Tag Archives: new atheism

Everyone’s Entitled to Their Opinion

Recently, my more religious sister criticized me for speaking out against theistic belief. Instead of discussing my criticisms of theistic belief, she simply stated that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I have actually heard this claim made by a lot of people and not all of them were theists. A few silent atheists have also be critical of speaking out against ancient superstitions stating that everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

I problem here is that I don’t disagree that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion and yet these people seem to be implying that I do. I never said people aren’t entitled to their own opinions. In fact, not only have I repeatedly talked about my support for the freedom of religion, I have actually gone to congress and personally lobbied in favor of free speech. The second some Congress-person, Senator, or even the President tries to push a law restricting people’s right to have their own opinion, I will be right there to fight for those rights. Of course everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

What they are not entitled to however, is for their opinions to be protected from criticism. The fact is that we all acknowledge this. We all not only criticize other people’s opinions on a daily basis, but no one in their right mind would claim that it was immoral to do so. No one has a problem criticizing what Hitler did to the Jews. Nor do people have an issue criticizing the KKK for their views. Tom Cruise is continually criticized for his religious beliefs and mainstream Christians and Jews are usually right there at my side criticizing the more fundamentalist believers in their own religions. But the moment anyone criticizes their beliefs, they attempt to over dramatize the criticism with claims of intolerance and/or hate. Insinuations are made that their free speech is being taken away. I don’t hate Christians. I have many Christian friends. I certainly don’t hate Jews. For starters, I am a Jew. Plus my family is Jewish and I love them very much… even my overly religious sister. But I do take issue with what these people believe and so while I will fight for their rights to have their own opinion on religious matter no matter how ridiculous and silly those opinions might be, I will also criticize those opinions if they are ridiculous, silly, and/or dangerous.

In my view, dangerous opinions lead to dangerous actions. And when they do, we need to stand up and strongly criticize those dangerous actions and be critical of the beliefs which lead to those actions. Now again, I am not talking about outlawing those dangerous opinions and beliefs, but I am talking about being critical of those opinions and beliefs. I supported the ACLU when they defended the KKK’s right to march peacefully. But if the KKK wanted to march peacefully in my town, I would be on the sidelines being very critical of their beliefs and arguing against those views.

I think it is pretty hypocritical of theists to claim some special protection from criticism for their beliefs when they seem so willing to criticize other people’s beliefs. Why is it that they think that criticizing political opinions is okay, but criticizing religious views should be forbidden? As I stated before it isn’t even all religious views that they seem to think should be protected; just their religious views and the religions which are closely related to their religious views. Judaism and Christianity should be protected and maybe Islam, but not necessarily. Other religions it seems like should definitely not be protected like Scientology, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Satanists, Wiccans, etc.

In my view however, no opinions should be above criticism. I believe in the market place of ideas and in that market place all ideas and beliefs are welcome and should be equally open to criticism. Let the best ideas and beliefs win. But it seems that the believers in the Abrahamic religions know that their beliefs are ridiculous, silly, and have no valid evidence supporting them. So they don’t want to compete in the market place of ideas because they know their ideas will lose. So instead they try to protect their failed ideas from any and all criticism. How sad.

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The Necessity of the New Atheists’ Methods

One of the criticisms of the methods of people like myself–the so-called new atheists–is that we will cause a kind of backlash from believers and others who are sympathetic to the effect of criticism upon the religious and otherwise theistic worldviews. A fair criticism that I hear from appeasers quite often.

But rather than address the arguments of appeasers, I want to address the importance of being willing to accept challenges to personal views. It is this that makes justifiable the reasons for people to be squeamish about the efforts of people like myself. And while I hold no unjustified delusion that I will be able to change this aspect of human psychology in any significant way, I might at least have an affect on a few people. This is all I can hope for.

I believe in perpetual self-challenge. I think that it is important to keep a level of skepticism and lack of resoluteness in my own ideas, in the hope that they will not crystallize into a kind of creed or stubbornness of my own views. It is this idea, and I share it with many atheists, that makes the claim that atheism is a faith absurd.

Let me stop and address that issue for a moment. I will admit that there are some people that I know and who are atheists for whom the nonexistence of god becomes a point of certitude that I find epistemologically irresponsible. They, understandably, laugh at the mythical nature of religious ideologies, but they sometimes go further and conflate these mythologies with the larger question of whether any god might exist. To conflate specific gods with the general question, in my opinion, is a mistake that is made by many an atheist I have known.

And so the claim that atheism is merely another kind of faith, while absurd when fully analyzed, has a kernel of truth to it on the surface. Thus, I understand that many caricatures of religiosity are not fair in the same way that caricatures of the angry, petulant, and intolerant atheist is based upon some unsavory few who make themselves look foolish.

Let me be clear here. I recognize that religious people are not all unthinking, boorish, ignoramuses who are all making the world a bad place. I recognize the importance of religious traditions in people’s lives, and the positive effects it can have on people. I also recognize that the idea of god is one of great inspiration to people, and that in many cases the idea can be beneficial to some. I recognize these things, and still see room for criticism of these ideas.

Why? Because I actually care about the truth. I would prefer to have true beliefs, ones that can be supported by the best methods and evidence that we have available. I think that this value of mine is important, and I would like it to be shared by people, if possible.

But there are barriers between this ideal world and the one we live in. People are largely pragmatic and are not concerned with the truth so much. They are more concerned with, and I understand why, things like where their food is coming from, raising their children, and simply enjoying their lives. No time for silly questions about truth about religion or deities. Oh, but they believe in them whenever an arrogant person comes along and says that they are an atheist. And suddenly this nonchalance disappears from their lives when someone who actually has thought about this issue comes along and calls it mythology. Then they become defensive.

What? unfair caricature? Sure, but in some cases this is precisely what does happen. And while there are many other caricatures I could have brought out, the bottom line is that there are many people in the world that simply do not think about these things and yet still believe them quite strongly. And to ask them why is apparently some great crime.

Why?

The reasons are many, and I simply cannot address this whole issue here. Much of it has to do with the fact that these ideas are generally inculcated during childhood, and therefore they are associated with emotions and relationships of supreme meaning to people. We have to remember that religion is tied to many people’s personalities in ways taht will not be parsed easily. And ultimately it may not be possible to divorce the religion from the person, but we can at least provide a template for keeping their minds sharpened in order to loosen the particular beliefs in the hope of them not blindly passing on the associations to their own children. This is, ultimately, a plan for the future more than the present.

The first thing that we need to realize is that our minds will tend to reject information that does not fit into our worldview. It is actually difficult to understand the idea expressed from a worldview that differs from our own because the idea just does not seem to fit into the model of reality we have created. A few days ago I quoted Soren Kierkegaard as saying the following:

One must not let oneself be deceived by the word ‘deception.’ One can deceive a person for the truth’s sake, and (to recall old Socrates) one can deceive a person into the truth. Indeed, it is only by this means, i.e. by deceiving him, that it is possible to bring into the truth one who is in an illusion.

I think that this notion contains a fair amount of merit. What this means to me is that we need to prepare ourselves to be deceived, at least in the sense Kierkegaard means here, in order to allow ourselves the possibility that we are ourselves subject to some illusion. We need to keep a tentative level of certainty concerning our beliefs and accepted ideas, as they may be shown to be incomplete (if not completely wrong) in the future.

(At this point I’ll link to a very good video)

And this is one reason I respect the scientific method so much. It is a method that encourages people to disprove the hypotheses we generate. It is a method that has incorporated this perpetual self-challenge and has allowed us to accept theories as provisionally true because no better explanation has been presented.

And so one strategy should be to make sure that people understand what the scientific method is and how it works. One pervasive idea I run into is that the opinions of science and religion are on equal epistemological grounding. They believe that there really is a controversy between evolution and intelligent design. They don’t understand that these two ideas arose via opposing methods, and exactly what this implies.

How will you know what you believe is true is justifiable if you do not submit them to the criticism they may deserve? How strong is your ‘faith” if it goes unchallenged? And what kind of challenge is it if you only pursue the argument from the side which you already accept? I just love how, when challenged, creationists will appeal to Answers in Genesis( or creationism.org, ICR or some other similar source), but almost never have even heard of TalkOrigins or can even define evolution correctly .

And as the understanding of this method, it will give a new tool in understanding how we understand, and it will allow people not just to use the resulting technologies of science, but to understand how it works. We should, in terms of our own beliefs, become so inspired by this method. We should become the “new philosophers” (as Nietzsche called them) that are willing to experiment and test our views against the world and to allow ourselves to transcend humanity so that we may one day become better, the ubermenschen.

We cannot simply crawl along in the hope that progress with just happen. The change begins with our own willingness to challenge ourselves. For if everyone is challenging themselves, then nobody has to do it for you, right. Actually, I’m not even sure of that. I still think that there will always be a need for others to challenge us as we do have blind-spots where others can see. Even the most ardent and honest attempt to be self-challenging can be supplemented with help from others.

And since I want active challenging of my own views, I feel comfortable in challenging others myself. And the first thing I will try to challenge is the defensiveness that arises in being challenged. The question, of course, is how. I don’t know completely. I only know that it must be attempted if we actually care about the people and the world around us. And along the way, make sure to pay attention to what others say, as the challenging process is two-way. Any good teacher will tell you that they learn from their students

There are people out there that will always resist criticism. Perhaps nothing can be done for them. But for those that may be willing to hear, but who are not being challenged, we must press on. I will continue to encourage people to challenge their beliefs, their worldviews, and their culture. If you have a better way–a better hypothesis–for how to deal with rampant irrational and ignorant beliefs, then by all means get to work.

So, that being said, bring on the challenges.

Atheist Good Cop/Bad Cop Game

Please read part one of this blog Christian Good Cop/Bad Cop Game.

We all know that there are a wide range of people who believe very different things and yet all call themselves Christians. Some Christians are the Good Cop Christians, some are the Bad Cop Christians, and some are somewhere in between.

The thing with atheists is that atheism is a term that describes a lack of belief. So all atheists are different and the only thing we all have in common is that we all lack the belief in a deity. There is no atheist doctrine. Lately however, some atheists have started to form communities and groups. Some atheists have started to organize not only around our lack of belief but also around some common values like reason, education, science, and compassion for our fellow human beings. Despite our newly found organizational skills, we still are a rather disorganized group of people who have very different ideas on how to deal with our common problem (i.e. religion). In fact, we can’t even seem to agree on a term to call ourselves.

The point here is that some in the greater atheistic community think that we shouldn’t be openly critical of religions and should just educate ourselves and hope that those of the Abrahamic faiths reject their mythologies on their own before they destroy the entire planet and us with it. I guess we can call these the Good Cop atheists since they are the ones telling the Christians, Muslims, and Jews whatever they want to hear except of course that they now believe in God. I have nothing against these Good Cop atheists and sometimes I even use that strategy when talking about religion one on one with particular Christians.

But I must confess that I am probably more in what has been called the Bad Cop atheist camp. That is the view that we should let “People of Faith” know that we think their beliefs are ridiculous and dangerous. I think more often than not we should call them out and be critical of what they believe and how they behave because of those beliefs. I think that if someone doesn’t want to be ridiculed for their beliefs, that they shouldn’t have such ridiculous beliefs and then I wouldn’t laugh so hard at them for those beliefs. If someone told me that they believed that Elvis was God and that they saw Elvis last night in a 7-11 Convenience Store, I am going to tell that person that they are nuts. I don’t think I need to treat that person seriously and pretend that he has a valid claim on reality which should be treated on par with the claims of respected scientists who have evidence to back up their ideas.

Ultimately though we have to realize that whether someone is a Good Cop atheist or a Bad Cop atheist, there is a time and a place for both. In fact, I think sometimes we may need both at the same time and at the same place. Could you imagine if on one of those police shows, only the Good Cop came in to question the suspect? Or what if only the Bad Cop questioned the suspect? The way the game works is for both cops to question the suspect. So here in reality, we need the good atheist cops to tell the religious that they might be right (even though we are almost certain that they are wrong) and then we need the bad cops like me to lay out just how ridiculous their divine claims actually are.

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