Open season on atheists at the Torygraph: two new attacks on heathens

Well, it’s the Telegraph, Jake, but even so, the paper has viciously attacked atheism and atheists twice in two days, and, as you know, these attacks are burgeoning everywhere.

Why is this happening? I can think of several reasons, including the success and visibility of New Atheism, a slow news summer, or simply a feeding frenzy, with one shark biting and the others smelling blood in the water. It can’t be Dawkins and his tweets, for that’s just an excuse for people who already dislike Richard to chew on his tuchus. I’d be interested in readers’ take on the spate of recent attacks, but there’s little doubt it’s a real phenomenon.

The worst is by novelist and journalist Sean Thomas, who also writes under the name of Tom Knox. His thesis is summed up in the piece’s title, “Are atheists mentally ill?”  His answer, of course, is “yes.” Why are we mentally ill? Because, according to a “vast body of research”, the data show this:

  • A study at UCLA nine years ago showed that “college students involved in religious activities are likely to have better mental health”
  • A 2009 study at Harvard discovered that believers with broken hips healed faster and had shorter stays in the hospital
  • Believers have better medical outcomes than atheists when afflicted by coronary disease breast cancer, AIDS, and even more success using IVF
  • Believers are happier and less likely to commit suicide
  • Believers are less likely to smoke, drink, or take drugs
  • Believers are nicer than heathens (Thomas cites a study from Harvard discussed in the Sydney Morning Herald)
  • Believers donate more to charity

Thomas doesn’t pull any punches in his conclusion:

So which is the smart party, here? Is it the atheists, who live short, selfish, stunted little lives – often childless – before they approach hopeless death in despair, and their worthless corpses are chucked in a trench (or, if they are wrong, they go to Hell)? Or is it the believers, who live longer, happier, healthier, more generous lives, and who have more kids, and who go to their quietus with ritual dignity, expecting to be greeted by a smiling and benevolent God?

Obviously, it’s the believers who are smarter. Anyone who thinks otherwise is mentally ill.

And I mean that literally: the evidence today implies that atheism is a form of mental illness. And this is because science is showing that the human mind is hard-wired for faith: we have, as a species, evolved to believe, which is one crucial reason why believers are happier – religious people have all their faculties intact, they are fully functioning humans.

Therefore, being an atheist – lacking the vital faculty of faith – should be seen as an affliction, and a tragic deficiency: something akin to blindness. Which makes Richard Dawkins the intellectual equivalent of an amputee, furiously waving his stumps in the air, boasting that he has no hands.

Of course, he doesn’t ask whether religious beliefs are actually true; that’s irrelevant to his thesis.  Nor does he mention that there’s a strong negative correlation between the well being of societies and the health of those societies: the healthiest societies are the most atheistic, and there’s evidence that this is not just a spurious correlation.

If atheism is a mental illness, then put me in that asylum.

No, Thomas is arguing for belief in belief.  Now, I haven’t read any of the studies that Thomas cites, but even if they’re all true, I couldn’t force myself to believe just so I’d become a nicer and healthier person.  How could anyone do that? Thomas’s is clearly not an argument for atheists to adopt religion; it’s an argument to diss atheists and help religious people feel better about themselves. And the part about Dawkins waving his stumps is not only mean-spirited, but silly. We all know that God can’t heal amputees.

*******

O’Neill’s attack lacks data but makes up for it with plenty of spleen. (O’Neill describes himself as an “atheist libertarian”.) He has his own little list of accusations:

  • “Atheists online are forever sharing memes about how stupid religious people are.” He supports this by linking to a site called Atheist Meme Base.
  • Atheists are smug and irritating (he uses Dawkins’s tweets about Muslims as an example).  Of course, I could link to any number of religious sites that are even more smug and irritating, but for some reason O’Neill leaves out the bad behavior of the faithful.
  • Atheists are self-congratulatory; O’Neill’s evidence is his attendance at at least one atheist convention, where he sees patronizing people “afflicted with repetitive strain injury from so furiously patting themselves on the back” and where one sees “unprecedented levels of intellectual smugness and hostility towards hoi polloi.” I wonder if O’Neill has ever gone to a religious revival? Talk about back-patting! At least atheists don’t claim that believers face eternal perdition.
  • “Atheists in the public sphere spend their every tragic waking hour doing little more than mocking the faithful.”  Has O’Neill read any books by New Atheists? First, when they’re not discussing other issues, like evidence and the lack thereof, they’re mock faith, not the faithful. Second, he overlooks many atheists’s attempts to not mock faith, but limn a secular alternative to religion and religious ethics (viz., Peter Singer and Anthony Grayling).

Why, asks O’Neill, are atheists behaving this way.? After all, he says, the good old atheists, and I suppose he means people like Camus or Sartre, were content to keep atheism as a small and inconspicuous part of their persona. (But has he read Bertrand Russell, H. L. Mencken, or Robert Ingersoll?) No, the problem is that the New Atheists have turned nonbelief into a worldview.

So, what’s gone wrong with atheism? The problem isn’t atheism itself, of course, which is just non-belief, a nothing, a lack of something. Rather it is the transformation of this nothing into an identity, into the basis of one’s outlook on life, which gives rise to today’s monumentally annoying atheism. The problem with today’s campaigning atheists is that they have turned their absence of belief in God into the be-all and end-all of their personality. Which is bizarre. Atheism merely signals what you don’t believe in, not what you do believe in. It’s a negative. And therefore, basing your entire worldview on it is bound to generate immense amounts of negativity. Where earlier generations of the Godless viewed their atheism as a pretty minor part of their personality, or at most as the starting point of their broader identity as socialists or humanists or whatever, today’s ostentatiously Godless folk constantly declare “I am an atheist!” as if that tells you everything you need to know about a person, when it doesn’t. The utter hollowness of this transformation of a nothing into an identity is summed up by the fact that some American atheists now refer to themselves as “Nones” – that is, their response to the question “What is your religious affiliation?” is “None”. Okay, big deal, you don’t believe in God, well done. But what do you believe in?

This is ludicrous.  If by “what do you believe in?”, O’Neill means, “What do you accept without evidence, or in the face of evidence?”, then, yes, atheists believe in fewer things than the faithful. But that’s good!

But I think here O’Neill is accusing atheists of lacking values and positive worldviews.  And that’s just dumb.

Here, among others, are some of the things I “believe” in. I believe in trying to be nice to other people, and helping them with their problems. I believe that there should be no discrimination against people based on things they can’t change, like gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.  I believe in being kind to animals and respecting and preserving nature. I believe that science helps make a better world for everyone.  I believe that teaching people science will expand their world. I believe that, in general, Republicans are selfish, greedy, and far inferior to Democrats. I believe that governments should strive to make free medical care available for everyone. I believe that the most important thing in life is the love of friends, family, and companions, and that achievement and work rank below that. I believe that good food and drink are essential pleasures of life. I believe that literature, art, and music are components of a well-lived life.

And I’m sure any of us could produce such a list. I know a lot of atheists, and some religious folks as well, and I can’t say that atheists have a worldview more negative than that of believers. Atheists appreciate that life is transitory, and many are devoted to making the best of our short span here. That makes them better company than many believers, especially those who want to natter on about their supernatural and unevidenced beliefs.

I remember last fall when I spent several hours in the company of two Big Atheists, Dawkins and Dennett, as we drove from Boston to Stockbridge for the conference on naturalism. It was a great pleasure to be in their company. Did we talk about atheism? No, we talked of this and that, including philosophy, science, and world affairs. Because we arrived early, we all went to the Normal Rockwell Museum to admire the paintings. Was it dolorous? Not at all; it was fun, and we had a fine lunch.  And I can’t remember a single moment of “negativity.”

Finally, O’Neill comes up with the ultimate accusation: atheism leads to nihilism!

Today’s atheism-as-identity is really about absolving oneself of the tough task of explaining what one is for, what one loves, what one has faith in, in favour of the far easier and fun pastime of saying what one is against and what one hates. An identity based on a nothing will inevitably be a quite hostile identity, sometimes viciously so, particularly towards opposite identities that are based on a something – in this case on a belief in God. There is a very thin line between being a None and a nihilist; after all, if your whole identity is based on not believing in something, then why give a damn about anything?

If O’Neill can level accusations like that, he must not know many atheists.  And has he been to Sweden, Denmark, or France, countries teeming with atheists? Are those people “viciously hostile”? When I think of France, I think of a country where people try to enjoy their lives; and Sweden and Denmark are extraordinarily kind, accommodating, and socially caring countries.

Here O’Neill is simply mouthing the same hollow complaints leveled by other journalists looking to give atheists a good spanking . Of course some atheists are jerks, are negative, and natter on too long about their unbelief.  But I’ve spent a lot of time in the company of atheists, and I find them generally positive, cheerful, and, importantly, enamored of science.  As Billy Joel wrote, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.”

139 Comments

  1. jesperbothpedersen1
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:43 am | Permalink

    sub

    • gbjames
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:07 am | Permalink

      sub

  2. Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    crapola

    • Posted August 15, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      You’re not referring to this, are you?

      (It’s decent stuff, actually)

  3. NewEnglandBob
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    Damn, each of these guys broke my bullshit meter. Twice in one morning!

    • DrDroid
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      +1 on that. I’m accustomed to seeing the NAs criticized but not demonized.

  4. Dominic
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    Believers are conformists.

    • JBlilie
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:35 am | Permalink

      Well-distilled there.

  5. Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    Atheism is one of the few remaining groups that it’s socially acceptable to attack.

    It’s a process of hate transference. Fifty years ago, it was OK to hate people of another skin tone. Ten years ago, it was OK to hate people who have different sexual preferences (than those currently in vogue at the time). Now, it’s atheists turn.

  6. Dominic
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    Which believers??? Get it wrong & you go to ‘hell’ regardless of how good you rare – at least that is what ‘believer’ say.

    • Dominic
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:01 am | Permalink

      As a Nihilist I object to O’Neill’s conclusions! I care about the world & my impact on it a damn sight more than many who have children & a stake in the future.
      Grrrr…

  7. Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    A mental illness because we’re rejecting what we’ve evolved to do?! Haven’t we possibly evolved slight tendencies toward xenophobia? Don’t males have an evolved instinct to be polygamous? Would rejecting these be a form of mental illness as well?

    Maybe it would be great for human morale if we still thought Earth was the center of the Universe – but too bad: it. isn’t. true. We can’t go back even if we wanted to.

    Most frustrating article I’ve read in a long while.

  8. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    Read Sean Thomas’ writing.

    Then, ask yourself if he sounds like someone who is nicer, better adjusted, more intelligent, etc. L

  9. moleatthecounter
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    Brendan O’Neill is a real-life troll. No, seriously…

    I was at a panel discussion last April at the QED Conference in Manchester, and I had the satisfying pleasure of seeing and hearing the pointlessly garrulous and verbose O’Neill eviscerated by UK comedian and science lover Robin Ince. He is simply a contemptible wind-up merchant disguised as a ‘journalist’.

    • pulseteresa
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

      Ah, you beat me to it. You’ve characterized him perfectly.

    • stephen
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      Quite so-and the same can be said about Sean Thomas.

  10. Jonathan Dore
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    The Torygraph has for years been an enclave of Catholic reactionaries — from Conrad Black to the Barclay Brothers as owners, and from Charles Moore to incumbent Tony Gallagher as editors (though like Dacre at the Daily Fail they are adept at spinning their pre-Tridentine prejudices towards the sensibilities of British conservatives more generally, most of whom would instinctively distrust anyone who was too obviously popish). The paper’s stance on atheism is thus pretty much, well, pre-ordained. I don’t think there’s any need to look for a deeper trend.

  11. jedipunk
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    Being happy because one is simply a believer means nothing…I know happy drunks.

    That being said, this begs the question, “which set off beliefs makes one happier?”:

    • Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      Indeed.

      Shorter Thomas: Ignorance is bliss, therefore smart people choose to remain ignorant.

      • stephen
        Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

        Nice!

  12. jesperbothpedersen1
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    So which is the smart party, here? Is it the atheists, who live short, selfish, stunted little lives – often childless – before they approach hopeless death in despair, and their worthless corpses are chucked in a trench (or, if they are wrong, they go to Hell)?

    Pascal’s wager always have a way of popping up when people try to criticise atheism and atheists. This silly notion that “God” or “No God” is a 50/50 bet and you might as well believe just to be on the safe side, regardless of the atrocious nature of that supposed god.

    What a cowardly and dishonest disposition. Some of these fencesitters( if you can call them that ) seem to think that they are on moral higher ground because they regard the question of gods as unknowable. They seem to think that truth is a matter of strength in numbers and they’d rather avoid opposing the supernatural claims of the holy books because people might get upset.

    Utterly foul and disgusting. Grow a pair, please.

    • Graham Martin-Royle
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:07 am | Permalink

      Why are we thought of as “in despair”? I’m actually quite a happy sort.

      • jesperbothpedersen1
        Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:11 am | Permalink

        I know, me too. Life isn’t all dandy, but let us at least be happy that we get a shot at it.

        Apparently for some, the only reason they bother is the promise of eternal life. And they see blind faith as a virtue.

        As Jerry mentioned; Lock me up at the asylum then.

      • JBlilie
        Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

        I love Dawkins’ apt metaphor of the spotlight of time:

        … How it feels to me, and I guess to you as well, is that the present moves from the past to the future, like a tiny spotlight, inching its way along a gigantic ruler of time. Everything behind the spotlight is in darkness, the darkness of the dead past. Everything ahead of the spotlight is in the darkness of the unknown future. The odds of your century being the one in the spotlight are the same as the odds that a penny, tossed down at random, will land on a particular ant crawling somewhere along the road from New York to San Francisco. In other words, it is overwhelmingly probable that you are dead.

        In spite of these odds, you will notice that you are, as a matter of fact, alive. People whom the spotlight has already passed over, and people whom the spotlight has not reached, are in no position to read a book. I am equally lucky to be in a position to write one, although I may not be when you read these words. Indeed, I rather hope that I shall be dead when you do. Don’t misunderstand me. I love life and hope to go on for a long time yet, but any author wants his works to reach the largest possible readership. Since the total future population is likely to outnumber my contemporaries by a large margin, I cannot but aspire to be dead when you see these words. Facetiously seen, it turns out to be no more than a hope that my book will not soon go out of print. But what I see as I write is that I am lucky to be alive and so are you.

        Source

        This does NOT generate a sad life, despair, nihilism. It is the ultimate spur to seize life with all your might — for it’s all there is, full stop.

        The impoverishment of mind that sees this as despairing just amazes me.

        And really? We’re mean or intolerant? Simply read their articles! Goodness: These guys are crabby, mean-spirited, projecting haters! Mr. Pot, Mr. Kettle!

  13. Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    I don’t want to make myself the object of attack but I had the same thought as Thomas/Knox years ago listening to a panel discussion with Dawkins. But rather than thinking of it as a negative I’d sort of wear it as a badge of honor.
    Consider an ant that decided it didn’t want to sacrifice itself completely for the sake of the anthill. It would work, but occasionally take time off to smell the roses so to speak. We probably think that a reasonable way to live your life but that would have to be one seriously mentally ill ant. Ants are supposed to mindlessly sacrifice themselves.
    For most of last million years human individuals, communities and cultures have been animated by irrational beliefs. It has always formed such an integral part of mental activity that those few of us who have managed to free ourselves of it really are mentally ill.

  14. Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    For anyone interested in a quick summary of the evolutionary psychology of religion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_psychology_of_religion

  15. Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    Ah, evolutionary psychology strikes again…Mr. Thomas has convinced me. Where’s my Blue Pill! Damn it, the Blue Pill!

  16. Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    Who is happier? Children who believe that Santa Claus brings them presents if they’ve been good, no matter what, or kids who know that it’s their parents who must pay for the toys, which probably causes them a lot of stress because of the financial burden involved, encourages a crazy race to ever-greater consumption, and probably forces other kids in third-world countries to work twelve hours shifts?

    Clearly, only crazy children would refuse to believe in Santa.

    • Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      I hated Christmas as a child, because I believed in Santa Claus … and so did my parents.

      — Carrot Top

      /@

  17. Christopher
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    Hmmm, I’m going to have to readjust my opinion that this woman isn’t mad:

    http://www.dianacooper.com/unicorns/

    • Brujo Feo
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:14 am | Permalink

      Thank you for this. Damn, don’t you just wish that you had more time, so you could believe more bullshit?

      “Diana Cooper is a world expert on angel Orbs. The Angels are now giving us physical proof of their presence through Orbs. When you look at certain ones you receive a download of high frequency angelic energy, so expect to see some awesome Orbs.”

      The next time I’m cycling at speed down a pedestrian-choked sidewalk, and I just happen to knock a few over, no big deal…I’ll just explain to the maimed (and the cops): “Well, what did you expect? I was looking for the awesome Orbs!”

      • Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:55 am | Permalink

        What a load of Orbs!

        /@

        PS. +1 for working in a reference to another thread!

      • Posted August 15, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

        Until Randi or someone did that “see auras behind a screen” thing, I guessed (apparently) that some of these people have some moderate perceptual pathology (rather than simply making stuff up). With the “orb” stuff, which I’ve seen elsewhere, I wonder if that’s the case here.

  18. Bender
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    Why is this happening? I think they were rattled by the publication of this meta-analysis:

    http://arstechnica.com/science/2013/08/new-meta-analysis-checks-the-correlation-between-intelligence-and-faith/

    • darrelle
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:29 am | Permalink

      How foolish of them to so visibly demonstrate the validity of that study.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:07 am | Permalink

      Agreed. I posted a comment below before reading the thread, and my analysis is the same. Thanks for finding the link!

  19. Ben
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    People who have freed themselves from a traumatic religious upbringing are not always lucky enough to get away scot-free. Are they counted as unhappy atheists (to use a crude categorisation) or unhappy religionists?

    To take one extreme example, the emotional scars borne by those abused Catholic children who have left religion behind may well be being used to beat up atheists. Maybe the studies are not that simplistic, but I would not count on it.

    • Diane Langworthy
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      Very good point. Even if not particularly traumatized, if one spends childhood (+) steeped in a religious subculture, then once on the outside of that subculture it seems natural to be intrigued, fascinated, even somewhat obsessed with it. Engaging in conversations about its claims is often seen as activist or militant or trying to push a world view – rather than just response to the frequent promotion and claims of religion (or other woo).

  20. Marella
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    It’s because we’re winning. The internet has allowed atheists to be loud and proud, to say nothing of mocking! Mocking is good, it makes the religious realise that we do not take their nonsense seriously, which makes them purple with fury. We are removing them from the moral high ground, with the generous help of the Vatican and terrorism, and they are terrified. This is not the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning! Yay!

    • Kevin Alexander
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      Yes. I think of prison guards helplessly watching the inmates escape and the best that they can do is to shout after them.
      “Hey it won’t be so nice out there! You’ll be sooooo unhappy without the three squares and that nice comfy bunk*”

      *Metaphorically speaking.

    • Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

      That’s exactly it, well said.

      It’s a few different fears thrown together I think. One is fear of death, so I better believe in the invisible man in the sky. One if fear of expressing doubt, and to me the biggest one is fear of revealing yourself as an atheist to family and friends. I firmly believe this group is HUGE. It’s why you get these pathetic “well I’m an atheist too, but Dawkins is too strident etc.” arguments. Or the other favourite, “religion does have something to offer” and so on.

      It’s nothing more than cowardice, ignorance and fear. There’s very little wrong with not knowing or not being aware – 10 years ago I was the same. There is something wrong with thinking there’s some kind of nobility in ignoring plain facts rather than upsetting people.

  21. h2ocean
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    “Because, according to a “vast body of research”, the data show this:

    – A study at UCLA nine years ago showed that “college students involved in religious activities are likely to have better mental health”
    – A 2009 study at Harvard discovered that believers with broken hips healed faster and had shorter stays in the hospital
    – Believers have better medical outcomes than atheists when afflicted by coronary disease breast cancer, AIDS, and even IVF.
    – Believers are happier and less likely to commit suicide
    – Believers are less likely to smoke, drink, or take drugs
    – Believers are nicer than heathens (Thomas cites a study from Harvard discussed in the Sydney Morning Herald)
    – Believers donate more to charity”

    I think a lot of these findings can be boiled down to “people who are better integrated into society because they are the mainstream are better connected and reap the benefits of social inclusion.”

    In regards to increased donations, let’s face it, most of the time when people donate money, it is because someone asked them if they would like to donate. Not saying there is anything wrong about this, but Church certainly affords more opportunities for this. Also, one can donate money and feel good about themselves, but does it do anything? Given the correlation between religiosity and conservatism, religious people tend to vote for governments that have policies that hurt poor and disadvantaged people, while countries with more socialist forms of government (where people “donate” via increased taxes) don’t have the same problems.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with smoking (morally no, health-wise yes), drinking, or some drugs. Drinking or smoking a joint can be done in moderation and responsibly. Religion builds dogma around these things. I don’t know how many sheltered religious people I’ve seen go off to college and then lose their minds drinking and party instead of going off to class because they don’t know how to manage their new found freedom.

    Also, I am curious about the suicide stats. I can imagine researchers looking at the number of suicide deaths in a given state for example and these statistics “mistakenly” include elderly people who choose to end their life, and it goes on record as suicide because of a lack of progressiveness in that state’s laws. In this case, an elderly person that thinks suicide is a sin is not likely to end their life, but a non-religious one might (and stop unnecessary suffering). Seems plausible, and I have seen worse research before. I definitely wouldn’t rule out the possibility that there is a real inverse correlation between religion and suicide, but I don’t think it says anything negative about atheists (as if atheism causes depression and a lack of purpose in life) as opposed to religion just having an issue with suicide, plus my first point of having a sense of social inclusion.

    • Ben
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      And much “charitable” giving is giving money to your church.

      How… thoughtful.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      RD Extra: A Skeptical Review of Religious Prosociality Research with Luke Galen
      In which Galen discusses the many biases and insufficiencies of such studies.

      • Sagra
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 10:29 am | Permalink

        Luke is one of the hosts of the Reasonable Doubts podcasts, which I listen to religiously. I thought of him right away when I saw this.

        He has done his own research specifically targeting non-believers and has found that those who are who are more sure about their (non)belief are happier than those who are not sure.

        He talks a lot about how much of the differences between believers and “nones” can be attributed to the lack of social belonging that churches supply. If you’re an atheist who is certain of your beliefs and actively participates in a free thinker’s club where you socialize with your free thinker friends, then you’re likely to be just as happy as a religious person who is involved in a church.

        He also points out that non-believers in countries with low religiosity don’t suffer from the ailments that we find in the US. Being a non-believer in a highly religious community can make you feel alienated.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      I missed the point on charity!

      Rresearch seems to come down to the opposite conclusion, because “the communities which religious people intend to benefit are often the religious communities to which they are affiliated.

      “There are three points to be concluded from the research above: 1) The argument that religious people are more generous than the non-religious is considerably weak – except perhaps for monetary donations to people of the same religion; 2) atheists, unlike religious people, do not discriminate when donating time, energy, or money; and 3) atheists tend to give just as much non-monetary resources away as religious people, though there are instances where atheists are more charitable, such as how they may not give as much money to charities but are more willing to pay higher taxes in the US, which benefit the whole country – as opposed to donations which benefit a specific (i.e., religious) group.” [My bold]

      No news there, Thomas is lying for Jesus.

  22. Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    Religion and health isn’t even as clear cut as Thomas makes out “for the less well educated, the risk of dying goes down as church attendance goes up. As you would expect.

    Surprisingly, however, for the educated the effect is exactly opposite! Educated people who go to church often are actually more likely to die young!”

    Also, it’s not the beliefs, but the community aspect that gives the health advantages.

    http://furtherthoughtsfortheday.blogspot.com/2013/08/are-atheists-mentally-ill.html

  23. Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    Atheists are the positivists in that we are seekers of truth, insofar as truth can be measured, observed in and deduced from objective reality. We are open to the beauty and the inspiring machinery of what believers call Creation: the vastness and almost incomprehensible age of the universe, the elegant rules and information scheme (which together we call “forces”) of matter and energy which is rapidly giving up its secrets to mere primates wielding less than two kilos of water and electrified protein; the drama of teeming, replicating, competing, struggling, exquisite organisms all of which evolved in a couple of billion years into their extinct or present forms of astounding variety – all being witnessed, catalogued, reverse-engineered and ultimately understood by, again, primate meat puppets who are ourselves a product of evolution; and above all those fascinating primates, ourselves, who work together and separately to understand, channel and master our own physiology, extended phenotypes and interrelationships that we may perfect them, often solely to derive something we call “meaning,” the meaning of which is itself a subject of deep exploration.

    The primates who are fairly called “negative” are in fact the ones who, rather than exposing their 1.5 kg of meat to the grandeur that surrounds and is embodied in our existence, retreat to an arbitrarily selected – and nearly always selected for them, mishmash of fairy tales and just-so stories. The kindest thing one can say about the negative primates – though they may understandably perceive the observation as condescending and insulting – is that they don’t know any better and that they are penned-in by their upbringing and culture, robbed of the capacity to experience Darwin’s Grandeur and Dawkins’s Magic of Reality, The Greatest Show on Earth. The second kindest thing you can say is that, by conforming to the social structures and thought patterns their fellow negative primates derive from said fairy tales and just-so stories, is that they wear a kind of cloak of comfort and psychological protection – Hawking’s bedtime stories for people afraid of the dark – from the existential angst that might overwhelm their senses were they to allow: just how tiny and insignificant we primates are, how little the universe needs us; how chance, relativity and quantum mechanics utterly melt classical views of determinism and free will; and how much our immaturity and physiology yet limit us in our ability to fully understand what reality is (if it even “is” at all).

    Rubber-and-glue arguments, I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I arguments, are so easy to make! And you don’t even have to use flowery Tom Paine verbosity to make them (like I just did)! We’re negative? No, pal, you’re negative! We’re nihilists? No, pal, you’re the nihilists! You said it in 500 words? I’ll take a thousand! Ten thousand! Am I any more or less human and humane, more or less secure, more or less sane, since I abandoned faith? I can’t say – probably not – but I do know I am only more turned-on and fascinated by the universe now that I try to experience its wonder. And ultimately mindfulness of what really “is” is the best position from which to thrive in each moment that comes next!

  24. Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    Wow… can’t get any more arse-backwards than that!

  25. strongforce
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    “The fact that a believer is happier than a
    sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and
    dangerous quality.” – George Bernard Shaw

    • JBlilie
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      Oh yes, thank you!

    • Posted August 15, 2013 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      Ditto. I was groping for that quotation as soon as I read Jerry’s post.

      /@

  26. Brujo Feo
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    sub

  27. Mohammad Nur Syamsu
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    The common logic of free will works as follows:
    -there are alternative futures available
    -one of them is brought to the present in what is called a decision
    -the agency of the decision, what made the decision turn out the way it did, can only be subjectively identified, resulting in an opinion.

    It is just so, that atheists in general have a deep problem with all subjectivity. You can see that in general atheists tend to deny free will is real, besides not acknowledging any god is real.

    Atheist people are a real problem in my life. They are judgemental, measuring and calculating towards me, because of their failure to accept subjectivity is a legitemate way to reach a conclusion about agency. It is a big problem.

    Atheists, in relating to me you have got to choose who I am as being the owner of my decisions, acknowledge my human spirit, be subjective, it is the only civilized way!

    • gbjames
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

      On behalf of all atheists, allow me to apologize for the deep problem in your life that we’ve caused. Your beliefs have been judged, measured, and calculated. It must be unbelievably difficult to make it through the day.

      And while I’m at it, allow me to apologize for all of the murders committed by atheists against believers and for all of the times we’ve thrown acid in the face of children because they aren’t like us. We apologize to the many people who have been stoned for not being atheist and for those held in prison for not blaspheming. And for the all of the mosques we’ve blown up. We’re sorry for all of that and more.

      • Dave
        Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:54 am | Permalink

        Sigh, yes…if it wasn’t for atheists like ourselves, judgementalism would scarcely exist in the world today. I mean…can you seriously imagine a religious person judging or measuring the worth of another human being? The very idea is absurd!

      • Brujo Feo
        Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink

        gbjames (and Dave, darelle, etc…):

        Don’t feed the troll.

        • gbjames
          Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

          Sometimes you can’t help yourself.

        • Posted August 15, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

          No, feed them! Like Tamora.

          /@

    • Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      please tell me how something can “only be subjectively identified”.

      I smell solipsism in the air.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

        Because it is Mohammed’s opinion. He don’t need no stinking reason or proof or facts to back him up. How dare you use logic or reason or evidence to contradict him. He apparently relies on the Koran, the prophetic writings of a pedophile.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

          The made up story about a pedophile warmongering hero that never existed historically, to boot.

      • Posted August 15, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

        “I smell solipsism in the air.”

        I thought it was just me.

        /@

      • Mohammad Nur Syamsu
        Posted August 15, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        It is obvious…..that if you build up your concept of how subjectivity works out of only objectively measurable things, that you then get… objectivity, not subjectivity. Decisions, and available alternatives are measurable, in principle, but agency, what chooses, is categorically a matter of opinion only. So a categorically unmeasurable spirit doing the choosing, is required for the concept of subjectivity to work, for it to be distinct from objectivity. Love and hate choose, they are not measurable, and you can only reach the conclusion they exist by free will, by deciding they are there. This is very simple, and very obvious.

        • Posted August 15, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

          amazing amount of double talk. And when someone has to declare something “very obvious” that is one of the best indications that it is not and it is simply bs.

          • Mohammad Nur Syamsu
            Posted August 19, 2013 at 3:53 am | Permalink

            Freedom is obvious, everybody uses the logic of it in daily life on a practical basis. If you don’t understand freedom then you don’t really understand democracy, you don’t under how science is based on distinghuishing objectivity from subjectivity (science is NOT based on crushing subjectivity with objectivity), you don’t understand how the universe works fundamentally, you don’t understand the weakness of mankind in relation to the temptation for knowledge about good and evil.

            Freedom is fundamental, and when you are wrong about it, then you are wrong about pretty much everything. One can see that most science does not explain anything on a basis of alternative futures, that is only a few advanced information based theories which can do that. So one can see that science is incapable to deal with freedom. You are all ridiculously evil for surpressing knowledge about freedom. Evil like you find in cartoons. It is beyond belief that a large groups of people who pretend to appreciate knowledge a lot, then proceed to chuck all our knowledge about freedom out the window, without a thought.

            • gbjames
              Posted August 19, 2013 at 5:28 am | Permalink

              “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to loose.”

              A fine old song with more to say on the subject, I’m afraid, than rants about evil cartoons.

              _
              0
              /|\
              / \

              Have I just blasphemed?

              • Mohammad Nur Syamsu
                Posted August 19, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

                The people against knowledge about freedom, are also against freedom practically, against democracy. They are the bad guys, it is that simple. The nazi’s denied freedom with biological determinism, the communists denied freedom was real with dialectical materialism. You are all arguing towards total rejection of subjectivity, total sabotaging of conscience, total rejection of emotions, in a very straightforward way. Who do you think you are ???

              • gbjames
                Posted August 19, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

                Nonsense.

              • gbjames
                Posted August 19, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

                Nonsense.

            • Posted August 19, 2013 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

              So tell me how freedom is so “obvious”. I know what freedom is, so immediately your claims are false. All you have said is that “oooh, you don’t agree with me, so you’re wrong” without showing any evidence that your claims are based on evidence and are true. Science is indeed based on crushing subjectivity with facts. And oh my, invocation of “advanced information based theories” are invoked but aren’t actually named. Yep, always the vague claims of “but but my nonsense will be supported real soon now” by a theist.

              And aw, poor guy. Now he has to claim that anyone who shows he is wrong and blowing smoke is “ridiculously evil”. You have proven none of your claims. Come back with facts, Mo, and we’ll discuss it. If you can’t, you’re just one more ignorant theist bully who wants to pretend he’s ever so important.

              • Mohammad Nur Syamsu
                Posted August 20, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

                A social quarantine of atheists is in order, untill they learn to stop crushing subjectivity of themselves and others. Truly a caricature of evil.

              • Posted August 21, 2013 at 7:14 am | Permalink

                Nice to see that your claims are so vapid that you need to try to claim that no one who can show them ridiculous and *wrong* should be allowed to say so. Welcome, emperor of no clothes!

              • Posted August 20, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

                A social media quarantine of theists is in order, until they learn to stop fooling themselves by privileging subjective experience over repeatable observations and empirical evidence. Truly a caricature.

                /@

              • gbjames
                Posted August 21, 2013 at 7:34 am | Permalink

                A social quarantine of atheists is in order

                Ever the plan of religion…. shut down the dissenters. Stone them, maybe.

        • jesperbothpedersen1
          Posted August 15, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

          Decisions, and available alternatives are measurable, in principle, but agency, what chooses, is categorically a matter of opinion only.

          No. I’m sorry to inform you this, but reality is not a matter of opinion and we have no reason to believe that it is chosen by some mysterious agency.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

      My interpretation of your comment is that you don’t like that atheists don’t give your beliefs the respect you feel is warranted.

      I have always found it ironic when a religious believer complains about non believers being judgemental. I understand that it can be difficult to see from a close up, immersed perspective, but most religions entail not just judging others, but pre-judging them. Judging others permeates religious doctrines, beliefs and practices.

      And the typical response when any instance of this is pointed out to a believer is, “that is part of my religion and I am entitled to my religious beliefs.”

      No. There is no good reason for me to respect any belief simply because it is categorized as a religious belief. For example, the common belief among religions of many varities that women are inferior. Which of course is used to justify treating women as if they are.

      Not only should others not respect such religious beliefs but, even from merely a pragmatic perspective, let alone a moral one, it is the duty of all clear thinking people to disrespect such beliefs.

      • Mohammad Nur Syamsu
        Posted August 16, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

        I am saying to appreciate the common knowledge about free will we already have. The knowledge about decisions you made, important and unimportant. Look at the logical structure this knowledge has.

        If you are mistaken about how freedom works, then you are wrong about pretty much everything.

    • jesperbothpedersen1
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      “there are alternative futures available”

      Is your god not omnipotent and all-knowing?

      “-one of them is brought to the present in what is called a decision”

      Who’s decision is it?

      “-the agency of the decision, what made the decision turn out the way it did, can only be subjectively identified, resulting in an opinion.”

      So your parents chose to make you look the way you do?

    • Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      Atheists, in relating to me you have got to choose who I am as being the owner of my decisions, acknowledge my human spirit, be subjective, it is the only civilized way!

      Speaking as an atheist, I am perfectly happy to grant you this! However:

      1) You may not impose restrictions on my freedom to speak and act as I wish based on your religious convictions, and,

      2) You are fundamentally mistaken about how the universe works, so even though you are entitled to believe whatever you like, it would be dishonest of me to pretend to respect your views.

      I have enough respect for you to speak my mind, and tell you the truth as I understand it.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:34 am | Permalink

      The common logic of free will works as follows:
      -there are alternative futures available
      -one of them is brought to the present in what is called a decision
      -the agency of the decision, what made the decision turn out the way it did, can only be subjectively identified, resulting in an opinion.

      You do realize that your “logic” is based on philosophic story telling, right? Moreover, an superfluous story telling that refers to a “homunculus” agency that obviously can’t predict anything empirically. (Because the homunculus need a homunculus, and so on.) Used here in order to try to pry open a non-existent gap for generic religious magic agency.

      We have no empirical evidence for any of that. I gladly accept “will” (but not “free” will) as an effective theory of sufficiently complex agents. But note that effective means that we have no idea of the underlying substrate. The mind is a biochemical machine operating in the classical regime, and as such it has no access to “alternate futures”, “contra-factuals” or what have you.

      People have tried this “logic” before, and no doubt they will continue, despite it isn’t working.

      • Mohammad Nur Syamsu
        Posted August 19, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

        The fact is that the logic I spelled out is the logic used in practical common knowledge. You see I simply investigated the common knowledge, I appreciate common knowledge. The denial of free will is philosophical storytelling, it is used practically only marginally. The most succesful to deny free will were probably the nazi’s. It’s quite difficult, not to say impossible, to live your life without talking or thinking in terms of making decisions with actual alternative futures being available. But the nazi’s with biological determinism certainly would have been great at this denial.

        • Posted August 19, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

          “It’s quite difficult, not to say impossible, to live your life without talking or thinking in terms of making decisions with actual alternative futures being available.”

          But this is fully compatible with a lack of free will.

          The “available” futures that you can imagine are completely determined by circumstances and your ability to imagine them, which itself is determined by your past history.

          And your choice amongst them is also completely determined by circumstances and past experience. How can your decision be anything other than the “best” choice? How could there ever be a different “best” choice given the same circumstances and past experience?

          /@

          • Mohammad Nur Syamsu
            Posted August 20, 2013 at 2:22 am | Permalink

            “How can your decision be anything other than the “best” choice?”

            You have found the origin of the atheist smugness which was complained about. The attitude that they are the best, based on their lack of understanding of how free will works.

            • Posted August 20, 2013 at 2:51 am | Permalink

              Well, by all means, freely continue to make suboptimal choices … 

              /@

            • gbjames
              Posted August 20, 2013 at 4:24 am | Permalink

              Jesus, Mo, can we stop whining about “atheist smugness”? There is nothing smugger than a believer’s evidence-free assertions about the attitudes of others. Give it a rest.

    • Kevin Alexander
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      -the agency of the decision, what made the decision turn out the way it did, can only be subjectively identified, resulting in an opinion.

      If I subjectively decide to step off a tall building I’m fairly sure the coroner could render an objective opinion as to the integrity of whatever ended up on the sidewalk.

    • Harry
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      I have heard more intelligent words from lemon peel floating on the Thames.

      • Brujo Feo
        Posted August 15, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

        Actually, lemon peels don’t talk. Those voices are in your head, exactly like the ones that Mohammad Nur Syamsu hears from his “godz.”

        They now have remarkably effective meds to deal with these voices. The trick is getting the afflicted to take them.

        • Richard Olson
          Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

          I read Mohammad Nur Syamsu’s first comment and the responses to it, and thought all you people failed to recognize satire laden with sarcasm. Then I aarrived at Mo’s follow-on remark. My apologies to all of you, with the exception of Mr. Syamsu.

    • pulseteresa
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      “Atheist people are a real problem in my life.”

      So you spend a great deal of time with atheists?

  28. Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    “There is a very thin line between being a None and a nihilist; after all, if your whole identity is based on not believing in something, then why give a damn about anything?”

    Sean Thomas cannot haz a brain. This I believe.

  29. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    His thesis is summed up in the piece’s title, “Are atheists mentally ill?“ His answer, of course, is “yes.”

    Apparently this person has never heard of Betteridge’s law of headlines

    “Betteridge’s law of headlines is an adage that states, “Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”” …

  30. Ben
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    The best part: “absolving oneself of the tough task of explaining what one is for, what one loves, what one has faith in.”

    Who has the tougher task? The person who goes along with his or her upbringing, swimming with the mainstream of his or her society, accepting a whole network of beliefs and opinions already assembled, or the person who rejects that pre-chewed dogma?

  31. Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    For many religious people they can only be critical of atheist because they are reflecting what they would be if they personally didn’t have their faith. Apparently they would be nihilistic, depressed, suicidal, murdering rapists if there was anything less than eternal hellish punishment and an omnipotent god to keep them in line. Therefore, anyone not beholding to their faith is by definition a nihilistic, depressed, suicidal, murdering rapists. The faithful lack empathy, apparently, for any other possibility. It has been said before (I don’t recall who to credit for the quote), but I don’t have a god to tell me not to, so I have raped and murdered all the people I want to. That number is zero.

  32. Jonathan Smith
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    I’ve been sitting at my computer trying to put together a highly intellectual, nuanced response to this posting. After 20mins I decided that “fuck off and kiss my ass on the way” really summed up my thoughts on this.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:58 am | Permalink

      Quite so. You could speculate that the believers erected the New Atheist identity so that they could have something more definite to mock.

      Law of Unintended Consequences springs to mind. While there are still plenty of atheists who are not bothered about ‘New Atheism’ many value it as a social landmark.

    • Mary Canada
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      +1

  33. Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    My, my, my. “So which is the smart party, here? Is it the atheists, who live short, selfish, stunted little lives – often childless – before they approach hopeless death in despair, and their worthless corpses are chucked in a trench (or, if they are wrong, they go to Hell)?”

    I do so love watching a theist (and I assume a Christian) intentionally lying about other people. Hmmm, what is that called? Oh yes, bearing false witness against atheists, since I certainly don’t live a life like poor Sean. I am so very glad to have evidence that Sean believes in his religion no more than I do since he has no problem ignoring the rules in it that he doesn’t like.

    and it’s hilarious to watch O’Neill do a lovely job on insulting….himself? what a lovely crank. It’s so sweet to see someone insist that they are libertarian, and then promptly show that he doesn’t want everyone to have the freedom he supposedly espouses.

  34. BigBob
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Can’t (and never would attempt to) ‘make’ myself believe something just because it would feel more comfortable if I did.
    No particular religious belief is recommended, so if the journalist thinks we should now ‘get religion’ on the strength of his arguments he’ll need to be specific about which faith we should follow, (and give good reasons to reject all the others). I await the next instalment. Alternatively he could bottle it entirely and run away.

    BTW this ‘faith in faith’ position should deeply offend true believers everywhere.
    Bob(Big)

  35. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    – Thomas disregards that atheists, as Dawkins, can have been (or become) religious. That blows his hypothesis out of the water and places it among the usual “No True Scotsman” arguments why atheists lack understanding of religion.

    As for the health investigations, they are usually cherry picked. The meta-analysis that made a media splash earlier this week and shows there is a positive correlation between non-religiosity and intelligence (and, implicitly, good judgment) has made the religious butt hurt. Visibly so in the Swedish press.

    If religiosity is correlated to health, how do you predict the health statistics of Sweden? IIRC we don’t place badly on any indicator of health.

    – O’Neill is simply silly:

    There is a very thin line between being a None and a nihilist; after all, if your whole identity is based on not believing in something, then why give a damn about anything?

    Atheism or more generic secularism nothing to do with philosophic nihilism, which claims there are no intrinsic moral behavior. Biology shows such philosophy is not only story telling, but erroneous story telling.

    But worse, as you have no remaining morals or purpose handed down to you from magical agents, secularists are generally _more_ keen to give a damn about social morals, personal purpose and what have you! You have to learn and decide by yourself, you have to work it out, and laziness will show. Not so for the religious.

  36. teacupoftheapocalypse
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    sub

  37. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Remains Thomas claim that “the human mind is hard-wired for faith”. But his own reference notes that “Scientists are divided on whether religious belief has a biological basis.”

  38. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Sean Thomas is the author of mostly “DaVinci Code”-style thrillers that employ (like Dan Brown) slightly dubious history and are a bit gruesome. His first novel especially caused controversy because he falsely quoted a prominent German archeologist in the text. As such, one should view his cited psychology studies with some skepticism.

    However, Thomas’ father is a genuinely good novelist whose “The White Hotel” is an important and good work. How the mighty clan has fallen! Which makes this almost as depressing as sci-fi author Orson Scott Card’s recent paranoia-riddled rant against Barack Obama.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Card has been steadily revealing just how unsavory his moron informed ethics are bit by bit for the past 20 years or more.

      He prides himself in having great insights into human behavior, ethics and morality, enabling him to develope characters and stories that explore and reveal deep truths about the human condition. And he seems to be genuinely puzzled by the fact that he gets so much criticism for his abysmal ethical views as portrayed in his storytelling, non fiction essays and articles, and by his actions.

    • Gary W
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      sci-fi author Orson Scott Card’s recent paranoia-riddled rant against Barack Obama

      Several commenters on this website, including a particularly outspoken one, have accused President Obama of mass murder. Card’s accusations seem relatively mild by comparison.

  39. JBlilie
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Here, among others, are some of the things I “believe” in. I believe in trying to be nice to other people, and helping them with their problems. I believe that there should be no discrimination against people based on things they can’t change, like gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. I believe in being kind to animals and respecting and preserving nature. I believe that science helps make a better world for everyone. I believe that teaching people science will expand their world. I believe that, in general, Republicans are selfish, greedy, and far inferior to Democrats. I believe that governments should strive to make free medical care available for everyone. I believe that the most important thing in life is the love of friends, family, and companions, and that achievement and work ranks below that. I believe that good food and drink are essential pleasures of life. I believe that literature, art, and music are components of a well-lived life.

    Well said sir. I am in full agreement. Hey, that’s probably why I love your bl … er, website! 🙂

    • Posted August 15, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      Nothing about cats or cowboy boots? (And jazz only generically under “music”!) 😉

      /@

  40. Greg Esres
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    I suspect that many atheists are embarrassed by assertive atheists because it calls attention to themselves that they don’t want. They’d rather sit at the back of the bus than cause trouble.

    I imagine that many homosexuals are embarrassed by Gay Pride events and wish they’d shut up.

  41. DrBrydon
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Brendan O’Neill? I stopped reading him almost as quickly as I stopped reading Andrew Brown. He’s part of what Norm Geras calls the verkrappt Left. O’Neill is one of those people who thinks that you’ve got to have something to believe in, anything. He’s apparently worried that Atheism won’t get people out in the street.

    As for what I believe, I believe I’ll have another cup of tea (after all god helps those who help themselves).

    • JBlilie
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      verkrappt — love it!

  42. des o'callaghan
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    I too have noticed the increase in attacks on atheists here in the UK. I am sure the reason in multi-factorial, but I suspect the main reason is that the hard-line religious rump is feeling vulnerable, especially here in the UK, and even more so in the US. I haven’t troubled to research the articles quoted, but I could quote you a half-dozen scientific articles showing that prayer doesn’t help if you are really ill.
    The attacks are a smear campaign and not a true representation of atheism as a whole. There are some figures which I can’t quite remember but they show that about 98% of the scientific community in developed countries are atheists and that is something that sticks in the craw of religionists who therefore see science as the enemy. Unfortunately they can’t see that rationalism is the one thing that binds them together – personally I find it difficult to see how you can combine a scientific vocation with a religious belief although I know that some do – it must be some juggling act.
    I think the bottom line has to go to Richard Dawkins – “you can’t reason a man out of a position he didn’t reason himself into”. Sadly the religionists aren’t interested in a rational argument, they are only interested in mud-slinging (to para-phrase Samuel Johnson) the last refuge of an impious scoundrel. And the journalists are only interested in sensationalist headlines whenever and wherever they can get them. And since the atheists are by their very nature (like anarchists!) not organised, they are an easy target – no fear of going up against them as it would be going up against Westboro, or Islam, or the Catholic Church. It is like attacking pacifists, or bombing for peace. (As if anyone would do that!) Religionists pick an easy target – and why are they so sensitive? If we are all going to hell anyway what do they care?
    If their god is so powerful why does he need them to protect him? Surely he could protect himself? If I choose not to believe in him would it make all that much difference to his all mightiness?
    Surely his existence is independent of my belief?
    Yet religions other than Christianity share this sensitivity to the beliefs of mere mortals who don’t even share the same or any religion. Why?
    My personal belief is that it is this widening belief in atheism and the misunderstanding of what it means that is threatening the believers/religionists, who attack it as a threat to society. Whereas in fact it is religion and its fundamentalist forms that are a threat to society, and have held it back over thousands of years.

  43. Posted August 15, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    I find “Tom Knox”/Sean Thomas’ proposition of “mental illness” a reversal of what I’ve been writing here on WEIT. It’s as if he’s reading this website, and has latched onto my terminology. Of course, coincidence is an large possibility. But stranger things have occurred.

    As you might have read in my posts when I post about the Discovery Institute people and others, I typically dismiss them as “mentally ill”, in the same way as hoarders are mentally ill: very nice people, typically, but with a particular quirk: a huge problem of discarding anything in the trash. They ignore what is sound reasoning, AS INDIVIDUALS. Hoarders have UNsound reasoning, as INDIVIDUALS.

    What “Knocks” is doing, is taking group statistics, and wrongfully concluding blanket characteristics about people in a group. When I conclude that someone is mentally ill, I say so because the INDIVIDUAL has demonstrated their flaw…the inability to absorb information reasonably. Clinging to religious beliefs, when shown evidence that such beliefs have zero basis for continuing, IS MENTAL ILLNESS.

    The inability of people to reject evidence for religious reasons falls right in line with this story Oliver Sacks relates about a woman who suffered from the delusion that, wherever she was, she was “at home”. When Sacks pointed out to her the elevators in his building, and said, “Look at these elevators. Surely this tells you that you are NOT at home..” the woman replied,
    “Dr. Sacks, do you have any idea how much it cost me to have those elevators installed??!!”

    …and so say the Mormons, etc about their religions.

  44. sam
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Sane… just mindset near center of bell-curve,
    as measure of “lucid” … “sane” doesn’t serve.

    Sane… is a moving-value when folk see
    one Culture’s “sane” is another’s “loony”.
    [eg. USA / North Korea]
    [eg. Democrat / Republican]
    [eg. none / theist]

  45. Dalai Llama
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Sean Thomas is trolling – no-one can truly be that obtuse. O’Neill, however, seems genuinely deluded.

  46. hturren
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Am Heart J. 2006 Apr;151(4):934-42.
    Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: a multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer.
    Benson H, Dusek JA, Sherwood JB, Lam P, Bethea CF, Carpenter W, Levitsky S, Hill PC, Clem DW Jr, Jain MK, Drumel D, Kopecky SL, Mueller PS, Marek D, Rollins S, Hibberd PL.
    Source
    Mind/Body Medical Institute, Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA. hbenson@bidmc.harvard.edu

    Abstract
    BACKGROUND:
    Intercessory prayer is widely believed to influence recovery from illness, but claims of benefits are not supported by well-controlled clinical trials. Prior studies have not addressed whether prayer itself or knowledge/certainty that prayer is being provided may influence outcome. We evaluated whether (1) receiving intercessory prayer or (2) being certain of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with uncomplicated recovery after coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery.
    METHODS:
    Patients at 6 US hospitals were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 groups: 604 received intercessory prayer after being informed that they may or may not receive prayer; 597 did not receive intercessory prayer also after being informed that they may or may not receive prayer; and 601 received intercessory prayer after being informed they would receive prayer. Intercessory prayer was provided for 14 days, starting the night before CABG. The primary outcome was presence of any complication within 30 days of CABG. Secondary outcomes were any major event and mortality.
    RESULTS:
    In the 2 groups uncertain about receiving intercessory prayer, complications occurred in 52% (315/604) of patients who received intercessory prayer versus 51% (304/597) of those who did not (relative risk 1.02, 95% CI 0.92-1.15). Complications occurred in 59% (352/601) of patients certain of receiving intercessory prayer compared with the 52% (315/604) of those uncertain of receiving intercessory prayer (relative risk 1.14, 95% CI 1.02-1.28). Major events and 30-day mortality were similar across the 3 groups.
    CONCLUSIONS:
    Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG, but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.

    • Gordon
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

      Another result from the School of the Blindingly Obvious.

      However still nice to have it demonstrated

  47. Posted August 15, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Interesting. I suffered from untreated depression for most of my life until five years ago it hospitalized me. My path towards mental health led me to choose cognitive therapy and anti-depressant medication. My recovery has led me to see that religion operated as a placebo helping me navigate my labile depressive moods but added anxiety to the depression with the requisite magical thinking. My life can still be painful sometimes but I no longer worry about supernatural cause and effect when a dark mood strikes. Facing my mental illness has given me the gift of non-belief, which works in concert with other naturalistic methods to keep me stable. If atheism is a mental illness it is less painful than the depressive state my chemistry creates and theology helped aggravate.

  48. Suri
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Nothing makes me happier than my furry-children and my lack of belief in god(s).

    The first thing I see in the morning is my dog’s face and nothing makes me happier specially because she is old now and because I know there’s no such thing as dog heaven.

  49. Kevin Henderson
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Selfish? If one considers existence and then hopes there is a transcendent outcome, i.e., afterlife, nothing is more selfish.

    Religious people live for the afterlife. That is their primary concern in life. Ironic? They do not want to let. I understand the desire, but wanting to see forgotten loved ons again or whatever else is imagined in an afterlife is narrow and selfish. Such a desire places one’s personal interests in the transcendent as the highest priority in life. That is selfish.

    I understand their desires, but I live for the existence that I have: here and now. Is that any more or less selfish? It seems better…a lot more happiness and joy to always think critically and rationally about the world.

  50. Posted August 15, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Sean Thomas employs a common religious method: say something enough and it will come true. Wishing for other people to be mentally ill because they do not share with your world view is sad indeed.

    This is a common mantra of the religious, that Atheists lead dark, dreary lives and in this case we are actually suffering from mental illness. I think that believing in a God is irrational but to think that an entire group of people are collectively miserable or mentally ill is a ridiculous notion.

  51. Ren
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    In Christianity, if you’re mentally healthy, it’s likely because Jesus is in your heart. Also, lying to yourself is the highest form of virtue. Which undermines those studies heavily. Additionally, religions don’t make you more charitable or nicer — you’re being scammed if your motivated by obtaining a non-existent prize. Rather, religions encourage people to become more gullible, and obscure how the environment truly is.

  52. John K.
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    If people like O’Neil would quit assuming I have a default belief in god, I would not bother with the label “atheist” any more than I bother to label myself against all other manner of things I don’t believe in.

    Atheism is an opinion on one topic that I have reached as a result of my worldview, not really a worldview in itself.

  53. Ludo
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Maybe this is somehow connected with British newspaper The Guardian publishing an interesting poll last Monday (12th of August 2013): 74% of the respondents stated that they believe religious people to be less intelligent than nonreligious ones. Some people might not like this…

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/poll/2013/aug/12/religious-atheist-intelligence-poll?INTCMP=SRCH

  54. Gordon
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of the Guardian they managed to turn an interview with Reza Aslan into something of a Dawkins’ bashing yesterday- Wednesday must be “Bash an Atheist” Day for the UK media.

  55. pulseteresa
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Brendan O’Neil is a professional troll. I’ve ceasing reading anything he writes. Sean Thomas, based this article, sounds like a troll as well.

    • stephen
      Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      You are correct.

  56. Reader
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    I think they saw the result(s) of the following study:

    The Relation Between Intelligence and Religiosity
    A Meta-Analysis and Some Proposed Explanations

    Miron Zuckerman1
    Jordan Silberman1
    Judith A. Hall

    21University of Rochester, NY, USA
    2Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA
    Miron Zuckerman, Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology, University of Rochester, PO Box 270266, Meliora 431, Rochester, NY 14627, USA.

    http://psr.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/08/02/1088868313497266

    also

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/08/12/researchers-aggregate-63-studies-and-find-significant-negative-association-between-intelligence-and-religiosity/

  57. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    It’s easy to confuse the Torygraph with a newspaper, particularly when you’re reaching for it in the dark, with one hand holding the wall to avoid falling into the … “facilities”.

    • Gordon
      Posted August 16, 2013 at 2:26 am | Permalink

      It has one feature I liked when living in the UK: facsimilie front page from WWII for the same date 70 years ago. Fascinating what was reported. It was 1940 when I was there and I wasn’t optimistic but my last visit had 1944 and things were looking up. One that surprised me was a detailed report on German railway losses in terms of rolling stock money etc

  58. rose
    Posted August 15, 2013 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Religious folks can be very happy, annoyingly happy like ya wanna smack some sense into them.The main thing the Christian church I went to 30yrs ago talked about was, Jesus return and that they were saved.Now Catholics are not that happy and don’t act like Christians they’re as unhappy as everyone else.

  59. Jarle Tveitan
    Posted August 16, 2013 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    Hey, dont forget Norway, our country is teeming with atheists too!

    :3

    Kitties, science, and thwarting creationism, this blog covers a suprisingly wide range of my interests ^^

  60. Steven Rhodes
    Posted August 17, 2013 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    You write “Now, I haven’t read any of the studies that Thomas cites, but even if they’re all true, I couldn’t force myself to believe just so I’d become a nicer and healthier person. How could anyone do that?”

    Well, it wouldn’t be irrational to do so. I’m not a believer, but if it could be shown that it made me a better and happier person then choosing it, for those reasons, would hardly be unconscionable.

    • Posted August 17, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      Russell would disagree with you: “It seems to me a fundamental dishonesty and a fundamental treachery to intellectual integrity to hold a belief because you think it’s useful, and not because you think it’s true.”

      /@

      • Richard Olson
        Posted August 17, 2013 at 9:37 am | Permalink

        Christianity and other mind-control ideologies do not seek converts in order to appropriate their characteristics, and synthesize what is useful of those to enhance existing organizational capacity; it is instead subjegation to doctine that is their aim.

        It is not quite accurate, therefore, if I compare committment to a faith tradition with assimilation by the Borg. Yet this is the eerie comparison that registered in my brain when I considered Steven Rhodes proposal. (apologies to Mr. Rhodes, who does not imply anything of the sort)

      • Steven Rhodes
        Posted August 17, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        Ant, may I crave your indulgence for a moment while I deal with the other points – I hope to deal with the merits of Russell’s argument below

        Richard, your many rather prescriptive criteria do not match the views of the religious believers I know. I am not a believer and do not consider much of religion fits those criteris either. In my experience people seem to have a whole series of – sometimes conflicting – reasons when adopting a particular religion, or even a ‘spiritual’ sense in general. Anglicanism explicitly rejects the concept of a magisterium (a prescriptive doctrine making body) and all the Quakers I know would disgaree with you strongly that they have either a doctrine or (therefore) a need to subjugate to one.

        Brujo, likewise, you seem to have a lot embedded in your prescriptions – but I ask you to consider the many variants of belief at work: ‘I believe you should have played the ten of trumps there’, ‘I choose to believe that he’s not lying to me, although my instincts tell me otherwise’, ‘I believe in Liverpool FC’ [I don’t] all these may exhibit verying degrees of what psychologists identify as cognitive dissonance – but none of them, I suggest, count as mental illness.

        A person choosing to believe in a religious sense: that is opting to accept something that is unlikely though unprovable has made a decision which people here feel they cannot make. But many people do in fact make this decision and see no problem with that. A person who, in addition, felt that they would be happier and a better person (whether or not they did in fact so become) by opting to make this decision would, I suggest, only be fundamentally dishonest if previously utterly convinced there was no God, for instance. But someone with doubts either way who opted for belief is not making so drastic a leap.

        So, Russell’s test, above, requires a person to place honesty above ‘usefulness’ – but anyone attacking a person for believing from those olympian moral heights had better assure themselves of an absolute integrity in the rest of their lives – I cannot, for instance, see how any such a person can say to their spouse ‘I love you’ in order to make up after an argument if, because of the recent row, love is in short supply.

        Indeed, this approach is so formally rigid, it makes a utilitarian approach impossible; such a person must be honour bound to say ‘The jewish children are in the cupboard’ when the SS comes to call.

        So, Brujo, I agree with your friends and find no evidence that belief signifies a mental pathology, or anything like it. If, of course, you will admit none of our arguments and insist that belief must be so defined, may I place your position in the box marked unfalsifiable?

    • Brujo Feo
      Posted August 17, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      It might not be irrational or unconscionable, but “choosing” it would still be impossible, for the same reasons that you can’t choose to be 11 feet tall.

      You’re responding to Jerry as if he had written: “Why would anyone do that?” He didn’t. He asked “HOW could anyone do that?” The short answer is: “You can’t.”

      Assuming, arguendo, that one CAN create belief (in oneself or another) by drugs or perhaps neurosurgery, it can’t be done with “force.” Not even at gunpoint. It’s impossible. (Of course, as I write this, I wonder if I may be mistaken, if I don’t leave a possible exception for long-term coercive “therapy”–like torturing a hostage over a considerable period.)

      Of course, I “believe” (in the sense of “provisionally assent to, pending contradictory evidence”) that belief itself (in the sense that Walter Kaufmann uses the word) is simply a mental illness…and this would be consistent with the exception above.

      I am rather sure that I routinely provisionally assent to “six impossible things before breakfast.” The evidence that I have wrongly accepted turns out not to be there. And so it happens, alas, that I am once again full of shit…but still, I would challenge anyone to demonstrate that I ever “believe” anything, forced or not.

      Most of my atheist friends think that I’m being far too linguistically rigid. (Well, as the “thusly” discussion suggests, no surprises there, right? For years, I wrote a popular column for other lawyers called “The Language Police.”) They think it’s OK to use the word “believe” in the sense of “provisionally assent to.” I disagree. My position is that we should say “think” or “am of the opinion” or “am convinced” or “conclude,” and save “believe” for discussions of mental pathology. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t slip up and do it anyway, when speaking. But I wouldn’t write it.


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