound among us as much as among any other group of people. What unites us, loosely, is a shared state of being unconvinced that gods exists.

          It’s often said that atheism is a subset of skepticism: the idea that evidence, logicla inference or at least plausibility is required before belief in or acceptance of anything is justified; with the vital caveat that the skeptic be prepared to change their mind, opinion or belief if contradictory evidence to a held belief is presented.

          If you want to believe that a nonreligious philosophy such as skepticism (and related fields of logic, humanism, naturalism and rationalism) can’t lead to a moral foundation, fine, it’s up to you to present that argument. A lot of skeptics and atheists find it a lot easier to believe (based in part on Occam’s Razor) that morality and ethics extend from our natural empathy & awareness of other beings, developed over aeons spent living in groups, and our ability to imagine consequences such as harm or disadvantage to others underpin human concern for other humans – as opposed to an invisible creature claiming to be the creator of Everything simply appearing to a small group of pre-scientific people thousands of years ago, telling us to do A and not B – purely because it said so – and the more or less disappearing afterwards.

          If you find atheism to be incoherent with regard to issues like morality and ethics, I suggest you try a little harder to understand what atheism is, what it isn’t, what is says and what it doesn’t say.

          • Diane G.
            Posted June 8, 2011 at 12:49 am | Permalink

            Thank you. The distinction between atheism and what philosophies atheists might arrive at is often lost. IMO it’s an important one to maintain; there are some whacko atheists out there…

        • truthspeaker
          Posted June 8, 2011 at 7:42 am | Permalink

          “how can there be morality on a sliding scale

          i.e without the transcendent? ”

          What does one have to do with the other?

          Morality is about human feelings and human behavior. No transcendence is required.

          • Phosphorus99
            Posted June 8, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

            Oxford Dictionary

            morality |məˈralətē; mô-|
            noun ( pl. -ties)
            principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.
            • behavior as it is affected by the observation of these principles : the past few years have seen a sharp decline in morality.
            • a particular system of values and principles of conduct, esp. one held by a specified person or society : a bourgeois morality.
            • the extent to which an action is right or wrong : behind all the arguments lies the issue of the morality of the possession of nuclear weapons.
            • behavior or qualities judged to be good : they saw the morality of equal pay.

            • Curt Cameron
              Posted June 8, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

              Phosphorus99, do you realize that you just supported what truthseeker was saying? He said morality has to do with human behavior, not with any transcendent being. You then posted the definition of morality, which talks about behavior, and never mentions any gods or any other transcendent stuff. Did you read that before you posted it? Wait a while and let it soak in!

              Humans are a social species of animal. We have to cooperate to survive. The desire to get along with others is hard-wired into our brains. Therefore we’ve come up with rules that we expect each other to live by. Don’t kill your neighbor. Don’t rape babies (your example). You seem to be hung up on the concept of the “ought” in morality. Who decides what people “ought” do do? The answer is that *I* do, and *you* do, each of us. We don’t always all agree, but normal people all agree on most of the basics. That’s all there is to morality. No morality law-giver needed, it’s just us humans muddling along trying to figure out how to be happy.

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

                I did.
                I have been saying all along that morality has an element of “ought” in it and that in the absence of a transcendent reference point based on some principle that “ought” can only be a consequence of the capacity to use power

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

                ^truthspeaker

            • truthspeaker
              Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

              Thanks, you just supported my point.

              “in the absence of a transcendent reference point based on some principle that “ought” can only be a consequence of the capacity to use power”

              Why?

              In the absence of a transcendent reference point, “ought” comes from what humans want and feel.

              • Posted June 9, 2011 at 1:28 am | Permalink

                is this rather creepy passive aggressive theist implying that his sky daddy is not powerful?

              • Posted June 9, 2011 at 1:34 am | Permalink

                as in his creepy god using the power of fear via eternal damnation? So this very ‘weak’ basis, in term of ‘logical and reasonable’ thinking he describes being the basis of morality derived from the ‘atheist paradigm’ is the same crap transpiring in the heavens of his god.

  18. Sastra
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Phosphorus99 wrote:

    In my words: free refers to being independent of physics and chemistry – we can only have free will if we can think and make choices independent of the laws of nature. Without this we are no more accountable for our actions than a fly is for its action.

    No. This is wrong. Your premise is mistaken and so your conclusion does not follow.

    Where do the “laws of nature” end — and we begin? There is no such division. It’s not the case that either we act on nature, or nature is acting on us, turning us into automatons or forcing us into doing. We are a part of nature, and our choices and accountability are all embedded within the system. WE are what happens when physics and chemistry work on the level of agency. We are the deterministic forces, too.

    You have a serious misunderstanding here, and it’s philosophically messing up your entire approach to the issue right from the start. For one thing, you’re making the fallacy of composition/division: if molecules don’t make choices then people made of molecules can’t make choices either; if people do make choices then there must be something ‘outside of’ molecules, physics, and chemistry at work.

    Being “free” of physics and chemistry doesn’t give us an important kind of freedom we need to be responsible for the choices we make. You’re also guilty of hasty reductionism.

    • Phosphorus99
      Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

      Can we have free will if we are simply the product of the laws of nature and if so how so?

      • Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

        Dude. You aren’t even capable of explaining what “free will” is. Why’re you so hung up about something that you can’t even define?

        Are you upset over the possibility that you might not have a greater niblamfarb? What if I told you that niblamfarbs are really, really, super extra-important and you can’t be a properly glemfrap without one? Would it the suspense keep you up at night?

        No?

        So why are you so upset about the possibility that something equally meaningless might not be meaningful?

        b&

      • Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        Contra-causal free will? No. Because it’s contra-causal and therefore inconsistent with the laws of nature.

        /@

        • Phosphorus99
          Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

          Thank you

      • Sastra
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

        Can we have free will if we are simply the product of the laws of nature and if so how so?

        It depends on how “free will” is defined. If it’s defined as “choice without causes,” then no. But that version of free will is pretty vacuous anyway: contra-causal free will would end up being random. When you make a choice, in order to be your choice shouldn’t it be influenced by your desires, personality, ruminations, and experiences?

        These desires, personality, ruminations and experiences don’t exist in a vacuum, popped up from nowhere: they’re embedded in physical circumstances and situations, past and present. That doesn’t make them suddenly “not real.” Having goals, considering options, and making choices only make sense within the laws of nature, because we are natural beings. Natural laws describe, they don’t pre- or pro-scribe.

      • Bodhi
        Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

        Phosphorus99,

        Your hang-up appears to be due to the fact you can’t reconcile there being a basis for morality without any universal moral law handed down from an outside agent. Many people have tried to, and succeeded, in giving you the reasons why this is a fallacious premise. You’ll have to forgive some of the assumptions that we attribute to posters: such as they are all well grounded in the theory of evolution, which you appear to lack.

        I suspect this might be why some of the answers that are addressing the more sophisticated arguments that usually follow from your type of questions have sailed right over your head; because you lack this very basic of understanding where the basis for real morality originates due to a lack of understand about human evolution. Forgive me if I’m mistaken, but I think what you are really trying to elucidate is this: where does morality come from if not from god? At this point the free will question is just a hand waving sideshow you have yet hurdled because of a misconception regarding the true nature of morality.

        Your problem seems to be you’ve setup a false dichotomy where the only two choices are the Ultimate Moral Law Giver (otherwise known as the god tUMLG) or a utilitarian lawless state where everything is morally permissible and nothing is forbidden. This is a false dichotomy, as has been explained ad nauseum. Ben Goren tried to send you on the right path by recommending you start with Game Theory; yet I gather you have yet to do this since you still hold to this false dichotomy. The real alternative to tUMLG isn’t a utilitarian state, not when evolution and Game Theory are considered. Reciprocal altruism is the foundation for all human morality, and even a cursory perusing of Game Theory will explain this clearly, and how it evolved.

        Just like a sexual urge is not something you can turn on and off at the whim of your conscious decision making processes, neither is the urge towards reciprocal altruism in the non-psychopathic individuals that have reciprocal altruism – i.e. mostly everyone. The reason for this is because these urges and instincts are hardwired into the older parts of your brain, the emotional parts. If you study evolution and Game Theory a little, you will gain an understanding how the progression away from utilitarian based morality towards an altruistic based morality meant humans increased their chance of survival in the small nomadic groups we evolved in, and hence why reciprocal altruism in no way opposes the selfish gene theory. It’s also a partial explanation of in-group loyalty / out-group hostility that then evolved as a consequence. This is why people root for their local sports teams and hate everyone else’s; why people identify with a country; why people identify with a group…such as, oh I don’t know…christianity: and then have such a hard time in not defending the in-group they identify with.

        It sounds to me like you need a heaping helping of Game Theory education sir. Anyone else here, please feel free to correct or clarify the errors I am sure I have made here. I am just an amateur after all, and only defending my in-group.

        • Bodhi
          Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

          As a follow up, if you’d prefer to be entertained via video instead, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnXmDaI8IEo , Dr. Andy Thomson gives a nice 52 minute lecture regarding the true nature of morality.

        • Phosphorus99
          Posted June 8, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

          I have only a passing acquaintance with Game Theory and its analysis but I hardly see how it affects my argument that ” if we are soley the products of the laws of nature we can have no free will independent of the laws of nature” The strategies involved in Game Theory (whether analyzed by great mathematicians or not) are then merely a manifestation of the laws of nature in the human specie. Thus Game Theory and its outcomes are no more or less “moral” than the impulses which inform the behavior of other species. It may be more sophisticated but no more or less “moral”

          • Posted June 8, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

            I have only a passing acquaintance with Game Theory and its analysis but I hardly see how it affects my argument that ” if we are soley the products of the laws of nature we can have no free will independent of the laws of nature”

            There you go again, conflating this incoherent notion of “free will” with morality.

            Simply, morality is the human expression and / or intuition of the branch of mathematics known as game theory.

            Free will, whatever you think it is, isn’t even tangentially relevant to morality. You might as well complain that the fact that Tinkerbell isn’t resurrected with every child’s clap means that there’s no point in reconciling your checkbook each month.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Phosphorus99
              Posted June 8, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

              As I understand it evolution has no end game in “mind”.

              Is it possible that with changes in personnel and circumstances Game Theory could defined raping babies as moral ?

              • Posted June 8, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

                First, it’s the Bible that explicitly defines raping babies as moral — Numbers 31, to be specific.

                You are correct that evolution is not goal-driven. However, so long as there is sufficient energy input to keep the system going, it will always tend towards increasing genetic fitness. (Again, the naïve view is that this means the greatest number of offspring, but that ignores the obvious problem of population collapse through resource exhaustion.)

                I suppose one could theorize an utterly alien species which considered baby raping to be moral, but there’s simply no way such could ever evolve from human society — not at this point in history, certainly, and probably not from any primate society. You’d have more luck trying to genetically engineer some functional butterfly wings for yourself.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

                Do you agree that it is , at least theoretically, possible ?

              • Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

                I thought I made most clear three points:

                1. The Bible defines baby raping as moral.

                2. It is theoretically possible that there might be some utterly alien non-human species for which baby raping would be moral, though for the life of me I can’t imagine how it could emerge or what it would be like.

                3. There is no way, no how, that raping babies will ever be moral in our society or any society ever descended from ours.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

                Since we were all babies at some point, I can’t see how.

              • Bodhi
                Posted June 8, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

                Phospho, blinkered is no way to go through life. You came with questions. Even as an obvious troll, you’ve been responded to in good faith over and over again with pertinent answers to the questions you’ve asked repeatedly. Albeit, mostly for the benefit of the lurkers of these conversations rather than yours: yet still, you have been shown great patience that you are squandering. If you’re just here to rehearse your own cognitive biases, might I ask you a question of my own?

                How low does intellectual dishonesty and/or bankruptcy rank on your transcendent moral scale?

                Learning is not equivalent to mindlessly droning a repeating queue card; it entails actually engaging with the possibility your preconceived notions just Might be incorrect. This is the only way we correct previously incorrect positions.

                You should try it sometime.

              • Posted June 9, 2011 at 1:48 am | Permalink

                Vicious intellectually dishonest circle of a mind: starts off as one of those hapless minds with a god-shaped hole in it, meets up with the religion in which it grows up in or another religion in which its haplessness feels loved and appreciated, the mind becomes more hapless, flopping about in an intellectual dishonesty, deeply entrenched. Throw in some all-important aggressive passiveness to keep the whole mess ‘fresh.’ Meet Phosphorus, folks.

            • Posted June 8, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

              I think I see what Phospho’s argument is: morality requires the concept of “ought”, ie. you ought (or ought not) to do a particular action. However, “ought” requires “can”, ie. you can choose your behaviour instead of being compelled to it by forces beyond your control (which is why we tend to excuse people who commit crimes while insane, or under threat). From that he derives the requirement for a-causal free will — since, if our actions are completely determined by our neurochemistry, we cannot choose otherwise, hence cannot be held responsible.

              It’s an ontological confusion, and IMO one of the major mental roadblocks in moving from religious belief to a thoroughly physicalist understanding of reality (in fact, I think many atheists don’t really get it either). Religion (especially the Christian form, with its Platonic influences) tries to do moral philosophy in purely logical or semantic terms, and then apply the results of that how humans should live; ie: a top-down, abstraction-first approach.

              Physicalists (and strictly speaking, that term is more appropriate than “atheism” here) instead analyze moral behaviour and its causes *as we find them in the world*, ie. in terms of psychosocial mechanisms like empathy, fear of retribution, free-rider detection, group acceptance/rejection, etc, mediated largely by emotion. From that, we perceive the utility of morality (including attendant concepts like conscience, guilt, reward and punishment) as a social construct to maintain a society in which we can each be reasonably secure and free to pursue our own goals. Morality is then seen to be one of the influences on our deterministic mental decision-making processes — we restrain ourselves, and we blame and punish violators, because that is necessary to maintain the system. IOW: it’s a bottom-up, concrete-instance-first view of morality. Of course, much of this proceeds automatically, driven by emotional mechanisms which evolved as solutions to the game-theoretic problem of co-existence (which isn’t always a good thing).

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

                “we restrain ourselves, and we blame and punish violators, because that is necessary to maintain the system”.

                We commend those of similar chemical reactions and punish those with different chemical reactions in order to maintain the system our chemical reactions find preferably

              • Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

                We commend those of similar chemical reactions and punish those with different chemical reactions in order to maintain the system our chemical reactions find preferably

                Expressed very reductionistically (arguably to the point of oversimplification), but essentially yes. Is this a problem?

              • Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

                We commend those of similar chemical reactions[….]

                Is the concept of an emergent property so utterly foreign to you that you’re incapable of understanding how the whole can be (and generally is) greater than the sum of its parts?

                One bird flies overhead; there is no flock.

                Two birds fly overhead; still, there is no flock.

                A thousand birds fly overhead…and you would refuse to admit the plain and obvious fact that it is a flock of birds, flying in well-ordered patterns. To you, it’s just chemical reactions causing meat to flap.

                How sad it must be for you to be utterly incapable to see the forest for the trees — or, indeed, the tree for the assemblage of quarks.

                b&

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

                “We commend those of similar chemical reactions and punish those with different chemical reactions in order to maintain the system our chemical reactions find preferably”

                Yeah, pretty much.

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

                Not to me.

                I have been saying all along that if there is no transcendent reference point for morality what is called morality in human societies is merely a product of power relationships. Atheists reject the concept of a transcendent reference point so persons like yourself must, to be coherent, accept that justice and ” Courts of Justice” etc are illusions or at best a crafty use of words which need to be redefined.
                Paula Kirby must do the same.

              • Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

                Oh ghods, Phospho: you haven’t listened to a fucking thing that’s been said in the past two days, have you?

              • Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

                Atheists reject the concept of a transcendent reference point so persons like yourself must, to be coherent, accept that justice and ” Courts of Justice” etc are illusions[….]

                And yet, despite your repeated foot-stopmings, we reject both your transcendence and your calumnies that we are unjust and would-be baby rapists.

                Clearly, your perception is far removed from reality.

                Either you can continue to ignore and misconstrue the plain explanations we’ve been repeatedly offering you, or you can at least acknowledge that you don’t understand how we manage to be moral people without benefit of guidance from your pantheon.

                If you take the latter route and admit your ignorance, you will open yourself up to the possibility of understanding how it is that we’re able to be good without gods.

                If you persist with the former route, you’ll just keep on being an ignorant and offensive asshole.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • truthspeaker
                Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

                “I have been saying all along that if there is no transcendent reference point for morality what is called morality in human societies is merely a product of power relationships.”

                Yes, you’ve been making that assertion, but you have yet to support it.

                What is called morality in human societies is a product of the senses of empathy, justice, and fairness that have evolved in humans.

                “Atheists reject the concept of a transcendent reference point so persons like yourself must, to be coherent, accept that justice and ” Courts of Justice” etc are illusions or at best a crafty use of words which need to be redefined. ”

                Why? There is nothing in the concept of “justice” that demands a transcendent reference point.

              • M'thew
                Posted June 10, 2011 at 2:36 am | Permalink

                Phospo:

                I have been saying all along that if there is no transcendent reference point for morality what is called morality in human societies is merely a product of power relationships.

                What you (IMO) fail to realise is that that is in no way different from the power relationship between us humans and an omnipotent being that threatens to have us tormented for eternity if we do not behave as it wants us to (slaughter the right kind of oxen, for example). I’d rather be ostracised by my fellow human beings. The whole transcendence of the reference point becomes rather moot, once you’re willing (capable!) of seeing that.

          • truthspeaker
            Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

            Well obviously. Our sense of morality evolved just like wolves’ sense of morality evolved. Theirs is obviously different from ours; they evolved in different circumstances.

            • Phosphorus99
              Posted June 10, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

              “What you (IMO) fail to realise is that that is in no way different from the power relationship between us humans and an omnipotent being that threatens to have us tormented for eternity if we do not behave as it wants us to (slaughter the right kind of oxen, for example)”.

              I agree there is an inevitable issue of power.

              Biblically, this is what Lucifer(Satan)has and is contesting.

              However could the difference in the information base and character of creator vs created be important and is this issue best settled by argument or time (outcomes)?

      • truthspeaker
        Posted June 8, 2011 at 7:43 am | Permalink

        Sure. Why not?

        • Posted June 8, 2011 at 7:55 am | Permalink

          Hmm… no. There is only the illusion of free will.

          All choices are deterministic, but not predictable.

          /@

          • truthspeaker
            Posted June 8, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink

            I don’t think we know enough about neurobiology to say for sure that all choices are deterministic. I’m certainly not ready to accept Penrose’s ideas about the involvement of quantum mechanics in neurology, but I don’t think we can rule it out yet either.

            • Posted June 8, 2011 at 8:42 am | Permalink

              Penrose is almost certainly wrong, but quantum effects at some level only introduce stochasticity, they don’t remove determinism. See, e.g., “Does Chaos Theory Have Major Implications for Philosophy of Medicine” by S. Holm, British Medical Journal.

              Quantum effects and chaos theory together account for the unpredictability.

              /@

      • truthspeaker
        Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        “free” within the limitations of our biology.

        Ask someone who smokes tobacco how much free will they have.

  19. Posted June 7, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Paula

    Thanks for this article. I’ve had many of the same thoughts, especially regarding the starkly different & often contradictory Gods and Jesuses (Jesi?) that people I know and observe have worshipped & “known” over the years. If nothing else I hope your editor reads and comprehends it!

    Cheers
    \m/

    • Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      Jesodes. It’s Greek, isn’t it?

      /@

      • Posted June 7, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

        I thought “Jesus” was the Romanisation of the Greek “Iesou” from the Hebrew “Yeshua”; hence my “Jesi” confabulationing.

        Of course, I could just be talking out of one of my ani.

        • Posted June 7, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

          Indeed, you were right. Latin Iesus, from the Greek Ἰησοῦς (Iēsoûs), itself a Hellenisation of the Hebrew Yĕhōšuă‘ (Joshua) or Hebrew-Aramaic Yēšûă‘.

          I was just being facetious!

          /@

          • Posted June 7, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

            Although “octopus” also comes to us through (New) Latin, so maybe not.

            /@

          • Posted June 7, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

            Or faceshuah?

          • Tim Martin
            Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

            Nerds. 😛

            • Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

              Ant started it!

              • Posted June 8, 2011 at 12:26 am | Permalink

                Hmm… your “Jesi” came first! 😛

                /@

            • Posted June 8, 2011 at 12:25 am | Permalink

              You say that like it’s a bad thing…

              /@

            • Diane G.
              Posted June 8, 2011 at 12:51 am | Permalink

              Nerds.

              LOL!

      • Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:01 am | Permalink

        Oh, very clever.
        But not clever enough, Mr. Allen.
        Or is that Mr. “Allæ”?

        • Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:25 am | Permalink

          Actually, it’s Dr. Allan. 😉

          Conceivably, “Allen” could be a germanic plural of “Allan”, but I think you should be thankful there’s only one of me.

          /@

          • Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:42 am | Permalink

            Jumpin’ Jesodes!
            Ze evil ATHEIST Herr Doktor Alien messing mit Meine schpelling ist.
            Yēšûă “היא פיקציה!

            • Posted June 8, 2011 at 3:43 am | Permalink

              Meine böse Plan funktioniert. Ausgezeichnet!

              /@

              • Posted June 8, 2011 at 3:59 am | Permalink

                चूहे

              • Posted June 8, 2011 at 4:33 am | Permalink

                Rat?

                Well, yes, according to the Chinese zodiac, I am.

                /@

              • Posted June 8, 2011 at 4:47 am | Permalink

                It is my wont to ‘distil’ my remarks to their essence, and I might have hit the mark with my previous response, had you taken it in the plural case.

                Damn.

                Otherwise it would have been a perfect redaction of a rebarbative to a single character.
                (Strokes pussy on lap)

                Damn you Doktor Atheist, and all that you sit for.

              • Posted June 8, 2011 at 4:53 am | Permalink

                Oddly, Blofeld wasn’t the first image that came to mind… 

                And arguably “चूहे” isn’t a single character as it decomposes into four glyphs.

                /@

              • Posted June 8, 2011 at 5:08 am | Permalink

                Eu digo a você: “ratos”, doutor mal!

              • Posted June 8, 2011 at 6:31 am | Permalink

                Ah, os ratos. Excelente com piri-piri!

                /@

  20. MarcusA1971
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    Paula Kirby is an excellant writer, one of my favourite voices of atheism. If you have not done so, I highly recommend her crushing of 4 of the books that came out in opposition to The God Delusion, in “Fleabytes.”

    http://richarddawkins.net/articles/2285-fleabytes

    Her speach at the AAI 2010 conference was also excellant:

    BTW, is there somewhere where I can sign up as a Paula Kirby groupie?

    • Posted June 8, 2011 at 1:47 am | Permalink

      Ah, I saw (a version of) this at TAM London 2010. Good stuff.

      /@

    • Posted June 9, 2011 at 1:56 am | Permalink

      she has a facebook page.

  21. Tim Martin
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    ::peeks in to check the thread hours after he gave up replying to Phosphorus99::

    My god, it’s still going! This is insane.

    Ben, Ant Allan, et al, I don’t want to tell you your business. But if I were to go into a thread and try to fuck with people and keep the comments going for as long as possible, this is exactly what it would look like. Seriously.

    Phospho sure is getting grand treatment though! Why I’ve been treated much worse in other message forums for asking honest questions! Sheesh.

    • Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

      Phospho, hopefully, is starting to realise that dropping disingenuous bullshit among a group of atheists is like a chemical reaction: once started, it does what it does until the reactants are exhausted.

      It doesn’t matter if the bullshit is disguised as honest inquiry; indeed, such a revelation halfway through a discussion usually makes the reaction more volatile. Phos gave the intial impression of someone looking for answers but soon lapsed into typical theistic obtuseness & ignorant generalisations; this of course changed the mood from simple rebuttals or attempts at education into something less tolerant.

      I found this semi-coherent sign-off from Phospho amusing:

      “What fun is there in atheists agreeing with themselves when in addition to doing so you can beat up on an informed believer in fantasy such as myself.”

      Considering the fully-enclosed & windowless echo-chamber that is religious faith, having a crack at atheists for agreeing with each other is beyond hypocritical. Anyway, why shouldn’t we agree with each other – especially regarding such a question as the source for morality or ethics? We all agree that the existence of your supernatural gods is implausible, unlikely & unsupported. As such, any claims that such beings imposed morality on us is equally unsupported; it only stands to reason we all hold to a natural source for such behaviour.

      As for being beaten up on, it’s your tactics and your arguments that are drawing the punches here, Phospho. If you behave dishonestly or act obtuse or don’t engage people’s arguments, expect to get called on it. I suggest, if you actually want to engage atheists honestly, that you lurk a bit more on their sites and try to get a handle on what our arguments are before jumping in.

      • Phosphorus99
        Posted June 8, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

        I’m back. Some of us have to work.

        I responded to a comment about Game Theory

    • Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:13 am | Permalink

      ::peeks in to check the thread hours after he gave up replying to Phosphorus99::
      My god, it’s still going! This is insane.

      Then perhaps you might be better served by reading something else?
      I suggest the excellent book:
      “Why Evolution is True”, by some author who’s name escapes me, for the nonce.

  22. Posted June 8, 2011 at 2:07 am | Permalink

    I have to admit that I was gobsmacked to suddenly discover that the vociferously rational Paula Kirby was en route to becoming a nun, not that far into the past.
    The phrase “chalk & cheese” seems inadequate to describe the literally ‘radical’ transformation.

  23. Phosphorus99
    Posted June 8, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    I came on this blog to hear what you had to say and I’ve heard.
    I also think that I was given a fair chance to say what I had to say.
    From where I stand the issue has been exhausted.
    Thank you for your time and inputs.
    I’m not going anywhere.
    There’ll be other issues and I’ll be around

    • Posted June 8, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      I came on this blog to hear what you had to say and I’ve heard.

      Except you haven’t. Your replies quite emphatically demonstrate as much.

      In your responses to many posts on this thread, you explicitly accuse us of holding positions diametrically opposed to the ones we espouse in the posts you’re replying to.

      When somebody explains to you that they hold a certain position and why they hold the position, it is quite dishonest to then reply by telling them that they hold some other position. If you plan on sticking around, I suggest you at least grant us the benefit of the doubt that we know what our own positions are and not manufacture straw men caricatures of us to fit your preconceived notions.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted June 8, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

        Oh, Phoz is technically correct: he totally _heard_ what was said – indeed, there are several examples of direct responses to questions and statements, showing that he had in fact read what was directed at him.

        What Phoz didn’t do was listen to, absorb or comprehend what was said, explained & asked. Walls of presupposition & preconception don’t block out sound per se, just inconvenient information & difficult questions of the kind that undermine said walls.

  24. Explicit Atheist
    Posted June 12, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    “And this brings us to something very important about atheism. Atheism is not in itself a belief. Few atheists would be so bold as to declare the existence of any god at all utterly impossible.”

    The last sentence is true, but it does not follow from the prior sentence, which isn’t true. Atheism can be a belief, it can be the belief that there are no gods. I don’t see how my having the belief that there are no gods implies that I declare “any god at all [is] utterly impossible” when in fact I declare no such thing and at the same time I believe that there are no gods.

    This whole idea of “no beliefs” is wrong, every educated adults should have many thousands of properly justified beliefs. Even worse is this notion that no beliefs is a virtue relative to having beliefs. Beliefs are very good to have, every well educated adult should have thousands of beliefs as a result of being well educated.

    What is very important is not lacking beliefs, which is impossible, would be counter-productive even to the extent it is possible, and is fundamentally contrary to being an adult human in the positive sense of being an adult human as opposed to being a kitten. What is very important is that our beliefs be properly justified, and that is where atheism excels against all of its competition.


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