You, too, can be a good atheist if only you respected God a lot more

I just can’t warp my brain in the way required to be a good atheist, I’m afraid. R. Joseph Hoffman is doing his usual schtick of whining about those philistine New Atheists, and this time his point is that we’ve diminished atheism and turned it into a “little idea” instead of the grand powerful concept it ought to be. And how did we do that? By not giving enough credit to a god.

When did atheism cease to be a big idea? When atheists made God a little idea. When its idea of god shriveled to become a postulate of a new intellectual Darwinism. When they began to identify unbelief with being a woman, a gay, a lesbian, or some other victimized cadre. When they decided that religion is best described as a malicious and retardant cultural force that connives to prevent us being the Alpha Race of super-intelligences and wholly equal beings that nature has in store for us. When they elevated naturalism, already an outmoded view of the universe, to a cause, at the expense of authentic imagination.

Atheism has become a little idea because it is based on the hobgoblin theory of religion: its god is a green elf with a stick, not the master of the universe who controls it with his omniscient will. –Let alone a God so powerful that this will could evolve into Nature’s God–the god of Jefferson and Paine–and then into the laws of nature, as it did before the end of the eighteenth century in learned discussion and debate.

What a load of jaw-droppingly stupid bollocks.

Atheists believe god is non-existent — you can’t make it much smaller than that. If you’re postulating a grand great god while proclaiming your atheism, you’re doing one or the other wrong.

There is no requirement to be a lesbian to be an atheist (there are a lot of us who’d be very surprised to discover that the people he later names as prominent are all gay or lesbian minorities). But there is an appreciation that you don’t have to be an old white heterosexual guy to benefit from reason and science and liberation from old superstitions.

I don’t believe atheists are an “Alpha Race of super-intelligences”, or that they are becoming such. Atheists are just people…people who’ve shed a parasite.

Naturalism is outmoded? Hoffman doesn’t get out much, I guess.

I have an interesting mental picture now of who R. Joseph Hoffman regards as a good atheist: it’s an old white heterosexual guy (so far I qualify!) who thinks god is all-powerful and that religion is a useful way to understand the universe. Poor Hoffman. He’s searching for a paradox, so I think he’s going to be a frustrated crank the rest of his life, as he watches a logically consistent form of atheism overwhelm his impossible ideal.

Larry Moran also finds Hoffman to be a bit dotty.

Subscribe to Free Inquiry

You should! Ophelia Benson is already in it, and I just got the latest issue, which boldly announces in a banner across the top, “NEW COLUMNIST: PZ MYERS”, so I’m entirely self-serving when I say you should send them money.

It really is going to be a regular thing — I just sent off column #2 this past weekend. I think I get to eventually post the columns here, but only after a long lag to avoid undercutting the magazine. Which is silly, though: if you’ve ever seen Free Inquiry, you know it regularly features a large collection of interesting writers — Wendy Kaminer, Susan Jacoby, Christopher Hitchens, a whole bevy of that ilk — and you ought to be getting it to savor the whole magazine.

Why I am an atheist – Breton Vandenberg

My conversion to atheism was less of a de-conversion from religion as it was a personal realisation of what being an atheist represented. In my life I was not surrounded by religion nor was I compelled to find it by family or friends. However, even this is not a guarantee that someone will become an atheist – one only needs look at the numerous conspiracy-theorists in the world today to see how easily irrationality can take root in one’s mind.

So, the beginning of my conversion began with the simple realisation that after reading about the awesome-ness of the T-Rexs, Tricerotops, Great White Sharks and Killer Whales I found the stories of Joshua and Noah to be no more interesting or entertaining than the fairy tales I had been brought up on. Thus at around the age of 8 or 9 I simply decided I had enough with the bible and its silliness and promptly told my mother I wouldn’t be going to Sunday School any more.

But this did not make me an atheist. Rather I began to refer to myself as agnostic (once I learnt what the word meant of course! I was still young) – loudly proclaiming that I believed in a greater power, a personal God, but that this was a God not trapped in any book. A God that existed beyond us – but always there to guide and assist. Indeed, I still prayed every night to this God and I felt he listened. I left school, completed university and entered into work – sinning and fornicating along the way – and still I felt that this personal God was there with me. I could not perceive of a world without a greater power above us nor could I bear to associate myself with the now ingrained view I had of an atheist, that they were arrogant, nihilistic and dismissive by virtue of their disbelief.

And so it was that I found Richard Dawkins The God Delusion one day, in an airport on my way to Johannesburg. And it was within its pages that I started to recognise a deeper appreciation for the world – a world based on rationality and logic. And within its pages I also recognised myself. For here I was clinging to the idea of a personal God despite no evidence to its existence and all the while dismissing the superstition so prevalent in my society – giggling at stories of the ‘tokoloshe’, expressing shared disgust at ‘muti’-killings as well as mocking creationists. I was a hypocrite and it was all there for me to see.

And so it was that one evening, I just refused to pray. I had seen that to be an atheist was not to be closed minded, nor cynical. Rather it was to finally recognise what had begun when I first refused to return to Sunday School – that on looking at the evidence for religion, and finding it to be insufficient, the only honest outcome was atheism.

Breton Vandenberg
South Africa

PS Unless you are South African I doubt you would be familiar with the terms ‘tokoloshe’ and ‘muti’-killings. It is for this reason Google is there for you – I’m sure there are better and clearer definitions out there then I could provide!

So that’s paradise?

If ever you need a good emetic, all you have to do is listen to a Muslim cleric describe paradise. Apparently the magic virgins are creepily alien (flesh so translucent you can see their bone marrow? Who the hell finds that arousing??), and the men get upgraded genitals.

Each time we sleep with a Houri we find her virgin. Besides, the penis of the Elected never softens. The erection is eternal [Oh, no! Going to heaven is like being a 13 year old boy again!]; the sensation that you feel each time you make love is utterly delicious and out of this world and were you to experience it in this world you would faint. Each chosen one [i.e. Muslim] will marry seventy [sic] houris, besides the women he married on earth, and all will have appetizing vaginas.[Anatomy fail. Function fail.]

I hate to say this, but reading that description and watching that video certainly killed my erection. Where’s your god now, misogynist?

Also, I deny being in that video.

Lonely broken-hearted creationists

Aww, poor Intelligent Design creationism is feeling unloved. Or perhaps it’s jealousy. David Klinghoffer, that clueless ideologue at the Discovery Institute, is whimpering that blogging scientists aren’t paying enough attention to his brand of creationism while sniping at Jack Scanlan.

Darwinian scientists who blog — in other words, those whose comments are most readily accessible to us — may indeed not pay attention to ID arguments, but that’s certainly not because of any lack of “rigorous and persuasive ideas” on ID’s part. The proof is that Darwin defenders are typically very busy indeed picking on other arguments that no thoughtful and critical person would remotely regard as “rigorous and persuasive.” What those other arguments have in common is that, unlike ID, they’re too weak to effectively fight back.

As a convenient example, right over at Panda’s Thumb, Scanlan’s colleage PZ Myers contributes a longish post (1500+ words) attacking some guy’s rather… well, strained attempt to discover the details of all of embryology in two vaguely formulated verses from the Koran. Dr. Myers complains:

I have read the entirety of Hamza Andreas Tzortzis’ paper, “Embryology in the Qur’an: A scientific-linguistic analysis of chapter 23: With responses to historical, scientific & popular contentions,” all 58 pages of it (although, admittedly, it does use very large print). It is quite possibly the most overwrought, absurdly contrived, pretentious expansion of feeble post hoc rationalizations I’ve ever read. As an exercise in agonizing data fitting, it’s a masterpiece.

Who is Hamza Andreas Tzortzis? On his Facebook page, he is identified as “a convert to Islam, …an international lecturer, public speaker & author. He is particularly interested in Islam, philosophy and politics.” How Dr. Myers discovered Mr. Tzortzis and what an easy punching bag he makes, I do not know.

Don’t worry, Davy! I think you’re just an easy a punching bag as Tzortzis, and just as obscure and irrelevant! Also, I think Intelligent Design creationism is just as strained, just as ludicrous, just as fallacious as Tzortzis’s Muslim creationism, or Ken Ham’s fundamentalist creationism, or Hugh Ross’s old earth creationism, or Biologos’s theistic evolution. I despise you all equally.

Big hug, OK?

Now I know these guys are used to cherry-picking all of their data and seeing whatever they want to see, but Klinghoffer has made a ridiculously bogus claim, that we don’t pay attention to Intelligent Design creationism’s arguments. Of course we do! It’s just that right now ID is rather spent — they’ve blown it in all of their attempts to legislate creationism into the schools, they’ve got nothing credible published, and their predictions have all fallen flat — in 2004, Dembski predicted the demise of “molecular darwinism” in 5 years, which, you may notice, has passed. Instead, it looks like ID has lapsed into a twitching coma, with nothing new to say…not that they ever did, since all they were was warmed over William Paley in the first place.

Besides, ID creationism was only a puppet for the religious creationists anyway. Almost everyone in the movement is devout in some way or another (cue Berlinski to swirl in superciliously and declare that no, his only god is Berlinski), and their support was entirely derived from a creationist base that saw ID as a convenient secular facade to plaster over the godly superstition of its underpinnings. Sorry to say, that base was only loyal when they thought ID was a useful mask…as it has failed, they’re all flocking to the Hams and Hovinds and local megachurches instead. You know, the religiously-driven fanatics that Klinghoffer so lightly dismisses as our easy targets.

But it’s silly to claim we haven’t addressed their arguments. Personally, I’ve reviewed Meyer’s Signature in the Cell and Jonathan Wells’ Icons of Evolution and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. I’ve tackled Casey Luskin and Michael Egnor and Paul Nelson and Michael Behe and William Dembski. I’ve written general critiques of ID creationism. I’ve trashed ID creationism repeatedly, and with bemused enthusiasm.

Let’s not forget all those other science bloggers and writers who’ve also stomped on ID repeatedly: Ian Musgrave, Wesley Elsberry, Carl Zimmer, John Wilkins, Larry Moran, Steve Matheson, Jeff Shallit, Allen MacNeill, Jerry Coyne, Ken Miller and many more. Or the whole danged gang at the Panda’s Thumb. We’ll all continue to take swipes at ID creationism occasionally, but the Discovery Institute just has to learn that as far as creationism goes, we’re polyamorously promiscuous, and we’re happy to screw the whole damned bunch of anti-science goombahs.

ID is just one minor and particularly pretentious form of the pathology. We don’t focus on only ID, and it’s not because we’re afraid that they’ll “effectively fight back”. They won’t. What they’ll do instead is pretend our critiques never existed…just as Klinghoffer does here.

(Also on Sb)

Sam Brownback: #heblowsalot.

Youth today. Sometimes they do great things.

A teenage girl in a high school group called Youth in Government uses her fancy new tweeting phone to exercise her constitutionally-protected right to call a governor a butthead. (Or, to be more specific, to say that he “sucked” and to create the hashtag #heblowsalot.) Her perceptive abilities proved accurate, when said Gov. Sam Brownback reveals that he uses taxpayer dollars to gather evidence that teenagers are making fun of him on Twitter, and to use that evidence to get them in trouble at school. Because the butthead quotient in this story wasn’t high enough already, the school responded to Brownback’s sniveling about adolescents with political opinions by attempting to force the teenage girl in question to write a letter of apology to Gov. Brownback. The teenager in question, Emma Sullivan, 18, responded by demonstrating her superior understanding of the basic principles of democracy by refusing, and instead causing the easily perturbed governor even more consternation by asking for a sit-down meeting to ask direct questions of the governor, furthering demonstrating no doubt to him that everything started to go wrong with this country when they let women have the vote.

Although, really, this kind of blows my mind. Here’s what oily, stupid Republicans do with their state resources.

Brownback’s office, which monitors social media for postings containing the governor’s name, saw Sullivan’s post and contacted the Youth in Government program.

Sullivan received a scolding at school and was ordered to send Brownback an apology letter. She said Prinicipal Karl R. Krawitz even suggested talking points for the letter she was supposed to turn in Monday.

While we’re all laughing at Governor Crybaby, you might also take a moment to write (politely!) to Principal Krawitz and let him know that his craven obedience to a ridiculous, anti-democratic order from Brownback makes him a lapdog and toady. Praise your students when they show initiative, and demonstrate that they understand free speech far better than you do!

Brownback has blinked. That’ll teach him a lesson: never play chicken with a teenager. Those youngsters think they’re immortal.

Art and freedom

My day is done. I’ve read the one quote that makes me happy, so now I can buckle down to grading. It’s from Ai Weiwei, the artist and dissenter the Chinese government would love to silence.

My definition of art has always been the same. It is about freedom of expression, a new way of communication. It is never about exhibiting in museums or about hanging it on the wall. Art should live in the heart of the people. Ordinary people should have the same ability to understand art as anybody else. I don’t think art is elite or mysterious. I don’t think anybody can separate art from politics. The intention to separate art from politics is itself a very political intention. I definitely know people who are shameless enough to give up basic values. I see this kind of art, and when I see it I feel ashamed. In China they treat art as some form of decoration, a self-indulgence. It is pretending to be art. It looks like art. It sells like art. But it is really a piece of shit.

There’s more about his politics: China keeps trying to control the free expression of the people on the internet by shutting it down. They argue that they’re better than they were in the days of the Cultural Revolution — which is setting the bar rather low, I think — but it’s still a restrictive police state.

I’d argue that the US is better than China, but still, especially considering the record of the last few weeks, is likewise a police state.