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Sorry Hitch, You’re Nothing

Posted by spritzophrenia on December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens is dead. Long live… No, can we please not do that. Let’s tell it like it is. Hitchens, like all men of sense and reason™ was an atheist and a materialist. In other words, there is no God, and all that exists is the physical world we can measure with Hadron colliders, molecular resonance imaging, Hubble telescopes and schoolboy chemistry sets.

But he will be remembered! Briefly. For about ten years, maybe twenty, those who knew him or once read his columns may pause and say, “Ah, Hitchens. Damn fine writer.” Perhaps our children or grandchildren may find a dusty copy of “God Is Not Great” on our shelves and scan it curiously. More than likely, physical books will have gone the way of the cassette tape and be little more than a historical curiosity. Any surviving data of Hitchens’ will no doubt be lost in the tsunami of electronic porn, advertising and fiddle-faddle that passes itself off as “information” these days.

He will mean nothing. It may be small comfort to say that he never did mean anything, on a cosmic scale. Even on an earthly scale, he was little more than a ripple in the puddle of humanity. In 10,000 years Christopher Hitchens will be forgotten, like Madonna, Bill Clinton, Osama bin Laden and so many others who seem so terribly important to us now. If he is lucky he may rate a footnote in some obscure cyber-history of the early 21st century, to be catalogued and filed with the billion other PhD history theses published that year. If we haven’t already eradicated ourselves as a species, of course.

His dust will stick resolutely to the gravity well of a small and once-beautiful planet, perhaps fertilising a meagre plot of weeds. In a billion years a few atoms that once made up part of his spleen may be blown far across the galaxy as the dying sun ejects matter into eternity.

Sorry Hitch, you’re nothing. And the only reason we eulogise you is to help us avoid the knowledge that so too, are we.

Front Line Assembly | Everything Must Perish

Posted in atheism, God, god, Meaning of Life, ontology | Tagged: , , , , , | 12 Comments »

From Atheist to Buddhist (Part Two)

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 12, 2011

I think we need to talk to each other about our spiritual lives. Even though we may respectfully disagree, I believe that peaceful co-existence of all religions – including atheism – depends on this. Hence every now and then I feature interviews or guest posts on Spritzophrenia. You can find other interviews here.

A while back Jared Cowan of To Hold Nothing shared about his journey from Christian to Deist to Atheist. Here is part two where he talks about his adoption of Buddhist beliefs:

If I tried to label my current beliefs in some specific way, the words that come to mind are secular, Buddhist and spiritual, in that order of priority.

Being secular doesn’t mean I outright reject religion and say it must be eradicated (technically anti religion), but regard it as something not for me, since I find fulfilment in things that we all share as human beings, as part of the whole world, outside of a temple, the “profane” beings we are born as, only becoming sacred by experience. I believe learning about all the good and bad things in life would enrich our lives a great deal. I can understand people’s religious perspectives as a religious studies’ major, but I don’t agree with them as truth or explicit reality, but simply interpretation through perception. You and I may perceive that a person has a “miraculous” recovery from cancer. You might be inclined to see the supernatural in it; I see the paranormal at best in that it is unexpected, but not absolutely unexplainable by scientific principles and methods. In this way, I am secular because I hold science and sophia (wisdom in the philosophical sense that Aristotle noted) in higher respect than the sacred and supernatural (I love alliteration, don’t you?).

anime buddha

Being Buddhist might be too general and easily misunderstood a label, but saying I’m Zen is equally too specific on the flip side. I find more influence in Zen and Ch’an (the Chinese equivalent) thought and philosophy, such as D.T. and Shunryu Suzuki, as well as older monks like Linji (his teaching of non attachment is where I derived my blog name, To Hold Nothing), Dogen Zenji, Takuan Souhou and Ikkyu (notorious for associating with prostitutes as a way to achieve enlightenment). If I had to clarify, I find more truth in Buddhist teachings and beliefs than from Christianity or other religions. Daoism is a close second. I’ve intuited ideas of Buddhism as early as high school, in ideas such as rebirth (not strictly reincarnation), impermanence (a translation of the Sanskrit word “anicca”) and dependent origination. I’ve found I can appreciate things all the more because they are temporary and accept the passing away of people and things in one way or another. I recall both losing a beloved tabby cat to a blood clot and having to wipe my OS a few months ago, though not having to sacrifice my files because of technological advances.

I understand the spiritual, in my atheist perspective, as Andre Comte-Sponville put it,

“The spirit is not a substance. Rather, it is a function, a capacity, an act (the act of thinking, willing imagining… ) —and this act… is irrefutable, since nothing can be refuted without it.”

More particularly, he notes that the term “spiritual” can be equated with the word mental or psychic. I’d daresay it’s almost aligned with psychology in a sense, though not strictly the scientific, but the philosophical aspects, which connect in a sense with existentialism. I approach life as a series of choices that make the biggest difference, not those things out of my control that I must confront with resignation and anxiety. I am spiritual/existential because I recognize the inevitable connection we must admit of the physical we experience to the mental we take for granted. I’m not spiritual in a mystic sense. I’m spiritual in that I can be introspective and extrospective without focusing on one or the other too much.

I don’t think I can synch up the world’s ups and downs the same if I tried to believe there was some consciousness behind things that even remotely cared for humans. My Christian heritage is only partly beneficial to me inasmuch as Jesus’ teachings partly align with Siddhartha Gautama’s and other bodhisattvas. Jesus also said more explicitly concerning corruption that we are not evil because of things outside us; we are evil because of internal dispositions and behaviours we choose (I don’t think of this like sin, though). We may have parts of ourselves that are harder or impossible to alter, but it doesn’t mean we cannot recognize them and seek to better ourselves by personal habits and other actions. In this way, I find Buddhism to be a strong influence on my life and it will probably be until I die. I’ve become more peaceful, calmer and more able to confront people I disagree with on a level that didn’t exist before I seriously considered Buddhism in a larger context of psychology and ethics.

I still have my personal flaws (a temper I inherited in part from both my parents, for example), but with Buddhism, I feel more motivated to actually change myself, even if it’s a slow process. I also feel a sort of melancholy in not truly having yet sought out various connections with Buddhists from Asian areas in order to understand their perspective more. I spoke with a Tibetan monk and it was a great eye opener to how much I’ve come to understand the system in only the two years I’ve studied it in detail since I graduated. As a Westerner in many senses, such as most of my education in philosophy and religion, there is a barrier I have to violate constantly in order to affirm the beliefs I find myself drawn to. These beliefs are very different from not only the culture and background I had in my family, but the general frame of reasoning any Westerner uses, which is more based in rationalism, empiricism and Greek philosophy. I do nonetheless find some inspiration from these sources, such as Socrates’ elenchus method and Heraclitus’ more natural formulation of the Logos idea.

I don’t think that Buddhist values and perspective are so radically different that I cannot coexist and find common ground with theistic Americans. I may approach things with a different perspective or sense of humor, but I can still respect American values of military, patriotism or sports. Or at least respectfully disagree with them. I consider myself a conscientious objector, not just through ethical opposition to violence and war as a tool of the state’s potential abuse to advance itself, but through Buddhist and even Christian philosophy of finding peace with others without the need to resort to violence. I don’t find a terrible amount of inspiration or morale from flying the America flag; any flag, for that matter. I’m actually of the opinion that the occasional destruction of symbols like that is a way for us to relinquish our attachments. Clinging to them can be a justification for unjustified cruelty or negativity towards others. And I’ve never been one to join in team sports, except as a younger child. Now I prefer more individual-centered physical activity, such as the martial arts; Wado Ryu Karate and Tai Chi Chuan are both activities I try to practice often (and fail at being regular at).

Writing this has been a great exercise and this second part is still just the tip of the iceberg, I imagine. I’ll be more than happy to answer more specific questions about my beliefs. Thanks for the opportunity to get myself out there. Until next I post, Namaste and aloha to all.

===

Jonathan’s note: Check out the recent post on Christian Buddhism. Click the Buddhism link on the right to find more posts relating to Buddhism. The image is my choice, Jared is not responsible for my poor taste 😉

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Bruce Cockburn | Silver Wheels

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From Christian to Deist to Atheist (Part One)

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 17, 2011

I think we need to talk to each other about our spiritual lives. Even though we may respectfully disagree, I believe that peaceful co-existence of all religions – including atheism – depends on this. Hence every now and then I feature interviews or guest posts on Spritzophrenia. You can find other interviews here.

Today is part one of a guest post by Jared Cowan of To Hold Nothing. Enjoy…

While I’m probably much younger than other guest posters on this blog, I’ve had an interesting journey of beliefs through my almost quarter of a century of life. I was raised mainline Protestant, ranging from Baptist to Methodist to Presbyterian, my parents weren’t picky (except that you had to be mainstream, so no 7th Day Adventists, Mormons or Jehovah’s Witness churches). I was enrolled in a Catholic school for 1st and 2nd grade, going to mass once or twice a week from what I remember, even though I imagine my parents found the complexity of Catholic beliefs objectionable. Like lapsed Catholics and cultural, but not religious Jews, I imagine they regarded the good education itself as more important than minor religious disagreements that could be smoothed over. I crossed myself once after a prayer in my hometown church and the congregation was a bit stunned, though not so much that they couldn’t chalk it up to me imitating what I had been exposed to for about two years.

I grew up usually following along with church as a weekly thing until I was about 12 or 13 years old, the common rebellious and curious phase of any child’s life who isn’t smothered with religion. I went to services, even attending youth group and going on the occasional trip for a weekend retreat in West Tennessee. I think those trips might’ve actually sped up my progress to apostasy, since it exposed me to a greater diversity of approaches to Protestant Christianity. My minimal association with Catholic services as a child didn’t stick with me, so I can’t say that I saw any of the sophistication that exists in the Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox/Episcopalian areas of Christianity more than any Protestant denomination you could show me.

anime

Click to see larger image.

I started on the path to become a more secular and philosophically minded person when I stumbled across Deism through a French class report on Voltaire. After discovering the nature of it, I endeavored to learn more, considering myself a Deist for a few years before looking into other religions, such as Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism in my junior year of high school through a teacher in a sociology class. She inspired me to think as an individual more than I had ever done in my years of feeling like an outsider even as I was accepted (partly) by the church community my father was raised in. We moved to that church for reasons I’m not quite sure of besides my mother wanting a more down- to-earth spiritual community.

That community has recently changed for the worse as myself and other children grew up and either moved to new churches as they started their own families, or in my case, leaving the whole religion for lack of belief. Political squabbling and bickering within the congregation about choosing a new pastor among other superficial things has kept my mother from participating for the most part. My father still attends weekly, possibly in order to maintain the status quo, but also because he genuinely believes it and feels he should contribute to the group.

After a while, I began to go beyond Deism and affirm some form of atheism, though at the time I didn’t realize that I leaned more towards apatheism in that while I genuinely believed that the likelihood of there being a God of any sort was very low, I didn’t concern myself with it. My disbelief in God was not for lack of evidence, since I didn’t really seek it out, but practical considerations. God was not relevant or meaningful to my life, since I found more purpose and fulfillment through interactions with humans; especially with people I now consider some of my best friends. Just sharing time at an anime convention for 3 and a half days was an experience in and of itself that compares to a spiritual retreat in some sense. Or at least to the human companionship I’m usually exposed to sporadically, being more private and socially reserved.

I don’t doubt my parents’ sincerity in their beliefs, as they’ve had enough combined education and experience with varying belief systems to be relatively secure (though not necessarily sophisticated, but stable). I also have no intent of trying to “convert” them, since I think if they really wanted to investigate other religions, all they’d have to do is ask me, since I’m not in the closet about being a nonbeliever to them when it is pertinent and I have a background in, and significant library of, religious studies. We maintain peace on religious issues now. I used to be very inquisitive and argumentative, which stayed with me until at least my sophomore year in college, which might’ve had to do with getting a more openly atheist roommate who I still respect. I keep my head up during prayers, but I am by no means intrusive about such things, usually staying away from most funerals and weddings unless I’m especially close to the person.

My paternal grandmother was recently married (4 years after she was widowed) and my cousin, an especially religious and devout preacher, led the service, reminding me of a particularly bitter flavor of Christianity that was a partial factor in my leaving, since that sort of hyper-evangelical community is not remotely what I’d like to be part of. That same cousin said hurtful things at my paternal grandfather’s funeral, saying atheists have a sad life in not believing there’s anything after death (paraphrasing, of course). My family in West Tennessee is more religious than much of the family in Middle Tennessee; family reunions are almost dreaded by me, since I’m resigned to staying in the back of the chapel. I’m contemplating just slipping out as the service starts this year, since I’m unobtrusive enough that people wouldn’t even notice me leaving; I’d like to appreciate nature in that time, since the area we have our family reunions at recently is sylvan in nature.

I also don’t have any real issue with my younger brother reaffirming his Christian faith, having been baptized like me, not to mention exposed to Episcopalian Christianity through his education at a private school. He is still nominally Christian from what I understand, but my parents are happy he has found a spiritual community. I hate to think that they are only proud of his reaffirming Christianity in the context of Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) because their elder son (me) has apostatized from the faith, but it may be me over-thinking.

That lingering thought that my parents think they have failed their child rarely crosses my mind though, since I get the feeling that they believe that Christian adage paraphrased from the Bible that they should “train up a child in the way they should go (Christianity) and when he is old he will not depart from it”. If they took that seriously though, I can only conclude they’d plead to God for intervention, since they failed to truly instruct me in the ways of Jesus.

Next time, I’ll discuss some of my beliefs, particularly Buddhist ones, in more detail.

Click for more interviews with different faiths here.

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The Multiverse is a Dead Parrot? Is Atheism In Trouble?

Posted by spritzophrenia on August 26, 2011

Is the Multiverse theory dead? If so, what implications might this have for belief in g0d?

I’ve written on cosmology from time to time. Recently I picked up Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos, which does a far better job of explaining M-theory than Hawking and Mlodinow’s recent book. At this point I need to send a public shout-out to Lunagrrrl, who sent me her copy of The Grand Design, which I previewed here. I had good intentions of reviewing it again, but I can’t add much to what I wrote. Get Greene’s book and skip to chapter thirteen instead, it’s much better.

The words below were originally posted last month by Santi Tafarella in his blog, Prometheus Unbound. I think this is worth sharing. Go check out the comments on his blog too.

Santi writes:

parallel multiverse

In 2008, cosmologist Bernard Carr of Queen Mary University of London, told a science journalist for Discover the following:

If there is only one universe, you might have to have a fine-tuner. If you don’t want God, you’d better have a multiverse.

Carr said this because our universe appears to have numerous wildly improbable properties hard to explain by chance (especially if our known Big Bang universe is the only roll of the cosmic dice, setting its cosmological constants). Put bluntly, the cosmos appears to have been designed, and with very particular purposes in mind.

In whose mind?

Well, God’s of course!

Like an apple tree following its genetic imperatives, the universe appears to be following the imperatives of its cosmological constants. It apples galaxies, carbon-based life forms (like apple trees), and minds (like our own).

On planet Earth alone, there are 7 billion minds right now and counting.

Whooda thunk it?

Maybe Someone did.

The Discover article gave examples that illustrate our universe’s mind-boggling good luck (or creation by God, if the multiverse doesn’t come to the rescue of atheism). Here’s one:

The early universe was delicately poised between runaway expansion and terminal collapse. Had the universe contained much more matter, additional gravity would have made it implode. If it contained less, the universe would have expanded too quickly for galaxies to form.

The 2008 article that Bernard Carr was quoted in also noted this:

The credibility of string theory and the multiverse may get a boost within the next year or two, once physicists start analyzing results from the Large Hadron Collider, the new, $8 billion particle accelerator built on the Swiss-French border.

Now, fast forward to 2011. What’s the status of string theory and the multiverse in light of the data that has come in from the LHC (Large Hadron Collider)?

Answer: Not good.

Atheists, are you listening?

Theoretical physicist and mathematician Peter Woit of Columbia University, discussing this summer’s String 2011 Conference at his blog, writes that at past conferences they:

. . . often featured a call for progress towards making predictions that could be tested at the LHC [Large Hadron Collider]. With LHC data now coming in, [opening speaker David] Gross acknowledged that this had been a failure: there are no string theory LHC predictions.

None.

As for what the String 2011 Conference’s opening speaker, David Gross, said of the multiverse, here’s Peter Woit again:

Surprisingly, not a word from Gross about anthropics or the multiverse. I assume he’s still an opponent, but perhaps feels that there’s no point in beating a dying horse. Susskind isn’t there and oddly, the only multiverse-related talks are from the two speakers brought in to do public lectures (Brian Greene and Andrei Linde, Hawking’s health has kept him from a planned appearance). So the multiverse is a huge part of the public profile of the conference, but pretty well suppressed at the scientific sections. Also pretty well suppressed is “string phenomenology”, or any attempt to use string theory to do unification. Out of 35 or so talks I see only a couple related to this, which is still the main advertised goal of string theory.

A dying horse. Isn’t that sad? And remember: as goes string theory, so goes the multiverse.

And perhaps even atheism. As uber-atheist Jerry Coyne noted recently at his blog, how the multiverse debate pans out among physicists has unmistakable consequences for the God question:

[M]ultiverse theories . . . represent physicists’ attempts to give a naturalistic explanation for what others see as evidence of design.

But here’s how Peter Woit describes the String 2011 Conference summary by Jeff Harvey:

In Jeff Harvey’s summary of the conference, he notes that many people have remarked that there hasn’t been much string theory at the conference. About the landscape, his comment is that “personally I think it’s unlikely to be possible to do science this way.” He describes the situation of string theory unification as like the Monty Python parrot “No, he’s not dead, he’s resting.” while expressing some hope that a miracle will occur at the LHC or in the study of string vacua, reviving the parrot.

That the summary speaker at the main conference for a field would compare the state of the main public motivation for the field as similar to that of the parrot in the Monty Python sketch is pretty remarkable. In the sketch, the whole joke is the parrot’s seller’s unwillingness, no matter what, to admit that what he was selling was a dead parrot.

And, as for Scientific American’s recent coverage of the multiverse hypothesis, Woit is critical:

One might be tempted to criticize Scientific American for keeping this alive, but they just reflect the fact that this pseudo-science continues to have significant influence at the highest levels of the physics establishment.

The multiverse is pseudo-science. Really?

Based on what Bernard Carr said in 2008, and what Woit reports of the goings-on at the String 2011 Conference and in Scientific American, should this alert us to the possibility that atheism itself might be quietly trending in the direction of Monty Python’s dead parrot?

Monty Python | Dead Parrot Sketch

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Posted in atheism, cosmology, Philosophy, Physics, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 26 Comments »

I Got Nothing

Posted by spritzophrenia on July 14, 2011

… so I’m gonna steal this straight from my friend Santi’s blog. Life is just too full to write much — beyond the notes I’m taking and the essays I’m writing, that is. So far, I got a B+ and an A- for two 4000-word essays, and I have 5000 words of notes already towards another 4000-word essay, and I haven’t even started writing about the main topic.

Santi writes:
====

Why Atheism is as Question Begging as Theism

Is the atheist conclusion that matter preceded mind from the very “beginning” of the universe more plausible, evidence-based, or rational than the theist conclusion (that mind preceded matter)?

I say no.

Here’s why. As a matter of logic, if you reject the existence of God or mind prior to matter and believe that atoms rustling in the void wholly accounts for all that is, then matter must have always existed or it must have come from nothing.

There is no third option. On the matter of ultimate origins, if you’re a strict materialist (matter precedes, and has always preceded, any appearance of mind) then you’re faced with Aristotle’s law of the excluded middle. Either way, you are in the same conundrum as the theist with regard to this question:

Where did the mind of God came from?

If it is question begging for the theist to say, “The mind of God came from nothing,” or “The mind of God has just always existed,” it is also question begging for the atheist to say, “Matter came from nothing,” or “Matter has just always existed.”

Be an atheist if you want. Just don’t pretend that the grounds for your belief enjoy more evidence, or are any less implausible or mind-boggling, than the person who says that she has chosen to believe that the mind of God precedes matter.

===

There, that was quick, wasn’t it? Santi is neither a theist, or atheist. (See what i did there?) He’s an agnostic, a university lecturer and a fairly smart cookie. That doesn’t mean he’s right, that’s for you to decide, and perhaps argue about in the comments 🙂 I bet they’re arguing already over his blog.

Posted in agnostic, atheism | 3 Comments »

The New Atheists’ Narrow Worldview

Posted by spritzophrenia on February 1, 2011

Stephen Asma has written a critique of the new atheists which I want to share. It’s a sociological look at religion, in other words one that places religion it in it’s social context. In particular he argues that animism (the world’s most common religion) makes more sense than a mechanistic world view if one is poor, and that the new atheists completely miss this due to their rich Western lifestyle. He argues they miss the psychological benefits of religion, which are still worthwhile. (He also argues against ‘dangerous’ religion.)

What follows is my distillation of the points that interested me. I recommend reading the whole thing.

“The new atheists, like Hitchens, Harris, Dawkins, and Dennett have failed to notice that their mechanistic view of nature is in part a product (as well as a cause) of prosperity and stability. Most friends and even enemies of the new atheism have not yet noticed the provincialism of the current debate. If the horsemen left their world of books, conferences, classrooms, and computers to travel more in the developing world for a year, they would find some unfamiliar religious arenas.

Having lived in Cambodia and China, and travelled in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Africa, I have come to appreciate how religion functions quite differently in the developing world—where the majority of believers actually live. The Four Horsemen, their fans, and their enemies all fail to factor in their own prosperity when they think about the uses and abuses of religion.

Harris and his colleagues think that religion is mostly concerned with two jobs—explaining nature and guiding morality.

spirit house

Boontham Khuenkaew places a food offering at the ‘spirit house’ in his yard in Thailand.

They’re wrong in imagining that the primary job of religion is morality. Like cosmology, ethics is barely relevant in non-Western religions. It is certainly not the main function or lure of devotional life. Science could take over the “morality job” tomorrow in the developing world, and very few religious practitioners would even notice.

The zealous attempt, on the part of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Red Guard in China, to root out this “opiate” also rooted out all the good stuff about Buddhism that I’ve labelled “psychological.” The attempt to do away with all gods or religions always throws the baby out with the bath water. There is much good “medicine” in Buddhism (just as there is much good in other religions), but if the Asian Communists found you practicing it in the 1970s, you were as good as dead. And that form of militant atheism should ring a cautionary note: Religion is not the only ideology with blood on its hands.

I’m an agnostic and a citizen of a wealthy nation, but when my own son was in the emergency room with an illness, I prayed spontaneously. I’m not naïve—I don’t think it did a damn thing to heal him. But when people have their backs against the wall, when they are truly helpless and hopeless, then grovelling and negotiating with anything more powerful than themselves is a very human response. It is a response that will not go away, and that should not go away if it provides some genuine relief for anxiety and agony. As Roger Scruton says, “The consolation of imaginary things is not imaginary consolation.”

The Four Horsemen and other new atheists are members of liberal democracies, and they have not appeared to be interested in the social-engineering agendas of the earlier, Communist atheists. With impressive arts of persuasion, the new atheistic proponents just want to talk, debate, and exchange ideas, and of course they should do so. No harm, no foul.

But Sam Harris’s new book may be a subtle turning point toward a more normative social agenda. If public policy is eventually expected to flow from atheism, then its proponents need to have a more nuanced and global understanding of religion.”

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Bad Religion | Atheist Peace

Addendum

Here are a couple of quotes from Asma which support my contention that Buddhism as practiced is much more “religious” than many Westerners think:

Many of the new atheists have recognized that Buddhism doesn’t quite belong with the other religious targets, and they reserve a vague respect for its philosophical core. I’m glad. They’re right to do so. But two days in any Buddhist country will painfully demonstrate to its Western fans that Buddhism is an elaborate, supernatural, devotional religion as well.

The mix of animism with Buddhism is so complete in Asia that monks frequently make offerings to these spirits, and Buddhist pagodas actually have spirit shrines built into one corner. The Buddhist religion is built on top of this much older animistic system. Animism was never supplanted by modern beliefs.

Thanks to Tracy for passing this article on to me 🙂

Posted in atheism, Buddhism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

There’s Probably No God: Redux

Posted by spritzophrenia on December 3, 2010

One of my first posts on Spritzophrenia was about atheist bus ads, so I was interested to read Eric Reitan’s take on them while surfing through old posts on his site. Reitan admits he writes very long posts, here’s the bit which resonated with me:

“My context is a progressive religious one. I live in the hope that the universe is fundamentally on the side of goodness, rather than being “pitilessly indifferent” to it as Dawkins maintains. And I see, in my inner spiritual experience, evidence that this hope is not in vain despite all the horrors in the world.

What does the atheist slogan on this bus mean to someone like me? As I read it, I find it jarring. Not because it’s offensive, but because the first sentence is so incongruent with the second. Given what I mean by “God,” I wouldn’t follow up the first sentence with “Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” I’d follow it up, instead, with something like the following: “So the crushing horrors of history will never be redeemed, and those whose lives have been shattered by suffering and loss and brutality, and who have no prospects of transcending their miserable condition in this life, should just give up hope.”

Not that this would fit on the side of a bus.”

atheist bus

Reitan continues…
But, of course, for me “God” refers to that reality which, if it existed, would fulfill what I call in my book “the ethico-religious hope”—that is, the hope that the universe in some fundamental way is on the side of the good, so that when we live out lives lovingly we are actually becoming attuned to the deepest reality of all.

And so, when I read the atheist slogan on the side of the bus, here is what I read: “The universe probably isn’t on the side of justice. It’s just as pitilessly indifferent to the good as Dawkins claims in his book, River Out of Eden. When evil shatters human lives in Rwanda, leaving people utterly broken until death, there will never be for them any redemption. It will be permanently true that it would have been better had they never been born. And in the world in which we live, such life-shattering events can happen to anyone, including you. And if they do happen to you, don’t look to the transcendent for hope, because there is none to be had. Your life will be decisively stripped of meaning. NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE.”

This absurd juxtaposition of messages might usefully be contrasted with one offered by philosopher Walter Stace, who before becoming interested in mystical experience was very much an atheist in Dawkins’ mold, but with an important difference. In his famous essay, “Man Against Darkness,” Stace discusses what he thinks is the demise of religion in the face of science, but he doesn’t present his atheist picture of the world as a reason to “stop worrying and enjoy life.” Instead, he presents it as a grim truth that we need to confront. It is, in effect, one of the painful discoveries of growing up as a human species.

In Stace’s view of things, the universe doesn’t care about us. Those of us who die in despair and hopelessness will have lived lives without meaning, and no cosmic redemption can be hoped for. The truth as Stace sees it this: There is no God. Now brace yourself and try to make the best of things.

A few weeks back I commented on Marty’s blog about a reference to Nietzsche, and his view that if the world is only material then we have no value. Stace’s view, mentioned by Reitan is similar.

Marty responded with a post on Nietzsche which I still haven’t got around to answering. This is because I’m not sure how to answer. I am not sure I can say something with enough clarity to make my point. This has led me to wonder if people with different worldviews actually can’t see another point of view. I am wondering about the psychology of how we change beliefs, about paradigm shifts a la Thomas Kuhn, about how beliefs are a “way of seeing” and similar. I haven’t come to the point of being able to articulate this clearly.

Are you able to shed any light on this?

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Are different worldviews actually not able to communicate? Is changing one’s mind a lot harder than just “being rational”?

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Are we spirits in a material world? Or are we nothing?

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Posted in agnostic, atheism | Tagged: , , , , | 15 Comments »

I Know What You’re Thinking

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 27, 2010

I’ve been in therapy for many years. Among other things, I’ve been taught to identify distorted thinking patterns in myself which support negative thinking. The relevance of this will become clear below. Today I read Why Religious Believers Are So Desperate for the Atheist Seal of Approval.

I’ll highlight what I think are poor arguments:

If you hang around the online atheist world long enough, you’ll notice an interesting pattern. Many religious and spiritual believers who engage with atheists seem very intent on getting atheists’ approval for their beliefs.

…they want atheists to agree.

They really, really want atheists to agree. They want atheists to say, “No, of course, your beliefs aren’t like all those others — those other beliefs are crazy, but yours make sense.”

mind reader

Now the conclusions may actually be true. But why did I say this is poor argument? Because the author assumes they can know what other peoples’ motives are.

I commented on the site:

Four pages speculating about peoples’ motives and giving little argument apart from “my experience on atheist sites”? When will people realise that no-one can know others’ motives unless they tell us? I’ll go further and say that the psychology of belief is completely irrelevant to the question of whether something is true. I can make an argument that atheism is a Freudian desire to rebel against a father figure, but like this article, it would be speculation and fairly pointless.

Because people tend to make ad hominum arguments I’ll record that I’m agnostic (not that it matters). My argument is that we cannot know others’ motives. Putting it a little more snarkily, suggesting we can know others’ motives is in the same league as interpreting a designer from something apparently designed.

Somebody replied:

“Motive can be derived from words and action.”

I disagree, and said:

No, I’m sorry, motive can only be discovered if someone tells us their motives. No matter what someone does (or says), we cannot know what their motives are. If we could, we would be performing some kind of magic or intuition to know what is going on inside their brains.

What is Kim Jong-Il’s motive in firing on South Korea at the moment? We can guess, but it might simply be that he had a bad night’s sleep and felt grumpy.

Speculating about motive is pointless in these kinds of arguments. The only thing that should concern us is the truth, based on evidence. Imho. 🙂

In therapy I learned that guessing what other people are thinking is pointless. We will almost certainly be wrong. Are you worried that your partner is angry with you because she’s silent and withdrawn? Possibly she is. But she might just have a headache or be thinking about work.

Perhaps I’m missing something. What about the Police seeking a motive for murder? Can we know something about other peoples’ motives, and does it help in these kinds of questions?

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Rockwell | Somebody’s Watching Me

Posted in agnostic, atheism | Tagged: , , , | 17 Comments »

Atheists Have No Songs

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 19, 2010

Check out Steve Martin and a talented Bluegrass ensemble performing a humorous hymn:

Of course, atheists do have songs, I’ve written about atheist music and atheist spirituality.

Even when I was a Christian I came to detest communal singing as a form of worship. So 19th century, dahling. Frankly, I don’t LIKE most christian songs. For me, connecting to the transcendent requires other kinds of music. For example, my friend Ginger’s brand new hard trance track. Go have a listen.

Ailenni | Lost In Love (Original by Legend B)

I think he’s giving it away for free, I will update with the download link once I find it.

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Door-to-Door Laughs

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 12, 2010

Everyone else seems to think merely posting a video is a valid “blog”, so I will do likewise 😉 It’s kinda like slapping down a large smelly fish, and saying, “Eat that, I can’t be bothered writing anything”.

Does door-to-door religion bother you? May I present John Safran, an Australian. I think he’s funny.

[Translators note for Americans: When he says “beezniss”, that means “business”. When he says “feer dinkum”, that means “I’m from a small country town, and I really believe this”. I would like to point out that I’m from a different country, and I don’t talk like this at all. Well, not much.]

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Posted in atheism, humor, humour | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »