Posts Tagged 'atheism'

Comedy Hour, Conservapedia Style

Today is apparently some sort of ‘Atheist pride’ day, so I shall quickly fulfill my contractual obligations:

I am extremely proud to be an atheist. Well, that’s not entirely true; I don’t see being an atheist as something that one should be ‘proud’ of. But I’m not ashamed of being an atheist, so I guess that’s something.

But instead of engaging in intellectual self-gratification, let’s all celebrate atheism by dissecting a truly miserable example of an attempt at discrediting it. You may be lucky enough to have never visited Conservapedia – if so, keep your unsullied cursor as far away from that vile link as possible. (Should you be using some sort of newfangled touch-screen device, even greater caution is advised.) Those of you who have already been exposed to its toxic influence, however, may safely peruse its decaying ‘Atheism’ series with me.

Conservapedia likes to say that it’s  ‘honest’ and ‘trustworthy’, unlike that hippy-infested other encyclopedia. This is a filthy lie, and everyone involved probably knows it. The Conservapedia editors engage in just about every act of intellectual dishonesty in the book, all of which are present in their Atheism series. Taken as a whole, it resembles a sort of deadly cocktail of stupidity, ignorance and dishonesty the likes of which you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere on the internet. Here’s a brief rundown of its biggest failings.

Accentuating the negative. There are very few movements or ideas that are completely bad. Even the Nazi party, who most people would agree are pretty close to being the living embodiment of pure evil, did some good during their reign. Intellectual honesty demands that one admits this.

The Conservapedia editors apparently disagree, as their main atheism article is almost entirely negative. Nietzche and other ‘unsavoury’ atheists are brought up frequently, and atheists in generally are implied to hold a great many unpopular beliefs. (Beyond the obvious ones, I mean). This habit of accentuating the negative aspects of atheists reaches a ludicrous height with the heading ‘Tenuousness of Atheism in Prominent Atheists’, which cites exactly two examples as evidence: Charsles Darwin and Jean-Paul Sartre. Well, I’m convinced.

The God-damn quote mining. I don’t have to explain what ‘quote-mining’ is, do I? It’s one of the most irritating practices that Creationists engage in (among much else, of course), and you can find examples of it on the less reputable Creationist websites and blogs. Which is to say, 99% of them.

According to Munich theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg “Atheism as a theoretical position is in decline worldwide.”[108] Given that the evolutionary position is a often cited component of the ideology of atheism in the Western world, the gradual loss of public support of the evolutionary position is one of the many factors which are eroding the ideology of atheism. Oxford scholar Alister McGrath cites a number of additional factors in regards to the decline of atheism as an intellectual position.[109] [110]

Given the many factors which are eroding atheism as a intellectual position McGrath states:

…Atheism is in trouble. Its future seems increasingly to lie in the private beliefs of individuals rather than in the great public domain it once regarded as its natural habitat.[111]

This is not how you write an encyclopedia article, you twits.

Conservapedia is pretty much built on the practice of quote mining. Its articles are positively stuffed with quotes, usually taken as authoritative evidence for sweeping generalisations or even for factual statements. (The evolution article is, predictably, the absolute epitomy of this. Horrifyingly, it’s also their current ‘Article of the Year’.) The quotes they use are very obviously picked in order to fit with the general ‘atheism is bad’ theme of tha article, which brings us to the next problem…

It’s biased as hell. Despite Conservapedia’s stated mission, it’s one of the most blatantly biased sites on the internet. The atheism article is not an explanation of what atheism is, it’s an explanation of what atheism is plus endless poorly thought out reasons for believing that atheism is bad. The evolution travesty is the same, except that it doesn’t even include a coherent explanation of the theory.

Perusing Conservapedia’s sources and references reveals an unsurprising bias at work there as well – WorldNetDaily (yes, really), Christian apologetics websites and Creationist books are frequently used, while places where you’re likely to find opposing views seem to be largely ignored.

The writing is terrible. It’s really, really terrible. The first paragraph of the Atheism article is confusingly worded as if it’s the introduction to an essay rather than an encyclopedia article, and most of the headings are laughable. There’s no real order to anything, which is why we’re treated to such diverse and important topics as ‘Atheism and Deception‘ and ‘Anti-Atheism Blogs‘. The Wikipedia article, on the other hand, moves from definitions to common rationale to history, but I guess coherent structure is a hallmark of liberal-commie-homosexual-evolutionists.

I’m sure there’s more, but trawling through the site’s seedier back-alleys is giving me a headache. It’s not all bad, though – I found a book called Refuting Evolution, which is available online for free! Having skimmed some of it, I can heartily recommend it. Not as anything even remotely resembling science education, mind you, but it does serve as an excellent compendium of Creationist stupidity.

If you’ve got any more hilariously awful sites that need to get more attention, let me know in the comments section.

Celibate Same-Sex Relationships Are Also Sinful, Apparently…

One of the major ‘open secrets’ about the ex-gay movement is that it generally doesn’t ‘turn people straight’, and most ex-gay organisations will admit that truly changing one’s sexual orientation is extremely difficult, if not impossible, in the majority of cases. Generally speaking, ‘change’ amounts to being celibate, attempting to suppress attraction to the same sex and hoping that God eventually decides to make you straight. This might seem like a pretty lonely, unfulfilling life, and I imagine it is for a lot of people. (This may explain why so many ex-gays I’ve spoken to seem incredibly fixated on Jesus or their church, far more so than most ‘ordinary’ Christians.) But what about a relationship that doesn’t involve sex? Surely that would be acceptable?

You’d certainly think so, and if I was a devout Christian I’d probably want to be in this sort of relationship. After all, homosexuality is far more than just physical attraction; gay men and women gain the same sort of emotional fulfillment from same-sex relationships that heterosexuals do from opposite-sex ones, and at the end of the day that’s far more important than having a lot of sex. It is incredibly unreasonable to expect people to refrain from having sex for (potentially) the rest of their lives, and to refrain from engaging in the kinds of long-term relationships that they find most fulfilling, yet that’s exactly what Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International, has done:

During lunch, my friend asked my views on “covenant friendships”.  I’d never heard that term, but quickly realized she was referring to sexless committed relationships between members of the same gender.  I immediately called them sinful.  She was shocked.  So was I. Apparently, we don’t share what I consider to be fairly cut and dry biblical position on this issue. So I asked her to give me a first hand account of such a relationship that she saw as healthy.  She went on to share the story of a Christian lesbian who believes that homosexual behavior is sinful, but holds no hope of ever experiencing heterosexuality. The thought of living a single life was too much for her to bear and so she developed a committed non-sexual relationship with another woman. They held a commitment ceremony, bought a house together, combined their finances and are trying to live happily ever after.  They live in separate bedrooms, but in every other sense of the word, they are partners. “What’s wrong with that?” my friend asked. Everything. (Source)

Chambers goes on to say that such ‘covenant friendships’ are against God’s plan for humans and represent a failing on the part of gay Christians to trust in God’s transformative power. Bullshit, I say. Just how much of their lives does he expect his peers to sacrifice? And just what kind of relationships are they allowed to engage in – ordinary friendships and nothing more? Not only can they not have sex, they apparently can’t love anyone unless that person has been vetoed by the Bible. He’s living in a fantasy land, where religious brainwashing can take the place of a genuinely loving relationship. This is an appalling example of how reppressive religion can be, and it presents a very bleak picture indeed for homosexuals who don’t want to abandon their religious beliefs.

It’s a twisted religion indeed that preaches mindless, eternal devotion to any god, but gay Christians suffer worse than the majority. Not only are they expected to fill every need in their lives with God (an utter impossibility), but they’re expected to abstain from the human relationships that heterosexual Christians are encouraged to enjoy. Why? What possible reason could any deity have for such arbitrary cruelty?

And when I say ‘mindless, eternal devotion’, this is what I mean (courtesy of GCMWatch):

C’mon, cut the comedy! “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump”. It is MOVING INwith temptation. It’s like a sex addict moving accross the street from a porno shop. Like an alcoholic getting a job in a liquor store. All this is is an attempt to get around the truth of scripture. The sexual realtionship is a side effect of the heart’s intention. The real issue with the LORD is a pure heart and a pure heart wants to please the LORD in every way ;even if there is struggle and pain and disappointment involved. The way is narrow. In the greek the word narrow means “tight”.

This is intellectual slavery, but people like Alam Chambers want to celebrate inequality even among slaves.

Another One for the Idiot Files

I’ve said before that anyone who uses the ‘Atheists actually believe in God!’ argument is an idiot, something which most atheists would agree with me on. Well, today I’ve got someone else for the idiot files:

So, people don’t really need to be convinced through science of the existence of God. Anti-theists wouldn’t accept it anyway. The real issue is one of trying to push God away. Incidentally, in case you are a Christian reading this smugly, chapter 2 of Romans is for you. It says that if you know what God wants you to do and conveniently push it to the side, then you are no different. I suspect many have dismissed the truth about God because of churchgoers who push the truth away from themselves and do whatever enters their mind. The bottom line is this; we all need God and we all need to quit suppressing the truth. Lets face the music, and acknowledge that our natural desire to do our own thing. While we call doing our own thing “freedom”, it is anything but. We become slaves of our own desires and we only want more and more. Th law of diminishing returns requires it. Christ can fulfill that hunger. It is ours for the asking.

Conratulations, Doug Wildman, for turning Christian apologetics on its back and displaying its rotted underbelly for all the world to see.

What I really don’t get about people like this is that there are much better arguments for God out there. It’s true, I’ve studied them! All right, they’re not necessarily fantastic themselves, but at the very least they aren’t so embarrassingly stupid. I’m guessing this one wins out so often because of the ‘warm and fuzzy’ factor.

Roundup

I’ll most likely be quiet over the weekend, so here’s a brief roundup of potentially interesting links.

Vagina – The Clown Car Movement. This one gets in solely for its title, but the content is pretty spot-on as well. Contraceptives are not evil, kids.

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What If God Disappeared? A humorous video about what the world would be like if God disappeared. (Hint: You wouldn’t notice much difference.)

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And to prove that I’m not completely biased, here’s one from Atheism is Dead: “Expelled Exposed” Exposed. It completely fails to address the primary problems with both ID (it’s a crock) and Expelled (it’s crap), but feel free to trawl through some of the many links. The rest of the blog is quite…well, it’s something, I’ll put it that way. (And what the hell is the banner image of?)

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Atheists frequently ask for evidence of God’s existence, and  this is a pretty typical example of the kind of vague handwaving that irritates us so much. The real comedy is in the comments section, though:

Almost twenty three years ago, I was a God and believer hater. I wanted nothing to do with God or His people. I even went out of my way in college to take courses that would help me deny God.

Then, through a seventeen year old girl, whom Father had placed in my life at the time, I began to experience His truth, forgiveness, grace, love and LIFE! Like your friend, Kliska, it was as if a light had gone on in my head and heart in an instance, and all of a sudden I could see and experience Father and all that He had for me. It was, in my reality, truly a miracle!

And they wonder why we don’t take them seriously….

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I forgot this the first time around: according to the latest Field Poll, a slight majority of Californians are still against Proposition 8 (emphasis on the ‘slight’, unfortunately – we’re talking 51% of those polled here, although only 42% said they were definitely for the ban). While it’s good that support for that particular piece of odious legislation hasn’t increased, it’s also a bit disheartening that more Californians haven’t come to their senses.

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Finally:

(Note: One or the other is also acceptable, but not two moms or two dads. For some reason.)

Note: One or the other is also acceptable, but not two moms or two dads. For some reason.

(Taken from the bafflingly named ‘Digital Network Army‘, who seem to really dislike gays. They don’t let you alter their images, which is why the guy doesn’t have crazy googly eyes photoshopped onto his face and why little addition isn’t pasted into the white space to the right. Killjoys.)

Circular Reasoning?

I recently came across another ‘defence of traditional marriage’ on a blog called Square Post, and I’ve decided to respond to it briefly. It isn’t anything new, but the old points are formulated in slightly novel ways.

It opens with a quote from the Californian Constitution and then proceeds to argue that said constitution doesn’t support the right to marriage for same-sex couples. To me, any argument beginning from an ‘enslaved to the constitution’ stance has already failed, for the simple reason that we’re not enslaved to the constitution. Constitutions can be amended or changed, as the US constitution has been,  several times, in order to protect a minority’s rights.

But anyway:

Preamble:
We, the People of the State of California, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure and perpetuate its blessings, do establish this Constitution.

And the opening to Article 1:
All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy.

To quote this as support of gay marriage, I argue, is the equivalent of the dog catching its tail, biting it, and continuing to eat it for several reasons. In Part I of this series I offer this reason: gay marriage does not perpetuate society and therefore should not have the blessing of the state.

The foundational assumption present in this Preamble is that the people of California want to perpetuate society and the blessings of God. Whether you take that as formalistic deism (doubtful based on the historical record) or true religiosity, the second part of the equation is the perpetuation of society. That can’t possibly happen under a gay marriage context. Now all the exceptionists will shoot down this reason, offering marriage among elderly man-woman couples, barren young couples, and the like as a reason not to provide an exclusive position for traditional marriage. But they forget that the burden is on the gay marriage folks to prove how their unions perpetuate society so much so that the state should redefine traditional marriage, a model which has stood since the beginning of recorded history. (Source)

I’ve got a few problems with this, and most of them are to do with the phrase ‘perpetuation of society’. This is probably taken to be synonymous with ‘having children’ (see the immediate mention of infertile and elderly couples), but you’ll notice that the Preamble is not specifically concerned with marriage or procreation. If it was restricted to such a narrow range of activities, then anything that failed to produce children would also have to fail to be ‘blessed by the state’, according to the original author’s own reasoning. And yet, we are told that infertile couples or couples composed of people disinterested in having children should be blessed by the state, with no real justification at all apart from a mild non-sequiter.

I’ll illustrate the problem a bit more forcefully by laying out the reasoning behind this:

  1. If something does not perpetuate society (produce children), it should not be blessed by the state.
  2. Same-sex couples do not perpetuate society.
  3. Therefore same-sex couples should not be blessed by the state.

And now the problem:

  1. If something does not perpetuate society (produce children), it should not be blessed by the state.
  2. Infertile heterosexual couples do not perpetuate society.
  3. Therefore  infertile heterosexual couples should not be blessed by the state.

Clearly, perpetuating society involves more than just producing children, or else the original poster would condemn infertile heterosexual couples as strongly as homosexual ones. And indeed, an infertile heterosexual couple deserves to have their relationship affirmed by the law because it represents a socially productive family unit. The fact that it does not (and cannot) include children which are biologically related to both parents is irrelevant. It should also be obvious that such a couple is perfectly capable of caring for adopted or fostered children, just as much as a couple which is biologically fertile.

One could also argue that producing children is not always to society’s benefit. If two people have more children than they can care for (or if they are simply unable to care for any children), those children will very often end up in care of the state, placing unnecessary pressure on the institutions in place to protect them. Conversely, an infertile or same-sex couple is completely incapable of burdening society in this way. I know people who work for the social services, and all of them will tell you that they never have enough resources to handle all of the cases that come their way. An infertile couple, whether heterosexual or homosexual, can provide an enormous service to society by helping to care for these children. Of course, if ‘perpetuating society’ only refers to biologically producing children then this is irrelevant and both groups should be denied the right to marry.

For some reason, many who are opposed to marriage equality speak as if altering the definition of marriage is some herculean task, one which should only be undertaken at (proverbial) gunpoint. I’d like to see some justification for this.

I’d also like to see some sort of justification for the ‘it’s always been this way, so we shouldn’t change it’ argument. I’ve heard honest-to-god philosophers use it, apparently forgetting that it’s generally looked down upon in most other contexts.

Two further points:

For example, the state carves out exceptions to this “inalienable right” all the time. Age (youth) is a limitation; consanguinity (blood relationship) is another limitation; still another is consent. And no right is being denied a man, or a woman, respectively, that is not denied all other men or women respectively—no man can marry another man and no woman may marry another woman, so all are protected or denied the same exact thing under the law.

Any limitation placed upon marriage must be a justifiable limitation. Age and blood relatedness are two sensible limitations (the latter somewhat less so, but that’s an issue for another day), while the race of the people involved is not, which is why that particular limitation was removed. Is it sensible to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying? Possibly, but I haven’t come across a good reason to do it just yet.

The second point of this paragraph, that all people are equally restricted in who they marry, is incredibly insubstantial. But I’ve written about it before, so I won’t repeat myself here.

Finally, I’m confused by how often those who are opposed to gay marriage argue that it should be banned because the traditional family unit is the best there is. Even if we grant that this is true, it does not follow that all alternatives should be banned. If it did, we would need to prohibit anyone from forming any family unit that wasn’t a traditional one. What people are actually saying with this is that same-sex families are bad or harmful in themselves, which is a different claim altogether. By praising traditional families rather than condemning non-traditional ones, they turn what would otherwise be a very negative statement into a superficially positive one.

Creationist Museum Tours

Via Pharyngula, the Washington Post reports on a tour of the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum undertaken by a group of students from Liberty University. The tour is apparently part of an ‘Advanced Creation Studies’ class, which I would dearly love to attend. I haven’t got much to say on the article, except to point out that the whole thing is slightly surreal; like reading about a group of flat-Earthers orbitting the Earth on the ISS. Link after the (hilarious) quote.

In the upcoming issue of Answers, a leading magazine of the young-Earth movement, the list of “creation vacations” includes the Lowell Observatory in Arizona, the New England Aquarium in Boston and London’s Natural History Museum.

“Why should we be afraid to test our worldview against reality?” asked Bill Jack, a Christian leadership instructor who leads groups across the country for a company called Biblically Correct Tours. “If Christianity is true, it better be true in the natural history museums and in the zoos.”

Ouch. You might want to rethink your wording next time, Bill…

(Source)

Treasonous Atheism

In Shakespearean Negotiations, the well-known Shakespeare critic Stephen Greennblatt touches upon the subject of atheism in late 16th century England. Sir Walter Raleigh was at one point accused of atheism in an attempt to undermine his character, something Greenblatt says was fairly common at the time. (Raleigh’s contemporary, Thomas Harriot, was accused of arguing against the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, and of making fun of Moses.) Another common charge to lay against an enemy was, of course, treason. Although there is no particular connection between the two – atheism does not logically follow from treason, and treason is not necessarily instigated by atheism, although resentment towards a supposedly ‘anointed’ monarch might be – but according to Greenblatt, it was believed at the time that atheists were of such low moral character that no crime would be beneath them. Religious doubt can very easily lay the foundation for any moral transgression at all, even if the resulting amalgam is purely fictitious.

Replace ‘treason’ with ‘being anti-American’, and this kind of rhetoric suddenly seems uncomfortably familiar. Atheists today are frequently accused of being unpatriotic or of undermining the values that their country was founded on, and it is occasionally implied that they do this intentionally – that they are knowing, gleeful agents of destruction rather than simply misguided but, in their own minds, well-meaning. This is probably why so much weight is placed on determining the religious affiliations of the founding fathers of the USA. If they were pious Christians, atheists can (the reasoning goes) be condemned with no further evidence, while atheists imagine that asserting their Deism immediately lends weight to the separation of church and state.

I’m not going to get into another tedious argument about what the founding fathers believed, because frankly, I don’t care. What the founding fathers believed is entirely incidental to whether God exists, and it is entirely incidental to the question of whether there should be a wall mantained between church and state. The founding fathers could have advocated such a separation and been completely wrong as to whether it was a good idea, or they could have rejected such an idea and been equally mistaken. The only real reason to bring them up at all is if one is interested in using a blatant argument from authority.

But I don’t think most conservative Christians explicitly have centuries-dead men in mind when they condemn atheists for being ‘anti-American’. Atheism is not explicitly established as being ‘treasonous’ – instead, ‘atheist’ is the word a certain kind of person attaches to anyone who they feel should be rejected and marginalized. ‘Atheist’ means roughly the same thing as ‘evil’.

Whenever we are confronted with this thoughtlessly applied label, we need to confront it with a demand for justification. Why are atheists evil or degenerate or dangerous or treasonous? Saying that our beliefs and political activities are at odds with those of the founding father is, as I have said, irrelevant. Saying that we’re wrong might be more productive, but than theists have historically had a rather difficult time in backing that assertion up. When it comes to actual moral behaviour the statistics are, by and large, on our side.

Most discussions of atheism and morality are focused on attempting to convince theists that we lead perfectly ordinary, moral lives, but the theoretical underpinnings of the problem need to be attacked as well.