Monday, January 31, 2011

Last Post of January!

I finished my homework and studying for the day, however I have a class that starts shortly (a 5pm GEOL120 Discussion Section).  Tomorrow's post is going to be on "This is a Christian Nation!" if campus is closed tomorrow due to icy conditions.  If not, I'll find a shorter topic to post about.  Today's post is for all of the people that tell me (or atheists in general) that I am too intelligent for them to engage in a discussion with me.

I would like to begin by saying I am sure there are plenty of people out there that do not think I am intelligent in the slightest.  They may be correct, but this is not the the point of this post.  When speaking about a belief you have, whether it be a religious belief, you must have reasons for holding it.  The only thing I am asking you for is, "What do you believe and why?".  If I find something that I happen to disagree with, then I'll ask you to defend your belief.  At this point, after questioning your belief and showing you exactly where I think your errors are, I start receiving comments such as:  "You're trying to use logic too much" or "You're too smart to talk to".  Intelligence has nothing to do with this conversation!  If you hold a belief, just tell me the reasons for which you hold this belief.  When I point out the fallacies in the way you are reasoning, one of three things should happen:
  1. Tell me I am the one who is mistaken and defend your belief
  2. Recognize my criticisms and tell me you'll get back to me as you do more research while you think through your reasoning
  3. Recognize my criticisms and change your mind
None of these involve you realizing that my criticisms make sense, but refusing to address them and attributing your lack of a good reason to hold your belief to my intelligence is absurd.  If you recognize the fact that you don't have good reasons for your belief... drop the belief!  Please note that this is not the same as saying the opposite viewpoint is true.  Just reject your belief that X for the time being.

Please e-mail me at or leave a comment below!  Off to class!  Have a great day!       

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Busy, Busy, Busy!

It's Sunday today!  Some people might be busy going to church, but I'm busy studying and learning.  A combination of Calculus II problems, Philosophy homework, some atheist podcasts, spilling soda on my laptop, and trying to fit in eating have plagued this day.  Today is a short post because I'm probably going to go to bed early (I have a lecture at 8am tomorrow morning).  So, today I'm going to ask my readers to answer some questions!  I expect everyone who reads this post to answer these questions; even if they are short.  Please submit the answers to my e-mail at or number and answer the questions in the comments section below.  When I get a significant number of replies or someone says something I really want to address, I'll dedicate an entire post to these questions.  Have a great beginning to the week!  Since there is a dichotomy between atheists and theists, answer the group of questions under the label that most accurately describes you.

Questions for the theists:

  1. What is your number one reason for believing in a god or gods? 
  2. What is your best argument you would use if you were trying to convince a nonbeliever that your god or gods exist?
  3. What are your views on...
    1. Atheism?
    2. Science?
    3. Skepticism?
    4. Knowledge?
    5. Homosexuality?
  4. Is faith a good thing?
  5. How literally or metaphorically do you take your religious texts?  How much of the text do you actually follow?
Questions for the atheists:

  1. Why are you an atheist?
  2. What, if any, religion did you belong to before you became an atheist?  What was your experience in this former religion?
  3. What are your opinions about atheist activism?
  4. Do you like the word "atheist" to describe yourself or do you prefer another label (i.e. pearlist, freethinker, bright, etc.)?
  5. What is the greatest threat that religion poses to society?
Thanks for your time!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Atheists believe there is no purpose to human life!

Christians often assert that without a higher being/intelligence assigning his divine plan to you, it is impossible to have any purpose to your life.  Since atheists lack a belief in a god or gods, some Christians take this to mean that atheists perceive everyone to have no purpose during their lifetimes.  These Christians are correct on two points.  One, atheists lack a belief in a god or gods; and two, most atheists reject the notion that someone has an intrinsic purpose to their life.  Let me reiterate the definition of atheism because understanding this definition fully should stop a few common misconceptions about atheists.  Atheism is the lack of belief in a god or gods.  Let me say it again.  Atheism is the lack of belief in a god or gods.  Not, "Atheism is the belief that no gods exist" or "Atheism is the belief that nothing exists" or "Atheism is a worldview that preaches science".  Most atheists reject the notion that someone has an intrinsic purpose to their life. What do I mean by "an intrinsic purpose"?  An intrinsic purpose is a natural, inherent property that something holds that would give it meaning.  It takes some kind of cognitive feature, such as the human brain,  to give something meaning.  Speaking from my point of view, humans don't come with pre-packaged purposes.  We decide for ourselves what our purpose to our life is going to be; not some god.  In other words, you decide what kind of meaning/purpose you want your life to have.  Furthermore, I would consider this more empowering than the Christian view that God decides what your purpose in life is.  If God assigns you a purpose, then you are not free to change it (considering God is omnipotent).  Not only could this raise questions about free will, but I would classify this situation as a form of entrapment.  Sure, you could say that God lets you do as you please, but has an ultimate goal for you.  However, why wouldn't God make it so that you could pursue whatever purpose in life you wanted (assuming that God can make up the rules).  Humans give themselves their purpose/meaning to life.  I challenge everyone reading this post to ask yourself, "What is my purpose in life going to be?"  You can have multiple purposes, extravagant goals, things you would like to accomplish or do, and assign whatever meaning you want to your own life.  Finally, after deciding on your purpose, I want you to go after it whole-heartedly; make something of your life.  If your self-assigned purpose is to be top of your academic class, then you should work hard and earn (not get) good grades.  If your life's purpose is to have and support a loving, nurturing family, then work towards that.  Yes, even if you want to be a Baptist minister, then go to seminary and pursue that goal with passion and dedication.  Who is anyone else to tell you what the meaning of your life should be?  I would like everyone to lay out your purpose/goals/meaning in your life and start working towards maintaining that meaning, reaching those goals, and achieving that purpose.  My purposes in my life are threefold:  get a good career in the field of Economics, start a family, and promote rational thinking, skepticism, and atheism in all communities across the world.  That is my motivational speech for the week!

If you have any questions, disagree with me, or want to start a discussion, I encourage you to e-mail me at!  If it is more comfortable or convenient for you, you may post in the comments section below.  Have a great rest of the weekend!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Skepticism and Changing Your Mind

In addition to calling myself an atheist, I also use the label "skeptic" to refer to myself.  What does being a skeptic involve?  A skeptic is someone who requires sufficient evidence to accept a claim as being true.  Another attribute that I connect with skepticism is that a skeptic is always open for a debate and willing to change their mind about anything.  Take me and my atheism, for example.  The theistic claim is that there is a god or there are multiple gods.  I am no where near having sufficient evidence to believe that any gods exist.  However, all it would take for me to be a believer is some type of proof that a god or gods exist.  Some people would call this open-mindedness; I just see it as an application of skepticism.  There isn't a single belief that I hold that I won't challenge and I believe that this is a healthy habit.  Christians often accuse atheists of being close-minded because we aren't "giving God a chance".  Just because someone rejects a claim does not mean they are close-minded towards that claim.  It just means that they feel you have not met your burden of proof yet.  If anything, I would have to say that Christians are more often the close-minded folks.  When someone presents a Christian with scientific counter-claims that are easily verifiable and the Christian still rejects the evidence by running away or not conceding the point; I would call this close-mindedness.  Granted, all Christians are not like this and their personal opinion on what is sufficient evidence is what matters.  However, I find it hard to believe that some people can be so ignorant to deny the theory of evolution by means of natural selection.

I don't quite understand what the big deal is about a Christian giving up their belief in a God.  I was fortunate enough to be an atheist since middle school (I distinctly remember getting into an argument in the boys' locker room with a group of people as I told them how the story of "Noah and the Arc" was absurd).  I love when people tell me when I was mistaken/incorrect about something and I hope that when they convince me that I am wrong they make fun of me for being wrong.  This way I'll never make the same mistake again.  Giving up false beliefs is one of the most liberating feelings one could possibly have and you should never be afraid or embarrassed when you're wrong.  Admitting your mistakes is the height of intellectual honesty.  There is a story that I heard in which a college professor of biology spent his entire career attempting to prove his hypothesis about the golgi apparatus within a cell being an "artifact" that didn't exist.  An American biologist came to this professor's school for a public lecture and, without a shadow of a doubt, promptly destroyed the professor's hypothesis and lifelong work.  At the end of the lecture, the professor walked up on the stage, shook the other biologist's hand, and said something to the effect of:  "My dear fellow I wish to thank you.  I have been wrong these 15 years."  That is how science and skepticism works at their finest (please watch for the aforementioned story as told by Richard Dawkins.  It took me nearly two hours to find this 6 minute clip for you, so I'd appreciate it if you watched!).  Refusing to change your mind to accept a true belief instead of a false one, is like learning that drinking alcohol is harmful towards your body, but keep drinking anyway because you've already invested yourself in it.  Another example of this are internet users that fall prey to e-mail scams.  Some people continue to give money to the scammers even after they find out about the scam because they are in too deep and refuse to accept what the glaringly obvious situation is for them.

Please e-mail me at for any reason (i.e. comments, questions, to start up a discussion, etc.).  Also, if it is more convenient for you, leave a comment in the comments section below.  Have a wonderful Friday night and weekend!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Faith is a Virtue

One question that everyone should be asking themselves is, "Does it matter to me if my beliefs are true?" or "Do I want to have as few false beliefs as possible?".  If your answer to either or both of the questions is "no", then I would consider this a problem.  Granted, I would support your right to not care and I wouldn't advocate forcing people to believe a certain way, however I would encourage people not to.  Not caring if your beliefs are actually true is demonstrably harmful to some people.  I would like to specifically look at religious examples of how false beliefs hurt people because of the nature of this blog, although examples can be derived from circumstances outside of religion.

The first example I would like to talk about involves the death of Madeline Neumann, an 11 year old girl from Wisconsin, in March of 2008.  Her parents were a sort of "Christian Scientist"; those who believe that God can heal any ailment through the power of prayer.  Madeline hadn't seen a doctor since she was three years old.  Madeline became extremely ill and spent 30 days in a deteriorating state (lack of eating, pain, etc.) until she ultimately died as her parents tried to pray for her to get better.  Madeline died due to diabetic ketoacidosis; a condition in which the body lacks insulin.  The remedy for this condition include simple insulin shots, allowing for a near 0% fatality rate if treated properly.  So, in effect, these parents killed their daughter.  Not only is it absurd that wishful thinking will heal the sick, but prayer has been shown to have no alternative effects from similar secular actions.  I add the caveat "from similar secular actions" because it is possible that knowing people are praying for you would make you feel slightly better, however this would be no different than wishing someone the best or hoping they get better (the secular alternative).  Again, this is an example of how a false belief (believing that wishful thinking can heal people) is damaging. 

Another similar example is the death of Ava Worthington, a 15 month old child from Oregon, due to neglect by her parents to give her appropriate medical attention.  She had a 4-inch, benign cyst on her neck that went untreated and she died from bacterial bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection.  Now you may be thinking to yourself, "these are only a few isolated incidents".  First of all, I would like to say that there shouldn't be any incidents to begin with.  Secondly, this "Christian Science" idea is more popular than you would think (in the hundreds of thousands; see  Thirdly, Ava's parents were of a nondenominational congregation called The Followers of Christ.  From 1950-1998, at least 21 children could have been saved from The Followers of Christ's graveyard provided they had sought proper medical treatment (see

My third example is the case of Laura Schubert.  When Laura was 17 years old, members of the Pleasant Glade Assembly conducted a forced exorcism on her in order to expel a perceived demon she had inside her.  Laura suffered cuts, carpet burns, and bruised wrists as the members of the congregation held her down despite her pleas for them to stop.  Subsequently, Laura starting having hallucinations, cutting herself and attempting suicide.   What proof did this congregation have to lead them to believe that a forced exorcism was necessary?  My overall point is to show that beliefs without reasons are potentially harmful, sometimes life-threatening, to the holders of that belief and, more importantly, others.

Ultimately, the foremost "reason" that Christians use for their belief in God is faith.  Even the Bible states, "Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." (John 20:29)  Furthermore, realizing that faith was one of the very few legs that Christianity has left to stand on, Christians often tout that faith is a virtue;  that you have to "just take it on faith".  Not only do I think that faith is not a virtue, I see it as a flaw in a person's character.  The excuse of taking something sorely on faith is only spewed in religious contexts.  I challenge you to find any other field in which accepting something as true based solely on the grounds that you accept that something on faith.  I think that what you will find is that none of the other fields have an "I accept it on faith" position.

So, what is the problem with accepting a claim as true based on faith?  As it turns out, there are multiple reasons.

    1.   Accepting a claim based on faith ends the pursuit and acquisition of truth

When you start accepting claims on faith alone, the incentives for discovery and scientific research are irrelevant.  Science is conducted to explore what we don't know in order to learn more.  When "faith" becomes an accepted reason for belief, science just stops.  This is the reason people try to say that God is outside of science.  They are so engulfed in the idea that a God exists that any evidence to the contrary is null and void. 

    2.   Faith is a non-reason

Faith isn't even a real reason for belief at all.  When is it acceptable to say, "I believe in X so strongly even though I have no evidence"?  Again, maybe this is alright with you if you don't care whether or not your beliefs are true, but for most people (and these people are correct) faith is not a justification for belief. 

    3.  False sense of security

Church leaders have to make sure that their congregants believe that "faith is a virtue".  If the congregants actually took the time to investigate the issue of whether or not their God exists, they would find that there isn't a single good argument for Him.  However, Christians just exclaim, "But I have faith!" as if they use it as a security blanket that exempts them from critical thinking.

Thanks for reading!  E-mail me at for any questions, comments, or if you just want to have a discussion with me.  Feel free to leave a comment below, I promise I'll answer all of your comments!  Have a great Friday!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Long Post Tomorrow!

I'm busy with Calculus II problems and course readings currently, but campus might be closed tomorrow (certainly at least a delayed opening).  Since I'll have this extra time, I am going to write a long post on some topic tomorrow.  If you have any suggestions for this topic please leave a comment below!  E-mail me at for questions, comments, and if you just want someone to have a discussion with.  A word of warning though; I may address your arguments in the blog (although you will not be mentioned by name).  I hope everyone on the East Coast of the United States is enjoying the snow!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Atheist Experience and The State of the Union Address

Last Sunday, one of the best episodes of "The Atheist Experience" aired on public access television in Austin, Texas.  "The Atheist Experience" is a live, call-in television program sponsored by the Atheist Community of Austin, a non-profit educational organization promoting positive atheism and the separation of church and state.  Last Sunday's episode is available in its entirety at  This episode covers multiple topics that I have written posts about; including:  "burden of proof", Gaby Giffords 'miracle', religious discourse tactics, and some of the fallacies people have about atheists.  I highly encourage everyone to watch this.  The program is only an hour long and the first caller emulates what a good discussion should be.

In the State of the Union Address conducted by President Obama tonight, several references to religion/religious people.  In the beginning of the speech he mentioned Representative Gaby Giffords and her empty chair.  He mentioned that we will all be praying for her.  See my first post for my comments about the "miracle" of Gaby's survival and praying for her.  Obama also mentioned that Americans that are Muslim are part of the United States' community.  This is correct; people need to stop attributing all Muslims to terrorism and citizens of the United States need to stop practicing xenophobia.  At the very end of the speech, Obama said "God bless America".  As usual, he pandering to the majority, ignoring all those who do not believe in the particular God.

Please e-mail me at or feel free to leave a comment below!  I have an idea for a live broadcast where I would answer questions and speak, but that would require an increase of interest (i.e. e-mails to me, comments posted, etc.)  Have a great day!         

Monday, January 24, 2011

College Classes and Argumentum ad Ignorantiam

I would like to begin today's post by talking briefly about my first day of the semester at the University of Maryland, College Park.  After all, the name of the blog is "SecularStudent:  A Journey Through College".  I had three classes today; Calculus II, Contemporary Moral Issues, and Art and Archaeology of Ancient America.  In my Contemporary Moral Issues class, I made a conscious effort to count the number of times my professor said "Religion", "Religious", "God", or "Christian".  Combining all four words together, guess how many times my professor said these words.  To my pleasant surprise, the answer is once.  She said "religious", but only in passing.  She only mentioned it to comment that some people have moral opinions that come from religious beliefs.  The focus of the class is to turn "mere opinions" about morals into "articulate and well-defended" positions on contemporary moral issues.  The four moral issues that we are focusing on are:  pornography, death penalty, doctor assisted suicide/life support, and abortion.

I have a dorm floor meeting soon, chess club, then bed, so I'll keep today's post brief.  I would like to quickly touch on "argumentum ad ignorantiam" (aka argument from ignorance or argument from personal incredulity).  When a theist makes some kind of fallacious claim, this fallacy (if present) is usually the first one I point out in their argument.  What does it mean to call someone ignorant?  Nowadays the term "ignorant" has a strong derogatory connotation.  However, to me, the word simply means a lack of knowledge.  There are many scholastic fields in which I would say I am ignorant of.  For example; Astronomy, Plant Sciences, African and Asian History, Art History, and Women's Studies, just to name a few.  If I call someone ignorant it's not meant to be mean, but rather to point out the fact that you are lacking knowledge in some area.  Now what does this have to do with religious claims?  A common argument for the existence of a god or gods (very similar to the argument from design) goes something like:
  1. The universe is so complicated and vast.
  2. I don't know how this universe could have come into existence by any other means but a god or gods.
  3. Therefore this god or gods must exist.
Wrong!  The minute you say, "I don't know" you're done.  You must demonstrate that this god or these gods exist, not just assert that you can't think of a better explanation.  This is personal incredulity; not personally knowing another way something could happen does not mean that experts in the field have no idea nor does it mean that no explanation will ever be discovered.

As usual, e-mail me at to ask questions, tell me your concerns, express a disagreement, or start up a discussion.  Or, if you would rather, leave a comment below!  Have a great day!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Refuting the Previous Post from Two Days Ago!

Yesterday I posted three simple arguments for the existence of God that come up a fair bit in ordinary debates of mine with Christians.  Admittedly, the second or "Ontological Argument" is a bit out there and is only normally used by apologists.  If I had to rank the arguments by how frequent I hear them in arguments, with the first being the most frequent, my list would be:  the Argument from Design, the First Cause argument, and lastly the Ontological Argument.  However, I will begin my refutations by beginning with the easiest argument to dispel, the Ontological Argument.

The Ontological Arugment is an attempt to define God into existence.  Again, the Ontological Argument goes something like:
  1. God is the greatest imaginable being.
  2. All else being equal, a being or entity that exists is greater than one that doesn't.
  3. Therefore, God exists.
The first premise, "God is the greatest imaginable being", isn't demostrated and entirely subjective.  Let me invent a syllogism of this nature based on cats and unicorns.
  1. Cats are the greatest imaginable pets.
  2. All else being equal, pets that exist are greater than those that don't
  3. Therefore, cats exist.
 Now on to unicorns:
  1. Unicorns are the greatest imaginable creatures.
  2. All else being equal, creatures that exist are greater than those that don't
  3. Therefore, unicorns exist.
Using syllogisms with similar wording but different subjects easily illustrates the issue within the first premise.  The first premise is unfalsifible; an apologist's response to objections to the first premise will be that he/she defines God to be the greastest imaginable being/entity.  This point cannot be falsified.

A humorous take on the Ontological Argument (Gasking's Proof) which proves that God does not exist follows:

  1. The creation of the universe is the greatest achievement imaginable.
  2. The merit of an achievement consists of its intrinsic greatness and the ability of its creator.
  3. The greater the handicap to the creator, the greater the achievement (would you be more impressed by Turner painting a beautiful landscape or a blind one-armed dwarf?)
  4. The biggest handicap to a creator would be non-existence
  5. Therefore if we suppose that the universe is the creation of an existing creator, we can conceive a greater being — namely, one who created everything while not existing.
  6. Therefore, God does not exist.

Taken from

For more information on the Ontological Argument, please see for more information.  

The next argument that I am going to dispel is the First Cause Argument (sometimes called the Cosmological Argument).  There is an internal contradiction in the First Cause Argument.  One of the premises of the First Cause Argument is that everything that exists needs a cause and later in the argument an assertion is made that God doesn't need a cause.  These views are inconsistant which makes the argument flawed.  Another point that is incorrect in the First Cause Argument is that it assumes the first cause is God.  Let's assume there is a "first cause".  Would apologists still use this argument if found that this "first cause" is a single particle?  The apologist has no grounds to assert that this "first cause" is necessarily a God and is a variant of the "God of the Gaps" fallacy. 

The final argument is Argument from Design.  Disregarding the fact evolution accounts for the complexity of life on Earth, what defines complexity?  Is a pile of rocks less complex then a perfect sphere?  A perfect sphere, I would argue, is more complex than a pile of rocks because of the mathematics involved in making a perfect sphere.  A perfect shape or form is nonexistant in natural.  The reason we recognize what is designed is from prior knowledge.  In order to attribute nature as a creation of a designer, we would have to know what nature would look like if it wasn't created by a designer.  Furthermore, even if we found hard evidence that nature was designed, where is the line between this and your God?  This is also a special pleading argument because proponents of the Argument from Design are assuming a "who" that created nature instead of "what".

Please e-mail at or comment below if you have questions, concerns, or (most importantly) if you disagree.  I'll be happy to start a discussion with you!  Have a wonderful day!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

My Apologies!

There isn't going to be a post today because I am back at my dorm!  I'll be back on track tomorrow, so the Christian argument refuting post will come out tomorrow.  Classes start Monday so the amount of and quality of the posts may be suffering as I begin classes.  If you have any comments or questions e-mail me at or comment below!  Have a great day!

Friday, January 21, 2011

I can convince you that the God of the Bible exists!

I am going to try and convince all of my readers that the God of the Bible exists.  Please note:  This exercise is just to illustrate a point!  The arguments I am about to use are common arguments Christians use as an attempt to prove that their God exists.  All of the following arguments have fallacies, the goal for the reader is to identify the fallacies and create counterarguments.  Tomorrow I will go through each argument one by one and explain why each argument doesn't work.  The purpose of this exercise is to show that the arguments which Christian theologians use may sound convincing at first without further investigation.  Hopefully you will be able to see why these arguments are convincing at first, but ultimately see the flaws.

    1.   The First Cause Argument

Everything that exists had a cause and that cause was an effect of another cause.  There has to be a first cause or else we would have an infinite regression (i.e. the earliest effect you can think of has to have a cause, which is an effect of another cause; going on forever).  This first cause must not need a cause and we call this cause God because He is the only force in existence that need not have a cause.

    2.   The Ontological Argument

God is a perfect being.  All else being equal, a perfect being that exists is greater than a being that does not exist.  Therefore, God exists.

    3.   Argument from Design

This excerpt is taken from

Premise 1. We appear to observe features in nature too complex to have happened by chance
Premise 2. These features exhibit the hallmark appearance of design
Premise 3. Design implies that there must be a designer
Conclusion 1. Therefore nature must be the result of an intelligent designer
Conclusion 2. This designer is God

These are three common arguments for the existence of God and all are used by apologists.  If there is a particular argument you want me to include and debunk tomorrow, please leave a comment below or e-mail me at and I will be happy to address your argument!  Also, if there is enough people that support it in the comments, I am going to attempt to raise some money for a charity that has no religious ties.  Faith based charities can be easily corrupted in my opinion.  Sometimes money that should be going towards the cause they are trying to aid gets funneled back to their church.  Also, sometimes their charity work include a manditory church service before or after the people they are trying to help get aid.  So if you're interesting in donating to a secular charity, let me know in the comments below or e-mail me!  Have a great day!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What should atheists avoid when debating Christians?

I am going to be more merciless when explaining some of, what I see to be, inaccuracies in the debating tactics of atheists.  I am an atheist, so naturally I believe atheists have reality, logic, and reasoning on our side (or I wouldn't be an atheist!).  There is no point in sacrificing any of the aforementioned advantages in debating and seeing fallacious and poor arguments from my side of the coin is frustrating to me.  There are plenty of good cases for atheism that one need not ever find themselves using a downright bad case.  I respect that fact that I do not speak for all atheists and that all will have their own techniques for debates/discussion.  I am merely suggesting tactics to avoid (for both sides; see "What should Christians avoid when debating atheists?") that will keep a productive dialog.  Here are my tips:

  1. Don't talk down to people
Both Christians and atheists alike are guilty of this.  Smug certainty is going to get the conversation no where.  I have no problem with one person calling someone else's specific belief stupid or another degrading word, however, atheists should avoid treating Christians as if they are stupid on the whole.  When discussing, never assert something without a good reason; the converse of this would be what I call "smug certainty" or telling someone that you hold the correct position because its "obvious" and you are infallible.  Well, I'm sorry, but if your position's evidence was so obvious I would be on your side.  If you think you're right, show the evidence for your case and if you have none, you should be reserving your position.  I have talked to some "smug" Christians before and have been talked down to before through phrases like, "You are mistaken because you haven't felt God yet", or "I know God exists because He told me He does; you must not be intelligent enough to hear his call."  I will explain in a future post why personal experiences count as evidence for yourself and not as evidence for others to accept.  Think about this situation from my point of view, but instead use the subject of unicorns.  The Christian would basically be saying, "I know that unicorns exist because I have experienced one before (whether it be seeing, touching, seeing one in their mind, etc.)."  This is not evidence for me because I cannot reproduce this experience for myself, as well as the fact that humans are extremely easy to be deceived.  These types of statements from the atheistic side go something like, "All Christians must be unintelligent for believing in bronze-age fairy tales and accepting all of their beliefs on faith."  Again, I have no problem with an atheist saying, "I don't believe in bronze-age fairy tales, such as the stories told in your Bible, and I do not accept anything as true on faith.  Here are my reasons why..."  There are huge differences between these statements.  The first statement (the one that talks down to Christians) is a sweeping generalization.  Christians usually do have reasons for their belief other than faith, albeit, in my opinion, poor ones.  The first statement also leaves out the part when the atheist gives his reasons.  A good discussion starts with someone saying X, their partner retorting X with reasons against X, and the original speaker responding with counter-points.  A poor discussion is someone saying that they know X is true, their partner retorting X by saying they know that X is not true, and walking away.

    2.   Don't shift the burden of proof

Seeing this piece of advice broken is a pet-peeve of mine.  Christian have the burden of proof not atheists!  Let's review the definition of an atheist.  An atheist is a person who lacks a belief in a god or gods.  "Lacks" is the key word in the definition.  If the definition was slightly changed to:  "an atheist is a person who believes that no god or gods exist", a strawman frequently used by theists, then atheists would have the burden of proof.  Let's use the analogy of unicorns again with the terms "unicornist" and "aunicornist".  A unicornist is someone who believes in unicorns and an aunicornist is someone who lacks a belief in unicorns.  Which person has the "burden of proof" or the responsibility to provide evidence for their claim?  Obviously the unicornist because they are the ones who hold the positive belief.  If you said that the aunicornist had the burden of proof, please leave your reasoning in the comments below so we will be able to discuss the issue.  Or, see for a brief explanation.  The person asserting that something is true must provide the necessary evidence.  Do not attempt to shift the burden of proof to yourself if you are an atheist.  Let the theists dig their own holes because refuting theists claims is much, much easier than trying to prove that no gods exist (that's just a field of land mines).

    3.   Don't be too respectful of a Christian's religious belief

A person's religious convictions are no more "sacred" than their beliefs on their favorite daytime soap opera.  Granted, there is a fine line between being respectful of someone's beliefs and being disrespectful, so let me explain.  Always realize that people have the right to believe whatever they want.  It's the same principles that allow atheists to hold their lack of belief.  In addition, it's their right to not have their beliefs challenged and to stay sheltered from the evidence against their beliefs.  This being said, if you both agree (whether explicitly or implicitly) to talk about your religious beliefs or lack thereof, I would prefer that neither side holds back.  Christians usually aren't the ones who are guilty of being too respectful of an atheist's position because, supposedly, their duties as a Christian are to defend their faith (1 Peter 3:15) and I think that this is a good thing.  Challenging your beliefs in everything, although wholly impractical, is a beneficial practice.  Ultimately, I would like to know as many true things as possible, as well as having as few false beliefs as possible.  What I don't want to see atheists doing is "going easy" on a Christian just because they are talking about religious beliefs.

    4.   Don't misrepresent/generalize other atheists' and theists' viewpoints

The only characteristic that all atheists share is a lack of a belief in a god or gods.  Although there may be some other aspects that most atheists share, there will never be an "all".  Try to avoid sweeping generalizations such as, "atheists believe that abortions should be legal".  This may or may not be true for most atheists, but I can guarantee you that all atheists do not feel this way.  If your statement begins with "atheists believe..." you should rethink the statement you're about to make.  The same rule applies when talking about theists.  However, when you get down to the denominational level, there are certain characteristics you can give to people.  For example, in addition to a belief in a god or gods, Roman Catholics follow the Pope.  Avoid painting theists with a broad brush.  Allow the theist to define their version or versions of god or gods to deter from tearing down a strawman.  I have heard atheists jumping the gun and arguing against what most Christians believe, only to hear the Christian say, "Well that's not the God I believe in."  Don't give them this opportunity.  

    5.   Avoid letting Christians making too many consecutive claims without addressing them

In order to have a productive conversation, you have to figure out where the two of you agree and where you disagree.  Don't let a Christian build an argument on premises you find to be false.  If you let the Christian lay out their case with premises you find to be false, there is little point in arguing about the Christian's conclusion because neither of you will make real progress.  Arguing the points leading up to a conclusion and working through the logical process together (whether both of you agree with each other or not) can only be beneficial.  In addition, a common apologist debating tactic during public venues is to make claim after claim after claim so that their opponent has an impossible task in refuting them all.  The apologist then claims victory because their opponent couldn't refute their points.  If it is possible, pause the Christian's argument as soon as you disagree and start the discussion.

I hope these points have been instructive or helpful at least.  If you disagree with these tips or have more to add, please leave me a message in the comments below or e-mail me at!  Have a great day!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What should Christians avoid when debating atheists?

There are certain attributes of Christian/Atheist dialogs that I feel deter from a productive conversation, from both the theistic and atheistic viewpoints.  Today's post is going to focus on the tactics Christians use that are harmful for their case or those that impede effective, progressing discourse.  Tomorrow's post will be on the same topic, but from the atheistic perspective (atheists do stupid things too!).  The goal of having a debate on religious and philosophical topics shouldn't necessary rest on the assumption that, at the end of the conversation, someone is going to flip to the other side.  This expectation is merely wishful thinking.  A more realistic goal is to try and have a conversation in which both sides can come away with a different perspective on the issue.  Even if the person you are talking to makes claims that are easily refutable and your opponent doesn't see or understand the refutations, at least you can come away with arguments you hopefully have never heard of before.  Another benefit of these kinds of discourse is that both of the participants get practice.  Being able to eloquently express your ideas in a concise, pointed manner while maintaining patience takes practice.  So, without further adieu, here are some tactics that Christians should avoid when debating atheists:
  1. Avoid using scripts
Everyone has their "pet arguments" and this is okay.  The scripts I am talking about are ones that are pushed for by apologists to lead a person to God.  The makers of these scripts assume they know how each of their questions will be answered and attempt to lead a person straight to God.  However, if it were that easy, everyone (including me) would be a Christian.  The point is that some Christians, when they get thrown from their script, have no idea what to say and try to continue on with the script.  Make sure you know the objections for your arguments beforehand and be prepared to defend your position through rational thought.  Trying to continue on with the conversation when someone objects is pointless.  What's the point of building an entire argument off of a premise that the person you are talking to disagrees with?  In addition to these pitfalls, scripts attempt to steer the conversation and, in whole, are not as beneficial as civil thought sharing back and forth between you and your partner.  Do your homework before engaging in debates or you won't be taken seriously.  Scientific papers follow this guideline as well.  A good scientific paper must have a section that preemptively deals with the criticisms the author/authors know they will inevitably receive.

    2.   Avoid talking about the theory of evolution, abiogenesis, or Big Bang cosmology when the discussion is about the existence of God

Personally, when I get into a debate with a Christian over the existence of their God and the Christian starts talking about evolution, abiogenesis, or Big Bang cosmology, I immediately concede the point.  More specifically, I grant to them, for the sake of argument, that evolution, abiogenesis, and Big Bang cosmology are all incorrect.  Mind you, these are interesting topics for debating, however all are irrelevant to the question of God's existence.  If evolution was proven wrong tomorrow, that in no way proves that a God exists.  Christians have the "burden of proof" meaning they are the ones making a claim that we atheists lack a belief in.  It is up to the Christians to provide the necessary standards of evidence to prove that their God exists.  There is no dichotomy between the Big Bang and God started the universe with the wave of his hand.  There are many other theories than just these two.  If you want to follow scientific principles and prove that the God of the Bible exists, then you have to provide positive evidence for your claims and not rely on disproving other theories.

    3.   Ask questions

Christians have a much harder time with this one than atheists.  Atheists have natural questions we must ask Christians during every debate because there as many denominations as interpretations of the Bible.  Atheists have to develop some sense of the God you are talking about and what you personally believe.  I find that Christians do not extend this action to atheists.  As long as you're excluding the lack of a belief in a god or gods, the Christian doesn't know anything about what the atheist believes in or the reasons for this said lack of belief.  Avoid lumping people together and committing the fallacy of a sweeping generalization.  In addition to these types of personal questions, always feel free to ask for clarification of a response.  This will never hurt the conversation and can only help.  Plus, you two may agree on the issue but a small semantic difference is holding up the conversation.

    4.   Throw Bible verses around as if they carry weight

Imagine yourself in a debate with a Muslim and that person gives you a verse from the Qur'an in order to prove a point in a discussion that doesn't have to with Islamic teachings or anything of that sort.  The verse means nothing to you because you believe that the book is not divinely inspired and is a bunch of hogwash.  Guess what?  This is how atheists view your holy book!  In order to use the Bible as any type of evidence, you must first give a compelling case on how you know that the Bible is the word of God and isn't a make believe fairytale like every other religious text out there.

    5.   Substituting "I don't know" with "God must have something to do with it!"

This is called the "God of the gaps" fallacy.  I will have a post on this concept eventually, but, essentially, the fallacy is made when a theist offers their god or gods as an answer when us humans do not currently possess one.  For example, when a "medical miracle" happens and we don't know why, some people turn to God and this is a fallacy from ignorance.  Just because you can't possibly think of anything other than "God did it!", does not mean that is the correct answer.  In this case and in debates in general, the honest response to say is "I don't know".  There is nothing shameful about this response in the slightest.  Science says "I don't know" all of the time, but at no point is it justified in giving any answer it wants (such as a God).  Saying "I don't know" during a debate and not attributing events to your God is honest and will ultimately help the conversation.

If you have any other suggestions for tactics Christians should avoid when debating atheists please comment below!  Have a wonderful day!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Euthyphro's Dilemma

Plato, a 4th century B.C.E. Greek philosopher and mathematician, invented a dialog between his mentor (Socrates) and Euthyphro (a self proclaimed religious expert).  Socrates asks Euthyphro:
"Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?"
This question raises some interesting questions about morality in monotheistic religions.  In layman's terms, the question can be rephrased as:
"Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by God?"
So, for all of the theists out there, which one is?  Take some time to ponder...  Have an answer?  Well both answers have serious flaws and fallacies.  My commentaries on the two responses will be directed towards primarily Christian readers.

  1. Morals are commanded by God because they are moral
Then we don't need a God to give us our morals.  It is a fairly common occurrence, in the United States at least, to hear Christians say, "You can't be good without God!"  If this is the answer you chose, not only would you not need the Bible to "learn" your morality, but you would also be able to judge the morality of the God character, which frankly, if he wasn't your God, I think you would find him to be immoral.  The only other comment I can add is that a Christian wouldn't be able to say that God was the creator of the universe and all of its laws.

    2.   Morals are commanded by God

This answer fails to the "might makes right" fallacy, or whatever some authority figure claims to be morally good, you have to except it.  Let's suppose God tells you that murdering is morally good now, after all, how many people did God have murdered in the Old Testament? (2,017,956 people, not including 65 entire cities, and the Flood that killed everyone but Noah and his family;  see  Obviously there are some cases that God feels it is alright to have His followers kill people.  If you knew that God came down, was standing right in front of you, and He told you he wanted you to kill person or people X... would you be able to tell Him that He is immoral?  I don't see how you could if God was able to arbitrarily assign morals.  I already know that many Christians are sitting at home in front of their keyboards thinking, "well that just isn't in my God's nature to demand that out of us."  Not only does your own Bible contradict you, but now I pose another question:  Where does God get His nature from?  If He Himself designated His own nature, then we fall right back into the appeal from authority that got us here in the first place and if He gets His nature from some other higher entity, we get a situation that is similar to the first answer in the original question.

I highly recommend this clip of the show "The Atheist Experience";  This clip gives a very clear, concise explanation of Euthyphro's Dilemma and the problems that arise from the answers.  In addition to this clip, check this webpage for an explanation similar to the one I have just laid out.

Please e-mail me at if you have any questions, comments, or just want to start a discussion.  I have purposely not gone into some of the finer points of my arguments in an attempt to start up a discussion in the comments as well as not wanting to make a huge post about the concepts of relative and absolute morality.  The reason for this is partly because of the fact that neither really works as someone not well versed in philosophy would define them, while the other part being that I'm beginning a philosophy class on morality this upcoming term.  I'll make a long post after the class is completed and/or post some of my work/essays.  Have a great day!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Evolution 101

Last night I was in an altercation with someone I assume is a creationist, in a channel named "Religion" on the chess program I use (yes, I am an avid chess player).  If he was not a creationist, he was at least denying the biological process of evolution (both microevolution and macroevolution) by means of natural selection.  I usually can hold my tongue when hearing about theists' claims about their god or gods and beliefs.  However, when I hear them spread their misconceptions about science I have to put my foot down and give my two cents.  I was surprised that this individual (we'll call him John) was trying to contest microevolution as well as macroevolution.  Usually Christians will accept microevolution and reject macroevolution.  At least John (who is a Christian) holds a consistent denial of evolution across all fronts, because accepting microevolution and rejecting macroevolution is nonsensical and contradictory.  "Microevolution" is used to refer to:
"...changes in the gene pool of a population over time which result in relatively small changes to the organisms in the population — changes which would not result in the newer organisms being considered as different species." (from the article mentioned at the end of this post)
One case in which humans have witnessed microevolution is illustrated in a study on Biston betularia:
"In Europe there is a speckled moth called the Peppered Moth, Biston betularia. Among its members are very light-colored ones, and very dark-colored ones. Before the mid 1800s, the pale-colored ones were by far the most common kind encountered. Since they were less visible when resting on pale tree trunks, birds had a harder time seeing them, and eating them than they did the dark ones. However, then came the Industrial Revolution with its pollution, which covered tree trunks with soot making them darker. Now the dark-colored moths  became the most common form because now they blended in the best with the dark, soot-covered tree trunks. In other words, with regard to the entire species, the Peppered Moth gradually evolved toward the darker form, because the darker form was better adapted for a landscape darkened with soot." (
To give some more examples of microevolution:
  1. Insects becoming immune from certain types of pesticide.
  2. Bacterial Resistance to Antibiotics. (see
  3. The differences seen in humans from different geographical regions.
  4. For more see:  An extremely well put together site that gives you a basic tutorial on evolutionary biology!
John was objecting to the "Bacterial Resistance to Antibiotics" example by stating that even though the bacteria was resistant to antibiotics, they were still bacteria and he didn't see any resemblance of evolution in this.  I can only say that I think John doesn't grasp the concept of what microevolution actually is.  Over a relatively small amount of generations (microevolution), there will be differences within a specie, even if a new organism isn't created.  The accumulation of many, many changes (the same processes that drive microevolution) yield speciation, becoming a new specie that cannot breed with their ancestors.  This lengthy process is referred to by creationists as macroevolution.  Scientists, however, rarely distinguish between microevolution and macroevolution, as the same processes drive both and the scope of time is the only major difference.  I am entertaining the ideas of macroevolution and microevolution for the creationists sake, even though the distinction is somewhat redundant.

"Macroevolution" is used to refer to:
"changes in organisms which are significant enough that, over time, the newer organisms would be considered an entirely new species. In other words, the new organisms would be unable to mate with their ancestors, assuming we were able to bring them together." (from the article mentioned at the end of this post)

Macroevolution is the part of evolutionary theory that Christians reject most often.  Young Earth creationists believe in a 6,000 year old Earth (calculated from dates and ages of generation found in the Bible).  The idea is that we "know" when Jesus died and we "know" his age.  The list of the linage from King David to Jesus is found in the Bible along with the linage from Adam and Eve to King David.  Ages of most generations are provided by the Bible, so theoretically we could calculate the age of the Earth.  This number comes out to be around 4,000 B.C.E., sometime after the domestication of the dog.  I wager that one can see the problem a "young Earther" may have if scientists are saying that branches of the evolutionary tree can be traced back millions of years. 

Macroevolution accounts for all of the diversity of life we observe today.  The evidence lays in the fossil records, DNA analysis, phylogenetic analysis, and a handful of macroevolution observances by scientists in our lifetime (even though creationists believe none exist, see  All of these topics can be explored further at!

Back to John.  John was trying to make the claim that he has never seen a reptile give birth to a bird, he "knows" scientists (along with the theory of evolution) say that birds come from reptiles, therefore the scientists are wrong and he doesn't believe in evolution.  Many things are wrong with this argument, but let me focus on two:  his claim that scientists say birds come from reptiles and he has never seen a reptile give birth to a bird.
  1. Scientists say birds come from reptiles.
Not quite.  The terminology is a little inaccurate.  Birds don't come from reptiles, but rather reptiles are distant cousins of reptiles.  Archaeopteryx is an important link between what scientists call "birds" and "reptiles" and historically, scientists used to recognize Archaeopteryx as the first bird.  However, the line between what is a "bird" and what is a "reptile" is blurred and arbitrarily drawn.  It's not as if the reptiles all of the sudden turned into birds (as I will describe in the next point), but rather the process is a long series of changes, over millions of years, that forced scientists to draw the line somewhere as the transitional stage.  Take into account this image:

This is a flow chart of transitional forms from reptiles to more bird-like organism.  At which transitional form would you tag on the label "bird"?  The distinction is obviously blurry, but at no point would you say that the reptile magically changed into a bird.  This brings me to the next point:

    2.  I have never seen a reptile give birth to a bird.

If anyone saw this happen, this would be a strong bit of evidence against evolution because the theory of evolution doesn't actually say this.  As I explained above, not only is the distinction between reptiles and birds (at their transitional phases) hard to pinpoint, the fact this process takes millions of years refutes this argument.

As I have said earlier, scientists don't see the need to differentiate between macro- and microevolution because they are guided by the same processes.  You might be wondering what these processes are, so I'll conclude this post with a brief and extremely simple explanation.

An important part of evolution is that genes are heretical, thus organisms have heritable traits.  The mechanism that organisms use to pass these traits to their offspring is called DNA.  Mutation, the only random part of the process, can be caused by radiation, viruses, the natural DNA replication process, etc.  Although most mutations have a neutral effect on the organism, some are harmful and some are beneficial.  These mutations are carried over into the offspring.  The organisms with the harmful mutations eventually die out (because they are less likely to breed due to death or infertility, etc.) while the organisms with the beneficial mutation (ones that help the organism in its current environment) keep breeding until the entire population has the same mutation.  If enough mutations happen, then over a long period time (usually upwards of thousands of years) then entirely new species occur.  Consider this example:

Let us assume that this population of circles is put into an environment where being darker in beneficial (whether the predators can see lighter prey more easily, darker circles are chosen more often by female circles as mates, darker circles can survive hotter conditions, etc.).  If one or more of the circles develops a mutation that makes their body a darker shade, these darker circles are more likely to survive and therefore more likely to breed.  This is where the phrase "survival of the fittest" is coined from.  Over a long period of time, the entire population will be consisted of dark circles given that their environment remains constant because the darker circles will be the ones passing their traits to their offspring (one of which may have a mutation to be even darker).  The incorrect side shows a misconception about evolution similar to the "reptiles give birth to birds" fallacy.  Mutation do not respond to the environment; they are completely random.  Therefore each circle won't spontaneously give birth to a darker circle.    

For more information, I highly recommend this article:  The article is extremely brief and describes where the terms microevolution and macroevolution come from and how both creationists and scientists use them.

I understand that this is a lot to take in if you have little background in biology, however the information is easily available on the internet and it is explained much better than I have tried to.  I am not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination, however the concepts aren't too difficult to understand even for me!  If anyone out there is an evolutionary biologist or has any expertise in the field and believes I have totally misrepresented science, please leave me a comment below telling me how wrong and unintelligent I am and correct me.  This way there is no way I'll mess this up again!  As always, feel free to e-mail me at to give comments, ask questions, start up a discussion, tell me what a stupid, "spawn of the devil" heathen I am that deserves to burn in hell for all eternity, or anything else you would like!  I'll happily answer any e-mail!  Have a great day!  

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Atheists are Arrogant!

I can't tell you how often I have heard "Atheists are arrogant!", or "Atheists don't believe in a god or gods because they only believe in themselves!", or "Atheists don't believe in anything!", and "Atheists don't know how to love others and only love themselves!".  Believe it or not, I can assure you that I have heard theists make these exact claims.  It is hard for me to understand the reason why I keep hearing these statements against atheists, but, to me, it is just liable and slander from people who are ignorant of what atheists actually believe.  I don't even think theists attempt to use this as an argument for anything or to prove a point, but rather these statements are used to sway the fence-sitters to theism by making them think, "Well I couldn't be an atheist because I am not arrogant and I know how to love."  Let me preface my arguments by reminding the readers that atheism is the lack of belief in a god or gods.  I cannot stress that point enough (see "Atheism is a Religion!" for an explanation on how atheism and theism are position statements on a single issue).  Let us systematically make our way through the four aforementioned statements.
  1. "Atheists are arrogant!"
This falls into the fallacy of sweeping generalizations.  I do not think that all atheists are arrogant, surely some, but not all.  I have a suspicion that the reason this is said is to suggest that atheists positively say that there is no god or gods.  Turn off your irony meters for a second, but I guess this is try to show the listener that atheists are trying to make a claim they cannot possibly defend.  The positive belief that there are no gods is called strong atheism.  Even saying that "strong atheists are arrogant" is sort of uncalled for.  Even I wouldn't call a theist arrogant unless they said that their view couldn't be changed under any circumstances and asserted their beliefs as absolute truth.

    2.  "Atheists don't believe in a god or gods because they only believe in themselves!"

Correctly stating that atheists lack a belief in a god or gods and then stating, "therefore atheists only believe in themselves," is a complete non-sequitur.  I think that theists sometimes have the notion that because atheists lack a belief in a god or gods, they treat themselves as gods or think they are better than gods.  Maybe some atheist, somewhere, sees themselves as a "god", but that's like saying, because I do not believe in unicorns I think I am one.  This statement is another sweeping generalization if the statement is implying atheists see themselves as gods.  Taken at face value however, of course we believe in ourselves, we're here aren't we?  There is evidence for our respective existences, but under this assessment, theists would have to believe in themselves as well (although the theists may be using a more religious definition of the word "belief", equating the subject of the belief to a greater power).

    3.  "Atheists don't believe in anything!"

Theists believe in a god or gods, therefore they believe in everything.  Perfect logic right?  I may lack a believe in a god or gods, but I hold other beliefs.  I believe that gay marriage should be legalized, I believe that governments should spend more money on education, I believe that we shouldn't be teaching abstinance only education, etc.  I hold a lot of beliefs even though I reject supernatural claims (i.e. gods).  If what the theist is actually trying to say is, "Atheists don't believe in any supernatural entities or anything that there isn't evidence for," then I would agree with the statement.  However, as the statement stands, it is nonsensical.

    4.  "Atheists don't know how to love others and only love themselves!"

I think that theists, mostly Christians, hold a belief that someone cannot love without believing in a god or gods.  I would like someone to explain the causal links from atheism to not being able to love.  Atheism, again, is a single position of skepticism.  If I do not believe in unicorns, what could you possibly tell me about my emotions or any charactistics I have?  Please leave a comment below if you can explain how atheists wouldn't know how to love.

Please e-mail me at for any reason, I am willing to discuss anything!  Comment below if there is something you do not understand and, more importantly, if I am incorrect.  You may also suggest a topic for me to write a post on if you are interested in a certain topic!  Have a great day!

Is Atheism Moral, Amoral, or Immoral?

Today I am going to make a couple small posts trying to dispel some myths about atheists.  All too often when I converse with theists, they have no clue about what atheism is and what we actually believe.  One myth I hear a lot is that atheists and atheism, in general, are immoral.  The term "moral" is defined as:
"of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong."
Conversely, "immoral" is defined as:   
"violating moral principles; not conforming to the patterns of conduct usually accepted or established as consistent with principles of personal and social ethics."
For "amoral" I am going to include two definitions:  The first is:
"not involving questions of right or wrong; without moral quality; neither moral nor immoral."
and the second,
"having no moral standards, restraints, or principles; unaware of or indifferent to questions of right or wrong."
     All of the previous definitions are taken from  In my "Atheism is a Religion!" post, I explained that the only attribute you can know for sure about someone who uses the term "atheist" is that they lack a belief in a god or gods.  After reading the definitions of "moral", "amoral", and "immoral", which do you think describes atheism in general?  I'll give you a hint; this question has the same answer if I were to substitute the word "atheism" "theism".  Atheism, in addition to theism, is amoral.  To be moral or immoral you have to hold beliefs of morality that complement your atheism or theism.  The belief of a god or gods holds no weight when deciding whether a person is moral or immoral, but there are many atheists I would consider immoral and many theists I would consider as immoral.  However, their immorality is not contingent on the sole issue of belief in a god or gods.  Despite this, I fear that theists are more likely to be immoral because of dogmatic bigotry.  Theism can and has led to organized religions, most of which practice xenophobia and discriminate/limit peoples' rights based on grounds I find to be immoral.  For example, the Catholic positions on gays and marriage, the Judaic and Islamic positions on each other, and Christian views on abortions.  I do not want to get into a serious discussion of absolute and relative morality, but feel free to leave a comment about it and I'll be happy to answer specific questions!  In conclusion, do not assume that just because someone is an atheist or a theist, they are immoral.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Atheism is a Religion!

When I'm arguing with theists, almost inevitably, the theists try to equate atheism with the religion that they associate with.  Their argument goes something like, "Well, you're just as dogmatic as me because you assert that there are no gods.  You atheists get together in groups and worship the fact that you believe in no gods.  You even have religious texts!  You atheists worship the God Delusion, God is not Great, and the Origin of the Species.  In addition, atheists take their position that there are no gods on faith, just like the other members of my religion who take the existence of god/gods on faith."  If you think I am making a strawman please inform me, but based on my small sample set of theists, these are the arguments I have encountered.  I believe that the reason theists use this argument is to put atheists and theists on the same ground in an attempt to shut the atheism up by saying, "Well, according to your logic, atheists are just as religious as us, so you can have your religious beliefs and I can have mine."  I would like to begin my counter-apologetic by pointing out that atheism is not a religion in the same way that theism is not a religion.  A religion is a common world view held between people with dogma, tenets, doctrine, and rites/customs that usually has a creation story and a claim to morality due to their perceived knowledge of a higher being or power.  Neither atheism nor theism are true "-isms", that is, a collection of ideas.  Secular Humanism, Taoism (an atheistic religion), Buddhism (another atheistic religion), Jainism, etc. all have tenets and are a set of beliefs.  However, atheism and theism are statements about a single position; one does not a system make.  For example, veganism is not a religion because it covers a single issue, a refusal to consume any animal products.  It is impossible to tell any other beliefs of a vegan other than the one characteristic they all share, which is a refusal to consume any animal products.  However, I would argue that ethical veganism is approaching towards a religion because it becomes a more specific example of a vegan; much the same way as Christianity is a more specific example of theism.  Now you might be wondering why strong and weak atheism, subdivisions of atheism, are not closer to religions.  The reason is that you cannot form a system of beliefs around non-beliefs.  A Christian may say, "I don't believe that abortions should be legal" and this would be part of a belief system because the statement could be phrased, "I believe that abortions should be illegal" which has the same meaning as the former statement.  In contrast, "I believe that no gods exists" is NOT the same as "I lack a belief in a god or gods" (the definition of atheism).  Despite this, "strong atheism" is the position that says "I believe that no gods exist".  While a definition of a religion is more closely related to strong atheism than weak atheism, I would still say that strong atheism couldn't be defined as a religion because it is still a single belief.  In the abortion example, a branch of Christianity that has the belief that abortion should be illegal would have a plethora of other beliefs to complement their beliefs on abortion.

The apologetic claim that atheists worship the God Delusion, God is not Great, or the Origin of the Species is asinine.  Atheists may or may not enjoy these books, but in no way do we worship them.  Even more importantly, we do not hold them as infallible.  Sorry to inform everyone, but there are things that I don't think Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Charles Darwin got right.  In fact, the field of evolutionary biology has grown way past the ideas of Charles Darwin even though his Origin of the Species was very instrumental in the formation of the field.  Here's another shocker for theists; remember when I said the only characteristic that atheists share is the lack of belief in a god or gods?  Well there is no qualification for atheism that says you have to accept evolutionary theory.  Even though there is a correlation between atheism and the acceptance of evolutionary theory, it is not necessary for an atheist to accept the theory.  However, the theory of evolution is an established fact in science.  The word theory is referring to the exact processes in which evolution follows, but the fact is that it occurs and accounts for the diversity and speciation of life. 

Another claim that theists try to use to equate atheism with a religion is that atheists sometimes form groups.  This observation is absolutely correct.  Atheists do create groups, however this does not make atheists closer to religionists in the same way a sewing circle doesn't make the sewers part of a religion.  Humans are social animals and, on the whole, seek interaction with others of our species.  Group interaction between people with the same passion for something, although consistent with religion, doesn't automatically make any group a religion.  Finally, atheists, at least in the lack of belief in a god or gods, do not take anything on faith.  Faith is the acceptance of a claim without evidence and you cannot have faith if you are rejecting a claim on the basis that there is a lack of evidence.

There is a lot of undefined terms and terms that I have arbitrarily defined based on common usages.  I fully realize this, so please comment below if you disagree with my definitions or disagree with my arguments in general!  Also, I would be happy to elaborate on any analogies I have made if they are confusing to you.  Have a great day!