What’s Best for Atheism Isn’t What’s Best

As with any growing social movement, there has been a lot of bickering lately over what’s good for “atheism,” who’s the best atheist activist, what atheists should do, and so on. It’s the usual tiresome war between alleged concern trolls vs. the alleged “we can do no wrong” zealots, with neither side listening to the other.

So, to make my own position crystal clear, let me just state that, as an atheist, I couldn’t care less about what’s good for “atheism.”

What I care about is rationalism. Skepticism. Science. And while these values do, in fact, feed into why I don’t share the beliefs of theists, they aren’t necessary for me to be an atheist (I could imagine not believing even without them). Nor do I think that sharing similar values would make it necessary for someone else to become an atheist. But I care about these values, and there’s a big ole’ period at the end of that sentence.

Atheism is utterly, wholly, entirely incidental. If theists share those values, then I have allies. If atheists reject them, then we’re foes. Theists may well find themselves in the sights of my rhetorical rifle far more often than most atheists, but that’s also incidental. As far as I can tell, it’s simply because theists are the ones making the lion’s share of bad claims in our culture, claims that still go largely unchallenged.

If simply forced to answer on “what’s best for atheism,” I’d have to say that what’s probably best for atheism is for people to cease all attempts to organize it, celebrate it, and most of all seeking to control or lead it. The best and only thing we can do for atheism is define it: clearly, unambiguously, concisely. Atheism is a category: a category of exclusion. It is not the loyal opposition against the forces theism, it is the lack of theism. End of story.

The more that definition is troubled with all manner of philosophical fluffery and organized agendas, the harder and harder it becomes to explain to believers what atheism really is. The harder and harder it becomes to explain to theists what atheists really are.

As before, this latter matter frustrates me not because I particularly value atheism per se (because it’s a term I could take or leave) but because I value good communication. Helping people better understand what atheism is and isn’t is paramount.  Arguing for rationalism, empiricism: those things matter to me.  Whether someone then becomes an atheist because of those values: incidental.  I really mean that.

But in case I haven’t communicated this well myself, I’m not trying to disown “atheism” here: nor even provocatively propose, as Sam Harris has, that the term simply be dumped.  I just want to be clear on where my loyalties lie: where, frankly, I think it makes sense for everyone’s loyalties to lie.  With what I am, not with what I’m not.

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37 Responses to What’s Best for Atheism Isn’t What’s Best

  1. Tea says:

    Great job, I agree completely.
    Yours is one of the few blogs written by atheists that doesn’t sport a big red A in the sidebar, and I respect that.

  2. Samuel Skinner says:

    What about “what’s best for antitheism?”. That would be a better grouping. After all the only reason atheists are getting organized is to oppose theism. Normally the idea of people organizing based on a lack of belief would be considered bizarre. So, yeah, the whole situation is weird and asking what is best for atheism is pretty meaningless. So working for sanity and reason is a good goal.

  3. PalMD says:

    Well done.
    I do have a big red A for the very reason that theists tend to group atheists together despite the fact that all we have in common is a lack of believe in gods, including YHVH. The more red A’s that appear, especially on sites not devoted to religious topics (like this one and mine) the better. The diversity of areligious people should be visible so that we are not blamed for all of society’s ills.

  4. Very good framing. It is about what’s best for reason, and it neatly cuts at those who use faith and circular arguments from authority when wielding their world-view like a cudgel.
    It also provides ample common ground to invite in theists who aren’t pushing creationism and other anti-science initiatives down society’s throat.

  5. What I care about is rationalism. Skepticism. Science…..If theists share those values, then I have allies.

    Then consider me an ally. ;)

    -smith (the mad theist)

  6. Bad says:

    Framing? I hope not. :)

    I can definately see the cultural value in a sense of collective community: I think by and large, non-believers “coming out” has been, while of course choppy and contentious, a positive thing, in the end for both theists and atheists. It’s been a bumpy ride, but good grief, how could it ever not be?

    Still, I often find myself coming from a very different place than most atheists. I have little if any negative personal history with religion: I was religious myself growing up (to the point where I actually remember swearing off Piers Anthony for his blasphemous book on Satan!) But somewhere along the line, I just sort of forgot to keep believing.

    It wasn’t until years after that, however, that I first actually realized that I was a non-believer and that this was an issue that interested me (it doesn’t have to interest non-believers, and often doesn’t, which is an important point), there really wasn’t much out there as there is today in the way of activism. There was Cliff Walker over at Positive Atheism (which is actually a fairly interesting and oft overlooked resource these days, based as it is on the ideas of Indian independence and anti-caste system activist Gora) and then there was American Atheists (which I couldn’t stand) and then of course the more stately Michael Shermer/CSICOP side of things. The best book on the subject was George Smith’s Atheism: The Case Against God. But there wasn’t really a movement, per se, wasn’t any sort of cultural moment.

    Now there is: or if not quite a coherent movement, at least an issue of some prominence. And I’m of two minds about it. I appreciate the value of seizing the floor and gaining recognition of non-believers. Not wide acceptance perhaps, not yet, but acceptance would be impossible without recognition. But at the same time, I’m not an anti-theist. I’m anti-bad arguments, and as an ideology that’s allowed itself to lazily dominate the culture unchallenged for so long, theism has certainly accrued some doozies.

    But to be “against” Martin Gardner simply because he felt that believing made sense to him? Or Ed Brayton’s deism? Or even Tolland-esque panatheism, which is pretty much exactly like atheism, except for their terminology? Please. What our culture, and too greater or lesser extents what every culture is suffering from is not religion, but a lack of liberty, reason, and skepticism.

    If increasing those things naturally melts away religion along the way, so be it. But if not, so be it.

  7. [...] I just read this post about taking sides in the atheist ‘movement.’ The author makes a pretty good argument [...]

  8. Jonathan says:

    As someone who is entirely unconvined by supernatural claims, I’m often asked what I believe in with regards God and I say that it’s not what I believe, moreover it’s what I don’t believe. I have others saying that atheism is as much a religion as theism which I find bizarre. Theism posits something to be true which can neither be proven nor disproven. Atheism merely asks one to think for themselves. I agree totally with with you’ve stated, that we should be sceptical and rationalise the information gleaned by our senses but I’m also in agreement with Sam Harris as to the abolition of the term atheism. Atheism is after all a term for what people don’t believe in and it’s dragging God back into the equation yet again, theism is after all a belief in God. I say we leave God out of it altogether just like we don’t bang on about disbelieving in unicorns and garden fairies.

  9. Bonime says:

    I agree completely. When I first moved here from New York, I joined a lot of Secular Humanist, Freethinker and other “atheist” groups. I found it all a total waste of time. You cannot define a group by what it does NOT believe in. I never was interested in keeping Christmas trees off the public square. I think that most atheist activism is ridiculous. I only care that I live in a country (a world, actually) where NOT believing in something is as protected as the varieties of irrational beliefs. Other than that, I find that I have very little in common with other atheists.

    I do think, however, that, as a practical matter, we drop the word “atheist” and replace it with “non-theist”. Let’s not give a person who is rational enough to reject the hocus-pocus seekers a reason to put a bulls-eye on their back. An Atheist is not a person who “believes in ” atheism. An atheist is simply someone who is not a theist.

  10. Jennifer says:

    Interesting, thank-you :) I agree that more emphasis should be put on promoting reason and rationality than atheism itself from the various freethought-related organisations. Theism may be something reason needs to argue against, but there are plenty of other issues at least as deserving. Personally, I prefer the label humanist, or freethinker. Still undecided as to whether the sense-of-community value of such terms outweighs the problems with them though…

  11. LP says:

    I appreciate an atheist that doesn’t feel the need to attack religious folks, and I understand what you’re getting at here. I like your definition of atheism a lot more than other’s I’ve read. Kudos!

  12. Theism posits something to be true which can neither be proven nor disproven. Atheism merely asks one to think for themselves.

    I agree with the first statement, disagree with the second one. Your implication is that thoughtful people don’t believe in God. Clearly there are many thougthful people who would disagree with you.

    The theist, by definition, believes God exists in some form or another. The atheist, by definition, believes there is no god, in ANY form or another. Since neither position can be said to be a statement of empirically verifiable fact, both positions are ultimately no more than beliefs.

    Atheism is after all a term for what people don’t believe in and it’s dragging God back into the equation yet again, theism is after all a belief in God. I say we leave God out of it altogether just like we don’t bang on about disbelieving in unicorns and garden fairies.

    You forgot to mention the Flying Spaghetti Monster. As far as I’m concerned, people are free to believe (or disbelieve) whatever they want as long as they don’t make it my problem. Personally, I find the Big Red A every bit as annoying as seeing “Jesus Saves” plastered all over the place.

    -smith

  13. Bad says:

    The atheist, by definition, believes there is no god, in ANY form or another. Since neither position can be said to be a statement of empirically verifiable fact, both positions are ultimately no more than beliefs.

    You of course understand that I consider this definition of atheism to be a bad idea: the very sort of element of poor communication I was talking about above. Defining atheism in this way leaves a big gaping hole between the terms “theist” and “atheist” (a hole that is NOT, as many seem to think, just an “agnostic”) which has no business being there unacknowledged: namely, not believing IN a god, which is logically different from believing that there is no God.

    In Doxastic Notation:

    B~G = believe no God vs. ~BG = not believe God

    Note that ~BG is the logically proper negation of BG (believe God): B~G is its own separate claim, and while B~X implies ~BG, the reverse is not true.

    Thus it makes so much more sense to have theist mean “believer in god” and atheist as “not a believer in god.” That way the full continuum is captured in just those two terms without clumsy holes and exceptions. It also fits the roots better: a-theism implying “without theism” just as “atonal” implies “without a tonal center.”

    I admit, though, that I have always liked Bonime’s “non-theist.” This is what Michael Shermer once proposed as well. It would go a long way towards making things a lot more clear. Alas, however, neither language nor usage are decided by committee, and it seems like “atheism” is the term that’s going to stick regardless: so we’d better get clear what it means.

  14. modestypress says:

    Some atheists act like evangelical Christians and become evangelical atheists. I was an atheist by the age of ten, but later on I became an agnostic. Some atheists think agnostics are sissy skeptics, so I began to call myself a “Radical Agnostic” so they would stop kicking sand in my face. I am still trying to figure out how to terrify people into thinking I am an agnostic terrorist.

  15. Bad says:

    Still, you are either a believer or you are not (i.e., an atheist as I’ve just explained the definition I use). Agnostic isn’t a position on belief, it’s a position on knowledge, and it doesn’t answer the “believe or not” binary distinction.

    I’m an agnostic atheist myself, as are most atheists, even the most outspoken (though you’d have to dig a little deeper for some to find it out).

  16. baddogmooney says:

    Thanks for the post. I think the your definition of atheism is well put. There needs to be more of this rational and skeptical thought process in theistic circles. Too many theists (Christians in particular) are busy telling everyone they are wrong for not “believing” instead of laying out rationally what it is they believe in and letting the individual decide. (My apologies to all of you on our behalf, as I am guilty of the same on occasion.)

    Last time I checked, Jesus didn’t beat anyone over the head with a scroll while screaming, “Believe in me!”

    - mooney

  17. I would like to start by saying that I find this text to be, apart from elegantly and intelligently written, remarkably hopeful and insightful. Very seldom do I encounter views that capture the true essence of things; this I think is one of them.

    Rationalism and skepticism are indeed the values that matter the most when it comes to examining the nature of atheism and its relationship with theism. For, it is only by the practice of our logical tools that we will ever be able to achieve good communication. Good communication, as used here, is an idea; a romantic one. It is based on the principles of understanding and tolerance, since the bugs of trivial and lowly sentimentalisms are scarcely present when the powers of reason are in command. The circumstance of an atheist and a theist debating on the solidity and the fabric of their views (or beliefs and disbeliefs) based on reason, is one that instantly annuls the frame of antagonism in which activities of the sort usually take place. This is why, I believe, the conversion or not of a theist to atheism is, as you say, incidental, insignificant. Reason does not seek to enforce itself, it merely attempts to decode and classify all those notions that are either unknown or vague to us. And the process of searching for true meanings will not concern itself with the technical aspects of either philosophical approach, atheism and theism. Now if those who side with theism, of one form of another, were willing to lay their superstitions and obsessions aside and partake in a discussion such as the one described above, maybe the meaning of good communication could become corporeal. The same goes for those atheists who exercise opposition just for the fun of it. The weight primarily falls with the former for reasons known to all of us.

    I think that the conclusions that would be drawn if the aforementioned hypothesis were to be satisfied, would be impressive, at least.

    As far as groups and guilds of atheists go, I think that they are of absolutely no use. Moreover, I find the term “activist atheist” to be completely absurd. It borders with the idea of a dogma (and one which is in fact a negation) and it clashes with the axiom of constant reevaluation of everything, which in my opinion should be at the core of every free thinker’s evaluating system.

  18. bitchspot says:

    A couple of points:

    1. The big red A doesn’t have to mean something antagonistic, it’s simply an announcement to the world that atheists are here and we’re not going away. The reason religion has been able to run roughshod over everyone else is because people were afraid to stand up and be counted and publically oppose these abuses. The fact that there are now a lot of atheist blogs out there standing up for rationality and equality says something about the future of religious forcefulness in the United States and worldwide.

    2. The only reason you see so many Christians, in particular, whining about how they’re not being respected is because they cannot separate their beliefs from their self-identity. If you attack their religion, they take it as a personal attack upon themselves. Every time an atheist says anything against religion, you have millions of theists screaming “STOP PICKING ON ME!”

    That bond between belief and self has to be broken.

  19. Bad says:

    I personally don’t have a huge problem with the red A movement, but I also have no real interest in it either. It’s not like people need a handy-dandy guide to what I think when they can read the blog and find out. :)

    I think it’s fair enough for religious people to take personal offense when their religion is attacked however. While not genetically assigned, religion is generally not “chosen” in the sense that anyone has direct voluntary control over what they believe or don’t. So it does fall under people’s personal identity. Love the sinner hate the sin doesn’t make much sense for homosexuality, and it doesn’t make much sense for religion either. I don’t think that means that this puts religion above criticism, but it does mean that people taking it as a personal attack is a real and predictable consequence you have to be willing to acknowledge and own up to. I don’t think that bond can be broken: what is the “self,” really, but a horde of various beliefs and self-identifications?

  20. All religions are nothing but popularized philosophical systems; philosophy for the masses. A way to keep the multitude in touch with the spiritual side of life. Those function on an allegorical level and not on a literal one. As soon as people start to take religions literally things start to go wrong. They find themselves identifying with a serious of supernatural ideas that they (obviously) cannot explain in any rational, practical way. Now when you put your faith in stuff that you cannot understand or explain you feel insecure and uncertain. And someone’s got to scare all that uncertainty and all that doubt away. Enter church.

    The inability of the people to speak fluently and most important, truly about their beliefs in combination with the various doctrines of terror that the church (whichever that may be) has to impose on them, results in a psychological complex that prohibits them from keeping things in perspective. They know that they do not, intellectually and mentally, own their beliefs and they feel that fear is getting the best of them. That is why they are angry and that is why they perceive a challenge to their faith as a challenge to themselves. A conscious supporter of a philosophical theory would not necessarily interpret an “attack” on his ideas as an attack on himself. Because he knows that it is his intellect that defines those ideas and not the other way around.

  21. bitchspot says:

    It really shouldn’t matter how much of a core value your religious beliefs may be, the inability to separate yourself from your beliefs on a philosophical level makes things much more difficult to rationally evaluate them. You don’t see stamp collectors going on the rampage if someone insults stamp collecting. You don’t see Harry Potter fans taking personal offense if someone insults Harry Potter. They are able, for the most part, to compartmentalize their belief system and understand that what they believe does not define them.

    Theists cannot do that. Without their beliefs, they are nothing, they have no self-identity without their beliefs in an imaginary friend in the sky. It is this immature and irrational need to cling to a theological position in order to feel good about themselves that really causes all the problems, they cannot imagine their beliefs being wrong or fairly evaluate anyone else’s beliefs because to do so is to discard that which they hold most dear.

  22. First of all let me say that I totally agree with the overall tenor of your post.

    Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s pick some nits, shall we? ;)

    B~G = believe no God vs. ~BG = not believe God

    Note that ~BG is the logically proper negation of BG (believe God): B~G is its own separate claim, and while B~X implies ~BG, the reverse is not true.

    You seem to walking an awfully fine semantic line here. Let’s look at the two statements in question:

    1. “I do not believe in God”.

    2. “I believe there is no God.”

    You imply that there is a meaningful difference between these two statements. It would be helpful to me if you could explain what you feel that difference to be.

    Thank you.

    -Smith

  23. You don’t see Harry Potter fans taking personal offense if someone insults Harry Potter.

    I don’t know about that. I’ve met some pretty rabid Harry Potter fans. ;)

    Theists cannot do that. Without their beliefs, they are nothing, they have no self-identity without their beliefs in an imaginary friend in the sky. It is this immature and irrational need to cling to a theological position in order to feel good about themselves that really causes all the problems

    Whoa, easy there, fella! That’s a bit of a generalization, don’t you think? Kind of like me saying: “all atheists are humorless”, and we all know how untrue that is, don’t we?

    While it is certainly true that there are many theists fit the above description, not all of us do. Just as the blog master described himself an “agnostic atheist” in an above comment, so I would describe myself as an “agnostic deist”. Yes, I do believe in the existence of a higher power of some sort, but I don’t attempt to put a name or a face to it. Furthermore, I’m perfectly willing to accept the idea that I may be wrong. Most importantly, I don’t go around making my beliefs everyone else’s problem.

    I do enjoy these debates, but more as an exercise in logic than anything else. After all, they’ve been debating the existence of god for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years, and nothing’s been settled yet, right? ;)

    -smith

  24. bitchspot says:

    You are right, not all theists are as extreme as I portrayed, I apologize. The majority of fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, however, certainly are and those are the ones that you usually find online debating (for lack of a better word) that their beliefs are true. They’re the ones that, when asked a question, just throw Bible verses at you and make empty claims and demand that everything they say must be regarded as gospel truth because it’s what they believe. Those are the ones keeping the silly War on Christmas alive, claiming that Christians are being discriminated against because they are not allowed to force their beliefs on everyone, etc.

    Certainly there are intelligent, well-meaning theists out there, I know quite a few of them, but those aren’t the ones that we usually run into trouble with. It’s the people whose entire life revolves around their religious beliefs that tend to be problematic.

    For the record, I have no problem with the more liberal theists who are respectful and intelligent and reasonable, but those aren’t the ones condemning atheists to hell, trying to force creationism into the schools and trying to rebuild a “Christian nation”, by and large, are they?

  25. Bad says:

    No they aren’t, which is why it’s a good idea to pick the targets for specific criticisms carefully and precisely. :)

    I think that aside from the real loons, even most fundamentalists are a lot more complex and nuanced than you’re giving them credit for. Which ultimately makes them more complicated opponents to deal with in the political and philosophical arena. In general, I think trying to psychoanalyze your opponents is a tricky task: especially since we’re not always particularly disposed to be very charitable. :)

  26. Bad says:

    You imply that there is a meaningful difference between these two statements. It would be helpful to me if you could explain what you feel that difference to be.

    Certainly, since strict logical formalism did not suffice. :)

    To not believe something is not a belief. To believe THAT there is no god IS a belief. That in itself is a pretty huge difference in terms of philosophical assertions (or, in the latter case, something that is NOT a PARTICULAR philosophical assertion!)

    Some other key differences: the former carries no burden of proof. The latter does.

    They also aren’t even statements about even remotely the same thing. Telling you that I do not believe in God is a claim ultimately about no more than MYSELF: it’s simply an expression of my self-knowledge. Telling you that I believe there are no Gods is a claim about the contents of all existence. I’d say that’s about as different as something can get.

    The reason they might seem similar in practice is that B~X is logically a subset of ~BX.

  27. Tea says:

    murderofravens,

    This might help explain the difference:
    When I was, say, 5 years old, I did not yet have a concept of god (I know, I know, lucky me), so I wasn’t able to hold any beliefs about him. In those times, it made sense to say of me that I *didn’t believe* in god, but it wouldn’t have made sense to say that I *did believe* that there was no god. One cannot hold beliefs on the concepts one doesn’t possess. (Notice that, in this sense, we are all born atheists.)

    Today, however, I *do* have beliefs concerning god, since I’m now familiar with the concept. I now *do believe* that he doesn’t exist, in the same sense that I believe that there are no tooth-fairies and Santa. (I guess this is where my views depart from Bad’s.)

    Atheism can therefore be understood in these two very different ways, which only contributes to all the misunderstandings… oh well.

  28. Bad says:

    Right: the former, being the larger category, encompasses the latter. We all start out with any concepts of God because we don’t have any concepts of anything. As we learn about those concepts we can decide if they are compelling enough to believe in or not. If not, then we go on functioning without adding that concept to our list of approved ideas, as it were. And some people can decide that a certain concept is so wrong that they additionally add it to their list of ideas they think are flat out incorrect, as opposed to merely unsupported/unsupportable (the latter being the original flavor of strong agnosticism).

  29. You imply that there is a meaningful difference between these two statements. It would be helpful to me if you could explain what you feel that difference to be.

    Certainly, since strict logical formalism did not suffice. :)

    Ouch!!!! ;>)

    Telling you that I do not believe in God is a claim ultimately about no more than MYSELF: it’s simply an expression of my self-knowledge. Telling you that I believe there are no Gods is a claim about the contents of all existence.

    Fair enough. I still think it’s a fairly thin line semantically, but I understand your point. And I think it is to your credit that you make that distinction. It seems as though many atheists DO make the assertion that there is no god in any way, shape or form, and then get bent out shape when it is pointed out to them that there is, as you point out, a certain burden of proof that goes with that statement, a burden which, I might add, really can never be met conclusively.

    -smith

  30. Sorry. Screwed up the blockquote within a blockquote. Again. Please help. thanks.

  31. Today, however, I *do* have beliefs concerning god, since I’m now familiar with the concept. I now *do believe* that he doesn’t exist, in the same sense that I believe that there are no tooth-fairies and Santa. (I guess this is where my views depart from Bad’s.)

    That comment was well put. But by the same token, one can also classify theism in an analogous way. Like yourself, I don’t believe in the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy (although I’m still holding out hope for Santa.) While I do happen to believe in a concept known as, for convenience’s sake, “God”, I do not believe in Thor, Jupiter, or, for that matter, Jehovah. To me, those concepts are simply humans trying, as they always do, to put a human face on something they don’t understand.

    So just as atheism can be categorized in the two ways you describe, theism can also be categorized into those who believe in the existence of a higher power, without making any specific claims about said higher power, and those who take it a step further, and attempt to ascribe human motivations to this higher power.

  32. You are right, not all theists are as extreme as I portrayed, I apologize.

    Vox Smith, Vox Dei: your sins are forgiven. ;>)

    The majority of fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, however, certainly are and those are the ones that you usually find online debating (for lack of a better word) that their beliefs are true. They’re the ones that, when asked a question, just throw Bible verses at you and make empty claims and demand that everything they say must be regarded as gospel truth because it’s what they believe.

    Oh, I agree completely. I’ve had many migraine inducing “debates” with the fundies. Arguing with them is pointless, really.

    For the record, I have no problem with the more liberal theists who are respectful and intelligent and reasonable, but those aren’t the ones condemning atheists to hell, trying to force creationism into the schools and trying to rebuild a “Christian nation”, by and large, are they?

    Again, agreed. Of course, I feel compelled to point out that I’ve met some pretty insufferable atheists in my time, as well. Present company excepted, of course. ;>)

    The problem lies with the fact that we’re dealing with a concept that is, practically by definition,unknowable. Therefore, both theists and atheists err when they lose sight of the fact that almost any statement made on this subject falls into the realm of speculation. I suspect the reason that there seems to be more silliness on the theist side is simply because there are a lot more ways to believe than to disbelieve.

    I honestly believe that the only way one can enter into this debate without becoming insufferable oneself is to approach this subject with a certain amount of intellectual modesty and a healthy respect for the margin of error in one’s own beliefs.

    -smith

  33. [...] *Bad Idea explains why atheism is incidental to his rationalism and skepticism in What’s Best for Atheism Isn’t What’s Best. [...]

  34. That we call ourselves atheists is merely incidental and I agree with you that it should not be much of a concern. Why? We could be athorists, if a majority would believe in Thor. Or araists if the ancient Egyption sun god religion would have spread to the whole world. This is not the case because the old Roman emperor Constantine the Great has made Christianity a state religion.
    So it is because of a Roman emperor that we call ourselves atheists.

  35. Everyday says:

    Absolutely brilliant post. I agree wholeheartedly. Whether or not someone is an atheist is mostly irrelevant to me when compared to the other issues you brought up about critical thinking in general.

  36. hkyson says:

    Science and Religion

    Science is different from religion. It does not pretend that it knows everything. There are even now deep questions about the origins of the universe that we don’t have answers to now though it is possible we may be able to answer some of them in the future.

    But the inability of science to provide answers to these questions does not prove that religious faith, tradition, or an ancient holy text has the ability to answer them. Science cannot prove that God does not exist, but this in no way establishes that God exists. There are millions of things whose lack of existence cannot be established.

    The philosopher Bertrand Russel had an analogy. Imagine that there is a teapot in orbit around the sun. It is impossible to prove that the teapot does not exist because it is too small to be detected by our telescopes. Nobody but a crazy person would say “Well, I’m prepared to believe in the teapot because I cannot establish that it doesn’t exist.” This means that maybe we have to be technically agnostics, but really we are all atheists about teapots with orbits around the sun.

    But now let us suppose that everybody in our society including our teachers and the sages of our tribes all had faith in a teapot that orbits the sun. Let us also suppose that stories of the teapot have come down to us for many generations as one of the traditions of our own society and there are ancient holy texts about the teapot. In this case people would say that a person who did not believe in the teapot is eccentric or mad.

    There are infinite numbers of things like celestial teapots whose lack of existence we are unable to establish. There are fairies, for example, and there are unicorns and goblins. We cannot prove that any of these creatures of the imagination do not exist in reality. But we don’t believe they exist, just as we don’t believe that the gods of the Scandinavians, for example, have any true existence.

    We are all atheists about almost all of the gods created by societies in the past. Some of us, however, take the ultimate step of believing that the god of the Jews and the Christians, like the gods of the Greeks and the Egyptians, also does not exist.

    Now here’s a version of this text in Interlingua. (For more information about Interlingua, use a search enging to search on the title “Interlingua in interlingua” or go to http://www.interlingua.com.

    Le scientia es differente del religion. Illo non pretende que illo sape toto. Il ha etiam nunc questiones profunde sur le origines del universe al quales nos nunc non ha responsas ben que il es possible que nos potera responder a alicunes de illos in le futuro.

    Ma le incapacitate del scientia de provider responsas a iste questiones non proba que le fide religiose, le tradition, o un texto sancte e ancian pote responder a illos. Le scientia non pote probar que Deo non existe, ma isto non establi de ulle maniera que Deo existe. Il ha milliones de cosas cuje existentia non pote esser establite.

    Le philosopho Bertrand Russell habeva un analogia. Imagina que il ha un theiera in orbita circum le sol. Il es impossibile probar que le theiera non existe proque illo es troppo parve pro esser detegite per nostre telescopios. Nemo excepte un folle dicerea, “Multo ben, io es preparate a creder in le theiera proque io non pote establir que illo non existe.” Isto significa que forsan nos debe esser technicamente agnosticos, ma vermente nos es omnes atheistas sur theieras con orbitas circum le sol.

    Ma que nos nunc suppone que omnes in nostre societate includente nostre professores e le sagios de nostre tribos habeva fide in un theiera que orbita le sol. Que nos anque suppone que historias del theiera ha venite usque nos trans multe generationes como un del traditiones de nostre proprie societate e que il ha textos sancte ancian sur le theiera. In iste caso le gente dicerea que un persona qui non credeva in le theiera es eccentric o folle.

    Il ha numeros infinite de cosas como theieras celestial cuje manco de existentia nos non pote establir. Il ha fees, pro exemplo, e il ha unicornios e gnomos. Nos non pote probar que iste creaturas del imagination non existe in le realitate. Ma nos non crede que illos existe exactamente como nos non crede que le deos del Scandinavos, pro exemplo, ha ulle existential ver.

    Nos es omnes atheistas sur quasi omne le deos create per societates in le passato. Alicunes de nos tamen prende le ultime passo de creder que le deo del judaeos e del christianos, como le deos del grecos e le egyptianos, anque non existe.

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