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Oct 09 2011

Why I am an atheist – Heather Dalgleish

I am an atheist, in short, because I am a rationalist and a scientist. I am an atheist because of reason – because of a simple love of the power of reasoning and rational thinking to bring real clarity, resolution and a grasp of the closest thing you really will get to get to real ‘truth’ while living out your lives on this pale blue dot. (Or indeed while living anywhere else in the cosmos – to any readers tuning in from the International Space Station, Mars, Europa, or wherever.)

I don’t believe in gods for much the same reason that I don’t believe in fairies, bogeymen, ghosts, lucky gems, leprechauns, Santa or the Easter Bunny. There isn’t a shred of convincing evidence for the existence of any of them, plenty of evidence that they are grossly surplus to requirements for explaining any phenomenon, and that proposing them just creates more problems than it solves.

There just isn’t a good reason for believing in any supernatural being, and plenty of good reasons for not believing. Theists who are otherwise rational and who fail to grasp that conclusion are simply not being fully honest with themselves, and failing to challenge their ideas on the subject of gods with the same robustness as they would challenge other ideas. And I speak with experience, as someone who once was that theist.

Indeed, the whole concept of ‘god’ or ‘gods’ is so ill-defined that asking me if I believe in ‘god’ is like asking me if I believe in floogamaloops. I don’t know what floogamaloops are, and neither do you. I don’t know what exactly gods would be like, and neither do you. Or rather, everybody has their own personal idea of what ‘god’ is – varying vastly from person to person, region to region and time to time. To some, god is simply energy, and you can find it in a lump of coal – which is at any rate an interesting insight into the power of wishful thinking, and the tragic lengths some people will go to to cling desperately and shamelessly to this strange ‘god’ notion.

Do you believe immunoglobulin M exists? I do. And I can tell you what it is – and it will be roughly the same definition that any person who knows about the subject will give you. And I could hand you to someone more competent than myself who could give you the robust evidence for the existence of immunoglobulin M, and take you through graceful laboratory techniques that isolate the molecule and allow us to say things about its size, structure and function. The great thing about it actually existing, and having a testable definition, is that it will pass through the fire of reason, and you don’t have to take it on faith. Of course it also helps that IgM is a mere molecule that lacks the capacity to be a passive-aggressive bastard that wants to hide its existence from you, reveal itself occasionally through arbitrary phenomena such as weeping statues and faces in toast, and otherwise must insist on being taken purely on faith – which are common themes on the subject of gods – but let’s not complicate things further.

And that’s why I’m an atheist. My own atheism is a simple consequence of my reasoning – just one result of my mind thinking rationally – one result of many opinions I’ve landed on through reason. And I also know that it’s a stance that some people reach through routes other than reason. Some people are atheists just because they are. Buddhists are atheists, Raelians are atheists – literally anyone who doesn’t believe in gods gets to legitimately call themselves an atheist – no matter how bizarre or outlandish their beliefs and worldviews may be outside of that particular aspect of their thinking. So atheism isn’t important or particularly worthy or noble to me just in and of itself – the process that gave rise to it in my case is. I am an atheist because I am a rationalist – an honest and thorough rationalist – and my rationalism is much, much more important to me than my atheism could ever hope to be.

My atheism is but a small bud sprouting from the scientific thinking that lets me appreciate the real world, the real universe, as it actually is, in every other aspect of my life. Atheism should be one of those things you arrive at in any honest quest for truth – but it’s not an ends in itself. And science, reason, rational thinking and sceptical enquiry are the best tools devised for uncovering reality.

There are of course “other ways of knowing” – it’s just they’re complete bollocks. Beyond laughable in the shadow of empirical science. ‘Intuition’, ‘gut feeling’ and ‘just knowing’ are alternative ways of knowing things, in much the same way that having sex standing up is an alternative form of contraception. Find me a person who could uncover the structure of the atom, of light, of the complexity of life through “other ways of knowing”. It’s exasperating, ridiculous and sad that adult humans can even utter those kinds of opinions with a straight face. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry – and I don’t care if they’re offended by that. They should be. They don’t deserve to be cushioned from having their beliefs poked and prodded – and frankly, they really don’t know what they’re missing by not learning to love sceptical interrogation, the thrill of the culmination of arriving at a real, intellectually satisfying conclusion, instead of evading awkward questions, putting their fingers in their ears and playing the faith card to shield their cherished beliefs.

Faith is by definition belief without evidence – it’s pulling things out of your ass; it’s clinging to things that you might well know are faintly ridiculous; it’s putting up barriers to honest enquiry; it can be used as an impediment to curiosity and intellect, and it is simply the most ridiculous method of discovering or knowing anything about reality. It’s not a virtue – and it shouldn’t be a virtue in wider society any more than it would be in a court of law.

Some atheists of course ‘respect’ such nonsense – but that is just yet another reason why atheism is not an ends in itself to me. It’s all about the process of rationality, reasoning and sceptical curiosity that if pursued boldly should necessarily give rise to atheism, and have much, much broader and deeper ramifications than just mere atheism alone.

Heather Dalgleish
Scotland

(I put out a simple call for your explanations for why you’re an atheist, and in a single day I got almost 100 essays. I think we have a new regular feature here. I’m going to just work through them and post one a day, so if you sent one in, be patient…we’ll get around to it eventually.)

137 comments

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  1. 1
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    Fantastic Heather.

  2. 2
    Gregory Greenwood

    Well said Heather.

  3. 3
    Alex

    Very nice. Not enough rationalist essays employ the word ‘bollocks’, I think.

  4. 4
    abadidea

    My god, I think she nailed it.

  5. 5
    eman

    Excellent post.

    One request PZ: Could you put the author’s name in the post title or just after it to make it clear?

  6. 6
    Thomas Lawson

    I like how we can’t tell the author’s sex until the end. No preconceptions.

  7. 7
    Grammar Merchant

    Very nicely said. This sets the bar high.

  8. 8
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    That was awesome. *applause!*

    Theists who are otherwise rational and who fail to grasp that conclusion are simply not being fully honest with themselves, and failing to challenge their ideas on the subject of gods with the same robustness as they would challenge other ideas.

    I love this– you’re exactly right, Heather.

    I am so looking forward to more of these!

  9. 9
    'Tis Himself

    There are of course “other ways of knowing” – it’s just they’re complete bollocks.

    My favorite sentence in Heather’s excellent essay.

  10. 10
    Paul Stewart

    To believe that we / life is just a mistake is, to me, the most illogical and unreasonable notion possible. That gave me the faith to actually seek God. I now KNOW him and have a personal relationship with the creator God of the universe.

    Sadly I think atheists are people who simply don’t want God in their life, and He would never force himself on people. In the end It’s your choice.

    To say that there is no evidence for a creator God is not true. There is – its called creation.

    You can ridicule religion all you want. It needs it! But that’s man made. But to ridicule people who follow a perfeclty logical principle is narrow minded and antagonistic.

  11. 11
    Cosmic Snark

    #10 Paul Stewart

    Oh, geeez, here we go with the usual deluded lying Christer nonsense: “The existence of the universe proves God, whom I know personally and have a personal relationship with, because I realized that religion is manmade. I’m not a Christian or religious, I just worship Christ. Atheists believe in God they just choose to reject him”.

    Just to let you know, that illogical, loopy, evidence-free fundie bullshit doesn’t fly here. And that, my friend, is more than likely the nicest response you’ll get here.

  12. 12
    ChasCPeterson

    I now KNOW him and have a personal relationship with the creator God of the universe.

    in the biblical sense?

    And hey, I thought this was a science blog!

  13. 13
    ManOutOfTime

    @10 Paul Stewart – Calling people out for being deluded (as you are) is not ridicule. It way feel like ridicule, when it is pointed out that people believe ridiculous things, but it’s not. Your comment bears little resemblance to what Heather wrote – I would suggest it is you who are being disrespectful of a thoughtful, articulate woman who is making a very brave statement.

  14. 14
    Iain

    @10 – Life just happened as a consequence of the right kind of chemistry in the right place at the right time. ‘Mistake’ is not a word that’s even relevant here. Agents trying to do things can get them right or make mistakes, the absence of a creator doesn’t make life a mistake.

    Your third paragraph – really? That’s your standard of logic? You can substitute any word you want for ‘God’ in those two sentences and it will make as much sense – if that’s your standard of evidence for a creator God you must also accept a creator Kettle, a creator Webcam, a creator Keyboard or anything else that could be substituted without altering the logic of your claim.

  15. 15
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    To believe that we / life is just a mistake is, to me, the most illogical and unreasonable notion possible.

    Who said that life is just a mistake?! Atheists don’t say that, the author of the essay didn’t say that. Don’t lie in your very first sentence. That’s not very nice. I’d even call it antagonistic.

    That gave me the faith to actually seek God. I now KNOW him and have a personal relationship with the creator God of the universe.

    I’m sure you do. Does he take his tea with milk or lemon?

    Sadly I think atheists are people who simply don’t want God in their life, and He would never force himself on people. In the end It’s your choice.

    No. I don’t believe that god(s) or God(s) exist. Big difference. But I agree that it’s our choice. It’s really nice of you that you believe God doesn’t force himself on us, if only his followers followed that example.

    To say that there is no evidence for a creator God is not true. There is – its called creation.

    Ask him for the recipe while you have a cuppa or it isn’t true!

    You can ridicule religion all you want. It needs it! But that’s man made. But to ridicule people who follow a perfeclty logical principle is narrow minded and antagonistic.

    No, theories about God are not logical by any stretch of imagination. The deeper you go into the various religious teachings, more obvious that fact gets.

  16. 16
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Sadly I think atheists are people who simply don’t want God in their life,

    Why would we want an imaginary being? You provided no conclusive evidence for your imaginary deity. In fact, your whole argument is presupposition. Since your deity doesn’t exist, we can’t even know him, as he is a delusion in your mind.

  17. 17
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    The essay is wonderful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Heather.

  18. 18
    ChrisH

    I think Paul Stewart has succeed in doing exactly what he wanted to do. Which is to derail the thread and take the focus away from the wonderful essay Heather wrote.

  19. 19
    Thomas Lawson

    There’s a “believer” response from 1903 in Letters from an Atheist Nation that puts Mr. Paul Stewart’s to shame.

    Here’s a bit:

    But so far we have had to do with only the sixty-odd chemical elements, and we have found them incapable of moving unless acted upon by something extraneous to themselves. Hence we deduce this law. Elementary substance being unchangeable, and without action, or any power to act, can only be changed in their states, relations, and combinations by a power not inherent in them, but by some outside power imparted or applied as some extraneous force to produce this great variety of forms we see in nature.

  20. 20
    'Tis Himself

    Paul Stewart #10

    To believe that we / life is just a mistake is, to me, the most illogical and unreasonable notion possible.

    Who said “we / life is just a mistake”? Heather certainly didn’t. You are mistaken when you pretend that’s an atheist viewpoint. Mistakes have the connotation of an error in action or judgement caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, or insufficient knowledge. This presupposes there’s a conscious entity which made life by mistake. That’s either god(s) or the universe. Since the universe isn’t conscious and atheists don’t accept the existence of god(s), then your non sequitur fails.

    That gave me the faith to actually seek God. I now KNOW him and have a personal relationship with the creator God of the universe.

    Of course you can give us actual evidence to support your KNOWLEDGE of your god. What’s that? You can’t? You rely solely on faith, wishful thinking and delusion for your pretense about god(s). Actual evidence and logic don’t enter into your belief in The Big Guy In The Sky, the mythical being who created the universe and is deeply concerned with your sex life.

    Sadly I think atheists are people who simply don’t want God in their life

    The old “you atheists really do believe in TBGITS, you just don’t want to admit it” falsehood. Just because you think you have a need to believe in TBGITS doesn’t mean everyone else has a similar need. Atheists live happy, meaningful lives without TBGITS and without the need for TBGITS.

    He would never force himself on people. In the end It’s your choice.

    I need a show of hands. Did Paul refer to Pascal’s Wager or did he skirt it? I vote for a near miss.

    To say that there is no evidence for a creator God is not true. There is – its called creation.

    Who created your creator? Why can you say “everything was created, except for one thing”? Why not ten things, or a million things, or everything in the universe? Special pleading is a logical fallacy. Plus since the total energy of the universe is zero (don’t forget mass is a form of energy), the observable universe is akin to a virtual particle. “The universe is not only queerer than we imagine, it’s queerer than we can imagine.” -J.B.S. Haldane

    You can ridicule religion all you want. It needs it! But that’s man made. But to ridicule people who follow a perfeclty logical principle is narrow minded and antagonistic.

    How do you feel about ridiculing people who insist on delusions and want to inflict these delusions on everyone else? Oh right, never mind, you’re a goddist and therefore not used to thinking.

  21. 21
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    Sadly I think atheists are people who simply don’t want God in their life,

    I could have an imaginary friend at any time, but quite frankly, that would be ridiculous.

  22. 22
    Thomas Lawson

    Heather’s essay is astounding. Worthy of being “First!”

  23. 23
    Human Ape

    Stewart, you convinced me. I’m going to throw out more than a century of scientific progress and praise Jeebus.

  24. 24
    niftyatheist, perpetually threadrupt

    What a wonderful, clear and elegant essay. Thank you, Heather! And thank you PZ for presenting this challenge and publishing the essays. I am really looking forward to reading the rest.

  25. 25
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Heather certainly nailed many of the reasons I’m an atheist. Great job.

  26. 26
    Danyal Freeman

    What a silly idea this ‘why I am an atheist’ thesis is in a blog that majors in reason and evidence. Only those who assert the truth of the divine need explain their supernatural beliefs.

    By ‘explaining’ the rationality of atheism this thread falls into the religious argument that portrays atheism as a ‘belief system’.

    I sometimes enjoy this blog, but the notion that atheists will ultimately reason theists/deists out of their beliefs is trite and misses the point entirely.

    Both sides seek the same thing – the truth – but by different means. That’s been the case for centuries and it isn’t going to change through yet more reason, nor yet more ‘miracles’, no matter how much we might enjoy the arguments.

  27. 27
    Heather Dalgleish

    I’m the author of this essay (which PZ could probably confirm if he were to mess around with checking my posting credentials), and I just want to say that either Paul in comment 10 is a satirist or someone who doesn’t mind posing as an exhibit for exactly the type of thing I just wrote about.

    Anyway – I think Creation is perfect evidence for floogamaloops, and I know this because I have a personal relationship with my floogamaloops, and I know that through other ways of knowing. Evidence isnt everything, you know. I don’t know why Paul isn’t open-minded about this. Maybe it’s because he just doesn’t want the satisfying personal relationship with floogamaloops that I have. He must have had a bad experience that made him hostile to them. I’m just terribly sorry for that.

  28. 28
    'Tis Himself

    One thing which does annoy me about godbots is their insistence “you need to hear this.” This is a lie. We don’t need to hear it, they need to say it. It’s not about us or our wants and desires, it’s all about them. They need to proselytize and they could actually care less if we want to be proselytized at.

  29. 29
    Rey Fox

    To believe that we / life is just a mistake is, to me, the most illogical and unreasonable notion possible.

    Is it really illogical and unreasonable, or does it just wound your sense of pride? To me, the notion that the whole universe (which, as you know, is very very big) was created by some god for a morality play for a particularly successful (and destructive) species of primate is plenty illogical.

    And as ‘Tis pointed out, using the word “mistake” presumes your premise, so I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that you were already searching for a God to make you feel special.

    Sadly I think atheists are people who simply don’t want God in their life

    You’re sort of half-right there. I sure as heck don’t want to be a cog in the machine of a god (unless it can demonstrate how that’s a good thing independently of might making right), and even less do I want to have the genocidal tyrant of the Bible in my life. Fortunately, I don’t have to, and he isn’t.

    and He would never force himself on people.

    His followers sure seem keen on it though.

    To say that there is no evidence for a creator God is not true. There is – its called creation.

    I’ll take Circular Reasoning for $500, Alex.

    You can ridicule religion all you want. It needs it!

    It’s a pretty easy target, you must admit.

    But to ridicule people who follow a perfeclty logical principle is narrow minded and antagonistic.

    Hey, if they can’t take a little rhetorical antagonism, then they shouldn’t be dishing out all the violence religion does to society and empirical investigation.

  30. 30
    Peter Magellan

    @ Paul Stewart, #10: Complete bollocks.

    @ Heather Dalgleish: Well said, and amen – my sentiments exactly.

  31. 31
    Patrick

    I am an Atheist. But I don’t like to label myself as something I’m not.

    A lady once called me a Neo-Nazi. She was a Scientologist.
    Here is what provoked her: http://goo.gl/5tVRO

    That’s me in the picture. I am a Neo-Nazi.

  32. 32
    Rey Fox

    Put it another way, Paul. Your comment showed that Heather knows exactly what she’s talking about.

    Countdown to passive-aggressive content-free snark from David Marshall…

  33. 33
    opposablethumbs

    Heather, thank you for a great essay – and here’s to the ineffable floogamaloops (shame the goddists are so closed-minded and intolerantly ill-disposed towards ‘em, really. They’re indescribably lovely. Ineffable, invisible, intangible and undetectable, of course, but we KNOW they’re there just the same).

  34. 34
    Duncan

    An excellent essay, that puts ‘you don’t have to respect beliefs to respect the person’ so much more eloquently than I could.

    Also my opinion of my atheism is pretty much in agreement with her opinion of her atheism – I consider it to be secondary to how I arrived at atheism and secondary also to other things about me.

  35. 35
    anteprepro

    The essay was brilliant. A very engaging read.

    as for the Jeebusite: “I now KNOW him and have a personal relationship with the creator God of the universe.”

    I’m assuming you “KNOW” God through other ways of “KNOWING”, right? Because if you “KNEW” God existed through methodologies that weren’t just bullshit, you might be able to show your fucking work and show to us how we can get to “KNOW” that God exists as well. But you can’t, so your bald assertions completely warrant mocking.

    “To say that there is no evidence for a creator God is not true. There is – its called creation.”

    False. ” Existence exists, therefore existence maker” is not evidence or logic. It is question beggging. “Creation”/Existence would need to exist in order for people to exist to question the nature of existence. There is nothing inherent about existence that requires the Christian God to be true, and there is nothing about reality as we observe it that is so consistent with the Christian God that we should regard it as the best explanation, let alone the only one. (Why is the observable universe roughly 6.85*10^19 times the size of our planet when our planet is supposedly the only one that fucking matters to God? For the sake of proportion, that’s roughly the same amount of times the sun’s diameter is larger than a helium atom. Why does evolution contradict the order of creation, the story of Adam and Eve, and Noah’s Ark? Why are there natural disasters and birth defects produced/not prevented by your loving God? Fall or not fucking Fall, it remains a consistently used dick move).

    So, bullshit on the “people who follow a perfeclty logical principle” remark, defending such nonsense. There is nothing logical about the principle, and believing that the principle is sufficient cause to believe in the Christian God is so far from logical that any conflict between the two would be considered intergalactic.

  36. 36
    Michael Hawkins

    Anyway – I think Creation is perfect evidence for floogamaloops, and I know this because I have a personal relationship with my floogamaloops, and I know that through other ways of knowing. Evidence isnt everything, you know. I don’t know why Paul isn’t open-minded about this. Maybe it’s because he just doesn’t want the satisfying personal relationship with floogamaloops that I have. He must have had a bad experience that made him hostile to them. I’m just terribly sorry for that.

    I think I like that even more than the essay itself.

  37. 37
    Michael Hawkins

    @#6 Thomas,

    I presupposed PZ wrote this until I got to the end. I suspect most people did the same.

  38. 38
    Johan Fruh

    Very nice way of putting it.
    It’s always a pleasure to see your own thoughts cristalise into a very clear and entertaining read!
    Next time I have to explain my rationalism, I can point to this essay, after having tried to babble half-comprehensive gibberish :).

  39. 39
    anteprepro

    Oh, correction to my 35: Evolution doesn’t actually contradict Noah’s Ark, to my knowledge (it’s just that virtually everything else does.)

  40. 40
    Iain Walker

    anteprepro (#39):

    Evolution doesn’t actually contradict Noah’s Ark, to my knowledge

    Well, genetics and geology do. And it’s hard to see how the genetic and geological evidence could be consistent with the story of Noah’s Ark without at the same time contradicting evolution.

  41. 41
    Glen Davidson

    . ‘Intuition’, ‘gut feeling’ and ‘just knowing’ are alternative ways of knowing things,

    Well, they do exist for our benefit. Of course they’re inferior to careful science when you have time for that, but not when you’re on the battlefield or being stalked by lions. That’s perhaps one reason why superstitions tend to be rife in the military.

    Building your life around “intuition” or “gut feeling” is the mistake that’s made, not relying on them in a pinch.

    Glen Davidson

  42. 42
    Thomas Lawson

    @37 Michael:

    I did, too. Now that we know better we can read without thinking that we’re going to agree with the statements. We can focus on the content, rather than the source. Sources and citations usually come at the end/bottom anyway, right?

  43. 43
    jacobfromlost

    I think intuition can be something particular people can be good at using in particular contexts–although it wouldn’t really be “another way of knowing”. It is simply recognizing evidence subconsciously.

    Moreover, your intuition can be tested every time you act on it–even in minor ways. If you get the sense that someone is upset about something from very minor cues, you can straight up ask them, ask others who know them if something is has happened, or share how something is bothering you and how you dealt with it so that they might be more inclined to share with you. If they share something that is bothering them, your intuition in this context is confirmed (based on subconscious evidence that you may or may not be able to identify consciously). If they don’t share, then you can dismiss your intuition as wrong, or keep it in the back of your mind as a weak hypothesis that needs more evidence in the future to be confirmed.

    As for the poster who said “creation” is evidence of god, there is no way to know at this point if it is evidence or not–the nature of evidence is that it indicates ONE thing, not many things. In order for “creation” to be evidence of a creator, you would have to distinguish between what a universe that isn’t created would look like and contrast that with what a universe that is created would look like. Then test in observable, reproducible, predictive, and falsifiable ways to see which it is you live in.

    For example, if a man is murdered with a gun, the police don’t go to the nearest neighbor, check to see that the neighbor indeed has a hand and a trigger finger, and arrest him for murder.

    Just because someone has a hand and a trigger finger does not mean they are the murderer.

    Just because what you call “creation” around you actually exists doesn’t mean it was created.

    And worse than that, all the evidence thus far indicates it WASN’T created. It’s as if the murder suspect was seen by 1000 people at the time of the murder, had no motive to kill his neighbor, and the finger prints on the gun match a known murderer the next town over…but the Theist Police continue insisting none of that matters. THE NEIGHBOR HAS A HAND AND A TRIGGER FINGER! THAT’S EVIDENCE HE MUST BE THE KILLER!

    Well, it’s not evidence. Sorry.

  44. 44
    Rudi

    Excellent article Heather – exactly how I feel.

    I’d be interested to see if there are any significant departures from the template Heather has set – it strikes me that future essays may struggle to be all that different.

  45. 45
    Glen Davidson

    Sadly I think atheists are people who simply don’t want God in their life,

    I suppose because of a lack of his existence, plus the fictional accounts of him suggest that he’s a complete jerk.

    To say that there is no evidence for a creator God is not true. There is – its called creation.

    Yay, evolution is God. OK, that’s sort of boring, actually, but if evidence for evolution is evidence for God, what else are we to conclude?

    Glen Davidson

  46. 46
    derrickbillings

    I thought about writing one of these, but frak, I got nothing to add. “Nailed it” indeed.

  47. 47
    skepticali

    Stunning!
    Who said rationality isn’t awe-inspiring?

  48. 48
    Glen Davidson

    But to ridicule people who follow a perfeclty logical principle is narrow minded and antagonistic.

    What’s this “logical principle,” make something up, then worship it?

    I suppose it’s somewhat reasonable to think well of yourself, but it’s not reasonable to call part of yourself the cause existence.

    Glen Davidson

  49. 49
    Glen Davidson

    I might have written something up, but it’d probably end up being the long version of “Why bother?”

    And I thought, “Why bother?”

    Glen Davidson

  50. 50
    Julian Hitchcock

    “There isn’t a god, so why should I believe in one?” just about covers the rational argument. I too love truth and reason, but when it’s that simple, it’s hard to get that fired up. Put differently, we could say, “look, we now know that there is no need for a God; no need for Creation, no need for moral behaviour, so what does this guy do,- collect unemployment benefits?” However, these considerations do not necessarily defeat the existence of god: they merely help to define it.

    For example, one might say that WE are god. There are a number of reasons why this might chime with existing doctrines and be accessible to atheists. Perhaps there are other interpretations, such as that God is psychologically real or a description of aspects of the world, obscure in ancient times, that are much better understood today. To have any credibility, orthodox religions have to address the change in what is knows,- and to do so without the arrogance of an exclusive faith or imaginary mate.

    The problem is that the faiths so devoutly expressed by writers to this column are doctrinal. They derive from a lot of men coming together in AD 325 and 381 to agree a common set of beliefs arising from Hebrew texts. Their deliberations were not spiritual and nor were they remotely democratic. Faith arose in order to shore up the vast (to put it mildly) cracks in the agreed view. It’s extraordinary to come across writers to this column who lack the freedom of thought, humility and imagination to declare that they have a person relationship with the one that they KNOW. Sure you have!

    Finally, I wonder what Jesus would have made of the fantasies spun out of his life and, more to the point, death. His life comes as a welcome relief after the murderous and rapacious spleen of the Old Testament. He is striking, not because of the Pinocchio aspects of the tales in which he appears, where the most ludicrous parts are the most sacred, but because he was plainly a very good man. No-one needs a hoary arsed deity to tell us that.

  51. 51
    madarab

    Heather, that was brilliant. I hope you take it as praise that until the very end, I thought it was something PZ had written.

  52. 52
    Julian Hitchcock

    Apologies. I should first have congratulated Heather.

  53. 53
    jacobfromlost

    “Building your life around “intuition” or “gut feeling” is the mistake that’s made, not relying on them in a pinch.”

    The other thing I wanted to say about intuition is that it can sometimes be reinforced by the confirmation bias of survivors (prayer can be reinforced this way also) even when it may be unconnected to a specific outcome, and the novelty of these kind of events also lends themselves to be repeated ad nauseum as evidence of psychic phenomena.

    For example, I’ve heard stories like this before: “When I was a kid, some of my friends wanted to go for a ride in Pete’s new car. I had a bad feeling about that, so I told them I had to work. An hour later they got in a wreck and Pete died! If I had gone with them, I would have died also!”

    Left out of the story is that teenagers are rarely good drivers, that Pete was showing off his new car to his friends and prone to being reckless, that the “bad feeling” came from knowing that Pete was reckless and the idea of being packed like sardines in his car did not sound like fun, and that 4 out of 5 people in the car survived (ie, even if you HAD gone with them, it is not certain you would have died). But even if EVERYONE died, the fact that you didn’t go with them is not evidence that you knew they were all going to die–if you had known that, wouldn’t you have warned them? Moreover, if you had gone with them (with a “bad feeling”, a “good feeling”, or “no feeling”) and died, you wouldn’t be alive to tell any story whatsoever. And if you happened to survive, you wouldn’t be saying, “The crash is inexplicable because I had a good feeling about this!” No one ever repeats THAT story–it’s not compelling enough.

    But having a brush with death can make one become irrational about these things–that’s why they call it “having the wits scared out of you”.

  54. 54
    lamanga2004

    Bravo Heather, I really enjoyed reading that.

  55. 55
    Cosmic Snark

    PZ, since there are many entries to come, it might be a good idea to create a new category label “Why I’m an Atheist”, or “Guest posts”, or something to that effect. That way we can access the entire collection of contributions at any time without having to search for them.

    Or, just tell me to fuck off and do it however you want. I’m fine either way.

  56. 56
    anteprepro

    Iain Walker: “Well, genetics and geology do. And it’s hard to see how the genetic and geological evidence could be consistent with the story of Noah’s Ark without at the same time contradicting evolution.”

    Yes, but aside from just genetics and geology, there is the fact that it is unfeasible in many other ways:
    -Getting all of the relevant animals and redistributing geographically.
    -Storing all those species on the ship, and doing so for however many days (must deal with carnivorous species, and deal with the massive number of insect species that have short generation times).
    -Maintaining a floating ship in the face of a storm that is not only incredibly long, but showering down rain at a rate several orders of magnitude higher than the strongest storms on record.
    -Determining where water would go such that it could cover the highest mountains on our planet and then somehow recede to uncover land far below the highest mountains at present (I don’t think glaciers could form that fast…).
    -Dealing with the fact that Noah did nothing to preserve plant life, and not many species of plants that grow on land would survive a few months underwater.

    Noah’s Ark is fractally stupid, is what I’m getting at here.

  57. 57
    Bjoern

    @Heather: Very well written! :-)

    Indeed, the whole concept of ‘god’ or ‘gods’ is so ill-defined that asking me if I believe in ‘god’ is like asking me if I believe in floogamaloops. I don’t know what floogamaloops are, and neither do you. I don’t know what exactly gods would be like, and neither do you. Or rather, everybody has their own personal idea of what ‘god’ is – varying vastly from person to person, region to region and time to time.

    So you are an ignostic?

  58. 58
    Iain Walker

    Heather:

    Fine summary.

    danyalfreeman (#26):

    What a silly idea this ‘why I am an atheist’ thesis is in a blog that majors in reason and evidence. Only those who assert the truth of the divine need explain their supernatural beliefs.

    And since Heather did the opposite – i.e., explaining why she doesn’t have any supernatural beliefs – there shouldn’t be any problem, should there?

    Or by “supernatural beliefs” do you mean not just beliefs which assert the reality of the supernatural, but all beliefs (and meta-beliefs) about supernatural entities and processes? In which case, isn’t the cornerstone of rational, evidence-based thinking that everybody should be prepared (if not required) to give reasons for what they believe (or not) to be the case? If we require that believers justify their positions, why the hell should we exempt ourselves from the same requirement? It’s precisely because this blog “majors in reason and evidence” that PZ is posting these guest articles.

    By ‘explaining’ the rationality of atheism this thread falls into the religious argument that portrays atheism as a ‘belief system’.

    Did you even read what Heather wrote? She very explicitly presented her atheism as a consequence or conclusion of her rationalism, which she characterises primarily as an epistemological position. In other words, her atheism is not a “belief system” at all. It’s simply one belief among many that stems from a rationalist approach to evaluating truth-claims.

    the notion that atheists will ultimately reason theists/deists out of their beliefs is trite

    Not all of them, true. But by their own admission, at least some commenters here were reasoned out of their beliefs, so it’s not as if the effort is entirely wasted.

    Both sides seek the same thing – the truth – but by different means.

    The truth about what, and by what “means” do you think believers seek it? You seem to be indulging in a little triteness yourself here.

  59. 59
    Rob in Memphis

    Sadly I think atheists are people who simply don’t want God in their life, and He would never force himself on people. In the end It’s your choice.

    *snerk* Too bad the people who believe in that superstitious hogwash don’t show the rest of us the same courtesy….

  60. 60
    jacobfromlost

    “Sadly I think atheists are people who simply don’t want God in their life, and He would never force himself on people. In the end It’s your choice.”

    Reality DOES force itself upon you. If god were real, he would force himself on you in exactly the same way reality does and it wouldn’t MATTER what anyone wanted or didn’t want.

    Sadly, theists often think that they are vicariously in charge of reality by believing in the magic dude who is the CEO of reality–they think as long as they work for him, they’ll get a nice retirement in eternity. If they don’t believe him, then they’ll get fitted for a suit of flames. (Do these people really think that atheists believe in god, put only pretend not to because they “don’t want god in their life” because the idea of burning alive forever is just the bees knees?)

    Never does it occur to theists that not having evidence for this puts their belief on the same list as everything false, contradictory, unknown, or unknowable–a very long list of the least dependable beliefs that are either demonstrated false, or impossible for any human to KNOW, much less claim they do know.

  61. 61
    raven

    Paul the moron troll:

    Sadly I think atheists are people who simply don’t want God in their life, and He would never force himself on people.

    Paul, why do you hate the Easter Bunny, Zeus, Thor, Mithras, and Fairies?

    You simply don’t want Tinkerbell or the Easter Bunny in your life.

    It’s OK. They have enough to do without bothering you and don’t much care about morons or trolls.

    He would never force himself on people.

    Well good for god. We atheists have always gotten along really well with the gods for many centuries. Couldn’t be better. They’ve been so quiet, it is almost like…they aren’t even there.

    The followers of the xian Sky Monster god OTOH, have been and are a real nuisance. When they aren’t working on their To Hate or To Kill lists, they are trying to destroy our society.

  62. 62
    ramaus

    About fifty of the best of these should make a good book. Heather’s is in.

    I started to write my version, but Heather stopped me in my tracks.
    She said what I wanted to say, better.

    An essay a day should keep the gods away.

  63. 63
    raven

    Paul the deluded idiot:

    I now KNOW him and have a personal relationship with the creator God of the universe.

    No Paul. You have at best an imaginary friend and at worst, a mental sockpuppet. Chances are, your sockpuppet hates who you hate and wants you to have what you want.

    BTW, your claims are assertions without proof. Hitchens rule: Assertions without proof can be dismissed without proof.

    You are a deluded idiot.

  64. 64
    redwood

    #28 about how religious people pretend we need to hear something when the truth is they need to say it.
    A few years ago I was on my way to teach at a language school here in Japan. I noticed outside the train station that some young people were “praying” for passersby. They would stop them and offer to pray for them by holding their hands over the passerby’s head. One approached me and offered in quite good English to pray for me. I said “Sure, but you have to pay me 1,000 yen (about $10). He looked very surprised and said that no, he was praying for me, that is, doing me a favor. I said, “You’re doing something you want to do, not something I want to do. Therefore, you should pay me for the privilege.” He declined and I went on my way.
    The funny thing is that the next day, one of my students came up to me after class and said he had seen that exchange and thought it was really funny, especially the look on the religious man’s face. It’s so nice living in Japan where only about 1% of the population is Christian.

  65. 65
    Heather Dalgleish

    Glen – I agree with you. I should maybe have compared ‘intuition’ to the withdrawal or rhythm method. ;) They can both actually work, and could be used in a pinch – they’re just vastly inferior to the various and sundry other forms of contraception available.

    Intuition is also interesting in that it is a model of reality as your brain has constructed it – and it’s often open to being corrected and rewritten, and influenced by what we take in from the world around us – similar to science only a little more fuzzy, vague and flawed.

    I have a biologist’s intuition, some stockbrokers evidently have an impressive intuition for different markets, some a great intuition for psychology or how to write well – but the important thing is that their intuition really has been shaped unconsciously through immersion in the REAL WORLD, unconsciously crunching real data points. And in a pinch, the fuzzy models of reality in our minds can suffice. But enough SCIENCE has shown us how weak and unreliable they can be at times, and how much richer we are when people do put cherished pet theories through the fire of science. We can’t go proposing double-blind trials every time we need to know something – but the more people who even just understand the kind of process of reasoning, and the more enthusiastic scientists who do do it for some particular thing that tickles their fancy, the better our grasp of reality really becomes.

    Science may be kinda like like retrofitting a 1980s computer with various bits of modern technology, component by component. People with no acquaintance with it are still walking around with Comodore 64s in their heads.

  66. 66
    Ben

    Heather,… well-written expression of the profile of your thinking and reasoning. So many more of us out there should have such an approach and appreciation. With continued communication via people like most who post here and elsewhere, and the tireless efforts of our leading scientists,thinkers and lectures on the forefront, we may eventually build a sufficiently large front for change. Thank you, and may we see many more such eloquent, right-on expressions posted.

    Concerning anteprepro (#39), Reflecting on ‘Tis Himself (OM)’s statement, I concur:
    For anteprepro to represent the views or impressions of freethinkers and scientists that the natural, developmental view life/creation is in some way a ‘mistake’ seems to be placing a value judgement on it (HUH????) How can you place a value judgement on simply what exists,…. on matter and natural processes? Doesn’t seem like reasoned thought there.

  67. 67
    Glen Davidson

    Well put, Heather, both.

    Glen Davidson

  68. 68
    theophontes, feu d'artifice du cosmopolitisme

    @ OP

    Atheism should be one of those things you arrive at in any honest quest for truth – but it’s not an ends in itself. And science, reason, rational thinking and sceptical enquiry are the best tools devised for uncovering reality.

    And is science, any more than atheism, an end in itself?

    There are of course “other ways of knowing” – it’s just they’re complete bollocks.

    There are many “ways of knowing”. Indeed, I would posit that there are 7 billion ways of knowing (as of last week, give or take). All of them off the mark. Science will gradually shrink the distance between these. (Something that Richard Feynman was not sure he was happy about. We could eventually reach the effective end of science, of discovery.)

    But there are a far more important ways in which these will become more alike. This will grow out of the development of our human(ist) perspective. Our ways of knowing will embrace, beyond science, reason, rational thinking and sceptical enquiry. It is not enough just to know or understand.

  69. 69
    Quincyme

    Ah. That was like sitting in your favourite armchair next to the fire, with a glass of quality red. Made feel all warm inside.

  70. 70
    Iain Walker

    Paul Stewart (#10):

    To believe that we / life is just a mistake is, to me, the most illogical and unreasonable notion possible.

    As others have pointed out, to call life a “mistake” presupposes that it was brought about by some agent or other – a mistake is by definition a failure of intentionality. But since there is no reason to suppose that life was brought about by any agent, that’s not really a problem for us. The possibility that life might be a mistake is more of a problem for you, since you’re the one who thinks an agent was responsible for it.

    I now KNOW him and have a personal relationship with the creator God of the universe.

    Putting words in block capitals doesn’t make them true. Also, in order for you to know a person in the sense of being acquanted with them, you have to have grounds for supposing them to exist. If you can’t provide grounds that would convince a neutral observer that this person exists, then your claims of personal acquaintence are hardly going to impress anyone, are they?

    Sadly I think atheists are people who simply don’t want God in their life

    I wouldn’t want Dolores Umbridge in my life either, but that’s not really a worry for me, since I have reason to think that she is a fictional character. Ditto for your deity. If it exists, then I have no interest in worshipping such a creature. But if I have no reason to suppose that it exists in the first place, then this is hardly a live issue for me.

    To say that there is no evidence for a creator God is not true. There is – its called creation.

    Question-begging theist is question-begging. That there is a creator follows trivially from there being a creation. But what you have to establish in the first place is that the universe (which is what I assume you mean by “creation”) is, in fact, something created. To simply assert that it is created is to assume your conclusion in advance.

    But to ridicule people who follow a perfeclty [sic] logical principle is narrow minded and antagonistic.

    Methinks you don’t know what the word “logical” means.

  71. 71
    HaggisForBrains

    Heather – simply and beautifully put. I think I’m in love!

  72. 72
    thunderbird5

    Heather’s really set the standard here, this is excellent.

    “There are of course “other ways of knowing” – it’s just they’re complete bollocks.”
    – should be inscribed above the portals of every place of learning, every hospital and clinic, and every legislative and judicial chamber in the land.

    “Complete bollocks” is a favourite phrase of mine – I think it an exquisitely expressive and succinct way to describe anything manifestly complete and utter bollocks.

    (Anyone interested in the etymology might care to look up the 1977 prosecution for obscenity of Richard Branson and the manager of the Nottingham Virgin record shop, for displaying “Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols” in a window. Defending QC John Mortimer (the Rumpole author) successfully argued, via an impressive array of academic expert witnesses, that bollocks was not obscene. The pissed-off Magistrate was forced to agree).

  73. 73
    myeck waters

    I have hardened my heart against floogamaloops. This is because I am a Chicago Cubs fans, and floogamaloops has clearly been ignoring the countless hours Cubby Nation has spent reading takeout menus backwards to honor floogamaloops in the manner prescribed in Deli 15:7-13.

  74. 74
    StarStuff

    It’s a very nice essay – great job. It makes me think about how to express to goddites where it is I come from. I get so many “so what DO you believe in then?”. Dar Williams summed it up (even though it’s from “Christians and the Pagans”) “But we love trees, we love the snow, the friends we have, the world we share, and you find magic from your God, and we find magic everywhere.” “We find beauty everywhere” is a good replacement in that last line, IMHO.

    Unless PZ changed it (which is totally probable), Heather’s name is in the title of the page. :)

  75. 75
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    Thank you, Heather. That was fantastic.

    And I’m glad that I wrote mine, and sent it, before reading yours. I ain’t nearly so eloquent, or as focused.

  76. 76
    Aaron

    I have only one major objection to this essay: Having sex standing up is a perfectly viable way to go about contraception. It’s even fun! Just let gravity do most of the work.

  77. 77
    Hazuki

    I take particular exception to the “atheists are people who don’t want God in their lives” bit. That is incredibly ballsy of you, Paul.

    Let me straighten you out: no atheist I know of (though I’m sure there are some out there) is so dogmatic as to insist that even Deism is false. And I don’t know any of them who say that there is no possible God, no way, no when, no where, no how, period. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia gets this one right, noting that formal or dogmatic atheism is at best unfalsifiable and at worse self-refuting.

    What we’ve got a problem with is Yahweh. Archaeology, comparative religion, mythology, anthropology, and study of Semitic languages and cultures has thoroughly cemented Yahweh as a Canaanite throwback. Whatever the facts of the life of Yeshua bar Yousef were (and I do believe there was such a person), he ALSO believed these things. And he flung false prophecies left and right, espousing a corrupted Judaism loaded with Zoroastrian eschatology and Greek philosophy (which combination is why Christianity is so schizophrenic).

    You, like nearly every other apologist I have ever run into, are conflating the Deistic “Philosopher’s God” with Yahweh. Cut that shit out. It’s not only dishonest, it’s wrong, and it’s a blasphemy against any God that DOES exist, if there is one, to ascribe Yahweh’s actions and thoughts to it.

  78. 78
    Blobulon

    Thank you so much Heather. I’m keeping this for quick reference when friends and family start spouting their ‘other ways of knowing’ bollocks.
    I wish you lived in my city, I’d invite you over for tea.
    Such a dearth of sceptics here in Alberta.

  79. 79
    fauxreal

    Thanks, Heather.

    Paul – How do you know you have a personal relationship with god?

    Would you consider a claim from another person who said he or she had a personal relationship with any other entity that was not seen, heard, smelled, touched or tasted valid? If so, why? If not, why?

    How is your relationship with god different than my relationship with, oh, I dunno… Johnny Depp? okay, Depp exists, but not in my universe. Hmmm. Does that make my claim to have a personal relationship with Johnny Depp more valid than your claim to have a relationship with god?

  80. 80
    Carlie

    Heather, that was magnificent.

    Sadly I think atheists are people who simply don’t want God in their life, and He would never force himself on people. In the end It’s your choice.

    What do you say about the atheists who did have God in their lives, and wanted to keep him there, but watched him recede further and further away in the wake of counter-evidence? Now I’m thinking I ought to write an essay for this.

    What a silly idea this ‘why I am an atheist’ thesis is in a blog that majors in reason and evidence. Only those who assert the truth of the divine need explain their supernatural beliefs.

    I can’t even parse this. Of course people can say why and how they came to atheism, given that even those readers living in the most secular countries have been exposed to religion. And, of course, those of us in PZ’s home country have been immersed in it from birth on. See, people like to share stories. Stories about people are interesting. People often learn things from stories. This is how people communicate.

    I sometimes enjoy this blog, but the notion that atheists will ultimately reason theists/deists out of their beliefs is trite and misses the point entirely.

    What makes you think this is the point? I think it’s to help other atheists realize that there are other people out there with stories similar to theirs, and people with stories different from theirs, and so that people who write eloquently, like Heather, can provide people who aren’t as good at it better ways to explain their own thoughts to others.

  81. 81
    Rorschach

    I now KNOW him and have a personal relationship with the creator God of the universe.

    There’s medication for that.

    Great essay, Heather !

  82. 82
    VolcanoMan

    Your reasons and opinions are practically identical to mine on the subject of atheism, rationalism, science, faith, “other ways of knowing” and accomodating such nonsense. Atheism, as you say, may not be the best word to describe such a worldview; rationalism, naturalism and determinism are all much more precise, much more meaningful.

    One thing you touched on briefly is that you have no time for bad ideas and do not respect or tolerate them; would you then describe yourself as an antitheist? Because I most certainly would describe myself in that way, and your essay described my perspective with high specificity. Like “atheism” however, “antitheism” is not the best word to explain the position that evidence-free irrational beliefs that are firmly held and socially acceptable are truly the greatest threat to human progress and should be fought whenever possible. Being against religion is a large facet of this, but religion does not have a monopoly on stupid.

    Those non-believers who arrived at atheism through rationality but who happily accept other ways of knowing are deceiving themselves. Perhaps it would be more effective to the cause of antitheism if people like us worked to show people like this exactly why they are wrong and to therefore give atheism a more unified, evangelical voice. Shit-disturbers like PZ Myers and Sam Harris have some success fighting religion and helping the religious to recover from their delusion, but I strongly believe that if the 15% non-believer faction was both unified in its voice and not afraid to speak out against irrationality they (we) could really change the dialogue.

  83. 83
    Xios the Fifth

    To Heather: Your piece of eloquent writing has put many others to shame. Well done and I applaud your courage.

    To PZ Myers: Do you have enough to do this for a year? 365 Days of Atheism or something like that.

  84. 84
    Xios the Fifth

    Sorry for the double comment, but something just occurred to me. Don’t take submissions from the famous or relatively well-known. Take the submissions from the base, from the ordinary.

    If Hitchens sent in one it would likely be far better written than if the ordinary atheist did it.

    But the ordinary atheist (or agnostic or secular humanist, whatever label you prefer) needs to find a voice. Just because he or she isn’t famous or well known, just because they wouldn’t get recognized on the street-that doesn’t mean that they’re not important, that they should remain silent. It’s quite reversed from that, in fact-they should stand up for what they think or believe in, even if it’s anonymously, even if much information can’t be revealed. Perhaps it’s better if it’s anonymously, because it makes it that more obvious that people CAN’T reveal information for personal safety or welfare.

    Right now, we have a limited number of spokespeople and a lot of the hidden, a lot of the silent, a lot of the intimidated and alone.

    Let’s show how large the crowd who haven’t been allowed to speak really is.

  85. 85
    Thomas Lawson

    @#83 Xios

    That is the original Letters from an Atheist Nation in a nutshell. Common folks speaking common sense with a common element in their thoughts. Celebrities are easy to attack and write off, but neighbors, friends, and family are less so.

  86. 86
    Geoff

    Great post overall, Heather. The scattered comments about “intuition” as another way of knowing are interesting. One thing is that we really seem to have at least two meanings for intuition that are not clearly related. One is just this sort of superstitious “feeling” that people claim to have that leads to them believing mysterious things for no apparent reason. But the other is more a kind of judgement that one can make that is based on a kind direct, but non-sensory, perception as opposed to reasoning and logical argument. And for an expert in a field, these kinds of things can actually be knowledge of quite complex facts. But it happens in simple cases too — for instance although mathematicians can set up axiom systems and use them to prove that 2 + 2 = 4, it doesn’t seem to be true that our knowledge that 2 + 2 = 4 is based on reasoning or logical argument, nor that it is a report of an observation of a particular event. It’s just something that anybody who understands the meaning of the terms “knows” in a kind of apparently non-verbal, direct way. Anyway, this is a kind of “intuition” that is seems to be scientific knowledge in a way that’s a little different from either reasoning or sensory perception.

    This doesn’t really affect the issue of religious people ridiculously (and dishonestly, I believe) claiming that they have a kind of perception of or relationship with gods and feel their divine love, etc. But it seems like it might not be completely crazy to talk about more than one way of knowing.

  87. 87
    Gregory Greenwood

    *Sigh* Now I have to add Heather to the long list of my fellow pharyngulites who are more eloquent that I.

    ———–

    Paul Stewart @ 10;

    To believe that we / life is just a mistake is, to me, the most illogical and unreasonable notion possible.

    Why? The idea that the universe, the earth, life and our own species came about by naturalistic processes is entirely consistent with our scientific understanding of reality. Why do you think it more reasonable to assume that an unevidenced, unfalsfiable entity created the entire vastness of the universe by some form of magic for the sole benefit of one species of sentient ape on a backwater world on a spiral arm of one galaxy among billions? Surely you see that your scenario requires a great many more unevidenced assumptions. The evidence simply doesn’t support your god, yet you choose to ignore the evidence. Ask yourself why this is.

    That gave me the faith to actually seek God. I now KNOW him and have a personal relationship with the creator God of the universe.

    You claim to ‘know’ this deity of yours, yet you provide no evidence for its existence. Can you understand that to someone else, your personal conviction is hardly compelling evidence? I do not doubt that there are people out there who are every bit as convinced as you in their beliefs, except that they believe that that they ‘know’ Allah. Or Brahman. Or Odin. Or Gaia. Would you find their claim to ‘know’ their god compelling evidence of that deity’s existence? If not, why should we take your claim to ‘know’ your deity any more seriously?

    Sadly I think atheists are people who simply don’t want God in their life

    We don’t believe that god exists, but in a sense you are right. We most certainly don’t want the social construct of god and the associated toxic value system imposed on us. We don’t want religious authority used as a basis to pass laws that effect us.

    If the capricious, violent and abusive god of the bible actually existed, I for one would not want it in my life. Then again, I also wouldn’t want the xenomorph from Alien in my life. Fortunately for me, neither one’s existence is supported by evidence. Both are equally fictional, so I need not worry.

    He would never force himself on people.

    As mentioned by other posters upthread, someone obviously failed to mention this to many of your god’s followers throughout history. Attempts to compel protestations of faith by means such as violence, legislative power and social exclusion are ubiquitous, and have been so for as long as organised religion has existed.

    To say that there is no evidence for a creator God is not true. There is – its called creation.

    Don’t you see how your reasoning is circular here? You say that god created the universe. We say that there is no evidence that god exists at all, and that there are other explantions for how the universe came to be that better fit the available evidence than a creator god. You reply that the evidence god exists and created the universe is… the universe. You haven’t added any actual evidence, you have simply reiterated your original assertion and called it evidence. This is a logical fallacy.

    You can ridicule religion all you want. It needs it! But that’s man made. But to ridicule people who follow a perfeclty logical principle is narrow minded and antagonistic.

    So you are saying that we can ridicule religion as an abstract, but not religious belief as practiced by theists? That makes no sense. If you make an assertion without evidence, then others have the right to critique that assertion whether you like it or not. Debate is not ‘narrow minded’ – attempts to suppress debate are.

    Religion is in no sense logical. It demands belief without evidence in something that explicitly defies logic – an indetectable, immortal, all-powerful creator superconsciousness not subject to the physical laws of reality. There is no logic to such a conviction, merely an unwillingness to accept that the evidence doesn’t support a cherished personal belief.

    No one is denying your right to believe whatever you want. We are merely saying that you cannot claim that your beliefs are logical or supported by the evidence when they manifestly aren’t.

  88. 88
    GrahamC

    Magnificent essay Heather.

    I imagine it won’t be long before you are accused of scientism. Be as proud of that as you are of your atheism, I say.

  89. 89
    A. Noyd

    Awesome essay. I especially agree with the bit about atheism being a consequence of a larger philosophy. I try to stress that when I’m arguing with meatspace theists because they tend to suppose I form my other beliefs on the basis of my atheism rather than the other way around.

    ~*~*~*~*~*~

    The protest voiced by religious people such as Paul Stewart here that god “would never force himself on people” really covers two separate claims. One is the claim that god doesn’t compel one to look upon him favorably, and the other is that god doesn’t compel one to accept his existence. Conflating the two allows the latter to to borrow the commonly accepted virtue of the former. But were god to exist, the latter would be unethical in the extreme, and more so the more negative god makes the consequences for failure to believe in and/or worship him.

    So if god did exist, I should hope he would “force” himself on us in the sense of providing adequate evidence to make it impossible for a rational skeptic to deny his existence.

  90. 90
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Excellent piece, Heather.

    I would just like to segue onto a small hobbyhorse of mine, and that is that there really are genuine “alternative ways of knowing” than science. And I get miffed that woo seems to have claimed all of these. (Much like diet and exercise and massage are NOT alternative medicine, damnit, this does not validate the woo!)

    Most of these are of the “knowing how” than “knowing that” variety. Muscle memory is the easiest example. My fingers “know” how to play certain piano pieces that I learned as a child – even though I could not now play an equivalent standard piece that was new to me. Lots of performers and artists know how to do things without reasoning them through. In fact, stopping to think about how you do something is actively detrimental. They say you never forget how to ride a bike; that’s another example.

    Language acquisition, pattern recognition, face recognition and other social skills also count as “other ways”. You know who your friend is when you see them – you don’t have to go through a process of feature matching to a set of stored memories. (Unless you have prosopagnosia.) Often people get a feel for a pattern before they can articulate what it is – and mostly they are right.

    So, eh, intuitive knowledge is very far from being all fraud; and there’s some substantive neuroscience to back that up. Brains are cool. Jonah Lehner and Oliver Sacks are both great reads on all sorts of fascinating brain tricks.

  91. 91
    Waydude

    Great Piece Heather, excellent read. Good choice to start off with as well PZ.

    As for the ‘don’t want God in my life…’ argument, I didn’t want Bush jr in my life and yet believed in him, I wouldn’t mind hanging out with Captain Picard or Princess Leia in a golden bikini and yet don’t believe in them.

    I think we have a new convert testing the waters, extra credit at Liberty to derail an internet thread. Or is it required?

    Anyway, just seeing of I could tie George Bush and Princess Leia together.

    But not literally. Because he exists and she doesn’t. And that’s what I “believe” based on “reality”.

    Also, she already has a chain, so I could chain them together…except Artoo kinda cut it short, so maybe a rope would be needed. And Bush probably has one. Something to do with clearing brush I’m sure. Who has a ranch without some rope? In Texas? Like, nobody. Easier to find rope in a texas truck than evolution in a texas schoolroom! Ha!

    and that brings us back to Heather. Well done!

    Just realized I made a Heather – PZ – Bush – Picard – Leia – Artoo – Heather tautology. Therefore, creationist can suck it.

  92. 92
    Waydude

    @Alethea

    I don’t agree with you that those items you listed are ‘other’ ways of knowing. By using them as examples against what Heather stated as knowing through science you are implying that there is no scientific explanation for them and yet you kinda even provide one, partially anyway.

    I am sure with just a little research on the internet you can learn all about muscle memory, facial recognition and the others. And how they can be explained, known, studied, and understood.

    Also, don’t fall for the fallacy that just because something isn’t perfectly known, or even partially, that it can’t someday be understood. Maybe some things can never be known but that doesn’t mean we allow for an alternative answer unless there is evidence to back it up.

    For example, we don’t fully understand the origins of the universe, but that doesn’t mean we accept some creation story. And that goes for the scientific ones as well, they are heavily researched and worked on and critiqued without mercy by the scientific establishment.

    So have fun learning, remember science is the only process we have that actually provides useful information about the natural world.

  93. 93
    raven

    The protest voiced by religious people such as Paul Stewart here that god “would never force himself on people” really covers two separate claims.

    It is also a flat out lie according to most xian sects.

    The central goal of xianity is salvation. You are saved by believing jesus is god. Faith not works unless you are Catholic, than it is both.

    In Paul’s death cult, nonbelievers are going to hell to be tortured forever. Because they couldn’t believe in a god whose main talent seems to be hiding well enough to be nonexistent.

  94. 94
    Rey Fox

    365 Days of Atheism or something like that.

    Are there really that many ways to say “ain’t no damn gods”?

  95. 95
    Elty

    @87, Gregory Greenwood:

    *Sigh* Now I have to add Heather to the long list of my fellow pharyngulites who are more eloquent that I.

    Ditto!

    What little eloquence I have seems to dwindle to insignificance before the verbal acrobatics that regularly are on display here. However, the clarity and elegance of writers such as Heather have improved my own ability to think about and express why I am rationalist humanist, and to understand why the whole idea of faith began making me queasy before I was out of junior high school.

    Thanks, Heather, and everyone else who speaks up here.

  96. 96
    Xios the Fifth

    @85 Thomas Lawson-

    Sorry, I had no idea-I haven’t gotten around to reading them, so I had no idea I was speaking redundantly…

    @94 Rey Fox-

    There’s definitely enough people, at very least. Besides, there’s plenty of ways (and reasons) to get here from there.

    Besides, given the society that currently exists, I don’t think it can be said enough or enough different ways.

  97. 97
    A3Kr0n

    Freethought Today has a section like this, and I really enjoy reading the entries. I’d say it’s a keeper.

  98. 98
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    @Waydude:

    By using them as examples against what Heather stated as knowing through science you are implying that there is no scientific explanation for them and yet you kinda even provide one, partially anyway.

    That is EXACTLY my point. The woo-woos have stolen the idea of “other ways of knowing” as if it’s something mystical and inexplicable and has no scientific explanation and therefore god. This is wrong. There are other ways of knowing, and they DO have a scientific explanation. They come from our brains being complicated meat computers that have a lot of heuristics and make-dos and neural nets processing things. They are explicable, but an explanation of a thing is not the thing itself.

    I don’t “know through science” how to ride a bicycle. I know through practice and muscle memory. Science can explain how it comes about *that* I know, and what the physics behind it is, but those are not the same thing. A person with no legs and no sense of balance can learn the physics of a bicycle and the neuroscience of my knowledge, but they still can’t ride the bicycle.

    Of course intuition is a totally crap way of doing science when taken alone. But it can provide brilliant insights – Kekule’s dream is the classic example. Brains are cool. We get ideas and surprisingly often they are right. But you need to do the testing, too, not to mention the brain-training that prepares you to get the right kind of ideas.

  99. 99
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Damnit, blockquote fail. Mine starts at “That is EXACTLY my point”. I hope I’ve clarified it enough, because I’m off to lunch now and won’t be back.

  100. 100
    fugue9

    Excellent piece, Heather! I nodded in agreement after every line.

  101. 101
    Ray, rude-ass yankee

    Heather, Bravo! that was beautifully written. I wish I could express myself that clearly and succinctly. Thank You!

  102. 102
    Waydude

    ah, I see your point. Although perhaps still not agree. I guess I assumed that we were talking about knowing in the sense of acquiring knowledge and not in the sense of learning a skill. You’re right in that “knowing” how and doing can be two different things, but the path towards either goal can be scientifically validated.
    So just having the information on how to ride a bike can get you started but the process of learning is still natural in origin and therefore can be quantified. Although, who has put forth a system of either quantifying bike riding or qualifying it, I don’t know. Well, maybe the UCI.
    For myself, it was largely a system of trial and error, which is a scientifically valid process. As well as the process that happens in your brain when you learn anything.
    I get into arguments with my wife all the time over the chinese herbal medicines she likes to take. Her explanation is that it is thousands of years of personal experience that tells her it works. I argue that if it is effective it is testable. And that effectiveness can be proven, her counter is that I am a moron.
    So. there’s that.

  103. 103
    fauxreal

    way, dude. if learning how to do something is not a feature of the brain’s (and science’s) system of knowing – I don’t know what is. if memory is not a feature of the brain that can be demonstrated by having certain portions of the brain that indicate neurons fire when someone moves x or y – what is happening then?

    Someone who spends his or her life thinking about a mathematical or other problem, who reads papers on this subject, who devotes hours to testing whether one answer or another is correct, who then thinks of a possible answer in a lucid dream state – what’s outside of the scientific way of knowing about that? Had this person been sitting upright when having the thought, it would have been the same “aha!” moment – that would have still been tested to verify.

    imagination is the result of our exposure to different information, followed by extrapolation – there was nothing in Kekule’s dream to indicate it was not the result of immersion in studying and trying various hypotheses and then, in a moment of relaxation, thinking of or visualizing the structure he had been trying to define. this happens to people who work on problems. sometimes the answers are wrong and they keep trying to solve the question. we generally don’t hear about the times when someone thinks they’ve solved a problem when spending a lot of time thinking about it because that’s what they do in order to solve the problem.

    We also agree that 2+2=4 because those are symbolic representations that create the same results when applied in practical ways. we agree with this representation because we have seen results from this agreed upon representational system. we communicate in this representational language because we agree to use the same terms. we are taught these terms in order to speak that language.

    Am I missing something in this idea? – Is there some special way of knowing that I missed? Maybe. I’m not a mathematical sophisticate.

  104. 104
    cicely

    Late to the party….

    To believe that we / life is just a mistake is, to me, the most illogical and unreasonable notion possible.

    “The result of the interaction of non-sentient forces” ≠ “mistake”. “Mistake” implies deliberate action. You are presupposing the deliberation, and calling its hypothetical actor “God”. And contrary to

    To say that there is no evidence for a creator God is not true. There is – its called creation.

    this “creation” is just stuff, and its existence is only evidence for the existence of stuff.

    You can ridicule religion all you want. It needs it! But that’s man made.

    It is man-made, as is this “god” concept that comes of an unfounded assumption that an intelligence is necessary to explain the existence of stuff.
    -

  105. 105
    cicely

    Oh, and I shoulda oughta said right off, *applause* for Heather and her Essay of Awesomeness. :)
    -

    Sadly I think atheists are people who simply don’t want God in their life,

    I could have an imaginary friend at any time, but quite frankly, that would be ridiculous.

    And futile, since the imaginary friend would be no more real for your believing that it exists. :)

    Pulling a blankey over your head doesn’t change whether the “things that go bump in the night” really exist, or not. It just lends a spurious sense of security.
    -

    One thing which does annoy me about godbots is their insistence “you need to hear this.” This is a lie. We don’t need to hear it, they need to say it. It’s not about us or our wants and desires, it’s all about them. They need to proselytize and they could actually care less if we want to be proselytized at.

    Well put.
    -
    As is

    and He would never force himself on people.

    His followers sure seem keen on it though.

    -

  106. 106
    cicely

    Lots of performers and artists know how to do things without reasoning them through. In fact, stopping to think about how you do something is actively detrimental.

    The “centipede” problem.

    And then there’s the “intuitive” way most people swing the bat at a baseball; you don’t sit down with a calculator, work out the trajectory of the ball, factoring in wind resistence, plot the projected path of the bat, etc.; you just take a swing at it. If you’re stopping to do the math, you’re Out!
    -

  107. 107
    Human Ape

    Faith is by definition belief without evidence – it’s pulling things out of your ass; it’s clinging to things that you might well know are faintly ridiculous; it’s putting up barriers to honest enquiry; it can be used as an impediment to curiosity and intellect, and it is simply the most ridiculous method of discovering or knowing anything about reality. It’s not a virtue – and it shouldn’t be a virtue in wider society any more than it would be in a court of law.

    Heather Dalgleish
    Scotland

    I just added this to my list of favorite quotes. This explanation of faith is what every religious idiot needs to understand. Unfortunately the superstitious brain-dead probably don’t visit this place very often.

    Heather is from Scotland. I have always had a very high opinion of the Scottish people.

  108. 108
    Crissa

    I think this was a wonderful essay, which was far more eloquent than I would have put out.

  109. 109
    theophontes , flambeau du communisme

    @ Alethea #98

    The woo-woos have stolen the idea of “other ways of knowing”

    This is rather irritating and causes all manner of confusion. We had a discussion on FtB recently wrt the goddist appropriation of the word “numinous”. Rather than sacrificing these terms, we should storm their ramparts and take them back. Fukit! (It is a great word and, to my mind, applies to the kind of awe that someone like Niel DeGrasse-Tyson displays.)

    We must be very careful in saying things like “other ways of knowing = bollocks”. I am not willing to concede the term to a few kooks. I do not see “other ways of knowing” as a yet another covert for jeebus and sky-daddy. I would rather exclude those types of babble completely from the definition.

    On the other hand I do not think science will ever completely circumscribe all that it is to be human. Not by a long shot. To most of us on this thread, science is a central point in our lives. It really does destroy gods before breakfast. But equally I don’t think there is anyone out there that is willing to say they are totally taken up in science or that science provides them with all the answers.

    We can so easily make the mistake of the worm in horseradish – thinking the world is composed of horseradish. Most of the world is (sadly) incredibly ignorant of science. We all are to some degree. Our thinking is hobbled by these blind spots and yet we have found ways to make sense of the world and move forward. I also do not think we are moving to any fixed point. All unfolds before us and each new day only highlights yesterday’s ignorance. Newton gives way to Einstein and our ways of thinking change, even within science.

    @ Heather [OP]
    I don’t mean to be picky on this thread. I think what you wrote here was articulate and clear. But I am not the first to raise the problem with science being unable to cover all our bases. I have my own ideas about how to move beyond this problem (which is so readily snapped up by ignorant goddists) but would be interested to hear your comments in this regard. (See also my comments above and #68)

  110. 110
    Harry the Bastard

    Really? *yaaaawwwnnnnn* How Terribly interesting.

  111. 111
    AJS

    Heather — fantastic essay.

    To say that there is no evidence for a creator God is not true. There is – its called creation.

    Sorry, but that is complete bollocks.

    A dead body is not evidence of a murder, let alone evidence that your preferred suspect did it. It’s a good job this Paul Stewart character is not a detective.

  112. 112
    Chris in Melbourne

    Heather, brilliant essay! So much of what you have written would apply to so many Atheists and yet you have put it so simply and eloquently. Well done, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    I hope to see you in Melbourne again next year for the G.A.C., we miss you!

    ~ Chris

  113. 113
    John Morales

    Heather Dalgleish, I bow to you. Deeply.

    (tour de force, is your post)

  114. 114
    Tim DeLaney

    so if you sent one in, be patient…we’ll get around to it eventually.

    Oh, no! You mean my random scribblings will be there for everybody to compare with Heather’s beautiful essay?

  115. 115
    Vijen

    It’s true, of course, that other ways of knowing are bollocks, but the empirical approach to knowing the objective world has its counterpart in an empirical approach to the subjective world. This is properly called meditation. It requires no belief systems whatever, and does not entail acceptance of anything without evidence. Mystics try to shed some light on the subjective quality of perception, rather than the object perceived, and ultimately upon who is it that perceives.

    It takes many years to get a real science education, so few people can be bothered. It takes even longer to develop an authentic understanding of your own nature, so even fewer people take the trouble. Moreover, science is transferable but mysticism isn’t, so the mystics can do no more than hint at how they see reality – it’s generally mistaken for religion or philosophy.

    I have several answers to PZ’s question, depending on who I’m talking to.

    To those who haven’t worked out how to think clearly: I’m an atheist because you’re in trouble, and I’d like to help you out.

    To those who have some skill at thinking, but haven’t noticed that consciousness does not reduce to thought: I’m an atheist because all those other guys are giving you and me so much trouble, and I’d like to work with you to help everybody out.

    To those who have some skill at meditation: I’m not an atheist.

  116. 116
    DiscoveredJoys

    He would never force himself on people.

    Like throwing Adam and Eve out of paradise?
    Or killing everyone in the world except those in a floating zoo?
    Or Lot’s wife, the inhabitants of Soddom and Gomorrah?
    Or giving Moses a hard time until he ‘volunteered’?
    Or the inhabitants of Egypt?

    If the Old Testament is too bloody for your personal version of God, how about Jesus throwing the money lenders out of the temple?
    Or cursing the villages that did not honour him?
    Or bringing a dead man back to life without asking for permission?

    And as others have said, your God’s appointed leaders have only been too willing to make people offers they couldn’t resist.

  117. 117
    'Tis Himself

    Vijen #115

    To those who haven’t worked out how to think clearly: I’m an atheist because you’re in trouble, and I’d like to help you out.

    To those who have some skill at thinking, but haven’t noticed that consciousness does not reduce to thought: I’m an atheist because all those other guys are giving you and me so much trouble, and I’d like to work with you to help everybody out.

    How very gracious of you. I’m sure those who don’t think clearly and those who disagree with you on consciousness find your patronizing condescension a breath of fresh air laden with a whiff of bullshit. I certain do, even thought I’m not sure which thinking skills category I fall into.

    To those who have some skill at meditation: I’m not an atheist.

    It’s obvious you follow some sort of woo. Which particular type isn’t readily apparent.

  118. 118
    Michael Hawkins

    @#42 Thomas,

    It depends what one is reading. An journalistic piece is likely to have a byline at the top.

    But whether PZ wrote this or someone wrote it, there are bits with which I disagree (such as the implication that believers aren’t being honest with themselves; I agree they are often applying different standards between their every day beliefs and their religious beliefs, but that doesn’t make them dishonest in my book – ignorant, perhaps even stupid, but not dishonest).

  119. 119
    Michael Hawkins

    Or rather, “A journalistic piece…”

  120. 120
    Iain Walker

    Alethea H. Claw (#90):

    I would just like to segue onto a small hobbyhorse of mine, and that is that there really are genuine “alternative ways of knowing” than science.

    Hmm. Your “alternative ways of knowing” seem to correspond to the traditional philosophical distinction between kinds or types of knowledge – i.e., knowing how to do something, and knowledge by acquaintance, as opposed to propositional knowledge (i.e., knowing that P, the kind of knowledge that epistemologists are primarily concerned with).

    But the problem (well, my problem) with the phrase “alternative ways of knowing” is that it seems to imply a different route or methodological approach to the same kind of thing we are talking about when we use terms like “scientific knowledge”. And that’s how it’s usually used by religious types and woo merchants – an alternative way of arriving at propositional knowledge, an alternative way of epistemically justifying propositional claims.

    Often people get a feel for a pattern before they can articulate what it is – and mostly they are right.

    Yes – our cognitive shortcuts have a fairly high hit rate quite a lot of the time. But I’d be leery about dubbing this a “way of knowing”. It’s a rough and ready way of acquiring broadly true beliefs, but if asked “How do you know?” with respect to such a belief, one does not justify it in terms of gut feelings or intuition (unless, again, one is religious or a woo merchant). One might say “I didn’t actually know, but it seemed right at the time and it turned out to be”, or one might offer a retroactive justification for it and say “Well, it turns out to be true because of X, Y and Z”.

    To put it in phil of sci terms, intuition is fine as part of the process of discovery, but isn’t really part of the process of justification. It helps us arrive at what may turn out to be knowledge, but it doesn’t provide any independent means of justification. So talk of “intuitive knowledge” or more generally of such cognitive shortcuts as “ways of knowing” seems to me to be misleading (and concedes way too much to the woo and religion crowd).

  121. 121
    Iain Walker

    Vijen (#115):

    empirical approach to knowing the objective world has its counterpart in an empirical approach to the subjective world. This is properly called meditation.

    So meditation allows us to observe subjective phenomena, identify patterns and correlations in those phenomena, and to propose and test hypotheses to explain these phenomena? How, precisely?

    Moreover, science is transferable but mysticism isn’t, so the mystics can do no more than hint at how they see reality

    If by “transferable” you mean “publicly communicable”, then your mysticism-mediation approach is already in trouble. If methods and findings cannot be communicated so that cross-checking is possible, then you are going to have severe problems knowing that you are conducting your investigations correctly and consistently. A method of investigation has to be public, it has to have shared rules of inference and shared means of checking findings, otherwise it isn’t a method at all.

    How would you tell if meditation was giving you incorrect answers?

    To those who haven’t worked out how to think clearly: I’m an atheist because you’re in trouble, and I’d like to help you out.

    WTF? This doesn’t even begin to make sense. One might be an atheist because one is a rationalist or skeptic and also want to help out the hard-of-thinking because one is a rationalist or skeptic. That at least is both logically and psychologically intelligible. But being an atheist because you want to help out simply doesn’t follow either logically or psychologically. How the hell do you get from wanting to help out to being an atheist? What on earth is the connection that leads from the former to the latter?

    To those who have some skill at meditation: I’m not an atheist.

    Is this some kind of Zen koan that we’re meant to decipher? Because otherwise I’m thinking that you fall into the category of those who haven’t worked out how to think clearly yet. Or at least hasn’t yet worked out what the word “atheist” means.

  122. 122
    DLC

    Well said, Heather, and thanks.
    @10 : Thanks for the troll, but no thanks. come up with something genuine, or even novel, before posting further.

    @90 : It’s not your fingers that know, but your brain. Within your brain are ingrained neural pathways that contain the memory required to make your fingers move to play “Hey Jude”. (or whatever)
    It’s just a nitpick. you might say, me riding my own hobby horse.

  123. 123
    theophontes, feu d'artifice du cosmopolitisme

    @ Vijen

    It takes many years to get a real science education, so few people can be bothered. [my emphasis]

    Is that a lifetime of privilege talking or is your head stuck up your arse?

    @ Iain Walker

    But the problem (well, my problem) with the phrase “alternative ways of knowing” is that it seems to imply a different route or methodological approach to the same kind of thing we are talking about when we use terms like “scientific knowledge”.

    I think the religionists are suggesting a parallel way to deal with reality (they also want their planes to fly and cars to start), an alternative kind of godscience, in which they get to keep their toys, but at the same time the flood happened and jeebus died for our sins. It would almost be funny to see them pursue this. They get through their day to day lives ignoring the science in the technology that surrounds them. They live in a technological society that is essentially idiot proof and can continue in spite of their idiocy. It will keep going even with their demented “alternative ways of knowing”.

    As an exercise, we should consider a San tribe in the Kalahari Desert. They have a “way of knowing” that is efficacious and in tune with their environment (talk about sustainable lifestyle!) We can certainly not say that their knowledge is scientific. But they certainly possess of a phenomenal amount of knowledge. This is an admixture of real science (should I say proto-science?) and storytelling and taboo etc. It is taught, learned, applied and it works.

    We are in an endless process of change. Western science has treated us well for the most part. We know that we think differently from our forebears and that future generations will think completely differently too. We will not recognise each other as much through science as through a certain je ne sais quoi.

    ……………………….
    (Aside: Sadly the San lifestyle is under threat through political and economic skullduggery. In principle the above is valid though.)

  124. 124
    ButchKitties

    I think atheists are people who simply don’t want God in their life

    I would love to live in a world with a benevolent god looking out for all of us. I’d also love to live in a world where animated woodland creatures fly through my kitchen window to sing a jaunty work song while they wash my dishes for me. The trouble is that I live in a world where there isn’t a shred of evidence to lead me to believe that either of those things exist.

  125. 125
    Vijen

    @Iain Walker: These are some excellent questions, people who pay attention are most deserving of a response.

    You ask about the mechanistic aspects of meditation. First you should understand that my usage of this word “meditation” does include specific techniques, e.g. Vipassana, but primarily refers to what-it-is-like-to-be-conscious after making significant efforts to practice such techniques: a way of living which is structured around a process of subjective enquiry. Now let me give a specific example of how patterns and hypotheses are employed in the subjective realm:

    1) My child is rebellious, and I shout at her in rage. We both feel bad.
    2) I start to suspect that my anger is rooted elsewhere. I shout less.
    3) I remember how my father used to shout at me, and I didn’t understand why. I think about this when my daughter answers back, and sometimes I don’t need to shout at her.
    4) Whenever I am with my daughter I am aware of wanting to control her – I am worried about what might happen to her, after all – but now I mostly just listen when she gives me a hard time. Sometimes she even asks for my input…

    Of course this is greatly condensed, I am trying to illustrate how seeing more clearly, in itself, can be enough to improve the (objective!) world. What we see is the fundament of what we do.

    Turning to your concerns about communication, which surely is ultimately about reproducibility, it seems that the nub of the matter is what you mean by “public”. When deciding how speciation occurs, do we take account of the views of a 3-year-old? What about an illiterate Yemeni man? What about Ken Ham? Is is achievable for these people to partake of a consensual determination of the truth of this issue? Honestly, there is a qualification process requisite for all those who desire to contribute to any “public” verification of scientific findings. A similar condition prevails for meditative findings, and as I have already indicated, very few have done the groundwork necessary to appreciate what has indeed been established. Suffice it to say that reproducibility is amply satisfied. You are, however, unlikely to credit this without seeing it for yourself, and that is as it should be: I suggest you start meditating today.

    I could make a similar response to your question about how I would know if meditation was giving me incorrect answers, but I prefer to point out that answers are not always the best that we can strive for. When deciding whether the long thin thing under your bed is a rope or a snake, you may well be satisfied with the answer alone, but I would prefer to understand that quality of discrimination which allows me to make this decision, so that I can apply it in a more general situation. Again: seeing can be (is!) more essential than knowing.

    Finally I come to your confusion regarding my remarks about being an atheist. You have the essence of it when you speak of a koan (or kongan as the Koreans have it, among whom I live these days). Any sentence which starts “I am…” is recklessly presumptive. We play the roles which we enjoy, which we cannot avoid playing.

  126. 126
    EnoNomi

    Can Blog posts get the Pulitzer? Because this one should.

  127. 127
    Aaron

    I know this is probably less than a blip on your radar, PZ, but I want to apologize for seeming trolly up there. In my addled state, I read “contraception” as “conception”, a meaning shift that turns a not-super-funny-but-harmless joke comment into a not-funny-and-slightly-annoying troll comment.

    Cheers,
    -AW

  128. 128
    Eurasian magpie

    @Paul Stewart

    How nice of you stopping by for I have a question I long have been dying to ask Christians.

    What an Earth does it mean to have a “personal relationship” with God?

    Pretty please come back and educate me.

  129. 129
    claimthehighground

    Great!! except of course for your dissing of floogamaloops which are never to be trifled with.

  130. 130
    phrogge

    I was going to say I see a ducky and a horsie, but I changed my mind.

    Bravo, Heather!

  131. 131
    Dan

    Um. Well, what will the rest of us write? Heather sort of said it all. Geez P.Z., you shouldn’t open with something that good. :-)

  132. 132
    George Colmberger. PHD

    First of all

    1. What is the point of writing all that ? Most people are rational so why make a big deal about it ? People require faith mostly because they dont want to face mortality and can be perfectly rational in other spheres. A study of British doctors found about half had a spiritual belief of some type. So Big deal. Leave them to it.

    2. Intuition is so important in major breakthroughs in science that scientists have taken Extreme steps to break the grip that rationality had on their subconscious. From taking LSD to Einstein using Hypnagogue napping techniques and deriving key ideas through imagination.

    Most creative people use intuition all the time. The intelligent ones dont allow it to be trained out of them during their education.

    3. IBM and large computing corporations are running into problems trying to build intelligent systems. They say they are on the road to having systems which can rationalize and extract, reason like a brain, and can beat humans in conversations on facts (such as watson). yet the systems are still stupid. The reason is they lack intuition.

    Intuition is the ability in a computer to parallel search all previously stored information for system wide pattern matches. The first person to crack the intuition problem will become very rich as there is mile long que of corporations seeking that kind of problem solving. Interestingly its mostly women that are making the most progress in artificial intuition programming.

    4. Studies of female vs male intelligence find that the IQ and problem solution ability are equal yet women do not use the rational parts of the brain, they use the areas known to be in involved in intuition.

    Nature has hardwired all mammals with about a 50/50 ratio of rationality (feature breakdown) vs intuition (parallel associative recall). I will spare you the details but i can cite dozens of studies, some which from the biotechnology labs at the Salk institute.

    Conclusion

    Your rant is wrong, you have overrated your stance and do not possess the most basic appreciation of what cognition and thinking is.

    George Colmberger. PHD

  133. 133
    George Colmberger. PHD

    i cannot believe all this appreciation for this post, which i saw after i posted this reply. So I am guessing the post must have been written by a child you know well and you are trying to build her confidence. Either that or i just landed in some kind weird in group which has a pathological requirement to encourage some strange and outdated views.

    That is very nice to see if its the former reason, and if that is the case apologies. its too late to delete what i have written.

    Advice here is you should seek to gently guide children towards a correct view, by steering them to question their own perspective, which it appears only one person has tried to attempt here.

  134. 134
    George Colmberger. PHD

    “athiests are just people who dont want god in their lives”

    who ever posted that, right on the money. Thats all this issue is about. The number if irrational atheists i know is staggering, because most people in the western part of the world where live ARE atheist. Its a non issue. Go to the heart of the muslim world and find out how rational they are.

    They are highly rational, the religion is just a gang mentality. A form of laziness. Why bother learning science and doing all that work when they can just re-enforce each others laziness. In a way they are rational by being religious because they are optimizing their energy levels in that context. They dont have an obligation as westerners do to display rationality at our level so they dont. Soon see that change when they are forced to.

    You see muslims being highly rational when it comes to repairing their cars, designing their buildings, programming their information systems, doing their accounts and preparing legal documents between themselves.

  135. 135
    raven

    Most people are rational so why make a big deal about it ?

    No. The vast majority are irrational part or all of the time. Unlike you, I can back up that assertion. Most people in the world are religious with a huge and ever evolving assemblage of beliefs that aren’t remotely similar.

    Beliefs in horoscopes, psychics, alt med, supply side economics, and the like are common.

    40% of the US population thinks the earth is 6,000 years old and jesus will show up to destroy everything by 2050. 20% believes the sun orbits the earth and couldn’t diagram the solar system if they had to.

    Just about anyone holds at least some irrational beliefs about something. My guess, you yourself actually think you have coherent points to make.

    Your wandering contentless comment went downhill from there but it isn’t worth much more of my time.

  136. 136
    Narlaquin

    It’s PhD, or Ph.D. That is all

  137. 137
    George Colmberger

    more pedantic nonsense. its highly rational for these people to be ignorant on these subjects. they are either taught correct facts or are not. Take up your problem with the education system that didnt bother teaching. that the majority got it right is good enough considering 1 percent of american males are in prison working in slave camps.

    Again was have a mass mis-conflation with ignorance and aspects of cognition like reasoning vs intuition. Did you read the OP ? that was the point of it. More athiest fanboys and girls, just looking to club together but really have nowhere to go… in reality the athiest movement is non movement. non issue ..EXCEPT where it is relevant, you directly target a problem.

    Most athiests are coming across as losers just looking for a gang to join up to and bully the ignorant and less fortunate.

    Thats how it looks out here to most people so you better sort your image out as you people do have a major public image problem.

    I know people who experience a religion problem. I respect their position, they are outnumbered and making the best of a bad lot and they dont tend to behave like most other atheists. Now why is that ? Maybe its because they really understand the art of intellectual war at a street level.

    Back to raionality vs intution (the OP) Where is the evidence that people who are ignorant have a different set of cognitions than those who are not ?

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