Category: Religion & Atheism

Justin Bieber was talked about quite a bit a while ago, and not for the normal, preteen-girls-giggling sort of way. He made some comments to Rolling Stone magazine, in which he came out against abortion. More shocking was his comment on whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape. He said “everything happens for a reason.” Now, as TheAmazingAtheist said on YouTube, the quote as a whole wasn’t very shocking, being appended by “I don’t know how that would be a reason. I guess I haven’t been in that position, so I wouldn’t be able to judge that.”

Now, I really don’t give a shit what Justin Bieber has to say. There are millions of people in this country who agree with him, and there are millions of people who disagree with him. Hopefully more people disagree than agree with him on the abortion issue, or at the very least the rape instance of the abortion issue, but what I want to talk about is his comment that “everything happens for a reason.”

TheAmazingAtheist, in the video I linked to above, replied to Justin’s remarks by saying that in a random universe, things don’t happen for a reason. He didn’t really go into this and moved on to his next topic. However, I think I would agree that, as an atheist, I do not agree with the phrase the way it is usually meant. That is, that there is some greater purpose to the universe, and that everything that happens — good or bad — is part of this purpose.

Theists would chalk this purpose up to “God’s Plan” or “God’s Will.” New Age types would probably talk about some “force” or “energy” within the universe that influences events. These spiritual-types are usually comfortable with the idea that there is something greater out there, and that that great thing or being or whatever it is has some influence over events and cares about us.

I, on the other hand, will only accept “everything happens for a reason” insofar as it is literally correct. Everything happens for a very specific reason. Why did the ball fall to the ground? Well, because you let it go and gravity had its way with it. Why did you catch a cold? Because your immune system could not deal with a certain virus it encountered. This, however, is not what is normally meant by the phrase.

This reminds me of a personal story. This was a little less than a year ago, when my father and I were shopping around for a used car. If you’ve ever shopped for a used car on a budget with a guy who has different tastes in cars than you, you know it can be a very frustrating experience. We had just left a dealership and were pretty happy with the car, but were going to check out a couple more places before going for it. Anyway, I’m not sure if it was because of my atheism or if he just wanted to impart upon me some of his philosophy/wisdom, but he told me that if we didn’t get the car because someone else bought it or whatever, it was for a reason.

You see, it is his opinion that if something doesn’t go your way, it was because something better is supposed to happen to you later. For this car shopping example, he thought that if I was unable to buy the car I wanted, then that car was not “the one for me.” The first couple times he said it I politely mumbled agreement but after hearing it about ten times (perhaps he wanted me to explicitly agree) I had to tell him that wasn’t how I saw things.

What causes people to adhere to this worldview? I am going to estimate that a vast majority of people in the world subscribe to it. I have a few ideas.

First, I think this is one of the main reasons religion and spirituality are so appealing. It is probably very comforting to believe that some higher power is looking out for you. Shit could be hitting the fan all around the world, , but you’d at least have an out in thinking that The Big Guy (or Girl, I guess; usually Guy) has things under control.

Second, it may have a lot to do with confirmation bias. A nonreligious person like me views all events as “not planned by a powerful being.” As such, my confirmation bias keeps me square in this worldview. Most people, however, see things completely differently. They are taught from a young age that whatever God they’re worshiping controls some subset of the events that take place in the universe, and that these events are directed in such a way that a divine plan is being fulfilled. Confirmation bias leads to even the most mundane events being attributed to God if they are beneficial to us, and if they aren’t good we forget about them.

The interesting thing is which things are attributed to God and which aren’t. Depending on your level of religiosity, you may attribute everything to God (even the really bad things) or you may attribute only the good things. You may attribute the motion of every atom in the universe to God and you may only attribute smiles, butterflies, and rainbows. You may take Satan into account and you may not.

The typically one-sidedness of event attribution is most easily observed through what language we use. Take the words “blessed,” “lucky,” and “unlucky.” The opposite of the word “lucky” is “unlucky.” The opposite of the word “blessed” is “cursed.” But have you ever heard someone actually use the word “cursed” in actual conversation? Use of the word “blessed” is a huge, blinking sign that a person grew up very religiously and/or is currently somewhat spiritual themselves. But they will not use “cursed” as the opposite of “blessed,” opting instead for the word “unlucky.”

Some examples: “Oh, when we were in Ireland it was really nice and sunny; we were so blessed.” (Real example from a date, at which point I’m like crap…) “He got hit by a car. Man that’s unlucky.”

Other nonbelievers and I are consistent with our lucky/unlucky usage, attributing neither good events nor bad events to the influence of some greater being. Theists, on the other hand, wish to attribute only good things to their God, and leave the bad things to random chance. I’m sorry, but you can’t do that.

This is starting to drag on a bit, so I’ll cut to the chase: we need to return to a literal usage of the phrase “everything happens for a reason.” We need to start looking at the world scientifically, empirically, and with the assumption that nobody is going to come to our rescue. They say “a pair of hands working does more than a thousand clasped in prayer.” I agree. Let’s stop begging daddy to come help us and start fixing the world’s problems ourselves.

~peace, RR

The idea for this post was provided by a reader like you! If you have any issues, subjects, or topics, specific or broad, that you want me to weigh-in on, please leave a comment below or send me an email at radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂

Atheism and charity

In contrast to the relationship between organized religion and charity (which is probably the only thing organized religion can say it has going for it), the relationship between atheism and charity is much more complicated.

A reader of the blog, David, brought a piece of information to my attention that is pretty interesting. A study done by The Barna Group found that nonreligious people (atheists, agnostics, and those who profess “no faith”) donate less to charity than religious people do. The relevant bit of the article is as follows:

One of the outcomes of this profile – and one of the least favorable points of comparison for atheist and agnostic adults – is the paltry amount of money they donate to charitable causes. The typical no-faith American donated just $200 in 2006, which is more than seven times less than the amount contributed by the prototypical active-faith adult ($1500). Even when church-based giving is subtracted from the equation, active-faith adults donated twice as many dollars last year as did atheists and agnostics. In fact, while just 7% of active-faith adults failed to contribute any personal funds in 2006, that compares with 22% among the no-faith adults.

It should first be noted that The Barna Group, according to Wikipedia, was “founded … for the purpose of providing ‘research and marketing expertise as a service to Christian ministry.'” I am not saying that their facts are wrong. (I am actually not surprised by the results.) I am just saying that with such apparent bias it might be prudent to take what they say with a grain of salt.

So, per David’s request, I’d like to go over why I think this is. Why do we give less?

Let’s go over some things mentioned (and not mentioned) by the study. There is a lot of interesting information that the study presents, even though it is not all applied in ways that I will.  (Perhaps due to their bias, perhaps because they are just stating facts and nothing more.)

First, the study notes that nonbelievers tend to be younger. (From the article: “The no-faith audience is younger, and more likely to be male and unmarried.”) Already I am seeing reasons why charitable donations are not as common. Some good reasons are that young people are just getting started in life, and are probably living paycheck-to-paycheck as they start their lives in the working world. Perhaps they are saving for houses. Perhaps they have children that are still in their care. Some less-good reasons are that young people probably spend more and party more.

In contrast, religious people — who must be older if atheists are younger — may be well-established in their careers. Their children may be out of the house already and no longer need to be cared for. Plus, religious people party less, and (according to the study) are less interested in new technology (“64% [are interested] among no-faith individuals versus 52% among active-faith adults”) so they might spend less, too.

Next, the article mentions “[nonreligious people] also earn more and are more likely to be college graduates.” Let me start with the college graduate bit. Again, nonreligious people are more likely to have college loans to pay off, so they have less money lying around to spend on charity. Now let’s touch on this bit about earning more. This strikes me as saying “they should be able to give more.” However, living in an area with a lot of younger, intelligent college graduates in the work force (coastal regions or larger cities in blue states), the living expenses are also higher as well. The article does not mention specifics about how much more nonbelievers earn, which is surprising because they give specifics for just about everything else.

So, the religious people might just have more money lying around.

Now, I’d like to provide a few reasons outside of the article that might explain why nonbelievers give less.

First ties into my post on atheism and politics. I think the “battle lines” are different for religious and nonreligious people. Religious people focus on giving to the poor at least in part because it gives them easy targets for proselytization.  Nonbelievers, on the other hand, are not worried so much about converts. They are worried about keeping God out of our government. So I feel as though perhaps we are spending money, or at least effort, but not on charities. Instead we are focusing on political issues.

Now, there are a couple bits about politics in the study. First, “[nonreligious people] are less likely than active-faith Americans to be registered to vote (78% versus 89%).” This might take some bite out of my previous point. However, with the average overall-voter-turnout being much lower than either of those figures, you wonder if perhaps a higher proportion of nonbelievers actually vote, while the religious people (already steeped in ritual) register to vote out of habit or due to a sense of “civic duty.” The figures for whether people actually vote are, like specifics on income, absent.

Second, “[nonbelievers] are also more likely to be registered to vote as an independent or with a non-mainstream political party.” This tells me that nonreligious people are more involved with politics than their religious neighbors. The mere fact that someone would not do the easy thing and vote for one of the major parties shows at least a higher level of sophistication with regards to politics.

The unfortunate thing about how the article presents the numbers on charitable giving is that it is unclear what “charity” means. I am comfortable, however, in assuming it leaves out political and activist spending, which is where I think nonreligious money would go anyway over charities.

And to focus a little bit more on the numbers the article gives, it is also unclear what “church-based giving” is. Is that just donating to pay the pastor and renovate the church, or is that to fund a soup kitchen in the basement? It is very unclear. I am unsure whether a fair comparison would include the church-based giving or not. Since they even bothered to mention it, I think it would be fair to leave it out.

And with that being said, I think it’s much more enlightening to say that the average nonreligious person gave $200 in 2006 while the average religious person gave $400. (Rather than to say that the average religious person gave double what a nonreligious person gave.) With the points I put forward already, I think a meager $200 gap can be easily explained.

However, explained or no, I will continue with what I think to be the central issue with regards to a lack of nonreligious charitable donations: it is simply easier for a religious person to give. I do not mean that atheists lack the necessary mental faculty to give. I mean that the tools, institutions, and networks for religious charitable giving are very robust and very visible.

If a religious person wanted to donate some money to charity or something, it would be very easy. Go online, find basically any charity, and give. Or, just give in church! Not only would it be incredibly easy to give in church, but the guilt factor further explains why church-based giving is so high. Plus, giving to the church is like putting money directly into God’s wallet! Who cares if the money is just going to go towards new Bibles that nobody will read? You’re giving to the church! High-five! (Psyche!)

On the other hand, if a nonreligious person wants to give to charity, they have their work cut out for them! In the past few years a lot of high-profile atheist organizations and YouTubers have been highlighting secular charities (like Doctors Without Borders), but if you don’t belong to any groups (or their mailing lists) and don’t watch YouTube, it is difficult to find a suitable charity. You need to make sure the money isn’t secretly going to anti-gay, anti-woman, or pro-superstition institutions. Basically if “God” is mentioned on the website, you’re fucked, and you’d be surprised how many times you can be fucked in a day if you’re looking for a secular charity! (Hint: Do NOT give to the Salvation Army.)

But don’t worry, my fellow heathens. All is not lost! If you feel bad about our (in my opinion, understandable and expected) inferiority when it comes to charitable giving, here’s a case to cheer you up!

Kiva is a microfinance website that attempts to alleviate poverty by providing loans to people. They take out a loan (from the money people donate), start their business, whatever that may be, and when they are able, pay back the loan. Your donation can actually be used multiple times as it gets paid back again and again! From their website: “Kiva empowers individuals to lend to an entrepreneur across the globe. By combining microfinance with the internet, Kiva is creating a global community of people connected through lending.”

Okay, sounds pretty good. But you’re probably wondering, aside from the fact that such a site exists, what’s to be happy about? Well check out this page. That’s right! Atheists, agnostics, and other non-believers collectively have given more money than any other group on the website, by far. They are very comfortable in their #1 spot. Perhaps nonreligious people do give after all, given the opportunity?

Now you may be thinking that being good is not about who gives the most money. You may be thinking it cheapens the whole experience and spirit of giving to make it a competition. And it certainly isn’t a “fight” we could win, so why bother trying to start it? I agree. However, I think it would be an amazing thing if groups of people competed to see who could give the most to charity. No matter who came out on top, the real winners would be those whose lives depend on the help of charitable organizations like Kiva and Doctors Without Borders.

All this talk of charity and helping others has got me smiling 🙂 I’m gonna create an account on Kiva right now! I encourage you all to donate something to some secular charity. Here is a list of some secular ones so that you may pick a charity that is tackling an issue you care about!

~peace, RR

The idea for this post was provided by a reader like you! If you have any issues, subjects, or topics, specific or broad, that you want me to weigh-in on, please leave a comment below or send me an email at radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com :)

Theists often have a significant difference from atheists regarding how they approach the question of God’s existence. An atheist, in the vast majority of cases, looks simply at whether or not there is evidence to support the proposition “God exists.” (The biggest exception to this generalization is Christopher Hitchens, who not only sees no evidence for God’s existence, but also makes a large to-do about how he “doesn’t even wish it were true.”) A theist, on the other hand, looks for evidence (or more usually — via the field of study known as apologetics — tries to explain why there is none) but also puts a large amount of effort into describing the societal benefits of belief in God.

This non-evidential form of argument does nothing more than frustrate atheists. Not because it is difficult to deal with (all one must do is steer the debate back to the topic at hand) but because it is not relevant to the conversation. What does it matter if people are happier when they believe in God? As George Bernard Shaw said, “the fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.”

This tendency of theists is also the reason Hitler is brought up in debates between creationism and evolution. (Unfortunately for the theists, causing an automatic loss due to Godwin’s Law.) That acceptance of evolutionary theory as fact by the vast majority of a population (or, more likely, its leaders) could lead to genocide, eugenics, and “evil” has no bearing on whether evolution is true or not. But again, the reason theists bring up the argument is because they do not care solely about evidence. They, for whatever reason, think the outcome of holding a belief is as important as whether the belief is true.

A great example of this is the quote from Dostoevsky’s novel “The Brothers Karamazov” which states “if God doesn’t exist, everything is permitted.” Basically, the theist is claiming, by using this quote, that if people don’t believe in God, everyone would be raping and killing one another, and they would be objectively allowed to do so. Sounds pretty scary, huh?

Of course, like most theistic claims, only a few moments of thought are required to see right through this inanity. Say God was disproved tomorrow. Would you be free the day after tomorrow to murder your neighbor? Not if you want to stay out of prison. Would it be okay to park in the handicapped spot in the parking lot? Not unless you want a $500 fine. Not only would laws still exist even if God didn’t, I don’t think people would even want to murder and rape and steal just because God wasn’t about to punish them for it. Or at least, I hope not. As Einstein said, “if people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.”

But I don’t want to use this post to refute this oh-so-easily-refuted yet oh-so-often-used quote. It’s been done before. I want to explain why I think the statement isn’t just wrong, but backwards. It isn’t that everything would be permitted if God didn’t exist. No, no, no. Rather, if God exists, everything is permitted. I’m going to start generally with theism, and then hone in on some specific grievances I have with Christianity and the specific sect of Evangelical Protestantism.

Alright, so God exists. What does this mean? Well for starters, it means that there is now an avenue to knowledge that is completely unverifiable. Since God intervenes in human affairs, there is no reason why he can’t tell anyone something in secret, as in the case of Moses. Want that piece of pizza? Just say “God told me I could have that.” Think that 12 year old will make a perfect wife? Tell the mother that their lord GOD has decreed the marriage will occur this afternoon. There’s no way to verify any of these things, but hey, God exists, and it’s possible he did say them, and you don’t want to piss off God by not listening to his newest prophet!

Moving on to Christianity and all the religions that say Hell exists. Okay, what the hell do we need laws for, then? You can outline what will and will not send you to Hell, and that should be it. If that rapist would really enjoy raping everyone he sees for the rest of his life, and he’s okay with going to Hell, well Hell should be punishment enough. (Being everlasting suffering of infinite magnitude, and all.) The threat of Hell should be much more of a deterrent than prison or other punishments exacted in this life. But for those who don’t buy it, they will be free to do whatever they want.

Then there is quite possibly the most dangerous belief of all. The idea that, just by accepting Jesus as your personal savior, you can be absolved of all your crimes and be “born again,” giving you a VIP ticket through the pearly gates. How does this not permit anything and everything? Murder your family, rape your grandmother, kill every single person in the state of Idaho, and will you go to Hell? Not if you just BELIEVE IN JESUS. This belief, which is rampant in Evangelical Protestantism, is the most insane moral proclamation ever made. It completely removes intent, action, and consequence from the ethical equation. Good means “anything plus Jesus” and bad means “anything without Jesus.” Ridiculous.

On the other hand, if God doesn’t exist, we are forced to find reasons for our actions. Consequences mean something. Intent means something. It isn’t what you believe, but what you do that makes you good or bad. To say that everything would be permissible in God’s absence completely ignores what goes in to moral decisions. Because adding God to the equation forces you to remove everything else (reasons, intents, actions, and consequences) from morality, you are truly free to do whatever you want if God exists.

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂

I think there is a fundamental issue I have with the religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

It is not what you think it might be. Or rather, it is not solely what you think it might be. It is not solely the lack of intellectual rigor that goes into the theology. It is not solely the absence of evidence for the claims. It is not solely that they turn their adherents into mindless sheep.

The problem I have with them is that, at their core, these religions are not vehicles for gathering a deeper understanding of the universe or ourselves. Rather, they are systems of morality aimed at controlling a population.

Think about it. In the beginning, or at close enough to it, there was God and Adam and Eve and a garden. There was no religion. There was, however, a rule. Humanity’s existence was from the get-go bound by rules, according to these traditions. That rule was to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And once that rule was broken, religion had to be created to keep people in line.

Let’s compare the Abrahammic traditions with both Eastern religion and modern-day science. If you listen to gurus or monks of Eastern traditions, you sometimes hear them talk about Christianity and the Western religions. How do you think they talk about them? Unlike Western religion, which seeks to demonize and drive people away from other religious schools of thought, Eastern religions embrace the language and more esoteric teachings of Western religions when the audience would find it useful. Eastern religion does not express superiority, but encourages empathy, compassion, and most of all perhaps, opening one’s mind to new ideas.

This analysis is similar to what one gets when they compare Western religions with science. As Carl Sagan said, “there are no forbidden questions in science, no matters too sensitive or delicate to be probed, no sacred truths.” You are free to investigate whatever interests you. You are free to follow the evidence wherever it leads. But this is not so if you are an adherent to one of the Abrahammic traditions. Some things are off limits. Some things should not be thought about, and especially not told to others, lest you damage their faith. And if you are too curious, you will be branded as different, as an outsider.

But you can’t learn anything within the Western religions, either. Not anything you don’t already know, anyway. You sit in church every Sunday and all you are told is what you shouldn’t do (drink, gamble, have sex for fun, use contraceptives, get abortions, etc.), what you should think (about what you shouldn’t do and about current events), and what you shouldn’t think (anything that would lead to doubting your pastor). Yet society is already a sufficient guide for what you should and shouldn’t do. Everyone already knows, to varying degrees, how to be a “good member of society.” Going to your weekly worship workshop in the Western way is simply a way to declare yourself to be part of the “in group” and to meet others in the “in group” that you may together ostracize the “out group.”

Why is this? Why do the Abrahammic religions discourage learning and compassion of other groups so? It is because Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are not, as I said, systems one uses to gain knowledge. The systems are meant to be forms of social control, the glue that keeps the structure of society together. “Strength through Unity. Unity through Faith.”

Because of this, Christianity and the other Western traditions are merely moral systems, a set of rules under a pseudo-spiritual figurehead that allows for in-group-out-group mentality. Intellectual curiosity is not allowed because you may learn too much. You may learn about other systems and what they teach, or even (gasp!) that the religion you were born into is false. You are not allowed to know about other systems, and are especially not allowed to like them, because this defeats the purpose of us versus them. Having someone to hate boosts group cohesion.

It is from this that all the problems people have about “religion” (by which people usually mean Christianity, Islam, and sometimes Judaism) stem. This is why less than half of the United States believes in evolution. This is why gays can’t marry. This is why atheists are widely believed to be Satanists. This is why abortion clinics get bombed and doctors get shot. This is why. And this is my problem with the Abrahammic religions.

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂

Happy Song Sunday! Today we have a song from VNV Nation titled “Testament.”

A few lines from this song bring up what seems to be a recurring theme in religion, that humans are inherently sinful, wicked, or evil. (Not all religions, mind you. Buddhism, for example, says that we are perfect at birth but the world around us makes us wicked.) Even science tells us that, as we have parts of our brains that are remnants of our reptilian ancestry, we have the capacity for aggression.

“We conquer paradise just to burn it to the ground”

This reminds me of another quote: “I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world, because they’d never expect it.” (From Jack Handey.) Or think of the movie Avatar, or Pocahontas (both movies having the same storyline). The sad thing is, I could also picture this situation.

“We bring destruction, we bring war without an end”

While animals have been slaughtering one another since time immemorial, humans might be the first species that has the ability to destroy the planet, too. Elephants might be able to trample small trees, but they do not seem to have the desire or inclination to.

Why are we like this? Why do we have to continuously fight one another?

It is difficult to tell whether we are all inclined to be violent, or if it is power that corrupts. It is difficult to tell whether what drives us to commit bad acts is desperation, or a thirst for (more) power.

Looking at countries like Switzerland, Sweden, and Norway, it appears that if you have what you need there is not a drive to acquire more. But are these countries free of desperation, or lacking the power necessary to acquire more? The United States, arguably, has what it needs. All it has to do is trade, and that does not require war. Why then are we at war? Are we a global “peacekeeper” because we want to make the world a better place, or because we want to increase our influence? North Korea does not have what it needs. (Although perhaps it might if it didn’t spend all its money on its nuclear program.) Is this why North Korea is militant? Or does it have just enough, when resources are focused in certain areas, to practically increase its power?

And then we come into the realm of nature vs. nurture. Though it is very likely that it is a combination of the two that dictates who we are, is one more dominant? And if so, do those who are desperate steal or kill because they are biologically wired to, or because they have been brought up to think doing so is okay? Is it in our genes to abuse power, or do phrases like “what do all men with power want? more power” (The Oracle from The Matrix) become self-fulfilling prophecies?

Lots of questions, and no answers from me. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer these questions, lol. But I am interested in what you guys think. If you have opinions on any of these questions, leave a comment!

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂

A hobby of some atheists is debating with Christians and other theists. You’ll find many YouTube videos dedicated to this subject. I myself have not debated on the specific issue of the (non)existence of God in a long time, but when I did, I found it to be a quite enjoyable method of stimulating the grey matter.

However, stimulating as it is, I often find myself growing tired of the very academic nature of the debate. Who cares whether angels had free will? Who cares what the Bible says about shellfish and fabric material? Who cares if there’s a Hell or a Heaven or if we just rot in the ground, really?

I grow tired and ask these questions (to myself, not my opponents, obviously) because on a very fundamental level I consider the real issues to be solely political in nature. I almost consider atheism to be a purely political, rather than philosophical, position.

It all stems, I think, from the definition of “atheist.” For those who are not aware, “atheist” means “does not believe in a god.” It does not mean that you “believe no gods exist”, “believe the Christian God doesn’t exist”, or “worship Satan.” (Yes, some people actually think atheist means “worships Satan.” And yes, it makes my brain hurt, too.)

This definition tells someone essentially nothing about your beliefs. It is only the answer to the question “do you believe in <insert god here>?” If your answer is “no,” you are an atheist. If I were going to give myself a categorical title like “atheist” that actually reflected what I believe in, it would have to be something ridiculous like “materialist naturalist secular humanist agnostic atheist.”

But then, why do I call myself an atheist? If I don’t really care that much about the theology and the philosophy other than in intellectual conversation, why do I identify with this movement?

It is exactly because it is a movement. But while many might call it an intellectual movement, I’m willing to call this a political movement.

If atheism were a political party, it would stand for separation of church and state, skepticism, reason, and science. It would be against the teaching of intelligent design in schools. It would be against public funding for faith healing, homeopathy, or other new age medicines. It would be for gay marriage (or perhaps moving everyone to civil unions and letting marriage be solely a religious issue). It would be pro-choice and for stem cell research. Looking forward past the hot-button issues of today, it would be for technological and scientific advancement, space exploration, and improving the quality of life via human efforts.

The party’s motto might be this phrase I once saw on a button: “Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer.” What we want is evidence and reason to be used to make decisions, not faith and dogma. What we want is scientific advances to fix our problems, not moral edicts and church charities.

These are (some of) the issues I care about. And atheists aren’t the only ones who care about them. That’s why the atheist/theist debate is only something you think about late at night when you’re with some friends and you have a few beers in you. The real issues, the things atheists really want, are all to be found in the political realm.

So, if there are any theists out there who want to debate via email or something, feel free. Just know, however, that while that’s all good and fun, I don’t really care what you believe, as long as you aren’t trying to impose your beliefs on me via the government. If you try, that is when it will start to get serious.

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂

It is patently obvious that creationists are not against the theory of evolution by natural selection because they are not satisfied by the rigor of the experiments being done, or by the amount of evidence that supports the theory. If they were, they would not be attacking it from angles like “oh, a dog never gave birth to a cat, so evolution isn’t true” or “there has never been one transitional fossil found.” These objections can be resolved simply by opening a high school biology textbook or spending an afternoon on Wikipedia.

If they were really interested in the science they would be taking part in debates that are actually happening, but they are not. The childish arguments they make can easily lead one to believe that they actually know nothing about the theory they are attacking. It seems almost obvious that they have not taken a science class, let alone read one of the many thousands of peer-reviewed papers on the subject.

No, this cannot be the case. They must have taken the classes. They must have read the papers. If they could find one factual inconsistency in the theory they would jump on it like SIr Mix-A-Lot was their lord and savior. The one thing they would love more than anything would be actual documented evidence that the theory of evolution is the scam they say it is, and you know someone has been wasting their entire life digging through the journals looking for it.

Much more likely is the idea that organizations like the Discovery Institute are against evolution for political reasons. And while I do not at all agree with this approach (obviously), I do understand it in a way. (You must be wondering why the title is “I don’t understand creationists.” Read on.)

If you think about it, a lot of people might consider the diversity of life and the Bible (perhaps in conjunction) to be their main argument for believing in God. (Not the main reason — the main reason is probably that they simply want to believe. They like the idea that their lives have an objective purpose, that when they die they aren’t actually going to die, that bad things happen for good reasons, that someone is watching over them.)

The “diversity of life” or “complexity of life” argument was probably a relatively good argument back in the early 1800s and before. Now, however, it’s just plain obvious — it is evidently true — that the Bible is false. Nowadays you have to twist and turn a verse here and there, read a few lines backwards, ignore a few chapters, and squint your eyes a bit before the Bible starts to sync up with reality.

I think creationists, and a good portion of Christians in this country, are worried that evolution will take their argument away. And in a way, on a subconscious level, they know that they are wrong. This is where doubt comes in. Nobody would doubt Christianity if miracles happened nowadays or if prayer worked. People doubt nowadays because it’s very hard to take iron age philosophy seriously in this age of information. They don’t want to lose their argument.

They also probably hold some sort of opinion that if religion goes away society will not be as good as it is now. That society will deteriorate. People will be sleeping with dogs and raping children and eating people and doing drugs for breakfast without religion telling them not to. And because they are worried about that, they are then worried that if more and more people believe in evolution, more people will lose their faith and more people will find their neighbor’s wife not just sexually appealing, but appealing on the dinner table as well.

So in a sense I understand why they’re turning this into a political issue and not a scientific issue. They’ve long given up on the science. They did so because they knew they had already lost and could never come back from their defeat. That’s obvious.

Here though is why I don’t understand them at all. I know I’ve said a couple times why I understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, but let me explain why even this doesn’t make sense to me once I give it more than a few seconds of thought.

Let’s say everyone in the world agreed that random mutations and non-random selection could, over time, lead to speciation (which has been observed, by the way), and that all current lifeforms share a single common ancestor billions of years ago. In other words, let’s say everyone accepted evolution. There is no reason why religious people could not still use the “magic” argument.

Right now their argument is “magic.” They’re saying evolution could not have happened without divine intervention. For example, the eye could not have evolved through natural processes. (It could have, by the way.) What difference would it be to say that God directed evolution specifically so that humans could have evolved? Or that there’s no way you can get consciousness from matter, so God used magic for that? What would be the difference!?

So overall, I just do not understand creationists. Continue brainwashing your children. Continue lying to yourselves every Sunday. I don’t care. You obviously don’t care about facts, but we do. Creationism or intelligent design or whatever you want to call it does not help us in any way to solve problems in biology or medicine or any subject for that matter. Why don’t you just get out of the way of our facts and theories and problem solving? If your lack of interference would help us get to a cure for AIDS, cancer, and aging that much faster, I’m sure the world would thank you for it.

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂

Another odd argument for the existence of God is what I like to call “objective beauty,” though the actual argument might be called the “argument from beauty.” Not sure.

While not normally phrased in the form of a logical argument like it is in the Wikipedia article I linked above, you do get the sense from religious people that this is a reason they believe. How you normally hear it phrased is something like “Works of art like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Bach’s music could not have been done without faith in God. Not only are these works a testament to the greatness (and existence) of God, but if we take God away we will lose this part of us and regret it.”

Right away you can see that there is a major assumption that is not necessarily granted. If you argue this, you are assuming that these works are not only recognized as beautiful, but are actually thought of as beautiful by anyone who sees them. (To deny this is to deny that every person has a “God shaped hole to fill” and opens up a whole mess of problems.)

Next, it just simply asserts that these works could not have been created without faith in God. First, which God? Could a Muslim or Hindu do similar things? Second, why? Did they take so much time that only a very devoted person could do them? Or is there some physical impossibility that requires a miracle from God to overcome to create these works? Needless to say I am very skeptical that these could not have been done by heathens.

I think it is possible to refute this argument simply by invoking this quote from Christopher Hitchens: “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” If they actually try to use the aforementioned works as evidence, you need only say “but I don’t find those works incredibly appealing,” provide a work that is better that was made by a nonbeliever, or do as I am about to do and provide an explanation for why we might think these are beautiful. An explanation that does not invoke God, to be more specific.

Say we grant the assumption I mentioned earlier, that all people find those works of art appealing. What could be the cause of this? Since it is Song Sunday today, I’d like to introduce “Exhibit A” as part of the evidence I will use in my argument:

So fun to watch 🙂 That was the Axis of Awesome, by the way.

Now, what do we know about those songs? Well, they were all popular at some point in time. They are also all composed of the same four chords, as the band demonstrated. Might I go so far as to also say that while the songs are “good,” they did not require as much talent in composing as their popularity would have you believe?

How can we explain this? Is this, like Dante’s Divine Comedy an example of divinely inspired beauty? Is that combination of chords a bridge between us and God?

Here’s another example. Call it “Exhibit B.” Apparently if a picture is composed of mostly teal and orange, it looks more vibrant and the colors really “pop.” This fact, from “color theory,” is apparently being taken advantage of in movies nowadays. Here’s a shot from Transformers 2:

Now, let’s go back to our “objective beauty.” Is this color combination divine in some way? You might say no, that’s bullshit, that’s just something they started doing recently.

Oh? What about all these images from that beautiful Sistine Chapel?

There's a little bit of teal/orange going on here.

Eh, quite a lot of teal and orange here.

They even made things more orange-y and teal-y during the restoration!

Good fucking game. Is there anything *but* teal and orange in this painting?

Now, before you run off and tell all your friends that teal and orange are God’s favorite colors, let’s try and find another solution to this problem.

What we’ve seen so far is that you can have popular songs that are incredibly difficult to compose, or somewhat easy to compose. You can have pictures that are vibrant and attractive simply because of the colors chosen, while others are masterpieces having taken years of work.

One thing we can establish right now is that you do not need faith in God to take advantage of the techniques used by Michelangelo or the songwriters who wrote those pop hits. This destroys the second part of the argument right there, but let’s keep going.

We still have to touch on the first assumption made, that everyone finds those masterpieces to be, well… masterpieces. Have you ever noticed how many people hate the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard? In my opinion what we’re dealing with is a similar case of evolved preferences.

Most people like sugary and fatty foods, because that is what our brain craves. Most men like women with big breasts. Most women like men who are fit. Most people hate fingernails on chalkboards. Most people think rape, stealing, and betrayal are bad and loyalty, courage, and love are good. Is it really so surprising that most people like the chord progression in the video I posted? That most people think a combination of teal and orange looks vibrant?

It all has to do with how our bodies are wired. Things like beauty, taste, and annoyances are very subjective (you cannot really argue that vanilla is actually better than chocolate), yet in many cases these subjective desires are manifest in a large majority of people. This doesn’t mean they are objectively beautiful or tasty. It doesn’t mean that there exists a divine composer who implanted a love of harmony and contrasting colors into us when he created us. It probably just means that we all have a lot more in common than we realize.

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂

Religion is humorless

The other day, while I was driving to where I was going to be playing ultimate frisbee, I saw a great bumper sticker that read “Jesus Christ loves the HELL out of you.” I laughed at this, but afterwards wondered whether it was something I (an atheist) should be laughing at.

I decided that yes, it was something I should laugh at. Not because the concept is humorous; the notions of sin and Hell — and Jesus’/God’s complicated role in their interaction — are more contradictory than funny. Rather, I realized that any jokes related to religion are not really meant for overly religious people. They are for those who do not take the concept of religion seriously.

For someone who takes religion seriously (and by seriously I mean really believing that if you don’t do the rituals correctly or believe the necessary things, bad things will happen to you after you die), it’s a matter of life and death. Actually, it’s worse than life and death. Death is death, this is eternal torment we’re talking about. Someone who takes this stuff this seriously cannot risk laughing at a bumper sticker like the one I saw the other day.

And this seems to be prevalent not only in orthodox branches of religions. Religious people in general, I think, have a sort of reverence for the establishment of religion. They might not feel that if they make fun of Jesus or the Bible they will go to Hell (they might not even believe in Hell) but they might refrain from poking fun at it because it is so embedded in society. To laugh at (or criticize, especially) religion is to declare oneself against society’s traditions, in a way.

Then you have religions like Islam, where it’s actually dangerous to make jokes!


Nevertheless, I think the faithful need to start adding some humor to religion. They need to make it fun, cool, sexy. I have no idea how to fully accomplish that, and it may actually be impossible. It may be too late. But if they actually want to try, they can start with injecting a little humor.

A good example (in my opinion) of some “sacrilegious/religious humor” was a facebook status I had a while back:

I understand why God made Sunday a day of rest… I can’t do anything productive after a night of drunken shenanigans, either.

Do I believe in God? No. Do I think the God I don’t believe in created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh? No. But I took that widely-held belief and spiced it up with a little humor.

Religious people are going to need to start doing this, lest they become tired and boring. Ahem, I guess I mean more tired and boring. Religion is already a very unfashionable thing to be into. Though I’m not sure whether such heretical humor would bring more people to the faith, or cause more people to leave it. Perhaps the seriousness of religion is what compels people to stick with it. If it wasn’t serious business they might not bother.

However religious people want to sell religion, be it with or without humor, I think it will be a win for people who dislike it. If they use humor, the blow to the seriousness of the whole enterprise might cause God to be finally removed from public discourse. If they don’t use humor, more and more people will leave the faith as they feel more and more ostracized by the rest of society.

Anyway, anyone know any funny sacrilegious stuff? Any good links? Post ’em in the comments! 🙂

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com

When you mix a political ideology with a philosophical or religious belief system, you often get contradictions and problems. These aren’t really inherent problems, but they are problems that seem to crop up in most cases.

For example, a conservative Christian has to reconcile Jesus’ love of everyone (even enemies) with the dislike (hate might be a better word) of homosexuals. A liberal Muslim has to square their liberal view of sexual equality with the very anti-woman Qur’an.

If you look hard enough at any combination of belief systems, you’ll inevitably find some discrepancy between political leanings and religious opinions.

Most combinations, but not being both politically liberal and atheist. If you are a humanist (which most atheists are even if they don’t know it), your philosophical opinions line up very nicely with a liberal political outlook.

Liberals support freedom of religion, as do humanists (wanting to keep church/state interaction at a constitutional level does not mean you are against freedom of religion). Liberals want to help the poor and unfortunate, and humanism holds that the only way to fix problems in the world is to do it ourselves (since no supreme being will help us). Liberals and humanists are pretty anti-war. Et cetera.

However, there seems to be a wrench in the works. And that wrench is Islam. Islam seems to be the one thing that is difficult to account for if you are a liberal atheist.

You see, Islam is a problem. Objectively so. (If you take issue with this, saying that it doesn’t have to be a problem, that it isn’t inherently problematic, at least admit that it is a problem in its current form.) Islam brings to the West an assault on women’s rights, an assault on freedom of speech and expression, and an assault on homosexuals. Plus violence if you care to disagree with their opinions.

This is not a problem for atheism or even humanism. Freedom of religion only goes so far. It does not mean that other people have to bow to your religious edicts. It does not mean that we have to shut up because you’re offended by what we’re saying. It doesn’t mean that you can erect your own courts that adhere to Sharia Law and trick women into using those instead of real courts that will ensure them their rights.

It is, it seems, a problem for liberals, though. Liberals tend to be cultural/moral relativists, and that would mean that the actions of radical Muslims cannot be called “wrong” or “bad.” Liberals are also very politically correct, not wanting to call a spade a spade and assign blame where blame is due. 9/11? No, not Muslims, that was a bunch of people who were uneducated and poor and had nothing else they could do! (They were actually middle class, educated people, but okay.) Fort Hood? He was just disturbed, it wasn’t because he was Muslim. Terrorists? Political extremists. Taliban? Uneducated tribal warriors.

Liberals need to drop the politically correct, multiculturalist crap and stand up to Islam. Yes, let them practice their religion. Yes, let them build their places of worship. But do not let them take our freedoms away in the name of “tolerance.”

And when those of us who aren’t afraid to stand up for our way of life and our rights speak up, please do not throw out the horribly inaccurate term “islamophobe.” A phobia is an irrational fear, and there is nothing irrational in pointing out that where Islam goes, human rights don’t last.

What do you think? Do any of you liberal atheists have any difficulty responding to Islam?

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂