Metro State Atheists

Promoting Science, Reason, and Secular Values

What Would that Carpenter Do?

What Would that Carpenter Do?

by Noah Mann-Engel

Have you ever had an argument with a Christian?

Don’t worry! This essay is not about specific opinions held by believers and nonbelievers, but an examination of how believers choose to view and argue matters with the latter. I, unfortunately, have and let me tell you it is not a fun experience. First of all one needs to understand that for the Christian (or Jew, or Muslim, or Hindu or Satanist, etc.) an argument with a nonbeliever is in actuality not an argument at all, but a TEACHING opportunity. Their thought process is as follows; if, a nonbeliever, [you] have the temerity to approach [me] a Christian then you must be seeking the truth of [our] Lord. Why would they want anything else from [me]? This is the first, or, “Jesus be praised a soul to save!” stage.

They have already disregarded and ignored your actually intentions and views before you even share them. They now move on to the “sharing the truth of our Lord” stage where they let you talk for a bit while they stare, smile, and nod pleasantly. This is the second, or, “I am your Christian friend and I listen” stage of the argument. This is where you quote Nietzsche, talk about the logical loopholes in Pascal’s Wager, wield Occam’s Razor like a katana, and just generally use your reasoning skills. You start to feel a little good yourself for holding up so well against this Christian fellow. I mean come one! The guy is even smiling in response to your argument! Little do you know that you are now entering the third stage of the Christian argument process: the “that is nice, but why are you so deluded?” stage.

You see, while he/she was standing there nodding like a hula dancer bobble-head doll, your Christian was actually puzzling over the strange noises you were making about something or another… Why isn’t the nonbeliever shutting up and getting excited about hearing the word of our Lord? Your Christian friend begins his/her argument by praising your intellect.. Example, he/she might try to disarm you with kindness by saying something like this: “Wow! You sure are a smart fellow. I wasn’t quite prepared for THAT (chuckles in a self deprecating way). But (and THIS is where the fun really begins), why don’t you believe in god?” This is where you sit in stunned silence for a moment or two. Did this whack-job really just ask you that? YOU JUST TOLD HIM WHY you didn’t believe, you think to yourself. You politely remind the Christian of this fact, and he/she chuckles again before suddenly entering the fourth stage, the “I would be a hooker/drug addict/homeless person without Christ” stage.

This stage is rather boring, and consists of the Christian telling you how he thinks his belief in a dead carpenter saved him from his raging meth addiction. After relating this riveting story to you the Christian poses a question that he/she thinks will really get you in a bind! He/she asks “So, how would I get over all of these terrible problems if their wasn’t a god? eh, eh, EH?” This is when you smile and say to yourself “oh I’ve got him/her now”. But, sadly, your optimism is grossly misplaced. You begin by saying that all the good things that happened to the Christian could also be explained by personal strength, the help of friends and family, and perseverance. God need not enter the equation at all! Now feeling very good about yourself you unwittingly enter the deadly fifth stage of the Christian’s argument: the “But the Love and the Heart” stage.

It starts when you ask your Christian friend “isn’t it true what I said? You DID get through your troubles by yourself. You only added god because you WANTED him to be involved”. But alas, you have just sprung the trap. Your Christian friend grins and replies with a question of his/her own; “But, what about the Love and the Heart?” You pause. You think that maybe you misheard your Christian friend. So ask them to repeat him/herself. He/she gladly complies. “All I meant was there has to be a god because of the Love, and the HEART! (chuckles)” This is the point where you realized that you just wasted 15 minutes of your precious time. You feign a smile and say “we just have to agree to disagree” and that it was nice talking. Your Christian friend thus enters the sixth and final stage of the argument: the “That’s great! Hey! I have an idea! Why don’t you come down to our church sometime?” stage. The Christian gives you some colorful literature on their church, their beliefs, and of course an anti-abortion pamphlet. The Christian then shakes your hand, and walks away to find his/her next soul to save. You are left feeling a little used, a little amused, and very hungry. You get up, and head over to the vending machine to get a Milky Way bar.

(this essay is based on a real conversation I had with a evangelical Christian in my sophomore year at Northern Illinois University)

(Noah Mann-Engel is a poet and writer from Dekalb Illinois. He is a life long atheist who with aspergers, an autistic spectrum disorder. You can see some of his writing in the upcoming summer editions of Fighting Chance magazine, Love’s Chance magazine, and in the American Scholastic Press Association honored spring 2007 edition of The Prairie Light Review. He is also in the process of writing his first novel.)

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July 20, 2009 Posted by | atheism, Bible, Blurb, Christianity, creationism, god, Guest Bloggers, Jesus, Jesus Christ, Metro State Atheists, Noah Mann-Engel, philosophy, religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vice President’s Commentary On Bob Enyart’s Interview Of Joel

By Chalmer Wren, VP of Metro State Atheists

Yesterday at 3:00pm Metro State Atheists’ President and co-founder, Joel Guttormson, was interviewed by Bob Enyart on AM 670 KLTT.  While I was not interviewed, I did have a great deal to say regarding the content of the interview, so I thought I would share my thoughts with all of you.  If you didn’t catch the show, check it out at http://kgov.com/bel/20090107.  Before getting into things, though, I would like to mention that I accompanied Joel to the studio and had the pleasure of meeting Bob myself.  Bob was polite and accommodating.  Joel and I both had a great time, and we are both very grateful to Bob for inviting us to appear on the show.  Also, Bob, if you read this please let me know if I misrepresented you or the points you made.

Near the beginning of the interview, Bob asked Joel why he is an Atheist.  Joel gave some information about his background, but never specifically answered the question. Firstly, we believe that there is insufficient evidence to reasonably conclude that God(s) exist.  We feel that the burden of proof is on the believer, and unless the believer can produce good evidence, we have no reason to agree with them.  Secondly, we think it is reasonable to conclude that God(s), or at least most of the ones that have been presented to us, probably do not exist.

We hold to the improbability of God(s) for several reasons.  Many of the God(s) presented to us have logically inconsistent definitions.  Epicurus first introduced what is generally referred to as the problem of evil in the following quotation:

Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?

This is only one example at an attempt to reconcile the conflicting attributes often assigned to God.  For more examples, you might try David Hume, one of my favorite philosophers.  These sort of objections to God'(s’) existence are not at all uncommon, and should not be hard to find.  Click here for more information on the problem of evil. I don’t want to get into the details of these arguments right now, but would be glad to expand on any of them if asked to do so.  I should clarify that we are not absolutely certain that no God(s) exist, we simply think that the most reasonable conclusion, given our present evidence and understanding,  is that God(s) probably does not exist.

Joel mentions that he is an empiricist; as am I.  Within the scope of epistemology,  three main groups exist which are empiricism, dualism, and rationalism.  None of these epistemological positions necessarily restrict one from or force one to believe in God(s).  Empiricism is the position that knowledge comes exclusively from the senses.  David Hume was an empiricist and, while some might disagree, I believe that Immanuel Kant was an empiricist as well.  Rationalism is the position that knowledge is is not acquired from experience, but that it is innate.  Dualism, as the name implies, sits right in the middle of the aforementioned views.  Dualism is the position that some knowledge comes from experience, and that some is innate.  Rene Descartes and Plato, for example, were dualists.  For more on dualism, click here.

Now, based on the discussion between Joel and Bob, I suspect that Bob is a dualist.  This is not at all surprising.  Though dualism does not necessarily lead to theism, or the converse, philosophical dualism is the prevailing outlook in western religion (not to say that it isn’t prevalent else were).  I can only speculate that this is becuase dualism, if presumed accurate, makes believing in God(s) a great deal easier becuase it allows for the existence of a non-physical aspect of our reality.

Joel mentions he is a theoretical math major early on, which later prompts Bob to challenge the basis of Joel’s empiricism by appealing to the non-physical nature of the principles expressed in mathematics.  The objection that I believe Bob is making  is essentially that concepts are of a non-physical nature.  He goes on to give a clever analogy, stating

“If you rubbed your hand on a  piece of paper over an equation could you feel that its valid”

Though this is a valid point, I does not refute the notion that mathematical concepts are non-physical.  We hold that concepts, ideas, notions, and other cognitive occurrences are a manifestation of physical interactions in the brain.  Though we can not observe a principle in the way we can smell flowers or hear music, principles and concepts must stem from observation.  Our concepts of depth, color, or even complexity are abstract derivations that we reach by thinking about our observations.  I challenge anyone reading this to find within themselves a concept that neither describes a direct observation or that can be abstracted from an observation.  I see no reason to conclude that conceptual understanding is not an emergent property of the natural human mind.  For more on this topic, please see The Mind Body Problem.  This particular topic is far to extensive for me to cover it in this post, but anyone interested in more details should ask.

Bob goes on to claim that reason, or rather our ability to apply reason to our observations, precede our observations.  The ability to reason can not be observed, and I agree with Bob on this.  However, the ability to reason could just as easily be attributed to the natural human mind as it could to a spirit or soul.  Reason, we believe, is an intrinsic function of the physical human brain, just as acceleration is a property of a functioning automobile.

Well that’s all for now.  I could talk about epistemology for days, so I will refrain from further elaboration unless someone asks for it.  Once again, thank you Bob Enyart and KGOV for having us.

– Chalmer Wren

January 8, 2009 Posted by | atheism, god, Interview, Mathematics, Metro State Atheists, News, Newsletter, religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

R.E.S.P.E.C.T-What it means to mean with regard to Religion.

This blog will be different for me since this one won’t be loaded with facts, figures, cites and other drab blather that I normally write. This blog is about respecting religious views. Faith. An illogical belief that is devoid of proof. Where else in our discourse do we actually use this word properly? I don’t mean the colloquial meaning, in sentences such as “I have faith in him/her”. For instance, when has anybody (that isn’t completely deranged) actually had faith in any material object? For those that do, society tends to pluck up out and have them reside in a special rooms with padded walls. Why? Because it is obvious that any unjustified and illogical belief in material objects is absurd. So then, why do we tolerate it when the faith is in something that we can not see and is not material? It seems to be that this is far more absurd of the two choices because in the first, at the very least, the material object’s existence can be objectively verified. This is not so with the later case. Back to the original question. If we can lock people away in loony bins for believing illogical and wholly unjustified beliefs about reality and material objects why can’t we lock away or merely question these people and make them defend their claims. Here’s where the problem of respect rears it’s ugly head. The reason is, society has deemed faith a virtue, for reasons that baffle and confuse me. If there is one sociological question I want conclusively answered, it is why this obviously failed way of thinking has gained the attribute of being a virtue. Patience is a virtue, and honestly, when it comes to this topic, I’m out of it. Faith isn’t a virtue anymore than Tinker Bell is. Having faith is something we grow out of as children once we attain more concrete knowledge for ourselves about the world around us. Much like we grow out of having constant temper tantrums for all manner of reasons and crying when our mother leaves to go the store. We should not, under any circumstances, be required to respect this view anymore than we respect peoples views and beliefs about anything else in our discourse. Imagine a world in which you’d be admonished for questioning someone’s opinion that the Holocaust never took place or about their political views. That’s the road to fascism and theocracy, paved with the assault on our freedom of speech. Faith isn’t worthy of respect because it has no attributes worth respecting. Religion, all religion, in the same breath is lacking in components that deserve our respect at all. People will respect others out of empathy for one another. However, views are part of who the person is, and thus, contrary to popular belief, if you don’t respect someone’s views, beliefs or faith that doesn’t mean you don’t respect them as people. All the proof you need for this is the scientific community. Pick up any peer-review journal and you’ll be inundated with humbleness and criticism. And yet their aren’t radical groups of scientists roaming about threatening people with death for blaspheming the Theory of Evolution. The goal should be for humans to understand one another and respect each other, NOT our views and beliefs about reality. Let all those that feel it isn’t ok or “right” to question and criticize the religions beliefs of other people, what are you scared of? That we might convince others, and quite rightly, that religion may in fact be outdated and no longer serves our species a purpose? Atheists/agnostics/humanists/freethinkers, don’t be afraid to question or criticize the beliefs of others, especially religious beliefs because it’s socially taboo. You have the right of free speech, for now. Use it. It make be the very thing that guarantees you that right in the future.

-Joel

President

Metro State Atheists

October 11, 2008 Posted by | philosophy, Politics, religion, science | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Materialism and Morality

So, according to Michael Humphrey from The Daily Everygreen Online, atheism precludes the possibility of having morals. I thought I would take some time address some of the claims made in his article.

Pure materialism rejects the existence of anything beyond matter and its interaction. When all events in the universe are reduced to the colliding of atoms, there’s no room for good or bad. These interactions are purposeless and irrational.

Though it may be without purpose, it is far from being irrational. The interactions of matter are consistent. If one is rational, it means their opinions are consistent with and logically derived from established facts and observations. The interactions of matter are determined by the properties inherent to the matter itself. Matter never deviates from its own nature, and never reaches irrational conclusions. The material world never actually reaches any conclusions, nor does matter apply reason to anything because matter is not aware of facts and it doesn’t make observations. Matter has no need to derive truth from itself, because the properties of matter, and energy, dictate what truth is.

Because of this reductionism of everything, materialists argue that humans are the same as animals, thus taking away the dignity humans have.

I’m not so insecure that I think my worthiness of esteem and respect is somehow robbed if I’m not the product of divine inspiration. Dignity is only lost if your standard for dignity requires that the entirety of the universe revolves around our tiny little lives. Besides, why should truth conform to the whims of our discontentions. Reality need not think you speacial in order to remain real.

This line of thinking is severe and deadly. Let’s consider whether it is evil or not to kill an animal. If it is evil to indiscriminately kill an animal, then it is also evil to indiscriminately kill humans. However, the unfortunate side effect of this is that we must stop washing anything, because killing bacteria – animals – is just like killing people.

The other option is that indiscriminately killing animals is not evil, but then killing humans indiscriminately isn’t evil either. So the worst atrocities of human history are nothing more than just washing your hands.

In either case, the final issue is that the Holocaust becomes morally equivalent to cleaning a dirty bathroom.

This is a very simplistic view of morality because it does not take into account the reasons why we consider killing in some circumstances wrong and not in others. The killing itself is not inherently wrong and, for most people, the moral implications of the act are based on other factors such as necessity and sentience.

Then things such as altruism are only believed to be “good” because they benefit the species and forward our evolution. However, altruism and self sacrifice are actually a detriment to our progress. If the weak are procreating, they only pollute the gene pool and ultimately damage the species. If Dawkins is right about memes and morality developing in an evolutionary way, then all forms of altruism will quickly exterminate themselves, since it is disadvantageous evolutionarily.

Altruism need not be applied only to the weak and, as a social species, our certain weaknesses can be more tolerated in the population. When a parent cares for her children or her relatives, he/she is helping to ensure that members of the species sharing at least some of his or genome are more likely to survive. While altruism might perpetuate certain weaknesses, such as strength, it selects for intelligence and strengthens the group by cultivating problem solving skills. Altruistic behavior is even present at the cellular level. In multicellular organisms, a process of cell destruction called apoptosis occurs. Apoptosis can be mediated by the organism, or by the cell to be destroyed. In one case we see murder, but in the other we see self-directed cellular suicide. When the cell poses a threat to the organism, it quite literally takes one for the team. I’m fairly certain Dawkins discusses social evolution in more than a few of his books, and he addresses this very concern. If Humphery read Dawkins work at all, he might have been aware of that.

Furthermore, this type of thinking on morality can lead some to justify atrocities. If we take Dawkins at his word about the evolution of morality, then for the sake of the species almost every corner of the world has found it acceptable to enslave, exterminate and sterilize humans at some point.

The behavioral parameters we have are not absolute, because our circumstances are not absolute. Many societies have also deemed slavery not acceptable. Why should we assume that one circumstance is inherently implied while the other is not? Evolutionary pros and cons exist for societies advocating slavery and those not advocating slavery. Ultimately, slavery is less beneficial. Freedom allows for the persistence of genetic diversity and increases the likelihood that a beneficial characteristic will be have a chance to enter the population. Freedom is potentially beneficial for every member of our species, while slavery only favors the few. Humphery also seems to think that those who use slavery are so capable because they are superior. Slave drivers usually have a weapon, something their genetics know nothing about. Technology has changed the course of evolution. Almost anyone, regardless of their genetic “inferiority”, can pull a trigger.

It was once legal and morally acceptable to own slaves, yet Western civilization considers freedom to be an inalienable right. But from Dawkins’ point of view, it could be prudent for our species to enslave the weak for survival of the strong.

Slavery does not favor the strong. With a weapon, even a child is potentially deadly. Also, if I were to advocate slavery, I would have to acknowledge the potential that I might be enslaved. Not only is it in the best interest of our species to remain free, but it is in the best interests of the individual.

These conclusions, once illuminated for what they are, morally corrupt – lose their creditabilty. They are simply a gross oversimplification of the human condition. We are more than biological programs.

This reasoning is completely circular. Humphery correctly implies that certain atrocities such as slavery are neither morally right or wrong, but then arbitrarily decides that such a a conclusion is unacceptable. In other words, he’s assuming the existence of absolute moral truths, and using them as evidence that moral relativism is irrational. Humphery deems the implications of moral relativism unacceptable by applying them to his as yet unjustified absolute moral standards. Humphery’s argument establishes nothing, it requires that moral absolutes already exist. His argument is as follows:

Slavery is wrong, moral relativism implies otherwise, therefore moral relativism is wrong.

That Slavery is absolutely wrong, or that moral absolutes even exist, is never established and the assumption never actually justified.

God gave us stewardship over creation not to exploit, but to tend it as a servant tends his master’s vineyard.

I may have spoken to soon. It seems Humphery feels that servitude is morally acceptable. How ironic…

-Chalmer

October 7, 2008 Posted by | Morality, philosophy, religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment