Posts Tagged 'Morality'

Christian Philosopher Fails at Exploring Causes of Atheism

I came across this article, which purports to be an exploration by a Christian philosopher into the root causes of atheism, but in the end is just a laundry list of ignorant statements about how the philosopher, James S. Spiegel, sees atheists.

I think it’s a great idea for Christians, and people of all religions, to look at the reasons behind why others reject their beliefs. If Christians listened to why atheists are atheists, it could help them to see the problems with their faith that need to be fixed, but it could also force them to challenge their own beliefs and see how strong their faith really is.

Spiegel has written a book called The Making of an Atheist, but based on the sampling that this article takes of his ideas, it amounts to a waste of time, as he hasn’t made any attempt to honestly represent atheists’ rejection of religious beliefs. This becomes obvious in the second paragraph:

“While atheists insist that their foundational reason for rejecting God is the problem of evil or the scientific irrelevance of the supernatural, the Christian philosopher says the argument is “only a ruse” or “a conceptual smoke screen to mask the real issue – personal rebellion.”

So rather than thinking about the problems with belief in God that atheists bring up, Spiegel conveniently dismisses these as a cover for what is really just rebellion. It’s an easy way for him to go on and make unfounded assertions about what atheists think, but it’s also insulting. My atheism has not arisen out of some desire to rebel against the beliefs I was brought up in, it’s simply a result of questioning whether my beliefs had any basis in reality.

God has made His existence plain from creation – from the unimaginable vastness of the universe to the complex micro-universe of individual cells, Spiegel notes. Human consciousness, moral truths, miraculous occurrences and fulfilled biblical prophecies are also evidence of the reality of God.

But atheists reject that, or as Spiegel put it, “miss the divine import of any one of these aspects of God’s creation” and to do so is “to flout reason itself.”

If “look around you, there are lots of complex things! Therefore, God” is reason enough to state that God’s existence is obvious, then fine. But that’s not good enough for an atheist. His evidence for “the reality of God” is pitiful.

Human consciousness? Doesn’t outlive the brain. Moral truths? They’re subjective, they change over time, and we certainly don’t gain any insight into moral truth from reading holy books. Miraculous occurences? Either explained by natural phenomena, or unexplained – which is not a synonym for “god did it”. Biblical Prophesies? If Spiegel spent a couple of hours reading criticisms of the prophesies made in the Bible, he would see how unconvincing they are.

This suggests that other factors give rise to the denial of God, he notes. In other words, something other than the quest for truth drives the atheist.

No, the quest for truth is good enough for me.

The explanation behind Spiegel’s ignorance of why atheists are actually atheists is that he is taking his reasoning from the Bible, rather than asking atheists. Seriously! Yeah that’s a good start, just ignore what atheists have to say and use a bronze-age book to support your pre-formed conclusion.

Here’s a face-palmer:

“There is a phenomenon that I call ‘paradigm-induced blindness,’ where a person’s false worldview prevents them from seeing truths which would otherwise be obvious.


“There is a phenomenon that I call ‘paradigm-induced blindness,’ where a person’s faith or religion prevents them from seeing truths which would otherwise be obvious.

That’s better.

What really bothers me about Spiegel’s characterization of atheists, and it’s a view held by a lot of religious people, is that he repeatedly insists that people become atheists when they want to sin:

Religious skepticism is, at bottom, a moral problem…”Atheism is the suppression of truth by wickedness, the cognitive consequence of immorality. In short, it is sin that is the mother or unbelief.”…Spiegel, who converted to Christianity in 1980, has witnessed the pattern among several of his friends. Their path from Christianity to atheism involved: moral slippage (such as infidelity, resentment or unforgiveness); followed by withdrawal from contact with fellow believers; followed by growing doubts about their faith, accompanied by continued indulgence in the respective sin; and culminating in a conscious rejection of God.

It’s really upsetting to me that people like Spiegel see atheists as just the dregs of society. He thinks that we’re all addicted to sinning and that our brains are so corrupted by it that we can’t believe in God. This prejudice against atheists is completely unfounded, and it’s a pathetic argument to make. I’m curious to see if he included any studies or statistics to back up his claims that atheists are immoral, but somehow I doubt that he has any.

This article also talks about how Spiegel thinks that having a defective father leads to atheism. To support this idea, he cites a paper called the Psychology of Atheism by Paul C. Vitz. The article says that Vitz has “revealed a link between atheism and fatherlessness.” What? I read the paper (here), and he hasn’t revealed anything! To briefly summarize, Vitz sees atheists as people who hate their fathers, and therefore want to rebel against their heavenly father.

There is no research, just examples of some atheists with daddy issues. It’s a straightforward question: “do atheists have worse relationships with their fathers than believers?” Why hasn’t Vitz done this study to back up his paper?

This is getting long so I’m going to wrap this up. Spiegel (and Vitz) have failed to demonstrate that atheism is a result of rebellion or immorality. They have made many claims but don’t support these claims with evidence. Evidence is what atheists require, and the lack of evidence for the Christian God or any other God is the real reason why the majority of atheists are atheists.

Spiegel’s claims about atheists are shallow, patronizing, insulting, and just plain wrong.

Can You Be Good Without God?

Out of curiosity I subscribed (a few months ago) to a daily Google alert for “question for atheist”, just to see what people are wondering about atheists. Aside from the occasional “why do you hate god?” and “how did something come from nothing?” the overwhelming majority of questions that have made it into my inbox has been some variation of “how can you be good without god?” or “where do you get your morals?”.

Usually when these types of questions are posed the result is a long discussion on how we decide what is good or evil, whether or not there’s such thing as an objective morality or if morals are subjective, whether we need to be accountable to a higher power in order to keep ourselves in check, whether we could have evolved a sense of right and wrong, and so on.

But Susan Jacoby criticizes that approach in this article, called “Atheism and the silly goodness competition”

She writes:

The objection most frequently raised by defenders of faith to atheism and atheists is that there can be no morality without religion. One of the more disturbing recent secularist trends is a compulsion to answer that silly argument, in an effort to prove to the world of faith that we are as capable of goodness as everyone else. This strikes me as the moral and intellectual equivalent of gays feeling obliged to prove that they can be faithful lovers or African-Americans knocking themselves out to show that they are not anti-white racists. Who gave straights, or whites, the right to set themselves up as arbiters of behavior and morality? Why should atheists assign a similar power to religious believers?

I was stunned the first time I was asked, by a right-wing radio talk show host attacking my Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (2004), what would prevent me from committing murder if I did not believe in God. I answered truthfully, because I had never been asked such a question before, that it had never even occurred to me to murder anyone. I will never respond to such an insulting question again.

It really is an insulting question. Why should non-belief in a higher power immediately put a person in the position of having to defend their character?

She continues…

I certainly see ample evidence that humans–at least as soon as they become aware of the existence of other humans–manifest a kind of empathy that predates maxims like the Golden Rule, which appear in one form or another in all decent ethical systems. Darwin called this the “instinct of sympathy,” which he described as something that cannot be checked “even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature.”

But it is equally true that humans are subject to selfish impulses capable of inflicting great evil. And history offers ample evidence that neither religious nor civil law has proved particularly effective at quelling the worst of these impulses. A Hitler, to use another unambiguous example, is unhindered by the laws of God or man and, at some point, has to be removed from the human landscape by brute force. And here is where someone will contend that Hitler did what he did because he was an atheist, and where I could respond that Torquemada did what he did during the Inquisition because he was a Christian. (In fact, the latter’s Christianity is much more certain than the former’s atheism. Every member of the Wehrmacht wore a belt buckle with the motto, “God With Us.”) There are people in every society, subscribing to every sort of belief system, who turn out to be monsters.

Asking whether atheists are good is not the right question, neither is asking whether people of faith are good. An individual’s behaviour should be the determining factor in whether or not they are a good person, and the real question should be “what leads people within both groups to choose one path over another.”

Questions of ethics are interesting on their own, and do not need to be discussed within the framework of the god debate:

It is time for atheists to stop trying to prove what there is no need to prove: that they are as good as people whose religion began with a father’s willingness to kill his only son at God’s behest or with the crucifixion of a man-God. For goodness sake, let us look to the only real evidence of good and evil in the world–our behavior and its consequences.


What do you think?

PZ Myers Braved Winnipeg…in January!

Yeah okay, he is from Minnesota, but still!

On Saturday night I was pleased to be able to see one of my favourite bloggers, PZ Myers of Pharyngula, speak on “the war between science and religion”, thanks to the Humanist Association of Manitoba.

Although I wasn’t sure how the topic related to Canada, American issues tend to spill over the border so it was relevant nonetheless. (The talk was recorded, but I’m not sure where or when that will be posted. I’ll post a link as soon as I find out.)

The main point that PZ was trying to get across was that atheists need to be “out”, and unafraid to talk about atheism, unafraid to criticize religion, and unafraid to criticize ideas that contradict science. I agree with him. I think that atheists are afraid to talk about their lack of beliefs for fear of offending somebody, this is certainly something I’m guilty of. I have the Out Campaign “A” on my blog, but I still have close friends and family members from whom I hide my atheism.

The conversation on beliefs really needs to be opened up. Even among atheists, there seems to be a tendency to think that we should just stay quiet and avoid causing a ruckus. But maybe it’s this tendency that makes it okay for religious people to deride atheists, and maybe it’s the fact that atheists are such a closeted group that makes them America’s least-trusted minority.

After PZ’s talk was over, I had a conversation with my mom about whether his cracker controversy was really necessary. If you don’t know the story, you can read his blog post about it here. The short version is that he desecrated a communion wafer…but really, read his version. I know that a lot of people think this whole thing was a silly exercise that accomplished nothing more than pissing off loads of Catholics. That was my first reaction. Think about it though, all he did was trash a cracker (as well as some pages from the Qur’an and the God Delusion). What he really did was demonstrate how ludicrous religious thinking can get. Some of the emails he received from angry Catholics illustrated how some people put the importance of the cracker above the importance of other human beings.

He has posted some of these emails on his blog, but one in particular that he showed at the talk really shocked me. It basically said that desecrating the wafer was worse then the holocaust or 9/11. Seriously. This is the kind of thinking that needs to be challenged publicly. PZ did something utterly harmless: he threw a few things that he didn’t hold sacred into the trash, and by doing this he was showing that not everyone was bound by superstitious beliefs. That’s something I can support.

What was your reaction to “The Great Desecration”?

Moving along…

My favourite part of lectures is pretty much always the question period, and there were a couple of questions in particular that stood out.

First, there was a local blogger (if you end up here let me know because I’d like to read your blog!) who mentioned that Canada doesn’t have any official separation of Church and state. I actually didn’t know this…I had made some lazy attempts to find out whether we had something similar to the US’s establishment clause, but came up empty. His question was did PZ think that we would benefit from making the separation of Church and state official. PZ’s answer, briefly, was no, and I agree. It might come in handy on occasion, but Canada has done great without it, compared to the US with its White House Faith-based initiatives, its national prayer breakfast, and its presidents (both the current and the previous) that can’t seem to make it through a speech without mentioning god or Jesus.

What do you think? Should Canada have an official separation of Church and state?

Second, a brave creationist showed up! His question: What do you have to say about molecules to morals? It was a weird question, but pretty much just a different wording of “can you be good without god?” PZ handled this well, and you can read the discussion on this in the comments on his blog, but how would you answer?

I’m always puzzled by this idea that we need someone (a god) to tell us what to do in order to be good. It just makes sense: if I don’t want to be harmed, I won’t do harm to other people.

Time to wrap this up…I’ll conclude by saying that I think atheists in general are moral and thoughtful people, and we should be loud and proud of our ability to think for ourselves. Cheers!

Debate – The Catholic Church is a Force for Good in the World

I’m going to start this post by going off topic…

I love Stephen Fry. Until recently I didn’t know who he was, and then I started watching his In America series and was captivated by his curiosity and enthusiasm for everything. I was so sad once the series ended, but maybe he’ll do In Canada next!


Enough gushing…I heard that Fry was in this debate on the topic of whether or not the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world (pfft!), and I couldn’t wait to see it because I’m such a big fan of him, as well as of Christopher Hitchens, who would both be debating against the motion that the Catholic Church is a force for good…and also Stephen Fry tweeted this adorable tweet right before the debate:

Nervous as a kitten. Got to take part in a debate on the RC Church. Me and C Hitchens facing Anne Widdecombe +1 Don’t know why I’m so nervy.10:48 AM Oct 19th from Tweetie

(follow him @stephenfry or me @EnlightningLinZ)

The debate was on October 19th, but it was just recently put on YouTube so now you can watch it here:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

You can read my thoughts on the debate after the jump (spoiler alert!)…But first, the opening vote from the people in attendance:

Motion: The Catholic Church is a Force for Good in the World
For: 678
Against: 1,102
Undecided:  346

Continue reading ‘Debate – The Catholic Church is a Force for Good in the World’

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