Showing posts with label theism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label theism. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What is an atheist?

It has been said that without theism atheism wouldn't exist. In the philosophical sense this is true. A position in opposition to another can only be maintained as long as the other position exists. You can't be a non-gluber if there are no glurbers. You can't reasonably disavow that which no one avows. It's also true that without the word "theist" the word "atheist" would have no meaning.

But what does "atheist" mean? There are many opinions on that. Some sources say (for example) that it means "without belief or lacking belief" while others (for example) say that it means "the belief that there is no god or the denial that god exists". There seems to be some confusion as to what an atheist is. Is he a doubter in gods or one who insists gods don't exist? How is an atheist different from an antitheist or an agnostic?

As is it the case with theism, the best way to avoid confusion is to ask a person what they mean when they call themselves a theist or atheist. There is no single definition of Christian, Muslim or Jew. Within each of those general categories are many separations and divisions. If someone tells you they're a Christian does that mean they're a Baptist, a Catholic or a Unitarian? Is a Muslim a Sunni or Shia? Are they fundamentalists or liberal believers in their religion? You just can't tell without asking them to be more specific. It's the same for atheists. Some are what we call "hard" atheists. They say that without a doubt gods do not exist. Some are "soft" atheists who say that since no evidence exists establishing unquestionably that a god or gods exist it is most likely they don't. Again, the only way to know what a person means when they call themselves an atheist is to ask.

Hard atheism is a dogmatic stance with no more evidence to substantiate it than theism. To maintain adamantly that gods do or do not exist is to make a claim that can only be supported by the possession of absolute knowledge. Since we have no reason to believe that any human possesses absolute knowledge, absolute claims of the existence or non-existence of gods, or much of anything else, are irrational and can be ignored as baseless. 

If theism is the belief in gods then "a"theism is the absence of belief. The prefix "a" means no or without. A person can be moral or amoral. An amoral person is neither moral nor immoral, they either lack or show an indifference to morality and immorality. An agnostic is someone who claims to have no knowledge (gnosis) of gods. They would have no opinion on the topic as they lack the knowledge to form one.(1) So my interpretation of atheism, based on word construction, the meaning of the prefix and my own personal attitude toward theism, is that an atheist lacks faith in gods. They have no belief. For me atheism implies no stance on the possible existence of undefined beings who may appear to us to be gods; it's the lack of belief in the gods man has worshiped over the centuries, gods well defined by their followers and with established attributes. Once a particular god is defined by its believers then there's a specific concept in which to believe or not believe. I am atheistic toward the gods of humanity, not the abstract concept of gods or god-like entities. The possible existence of that sort of thing, for now, remains unknown as we lack evidence for such things. 

So atheism as I understand it and live it is a neutral position. It's a position that requires both those who insist gods exist and those who insist they don't to offer evidence to support their claims. It's not an absolute position but simply one awaiting substantiation of absolute claims. 

(1) When T.H. Huxley coined the term "agnostic" he meant it to be both a philosophical position and a method for discerning truth. He quotes Kant, "The greatest and perhaps the sole use of all philosophy of pure reason is, after all, merely negative, since it serves not as an organon for the enlargement [of knowledge], but as a discipline for its delimitation; and, instead of discovering truth, has only the modest merit of preventing error." In Huxley's treatise on agnosticism he says, "When I reached intellectual maturity and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; Christian or a freethinker; I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until, at last, I came to the conclu[238]sion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last. The one thing in which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure they had attained a certain "gnosis,"–had, more or less successfully, solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble. And, with Hume and Kant on my side, I could not think myself presumptuous in holding fast by that opinion.

It is with this in mind that I describe my postion on concept of theism as being an agnostic atheist. I am agnostic when it comes to the possibility that a god or god-like entity may exist somewhere, somehow, but atheistic toward the gods that mankind has worshiped throughout history, about whom much has been claimed without substantiation.

(A decent Wikipedia article on the various religious philosophies.)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Is theism on the rise in America?

Today over on Ayloo, a new social site that encourages conversations centered on specific topics raised by its members, I was asked if I thought theism was on the rise in America, on the decline or unchanged from years past. Here's the reply I posted there.

I perceive theism as being on the rise here in the U.S., but not a compassionate theism or even a primarily religious theism. By that I mean that the theism that I see becoming more popular these days is more political than spiritual. Theists are embracing conservative political values and infusing them with their theological beliefs, creating a conservative movement that unashamedly defers to the Bible as the basis for deciding national and foreign policy. It's ironic that George Bush was lambasted for saying that part of the reason he went to war in the Middle East was because he thought god told him to and now we have candidates openly calling for prayer to end the drought in Texas and the teaching of creationism in schools as an "alternative" to evolution, and the press and public seem unconcerned.

It's been said for years that an atheist would have no chance to be elected to the presidency, or any public office for that matter, but now we have evangelical Christians running for office that don't accept or endorse the notion first put forth by Thomas Jefferson that there ought to be a wall of separation between religion and the government. I'm amazed that Perry, Bachmann and their fellow conservative Christians have convinced their followers that the economy and crime will both be straightened out if only America becomes a more Christian nation in light of the fact that America has always been a primarily Christian nation. Considering their percentage of the population it's reasonable to conclude that the economy was wrecked by people who call themselves Christians and most crime is committed by people who would describe themselves as Christians. Bars and sex shops would have gone bankrupt long ago if their only patrons were non-believers. The state that consumes the largest amount of Internet porn is Utah, home to some of the most conservative Christians there are, many of whom must have had to dip into their porn allowance to send money to their church in opposition of California's Proposition 8. It appears this massive hypocrisy not only doesn't bother American Christians but is completely ignored by them. Despite all evidence to the contrary they think that if only they can get a conservative Christian candidate elected president the nation will somehow be blessed by god and everything will get better.

The theism I see on the rise is a form of fundamental Biblicalism combined with a devotion to profit and a deference to the wealthy. This is understandable in the case of politicians, they follow the money. But it would be hard to explain in the case of the average citizen. I think this is why religious belief is being emphasized so much. Religious citizens naturally follow strong religious leaders. It's a part of their training. Perry and Bachmann, even Palin, are attempting to portray themselves as religious leaders as much as political leaders.

The primarily religious theism that is increasing is in reaction to the perception that civilization is going to hell at an increasing rate and that end-time predictions are coming true. People unfamiliar with history can easily be fooled into thinking that times like these have never occurred before. Plato credited Socrates with complaining "The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers." Nothing we see today is new or unique to our age. But once again, as they have many times before, Christians have decided that these must be the end times and many quasi-religious people, worried that they may be among the "left behind", are becoming more committed to the claim that they are religious. Not that they are attending church any more often or have increased their caring for the poor among us. They are less interested in following the dictates of Jesus than they are interested in avoiding hell. It's a convenient Christianity, and in my opinion a useless one. Another minor factor in the increase of theism is as a reaction to the perceived increase in the number of Muslims in the U.S. The "Us or Them" mentality of the Middle East has waded ashore here.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Scientists don't understand everything

Lately I've been encountering a number of posts by theists claiming that evolution and cosmology are seriously flawed but that scientists will never concede that fact.

The theists claim that this is because those researching and experimenting physics and biology all toe the scientific line, that dissent and disagreement are not allowed. They claim that funding would be withheld from any scientist who presented conclusions or interpretations that differed from the mainstream dogma.

In other words theists want us to believe that scientists are just as "religious" in their adherence to doctrine as any god-believer.

To those theists I offer this in rebuttal.

Newly released observations of the top quark — the heaviest of all known fundamental particles — could topple the standard model of particle physics. Data from collisions at the Tevatron particle accelerator at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, hint that some of the top quark's interactions are governed by an as-yet unknown force, communicated by a hypothetical particle called the top gluon. The standard model does not allow for such a force or particle.
The results, presented1 today at the Europhysics Conference on High-Energy Physics in Grenoble, France, could help researchers to understand the origins of mass. According to one theoretical interpretation, a top quark bound by to its anti-matter partner, the antitop, would act as a version of the elusive Higgs boson, conferring mass on other particles.
Regina Demina, a physicist at the University of Rochester in New York, and her colleagues sifted through eight years' worth of particle-collision data recorded by one of the Tevatron's two detectors, known as DZero. Top quarks produced during collisions can fly off in the direction of the accelerator's proton beam or its antiproton beam; Demina and her team discovered that more travel towards the proton beam than is predicted in the standard model of physics. A different model would seem to be needed to explain the discrepancy. 
Dan Hooper, a theoretical physicist at Fermilab, notes that the top-quark asymmetry is just one of many cracks in the standard model of particle physics. And although Schwartz agrees that it is unlikely that any one theory will explain all the defects, he says that accounting for the odd behaviour of the top quark would be a promising start. (Source)