Posts Tagged ‘Atheism’


Don Lacey, state director of the year (Arizona) for American Atheists, had a great idea and put it into practice. (We do not endorse American Atheists.)

Don’s insight was that the most important thing atheists can do is to build community, and have fun.  And everything else will flow from that. (The AA hierarchy gave him an incredible amount of grief about this.)

So, Don started the Tucson atheist meetup groups a few years ago. Purely social groups, and they grew.

There are now about 1,300 members of the Tucson Atheist Meetup groups. Some have moved beyond the purely social and are doing good, everything from lobbying the legislature to picking up trash along the highways.

Would they have done it without Don’s initial push? I don’t think so.

Years ago, a friend of mine, Jon Russell, told me that social-change groups were doomed unless their activities were at least 80% fun. People would do the work after that.

Jon and Don were right.

I’ve been involved with leftist/anarchist and atheist groups for about 50 years now. The universal constants are that the internal dynamics are the same: joyless work is the raison d’etre for damn near all of ’em, and it’s the reason that damn near all of ’em fail. A big part of that is that the people into self-sacrifice almost invariably also  expect others to sacrifice themselves.

This is what people joining atheist and other do-good groups typically face when joining: “Give up all hope ye who enter here. And don’t whine about it.”

Is it any wonder that people join atheist and other social change groups, hoping for something different, something better, and then leave in droves?

Don Lacey defied the leftist/atheist puritans, and founded the most successful atheist group in the country. A group based on voluntarism, on simple attraction, on voluntary cooperation — a group that gets things done, in contrast to damn near every other puritanical, self-sacrificing atheist group in the country.

* * *

If you’re down here in Southern Arizona, please join us. You’d be a welcome addition. And if you’re not around here, please consider starting your own purely social Meetup group. Trust us. You’ll have fun, and you’ll get a hell of a lot more done than if you start a joyless, self-sacrificing cause-oriented group.


We put up our 1,000th post a couple of weeks ago. We’ve been looking through everything we’ve posted, and are now putting up “best of” lists in our most popular categories.

This is the seventh of our first-1,000 “best of” lists. We’ve already posted the Science Fiction, HumorMusicInterviews, Economics, and Addictions lists, and will shortly be putting up other “best ofs” in several other categories, including Politics,  Religion, Science, and Skepticism.

Best Atheist Posts


Atheists for Human Rights (AFHR), an all-volunteer 501 (c) 3 group,  is one of the smallest atheist organizations in the U.S. But it’s the only one–yes, the only one–that donates money to individuals and groups suffering religious persecution in this country. AFHR has little in the way of resources, but puts its money where its mouth is via its Moral High Ground project. Here’s a list of AFHR’s donations in 2013:

  • $1600 ( $400 each) to four abortion clinics, all suffering vicious attacks by the religious right. The clinics include those that picked up the torch when Dr.Tiller was murdered. These are clinics where the doctors come to work wearing bulletproof vests and the religious right attempts every possible legal scam–while they hypocritically lie about being concerned about the health of women–to try to shut them down.
  • $500 to LGBT tuition grant.
  • $300 to Final Exit Network, the death with dignity organization that assists the terminally ill, for their ongoing legal expenses in defending themselves against malicious  “assisted suicide” prosecution by fanatical district attorneys.
  • $658 to Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD).  CHILD,  essentially all alone for decade, has been fighting faith healing laws, that allow religious fanatics to deny life-saving medical care to their children.  (They get almost no support from other child-welfare groups because that would require those groups to challenge [insane] religious beliefs–our biggest social taboo.)

If you’re an atheist or agnostic  and want your dollars to support victims of religious persecution in this country, please consider donating to AFHR’s Moral High Ground project. You can check them out via the AFHR web site.


“There is not sufficient love and goodness in the world to permit us to give some of it away to imaginary beings.”

–Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ

Front cover of "The Anti-Christ" by Friedrich Nietzsche


 

cover of Culture Wars by Marie Castle

 

by Marie Alena Castle, author of Culture Wars: The Threat to Your Family and Your Freedom

(This is a lightly edited, slightly shorter version of the cover article of the May/June 2014 The Moral Atheist,  the magazine of Atheists for Human Rights.)

 

 

 

 

Defensible Interests

. . . [T]o fulfill our deepest interests in this life, both personally and collectively, we must first admit that some interests are more defensible than others. Indeed, some interests are so compelling that they need no defense at all. . . . For nearly a century the moral relativism of science has given faith-based religion—that great engine of ignorance and bigotry—a nearly uncontested claim to being the only universal framework for moral wisdom.

— Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. pp. 190-191.

 

Not So Defensible Interests

“There are secular reasons to oppose abortion.”

— David Silverman, President of American Atheists, communication with the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), seeking common ground.

 

It’s Not As Bad As It Looks

We are calling attention to a problem the atheist movement has inexplicably ignored, perhaps because we are so inundated with it we don’t see it. That is the problem of the essential immorality of religion. Instead of pointing to and challenging it, we tend to accept the myth of religion as a morality -based institution and even try to emulate it. They do food shelves? We do food shelves. They do blood donations? We do blood donations. They do clothing drives? We do clothing drives.

Nothing wrong with this. It’s all good civic virtue stuff any decent society does if it doesn’t want to fall apart into chaos. But it doesn’t deal with the basic problem—all the ways religion harms society. How do we counter this? With billboards that say some of us are happy to be atheists or that religion is based on myths or that we can be good without God—implying there is a goodness about religious belief, and we atheists can also have that goodness?

No. There is no goodness about religious belief, but when do we bring that to the public’s attention? Not often, if ever.

The Road to Secular Hell

The road to secular hell is indeed paved with good intentions, however poorly thought out. American Atheists went to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in March (keynote speaker Sarah Palin) to let the generally atheistic “libertarian” fiscal restraint contingent of the far right know they were welcome in the atheist community. Libertarians want government out of a good part of our lives, including the personal part, so why would Silverman offer up women’s personal autonomy as a bargaining chip in seeking common ground?

It doesn’t take much experience with the atheist movement to know the answer. There is a strong view running through it—as with all of society—that women in their reproductive function are something of a public utility to be regulated. The idea of a woman having autonomy over her own bodily reproductive processes seems unthinkable and contrary to what nature intended, however mindlessly. The adverse effects on a woman of a disastrous pregnancy are pretty much viewed as irrelevant. She is there to have children, regardless of the cost to her.

And atheist organizations wonder why there are relatively few women in atheist organizations. Why align with any group that thinks your childbearing function makes you public property? There are only two atheist organization I know of that, as a founding principle, refuse to demean women this way: One is our own Atheists For Human Rights and the other is the Humanist Association of Canada, founded by the late Dr. Henry Morgentaler as a result of his experiences providing abortions to women, because he saw how necessary that was to their wellbeing. He was a morally active, human-centered physician, ultimately willing to pay the price of imprisonment to save the victims of religious tyranny . . . victims Silverman seems willing to throw under the bus to attract a few more members to his organization.

Timidity as a Moral Blindfold

Then there’s’ Sally Chizek’s experience in San Antonio, Texas. She’s a long time member of the Freethought Association of Central Texas (FACT). Here’s what she says:

For the past 15 years, I have gone to City Hall to protest the National Day of Prayer held on the City Hall steps. When I learned that the protest was not to be advertised as a FACT event I asked why. I was informed that FACT does not prescreen the signs and if the protest goes badly and the FACT sign is there it will likely cause irreparable damage to our reputation and our relationship with the city. While it has never been problematic before, all it takes are a few new folks with aggressive/insulting messages that then speak for all. The FACT officers were not willing to take this on on behalf of the members at large.

That was two members at large. One had not heard any discussion of official FACT sponsorship and thought individuals can do what they wish but not speak for others. The other didn’t want FACT involved because ‘some people are looking for an excuse to shut us down . . . . This ain’t the hill we want to die on.’

Only one man noted our web site—in About Us—concerning our objectives: ‘Challenge the encroachment of religion into . . . local government and eliminate all discrimination and limitations placed on our civil liberties. . . . Does the National Day of Prayer appear as a violation of separation of church and state? It’s fine you do not agree and you decided to click ‘not attending.’

“The event was advertised by FACT, but they wanted everyone to know it was not a FACT event. Why not? It was dealing with church and state. The Christians use the front steps and lawn so citizens who have business to conduct have to use the back door.

So Sally held her own protest and lined up people to attend. She made extra signs in case someone showed up without one. The signs supported state-church separation but did not mention FACT. “But what concerns me,” Sally said, “was how gutless the board members appeared to be. I am 86 years old and could be knocked down with a feather, but I’ll take my chances. Otherwise no one will protest and the NDOPers will think they have all the rights and just get bigger.”

Tim Gorski, founder of the North Texas Church of Freethought, agreed with Sally. “FACT was founded by the late Catherine Fahringer [a well known, outspoken and feisty activist], he said, “which makes it sad that it is not getting out in front of a protest against NDOP when there are people who want to participate. They won’t be able to prescreen the signs? Are they afraid someone’s sign will say, ‘Godless Bitches’? Oh, that’s already on FACT’s website. . . . Some people may show up with obscene signs? Just say, ‘They’re not with us.’ Besides, NDOP is itself an obscenity.”

The Moral High Road Not Taken

“NDOP is itself an obscenity.” Yes, that’s the point. The moral point that’s been there all the time and we’ve ignored it. There is an inherent organizational timidity at work that fears to take religion on where it is most vulnerable and it leaves activists like Sally Chizek to do what they can on their own. Atheist organizations should challenge the obscenities of religion. Challenge their claim to the moral high ground. They don’t own it; they are squatters. Atheists are distrusted and demeaned precisely because there is a prejudice that, without religion, a person is unlikely to be reliably moral and therefore not to be trusted.

But what is morality? Most of our social problems are caused by religious beliefs that are an obscenity. They seek to deny women’s rights, gay rights, the right to make our own end-of-life decisions, the right of medical researchers to do what is necessary to find cures for diseases.

The list of religion-caused social problems goes on, and atheist organizations dismiss them with lip service at best, saying they “are not atheist issues.” All of these repressive religious obscenities are based on batshit crazy religious beliefs, including the most bizarre of them all—that a fertilized egg the size of the period at the end of this sentence is a full human being with more human rights than a disastrously pregnant disposable woman has. This is insanity in its purest form, yet we are supposed to respect it because it is a “deeply held religious belief.”

Decent people don’t need religion to be decent. Most of us behave decently because we are programmed by evolution to want to get along safely and peacefully with others. It’s a matter of survival. Religions are established almost always by those with no interest in religion—faithless people using the faith and belief of others to steal from them, and to control them for their own self-aggrandizing purposes.

Will Atheists Ever Learn How to Fight?

Why do atheists think state-church separation involves mainly ritual things such as government-sponsored prayer, religious monuments on public property, religious graffiti on our money, and teaching creation myths as science? Yes, those are all significant matters, but they do not affect the sacred “morality” aura that surrounds religion. Why not show where respect for batshit crazy religious beliefs leads?

Prayer: I saw a report of religionists setting up a “Prayer Station” in a courthouse somewhere. Sure, that’s a state-church violation, but it doesn’t get to the point, which is that prayers are useless incantations that are (or should be) as embarrassing in public as picking one’s nose.

In such a case, of course go file a First Amendment lawsuit, but also set up a complementary prayer station with placards quoting Bible verses such as “Whatever you ask in my name it shall be granted unto you.”

Turn it into a theatrical event. Invite the press, and then publicly gather and solemnly pray to Jesus to turn, say, a pear in your hand into a carrot. Onlookers will laugh and possibly think about the value of that religious Prayer Station.

Same with legislative prayers. Set up tables that track the ineffectiveness of those prayers as legislation is run through the meat grinder sausage-making process. Onlookers will laugh and possibly think about the foolishness of legislative prayers. And don’t forget to note the biblical prohibition against praying in public.

Ten Commandments: American Atheists won the right to put up an atheist monument next to the Ten Commandments on government property. Fine! But the religionists have thousands of places where they can afford to do that. We can’t. Why not, instead, show public outrage (as we should regardless) at every government display of such an unAmerican barbaric set of “commandments”? Challenge the denial of religious freedom, the lack of commandments against slavery and torture, the commandment (not to mention the entire Old Testament) that treats women as property, etc., and demand that such an obscene monument be removed. Don’t simply demand “equal time”–point out how obscene the Ten Commandments are.

Abortion: Stop this timid “well, I support Roe v. Wade” stuff and hand wringing about it being a “gray area” or somehow open for discussion. It is totally a medical matter between a woman and her doctor. All restrictions, beyond regulations that affect all medical procedures, are a state-church violation.

If not, let’s hear David Silverman explain what his “secular reasons” for opposing the right to abortion are, and why they are not patriarchal and misogynistic. Take an unequivocal stand for women’s rights that show atheists are with them. Do the same for gay rights: Both women and gay people might see atheists in a better light, as a moral voice opposed to their oppression by the religious right.

Stem Cell Research: Our lives and our health should not be held hostage to embryo “personhood” insanity. It’s insane! Say so. Very plainly
.
End-of-Life Decisions: We should not have to suffer needlessly simply because of others’ crazy religious beliefs. Say so. Loudly.

Bible Reading: So just why do atheists want to stop this? Everyone should read the Bible. Just make it mandatory that students read the whole thing with both religious and atheist instructors explaining it. All Bibles given out in school should include a copy of Awkward Moments Children’s Bible. Great illustrations. Takes the Bible seriously and quotes it exactly. Not what the religionists want, of course, but it’s their Bible and they’re stuck with it.

Some commentators are starting to get the message. Greta Christina is talking about engaging non-religious young people in areas in which their interests lie. By and large they are not interested in school prayer and nitpicky things like that. Young people are leaving religion because religion is messing with their lives by restricting birth control and abortion and abusing kids. Americans United for Separation of Church & State has started opposing religious assaults because of their basis in law with no secular justification. One commentator is starting to note that religion is founded by hucksters. At AFHR, we’ve been saying this all along. Maybe someone out there is finally listening.

 

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Disbelief 101 front cover(Excerpted from Disbelief 101: A Young Person’s Guide to Atheism, by S.C. Hitchcock)

One of the more annoying aspects of talking to believers in god is that they always consider the god hypothesis to be the default position in any argument about the natural world. For example, a believer might ask you if you know how life could have “sprung up” in the first place. If you say science isn’t sure yet, but has some pretty good, and testable, hypotheses about how it might have happened, the religious person will seize on this. “But you’re not sure, are you? Nobody was there!”

All of a sudden, people who will believe anything the Bible says on faith become the most careful skeptics when it comes to science. The implication of the above comment is that if there isn’t any conclusive evidence on a topic involving the natural world, then “god must have done it.” The religious seem to be saying, “If you can’t prove it in front of my eyes, then my belief must be true.” Or, if you can’t absolutely show me how science explains this beyond a shadow of a doubt, then my religious ideas and your science must be on equal footing.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the claim that science is killing god is not true. God committed suicide a long time ago. The sharpest arguments put together to “prove” god’s existence end up cutting god to pieces.

I’ll go into the three most common arguments for the existence of a god, but before I get to them let me explain why they are so deadly to the very god idea they are designed to protect. Normally, when people argue endlessly about a topic it is because they are arguing from different beginnings or prepositions. (As you’ve probably heard, there has to be some original point of agreement before two people can argue about anything.) For example, the argument over whether abortion should be legal or not will likely never go away because people cannot agree on the preposition. For someone who thinks that human life begins at conception, abortion at any stage is “murder.” However, for people who think that human life begins at birth, then abortion is not murder. (The abortion debate is more complex than this, but the purpose here is to explain how arguments work.

We are fortunate, then, that we have no such problem when dealing with the three most common arguments for god’s existence. I disagree with all of their premises, but that won’t be an issue because even when I pretend that I agree with them they obliterate the concept of a god. Here, then, are god’s “suicide arguments.”

God’s Suicidal Arguments

1. The Prime Mover

It is a religious trick to dress absurdities up with solemn ceremonies in the hope that no one will notice their silliness. The taking of communion, for example, where Catholics eat a very sacred wafer that is supposed to change, at some point, into the flesh of Jesus is about as bizarre as you can get. Yet if everyone goes through the procedure with a solemn face, as if this is all very serious and important, then it appears to have some weight.

Sometimes atheists fall into the same trap and treat religious arguments with the same type of seriousness. So, any discussion about the Prime Mover argument generally begins with a long preamble about the deep philosophical thought of Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, and blah, blah, blah. It’s like putting a mule in a tuxedo.

Essentially, the Prime Mover argument makes the case that something had to cause the universe. That something, according to the religious believer, must be god. No effects exist without a cause, so there must have been some “first cause.”

The reason this argument is so suicidal to god is that it brings up an even bigger question. Where did god come from? How does adding an all-powerful invisible entity at the beginning help us at all? (In fact this argument is flawed scientifically. The universe did not need a first cause, and this will be explained shortly.)

Let’s all just accept the Big Bang theory for a moment. The Catholic Church does, saying that it was the finger of god that sparked the creation of the universe. Well, we might then ask the scientific question of what existed before the Big Bang? We can have a lot of fun just throwing out theories without evidence. I could say that before the Big Bang all that existed were two wart-covered aliens playing video games. And one of the aliens got angry and threw his controller through the television set, thus providing the spark for the Big Bang. So, what we see now as “reality” is simply the video game running on, broken and partially haywire. You would laugh at this. Where did the aliens come from? Where did the television set and video game console come from? Sure, it’s possible that this happened. After all, no one can prove conclusively that it didn’t, but the absurdity of it makes this hypothesis seem unlikely.

And yet, people who would laugh at the Alien/Video Game Theory will simply believe in the existence of a being who is infinitely more complex than they are, and who has created reasons for our existence which are equally bizarre. In fact, every “effect” we see in the universe has an easily explained cause. When I see a baseball flying through the air, I don’t have to look very far to see what caused it—someone threw it or hit it. We could then ask a seemingly endless set of questions such as, “where did the thrower come from,” etc., and we would have unremarkable answers all the way back until the Big Bang. Now, if we accepted god as the Prime Mover, he would be the only cause in this massive chain for which we have no explanation or hope of an explanation. This, somehow, makes him more likely to exist?

Science, as always, will simply say, “Well, we won’t know until we can gather enough evidence to create a decent theory.” Science does not insist upon anything that it can’t prove. The idea of god being the first mover in the universe is silly and utterly without evidence. It should be of no more intellectual merit than the notion that a talking tractor, video game-playing aliens, invisible flying clowns, or angry raccoons created the universe. None of the arguments for a god are any better than the arguments for any of these things.

When talking about the origins of life, that is, when life actually began, religious people will often bring up a concept related to the Prime Mover argument. This is the principle of Occam’s Razor, which is maybe the most misunderstood concept in philosophical history. (Even many professional philosophers miss what Occam’s Razor implies.) According to the medieval philosopher William of Occam, if you are presented with two explanations for a phenomenon, then the explanation with the fewest assumptions is generally the right one. This is usually paraphrased as, “All else being equal, the simplest explanation is best.”

To put this another way, Occam’s Razor simply means that we have to consider the evidence without any “extras.” We’ll see what this means in a moment, and also why Occam’s Razor is so dangerous to religion. (The medieval church, by the way, at least seemed to sense what Occam was up to and was not pleased—he died in exile. So, I’m not sure why religious people think his razor should be used on their behalf.)

When talking about the creation of the universe, religious folks will often invoke Occam’s Razor and say: “What could be simpler than ‘god did it’?”

Well, this is not such a simple explanation. First of all, we must make the mother of all assumptions—the existence of an all-powerful, invisible deity. Then we have to tack that notion on to any explanation we give for anything. So, God becomes a tumor that grows on the back of any explanation.

Let me show how Occam’s Razor can be used to cut away the tumor from a more sophisticated argument made on god’s behalf. The passage below is from a liberal and respected theologian who spoke up on behalf of evolutionary theory (and hence against the “intelligent design” proponents) at a trial in Dover, Pennsylvania. Catholic theologian John Haught was arguing that there was no conflict between science and religion, because, he believes, the two do not intersect:

Suppose a teapot is boiling on your stove, and someone comes into the room and says, “Explain to me why that’s boiling.” Well, one explanation would be it’s boiling because the water molecules are moving around excitedly and the liquid state is being transformed into gas.

But at the same time you could just as easily have answered that question by saying, “It’s boiling because my wife turned the gas on.”

Or you could also answer the question by saying, “It’s boiling because I want tea.”

All three answers are right, but they don’t conflict with each other because they’re working on different levels. Science works at one level of investigation, religion at another . . . The problems occur when one assumes that there’s only one level.

(quoted in 40 Days and 40 Nights, by Matthew Chapman [Charles Darwin’s great grandson], p. 106)

This line of reasoning made me think for a while, which is something that the god arguments have been inspiring people to do for years. However, it seems that Dr. Haught’s argument cannot survive Occam’s Razor. The idea that explanations can work on different levels is interesting. In fact, most actions do have several layers of explanation. The fallacy in this is in thinking that this includes a supernatural, rather than natural, explanation.

If I stated that the water was boiling because I wanted tea, then my want of tea could be easily explained through biological means. My body needs moisture and sends me signals to make sure that I get it. Ancestors that didn’t have such signals would have died of thirst. Perhaps I was tired and my intellect, derived through evolution, would remind me that tea has caffeine.

If my wife turned on the stove for me, it may be because we have found that doing small favors for one another makes our marriage work better. Where, exactly, would I need god in any of these explanations? You see, if I was trying to observe and explain why water on a stove boils, the simplest explanation would be to say that heat causes the particles inside the water to move, that heat was caused by the electricity flowing through the heating element, and that the electricity came from a power plant, etc. If I believed in god, I would still have to explain the water particles, heat, etc., but I would have to tack on an extra layer of explanation at each point. Instead of saying, “The particles in the water are moving quickly because of the heat source,” I would have to say, “The particles in the water are moving quickly because of the heat source and because an eternal, invisible deity of unlimited complexity designed this.” Or, to use Occam’s Razor to cut through Dr. Haught’s several layers of explanation, I would have to say, “I want tea because I’m thirsty and because an eternal invisible deity of unlimited complexity wanted me to be.” Adding a god, or an Invisible Flying Clown, or any other supernatural cause to an explanation makes it more complicated, not less. Occam’s razor cuts no tumor more deeply than the one called god.

So, we see that the “prime mover” argument holds the seeds of its own destruction as does its companion, the misused Occam’s Razor. If everything that exists must have a cause, and god exists, then where did he come from? (By the way, if he’s all powerful, could he make a rock so big that he couldn’t lift it?)

2. The Watchmaker, er, Cell-Phone Maker

The second of god’s suicidal arguments is roughly two hundred years old and was first put forth by the Anglican philosopher William Paley. The argument is rather simple. If something looks designed, then it must have a designer. A watch must have a watchmaker. In other words, if something is complex then it requires something more complex to create it. The universe, obviously, is very complex, therefore its creator must be, well, you get the picture.

Now, let’s refer back to the believer’s assertion that god as a prime mover, in keeping with Occam’s principle, is a simple solution. As the great science writer/teacher/atheist Richard Dawkins has pointed out, any “Creator” must be at least as complex as his creations. It makes no sense to explain how something became complex by invoking an invisible, undetectable something that is infinitely more complex. In other words, if the universe is too complex to not have had a creator, then what does that say about the creator? If a watch needs a designer, then how could an incredibly complex creator just have sprung into existence?

In fact, the watchmaker argument, often used in conjunction with the human body, is not just suicidal but deeply flawed. For one thing, it ignores that many people are born with harmful birth defects that almost immediately cause suffering and death. Was the Watchmaker drunk? Secondly, the most complex things actually have teams of inventors, so it would seem that this argument actually is a better proof for the existence of many gods.

Thirdly, this argument is historically preposterous. Imagine a watch just popping into existence, fully formed. This is absurd. Everything that is complex in the universe has less complex origins. Modern cell phones include cameras, video games, telephones, radio transmitters and receivers, and computers. The cell phone was not created before any of these other inventions, but was made up of them. And each of the cell phone’s components had ancestors which were less complex. Digital cameras did not come out, indeed could not have come out, before Polaroids. Flat screen televisions with DVR capabilities did not come out before black and white television. The Grand Theft Auto video games did not come out before Pong. Nothing that is complex just pops into existence. The very nature of complexity is that it is made up of things that are less complex.

Further, if you grasp this, you would understand that the phones from the 1950s, the kind that Andy Griffith spoke into when he was calling Aunt Bee and Opie from the sheriff’s office, could be considered a different species from the modern cell phone. Andy’s phone did not want to become another type of phone. It did not consider itself to be a “transitional species” of phone, but merely survived for its time and then eventually found itself out-competed and then extinct. Only its fossil record survives in thrift stores, attics, and museums

You might say, yes, the phone has evolved but it took humans (something more complex) to guide that evolution. Humans are a good metaphor in this case, but not for god, since no human being who grew up on an isolated island away from modern technology could ever hope to create a cell phone, or even conceive of what it is. (For that matter, imagine telling people fifty years ago that one day they would carry a phone in their pocket; I would bet that, almost universally, their first comment would be about how long the extension cord would have to be.) Human “inventors” aren’t a good metaphor for god; but they are a good metaphor for natural selection. All that humans can do is look at all the phone designs that don’t work (experiment) and then pick the ones that do. This is just a faster version of what nature does through environmental and sexual selection.

If I was ever brought into court to refute the watchmaker argument, I would find it an easy task. Every part of a watch had, at one time, uses that were entirely unrelated to its use in a watch in the same way that many of the features of a modern cell phone were once completely unrelated to being part of a cell phone. Numbers obviously had uses other than just being on a watch face. Gears were used for mills. The glass on the face of a watch was used for windows, and the strap is just a shrunken belt. When they all came together they turned out to have another use, at least partially unrelated to their original uses. Better yet, I could prove this. It would not be difficult to show the origins of numbers, of glass, of gears, of straps and to show that they had other uses prior to being part of a watch. I could even show “fossil” evidence of the antecedents of the modern watch. Egyptian sundials, Chinese water clocks, and the great designs which came from John Harrison’s workshop (google his name; he’s pretty cool) could all be used to prove the point that the watch evolved from smaller, less complex pieces. The evidence table would be full and the court reporter would have to stop and massage the tendons of her wrist when I was through.

And I could be confident that god would never show up to testify on his own behalf.

3. Why is there something rather than nothing?

The third of god’s suicidal arguments is not really an argument. It actually involves an interesting question that theologians hope has an assumed answer. That is not to say the answer that believers give is interesting; it isn’t. Religious people simply have to hope that believers will assume that the uninteresting answer is true.

We will now examine the biggest question of them all: Why is there something rather than nothing? Personally, I don’t know why people assume there ever was nothing. What if the natural state of the universe is to be here? I don’t know why people who live in a world of something should assume that there was at one point nothing.

Here’s the problem with this question: Religious people don’t believe there was ever really nothing, do they? According to them, god was hanging around, just waiting to create a universe so that he could make humans and play his little faith-or-hell game with us. This, then, is the problem. You cannot ask the question of why is there something rather than nothing if you don’t assert that there actually was nothing. Instead, religious believers assert that rather than nothing, there was an Ultimate Something. This argument is the most persuasive when it is being used against the notion of a god. Why is there a god rather nothing? Again, this argument is suicidal for the god idea.

It is here that we can also address the point I raised earlier about the universe not needing a “first cause” or “prime mover.” Stephen Hawking (the really smart guy in a wheelchair who is often depicted in “The Simpsons”) addressed the issue of the universe’s creation from nothing to something and stated this in his best-selling Brief History of Time:

[T]he quantum theory of gravity has opened up a new possibility, in which there would be no boundary to space-time and so there would be no need to specify the behavior of the boundary . . . The universe would be completely self-contained and not affected by anything outside itself. It would be neither created nor destroyed. It would just BE. (p. 141)

Dr. Hawking is careful to point out that this is just a proposal based on the mechanics of quantum gravity and will remain a proposal until all the evidence is in. That being said, doesn’t it make much more sense to theorize about the universe’s “beginnings” (if the word even applies) from the standpoint of science than it does to theorize about it from the standpoint of religion? What, exactly, makes anyone think that a religious proposal is likely to be helpful here?

I prefer to address the question in this way. The question of “why is there something rather than nothing?” answers itself, since it is not possible to ask its opposite.

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Front cover of "The Heretic's Handbook of Quotations

 

by Chaz Bufe, compiler/editor of The Heretic’s Handbook of Quotations, and See Sharp Press editor

I was talking yesterday about the fear of death with one of the See Sharp Press authors, and how incongruous it seems that religious “believers” are so often terrified of death. The author mentioned that his  sister teaches at a Catholic university on the West Coast, and during a recent conversation she’d said that one of her colleagues, a Catholic priest, was dying of cancer.  When the priest told her of this, she’d said to him that his religious faith must be a great source of comfort. He admitted that it wasn’t, and that he was terrified. Score one for the priest: at least he was honest about it.

That begs the question, why are so many devout Christians, who stoutly maintain that they look forward to everlasting life in heaven, terrified of death? The obvious answer is that their actual beliefs do not match their professed beliefs. They desperately want to believe in an afterlife, but they don’t actually believe in it.

This explains a lot, including why “believers” routinely do everything in their power, even in extreme old age, to stave off death. It also explains why they’re so often hostile to atheists: the pointed words of nonbelievers threaten to burst their carefully constructed wishful-thinking bubbles. If “believers” actually believed, they wouldn’t care what atheists say. But they do. Like frightened children, they stomp their feet, howl angrily, and lash out at those who say anything that calls their wishful thinking into question.

A related aspect of this childish clinging to comforting illusions is that “believers” are pathetically eager to hear their “beliefs” parroted by others. The “reasoning” is that if everyone says their particular brand of bullshit is true, it must be true. Hence childhood religious indoctrination. Hence the perennial popularity of priests and preachers, no matter how transparently phony. Hence the huge industry in Christian books and videos, almost all of which flatter their fear-driven consumers (“the chosen,” “the elect,” “God’s people”), and tell them exactly what they want to hear.

In itself, this is enough to explain why so many Christians are terrified of death. But there’s one additional reason: atheists accept death as inevitable. For the most part we’re far from happy about it, but we accept it.  And most of us have had decades to come to terms with our own mortality. Religious “believers,” on the other hand, have spent their entire lives pretending that death doesn’t exist. They’ve spent their entire lives not coming to terms with it. So when they come face to face with death, they’re terrified.

 

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